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3. Phoebe Goodell Judson, "A Pioneer's Search for an Ideal Home"
Phoebe Goodell Judson, "A Pioneer’s Search for an Ideal Home" (1925; Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984), 7-10, 95-108.
It is the oft repeated inquiry of my friends as to what induced me to bury myself more than fifty years ago in this far-off corner of the world, that has determined me to take my pen in hand at this late day.
Did I come around the Horn, cross the Isthmus, or come across the plains? Was I not afraid of the Indians, and much more they ask. So I have decided to answer them all and singly by writing a short history of our pioneer life, and to affectionately dedicate my book to the memory of the late Holden A. Jundson, my dear husband, who journeyed with me for half a century in the wilderness.
This will be but a condensed narrative of events which I shall endeavor to recall out of the mists of the past, written with no attempt at literary display, containing no fiction, but simply a record of the homely, everyday incidents of a plain woman, who has now exceeded her three score years and ten, and who has roughed it in the early fifties on the extreme northwestern frontier.
Time has passed so rapidly I can scarcely realize that I have already attained the number of years allotted to mortals on earth.
The romance of frontier life beyond the confines of civilization with its varied, exciting and interesting experiences among the children of nature—both human and brute—has caused the years to fly swiftly, as on the wings of the wind.
If I am permitted to occupy the body that has served me well for so many years until this chronicle is completed, I shall be satisfied, and consider my work upon this planet finished.
Our pioneer story begins where love stories (more is the pity) frequently terminate, for Holden Allen Judson and Phoebe Newton Goodell had been joined in the holy bonds of matrimony three years before we decided to emigrate to the vast and uncultivated wilderness of Puget Sound, which at that time was a part of Oregon.
Little did I realize how much it meant when I promised the solemn, but kindly faced, minister in the presence of a large assembly of friends, to obey, as well as to love, the one whom I had chosen for a partner through life, for the thought of becoming a pioneer’s wife had never entered my mind; but it is not surprising that a girl of only seventeen summers, romantically inclined, should have chosen from among her suitors one possessing a spirit of adventure.
Mr. Judson was five years my senior. Seldom were two more congenially mated to travel the rough voyage of life. Both were endowed with vigorous health, fired with ambition and a love of nature.
Our childhood days were spent together in the little town of Vermillion, Ohio, located midway between Cleveland and Sandusky, on the shores of Lake Erie, on whose beaches we strolled, and on whose blue waters we sailed in company, little dreaming our future lives were destined to be passed together on the far away shore of Puget Sound.
We attended the same church and the same district school. It was “Hopkins’ choice,” for there was only one of each in town. These two buildings stood side by side.
The motive that induced us to part with pleasant associations and the dear friends of our childhood days, was to obtain from the government of the United States a grant of land that “Uncle Sam” had promised to give to the head of each family who settled in this new country. This, we hoped, would make us independent, for as yet we did not possess a home of our own—all of which meant so much to us that we were willing to encounter dangers, endure hardships and privations in order to secure a home that we might call “ours.”
The many air castles that I built concerning my “ideal home” while the preparations for our long journey were being made, are still fresh in my memory.
It should be built by a mountain stream that flowed to the Pacific, or by some lake, or bay, and nothing should obstruct our view of the beautiful snow-capped mountains.
True, it would be built of logs, but they would be covered with vines and roses, while the path leading to it should be bordered with flowers and the air filled with their sweet perfume.
“Home, home, sweet home;
Be it ever so humble,
There’s no place like home.”
My parents had already found a home on the banks of the Willamette, in Oregon.
The parting with my husband’s parents and only sister was very affecting, as he was their only son and brother, and our little two-year-old Annie their idol.
The time set for our departure was March 1st, 1853. Many dear friends gathered to see us off. The tender
“good-byes” were said with brave cheers in the voices, but many tears from the hearts. After we were seated in the stage that was to carry us forth on the first part of our jouney in to the “wide, wide world,” little Annie put out her hands and asked “Fazzer,” as she called her grandpapa, to take her. He begged us to leave her with them—mother and Lucretia seconding his request with tearful eyes. Her sweet young life was interwoven with theirs, and well I knew the anguish that rent their hearts at the parting with their little darling. Deeply we sympathized with them in their grief, but how could we part with our only treasure?
Amid the waving of handkerchiefs and the lingering “God bless you” the stage rolled away—and we were embarked on our long and perilous journey.
We were comfortable all winter without glass in the windows, and when gathered around our fir bark fires in the large clay fireplace, with the children, our cabin was bright and cheerful.
Our library consisted of the Bible and Webster’s dictionary—the only two books we felt we could not do without, and to make sure of them we brought them all the way across the plains.
The Bible was the wedding gift from my father. On the fly leaf was written “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It was a very heavy, illustrated book, and had it not been the “Bible” to lighten the load for our poor, jaded cattle I would have discarded it away back on the plains with my little rocking chair and trunk, both of which I missed so much.
One can hardly conceive of a home without a Bible. From some of my early recollections, my fancy had pictured in my “ideal home” a library of the choicest books, that my soul might commune with the minds of the best authors; and a large Bible should adorn my center table.
Our dictionary did not take up much room, for the “unabridged” had not yet come into use.
During the long winter evenings, for amusement, as well as to be useful, I put out words from it by the firelight for Mr. Judson to spell, having a faint recollection, from a love letter or two, that his orthography might be improved.
The only paper published in the territory was a small sheet edited by T.F. McElroy in Olympia, called the Co-
lumbian, but soon merged into the Washington Pioneer, published by J.W. Wiley, which visited us weekly, helping to break the monotony of our solitary life, although it brought us but little news, as we had no telegraph, telephone, railroad or steamboat connection with the outside world.
The news of the great events that transpired on the other side of the world were not known to us for from six to eight weeks after they had transpired.
Our eastern mail came by the way of the Isthmus of Panama, and later on, over the mountains by Ben Holiday’s pony express—it frequently requiring three months to get returns from our letters.
I can never forget how eagerly we grasped these messengers which comforted our hungry, lonely hearts, informing us of the welfare of the dear ones in the far away homeland.
God bless these paper bridges over which we can talk to our loved ones, though far severed by land and sea.
The marriage, or death, of some dear friend, or other important events that had transpired many weeks before, were fresh news to us—though not so exciting as when flashed across the wires in a few moments, as in modern times.
The report of Governor Stevens’ survey over the mountains for a railroad was so favorable that a bright ray of hope beamed upon us, pointing to a more speedy transit across the continent in the near future.
But alas! How many long years passed, how many sad events transpired before our fond hopes were realized.
The country swarmed with savages, and the fear of
an Indian war repelled the tide of emigration. The census was taken soon after our arrival by J. Patton Anderson. The entire population of the territory did not exceed four thousand; out of this number only one thousand six hundred and eighty-two were voters.
It was owing to the sparsely settled condition of the country that so little was accomplished by the early settlers in developing its many rich resources.
The few pioneers were kept busy hewing down the monarches of the forests, as they carved out homes in the wilderness; or, what was more difficult, striving to support their families from the gravelly prairies that lay adjacent to the Sound, before they had been fertilized.
Many thousands of acres of rich bottom land, through which meandered beautiful brooks and rivers, sending abroad through the land their life giving branches, as well as many isolated vales, among the hills, were favorable locations, but lay dormant because they were so inaccessible; neither were they safe for a home lying so remote from settlements.
Before leaving Ohio, Mr. Judson had marked out on the map of Grays Harbor as a desirable location for a home, but, like nearly all the early pioneers, we settled where we thought we would be least exposed to dangers from the Indians.
We longed for spring, that we might make garden, having been so long without vegetables or fresh fruit, caused us to be exceedingly visionary in our plans for raising great crops the coming season; and our air castles, within whose walls were stacked potatoes, onions, cabbages, beets, peas and beans, towered high.
Mr. Judson split out a fine lot of fir and cedar rails and fenced off a goodly portion of our preemption right of three hundred and twenty acres for a garden and orchard.
We never passed a more charming winter. It seemed more like a tropical, than a northern climate. A snowfall was of rare occurrence, and then only remained on the ground for a few days. Surrounded by evergreen trees, shrubs and mosses, we did not notice the marked changes from winter to spring as we did in the east.
The hooting of the grouse in the fir trees that could be plainly heard while sitting in the house, was the first token of spring. There were not nearly so many song birds in the country as at the present time—indeed, I don’t remember hearing any. We called the frogs our Irish canaries, as from their home in the swails they made the air resonant with their “singing.” Soon the velvety pussy willows were all in bloom, and it required but a few warm sunshiny days after the winter rains to call forth buds and blossoms from many of our native flowers.
Among the first to make its appearance, decking the dismal swamps in gorgeous array, was the “beautiful golden lily," as I have frequently heard them styled by newcomers, before they had made a close acquaintance with them. To these swamp lilies, however, the settlers applied the more appropriate cognomen of “skunk cabbage.”
Although the golden gleam was charming to the eye, the noisome odor was a great drawback for the cows (having no fenced pasture) frequently added a dish of this spring beauty to their menu—much to the detriment of our butter,
to which it imparted a very decided measure of unpleasant flavor.
The tall shrubs of the red currants, the lovely syringas, plumes of the tassel wood, with the low delicate trilliums, and violets, helped to dispel the gloom of the somber forests. While later in the season our eyes were charmed, and our senses delighted by the delicate coloring and delightful fragrance of the wild rose.
The rhododendron, that queen of the forests, one of the laurel family, with its glowing hues, reminding me of a large peony (which has since been adopted as our state flower) grew luxuriantly in the heavily timbered forests. Its place of honor, as the state flower, was warmly contested by Mrs. Ella Higginson in favor of the little white clover. This fragrant little rival was not without fair claims to the post of honor as the state flower, for it spread its blossoms prodigally throughout the land, following in the path of fire, wherever a little clearing is made—speedily covering the scorched ground with a fragrant carpet of snowy blossoms. Beautiful snowy blossoms, fit emblems of purity, and that loving mantle of charity which “covereth a multitude of sins.”
Oh, how much need there is in this dark world of sin of this tender mantle of charity.
The fencing for the garden and orchard being finished, it was necessary for Mr. Judson to hasten off to Oregon for his cattle, leaving his family at my father’s as we were afraid of the Indians who were constantly roaming over the prairies on their ponies. Bands of them frequently crowded into our little cabin, where, squatted on their feet, they would sit for hours enjoying our open fire, as
well as our “pire sublil” (bread), which, though so expensive, I always gave them on demand—because I was afraid to refuse them; while I, baby in arms, with Annie clinging to my side, stood near the door, which I kept wide open, in order to allow the odor from their filthy garments to escape, as well as an avenue of escape myself with the children, should they offer to molest us.
They were afraid of Mr. Judson, and usually kept one of their number on guard, watching for him, that they might get away before he returned from his work.
One day he took his turn “watching,” and surprised them by appearing in “nick of time” with a tent pole in his hand with which he cleared the house in short order of the objectionable intruders, giving one of them a parting whack as he was mounting his pony. I did not quite approve of my husband’s summary manner of teaching them good manners. It was their first lesson in civilization, and it seemed they had to be taught the “beginning of wisdom was to fear both God and man.”
Not long after one of them came back with a pitiful tale of the treatment he had received at the hands of one of our neighbors. He said: “Boston man make siah maloose nika”, (white man had nearly killed him).
To make one better understand his “la longe” (language) he threw off his blanket and laid face down on our rough puncheon floor and showed me his back. I inquired of him what he had done to deserve such an unmerciful punishment. He innocently replied “Nika cap swallowed peas” (I stole peas). With a serious countenance, I tried to impress upon his mind that he had done a very wicked deed, but did not succeed in making him look ashamed.
However when I offered him some bread and syrup he readily understood that he had my sympathy, and ever afterward considered me his “close tillicum” (good friend), often visiting us and confiding to me his troubles.
I was much disappointed in not finding in these aborigines some of the noble traits with which Cooper characterized the red man of the forest. The evil and the good being both set before them by the various settlers, how quickly they fell under the vices which did not come to them by inheritance—forcibly demonstrating the proneness of human nature to follow the evil example, instead of the good.
The most pitiful and sorrowful of these vices was the liquor habit. The first English words they learned to speak were profane ones, and they never failed to use them when intoxicated.
While stopping at my father’s, the hideous yells of drunken Indians frequently greeted our ears. One day we noticed coming from Olympia’s trading post two drunken Indians astride of a pony. The bridle hung loose over the neck of the poor little “kiuse,” which they were making run at full speed. The cruel savages were beating the poor beast, first on one side and then on the other, to increase his speed, and when just opposite my father’s house, the animal stumbled and threw both of them over his head. We ran to see whether they were alive or dead, and found “Kahora” (he who had stolen the peas) lying insensible on the ground, while his comrade was blowing water in his face in his vain efforts to restore him to consciousness; he having filled his mouth several times for that purpose from a small stream near the roadside. We had him carried to the house and laid on the porch. When
he came to himself he looked quite bewildered and said: “Boston man’s fire chuck hias masatehe, mamook nika hias pottelum.” (Boston man’s fire water very bad, made me awful drunk).
We agreed with him in pronouncing it very bad, but our condemnation rested more heavily upon the iniquitous one who enticed him to purchase the accursed poison than upon the poor, unenlightened Indian who was more to be pitied than censured.
I was anxiously looking for Mr. Judson’s return with the stock. As the time drew nigh for his arrival—every hour seemed like a day, when hark! from away in the heavy forest came the faint tinkling of a familiar bell. Clearer and louder it sounded as it neared the prairie. Soon my eyes were delighted and my heart cheered by the sight of the old yellow cow, as she took the lead of the other stock according to her custom in our travels all the way across the plains. I noticed she carried her head a little higher than usual, but did not wonder when I saw a little red calf frisking along by her side. Oh, my! Weren’t we proud of our cow and calf—the first ones we had ever owned, and I do not think we would have parted with them for their weight in gold.
Old Tom and Jerry soon put in an appearance, looking as meek and docile as ever after their hard drive over the Cowlitz trail. The dear, faithful creatures! I was so overjoyed that I could have kissed them in welcome, but contented myself only putting my arms around their necks and telling them that they should never, never go to bed hungry or thirsty again, and they went right to feeding on the luxuriant bunch grass that covered the prairie.
Now that we had reached the “promised land” we had no more use for poor Buck and Berry, who had been our faithful leaders in the weary and dangerous pilgrimage all the way across the continent, so we were obliged to part with them.
Our earthly possessions now consisted of one yoke of oxen, wagon, cow and calf, and a squatters’ right to three
hundred and twenty acres of wild land, enriched with an unlimited supply of gravel—and we began to consider ourselves quite “plutocratic.”
Had an aristocrat called upon us, we would have invited him to repose in the cozy depths of our fine upholstered, three-legged reception stools, by the side of the glowing flames in our mud tiled fireplace. But there were none of that class to call—God be praised for the dearth of them.
‘Twas not the pretentious millionaire or magnate controlling the finances of the world who invaded these quiet domains, but the hospitable, whole-souled homeseekers were the first who ventured to penetrate the solitude of this wild, picturesque country of “never fading green,” and they are the ones who lived the most happy, useful lives while toiling to develop its many resources.
A good cow at that time was worth one hundred dollars, but that sum appeared small in my eyes in comparison with the luxuries of butter and milk I anticipated she would furnish. Neither of us had learned to milk, and it makes me smile now when I think how little practical knowledge we had of farm life. However, I thought it would not take my husband long to learn. It seems so natural for a wife to think her husband smart and wise, but in this case I was doomed to disappointment, for he returned from the corral both morning and evening with less than a quart of milk in the pail. Sometimes the calf got it all, or he may have spilled it while dodging out of reach of old Bell’s horns and tail. One morning, while standing at arm’s length trying to milk, she kicked at him, and judging from the irate manifestations on his part, she did not miss him, and when I apologized for the old cow, by saying “the poor thing got
too much alkali on the plains,” and suggested a little more gentleness and patience, he waxed wroth and told me to “milk her myself”—which I had intended doing all along. As soon as they were both willing, and after a few persuasive efforts, I succeeded in getting six or eight quarts at a milking, and have never regretted my experience, as I often found the art of milking a very convenient acquirement.
Mr. Judson plowed the garden, turning the wild grass under and the gravel on top, without fertilizing, for we had nothing to fertilize with—planted the garden seeds we had brought with us. He purchased a few seed potatoes, at something like five dollars per bushel, which gave us a delicious foretaste of our harvest for we ate the heart of our potatoes and planted the skins.
The nuts and seeds for fruits and ornamental trees he planted in a small opening in the timber, where the soil looked more promising.
After the gophers and squirrels had feasted upon them, and our garden bid fair to produce a crop of sorrel, in the place of vegetables, I began to fear this spot was not the “ideal home” about which I had built so many “air castles.” For it must not rest upon a “sandy foundation.”
This gravelly prairie was well adapted to stock raising, but it would take us a long time to stock our three hundred and twenty acres from one cow and a calf of the masculine gender.
To say the least, our prospects were not very flattering. The misfortune of not being able to raise a garden was a great disappointment to us, more especially as we were expecting our friends from the east in the fall. However, we were far from starvation, for game was plentiful, although
I remember when a kind neighbor who had raised a good garden in the creek bottom gave me a few potatoes, I bedewed them with tears of joy as I carried them home in my apron.
Another kind friend gave me a fine “dominic” hen and rooster, and I raised a beautiful brood of “yellow-legged dominics.” I was very proud of my fancy poultry.
Eggs at that time were worth one dollar a dozen, and had the gravel on our place been turned into grain we would have, in a short time, made our fortune.
The two pigs my father presented me met a deplorable fate. One of them died for the want of more milk, while the other, with all the milk, thrived vigorously and became as great a pet with the children as Mary’s lamb, for “everywhere the children went the pig was sure to go.” But alas! One day, while piggie was taking a nap by the doorway a great cougar stealthily crept out of the woods and nabbed him. I heard poor piggie’s distressful cries and ran out just in time to see the monstrous animal making off with him—and that was the last that was seen of our little porker.
Mr. Judson was away, and as I was afraid to use the gun, I was helpless to rescue him (there came a time, however, when I was compelled to learn the use of firearms in self-defense), but now I could only be thankful that we had not been robbed of one of our children.
It was too late when Mr. Judson came home that night to hunt the animal, but early the next morning he and my brother Henry, with his two dogs, Cato and Nig, went in search of the marauder. It did not take the dogs long to scent his tracks and chase him up a tree, but he was such
an active climber, jumping from one branch to another, that it was some time before the men succeeded in bringing him to the ground. The dogs pounced upon him before he was quite dead and were so badly mangled by the ferocious beast that poor “Nig” had to be fed for a long time on bread and milk before his wounds were healed.
This monstrous cougar measured, from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail, nine and one-half feet, resembling the panthers I had seen on exhibition in the east. They were a great annoyance to the early settlers, as they were very destructive to sheep and calves. Though, of course, this old fellow in his time had devoured many deer, no doubt this was his first taste of pork.
We had been settled in our home but a short time, when one day the little old Indian chief surprised us by appearing before our door with his dogs, and three other objects whom he called “Nika kloochmen” (his wives). On their backs he had stacked, towering high above their heads, all their worldly possessions, until, with the great weight of their loads, the poor creatures bent double, and nothing was visible but their legs and the walking stick with which they helped themselves along.
We were somewhat dismayed, as well as indignant, when he began removing his belonging from the backs of his wives, and set them to building their wigwam close by the spring—claiming the land as his “illihee.”
We were much perplexed but, after talking the matter over, concluded that it was no more than justice that they should be allowed to build their homes wherever they pleased, and we would not interfere with them, at least before the government had treated for their lands.
How could they realize they were trespassing our rights, when no doubt this spring had been one of their favorite camping places and hunting grounds, as well as that of their forefathers for generations.
The earth with its haunts, and trails, had been as free for them to roam, hunt and fish as the air they breathed, and we, in reality, were the interlopers.
Mr. Judson, however, prevailed upon them to build their lodges below, instead of above, the spring.
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