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DOWN THE HILL
AND
ACROSS THE RIVER FERRY

By Ethel Cochran Shinn

Land! Land! Land! Thousands of men and women came west in the middle of the 19th century in search of a piece of land of their own. The well-known writer of that time, Horace Greeley, recognized the obvious with his famous saying "Go west, young man." Both of my parents were part of that great movement of young people that left the established communities of mid-America to find a new life in the west.

In 1869 my mother’s family left their home in Indiana and joined a caravan of wagons on the famous Oregon Trail to the Pacific Northwest. The leader was J. B. Hunt, mother’s step-mother’s father. The group settled central Washington and created a little village named Huntsville, Today it is only a group of houses and a grain elevator between Dayton and Waitsburg. In our growing up years my mother never spoke of the trip across the plains or any of the hardships. To her, a girl of nine, it was just the way of life. After a few years her father moved the family to Colfax—searching for better land. Education was important to mother. She attended school in the newly formed Academy at Huntsville and also one in Colfax and started her career as a teacher in the rural schools of Whitman County.

My father, John Cochran, came west from Tennessee in 1880. He was 23 years old and others from his family had already left Tennessee in search of a place of their own in the Pacific Northwest. He, his older sister Texie Kittrell and her infant son Edgar, went from Chattanooga to San Francisco on an emigrant train via St. Louis. The seats on the train were slats. Each traveler carried their own bedding that consisted of cloth mattresses filled with corn shucks. They warmed their food on a stove at the end of the coach. The trip took eleven days. At San Francisco they caught the coastal ship, Oregon, for Portland. After negotiating the shifting sand bars at the entrance of the Columbia they boarded a steam boat to Celilo where they portaged over the rapids and boarded another steamer, the D. S. Baker to Wallula. At Wallula they boarded a narrow gauge railroad to Walla Walla. The train was slow—the tracks were 4 x 4 inch sawed rails with strap iron nailed on top for the car wheels to roll on. Eventually they arrived at Colfax by stage. The roads were rough and dusty. There were ropes on the front seat to hold so they could keep their balance when the coach hit the chuck holes. At Colfax there was a family reunion. Pleas Kittrell, Texie’s husband, Sam McCroskey, a brother-in-law, and father’s brother were all in Colfax.

Father and his brother, Billy, worked at many jobs—haying, threshing, or anything that would give them a little money. In 1881 the railroad was built from Texas Ferry on the Snake River to Colfax and that provided short time jobs for many men. Father and Uncle Billy tried farming, but most of the good land had already been homesteaded and neither had money to buy land. Father got a permit to teach grade school—but the term at the Draper School was only 12 weeks long and that wasn’t enough to support a person. In those days the teacher stayed at the homes of their students.

On December 16, 1883 my father and mother, Emma Pickard, were married in the Bethel Church four miles east of Colfax. They had both been teachers in Whitman County, but that occupation did not pay enough for a family to survive. The next years were very unsettled as they tried to find land that would support themselves and their increasing family.

I was born September 26, 1887 on lieu land near Colfax, Washington. It was called lieu land because it was being farmed "in lieu of title." Father was farming part of the land deeded to the railroad by the Federal Government as part of the western expansion movement. The railroad did not discourage people who farmed their land—the crops provided something for them to haul.

I was the second daughter of John and Emma Cochran. Other children followed in two-year intervals—we were a wonderful and happy family.

In the early years we did not stay in one place very long. Father rented and attempted to buy land, but he spent much of his time working for other farmers.

In the fall of 1897 night overtook John Keith who was traveling on horseback to Doumecq plains in Idaho, where he had a homestead. He asked John Cochran, a farmer along his route (my father), to stay overnight with the family. After listening to Mr. Keith extol the virtues and the beauty of the Doumecq plains, Father decided to accept his invitation to visit it.

When he returned home, he told his family it was a nice looking place. A few families lived on the plains, but there was no school. There was good grass for cattle. The land appeared to be rich enough to farm, but at this time very little of it had been cultivated. It was a high country, irrigation was not possible, but it was not arid. The country had recently been opened for homesteading.

Since Father did not own any land in the Palouse country, the decision was to go find a nice place and file on 160 acres of land. He decided to move his family and stock to Cottonwood, Idaho for a year while he located and started to improve a homestead on Doumecq plains. He had some cattle and horses. The cattle were mostly milk cows and calves. The horses were gentle enough to lead with halters.

In April 1899 Father and the family prepared to move from Colfax to Cottonwood in a freight wagon and a hack. A generation had passed since Mother came west on the Oregon Trail, but a team and wagon was still the only convenient way to move in this part of the country. The horses and cattle would be driven—there was no railroad trains or trucks to move them. In fact, all freight was shipped to Camas Prairie by horse driven freight wagons. (Later that year, when the family was established in Cottonwood Father made a living for the family by hauling freight from Lewiston for the store of Goldstone and Creelman in Cottonwood).

But back to the moving and the preparation it required—the packing and sorting began. There was a wagon to carry the household goods and whatever farm stuff Father owned. The freight wagon was drawn by four horses. Mother could drive the hack. It had two seats. Robert, a six-month old baby, was to lie in a large clothes basket between the two seats. He did not want to stay in the basket, but it served as a wonderful catch-all for sun-bonnets, diapers, sacks of cookies, and many other things. Omie, Inez, and Zenna would be with her most of the time. Edna (age 13), Ethel (age 11), and Mary (age 9) would take turns, two at a time, driving the stock.

There weren’t many household goods to pack—a cook stove, a heater, a homemade table, chairs, rocking chairs, and likely a child’s small rocker, and the beds. There were foot pieces, the head pieces, and the two sides and slats for each bed. There were no springs. Each bed had a straw tick and mattress. The straw was emptied for the trip and would be filled when the journey ended.

And then there was the BOX. It was four feet tall, 2 ½ feet wide and about 3 feet long. The BOX had a slant top. It would hold the quilts, clothes, pillows, and any household things that needed protection. Most of the clothes were packed in the two trunks.

In those days little girls did not wear jeans, but had to be modest little children with dresses below knee length. They wore heavy under skirts, the woolen skirt was fastened to a cotton waist which buttoned down the back. Long legged stockings were properly supported to prevent sagging and there were ankle height shoes that buttoned with the aid of a button-hook. Each child kept that important tool in a private place where she could get at it—usually in her pocket. The underwear had long legs and long sleeves, so the stockings were difficult to pull on and adjust smoothly even for the older girls—the little ones had to have help from a sister.

Each girl had a sunbonnet, three pretty pink ones and three blue ones, with a stiff front pieced down over the ears and a full back, ruffled across the front and strings to tie them on. It was not popular to let the sun tan the white feminine skin. A lady had a delicate look. Unfortunately, the girls, at times, forgot the delicate look and the bonnets would hang down the back by the strings tied around the neck. The two braids of hair or "pig tails" would fly out behind.

There were also books to pack—they were very important to the family. Mother was a scholar and a reader. Father read a great deal and all the children were encouraged to be interested in books.

Mother made many usable quilts. Father’s family lived in Tennessee and in his childhood they spun the thread from wool. They had a loom and wove the cloth to make their clothing. Father had counterpanes, wool blankets, and quilted quilts that his mother had sent to him after he came to the west. They were very fine work and Mother treasured them.

Some of the children had personal boxes, and no one was supposed to look in them but the owner. One of these boxes was smuggled onto the wagon. The box was not discovered by Mother until we were well on the way. She did not approve and said, "Something we needed could have been put in that spot." (A lot of personal belongings are lost in a move—especially when everything goes in a small wagon). The culprit’s head bowed in shame, but inwardly the heart was very light and there was a pleasant feeling of having it on. The box contained nothing useful, but it was one thing the child could call her own.

Food had to be packed and prepared for campfire cooking. The flour was in a fifty pound sack in the wagon. The salt was also in a fifty pound sack. It was for family and stock when they needed it. Potatoes, onions, and carrots in sacks were all piled in a box in the end of the wagon. Sides of bacon were wrapped in paper and several sides and a ham or two, all smoked to preserve them, were packed in boxes. Some were for use along the way and the rest for when we reached our destination. Home made jelly, jams, and a can of syrup were among our foods. There was a strong box for dishes, cutlery, kettles, and whatever was needed at each meal. They were in a handy place to set out three times a day.

A family at Elberton had asked to travel in Father’s caravan move to Cottonwood. Their name was Boggs, Dave Boggs. They had a girl named Ethel and a small baby. Of course, Father said it would be all right to come along. Charley Pickard, Mother’s half brother was to drive their wagon as Mrs. Boggs couldn’t drive a team that far. They had some cattle, too. They brought the cattle to Father’s the day before the trip was to start and Uncle Charley was on time with their wagon-load of household goods. The Boggs had not arrived at noon as scheduled. At 1:00 P.M. on that spring day in April 1899, Father and his caravan, Uncle Charley, and the Boggs cattle started the journey to Cottonwood, Idaho. Our neighbor, Dick Hill, helped get the cattle and horses started down the lane. The wagon and the hack followed—they were always behind the stock. By 6:00 p.m. the caravan had traveled about 5 miles. A camp was set up in a church-yard. The stock was put in a field nearby. The beds were laid out in the church ante-room. No meal was cooked that night, as a lunch had been prepared before leaving. Uncle Dick ate, too, and then started back to his home. All said a tearful good-by. He was an old friend and the children called him Uncle Dick, although he was no relation.

After several days of travel and nights of camping, the town of Colton came into sight. Everyone was now weary and the novelty of the trip was wearing off, but the cattle had to be driven. The Boggs had caught up with the caravan a day or so after we were on the road. They hastened past the wagons to see how their cattle were doing. Mother was a bit critical of them, as we girls had been doing all the driving. She felt the Boggs were trying to get their cattle driven with no cost or work for themselves—which they were. As for we girls, our job was to drive the cattle and there was no resentment.

There seemed to be no place to camp in Colton, and there was some traffic—although it wasn’t called traffic then. Father got the stock into a field. There was much movement around Colton so the family stayed in the hotel that night. There was not room for all of us in one room. Mother hesitated to put the small girls alone in a strange town in a hotel room. She got the small ones to bed in her room and then came to see if all was well with the older ones. As she left she said, "Be sure to lock your door. The key is in the door, just turn it over. See if you can." Edna tried and it locked easily. Some of the girls were so frightened at having to lock the door that they hung onto Edna, the oldest and the bravest. The door had never been locked at home and the children had never been left alone at night. Locking the door seemed to separate them from Mother. However, tired children will sleep and soon all was forgotten and they slept.

One of the young mares had a colt on the trip and that slowed the travel, but father was running short of money so he sold her and the colt for $20. Father had been a horse trader in earlier years and knew horses pretty well. Today that seems like very little money, but in 1899 it was probably a fair price for an unbroken mare.

The next day the drive was from Colton to the top of the Lewiston grade. Here we spent the night with beds spread outdoors on the ground and the smaller ones in the hack or wagon.

The original pack had 12 loaves of bread, but by the end of a week it was all gone. Father cooked flapjacks over the campfire. He entertained the children by telling them the knack of campfire cooking. One needed two or three smooth rocks, set just so, and the fire built between them. Then he could set the frying pan on the rocks over the fire. The pan had to be very hot to properly cook the flapjacks--it was moved from side to side so the cake could not stick. Then suddenly the cake would be thrown into the air and come down on the other side. Sometimes Father’s aim was bad or slow and only half of the serving landed in the pan. Father usually did the campfire cooking. Mother usually cleared and packed the food while father got the team ready and the stock on the road.

It took several days to get from Colton to Lewiston. It was April and the narrow roads were muddy and full of ruts. The caravan consisted of heavy wagons pulled by four horses, the sometimes unruly animals being herded by three young girls, and the hack carrying four small children, one only six months old. When we reached the top of the hill the Clearwater River and Lewiston was visible, but we were separated by 7 difficult miles. The road was narrow. If two vehicles met they each gave half of the road to pass. Father, and the other men, drove the four horse loads of goods down the steep grade with heavy dependence on the foot brake. The driver held the brake ratchet down with his right foot while he handled the lines of the four horses in his two hands. Mother was afraid. With several small children, a baby, and a steep grade with a canyon on one side, she didn’t know if she could do it or not. All the girls were kept in the hack to ride down the hill. The road was rough—there were rocks and deep ruts in the soft places. The hack pushed heavily on the horses. Mother had to put her feet on the brake to hold it in place. No doubt the children had things to say as, "Would we roll down the hill if Dolly (the horse) walked too close to the edge?" or "Would you stop if I fell out, I’m holding tight?"

One wagon and one hack were taken down along with the stock. The animals were put in a corral and most of the party camped at the river that night. One of the men went back the next day to bring the rest of the party down the hill.

We laid over at the river edge another night and planned how to get the cattle over the Clearwater River and what to do with them on the other side.

It was early spring and the river was high in its banks. In fact, it was running over the south dock and onto the city-street. In the morning the men got on saddle horses to drive the stock on to the north side pier. Side fences were put up to guide the way on to the ferry. On the south side of the river, it seemed the ferry boat docked in the middle of the river—the pier could not be seen. The ferryman seemed to know where to stop, maybe he touched the pier which was below the water level. He put the apron down and opened the gate. The cattle were not anxious to go off into the water, but with riders behind them they were gently crowded off. When one animal found a footing on the pier the rest followed.

After finding a corral to hold these animals the men returned to put the wagons across. The first wagon and the hack went over very nicely. The second wagon drove onto the ferry with a nervous man holding the lines of the four horse team. When the gate was opened the driver was standing with a four-horse whip in his hand to encourage the leaders to do their part of the pulling and also to persuade them to go down into the water. After a bit of fooling around, the leaders made a plunge, dragging the wheelers and the wagon with a quick jerk down onto the pier and into the water. Then the coupling pole came loose. The front wheels were in three feet of water and the hind wheels were on the ferry boat.

The coupling pole is the tie that holds the front and rear wheels together and the wagon bed up off the ground. A broken coupling can fall to the ground and if an attempt is made to travel it will stick in the earth and hike the middle of the wagon in the air while the team and front wheels travel on. In this case, the coupling pole did not drop—probably the heavy load in the wagon kept it even. With an excited man and a handy whip the team pulled the wagon to dry land.

After crossing the river we spent a day near the ferry landing while Father had a shop repair the wagon. There was time for we children, who were big enough to leave Mother, to wander around downtown Lewiston and peek in the door of the shops. We were amazed at all the activity—none of us had ever been to this big a town After all these years, I remember watching a man buy a big loaf of bread in a store and sticking it under his arm as he walked toward home. We had never seen bread that was baked outside the home.

When it was time to move on Father got help to drive the horses and cattle across what is now the Orchards and Lower Tammany and down to Webb Creek. From there we went up the Fountain grade, to Craig Mountain, and on to Cottonwood. When the family reached Cottonwood we rented a cabin near the Catholic Church and stayed there for about a year. It was near the school and that was important—five little girls were ready to go forward with their education.

In November 1900 the family moved again— this time to Whitebird where a new school had been organized. In the spring, after the three or four month school term ended, the family prepared to move to the new homestead on Doumecq plains. They planned to cross the Salmon River on the Remington Ferry, but when they got there other problems emerged—but that is another story.

The author wrote this story about 1968. It has been filed in family archives since that time.

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