Family Only
Home | Sibling's Stories | 1st Cousins | Ancestor's Stories | Reunion History | Next Reunion | JECMEF


By Bill Wortman

Mom was born, third child of John and Emma Cochran, on March 2, 1890 near Colfax, Washington and died August 13, 1952 in Vancouver, Washington after a struggle with cancer. During the more than 40 years since her death I have been told stories, read letters, and given much thought about my Mother and my experiences growing up. I thank those who have informed me and encouraged me to write this article. Some of the dates may not be exact, but this is the way I understand the life of my Mom.

Mom was named after her grandmother, Mary Alice Pickard. As older sisters were asked why they were not named for their grandmother they were told: "We were waiting for the prettiest one." I have never considered Mom in that light, but I did read the statement in the family history, "Time Rolls On." The same source reports that Mom developed early and "could walk and prattle so we could understand her words at the age of nine months." About age two, she got a series of ailments, including pneumonia, and was close to death. With good nursing she recovered. Several years later Mom asked her mother to remind her siblings that she was the sickest of all of them all. By the age of four she asked her Father if she was a Christian and was told "that if she loved the Lord she was his child." Probably that is the best way I remember Mom--a child of God.

Mom was born on the family farm on "lieu land" six miles east of Colfax. Since the U. S. Government had over-spent on canal construction in the early 1800's, the only way to finance the western railroad movement late in the century was public land. One section (640 acres) of land was given to the Railroad Company for each completed mile of track. The sections were on alternate sides of the track. Grandpa was likely a "squatter" on 160 acres of unclaimed land belonging to the Northern Pacific Railroad.

The "gay" or happy "90s" proclaimed in our history books did not reach down to the struggling western farmers. In Grandpa's book "Pioneer Days" one can find the following: ground-squirrel scalps 2 1/2 cents, sod land plowing $2.25 an acre, bacon 6 cents a pound, pork 4 cents a pound with the head off. The price of farm land dropped from $30 to $10 an acre. The term "poor" was used to describe crops, farm prices, and the weather. A man who spent the night with the Cochran family told of better circumstances in nearby Idaho, and Grandpa decided to have a look.

After Christmas in 1898 Grandpa went to Idaho on horseback, looked over the country, and scouted the route. In April the family started the journey to Idaho. Many of the details of the journey have been recorded in writings of Aunt Ethel. The family with 7 children, Edna 13 to Robert 6 months, were packed in two wagons. Grandpa was the driver of the big wagon and Grandma drove the smaller hack. Omie, Inez, and Zenna plus Robert were with her most of the time. Edna, Ethel, and Mary took turns, two at a time, driving the family herds of 10 or 12 cows and "many" horses ahead of the wagons. They got a late start--probably 1:00 p.m. and at nightfall they had gone only 5 or 6 miles. They camped in a field near a church. There was forage for the animals and a place inside for them to sleep. The trip took about two weeks. Travel problems included crossing the flooding Snake River at what is now 5th Street in downtown Lewiston. While crossing the river the reach (coupling pole) on the wagon broke. A horse or two were swapped to get wagon parts and they had to be installed before travel could continue. The country they traveled through is not flat. The trip from Colfax to Lewiston is about 50 miles. In the last dozen miles they dropped about 2000 feet in elevation. From there they climbed about 2,500 feet to Camas prairie and on to the town of Cottonwood, a distance of nearly 70 miles.

With the help of a friend, they were able to rent a 12' x 14' cabin. The family lived there for a year. I invite you to measure this space out in a room of your house and consider it served a family of nine! I must add that they did have an outside but roofed kitchen. After a year in Cottonwood they moved down about 2000 feet to Whitebird on the Salmon River. It was closer to the land they now claimed. A log house was started on the Doumecq homestead some 3000 feet above the river. That 12 mile move to their new home was made after school was out in the spring of 1901.

Uncle Robert told me a story of those early years. Mom attempted to lead her brothers and sisters in Sunday School singing on the sloping hill behind the house. The problem, says Uncle Robert, was she would sing of God and the pretty clouds and who could follow that?

The school term on Doumecq was very short. When Edna was hired to teach in Whitebird for a winter term, she took Mary, Omie, and Zenna to live with her. They batched and went to school. Mary was 16 at the time; she contracted typhoid fever and was very sick. One Four of the Cochran sisters attended Lewiston State Normal School at Lewiston. Edna and Ethel started in 1903; Mary and Omie followed a few years later. The Normal offered a teacher certification program or an academy which compared to a high school. The girls worked for their board and room or stayed in the cooperative dormitory, depending on the availability of money. Mary graduated from Lewiston State Normal School June 7, 1912. Her student teaching was at Lapwai on the Nez Perce Indian reservation. The student teachers lived in large tents and much of the instruction was outside. Mom taught about 5 years in one-room schools--Ferdinand, Joseph, Jack Pine, Twin Star, and Bug-Slope. In one of my mementos, "Public School Souvenir-1915," Mary Alice Cochran is thanked by her 10 students representing 5 families from the Twin Star School.

When she turned 21 in 1911, Mom followed the pattern established by sister Edna and filed for a homestead. For some reason she wasS allowed to file on 360 acres instead of the usual 160. To prove up on the land she had to build a house and live on the land--at least periodically--for five years. Sister Zenna's diary had the following notation; date August 5, 1911--"Papa started work on Mary's house." Getting lumber and other supplies to the site was a major task. Everything was loaded on horses or slid down the steep hillside to the flat there the house was built. Omie filed on adjacent land two years later. With the addition of the two new homesites Cochrans owned land from Rice Creek, through Seven Springs Canyon, to the original homestead. All three siblings were also teaching or going to school. Many stories have been written about their weekly treks to their houses. The land has been part of the home "spread" since the beginning. Clark McCoy, Ray Shinn, Maurice Shinn, and now Mike Von Bargen have grazed cattle there for over 70 years. They have received and paid the taxes all those years for the use of the land. It is probably one of the few pieces of land in the country that has not been mortgaged sometimes in its history. The deed remained with Mom until her death. At that time it was transferred to me. Although it is not in liveable condition, Mom's cabin is still standing.

In 1917 Mom moved to Tacoma to attend the College of Puget Sound. In the spring of 1920 she received a letter from her sister, Inez, who was working as a nurse at the Wallace Young Mission at Nome, Alaska. There were only two nurses and they needed additional help. Mom took her cooking and homemaking expertise to Alaska to help them. Her trip from Seattle to Nome on the icebreaker Bear took almost a month. The harbor at Nome is shallow and the boat anchored some distance from shore. Mom and other passengers were lifted over the side in a Bosuns chair, lowered into a small boat, and transported to the dock.

In November 1923 the oldest sister, Edna died. The McCoy family was living on the old family homestead on Doumecq. The four McCoy children had moved to Hover to be with their Grandparents, John and Emma Cochran. In the spring of 1924, Mom left the Mission in Nome and went home to help take care of the children. Bob McCoy remembers Mom arriving at Hover on the railroad. Margaret remembers her better for her cooking than her discipline. To make a few extra dollars, Grandpa took in boarders when the Hover schoolhouse was being rebuilt after a fire. Mom did most of the cooking and kept the household going.

According to Bob McCoy, driving the family Model T Ford was quite an experience. Mom was just learning to handle the car and was determined to get it from the garage to the roadway. Most of the children were in the back because they did not want to miss anything. Mom got the car backed out without difficulty. While turning around something went wrong and she took off through the orchards full throttle. As she went zipping along she shouted "Whoa, Whoa---" just like her father.

On a visit to her Grandmother Pickard in Elberton Mom met my dad, Rev. John H. Wortman. He was a circuit minister with three small churches in the area. He was never ordained, but was a hard working minister. He took some meals at the Pickard table and met Mom there. Bob McCoy remembers my Dad visiting Mom at Hover a few times in his little Ford Roadster. The courtship was not very long; they were married December 14, 1927. She was 37 and he was 10 years older.

After their marriage my folks moved to Deep Creek, Washington. It was just north of Spokane, but is no longer listed on road maps. They were there three years and I was born there in 1930. The next three years were spent at Vancouver, Washington and my sister, Ruth, was born there in 1932. In 1934 we spent a year just outside Salem at Hazel Green, Oregon. One night, while sleeping upstairs, my Dad pointed out a fire in the distance. The next day we heard the State Capitol had burned.

About this time I can begin to remember bits of family life. The small white painted church had an outside pitcher hand pump near the porch of the parsonage. You MUST NEVER empty the half gallon container of water left by the pump. It was used for "priming." To get water you slowly poured the water down the open top. Quickly you pumped the handle to draw water up from the well. I can remember being hot and thirsty and wanting to drink the water that was in sight--a sure thing. Mom explained that one had to "believe" as they pumped. Getting the fresh water was the reward for their "faith." Dad did the preaching, but Mom made sense to me.

Our next year was spent in Tillamook, Oregon. Here Dad ran the night service in bib overalls to show farmers that they did not need to dress after evening chores to be welcome at worship.

While at Tillamook Dad joined the Townsend Party. Grandpa came and they talked long and seriously about the plan. Under the plan each old person would receive $200 a month and the only requirement was that all the money must be spent before the next check arrived. The idea was to get money circulating to overcome the national depression. This was before Social Security, but was probably a factor in getting it adopted.

In 1936 we moved to Amboy, Washington and spent several years there during my "growing up" years. Anderson Lodge is only 20 miles from Amboy. During the reunion in August 1991 I had a chance to remember a lot of youthful experiences. A woman told me my Mom had taught her to swim. I remember well that my mother did not swim, but did take all kids who were interested down a steep hill and let us play in a big waterhole about two feet deep. She warned us to be careful while crossing Cedar Creek on the six foot log. She kept reminding us not to push and shove and applauded those of us who learned to stay on top of the water.

About 1937 Dad decided the church needed a basement. He got lots of volunteers who worked for their noon meal. Most of the cooking was done by Mom and the other church ladies. During that fall Dad drove our '29 Model A Ford back to Tillamook. He was given salmon from the fish hatchery and filled the back seat to the maximum. When he got back to Amboy he drove the mail routes and gave a fish to a hundred or so families. With depressed jobs and wages this was a treat. I still hear about it when visiting old friends. Many changes have occurred in half a century. The old church is now a museum. The big two-story parsonage is gone. The town is flatter and the buildings are closer together than I remember. Stories about growing up in Amboy could fill a book, but that is another project.

While we were there the health of the family became a problem. It began with Mom on a Sunday morning, I think it was 1939. Dad always got up first and started the fire. On Sunday he would then go to the church (thirty yards away) and build a fire there. He would then return and cook the once-a-week pancake breakfast. Probably he did this so Mom would have time to get us ready for Sunday School. When he returned to the house this particular morning Mom had a real pain in her stomach. He took Mom to the home of the store keeper who had a telephone. The Doctor was 15 miles away. Mom was soon taken to the hospital in Vancouver 30 miles away. The Doctor took tests and decided to operate for kidney stones on Friday. A family friend came to visit Mom in the hospital and said the stone could be dissolved by drinking fruit juice. She got Dad and the Doctor to give it a try. It worked and Mom was soon home. Some believed it was an act of God. I do not remember Dad and Mom giving an opinion.

Times were still tough for all of us. A gallon of milk cost 7 cents and a loaf of bread about the same. A gallon of gasoline was 13 cents. Dad was on a salary of $600 a year. I did not know anyone else on salary. We got the parsonage free of rent with firewood furnished. Neighbors shared their produce. We never went to bed hungry and lived like most of our neighbors. I knew Mom's illness was bad, her stay in the hospital had cost many dollars, and that we had very little money.

Grandpa and Aunt Georgia (his second-wife) had come to help while Mom was recovering. As I recall, we were at the table eating the evening meal and someone knocked on our door. When Dad answered it Mr. Brown, a non-church member, was standing there. I knew something about him. He was retired from the railroad and lived on a pension. The words RETIRED and PENSION were both new words to most of the people in the community. Mr.Brown was very deaf and carried a pencil and pad to communicate with others. In a loud voice he said the community was very sorry to hear of Mrs. Wortman's illness and they were glad she was now doing fine. He held out an old army-type sock to Dad, turned, and left. Dad poured the contents of the sock on the table. I had never seen so much money in my life. Lots of small bills and change... over $250. I think it handled most of the hospital bills. I remember thinking that lots of folks must really like and appreciate Mom to do a thing like that for her.

Our next health problem was with Dad. In 1941 he started having stomach problems. He tried eating different kinds of food, but there was not much improvement. Grandpa and Aunt Georgia came again to help out, but in October Dad was taken to the hospital in Vancouver. After a 24 hour stay he died at the age of 61.

I was eleven years old and was devastated. Dad was the head of the family and our only means of support. I remember coming home for lunch and being told Dad had died. The next day a church neighbor asked Mom if I was busy. He took me to the cemetery and I helped him and another man dig the grave for Dad.

After a huge funeral and burial in the local cemetery it was time to get on with our lives. Lots of family came. Uncle Robert and Sid drove our car back to Hover as Mom did not drive. We were free to live in the parsonage until the summer of 1942, but there was no income from the church. Mom had not worked outside the home during my lifetime.

Undoubtedly, the neighbors gave some assistance, but soon Mom started baking pies to sell. Her pies were popular at church dinners. I would carry them half a mile to the other part of Amboy where there was a store, meat market, gas station, and two taverns or saloons. (Our part of Amboy had a gas station, two stores, the post office, and the church). A tavern gave Mom 35 cents a pie for all she could bake. Mom would not go in the tavern. I was underage to enter taverns but delivered the pies. The man behind the bar told me to leave quickly--as soon as the transaction was completed. Sometimes, on the way home, I would stop at the meat market for free meaty bones to strengthen our stews and soups. Life was not all bad; I remember having occasional ten cent milk shakes.

World War II started in December and in the spring of 1943 food and gasoline rationing started. The schools were used as a sign-up site for ration books. During those sign-up periods all six grades of the two room school would be put together. One of those times I got in a bit of trouble and the teacher took several of us to the woodshed and gave us swats. Dad had said the same punishment should be given at home, so Mom took me to the woodshed. I did not resist and do not remember being hit, but Mom cried more than I did. That was the end of my misbehaving at school.

In the summer of 1942 we moved to a farm six miles out of town. Levi Rood hired Mom as a live-in housekeeper. His wife had suffered a stroke. He was 63 years old, had no children, and did not understand Ruth and me very well. He took us to Amboy for church every Sunday. For two years Ruth and I went to another two-room school---it is still in use. The job ended in two years, Mrs. Rood no longer needed us.

In 1944 we rented a truck and driver to move all our stuff, plus a small cow, to Newberg, Oregon. Uncle Grover was building a new house and a tent was pitched nearby for us. Both families ate their meals together. Ruth and I worked with our Montague cousins picking the summer crops. Mom commuted to college to get an Oregon teaching certificate. She came home on weekends.

At the end of summer we moved again by truck. Our belongings and the cow went to Rose Lodge, Oregon and Mom taught there two years. Mom walked a mile to the school; Ruth and I walked half a mile to the school bus. Living was not easy; I remember drying wet slab wood in the oven. The war ended while we were in Rose Lodge. Levi came back into our lives; his wife died and Mom married him the summer of 1946. We moved back to the farm and old friends. I did not adjust well to farm life; Ruth did much better. I was a fair hand during haying but that was about all. Levi would buy animals at farm auctions sales and I would lead them home if he could not hire a truck at the right price. The day after my high school graduation in 1948 Levi advised me that I was now a man and my board was $40 a month. A neighbor charged $30 but Levi said I had a better cook; I agreed. I had just started on a job felling trees for $1.25 an hour and the farm did not pay that kind of wages. I cut my ankle the first week and did not work for months, but the board bill stayed.

The winter of 1948-49 was snowy and in the spring we had a severe earthquake. I was still working in the woods, the most common job in the area. In the spring of 1950 I looked in my pocket and found $5--all I had gained after two years work. By this time I was living with another logger for $30 a month. Mom and the minister began to talk college for me. The church had a school in York, Nebraska. It gave a big discount to past-preacher's kids. I decided to give it a try. It was the first time I had been past Idaho. I left for the unknown by bus. My belongings were packed in a big steamer trunk. The first year went well enough; Ruth joined me at York the following year.

During the summer my woods job was available and during the school year I had a good job at Sears selling tires, but had to mount them to get the commission. My real job was cleaning and sweeping bathrooms. I earned enough to give Ruth a round trip home for the holidays and that pleased Mom. In a letter to Inez Mom mentioned that Ruth was as homesick as they were at Lewiston many years before. She also mentioned my grades were down but "last year I would have correct advise for him, but now I have done all the character building on him I can."

During the year letters were sent back and forth. Both Ruth and I were so involved with our activities there was little time to think of home. When school was out I had a chance to drive a resale car from Omaha to Portland for a dealer. They paid the gas and $25 for expenses. It saved buying a bus ticket and in 36 hours we were home. I drove to the ranch, past the barn, and to the back of the house. Mom was resting on an old sofa on the back porch and did not get up to help us unload. She down-played her illness. The next day I took the car to Portland and on the way home Levi said he was worried about her. I got my old job in the woods for the summer. Mom got worse and we discovered she had cancer. Soon she went to the hospital in Vancouver.

Again the family came to the rescue. Aunt Omie came down from Alaska and spent many hours sitting with Mom. The talked, giggled, and talked about old times. Mom did not want to be alone, but slept a lot. Omie would stay Sunday to Friday night and I would stay over the weekend. Others helped, too. Mom died 13 August 1952 at the age of 62. Her funeral was huge; Mom was buried next to Dad in the Amboy cemetery.

Mom was a wonderful person to have as a parent. Her sisters and brothers have treated me as one of their own. Many of my cousins have been like brothers and sisters to me. The first reunion at Ocean Park started a wonderful family tradition. Those get-to-gathers have helped keep our family together. I know Mom would have enjoyed them all.

Mary Alice Cochran Wortman Rood
March 2, 1890 - August 13, 1952
Reprinted from Cochran Chronicles Volume 16, No., 1, November 1993

JECFA 1993

Up ~ Contact webmaster