SIDNEY LUTHER COCHRAN
By Marion Shinn
Editor's note: A year ago Frances Cochran passed away. Sid Cochran left her and their three daughters in 1942 and never returned. She felt unhappiness after, and possibly before, the parting. Frances and family remained in touch with the rest of the Cochran family, but Sid stepped out of our lives for a quarter of a century. Frances did not carry bitterness against Sid in her relationships with the Cochran family.
During the past decade members of features about the older Cochran generation have appeared in the Chronicles. Nothing had been written about Sid in any of the editions. Daughter, Sandra, felt it was time for an article on her father--a man she did not know. Only a dozen living family members really remember him. Most of those fleeting memories are 50 or 60 years old. Special thanks to Bob McCoy, John McCoy, Ruth Montague, Leo Montague, Zenna Higgins, J. Robert Cochran, Dick Cochran, Louis Shinn, Edith Shinn and Sandra Kuhlman for their insights. Stories told by more than one person have been blended together. The finished story may not reflect one individual's point of view.
Sidney Luther Cochran was born at home to John and Emma Cochran. They lived in a log cabin a few feet from the present old family home on Doumecq plains. He was the youngest child and second boy in the family of nine. The two older sisters had already left home. Edna was teaching her second year in a one room school and Ethel was attending Lewiston State Normal School.
In the book Time Rolls On, his father, John Cochran, wrote the following passage. "April 14, 1904, a little boy was given to us. We were very much taken with him and I was telling an old lady (Grandma Maple) about him and said he was a boy and asked her what I should say about him. If it had been a girl I would describe him as beautiful or sweet or lovely. 'Now', I said, 'you no doubt had boys in your family. What should I say to describe him?'
She said, 'A boy is described as being honorable, good, grand, strong. A boy is not to be described by his looks, but by his ability, his manliness, and perhaps his generosity.' My wife said we would call him Sidney Luther Cochran. Emma's mother's maiden name was Sarah Luther."
Sidney was smothered with attention from doting older sisters. Robert, Ruth, and Sidney made up the younger group in the family and were very close in their relationships. Ruth, who was three years older, was told repeatedly that she was very protective of her little brother. She remembers Sid as "A Partner in Crime."
The Doumecq country was still very primitive. The Nez Perce Indians came through every fall to hunt deer and dig camas. The camas was dried and ground into flour. Ruth remembers eating camas root like we now eat raw carrots. Sid was five or six months old when the Indians came through on their annual trip. They rode in single file with the women and children at the end of the line.
The whole string stopped at the trough in front on the house to water their horses. One Indian woman had a child about Sid's age and she offered to trade babies. The older family members teased Ruth because she clung to Sid to keep him from being traded.
The small children had very few store-bought toys. There was very little money for unnecessary things. Robert, Ruth, and Sid played with stick horses and used branches to make rail fences. They played in the hayloft. There were lots of animals around the barn. There were colts to break to lead and eggs to hide at Easter time. The quilting frames were hung by ropes from the ceiling in the living room and it was lowered during the long winter evenings. While the older family members quilted the little ones played with sticks and blocks underneath. The real chore was picking up all those tiny things when it was time to go to bed.
The community was served by traveling ministers. They came through occasionally from Grangeville or Whitebird. Once a Baptist minister came and conducted a baptismal service. A small creek was dammed for the occasion. Robert, Ruth, and Sid had never seen a baptismal and did not really understand its significance. They decided to baptize Ol' Bill, their faithful dog. The dog followed the children to the pond in the tiny creek below the house. Ol' Bill did not understand the importance of being baptized and all three of the children got very wet.
Ruth started to school before Sid. Sid was a willing listener while Ruth tried to teach him what she had learned in school. Ruth used the wall of the old house as a chalk board. The black numbers from the arithmetic lesson remained on the outside walls until the house was torn down.
Experimenting with tobacco came at a very early age. Ruth and Sid found an old "Bull Durham" sack with a little tobacco inside. After testing the tobacco they heard the older siblings talking about how bad tobacco was on health. They tried to find out if they were in danger without letting on they had already tried the evil stuff.
Sid was independent little boy with original ideas. When we was quite young he took a strap from a harness to make a quirt (a braided riding whip) for him and carefully engraved it. It was reported that Sid and his father came to an understanding at that time.
Although he often exhibited outward rebellion, he was probably a very sensitive child. In later years his older sister, Ethel, recalled that Sidney always felt he had to prove himself to the older siblings. He felt they were smarter and tried to cover up his feelings of insecurity. Undoubtedly, the older sisters teased him. Ethel told of Sidney trying to stick his ears back to his head. Their protrusion was frequently mentioned by siblings in his presence. Ruth remembers that Zenna wrote home from college and closed her letter "Goodby Paw, Goodby Maw, Goodby Mule with the big Hee Haw--that's Sid."
Zenna remembers an experience when Sid was about 7 or 8 years old. Ethel was married and the families were seated around the living room---the Shinn's and the Cochran's. The talk went on for a long time. Sid became bored and wandered outside. When he tried to come back, someone had closed the door. Sid cried. Zenna watched him cry and was furious. However, it was too solemn an occasion to create a scene.
When he was eight years old Sid became an uncle. When his nephew (Louis Shinn) began to talk Sid insisted that he be called "Uncle Sid." He was happy to have someone younger to take part of the teasing.
In the revised John Cochran book, Pioneer Days, Sid's article appears on pages 106-109. One quote that probably reflects his feelings follow: "As I grew older it was 'Sid do this' and 'Sid do that'---and I done it. We had plenty of saddle horses and whenever my sisters and their friends wanted to ride it was 'Sid, saddle the horses'. When they went by horseback to Cottonwood to take the train to Lewiston and they needed a long string of ponies, it was Sid (or Robert) who brought back the string. But we were always glad to see the girls come home."
He started to the Canfield school in 1910 and his sister, Ethel, was the teacher. Sid was a good student and exhibited talent in art and drawing. The new Canfield School was completed during the years Sid was attending there.
About 1917, John Cochran had the urge to find his utopia and the family prepared to move away from Doumecq. He mortgaged the homestead for $3200 at 8% interest and deeded the land (with the mortgage) to his 20 year old son, Robert. Robert immediately traded the land and mortgage to Clark McCoy for the Bicksell place--a less productive farm to the west. (This farm was later traded for the ferry across the Columbia River at Hover.)
John Cochran took Robert and they went to explore the country in the Horse Heaven hills south of Kennewick. John's brother, Bill Cochran, had a ranch in those barren hills. Emma Cochran, Ruth and Sid lived a few months in Clarkston, Washington. Sid and Ruth went to school there for a time.
Another quote by Sid in Pioneer Days expresses his subtle wit and perhaps his inner feelings. "But there came a time during World War I when the Cochran family decided to move the herds to the Horse Heaven country near the Columbia River in Washington. I was 13 years old and an experienced horseman and cattleman. It was not the seven sisters who moved the herds. It was Sid with the help of Robert and Father. By that time some of the seven sisters had homes of their own."
Brother Bob Cochran remembers moving the cattle to Uncle Bill's ranch in Horse Heaven somewhat differently from Sid. He remembers that in the fall of 1917 Sid helped drive the cattle from Clarkston to Pomeroy--a distance of 30 miles. This part of the journey was on the weekend. He wanted to continue, but Bob put him on the bus so he could back in school on Monday morning.
In late 1917 or early 1918 John and Emma Cochran set up housekeeping in the Horse Heaven country. Ruth and Sid went to school in Kennewick. Sid did not finish high school.
In 1918 Sid and Robert trailed the family horses the 200 mile trek from Doumecq to Horse Heaven. John Cochran was a horse trader and his string of ponies made up much of his liquid assets. En route Sid spent one whole evening burning designs on the grub box. He was a talented artist.
There were very few full-time jobs for young people. Bob and Sid followed the wheat harvest the summers of 1920 to 1923. They followed the big harvesters to Waitsburg, Starbuck, and Prescott.
Sid and Marie Evans eloped to Hood River Oregon and were married. He was 17 years old at the time. Marie's father was not happy, but the marriage lasted two or three years. Sid and Marie went to Business College in Portland for a short time. Sid thought he would be a cartoonist, but his teacher told him he was too lazy. Sid and Marie were divorced in 1923 or 1924.
In 1923, after the death of their mother, the McCoy children moved from Doumecq to live with their Grandparents. By this time John Cochran had purchased a small irrigated farm at Hover, not far from the Columbia River. Bob McCoy has memories of Sid during those early years. "The first time I recall seeing Sid was at Hover. He was walking up the lane to Grandpa's house, wearing blue bell bottom trousers which were the latest fashion at the time. Later, in 1925, he and Aunt Mary took care of the McCoy kids and Grandpa's 7 1/2 acre truck garden while they took their trip to Tennessee, the Caribbean, and Panama Canal. We played a lot of card games. The games were played with real playing cards and they were prohibited by Grandma. Ruth, Grover and family lived across the street. Robert and family were running the ferry and my dad, Clark, worked there as the fireman. The family used to gather in the evening to visit, tell lies, play games, and pop corn. Sid had a little Model T Ford Roadster. He would go to the Saturday night dances and come home late. For the next day or two he would suffer from hang overs."
One Christmas Aunt Mary and Sid made Christmas cards with carved linoleum block imprints. He exhibited artistic skills in many ways. Some were a bit risqué and occasionally a few family members looked the other way when they were shown.
Sid's story about the car was also written in Pioneer Days (p. 108) Part of it follows. "I shall never forget those Kennewick days. Ruth and I went to school and Ruth was smart enough to become a teacher a little later. I preferred another kind of activity. We purchased a car--second hand--but a car. We bought it at Walla Walla. Bob drove it home. At first Bob and I were the only ones who could drive it. Residents of Hover will still remember that neighborhood car. No doubt women are now telling their descendents how Bob and I took them for those thrilling rides." Zenna remembers that Sid left the car parked on the road in front of the house. During the night, someone side-swiped the car. Sid quit high school and got a job to pay for the damage.
Stanley Cochran, a cousin, lived in Finley. He was the son of Bill Cochran, John's younger brother. Stanley and Sid enjoyed working and playing together. J. Robert Cochran has told the story of one of their experiences many times. Bob, Stanley, and Sid were working in Horse Heaven hills and living in a batch camp. Bob was the cook for breakfast. At that time he was experimenting with chewing tobacco and would spit in the fire. Stanley thought he was spitting in the food and took over the chore of cooking breakfast.
Money was scarce and trading was a way of life. Horses were always good trading stock. John McCoy remembers being with Sid when he was hauling a horse in an old trailer behind his car. Unfortunately, he did not tie the horses head down. While the car was in motion the horse reared and put his foot through the back window of the car. John remembers helping Sid haul horses from Hover to Pomeroy. He turned the horses over to Bob to rent and/or trade.
Sid moved to Montana and worked in a flour mill. Leo Montague remembers Sid fondly. His first impression was a picture sent from Montana showing Sid standing in front of a new 1928 Pontiac. (Bob Cochran thinks the car was purchased by Inez.)
Frances Baker and Sid were married at Lewistown, Montana on December 24, 1929. Frances was a school teacher, and her father was a Superintendent of Schools. Her father was not in favor of the marriage and relations were very strained. Soon after their marriage Sid and Frances left Montana and tried to find their spot in Eastern Washington.
The great depression gripped the nation starting in late 1929. There was lots of work to be done in the fruit country around Kennewick and Hover, but the farmers could not pay hired help. Sid worked in the fruit harvest, the fall wheat harvest and any other short time jobs that he could find. They lived with his parents in the spring and summer and went to Pomeroy in the fall to work in the harvest. They were with J. Robert and family on the "Clark" place when Colleen was born on November 5, 1930. Mr. Baker, Frances's father came to visit them for a week in Pomeroy. They were back in Hover when Emma Cochran died December 23, 1931.
Sid worked on combines and hauled wheat from the farms in the Horse Heaven Hills. He picked up jobs occasionally from the few vegetable farmers with money to pay hired help. Sid, Frances, and Colleen lived for a time in a little house owned by Harry Hampton, a local farmer. Harry had an orchard and alfalfa and working there provided the family some income.
While they lived in Hover Sid played basketball with the Hover Town Team during the winter. Bob McCoy remembers accompanying the team on it’s out of town trips to Richland, White Bluffs, and other small towns of the area. Sid was always easy going and well liked. He had a beat up old mandolin and Bob remembers learning to play it with his help.
Leo remembers Sid wore a grin most of the time. He gave the impression that living was a lot of fun, and having kids around was fun, too. He didn't holler at the kids like other "old people except when there danger of getting hurt.
Sid had a pretty, little sorrel mare with a blazed face. He let Leo ride her bareback anytime. He rode around the field at a timid pace most of the time. One afternoon Leo rode her to the upper field about a mile away. Coming back, Leo decided to prod her flank with his bare heel. The horse took off at a furious rate. She stopped abruptly at Grandpa's gate. Leo was sitting on her neck with drooping reins and handful of mane. Sid pointed out that he had gotten the mare from a man who used sharp spurs on her. He thought one ought not to use spurs on a horse, especially on a sensitive little mare. In retrospect, Leo wonders if that did not fit his philosophy toward people.
The extended family went on lots of picnics, especially after church on Sunday. Leo remembers many pleasant times on those hot afternoons. Many of the picnics were along the Columbia River near home but occasionally they would go as far as the Yakima River---probably up to what is now Benton City. Leo was a small boy and he remembers the ice cream, shade and grass in the park and conversation. Sid had a story about every turn in the road. He could explain complex ideas in simple ways and held the attention of the younger set. Sid did not see himself as a vegetable farmer. Probably he liked the thought of being a cowboy or horse trainer.
Grandpa's house was the center of much activity. The Montague children were there much of their free time. Sid would play Pit, Lotto, or Old Maid with Margaret and Leo. Regular (poker) decks were not allowed in Grandpa's house. (At least, while Grandma or Grandpa was there.)
During the summer of 1933 Sid and Frances operated the Kennewick laundry. Bob remembers spending a month or more with them during summer vacation delivering and picking up laundry and doing odd jobs. The laundry was a large unfinished ground floor room in the back of the Washington Hotel. It contained a large steam mangle and various laundry machines. Bob had a cot in one corner of the room. Sid and Frances had a curtained off corner for their bed. There was some other old lady that worked and lived there, probably some down-and-outer they had taken in. They all ate, worked and slept the same room. Dick Cochran remembers the large steamy room strung with clothes lines. A big pile of sagebrush was alongside the building and it was used for fuel.
Sid and Frances left Kennewick and moved back to Pomeroy. Bob had moved to the Oliphant place along river and there was room for the two families.
In February 1936, when construction started on Grand Coulee dam Sid and Frances moved to the site. They lived in a three room shack at the town site across the river from the Company town. Probably the houses were built by the workers from scrap salvaged from the dam site. The Montague's visited them in 1936. Leo remembers the house being made of plywood, inside and out. The house was similar to others in the area. There was no shade, lawns, or greenery. When the houses became unbearablely hot the occupants moved outside and sat in the not quite-so-hot shade of the houses.
Sid went to work at mid-night. On the second day of their visit the family put camping gear in the Montague pick-up and had a picnic on the San Poil River. Grover, Ruth, and Frances sat in front and Sid joined the "kids" in the back. Sid had many stories to tell. He had answers for the important and unimportant questions including why Arachnids have eight legs and why Frances was getting fat. Sandra was born there October 17, 1936.
Sid and Frances bought an old house in Spokane. They moved to Spokane in 1937 or 1938 and purchased an old home. Sharon was born in Spokane February 1, 1939. Bob Cochran was with them for a short time. Frances and girls went back to Grand Coulee for a visit. When Bob got home from work one evening the house had burned to the ground. They spent the next few months in a motel.
Sid bought a house on 35th Avenue, a few flocks from Grand, on the South Hill. Their house was at a crossroads for the family. Many family members visited, had dinner with them, or spent the night. Margaret McCoy Perkins stayed with Sid and Frances for a time while she was attending college. Clark McCoy was with them while working on a job in Spokane.
Sid was very fond of his children and was sometimes over generous. Sandra remembers her father bought her a pair of nice shoes with his last dollar. He bummed cigarettes for a week. He seldom shouted at the children unless they were doing something that might hurt them. He was an "easy mark" for the children and most of the discipline was left to Frances.
Sid worked at various jobs around Spokane. For a time he worked as a carpenter at Geiger Field. Later he was night boiler man at the McGoldrick Lumber Mill. He also did odd carpenter jobs, made cabinets, roofed houses and sold real estate.
Leo recalls that Sid was a contributor to the "Sister Circular" letter that circulated among his siblings. He always had sly comments in the margins of all the letters pertaining to everything---misspellings, grammar, advice to his sisters on child raising or cooking, and snide comments on political figures. The comments were always phrased in the humorous vein. Ruth reluctantly let Leo read letters--she was afraid he would understand the innuendos. Leo did understand and thought they were best part of the letters.
Leo remembers visiting in Spokane in September 1942. He was traveling by bus to college at WSC. Sid, Frances, and their girls drove down and visited while he was waiting for the Pullman bus. Leo recalls: "He still had the big grin though he was missing some teeth. They had been pulled and he was waiting for plates. I don't remember what we talked about. Uncle Sid listened as though it was the most interesting subject in the world to him at the moment--just as he had always listened."
In November 1942 Sid Joined the Sea Bees and went to Rhode Island to work on ship building. It was patriotic to volunteer, and most of the family were proud that Sid had seen fit to "do his part" in the war effort. At the time, his siblings did not see his enlistment as a breakup in the marriage. After Sid enlisted in the Navy Frances picked up jobs to support the family. During the war she operated an overhead crane at the Aluminum plant. Later she was hired as a secretary with the Teamsters Union and held that job until she retired.
Sid was discharged from the U.S. Naval Hospital in Newport, Rhode Island, probably with a medical disability. When he received his mustering out pay, he sent a letter to Frances. It included a $20 Treasury note. On it he had written, "You must keep this so you will never be without money." Frances did keep the bill. When she died, Sandra found it in her belongings. It is now protected in a safety deposit box.
After being released by the Navy, a number of letters were exchanged between Frances and Sid. They were not pleasant letters. Frances wanted Sid to return and take his place as head of the household. Sid was unwilling to return to the family. According to Sandra, Frances was unhappy that Sid had not returned but did not feel real bitterness toward him. She felt that Sid was a kind and generous father and that he had affection for his children.
After he left the navy, Sid worked at short term jobs and wandered along the east coast. In a year or so he settled at Fort Worth, Texas. Sid filed for and received a Mexican Divorce from Frances. He married Thelma Taylor on September 18, 1945 at Monterey, Mexico. She had two children, Billie Lu and Donald.
Sid worked as a carpenter for a trailer manufacturing company. Thelma, his wife, worked as an airplane upholsterer.
His Sisters, Ethel Shinn and Zenna Higgins, visited them in 1964 in Texas while they were on a winter-long trip by bus across the United States. After that visit, communication was established between Sid and others in the family. Louis Shinn, Bob McCoy, David Shinn and perhaps others who were in Texas on business visited Sid and Thelma in the late 1960's. Ethel made special trip to Texas to see him in 1966 when he was quite sick.
Sid died at the Veterans Hospital on October 11, 1970 at the age of 66 after a prolonged illness. He is buried in Magargle, Texas. The autopsy indicated that Sid had a tumor in the left lung that had spread to the lymph nodes adjacent to his heart. His long and extensive use of cigarettes and alcohol were undoubtedly contributing factors to his condition.
After Sid's death Thelma and Billie Lu visited relatives in the Pacific Northwest. They remained in contact with Ethel until her death in 1972. None of the relatives have reported recent contacts with them.
It has been fifty years since Sid moved away from the family by choice. His children scarcely knew him. Only a few in our family remember him. Although several family members visited him in Texas, Sid never returned to the Pacific Northwest, even for a visit.
It is hard to paint a verbal picture of Sid's life in a few pages from sketchy memories half a century old. Leo Montague probably put it best. "Sidney Luther Cochran was a warm, friendly, witty man with a broad smile. His sisters, brother, and the older nieces and nephews liked him very much. He was a lot like his father in both in persistence and ambition--not burning drives in either of them. He was a good story teller, gregarious, and a warm personality. There was always time to stop and visit and listen, especially to kids."
Sidney Luther Cochran, April 14, 1904 - October 11, 1970
Reprinted from Cochran Chronicles Volume 15, Number 1, November 1992
© JECFA 1992
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