In 1935 my grandfather was to get the second installment of his soldier's
bonus, so he and my grandmother and my mother and her sister went to
Grants Pass looking for farmland, where they found that most of the
property was selling for sums far greater than they could afford. They
bought a newspaper and camped by a gravel bar on the Applegate, and
the next day went to a real estate office and were shown property, but
none of it suited. The day after that they went to the Illinois Valley,
and were shown more land that they didn't like. The agent asked if they
would like to accompany her to visit a friend who was just finishing
a two storey log house at what is now the Trail's End Motel. The owner
said that there was some property for sale next to his place, and took
them to look at it. The property had never been cleared, but the soil
was good river loam. When grandpa saw it, he said, "This is good ground.
I like this place." And they decided on it. There were 143 acres, three
acres on the side by the road, and 140 acres across the river. This
had been purchased for twenty five thousand dollars by a man who had
taken out a school land mortgage on it, but who had been unable to keep
up the payments or the taxes, so the land was available for the accumulated
taxes. The taxes amounted to $750 for 143 acres, plus a hundred dollars
for closing costs and expenses. This was to be paid 85 dollars down
and 85 dollars a year for ten years. They didn't have the $85, so the
agent forwent her commission until grandpa got his soldier's bonus.
The family moved in on April 6th, 1936. Until the fourth of July, they
lived across the road in an abandoned school house owned by the man
who had introduced them to the property. Grandpa constructed a 6
foot by 12 foot closet, large enough for their clothes and a place to keep
their possessions. It had an extension of the roof to cover the cooking
area. Cooking was done in a rock fireplace with a sheet iron cover.
They started a garden, which was watered from a hand-dug well, and drew
water up with a rope attached to my mother's waist. Then grandpa emptied
the bucket into a trough made from an oil drum, which was connected
by a length of firehose to the garden. Grandma irrigated the garden
at the other end. The garden was a success. In August, the bonus came
through, and they were able to repay the agent, buy a horse and a cow,
a tin can sealer and a pressure cooker. They put up a thousand cans
of green beans, prunes and tomatoes that fall, and never could tell
what was in what, because the unlabeled cans all looked the same.
In August the real estate agent told grandma there was an opening in
the two room school in Fruitdale, two miles out of Grants Pass. She
applied and got the position at 75 dollars a month for the four upper
grades. Another teacher had the four lower grades. My mother, and her
sister Aleta and my grandmother, lived in the house next door to the
school all that winter. Grandpa would come in every Friday night and
take them home, and return them the 28 miles Sunday evening.
During that year, the widow who owned the adjoining 119 acres offered
the property for four thousand dollars, which they did not have, so
she came down to three, and then two and finally one thousand. She wanted
$250 down and $15 a month. Although that was a good bargain, they didn't
have that either, as grandpa was making $36 a month disability pension,
and grandma was making $75 a month and paying $30 for rent and food.
The widow finally agreed to a down payment of $50 and $15 a month. To
raise the down payment, grandma pawned her Auntie May's diamond ring
for $40, which was not enough, so her room mate offered to pawn her
own diamond ring, and the two together brought $60. The extra ten dollars
went for seed that spring. When grandma redeemed the rings and paid
the accumulated interest, she made out two checks: one for the principle,
and one for the interest, which had been 3% a month. When she was asked
why, she said it was so she would always remember how much interest
she'd had to pay, and would never do such a thing again.
They found that their first house flooded in the winter, so they built
one on the west side of the river. An old barn was there, and grandpa
tore it down and used the lumber for the second house. All they had
to buy were the windows, and shakes for the roof. Like the first, it
was a small house. They had only 25 acres on the east side, all the
rest of the property was on the west side. Electric service had not
gone as far as the west side, so grandpa took an electric cord and swam
across the river with it, giving them electricity in their new home.
The next house was on the east side of the river, but they did not
live in it long. Grandpa went to Eugene to find work, and while they
were there the house burned. The man who rented it had put a lot of
wood and pitch in the stove, and then left the house. One of their children
died, and my mother's little dog that had been left there died, and
all of their possessions that were stored up in the loft were gone.
My grandfather heard about it and got right down, but of course everything
was lost, and it was all still smoking, and they'd lost a child in the
fire. My mother's sister Aleta died in 1941, at the age of fourteen.
Wilda, the second-youngest daughter, had died in 1931 at the age of
During World War Two, having exhausted every means of producing income--raising
cattle, berries, chickens--and having gone broke on all of them, grandpa
went to Eugene to get work, then to Arizona and Tillamook. Grandma followed
along, teaching as she went.
When they returned, two twenty by seventy foot chicken coops were still
standing, left over from the chicken breeding failure. One of them became
the house, while the other remained a chicken coop. Living under this
roof in 1944 were great grandma Peters, my grandmother, Enid, my grandfather,
Bill, their daughter Wanda, and her new husband, Warren. My parents
spent their wedding night in a tent under a tree near the house. This
tree, beneath which I was conceived, stood until 2001, when it was riven
by lightning. My parents sold the lumber off for $200.
When I was born, the house had running water, but no indoor toilet.
At night, we peed into white enameled-iron thunder mugs, whose lids
were decoratively fringed with string doilies worked by great-grandma
Peters. Saturday night baths were inflicted in a washtub in the middle
of the living room floor, hard by the stove. Littlest ones first, then
adults, the water getting colder and dirtier with each use.
Almost every winter it flooded. The house had a high-water mark running
three feet off the floor. The ceiling was fitted with heavy hooks, and
above the piano was a block and tackle. When the river rose, the piano
was hoisted up off the floor until the water went down. One year, when
the water was still six inches on the floor, grandpa returned to see
a bobcat sitting on the piano. Starving and frightened, it was a menace,
so with considerable regret, he shot it.
Coming across the valley you pass deliciously-named watercourses: Crazy
Woman Creek, Butcher Knife Creek, Jump Off Joe Creek, until at last
you come to the Illinois River, which used to cut through the ranch
for a mile on either side but since most of it has been sold off runs
along only a quarter mile or so on one side. The great beauty of the
property lies in the river. Every year it floods, and changes its shape
and depth. Some years the main channel is deep, others find it shallow
and swift. Every year it moves around and covers up or uncovers an old
wrecked no-color 1938 Buick. When I was little, we would play in it,
but it's too beat up and squashed by now to be playable any more.
(Excerpted and adapted from the oral history of Wanda Burch Goines)