These homely worded reminiscences of my boyhood days are respectfully dedicated to my father and mother, who now, nearly fifty years after my birth, are as vitally interested in our future welfare as they were in our childhood.

W. J. Woodin.
Seattle, Wash.
Feb. 1922


 

CHAPTER I


[Page 1] Seattle, Wash. February 1922

I first saw the light of day on January 18th, 1874. It happened in a little white farm house in Gratiout County, which lies in a prolific agricultural section in the lower peninsula of the state of Michigan. I have since been told that the day of my advent was accompanied by very cold blustery weather, a climatic condition that caused much inconvenience to the physician who came to see my mother. To my parents, the event, I judge, was heralded with much joy and satisfaction, for I was the first born of a family of eight children they have brought into the world.

The farm upon which I was born, had, in the early fifties, been homesteaded by my paternal grandfather, and there my father spent his boyhood days and far into his manhood. Prior to, or about the time of my parents’ marriage, my father had acquired the farm by paying a stipulated sum to each of his brothers and sisters, satisfying forever their claims in the property. In the settlement, father had also assumed, so long as she lived, the care and support of my paternal grandmother, who was then in her early sixties.

Grandma Woodin, therefore, was an object of my first realization, and it was she who, in a great measure, was responsible for our early moral training, and from my first memories comes grandma, and her ever handy Bible on her knee, as she read therefrom, and explained the teachings of Jesus Christ. She was a devout Christian, and in her advanced age, she attended regularly the Methodist Church in the village two miles distant. Grandfather Woodin had suddenly died some years before my birth.

Anna M. Bassett (my grandmother’s maiden name) was born at Gorham, Ontario County, New York, July 1st 1811. When five years of age, her parents moved to Chautauqua County, New York, and there, in the town of Busti, she met [page 2] my Grandfather, Abram Woodin, where they were married on August 23rd 1832.

To this union was born nine children, five girls and four boys, of which Ophelia, Martha, Marcelia, Elizabeth, Wallace, Wellington, and my father were born in New York State, while Hiram, and Olillia were born on the homestead in Michigan. My grandparents came of Revolution stock; Grandma's grandfather, and great-grandfather, being in the Naval service of their country during that struggle, and in which service, both lost their lives. In the year 1855, with the western trend of emigration, my Grandparents joined, and came to the new state of Michigan, and by so doing, constituted one of the pioneer families to settle in that part of the peninsular state.

My maternal grandparents, in the year 1856, came to the United States from the south of Ireland. They settled in a rural section of Vermont where, three years later, my mother was born. A few years after my mother’s birth, her parents moved to Michigan, settling on a farm near Flushing, a small country village located midway between Flint and Port Huron. There my mother spent her childhood and a great portion of her girlhood. She was but a child, however, when one after another, in close succession, her parents were claimed by their creator. Soon after their deaths, as is usual [sic] the case, the home was broken up, and the large family of children had gone their separate ways, taking up life’s work in different parts of the great new state.

To Grandfather and Grandmother McMahon, (my mother’s maiden name) there were born nine children, five girls, and four boys. Two of those, a girl and a boy, had died before my grandparents came to America. Of the remainder, there were Uncle John, Thomas, and William -- for whom I was named -- Aunt Margaret, Mary, Annie, and my mother. Before the latter had reached the age of twenty, she came to St. Louis, a country town two miles distant from where I was born. Here she became employed in one of the leading hotels of the thriving little city, and it was there that my father met her. After their first meeting, less than a year elapsed before they had married and settled down [page 3] to what has since proven a most happy, congenial union of nearly fifty years duration. To that union came eight children, four girls and four boys. Besides myself, there came in the order named, Nellie, James, Claude, Birdie, Louise, Hiram, and Caroline. With the exception of Caroline all of us were born under the same roof, and that roof was the same that covered the little white farm house in Gratiout County, Michigan. Caroline was born in Seattle, Washington soon after we came west.

At the time I write, the grim reaper has not yet visited our large family, a record that, I dare say, is very, very unusual indeed.

Father and mother, like the great oak, have spread their branches far and wide, and now the second generation is in the process of prolonging the family tree.

[Page 4] The first object that assumes a distinct presence before me, as I look back in the blank of my infancy, are of my Father and Mother, of their youthful faces and their tender care. Close upon that early image of my parents, comes a faint recollection of an incident that occurred when I was but three and one half years of age. I know I was of very tender years, for I was yet in gingham pinafores with panties to match.

It must have been in late spring or early summer, for I remember quite clearly, that the sun shone bright and warm, and the earth was clad in the season’s glad array. On the day of which I write I must have escaped my mother’s ever watchful eye, and had gone with childish curiosity to watch a number of neighbor children dig a cave in the soft, warm sand located in a vacant lot some fifty yards distant from my house. The children, who were all older than I, had burrowed a huge cavern in the side of a prominent knoll, never realizing the danger they were subjecting themselves to with each handful of earth they removed. There is no telling what might have happened to the young cave diggers, had not some prudent passerby sounded a warning cry that reached my mother’s ears. The man’s shout brought her from the kitchen in a hurry, and with unusual fleetness she was at my side, severely chastising me for running away, while at the same time she told me of the danger that lurked in the deep hole before me.

As young as I was, this incident had taught me two things. First, that running away was disobedient and wrong, while in the second place, it had sharpened that sense of fear and danger that to a certain stage of childhood is dormant. From that [time] on, the events of my young life, assume greater clarity on my memory, and of which I can write with more vividness.

[Page 5] The old homestead was located on a well traveled highway connecting the towns of Alma and St. Louis, two municipalities with a state-wide reputation for their excellent curative mineral springs and sanitariums. The farm at the time of my birth contained forty acres, but after my father married, he had purchased an additional five acres, located directly across the country highway, adjoining one hundred acres owned by the county fair association, where annual agricultural exhibits were held. The five acres in question was triangular in formation, coming to a point where the county roads converged.

For many years after my grandfather had passed away, Grandmother, with my father, Uncle Hiram, and Aunt Lillian had lived in the old log house, build when the pioneers first came to Michigan. After several years went by, and the county settled with newcomers, father had built a small frame house near the highway where they all had lived up to the time of his marriage. After the purchase of the triangular five acres, father had moved the small frame building onto it, adding thereto, to rooms downstairs and a large attic above.

In making this extensive addition, it is possible that my father foresaw the large family that eventually came to tax his modest income, if not to bless his home. Be that as it may, he had planned well.  His increasing responsibility did not discourage him, however, and I cannot remember the time that we were denied our fill of good wholesome food, and sufficient clothing to keep our bodies warm and comfortable.

Father was not an efficient farmer, therefore he made no pretense of supporting his family in that manner. Instead, after fall seeding was completed, he would spend the greater portion of winter in the pine woods, while in the spring, for many years, he drove logs on the river that wound itself serpentine like through the narrow valley that lay some two hundred yards from our house. In his absence, mother cared for the stock and other necessary [page 6] farm duties, besides attending her household work in which, of course, Grandma slightly assisted.

It was hard, disagreeable work, but she never seemed to mind it, for she at all times was light-hearted and full of optimism and good cheer. The day the wanagan floated down the river past our house always seemed a holiday for us youngsters. It was a great event in our young lives, for each year mother would take us to the brow of the steep bank overlooking the turbulent stream, where we would stand and watch the clumsy craft until it disappeared from view around a bend of the tortuous river.

The wanagan, or cook boat, as us children called it, was an unwieldy, flat-bottomed scow-like boat, upon which was prepared the meals for the hungry hordes of river men employed to bring up the rear of the spring drive. This boat was also the company’s commissary, for it was well-stocked with everything needful in the lumber business, from a pike pole to a package of needles.

When the wanagan had gone down the river past our house, we knew father would soon be home to stay for the summer, as he seldom accompanied the drive to Saginaw, its destination.  Upon his return home, he would be more than busy for a month or more planting his garden sufficient in itself to last another year. The hay was then cut and stacked snugly in the barn in readiness to feed the stock after the winter’s snow covered the green pastures.

After haying was over, harvesting was in order. More than once, for an entire day, I have stood at a safe distance in childish wonder and watched the self-binder with its revolving arms make the rounds of a field of ripe yellow grain. Around and around the field, the noisy machine would go, each time cutting a wide swath of gold stalks until finally, where stood the sea of waving grain, there was scores of shocks of tightly bound bundles. [Page 7] In this position, they were left to dry, after which the bundles were hauled to a point close to the barn and built into stacks that rose to twenty and twenty-five feet from the ground. Here they remained, until the threshing machine came along.

To a child on the farm there falls each year four great events that become so fixed in that youngster’s memory that he or she looks forward to each with an eagerness that possesses he or she body and soul. The four great events I have in mind are the Fourth of July, Christmas day, circus day and threshing day. The latter event might not have been of the greatest importance in our young lives, but I dare say it took a place mighty near the top. What an ecstasy of delight we were thrown into when we saw the great lumbering tractor engine bearing down upon our place, trailing in its rear the hulking form of the thresher.

Those were trying days for my poor mother. How she kept us all from harm while she prepared the food for the hordes of hungry threshers is a seventh wonder to me. We were bereft of all reason in our eagerness to witness every move that occurred in the whole arrangement of things, and any attempt to deny us the privilege of satisfying our curiosity was a terrible blow to our sensitive feelings. How the long time seemed to us before the whistle shrieked the signal that all was ready, but finally the time came, the men sprang to their places, the engine hissed and groaned, the wide leather belt began a merry flippety flap on the monster fly wheel, and soon there was a deafening roar of noises as the men on the high platform fed bundle after bundle of the ripened grain into the angry maw of the separator. Hour after hour, the process continued; hour after hour, a steady stream of yellow kernels flowed from the bowels of the monster machine into a bushel measure at its side.

[Page 8] Father’s threshing job was usually of minor consequence, but when the threshers came late in the afternoon, it lasted until late in the night. I can now see in retrospect the grotesque forms of the men as they moved briskly about their tasks in the gathering darkness. It all appeared to us youngsters not unlike an animated fairy scene. Finally, all too soon to us, the shout would come that the last bundle was on the table, and soon after, aside from a low hissing of escaping steam from the stilled engine, an impressing silence ensued.

This was the signal to mother that she must now play her most important part in the day’s drama. Therefore, a lusty cry from her that supper was ready had a magical effect on the tired and hungry men. With a shout they made a mad rush for the wash basin on the back porch. After removing the chaff and grime from their exposed flesh, they trooped into the dining room where mother had arranged a table the length of the large room capable of seating a small army of men. The table was always crowded with a most bountiful supply of good, wholesome food that fast disappeared as the hungry men appeased their ravenous appetites. During this meal, we youngsters had always to wait until the men had left the house. This was not distasteful to me, however, for my two ears were always open to the jokes and funny stories told by the jolly fellows, a fact that seemed to compensate me for my patience in foregoing for a time an empty stomach.

As all things must end, so did threshing day, and it was a bunch of tired but satisfied youngsters that sought their beds as the sounds of the retreating engine died away in the distance.

Plowing was the next task on the farm program, and as father kept no horses, a man and team was hired to do the job. Sowing the fall wheat completed the major portion of father’s farm responsibilities. With its execution, he would [page 9] begin preparations to leave us and return to the pine woods for another four or five months. For twelve years after my birth, this was his method of supporting his rapidly increasing family. How successful he was in doing so may be guessed at when I again say that we never were denied the necessities of a most comfortable existence.

I was perhaps nearing my sixth year when my school days began. How clearly I remember that first day in the school room. For an entire week before the fall term began at the district school my mother was kept busy making my clothes while father had purchased a new pair of red-topped boots for the occasion. When the opening day came, mother donned me in my new outfit, and we two set out for the school one half mile distant. By nature I was a nervous, timid youngster, possessing a terrible fear of all things animate, as well as inanimate, when away from my parent’s side. This particular morning, however, I was full of confidence and for the entire distance, I occupied my mother’s attention, questioning her in regard to the new life I was that day to enter upon.

The school house, a crude, weather-beaten structure, was located on Colburn’s Corners, an intersection of two well-traveled highways running north and south, and east and west. I can now, as though it was yesterday, see the old, white, faded building standing alone on the small corner lot, around which, at recess time, we youngsters played pom-pom, pull-away, tag, and other invigorating games that country school children then usually indulged in. How interesting they were to us then.

When my mother and I reached the school house, she at once sought the school master, who was sitting at a small table on a platform built nine or ten inches from the floor. My mother, having stated her mission, the strange man patted me reassuringly [page 10] on the head and told me he and I would get along fine together or words to that effect. Those few words and the man’s kind manner then and there sank deep into my little soul and from that time gave me a confidence in him and my new surroundings that otherwise would have plunged me into hysterics when my mother left me.

The master, Mr. Northrup by name, was a patient, kindly, middle-aged man who took to heart his responsibility in impregnating into each of his pupils’ heads the fundamentals of a thorough education. He was not too severe in his discipline, but firm when the occasion demanded. He was conscientious and, just in all cases, and in my later school days I came to adore the man for his sterling qualities. I remember as though it were yesterday standing by his side as he with a pointer in his hand, he taught me my A, B, C’s. For many years, Mr. Northrup taught in our district, and it was under his tutorship that I received the bulk of my learning. Of my later schooldays, I will relate in the proceeding chapters.

Like all normal youngsters of my age, I was fond of out-of-doors sports and exercises of which I indulged in at all times of the year. At the age of eight, I was allotted, after school and Saturdays, certain chores about the farm which my parents gave me to understand must not under any circumstances be neglected. These duties consisted of keeping the wood box full on the long winter days, feeding the pigs and chickens, and various other light tasks well known to any farmer lad. Aside from a very few instances of which I will later give, I was obedient to their bidding and was seldom reprimanded for being negligent. My obedience was probably in a great measure due to the fact that I stood in great fear of my father’s commanding voice or mother’s threatening thrashings which I knew to a certainty would be administered if I became negligent in my tasks.

[Page 11] In the fall before I was eleven years old, my [father] having finished his autumn seeding, made preparations to move his family to the logging camp where he was that winter to be employed. My memory of the trip, my first train ride, and our winter spent in the mighty forest is generally speaking a beautiful epoch in my young life. The happenings of that winter stand out bold and plain on my mental vision. I remember the clearing the men had made with ax and saw in the dense pine forest. Within this large cleared space they had built of logs, long rows of stables of the scores of horses then necessary in logging. A large cook and eating house, and a long, narrow bunk house where the small army of loggers slept, dried their clothing, and when their hard day’s work was over, made merry in diverse ways. Around these large log structures built close up to the uncut forest were several small, squatty log cabins in which families of the men lived. It was in one of these that we made our abode, and in memory as I now look within, it must have been warm and comfortable, perfumed, I dare say, by a healthful, resinous odor.

Our rustic abode contained but one room, but for privacy’s sake, my mother hung calico or gingham curtains entirely across one end, behind which she had placed our beds. The remainder of the room contained a small cook stove, one half dozen chairs, a common pine table, and a rude cupboard for food and dishes. These furnishings, although scanty, were sufficient for our needs and comfort, and I now feel that we enjoyed our rude home that cold winter we spent in the lumber woods.

At the time, there were five small children for my mother to watch and care for ranging in ages from eleven to less than one year. Birdie, the baby, was a helpless infant not yet a year old, then came Claude, James, Nellie, and myself. [Page 12] Imagine the care and work five youngsters in one day can accumulate for a mother. How clearly I remember certain childish pastimes us youngsters indulged in that winter we spent in our forest home. Chiefly among those pastimes was roaming along the edge of the forest playing Indian, building snow houses, and snow men, and other childish diversions of which we seemed never to tire. As spring approached, and the deep snow began to disappear from beneath the spreading branches of the great pines, we would wander into the forest and gather luscious red wintergreen berries that grew in abundance about the gnarled roots of those towering giants. This was great sport, and today gathering those shining red berries stands out more clearly on my memory than all other events–aside from one–that occurred that winter.

Frequently my mother, in going to the cook house for our supplies, would always take us youngsters with her. This delighted us, for each time that we went the white-apronned cooks would treat us to good things to eat such like as we were not in the habit of getting at home. I can now taste the large sizzling doughnuts, fresh and hot from the great pot of boiling lard, which the jolly cook handed us dangling from a large, ugly-looking fork. Then there were mince pies, apple pies, and raisin pies, each at times of which we would get a sample. How we made those goodies disappear in our childish greed and how the big, fat cooks would laugh at our evident appreciation of his culinary arts.

Although my father remained at home nights, he would oft times spend a portion of the long evening with his companions in their sleeping quarters. Many times during the winter, I was allowed to accompany him on these visits and now, when in any manner a logging camp is mentioned, my mind goes back to the old bunk house where in my childhood I spent many a joyful hour. From the first time my father took me to the bunk house, that institution [page 13] had a particular fascination for me, and I was most active in my requests that I be allowed to accompany him whenever I was aware he was going. On many of those occasions I was disappointed, however, and was not allowed to go, an action on my father’s part that always drove me behind the calico curtains to pout and cry out my disappointment. Those refusals were real calamities in my young life, which would have been borne with difficulty if I had been denied entirely the privilege.

In memory I can now see my father and I setting out on one of those visits, the out of doors intensely cold and frosty, and from the eaves of the rude log cabins hung scores of great, transparent icicles sparkling in the pale light of the full moon. The bunk house being located not far distant from our cabin, we were soon within the portals of the loggers’ comfortable quarters, and that my father was a welcome visitor was plainly evidenced by the hearty greeting that was always accorded him.

A few words now, in describing the interior of a bunkhouse in the lumber woods. Along both sides of the lengthy building were built a double row of bunks, that is, one above the other, similar to berths aboard a steamship or a railroad car, but in appearance not so elaborate or dignified. A mattress and springs were not to be thought of in the place, but instead the logger had gathered a generous supply of young pine boughs, over which they covered with a hunk of canvass or a heavy blanket. Changing these boughs frequently made as soft and comfortable a bed as one could wish for. Each of these rude beds opened onto a wide passageway that extended down the center the full length of the long room.

At about the center of this wide court stood a monster heating stove that, when in operation, threw its cheerful warmth to all corners of the large room. Evenings when I with my father invaded their den we would find a great majority of the loggers sitting on wooden benches within close proximity of the great heater, some darning and mending their clothing, while others not so industrious in that regard, were either singing or [page 14] lending an attentive ear to some diabolical yarn an ancient woodsman was relating.

All this was transpiring amid a dense cloud of tobacco smoke that emanated from the mouths of ninety per cent of the men present. At times the smoke became so dense that upon entering the building human forms at the farther recesses of the room bore an indistinct, hazy outline. This was due to a lack of ventilation in the room, a deplorable condition that seemed never to bother them in the least. Neither did the foul-smelling room affect me, but on the contrary, I rather liked the fumes of the burning tobacco, and now, in retrospection, I imagine I can smell the filthy odor that then permeated every nook and corner of the old bunk house.

There is little or no real artistic talent among the hard-fisted, heavy-jowled logger, but it must be acknowledged that among them there are some very intelligent, clever fellows that might have been successful in a more genteel pursuit of livelihood. Lack of interest, opportunity, or training is no doubt responsible for the mode of existence they had adopted. As I now look back on those evening visits to the bunk house I can see a free-for-all “hoe down” or clog dance in full swing among the great, lithe, agile fellows that would equal any vaudeville performance it was been my pleasure to witness. When the dancers had seemingly done their part in entertaining the interested onlookers, someone would call in a loud, boisterous voice for a song, which request would be echoed from many mouths demanding thusly: “Sing a song, Joe,” or “give us that late song of yours, Jack,” or some other entreaty to that effect. After a reasonable amount of coaxing and cajolery, Joe, Jack, or Bill would in great gusto render an inelegantly worded song, then most popular with the loggers and river men. At the finish, Joe, Jack, and Bill would receive such a greeting of applause that the reverberation seemed to shake the foundation of the great log cabin. With such an ovation, it always brought a repetition of the song.

[Page 15] Isolated in the great forest, away from the city’s vice and drink, the logger is prone to lead a wholesome, virtuous life in the secluded lumber camps. He works hard all day and as a rule among jolly, congenial companions; is well-fed three times a day, and when night comes, he retires to the comfortable bunk house, where he is entertained in the rough manner spoken of, to his heart’s content. When spring comes and his winter’s work is done, he, having no opportunity, as well as no reason for squandering his money, has a tidy sum coming to him. These hard-earned dollars received by many of the loggers were, like in my father’s case, put to good legitimate use in paying of mortgages, buying a piece of land, or other manner of investments. On the other hand, there were among them young, single, happy-go-lucky fellows, who would, upon reaching the first town in their path, dissipate in shameful indulgence and carousal every cent of their winter’s hard earnings. Less than a week of shameful debauchery would suffice to lay bare their wallets, then, with swollen faces and bleary eyes, they would, with meekness and unsolicited apology, apply of some river foreman for a job on the spring drive. The foreman approached would usually know these perfect specimens of young manhood; knew their fearlessness to the many dangers that lurked in the treacherous work; knew the value of their services to the lumber company; in short, the foreman was an apt appraiser of human nature, and it was seldom he erred in choosing his men.

How the logger spent his time when the spring drive was over is mere conjecture with me, but when the lumber camps opened in the late autumn, Joe, Jack, or Bill, with his heavy pack of woolen blankets on his back hurried on to join his comrades again in the great forest.

Thus, I have but briefly attempted to give you a picture of the average Michigan logger who, if a detailed account of his habits, his great strength and bravery was recorded, it would require many volumes to do him justice. The long, cold winter finally gave away to the bright and warm sunlight of [page 16] spring that melted the deep snows, making the logging roads slushy and impassable to further use in hauling logs to the banks of the lake that lay some distance away. These climatic changes gave evidence that our happy life in the great forest was soon to end, whereupon we would return to our home on the farm.

Before this was accomplished, however, an incident occurred, that in its seriousness, God only knows what might have been the result if such quick steps had not been taken by my mother to prevent the impending disaster. In anticipation of leaving the camp in a few days, my mother and us [sic] youngsters had collected from the wide flat surfaces of many freshly sawed pine and tamrack [tamarack] stumps quite a supply of resinous pitch, which, after boiling, she told us would make excellent chewing gum. The amount we had gathered, she told us would provide us with home-made chewing gum for many month after we returned to the farm. We had collected the pitch in a two-pound tomato can, and when evening came, she had put the can with its contents on the stove to boil to a certain degree, that when cool it would harden to a consistency where it would not stick to one’s mouth and teeth.

It was not long ere the resinous substance began to boil, and being such a heavy fluid, the solder melted on the base of the can, letting the contents spread over the surface of the red hot stove. Immediately the inflammable pitch burst into a sheet of flames that reached the rafters of the cabin roof.

It happened so suddenly that we were dazed for a moment, and could not move from our tracks. Finally, my mother uttered a scream and bade us youngsters to fly for our lives, while she ran for the bed where Birdie was sleeping. Catching up the child quickly into her arms, she ran to where we four little fellows were crouching in a farther corner of the room, and drove us before her out into the frosty night, calling for help as she went. Her frantic cries were heard at the bunk house, and several loggers came running to her assistance, among them my father.

[Page 17] The flaming pitch was mounting high when the men entered the cabin, but after a few moments quick work, the fire was subdued, and shivering from the cold and excitement, we all went inside, although the room was full of black, ill-smelling smoke. When the smoke had cleared sufficiently, we saw how near it had come to burning down the house, for the angry flames had set fire to the rafters, and if help had been delayed a few moments longer, no power could have saved it from complete destruction. We therefore had, on the eve of our departure, escaped such a catastrophe, and I dare say that my mother made a solemn vow, then and there, never again to boil pitch in a soldered tomato can.

A few days later, we left our forest domicile for the home on the farm, and I am sure the parting was very much regretted. There is something grand and sublime in that memory, and today, when my steps take me through the fir forests of the Pacific slope, and I smell the resinous air and hear the soughing of the wind as it filters through the heavy branches of those giant trees, it awakens in me the memory of our rustic home that winter we spent in the pine woods of Michigan.


[Page 18]

CHAPTER II

Thirty-two years have now fled since that crisp and frosty September morning [1890] we bid good-bye to the old farm and boarded the train at Alma for our new home on the far western coast of the state of Washington. I since have never returned to the place of my birth, but after all of those years, my memory has not forsaken me, and now as though it were but yesterday, I can see pictured before me the principle objects and characters of my boyhood days.

I can now picture in my mind the well-kept highways that, each half mile, crossed one another along which, I can also see, the exact location and style of architecture of every farm house, every barn, every fence, in fact, in memory, I can see the entire expanse of my boyhood world as distinctly as though it was outlined on a map that lay out before me.

No less accurate is my memory of the animate characters of my boyhood, and now in retrospect, I recognize those friends and neighbors who contemporaneously played a prominent part in my young life. Long ere this, many of those friends and neighbors and relatives have gone to their last resting place, a few, like ourselves, sought other climes, but a great part of the posterity of those noble pioneers still remain and continue on where, in passing, their parents left off.

Three decades is no short space of time. Many changes can, and have been wrought in that number of years, but in memory I can only see the farms and faces of those as they appeared when last I saw them thirty two years ago. Therefore it is to be my aim in the foregoing chapter to depict those characters and tell of the part they played in my young life.

The countryside in which I was born was thickly settled, therefore the lands were highly cultivated. Little timber stood in our vicinity, and [page 19] that which still remained was either on swampy land, picnic grounds, or maple groves, of which the two latter mentioned were zealously preserved and protected against demolition by careless trespassers.

The farms were small affairs, some containing but ten acres, while a man owning eighty acres was considered rich and influential in his vast holdings. The Goodriches were of this latter class and lived in a large brick house a quarter of a mile away on the main highway leading to the town of Alma. I speak of these good neighbors first, for the reason that they figure in my life from the moment I drew my first breath to the present day. Mrs. Goodrich, then in her early thirties, was at my mother’s bedside when I was born, and it was she who first bathed my tender young body and clothed me in my first dud. The Goodriches had come to our neighborhood several years prior to my birth, and in my babyhood had lived in a log house located on a high bank that overlooked the river. In this cabin their eldest son had died.



This map is taken from an 1889 atlas of Gratiot County (Pine Township) and shows the Jay Woodin forty acres at the lower edge of the township. St. Louis, Michigan, is at the upper right of the map. The map also shows the location of many of the Woodin neighbors mentioned in this section of Will’s memoir. Map courtesy of HistoricMapWorks.com.

With their eighty acres of well-tilled land, the Goodriches had been most successful and, in their prosperity, they had erected an imposing mansion of wood, brick and mortar. In keeping with this fine house, a mammoth barn had been built with all the modern improvements and devices, even to the lightning roads, that showed their spiral points above the peak of the broad hip roof. Besides disposing of much farm produce, Mr. Goodrich had, for many years, won the greater portion of his success and revenue by operating a large dairy business.

As a youth, my father had for several years assisted him in this and other work about the farm. Mr. Goodrich was a most influential figure in our neighborhood and held the respect and good will of all who knew him. I remember him as a short, blonde man of rotund proportions, with a round, good natured face, but a face that could be extremely firm if the occasion [page 20] required. Of the latter temperament in the man I can vouch for, since an experience wherein I took part when I was five or six years old, was the source of much sorrow to me.

On one of the visits my mother and I frequently made to the Goodrich home, I had yielded to temptation and possessed myself with a large number of milk tickets which Mr. Goodrich kept in a cigar box on a shelf in the book case. On our arrival home, my mother discovered me playing with the many colored cardboards, and inquired of me where I had found them. My answer must have been a falsehood, for without further argument, she gave me marching orders, and we were soon on our way back to our good neighbor’s house, she for the purpose of punishing me, while I, at her side, was in a state of hysterical fear of the consequence I felt was near at hand.

Entering the house, my mother at once sought Mr. Goodrich to whom she handed the evidence of my guilt. After studying the tickets for a moment, he turned a very stern countenance my way, and in a deep, gruff voice, threatened me with every punishment known to man until I gave signs of contracting a hysterical fit. As I grew older, I realized this severe punishment which had been administered by Mr. Goodrich was meant with little earnestness, but a warning against a repetition of my transgression. In my tender years, I did not realize, and in my terror, I saw only the yawning gates of prison waiting for me.

I was allowed to escape that humiliation, however, but despite the severity of my lesson in this instance, there seemed a strong inclination in my makeup to possess myself with everything that captured my childhood fancy, and on many occasions afterward I was likewise involved. In these later escapades of mine, Mr. Goodrich took no part, but I did not cease to fear the man, until one day a few years later, my father carried me (for I had a stone bruise on one of my heels, and could not walk) into his bed chamber where I looked down upon his cold, white face lying peacefully in his coffin in eternal death.

[Page 21] Besides Mr. and Mrs. Goodrich, there was one girl and four boys in the family. Iola, the daughter, was a child from a former marriage of Mr. Goodrich, therefore was the eldest child. Then came George, Alonza, Mamie, and Bert, who was the youngest and near my own age.

It was Bert who was a favorite playmate of my childhood, a boon companion of my youth, and a true and sincere friend in my maturity. Together we shared our joys and sorrows, and inseparable we roamed our narrow world in a state of loyal comradeship. Even today, each with his posterity matured, we can, after a journey of three hours greet one another. Later on, in the reminiscences of my boyhood, Bert will be a prominent figure, but now my memory takes me back to a little faded house located on the farm that joined ours on the west.

Every neighborhood, I dare say, can boast of a bully. Whether in boyhood or in manhood, or in both, they manifest themselves by cowardly insolence and idle threats and by intimidating those who they know are younger and less strong. Frank Kipp, a neighbor’s son, a few years my senior, was of this sort. He was an illegitimate child, and had in infancy been adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Kipp, whose bodies, at the time began to show the effect of nearly three score of years. The neighborhood knew little or nothing of the circumstances surrounding the child’s mysterious appearance, and none were so curious as to broach the subject in the presence of the good old souls who had taken upon themselves this creditable act for humanity’s sake. Thus, to this day, the child’s origin has remained a mystery, although it was hinted that he was the offspring of Mary, the wayward daughter of the Kipps. Some months prior to the child’s appearance in our midst, Mary had left her father’s home, and soon after, news came of her secret marriage in a small town not far distant. This information led the [page 22] curious to surmise there was a close connection between Mary and the infant, but whether or not that was true, it was never proven.

It was proven, however, that from the child’s infancy he had gradually developed into a troublesome, wicked lad who was despised and shunned by the entire neighborhood. He was bold and venturesome, and seldom free from some sort of difficulty. He was a bright, intelligent boy, but it seemed that his intelligence ran largely to boldness, and now I realize that at his seven or eight years he knew more evil than most men in their maturity.  He was ruthlessly cruel to all birds and animals, and from the punishment I received from his hands, I will venture to say, the dumb creatures fared better than I. He was my evil genius, and whenever I was abroad, he would nearly always intercept me, and fill my childish ears full of wicked nonsense. I would listen to his filthy utterances with childish curiosity and wonder, and at the first opportunity, would repeat his tales to my mother. I remember how her face would cloud with anger, when I repeated his vulgar words, whereupon she would tell me what awful thing she was going to do to the naughty boy when next she caught him.

“Of course, God made you, child”; “God made everything, and sees, and hears everything we do and say”; “Frank, the naughty boy will be punished when he dies”; my mother told me when I questioned her in regard to what the evil boy had told me. I believed in her above all others, but at the same time, the wicked lad had planted the seed of doubt in my young mind. As I grew older and wiser in a worldly way, I recognized the moral object of her words.

As I have said before, Frank was nearly always in trouble of some kind. By his own carelessness, he either was injured bodily, or he was involved through one of his evil pranks with some one of the neighbors. I can remember quite plainly when I was nine or ten years old, of a serious accident that befell him which nearly resulted in his death. At the time he was perhaps thirteen or fourteen, a large, muscular boy for [page 23] those years, and sufficiently strong to accomplish a man’s work about the farm.

On the day of which I am about to mention, he was assisting his aged father in the hay field. The hay, a few days previous, had been cut and lay thickly about upon the ground to dry in the warm June sun. In this manner it had become thoroughly cured, and Frank was driving the horse attached to a rake that rolled the fragrant hay together in long rows, when later it would be hauled and stowed snugly away in the barn. Sitting high upon the seat of the machine, the boy held the reins with one hand, and with the other, he manipulated the lever that released the hay, when and wherever he wished.

In some way the reins were wrested from his hands, and had fallen on the animal’s body in such a manner that it frightened the beast, and she sprang forward, and, at a speed [previously] unknown to her, she ran down the field tossing Frank up and down on the hard seat, which he was holding onto for dear life. The animal had not gone far before the wheels of the machine struck a prominent knoll with such force that it broke Frank’s hold on the seat and threw him high in the air. When his foster parent, who had witnessed the accident, came up to where Frank lay on the ground, he found him screaming with pain. With all haste possible, the old man summoned assistance, and the injured boy was borne to the house to await the arrival of the doctor, who had been sent for at Alma. Loyal to the child that had cost them so many worries and cares, the old couple were frantic with anxiety for they were fearful least the lad be fatally injured. They petted and consoled the injured, and told him they were at fault for forcing him to do the precarious work. When the physician came and examined Frank’s body, he allayed their worst fears by informing them that the boy had only broken his right limb in two places above the ankle. “Otherwise,” the doctor had said, “he is as sound as a brick and will be as good as ever when I get through with him.”

After setting the leg in splints, he put him in bed, and to prevent him [page 24] from moving his injured leg, the doctor had hung a heavy rock from his foot, that, at the end of a leather strap, it reach halfway to the floor. Those were trying days, I know, to the wild, restless youngster, and I afterward wondered how he endured so patiently his long days of confinement and solitude. Due to pity for the unfortunate lad, but chiefly out of respect for the good old neighbors, I was permitted to visit Frank during his convalescence. Though I had come to fear the reckless young fellow, I also held him in reverential awe. With the many cruelties he had heaped upon my head, I had learned to despise him, but at the same time, there always was a fascination about him for me that I had little power to resist. Therefore, it was with pleasure and alacrity that, when permitted to go, I went to soothe the sufferings of my evil genius.

On those visits, I had no hatred in my heart for him, but I know I felt a secret satisfaction, as I looked without fear upon my persecutor as he lay prone and helpless on his bed. Always upon entering, I looked with some wonder and concern at the heavy weight dangling from his foot and would ask each time if it did not hurt him. When he replied in the negative, I thought him a Sampson, a superman, a creature who could bear tons on his body. This was a childish fancy, and I now wonder if such ludicrous ideas creep into every child’s head.

With his misfortune and confinement, there seemed to come a change in Frank’s nature. Whether or not he realized he was helpless to do or say as was his wont, he was kind to me and voiced his appreciation of my visits that were unmistakably sincere. He would tell me of the good times we would have when he got well and that he was sorry for the cruel treatment he had awarded me.

Due to excellent care and a virile, healthy body, Frank’s recovery was rapid, and before August came, he was able with the aid of crutches, to hobble around the house and yard. Before September came, he was on his two feet [page 25] as good as ever, and before October had come, he had become as cruel and ruthless as of yore, for on the back of my head I carried for months a lump as large as a hen’s egg, where he had hit me with a large boulder. In his regained strength and freedom, he soon forgot his promises to me, and again I became a target for his cruelty.

At another time, Mr. Kipp had purchased a quantity of lumber for the purpose of adding to his house or barn, I don’t remember which now. The lumber must have been very green or wet, for he had piled it three cornered fashion in the yard in such a manner that the air would circulate and dry all four surfaces of the pine boards. Lapping one on the other at the corners, the boards had been piled high, leaving on the interior a large vacant space that would allow easily a score of boys to stand in. To reach the interior, it was necessary to climb up the outside by barely sticking one’s toes in the narrow space between the boards, and going over the top; the same process would be employed in descending.

This vacant space, while the pile of lumber stood, served as a stronghold for Frank, whereto he fled and within its bounds, he felt secure from pursuit of his parents and other unwelcome intruders. A few times he had invited me to follow him over the sides, but I had been content in watching him make the ascent and looking at him through the opening between the boards after he had reached the ground. By not following Frank was most fortunate for me, as the tragic event I am about to narrate conclusively proves.

Connected with this pile of lumber, I will add, that as long ago as I can remember, Frank had a mania for all sorts of explosives, whether dynamite, nitro-glycerin, or common gun powder–it was all the same to him. How he came in possession of these dangerous compounds I never knew, and he would never tell me when I inquired. That his parents were ignorant of the fact was obvious. He had a secret hiding place in the barn, but I was never allowed to see where; and what I was allowed to know, I was sworn [page 26] to silence on the matter, for he threatened to beat me if I “squealed.” There came a day, however, when they learned the truth, and then through no fault of mine.

The day I have in mind was in mid-summer, therefore hot and sultry. For reasons unknown to me, I was with him, and to make things interesting to both of us, he was going to demonstrate the destructive force of gun powder. First he had taken a four ounce bottle, into which he had placed a fuse that had been saturated with kerosene oil. Around the fuse, up to the neck of the bottle, he had filled with coarse, black powder. Boring a hole in the cork, he had let the fuse project, after the stopper was in place, about eight inches.

After all these arrangements were complete, Frank, with the infernal machine in his pocket, scaled the walls of the lumber pile to the floor of his stronghold, there to set the thing off. For some fortunate reason, I had sensed danger in his diabolical scheme, and I had scurried for cover. I had barely reached shelter when I heard a muffled report, then a scream of pain, and presently I saw Frank scampering over the top of the lumber pile in great haste, his face and hands bathed in his own blood. Jumping to the ground, he began running in a wide circle around the yard, the blood streaming from several wounds in his face, blinding him and saturating his clothing, while at every jump, he emitted a whoop that would have done justice to the loudest voiced Indian that ever took part in a war dance.

Who rescued him from his race horse inclinations, I never knew, for as soon as my scattered senses became collected, I let out for home, and I did not slacken my pace until I was within the portals of my own house. His injuries, I soon learned, although not serious, were, however, very painful, for the broken glass had torn several great gashes in his face and hands. It was considered a miracle that his eyes had been spared in the shower of broken glass.

The evening before we came west, Frank, with his [page 27] horses and wagon, delivered our trunks and boxes to the baggage man at the depot in Alma. At that time, he had grown into a quiet, modest young man, possessing many good qualities, but inclining strongly toward a professional gambler’s future. As I bid him goodbye that evening thirty-two years ago, the many scars on his handsome face recalled to my mind the tragedy I had several years before witnessed in Kipp’s lumber pile.

A quarter of a mile from our house, on the highway leading to St. Louis, a ponderous gate swung on its huge hinges, when one wished to enter the narrow lane or driveway that led to a large farm house standing back from the road some three hundred yards. During the spring and summer months, the old square mansion was almost entirely obscured from the highway by a dense grove of giant maples that surrounded it. They had grown into gnarled monsters and with their profusion of foliage, the sun seldom hit the ground beneath their shaggy branches. In the exuberance of spring, I have stood when a lad at a certain angle from the roadway, and as I looked across the fields, I secretly admired with artistic emotions the white walls of the mansion as a portion showed through the tree tops. It reminded me of the storied castles of Europe of which I had read and the pictures I had seen in books, and I fancied in my childish mind that the big house might well be the abode of monarchs and gallant knights of the old Elizabethan days.

The occupants, however, of this commodious dwelling, and owner of many fertile acres, was a family by the name of Briggs. The boundaries of their farm began at a point across the road directly in front of our house and extended along the highway toward St. Louis for one half mile, while it ran back to Pine River, which made a dividing line between adjacent farms. I remember Mr. Briggs as a short, stocky built man, with a prominent stomach and a hump on his back, that, as a child I thought it must be a great burden for him to carry around all the time. [Page 28] This deformity, we were told, was caused many years before by a bucket of earth striking him on the shoulders while at the bottom of a deep well he was digging. He was a most slovenly old fellow, with a full black beard streaked with gray, and I cannot remember the time that he garbed himself in other than his greasy, streaked working clothes.

He seemed always jovial and happy, however, and enjoyed to talk much of himself and tell smutty stories, being not at all particular upon whose ears his vile words fell. He was vulgar and loud mouthed, and frequently we could hear him, even from our house, cursing and swearing at his boys or at his stock. Much of his blasphemy was vented, not in anger, but from a habit he had acquired.

Mrs. Briggs, a most refined, well educated and comely woman, was by nature an antithesis to the vulgar, untidy man, and I have many times since wondered how two souls so different in habits could have been joined in matrimony. Together, the Briggses were seldom seen outside their own gate, and in all the sixteen years of my life in the neighborhood, I dare say I had seen Mrs. Briggs less than one dozen times.

I should judge also that she must have been a very distant, disinterested neighbor, for I don’t remember her calling upon my mother, nor do I remember my mother going there. Many were of the opinion that the woman was too vain and proud to familiarize herself and associate with them as was the general custom in our neighborhood. How true this might have been, I cannot say, but it is possible their judgment was overdrawn, for she might have had unselfish reasons for the seclusion that she exercised.

Besides the parents, the Briggs family consisted of three boys and two girls. Milo, the eldest, a man grown when I was born, was seldom at home. [Neither] he nor did the two daughters play any part in my young life, but Malen and Orson, many years younger than them, were prominent characters in my boyhood, and in the latter’s companionship I was subject to another bad influence, although not so dominant and malignant as that exercised by my evil genius Frank Kipp.

[Page 29] Orson possessed not the intelligence or craftiness that Frank did, therefore he possessed not the power, but he demonstrated his badness to the fullest extent of his ability. Orson, or Ott, as he was generally known in the neighborhood, had a corpulent, overgrown body, which evidenced a marked inheritance from his father. He had a full, fat face, and, when he smiled or laughed, his little eyes almost disappeared in the superfluous folds of flesh that adorned his ruddy cheeks. He was indolent and lazy from which cause I feel that his father was at time justified in administering such punishment upon the lad as he did, although due to the fact that he was the baby of the family, his parent did so in a mild manner. He was a great coward, and inclined to whine when he saw an impending danger that would affect his physical discomfort. I remember distinctly, upon one occasion, that his cries of terror must have been heard a mile away. That he was justified in sounding his wails of misery, I did not question, when I came to realize what had cause them.

It happened one beautiful Sunday in early summer, down by the old swimming hole. Frequently on the Sabbath, Ott and I were allowed to go to the river to enjoy with the older boys and men the aquatic sports that enticed scores to the stream on that holy day. On the day of which I write, a goodly number had gathered for their weekly bath, among who were Ott and I. When I arrived a few were already in the water, while the majority were scattered about on the grassy bank in various stages of disrobing, preparing to follow. They were all in a state of excitement, and hastily snatching the clothes from their bodies, for someone had proposed levying humiliating punishment upon he who entered the stream last. This humorous custom was then a tradition among a crowd of bathers, and I dare say it is practiced today. From the brink of the grassy plane, the high sandy bank fell away in an easy slope to the river’s edge. As soon as one had disrobed, he would run headlong down the soft, sandy [page 30] incline and leap far out into the stream, loudly evidencing his elation at not being the humiliated victim.

It was in a frantic effort to escape the proposed punishment that Ott came to grief on that Sabbath day. He had not noticed the large, sharp, wooden splinter that lay hidden in the soft sand, nor had he meant to trip his clumsy feet and stumble as he went over the bank in his reckless speed. He had failed in both instances, however, and when willing hands had carried his corpulent body to a grassy plot beneath a shady tree, it was discovered that the large splinter had penetrated his fleshy buttock to the depth of four or five inches. The pain must have been terrible, for until it was removed (requiring no little effort in the operation) the poor lad screamed hysterically. After the splinter was withdrawn from his body, the wound bled copiously, but with a generously donated shirt, the flow was stopped and, an hour later, with assistance, Ott was able to walk to his home.

It was an entire moth after this incident before Ott’s fat, smiling face was again seen in our midst, and I feel safe in adding that during a portion of that time, he had not set himself down with any great amount of ease. I was with Ott much of my boyhood and will tell more of him as I proceed, but now I will leave him.

Joining the Briggs farm on the west, and facing the main highway diagonally across the roadway from our house was the ten acre farm owned by Mason Lewis and family, our nearest neighbors. The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis, Fred, the eldest son, many years my senior, Bert, about my own age, and Mary, whose birth occurred on the same day and within the same hour as that of my sister Nellie. The parents were sincere, conscientious church members and their children were reared accordingly. From the time we youngsters began to toddle about, Bert and Mary were our boon companions and brothers and sisters could not have been more dear to one another than those two were to us. [Page 31] As babies we played together for hours at a time. In childhood we were schoolmates, and in boyhood it was Mary who kindled in me that which gave token of the approach of maturing manhood. It was she who awakened in my breast the first love for her sex, a feeling that had thrilled me through and through, and it became my secret, childish desire that someday Mary might be mine entirely. Fate had designed otherwise, however, and since those love fancies of my youth, thirty two years have fled, and in its passing, time has left upon my memory but a pleasant vision of Mary, my first sweetheart.

These four neighboring families, a reminiscence from each, that I have so briefly written in the preceding pages, constituted the principle characters of my early years of life. They were of that small world wherein I first saw the light of day and among who I grew to young manhood.

Besides those immediate neighbors, there was within a radius of two miles of our home many families who, in a lesser degree, held a niche in my youthful realm. Among them were the Colburns, Johnstons, Wisners and Shunks, living east of us on the Colburn road; while on the main highway to St. Louis were the Maurer and Baldwin families. On the highway leading south to Ithaca, the county seat, lived the Carbinos, the Farrows, the Burts, the Fitzgeralds, and the Sherwoods. Then there were the Derushes, the Fezes and many more that I now do not recall. The sons and daughters of these many families were my schoolmates, my daily associates, and now, after three decades of time, I picture them as I knew them in youth.

           

Childhood

Sweet childish days that were as long

As twenty days are now.

Wordsworth.





[Page 32]

CHAPTER III

In the town of St. Louis lived my father’s four living sisters and only brother. Aunt Ophelia, Uncle Wallace, and Wellington had died prior to my birth. The sisters had all married and had families by the time I was old enough to realize. Aunt Martha, the eldest, had first entered the fields of matrimony having been chosen by Elias Smith, a prosperous, resourceful man, possessing several acres of well-tilled garden land, lying within the city’s limits. Vaguely I remember him as a man of large stature, and having a mean, quarrelsome disposition that inherited him not a few enemies. He had died in my early childhood, leaving his possessions to my aunt and his three children, Iola, Katherine, and Seaman, the two former being young ladies grown as early as I can remember, while Seaman was nearer my own age. Left in reasonably independent circumstances, my aunt and three cousins lived comfortably in the old home and were still there when we came west in 1890.

Aunt Celia had married Emery W. Burgess, a man of excellent qualities, kind, congenial, and loving, who owned a forty-acre farm bordering on the little city’s boundary. To them were born three cousins, who by name were Etta, Lillian, and Glen. As far back as I can remember, Aunt Celia was more or less an invalid, and at long periods would be confined to her bed. Despite her ill health, she was always patient and kind, and I always enjoyed going to visit her and Uncle Emery. Uncle Em was a wonderfully good man, always cheerful and full of the Old Nick. I have since often wondered if my aunt’s life had not been prolonged many years by the cheerful atmosphere that Uncle Emery spread about his fireside.

           Aunt Celia had been dead several years prior to the time I write these lines, but Uncle with more than four score of years to his credit, is as cheerful and jolly as he was in his prime. Aside from failing eyesight, he is well and vigorous and by the correspondence we have recently exchanged, his intellect is evidently as keen as when he was fifty.

[Page 33] Aunt Elizabeth had married Edwin W. Farmer, a poor, but honest good man, who I remember had, at frequent intervals, severe epileptic fits. How it frightened me, when I saw him in the throes of one of those convulsive spells from which I though he never would recover. Due to this terrible malady, with the indefiniteness of its occurrence, Uncle Ed’s services as a workman were not often solicited, although he was a hard, conscientious worker. Therefore, he seldom had a steady position, but did odd jobs around town. Some years after we came west, his crumpled body was found in an outhouse, where he had succumbed to one of the epileptics.

Aunt Libbie, as I remember her, was a small, frail, but wiry woman, with a kind, placid disposition, and an ardent church-goer. To the Farmers were born two sons and one daughter: Floyd, Fred and Celia. Floyd, a handsome youth, was two years my senior; Fred about my own age; while Celia, three or four years younger. Floyd and Fred were prominent figures in my young life and of which I will write more as I proceed.

When I was about five years old, Aunt Lillie, my father’s youngest sister, married Orin Richards, a young man possessing lofty tastes and desires. He made little pretense of making his livelihood by the sweat of his brow, for he abhorred honest manual labor. Instead, his ambitions ran entirely to horse flesh. Give him an old spavined skate of a horse that someone had sold him for a song, and he would in a fortnight, have the animal looking like a real horse, and the first thing you knew he would have him traded or sold for a neat little sum. He was in his glory when seated on a two wheeled sulky behind a prancing nag, and now in memory I can see him perched on his gig, immaculately dressed, his hands gloved, and a countenance that denoted the extreme pleasure he was enjoying. He was proud and vain, and nearly at all times was attired with great care and neatness, giving him the appearance of a man possessed of wealth and culture. Despite his aversion of real labor, he has ridden the billows of life buoyantly, and now in his old age he has, I dare [page 34] say as much of world’s good to his credit as the most of his kin, who have labored strenuously with their hands.

I remember my Aunt Lillie as a sweet, rosy-faced young woman, with kind, patient ways, and a good mother. Uncle Rin’s (as everyone called him) slothful habits, I think, must have been a strain on her poor nerves, but if this was true, she made no mention of it, but on the other hand, her every action showed the love and esteem she held him in.

To their union were born one daughter and four sons. Eva, the only girl, died when she was an infant. At the time, they were living in a small house located on the highway between our place and St. Louis. I can now remember vividly her small baby face lying white and still in the plush lined coffin. Hers was the first face in the sleep of death that I had ever looked upon.

When they moved into their own home below the Academy in St. Louis, Charley, the eldest son was born. Then came Curtis, Seaman and Egbert. The latter was but a baby when Aunt Lillie died, leaving her husband with four young sons to care for. Uncle Orin, Charley, and Curtis still make their home in Michigan, while Seaman and Egbert reside respectively in Everett and Tacoma, Washington.

Uncle Hiram, next to Aunt Lillie, was the youngest in the large family. He was a young man when I was old enough to remember and lived much at our house. That he was a favored child will be agreed when I say that Grandma spent several hundred dollars of her much-needed savings in giving him a thorough college education. Her money seemed not wasted, however, for he had studiously applied his time while at school, and came therefrom with an education that fitted him for a genteel, if not a remunerative profession. 

Soon after leaving school, he began the practice of law in St. Louis. It was while he was thusly engaged that he met Caroline Scovill, a fashionable dressmaker, who had been enticed to the little city by the employment she might obtain from the wealthy patrons of the sanitarium. She came from a splendid family residing in southern Michigan, was aristocratic in her bearing, and very well educated. Not long after coming to St. Louis, she and Uncle Hiram were married. In due time, his law business became such that it gave him a fair competence and his success seemed assured.

Then came that ambitious desire of youth to reach the pinnacle of fame in one grand bound. He entered politics, and his name was placed on the county ticket for probate judge for the ensuing term. This step was the turning point of his life, for he not only lost in the political race, but he lost a certain amount of his prestige in the community.

Throughout their married life, even to this day, Aunt Carrie has been a faithful champion to the cause of Uncle Hiram’s future success. Her greatest ambition and desire in life was that he should succeed, therefore she was a driving force in his worldly efforts.  They were most optimistic, and built great castles in the air from the modest prospect of wealth and success. Times upon times those filmy castles have crumbled and fallen, and immediately from the ruins others of various proportions have arisen. Today the two are nearing that milestone of life, indicating three score and ten, but the worldly products of all those years have been mostly disappointments and a mediocre existence.

 Soon after his political defeat, he closed his law offices in St. Louis, and as my father was coming west, he prepared to accompany him, sending Aunt Caroline to live with her mother until he should send for her. Here in Seattle, on a few occasions, he has dabbled with politics, only to feel, in each case, the humiliating sting of defeat. Of their many disappointments and adversities, I could write a volume, but now, lest I forget, another Aunt and cousin then in St. Louis commands attention.

They were the widow and only son of Uncle Wallace Woodin: Aunt Lind and Wallace, Jr. I have a vague remembrance of Aunt Belinda, for she entered my life but little, having married again and moved from our community. Cousin Wallace, however, remained in St. Louis and took a part in my younger [page 36] days. He was about three years my senior, and a big, strapping boy for his age. In his youth, he lived much of his time with Uncle Emery and Aunt Celia, assisting Uncle on the farm, while at the same time he went to school, thereby gaining the fundamentals of an education that has served him well in his later years.

An ill-fated romance is connected with Cousin Wallace’s long residence at Uncle Emery’s. As he and Lillian grew up together, a love affair develop that for a time promised an early marriage, despite the frantic protestations of her parents and the many relatives. Finally, however, after logical reasoning, the two cousins realized the effect such unions have wrought on the human race, and with reluctance, abandoned the thought of marriage. A few years later, the two cousins were married, but not to one another.

Cousin Wallace began his career in St. Louis when he became the protégé of a wealthy hotel owner there. His benefactor, Mr. Harrington by name, was not an exponent of morals, but on the contrary, he created around Wallace an atmosphere of vice and depravity that the youth could not very well resist. For several years he continued on in Mr. Harrington’s employ, but finally left him having in those years developed into a profligate. When he at last escaped the vile influence Mr. Harrington had exerted, he emerged with a reputation in the community that was anything but encouraging.

This will be verified, when I say his next employment was that of a bartender, in one of the many saloons the city boasted. For many years, he was employed thusly, at all times coming in contact with that sordid side of life that emanates from the saloon. Then came a day when a change came over Cousin Wallace; a complete metamorphosis in the man. He saw the light, and with the light came a new heart, new thought and new employment. He left the saloon and became a member of the Presbyterian Church, seeking in the meantime legitimate employment. From that day Wallace’s future was destined to be filled with happiness and prosperity.

A few years after the change in Wallace he was [page 37] selected to fill an important position connected with the Church in Ohio. For several years, he was retained in this position at Columbus, when he was chosen and made assistant superintendent of Presbyterian Sunday Schools of the State of Connecticut, located at Hartford. At the time I write, he is still in Hartford where in the same capacity he is serving the Lord in which, no doubt is to be his life’s work.

Aside from my Uncle Thomas and William and the latter’s family, I personally know little of my mother’s people. I remember Uncle Thomas as a large, heavy-boned man with auburn hair and beard, and heavy, bushy eyebrows of the same hue. He was about middle-aged when I first saw him and had never married. He spent all of his time in the lumber camps, coming out and visiting us perhaps once a year or sometimes two or three years would go by ere we saw him. We never knew when he was coming for he never wrote us to that effect. His coming, to us youngsters, was always greeted with much glee and satisfaction, for never on one of his visits did he fail to fetch us a big, generous bag of candy. The candy was always the plain, mixed kind, but to us “kids,” it was as delicious and as greatly appreciated as though it had been of the choicest chocolate variety. A few days with us, and Uncle Tom would become restless, and a longing for the woods would possess him, and as suddenly as he came, he would return to his home in the camp. After coming to Seattle, we never heard from Uncle Tom, nor did we once learn of his whereabouts from any other source. Long ere this, no doubt his maker has claimed him.

Of my mother’s people, we youngsters knew her youngest brother, Uncle Will McMahon and his family best of all. As a child, I clearly remember him, for he lived many years with us in Michigan, then years later, he, with his large family, came to Seattle to reside. I remember the Uncle Will of my childhood as a rosy-faced, robust youth who was then enjoying those golden years that come to one just prior to the stern responsibilities and cares that come [page 38] later in life. At all times he was light-hearted and gay, and when he was not conversing, he was either singing, whistling, or dancing, at any one of which he was most proficient. His happy, cheerful disposition, I know, made him many friends, for his evenings were spent much away among them. More than once on those evenings he would go out, I have secretly watched him as he made his toilet and carefully attired himself. When he had gone, I would slip from my hiding place and go to the dresser where I would sniff the sweet-scented shaving soap and help myself to a generous sprinkle of the fragrant perfumery he always provided. To my mother, the evidence of my mischief was always apparent, and for which I was always severely reprimanded.

For some years while with us, Uncle Will was employed as a printer on the weekly paper published in St. Louis. He would often talk of the printing office, of his work and experiences there, an account that would always occupy my most languid attention. Like most boys who have future plans and ambitions, mine had been made, for come what may, I was going to be a printer when I grew to be a man. That childish threat has never materialized, however, but many years after coming to Seattle, it remained one of my pet desires.

When I was about twelve, Uncle Will had contracted the western fever and finally decided to go to Missouri and take advantage of the pre-emption law, and secure one hundred and sixty acres of land, located in or near the Ozark Mountains. How clearly I remember the evening prior to his departure. That he had many close and loyal friends was demonstrated that evening when about midnight, long after Uncle had sought his bed, a score of his companions had come in conveyances to serenade him and with him God speed. I can now hear those youthful male voices as they rent the night air. The final song they rendered was appropriate to the occasion, and from the emotions that were stirred in my childish bosom, I doubt that my Uncle retained his manly pose. The song they sung is an old one and ran thusly: “Good night, ladies, we’re going to leave you now.”

Instead of using the original words of the song, they had substituted my [page 39] Uncle’s name so that it ran, “Good night, Billy, we’re going to leave you now.” Many years have passed since then, and in their passing, Uncle Will made the best of them, living a most useful life, and was the father of a large family. He was twice married, his first wife having died when four of his children were but infants. Those four came in the order named: Robert, Stella, William and Gerald. With the care and responsibility of four small children, Uncle deemed it wise to marry again, which he did soon after my Aunt had died. To my Uncle’s second marriage, two sons were born: Rolls and Burr by name.

As the county settled up around his home in the Ozarks, a town was founded near his farm, in which my Uncle operated a general merchandise store, and was made its first Postmaster. In this capacity, he remained until he came west for his health. His residence in Seattle was short, however, for after a couple of years, he returned to Missouri but not to remain long. His health was failing fast, and after a short stay in their Ozarks home, he, with his family, again turned their faces westward, finally settling in Montana, where he died a year or two later. Now Aunt Cynthia, my Uncle’s second wife, and the five sons reside in and about Los Angeles, California, while Stella lives in Portland, Oregon.

Of my Aunts, Annie and Mary, I have but a faint recollection, having seen them briefly when I was but a mere child. Aunt Mary, when long past her girlhood, had married John Bresnehan, who I have heard was a poor but honest, good man. They resided in Detroit, where they died several years ago. Detroit also is the home of Aunt Annie, where she now lives and has spent the greater portion of her life. Nearly forty years ago, she married Frank Sweeney and to them four children have been born: William, John, Edwin and Mary. At the time I write, all survive except William, who died but a few years ago. With the exception of Ed, I have seen none of my Detroit cousins. In 1910, Ed came to Seattle, spending several weeks with us, he and I having a most enjoyable time together.

Near the old McMahon home at Flushing, Aunt Margaret, my mother’s eldest sister, [page 40] had lived until death had claimed her. There she had married Patrick Frawley, a fairly successful farmer, and there a large family was born. They were: William, John, James, Mary and Margaret, none of which I ever saw. Of the large McMahon family, my mother and Aunt Annie survive. Soon they will be called, and with the generation gone, their posterity will take up the worldly cares and propagation of the race where they left off. Thus the world goes on and on eternally.

Controlled by the same infinite power, humanity may be likened unto the kernel sown in the soil. Like the ova egg in a mother’s womb, so is the seed in Mother Earth. In due time, with mankind, a tiny morsel of humanity is brought into life, likewise from the kernel, a frail, tender stalk pushes itself through the soft earth to nod its head to the world. As time goes on, the tiny morsel of humanity develops into childhood, then into boy or girlhood, then finally enters that ripened state where he or she is capable of perpetuating their kind. The same process is true of the frail, tender stalk, that by the same natural law, gradually develops into maturity, and in its maturity, from the one kernel it has begot many of its kind. Perpetuating the race is the noblest work of God, and man, like the stalk, when this is accomplished, the material substance, withers and dies, and both in their decomposition, return to earth in the same manner. This is my philosophy of life. The laws of nature have taught me that man, materially is of the higher vegetable kingdom.

W. J. Woodin March 7, 1922.

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Will Woodin's Autobiography

The Woodin family, ca. 1900, left to right, top row: Louise, Claude, Birdie, Hiram, Carrie, and James; middle row, Will and Nellie; bottom row: Katherine McMahon and Jay. Sandra Dunn Collection.


William Jay Woodin, who grew up in Gratiout County, Michigan in the 1870’s and 1880’s, is typical of the people in the early twentieth century who came from a farming background. He remembered his rural childhood with nostalgia and a fondness for everything that was good and wholesome about America at the end of the nineteenth century. He, along with his father and the rest of his family, had left their farm in 1890 and moved to Seattle, with all of its urban living, diversity of specialized occupations, and the rise of the middle class. When Will was 24 years old, in 1898, he and his father participated in the rush to the Klondike gold fields. They were not able to fulfill their dreams of great wealth in the Yukon, but the young man married, had children, and eventually grandchildren. Between 1910 and 1914, when he was in his late 30’s, he wrote a memoir of his trip to the Klondike. Then, in 1922, when he was 48 years old, he set about writing his autobiography for his family. He completed only the first three chapters of that effort over a period of about two months. This “autobiography” is a nostalgic reprisal of a childhood on a small Michigan farm, complete with a child’s view of patient, hardworking parents, boyhood friends, and a candid and fond remembrance of his extended kin. Will’s memories of his father’s work on their  40-acre farm and as a logger in the Michigan forests instructs modern readers on the hardships of ordinary life in the late nineteenth century, and of the importance of friendships and family.

Will’s original autobiography came down through the family to his great niece, Sandra Bixby Dunn. It was a typed transcript, but still obviously a draft. As transcriber, Catherine Holder Spude has corrected the very few spelling errors that appeared, added punctuation to make reading a little easier for the modern reader. However, she has retained his original grammar, and added a few explanatory notes. She has also added some family photographs that are in the possession of Sandra Bixby Dunn, but not included in the memoir of his trip to the Klondike.


Will’s memoir of his journey to the Klondike has been published as All for the Greed of Gold: Will Woodin’s Klondike Adventure (Washington State University Press, 2016). Click here for more information.

Will's family genealogy can be accessed on Amazon.com here.

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