Narrator: Margaret D’Estrella
Interviewer: Donna Sinclair
Date: March 6, 1999
Place: Umatilla, Oregon
Margaret D'Estrella's family lived in and around Umatilla throughout her life. The railroad and irrigated agriculture brought the family to the region near the turn of the century. At one point in the 1930s, her family also lived on Blalock Island. She spent part of her adult years away from the community, returning after McNary Dam had been built. In the following interview, Margaret describes the way the community has changed since the building of the dam.
[Side A, Tape 1 of 1]
MD: My father worked on the railroad at Rieth.
DS: And you went to Umatilla schools?
MD: Well, yes part of the time. My folks moved around quite a bit and I went to Umatilla school in the sixth grade and I finished the eighth grade and four years in the High School and graduated in 1934.
DS: Can you tell me how your family came to Umatilla?
MD: My mother’s parents came from Wallowa to Umatilla in 1905 & bought land west of Umatilla and irrigated land west of Umatilla, and then my father’s family moved to Umatilla from Hillsboro, Oregon in 1910, and my grandfather worked on the railroad.
DS: What can you tell me about the railroad?
MD: Only that it was—the railroad camp was finished through Umatilla in 1882 and it was a main line and it was a division point for the Portland to Spokane and Portland to Huntington. And they changed crews here and they had a rip track and a total repair yard here until they changed and built Hinkle which I don’t know when it was they did that. And that bridge--the railroad bridge that was here--the original bridge was a wooden structure it went out in the high water of 1906 and then they built a steel bridge on stone pillars and it was--its, well during the war they wanted to dismantle the bridge and President Eisenhower--it was after the war, but anyway President Eisenhower said no because they had taken up the tracks between Umatilla and Boardman and he said that uh, if something happened to the main line that they’d just have to lay about ten miles of track to reactivate the rails through here, so they left it until just a few years ago when they blasted it out.
DS: So were you around for that blasting?
MD: Yeah, I think we have a picture of it down at the Museum—when it fell in the river, and it might have the date on that, because I’m not sure of the date.
I left here in 1936 and I didn’t come back to live until 1969. So all this, the dam and the bridge and moving the town and everything happened when I wasn’t here. So there are a lot of those things that the people that were here will know about.
DS: So—can you describe what it was like to come back into town in 1969, and see that--see those changes?
MD: Well, to come back and try to remember where everything was in Old Town and—it was like they’d taken a chunk out of my life and thrown it away (laughs). Because we lived here off and on when I was small and then to come back here and there was nothing left in the old town. There are a few buildings that were moved from what the engineers—the engineers thought the John Day dam would back the water up over the town site, but it didn’t – it never did come up that far, so it was an unnecessary thing that they had told the people, I guess, that you had to move out or live behind a ten foot dike. So there were a lot of people that thought it was a good deal to get rid of because some of them could have their places condemned and then move the houses, and they—that’s a lot of what happened.
DS: Was there any compensation for that--do you know?
MD: Well, there must have been, there must have been some--I don’t know what all the situation was. Like I say, I wasn’t here when they did it. But that was the reason they took over the old town site was for flood control, back up from the John Day dam, ‘cause it was the last one that was built.
DS: And how--how did people feel about that when the town, when it wasn’t actually inundated by the dam?
MD: Well, there’ve been a lot of things. If something had been done with the property right away - there were streets and sewers and everything there, they could have made a park out of it or something but--the--a lot of the people still resent the fact that it was let just go back to weeds and things. But the Confederated Tribes got into it because they found Indian bones and stuff, and it was originally, before it was ever a white person--white people town, it was an Indian village way back to--they have in the archaeological digs they’ve done down there, they’ve found things that--that in --420BC, or something like that they’ve had--there had been people lived there in, uh, pit homes where they dig a hole and then put brush or something over it, and stuff. And so there’ve been several archaeological digs done--down there in the old town and uh, they’ve found graves—graveyard and they moved some of the bones to other areas and uh, I don’t know too much about what it was, but some of them said that they found things that were as much as 3,000 years old, in some of their deeper digs that they did down there. And one of the reasons they fenced it off so nobody could go in there because people were going in there and digging big holes and leaving them, and then they started taking their trash down there and dumping it, so now you can’t go into that area at all, it’s fenced off so you can’t go in there. They set it up with turntables, gate type things where people could go through, but they finally wired those all up shut because of the bags of trash people dumped down there and people digging holes and leaving them, ‘cause those archaeological digs –they took care of wherever they dug, so it’s--it’s--we’ve tried to get it for our museum and so we could have a museum built down there and even a--in conjunction with the Indians and everything, but we’ve never had any luck with it.
DS: You have to get the money for it.
MD: Well, you get too many people involved in the city council and all this, you know, and then they start haggling and hassling around and the Indians got disgusted with them and pulled out, wouldn’t even talk to ‘em any more, and so, that’s the way it sets. We’ll go down through there--we can--we can go down Third Street clear to the end (DS: Okay) so I’ll take you down there and you can see—I can show you about where everything used to be.
DS: That’ll be good.
MD: And then you can take some of these pictures along and then you can orient the pictures with the area.
DS: Mmhh. Um, did you when you were here, when you were younger, were there a lot of Indians around Umatilla?
MD: No (hesitantly) uh, there weren’t any. In fact a few of them came during the building of the dam, worked on the dam but, uh there were no Indian families living in Umatilla—they were all at Mission and Pendleton. See, the reservation is at [Mission? /Meacham?] and uh, the -- all the Indians that I know of lived at Mission or in or around Pendleton.
DS: And they didn’t come around Umatilla much? There’d be no reason to?
MD: No, no, and they didn’t—they didn’t fish round Umatilla, they—most of them went down around Celilo to fish, and that’s about the only thing. Many years ago when my mother was a young girl and Grandpa had a big barn, one corner of his barn was for--the Indians stored their things in his barn. The Yakima Valley Indians would come across the river and they’d leave their valley stuff in the barn and pick up their mountain stuff and then they’d go to the Blue Mountains. And ‘cause they were—and over in Camas Valley and all those places for the different things that they gathered—and—and it was, uh—yeah, they did it every year; certain time of the year they’d go to the Blue Mountains and then they’d come back through and park their mountain stuff in the barn and pick up their valley stuff and go across…
DS: Do you remember seeing that?
MD: That was way before my time. It was when my mother was young.
MD: And um, then one time an old Indian lady came out to the place and wanted Grandpa to go to the Depot in town and pick up her trunk, and he was plowing, and he said as soon as he got through he’d do it. So when he got through he hitched up the horses to the wagon and started toward town and here’s this Indian lady coming out the railroad tracks with her trunk on her back with a strap. You know they carry things on their back with a strap around their forehead. Here she was trudging down the track with her (laughs and coughs) trunk, till Grandpa got it and took it the rest of the way out there.
DS: Do you remember what the--can you describe what the Umatilla River was like when you were younger?
MD: About like it is now, the Umatilla River.
DS: I—I heard that it kind of—that it was dried up.
MD: Well, it’s—in some parts of the year, why you can walk all over it. You know, going between here and Hermiston, I used to walk along the rocks, along the river. It just had little trickles running- -it’s the same as it was, as far as that goes. It hasn’t changed at all that I know of. Because, see it’s—it’s actually—it’s close enough below this dam that this dam controls the water just upstream – the river isn’t any wider than it was before so if they – the John Day back up doesn’t come this far so it hasn’t changed it.
DS: What about—how did McNary change the landscape—what did the Columbia look like? Can you describe that—Umatilla Rapids?
MD: Well, the only thing about the Umatilla at the Umatilla Rapids where the dam is built now, there were places out in the middle of the river there where you could stand up—it was that shallow. And when the riverboats came in the 1800s, the riverboats—sternwheelers came up here and they had to offload a lot of their freight here at Umatilla because they couldn’t go through the rapids, and they only draw about eight feet of water, but they’d offload a lot of their load here then they’d go up to Wallula, and then they went up the Snake River clear to Lewiston, Idaho. That was from about 1860 clear through till after 1900 there were those sternwheelers and then in later years the barges—tugboats and barges, but it was quite a rough shuffle getting through those rapids because it was so shallow.
DS: Did you ever see them go through—the barges, through the rapids?
MD: Oh, I went on one, I’ve been on those tugboats on the river from Portland to the Dalles.
DS: Oh really?
MD: Yeah I lived in Portland, and I made two or three – three or four trips on the tugboats up to the Dalles. I have a nephew went to work for Inland Navigation when he was sixteen years old as a deckhand, and he was sixty-two in July and he’s still on the tugboats – he’s a pilot, has been since he was about twenty years old.
DS: Oh really? So what was it like to take a ride on a tugboat down the river?
MD: Oh well, it was really great! I was -- one time in the winter-time when we came up and it was – the whole mountain side at Multnomah Falls was a sheet of ice from the spray of the falls and they turned that big carbide spot on there and it’d just take your breath away – beautiful – and I’ve made two trips on the Queen of the West the sternwheeler that’s on the river now – I went last year in June and the year before in April. That’s a wonderful thing to go and do the wonderful trip.
DS: Was it a lot different to go down the river with the dams there and the water backed up than it was when you went through in the tugboats?
MD: Well, it’s a lot different. You don’t have quite the – well it was -- mostly now it’s just lakes you’re just going in it from one lake to another – going through the locks and each one with the dams but it’s not the same at all. ‘Cause way back before they built the dams, you had all that wild current to go through. There’s a lot of difference. And then the Dalles dam covered up Celilo, so they used to have a canal along the side of Celilo that the tugboats were in. But they don’t have to do that any more – they just go through the locks and float off through the lakes.
DS: So you’ve gone both ways.
MD: Oh yeah.
DS: When you went through the canals at Celilo do you recall seeing Indians fishing?
MD: Oh yeah we used to go – the Indians at Celilo fished almost all the time because they were – they lived on fish almost entirely. Course they went out – they had their – they gathered greens and camas root and various other things, and then they traded fish to other tribes for whatever they had and stuff, but the people at Celilo were almost completely fish people. There were always Indians at Celilo – they lived right there.
DS: And they didn’t come from Mission and fish at Umatilla Rapids when you were there?
MD: Oh no, they didn’t – as far as I know there wasn’t too much fishing up on this end. They did fish for sturgeon at Cold Springs, which is a little ways upriver from here, but most of the fishing was at the Falls, and the different tribe – the people from the different tribes went to Celilo Falls to fish, from Warm Springs, some of them from the Yakimas, and then the Indians from up here they fished at Celilo too. It wasn’t just the people who lived there – they had fishing seasons when the other tribes came in and fished there. So it was,uh, - oh and then they caught salmon out here in the Umatilla River (coughs) too, so they didn’t have to leave Mission.
DS: Did you ever fish?
MD: No, my, all I ever did was drown the worms! (Coughs and laughs.)
MD: I could take a nap and let somebody else catch fish – I think those fish know who’s got a hold of the pole! (More laughter) I could stand at – we lived at Taft for a while and was out on Taft dock and the Tom cods were running, and it was just a silver – you – you couldn’t see down through the silly things, and they were fishing with three or four hooks on the line. I stood there and stood there and couldn’t do – nothing happened and I wasn’t five – handed my pole to somebody else and I wasn’t five feet away and they drug out the fish. So I think those fish know who’s got ahold of the pole!
DS: (Laughing) I see you gave up on that!
MD: No, I never was a fisherman.
DS: What kinds of things did you do when you were younger, when you were a teenager?
MD: Got in trouble, told stories to my kid – my brothers and sisters; swam across the Columbia River down here when I was fifteen years old, by myself. (Chuckles)
DS: Ooh – tell – tell me that story!!
MD: (Laughs) Well, we used to go -- we’d go down by the ferry landing and swim, and then we’d walk up to where the bridge is – where the bridge is now – there’s some towers there, electric towers. We’d walk up there and swim out and then swim back in at the ferry landing. So my sister and I went up there one day and we got out there in the river and it looked – didn’t look any farther to the other side than it did this side, so I told her "I’m going on across" so I did. Then I had to walk up on the hot rocks on the other side to get on the ferry to come back. Well, I did that on a Tuesday, and then on the following Sunday, I had my sister get on the ferry with my shoes to meet me down on the other side, so I swam across again. (Laughs) And then when the fellow that was running the ferry, George Pepper, saw her get on the ferry with my shoes, why, then he started looking for my head out there. Someone said it’s a wonder he didn’t let the ferry go down river, but anyhow so she met me on the other side and I put on my shoes and I didn’t have to walk on the hot rocks to get back up to the ferry. (Laughs)
DS: Did kids swim around – swim in the river a lot?
MD: Oh yeah, that was the only place to swim in those days. Yeah. We used to just live in the river. Mom would say, "You kids get out of there, you’re freezing," while we’re chipping the enamel off our teeth you know, and our lips and fingernails blue, but we weren’t cold. Then my daughter said -- tells everybody that my three kids were born in the fall and winter and I took ‘em out and threw them in the river in the spring. (Laughs) I like water. Now I’m an aquatic instructor in the Columbia [Court/Cork?] Club.
MD: I have a class every day, five days a week.
DS: Five days a week?
MD: Yeah -- 10:30 to 11:30. They’re only at the health club in the country with an old, fat, crippled instructor and they won’t let me quit. (Both laugh)
DS: Do you enjoy it?
MD: Oh yeah. The women and men, I have men in there too. They seem to think I have to be there to yell at them everyday. I work with people with replaced joints, and strokes and arthritis and -- it’s an aquatics, it isn’t aerobics, it’s mostly muscle and joint movement, some stretching, but we don’t do any jumping or anything like that. It’s slower, and then the oldest one that comes in is 93 years old, and the youngest one right now is a man with Parkinson’s disease and he’s 46. So it’s quite a large range of ages.
DS: I bet that keeps you pretty active.
MD: It’s the only way I can exercise any more. Old arthritis has got me. My bone on bone, knees and hip and my disks are disappearing in my spine so I – it’s the only way I can exercise is in the water. So I found something that saved my life along with helping a few other people. (Laughs)
DS: Yeah – and you enjoyed swimming from the time you were a child?
MD: Oh yeah – as long as that water stays liquid, I like it. I don’t like it when it gets snow and stuff like that. I’m not a winter person.
DS: So when you came back in 1969, what brought you here?
MD: Well, my husband was – worked Civil Service in Alaska – I was in Alaska for almost ten years. And he worked for the FAA and the Army and the Navy, and we moved around. And he was retired out on a disability retirement, and he wanted to live in the Dalles and I didn’t, so we just came back here. We bought a house out west of town and uh, on part of the property that had belonged to my grandparents. It was later on Nellie Hoyt bought all that land and built houses and we bought an acre. When my great-grandparents and my grandparents came there in 1905 they bought that irrigated land for five dollars an acre. In 1969, we paid $2500 an acre for the land then of course the house was separate – extra but, then about ten years ago – I don’t know what it is right now, but about ten years ago, we sold our place to Olson, that used to be the Chief of Police here. And he told me that the tax value of that land out there at that time was $13,750. And that’s about ten years ago – I don’t know what it is now – it’s ridiculous -- for it to change that much. But it’s between the highway and the river, on South Shore Drive.
DS: Oh, it’s on South Shore Drive?
MD: That’s what they named it. Should’ve been Pike Avenue or something. (Laughs) My mother’s maiden name was Pike. Because they bought – they were some of the first ones along there.
DS: How much land did they have?
MD: Well, they came – um, my grandfather bought – they each bought ten acres. My grandfather and then his brother and then my great-grandparents, his folks, they each had ten acres apiece. Well, then Great-Grandpa put in an orchard and everything, and then they sold their property and went back to Iowa on a visit – they were gone about two years. And while they were gone, my grandfather bought five acres east of his property and built Great-Grandma and –Grandpa a house. So when they came back out here, that’s the house they were in where I knew them.
DS: And then how much – how much of that property did you buy when you came back?
MD: Oh, we just bought an acre. We just got an acre when we bought that house.
DS: And is that the house that you said you had your daughter in?
MD: No, she was born in my grandparents’ house, the little house in Umatilla that belonged to my Dad’s folks. My folks were living in that house at that time, and that’s where my oldest girl was born in.
DS: And you had her at home?
MD: Oh yeah, I had all three of my kid – well, no my son was born in a hospital. The little general hospital in Condon, ‘cause we were in (Kinzoo). After I got married, why, we went to (Kinsoo) and after that, we came up here, and then we went to Portland. And during the war I was a welder in the shipyards at Oregon Ship, during the war, and the kids’ Dad went into the service.
DS: Where did you live while you were in Portland? In what part of Portland?
MD: North, out by Saint John’s. I worked at Oregon Ship and he worked at Swan Island before he went in the service.
DS: So you didn’t live in any of the housing that was?
MD: Oh yeah, the house we lived in was some of that housing that they built. It was a two bedroom house, and I think we paid fifty-six dollars a month for rent. And that included our electric.
DS: Do you recall what housing project it was?
MD: Well it was on Gilbert Street. I mean as far, that’s all I know about. I mean it wasn’t a, it was just a group of houses that were built in that, right on Gilbert Street. And then later, well and then I left there and went and lived on the coast for a little while, and then I came back to Portland and we moved into Fezenden Homes. That was a, uh, duplexes and four plexes, but were built, where we had a garden. We had a garden over there when we lived on Gilbert. We had a space over there and we had a garden and we went over there one time.
DS: A victory garden?
MD: Yeah, a victory garden. We went over there one time and our garden had been all torn up and they were starting to build. They didn’t even let us know they were doing it. They just tore it up and built, put in Fezenden Homes. But anyways it’s. So this McNary up here, a lot of the houses on the east side of the Willamette were houses that were, they were war time houses at McLoughlin Heights and other places in Portland and they brought them up here, they barged them up here. And set ‘em up here at McNary. So that’s what a lot of the housing here at McNary came from is the Portland war time housing. When they built the dam, why they did that, and then just a few years ago when they were going to, they did some work at Bonneville, and those government houses down there, they barged a bunch of those up here. So some of them, let’s see, I know there’s three of them here at McNary that I know of, I mean I know where they are. But some of them were taken to Hermiston, and some of the apartment deals that they had down there were moved over to Hermiston and set up in a deal over there, so. From Bonneville, and that’s just been a few years ago that they did that, barged them up here, brought ‘em up on those barges. This area right here where we are, and down this way a ways I think, during the building of the dam they had a what they called the Silver City, it was a like, they were silver colored trailers for people to live in. But I wasn’t here when they did it. When I was a kid all that was up here was a little airstrip, that’s all, period. Nothing else. There’s a little gray house right over here that was here. But this was just farm land out in here. They had a little air strip here.
DS: Were there hangars too?
MD: No, no, no, just an air strip, you could just land small plane. That was in the late thirties, in the thirties.
DS: So if you were, in that time, if you were going to go to Portland, then you went by river?
MD: No, no, there was a highway there. Drive the highways then. The highway was finished in nineteen, fifteen or sixteen that it was finished all the way. Of course in those days you drove the old loops and things, you know. If you saw a tail light, it could be your own! [laughs] Yeah I’ve driven that a lot. No, I never, the only time I came up here, but lived in a house boat just across from Swan Island there in Portland. And I came up here on a tugboat. Not here, up, just up as far as the Dalles. But that was back in the forties. Been a long time ago.
DS: Did you do that because you knew someone?
DS: Was it fun?
MD: It pays to know the right people.
DS: Sure does.
DS: What about? You told me that you lived for a summer on Blalock Island?
MD: Well my parent moved to Blalock Island. My dad gold mined on Blalock Island, and he uh, the folks lived there on Blalock Island. My daughter’s got my pictures, she was having copies made up of the island, of the old house they built out of driftwood on the island.
DS: Oh, out of driftwood.
MD: Yeah, Momma had, the outside of it looked like, you know, some of the windows were windshields out of old cars and all this type of stuff and everything. Momma had ruffled white curtains at the windows, and the inside, you couldn’t believe when you got in it what the outside was. I mean you see the outside, why you couldn’t believe the inside. But, and they had a big long table and they had.
[End Side A, Begin Side B]
MD: Now, when we ate um, he’d always tell anybody come to visit why he’d tell em we don’t feed the pets at the table. And he’ make it a point to have them sit in his chair. Well old Tom would let em, let whoever it was get two bites, but Tom had the third one. [Laughs] he’d reach around and [snapping sound] snag it. Dad would get his bites in every once in a while, but he made it a point to put company at the end of the table, so Tom surprise em. [Laughs] They had an old bull snake that lived there, and there was rattlesnakes on the island. When they they blasted out when they built this Wallula cutoff, the highway that goes to Wallula, along the river here. When they blasted those cliffs off, why the rattle snake’s dens flew into the river, and they put out warnings ‘bout em catchin’ on to the islands on the way down. And before that there wern’t any rattle snakes on the river islands. There were a lot of islands in the river. Blalock Island is seven thousand acres. That was about eight miles long and three miles wide at the widest part. So it was a big island. And uh, any way, one time the kids were playing on the beach and swishin’ along and my youngest daughter was about two and a half or three years old, and we had a whole bunch of little kids there. My three and some friends of ours with five or six kids, and they were swishin’ this snake up and down the beach. And my brother went down and checked it out and it was a rattlesnake. [Laughs] It didn’t get a chance- well; they have to coil and strike you know they didn’t get a chance to do that. But the kids were lucky. [Laughs] But any way, dad had this old bull snake, lived around there. And dad, my granddad, it was chasein’ one of the little chickens and my granddad ‘bout had a fit. He was gonna kill the snake and dad said "Don’t you touch him, he keeps the rattle snakes away." Rattlesnakes won’t come around were there’s a bull snake cause they’ll kill them. They can usually kill each other, but a bull snake will attack a rattlesnake. Kill em. But any way, grandpa was gonna get rid of that s.o.b., but he didn’t.
DS: Do your grandparents still live in Umatilla, in town?
DS: When your parents were living on Blalock Island?
MD: Uh, no. My grandfather’s uh, my grandmother died in 1930 uh, 1930. And then grandpa lived with his, his daughter, the one that graduated in the first graduating class. They lived out on, they had a farm out of Herminston, and he lived with them. But he came and visited, but-
DS: And how do, how do people get back and forth to the island?
MD: Well, the folks had old rowboats, leaky rowboats and it’s a wonder, I don’t know how somebody didn’t, nobody ever drown. [Laughs] They had some really weird boats. Oh, they’d just come down and hollar and somebody go over and pick em up.
DS: Oh, really?
DS: So there was never any bridge that went to Blalock Island?
MD: No, there’s no bridge. Never was. The only way you could get out there was by boat.
DS: And were there any um, any services? Was it all farming or I mean?
MD: Just uh, just uh nothing on it. There was nothing. Many many years ago, in 1925, before 19-, well originally the reason it’s Blalock Island, Dr. Blalock lived on the island and he had a peach orchard there. And there was one real nice house up one the west end, east end of the island, and uh, on the west end of the island right across from Boardland, there were five houses, and uh, almost like a hotel. And uh, there was one time when I was down visit with the folks, why this old uh, Capt. Hembry stopped to see the folks and he had been a pilot on the river, in 1893, and he said that in 1893, they docked there and took 500 boxes of peaches off that island on a trip to Portland. And so that was when Capt., Dr. Blalock was had the island. Well, then later on in 1925, then before that, there’s some people raised racehorses on there. And they had alfalfa fields and everything, you know. And uh, had uh, irrigation stuff and there was uh, there were five families live there, and the kids playin’ in the barn with matches and set the barn afire. And burned up some of the horses and a whole bunch of hay and everything and the outfit went belly up. And then there wasn’t anybody lived on there for many many many years. There was missus, the Morehouses, what lived down there for a little while, but I don’t know. They just farmed a small section of it. But when my folks lived there, my dad gold, was gold mining on the island. He built gold mine rigs out of bed rails and city leaky fire hoses that didn’t, wouldn’t hold water anymore. They was perfect for sprayin’ water on the gold. They [Coughs] but they lived there, they moved there in 1938, and then 1948 was the big flood, and they moved up to Patterson. When the water started coming up, they put the stains up on boxes and things, and went down there to look and the roof was above the house, but it happened that it was really above the house. When they finally, the water went down, why they found the roof upside down over in the gar- where they’d had a garden, and everything that been in there-
DS: Was it the water that covered the island? The flood covered the island?
MD: Yeah. Well, most of it. There was even then, there was some of it out that where the folks house was it was right down close to the water. But, uh, there are sections of, small sections of it today that are stickin’ out of the water. But when we went on the, when my daughter and I uh, not last year, but the year before, my daughter and I took that trip on the Queen of the West. And uh, Capt. Wangle showed Jean where some of the sa- pieces were that showed that were parts of the island that I don’t uh, I couldn’t recognize em. They just uh, most of it is under water. My brother-in-law owned fo, over four thousand acres of the island at the time they condemned it for the backwater for the John Day Dam. Of course they paid him, but not as much as he, they should have. But, anyhow, he owned four thousand acres of the island at that time.
DS: Now, when your father was there was he gold mining and farming the whole time? Is that how, how they made a living?
MD: Oh, yeah. They had a great big garden and a pig and a goat, couple of goats, and uh, and they had a mule run the fresno to dig up the dirt and stu- rocks and things. And uh, that they they raised a lot of what they ate and stuff.
DS: Well, I remember you told me about the mining, the sand mining process. Would you describe that?
MD: Well, it, it was a shakers screen and they, he built it with uh…uh, anyhow. It, it was a had a cups on a chain that went up, you know, around like so and they pulled the rocks and stuff up and get in that and dumped it into a a shaker barrel that shook the- And they had this hose over the top that sprayed, washed the dirt down into the, what went down in the (flumn?). And uh, it rolled the big rocks off to the sides and and then the, they had long (flumn?) built with, and he had used corrugated rubber like floor matting, car floor matting, and put (kantten?) flannel over it. That’s got fuzz on one side of it and plain on the other, and then because of the gold that they got, they get out of the sand around here is flour gold and if it once it gets dry it’ll float away. But, uh, and it had this [Coughs] water runnin’ down through there and uh, the gold is the heaviest and it’d stick into that stuff in the water and they had a big tub at the bottom. So, if any of the gold went on, about once a month why, he’d pan the, pan the tub, pan the dirt that was in the tub at the end of the (flumn?). So, it’s uh, he b-, had built em out of built his machinery out of bed rails, and various unsundry things, you know. Real goldberg stuff.
DS: Sounds very industrious.
MD: Well, it was a matter of uh, doin’ what you could get to do with. You know, the money wasn’t all that much, but he, they, he made enough he sent finished my two brothers and my sister went to school in (Prosser?). While my sister was, my two brothers were in high school and older brother graduated from high, from (Prosser?). Cause they had, well one of the reasons for that ’86 school reunion was to- my brother and two of the fellas that still live here were the three musketeers all through school, from the first grade on. And, er about, anyway, I don’t, can’t remember. Let’s see, my brother was five years younger than me. But anyway, uh, so, the wife of one of the other boys said "You know, she’d like to get the three of them together sometime." Well, that was when I said my mother was ninety years old in ’86, and we were having a family reunion so that’d be a good time to get them together. That was the instigation for the 1986 all school reu-, all school reunion that we had. But then my brother, my folks when they moved to Blalock Island, why that was in Washington, and the lived on the Washington side anyway. And uh, the (Chad River Channel?) was on the Oregon side. So the island was Washington property.
DS: The entire island? I wondered about that.
MD: Yeah, the island, all of Blalock Island was uh, Washington, because uh, main river channel is on the south side of the island on the Oregon side. But, uh, when, in uh, in Washington, if there isn’t a high school, where the kids live, why the state paid their board and room at in a town where there was a high school. So the boys stayed in a hotel in (Prosser?) and went to school and then they came home on weekends.
DS: I see. So was there postal serv, did they have to go over to Plymouth to get for postal service? Or-
MD: Oh, no. Patterson is-
MD: Patterson is at, right at the, see, it’s about uh, three miles from Patterson down to the east end of the island. See Patterson is fifteen miles, or twelve, twelve miles west of Plymouth.
DS: So who, where would the nearest doctor have been?
MD: Up here. Yeah. When they did, they came over here to shop and stuff. More than they did- it was farther to (Kennewick?) or those town over there so they shopped over here. A lot of people, most of the people on Patterson or Plymouth do. Well, anymore where you got cars where you can go, you know, they lot of them go to Tri Cities, but most of their ordinary shopping they do over here.
DS: So, when you lived there during the summer, it was just during one summer during the war?
MD: Well, I just- Uh?
DS: Was it during the war?
MD: No, it was before. Let’s see, when was it? Trying to remember. Sharon was no, it was before the war. My mother was sick, and she was in Portland at my aunts and so we came and stayed on the island and my sister was going to school at that, she was still going to school. And my husband helped build that highway up on the hill, uh, when they rebuilt the highway over there. So, we were- we were only there for a short time. And, and I don’t remember just exactly how long we did stay there. We weren’t there a whole year though, because then he came up and worked on uh, buildin’ ordinance. When they built the ordinance depot, and then we lived in (Herminston?).
DS: So he was involved in building the, the the depot then. What was that like? Do you, do you remember-
MD: Oh, we lived in one of those little shacks over there. The, one of their little tar paper shacks over there in (Herminston?). Why, it was rough. The bedding froze to the wall, [Laughs]
DS: No insulation?
MD: No insulation [Laughing] And it was a cold winter. I don’t know. Well, you know, I didn’t get to do an awful lot, I had three babies. My oldest girl, my, when my third one was born in October, my oldest one, I have three, the oldest one wasn’t three until November. So I had three babies, so you know, I didn’t do much else. Washed on a wash board, and cooked meals, and had pneumonia [Coughs].
DS: I bet that was miserable.
MD: Well, I had to take care of my kids, so… Anyway, that’s one of those kind of parts of my living I’d just as soon not think about.
MD: Well, I mean we don’t, we don’t remember them had and the bad times all that much, unless you drag em out, you know. But, then we bought a, we bought- the Townsend club bought five acres out east of (Herminston?), and we bought three acres of it from them, and we had a little house on there. Well, then when the war broke out, why we went to Portland and sold the place to Jack’s brother, and he built a couple of houses, and all that kind of stuff. So, we went to Portland, uh, we went down to Portland and I started welding in 1943, in April of 1943. I went to work as a welder, one of Keiser’s nine-day wonders. They set you on a stool for nine days and wonder if you can weld. And I did.
DS: Did you like that?
MD: Oh, I liked it, until I, I wound up with pneumonia in 19, March of ’94, uh, ’44. I’m-- In March in 1944; I wound up in the hospital with pneumonia. So that was the end of my welding. I didn’t go back to the shipyards. And then you had to get a permit to get another job. You had to get a, a severance permit from one job to get another one. And I worked on the railroad; I went to work for the railway express. I couldn’t get a dependable person to look after my kids, so then I got a chance to go to work on the, for the MP Terminal Company. And at from midnight until eight in the morning, so I had the high school girl came just before I left for work, slept in the house with my kids, and left as soon as I got home in the morning. [Laughs]
DS: How about the, when you worked at the shipyards, were their childcare services for you?
MD: No. There wasn’t anything, you had to get your own. I had to get, the kids dad was supposed to get home in time to stay with the kids while I, when I went to work, but he didn’t always do it, so I’d have to get one of the neighbors or somebody. And then when he le-, joined the service, why, then I had to get somebody to take care of the kids while I worked. But, no, they didn’t have all this childcare stuff and everything in those days.
DS: Because I remember hear, I mean I’ve heard that they had childcare centers like at Vanport and um, during the war.
MD: Well, they have, might have and they might have even had some around St. Johns and various places, but uh, I just had uh, uh, somebody. Well, for a while, I had an old lady that lived with me, and took care of the kids. Then I, that’s when I was working on the railroad and one day, well uh, I was sick. I got on the bus to go to work and by the time I got downtown I was so sick I couldn’t get off the bus. So, so the, I’d ride the bus downtown and then the yard master from the (Gals Lake?) where I was checking boxcars would pick us up and take us out to the lake yard. And I made a motion and got one of the fellas came over and I told him I just, I couldn’t go, I just have to go back home. I got back home and I couldn’t get back in my own house. This old lady had been reading detective stories to my kids and she was so scared everything was locked up tight and she wouldn’t believe it was me. She knew that I wasn’t there because I had gone to work. I like never got back in the house. I finally told her "Well raise the blind and look out and see who, that it is me." I said let me in the house. Well, she finally did that, then I found, that was when I found out she’s reading all these detective stories and stuff and everything, you know. And I said did you really know anybody that any this ever happen to? [Laughs] And she said, "Well ,no, but-" I said "Well you better forget it." [Laughs] But, anyway.
DS: So, did you, did you work the rest of the time when you were raising children, or just during the war years?
MD: Talks about family life during that period.
MD: From then I was a cracker packer, and uh, bartender, a fry cook, and worked in a post office in the Dalles for a long time. [Coughs] But, anyway, I lived, I think.
DS: Um,hum. You get through it don’t you?
MD: Yeah, you get through. Oh, my gosh.
DS: Are you about ready to get going?
MD: Yeah, I think we better.
[End Side B, End Interview]
Archive * Documents Archive
Oral History Archive
Bibliography & Web Resources