OUR FRIEND THE GARTER SNAKE
Our little milk house also housed the separator, which was hand-turned to separate the milk and cream. We took our cream to Woodland and sold it to the local creamery for cheese-making. We had a large snake that lived in the wild cucumber vine that covered the back wall of our little milkhouse. This cucumber vine also covered the little slope of ground behind the milk house. This large snake made his home most of the time under the cucumber vine, but we saw him in the yard occasionally for the last five or six years we lived on the farm. The snake was approximately forty inches long and was as large in circumference as a broom handle. I thought at times that my memory played tricks on me concerning the size of this friendly garter snake; but I asked two different people who have raised or studied about snakes, and they told me it is possible for a snake to become that large.
We were never afraid of the snake and watched out for its safety. My cousin Wally came to visit from Portland and chopped off about three inches of its tail with a garden hoe. We were very angry that he did that to our friend. I have wondered if the snake survived the rising waters of the lake and reached higher ground and safety.
About seven miles east of our farm was a cemetery called Dart of Ariel. I remember going by the cemetery with my parents when men were opening the graves and moving the remains to another location. There were two Indian women buried in this cemetery from the early 1900s when Indians were living in the valley. This was the only cemetery which would be covered by water when the Merwin Dam would be finished. All the remains from this cemetery were moved to the Lone Pine cemetery about two miles north on higher ground.
We had a building in the yard close by the edge of the hill that was used as a root cellar. The lower part of the building was underground and that is where we stored our potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, and squash for the winter. The top floor of this building was used to store our canned food and vegetables. It was well insulated with heavy paper, hay, and sawdust in the walls. The lower level stayed at a good temperature because of being underground. When it got too cold, we kept lanterns burning during the night on both levels of the building. These lanterns used coal oil. We had to be very careful how they were placed so they would not fall over and cause a fire. Every winter and spring we would spend much time in the dark root cellar with lanterns for light while we removed the sprouts from the potatoes. I was always afraid of spiders and other bugs.
We had a team of work horses called Jim and Dan They were always faithful workers for all our farm chores. Our riding horse was white and named Charlie. He was a little wild at times and would jump the fence or gate if he felt spry.
We always had a herd of cows numbering twelve to fifteen, which we milked by hand at morning and night. A lot of our cows were named after the friends of Aunt Leona, who lived in Portland. Some of the names were Mamie, Mabel, Golda and Teddy.
Our barn was large, and on each end was a haymow with a space in the middle to drive wagons through when we hayed. On one side we milked our cows and on the other side we stored machinery. There was also a big trench dug in the dirt in the barn. Hay was placed in the large hole; and then Jerusalem artichokes, rutabagas, parsnips, and carrots were stored there after being covered with more hay. We fed these vegetables along with hay to the cows in winter time.
INTERRUPTION TO A HAPPY CHILDHOOD
Our happy childhood was interrupted when surveyors came and camped in our meadow in 1927. They pitched tents and my mother cooked for about seven or eight men. They brought a small airplane with them and flew over the valley, taking aerial pictures of the landscape. I remember that the head surveyor was Mr. Birdseye and that he had just finished a job in South America. We knew that when the surveyors arrived, many changes would take place soon.
The electric company built a large warehouse close to our barn and the loggers started to fell the trees on the hills up close to the waterline of where the completed lake would be. All the farms but ours had been purchased by the electric company. We sold our homestead to the company, but were allowed to live there for a few more months. Much activity began as they prepared the valley for the coming lake.
In 1928 we had to leave our little one-room school, as my older brother graduated from the eighth grade. The state ruling was that no school could operate with less then four students. During that last year Mel was an eighth grader, I was in the sixth, my girl friend Cassie Cone was a fourth grader, and younger brother Bob was in the second year. We had a retired German schoolmaster, who was very strict, so we received a very good education. When I arrived in the seventh grade at a larger school many miles west toward Woodland, the next two grades were a review to me, as I had listened to the lessons taught to my older brother.
THE DAM TAKES FORM
Work progressed on the dam and valley very rapidly. As they burned the smaller trees by the waterline, the sky was blue with smoke. The large, old growth trees were felled, bucked and left lying on the ground. They were later floated down the lake after the water came up and were placed in booms. They were pulled out of the lake by a donkey which was down close by Marble Creek, and hauled out by truck. The trees in the lower part of the valley were left standing. Trucks were hauling wet cement from Woodland twenty-four hours a day to build the dam. The dam started to take form, and a village was built with several homes for men who operated the power house. For many miles around, little temporary homes were built for workers on the dam and for those clearing the valley.
Finally the time came for us to move. We were the last to leave, as in the past years all the others had sold their farms and moved away. Some of the people had located in Portland and Tacoma and also in neighboring towns. We had no one with whom to share our sad feelings about losing our home. The time had come when we would really lose our homestead. Our little school stood empty with desks and books remaining in it. The school clock sat on its little shelf, as no one came in to loot empty buildings at that time. Eventually, someone came, tore down the school building, and used the lumber for other buildings.
In late 1929 we moved down to Reno about seven miles west. But every day or so we would travel back to view our old home. My maternal grandfather had lived on that farm since 1890. One day we were very sad when the barn, house, and all other buildings were burned to the ground. Only the five locust trees stood stately in our yard, and some remaining flowers were in blom. As we stood there viewing the landscape, we felt robbed of our heritage.
One day in May of 1930, my father was working close by the old school about one-half mile from the dam. He was a foremen of a clearing crew for the electric company, doing some last minute work. He took my brother Mel with him that day so that he could take him up to the old farm at noon and leave him to peel some remaining cascara or chittem bark trees on the homestead. Early that morning my brother and father saw the gates in the diversion tunnel close and cut off the flow of water. They could also hear the sound of the gates as they dropped into place. But by noon, when my father and brother arrived at the old farm, water had come up on a stretch of low land and the trees could not be reached unless my brother waded in water. My father realized at that time that the water would be too high to cross again when Mel finished peeling the bark from the trees. Water covered the trees very soon after that.
The water seemed to rise rather fast. Every day that we went to view the scene, landmarks were disappearing. There is one day I will never forget, we stood on a high spot above our farm and saw the upper one-third of the locust trees in our yard protruding out of the rising water. The trees were in full bloom and it seemed as if they were fighting for survival.
Most people around the area were happy that the dam was being built. The project would help the economy and create many jobs for the local people. But it changed our lives forever, as the scars of losing our homestead would remain forever in our memory. I still try to travel the country roads in my mind and also draw the curves and straight stretches on paper. In later years, we saw the Yale Valley go through the same changes and saw the beautiful canyon disappear above the large, earth-filled Swift Dam. Of course, no people lost homes when the Swift Dam was built, except for a couple of summer cabins. Beautiful forests of large trees were in the valley behind Swift, and also many elk lived in that area. Not as many homesteads were covered by Yale Dam, either. Most homesteads were covered by the Merwin Dam.
WATERS CANNOT COVER MEMORIES
In 1979 our whole family of two brothers, two sisters, and their families traveled around the edge of Merwin Lake in a small patio boat. We entered Merwin Lake at Speelyai Bay. As we skirted the lake, we found an old stump above the water's edge which had been above our old school ground. We had played hide and seek in that area during our recesses at Marble Creek school.
We also found the water spring which had supplied our farm. It had been located on the upper corner of our homestead, and as children we had made many trips to that spot. This supply of water came down to our home through one and one-half inch lead pipes by gravity flow.
We found the switchback on the old logging railroad which went up DuBois road to a camp where my father worked as a donkey puncher. Most of the banks of the lake had washed away because of waves of water beating against them. We found a lot of the landmarks by creeks running into the lake. Some of these creeks were Rock, Dart, Usher, Squaw, George, Jim, Day, Cape Horn, Brown, Birt and Marble Creek. I've always wondered if my five locust trees were still standing in the water under the lake. About two years ago I made that remark in a group of people, and a young man whom I did not know told me they were still there. I was told that he worked for Pacific Power and Light, who now operate the three powerhouses on the dams. The young man told me that a few years ago a small submarine was hired to explore the lake. The sub continually bumped into standing trees and branches. Also I spoke to a diver who had explored the lake extensively. He told me the same story--that trees were standing in the lake. Maybe my five locust trees from childhood are still standing stately under the waters covering the vanished valley.
The water of Lake Merwin is lowered every five years for repairs on the chains and gates of the dam. In October and November of 1990 the water level behind Merwin Dam was lowered approximately forty feet so that repairs could be performed on the gates of the structure. On October 9th, 1990, I went to the water's edge at Woodland Park, which is about six miles east of the dam. There are about two dozen summer homes located there and everything is locked from the public with closed gates. I knew a caretaker, and she took me so that I could see the lake. This park is located on the old Dart farm.
I was so excited when I located part of the old road down at the water's edge. Some of the road was washed away, so we could observe how it had been built many years before. First was dirt, then rocks about eight to twelve inches in diameter, and then gravel. This road had carried all the pioneers from Woodland to Yale and Cougar. I had traveled that road many times by wagon and horses or in our old Model T.
Over to the east about one-eighth mile the old cemetery location was out of water and I could recognize the little knoll where the Dart graves had been. I found an old bedstead made of iron, which had metal leaves and flowers molded on it. It was hard to believe all these things had been under water for sixty years.
Elmer Kramer, another Lewis River resident who was born in the valley before the dam was built, decided to obtain a boat and take the two of us along the perimeter of the lake so that we could see if we could find some familiar landscape which would be out of water. As we headed toward the dam, we observed the streams that came down from the hills and could tell our approximate location.
I knew we passed over my old home when I looked up toward the hills and saw the mountain which we looked up to during our childhood. I envisioned passing over the locust trees that stood below the water level. We turned around by Marble Creek and could see the old road which had been built just above the Marble Creek School.
We went up east for about two miles to where a rocky point was located. That is where the Indians used to camp when they came to the Lewis River area. In years past, many arrowheads were found there. We landed the boat along the shore and climbed up on the point to see what we could find; but found only many pretty rocks from which the Indians had made arrowheads. Some were yellow, green, red, and gray. We found pieces of arrow- heads which were mostly black.
Coming back, we had to avoid one top of a tree sticking about three feet out of the water. It must have been standing on a high piece of ground under the water, so we knew there must be other trees close to the surface.
Again I felt happy but sad looking at old landmarks I had seen as a child. Memories are wonderful, especially of the vanished Lewis River Valley.