Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Family Stories

I apologize to my "millions" of blog readers out there across the country for not updating recently. I have been having fun and learning an overwhelming amount of information. First of all, Kaley and I went to Montana because she had not been there for three years. She had not seen her Grandma since graduation a year ago. Kaley enjoyed her cousin's children, Isabel, age 4, and Samuel, age 1 1/2, tremendously. Kaley is the youngest cousin in both my family and Dave's family by far so it is fun for her to finally have some relatives younger than her.

While we were there, my Mom dug photos and "stuff" out of my Grandma's cedar chest. My family on my Mom's side traveled out west to Montana from the south and midwest very early on. There I was sitting in my Mom's living room in 2007 looking at the face of a man on my Grandfather's side in a photo wearing a Union Civil War uniform. Interestingly, on her Mom's side, the family came to Montana as an escape because they were Southern sympathizers during that horrible war. Clearly, I am descended from "hardy pioneer stock" who at one point were probably killing each other. I am so grateful my sister in law is keeping track of it all with files and so forth.

When we arrived home, through my sister in law, I have been contacted by two delightful second cousins. One of them lives in England and the other in Spain. And this story is equally thrilling. This is my family on my Dad's side. Confused? Yea, me too. It is all so much. But this is the story I have known from the time I was a little girl:

As a child, my brother and I spent a lot of time with my English Grandparents. My Mom was an only child as was her Mom. Her Dad was estranged from some of his family. Add to the situation, my maternal Grandparents lived far from us and we did not see them often. As a result, I was closest to my Dad's family and particularly my English Grandma.

On the wall, in one of the bedrooms of my Grandparent's house in Deer Lodge, Montana was a photo of their home and other buildings covered completely with snow except for the roofs. The photo was taken in the Cascade Mountains up on Stevens Pass. My English Grandfather, Samuel, lived up there for 10 years after arriving from England. My English Grandmother endured the conditions for about three years before she and my Grandfather and their new baby moved to Montana to live a more settled life. How did they end up there? Why did they manage to arrive in the wilderness clear across the continent rather than New York? Tis' a mystery!

My Grandparents knew each other as children. You see, they were in a workhouse together. Remember Charles Dickens? And Oliver? You get the idea. In those days, at the turn of the previous century, if parents did not have money or an adequate place to live, they sent their children to bleak places to live and work. The kids were then labeled paupers. After giving birth to 11 or 12 children, my Grandpa's mother was put in an asylum where she died. The youngest children were sent to the workhouse, including my Grandpa. My Grandma Lily's father was much older than her mother and when he died, off to the workhouse she went. Here are these kids, aged 8, 9, 10, 12 and they became friends--tight friends in Herne Bay Workhouse near Canterbury, England. My Grandma's best girlfriends were the sisters of my Grandpa.

My Grandpa's older brother, Wilfred, was the first to come to America. My best guess is that he was enticed by railroad ads and posters promising riches in the great American west. And west did he come, as far west as one can get to the state of Washington. As soon as my Grandpa was old enough and out of the workhouse in 1908, I can imagine him saying, "I'm outta here!" Travelling by ship and most likely in steerage, he arrived in the U.S. sick. The family story is that Wilfred grabbed him and took off without collecting belongings. At Ellis Island, he would have been sent back. By rail, they arrived right here, not far from where I live. They worked odd jobs as cooks, tried their hand at gold mining, tried to find land, and trapped for furs.

Not long after, the two brothers sent for their sister, Minnie, to cook and keep house for them. She, too, had spent her childhood in the Herne Bay Workhouse. The three of them were living in shacks in the rough and tumble wild west world in the mining camps and railroad towns up on Stevens Pass along what is now Highway 2. Men outnumbered women as you can imagine so it did not take long for Minnie to find an American husband. Needless, to say she undoubtedly told her brothers they were going to have to find someone else to clean up after them because one man was difficult enough. What to do? What to do?

Minnie's best friend from the workhouse, Lily, was finally old enough to claim a little bit of money from the death of her ancient father, much to the chagrin of her older step siblings. I wish I could step back in time and listen to the conversations of Samuel, Minnie, and Wilfred in the wilderness as they hatched their plan to seduce to Lily to come and cook for Samuel and Wilfred. Maybe but maybe, they did not have to do too much convincing because my theory is that my Grandma had had a super size crush on handsome Samuel from the time she was just a girl. She didn't really know how to cook very well, either. By herself, at age 25, Lily left everything she had ever known in England, including her Mother who was still alive. She boarded a ship to Canada and took the train across our northern neighbor where she undoubtedly saw scary mountains like she had never seen before. Her friends met her in Everett, Washington and by rail whisked her up to the railroad towns and the wilderness where she stayed with Minnie and her American husband. Cook and keep house for Samuel and Wilfred??? Right! Sure!

I always knew my Grandma as a coffee drinker. Perhaps, she gave up her tea in the wilds of the Cascades because the family story is she had trouble making a good cup of tea at tea time on Stevens Pass. Yep, it did not take long. Lily had not seen Samuel for seven years---since she was 17. They were married within the the year and she was pregnant not long after that with my uncle. To give birth, the pregnant women would hop the rails into Leavenworth and that is where my Uncle George was born in the middle of a snowy winter in 1917. He is still alive today at age 90. My Grandma made the best apple pies and mince meat pasties and she always told me, my Grandpa taught her to cook. I'm sure he did.

Anyway, long story short---the two second cousins who have contacted me are the grandchildren of two of my Grandpa's sisters left behind in England. They had no idea about the story of the journey to America but they were well aware of the workhouse circumstances.

What was it like for my English Grandfather when he first arrived in this foreign place? Here are his words from 1908 in a letter to his older brother Fred back in England:

Camp 6, Leavenworth, Chelan County, Washington

My Dear Bro.

Many thanks for your letter safely received. Am glad to know you are quite well, & still keep working. Now I have a piece of news for you, I am in the position of 2nd Cook at the above camp & receiving 35$ a month equal to 7 Pds. a month in English coin, and Will is working on a ranch or farm about 10 miles from Spokane. Also, getting on fine & wishes to be remembered to you. I will now give you an idea of the place our camp is in. In the first place it is 200 miles from Spokane (not far in this country). And is situated 5 miles in amongst the range of Mountains known as the Cascades. Outside our front door flows the Wenatchee River, while on its bank runs the Great Northern main line to Seattle 193 miles. Seattle is a large city on the Pacific Coast so if you look at your map, you will see how far I am to the far side of America. Sport here is plentiful, there are bears, rattlesnakes, skunks, bobcats, chipmonks, and a host of other smaller animals I do not yet know the names of. Fishing here is very good, and I often have a feed of nice fresh trout for Supper. Forest fires are now continually breaking out now & even as I write the cry has just come in, "All out to fight fire," and out go the men with shovels to throw dirt around the edge of the fire to stop the conflagration, or we should soon be burnt down ourselves, as the camp is only built of wood. The heat here is terrific 108 in the shade 120 in the sun. A large bear came walking up the line one morning, but he got away again before a shot could be got at him. I often have a feed of peaches, as they are grown here in abundance, and instead of paying about 6 cents or 3 a piece for them I get them for nothing, but there I won't make your mouth water, Bro. Will and I will most surely have a farm next autumn, not this. Now I will turn my attention to the rest of your letter Bro., and I must say I did not feel so strange as I expected as I had Will with me and he told me all about this, that, & the other. I have had some splendid letters from my boss, and his Daughter has also honoured me, with correspondence, saying how much I had been missed etc. etc.

Now Fred you ask me for an opinion of America, well concerning the country itself, it is in a very flourishing condition (although this will not be a very good winter, owing to the Presidential Election,) and is a paradise for any energetic young man, as for the people Fred I cannot say that they are in a flourishing condition, for there is one thing wrong with these Americans, and that is they are corrupt. The wickedness of morals is appaling to the average Englishman like myself, they are all foul-mouthed, and 9 out of every 10 chew tobacco. All Americans are sallow complexioned, and generally bullet-headed & criminal looking in appearance, they are very boastful and haters of the English. I am speaking of the Americans I have met and worked with. I might also add that they do not acknowledge anyone as their master, he is their boss but not master.

They also dress very clumsily, wearing big wide trousers and long jackets almost reaching to their knees, the toffs too, and in fact the average American walks pigeon-toed. Well, I've not much more to say Fred except that 2 of my bosses sons get married next month on the 29th so will close hoping you are in the best of health as I am glad we both are.

I am Your Loving Bro., Lat

Did you hear about Uncle Olly's death last month and poor little Ivy's as well.

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Salathiel Samuel Lane aka Latty on Stevens Pass almost 100 years ago.