The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume I, Number 2, Pages 14-21
Dolores Fell, is the daughter of Mary Magers Flood. Her history of William Louis Magers is based on her own research. The accounts of Mary Magers Flood, Alice Magers Paul, and Walter Louis Magers were compiled from oral interviews. The concluding "True Incident" is a story, which has been passed down from generation to generation in the Magers family.
William Louis Magers was born in Giles County, Tennessee February 12, 1843. When he was seven years old his family moved to Alabama. Nine years later they moved again, this time to Arkansas where they lived until the Civil War began. Being anti-slavery the family moved to Springfield, Missouri, for the duration.
Louis joined the Union Army, and served three years and eight months in the First Arkansas Cavalry. This was a black unit with white leaders. At the war's end only seven of the original one hundred and fifteen were alive. Louis was unscathed physically, but who knows how this affected his later life.
He married shortly after the war and lived near Carthage, Missouri for about ten restless years. Then he heard the call "Free Land in the Far West." Plans were laid, the farm sold, and Louis, Nancy - his pregnant wife - and his three small children headed West.
At Harney Junction on the Platte River, wagons were gathering and a group formed. Louis was made captain of the train. Plans were made to travel as light as possible and soon forty wagons were ready to roll carrying about one hundred-twenty people. The wagons were mule-drawn usually by only one team. Food for man, mules and ammunition were the main commodities. They left in May 1878 following the Union Pacific Rail Road. Discarded railroad ties provided camp fuel. Along the Platte River grazing was plentiful.
At Laramie, Wyoming they decided to follow the Sweetwater Route through the mountains. It was rough going through the mountains and tedious and dirty. The main food supply was antelope meat. On Sundays they rested and had regular church services.
They rolled on into irrigated Mormon country near Salt Lake. The Mormons sold them eggs, butter, milk, and cream, and they feasted. Then they moved on towards Boise. The hot sun, the sand, scarcity of water, and fear of the Bannock Indians, who were on the warpath in this area, spurred on the stragglers. Then came Glenns Ferry Crossing, the Grande Ronde, and the climb over the Blues to Pendleton, and on the 28th of July, 1878, they pulled into Walla Walla. In reaching Walla Walla, they had crossed the Snake River five times on crude rafts. This in itself was quite a feat.
The wagons now disbanded, and many remained in this area. The Magers family remained too, and Louis worked as a farm laborer while awaiting the birth of his third son. When the baby arrived, it was late in the season, but the Magers family and another family, the McDowelis who also had a new baby, set off for Deep Creek, Washington. It was now November, and nearly seven months had passed since they had begun their long trip west. So when they found a spring close to the Colville trail, they literally dug in for the winter. At that spot was probably the first duplex in Spokane county. The two families dug into the slope, threw dirt up around it for protection, and men laid logs overhead for a roof. They placed cookstoves at each end and divided the living quarters with gunny sacks. There they wintered - thirteen people - and remained friends till their dying days.
In the spring of '79 both families homesteaded close by. Louis Magers homesteaded two miles west and three miles north of Deep Creek, and a daughter still owns the land. The Colville trail ran close by his house, bringing varied and interesting people to his door including Spokane Garry and his band. The Colville stage passed through too.
Life on the frontier was especially hard on those tilling the soil. The work was endless. Corn, peas and beans were dried for the winter. Fruit was dried for pies and to eat. In the fall they bought a sack of wool and carded and spun it into thread for mittens and socks. Boiled wheat was a staple food when there was nothing else. Supplies were obtained in Colfax, and for some time the mail came only as far as Colfax.
Louis Magers was a skilled carpenter, a grafter of fruit trees, a Republican and a "stanch dry." He served as county commissioner of Washington territory from 1887 to 1890 thereby becoming one of Spokane County's first commissioners. While serving, he was instrumental in placing the saloon license cost so high that many saloons were forced out of business. He was always ready to help a neighbor and always ready to fight for anyone, be he red or black or white in order to see justice done. You could say Louis Magers was color blind when it came to people.
The Indians knew him to be a fair man. They called him a Hy-you-skookum-Boston man. Several times he was called upon to settle differences between the "reds" and "whites," which usually occurred when the whites moved onto red land without recompense.
These early settlers needed each other. They worked hard but they played too. Everyone had a sense of belonging and of value and everyone learned early to work. Each one's contribution was needed.
In the Magers household there were the four children already mentioned and then five more. All of these five are still living in this area. They range in age from 83 to 91. The following are memories of his children, Mary, Alice, and Walter.
Mary Magers Flood
I was born in Deep Creek, Washington in 1883.
Our farm was four miles northwest of Deep Creek. My folks came there in 1878. I remember we had a rather quiet life. Winters were long and cold; sometimes snow was deep. We lived in a one-room log cabin with a lean-to for a kitchen. Neighbors were few and far between. McDowells were a mile and a half from us and they were our main neighbors for years. We didn't have much recreation, just home life. We had cows and some horses. The only time we got to ride a horse was when we went to the field where the men were plowing and rode one of the work horses to the barn from the field. My brother and I used to have to go out and get the cows on the prairie. It was on what's known as Indian Prairie. We sometimes had to walk for miles. There was only one house on the prairie at that time that I remember. There would be a few other herds of cattle. Sometimes we wouldn't get in until way after dark with the cows. But we didn't seem to think anything of it. It was just part of life, I guess.
For recreation we went to the neighbors' and played with the neighbors' children. In the wintertime we coasted. There was one hill that we coasted on especially and we could go to the top of that and coast about a half a mile down and then we had to walk back in the snow. One boy would take off his shoes and walk in his stocking feet up the hill. Sometimes the boys would pull the sleds. There were only two of us girls and we would sit on a sled and ride. In the summertime we played games like drop the handkerchief and sometimes we'd walk for miles and go in swimming. We'd play hide-and-go-seek in the evenings. That was about all the recreation we had.
I started to school when I was six years old - the old Mason School. We had to walk a mile and a half. In the wintertime we walked in the snow. We had Sunday school on Sundays at that schoolhouse, and we always went to that. It was a one-room school. The teachers just boarded round from place to place. The teachers had barely an eighth grade education, and they just taught, you might say, reading, writing, and arithmetic. Taught it to the tune of the Hickory Stick.
We had literaries and debates on every Saturday night. We'd always go to that. It was several miles from our place, but we always went. We had a literary program and then a debate afterwards. Sometimes they'd have a basket social afterwards. We looked forward to that. We went as a family to the debates. There would always be a big crowd, all the neighbors went.
The Family Carriage
By Tom Chung
I was around 10 years old when they first started the Grange. I don't remember going to the meetings, but I remember the Grange had a picnic. We went to that - walked, of course. My oldest brother belonged to the Grange.
At Christmas time, they had the Christmas tree at the schoolhouse. We always had a treat - a sack of candy, and maybe a few nuts, and maybe one orange for each child. That was about the only time we saw oranges. Every fall my father and my oldest brother would go over on the Columbia River or to Walla Walla and get a wagon load of apples. They had to last us through the winter. That was the main fruit that we had. We enjoyed Christmas and there was always something for us.
The first post office I remember was Deep Creek, but when my folks first came, they got their mail at Colfax. Dad would walk to Colfax. It was a long time between mails for them. He'd walk to Colfax and back many a time.
The old Colville Trail went right through our place. That was the main road the Indians travelled on. In the spring they'd go out toward Cheney someplace and dig camas. They'd usually stop at our place on the way, both ways - going and coming. We never had a dog and they always had two or three with them, so we liked to have them come.
They used to come in droves and we could hear them coming for miles. And mother would tell us to get in the house. But they were always friendly, and my younger brother and I learned to talk their language so we could carry on a conversation with them. They thought we were hy-you-skookum papooses. That was their way of expressing it.
The food was very plain in those days. The folks always raised a garden, and we had vegetables, but we didn't have much fruit. Dad liked to have an orchard, so he planted an orchard and, for a long time, we were the only people in the county who had an orchard. We had goosberries and currants, always, lots of them. In the wintertime, we'd have cooked wheat. Many a time I'd come home from school and mother had a kettle of wheat cooked; that would be our supper - milk and wheat and bread. One winter I remember the potatoes all froze. The winter was cold and people's potatoes froze in their cellars. There was only one man in the whole county who had potatoes and he had them pitted. In the spring when he opened up the pits, we were glad to get some good potatoes from him. That was the first time we tasted potatoes for six weeks or more.
By Tom Chung
When I was seven years old my aunt died in the spring at Cheney and left a tiny baby. When he was six weeks old, mother took him. That made five of us under seven. How she managed, I don't know, with no washing machine and no sewing machine. She did everything by hand, even knit our stockings and mittens. She spun the yarn for that. There was an old peddler who used to come through every fall and he'd go up in the Okanogan county and gather up stuff, and then he'd come back. He'd always stop and stay overnight at our place. Mother would get a sack of wool from him and from that she would spin the thread and make our stockings and mittens. She made all of our clothes - even the boys' trousers. She did it all by hand.
There were no rich and poor people as such in those days. Everybody was striving to make a living. It wasn't money that they strove for, it was to live. They helped each other. If anyone was sick, somebody would come and help. If somebody died, dad made the coffin for them. There was no rich and poor about it. They needed each other to survive.
At one time Deep Creek was bigger than Spokane. There were two drug stores, two livery barns and several general stores. There was a sawmill on the creek. Some people by the name of Goddard ran the hotel. Dr. Waterhouse was the doctor. Transportation was by horses, or else you walked. Because of this the neighborhood towns were a necessity.
At first, they only had small log barns. Later they began to build with lumber. They'd have a barn raising, and neighbors from far and near would come. At thrashing time, the neighbors helped too.
I remember the first train that came within hearing distance. It was on the Washington-Centralline. My brother and I were playing in some pasture land, and we heard the engine puffing and saw the smoke curling up. We were terribly frightened. We didn't know what was happening. So we ran in and told mother there was something awful over the hill. It was the first engine that had come that far on the Washington-Central railroad track.
I guess I've lived through a lot of history, from covered wagons to moon walks. It's a pleasure to look back on a lot of the things that happened both good and bad. Alice Magers Paul I was born at Deep Creek, Washington, December 17, 1888.
One of my early memories of my home - we always had a good time. Maybe we didn't have the things to eat that the children have nowadays, but they were substantial vittles. We didn't seem to think about eating as much as we did about playing. We always had a good time playing. We had a bin of wheat in the granary and we would get up - a whole row of us - and jump into it. I wouldn't go because I was scared. Then somebody would push me, and after that I wouldn't be afraid. We would jump for an hour or so.
We had all kinds of kids in our neighborhood. They all came to our place to play. We always got along and never quarrelled. We would play hide-and-go-seek, drop the handkerchief, hide the thimble, crack the whip and blindman's bluff. Maybe some of them would stay overnight. Sometimes, I guess, our mother wondered where she was going to put them, but it wasn't unusual to pile several in a bed. We just had a good time.
I was six years old when I started to school. This early school was an old building and very cold. Well, in this school we had the old-time desks. I don't know whether you can find them now or not. I guess they're antiques. We could raise up the desk part. We kept our books down below. I remember one boy always brought bread his mother made. It always looked so good, but it was crumbly. Once he got his head down under his desk to eat during class and the teacher caught him. He asked him a question and he didn't answer. The teacher was quite provoked. He said, "Ernest, aren't you going to answer me?" And Ernest said, "Well, damn it all, can't you wait a minute?" The crumbs flew in every direction.
At Christmas, as I think of it, we got very little, but that little was much to us. I remember one time wanting a ribbon, perhaps half an inch wide, for my Christmas. I thought I wouldn't get it. On Christmas Eve one of my older brothers helped my mother fill the stockings with apples and popcorn balls, and nuts. The next morning I found these things, and in the very toe, I found that ribbon. I remember how happy I was.
The stockings we hung at Christmas were made by my mother. She knit them for us. We didn't like those stockings 'cause we had to wear them to school.
Medical Lake was the gathering place for the whole neighborhood on the Fourth of July. We would prepare the day before to go and spend the day there. My mother would prepare lunch. We looked forward to this all year. We knew we'd have a good chicken dinner and all the trimmings. Then maybe we could ride on the ferry that crossed the lake. It was always crowded to the brim. It's a wonder it didn't sink. It was powered with a motor. There were also races and fireworks.
I started to teach when I was about 19. At that time we could teach with only an eighth grade certificate - eighth grade diploma. To get a teacher's certificate you had to go to Spokane and take an examination which the superintendent gave. I expect there would be 50 to 100 or more taking it. We had to have a passing grade of 80. We had to take all eighth grade subjects, Theory and Art of Teaching, and School Law. Sometimes the tests were pretty hard. I failed the first time. I had a friend that took it the same time and she failed and quit. I thought, I would have to work at something so I stayed with it. I kept pounding away and the next time I passed and got a school.
I taught our old home school. It went by the name of Mason School. I remember starting there in 1908. I stayed in that school five years. And I don't know whether the kids learned more than I did or not. I learned a lot. And I don't think I ever had a child come to school that didn't like to come. That was one thing, I always managed to make them like school. And we got the main things - reading, writing, and arithmetic. And I believe to this day we learned better - had better methods of writing - than they do now because I find lots of boys and girls out of high school that can't write so I can read it. And that's the truth.
Walter Louis Magers
[Walter Louis Magers is a twin brother of Alice Paul. They were born December 17, 1888 on the homestead at Deep Creek.]
We had a good time growing up on the homestead. Nothing too exciting happened. The Indians stopped by but they seemed to like us and Dad treated them the same as any other neighbor.
Mule days were held once during the year at Reardan, Washington. People came from all around. There were horse races, ball games and just about anything. We looked forward to this all year. July 4, at Medical Lake was another big event. There were fireworks, races, picnics, etc. The whole neighborhood took part. In Spokane, there was the fair. People took part in it too. It was in the fall. Some neighbors took stock into it and led them in the parade. So you see we had lots of fun, but it was all quite close to home, and everyone took part.
I taught school for a while at Hunters, Washington, but by then I was grown.
Kids got in trouble then too. I remember one time we plugged every melon in a guy's patch. We were looking for a ripe one.
They were good times - the land and us grew together.
A True Incident on the Way West
It was 1878 and the slow moving, mule-drawn wagon train was creaking its way West. The wagons had been groaning over the trail for about two months and the balmy spring weather had changed to a hot dry summer.
Just the year before Custer and his men had fallen before the mighty Sioux and now Chief Buffalo Horn and his Bannocks were striking terror in pale face hearts with lightning raids when least expected.
"We'll stop for the night in just a little while," the wagon master said.
Just then a solitary horseman, riding like the devil himself was after him, tore through the entire length of the train screaming "Indians ahead! Indians ahead!"
Almost instantly the order came, "Circle these wagons and hurry."
"Jake, see that the wheels are chained together," snapped the wagon master.
"Post the guards and get the children under cover."
"Better get a quick meal while there's time to eat," the women were told. A bustling sense of uneasiness settled over the camp.
"Feed the children. Get them in the wagons and see that they stay there. Keep them quiet," the orders flew thickly.
"Take the livestock into that gully and be sure to hobble the mules."
"No sign of them yet, so check your guns and try to get some rest," wagon master Magers said.
Stillness settled like a blanket. Fires went out. Hours passed. Then in the wee hours the stillness was shattered.
"What's that?" The men called to each other as they tumbled out of the wagons clutching their guns.
Louder and louder and closer and closer the noise grew.
"What is it?"
"Can you see anything?"
"Yes, there it is, why it's old Betsy my mule," Betsy's owner cried.
"What's that thing on her foot?" "It's my old dish pan," a lady cried. Midst the cheering, crying and praying the pan was removed.
And it was 1878, and the Louis Magers wagon train was inching its way West.