The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume 6, Number 4, Pages 2-21
Fall, 1981

History of a Homesteader

by Alexander Joss

History can be found anywhere, even in apparently "dry" entries in an account book. Using his father's old accounts, Alexander Joss recreates a vanished way of life in Washington's agricultural frontier.

Alexander Joss was born on his father's homestead on August 3, 1910. When he was three years old, the family moved to the small town of Forest Grove, Oregon, where he went to grade school and high school. Following his graduation in 1927, his mother moved the family to Wilbur, Washington. His father died in 1921.

From July 1927 to September 1930, he worked as a hired man on various farms in the Wilbur area, before deciding to go to what was then Washington State College. While in college, he returned to Wilbur for summer work.

Following his graduation from Washington State, he went to Cornell University where he earned both his master's and doctor's degrees in the field of Agricultural Economics. His professional career includes 5 years of college teaching, 3 years with the U. S. Department of Agriculture, and 28 years with the Cooperative Farm Credit System. When he retired November 1, 1974, he was Vice President and Secretary of The Federal Land Bank of Spokane.

The author's father. This picture probably was taken in 1892 shortly after he had joined the Masonic Lodge.

From August 1885 when he started farming on his own until two months before his death in April 1921, my father, whose name also was Alexander Joss, kept an account book in which he recorded each receipt and each expenditure. From this detailed record, I have summarized the highlights of his farming activities that extended until July 1913 when he rented his farm and moved the family to Forest Grove, Oregon.

Dad was born July 11, 1859, in the small village of New Byth, Scotland. He received his formal education in the village school and then worked on farms in the area until 1879 when he came to the United States. His father had died when he was a small boy. A short biographical sketch in the History of the Big Bend Country states in part: "In this country he gave himself to mining in Arizona, California, Oregon and British Columbia, then returned to Scotland and remained two years."(1)

He was not one to talk very much about his early-day activities, but I do recall his telling about the almost unbearable heat he encountered in a quick-silver mine in California. The reference to his returning to Scotland for two years hides a dramatic incident in his life. He was working on a farm near Forest Grove, Oregon, riding on the running gear of a wagon when the team ran away. His leg was caught between the wagon axle and a tree stump. Local doctors wanted to amputate his leg, but he refused to let them. Somehow he got back to the Royal Infirmary in Aberdeen, Scotland, where the doctors were able to save his leg. As I think about it now, it must have taken tremendous determination and courage for a man in his early twenties to disregard the advice of the Oregon doctors and make the long journey back to Scotland in order to save his leg. My mother maintained that he walked with a slight limp, but as a boy I was not aware of it.

I recall one incident of his hired man days in Western Oregon. He had smoked his pipe, and thinking it was out, put it in his pocket, lay down on some hay to rest and fell asleep. He was awakened by a burning sensation. Hot coals from his pipe had burned through his pocket and his underwear. He put out the fire, and then realizing what might have happend if the coals had burned outward instead of inward, he threw away the pipe and never smoked again.

The first entry on the receipts side of his account book is dated August 28, 1885, and reads: "Capital," $443.45. Considering the times and the circumstances he had been through, this represented a substantial sum for him to have saved. The first expenditure is also dated August 28, 1885: "Fare from Portland to Cheney, W.T. $18.75."(2)

His choice of Cheney was not without a reason. He had a half brother, William Small, who was some 10 years older than he. Mr. Small had come to the area earlier and had acquired title to the northwest quarter of Section 21, Township 23 East, Range 41 North.(3)

August 28 was a Friday. On Monday, Dad bought "lumber for house and 2M shingles" for $20.00. On Tuesday he bought more "lumber and 1M shingles" for $7.75. Also on Tuesday he paid "charges on Trunk" of $0.30. I'm sure this was for the trunk that I still have. It is made of wood and measures 21 X 42 X 21 inches. The lid is hinged and fastens with a key lock. At each corner of the lid is a hand-wrought angle iron. At each corner of the body of the trunk are two more angle irons. The iron handles on each end also are obviously hand-made. Empty, this trunk weighs over fifty pounds. Loaded with clothing, personal items, tools, etc., it must have weighed several hundred pounds. Friday his purchases were "stove, window, etc.," $17.35. His first house, complete with a stove and a window, cost $45.10.

A couple of entries on the receipts side of his ledger are of interest. On the same day that he started his account book, he shows that he "borrowed by note, O.C.D.," $50.00. Two weeks later there is another "borrowed by note, a.m.," $100.00. The $50.00 was repaid on May 11, 1891, and the $100.00 on November 4 of that same year. "O.M." apparently was Ole Martinsen as that is to whom payment was made. I would assume the O.C.D. were the initials of the individual who loaned him the $50.00. These were the only cash borrowings I found during his 28 years of farming. Another borrowing I encountered was an entry on October 10, 1887: "Paid to E.M. Hasle on note for horses," $100.00. Apparently he acquired his first team on credit. It intrigues me that a newcomer to the area was able so quickly to obtain credit. The usual stories are that credit was hard to come by in frontier communities. Cheney would seem to qualify as such in 1885. It was barely four years since the railroad had gone through.

Dad's first year was not a particularly good one financially.(4) Work for neighboring farmers brought in $63.50. He pastured some livestock for which he got $1.50 and in May 1886 sold 50 pounds of potatoes for $1.25. Major expenditures during the year included another team of horses, wire and fence posts, feed and seed wheat. I did note that he spent $2.60 of his limited income for a subscription to the "Oregonian." Another expenditure of significance during his first year was $3.00 for "Citizen Papers, first."

He harvested his first wheat crop in 1886, recording that he paid $27.00 for "Heading 18 acres of wheat" and $15.00 for "thrashing 298 bushels of wheat."(5) The small acreage harvested would seem to indicate the land had not been cultivated prior to the crop he produced in 1886. Of the 298 bushels harvested, he sold only 101 bushels, averaging just over fifty cents a bushel. The remainder of the crop undoubtedly was used for feed and seed. He did not indicate the acreage harvested the second year, but his "heading expense" was $150.00, which would indicate that he had 100 acres in crop in 1887.

The only year he did not show some wheat sold was 1889-1890. His principal source of income that year came from the sale of hay. It is my guess that the area was hit by a late spring frost that damaged the wheat kernels so badly that he decided to cut his entire crop for hay. I have seen wheat damaged in this way. It is interesting that he could get his hay baled. His entry of October 3, 1889, reads: "Paid to J.T. Scribner for baling hay," $31.50. A hay baler seems like quite a specialized piece of farm machinery for the Cheney area in 1889.

Dad's farming career divides into three rather distinct periods. The first covers the 10 years that he farmed the quarter-section near Cheney. I say 10 years, although I cannot, from his account book, determine precisely when he moved from Cheney to his homestead some 17 miles southwest of Wilbur, Washington. The biographical sketch referred to earlier states: "In 1885 he came to Spokane County where he engaged in farming until 1894, in which year he took a homestead where he now resides."(6) His accounts do show that on July 13, 1894, he "Paid to the U.S. Land Office filing fees" of $22.00. Apparently he had been thinking about a move to the Big Bend country for about a year. On June 16, 18, and 19, 1893, there were entries for "Expenses on road to Big Bend" of $2.15, $2.15, and $2.00. By the most direct route, it was approximately 50 miles between his Cheney farm and the land he eventually homesteaded. Ironically, in March 1892 he had spent $5.60 for "fruit trees," an indication that he initially intended to stay on the Cheney farm.

Although he paid filing fees on his homestead land in 1894, it was not until October 7, 1895, that he paid $1.00 to "J.S. Hall for writing a lease," which would indicate that he was giving up farming the Cheney property. There was an indication that he was changing his pattern of farming during the year 1894-95 when he paid out $110 for hired labor. This was double the amount for hired labor in any previous year. He did make this notation on April 18, 1896:

"Brought to Big Bend 760 lbs. oats, 240 lbs. wheat, and 200 lbs. hay from Cheney." It is evident he was in the Big Bend during the harvesting of the 1896 crop. July 24 there was a notation, "Finlander Commenced Heading 25 acres." I found this a bit confusing until I recalled that there was a number of farmers of Finnish descent in the area just west of his homestead. July 27 there is the notation: "Went to work for M. O'Brien with team." Mr. O'Brien was a farmer in the area south of Wilbur who operated a stationary threshing outfit. For his twelve days work, Dad received $23.00. An entry on August 21 that he received $2.00 from "from C. Betz for work," however, indicated he was back in Spokane County again. Mr. Betz was a prominent farmer in the Cheney area.

In the fall of 1896, he sold some 700 bushels of wheat to the Columbia River Milling Company, a Wilbur firm that operated a warehouse at Govan. He also sold 265 bushels of wheat at Cheney that fall. This could have been his portion of the crop he received as share rent.

From a "cash flow" standpoint, his first 10 years were not good. I indicated earlier that when he came to Cheney he brought over $400 with him. His cash balance July 1, 1895, was only $16.35. The situation was not as bleak as this figure would suggest, however. During this period he had acquired title to 160 acres of land, acquired the machinery and livestock needed to farm it, had paid off the funds he borrowed, and had sent over $200 to his mother in New Byth, Scotland.

His biggest machinery purchase was made in October 1886 when he paid $132.50 for a "BAIN" wagon. The price and the fact that he would specify the make leads me to believe that this was a brand new wagon. His second largest machinery purchase was also a wagon. This he bought in April 1893 for $92.50. It was a "RUSHFORD" wagon.

An item entered July 11, 1890, intrigues me. "Expenses in Spokane," $23.10. This was his thirty-first birthday. I have a photograph of him taken by the Rozenkranz Studio, 210 Riverside Avenue. There is no date on the photograph, and I found no reference to it in his account book. At first, I was inclined to think that this picture was one of the "Expenses in Spokane," but a closer study of it revealed that he was wearing a Masonic pin on his necktie. Since he didn't join the Masonic Lodge until December 1891, the picture obviously had to be taken after that date.

Dad took one vacation during this first 10 year period. On October 21, 1891, there is an entry: "Expenses to Portland, Oregon," $30.15. His next entry is ten days later, indicating that he could have been gone this long. I am sure this trip was to visit the Alex Chalmers family at Forest Grove, Oregon. Dad had worked on Mr. Chalmers' farm both before his accident and just prior to his coming to Cheney to start farming on his own.

Wheat sales represented his principal source of income, amounting to just over $2,900 during this first decade. The price per bushel ranged from $0.25 in 1894-95 to $0.80 in 1892-92. His average price for all wheat sold came to $0.44 per bushel. Second in importance as an source of income was work for neighboring farmers, for which he received $617.20. Almost half of this was from his neighbor, Agustus Covert, who farmed the land just south of Dad's quarter-section. Usually the amount received was less than $10, but in 1888, Mr. Covert paid him the significant sum of $170. Another neighbor who used his services frequently was E. M. Hasle, the farmer who sold him a team of horses on credit when he first came to the Cheney area. It is interesting that in the ten-year period, Dad showed that he had worked for 21 different farmers, on a few occasions receiving as little as fifty cents. One wonders just how word got around that work was available since there were no telephones.


Heading outfit in 1902. Dad is driving the empty wagon that is directly behind the header team.


Although for the ten-year period, Dad showed income from work of over $600, his expenditure entries showed that he spent almost $300 for hired labor. More than half of this was paid to his half-brother, William Small.

Sales of livestock took third spot as a source of income. In April 1889, Dad bought a "share in Clyde stallion" for $30.00. Apparently some good colts resulted, as sales of horses in the next four years brought in over $300.

A minor source of income in six of the ten years was the sale of eggs, mostly at 15 or 20 cents per dozen. Somehow it seems out of character for my Dad to have fussed with setting hens and baby chicks. Apparently he arrived at the same conclusion since egg sales ceased as a source of revenue in 1894 and did not reappear until my mother came into the picture.

Two odd little items of income are of interest. On October 14, 1892, there is an entry for $14.00 for interest on a note for $120.00 that a J. Mathews had given in payment for a team of horses. This was the first interest income that I found. December 30 of the same year he showed receipt of $8.00 for "Election Services."

The circumstances surrounding Dad's purchase of the land at Cheney are a real mystery. Deed records in the Spokane County Court House indicate that this quarter-section was acquired from the Northern Pacific Railroad Company on November 24, 1881, by an Even Mathisen for $416.00.(7) Mr. Mathisen transferred title to William Small on April 15, 1884, for $1500.(8) Mr. Small, in turn, transferred title to Dad by a Warranty Deed dated February 10, 1890. The consideration stated in this deed is $1000. It was filed on October 21, 1890.(9)

The only entry in Dad's account book on February 10 is "Expenses in Cheney for Deed," $2.00. On October 21 there is an entry "Recording Deed, etc.," $2.00. Nowhere is there any indication of payment of $1,000.

Over a 12-year period extending from October 1885 to June 2, 1897, I noted some 80 entries involving Dad's half-brother. Of these 21 were for funds Dad received while 59 were for payments he made either to Mr. Small directly or on his behalf.(10) Two-thirds of these transactions were for amounts of less than $30.00 and only two involved amounts of $1,000.00 or more. In summary the results were as follows:

Cash paid to Mr. Small                                                  $1074.45
Paid on Mr. Small's behalf
     To E.M. Hasle                               $388.75
     To Wm. Monahan                             67.00
     To M.E. Hay                                     43.30
     Mr. Small's taxes                               31.65
     Mr. Small's expenses
         to the Big Bend                             35.00                  565.70
               Total paid                                                      $1640.15
     Received from
         Mr. Small                                                                  903.85
               Net Payment                                                   $736.30

Mr. Hasle was a resident in the Cheney area. Mr. Monahan and Mr. Hay were in the Wilbur area. The $736.30 net payment was not an unreasonable amount for a quarter-section of raw land. The $1,500 that Mr. Small paid (according to the deed) in 1884 seems completely out of line. I do know that in later years he had a drinking problem. It could be that he acquired this habit while still a young man and that his payment of $1500 for this land was made when he was under the influence of too much liquor. He never married and there are no records for his version of the transaction. I do recall my mother quoting him as saying that all he ever got for the land at Cheney was "some old machinery and a few horses."

Dad's records would seem to belie that statement.

The $35.00 that Dad paid on October 30, 1889, for "Mr. Small's Expenses to the Big Bend" deserves mention. The branch line of the Northern Pacific Railroad that went west through Davenport and Wilbur to Coulee City was not completed until 1889. Thus, Mr. Small was in the forefront of those who headed for the new area opened up by the construction of the railroad. He homesteaded 160 acres eight miles south of Govan in 1900. He also acquired an adjoining quarter section of railroad land. I'm sure his move to this area was responsible for Dad's decision to homestead there some four years later.

For purposes of this history, the second period in Dad's farming career covers the eight years 1895-1903. It was during this period that he began to show substantial financial progress. In addition to his 160 acre homestead (SE quarter of Section 8, Twp. 24 N, Rge. 32 E) he purchased the adjoining quarter section (SW quarter of Section 9) from the Northern Pacific Railroad Company in October 1898 for $520.00. His contract called for six equal annual payments with interest on the unpaid balance at the rate of six percent. After two years, however, he paid the contract in full. His interest payment added $47.43 to the cost of this 160 acres of new land. He also proved up on his homestead in 1900, being granted Homestead Certificate No. 6240 on August 9, 1900.


Combine used to harvest the crop in 1912. The grey team in the lead
was Dad's. There no indication that he worked as part of the crew.


When Dad moved from Cheney to the Wilbur area, he apparently moved all of his farm equipment except his binder, which he sold in June 1896 for $90.00. It appears that he took a considerable loss. His records show he bought it in July 1895 for $168.

Wheat sales became a more dominant source of income during this second period, accounting for some 85 percent of the total. The added acreage that he was farming resulted in more bushels even though the lighter soil of the Wilbur area was not as productive as the land he left at Cheney. The price during this second period averaged only a nickel more per bushel than during the earlier period. There was less variation with the low year averaging $0.39 per bushel and the high year $0.63.

Work for neighboring farmers, primarily during harvest, was the next most important source of income. Unlike the work he did for neighbors in the Cheney area, he could not get work for his horses as well as for himself. His notation in 1900 provides a comparison. On July 30 he had "one day's work without team," $2.00. There followed 26 days of work with four horses for which he was paid $3.25 per day. I am sure that he got feed for the horses also.

One other item of income is of interest. On April 16, 1903, there is the notation: "Received from M. J.," $20.00. This is followed on May 5, with another "received from M.J.," $120.00. I am sure that this was money received from his sister, Minerva Joss, who also came to the United States. During this period, Dad had continued his practice of sending funds abroad. For the first six years, he specified that these were "Drafts to Byth." In 1901, however, he clearly indicated that he "Paid for Draft on London", $50.00. Drafts for $50.00 in May 1902 and January 1903 do not have any notation as to where the money was sent. I am assuming that at least $140.00 of it went to his sister and the money he received in April and May 1903 was her repayment.

At the time of my father's death in 1921, Minerva Joss was living in Townsend, Montana. My mother made no effort to keep in contact with her after my father's death.

Dad kept his books on a calendar year basis. At the end of each year he added his beginning balance to the year's receipts, subtracted the year's expenses and set forth the amount "carried forward" as of January 1. On December 31, 1902, after subtracting the expenses for the year, he showed a balance of $2500.60. However, on January 1, 1903, he showed the amount carried forward as only $500.00. There is no explanatory note regarding this difference. I would have been really mystified by this apparent discrepancy if my mother had not clued me in years later on what happened. Dad apparently became concerned that the bank might close its doors, so he withdrew $2000 in gold coins. The can containing these was buried under one of the floor boards of his homesteader's shack. When the family moved to Forest Grove, Oregon, the gold went with us and was hidden behind the books on the bottom shelf of the family bookcase. In 1927, I hid the can behind the back seat of the Studebaker sedan that we drove to Wilbur. There the can was restored to its hiding place in the bookcase. In 1933, in response to President Roosevelt's proclamation, Mother turned the gold in to the bank and received credit for $2000.

Dad's move from Cheney to the Big Bend drastically changed the distance he was from town. For ten years he had lived only about three miles from Cheney and its stores and grain warehouses. His new home on his homestead was eleven miles from Govan, the nearest point on the railroad, and seventeen miles from Wilbur. Govan in those days did have a post office, general store, and restaurant, as well as grain handling facilities. Major purchases, however, required the longer trip to Wilbur.

Wheat hauling was a significant task each fall. In his account book Dad indicated each day the number of sacks and pounds of wheat stored. At this time all wheat was handled in sacks, each of which would hold about two and a quarter bushels or about 135 pounds. Sacks were a major operating cost each year.

Dad's records show that for the first couple of years he only hauled about 20 sacks per day. He probably used only two horses with this load. In the fall and winter of 1897-98, however, he began to haul around 40 sacks a day. I'm sure that with this load he used a four-horse team.

Production during this eight-year period varied markedly. His poorest year was the crop harvested in 1899. He only hauled 291 sacks that year. He made eleven trips, averaging only 26 sacks per load. In 1901-02, on the other hand, he had over 2,000 sacks which required some 50 days to haul. An expense item each day wheat was hauled was "Dinner in Govan," $0.25. I'm not sure about the quality of these dinners but I suspect they were a welcome change from his own cooking which sufficed the rest of the year except for the month or so of harvest.

Beginning in December 1901, Dad did begin "eating out" with a frequency not previously exhibited. From then until the end of June 1920, he recorded expenditures either for "Dinner in Wilbur" or "Expenses in Wilbur" 22 different times. His frequent trips over the same 34 miles between his homestead and town even prompted him to buy a 'Top Buggy" on April 15, 1902, for $48.40. The pressures of harvest apparently took precedence over the attractions in Wilbur during July and August, although he did have dinner there on Sunday, August 3. In September there were two "Dinner in Wilbur" entries, one on September 11, the other on September 27. Wheat hauling apparently again took precedence during October and most of November. He did have "Dinner in Wilbur" on November 25 and again on December 1. Three weeks went by before he again had dinner there the day before Christmas. The tempo really picked up in January 1903 with dinner there each week. February 13 saw another "Dinner in Wilbur," $0.25 entry. On February 21, the entry is "Dinner in Wilbur, etc.," $0.60 and on February 25 it is "Meals in Wilbur," $0.75. On March 7, there is an all inclusive entry, "Expenses in Wilbur," $2.60, followed a week later by this entry: "Clothes and shoes," $23.85. Then on March 21, 1903, is the entry: "Marriage Expenses," $49.10. My mother and father were married that day in Davenport, Washington.

Dad "lucked out" on the weather during the two winters he courted my Mother. On only four of the days that he recorded "Dinner in Wilbur" or "Expenses in Wilbur" between the end of November 1901 and his wedding day in March 1903 did the temperature fail to get above the freezing level, and on each of these it was in the upper twenties. The one summer Sunday that he went to Wilbur, the maximum temperature was a comfortable 82 degrees.

Almost a year before they were married, Dad apparently was convinced that his courting efforts would be successful. At least, in April 1902, he made the decision to build a house with the purchase of "802 ft. of lumber and 5M shingles" for $24.15. The initial purchase was followed with purchases of building materials, paint, and hardware in the ensuing months that totaled $326.10. He also hired a man to help him for eight days for $12.00, bringing his total expenditure to a little over $360. For this he built a two-room house that measured 16 by 30 feet. Above these two rooms was an attic, accessible by a very steep stairway in one corner of the kitchen- living room. The attic was floored but not otherwise finished. Prior to building this house, Dad had lived in his "homesteader's shack," an unpainted board and batten building that measured approximately 8 by 12 feet. It was unfinished on the inside. There were doors on each end and a small window on the south side.

A few unusual expenditures made during this eight-year period deserve mention. On January 27, 1900, he bought 500 shares of Rebecca Mining Company stock at five a half cents per share. Almost immediately he began receiving notices of assessments on his stock. In 1901-02 there were five of these totaling $1.80. Dad apparently faithfully paid these small assessments each time he was asked to do so. I found no record of any return from this stock. In 1901 he bought another wagon for $85.00. This time he did not specify the make. In 1902, he purchased for $86.00 a half-interest in a header with his neighbor, William Monahan, who farmed the half-section immediately south of Dad's homestead. They apparently operated the header jointly on crops harvested in 1903, 1904, 1905, and 1906. Before and after these four years, Dad showed payments to custom operators for "heading." In 1903, he bought a disk drill for $95.00. This purchase prompted me to review all of the entries for farm equipment prior to 1903. I found no indication of any previous purchase of a drill. I am wondering now if for the first 17 years he farmed, he had seeded his crop with a small, hand-operated seeder that he carried as he walked back and forth across the area to be seeded.

There were two small expenditures in 1902 that I found most intriguing. On May 14, 1902, there was an entry "Feed for team in Hartline," $0.75. Hartline is a small town on the Northern Pacific Railroad some 20 miles west of Wilbur. The round trip from his farm would have been some 45 miles. On December 6 of this same year, there is an entry: "Dinner in Krupp," $0.25. Krupp (11) is a small town on what used to be the main line of the Great Northern Railroad on the western boundary of Lincoln County. It is a good 19 miles from the farm, or a round trip of 38 miles. What is intriguing is why Dad made these two long trips to relatively small towns. His account book provides no clue.


Dad's farmhouse built in 1902 and 1907. This picture, taken in 1912,
shows the author with his Mother and Father and his sister, Bessie.


My mother is a bit of a story also. Unfortunately, she did not leave an account book to document what she did. Like my father, she was born in the little village of New Byth, Scotland. Her birth date was October 16, 1869. Because of their age difference, he was through school and out working while she was still a small child, and they did not know each other in Scotland. My mother was one of five children of Joseph and Elspet (Skinner) Finnie. She was still in her twenties when she left Scotland, coming first to Eastern Canada, where she worked as a household servant. It is my understanding that she was in Quebec. She did not like the area. One day she noticed an advertisement in the People's Journal, a Scottish weekly publication, that a family in Wilbur, Washington, wanted a Scottish girl to do domestic work for them. She answered the advertisement, was accepted, and came out west to Wilbur. One of the families she worked for, in fact I think she was working for them just prior to her marriage, was the M.E. Hay family. Mr. Hay later became Governor of the State of Washington.

Dad's expenditure pattern changed with marriage. In April 1903, there was "Lumber for Chicken House," $12.30; "Sewing Machine," $31.50; and "Furniture," $40.00. He also "Bought one dozen chickens from Jim McKay" for $3.00, a "Red Cow from John Lome" for $50.00, a 'Wash Boiler" for $2.00, and "Fruit and Shade Trees" for $8.00. Earlier, November 1901, Dad has spent $15.25 for "Fruit Trees."

Financially, this second period of Dad's farming career had been quite successful. I earlier noted his cash balance on July 1, 1895, was only $16.35. On July 1, 1903, his account book showed only $156.45 but this did not include the $2,000 in gold hidden under the floor of his shack.

The third period of Dad's farming career for purposes of this history extended from July 1, 1903, until July 12, 1913, when he moved the family to Forest Grove, Oregon.

Wheat continued to be the dominant source of income, although it actually was a somewhat smaller proportion of his total income in this period than in the preceding one. For these ten years it represented just over two thirds of the income for all sources. Mother's influence was apparent in the $930 of income from livestock products. Interest became a significant item, representing almost nine percent of the total. The land at Cheney was sold on contract in May 1910 and $4500 was received, making a total of $9,000 from the sale of this quarter-section of land. Dad had to pay his tenant $250 for a release from his lease contract and $300 to Wilkinson and Son as commission on the sale.

Dad cut back significantly on his outside work during this ten-year period, working only in the harvests of 1907 and 1909. He did his own heading for the crops harvested in 1903, 1904, 1905, and 1906. In the spring of 1908 he did some plowing for a neighbor, George Kuchenbuch, receiving $90.00 for this work. I assume that he supplied the horses and plow as well as the labor. No mention was made as to days worked or acres plowed.

One interesting little item of income was recorded on December 7, 1904: "Stranger's Board," $1.50.

This same year, Dad made a significant expenditure when he paid $110 for a "Spaulding Hack." Current dictionaries define a "hack" as a vehicle used for hire, but years ago, the term was used to describe a light pleasure vehicle having four wheels and two seats in contrast to a "buggy" which had only one seat.


The author and his sister, Bessie, in the summer of 1912. The photographer's horse and buggy can be seen just around
the windmill tower. In the background is Dad's barn where he kept his seven work horses and the family cow.


In 1907, there was an event referred to in some histories as the "Panic of 1907." One source describes it as follows: "The bankers had a bad panic in 1907 but this was not a severe business panic."(12) It did have some effect in this area. N.W. Durham in his "Spokane and the Inland Empire" included this reference: "As a measure of sheer self-protection the bankers of Spokane, after a conference lasting several hours and extending far into the night, decided on Tuesday, October 29, 1907, to suspend legal tender payment, and following the example of other cities, emit an issue of clearing house certificates."(13)

Dad had almost $5,000 in the bank in Wilbur. On November 4, he traded $4,000 of these funds for the quarter-section of land immediately west of his homestead. This land had been homesteaded in 1890 by Hugh Monahan, a brother of the William Monahan who farmed just south of Dad. Fortunately for Mr. Monahan, the bank soon resumed payment of all funds. Dad got another 160 acres of land.

The purchase of this land resulted in two unusual entries. On September 9, 1908, there was "Received from M. Tolonen for House (Monahan)." $20.00. On April 12, 1909, there was the entry "Received for H. Monahan Well," $60.00. This resulted in an exception being written into the title to the south half of Section 8 that reads as follows: "Commencing at a point 85 rods East of the Northwest corner of the Southwest Quarter of Section 8, Township 24 North, Range 32 East of the Willamette Meridan, South 25 feet, East 25 feet, North 25 feet, West 25 feet to the place of beginning." This was a dug well and has long since ceased to supply water. The exception still shows on the title.

In July 1907 a decision was made to add a 16 by 16 foot addition to the house Dad had built in 1902. This was added to the center of the north side, resulting in a 'T" shaped building. Mother convinced him that the ceiling could be lowered by about two feet, resulting in a small room on the second floor of this addition. A separate staircase was built to gain access to this room. The cost of this addition came to $305 or almost as much as the original house.

In May and June 1909 a total of $148 was spent for a windmill and water-storage tank and the lumber and other material to construct the tower and tank house. This was the first time that there was running water. No sink was installed, however, so that all waste water still had to be carried outside. The water tower and tank did provide running water for the livestock. Prior to this, water had to be hand-pumped each day for the animals. It had also been eight years since Dad had set out the first fruit trees. Because of the limited rainfall of the area, water had to be hand-pumped and carried to these trees during these eight years.

In December 1910 the dug well that had served since Dad first came to his homestead failed and over $550 was spent on a drilled well.

I have commented earlier on the money orders Dad sent to Scotland and London, which I assumed went first to his mother and later to his sister. During this last period he sent funds only in the first two years, the last entry being January 5, 1905. The fact that no money orders were sent after this date leads me to the belief that his mother died about this time. An interesting item is one on March 22, 1904: "Paid for Telephone Rent," $6.00. This was the first reference that I found to what is now considered one of life's necessities. This initial payment was followed by only three others that specified they were for telephone service. These were $2.00 in December 1904 and $3.00 in May and December 1905. I do know that these "farmer" lines consisted of a single strand of wire strung on fence posts, except for the few places the line had to be raised to cross the relatively few roads. It hardly seems possible that for a total payment of $14.00 the folks got telephone service from 1904 until they left the farm in 1913. On the other hand, I'm reasonably sure that having gotten the service, they did not discontinue it.

On July 5, 1904, there is the entry "Bought R.F.D. Mail Box," $3.50. This meant that for the first ten years he was on his homestead, he had to go to Govan to get his mail.

I was impressed as I analyzed Dad's account book with the frequency of purchases. I counted several years and found that he recorded some items purchased on an average of once a week. It was a 34-mile round trip, in other words a long day's drive, to Wilbur. In summer it was hot and dusty; in winter, cold. Dad did have two close neighbors, the Monahans and the Stoddards. It is possible that the three of them checked with each other and made one trip serve all three families some of the time.

Mother and Dad didn't waste time starting a family; my older sister, Elizabeth, made her appearance January 24, 1904. I didn't arrive until August 3, 1910. However, my birth certificate indicated that I was the fourth child born to my mother, only two of whom were living. My mother never commented about having other children that did not live. Dad's account book does indicate doctor's bills in June 1905 and October 1906 that could have been associated with these two pregnancies. Dad took no chances when I was about to be born. A "Mrs. Phillips" worked for my Mother for eleven weeks, at $10.00 per week, during the summer of 1910.

There are three entries in Dad's account book on August 3, 1910. Two are simply notations: 'To Dr. Remaly one trip 11 p.m." and "Commenced Heading." On the expenditure side there is the entry, "Pot Roast 8 1/2 lbs.," $1.05.

Mention of my birth certificate prompts a comment about my name. It was my Mother's intention that I be named Alick Finnie Joss. When she enrolled me in school, this was the name she gave the teacher. I encountered so much difficulty with teachers being unable to pronounce "Alick," that following my father's death, I began using the name "Alexander." It wasn't until 1975 when I obtained a copy of my birth certificate prior to getting a passport that I discovered that officially I had been Alexander all the time. The certificate is in the Doctor's handwriting and had apparently assumed I was to have the same first name as my Dad.


The farm in 1953, after the buildings had been vacant for 20 years. The small building next to the
windmill tower was Dad's homestead shack in which he lived from 1895 until he built the house in 1902.
The long building in the background was the henhouse built in 1903 after he and other were married.


My Mother did have a serious illness in 1908 that required her to be hospitalized at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane from April 17 to May 4. The total bill for the doctors involved carne to $377.75, of which $350.00 was paid to a Dr. Setters. The cost of the hospital stay was $76.00. Again, this is something that my mother appeared unwilling to discuss. As a boy, I knew about her being hospitalized, but she never gave any indication as to the nature of her operation. Suffice it to say that she recovered enough from this operation in 1908 to have two more children and to live a fairly active life for another 27 years.

Financially, this last ten-year period was very rewarding. When it began, Dad showed a cash balance of $152.40. On July 12, 1913, when the family left the farm for their new home in Oregon, the balance was $15,379.80. Increased wheat income accounted for 70 percent of the increase. Of this, about half resulted from more bushels sold and about half from better prices received. The average price for all wheat sold was $0.74 per bushel, ranging from a low in 1905-06 of $0.57 to a high of $0.91 for the crop harvested in 1909. It is interesting to note that during his 28 years as an active farmer, Dad never received as much as a dollar for a bushel of wheat. The other items that resulted in increased income during this last period were interest on invested funds, rent of the property at Cheney, and sale of livestock products.

The old saying, "two can live as cheaply as one," did not hold. During the eight-year period, 1895-1903, Dad's household expenses averaged just over $100 per year. Household expenses were just under $300 per year during the last ten years that he farmed.

Earlier, I commented about the purchase of a half-interest in a header and that Dad apparently did his own heading for the crops harvested 1903-06 inclusive. In all other years he showed expense items for both heading and threshing except for 1912, the last crop he harvested. That year he had his crop cut with one of those newfangled devices called a "combine." I have a picture of this outfit and his team of grey horses is being used as the lead team. I don't think he was a part of the crew, however.

My sister was seven years old in the fall of 1911. I'm not sure just how far she had to go to school, but it was some distance. In any event, my mother decided when school started in 1912 that Bessie would be enrolled in the Govan school. A house was rented there for $4.00 per month and Mother, my sister and I were moved to Govan. I feel sure that "Daisy," the family cow, went with us. The total cost of our being in Govan, which Dad recorded as "Expenses in Govan," came to $88.25. He, of course, stayed on the farm to care for the horses and chickens.

I suspect that living alone in 1912-13 contributed to Dad's decision to retire from farming. The decision was not formalized until May 8, 1913, however, when Dad "Gave Lease to H.F. Hamp on Land." On May 13, Mr. Hamp paid $62.40 for all of the household items and $151.75 for most of the furniture. He also agreed to buy the seven horses and the farm equipment for $1,420. Dad gave him eighteen months to pay for these. "Daisy," the cow, was sold to a neighbor for $75.00. Of the $1,420 that Mr. Hamp agreed to pay, $1,100 was for the horses, $220 for the machinery, and $100 for feed. Three of the younger horses brought $250 each. Twenty years later, horses of comparable quality were selling for $25 each.

My mother had a brother who had settled in Northern Saskatchewan, Canada. From May 30 to June 16, the family visited there. The cost of this vacation was $232.80.

I was interested to discover that on July 6 Dad spent $35.00 on a trip to Oregon and back. Apparently, before committing himself to moving his family to Forest Grove, he wanted to check it out again. He must have been satisfied because on July 12 he purchased "Tickets to Portland, Oregon" for $41.75. His career as an active farmer was over.

From the many entries, I want to comment on a few that are different. On September 16, 1897, there was an entry "for feeding peddler's team," $0.25. On April 26, 1905, there was "Dry Goods from Peddler," $3.25. It is hard to visualize peddlers trying to make a living driving from farm-to-farm in that very sparsely populated country. Apparently some did.

The same day my Mother bought the dry goods, Dad paid $19.50 for a "History of the Big Bend Country." I'm glad that he contributed a biographical sketch to this volume and that I have it as a reference. I am actually surprised by the number of farmers that I know were farming at that time who chose not to participate in this project.

Another member of that hardy group that travelled from farm-to-farm was the photographer. On October 6, 1902, Dad paid $1.00 for ''Two Pictures of Header Outfit." I still have a copy of this photograph. It would be considered poor quality by today's standards, but my Dad can clearly be recognized. Obviously, the photographer made two trips; one during harvest, and a second in the fall to deliver the finished product. In 1907, there is an entry on September 23 for "Hardware and Photographer," $2.10, and on October 17 for "Pictures," $1.50. On both days, there were other purchases that obviously were made in Wilbur. I have no photographs that I can identify with this date. These could have been pictures of my sister taken by a photographer in Wilbur. An entry on August 21, 1912, of "Photographs," for $5.25 did, however, involve an itinerant photographer since these were pictures of the farm house and the combine. I have copies of these and they are still in excellent condition.

December 9, 1907, there is an entry ''Toy for Bessie," $1.75. On December 18, 1909, there is an entry "Doll and silver polish," $3.00. I failed to find a ''Toy for Alex."

January 4, 1908, my Dad "Bought a Fur Coat," for $26.00. He was not being good to Mother. This was a cowhide coat for himself. I'm sure that it felt good on those long trips to Wilbur and back during the winter.

In October 1909 apparently Mother, Dad and Bessie went to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. At least, I am assuming that all three went. The entry simply reads: "Exposition expenses, etc.," $28.00. There are a number of entries that indicate the family attended fairs in Spokane and in Wilbur. By and large, however, this ten-year period was marked by careful attention to the business of farming with only a very few breaks in the routine.

Dad was not charity-minded.

Over the 28 years I found only seven entries that I could classify in this category. They added up to a total of $5.15. The diversity of the causes to which he gave this rather meager amount are interesting. In December 1886, there was $0.55 for "Subscription to Schoolhouse." The next year he gave a dollar as a "Subscription to Grien House." Nine years elasped before the next entry of $1.05 for "Charity to fire sufferer at Cheney." In 1901, he gave $1.00 for "Charity Subscription, Sisters School." The next year he gave $0.30 as a "Subscription to School House" and $0.25 as a "Contribution to Christmas Tree," and in June 1906, he gave a dollar "Subscription to July 4."

He did spend a considerable amount maintaining membership in the Masonic Lodge. It started December 4, 1891, with an entry labeled "A.F. and A.M.," $20.25. In May and June 1892 he paid an additional $30.00. Following these initial payments, he paid $117.65 in dues over the 21 years that remained of his active farming career. I had often wondered what prompted Dad to join the Masons. I think I may have the answer in the biographical sketch of Augustus Cover that appears in the "History of Spokane Country." He is described as having come "to Washington in the spring of 1877 and located on a farm nearly three miles southwest of Cheney through which the Northern Pacific Railroad track now runs for half a mile." The sketch goes on to state that: "Mr. Covert is one of those who, with Mr. Glover, instituted the first Masonic Lodge in Spokane."(14) As I indicated earlier, Mr. Covert's land was immediately south of Dad's quarter-section. I feel certain that it was he who persuaded Dad to join the Masons.

Apparently when he lived in Cheney, Dad took an active part in lodge activities. On December 22, 1894, there was an entry, "Received from Lodge for services as Tyler," $8.00. I doubt that he participated much after moving to his homestead. It appears that after he married in 1903, he may have considered giving up his membership. He did not pay dues that would have been due in December of that year. However, in September 1904, he paid $12.00, which made him current. There was no payment recorded in 1906, but in December 1907 he paid $12.00 to cover both years. After that there was an entry each December for $6.00.

A few final items. I haven't tried to compare yields per acre because Dad did not record the acreage he harvested. A portion of the farm was used for pasture and some wheat cut each year for hay. Without the acreages used for these purposes, it is impossible to compute meaningful yield figures.

An indication of the meticulous approach Dad used in his accounting is given by these two entries: April 21, 1893, "Bad Debt, Mullenix," $1.00 and April 16, 1896, "Bad Debt, Chas. Herron," for $0.25. No place in his account book did I find "miscellaneous" or "unaccounted for."

I commented very early in this article on my Dad's experience of setting his clothing on fire from his pipe. This did not break his tobacco habit, however. He took up chewing and about once each month was an entry indicating the purchase of another plug of chewing tobacco.

I also mentioned at the outset that he had used part of his limited funds to subscribe to the Oregonian. There never was a year that he did not have one or more newspapers. After a number of years, he shifted to the Spokane Chronicle and then to the Spokesman Review. For several years he also got the Seattle Post Intelligencer. The Cheney Sentinel was on his reading list until 1898 even though by then he had moved. After the Sentinel came the weekly Wilbur Register. His interest in reading did not extend to books, however. There were only a very few book purchases during the 28 years.

I titled this paper "History of a Homesteader" because I feel that Dad's decision to move to Wilbur in order to obtain a homestead was an important factor in his eventual financial success. At Cheney he was beginning to get established; he had planted some fruit trees; and he was only some three miles from stores, schools, a grain-marketing facilities, etc. He traded these advantages for a harsher climate and greater distance from town in order to expand his operations. It paid off for him. He was one of the homesteaders that "made it." I trust that during my recital of figures, the reader got some feel for the rather spartan conditions that he lived with for much of the 28 years that he farmed. He was extremely proud of his adopted land and felt that this country had been very good to him.


1. An Illustrated History of the Big Bend Country, Embracing Lincoln, Douglas, Adams, and Franklin Counties, State of Washington, Western Historical Publishing Company, Spokane, Washington, 1940, p. 494.

2. W.T. stands for Washington Territory. Washington did not become a state until 1889.

3. Later entries in the account book provided this legal description.

4. In this report I will use the term "year" to refer to the 12 month period beginning July 1, and ending June 30. I found that frequently crops harvested in one calendar year were not sold until the following spring.

5. His spelling. The only other spelling error I found was when he bought a "Rode Island Red rooster."

6. History of the Big Bend Country, op. cit., p. 494.

7. Record of Deeds, Book E, p. 510

8. Record of Deeds, Book F. p. 351

9. Record of Deeds, Volume 29, p. 483

10. Not included are payment to Mr. Small that specifically stated they were "for work."

11. Anti-German sentiment during World War I resulted in a change of name from Krupp to Marlin. The elevator still carries the name Krupp Grain Growers.

12. Gold and Prices, G.F. Warren and F.A. Pearson, 1935, p. 239.

13. Spokane and The Inland Empire, N.W. Durham, p. 536.

14. History of Spokane County, op. cit., p.332.