The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume VII, Number 3-4, Pages 30-40
On September 19, 1980, Sandra and Brightbill interviewed Mamie Sasse about her early life in Pine Creek, Okanogan County, Washington. This is one of many oral histories conducted as part of the Washington Women’s Heritage Project.
Her mother was from Austria and her father from Germany. They were married in 1898 in Butte, Montana, and then moved to Pine Creek to homestead:
"They just lived in a tent that first summer, and he got logs…and they built a little shack up there…He got a scythe. The bunch grass was so thick on Pine Creek Ranch, and grass and everything, that he cut enough hay for his team for that first winter they lived there and packed it in with forks and piled it up – him and Mother. And then they bought a milk cow, and then they had their own milk and cheese…
“I was born in 1902…And Dad had to go out. There was a lot of mining going on up around Loomis and Nighthawk. And he left Mother – here by herself with that little baby and expecting another one in June…And then she had this cow and milked this cow and fed those horses all winter long.
“Dad came home in about three months. He came home. He stayed there all winter. Well, he had a pretty good check – you know, a lot of money. So he came home, and he got a plow and this team of horses…And they put in corn and potatoes and raised more grain, enough to make some flour…And they raised beans, navy beans and onions and potatoes, and she had a few chickens by then and had their own eggs.
“Well, the nearest neighbors was about five miles, and they were charley Mitchels…My Mother’s folks came out in about 1902…and they homesteaded about seven or eight miles from where my folks lived. And so Dad got a sled, a bob sled, they called it. When he left the next winter then to go back to work and left her up there again with me – I was a little baby then in 1902. And the only way that Mother had to go anywhere was to hook up this team to this sled and take us.
“The horses got sick with distemper. And they had a little barn – Dad had a little barn put up there. And she’d go out and smoke those horses with the pine tar they brought then, and they’d put it in a little pan and they’d set fire to it, and she’d hold that under the horses’ noses and they’d inhale that smoke, that pine tar, and that cured up the horses…"
Her father saved some money and bought ten cows in Winthrop making a little start in the cattle business.
“And they were long-horned, ugly old things, and they were wild, and Mother couldn’t hardly get out there. They’d chase her, you know, in the winter time. But she’d manage to throw over enough hay for the cows. And she pulled them all through, and the next spring they had calves…”
In 1908 the family moved to the farm at Fish Lake. For a time her mother gave birth to a child every fourteen months or so.
"We moved down there, and we had more room, and Mother worked hard all this time - washing on the board, carrying our water from a well, when we were up there. He dug the well by hand and put in, a windless, they called it; it was a bucket on a rope that you let down and you cranked it up...And then when we moved down on the lower ranch, why, there was a good spring there, and he piped the water into the house. And, oh boy, was that a blessing…”
Her father put in irrigation and raised hay and alfalfa; he increased the livestock herd to about a hundred cows. Mrs. Sasse attended a one-room school.
"That schoolhouse was moved probably about six or eight times. People would have it on their property. Then they'd have a falling out, then they'd hook four horses onto it and drag it onto somebody else's property…”
Her second teacher, Mr. Thomas, rode by horse ten miles to the school every day and taught eight grades. They had reading, writing, and arithmetic and sang songs every morning.
Her mother did all the wash on a board, rendered hog lard, made sausage, cured hams and bacon, and raised beans and cabbage.
"We'd make a fifty gallon barrel of sauerkraut. And she canned a lot of fruit…prunes and apples, you know, and peaches and pears…And Dad would raise grain and take a load of grain down with the horses to Riverside every fall, and take our crop to town. And then he would trade wheat for flour. And Mother had to bake twelve loaves of bread twice a week…
"When I was eight years old I got bit by a rattlesnake there on the ranch. And Dad was in the field there. And I ran to the house. We were playing in the hay, and I got bit in the finger…My brother was there, and he slashed open my finger with a knife and sucked that - tried to suck that poison out of there, and then put carbolic acid in his hand and he put my finger in his hand and he held it like that for a while. And, then, Dad by that time got the horses hitched up to the buggy and we had to go eight miles to Conconully. It took him an hour and fifteen minutes to drive that eight miles with the team - he ran them all the way. And I was swelled up like a - all over. I didn't know anything at all the way going over. I was unconscious, but Dad just whipped those horses and took me in, and Dr. Pogue was there, and he took me in his office, and he had a big bathtub - that's what they told me, a big bathtub, and they dumped a lot of solution in there, just laid me in there. I was in that solution for two days and I got unconscious…It drew all that poison out. When Dad came back to get me. I still had to bathe in this stuff. It saved my life, and I came out of it, and didn't die.
"The rattlesnakes were so thick it was terrible. And and we had two dogs that would kill those snakes around the house. They'd got bit so many times we thought they'd die, but one would draw the snake's attention, and the other one would grab him and just shake him and tear him to a million pieces. And they worked together those two - Prince and Rowdy was their names."
They traded wheat for shoes, overshoes, and socks at Pard Cumming's store in Riverside. Her father would buy a bunch of shoes in town and dump them on the floor at home. The kids would gather around and take whichever pair fit. Her mother made most of the clothes from "outing flannel."
"(One day her brother Frank) was playing, and he must have picked up a piece of glass or something, and he had it in his mouth, and he was out there with the cows, and these cows didn't like for us little kids to be around there, and my Mother kept telling us to come back - the cows would get us. And Frank was there - he was just a toddler - and this cow kicked him and butted him, and he swallowed. This piece of glass got down in his throat, and he was bleeding out of the mouth and throat. And Mother just stood him on his head and pounded him on his back, and squeezed him like they do now - that's come out now, lately, you squeeze somebody that's choking, And this glass flew out of his throat and saved him - he was choking to death. And he had a sore throat for quite a while, but he got over it. No doctoring - we didn't go to no doctor then…”
She and her brothers and sisters were delivered by midwife. Her mother stayed in bed for nine days. Her father developed miner's consumption and "coughed and coughed." They fixed a bed for him on a screen porch, and her mother nursed him for six months until he died in 1918.
"I forgot about our little sister whose tragedy we had in our family. My little sister Annie passed away in 1917...Mother always, on Sunday mornings, she gave us all baths, you know, and fixed our hair and everything and dressed us all up. And this little girl, she was two years and four months old, and we were all out in the shade in the front of the house playing, and she disappeared - she left there, and Mother was cleaning up in the house and she looked out, and she says, 'Where's little Annie?' And she was expecting a baby then - Gladys, and she says, Where's little Annie?' And we said, 'Well, she was here a minute ago.' And we went out and looked all over, and we couldn't find her. And I ran around the building, and I found her behind the house. She'd got ahold of some matches - behind the chicken house it was. And she'd got ahold of these matches, and she set herself afire. Evidently Mother had made her a brand new little dress, and she was so cute. She had snow white hair - she was really blond. And I ran around the house there to look and there I found her. She was laying on her back, and she was all burnt to a crisp.
"And I ran to the house. I didn't pick her up or anything, and I just screamed and hollered, and Mother, she was big pregnant with Gladys. And she ran out there and she grabbed this little girl up. And where she fell - she fell backwards like this and she still had her blond curls back there, and her dress wasn't burned on her back. But otherwise her body was just burnt brown, and even split open on places. And Mother picked her up, and she ran, she had to get under this fence. And she crawled under the fence, and she had the baby, and she ran in the house, and she laid her in the sink. We had a big long sink there, and she turned the water on her. But she was dead, you know. But she thought she could revive her. And then Mother grabbed her up, she saw she couldn't get her to (revive.) So she ran to the bed, into the bedroom, and she laid her on the bed, and she just looked at her, and Mother fell over backwards and hit her head on the floor, and she was unconscious, and us kids were all just standing around screaming, you know. And so my brother he said, 'Call Dad.' Dad was up at my grandparents. and he was so sick then it took him forever to walk up there - out of breath, you know. And so we called him and said, 'Dad, come home quick. Momma's fainted and little Annie's dead.' And he ran all the way home and when he got down to the house, he fainted. And Mother was coming to. We poured water on her and got her to. And he was all out of wind; he was short-breathed, you know, from that T.B. he had. And then from then on it just really got him; that's when we had to put him to bed you know.
"This was the twenty-ninth of August, I remember, and little Gladys was born the fourth of September. She came a little premature from all the excitement, you know. And so. Reverend Hawke, our minister from Riverside, came up and held grave side services, and all the neighbors came and just buried her up here on Pine Creek, where all my folks are buried now. They were buried beside of little Annie's grave. And the people were so good; everybody came you know, and brought things to eat, and stayed with Mother and took care of her for so long. That was the worst tragedy we had in our lives."
The minister sat with the baby's body for a day and a night. The funeral services were held in the grange hall, and Annie's body was taken by buggy to the cemetery. There was no undertaker. They prepared her body for burial themselves.
Mrs. Sasse's grandparents also homesteaded at Pine Creek. Her grandfather developed a bone disease and had to have his leg amputated.
"They didn't have anything to give you then, in them days to do these things…They would give them chloroform. He says, 'Just give me my pipe. Lite it up and give me my pipe,' he said, 'and just go to work.' So they just lit up his pipe, and he had it between his teeth, you know, and he just laid there and they sawed his leg off..."
The leg was amputated about four inches below the knee, and a peg-leg was built for him from a tree stump. The children called him "Granpa Peg Leg."
Mrs. Sasse's family spoke German at home. This caused problems when the children first went to school.
"We could not speak a word of English, and …the other kids would tease us, and we'd stand around the corner, and we'd bawl and talk amongst ourselves - the fold never taught us any English... and they called me 'Sauerkraut' and 'Pigtail'…and we'd go around the school and bawl...Finally we got so we could talk English. The first year was tough, I'll tell you…”
The Children had many chores on the farm.
"Well, we was expected to work. We didn't fool around and play around like we do now. We had to herd hogs. We had to milk cows when we got big enough to, milk cows; we had to take cattle to the range...I was the main cowboy. The boys never did want to ride, and I loved to ride horses…"
When she was ten years old she would take a day's ride bareback once a week to check the far flung cattle herd. She rode an old white horse named Tricksy and went to Conconully every Saturday for the mail. One March the cattle were out, and a storm came with temperatures to 17 degrees below zero. Mrs. Sasse found a new-born calf covered with ice three miles from home and rode home to tell her parents. Her father was too ill to go out, but her mother and two other children dragged a washtub to the calf and brought him home in it. It's mother followed along behind.
"We got it home, and took it in the house, and got it all warmed up, and got some milk warmed up, and we fed it. It sucked on the bottle. . . never had no nipples or anything then but we got the milk down it, you know. And then it got dry, and the old cow stood outside of the house and bellered and bellered. So we brought that calf out to her. Well, we took it up and put it in the barn…Well its ears was just froze stiff. They was just sticking out. And its tail fell off, and its ears fell off…”
Her father gave the cow to her brother, Fred, since he helped save it, and he started a little herd of his own. Luckily all the other calves survived the storm.
When she rode to Conconully for mail and groceries - a 16 mile round trip - she would spend a few minutes looking at the shop windows. She was "too bashful" to go inside. Her father always gave her fifteen cents to buy herself crackers and a can of Vienna sausages, which she ate by the creek when she stopped to water her horses.
"Dad would go to town at Christmas time. We never got any toys or anything then. But we were so happy - we'd get an orange. Mamma would make socks out of cheesecloth, you know - Christmas stockings. And Dad would get some hard candy and a few nuts…and then in each sock we got an orange. And was that orange a treat! Oh! That was really something. And that was all we'd get for Christmas, but we enjoyed Christmas – our candy and nuts – as much as the kids with all those thousands of toys that they don't know what to do with anymore…”
There were eleven children in the family. At meal time they sat on long wooden benches at the table. They were arranged according to age. Before the meal they placed their hands in their laps, and her father said a blessing. He dished up the food from his end of the table.
"A lot of us didn't like what we was going to get on our plates, but he put it on there, and we ate it. And he said,…'You eat what's on your plate and that's it.' And us kids didn't argue with him…We were allowed one teaspoon of sugar on our mush, cereal in the morning. My brother liked it sweet. So he thought Dad wasn't looking, and he put two spoons on. And Dad just came down on his head with his big tablespoon, and that learnt him not to take two spoons of sugar…We always had plenty to eat - such as it was, food. Whether we liked it or not, it was good substantial food, you know."
Her mother made school lunches everyday for each of the children. They made their own bread and sausage. They often had sauerkraut sausages, which the kids liked a lot. She made prune jam, cooking it slowly in a dishpan for three days on the back of a wood stove.
They had no Sunday school, but every Sunday morning their father would read to them from the Bible and explain things to them.
They each had daily chores. Mrs. Sasse helped her mother do the washing. They heated the water, and brought it to the tubs, and washed over a washboard. Her mother made her own soap out of cracklings and tallow and lye. She washed the floors at least once a week with a scrub brush, and baked twelve loaves of bread three times a week. She was a wonderful cook.
"We had this dish - I still make it today. And everybody that comes here just loves it. I make it maybe - well, for holidays, usually. We had these sauerkraut barrels - fifty gallon barrels, and we'd make those full - two a year. And then we'd put a head of cabbage in there, the whole heads, down in the bottom, and then we'd stomp our sauerkraut around them, and they would sour the same as the sauerkraut. So when you took them out of the kraut, we made this filling of rice and pork - ground pork sausage and onion and salt and pepper, and we'd cook this rice a little bit, just to get it swelled so it wouldn't swell up after we put it in the cabbage leaves. So we would cook that a little bit all together, and then put salt and pepper to season. And then we'd...peel off the leaves of this head of cabbage, put a spoon, a big spoonful in, and fold ends and then roll it and put it in a big kettle. We lined the bottom of the kettle with sauerkraut and then we'd fill that full, and then just cook it for about three or four hours in that - slow. And, oh, that was a good dish...Everybody just loves them - galousties we call them…”
The first time she went away from home, it was to see a friend play on a women's basketball team. The girls wore big bloomers that made their legs seem huge. She had come with her grandfather and was staying in a hotel. That night she was so homesick she cried, and her grandfather had to console her - she was 22 miles from home!
On another trip she went to the town of Ruby with her dad. It was a mining town with many tough characters walking the streets. Her dad told her to stay close.
"And I remember going into the restaurant there and eating lunch before we came home. And I was so embarrassed, I'd just crawl down behind (the table) - there were so many people in there, and I'd crawl down behind. And Dad would say, 'Get up her now, sit up like a lady.' I'd duck down under the table you know and didn't want to order anything. And he finally had to order my meal, I was so bashful…”
When they began to go to dances the older children would go by horseback as much as 15 miles. They would dance until morning and then ride home and spend the next day working with no sleep.
"I can remember one instance…It was terrible 1 thought afterwards. We had a car, and that was when our Dad was real sick, and he was out on his front porch…He had to be outside on account of lungs, you know, to get good fresh air. And we always parked the car…by the side of the house. Our neighbor kids - boy and girl, my friends, came, and we wanted to go to this dance. Well, we didn't want to ride horseback; so we wanted to take the car, and we knew that our Dad wouldn't let us take the car. So what we done…we pushed this car way down over the hill away from the house before we ever started it up, and we took it and went to the dance. And next morning we did the same thing. We pushed it in right where it was parked. We was real quiet about it so we wouldn't wake Dad up. And then the next morning we got up and we were feeling kind of, you know, sheepish-like. And Dad says, 'Hey, come here.’ We went there - he says, 'You know,' he said, 'did you have fun last night?' And we said, We sure did. Yes, we had a nice time, Dad. And he said 'Don't you think I knew what you guys were up to?' He said, 'You took that car last night, didn't you? And then we said, 'Yes, we did, Dad.' And he said, 'Well, why didn't you ask me?' He said, 'You could have took it, anyway.' But we were scared, you know. And he said, 'You know when you parked that car back up there by the side of the house, the fumes of that carburetor, where it had been run, kept me awake all night. I couldn't sleep,' he said…And he said, Well, why didn't you ask me? I'd probably have let you have it, anyway.' We felt so embarrassed, you know, because we did that sneaky thing…”
The Indians came up to Fish Lake in the Fall to pick berries and to dry them for the winter. Mrs. Sasse and the other children were "scared to death" of them because of things they learned about Indian wars in history.
When they were naughty, their father disciplined them. Once an aunt was visiting, and they disobeyed her:
"We ran upstairs, two of us, and we crawled under the bed, and our Dad came up there with a switch, you know, stick. And he was gonna wop us, you know. And we crawled under the bed, and it was agin' the wall, and then we'd get way back to the wall, and he couldn't reach us. He said, 'Come on out here, you've got this a comin'. Now you're gonna mind Aunt Dina and do as she says:’ And - we wouldn't come out, and he said, Well, I’ll get you anyway.' So he pulled the bed out and got behind the bed - we'd crawl on this other side. And, oh man, my brother Pete,…he'd always howl the loudest. So we finally had to come out. And, boy, he said, 'This is not helping matters any.' He said, 'You're just going to get that many more whacks.' So he said, 'You might just as well come out.' So we come out ... My little brother Pete, he was the worst of all of us,…but he started screaming and hollering - you thought he was killed before Dad ever got a hold of him, and he got the leastest lickin' of all of us...But, believe me, we minded our Dad after that..."
Her parents seldom argued about anything except whether or not to have more children. Her mother wanted to stop, "but always there came one more."
Mrs. Sasse was given no information about sex and menstruation.
"In those days they never - my Mother never once told me. I was the oldest girl,..and Mother never told me once. And I was out - you know, I'd have these stomach aches, you know, cramps, and I never did know what it was. Seemed like I'd tell Momma, but she would never say anything about it.
"But this one day we went to this church, and I was all dressed up and had my nice dress on - we only had about one dress that was nice in them days, you know - and was up to my aunt's place. And we were setting around in the church there, and I was kind of at the back there, and I don't know, I got up for something, and my aunt notices that I had menstruated, or had a blood spot on the back of my dress. And she got me by the arm and pulled me into the kitchen, and none of the other people, I don't think, saw it at all, but she was standing in the door, and she saw it right away when I stood up. And she took me into the kitchen, and then she said to me, she said, 'Did your mother ever tell you that - ' Oh, I was scared. Then she told me, you know, and I looked down, you know, and I saw this blood drip on down my legs, and I was really scared. So she said, "Well, don't be frightened,' she said, 'all girls have this when they get a certain age, and you just started your menstruation - your monthly period.' She told me in German, you know, and I don't know how she - I couldn't say it now.
"But, anyway, she took me into the bedroom, and she took my dress off. And she got me this rag, you know. And they put a deal around you, around your stomach like a - made a little belt out of some material, and they pinned it on the back and the front, and she got me this cloth and washed me all off, and got me this cloth and put it on me and said, 'Now you will be fine, and your dress will be dry in just a minute.' She held it in front of the - she poured hot water on that; did you know that takes out stains? And she held it in front of the oven, and it dried in just a few minutes, She put it back on, and nobody knew the better of it…
I went home, and 1 told my mom what had happened, and then she got after my Mother. (She) said, 'Why didn't you tell that girl?' 'Oh:’ she said, 'I just couldn't make myself do it.' You know it was kind of a, I don't know, they kinda didn't like to come out in the open with things like that then, I don't know why they didn't, but they didn't…”
She told her younger sisters and her two girlfriends about menstruation, since no one else would explain it to them. Many people at the time believed that if you got into cold water during your period, it would stop the flow of blood, and you would die. Their neighbors had a girl about Mrs. Sasse's age who did go swimming during her period; the period never returned, and the girl was sick for about four years, then died. Her parents blamed the illness on swimming during her period and never took her to the doctor. (Mrs. Sasse does not agree with their explanation.)
She first met her husband-to-be, Lloyd Sasse, when he came to visit. He wasn't courting at the time - he was seventeen and Mrs. Sasse was eleven - but he remembered the kids listening to a record on the gramaphone called, "Ticklish Ruben." When she was sixteen, he asked her to a dance. They went to dances for the next two years; he would kiss her goodnight, "and that was as far as it went." At Christmas time when she was seventeen, he gave her a ring, and asked her to marry him. Her mother thought he was a "nice guy" and approved.
During that winter, she worked for some neighbors, the Paxtons, and lived in their house. Lloyd Sasse would come by in the evenings and talk with her in front of the heating stove. She slept with the Paxton's daughter, who wet her bed every night - one of her chores was to clean and air the bedding each day.
Mrs. Sasse was married on October 12, 1920 by a Methodist minister in Okanogan.
"She (her mother) bought me this beautiful blue outfit; it was a navy blue suit - serge, they called it then, that was a really nice material then - and a white blouse, and a hat, a little hat, to go with it, and I had high top shoes - that was the style then, lace shoes up to there, and of course the dresses were down to there, and these were these button shoes that you buttoned with a button hook…”
Her mother also bought her a trunk, sheets, pillow cases, and three table cloths. They made sheets out of flour sacks and embroidered them. One set of friends gave them a joke present – an enameled chamber pot they used it on cold nights to avoid going to the outdoor privy.
They had gotten a little shack with two rooms. Her grandmother bought them a small, old heat stove with a cracked top and some old dishes, and a bureau. Her brother-in-law was supposed to have set up their bed in the shack. They went to Grandmother Sasse's for dinner. When they arrived by buggy from the wedding, all the guests at the wedding dinner came out of the house banging dish pans and tin pans.
"Well, we went in and had supper; then we stayed a while, and Lloyd said, 'Well, we better be getting up the hill; it's dark, it's dark now. How we gonna make it.' So we went on up the hill in the buggy. . It was about a mile from there to the place. And we had to find this old kerosene lamp, you know, and light it with matches. And so we got ready for bed, and, oh boy, Lloyd jumped in bed, and the old bed just went BAMI And he fixed it so it would fall down, that brother. And there we was – he fixed it so we couldn't hardly put that darned thing together again. And he had a cowbell tied underneath it. And that rattled-banged. And so he finally give up on settin' it back up again; and so we just left it lay on the floor. We went to bed that was our honeymoon.
"And the next day Grandma said, 'Come down for breakfast.' So we went on down there for breakfast, and this Bert, did he ever laugh, he said, 'Did you have fun last night?' We said, 'We sure did, and you' We got after him, you know, and he just laughed. He had told Grandma, and his mother what he had done, and she said, 'You meanie, doin' that to them kids’…
"That weekend the whole community came. We went up there to our house, and we stayed there at our home, and here the whole community came and shivareed us with tin cans and everything. And they stuffed a gunnysack in the chimney and smoked us out - we wasn't gonna open the door, you know. And they smoked us out, and we had to open the door finally to get some fresh air. Then they all came in, and they had food, and they had gifts, and they had everything, and it was really nice - we thought it was really nice. They came in the evening after we went to bed. They come at night to get us out of bed. Gee, that was the good old days!"
(Mamie Sasse's story is continued in the Winter 1983 issue of the Pacific Northwest Forum.)