Archive for the ‘Josie’s story’ Category
Posted on May 20, 2012 - by Nadia
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Port Townsend was a port city of sin and splendor when Josephine “Josie” Keys White and her husband Elmer John White lived here in 1897 and 1898. Situated at the mouth of Puget Sound, it was a place for sailors to get drunk and captains to get new crews. EJ was a correspondent for Associated Press here when he reported on the arrival of gold from the Klondike in 1896. And it was over that winter that Elmer John and Josie decided that they, too, would follow the call of adventure. In April of 1898, EJ boarded a steamboat for Skagway, Alaska, and a job at the Skagway News. Josie followed, toddler in tow, in June.
So it is that tomorrow, I will load my kayak and follow in their weathered wake. The Inside Passage has spoken to me since I watched it slip by from the rail of an Alaskan Marine Highway Ferry when I was a sophomore in high school. I’ve paddled it a bit since and its layers of islands and curved passages has always called to me: Look around the next bend, and the next …
This trip continues my 2010 bicycle trip from Josie’s parents’ homestead in Kenton, Okla., to Sumner, Wash., where she went to visit her sister and ended up marrying EJ White.
While I did not party like a sailor in PT, I am as tired as one who had been crimped. I hope to come back and explain what rough and tumble towns Josied moved to with EJ. But for now, I have an adventure to start in the morning.
Thanks for tuning in.
Posted on July 16, 2010 - by Nadia
July 15, 2010
Sumner wrap up
Been here three days trying to verify Josie’s existence here, to get a sense of the place and its surround, the get a feel for EJ Whit. Vicki Connor at the Ryan House and the Heritage Quest Research Library on Main Street have been very helpful.
SUMNER — Almost at the end of the reel. Almost at my wit’s end. I found her: Josie. Josie! I almost yelled my relief out loud.
For two full days I’d wandered through the year that brought the summer of 1890 to the summer of ’91. On the big screen microfilm, The Local Matters section of the Sumner Herald – the only section that really mattered to me – read like a year-long 19th century Twitter feed:
Seed potatoes hard to come by.
Weather for walking alone with the moon.
By way of a mild suggestion we would respectfully call attention to the present condition of the walk in front of Ryan’s hall.
The Sumner baseball club will play a match game with the Puyallup club on the latter’s grounds tomorrow, (Saturday) morning Bet on the Sumners as success is sure unless energy fails.
A.M. Rousseau returned Tuesday night from a two weeks’ visit to friends at Tenino. During his absence he devoted his time to hunting, fishing and getting sunburnt.
Never mind that the man she would marry, who would become, among other things, my great grandfather, was present on almost every page. Elmer John White founded the Sumner Herald in 1889. He owned half of it, served as editor to his partner’s publisher, and wrote columns under the pen name Eli, and some people called him that, though he generally went about daily life by his initials, EJ.
He is a funny guy who urges temperance. Any topic that gets too heated deserves to be taken with “sugar and lemon.” He is well liked. Well enough to run far ahead of the rest of the Democratic ticket in his 1890 bid for the state house, but not well enough liked to to actually win, as Republicans swept Pierce County, as they were wont to do back then.
I enjoyed getting to know EJ in Sumner, but I’ve always known more about him. In the life that lies ahead of him, he keeps writing in his distinctive down-home, third-person style and is noticed and written about, so it’s fairly easy to feel like I know him. It’s her about whom I know so little. Every confirmation of a fact is a bit of grout that holds the fragile tower I’ve been building together. Every correction knocks a clinker to the ground and puts the enterprise on stronger footing. (more…)
Posted on July 10, 2010 - by Nadia
Day 36: July 9, 2010
Goldendale to Pine Creek Bar and RV campground
The last noodle of common sense left in my noggin after yesterday’s heat advised me to stay off the road until today cooled down. I did that, pedaling just far enough to set myself up well for an early start to Yakima tomorrow. Highway 97 gains almost 2,000 feet between Goldendale and the summit, mostly in pleasant, staged rolling hills with a wide shoulder.
In 1870, Calvin and Jenny Keys and their four kids lived and farmed and kept house in Klickitat County, near Goldendale, Washington. When the census taker came knocking on their door, the oldest son was nine, the youngest, a girl, three months. Calvin was 40, Jenny was 34. They were starting over. Done were the days of drought in southern California. Done were the endless rains of the Olympic peninsula. Here, cattle ranged free with few acres plowed or fenced to keep them out. There were enough people to make it feel settled, but not enough to be unsettling.
This is where Alice Josephine would be born in the hot summer of 1872, after a winter that recalled, for the few who had been around then, the devastating freeze of 1961-62. That was the year the livestock died and settlers were left with no choice but to move on. That was the year people started talking about planting hay, about sewing flax, about putting up feed and barns that would allow them to weather such a winter. This year, 1872, was the year they really got serious about such things. Josie was born onto the high country north of the Columbia River in the year that it got settled. Where there had been a few hundred living, now there were a couple of thousand. Fences went up almost as fast as cabins, and the frustration of open range ranchers like her father Calvin grew.
The Keys clan stayed in Goldendale as long as they could stand it. Time was money, for now. The ranch wasn’t big, but it was worth almost $1,000. That was enough to pull out and start over again someplace less crowded. Before Josie was a year old they had done just that, heading south to Pueblo and Trinidad, the ranching towns of southern Colorado that offered more range, and less snow. It was the beginning of Josie’s life on the move.
In 1902, Winthrop Bartlett Presby figured he had what it took to show the world that Goldendale was no backwater. He sunk $8,000 into a fine house, with 22 rooms and fireplace tiles imported from Spain. Today, the Presby Mansion is a museum featuring the everyday doings of turn-of-the-century Goldendale. It is beautifully restored and maintained and includes a research library with indexed census, marriage and death records, among other things
Outside, the old carriage house features a frontier school room and newspaper press shop as well as a collection of threshing and farming equipment.
The Sentinel, Goldendale’s newspaper, is the fourth oldest in the state and its progression is represented in a pressroom display featuring an early printing press, linotype machine and printers lead.
Architecturally, the house is over the top, with its widow’s walk so far from the sea, it’s wrap around porch, and its stifling third floor. Its hard not to imagine that Mr. Presby had a pretty big ego. Apparently, it was at least a bit bigger than his income. Household gossip tells that he died in debt, and the house was seized by his lien holders. His wife held no claim to it, as she had divorced him earlier, on grounds that he was an insufferable grouch.
Roll on, Train fans
I won’t be here for the Train concert at Maryhill Winery tomorrow, but Jesen gave me a hint of what I’ll be missing in his family’s RV at the Pine Creek Inn, 13 miles south of Goldendale. Belting out a full-on rendition of Hey Soul Sister, the Spokane teen had a rapt audience singing along, watching his every move. The RV was humming, and that’s how it should be the night before going to see a big concert – a little show, with a lot of friends.
Selena and Scott saw me roll into Pine Creek and struck up a conversation while their three kids paced the gravel driveway, watching for their friends to drive up in their deluxe RV ride. When Jim and Gina and their five boys arrived, the stage was set and I was just lucky enough to be invited in for a bit. Selena and Scott are from Portland, Gina and Jim from Spokane, and a few times a year they find an excuse to get together. This year, the excuse is Train and the first concert ever for the three Portland kids. Oh, what a time tomorrow night will be!
Jesen brought the musical talent, but everyone threw something into the pot. Jared did a backflip standing right there in the RV. In his socks. Brett and Andrew lured the herd of lop eared rabbits that lolled around the parking lot into the lair they made of celery and bread. Sam and Brock held down the couch, Kate bravely yawned and claimed the sole girl spot in their big bunch of boys and everyone sang along with Jesen.
Camping. Regardless of tent size, it’s summertime in America if there’s a singalong, the burgers are a little burnt and old friends welcome a new one into the circle. Thanks gang. Have a great time at the show.
Posted on June 6, 2010 - by Nadia
Josie’s family arrived in the valley of the Dry Cimarron so long before it was a part of Oklahoma that they could not be called Sooners. They were squatters, migrants who staked a claim to a chunk of land unattached to any state and all but forgotten by the federal government. No Man’s Land was so neglected by formal law that it wasn’t covered under the Homestead Act for years, in fact, it took a Supreme Court ruling and a Department of Interior rule in 1882 to make it clear that the vestigial appendage of the long-gone Republic of Texas was part of the public domain of the United States.
Josie was 15 and had lived in three states – Washington, Colorado and Arizona – before moving with her parents to the Cimarron Valley in 1886. A.J. Sparks, the federal commissioner of the Land Office had approved “Squatters Rights” for the area the year before, granting settlers permission to claim whatever 160-acre tract they could make a go on in the panhandle, but denying the right to apply for title. The Keys family had fallen short in numerous efforts to prove up on land under the Homestead Act. This time, they were gambling the United States would eventually give them a chance to own the land they lived. Eventually, that gamble paid off.
Tonight, I’m the sqatter, making my home for the night between three dilapidated ranch buildings. These shells of buildings and the dead and dying trees around them are the only shade for miles around. The temperature topped out at 108 today, making shade and a wind break necessities.
Traffic flies by on the highway a quarter mile away. My view encompasses a huge swath of green prairie that vies with a deep blue sky for size. My company here consists of swallows obsessed with feeding their noisy babies in the exposed rafters, meadowlarks in a perpetual territorial feud and antelope does come to drink at the stale pond 100 yards off. I hope no one minds that I’m here. I don’t want to own it, just to duck out of the sun and wind that have been relentless all day and get a good night’s sleep.
I rode the highway west toward Springer, NM, today, ditching plans to try a dirt route that looked interesting but that would have been awful in this wind and heat. I stopped several times to snack and stretch before calling a bone fide break at 10:30. I had ridden 35 miles in four hours, including the time it took to explore the old Otto cemetery and make some gear adjustments. A pushy side wind kept me focused, especially on the downhills, when even a stray thought could leave me struggling to keep the trailer riding smoothly. I was quite excited late in the day when I crossed the divide into the Canadian River basin. Suddenly, my ride was downhill and the wind at my back.
I stopped for my 10:30 siesta in the shade of a row of stunning pine trees that lined the drive to an historic adobe ranch house. Trees are the embodiment of love and commitment here. To keep these trees alive to grow to this size meant daily walks from the well to seedlings for decades upon end. I knocked, but got no answer except an excited welcome from a 6-month-old Australian shepherd. Taking that as permission to stay, I set up shop in the shade of the house, outside the main walls. Later, after I had eaten, fixed the bike some, read and napped, I knocked again to a different answer. The owners were deep in the cool of the house – she ironing, he watching the Preakness warm up. The walls of the house were a foot thick, painted a flawless tan. It was built in 1890, and the paint, like the trees, demonstrated a remarkable commitment to place. Without a foundation, the adobe cracks, making replastering a regular chore. The woman said her father had been born in Kenton, about a decade after Josie left, so I caught her up on news of Ina K. and the general well being of the town.
They let me fill my bottles at the well. “That’s special water, there,” he said. “When you drink it, you just know you’re satisfied.” He was right. It was cold and sweet and it’s all I’ve got to see me through to the next stop tomorrow morning.
Afterward: My dilapidated ranch hide out was a little spooky, and it took forever for it to cool down, but I rolled out my sleeping bag on the tarp at dusk and fell instantly asleep. I was awaken around 10:15 by a huge lightening display on the horizon and rising winds. One look at the storm system coming my way and I was scrambling to unpack the tent. I had been so asleep that I kept searching for Emma, almost calling her out loud. I got the tent up and the wind gusts intensified to the point that I sat up, arms overhead to take some of the stress off the poles. I thought the tent would tear apart, but it held just fine and by the time the rain and lightning arrived the wind had moderated and I was sound asleep.
Posted on May 31, 2010 - by Nadia
In 1891, Josephine Keys rode a horsedrawn wagon 45 miles across a prairie deep in sharp, tall grass, to catch the train in Clayton, New Mexico. She was 18 and leaving her parents’ house for the first time and headed to Sumner, Wash., to surprise her sister Annie, who had married a newspaper publisher named Rouseau. When the train came, Josie got on. She never returned to the Oklahoma-New Mexico river valley where she’d spent her late teens, but pressed on to a series of adventures that took her ever farther north.
Tomorrow night I’ll board the southbound 10:50 Greyhound, bound for Clayton, New Mexico, by way of a 31-hour slog through Butte, Billings, Casper, Denver and the big spaces in between. I know where the bus will take me, but I’m still trying to figure out precisely where I’m going once I get off it. The only thing I’m sure of is that I am not going to follow Josie’s route.
It’s hard to say what route that train carried her as it chugged across the many mountains in her way. In addition to the train lines that exist now, there were quite a few railways then that have turned to asphalt, bike trails or simply flat spots in the woods that sweep around a mountain. The southern route to California existed, and she could have taken it north as far as Sacramento, then patched together stage coaches and small rail on up the coast.
More likely, I think, is that she went north to Denver, then onto Cheyenne, Wyoming, and west on the Union Pacific’s famed Overland Route. The daunting Raton Pass rail connection had been completed the year before and the rail from Clayton aims right for it. It would have been shorter, easier and presumably cheaper than either the California route, or the arduous narrow gauge trains that ran through Colorado’s mountain mining districts.
Even today it would be easier, faster and cheaper to go that way. But that’s not what I’m going to do. That’s because in addition to being from a thrifty and pragmatic family, Josie had a sense of adventure. She was heading off on her own, to see what life outside No Man’s Land had to offer. Today, the route she took has become the Interstate corridors that contain I-25 north up the Front Range and I-80 west across the southern tier of Wyoming. It would have been a gorgeous and wild route at the turn of the century. Today, it is a high-speed corridor. Although the distant scenery is still striking through Colorado and Wyoming, it’s a busy route that I’ve driven too many times to consider biking it an adventure.
Instead of following Josie’s route, I hope to engage her spirit. My plan is to cut diagonally north and west, choosing interesting routes and talking with the people who have chosen to live off the fast lane. Instead of a train, I’ll be on my bike.
Here is a rough map of my route. Click on it, it’ll get bigger. After assembling my bike in Clayton, I hope to catch a ride to Kenton on Friday morning to say hello to some folks there who were especially kind to me when I visited in March. I’ll ride back to Clayton, a shakedown ride before beginning in earnest Saturday morning. After a second overnight in Clayton, I’ll head west, skirting north of Mount Wheeler, the highest point in New Mexico. From Kenton to Questa, New Mexico, is about 230 miles and that should pretty well get me warmed up in the first week.
Posted on May 20, 2010 - by Nadia
Alice Josephine Keys White was a pioneer in the waning days of America’s Western frontier. She moved, generally north and west, staying one step ahead of statehood and its civilizing governance, until she reached Alaska in the heyday of gold fever. She was a journalist, wife, mother and avid outdoors woman.
Nadia White lives in Missoula, Mont. This blog is a record of her travels in the spirit and footsteps of her great grandmother Josie, an exploration of understand America, journalism, Josie and herself as a new century gathers steam. She is a journalist and journalism professor, a dog owner, daughter and enthusiastic about getting about under her own power, by bike, boat or foot.