GrandFather’s Story

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Written about Webster Marshall Spencer 1834-1910 by his grand-daughter, Leota Pearl Spencer  1892-1979, based on her memories of him.  This was probably written sometime between Feb 1972 and 01Mar 1973, with her information for Michelle Petrin’s school Genealogy project.  (( There are some errors in facts, but we must remember she was unborn or a child at the time most of these events occurred – and Leota’s dementia symptoms were beginning to effect her memory by 80 years old. These are Leota’s PERCEPTIONS of her grandfather’s life.))

Must remember that Leota was only  18 years old when her grandfather died, and she did not write these 5pages until she was near 80 years old .  This story helped me tremendously in my search for his data.

Webster enlisted in Company E, Iowa 20th Infantry Regiment on 22 Aug 1862.  He was wounded 07 Dec 1862  during the Battle of Prairie Grove and listed in news at Burlington Weekly Hawkeye, then discharged for wounds on 27 Jan 1863 at Camp Seigle, MO.  I found down-loadable free pdf of book “Battle of Prairie Grove” available at Archive dot org  https://archive.org/details/battleofprairieg00jone.  Much is written about the Oklahoma Land Rush (see links at base of article).

Much MUCH thanks to my grand-grandMa
for her Loving-Kindness in writing these memories for posterity:

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Webster Marshal Spencer, son of Jonathon Spencer, was born of British ancestry at Middletown, New York about 1830.  He grew to manhood there, received a college education and married Emily McMinn, a girl of Scottish descent.

One of their first places was a little home in Iowa.  He was struggling hard to make a life for his wife and baby boy, Fred, when the Civil War broke out.  He felt he should go so he arranged for their care and enlisted.  It was only a few months before he was shot close to his heart at Shiloh.  After a time of great pain and loneliness in a makeshift hospital back of the Northern lines he began to recover, but never fully.

He came home to his wife and child early in 1863 where they lived in Iowa when my father, Charles Homer Spencer, was born, June 29, 1864.  There were four boys, Fred, Charles, Harry, and William and daughter Louise.  Grandmother became ill with tuberculosis.  Grandfather took her away to Boulder, Colorado where they hoped for a cure, but she only lingered a short time, passed away, and left a three month old baby girl who only lived three months after her mother died.  Grandfather told me that she looked like a pretty baby doll.  He left his older daughter Louise with one of his sisters where she stayed until she was nineteen.  Louise married John Cook, a wonderful Englishman that I loved as a child.  Grandfather lost his third son, Harry, when he was only seventeen.  He died of the dreaded diphtheria.  Then Grandfather came farther west with the rest of his family and cooked for the three boys and loved and raised them.

When the Cherokee Strip, in Oklahoma, belonging to the Indians was opened to the White settlers for homesteads, Grandfather and Father and Uncle Will decided to enter the drive.  The settlers contrived all sorts of things to use, horses, buggies, and wagons.  Some had to walk I have heard.  Every once in a while they came to a “sooner”, a person who sneaked ahead and was able to get the best before the crowd came.

My uncle got a good choice of homestead.  My father’s land, 160 acres, was across the road and was school land so he had to pay a small amount of money for each acre.  Grandfather’s was next to Father’s on the other side, which made them close.  Grandfather’s land was paid for because of his veterans right to a free homestead.  The land was good red soil which produced good crops.  If cyclones of just wind and hail made the crops unsure, there was crop insurance which helped.

They built a three room house.  It was a small house for us, but the rooms were large.  Our place was beautiful for they planted trees and shrubs besides cocks combs and a hedge by planting peach pits about a foot apart in four rows.  This made the rows close enough to form a hedge for the chickens to run under to get away from the chicken hawks.  And the dog kept the snakes out because we played there.

We were taught to love and respect our grandfather from the time we could talk.  He was a big part of our family and we went to him for special advice and anything that we didn’t understand.  How much our lives were enriched by his understanding and love to all.

As I turn back the pages of Memory I can’t find any fault in him, for he was always there to listen and help.  I can see him yet in his big Boston Rocker, sometimes with three little girls on his lap, Stella, Leota, and Emily.  He was telling us some of the English folklore and rhymes and Bible stories.  Soon he said, “I must go to town to get supplies.”  So he hurried away.  He was gone about two hours when he came back with a chagrined look, and Mother said, “What is the matter, Father.”  He said, “Everyone smiled and a few laughed at me.  I looked at myself in the glass and found red ribbons on my whiskers!”  He turned to us and said, “You can’t use ribbons on my whiskers anymore.”  And we lost the nicest way we had to play, but not the stories we liked.

We had a cyclone cellar by the kitchen door for many storms came in the summer days and Father watched continually lest the storm would come up un-awares.  Father even watched at night and if he could see one coming he would say quietly, “Come children”.  And we were instantly ready to go to the cyclone cellar.  We would stay there until the storm was passed, for Mother had a bed there for us.

The danger from storms and rattlesnakes was bad.  We had killed fourteen snakes around the house and yard and so it was a dread.  One day we had a loved aunt, Grandfather’s youngest sister, and her family come to spend the day.  Mother wanted to cook a good quick dinner and asked me to get some coal of the right size for baking.  It had been unloaded at the end of the house yard for it was summer time and dry.  I took the coal hod and knelt by a coal shovel and started to choose the size I knew she liked to bake with when a sinister noise went off like a fearful bomb.  I knew what it was and I was away from that place in an instant yelling, “Rattlesnake!  Rattlesnake!”  Father picked up the first thing he saw which was a large garden rake which he used for a weapon to kill the snake.  He fought it all over the yard.  It was an enormous snake and it fought hard.  There was much poison on the rake and you could see where the battle had been fought.  Aunt Ann was so terrified she hushed us when we mentioned it but all was well that ended well so we all tried to forget it.

Grandfather was having trouble with his heart.  He had two attacks and he was having to be very careful what he did and take a lot of rest.  So Father thought it would be well to look over a proposition at Trinidad, Colorado where Uncle Bill Boehner owned a cattle ranch and a butcher shop.  Uncle Bill and Aunt Lottie lived in a fine, six-room, adobe house on the ranch.  Grandfather and our family drove up to spend the winter at Trinidad which was not an acceptable place so we returned home.

Father was talking of moving somewhere.  He wanted to take a trip to the Western coast to look things over so he left directions so Mother and Grandfather could take over without too much effort while he was gone.  They worked well together.  Then Father came home with a report about the good country.  He was then able to sell our home and Grandfather’s Oklahoma property too, so we could start for the West.

Mother was so busy.  She had always sewed for the family for our every day clothes which were neat and good, but she hired a special dressmaker to make each of our best outfits for the trip and they were especially good.  After selling the places we left, the peach trees were pulled up by a tornado.  We felt sorry for the family we sold it to, losing most of those wonderful peach trees.

We left Kremlin, Oklahoma in September 1898.  The train Conductor told Father to carry the tickets for all so we were quite a party.  There was Grandfather, Uncle Will, Aunt Gertrude and their baby, Father, Mother, Stella, 9, Leota, 7, Emily, 6, Harry, 4, Lester, 2, and Elinor, 9 months.  We had berths in the sleeping car and were comfortable and didn’t feel too tired on our journey.  Elinor took her first steps on the train.

Father had bought a section of Horse Heaven land in the Yakima, Washington country, but first we went to Roseburg, Oregon to spend the winter.  We liked Roseburg and its school and everything especially the trees and spoke about our happiness in being away from the cyclones and snakes and the fearful heat in summer.

We found a house with two apartments.  One for us and another for my Uncle and family.  Our place was at the foot of Laurel Hill which was a perfect place to play for us who were used to a semi-arid country.  We enjoyed all of it, especially the school which was the best one we had had.  We would be there until spring, then we would go to Horse Heaven to be wheat farmers.

I think Grandfather enjoyed all our trip very much and I at least liked our train trip and our stay at Roseburg, but we had to go to the Horse Heaven country to get the place fixed up early and to get the crop in.

We travelled from Roseburg to Portland where we stayed over night.  We boarded a large paddle-wheel boat and it was so exciting to us.  Her name was Lourline.  They served good meals on a large table.  It was fun “eating out”, and we enjoyed playing on a boat.  We passed through the locks at Cascade Locks and a lady who was much interested said, “You should look closely for this is something that you may not see again”.  So I thought I had seen something wonderful.

We arrived at The Dalles in due time and my father bought eight horses and a wagon and what supplies he would need for farming the wheat land in the Horse Heaven country.  So we were ready to start on our journey.  We had to go to the ferry and cross over the river.  Father hitched a span of dappled grey horses to a buggy for Mother to drive for the children.  We drove onto the ferry and started across when the horses started to back up.  Father quickly hurried to our assistance and finally stopped them after the wheels had touched the water and I remember how frightened he was.

We finally came to our land and discovered that Emily had broken out with the measles.  She had taken them from the children Mother had tried to keep her from playing with on the boat.  All of us children had the measles without any trouble, although Father had to make a trip to the Doctor in Kiona to get medicine for us.

The day we first climbed to the Horse Heaven hills to the section of land which was to make wheat farmers of us we noticed a long line of buggies and wagons and wondered.  As we drove along we met a wagon going the other way and he told us it was a funeral for a wee girl who wandered out among the sage brush and couldn’t find her way back.  Her little body was found several days later by a large searching party.  She had a little flower in her hand.  Our spirits were dampened and we felt the challenge of the country and the way of life we had chosen.

We finally got there and Father started a big, one room shanty which we lived in for a month.  Father rented a farm next to ours which gave him another section and so we had all the land we wanted.  We moved into the farm house after that month.  There was a deep well on that place so there was water for the house, which was comfortable.  Father now had time to build a house for us on twelve acres he had bought at Kiona.  The Horse Heaven property was sixteen miles from Kiona which was on the Yakima River.  We had to move to Kiona by September in order to start school.  By September the new home was completed enough to move into.  It was a big eight room house and our school was across the road.  It was one of the better houses with a very large porch which was comfortable in the summer.  My brother, Homer, was born in that house.  Three of the twelve acres were planted to the best strawberries, a specialty of Grandfather who tried to raise the best and earliest.

My father loved the rolling wheat land of Horse Heaven.  I can see him now standing on the higher land with his hat off and letting the wind blow through his hair.  He hired a man to work outdoors and his wife to keep house and cook, which was a good plan for us, for we were in school for nine months of the year which was a privilege that many children didn’t have.  At that time the Horse Heaven country was covered with sage brush and that year was a busy one, getting both places fixed up.  Even the children of the family worked, but we had our playtime.

Grandfather was a great help but in mathematics he used the method of by-gone days and it wasn’t used at that time.  Grandfather enjoyed planting his strawberries and all the work that went with it, but Father noticed him losing a little strength and cut down on the work for each day.  Mother wasn’t happy about raising her children without Father’s help so when my parents heard of some land in Southern Idaho that had opened up for sale, and the price per acre, water for irrigation included, my folks were really interested.  So they hired a young teacher to stay with the family while they looked it over.  Mother wrote back to tell us that the potatoes were so large that she cooked two for dinner for six people, so they had evidently found the right project.  The folks came back very much elated over the country they had seen.  Then they sold our nice house and the Horse Heaven farm.  I went through our nice home and bid it good-bye.  (I have been through the house twice on trips to Kiona and it is livable yet.)

Grandfather liked Idaho very much and my uncle had already had a home there.  We hoped that it would be right for Grandfather.  Before long he felt at home.  I had never seen a place where people were so friendly and so kind and where they were so interested in everyone else.

My sister, Gertrude, was born there.  It was hard in those days to get a doctor’s services, and Mother had a difficult time.  The doctor stayed all night and I was so worried that they sent me to Grandfather’s until it was over, and he told me many things about my Grandmother and her wonderful singing.

Grandfather was a part of the community everywhere he went.  He was “Grandpa Spencer’ to everyone and my girlfriends often spoke of my “handsome grandfather”.

The first year in Southern Idaho was a rugged time spent in taking the large sage brush off the land, and we built our nice large house with a Queen Ann roof.  I think it was about the nicest in that part of the country at the time.  My sister, Ethel was born there.  All of the house was plastered.  We lived at Filer, Idaho for four years building our place up into a fine place.  We had a fine school in comparison with other schools of that day and good churches.

The Methodist church called a young man, Rev. Albert Hotchkiss, from Connecticut, who became the teacher for Stella and I.  He worked with the Twin Falls High School and we could get our credit from there.  I remember one day that Grandfather came into our Latin class and started to recite “Virgil”, and he could recite page after page.  Mr. Hotchkiss looked the picture of astonishment and said, “Mr. Spencer, I have just completed years of Latin but I can’t recite half of what you have recited”.  In those days Easterners seemed astonished at finding a well educated person in the farms in the West.  Grandfather kept up with worldly news.  I counted periodicals and I found that he subscribed to eleven periodicals and read them faithfully and was well read for that time.

We had been in Idaho three years when Rev. Hotchkiss and my sister, Stella, became engaged and were married in September 1910.  They left for Salem, Oregon immediately for he had a Methodist student charge there.  It was hard going for them so Grandfather went to Salem to see them and helped them to get through the next year which was all they needed.

We lived in Southern Idaho almost four years when Grandfather began to fail noticeably.  Some friends who had moved to Modesto, California wrote to Grandfather and told him about a place for sale there.  Grandfather went to Modesto and shortly after made the down-payment on the land his friends had mentioned.  It never entered my father’s head to let his father live alone if he had to move so he sold Grandfather’s land and ours too.  Grandfather stayed with our friends in Modesto until we could arrange to get the sale of the farms completed and the cash paid to Grandfather to ease his worries.  He wrote how much he enjoyed California where he was among the flowers.

Finally the sale of our farms were completed and we were about to leave when we received a telegram saying that Grandfather had gone Home.  It was the first sorrow we had had from a death in our family and I spent time in his room trying to get used to living without him.

Father said that his father had always dreaded the going over, but when he went down to take care of the necessary arrangements the friends told him that they heard a joyful cry and hurried to him to see what had pleased him so much.  They found that he had passed away with a pleased smile still there.  My father was very happy that Grandfather didn’t need to dread anything any more and I have thought that God is so very good to those who trust Him.  Grandfather’s grave is at Anthony, Kansas where his daughter Louise Cook and her family spent their life.  So ends the life of a wonderful Christian gentleman.

Written by Leota Pearl Spencer

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Applicable Links:

Grand-daughter thoughts on Leota at https://tlkfamhist4freykilroy.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/gr-dau-leota-pearl-spencer/ ;

20th Iowa Infantry at http://iagenweb.org/civilwar/regiment/infantry/20th/20thinfantry.htm ;

Battle of Prairie Grove at https://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/70prairie/70prairie.htm ;

Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/program/episodes/eight/gutherie.htm  & also >>> (news from 18 May 1889 in Harpers Weekly) at http://urbanplanning.library.cornell.edu/DOCS/landrush.htm  (excerpt: “… In this respect he was not worse off than his neighbors, most of whom had not thought of washing their faces since entering Oklahoma. This was not due to any personal negligence, but entirely to the scarcity of water. When men spent their whole time, night and day, in the work of keeping possession of town lots, they could not be expected to go half a mile or a mile for such a trifling diversion as washing their faces. “)

Paddle-wheel Steamboats at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steamboats_of_the_Columbia_River ;

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Tags: Battle of Prairie Grove, Leota Pearl Spencer, Oklahoma land rush, Spencer, Webster Marshall Spencer,

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