The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Frances Edna Lewis Raymond and Persist, Oregon

Edna Raymond's Early Life
    On January 15, 1900, in the mountains of Elk Creek in a community called Persist, Oregon, Edna Lewis Raymond was born. This is where the mail was brought in by horseback and later by team and buggy, which also carried passengers at times. At the time of my birth, it was a time of deep snow. A midwife in the area was engaged to help in ushering me into this beautiful world. But such was not to be, as she had erysipelas break out on her hands, and it wasn't safe to attend childbirth with that disease. My father and grandmother Lewis delivered me, performing all the necessary duties. My grandmother called me little Peggy because I was so short and roly-poly, and that name followed me through my growing years. Naturally, I have little to report of my early years, only I am sure I was a difficult crybaby. I cried when it was dark, and my dad walked the floor with me many nights.
    The first thing I remember in my second year was a long walk I was forced to take with Mother. My oldest sister, Edith, was very ill, and my youngest sister was a baby in the cradle. Mother [Minnie May Newman Lewis 1874-1959] wanted to get word to Father [Robert Harvey Lewis 1866-1952] about the illness of my sister, so taking me by the hand and the alarm clock in her other hand she set out to walk the mile to the post office where our nearest neighbor lived. She sent word by the mail carrier to Dad, who was working on a ranch ten miles down Elk Creek helping put up hay. Why do I remember that event so clearly? Because she left me at the pasture gate where inside the fence a bunch of cattle were feeding. I was scared, and I can still see Mother hurrying up the trail to the house. From there they sent Inez [Inez Willits, 1889-1970], their daughter, back to our home ahead of us to check on both Edith [Edith A. Lewis 1898-1978] and Beatrice [Beatrice Eloise Lewis Merriman, b. 1901] , the baby, who was about six months old. From that point I don't recall anything until I was in my fourth year.
    At that time Mother had prepared our evening meal (those days on the ranch it was called supper). A pan of biscuits had been baked and [left] sitting on the oven door until everyone was called in to eat. Before they all arrived, our family dog with a bunch of puppies were playing around the door, and of course I was playing with them. Mother had placed a barrier around the door to keep the dogs out. What did I do but climb over the barrier and start throwing the biscuits out to the hungry puppies. I was having a good time then, but later it wasn't so much fun when I got corrected by a spanking. Oh yes, I got many spankings from that time on, as I was very inquisitive. I just had to know what a closed box contained, even if it was on a top shelf, which I am sure was a big worry to my parents. To keep me from piling boxes and chairs to climb on, they hung the chairs up on nails out of my reach on the wall.
    Again when I was four years old, our family was increased by two children, a boy named Harvey and a girl called Nellie [children of a neighbor, Charles Morgan]. Their mother became ill, losing her mind, and was very unstable, threatening to kill the children if they told their father of her threats. The boy complained to his father, who took her to a doctor for exams and tests, and it was found she was unsafe to raise her children. As they were neighbors, Mom and Dad took the children to care for, as their father couldn't care for them and work too. It turned out we had them for many years until they became old enough to be a help to their father and go to high school.
    I can remember the things my mother did to start us on our early education. Living in the mountains and unable to buy children's books, she made scrapbooks for us, pasting pictures of all kinds of animals and the ABC in it. She cut out all the letters of the alphabet from magazines and pasted them in the book. Then, starting with easy words, she gave us a good start for early school years. From seed catalogs we learned the names of vegetables and later helped in the garden pulling weeds. I can remember one day Mother was getting dinner and she said, "Edna, run out to the garden and bring me in a few green onions." I didn't know what she meant by a few. I pulled all of them and brought in an armful. Guess what happened. Another day I had watched Mom kill some young chickens to cook for dinner. She killed these young roosters by wringing their necks. What did I do? I caught some baby chickens, which were about two months old, wrung their necks and took them to Mom to fix also. I got a good lecture, but she cleaned and cooked them, and they made my dinner. As I was forced to eat them, I didn't kill any more baby chickens.
    Speaking of chickens, I can remember helping put the eggs under the setting hens then watching expectantly for the 21 days it took them to hatch until listening with an egg to my ear I could hear the baby chick pecking on the side of the shell until out popped a fluffy chick. After all the eggs hatched, mama hen and baby chicks trailing behind her would have the run of their barnyard and areas surrounding the house hunting bugs and worms. At night they were shut up in a coop to keep predators away from them. There were air predators, hawks, which swooped down at times and carried away a little chick for a meal. That was hard for me to understand, but later in life I carried a gun and shot at and sometimes killed one of them.
    Another game we played trying to break up setting hens was when we would tie a white rag on their tails, which scared them and they would run and cackle until they lost the rag. It didn't always work, as they wanted a family. I can also remember holding them in the irrigating ditch to try to chill their feet. That didn't work either.
    As we lived 55 miles from where we had to travel by horse and wagon to purchase our winter supplies, we would load up the old farm wagon and after two days travel we would arrive at my grandfather's (Mother's father), Tom Newman [Thomas Alexander Newman 1825-1911], who lived in Central Point. On these yearly trips, Dad hauled out shingles to sell a Mr. Nunan in Jacksonville to have money to buy flour, sugar and other necessary food supplies. I can vividly remember our camping out at nighttime on these trips and the fried chicken and homemade bread and other picnic food. It all tasted so good. Grandpa had a yard with large oak trees which had shed many acorns. As he raised pigs, he always had us help him pick up the acorns to feed the pigs. Then down to the potato field to dig potatoes.
    There was one thing that made a very big impression on me as we were making one of those trips. Dad stopped to visit with a man who had a sawmill by the side of the road. He said to Dad, "Mr. Lewis, when are you going to give me that black-eyed, rosy-cheeked little girl?" That stayed with me many years and made me scared of men. I'd run and hide when a strange man came around. I was afraid they would give me away. I'd hide and go without a meal rather than go to the table if a strange man was asked to eat dinner with us.
    Sleeping out under the sky with myriads of stars overhead and as we watched we saw many shooting stars. Often we would stop at someone's home, and they would allow us to make our beds in their haymow. Then we would listen to the horses munching their grain and hay and drift off into sleep.
    When I was 5 years old the neighbors, getting together, decided we should have a school for our community. So it wasn't long before a school house was built, a one-room structure, well lighted with windows on the north and south walls. A wood stove was installed in the center of the room for heat, as in winter it was cold with 3 to 5 feet of snow on the ground. There came a day when a teacher was hired, a Miss Warfield. The school house was located on an acre of ground very near to the center of the community. Then came the first day of school. Our family lived about a mile east of the school house, and we walked that distance morning and evening. In snowy weather, Dad would drive our horse hitched to a U-shaped snow breaker and keep a trail opened up for us so we wouldn't have to wade the deep snow.
    As Mom and Dad had taught us the letters and numbers in our home training, school became very exciting where we had our own pencil boxes, crayons and books. We had writing books to copy from, pens and pencils and tablets. What an exciting time to have your very own school equipment. Eventually a bookcase and library books were provided, and how I loved to read in those days. I still enjoy reading. Like most of the early pioneer schools the number of pupils was small. Our school had 8 to 12 pupils at the most and one teacher taught all grades.
    As we learned to read, my sister and I had an advantage. Our room was papered with newspapers, and we spent our waking hours in bed asking our parents what the words were as we spelled them out. That helped us learn many words. During recess and noon hours we played ball or anti-over, throwing balls or snowballs over the school house. In winter months we would make a fox and goose ring and with a fox placed in the center of the ring, he would try to catch the geese who ventured too close to the fox. In spring we had a croquet ground, and we spent much free time playing croquet.
    During the years as I grew older, I learned to help in the garden, do some simple cooking, helped to gather things from the garden to can and preserve for winter use. We made sauerkraut, pickles, jam from wild strawberries. How eager we were for those first strawberries and the luscious shortcake, with thick cream to pour over it. It was tedious work to pick them and even more tedious to get them shelled and ready to eat.
    There were many wildflowers scattered over the meadows and hillsides, and I knew where to go to get the choice ones. The wild orchids or Indian moccasins were dainty and beautiful, and I had hunted out the choice beds of them on our acreage.
    I remember how I watched each spring for a little wren who made her nest and raised her young on a sill under the roof of the chicken house. I watched for the eggs to hatch, and when the baby birds feathered out I'd take them out of the nest and pet them and admire them and put them back in the nest. The mama bird never seemed to be alarmed or scolded me for handling her babies.
    I also learned to milk the family cow and how to take care of the milk and make butter from the rich cream.
    During those early years, Dad sold part of the homestead to a bachelor who built a house and big barn and started to raise angora goats. The little kids were born early in the year. One mama goat had twins and died, so Mr. Moore gave the two baby kids to us to raise on a bottle. It was very cold, so Dad put a big box indoors where they grew until they got to jumping out and running all over the house, so they were banished to different quarters. They were a lot of fun, as they would stand on the end of our teeterboard and seem to enjoy jumping off while we were up in the air. One day when Mother was planting onion sets the nanny goat was following close behind and eating them. After they got full grown, we sent them back to Mr. Moore, and as they needed shearing he took them, saying the billy goat's mohair was the heaviest of any he sheared.
    The winter of 1913 we had a heavy snow which had to be shoveled off the roof of the house. Then the sun came out drying out the roof, and while Dad went five miles down Elk Creek to buy some hay for the horses and cows the house caught on fire and the whole upstairs was a roaring blaze. We got very few things out. None of us had any clothes but what we were wearing. Fortunately we had a milk house and storehouse separate from the main house so our winter supplies were saved. There was an old cabin on the place built by my grandfather when he first went in there and took up the 160-acre homestead. While Dad and Mother worked to make it livable, us kids boarded around the neighborhood. Inez Willits made Edith and me a change of dresses, and that helped a great deal. When Mr. Nunan in Jacksonville heard of our misfortune, he sent a big box of useful articles up to us including heavy blankets. The organ (pedal type) was burned. It had been given to us by the Elks lodge when they changed to pianos. Later we obtained another organ, but I can't recall how we got it or from whom we got it.
    The next year when I was 15 years old, I spent the summer on a ranch ten miles below us with a family with four small boys. I helped cook, wash, pick berries and wash dishes. For the summer's work I got $20.00 and a couple of pieces of material to make me some new dresses for school. That launched me on my way to making my own clothes.
    The year I was fifteen, I had finished the 8th grade, so had my sister, so we had to go to Prospect to take the 8th grade exams, which we both passed with good grades. Then that summer I went with Dad to cook for some hay hands on the Red Blanket Ranch at Prospect. While there I rode horseback into Prospect to get the mail for the owners of the ranch. She was recovering from surgery and unable to do anything but tell me what she wanted me to cook, etc. This horse had bucked one of the ranch hands off when seeing a bear in the road, but I said I'd ride it anyway.
    I forgot to say Dad plotted off a piece of ground for me to raise a garden, which was my project for our Youth Club. I planted carrots, onions, cabbage, lettuce, radishes, peas and beans. I watered and hoed and weeded it and during the fair at Salem, I sent my choice vegetables to the fair along with what the other club members sent. My sister, Edith, canned raspberries. Merle Willits [Merle Morton Willits 1896-1968] sent corn. I can't remember anything else we sent. We got prizes.
    After graduating from the 8th grade, the next year I took my freshman year of high school, which was the highest grade we could take there.
    I must say that summer after finishing work on the Mooney Ranch Mr. [Jim] Grieve, owner of the Prospect Hotel, got my sister and me jobs working at the new Crater Lake Lodge. She was chambermaid, and I was called on to help in the laundry, washing dishes part time when the dish washer would disagree with the cook, and keep the linen closets supplied with [a] fresh supply of linen. I was also messenger girl. When some guests wanted to take a ride on the lake in boats they kept I would be sent down to the lake shore to tell the men, who either used motorboats or rowboats. At that time there was no graded trail down to the water's edge. A ravine with a gradual slope took off near the east end of the hotel where there was a path following it down to the water's edge. I was young and agile, so I usually ran down and told the boat men.
    The chef always teased me and pulled my pigtail every chance he got, so one day as he came down through the basement where I was busy folding clothes in the laundry, there was a wheelbarrow which was used to haul snow in to make ice cream sitting at the foot of the stairs. He got angry because it was left in his way and said to me, "Take hold of the handles and help me lift it out the door and out of my way." As he stepped down the steps, I raised the handles and poured the water all over his feet. He said, "I'll stick your head under the faucet for that," so the chase began, over the table, under the table, out the door, around the clotheslines full of clothes with the boys from the bunkhouse cheering me on. It got so noisy we gave up, afraid the boss would hear us and fire us all. I had to watch close after that, but the season ended before he got even with me.
    There was also two high school boys working as guides, taking people out on horseback to visit some of the interesting sights around the lake. On one of the trips, one of the boys, Edgar Young, snagged his trousers, which were the tight-legged type that he wore leather leggings with. So he asked Edith and me if we would mend them for him. We mended and also decorated them by sewing lace around the legs where they laced up. He was a sport and paraded around among us with the lace on them. He also wore them home that way, saying he wanted to tell his mother how mean we were to him. Then the fall snows began to some down, so it was time to close the hotel and we were all sent home.
    Then when I was seventeen I left the farm and came to Medford to go to high school. My sister was already working for board and room and going to high school. Through friends, I found a place to work after school and mornings and on weekends. During the second year the world war broke out, and many of the high school kids were pressed into working in the orchards, as most of the young men were called to go into training and later to the front. Those were hard days, thinning fruit, cutting blight to picking fruit. Helping to load full boxes on the trucks. Then Mother and Dad and my youngest sister moved out of the mountains and came to live in Medford. It was wonderful to have a home and all of us together once more. They also worked in the orchards. When the war finally ended, I got a job working in the Woolworth's store. It was during the war I started to go to the First Baptist Church, and later on I accepted Christ as my Saviour. It was in the group of young people that attended there [that] I met Ralph Raymond [Ralph Read Raymond 1894-1984], and that ended up in marriage. There were six young people that gave their hearts to the Lord at that meeting besides me, and we were all baptized at the same time. Mr. [W. T. S.] Spriggs married us in his home, and we journeyed to the Columbia River Gorge on our honeymoon.
    One thing I forgot to mention when I told of the many things we gathered in the woods to eat was where we obtained our meat. Dad was quite a hunter, and he had a hunting dog that was always eager to go with him. This dog's name was Sky. She would roam through the trees and drive the deer in the direction where Dad was stationed. We always had plenty of deer meat to cook. I can remember at one time Dad had 14 deer hanging in the smokehouse in different degrees of curing it. We always had jerky, made mincemeat and canned lots of it. Some was salted and heavily peppered and smoked enough to keep the flies out of it. I always enjoyed a baked shoulder with dressing. That was my favorite. I can taste it now! Deer was plentiful in those days. I can remember sitting at my desk in school and looking out the window counted 20 deer headed down to the creek below the school house for water. In those early days, there wasn't any game laws or restrictions against hunting. One bright moonlit night I went outdoors and there were some deer bedded down under the big oak trees in our yard. One time late in the spring when we needed some fresh meat, Dad went hunting. He killed what he thought was a barren doe. But when she fell from the shot, she cried to her baby fawn. Dad looked for days for that baby but never found it. He brought the meat home and took care of it but he wouldn't eat a bite of it. If he had had his dog, he might have found it. But the dog had lost an eye from a foxtail that worked out through one of her eyes, blinding her in that eye. And on another hunting trip, as she was running through the woods she ran a stick into her good eye, blinding it so Dad had to shoot her. He came home very downhearted and grieving at his loss. We all missed her very much. We had several dogs after that but none compared with Sky. The deer hides were also a source of income in those days. With lye and oak wood ashes, Dad would scrape all the hair off the hides. This process took some time, as the hides had to be kept from drying out. Some of them they left in the natural color, but by gathering different kinds of tree bark and boiling that would make dye and dye them. This was done by boiling them in the dye until they were the color they wanted them. Some were brown, some black and some almost red. I never knew what trees supplied the bark for the dye. After they were dyed and before letting them dry out, they would pull and massage them over and over until they were soft and pliable. Then they would make men's gloves to sell. This Mr. Nunan of Jacksonville was always glad to get them. I can remember so well the long winter evenings seeing Mother and Dad putting the gloves together. They had special needles which had 3 sharp edges, making it much easier to push the needles through the leather. They also made us kids moccasins out of the heaviest part of the hides. We went barefoot most of the time around the yard in spring and summer, but when we went out in the pasture to bring in the cows we would wear moccasins.
    One Christmas Mother made me a buckskin cowboy doll all dressed up in chaps and cowboy hat. That poor doll got played with and abused a lot. We tossed it over the house playing anti-over. I still have a piece of the deer hide after all these years. Dad saved it to cut out shoe strings for his shoes as well as ours. We lived too far from town to go purchase them when needed.
    One summer when I was working away from home, Grandpa Lewis came to live with us. We really didn't have room to take care of him, being so elderly. He was about 82 at that time. But Dad's sister in Washington just put him on the train with all of his belongings and sent him anyway down to Central Point on the train. Dad met the train with horses and wagon and brought him home. This was not long after we had our house burn down, losing bedding, clothes, dishes, furniture, etc. Dad set up a tent with a good solid floor in it and put a small wood stove in it for warmth. Later Dad built another log cabin next to the one we were living in and then we could move Grandpa indoors. In this new cabin there were 2 rooms; one for us girls and one for Grandpa and Harvey. We had a larger stove in it for winter heat. Grandpa lived up there and built the old log cabin for him and Grandma in the late 1800s. So it was home to him. He used to take the old crosscut saw and go out and saw wood for winter. He passed away in the winter with heavy snow on the ground. The neighbors all got together and built a casket and with a simple ceremony buried him on the hillside just above the house where he had lived when he took up the homestead. He used to tell us kids many things that happened in Missouri on his plantation where he had Negro slaves. During the Civil War, which he fought in for the duration of it, he lost the plantation, stock and everything on it. It was overrun by the northern army and they had nothing left.
    Grandpa liked to have us girls comb his hair, which was quite grey and curled under at the ends on his neck. He also loved some special old hymns. Many times I have played the organ and sang them for him. His favorite was "When the Roll Is Called Up Younger I'll Be There."
    I remember one summer a neighbor lady became quite ill. She lived on a ranch up Elk Creek on the road to the huckleberry patch. This was about 6 miles from our place. Mother went over there to nurse her and do the cooking and housework. It turned out to be a lengthy illness. Dad was called to help fight a big fire [probably the Cat Hill Fire of 1910] in that same area during the time Mother was away. We had a large vegetable garden and plenty of water running in an irrigation ditch to water it. I took care of the garden, also transplanted 2 long rows of winter cabbage, watered it and hoed it as well. Looking back on that time I wonder how I did it, as there was a good acre of garden to care for. Of course, there was the cow to milk and care for the milk as well. My sister Edith did the housework and cooking. Bea and Harvey and Nellie fed the chickens and gathered the eggs and carried water from the spring. It was a very discouraging time, as the smoke from the forest fire was like a winter fog, hiding the sun.
    Eventually Mom and Dad both came back home again. Living in the mountains in those early days was an education in itself. We wasted nothing, and added to what we grew, we gathered food which nature provided. Berries of all kinds, blackberries, wild strawberries, miner's lettuce, morel mushrooms, Indian potatoes. When dug up there would be a cluster of the potatoes, solid like almonds and tasted very much like them.
    Then there was the wild Oregon grapes, which Mother mixed with other fruit juices to make jelly.
    Entertainment during those early years. Many times we would have neighborhood Fourth of July celebrations with potluck food brought by everyone. We would have fireworks furnished by a couple of Norwegian bachelors. All kinds of races, even log-sawing contests, where the men would saw up the logs to furnish wood for the school. One Fourth of July Claude Moore, a bachelor neighbor, asked Mom and Dad if he could take us all to Ashland for their rodeo and fireworks and roaming in Ashland Park. That was fun. We stayed at a rooming house in Medford with some older girls from our neighborhood and went to Ashland each day by bus.
    This same man drove the horse and buggy one summer to Huckleberry Mountain, taking Mom and Edith in the buggy with our camping outfit. I went also, but rode one of Dad's horses all the way from our place to the mountain. We stayed there a week. There were many people including many Klamath Indians. We dried a lot of the berries, spreading them in the sun during the day on large canvases. We brought home about 10 gallons of fresh ones to can and at least 10 gallons of dried ones. Other years to get berries, Dad and Mom would put five-gallon cans on a pack horse and ride up to the Huckleberry Gap on the Elk Creek side of the mountain range, where an abundance of berries grew. We never went with them on those trips but took care of things at home while they were gone.
    When we got older we would ride over to the power plant near Prospect to attend the country dances. Dad played his old violin (which I still have), playing old-time music. Mom played the guitar, and different ones seconded on the piano. Edith and I used to sing the songs popular in those days just about the time the older women were putting all the food on the long table in the dance hall. There was always a quantity of everything. One night while we danced and ate, Mother Nature played a trick on us with a heavy snowfall. With a foot of snow on the ground our family had to go over the mountain to our home. As we took turns walking and riding, my boyfriend brought 2 horses and escorted us home so we could all ride.
    One winter we had a real deep snow; 5 feet fell in one night, then [it] cleared off and froze it solid. Dad made us sleds from some soapboxes, and we pulled our dolls all over the frozen snow. We had a lot of fun running all over, even being able to step over a 6-foot picket fence in front of the house.
    During my growing years, I was a loner; because I was a middle child I felt my parents didn't treat me as they did my oldest and youngest sisters. They always got choices, and I always had to take what they didn't choose. Also because I was the smallest I got made-over clothes or things they had outgrown. As a result of this I wasn't one to confide in my parents, so I turned out to be a dreamer and liked to wander over the mountains with my gun. I talked to the birds and listened to their melodious songs. I also told the beautiful trees my inmost desires and secrets. I loved all the little animals. Many times I had my pockets full of baby lizards. As I wandered the forests and waded the mountain streams I felt real close to nature and called them my special friends. I knew the names of all the wildflowers and where they grew. Names of wildflowers violets, cattails and cat ears, lamb's tongues, birdbills, anemones, wake robin, trilliums, princess pine, red bills, tiger lilies, mountain lilies, wild sunflowers, Indian paintbrush, Indian moccasins, lady slippers, Oregon grape, wild pinks, wild ginger and skunk cabbage.
    Many times I would walk a mile to the post office to pick up our mail. On one trip the mail was late and it was dark when I started home with the mail. All of a sudden I stopped to listen as I heard a noise and movement beside the trail. As there were bear, wolves and cougar in the mountains around us, I was scared to move. After what seemed ages a cow mooed to her calf. There wasn't any grass growing under my feet on the rest of the way home.
    In a big oak tree beside the cabin I had a swing. How I loved to swing high under its shady branches, and usually I would sing some of my favorite songs and listen to the robins singing their evening songs as well. I loved that old oak tree. It was so sturdy and seemed like a friend. There was another tree, a huge sugar pine that stood on a hill above the barn. Every year it bore many large cones, which were full of sugar pine nuts. The squirrels knew when to cut them down, as they stored the nuts away for their winter food. I was always on the watch and knew when it was time to go pick them up. We would hang them in the sun until the layers of petals would open up and the nuts would drop out. Sometimes Dad would shoot the cones down for us. We didn't feel bad about robbing the squirrels, as there were plenty of those cone-bearing trees all around us. We always saved some to take to Mother's brother (Uncle Bob to us) when we went to town in the fall. On these trips to town we would count all the homes along the way and ask who lived there. Then as we dropped down into the valley the first telephone and electric light poles were strung along the road. On the poles were advertisements. The one I remember was about a man called "Toggery Bill." He had a men's clothing store in Medford, which at that time was just a small town.
    Another thing which was a novelty to us and made us wide-eyed with curiosity: To cross Rogue River near Trail there was a ferry. We would drive the horses and wagon on the ferry and it would float us across. Of course, there was a cable overhead that propelled it across.
    An afterthought. Another place I worked before I came to Medford to go to high school was in Eagle Point. Mr. and Mrs. Amos Ayers had a new baby, and as she had been a neighbor of ours up on Elk Creek she wanted me to come down and stay a couple of weeks and help her. While there I met a young man named Jack Florey, and on my free time we, he and I, took walks along [Little] Butte Creek or went cherry picking with a group of young people. One day he suggested we go to Jacksonville and have dinner over there. At that time there was a cable car [a gasoline streetcar] running from Eagle Point to Jacksonville. It was also that time the county courthouse was in Jacksonville. It was fun to ride on it. That same summer I also stayed on a farm between Eagle Point and Medford with a family named Quackenbush [probably John S. and Lottie E. Quackenbush]. They also had a new baby and a boy about 10 years old. There was a big strawberry patch owned by the ditch company who allowed the people living there to pick all the berries they could use. So with 2 pails apiece we would walk down there about a mile, and what delicious berries we would come home with.
    After leaving there I went to visit a family named Messenger [Harlow E. and Bessie L. Messenger], who had lived up on Elk Creek but were now on Agate Road near Bybee Bridge [next to today's TouVelle Park]. A daughter named Edna [Edna L. Messenger], also my age, and I decided we wanted to make some money, so we came to Medford, rented a room, and that is where my orchard work started, moving from one orchard to another with a straw boss taking a group of girls every day out to some orchard to pick fruit. Edna got sick and went home. I kept on by myself until school started, and I found a place to room and board.
Undated typescript provided by Connie Merriman Bissell

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The New Post Office of Persist.
    John Grieve, who has a homestead on upper Elk Creek, was in Medford Monday. Of the news of that neighborhood Mr. Grieve states that their petition for a post office has been granted, and so soon as the bond of W. W. Willits, who is to be the postmaster, and which was sent off last week, has been approved by the post office department, they will have a post office of their own, they now having to go to Prospect for their mail. The post office will be at Mr. Willits' residence, but later on they hope to have a store in connection with the post office. The name of their office is to be Persist, the name typifying the persistence the settlers have displayed in opening up that section, as well as in their efforts to secure a post office.
    There now being but a horse trail from Persist to Prospect, the Persist settlers, headed by R. W. Gray, John Grieve, W. T. Grieve and P. S. Enyart, are now at work making the trail into a wagon road. The road leaves Elk Creek about ten miles above the mouth of that stream, and goes across the divide to Prospect. It will be about eight miles in length and they expect to have it opened for wagon travel by September. Six new settlers have recently come into that settlement, and many more are expected this summer, as there is considerable good land yet vacant on upper Elk Creek.
Medford Mail, January 11, 1902, page 2

    Thirty years in the mountains! Forty-five miles from the railroad. Three thousand feet above sea level. Well might the place be called by the significant name of "Persist." When Oregon as a state was still in its twenties, when the coast streams were teeming with chinook and silversides; when the deer were as plentiful as are now the jackrabbits in eastern Oregon; when the Rogue River Valley was still without a railroad and its orchards were not yet a dream of the future--at that time two young people, Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Willits [William W. and Irene W. Willits], quit the profession of school teaching and went far off into the Cascades to carve out a home at the place now known as Persist. And their efforts have not been in vain.
Message of Education
    The writer has just returned from there. He accompanied Dr. George Rebec of the extension department of the University of Oregon, who carried to the people in that little mountain district a message on "Twentieth Century Education." Dr. Rebec was much impressed with the picturesque site of the Persist school, its mountain scenery, its surroundings of tall pines and beautiful wildflowers, its tumbling streams and overhanging cliffs of rock, but most of all was he impressed with the up-to-date equipment of the school in this little isolated mountain community.
    Few of the rural schools, though better located and with larger enrollment, can boast of farther advancement than can this little district. Six pupils make up its total enrollment this year. Five of these come from a single home. The building, though rough on the outside, is comfortably and neatly finished within. Reprints of masterpieces decorate its walls. The books in the library are well selected and number about 150 volumes. The janitor services are performed by the pupils, and the money received from the district for this work is turned into books. This, with some small additions from other sources, has kept the library growing from year to year. The district is also using one of the free traveling collections sent out by the state library. The building is equipped with a sanitary drinking fountain and will soon have a modern heating and ventilating system. On the grounds are found swing, teeter or seesaw boards, baseball and croquet outfits.
Not Always Thus
    But it was not always thus. To Mr. and Mrs. Willits were born three sons and a daughter. For some time after these had grown into school age and other families had moved into the community, the place was still without a school. But the work of teaching was not unknown to these sturdy pioneers, and so the education of their children was not neglected. School was held during the summer months "in the shade of the old apple tree." This may, at least in part, account for the fact that Merle, the youngest member of the Willits family, has become very deeply interested in the study of botany.
    The surrounding country abounds with wildflowers, ferns and mosses, but they hold no secrets from him. He studies them not only for pleasure, but like Gene Stratton-Porter's "Girl of the Limberlost," he turns them to profit. Being far removed from the markets, he carries on a mail order business. And someday, like that "Girl of the Limberlost," he will use the proceeds to carry him through a school of higher education. Anyone who is interested in specimens of the flora of the Cascades in Southern Oregon will do well to correspond with him.
Promising Botanist
    Although this young man is only 16 years old, he is a busy person and one with many responsibilities. His two older brothers being away from home most of the time, he feels very keenly the duty of helping his father carry on the general farm work. But in addition to this and his business in floral specimens, he is assistant postmaster, U.S. snowfall observer, librarian of the state traveling library and president of the Boys' and Girls' Industrial Club.
    He is handy with tools of many makes--those of the carpenter, the blacksmith, the gardener and the tanner. A rifle he handles with the skill of Cooper's "Hawkeye." In school he has carried his work through the ninth grade. At times he feels so wrapped up in his immediate surroundings that he thinks it will be quite impossible for him to break away long enough to take a course at the Oregon Agricultural College.
    But we started to tell something of the early history of the school. The district was first regularly organized in 1905. Miss Pickel, a Bryn Mawr student, now in Alaska, was the first regularly employed teacher. The school was then held in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis, second oldest residents in the community. The following year a building was constructed, the same that is now being used.
Early History of School
    From eight to nine months of school are held each year, and the progress made is equal to that in the best-organized systems. The only fear is that those now in school will soon outgrow it, and there are no younger ones coming in to take their places. There isn't a single baby in the community. The neighborhood, however, counts among its residents seven bachelors. Hence some hopes are entertained.
    While education has been carried on in other lines, music has not been overlooked. In the four families of the community there are four organs and two pianos, besides several string instruments. Among the latter is a violin that was brought to America from Germany over 300 years ago, with the landing of the early settlers at Jamestown. It has long been an heirloom in the Lewis family. Recently when the writer stayed overnight there, he was given a musical treat by Mr. and Mrs. Lewis and their three girls. The old violin played its part well.
    Though the population of Persist is very small, there being only four families and seven bachelors, the people are wide awake. Social life is far ahead of what it is in many larger communities. A Parent-Teachers Association meets every Saturday afternoon. Once a month a literary program is rendered at the school house. Among other things, the women are studying the political questions and candidates that are confronting every voter in Oregon today.
    It was largely through the influence of this organization that Dr. Rebec was brought into their midst from the state university. A boys' and girls' industrial club is also organized and promises to carry off some of the laurels next fall. The club's advisor, Mr. Willits, has promised the boys and girls to take them all to the county fair at Medford in September, provided they continue to do good work in their club projects. When one realizes that this will mean a drive of forty-five miles, it can readily be seen that the offer is not a small one.
    When the Willitses first moved into their present home their nearest post office was Jacksonville, a distance of fifty-five miles, and no roads. Now, though Persist receives mail three times a week, the daily papers of Portland and Medford are to be found among the regular reading matter. Many of the best weekly and monthly magazines are also taken.
    Truly it may be said that Persist is an interesting little community and one that may well be studied with profit by many a larger place.

Medford Mail Tribune, May 13, 1914, page 6

Three Hundred Fifty Miles by Mail
    Probably no industrial club in Jackson County worked with more zeal and effort and earnestness than did the club at Persist. And all the time they were working under adverse circumstances. Persist is in the mountains forty-five miles from Medford and thirty-five miles from Eagle Point, the nearest railroad station. Thus, they were far removed from any market, a condition which was probably the greatest drawback. Being at an elevation of nearly three thousand feet, the seasons are late, and crops do not mature so early as they do in the valley.
    The club consists of three girls and two boys: Merle M. Willits, president; Edith Lewis, vice president; Edna Lewis, secretary; Beatrice Lewis and Harvey Morgan. Merle planted corn, and although it was not mature at the time of the fairs, he showed his earnestness by exhibiting at Medford and also at Salem, receiving third prize at the former place. Edith took fruit canning as her project. Several of her jars were jarred and broken in coming over the long stage road from Eagle Point. Others were broken in the canning process. But she had five left to send to Salem. Beatrice went into the chicken business and succeeded in hatching out quite a brood, only to make a feast for the hawks. Harvey planted spuds, but they became scabby and did not make good show potatoes. Edna entered the garden contest. She did her work well and made a splendid exhibit at the State Fair. But in the strong competition by those who were nearer, she was outdone.
    When it came time for the State Fair, the question arose: How are we to get our things there? The railroads offered to carry them free. But it would not go off its tracks, thirty-five miles into the mountains, even to accommodate boys and girls who were making such a splendid effort. But Merle, the president of the club, solved the problem. There was Uncle Sam. He is the boy who does not stop where the ties and rails end. He follows the winding trail over ridge and across dell, into the nook in the mountains. He would take the exhibits to Salem for these boys and girls. And he did. Edith's five jars of fruit; Harvey's peck and best hill of potatoes; Merle's three stalks and best ten ears of corn; Edna's onions, carrots, parsnips, beans and cabbage--all these went through by parcel post, 35 miles over a rough stage line; then over two railroads and three transfers, 350 miles in all. And they arrived at the State Fair grounds in good condition. They were awarded no prizes. But they attracted much attention, and the Persist Club stands out as being one of the best and most persistent in Oregon. Keep your eye on Persist next year!
Industrial Club Work of Oregon Boys and Girls, State Printing Department 1915, pages 24-25

    Persist school opened Tuesday morning, Oct. 25 with Miss Frances Greb of Eagle Point as teacher. This district has not had school for four years owing to the lack of children. We are looking forward for a very successful year. Monday and Tuesday the children of our school had a potato roast which was enjoyed by all. Mr. V. E. Peterson, who has been living in Trail for the past year, is moving his household goods to his new ranch that he purchased in the Persist district. Ezra Whitley drove to Willits' Saturday and purchased a load of fine apples.
    Mr. and Mrs. Whitley, Ezra Whitley and Frances Greb spent Sunday at the home of Mr. and Mrs. A. Moore.
    The school board of our district are planning on making a number of improvements in the school which will certainly be appreciated by the teacher and pupils.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 7, 1921, page 6

Third place. 7th and 8th grades. Kathryn Bailey, District No. 80.
    The place now known as School Dist. No. 80, Jackson County, post office Persist, was first settled in the early '70s.
    The first homestead was taken in 1870 by a man from Louisiana, whose name was W. A. Owen. He came with his widowed mother and her children to find a home in the West, after the close of the Civil War. Mr. Owen had been a very popular sheriff of Jackson County. He lived with his wife and children on his homestead for seven years. His occupation was raising cattle.
    In 1877 Mr. Owen sold to B. C. Goddard, who held the place for three years, and then it was sold to W. W. Willits in 1883, whose homestead adjoined it.
    In 1897 R. H. Lewis and his wife took a homestead, and two daughters were born on their homestead which adjoined the Willits place.
    Some people came from Michigan, Minnesota, and Washington to buy timber claims in 1900. A few homesteads were taken, but not for homes.
    C. C. Morgan and his sons, Henry and Charles, came into the community in 1903, and the sons each took out a homestead.
    In 1905 a school house was built on the divide between Persist and Prospect where the Willits children and those of the workers at Gray's mill attended. The teacher, Miss Pickel, called it Fairy Nook.
    Finally District No. 80 was formed and the school house built on its present site.
    The same school house is now used. It is rough on the outside but is painted on the inside. There is a good Waterbury heater, map case, fine library, Webster's New International Dictionary, an organ, two lamps, a large clock, a big desk for the teacher, desks for pupils, blackboards, and pictures on the walls. The water is gotten from a spring in a bucket. There are six children attending who are from four families.
    On the school grounds are teeter or seesaw boards, swings, chinning bar, slides, and a volleyball outfit.
    With each of the families mentioned, the Willits, the Morgans and the Lewis family, was a grandfather. Grandpa Wrisley of the Willits family was a forty-niner, who went to California in the gold rush of that year.
    In the Morgan home was Clinton C. Morgan, who had fought through the War Between the States on the side of the North, and who was with Sherman on his march to the sea.
    Corporal Ed H. Lewis, in the Lewis home, had been under General Price, in the state of Missouri, a soldier of the Confederacy.
    For years there was no mail service and no county road up Elk Creek. The mail was first gotten at Jacksonville, next at Trail, and then at Prospect. In 1902, the post office of Persist was established with the service from Prospect. In 1913 the service came direct from Eagle Point, and in 1915 a county road was laid out and surveyed to the post office.
    The railroad land was opened for homesteads about three years ago, and nearly all of it has been homesteaded now.
    The country is nearly all covered with timber. The trees are straight and tall, and it is a long way from the ground to the limbs on most of them.
    The chief kinds of trees are: pine, fir, madrona, cedar, oak, maple and yew. The small brush and bushes are: small maple, dogwood, hazel, lots of young trees and brush.
    The ground in lots of places is covered with a thick layer of moss in which lots of wildflowers grow. Some of the wildflowers are: lamb's tongues, cyntheris, anemones, lady slippers or lavender orchids, cat ears, bird bills, yellow violets, blue violets, buttercups, trilliums, baby blue eyes, Oregon grape, wild strawberries, and wild currants.
    The best known and most commonly seen animals are: deer, coons, coyotes, mink, fishers, bobcats, cougars, a few bears, beavers, squirrels and chipmunks.
    There are lots of creeks in this country, and the main ones run the year around. There is good fishing for trout in the streams.
    Some of the places that are of interest up here are Buzzard mine, and Hibbard's Monuments.
    There was a man with W. A. Owen, the first homesteader, whose name was George H. Hibbard. He was a stonemason and plasterer by trade. Mr. Hibbard came into the West and found a home here. He found the monoliths, which are north of Persist, and said of them, "These are my monuments," so they called them Hibbard's Monuments.
    In 1915 there was club work in the Persist school which resulted in sending some things to the county fair. This work took prizes, and was sent to Salem, where it took the prize. This was the start of the Quick Lunch potato, which now has a record in Jackson County.
    Dairying, poultry and stock raising are carried on around Persist. A fine quality of fruit and vegetables are also raised.
    The country around Persist is free from fog in winter, and with good roads Persist may someday become a winter resort. Who knows?
"Oregon History Essays for Jackson County Schools," Medford Mail Tribune, June 27, 1926, page B4

County Court Views Loop Route Through Recreational Zone Between Rogue Elk and Cascade Gorge--First Approval for Recreational Land Withdrawal.
    Further steps toward the development of the recreational areas of Jackson County have been taken by the county court with the viewing of the proposed Elk Creek loop road, which will traverse a little-traveled section, with ideal hunting and fishing conditions.
    The loop will be about 20 miles in length and will start near Rogue Elk on Rogue River and connect with the Crater Lake Highway above Cascade Gorge.
    Two routes are proposed and the county court has its decision under advisement. The present road and new route are considered.
    The Elk Creek road district has voted a special levy of $2500 for the building of the road, the county to maintain and improve as conditions demand.
    Word has also been received by the county court that the application of Jackson County for the removal from entry of approximately 2400 acres of public lands, located on the Big Applegate, the Little Applegate and Rogue rivers for recreational purposes had been approved by the Roseburg land office.
    The county court visited the Elk Creek road route Tuesday and made an all-day job of it.
    County Judge Sparrow said: "That section needs a road, as you can't get to it now with a can opener."
    Commissioner Alford said it was his third trip over the area, and "it is going to be my last one."
    Commissioner Bursell said: "The trail is so crooked you have to back up to turn around."
An Outlet for Persist
    The road will furnish an outlet for Persist, a stock-raising section. The biggest barn in Jackson County stands at Persist, on the Willits ranch. It covers an acre of ground and is constructed of "skinned" fir poles, and built as barns were built in pioneer times. The county court said that any three barns on the floor of the valley could be placed in the Persist structure.
    Attorney O. C. Boggs, representing a number of land owners in the Shady Cove summer home dispute, filed a request for some gravel on the road so that the colonists could get in and out. The court said it would do the best it could as soon as possible.
    County School Superintendent Susanne Homes Carter appeared before the court and requested that the boundaries of the Pinehurst school district be lengthened so as to include the new town of Lincoln which is located on the line between Pinehurst and Soda Springs districts. This caused some confusion as to where the Lincoln children went to school, and the boundary change will place them in the Pinehurst school, which is closer.
    The remainder of the regular county court session was devoted to the transaction of routine matters and approval of the mid-month batch of bills.
Medford Mail Tribune, August 14, 1929, page 1

    Word has been received here of the death of W. W. Willits, pioneer resident of Persist, Ore., yesterday in Santa Maria, Cal., where he was visiting his son, Merle. He had been in the south for some time but was expecting to return to his home at Persist very soon.He was about 80 years old.
    Mr. Willits was one of the pioneer stockmen of Southern Oregon, coming here with his three brothers when a young man. He had spent the past 50 years at his ranch at Persist, where he was a strong influence in developing schools roads and other community enterprises.
    A complete obituary will appear in a future issue. Funeral arrangements are in charge of Conger's funeral parlors and will be announced later.
Medford Mail Tribune, April 17, 1936, page 7

    Friends and relatives in Medford and Ashland were deeply grieved to learn of the death on April 16 of William W. Willits, longtime resident of Rogue River Valley.
    He was born in Cedar County, Iowa, Oct. 21, 1858, the fifth and youngest son of Amos and Sarah Thornton Willits. The family came west to Ashland, Oregon in 1874. Here he attended school and with his brothers and youngest sister took active part in the school and social life of that day.
    For several years he taught school in Jackson County but later turned to office work and accounting, living for a time in Portland, Oregon. In 1884 he returned to Southern Oregon where he had lived, until about a year ago, on his stock ranch at Persist, near the headwaters of Elk Creek, in the northern part of Jackson County.
    In 1883 he was married to Irene Wrisley, a native daughter of Jackson County whose father John B. Wrisley came to Rogue River Valley with his family, by ox team, in 1853. Mr. and Mrs. Willits lived for fifty years in their ranch home where the post office of Persist was established with Mr. Willits as postmaster. Here they reared their family of three sons and one daughter, and here in later years their grandchildren dearly loved to spend vacations and as much other time as possible.
    About a year ago, ill health forced them to leave the ranch and during the past twelve months they have made their home with their youngest son, Merle M. Willits of Santa Maria, California, from whom the word came on Friday of the passing of his father.
    Surviving Mr. Willits are his wife, Irene W., a daughter, Mrs. Inez McDonough, and one son, Merle M. Two sons, Amos R. and Roy Thornton Willits, passed away several years ago. Besides these there are three granddaughters, Dorothy Willits, Irene and Lillian McDonough, and one grandson, Billy Willits, many relatives and a host of friends and longtime neighbors, who join with the family in grieving over the loss of a kind and loving husband and father, and a true friend and neighbor.
    Funeral services will be held at Conger's chapel Monday forenoon at 10 o'clock. Interment at Mountain View in Ashland.
Medford Mail Tribune, April 19, 1936, page 3

Last revised July 25, 2023