Grass...Just Waiting to be Chewed Off

Wagon trails that vanished by never turning into roads were once common in Lincoln County. This was before surveyors made wandering people stay on section lines. Early settlers and explorers took the path of least resistance by just looking ahead, then aiming their teams between the sagebrush, and telling the horses to get going. 

There are a number of early day stories about trails that do not have an author. The Mosquito Springs Trail is well documented, so is worth reciting. 

This wagon-freighting trail went past our back porch. (Yes, part of our house is that old.) This trail came out of Cottonwood Springs, now Davenport. It went west for five miles. Then the wagon tracks curved northwest for another five miles to Mosquito Springs, so named because old-timers found lots of mosquitos living there. The trail then stretched its way to [Fort] Okanogan. 

A sprouting freight company figured this cool spring would be an ideal spot to exchange horses. There was lots of knee-high virgin grass growing all around this typhoid-free watering hole, just waiting to be chewed off. The company erected a good-sized cabin, including a fireplace made from rocks that were just laying around there. 

A guy was hired that understood horses, and his job was to jump out of the cabin when a freight wagon arrived from either direction. He would strip the tired horses of their pulling outfits, while the wagon skinner would usually stretch his legs, take off his hat, and bend over the spring for a cool drink. 

Each animal’s front legs were then hobbled, making it possible for the horses to fall flat on their faces if they tried to run away. The poor dears soon learned to eat the bunch grass that was there and to be ready to do more pulling when the next exchange string of beasts arrived at this rest stop. 

The first guy that was hired to occupy this lonely post was known as the “Squaw Man”. After a few weeks he got tired of swatting mosquitos and started hankering for a squaw. It didn’t take him long to run off with one, and he eventually settled around the Okanogan country where he started a family. 

These old freighting wagons that went by Mosquito Springs were called high-wheeled wagons. Their axels came equipped with tall, narrow wheels, making road clearance out of this world. They were designed to slip-slide around rocks much better than the usual wide, squatty-looking wheels that came with the later flatbed wagons. The back wagon got its steering tongue amputated to half length, so it would follow better when it was hooked on back of the front wagon. 

Business was neat while it lasted. The brand new settlers along the way needed sow belly (bacon) and lots of flour to make all the sour dough bread they could eat. 

Of course, these wagons carried other stuff that wasn’t needed tor the stomach, and occasionally would pick up a wanderer that happened to be horseless. One such fellow who was dressed like a dude asked for a ride. The wagon master soon found himself listening to the vagabond’s account of how the government rewarded him for cleaning out all the hostile redskins that were hiding in the Dakota badlands. He claimed he was known as “Death on the Trail", because of his renowned ability of tracking down these bad Indians and eradicating them. 

After leaving the supply wagon at Bridgeport, old “Death on the Trail” was wanted for selling “firewater” to the Spokane Indians and was soon picked up by the Feds from Fort Okanogan. 

Who were the outdoorsmen that drove these rigs? The two main guys were the Brink boys. Milo, the oldest, was a colorful, early day, territorial character with a long-handled mustache, who as a lad of 18 rode the grasslands between Cottonwood Springs and the Moses Coulee for Barney Fitzpatrick, Davenport’s pioneer cattleman. 

When a handful of investors put together the Big Bend Freight Company, Milo and his brother Bill were hired to drive those cargo hauling wagons to Okanogan and back. For a short time the company got a contract to haul freight and passengers to Fort Spokane. Bill then got transferred. 

They used a real stagecoach for this run. It had lots of room on top to tie down things the Fort bosses wanted. This route lasted until the government decided that the local Indians didn't act or look very dangerous. The soldiers soon left to where people were making more fuss. 

Milo’s daughter, Roxie Nichols, recalls vividly when as a girl of 12 she went with her uncle on his last run to the Fort. She excitedly sat next to him where the brake lever and the lines were located. Bill’s last load consisted of fare-paying Indians that rode down in the enclosed hatch. Riding in the back, laying in a lump, was a tied-down Fort order of sugar and flour, also a case of Davenport’s own brand of homemade lye soap. 

When the horse-powered, fresh-aired freighting days ended. Bill got to be a U.S. Marshal, and was sent to California. Milo, years later, took a job as deputy sheriff for Lincoln County. Time buried the Brink boys, and the settlers’ plows buried their trails. However, some of their trails are still visible on the scabland in section 22, range 36.

"Wagon Trails" Kik-Backs, p. 18

Walt Kik
Mosquito Springs and Walt's House

Milo Brink
Spokane Chronicle Aug 12, 1914


To See If I Should Shiver or Not

A pioneer family of German descent who owns a farm of plenty acres between Harrington and Highway 2, carries out a heritage tradition on a half-acre patch of potatoes that is located in a stubble field. Family members will use muscles to dig the spuds, and fill buckets with their findings to be stored in the cellar. They usually get about six sacks, as weather is not too gentle around here for potatoes. 

This family scene could easily be a duplication of rural Germany, because in the background up on a hill sets a country church that their grandfather helped build. It is still being put to use when Sunday morning rolls around. 

By using ingenuity and the most modern farm equipment, this family was able to develop an excellent wheat and cattle ranch. Yet, from their busy schedule they take time out in the spring to drop seed potatoes in this draw. 

Later, a member or two of the family is sent out with a hoe to weed the potato patch. When the spuds are ripe, a lot of time is spent to fork the potatoes out of the ground. This ritual is brought about by a way of life that has been adopted by many modern farm families. History may record them as “potato cults.” 

Maybe it’s caused by the times when we all had to scratch for a living. Everyone, I think, has some eccentric habits that could have been caused from early environment. 

I remember years ago, an old guy from the Mondovi area that was a farmer and a carpenter. He was pretty well heeled. He was of normal build and seemed to be well adjusted. Yet, on his idle days, he would salvage through old buildings that were torn down, picking up all the stray nails, then filing them by size to be used on his next building project. He had enough money to buy a whole trainload of nails. He, too, was not a tight wad, just eccentric. 

Let’s take a peek at my sister. She has a good job; her children flew the coop a long time ago. She showers her immediate family with expensive gifts. When she returns from one of her travels, a few tiny bars of motel soap are taken out of her purse. She proceeds to cut them up, and dumps the shavings into her automatic washer. 

I thought that I didn’t have any odd ball habits. Just thought that everybody was out of step but me, until Sugar reminded me how I used to burn up more gasoline in Spokane than I saved by looking for the cheapest station to tank up. (This was before the Arabs took the fun out of it). 

“Then what about your television phobia?” Sugar added. Yes, we do have an excellent TV set in our front room. Ya, sure, that’s normal, but why do I have just as good a TV in the kitchen too? Not only that, but there’s a TV in each bedroom and one out in the shop, plus a backup set if one of the five TVs should clunk out. 

At one time I was involved in repairing television sets; maybe that can explain my mania. But what bothers me is that I have two 12-inch round-faced thermometers that stare in from the two north windows. It gives Sugar the willies. Then there is that duplicate one on the north side of the house and another in the shop. 

Now wait a minute, that doesn’t include ten long-necked thermometers that have red bulbs. They are hanging here and there, plus one in my swimbag so I can test the water to see if I should shiver or not. This carried away hangup does waste a lot of unnecessary raw material and helps contribute to inflation. Does anyone want a free thermometer or two? Stop in!

 "Inherited Hang-ups" Kick-Backs, p. 13

Drawing by Phyllis Hinkins


If Your Stomach is Empty or Not

My eating out habit came on slow and never developed into anything big. It got started at a modern speed the night Sugar and I eloped. It was after midnight on our way to Coeur d’Alene when Sugar started to look hungry. We stopped at Davenport’s 24 hour eating place that was run by Carrol Vermillion. 

While settling down to an interesting married life, we took outings to Spokane and did things in a big way by eating at the Washington Street Market. A Dutchman and his wife would serve a plate full of dinner, including soup and pie, for 25 cents. There was a cover charge of five cents to have a scoop of ice cream dumped on Sugar’s pie. 

It’s been nearly fifty years since a buck bought a lot of stuff. Inflation has changed the scenery to a scary point. It’s now almost a must to carry a checkbook when you eat out, as lots of money does take up billfold space. 

Great Grandpa Deppner learned a lot about eating out, when he joined in on a flying weekend to Winnepeg with his son-in-law George and daughters, Edwina and Sugar. While there, they all got together with Canadian relatives for a fling of eating out. Great Grandpa picked up the menu and found out that plate of steak came to $13.25. “Whoopee”, came the sound from Grandpa’s mouth, “That’s more than I used to get for a steer.” 

Now days, it seems like it’s the ‘in thing’ to eat out. Scott Pritchard, a weekly food columnist, quoted a statement made by the American Health Magazine. “We have more single-member, single-parents and double income families than ever before. We eat out on the average of four times a week...Sales on all kitchen appliances are down, except for the microwave, now in 60 percent of all American homes." There is no reason for anyone to starve while in Davenport. Restaurants and small eating places are alternately placed right and left. Upon entering Davenport from the west, Ellie’s Deli stands out handy like for the local and Canadian trade, followed by Granny’s Grotto Restaurant. Then comes Carman’s Bakery, if a good sandwich, coffee and a doughnut will do you. The Cottonwood Inn is just a block north where the old historical Columbia Hotel once stood. Lucky Lady Tavern has things to eat, also Ernie’s Tavern Food. Hangar Number One, formerly Mittens, is the largest restaurant on Morgan Street. There has been a restaurant on that site ever since I was born. 

Heading east, Edna’s Drive-in is your last chance to check if your stomach is empty or not. Farther down the line is Lincoln Lanes Anchorman Cafe. They do supply lots of good food that bowlers and spectators need. 

"Eating Out" Kik-Backs No. 3, p. 49

Walt Kik
My photograph from 1972


Cupboards as Bare as Their Fields

One Farmer's Crisis, Part 2          (Part 1)

For those early Odessians, it was no easy chore to reach their fulfillment. The depression of the early thirties wasn’t very kind to the Ritzvile-Odessa farmers. They had a harder time scratching for a living than us northerners did. Ed Kiesz told us once that even the birds had to lower themselves on their knees to look for food. 

No crops meant no straw. To keep their horses' stomachs from collapsing, my other cousin Gottlieb had to make mercy trips up to Lords Valley where straw was being sold. 

With cupboards as bare as their fields, most of the dust bowl farmers beat it to the apple country, where the pickings were better. When apple picking money got into their pockets, they returned back home, and started dreaming of better farming days. 

The season of 1931, Ed Kiesz didn’t have to follow Odessa’s fall migration to the apple country. He had married into the Raugust clan. One of them, Rudolph Raugust got out of the Odessa area before the dust storms hit, and took up farming north of Davenport. 

When Ed got his two and a half bushel per acre crop scooped up, he kissed his wife Bertha and kids goodbye, and drove his two door Model T Ford Sedan into Odessa. He told Bill Raugust who was running the Odessa Trading Company, that he could come out to the ranch and get those drills, as he had no dough to pay for them. 

Needing survival money, Ed headed northwest to Davenport, and to his wife’s relative’s farm. He then made himself available to sew all the sacks that got filled on Rudy Raugust’s combine. 

It was a hot August Sunday when Ed stopped in to spend his first Davenport day of rest with us. Due to being broke, Ed Kiesz’s personality spark was missing. He looked tired. He told about the harvest job he got up here where the land was blessed. Ed said he didn’t want to know ’til the next week whether the Trading Company would extend his debts. 

Ed tried to take a nap on the floor. All at once he jumped up and called Bill Raugust, and asked, “Say, by golly, are you going to let me keep those drills, so I can farm?” 

The way Ed started to wisecrack on the phone, we could tell he was getting a 12 month reprieve on part of his farm machinery. When Ed hung up, he said, “Wonder of wonders, dam, I feel good! Let me take you all for a ride in my Model T. It’s all gassed up and is almost dust proof.” 

"One Farmer’s Crisis" Kik-Back Country, p. 44

Walt Kik
Sister, Ed Keisz, me and mother, blocking the view of Ed's Dust bowl limousine


Homespun Insights, Part 2

There is a small percentage of older folks that love to give their idea of good advice when they are no longer able to set a bad example.

Time eventually will place us all on that trail that leads to the sunset of life. Yet, one shouldn’t complain about getting old, as it’s a privilege denied to many. 

Shacks were getting nailed together, people were walking around in all directions, and the rattlesnakes were getting jittery.

The only records I ever kept on the wall calendar was the number of eggs gathered each day, and later when I got married, the amount of money that was missing when Sugar needed things. 

Ah, spring, beautiful spring! Once again the growing season is here in full force. Let’s enjoy nature with it’s gifts of wildflowers, birds and other living things that still abound between towns and heavily settled areas.

Many farmers figure spring hasn’t arrived until my shirt comes off, so I do serve some useful purpose. 

In defense of the rest of us that choose other ways of getting started with our mates, there is no concrete evidence that couples going through this kind of silver-plated [marriage] ritual ever live out any smoother lives. 

Kids are the best kind of people, because everything you do for them is still new, and it’s easy to make them happy. Besides you can act like a kid with them and enjoy the fun part of life. 

Homespun Insights, Part 1

A M Kendrick - Ritzville
Mary Ann Bier / Ritzville 1936