Memoirs of Nona Strake

A memoir by Nellie (Nona) Lenora Reynolds, daughter of Charity Alice McKenney.

Nellie was born 1877 April 22 in Minnetonka, Minnesota and died December 6, 1963 in Coos Bay, Oregon. Nellie first married (1) Oscar William Peterson abt. 1900 in Lincoln Co., Oregon. He was born about 1873 in Wisconsin. She married (2nd) Frederick William Strake, son of John Strake and Augusta, on October 4, 1914 in Waldport, Oregon (by C. E. Linton, J.P., wit. C. M. Johnson and Dolores Johnson). He was born October 23, 1885 in Wassau, Wisconsin and died May 9, 1973 in Lincoln County, Oregon.

Thanks to Allan McKenney for passing this along.

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MEMOIRS OF NONA STRAKE, 1959

The Reynolds’ families came west from Minnesota in the early 1880’s. My father, Albert Reynolds, my mother, Alice (McKinney) Reynolds, his brother, Josiah (Joe) C. Reynolds, my adopted brother, Bart McKinney, age almost 4 and I, Nona, age six years, coming first in 1883. Even though I was so young parts of that trip are still vivid in my memory. We came via the southern route and by emigrant train, which meant that we had to bring our own bedding, food, etc. The seats were just bare wooden slats like old park benches with backs.

There was still snow on the ground when we left our home on Lake Minnetonka, May 21st, 1883. We found the southern deserts aglow with cacti bloom. We also saw a lot of “Greasers” as the Mexican Indians were called at that time. My mother was pretty badly shocked at first sight of their scanty attire. The men wore just a loin cloth. One man running beside the track as the train was slowing for a stop, lost even that. She nearly passed out. People were super-modest in those days.

Los Angeles was not the metropolis then that it later became, mostly old adobe houses then. San Francisco wasn’t a very big city then either. We stayed there for some days at the old Palace Hotel until the boat left for Portland. The Southern Pacific R.R. ended at San Francisco. We reached San Francisco on June 1st. We came north on the old passenger ship, Oregon. My father paid for first class fare, but there was some bobble and it was found there were not enough state rooms to go around and we had to sleep steerage and that was pretty bad, shut up down there with all that mass of sick, vomiting humanity. Luckily none of us were seasick. We ate first class. Once just to see what it was like, we all went down and ate steerage. I can remember the table hung by chains, everyone stood up to eat. Of course, we kids couldn’t see the top. My father lifted each of us up for a look. The fare was boiled salt beef with blood running out of it, boiled potatoes with the jackets on and cooked in seat water, and hard tack. That’s what sailor’s bread was called. One’s teeth had to be extra good to be able to gnaw on a piece of hard tack and get any nourishment out of it. Once was enough, we didn’t try that eating place again.

The Palace Hotel in 1880, which had been built in 1875. Image from The Palace Hotel.org. Several engravings there show it as a vision “at the end of the trail” for pioneers in their land schooners.

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Bart and I had the time of our lives running and playing on the deck. It was almost deserted because nearly all the passengers were sick. In fact, my mother was the only woman on deck. It took us five days to reach Portland. The old “Oregon” was wrecked on the Columbia bar on her next trip north, so I think we were lucky.

We had old Minnesota friends in Portland and others around the village of Beaverton. We spent most of that summer there. Good beaver dam land could be bought for $5.00 per acre, but the Reynolds family was headed west. By that time there was a railroad from Portland to Eugene. We went to Corvallis and from there to Newport by stage. There were two regular all night stops, but it took us three because of a forest fire and a log across the road where we had to wait until it was cut out. We had shipped our furniture from Minnesota so that took an extra wagon and team from Corvallis. We stayed all night at George Collins’ at Seal Rock. My father had been to the land office in Oregon City and bought school land that took in all of the “Big Stump” country. Our south boundary was at Little Creek and extended north nearly a mile. We lived in what was called the “Keady Shack” a shake shanty, two rooms as I remember it and built on the edge of old growth spruce between Rocky Point, where present hiway reaches the bay beach and about where the Phil Lettenmaier office stands, until my father had a house built for us on the new land. The shack mentioned above was built by Bill Keady’s father, W. P. Keady, who had taken up that land, and it extended south to just below Yaquin John Point, sometime in the 70s.

David Rubel had in 1876 homesteaded land upon which Old Town (Waldport) stands. His land took in Indian Slough too and beyond. When we landed in Waldport there were four houses, not much more than shacks. One of them, Mr. Ruble’s was a log house. The Rubles, had, in 1871, moved from Eola, near Salem to the Alsea Valley. There he built a sawmill and lumber from that mill built the first house in the Alsea Valley. He also built a grist mill. At about this time all the lower Alsea Bay Country and the Yachats country was included in the Yachts Indian Agency, George P. Litchfield, Agent. From 1871 until 1874 the Indians carried Mr. Ruble’s four down the river in canoes to the present town of Waldport for 50 cents per 100 lbs. By 1874 his business had grown and he conceived of building scows to send his flour down in. Those scows were built of two inch plank and were too heavy to get back up river again, so the lumber was later used for other things. In fact Waldport’s first school house was built of some of that lumber. It stood somewhere near where the old skating ring stands. They needed a post office too, and the settlement also needed a name. Since he had laid the foundation for a town he thought he should have the post office and he wanted to name it “Fairhaven”.

When we first came and had moved into the “Keady Shack” my mother did the first washing since we left Beaverton. She had no clothes lines yet so she had to hang her clothes on the Salal bushes nearby. While she was spreading the first piece out these looked down on the ground and there was a human skull grinning up at her. It was a real shock to her then. We had not been here long until we were used to sights like that.

The Indians did not bury their dead clear underneath the ground. A grave was dug, the top of which came level with the top of the homemade casket which was left open and a sort of chicken coop roof of hand split shakes covered it. It had to be left open so the spirit could get out when the time came. They had a way of sort of mummifying their dead. In some the flesh dried on the bones, in others the flesh remained soft and sort of spongy. Some were put in open caskets and placed in tiers in some small buildings.

Near the school house was the tomb of old Chief Yaquina John’s only son. The chief lived up on the point that bears his name. After his son’s death he had a path, or rather a wide swath, cut through the old growth spruce and all the underbrush cut out, too, so he could look from his cabin on the point to see the small whitewashed building in which his son’s body lay.

By the time we came to Alsea Bay the undergrowth had grown up high again, but we could still see the gap in the old growth trees. As a child I used to play in what was left of his cabin. There was nothing much left of it but his old stone fireplace and some rotting shakes. But what of that time itself? I remember most distinctly what the grave looked like inside. Someone, a common churl, the lowest of all low creatures, had torn off several pickets from the fence that surrounded it and also two or three boards from the wall. Inside where should have rested in peace a chief’s son, was a snarl of rotting blankets, spruce root basketry and long black hair. Out of the midst of this was a dried arm, upthrust, stark and accusing! Upon one crooked finger still hung a silver ring. Mr. Ghoul had not had the nerve to dismember that finger from that dried and shrunken hand to get it for himself, but rumor said, at that time, that he had taken $25.00 out from under those dead shoulders. He even boasted of it. I could mention that man’s name, but why do it? He passed to his doubtful reward many hears ago. He did not live on our side of the bay.

Continue to part two

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