Memoirs of Nona Strake, Part Three

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

Continued from part two.

Both the ocean and bay beaches were full of clams of different kinds. While we were living at the Big Stump place, Bart and I used to take our small homemade wagon to the beach and dig razor clams with our hands. It didn’t take long to fill that wagon bed and we took them home, dumped them out on the ground and chopped them up for the chickens. Hens had to eat and wheat was hard to get. The tide didn’t have to be very low, either, and such clams!! If anyone found a clam now as big as those were they would think they had the grand-daddie of all clams. We caught sole, and flounder with our bare feet in any tide pool or on the mud flat. The indians taught us how to do that. Great big crabs were just anywhere around the water of the lower bay or ocean beach, just for the taking. But we were not used to a purely fish and meat diet. Until we understood the cultivation of this kind of soil and knew just when and what to plant, our gardens were not so much, either.

It took a little cash with which to get by. My father and his Brothers, as did others, got theirs out of the beach sand. When heavy tides had washed out the gray sand down to the black sand that lay just underneath where you could get at it, they rigged up their sluce boxes, made of rough lumber, got their shovels and went to work and ended with their day’s work in their gold pans. Quick silver was poured in and stirred around until it had gathered up all that fine flour gold. It was then put into a bullet ladel and put over an open fire until all the quick silver was burned up, leaving the pure gold which looked something like a piece of cream colored sponge. Later they learned to squeeze their mercury through a piece of chamois and thereby save the mercury to be used again. Every man had a bullet ladel. He had to make his own ammunition. To mine for gold on the beach they had to have plenty of water. When I was a child this beach country was cut with mining ditches. Many newer schemes were tried out for saving the beach gold, but none were much more successful than by way of the old sluce boxes.

Most everyone along the beach and some in Waldport has some cattle. They made their own fences – if they had any – of split posts and rails. There were no heard laws in those days.

My grandmother cooked on a fireplace for several years as did many others. We had the cook stove we brought from Minnesota. Our organ was the first one on the Alsea Bay. I used to watch my grandmother make tallow candles. She thought, and rightly, that they made a better light than the old bowl of seal oil with a rag stuck into it. That was still used by many of the early settlers. They had no luxuries, only the bare necessities and not always that, but we got along and were well and healthy. Most kids went barefoot all summer, even to school. I did until I was about 12 years old. When we went anywhere we walked or went in a row boat. I can’t even remember when I learned to row a boat. The Starr’s at Yachats and Dave Williams at the mouth of Big Creek each had a team of horses. My grandfather had a yoke of oxen. It took them all day to go from where they lived in a log house by Vingie Creek, to Waldport and back. One 4th of July the Reynolds clan all gathered at “The Rocks” for a picnic. My mother’s contribution to that feast was an iron kettle full of yellow rutabagas cooked with bacon. It was good, we thought, and everyone enjoyed it. In those days we could not buy canning jars. Every bottle that was found on the beach was carefully saved and my mother canned huckleberries and blueberries in them and sealed them up with pitch. They tasted pretty good in the winter along with salt salmon and potatoes. Root crops usually stayed fresh in the ground unless it was an extra cold winter.

I always liked the indians. Their children were among my first playmates. One little girl named “Idee” was about my age and we played together almost all the time. It doesn’t take a child long to pick up a new Tonge. My folks didn’t” realize that I was speaking Chinook until one day my mother remarked that it was about time ‘dee was coming since the noon meal was ready. I looked out and there she came. I said to my mother, “Halo muck a muck, hiyd Idee.” She didn’t Know what I was talking about. I had just told her that altho food was scarce there was lots of Idee.

There isn’t much left of the “Big Stump”. It stands well out from the fluff near three miles south of Waldport. Then we lived there it was a really big stump. It is redwood and was standing in its own original soil – a thick black muck that used to be covered sometimes by the heavy surf when the gray sand was washed out. There are many places along our beach that are underlaid by this same muck and there are old logs and stumps and roots partly petrified imbedded in it. My brother and I used to climb the big stump and look down inside – for it was hollow and partly filled with shells. My folks asked the indians why the shells. They said that it had always been a rule that when an Alsea Indian went to Yachats or one of the Yachats tribe went to the bay they always threw in a shell when they passed – sort of a tollgate. They also said that their ancestors remembered seeing the old stump emerge from the bluff- by erosion, of course. So all this sandstone and top soil was laid down on top of an ancient redwood forest. It shows also, how out coast line is receding.

There is an old, old Indian legend I heard when I was a child about an Indian maiden named “Calling Quail” and her lover, “Gray Wolf”, who used to meet at the old Keady Spring. He was one of the upper Alsea tribe and they were at war with the lower tribe. These young folks had to meet in secret. He would come down river in his canoe and meet her at the spring, which was at that time surrounded by old growth spruce. One night, Standing Bear, a member of the enemy tribe, waylayed them and shot one arrow thru Gray Wolf’s back. She put the body of her lover into her canoe and paddled out over the bar on an outgoing tide and that ended the story. (The above “Memoirs” were copied from the files in the Lincoln County Historical Society by Art Kelly.)

Nellie (Nona) Reynolds is buried at Yachats Mem. Park Cent, Yachats, OR

1953 image of “Big Stump at Oregon Coast Today. When Nellie had written of it in 1959 she noted it was much diminished in size from what it had been originally. The article notes too that the 14 foot stump has been “burned and chopped”.

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