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”.

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.

* * * * *


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 Several engravings there show it as a vision “at the end of the trail” for pioneers in their land schooners.

– 2 –

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

Memoirs of Nona Strake, Part Two

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

Continued from part one.

Most of the Indians had been taken to the new reservation on the Siletz River long before we came. A good part of the old, old sand spit upon which Waldport was built was used by them for a burial ground and had been for years. If a man owned a canoe it was out in a certain place and he was buried or placed (in it) along with some of his possessions and a small roof built over it. But if he owned two canoes the second one was turned upside down over the first. I know where several of such burial places were among the bull pines. All that remained of many graves was a few rotten pieces of moss grown boards and the sand was full of bright colored beads. I remember one up in the edge of old town where the roof had long since been gone and we could see the remains of an Indian woman dried and shrunken face with a broad band of bright red bead-work around her forehead. Not very far away lay the mummified body of a tiny baby, maybe dragged there by some wild animal. We, as kids, on our way to school used to, sometimes go out of our way, out among the buckberry bushes and look at it, a moss covered skull lay not far from our path. It had been there • no one knew for how long and no one paid the least attention to it. But one day one of the school boys ran out and gave it a boost with his bare foot. Something jingled! He took out several silver coins. The Indians used to place a man’s coins in his mouth at the time of burial.

I remember another moss grown skull. It sat upon a quite high limb of a big spruce near the Keady Spring. Some years later, when the population of Waldport had grown some, all those relics of the past were burned. Just why they were not given decent burial and the place properly marked is clear beyond my comprehension. The white man did that to the indians, after he had stolen their homes. But later, what did he do to our own white pioneer cemetery? Bill Keady’s father, a man for whom everyone who knew him had the deepest respect, gave a plot of ground for a cemetery just south of Yaquina John’s Point, upon what he thought was his own land. Later when surveys were completed it was found to be just beyond his line so he could not give the deed for as he had planned to do. Many of the early settlers were buried there, among them were my grandparents, Allen and Mary Reynolds, who had passed on before the land had belonged to my Uncle Samuel Reynolds, who had passed on before the land had changed hands many times. When the beach country started building up, those who remember, tried to have that plot set aside. Many protests went in, my own among them, but in spite of all, homes now stand where lie many of our early day settlers. Surely after weathering the hardships of this early day beach country they had earned a place to rest in peace. But there you have it again, that ground was worth a few dollars. “Dollars and some greedy white man!!”

Few people living at the present time can have any idea of the hardships the early coast pioneers had to endure. It took real grit and stick-to-it-ism to stay with it and try to eke out any kind of existence. There were so few paying jobs for a man that he literally had to make his living. Of course, the indians had done it very nicely for no one knows how many hundreds of years. Witness their old shell mounds, and would have kept on doing so for hundreds upon hundreds more. But the indians did not destroy. It took the greedy white man to do that and it didn’t take him long, either. The woods were full of elk, deer and bear. Every tiny stream was full of trout and streams the size of Big Creek and Reynolds Creek, south of Waldport, were full of salmon in the fall. Now look at them! I do not suppose there has been a salmon in either of these creeks for 40 years or more.

I remember too, what a time a few forward looking people had in getting the first hatchery on the river started. Old timers laughed at the idea. One said “0, there always has been lots of salmon and there always will be.” The early waste was awful. The first canneries could take only a few at a time because they had to be all used up that day – no cold storage. The boats would come in as full as could be without swamping. First come sold their fish, 6 cents each for silvers and 20 cents each for Chinook, even though one might weigh 75 lbs. The cannery was soon filled and all the rest of the boats simply dumped their loads into the bay. That was the way with the game. Several men might go out for elk – shoot all they could – just to be killing, then maybe, dress out a hind quarter or two and leave the rest. No Indian ever did a trick like that, They saved everything. They did not catch or kill more than they could use. As a child I used to watch them smoke and dry their meat. Every fall they came back to Yachts to get their winter’s food. They camped along near the rocks north of Yachats. They made racks out of thin split spruce and hung their fish and meat, cut in slim strips, on these sticks and dried and smoked it over small fires built below – built mostly of alder or vine maple. Salmon was cut in strips, but smelt, tom cod, pilchard and trout were smoked whole. Flat fish like perch, flounder or sole were dried flat on the ground on the dry grass, or on the slopes of the big shell mound that used to be near the present Adobe Motel. Elk, deer and bear were cut into strips and smoked. They even cured any stray seal or sea lion that might wash ashore.

Legend says that once a sizable whale came in on the north spit and after eating of it many of the tribe died of food poisoning. Another time when the Alsea tribe nearly all died off was when they got the measles. Their old remedy for everything – the hot steaming sweat house – followed by a dip in the cold salt water did not work with the measles.

Continue reading the third and final part