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Oct 6th, 2005 - 17:06:42 


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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Hal and the Mountain

West Helena Memories

By Lois Barton

Posted on Sep 6, 2005

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"West Helena Mining Camp," watercolor by Lois Barton, June, 1950

My husband of 60 years, Hal Barton, passed away August 1, 2005. He was a native Oregonian who had been involved much of his life in mining activities. He attended the School of Mines in Butte, Montana and the University of Oregon, graduating with a degree in Geology and Mining Engineering. He then served his four years during World War II as a conscientious objector to military service, by working in a mental hospital and helping to establish the National Mental Health Foundation which brought about important reforms in the care of mentally ill persons in this country.

Returning to Oregon in 1946 Hal went back to mining in the Bohemia mining district in Lane County, Oregon. I, His Midwestern farm girl wife, spent parts of three summers keeping house for him in various mining camps during the early '50s.

Hal's instructions for disposal of his ashes were to have them spread on Grouse Mountain in the mining district. I recently joined his sons for that service, traveling to the area where I'd spent time with our small children almost 60 years ago. As I traveled to the mountains a few weeks ago for disposal of his ashes, I made a list, determined to come home and record memories from that time. The following West Helena Memories are part of that record. - Lois Barton

The West Helena mining camp originally boasted twin log cabins joined by a covered breezeway. They had been built around 1900, and were perhaps fifteen feet square. The single door in each cabin opened under the breezeway facing its opposite twin maybe twenty feet away. They sat on a level shelf on the side of Grizzly Moountain, which climbed steeply on one side and dropped off sharply on the other. There was a mere six feet of level ground surrounding the buildings, and a two-holer outhouse behind one cabin.

When we went there for a stay in the summer of 1949 the roof over the breezeway and that over one cabin had disappeared, leaving only log walls around an empty space. The cabin we moved into had been re-shaked in the 30s or 40s with hemlock shakes and was dry and snug.

Hal and I, with Edie aged three plus, Dave approacing two and four month old Margie, spent about a month in that cabin in 1949 and were there again in the summer of 1950. Hal and his brother Dick were mining at the Evening Star, a few miles away on the other side of the mountain.

I was a tenderfoot from Ohio farm country who had never lived in the woods before. Our cabin was reached by a narrow rocky lane which dropped from Champion Creek road sharply down to and fording a rushing mountain stream, then climbed again several hundred feet toward the cabin. The last stretch was too steep for the car and we parked it in an open space below.

Our water supply for camp was a spring near the creek which had been cleared and boxed to make a pool for dipping water. It was a shock to me to be told that I dare not leave my baby alone in the cabin with the door open, or in the buggy in the breezeway area, while I hiked the 1000 feet down to the spring for a pail of water. The reason for this caution--a hungry cougar might snatch her for a meal. The whole mountain was covered with mature forest and was known habitat for bears and cougars as well as smaller wild animals.

There was no other human dwelling within a mile or two, and the noise of the creek covered almost sounds of traffic on the road which was barely visible across the valley. Because of our canyon setting, the sun in June's longest days only crested the mountain about 9:30 am, and disappeared behind its opposite by 4 pm, giving us long periods of diminished daylight both morning and evening.

We had a double bed in the cabin where Hal and I slept. There was a wood burning cook stove in the opposite corner. and a couple of bunks where the children slept.

My baby diapers presented a challenge. All the water we had must be carried in a bucket from the spring back up a fairly steep hill. I usually had the two older children along, unless it was nap time, and one of them was a toddler who needed mommy's hand as he walked along in that rough country.

We were in camp a week at a time, and this was before the days of disposable diapers. I rinsed the wet diapers in the rinse water from doing dishes, and then boiled them on the wood stove. It would have been most unpleasant to accumulate a week's supply of soiled diapers to wash when we got home on Saturday evening.

We had strung a wire from our cabin to the still standing wall of the other cabin for a clothes line, and I could dry the diapers there.

That clothes line proved to be a booby trap. Hal split wood in the brezeway area for the cook stove. One evening at dusk he was at work on the woodpile. At the same time the older children were playing around in the "yard," that level space between the cabins. Hal's axe accidentally caught on the wire and pulled it loose at one end. The flailing end whipped around and gouged little Dave's eye. There was lots of blood and we couldn't determine whether the eyeball had been punctured or not. So we piled everyone in the car and headed the 50 miles to a doctor through the dark. Fortunately the eye was not seriously injured and soon healed.

While the cabin was fairly tight, rats and mice sometimes found their way in. One night we were awakened by the rumpus a rat made poking round inside. As we lay in bed, I was able to locate him with a beam from the flashlight where he ran along a log above the door. The light stopped the rat briefly in his tracks, and Hal took aim from the bed with the 22 rifle and tumbled him from his perch.

There were a good many huckleberry bushes in the understory of that woodlaand. One healthy bush hung over the bank at the uphill side of the "yard." Son Dave developed a taste for the berries as they ripened. I found him one day sitting under that bush picking berries and cramming them in his moouth.

"Hucks, Mommy. Hucks," he said with a purple grin as he reached for more.

One August Sunday we had made arrangements for members of the Eugene Friends Meeting to come up Champion Creek as far as Hobo Creek Camp Ground for a potluck picnic, to be followed by a business meeting. When we drove down to meet with the group, my contribution to that potluck was two huckleberry pies.

There was a screened cooler against the still standing wall of the tumbled-down cabin. It was a varmint-proof cupboard built up off the ground with tightly screened doors on the front. We used it like a refrigerator or icebox to keep fresh things crisp. The night air, even in summer, served that purpose well.

One weekend we left a box of apples in that cooler while we went to town for supplies, to do laundry, have baths, and go to Meeting for Worship. When we returned to camp we found the screen ripped from the cooler door, The box of apples was missing. We found it ripped and bearing tooth marks and slobbers of what we decided was a bear. It had been dropped over the bank on the downhill side of the yard into a blackberry patch. A few bruised and bitten apples marked the trail from the cooler to the bank.

We had a folding baby buggy which served as a bed for Margie. When the weather was nice, I often put the buggy out in the yard through the day while she slept in it. I had made a cover of cheese cloth which fitted snugly over the top to keep flies and mosquitos away from the baby while she slept.

Margie was sleeping out there one day when Dave began to push the buggy back and forth as he liked to do. In his mind he was helping me by rocking the baby. Either the brake let loose, or his pushing got too active. However it was, the buggy went over the bank and landed wrong side up in the blackberries, I was thankful that the fittend netting which acted as a hammock, held Margie securely till we retrieved her buggy from the bushes.

My first experience with thrush song was part of that West Helena stay. Our cabin sat in a deep canyon between high mountains. Each morning near daybreak varied thrushes would begin their matin. Their clear piping whistle echoed between the hillsides, filling the canyon with music. The notes from different birds varied slightly in pitch, creating a lovely symphony in minor key. Again as dusk approached the air would ring with an unforgettable melody the aura of which enriches my recollection to this date more than 50 years later.

Copyright © 2005 by Lois Barton

Writer and historian
Lois Barton

Lois Barton is an 86 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Follow the links of the Voices of Spencer Creek for the most recent articles by Lois Barton, including:

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Rogue River Adventure

Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Obituary for a Country Cat

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Cortesia Sanctuary

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Tree and Me and Lady Slippers

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Cranberries

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Endurance Riding

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Butterflies and Community Development

and The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Last Gift.

See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery

Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife–The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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