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~ Kathy M.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tin Pot Valley, Chapter XXVI: "Some Were Scribblers"


This post is an excerpt from Tin Pot Valley, a collection of true stories written by my distant cousin Wilfred Brown.  Wilfred's Grandmother Aurilla is also my Great-Great Aunt.  Horace Greeley Putnam is Aunt Aurilla's husband.  In this very long post regarding early writers of Southern Oregon, I have highlighted my relatives in brown, and they are in the second half of the post.  I have also gone through and added links and photos to everything that I could find.  Wilfred included so much info in this chapter, and I hope that my additions will help to make this a valuable research tool for the Yoncalla and Drain area history.

Wilfred's maternal great-great-grandparents are Jesse and Cynthia Applegate.  Their daughter, Rozelle Applegate Putnam, died young and they helped to raise Horace.



Tin Pot Valley, Chapter XXVI:

Wilfred Brown

"Some Were Scribblers"

The urge to put words into writing has existed since there was writing has existed since there was writing -- and the country around Tin Pot has had, perhaps, more than its share of those who felt the urge.

The first was the patriarch,  Jesse Applegate, whose best-known literary effort is his monograph,  "A Day With The Cow Column", an account of a typical day on the Oregon Trail along the Platte River, recalled by a man who had lived it and remembered it well.  It has been praised as as small masterpiece, and many times reprinted in books of western lore.   

Source: Find A

Jesse Applegate also wrote letters by the thousands over more than half a century -- to newspapers, relatives and correspondents who included governors, senators, congressmen, cabinet members and acquaintances ranging from men prominent in business and industry to barely-literate fellow tillers of the soil.

Many of the letters, in fluent style, included classical or historical references from his extensive reading, which the recipients were expected to understand, and usually did.  Some of Jesse Applegate's letters were laced with sharp invectives.  Some showed surprising tolerance for views of bitter political foes.  There was about his writings such a philosophical tone that a noted jurist, Judge Matthew Deady, (later to become one of Jesse's targets) called him  "The Sage of Yoncalla".  Jesse scorned the title, but it persisted.  Hundreds of his letters are preserved in libraries, from the Oregon Historical Society to Ivy League colleges.  The small oak desk where Jesse wielded his pen also is preserved at the Portland museum.

Jesse Applegate's daughter, Rozelle Putnam, wrote vividly of the new land and the struggles of a young couple building a home in the wilderness, in letters she had no idea would be published.  (See  "This Was A Man" -- Wilfred Brown, Camas Press, 1971)

Jesse's daughter, Sallie Long, sometimes with a rather waspish tone, turned out newspaper pieces by the hundreds, many preserving bits of history.


George Estes grew up in Pass Creek Canyon, above Drain, where his parents operated a hotel, tavern, and stage station.  Three of his sisters married three sons of Jesse Applegate -- and George himself became a great-grand-uncle of mine by his marriage to Maud Jackson, a sister of  Louisa Hedrick.  Over a period of many years he combined a successful Portland law practice with a steady flow of more-or-less literary creating, including several books.

Much of Uncle George's writing had a very whimsical flavor.  Some was gathered into collections of American folk-lore.  An Estes work of considerable imagination, "The Rawhide Railroad", and its author, are subjects of a chapter in the late Stewart Holbrook's readable "Far Corner"

"The Rawhide Railroad"  is set in the Walla Walla Valley of Southeastern Washington, where George Estes spent much time as a youth.  His tale unfolds in much detail, including the names of numerous real people and places.  Uncle George tells how the pioneers of the Walla Walla region, needing better transportation to move their wheat to a Columbia River port, with what they had and could afford -- wooden rails covered with the tough, durable untanned beef hides called "rawhide."  It worked quite well, according to the Estes account, until one exceptionally hard winter -- when game was scarce in Walla Walla country, and wolves came down out of the hills and ate up the railroad.

The only thing wrong with Uncle George's piece, as a bit of history, is that none of it was so.  It created both wide-spread amusement and indignation in the Walla Walla Valley.  Over the decades the rawhide railroad has been celebrated many times in "Believe It Or Not" type newspaper features.  And as recently as the early 1980's a small Oregon magazine published as fact an article about the railroad that ran on rawhide -- out of the imagination of Uncle George Estes.


James Alexander Davis, a one-armed school teacher, lived around Yoncalla for many years; presided over country schools at such Douglas County communities as Hardscrabble, Tenmile, Shoestring, Nonpareil and Lookingglass; and be came by marriage an in-law of the Applegates.  While Davis was teaching at Nonpareil, near Sutherlin, in 1894, a son christened Harold Lenoir was born.  The family later moved to Eastern Oregon, where James Davis entered politics.  He served for many years as Assessor of Wasco County at the Columbia River town of The Dalles.

Before his political success, the Davis family lived for a time at the small Wasco County sheep town of Antelope, near the edge of the vast Eastern Oregon range country.  Harold Lenoir Davis spent considerable time hanging around the shop of the local weekly newspaper, and that association perhaps propelled him into a remarkable career of putting words on paper.

While a young Deputy Assessor under his father, Harold Lenoir spent as much time as he could writing.  What he wrote was set in both the well-watered, rolling green country he had known as a boy, and the sweeping, arid range land south, and east of The Dalles.  He disliked both Harold and Lenoir as names, and when he started sending manuscripts to editors, he signed himself simply H.L. Davis.

Source: Oregon Historical Society on H.L. Davis

Much of Davis' early work was in verse.  In that field he found his first notable success when the highly regarded Poetry Magazine of Chicago awarded him a national prize of considerable prestige for a series of poems.  That was in 1919, when Davis was 25, and almost unknown outside of The Dalles.

During the 1920s another man who scorned his given names, the noted editor and critic  H.L. (Henry Louis) Mencken, took an interest in H. L. Davis.  Many Davis prose pieces were published in  Mencken's American Mercury.

The Mercury was noted for colorful, vigorous and iconoclastic writing.  Equally controversial were the pieces by H. L. Davis, which found no overwhelmingly enthusiastic reception among fellow citizens of the young author's native state.  

Davis wrote that he was still receiving mad letters, a quarter of a century after publication of a Mercury piece titled "A Town In Eastern Oregon".  Without naming names, it was quite a bit less than complimentary toward The Dalles and its winter.

H. L. Mencken's influence helped H. L. Davis obtain a Guggenheim Fellowship, providing him with a living subsistence while he attempted to write a book.  Living in a crude hut in a remote village of Mexico, Davis produced a manuscript titled "Honey in the Horn", after a line of an old square-dance song.  It told a rambling tale of Oregon in the early 1900's on both sides of the Cascades.

Photo Source:

Probably neither Mencken nor Davis could have dreamed of the book's success.   "Honey in the Horn" won the Harper's Prize.  It was a "Book of the Month Club" selection.  It won the Pulitzer Prize as the best novel of 1935.  And "Honey in the Horn" long held a place at or near the top of the national best-seller list.   

It was followed, over the next quarter-century, by several other novels, short stories published in the Saturday Evening Post and elsewhere, and collections of shorter writings.  Though H. L. Davis never equaled, at least in acclaim and financial rewards, the success of his first book, he is still ranked by many critics as the foremost author from Oregon.   

Oregon reaction to "Honey in the Horn",  particularly in the country around Yoncalla, was decidedly mixed.  The book is written in long and involved sentences, with colorful adjectives and adverbs.  There is both humor and considerable drama as quite a bit happens to the characters -- including sex, miscarriage, murder, grand and petty theft and a lynching.  It is hard for most readers to care very much, as the Oregonians of "Honey in the Horn" appear as a rather unattractive set of people.   

There was quite a bit of in-state criticism of the way Davis re-arranged Oregon geography.  He admitted in a prefatory note giving real names to fictional places, though his purpose is not clear.  The book opens in narrow, winding Shoestring Valley of Southern Oregon, and its description, in colorful Davis prose could be that of the real Shoestring, near Yoncalla.   

Except that the fictional Shoestring is drained by a sizeable waterway called Little River, the name of a real stream, a tributary of the North Umpqua, some 60 miles from the real Shoestring.  The closest town to the fictional valley is Oakridge, the name of an actual town on the Willamette River east of Eugene.  Much of the book's action is set in Lookinglass Valley.  The real Lookingglass, where James Alexander Davis once taught school, is near Roseburg.  For "Honey in the Horn", his son moved Lookingglass to the high desert plateau country of Eastern Oregon.

Criticism of Davis' re-arrangement of Oregon's geography, of course, quibbling.  Probably no one else came close to matching the picture of Oregon that H. L. Davis painted in "Honey in the Horn."

(Too bad Davis isn't around to see what happened to his old home town of Antelope.  The population had dwindled to fewer than 100 when a religious sect from India bought an enormous nearby ranch.  The colony apparently has thrived, and with a population reported to total several thousand, has purchased most of Antelope as well.  Only the name is now Rajneeshpuram.  Alarmed citizens of The Dalles and of Jefferson County, into which the colony ranch extends, fear an attempted power take-over via the polls by the colonists from India.  It's even alleged that the pilgrims look forward to controlling the entire state of Oregon.)

(The sect's guru, like many a man in humbler circumstances, collects pleasing objects as a hobby.  Commonplace items like rare stamps are not for him.  He collects Rolls Royce automobiles, presented by admiring followers at a cost of around $125,000 each.  Upwards of 50 of the fancy cars are usually parked near the holy man's comfortable living quarters.

Yes, H. L. Davis doubtlessly could have done quite a bit more with the stories of Antelope and Rajneeshpuram.)

Two cousins of H. L. Davis also wrote extensively.  Anne Applegate Kruse published several small books of prose and verse about the Yoncalla region.  Her sister, Susie Applegate spent many years compiling and writing a monumental history of the Applegate family.  

Source:  Skookum by Shannon Applegate

Jesse Applegate Applegate, a nephew of the first Jesse, published several small books about early Oregon, and the Oregon Trail he traveled as a boy.  Emerson Hough's classic, "The Covered Wagon", and its movie version, one of the most popular ever filmed, were based on the writings of the second Jesse Applegate.

Source:  Wikipedia

His brother, Elisha Applegate, also wrote extensively, and for a time published a paper in Eugene.  Their brother Oliver Cromwell Applegate, was for decades a writer and lecturer on the subject of the Modoc War, in which he had a part, and Indians of the Klamath Basin country.   

Source:  Skookum by Shannon Applegate

Among later Applegate writers --  Col. Rex Applegate has written widely circulated books on guerrilla warfare and riot control.  His daughter,  Shannon, writes of family background.  Howard Applegate became a well-known United Press International correspondent.   

Shannon Applegate,  Source:

The late Richard Applegate, also long with the UPI, became the center of an international incident.  Stationed at Hongkong, as a correspondent of the National Broadcasting Co., he and a friend acquired a boat in which they planned to sail around the world.  On a trial run south toward Portuguise Macao, in those days of Chairman Mao, they inadvertently sailed into waters claimed by the People's Democratic Republic of China.  Applegate spent several years in a Communist jail before British diplomats helped negotiate his release.  His widow later was making a claim against the Peiping government in an international court for over $100,000 -- stated as the value of Dick's confiscated boat.
Aunt Sue Hedrick, (Mary?), Cathryn Cunningham, Florence Hedrick (MY GRANDMA T.), John and Myra Hedrick, Litha Hedrick and Fay Cunningham, Aunt Gertrude Hedrick, Uncle Horace Greeley Hedrick, Aunt Aurilla Hedrick Putnam

Four young cousins of different families of the Putnam-Hedrick clan found a remarkable medium for self-expression in the Drain Nonpareil, published by C. L. Parker in the early 1900's.  In filling his hand-set columns, Parker apparently was willing to print almost anything, and did.   

Nearly every issue of the Nonpareil carried half a column or so of  "Tin Pot Ticklers", written in collaboration or separately by Maud Hedrick, Gertrude Hedrick and Chester Putnam -- and another series titled "Hardscrabble Hoots".  The author of the "Hoots", signing himself "The Owl," was Ercel Hedrick, who later was to serve as School Superintendent of the city of Medford for a third of a century, and to have a high school name for him.

The young scribes were totally untrained in news reporting.  What they wrote, and Parker printed unchanged, except for numerous "typos," might be called personal journalism by innuendo.  It must have left some of the subjects just short of the exploding point -- if that.

Who was "Truthless Thomas"?  No one knows, after three quarters of a century, but almost every reader of the Nonpareil without doubt knew well when Maud Hedrick wrote in a Tin Pot Ticklers column signed "Bogus".

"The first meeting of the Ananias Club was held Saturday evening, Truthless Thomas being admitted to full membership.  Truthless Tom's conception of the earth is just about what we suspected it was -- (about the size of Tin Pot.) 

And who was the subject, when she wrote:

"Santa Clause is just recovering from a dose of squirrel poison that he took by accident Christmas Eve." 

Maud Hedrick (Deaver) was to tinker with writing most of her long life.  She studied for a time at the University of Oregon School of Journalism, and served for years as a reporter for the Drain Enterprise, successor to the Nonpareil.  By that time she was quite well-versed in the fundamentals of journalism.  Louise Putnam Cunningham also worked for a time on the Enterprise.

Ercel Harrison Hedrick

Ercel Hedrick did a bit of needling of two uncles in a "Hardscrabble Hoots" column:

Talitha Letsom Hedrick and Benjamin H. Hedrick ... years later.

"Benjamin Hedrick and his young wife have taken up their abode on the former's vast estate in Upper Hardscrabble."   


"Matt Hedrick, the Hardscrabble philanthropist, says he intends to transfer his vast domain into a home for widows and orphans."  

(Everyone knew that Uncle Matt, who lived and died a bachelor without regrets, never let go a nickel unless he thought it would return as a dime.)

Chester Putnam did some of his "Tin Pot Ticklers" columns in doggerel, signed "Rhyming Rena."  He may have hit a measure of truth when he wrote:

"The hayseeds here are willing to bet
There are more fool scribblers
In Tin Pot
To the Square mile,
Look where you may,
Than in any part of the U.S.A."

So far as is known, no one ever went into the Nonpareil shop and beat up on Publisher Parker for some of the items he printed from Tin Pot and Hardscrabble.  Which seems a little surprising.
(Pages 159 - 168)

Update:  On Memorial Day 2013, I took some pictures of the headstones of some of the folks mentioned above:

Jesse Applegate Pioneer Historic Cemetery, between Drain and Yoncalla, Oregon
 Jesse Applegate Pioneer Historic Cemetery, between Drain and Yoncalla, Oregon

Headstone of Jesse Applegate at the Jesse Applegate Pioneer Historic Cemetery, between Drain and Yoncalla, Oregon

Headstone of Rozelle Applegate Putnam in the Jesse Applegate Pioneer Historic Cemetery, between Drain and Yoncalla, Oregon

Headstone of Maude Hedrick Deaver, in Putnam Valley Cemetery, at Sunnydale, Oregon

So, there you are, my friends.  If you enjoyed this story, please visit my Sepia Saturday friends by "CLICKING HERE" to find other neat photos and stories.  To read more about my family and other stories featuring old photos, memories and more, please look for this picture of me and my dad on the left-hand sidebar and read whatever else catches your fancy.  Thanks so much for visiting!

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy ~ Kathy Matthews

At Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy, if you miss a day, you miss a lot!  All material on this post is copyrighted and not for use without my permission ...Please click here to go to my home page and see what is happening in Mayberry today.
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Wendy said...

How interesting! You come from a LONG line of scribblers who preserved history as well as created it. HA. And you are carrying on the family tradition with your blogs. There's a lot of pressure on you, Girlfriend!

Peter said...

I think Richard Applegate is a very dramatic person. I mean you go out sailing a bit and you end up in a Chinese jail for a couple of years. I must say that your cousin Wilfred did a great job collecting and writing all these stories!

barbara and nancy said...

The rawhide railroad sounds a bit like Lady GaGa's meat dress. They'll probably both end up in Ripley's Believe It Or Not.

Christine H. said...

What a great bit of Oregon history along with international adventures.

Alan Burnett said...

Fascinating stuff. You get the feeling that they all would have made enthusiastic and interesting bloggers. You are following a great tradition Kathy

Bob Scotney said...

Another fascinating post Kathy. I've read it several times and keep finding bits I've missed. The Tin Pot Valley stories are a bit of social history.

Connie said...

Wow! Kathy, this is so wonderful. I feel so happy that you have these stories of your actual family members. What a rich and marvelous treasure and what exciting and adventurous folks. These writings are a true blessing.
Have a great weekend. I do hope that the air isn't to hard to breath in Topponish. It all depends on which way the wind is blowing.

Queen Bee said...

I had to laugh when I read the saying about Uncle Matt, "never let a nickle go unless he thought it would return as a dime." I'm not familiar with this saying - it's funny!

Little Nell said...

As you say Kathy not the ususal stuff but interesting nonetheless. I got lost a bit with all the name, and even more confused with the Applegate Applegate - what a mouthful - but some wonderful anecdotes.

(Queenmothermamaw) Peggy said...

Very interesting reading. I was tickled when I read how some of the stories were not all true. I guess counts for poetic license but cannot call it historical but enough of the truth to give you the jest of the history. Yes you are indeed a scribbler. Good job.

Tattered and Lost said...

It's very nice you're keeping these books/writings alive. Too often they're just thought of as old books that take up shelf space. It takes someone shining a light to bring them to the fore.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Incredible to have family who have saved history so well-- even if the history has been made more interesting. :) I mean really-- that's a huge part of its history, too! Love it!

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Your family has done a wonderful job of preserving their history---you're genetically inclined to, as well, apparently! They'd all be proud (and envious that you have a widespread medium--the internet--at your disposal!). Very interesting, Kathy. Thanks for sharing.

Lynn said...

How fascinating and what a load of work that you compiled. Nice. I'm sure lots of people will be very happy to have this documented. Love all the old photos too.

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