My Letsom relatives hailed from the small city of Yoncalla, Oregon. The first part of this post shows a couple of postcards that have been handed down over the years:
Now you are in for a real treat, with the following Tin Pot Valley story about Yoncalla being the first city in America to have an all woman city council; and about a man who walked through town with nothing but his socks on.
Here is an excerpt from Tin Pot Valley, a collection of true stories written by my distant cousin Wilfred Brown. Wilfred's grandparents are Horace Greely Putnam and Aurilla Hedrick Putnam, who is also my great-great aunt, sister to my great-grandfather Ben Hedrick of Hardscrabble and Drain.
Here we go ...
|Let's just pretend that the ladies in this week's prompt photo are on the Yoncalla City Council and that the man is Pete Carlton on a sober day, shall we?|
Tin Pot Valley, Chapter XXIV:
"Mr. Godiva and the Ladies of Yoncalla"
Grandma wanted to try a new cake recipe that called for some rarer spices she did not have. And nowhere in Drain could some of the items be found. Someone suggested a store in Yoncalla, and Grandpa headed the buggy toward that town, five miles south.
Yoncalla was a little smaller than Drain, a cluster of houses and one main business street strung out along the railroad tracks. In that era Yoncalla had something distinctively differed from any other town in the United States -- an all-woman government.
The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited, supposedly forever, traffic in alcoholic beverages or the possession thereof, was regarded in our family as a great moral triumph of right over evil. The closely-followed 19th Amendment, granting suffrage to American women, attracted little interest in Oregon, where women had voted for years, under state law, and even served in the legislature and held other elective offices.
The year the 19th Amendment became the law of the land, the all-male Yoncalla City Council came under considerable feminine criticism for slowness of action on some such matters as dusty and muddy streets, dogs running at large or the location of our houses. Two ladies filed for council seats. Then all male incumbents resigned their unpaid and largely thankless offices, and Yoncalla elected America's first all-women municipal administration. There have been few, if any, since.
Mrs. Mary Burt was chosen Mayor of Yoncalla and Mrs. Edith Thompson, Mrs. Nettie Hanson, Mrs. Jess Laswell and Mrs. Bernice Wilson were installed as council-women.
They hadn't planned it that way, but what happened at Yoncalla in the first year of national women's suffrage made news across America. And the town and its all-feminine officials were pictures in the Literary Digest and a number of other national magazines.
But Yoncalla didn't look any different than usual when Grandpa and I emerged from a grocery store with the spices Grandma wanted, just at the moment a relative of some distant relatives of ours, Pete Carlton, chose to make a protest of sorts against both recent amendments to the constitution.
Pete once before had created quite a stir when under apparent illegal influences he rode a horse into a Yoncalla barber shop and demanded that the protesting nag be given a shave. That time, when Yoncalla still had a male government, he escaped with a reprimand from the town marshal, and the suggestion that he and his horse get out of town for a while -- which they did.
Grandpa and I heard noise up the street -- and a woman shouting: "Stop him! Stop him!" Then we saw the cause of the commotion.
Pete Carlton was walking down the sidewalk of Yoncalla's main business street, weaving a bit on his feet and clad only in his socks. Unlike the "streakers" of more than half a century later, Pete was taking his time.
I can't recall what, if anything, anyone else said but the street was soon clear of feminine pedestrians, who ducked into the nearest stores as Pete continued his unsteady way past us.
Rog Bedford, the town marshal, emerged from somewhere with a blanket and draped it over Pete and escorted him back to the pool hall, where his march started. A lady I recognized as a council-woman stopped us. "Did you see what he did?" she demanded of Grandpa.
"Yes, I saw it," said Horace Putnam, "but I don't see any reason for folks to get so excited."
The lady official was in no mood for jesting.
"You come over to the town hall," she said. "We may want you as a witness."
The proceedings at the town hall were something Grandpa would very reluctantly have missed. A lot of other folks had the same idea. The small room was packed when Rog Bedford brought in Pete -- now fairly properly attired in shirt, pants and shoes. He was red-faced, red-eyed and obviously very unhappy.
Most of the ladies of Yoncalla's government were gathered around the desk of the woman City Recorder. That official, under Oregon law, also served as Municipal Judge, handling minor cases and referring more serious matters to the higher Circuit Court at Roseburg.
The ladies were checking through a summary of Oregon Criminal Law. After the recorder-judge gavelled the room to silence, Pete was informed of the charges against him: indecent exposure, disturbing the peace, possession of intoxicating liquor. (Marshal Bedford said that he could not find any bottle, but Pete obviously possessed quite a bit inside of him), being drunk and disorderly, and contributing tot he delinquency of minors (those being juveniles, like me, who witnessed Pete's march).
Pete was asked if he had anything to say.
"It was on a bet," he said. "But I don't rightly recollect now whether I won it or lost it. I thought a man ought to have the right to a drink or two if he felt like it. But why I ever done anything like that, I just don't know. -- I'm real ashamed, and sorry for what I done -- today and the time at the barber shop, and I'm off the stuff now. I'll never take another another drink again -- never, never, never, never again. I'm sorry!" And with that he started crying.
The courtroom was silent, those present obviously impressed at this first-hand testimony as to the evils of alcohol, an the pledge of reformation. When the judge finally spoke, she asked Pete, in a kindly tone, how he pleaded -- guilty or not-guilty.
"Guilty," he sobbed, "I'm ready to take it."
There followed another study of the law book, as to the penalties for the crimes Pete had admitted. He lacked the wherewithal to pay any fine, and even the minimum punishment added up to six months in the county jail. To that term he was sentenced. When court adjourned, several of the women shook Pete's hand and wished him well. They were almost in tears themselves.
Pete Carlton may never have heard of Lady Godiva, the English noblewoman who rode naked on horseback through the street of Coventry about 1000 years earlier to protest high taxes levied on local peasants by her husband. Grandpa and I talked of her demonstration, and Pete's, on our way back to Tin Pot. And when we talked about the affair at Yoncalla, thereafter, we often referred to Pete as Mr. Godiva.
There was a lot to talk about at the Putnam Ranch that evening. Grandma's first feeling was that Peter should have received the maximum rather than the minimum jail sentence for such outrageous behavior. Then she talked about fixing up a box of cookies and the like to send Pete, next time someone went to Roseburg.
Grandpa said he really thought the ladies of Yoncalla were too tough on Mr. Godiva.
"After all," said Horace Putnam, "he wasn't really naked. He kept his socks on."
If you have a few more minutes, please listed to "The Streak"
by Ray Stevens:
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|Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy ~ Kathy Matthews|
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