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~ Kathy M.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Benton Mires and "The Great Train Holdup":


Here is an excerpt from our favorite little green book, Tin Pot Valley, written by my distant cousin, Wilfred Brown.  Wilfred's grandma was Aurilla Hedrick Putnam, and she was my great-great aunt (my Grandpa Ben Hedrick's sister).

Tin Pot Valley Chapter XXI:
Wilfred Brown

"The Great Drain Train Holdup" 

A favorite relative of mine was my Great-Uncle Benton Mires, the subject of many a family story and legend, who just about outdid himself when he staged the Great Drain Train Holdup.

As a young school teacher, he had a part in the education of many other relatives, and married one of his pupils, my mother's Aunt Ada Putnam.  A member of an early Umpqua Valley family of the Oakland area, Uncle Bent, like many another infant boy in the Oregon of that day, was named after U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri.  The senator, an uncle of the noted American artist of the same name, was a hero of early Oregon for sponsoring in Congress U.S. claims to the territory and encouragement of its settlement.  Benton County, Oregon and Benton County, Washington, also bear his name.

Source:  Pictorial History of Drain, 1872-1972

Source:  Pictorial History of Drain, 1872-1972

From the time of my first memory, Uncle Bent operated a small grocery and general merchandise store in Drain, took an active part in the Masonic Lodge and in Republican politics, and enjoyed making speeches that frequently developed into orations.

Source:  Pictorial History of Drain, 1872-1972

I remember him as a small, bald man with white mustache and gold-rimmed spectacles, quick of movement and sharp of mind and tongue.  In the store, he wore black half-sleeves, below his elbows, to protect his white shirts.  Small-fry visiting relatives, like myself, could fairly often expect from Uncle Bent little handouts at the candy counter.

Benton and Ada Mires spent the first years of their married life on a Wheeler County homestead in Eastern Oregon.  They left and returned to Drain with the feeling that there wasn't much of a future in that country for small operators.

Uncle Bent was for a time editor and co-publisher of a Drain weekly newspaper, the North Douglas Watchman.   That was a field he apparently much enjoyed, except for one major and fatal drawback -- the financial returns were about as poor as from Wheeler County homesteading.  He continued until almost the end of his life writing pieces for Drain's later papers.  They were usually printed as written in Uncle Bent's flowery, sometimes eloquent and frequently vituperative style.
Source:  Pictorial History of Drain, 1872-1972

At the store, family gatherings and elsewhere, he enjoyed talking, and usually was the center of a conversation.  Most mothers tried to keep their children from listening.  For Uncle Bent sprinkled his sentences with words and phrases that made feminine ears of those times burn.  I think that he actually enjoyed being shocking.

Horace Putnam's eyes would crinkle as he and Benton Mires sat on the front porch after a Sunday dinner at the Putnam Ranch, and he listened to Uncle Bent's running commentary on national and state affairs and some local personalities, relatives and otherwise.  Grandma Putnam often spoke disapprovingly of Uncle's Bent's language, but she, too, was fond of him.
Almost every Sunday he attended services at the Methodist Church and listened carefully, sometimes nodding and sometimes shaking his head at what the preacher had to say.

He was very proud of the Putnam and Applegate families into which he had married; and of his brother, Austin, and his son, Fred.  Austin Mires studied law, crossed the Columbia into Washington Territory and established practice in the town of Ellensburg.  There he became a judge, and climaxed his career with many years of distinguished serves as a Justice of the Washington State Supreme Court.

Fred Mires became a teacher.  In the Philippines, after the Spanish-American War, he became Superintendent of Schools of the city of Manila, in the reorganization of the educational system under American occupation.

In U.S. government service in Washington, Fred Mires rose to the post of Commissioner of International Revenue.  His commission was signed personally by President Cal Coolidge.  Fred sent the paper to his father, who proudly displayed it at his store.

Fred Brown carried through the years a vivid memory of the part Benton Mires played in his life.  Wearing a new black suit, Fred got off the train from Roseburg and walked over to the Mires store to collect a promised favor.  That was the loan of a horse and buggy -- to take the local Methodist preacher out to Tin Pot to officiate at Fred's marriage to Ethel Putnam.  And then to drive back to Drain with his bride, on their way to a train trip to Portland and a brief honeymoon.
Fred found his uncle-to-be talking politics with a customer.  "Oh my God!" he said, when he saw Fred.  "I forgot all about it.  But come along and I'll fix you up."  

Leaving the store in charge of his chief assistant, his daughter Mary, he walked with Fred Brown the short distance to the Mires home.

A drooping horse in need of currying dozed in the sunshine outside the little stable at the rear of the lot.  Then Uncle Bent turned toward an ancient buggy parked under a tree, and let out a roar:

"Those (expletive deleted) chickens!"

Several startled hens flew off the back of the buggy seat, where they'd been relaxing in the shade, and ran squawking for cover as Uncle Bent ran toward them, waving his arms and yelling: "Shoo! Shoo! Get the hell and out of here!"

The Mires family hadn't used the buggy recently, and it was just as Uncle Bent feared.  The chickens that found it a convenient resting place had treated seat, front, rear, dashboard, single tree, shafts and wheels like the under-side of a poultry house roost.

"I'd better see if I can rent a rig somewhere else," said Fred, for this one hardly looked like a suitable conveyance for the minister and the bride on a wedding day.

"No, you'll not!" said Uncle Bent.  "I made you a promise, and by God, I'm going to keep it!"  But he was almost in tears.

We warned Fred not to try to help or he might spoil his new suit, but Fred changed into a borrowed pair of bib overalls.  Uncle Bent produced a hoe, shovel, brooms, rags and a pail of hot water, into which he dumped a full can of concentrated lye.  He and Fred went to work on the buggy, and in 30 minutes it looked better than it had for years -- and fit for transporting a bride on her wedding day.  But Uncle Bent looked rather bedraggled.
He harnessed and hitched up the horse, while Fred re-dressed in his new black wedding clothes.  Outside the store, Uncle Bent said to wait a minute.  He went inside and emerged shortly with his arms loaded -- half a bolt of outing flannel and one of gingham -- assorted pots and pans -- a gallon can for kerosene -- and an enamel-ware wash basin containing several bars of soap.

"A few things to help you get started," he said, as he dumped the items in the back of the buggy.  And smiling to himself at the relative he was acquiring, Fred Brown drove off to get the preacher and claim his bride.

As for the day when Uncle Bent staged the Great Drain Train Holdup -- Dr. Charles Wesley Lowe was a Eugene optometrist who spent much of his time servicing small towns that didn't regularly have such a specialist.  As he did periodically, he notified past patients by postcard that he was on his way south and would be at the Drain Hotel between trains for four hours on an August morning.  I was visiting my grandparents.

We drove in from Tin Pot for Grandma to get her glasses checked, and let her off at the hotel while Grandpa and I went over to the Mires store for a little shopping and visiting.  Mary was running the place.  Her father, she told us, had gone out to try to line up a new Republican Precinct Committeeman.

We wandered around town and stopped to talk with quite a few relatives, and others, until we saw Grandma come out of the hotel, followed by Dr. Lowe and his bags, enroute to the rails station and another round of patients in Yoncalla.  I wanted to watch the train come in and leave, a novelty for a boy who lived far from the railroad, so we followed the doctor.

 Source:  Pictorial History of Drain, 1872-1972
I gazed with fascination as the train stopped, the locomotive panting steam and air brakes hissing.  The conductor, in his blue uniform and bill cap, swung down from an open door and placed a little stool below the steps.  "All abooard!" he shouted.
Dr. Lowe walked out from the station, and at that moment Uncle Bent appeared on the run.  I noted that he was without his spectacles.  "Stop!" he ordered.  "You gotta take care of me!  I broke my (expletive deleted) glasses, and I forgot you were coming today."

"I can't," Dr. Lowe told him.  "I've got patients waiting in Yoncalla, and I have to leave on this train."

"All-abooard!" the conductor repeated, and up at the head of the train the engineer tooted the whistle.

 Uncle Bent looked in that direction, and declared:  "I know that old (expletive deleted.)  He's a lodge brother!"  Then he ran down the track toward the locomotive cab, waving his arms in a peculiar fashion and shouting: "Hold the train!  Hold the (expletive deleted) train."

The engineer evidently recognized a brother in real distress, for he held the train, while the conductor paced up and down the hard packed sand along the track, passengers stared out of the windows in wonderment and the station agent- telegrapher clicked out a message to all concerned that No. 14 was delayed at Drain by an emergency.

Meantime, Dr. Lowe unpacked a bag and set up a clinic in the station waiting room before a jesting audience.  "Now no helping him!" he warned, as he checked Uncle Bent with his eye-chart.

"I'll do the best I can," the doctor told Uncle Bent, "and you should be able to get by until I come again."  He glued together with transparent adhesive two lenses from his kit, and anchored them into the spectacle from from which the lens had been broken.

Uncle Bent went back to his store.  The train, with Dr. Lowe aboard, chuffed southward, after the delay that no doubt resulted in a large sheaf of reports at several different levels in the bureaucracy of the Southern Pacific system.

 The next time Dr. Lowe held office hours at the Drain Hotel he waited in vain for Uncle Bent to appear.  Shortly before train time he walked over to the Mires store and found his patient talking politics with a customer. 

"I thought maybe you forgot again," said the doctor.  "I was expecting you over." 

"What for?" asked Uncle Bent.  "These are the best (expletive deleted) glasses I ever had!" 

(Pages 133 - 139 of Tin Pot Valley)


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 to read whatever else catches your fancy.  Thanks so much for visiting! 

~ Kathy M.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy ~ Kathy Matthews

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When you mentioned train hold-up, I was expecting something out of those western movies, bandits rding their horses in pursuit of a train carrying gold. No such thing here!!
Uncle Bent was certainly...peculiar!!

Wendy said...

Uncle Bent sounds just like my dad. I doubt I could quote him without deleting expletives either! These are great stories.

Life Goes On said...

great family stories, you are very blessed to have them

Postcardy said...

Those glasses must have looked pretty strange. I wonder how long he used them like that.

Little Nell said...

Two great stories in one. As usual Kathy I really enjoyed these tales and I do admire the way the stories just flow along, so that we're surprised when we get to the end!

Brett Payne said...

Some character! What an enjoyable story to go with the images.

Boobook said...

Well, that's my laugh for the day. What fun.

Peter said...

I had the same thoughts as TB had when I saw the word 'holdup'. But now I know the word has at least two meanings. Great stories, Kathy and published well in time this week for Sepia Tuesday ;)

The Pink Geranium or Jan's Place said...

How cool to have these family stories!

Jan from Jan's Place for sepia sunday), and The Pink Geranium for GYB

Alan Burnett said...

We really should introduce Uncle Bent to Auntie Miriam. A great treat - a whole chapter of Tim Pot Valley.

Bob Scotney said...

I don't know which I like best = all the pictures or the great story of Uncle Benton. Fascinating right to the end.

Mike Brubaker said...

Stories like these used to be the stuff of folk tales, true and embellished, that everyone in a small town knew and probably had a favorite version.

Titania said...

These were the times! So funny such a character. P.O boxes in 1900, they are still around despite e-mail.

Karen S. said...

Oh man, you should have told me to bring popcorn to this marvelous show! I knew when you mentioned working on something earlier in the week, that we'd be in for a treat. Wow- this needs to be published elsewhere too! Bravo Kathy!

Anonymous said...

Your ancestor was such a great writer, and such a treasure to have! We are all lucky he wrote down these great memories. They are fit for a TV show!

Peggy Jones said...

I agree with Karen you need to put all of this in book form. Loved the story of the chickens. Can't trust a chicken or bird (at my house) on anything outside. Wonder if the PO boxes ever got robbed.

Kathy Morales said...

This was just wonderful! What a great treasure you have. Enjoyed every detail!

No Copying!


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