The Goldendale Sentinel, Goldendale, WA., October 27, 1960, page 11
MORE EARLY LIFE IN DOT REVEALED IN LETTER FROM GUS RASMUSSEN
By Gus Rasmussen
Editor's note: The following autobiography was written last spring by Gus Rasmussen, a faithful attender at the Cleveland pioneer picnic who lived many years in eastern Klickitat county. Mr. Rasmussen died in May, shortly before the 1960 picnic.
I was born in the third largest city in Sweden (population
then, 80,000) and came to America in 1902. Until 1905 I lived and worked
only in big cities, lastly in Chicago. But to get on with my story. On Dec.
16, 1908 I enlisted in the Marine Corps, went west to Mare Island, California,
and July 1, 1909, was transferred to the USS West Virginia until February,
1910. I saw much of the Pacific and the Orient, and on the return trip stopped
for the second time at Honolulu. Most of the Marines on the eight cruisers
had to go ashore for drill practice. It was then I suffered a heart attack
to be hospitalized upon return to Mare Island at the Naval Hospital there.
Doctors told me I might live a long time, then again, maybe a short while.
Well, I am still here, so back to my story.
On June 4, 1910, I was discharged from the Navy with an excellent character and $150 in my pocket. Now, I was on my own. I traded my uniform, sea bag, hammock, and everything military for a civilian outfit and went to San Francisco to look for work. If I had worn my uniform they would have asked my reason for being out of service and then would not have hired me. Well, I went to a number of places where the question, "Are you with native son?" elicited the reply that I was not even an American citizen; hence no job.
Now I had an address of a stepbrother in the state of Washington and I thought as long as I was on the west coast I had better look him up, but it was not easy. The address read, " John Rasmussen, Klickitat, Wash. when it should have had as address, Dot, Klickitat County, Wash. The man at the ticket office said buy a ticket to Portland, Ore. and to make inquiries there. At Portland I bought a ticket and was told to tell the conductor my destination and he would see that I got there. In those days, everybody was your friend, and more so in Washington. When I arrived in Lyle the conductor said I would have to transfer to a branch line to Goldendale and he was sure the conductor on the line would see that I found my stepbrother. The conductor and I talked about my being a marine, but about John Rasmussen at Klickitat, that was something else.
Now, I made be mistaken, but if my memory is right, when we got to Indian Skookum-chuck on the Klickitat River, the conductor said "this is it" -- only an open shed where people drop off to fish -- so he said that I had better go to Goldendale -- and it would cost me no more. Well, that was the first time I came to realize I was among God's people. When I arrived at Goldendale he told me to go to the courthouse and ask them to send me to Mr. Cooley as he knew almost everybody, having been county clerk. It didn't take me long to find him and he said, "so you are a brother of John Rasmussen". As he was working at Brooks bank and it was almost closing time he told me to come home with him and he would see that I got on the stage the next day to Maryhill and from supper, stayed all night, we talked until midnight, and I arrived in Roosevelt the next day. I went to livery barn owned by Bill and Arthur Hale. Bill was driving the stage to Bickleton, but his brother Arthur was there. When I told him I would like for him to take me to John Rasmussen's place he said it would cost me $3.50.
Now really begins my story. We started out with a buggy with two horses. When we entered the Old Lady's canyon that I heard later was named after an old gray mare who had died there, things really began to happen. Before we reached the Binns place at the top of the hill Arthur killed three rattlesnakes. He said it was nothing to worry about. Of course I stayed in the buggy but that was something I could never forget. When we arrived at John's place we found that they were in Portland, Ore. for the Rose Festival. We were met at the house by Christina, at that time 14 years old. It seems to me that her younger sister Emma and oldest brother Frank were taking care of the sheep. There were three younger brothers named Olrich, Durman and 2-year-old baby, Wesley.
Well, Tina, as they called her, did not know what to do with, so I said to Hale, "Let's go back". I did not think I wanted to stay at all, but Hale, a real guy, says, "Let's go see Ida", the eldest, married to Arthur Vincent.
When we will arrived they were as astonished as Tina that John had a brother. Right away, they insisted I stay until the folks came back - which I did, and had a very good supper as Arthur had just killed a sheep, and I never slept as sound to this day as I did that night. Next day John and his wife came back and when I said I was going back to Chicago, they said when I had been there for awhile and got to know the people, I would change my mind, which I did. Now, it so happened, they got word that there was to be a picnic at Cleveland, Wash. and Art Vincent and wife and daughter Sybil and all of the Rasmussen family hitched up the wood wagon, some feed for the horses, and I convinced the people who were in charge of last year's Cleveland picnic that that was the real start of the Cleveland Pioneer Picnic, although officially, it did not start until 1911.
After meeting the most wonderful people - the pioneers of America, and particularly, in this case, pioneers of the state of Washington, I decided to stay for a while. Harvest was near and help was needed.
Harvest over, I was still undecided. I was thinking of going back to Chicago and wrote to the master mechanic on the Northwestern railroad were I was employed as a firemen before joining the marine corps. His answer was that any time I wanted to return he would send me a railroad pass. I showed the letter to John who urged me to stay and said he would help me get a homestead of 240 acres right in the middle of the Vincents' acreage. I had a rare coin that I had traded an 1886 (the year I was) dollar for in Denmark, so I tossed for my decision. Well, it was heads, I stay, so I homesteaded. My money was gone, and the only way for me to make good was to keep a stiff upper lip. I started to work for the county on roads for $2.00 a day. I don't remember how much they charged for food, probably 50 cents a day. The balance I saved and bought lumber to build a cabin. I first started to build on a hillside but finding no water, I dug a well at a place where there was a pond, but no water, so built a 12 by 12 cabin at the head of Yellow Jacket canyon. There was no water there except when I went down about 300 feet and about the same distance. I dug a well about eight feet deep and the water came up to four feet of the top. It was very steep so I dug a trench and put a pipe to run into a big horse trough. It wasn't much, but enough for my two horses and for house use. The trouble was I had to go down and tote the water I needed. I thought maybe some of the pioneers had it much worse. Most of them built where there was a spring, so I had to do the best I could. Days went by, and even years, and I was happy, with nothing to worry about - a place to eat, some beans, water biscuits I learned it to make, and once in a while a rabbit.
In 1915 my neighbor, Fred Vincent, leased some Indian land he had leased on the Columbia River, to me. He lent me some horses and I got some seed from Fred Newell that I promised to pay back from my crop, and I decided to farm.
At that time I was enamored with a certain school teacher and I did not soak the seed well with blue vitriol, so when the harvest came, it was three-fourth's smut. But what can one expect when one is in love? Of course it did not matter much, I could try again. The girl I loved finished her teaching and went back to her folks in Goldendale. I had some money and I made frequent trips to see he. On December 11, 1916, we were married.
It was now up to me to support a wife. We lived a while in the 12-by-12 cabin, but as the land would not support us, I had to work away from home. Thanks to my friends, Mr. and Mrs. Vincent, with whom my wife stayed when she taught school, she stayed with them. On the January 15, 1918, my daughter was born. Now, more than ever, something had to be done, so I borrowed $600 from Mr. Vincent. I built a cozy, three-room house, but the money was gone so I sold my homestead to A.C. Vincent for $2500 and moved to Goldendale. There, I rented a house and worked until the fall of 1918 when I bought 160 acres with 60 acres of fall grain, two cows, nine sows, ten pigs, chickens and what implements it took to run the place, cost $6400.00. The farm was located just across the Klickitat River at Warwick, next to the John Daly place. To tell what happened there could cover many pages.
Anyway, I sold this place, after harvest, for $10,000, and when everything was settled I had $7500 clear. I had a mother back in Sweden who had been bedfast for more than two years, and whom I had not seen since 1902 so I told my wife I had the money and would like to go back while she was still alive. I went to Washington, D.C. and got my passport and arrived there just 14 days before she died. I have to eliminate most of the story of my visit to Sweden and Denmark, except for the fact that I brought my half sister's only son and my oldest sister's daughter to America. The daughter is now living in Hanford, Calif. with her husband, who retired in 1944. They are doing well. The boy is dead, and that's all about them.
When I got back, things changed. I had $5000 in the bank so I bought the Merlin Rice place at Sundale. I paid $20,000 for stock and all - 520 acres. I had it until 1923 when I sold everything but clothes and bedding. My wife and I agreed to disagree and separated. I left for California where I am today. I have been married for 32 years to the most wonderful woman I have known and have a son who is a bridge engineer for the state of California. Own my own home, get a social security pension and have nothing to worry about. My wife will be 70 on June 11 and I will be 74 on March 26.
© Jeffrey L. Elmer