Echoes from the Past
November 23, 2023 | View PDF
Lane County Historian XXXVI, #1, Spring 1991
When I was a very, very young child my mother and father were operating a hotel in Blue River, mostly for the benefit of miners and people who worked at the Blue River mines. The hotel in 1909 kept my parents very busy, so at age four I spent a great deal of time with my grandparents, Samuel and Robenia Sparks, who lived in their old log homestead house about a half mile west of the community of Blue River. I think they enjoyed having me as much as I enjoyed being with them.
During the early part of the century, there were a great many Indians who made the trip from the Warm Springs Indian Reservation crossing the McKenzie Pass coming over to fish for salmon down around the Hendricks Bridge area. They would sometimes spend three weeks to a month fishing for salmon, and the Indian men would quite often pick hops in the hop yards in the Thurston and Walterville areas.
The two or three fenced fields immediately west of the ranch house where my grandparents lived were a regular stopping place for Indians. They liked to stop for overnight camping, because it was a place for their stock, and they could buy hay from Grandfather. They would camp on their way downriver and stop again on their way back.
The morning after one of these occasions my grandfather began to notice the sound of little puppies whining and whimpering, and it seemed to be coming from under his house. He immediately guessed that one of the many dogs around the Indian encampment had probably crawled under the old house and had puppies, because, as usual, the encampment was overrun with dogs.
So he went outside to see if there was any way he could get under the house or to the source of the disturbance. But he could see there was no way he could get to them because the house was built right close to the ground, and, of course, he was quite a large man. The puppies were evidently well back under the house.
He decided to walk down to the Indian encampment and find somebody who might know what could be done. He asked around to see if there was a dog missing, or if anybody knew if there might be a little dog that was expecting. Sure enough, there was an Indian dog that was just exactly in that condition, so he talked to the owner who came out to meet him.
The man said, “Well, I’ll tell you what we’d better do. I can’t very well take that dog and those puppies along with us. They’ll only be a few hours old. But, if you would be willing to feed the dog and take care of her until I come back here in probably about three weeks, then I’ll stop and get her on my way back to the reservation.”
My grandfather said, well, he guessed maybe he could do that. So they made a deal, and my grandfather said, “Now you will stop on your way back and get her? Because I don’t want a female dog and a bunch of puppies.”
So the Indian said OK, he’d do that.
In about three or four weeks, after the Indians had fished for their salmon and got their vacation over with, they came back. The Indian, sure enough, came up to see Grandfather. He said he had stopped by to pick up his dog so they went out to investigate how they were going to get under the house to get that dog out.
Well, it proved to be something of a puzzle. In those days, you know, there was not much of a foundation built under houses. It was a big old two-story log house, and it was only about six inches off the ground ..... just built on a few rocks.
So Grandfather and the Indian talked about it for a while, and they went into the house to see if they could locate the puppies. They could hear the puppies mewing and whining and determined that they were almost in front of the fireplace.
My grandfather and the Indian agreed that the only thing they could do was for Grandfather to take up a section of the floor in the living room in front of the fireplace. So they went out in my grandfather’s wood shed, and got the proper tools; hammers and saws and whatever.
Of course, it was just a bare floor. There was no carpeting or anything like that, just a bare wooden floor. So they pried and cut and hammered and took up quite a sizeable little section of floor, right in front of the fireplace in the middle of the sitting room.
We looked down and there was a big dark hole under there. We couldn’t really see the puppies, but you could hear ‘em down there. Then an additional problem showed up. They couldn’t reach the puppies. They were farther back than they thought, but Grandfather didn’t want to tear up the whole living room floor. So he tried to reach the puppies, and the Indian tried too, but they couldn’t get to them.
I was standing there taking it all in as they speculated, and then their eyes hit on me. And so the Indian said, “How about her going down there and getting them?”
I latched onto my grandfather. I wasn’t in favor of that. It looked pretty dark, and cobwebby, and dirty down there. But my Grandpa said, “I’ll hold on to you sister. I wouldn’t let anything hurt you. You go down there and get the puppies for the Indian.”
But I said, “Oh no, grandfather, I don’t want to go down there!”I just loved my grandfather, but I was not open to persuasion. But the Indian was a pretty wily negotiator, and he came up with a proposition that no child could refuse.
He said, “You tell her if she will go down there and get the puppies for me she can have her choice of any puppy that she brings up.”
No child can refuse that. So Grandfather looked at me, and he kind of laughed. I think he knew I was hooked then.
“Alright sister,” he said, “I’ll hold right on to you, and we’ll hold the lantern for you.”
My grandmother was standing there, and she said, “You wait, child, and I’ll get a towel and tie it on your hair.... (I had long curls) ... so you won’t get those spiders and cobwebs in your hair.”
So she tied a towel on my hair, and grandfather took me in his arms I was not very happy about that, but he let me down in that hole, and held on to me and the Indian held the lantern. He held onto my dress, and I got down there.
I can’t remember how many puppies there were, but they were mewing and crying. I suppose they put the mama dog outside because I know she wasn’t there at the time.
So I handed those puppies up to the Indian and got ‘em all out of there. My grandfather lifted me out of the hole, and I still remember those little puppies.
Then he said, “You can have whichever one you want.”
I remember how excited I was. I remember the one I took. It was a little tiny brown one with real curly hair just as silky and soft as it could be. And I can remember sitting there with him all cuddled up in my arms.
The Indian kind of patted me on the shoulder, and he went on with his little dog and the rest of the puppies. I was just perfectly happy and perfectly satisfied with my day’s work, and he was too.
Writer’s note: This story of the charming encounter of a little girl and a litter of Indian puppies is taken from a tape recording I made on December 6, 1990, of Manena Schwering’s personal recollections 81 years later.
Although this printed version is considerably condensed, I have tried to retain the essence and some of the flavor of the narrator’s extemporaneous and informal account of her experience. It is descriptive of circumstances in the years of her childhood, of the warm family ties, and of a particularly congenial relationship between a pioneer gentleman and a wise native American.
The respect and remarkable spirit of accommodation so evident between these two men of separate cultures serves us all as an inspiration.
Should the reader want more information about the early days around Blue River, the best source available is Manena Schwering’s own fine article, Changing Times in the Upper McKenzie Valley, found in the 1984 Spring issue of The Lane County Historian.