Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Farmer Fix

Keyhole Saw, LCHS collection

Our volunteer and friend Rod Headrick recently brought us a tool chest with a rich family history.  This large chest was the property of Rod’s grandfather, Reuben H. Headrick, who hauled it over the Oregon Trail first to Oregon in 1870, then brought it to the Lenville District of Latah County in 1876. 

Among the hand tools in the chest is one that particularly catches the eye.  It’s a keyhole saw blade that has been mounted in a handle made from the crotch of a tree limb.  This kind of ingenious “farmer fix” has a special kind of appeal, the result of making do with whatever is available to get a job done.  The blade is attached to its tree limb handle with a combination of hardware: a nail through a washer on the other side where it was cut off and peened, a flathead wood screw that was cut flush, and a twisted-off piece of wire.  According to our LCHS Trustee and carpentry expert Steve Talbott, the wire likely became necessary when the screw split the wood at the fore end of the handle.

This makeshift handle is wonderfully ergonomic and practical.  The “fix” was apparently successful, as the wood of the handle has been polished to a dull sheen with use over time.  Drop by the Centennial Annex and take a look!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Curious Collection from Viola, Idaho

A few weeks back I came across a curious collection in our archival storage with a note attached reading “Needs processing.”  The canvas-covered wooden box, stamped with the letters K.O.T.M., had been donated some years back by a friend of the historical society, but had never been fully catalogued.  I was immediately intrigued and decided that it was high-time for us shed some light on this curious group of objects and documents. 

The “K.O.T.M” stood for Knights of the Maccabees, and inside the wooden chest was a nearly complete set of records from the Viola Tent (or chapter) of the group.  I had never heard of this fraternal order, whose records indicated a sophisticated organization with a large and national membership.  So I did some digging.

The Knights of the Maccabees began in Ontario, Canada in 1878 as a fraternal organization primarily concerned with providing insurance benefits to its members.  The original organizers were also members of the Order of the Foresters, and K.O.T.M. was created to care for their fellow laborers.  Specifically, membership in a K.O.T.M. tent provided family’s with money to cover the final expenses of a loved one.  For this reason, men working in professions deemed exceptionally hazardous, such as coal miners and others who worked with highly explosive materials, were barred from joining.  K.O.T.M. reached its zenith in the years before WWI, when it boasted a membership of more than 300,000.
The Viola Tent was established in 1898 and appears to have been active into the mid-1910s.  As I processed the archival materials, I was struck by just how much can be learned from the ledgers, correspondences, and official K.O.T.M. publications that had been tucked away for many decades. 

There is a ledger containing the minutes from the Viola tent’s very first meeting.  

There is a Roll of Membership that tracks the initiation of new members from 1898 to 1904, which includes the initiate’s occupation and designated recipient of death benefits.  

There is even a catalogue of “Properties,” from which fraternal organizations could purchase important ritual materials.  After perusing the catalogue, I am left wondering just what the initiation was like for a new K.O.T.M. member.  

Along with the hundreds of pages of documents, we received a few very interesting objects.  The wooden chest is eye-catching by itself, and was accompanied by a gavel, black and white marbles used for secret voting, and a seal press.  

There was also a small wooden vessel containing hair.  Its use is unclear at this point, but hopefully further investigation will illuminate the purpose of this strange object.  

If you are interested in learning more about the Knights of the Maccabees, you could check out these primary documents available online.

  • Revised laws of the Knights of the Maccabees of the World [microform]: governing the supreme tent, great camps and subordinate tents, adopted May 18, 1895, in force after June 18, 1895 (1895) available
Or you could stop by the Centennial Annex and sit down with our collection.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Barnstorming the Bonfire

The long-standing rivalry between the University of Idaho and Washington State University was punctuated by a unique occurrence on Friday, October 16, 1925. At this time, WSU and UI students practiced a tradition whereby each school would build a large bonfire the night before a Homecoming game, or the night before a game against their arch rivals.

Construction of the bonfire would begin with three poles obtained form the Washington Water Power Company arranged in a tri-pod fashion. Freshmen then filled the open space at the bottom with flammable material. According to Rafe Gibbs from Beckoning the Bold : Story of the Dawning of Idaho, "favorite items for the bonfire were old wooden outhouses. Usually one crowned the collegiate ritual pyre, and was likely to be labeled the administration building of the opposing school". Naturally, it was the ambition of each school to prematurely light the bonfire constructed by their rivals.

University of Idaho Bonfire, "Top of the Pile, 1932" LCHS 17-8-44

On Friday, October 16, 1925, the day before a football game with Washington State University, Idaho students were in the finishing stages of building their bonfire. The bonfire was located in the Fair Grounds (now Ghormley Park). Gibbs writes:
Nearby, a football game was in progress between Moscow and Kellogg high schools, with a large crowd in attendance. The game, however, became a secondary attraction. From the west droned an airplane. It circled over the Fair Grounds, then dived. As it roared over the target of debris, a homemade, phosphorous bomb was dropped. The aim--or timing--was poor. It was so poor, in fact, that the bomb came closer to the football crowd than it did to the bonfire in the making.

The plane repeated its actions twice more. Here we'll let the Daily Star Mirror describe the action:
...each attempt was foiled by removing the cakes [bombs] before they set fire to the pile of wood. Three shots were taken at the plane by Sheriff Charles Summerfield, who happened to be on the grounds. 
The airplane swept down within, what looked like ten feet of the top of the pile to drop its 'bombs'. 
This was a novel thing for the Idaho students, and caused considerable excitement on the campus. During Thursday night freshmen guarded campus against any invasions and Friday were surprised by the 'air attack'. 
According to Gibbs, Sheriff Summerfield shot to frighten, not to hit. After three shots, the plane flew away.

The plane had been chartered by a WSU fraternity in an effort to prematurely light the UI bonfire. The fraternity had put one of the brothers on board as a bombardier. Gibbs writes:
The bombardier claimed that when the plane landed a nick was discovered in the propeller, and 'it looked like a bullet mark.' The pilot, however, said the nick had been there long before Summerfield went into action.
 Sadly, the bonfire tradition was discontinued after 1935. This probably made for a less exciting pep rally.

University of Idaho Bonfire, "The Big Blaze, 1932" LCHS 17-8-44

This story was uncovered when Bruce Kitt contacted LCHS requesting information about an "airplane attack" on the Vandal bonfire before the UI v. WSU football game in 1925. Upon his referral to UI Library Microfilms, Kitt sent the Daily Star Mirror article. Kitt was reseraching the life of barnstormer Nick Mamer. Mamer was a participant in the air attack, possibly the pilot.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Harvest Time Around Latah County

Latah County's history has been shaped by a few major industries since the 19th century, most notably mining, timber, and agriculture.  The latter, in fact, was the most important force in the lives of southern Latah County residents.  Agriculture, moreover, continues to be a significant part of the county's overall economic base.  As harvest marches forward throughout the Palouse, we are reminded of earlier generations of farmers who devoted themselves to the land and to feeding their neighbors, their fellow Americans, and people around the world.

The soil quality of the Palouse is world renowned.  Southern Latah County encompasses some of the most fertile land on Earth, and it is known as one of the best places in the U.S. to grow wheat, dry peas, and lentils.  Even before the arrival of settlers from farther east, the region was known by the Nez Perce and other local American Indians as a bountiful region for camas and huckleberries.

Today's farmers uphold the traditions of harvest time, including hard work, dedication, and camaraderie with one's neighbors.   

LCHS 25-02-171

Combine pulled by 26 horse team, circa 1900.  LCHS 25-02-100

Like many young men in Latah County, the writer of this note was busy during harvest time helping friends and neighbors.  He writes "I am helping Mr. Roberts thrush now and expect to help others also and am very busy but will write later.  I don't think I will be able to come over Sunday as we are using the horses at present."  LCHS 01-02-076 
A farmer's wife and daughters were busy during harvest time as well.  Preparing meals for a dozen or more hungry men was a tall order in the best of conditions, let alone working out of cook wagon like the one above.  LCHS 25-02-172

At Gold Creek on the George Harris place, about 1915.  LCHS 25-02-169

Fred and Herman Johnson threshing outfit.  LCHS 25-02-101

Idaho National Harvester, 1908 model.  LCHS 25-02-105

C.T. Stough.  Photo by Burns, Pullman, Wn.  8-31-11.  LCHS 25-02-044

Hampton-Driscoll Harvest, 1931.  LCHS 25-02-043
Locals pay homage to the past when they put on an "old fashioned harvest" for spectators, such as this event in September 1998.  LCHS 25-02-468