Life Story, Tape One, Side Two.
We had to take time out there to turn the tape over, which Lucille had to do for me. And she’s got it done now, and I’ll continue on about the story of the bloated heifer and Fritz Helstern.
We broke the top off of that bottle, and he took his hand, and he measured down very carefully, now we didn’t know to do this ourself, but from the hipbone down, he explained, he says: "You can tell where to stick this heifer, or this animal, by measuring down with your hand. From the farthest tip of your finger which you put on the hip bone, down to the end of the thumb is the place where the calf is bloated. This is where the gas is collected, in the stomach there. Now if you get it in the wrong place, you’ll kill the cow, or the animal, so you have to be careful, and do this in the right place," if you ever do it by yourself.
But he took and with that old broken bottle, he hacked a hole through the hide of that animal. Boy was it ever a smelly situation around there! The gas that came out of that animal! My goodness gracious! If you’ve ever been around it, you know what I’m talking about! It is a smelly smelly thing.
Well anyway, that heifer, after we got that gas out of her, got up and walked around. Of course what we had done was to make a hole into her stomach where the gas had collected, and so we had to patch it up. Well that was a jagged hole, and we greased it up the best we could, and put a bandage over it which we had to wrap clear around the belly of the heifer, and up over to hold it in place. We didn’t know whether she was going to live or not. And she did stay alive for quite a while. But we would take the bandage off now and then, and that hole never had healed up. And it was always that smelly gas coming out of that puncture place in her side there. So we finally decided to butcher her. She still had a lot of good meat on her, believe me or not. And we didn’t want to waste that, we couldn’t afford to waste it if we possibly didn’t have to.
So we butchered her that day, and again on our farmstead, which is where everything was located, we had a kind of a butchering place, it was a place where we could hang an animal up between two poles, and there while they were strung up with their head down, their throat could be cut, and they could be bled good, and the hide stripped off of them, and then the two sides separated. And of course that was what was done with this heifer.
We used to butcher hogs there, always butchered our hogs there. We had a place made to butcher them. We always had at least 2 hogs to butcher each fall. Sometimes our neighbor down south would bring up one of his hogs to be butchered there. And in order to do this, I think it is an interesting part of this phase of my life, we had to heat water up in a great big iron kettle which we happened to own there. And of course placed in a kind of a brick kiln, or more like just a fireplace with this big kettle sitting where it could catch the flames and heat it up. We would heat up water to the boiling point, and then we would carry it out and dump it into a barrel, which we had leaning up against the workspace there made out of wood. A platform so to speak, and leaning at a right angle so it would hold water at the bottom of the barrel. And then we’d pour the water into that, and then we’d cool it off to the right temperature. It couldn’t be boiling, cause if you dipped the hind end of a hog, or the front end, whichever one you started out with, it would set the hair on the hog. But if you got the water at the right temperature, and get the animal dunked into it, and slosh it back and forth two or three times, and then pull it out onto the platform we had there, and then with scrapers that we — I don’t know whether they were commercially made or we made them hand, you could use a stick, and we did lots of times, just a flat board held in our hand — we could scrape the hair right off of that hog. Scrape it right down to the skin ‘til it looked like it had been shaved. Well, you’d have to that one end at a time, and us kids, we’re always in the way there and get shoved back, but we’d always stick our nose up and want to come up and help pull some of the hair off of the hog.
L: My mom would never let me watch when they butchered hogs on the farm! We kids stay in the house!
F: I don’t know if you heard Lucille say that, but she never did, she never would have liked to watched the hog butchered.
L: I wanted to, but my mom wouldn’t let me.
F: (Laughs) Well, after we’d get it butchered, we’d then string it up on the pole that we had there, and sawed in two, in half. And that was a kind of a touchy job. It had to be done with a meat saw. And the bottom part of it between the shoulders had to be done with an ax. Those shoulder bones up there just come apart, you had too big a job to saw them with a meat saw, so you had to cut them with an ax. And then after you cut them in two - of course in the meantime, all the entrails had been taken out and cleaned out, and dragged off to a... well I won’t talk any more about that, because Grandma probably come rushing in here and tell me she couldn’t have stood that either.
L: Yeah, that’s enough of that; too much of that butchering.
F: But that was part of growing up there, on the farm. And I think if you went up to a big hog killing operation now, you’d see it being done now in a modern method the same principle that was used then. I don’t know. I’ve never been into a modern killing vat. But anyway, that’s beside the point.
We would then hang the hogs up to the standard up there on the top. Get them up, we had to pull them up high enough so the animals, dogs and cats, couldn’t reach them from the bottom. Otherwise, they would reach up and chew them. We would cut their heads off, of course, and the heads immediately would be... again I don’t need to tell grandma this...
L: You don’t need to tell this to her kids either...
F: (laughs) The heads would split open, and the brains, which were
L: Oh, Ford, Come ON!
F: The brains were the choicest part of the animal to eat. Some people just loved those brains, and would pay very high prices to get them if you took them to market. Well we always cut the head off and got the jowls off and the tongue out; the tongue also was good to eat if you peeled it. I never did like it, but my folks always ate it and enjoyed it. Anyway that was part of the butchering process.
We would store our meat, we’d smoke our meat and store it in a smoke house. Salt it down usually, and try to keep it as long as we could, eat off of it as we needed to. That’s the way we got a little meat in the wintertime, for our table.
We never used, it seems to me like we always had a good table of food to eat whenever we sat down there at our own farmhouse. My mother would have various vegetables that she had brought out of our garden, and seasonal vegetables like corn or turnips or beets or radishes or whatever, whenever they’re available. And she always set a good table.
We always had potatoes and gravy. I think that was part of every dinner that we had, along with biscuits and gravy. That was part of our growing up. I learned to love them, and I still do to this day.
We always had butter, too. We made butter from the cream from our cows. We always had a couple of cows, or at least one that we’d milk, and one of us kids usually had to do the milking. I don’t think I was over 5 years old when I first had to start milking a cow. That was all part of the growing up.
We always had a pen full of hogs, that my folks used to try to raise and sell to get a little cash flow into our food larder. It was a hard job. But I think it was from something like that my dad got cash enough to take us kids to the movie, and of course to buy coal oil for the water pump down there, and for the truck or vehicle that we might be driving.
We had an old chain drive truck that we used for a long time. It was a very odd machine. But my dad got it somewhere, and we used it for our farm operation quite a while there.
On our farmstead, we had a kind of a shop arrangement, you might call it a carport nowadays, which you could drive through from 3 directions, with a side on only one side, and a sloped roof to let the rain run off. And under that sloped roof and along the side that was boarded up we kept the tools and equipment that we needed for our operation on the farm there. We had a blacksmith forge, which was run by some bellows that us kids always got the pleasure of operating. Which meant turning a handle, blowing air out under the coals that were kept in that forge so we could heat up the metal whenever necessary. Plowshares always had to be kept sharpened, other tools the same way. Any picks or shovels that needed to be sharpened was heated up and pounded on the big anvil that we had setting up on the block using the various tools that we had on the wall of that farm shop. It sure wasn’t much of a shop in my estimation, but it was what we used then.
We also had a kind of a barn, well I say kind of a barn, it was a place that we could put our horses in, and unharness them, a place where we could feed them and give them hay. We did feed our milk cows in there now and then, if the horses weren’t using it, but most of the time, the milk cows had to fend for themselves out alongside the barn.
L: One thing don’t forget to tell her, she wants to know about the time the roof blew off in that high wind and hit you in the arm.
F: Just a minute, I didn’t get pick all that up. Come on and tell me again.
L: She wants to hear about when that piece of roofing blew off and hit you in the arm.
F: OK, she wants to hear about the roof.
Well, this barn that we had was a barn that we talked about the roof blowing off of, that time that I had my arm cut very severely, and my Dad was knocked almost completely out of this, well I think he was almost killed by that. What I think was a piece of sheet metal blowing off of that barn there..
Well, to get to the base of the story...
Frank and my Dad and I were down in the field hoeing corn. And a storm was coming up, and it started to sprinkle a little. My dad said, "Hang up your hoes, kids, we’d better run for cover!" and so we started running for cover. Well us three was at least a half a mile away from the cover we were running for, which would have been the barn, if we could’ve made it. But before we got to that barn, the rain was just beating down and the wind was blowing into our face something terrific! And the wind was so strong, that it blew some of the sheet metal off of the top of that barn. And it came floating off, down towards us as we were running towards that barn, the sheet metal was coming right straight at us. One piece came up flat-wise and knocked my dad cuckoo; just knocked him off his feet and laid him out on his back. And another piece that came by, was up kind of edge-wise, and hit me on the arm. And made a real deep slash in my right arm. My brother Frank wasn’t hit, and he was the only one left.
Well with the rain just beating down on us and the wind blowing, Frank was a little bit unsettled. He didn’t know just what to do. My dad laying there on the ground, me with my arm that looked like it was going to bleed off, bleed me to death, and finally, he said "Hold your hand over this, and run for the house!" So I did that. And the house was probably a good 150 yards away yet; had to go by where the barn was and down to the house from that spot. And Frank picked up my dad, who by the way had come to at that time, he was not completely out, he had not been killed but he had been knocked out by that piece of metal that had hit him flatwise right in the face and on his body.
Well, I got to the house first, had to run across the ditch that had a plank for a bridge which we didn’t have any trouble with when it was dry, but running across it in the rain seemed like more of a job. My mother had been standing there at the door wondering what was happening out there, and trying to keep the little kids dry on the inside, because the roof was leaking something terrible, standing there at the door looking out to see what had happened.
And she saw me running down there towards the house, blood running all over my arm and down, and she came running out of the house to try to help me, and did, get into the house. And then she looked up and saw Frank trying to carry Dad down across that little old plank in his arms, so she ran back out there to help him. It was quite a melee for a while, quite an occasion for a while there.
As she came in then, and seeing that my dad was not knocked out and had come back and would talk, she took me and put a whole bunch of, I don’t know, just rags over my arm, to stop the bleeding. Then she went over to the neighbors to call the doctor, and told him what had happened, and he said he’d come right down.
Well this doctor had to come from Jerome, Arizona, which was at least 10 or 11 miles away, down off of the mountains into the valley. The valley is where the river run, and across the river, and this was before the bridge was built, so he had to run up the river in his car and cross the river at the crossing, which was the only place you could cross it with a vehicle, then come back down the other side to our farm house. So it had been some good time, at least 2 hours, before he got there, and looked over my arm. Took out his old needle, and sewing machine that he had there, which is needle and catgut I guess. Just simply washed my arm off with alcohol and washed the cut off, and sewed it up. I think he put about 9 or 12 stitches in it. Seemed to me like he sewed all day on it. But anyway it had a whole bunch of stitches in it and sewed it up and stopped the bleeding, and I guess outside of having a real sore arm I was fixed up as good as new.
Well, there’s more to that story too, because I could’nt get around very good with that one arm bandaged up, I didn’t have to do much farm work after that. One of our relatives had a, it was decided to take me on a vacation up to Stoneman Lake, which was up toward the mountains in the other direction from Mingus Mountain, for a fishing trip. So he and his wife Sadie, whom he later divorced, came down there in their little coupe, it did have two seats in it, and set me in the back seat, put my luggage and my baggage in there with me, my bedroll, which was all I took, and took me with them on that trip. Now Sadie was a nurse, so my mother wasn’t afraid to send me off with them on this vacation up to Stoneman Lake.
It wasn’t a vacation, just a weekend trip up there for a fishing trip, and the lake was not a very big lake in the first place, I think some of our ponds out here in Iowa would have outdone it about three times. But it did have fish in it, and many of the town people would go up there to catch them out. Most of them were just little perch, but they did now and then catch a larger bass or something that enticed them back.
I remember trying to fish out there on Stoneman Lake that morning one-handed, they fixed me a pole and found a place I could sit down on a rock by the bank of the lake and dabble my line into the lake. And I did fish in there, and I think I did catch a little perch which I couldn’t take off because one arm didn’t work, and I was probably afraid of it anyway. Which I held up proudly though, and my uncle Dan took it off for me. That was a big adventure in my life at that time of life.
So much for that. In the meantime my arm was healing, and it wasn’t long ‘til it was healed up so that they pulled all the stitches out of it, and I was back full force again.
By that time, my dad had almost quit trying to farm there on the Verde Valley. The Verde Valley farm, it just wasn’t paying him any money, and it was too big a job to keep water running down to the farm ground, and keep the pump running and everything. So he had rented a place from Uncle Art and Aunt Edna out on Oak Creek.
I went out there to live one summer with him, on that place on Oak Creek. My arm was still just a little tender. That was my 12th birthday, and for my 12th birthday he gave me a shotgun. Now I just really prized that shotgun. Up to that time, he’d let me shoot it once or twice, just to get me broke in, as to what it’s like, and then it almost kicked me over the first time I shot it. But that was a twelve gauge, three-quarter choke Parker shotgun. One of his relatives, I think it was his uncle, had given him that shotgun when he left back east to come out west. And it was a prized possession, and I kept it as a prized possession. And I’m sorry to say, that even though I treasured it, and took care of it, oiled it, hunted with it many, many times, later when we moved to Mesa Arizona, I had it stored in a closet there without any locks on our doors, along with a 25-35 rifle, and somebody entered into the house and stole those two guns, and I lost my treasured old shotgun.
Well that’s beside the point for this time of life.
Well out there on Oak Creek, I kinda lived a life there, my dad took care of the orchards mainly, we had a little garden, my dad did all the cooking, and by the way, he was a good cook, he could make biscuits as good as anybody, and we always had our biscuits and honey and potatoes and gravy and anything else that happened to come along that time of year, especially the summertime we had all the fruits that were available off of the orchards, which were mainly peaches and berries, and later on we had apples.
But that was the summer I spent out on Oak Creek, and it was the summer I was living out there that my mother came out from the Verde Valley. Now she stayed out there on the Verde Valley, with the two girls, and Lynn, in order to kind of keep them closer to a little more recreational activities. They had their Sunday Schools they would go to, and they had friends there, and so she just preferred to stay over there, and keep the kids there. And that was alright too, because my Dad was over there on Oak Creek, trying to take care of the farm there, and my mother could come over every now and then to try to help out in any way possible. And on this particular occasion, I told about earlier, she brought all the kids from the neighborhood over there for my birthday, on my 12th birthday.
Well, I’m going by one part, and I wanted to mention this part of my life, and that was the morning after I got that shotgun from my dad. He said "Take it son, go out and get us a rabbit for breakfast.’ Boy did I think I was a big man. I put that shotgun up over my shoulder, had two shells stuck in the barrel (I think 2 shells is all my dad gave me) and headed out to get us a rabbit. Well, I hadn’t gone too far away when sure enough up there in front of me was a little old cottontail hopping along as pretty as you please. I picked up that shotgun, aimed it at that rabbit, pulled the trigger, BANGO!
No rabbit. The rabbit went hopping off down the road, I missed him completely. Well, it had a second barrel in there I could have shot, but I wasn’t acquainted with it enough to take the 2nd shot. My dad came out then to see if I’d got my rabbit (I think he already knew that rabbit was out there – that’s the reason he had sent me out there) and I had missed it.
Well, I got my next one, the next time I shot I got my rabbit. We did have rabbit for breakfast that morning.
Now, I don’t dare tell about the things you have to do to skin a rabbit, and take the entrails out, one thing and another, to prepare it for breakfast, I’m afraid I’ll upset grandma again. (laughs)
L: That’s right.
F: We’ll just skip all those details, (laughs) and say that we had the two legs, and what was the best part of the front of the rabbit for breakfast. There was just a lot of good meat on those two hind legs of one of those rabbits. We ate him smacking our lips.
OK, that was just another adventure in Oak Creek. One other thing I could tell about, oh, there’s two or three other things I’d like to tell about, but my Dad also got me a little small 22 single-shot rifle. It wasn’t much longer than a bb gun, you had to load it one shot at at time, and he would only get me what they called shot shells. Those are 22 shells that had shot in them rather than a leaded head like a regular bullet has. And he wanted me to try to keep the birds away from the peaches. It so happened that whenever the peaches began to get ripe, birds would flock into our trees, and if we’d didn’t shoo ‘em off all the time, almost like standing out there like a scarecrow and keep ‘em away, we only had 3 or 4 trees of those peaches, and we’d like to keep as many of them as we could to share ‘em of course, with our landlord, which was Uncle Art and Aunt Edna, who didn’t live there, of course, they were living up in the mountains on their ranch up there where they had cattle up there. They lived up there during the summertime. We usually liked to have some peaches that we’d send up there to them. We’d also wanted ripe peaches for ourselves, and I just used to think a bowl of peaches with some good old cream on top of them was the most delicious thing you could get. Ripe peaches do not need sugar on them. The peaches you buy now in the stores nowadays need a little sugar on them sweeten up, they just never had time to ripen up in the orchards, so they don’t have the natural flavoring that good ripe peaches do. But that’s when we picked our peaches in the orchards. Well, with that little old single shot 22 rifle, I would stand out there and try to shoo the birds off. Whenever I saw a flock of them anyway, come down, I would raise my old gun up and shoot at them. I kept a lot of them away, and we did get a pretty good peach crop that summer.
One other thing that happened with that little 22 though, as I was going out to the orchard one morning (you had to get up pretty early in the morning in order to get out there before the birds did) I had my little old 22 along, and I’d gone about 100 yards from the house, and I happened to look down, there was a post there with some weeds growing up around it, and happened to just look down into that and saw a Rattlesnake coiled up down in there. Boy I got away from there in a hurry. But then, I thought, he’s coiled up, he can’t hurt me. So I sneaked back up, and I stuck that little old 22 down into those weeds, and I don’t think it was more than 8 or 10 or maybe 12 inches above the head of that rattlesnake, and tried to shoot him with that single-shot 22. All it did was make that rattlesnake mad, and it just rared up its head and made a strike at me, and I didn’t know it, but my dad had come out of the house when he heard me hollering about a rattlesnake, he grabbed a shotgun and came out of the house, and he shot from the hip, he didn’t even raise that shotgun up to his shoulder, he just shot from the hip. And he shot the head off of that rattlesnake while it was still up in the air striking at me! We surmised just a little though, that maybe my shot had blinded that rattlesnake just a little, because it went more straight up in the air, than it did at me. If it had gone straight at me, it would have hit me, just as sure as shooting, and I would have been bitten by a rattlesnake. But he shot the head off of that rattlesnake, just a fraction of a second as its head was up there in the air. I always remember what a good shot my dad was with a shotgun, what a shot that was that he made at that particular time.
Well, so much for that incident.
There on the Oak Creek ranch, there were quite a few ponds on it. We had that pond that I talked about in the birthday party incident. Then off down farther we had several more ponds, and they were always interesting. They had fish in them, but they always had a great deal of moss on them, and you couldn’t very well fish in them because of the moss. But they were fresh water ponds. Each one of those ponds down there had a stream of fresh water running into them or bubbling into them from artesian spring that was coming out of the area there. There was only one, only single locations there was along Oak Creek that we had that situation occuring, and many people would want to come by there to see those ponds, and go down and get fresh water right out of those springs to take home to drink. It was kind of off down into the bushes, an area where there were a lot of you might say willow trees and mesquite trees and one thing or other kind of bushes growing up, and hard to get to. You had follow a trail down into it, so we didn’t have too many visitors. But I used to always like to go down in there just in order to drink fresh water and enjoy looking into those bubbling ponds bubbling up there. Every now and then there’d be a nice looking trout floating around in the water that you could see in those ponds. There were trout in those ponds too.
But the thing I’m leading up to here, is that fresh water in that hidden location down there made a good location for an illegal operation that the storekeeper over there in Cottonwood that lived and had his store in Cottonwood, and I don’t know what kind of deal he made with Uncle Art and Aunt Edna to do that, but I presume he had to make some kind of an arrangement with them. Because he did have a still set up down there. It was very well hidden there among the bushes. And he used to make whiskey, make whiskey there, which they put into their gallon jugs, and took into town and sell it at a good price to the (?) in there. Well the thing that was interesting about it, was the mash that came off of that whiskey. Whiskey had to be made from corn that was soaked with water, until it got to the brine stage, and then as the water drained off of it, I don't know how whiskey is made, but it is drained off it someway or other, they boiled it out and put it up through pipes that brought down, any residue that came out of the distillery was the good old mountain dew as they called it. But the by-product of it was all that corn that had been used, and it was what they called mash, oh it was more like mush than mash, but it made very good hog feed. So my dad used to take that mash back up there to the farm part of our building, there while we had several hogs growing, we kept the mash in the building, and he would feed it to the hogs a little bit at time.
But one time, one old sow had managed to get out, and some way or another she got into that mash. When we got home from town that day (we’d gone to town) when we got home from town, we saw that old sow out there with her feet straight up in the air. Well, we thought what in the world has happened here. My dad went out and gave her poke with his feet, and she grunted and she turned over, and he kinda helped her up on her feet. Then she tried to walk. It was the funniest thing you’d ever seen, to see that old sow try to walk. She staggered from this side to that side, in circles, round and around she went. She was what you might say, intoxicated. I remembered that very very well.
Well so much for the mash story, and so much for the distillery story, except for one little other incident. My cousin Billy, whose dad’s mother owned the place, used to come down there and stay with us now and then. When he was down there, us kids used to not only ride horses that they’d brought down (he’d always bring horses down from the ranch – in fact they kept a couple of them there on that farm) we would always go for a ride. We would ride off down the creek, we’d see where other farmers live, sometimes we rode up onto the mountains there that separated Oak Creek from the Verde Valley. I always enjoyed those trips with Billy. Billy was down there one time, and at this particular time, we decided, as kids will sometimes, let’s go down and see that distillery, let’s see what’s going on down there, so we had to walk down through a very thick growth of mesquite bushes to get down there, and rather than use the regular trail, cause we didn’t want any one to see us or anything, so we were sneaking along there down that trail, one behind another, and all of a sudden we came upon a man sound asleep there, in a bed roll, with a rifle in his hands. And his rifle was pointed right straight at us.
Well, we soon made ourselves known. And he made himself known. He was a man who had been engaged to make the mash, make the whiskey down there, and while it was distilling, he would come down into the bushes to hide, so he wouldn’t be caught in case the feds, in case the sheriff came to look for that still. I think they all suspected that this merchant in town had this distillery, but they didn’t know where it was. So in order to hide himself he’d come up there into those mesquite bushes, and was laying there in his bed roll and had his rifle with which he was going to defend himself from the Feds to keep himself from being arrested. Well, Billy and I backed out of there pretty quick. And he said "Don’t you kids ever come down here any more." And we never went down there anymore. That was another little incident that happened there in our Oak Creek ranch while we lived there.
Well so much for that phase of my life. I guess I’d better come back now to some of the direct questions that you have on the letter.