Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Very Sad Story

My last post to this blog told of a very special Christmas Dinner. The Downen Family celebrated with all of Mary Jane and Stephen Downen's Children and grandchildren present. Standing near the right edge of the picture is a young lad looking over his sister Ruth's head. He is Marvin Reager, only son of George and Evaline Reager. Four of his sisters are in that picture and two more will be born to George and Evaline, one the day after Christmas 1902. The newspaper account of the Downen Christmas festivity mentions that not one member of the family had passed away. That fact makes this event the next July seem even more tragic.

On July 10th George Reager and his harvest crew were away at another ranch. Only the family, the cook and a chore boy, Lloyd Lake, were at home. Eight-year-old Marvin went to hunt bird's eggs without his mother's knowledge. He climbed 28 feet into a locust tree. A limb broke and he fell to the ground. His sister Hazel, then 11, remembered helping to carry him to the house. Lloyd took the only horse left on the place, Old Lucy, and rode to find Marvin's Dad.

Hazel ran three miles to her Aunt Essie and Uncle Will's home. (Both of these family members are in the Downen picture. Will is the tall gentleman on the left, rear and Essie is in the center of the back row in a light colored dress.) Essie drove into Orland to get a doctor, nearly ruining a young horse in the process. She ran him the entire six miles and the weather was very hot.

There are two newspaper reports of this tragic accident:
"A little after the dinner hour Wednesday Marvin Reager fell some twenty feet from a tree on the Reager ranch east of Orland and sustained a very serious injury. He was badly bruised about the head. His right arm was broken and the bones of his left were cracked. There was a compound fracture of his right thigh, the bones of which were driven through the flesh, his clothing and into the ground by the force of the fall.
Surgical aid was summoned, the wounds dressed and the boy made as comfortable as possible. Thursday morning early Drs. Edmundson and L. P. Tooley went to the Reager ranch and completed the work of properly caring for his injuries, but at best it will be a long time before he climbs another tree. Marvin is the son of Geo. A. Reager, a well known and respected farmer who lives six miles east of Orland, and his youth will make the many injuries less serious than they would be to and older person.

Two days later another account appeared in the paper relating the outcome of the previous incident:

A Young Life Ended From his terrible injuries and very acute sufferings, Death claimed for his own, Marvin Reager, at three o'clock Friday afternoon.
The immediate cause of death was an injury to the brain at the time of his fall, and has been feared by the physicians in attendance ever since the accident.
Shortly after the dinner hour Friday a messenger arrived from the Reager home and sent the doctor hurrying to the boy's bedside. He was much worse and died at three o'clock.
His death will be a terrible blow to his parents, whose only son Marvin was. This entire community mourns with the sorrowing parents.
The funeral will take place at the Reager home east of town at 3:30 this afternoon and the remains will be interred in the Odd Fellows Cemetery. Rev. F.N. Baker will preach the funeral sermon.

My mother, not yet two at the time of the accident, had no memory of her only brother. Having no male heir helped George, decide to build a house in town and he eventually sold his farm land.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Pack Rat

Some of you may have wondered about the items pictured at the top of this page. This collection proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I am a pack rat! These items, and many more, made the journey from Sunny California to Friendly Manitoba with yours truly.

The red round-topped trunk belonged to my grandfather, George Reager. I confess to painting it before learning that was a no-no. The family group picture was taken at George and Evaline Reager's 50th anniversary. The little girl in the square frame is my mother, Georgiana Reager Noble. The oval picture of a young boy is Mother's only brother, Marvin, who was killed when he was ten years old. That is another story, possibly the next one to appear in this space. The blue satin robe is part of my mom's trousseau, saved since her marriage in 1935.

The small tan suitcase belonged to my grandmother Ada Almedia Noble St. John. She used it to hold diaries covering 35 years of her life and they are still inside. The tall book next to it is another of her journals kept in 1882 just previous to her marriage to Emery H. Noble.

By now you have realized that being a pack rat is something of a family trait.

The cane bottom rocker belonged to my great-grandmother Mary Jane Downen. Look carefully at this picture, taken over 100 years ago, and you will see she is seated in this same chair.

This picture was taken on Christmas Day, 1901. The following article, describing this occasion, appeared in the local paper:

An incident took place in this city Christmas day which is very seldom heard of in the life of the ordinary American.
S.T. Downen and his wife, M. J. Downen gave a family Christmas dinner last week Wednesday to which all their children with their families were invited and were present.
The family consists of Mrs. Frances A. Norris, William M. Downen, Mrs. Evaline Reager, John L. and Bertha E. Downen.
None of these children were born in California, yet all were present and all reside within a day's drive of the parental roof.
In parents, children and grandchildren there were twenty-three present, all healthful and hearty, and the strangest fact of all is that during the last forty years history of this family not one death has occurred, not one vacant chair was necessary. This is a remarkable fact to be sure.
This is not the first family Christmas dinner enjoyed by the Downen family by any means, but it was the first one at which every member was present and it is safe to say Christmas, 1901, will never be forgotten by any of the members, but all will look back at it as a bright spot in their memories of home scenes, and earnestly hope for many unchanged repetitions of that remarkable Christmas dinner scene.

Monday, November 15, 2010

WWI Arthur the Chef

Last Months at
Camp Funston
On October 20th the cooks were issued their white uniforms. In the picture you see Elmer Erikson and Arthur on the right. Arthur begins to express his hope to be sent overseas. This is a recurring topic through the next seven months. "I made 38 loganberry pies yesterday afternoon and they must have been pretty good too, the way this bunch of buzzards flew into them. I heard today that we are to stay here until the 4th of January. I hope not. I don't suppose we'll get started to France before the first of February, if we do then." I am personally quite impressed by those 38 loganberry pies! If I make 2 or 3 at a time it seems like quite a feat, and I never saw my dad make even one pie during my growing-up years.

For Thanksgiving there was entertainment on the base, as the soldiers watched a football game. This pictures gives us some idea of the number of young men stationed at Camp Funston. Arthur also mentions concerts, dances, baseball and boxing during his time there. In December
he tells of seventeen train carloads of
Christmas presents arriving on the

By February Arthur is resigned to staying on at Camp Funston. He mentions cooking for the officers, a duty that continues until a month before he is shipped to France. "Naw, I ain't never going to leave this place. Got a life sentence! Am still cooking for these 'big guns'. I have 30 now. Holy smoke! Can you imagine me doing the same thing for six months? We cooks are taking a two month course at a cooks and bakers school. The instructor is a nice little fellow, a good cook too. A person can learn a good deal from him, and as you know I have plenty of room to expand."

At the end of the cooking course he says, "I am still 'burning slum' for the 'High Powers'. I took the cook's exam the other day and passed as First Cook, ha, ha." The strange thing is, I never knew he was a cook. My mom mentioned that when they were married she was nervous about cooking for him, but I thought that was because she had been teaching and living in a boarding house, so hadn't had much practice. He never cooked, while I was groing up, unless my mom was sick or away. He did teach me the correct and easy way to dress a chicken and cut it up to fry. Maybe that is something he learned at the cooks school??

At the end of May they close the officers mess and Arthur goes back to drilling with the infantry. Finally on June 26th he is on board ship, headed for France, with the 89th Division. After arriving at the front he cooks for the dressing station and drives ambulance. "We are in active service now, quite interesting at times, with occasional air raids and gas alarms, and the firing of the big guns. There is a gun sitting back about a quarter of a mile and shooting right over me."

This is the last of my World War One entries for now. Maybe next November 11th I will think of more to show and tell. I do hope to use some of my dad's experiences in a novel when I complete my current work in progress.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

WWI - Arthur at Camp Funston

Arthur Enlists
Here are some further WWI pictures for you history buffs. In 1917 the war was raging in Europe. According to an entry in his mother's diary, Arthur received his draft notice on July 22nd. On July 25th he and his buddy Elmer Erickson left for San Francisco to enlist. They were destined to remain together throughout their time in the service.

My father told me that shortly after he and Elmer enlisted there was a call for cooks. After a quick consultation they decided cooking sounded more attractive that shooting and being shot at, so they volunteered for the job. Arthur's previous cooking experience consisted of helping his mother and batching, but this decision defined his time in the army. In a letter from Angel Island on August 3rd, he wrote, "I just got off of kitchen duty, and believe me, I am some hasher. Waited table for 24 men, 3 meals. A person doesn't have much company. The dining room I eat in only holds 1,500 men and half of it has to be set twice."

On August 28, their last night in San Francisco, Roderick McArthur took Arthur and Elmer on the town and they had the above picture taken. Arthur is on the right. The next day they left for Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas, arriving on September 1st. Unlike most of the men, trained at that facility, he was to remain there for nearly a year. He wrote, "Ha, ha, here I am in Kansas. Who would have thought it? I'm getting to be quite a tourist aren't I? I've traveled around 1500 miles in the last 6 weeks. We had a fairly good trip coming here. One thing we saw, worth seeing, was the Salt Lake. Say, that is certainly a wonderful piece of work. It is about 45 or 50 miles across and 35 miles of it is bridge. I wouldn't have missed that for anything."

By October Arthur is settled in as a cook. "Elmer and I are signed up in the same Co., and also as permanent cooks, if we make good. Him and I were on, today, so I'll tell you what we had for dinner. We had braised beef, sweet potatoes, creamed peas, apple pie, bread and butter and tea. The boys all thought it was a good dinner; even the pies and I made em."

Below is a picture of some of the fellows who cooked. Arthur and Elmer are 2nd and 3rd from the right side.


have a couple more pictures to show you on my next post. See you soon!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bob and Arthur Noble-- World War I

These two young men are my uncle, Sgt. Robert Ross Noble and my father Arthur Zumwalt Noble as they looked, in uniform, during the Great War--The War to End War--WWI. My dad is the one at the top of the page.
I have 80 letters that my dad wrote to his mother during his time in the service. During his tour of duty overseas he was careful not to worry her by writing about the horrible conditions he lived in and the terrible things he saw. However, it was possible to read between the lines and realize that life was far from pleasant.
My uncle Bob was wounded and taken to a hospital in France. His mother was notified and let her son Arthur know about it in a letter. Apparently she expressed her concern for her older boy and my dad replied that this was the best news he had heard in a long time. Arthur's company was behind Bob's division as they moved across the battlefront. There were many fresh graves along the route. Arthur told his mother that he was scared to death to look at the markers fearing that one might bear his brother's name, but he couldn't bring himself to walk past without checking.
Dad told me of one incident that he made into a joke on himself. When you think about it, the picture it paints of their his living conditions is far from a laughing matter. He woke up one morning with an arm lying across his face. Immediately assuming it was a severed limb belonging to some other soldier, he grabbed it and gave it a hard throw. Then he realized it was his own arm that had fallen asleep during the night. He laughed and said he nearly dislocated his shoulder.
I'm going to share a few paragraphs from a letter Dad wrote on November 13, 1918. The envelope that contained the letter is below, showing the censor stamp.
Dearest Mother, Will write you a few lines this evening to let you know I'm still well & happy.
Mother, day before yesterday was sure a wonderful day. I can't very well express my feelings, but it sure seemed good when those guns quit shooting. The big ones fired over our heads day and night and when they go off it shakes the ground just like an earthquake.
Course this is just an armistice so far, but you can bet your boots we know the end is near and then it's back home again. Whoops ma Dear!
At least the majority of the boys have changed their phrase now, from if I get back, to when I get back. Sure sounds good.
I guess I won't get to see Bobbie over here. I wrote to him twice, but haven't heard from him yet. That's nothing strange though, as it takes almost as long to get a letter from anybody over here as it does to get one from the States. I don't know why, but it's generally the case.
Well good-bye, hope to see you before many moons. With lots of love from Arthur.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


My great-grandfather, Jacob Willard Zumwalt, was born in 1828. He is obviously a young man in this picture, probably not over twenty years old. I have this picture, taken about one hundred-sixty years ago, in my possession and it is still quite clear. Many photographs, in my archives, are well over one hundred years old. Most of these have survived with less damage than more recent snapshots.
Nobody seems to truly know how lasting our current digital pictures will be. This is a recurrent discussion topic at scrap booking sessions. Digitals are easy to take, touchup, and format. They can even be printed at home, but how will they look one hundred years from today. Some people store their pictures on CDs, believing they will last for generations, but I have been told that there is no assurance that these will survive over time.
I treasure the pictures of ancestors, in my collection, that helped to settle the "new" state of California during the nineteenth century. The stories of their lives are fascinating, but seeing their pictures makes them more personal. Will historians in future years be able to look at the faces of their great-grandparents who are living today?
Like so many things in 2010, pictures appear to be transitory. Few objects are manufactured to last. Garbage dumps fill with items that were the newest and the best only short years, or even months, ago.
In a fast changing world, it is reassuring to know that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Biblical truth remains constant, and the words of Jesus apply today the identical way they did in Jacob Willard Zumwalt's time, and before.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Grad Then and Now

Over the past month many of us have watched, or heard about, graduation ceremonies. Young people in large and small communities across Canada and the United States have walked proudly forward to receive their hard earned diplomas. It is a wonderful celebration to climax years of hard work for the students, and often for their parent also.

During the month before the big event much time and energy is devoted to passing exams, choosing flattering pictures and locating the perfect clothes to wear for the big night.

This picture is of a high school graduating class in the year 1911--very close to 100 years ago. Don't these students look solemn? This group lived in Orland California and the young woman on the left is my mother's eldest sister, Hazel, and yes this is the entire class. I have a note written by Hazel shortly before this momentous event. She writes, "Here we are in all our glory. We are busy as can be with our essays. Just about finished my Latin essay, but my California Poets essay is hard--can't find material."

It sounds as though the subjects taught were a bit different than those we hear about today. The important thing is that God had his hand on these seven young people as they went forth. Hazel became a teacher and worked for a few years before marrying her banker boyfriend. The other three ladies all happily married. The young man in the center of the back row eventually became the county superintendent of schools and served in that position for many years.

In all the excitement of graduations today, we must remember to pray for the students leaving school and entering life. They need God's guidance more now than they have through all their growing up years. Parents will not always be there to help them over the rough spots they will certainly face, but God will never leave them if they will put their trust in Him.