Friday, July 18, 2014

Stories of Civil War Survivors - Owen Olson

Stories of Civil War Survivors
Owen Olson

This is the fifth of the five stories of Civil War Soldiers and Others of the Oak Creek Valley from Part III:

“American Centennial at the Homeplace: The Founding (1833-1876)”

Owen Olson shares the challenges of rebuilding a community

I have been asked to share my memories of rebuilding in Oak Springs and the Oak Creek valley following the period of the war. This is both easy and very hard to do. My wife, Anna, and I had settled in this valley and helped create this town out of the virgin land beginning in 1833. We were blessed to have been taken in and supported by the earliest settlers in those first years, especially by Jake and Kate Patton. They were more like parents and mentors to us, and good friends, through the years, continuing until they passed from us not too long ago. 

With Jake, I returned to the valley for the first time, on horseback, in late June of 1865, and it looked much as it did, in many ways, like it did in 1833. Most of the people I’ve talked to, who were around to see it then, have said the same thing. We arrived at the mill area, first, of course, having come from the north. The young men had already accomplished a number of their first goals, which pleased us. They had only been there a little over a month. Jake and I were anxious, however, to cross on over to the town site, to see what was and what was not still there. Almost immediately upon arriving back at our home site and Jake’s near the spring, I could see that there was more there, on second sight, than appeared at the first glance. 

Lewis Truesdale was with us, by then, and quickly agreed. Foundations were often still fully or partially intact, once you got past the underbrush built up over a few years. Even some flooring was there, or at least was partially salvageable. Walls had mostly burned down, of course, but some chimneys remained, some fireplace parts and equipment laid where they fell or nearby. 

As a continuing Township Trustee, since 1846, I was curious, anxious was probably a better word, about the roads and the few bridges we had built, as well. I was only there for a few days that first trip back, so I only explored a bit. With those examinations, however, I was encouraged that much of the work we had put in was still there, under green growth, and with a number of scrub trees needing to be removed. We saved the work for later, but began visualizing the work that did need to be done and how to do it. 

We worked closely with Lewis to locate the best site for a cabin near the Patton Springs. It would be a double cabin, built around the fireplace and chimney that was still there from Jake’s original cabin. It needed repairs, of course, but was available for a quick start. They would get the first cabin up in short order, and the second by mid-summer. We would use this site as a gathering point as several of us visited during the year before bringing our families.

We also looked at our homesite, to be built where we had lived before. The foundation and most of the flooring was still there. We worked out a plan to have it at least habitable by mid-September when we expected to bring some of the extended ‘family’ members back for good. All of this of course, was contingent on no outlaws or raiding parties coming through again, to spoil our plans. None had been seen, yet, but the fellows were on constant alert. We knew there were still some bad folks on the loose out there.

Let me stop here for a moment and share some details you should know about. They tend to be left out of stories I hear folks tell about those days. But, they are an important part of the story. All of us left in a hurry, whether planned for a couple of weeks or a month, as we did, or under great duress as did Kate and Victoria, as raiders burned the buildings around them and they escaped into the woods. I mention this to remind you that much of what we needed to live here, again, had to be brought back in. Horses, mules, cows, chickens, pigs, wagons, farm equipment, blacksmithing equipment (in my case), whatever we were each using in our farm or business to survive. 

During those early months of 1865 a number of us met together to decide what needed to be brought back here, when, and how. Roads were still not in a condition to use wagons. So, one priority, perhaps, was to work on the roads. If we were to live here through the next winter, crops needed to be planted so they could be harvested in the fall. That was one of the first things those first to return worked on, thankfully, along with Henry and Alex McDonald, who had managed to survive the war here in the valley.

So, when Jake and I made this first trip back, on horseback, he had another horse with a pack that he brought for Lewis to use, containing goods that had been predetermined would be needed. I had brought a mule, that would be useful, but also had a pack of goods that I wanted to have arrive early, as well. We were confident of this, partially, because David Baldridge and my son, Liam, had already made a trip north and back, early in June, to share what they had learned. They had each brought back a pack mule, as well, by the way, and each had also brought a milk cow.

This working together, and planning together, was something that had distinguished the Oak Creek valley settlers from their initial foray into the valley in 1833. It was continued on the return of many of us in 1865 and after. Another tradition from that 1833 experience was something called “Fourth Sunday.” Now, we were here for that “Fourth Sunday” in June, 1865, so we called a meeting of every one that was in the valley, and re-established that tradition. We used it as time set aside to plan the upcoming month and months, together, to meet common as well as individual goals. And, I am pleased to report, the tradition continues. Not everyone is there every month, like in the old days, but most do try to make it. It pays benefits, both to the community and to each of us individually. I believe in the process.

Shortly after the “Fourth Sunday” meeting, Jake and I did ride south, to Eminence, to see if he could re-establish himself in what he believed was his continuing role as a Shannon County Commissioner. We always travelled in pairs, and well armed, of course. I wasn’t especially thrilled at making this trip on south, but I certainly didn’t want him to be going by himself. And, I didn’t want any of the young men who were working so hard here in the valley to go either, so I went.

I’ll leave the details of the trip to be read in his memoirs. He had written them, he said, before he died. I am not privy to any plans there may be to publish them. I’ll just say here that we got down there, he made some contacts he felt appropriate, and we got back to the valley alive. It was still hostile territory, but he had earned enough respect in past years to allow us to travel in and return. He did return regularly, over the following months and years, representing our interests, but I was not directly involved in that.

We only stayed a couple of days in the valley before returning to Jefferson City to continue to work on our permanent return.

Late in July, I returned to the valley, this time with Victor Campbell. He wanted to see for himself what “everything looked like.” We were especially watchful on this trip as to the condition of roadways in the various parts of the trips and what we saw that we could plan to assist with, if we could do anything at all. There were more people at various places along the way each trip I made. On the way down, as well as on the return trip, we talked to the local people, especially in Dent County, to determine what they were doing, or planning to do, that would be useful to us as well. Harry McDonald, then affiliated with the Weston-McDonald Freight lines, had asked us to bring back what information we could on how far in that direction wagons could go. 

The road from the Dent County line north to near Salem still needed work. From Salem north was passable. We talked to a number of locals south of Salem, many of whom Jake did know. We let them know we were working to get the mill back into operation, and that we would get the road cleared north to the county line, if they would work to the same point from their side. We generally agreed that the target date was early in September. Daniel and Lewis did make a trip north early in September and let us know that the road was passable, so we stayed with our plan to make the migration move south in mid-September. 

In what many have referred to as the “Olson party” we had besides myself, Anna, and our daughter, Allison, a very pregnant Caroline (McDonald) Truesdale, wife of Lewis, and his 15-year-old sister, Nellie Truesdale. Daniel and Lewis traveled back with us, along with additional horses and mules, a coop of chickens, two more milk cows, and a couple of pregnant pig sows and the boar that had bred them. Among the packs were also the additional tools I felt I needed to get back into the blacksmithing business. It was not an easy trip, for anyone, but all arrived safely (and the baby did wait until after the first of the year to be born on schedule). 

Speaking of blacksmithing, on my earlier trips, I was pleasantly surprised how much of my needed equipment was still on site and usable, with some tender loving care. Jake and I had an agreement that I would re-open the blacksmith shop and that we would also re-open the general store. I purchased the land for both from him on very favorable terms. We were pleased, again, to work together, for the benefit of everyone involved, including the community generally. Anna and Allison would run the store and reopen the Post Office when we got the official word from the government, which Jake helped us obtain in fairly short order, under the circumstances.

By November, Gideon Inman had also made a preliminary trip to the valley. During November then, we managed to get everyone together sufficiently to hold an Oak Springs town election. Elected to the Town Council were: Jake Patton, Owen Olson, Victor Campbell, Lewis Truesdale and Gideon Inman, to serve until the next regular election. Victor and Gideon had signed letters of intention to build homes on lots they already owned in the spring of 1866. With that action, we had both a functioning Town Council and three Township Trustees: David Baldridge in the east, myself, Owen Olson, central, and Delbert Campbell in the west.

I focused my attentions on 1) getting my blacksmithing operation functional, 2) getting the new General Store built by the time the freight line resumed deliveries, and 3) putting finishing touches on our house, as needed. I also spent some time, each week, on dragging the streets and roads in my Trustee district, so they could be as good as possible, as soon as reasonably practical. I felt good about that work.

Also, a number of different times, as people came back to consider rebuilding, I tried to be on-site, to assist them in salvaging what we could and helping them get restarted on their properties.

May we each have a Homeplace, if only in our hearts!

Dr. Bill  ;-)

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