Last summer a couple came into the Forks Forum office. They were in the area researching their Anderson ancestors — as in Anderson Ridge, south of Forks. Their family had homesteaded in the upper Bogachiel.
The following story is excerpted from several Seattle Times newspaper articles they shared with me from an interview in 1958 with one of the daughters who lived through the experience.
“Bessie Drabing was 8 years old in 1888 when her family came west from Missouri to take up a homestead in the wilds of the Olympic Peninsula. It took the Drabing family 10 months and one week to make their way to the ‘home of their dreams’ near the Bogachiel River near Forks. They traveled by train, steamship, and dugout canoe and at times on the backs of local Indians on blazed trails.
When they arrive by train in Seattle they tasted salmon for the first time, they walked a trail along Lake Union and then boarded a steamer for Port Angeles, they spent the winter at Port Crescent and then resumed the journey to La Push. Once there local Indians “poled” them up the Bogachiel River. Once at Forks, at an uncles cabin, only a few pioneer families resided on the Forks prairie; the Whittiers, Merchants, Fords, Fricks and a bachelor named John Sutherland (as in Lake Sutherland).
Leaving Forks they walked for hours through the deathly quiet forest, daylight sifting down through the towering evergreen forest. There they finally found Mr. Drabing, who had traveled ahead, next to a cabin with neither door nor windows, they were home. Bessie shared that if the hardships that lay ahead of them would have been known at that time … they would have turned around then and there and retraced their footsteps back to Missouri.
Mrs. Drabings’ parents, the Andersons, took up the homestead near them, two miles away connected by a crude blazed trail.
The cabin was 12’ by 15’ with a fireplace constructed of mud and spruce sticks and plastered with clay. It was used for heating and cooking. Bessie remembered food being a problem, staples were poled up the river by the local Indians and she recalled for a time a steady diet of potatoes, mutton tallow gravy and beans boiled in salt water.
Clothing represented an equal problem. She recalled having one new dress a year, when shoes wore out or were outgrown the children went barefoot until winter came. To get the money needed for these items she remembered that in the spring her father would travel to the logging camp at Port Crescent and work, her mother knit stockings which were sold for 50 cents. Bessie, her sister Blanch, and mother picked hops on the Whittier Farm in Forks for $1 per 100 pounds!
There was no doctor nearby and Bessie remembered her grandmother’s tonic from native plants and a salve made of mutton tallow.
About a year after arriving Mrs. Drabing gave birth to a baby girl. Grandmother Anderson served as midwife, shortly after the baby was born Mrs. Drabing was stricken with ‘Milk Fever’ she tossed in delirium, near death for weeks. Bessie now age 10 became the caregiver of her baby sister they named Pearl.
She remembered wishing as she rocked the baby that she was a bird and could fly away from the all the hardship of this life. Her mother eventually recovered and the baby survived.
When Bessie was 16 her social life was centered around dances at the Whittier Hop House in Forks. She remembered borrowing a pony and riding it all the way to La Push for the Fourth of July celebration. During the school year, 4 months out of the year, the Drabing children moved into Forks for classes.
After 10 hard years on the Bogachiel the Drabings’ life as homesteaders came to an end. The land they had called home was reclaimed by the government and was later opened for timber claims. Drabings’ parents were paid $800 for their homestead and 10 long years of struggle.
Bessie’s parents moved to Kent and she settled in Seattle. Bessie always wondered what drew her parents to the Bogachiel. ‘No doubt a taste for adventure played a part in their decision, yet it’s hard to believe that anyone would endure for a decade the hardships we put up with,’ Bessie recalled. Bessie died in 1962.”
Christi Baron, Editor