Historic Hood River
F. R. Absten
We met the Absten family as they were in 1912 in this image, but now we can go back a ways and find out how they wound up in Hood River. It’s quite a story.
I’m not sure what to make of the “Los Cruces Tex” annotation, but I suspect the photo was taken in Las Cruces, New Mexico Territory. I thought this was an image with studio props until I read Mr. Absten’s autobiographical entry in Mrs. Coons “History of Early Pioneer Families of Hood River, Oregon”. I’ll include it in its entirety:
The Absten family was of English origin; the first family of the name, consisting of the father and mother with several sons and daughters, came to the colony of Virginia at a very early date; and the traditions handed down mention among other things that they sometimes had to pack down cured meats in hickory ashes to preserve them on account of the scarcity of salt. That they had to make harness for their horses out of buck-skin twisted or braided together, hence the name Virginia buckskins.
My grandfather’s name was Francis Absten and he had a brother John Absten, the names Francis and John seem to have run through the family for many generations. My grandfather Absten lived in Pittsylvania county, Virginia, where he raised a large family of children by his first wife whose maiden name was Sarah Farmer and whose family was also of English stock.
My father, Thomas Farmer Absten, was the youngest of ten children and his mother dying when he was an infant he was mostly raised by his eldest sister Mrs. Mary K. Bruce. When a young man my father worked as an overseer on a large plantation for a Major Adams in Virginia, was also a member of a military company known as “light horsemen”. Later he came out to Ohio after which he returned to Mason County, Virginia, where he met and married my mother, whose maiden name was Nancy Peck. Her father John Peck was said to be of Dutch descent, the family having come to western Virginia from Maryland. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was McDermit and was of Scotch Irish stock. Mother was born in Mason County, Virginia, where she grew to womanhood, met, and married my father.
I was born in Mason County, Virginia, (now West Virginia) on April 10, 1852, and was the second of four children, the eldest a sister having died in infancy before I was born. I had a brother named John and a sister named Susan. Father died when I was very small and mother again married, a man named Ira Hill, by whom she had one child named David.
When but little more than a boy I came out west to Kansas, then quite a new country, and stayed about a year and a half when I got homesick and went back home. But the western fever once contracted was not to be gotten rid of and after something over a year at home I tore loose from all that was dear to me and again came out west, this time to eastern Colorado where I first went buffalo hunting with a man named Hank Baily, who was afterward killed by Mexicans in New Mexico. This was in 1874, and from Kit Karson on the Kansas Pacific road from which place I had gone buffalo hunting, I hired as a “mule skinner”, with a freight train belonging to old Pat Shanley, to go to Santa Fe, New Mexico. After reaching our destination I bought a Mexican burro and packing some camp equipage on it I started for the Silver City mines in south western New Mexico, but being ignorant of the Spanish Language which was then the language of the country, I got lost and finally brought up at Measilla on the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico, about fifty miles above El Paso. For a number of years I ranged over most of that south west country, including Arizona, Texas and parts of Old Mexico and Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) following the various occupations of cowboy, buffalo hunter, and overland freighter, which business I was engaged in in 1880, having four mules, four horses and two wagons, coupled together, all of which I drove myself. At the beginning of the winter of this year, I decided to pay my old home another visit, and leaving my freighting outfit in southern Colorado near Alimosa I again went back to West Virginia, where met and married my wife, a girl whom I had known from her infancy but who had grown to womanhood after I had come out west. My wife’s maiden name was Samantha Margaret Knapp. Her father, William Knapp, was a soldier in the federal army during the civil war. The Knapps were of English origin, having come from England about the time of the Revolutionary War. Her mother’s family was named Smith and like the Abstens, were of the early English stock of Virginia. We were married on March 8, 1881, at Angerona, Jackson Co., West Virginia. My wife was born and brought up in Mason Co., West Virginia. We came back to Colorado early in the spring of 1881 and after following my occupation of freighting for about a year we decided to sell out our freighting outfit and go to the northwest, the coast of Washington, Chehalis Bay or Gray’s Harbor being the places that we had thought of stopping at. We were then at Crane’s station on the Atlantic and Pacific railroad and just west of the continental divide, though the country was mostly level and not at all mountainous. I sold my wagons, my four mules, and two of my horses, and buying a light Shutler wagon I put my two lead horses to it and on the 11th of March, 1882 we started on our long journey that was to eventually land us at Hood River, Oregon. We now had something over one thousand dollars in money besides our outfit, we came west through northern Arizona to Winslow; there we started north on the Salt Lake trail through the petrified forest region to the Colorado River, which we crossed at Lee’s ferry, and on north through Utah; but having started too early in the season we had many hardships on the journey. At one time we were three days going thirty miles, the sand rolling over the wagon felloes nearly all the time. We ran out of water which we had to haul with us, and as the desert was burning hot, both we and the horses suffered from thirst and heat. And to make matters worse there was little or no grass for the horses, but when we had crossed a chain of mountains in southern Utah, the buckskin range, we again got into winter weather through which we traveled for about three hundred miles, through which we made very slow progress, as the country had been bare by sheep. And we often had to stop and lay over to let the horses rest up as they were getting very thin. We finally reached Hood River along in June after having been more than three months on the road and, according to our reckoning, having traveled more than sixteen hundred miles. We were thoroughly tired of travel and decided to stop and look around for a location. And besides we could not get any farther with our wagon without putting it on a boat; but after looking over the valley, which at that time had no irrigating ditches in it, I did not think it looked very promising. I was thinking about shipping my wagon down the river by boat and then taking the road again, when I was told of a squatter’s claim down the river near Mitchell’s Point; that it had no road to it except a wood hauler’s road straight up and down the hill; but that it had a good spring on it and could be made into a nice little ranch. I came to see it and must admit that the wild beauty of the situation and the broad sweep of the Columbia River in front of it had more to do with my buying it than any very clear idea of how I was going to make a living on it, as I had lived for a number of years on the frontier and had little or no practical knowledge of farming. This was the 15th of June, and having bought the old man out whose only right consisted in his having lived on the place for a short time, as he was not living on the place at the time that I bought it. The next day, June 16, 1882, we moved onto the place which has been my home over since.
My wife was not quite so fascinated with the place as I was and told me at once that it would be a hard place to make a living on; but I told her that I should clear up about ten acres every year and that we should have a nice little farm. But alas, for my roseate dreams! If my wife had less of the romantic in her makeup, she had lots more practical common sense than I had. However, by hard work and the most rigid economy, we managed to make a fairly decent living and to bring up our family without having to incur any indebtedness, until the final breakdown of my wife’s health when heavy doctor’s bills and other like expenses put us far behind. Finally, on June 8, 1907, my dear wife, one of the noblest women who ever blessed a man with her love, was called away.
I have seven living children: Lulu, who is Mrs. W.W. Schlegel of Portland Oregon, Helen, Virgil, Alma, Homer, Francis, and Sylvan, the latter two not yet grown up.
That is a rough trip in a car.
Absten called his farm Indian Gardens Ranch because Indians at one time cultivated the area. Mitchell Point is about 1/2 a mile to the west. A large spring on the hill furnished abundant water for his fruit trees and strawberries.
Compard to the chair he is a rather small man, but lacked for nothing in being tough, tough, tough.
Very interesting history. I didn't realize people were still making the journey west by horse and wagon as late as 1882. My ancestors that settled into HR in 1874 took the train (train to San Francisco, boat to Portland, then boat to HR).
If you had a wagon, horses, and household goods, it was often considered a better deal to drive and camp rather ship it all or than to sell off, travel by train, then have to repurchase everything. I remember being quite amazed to hear that my grandmother's family had moved north from Kansas by covered wagon in the late 1890s, but her explanation made good sense, and I have remembered it in lieu of having to exercise good sense on my own.