Thursday, March 5, 2020

Kings Valley: Memories of Retha Grieg

I've become interested in the first-hand accounts and reminiscences that are part of the Benton County Historical Museum's archive collection.  Some I've featured in earlier posts.  I've discovered there are lots more and including parts of them here is a good way to feature something we probably wouldn't show in a gallery.  Hope you like them too.

Today's account was written by Retha Allen Grieg, shown here is a young girl and as an adult.
Retha Allen Grieg
Retha Allen Grieg
Retha is the great great granddaughter of pioneer Nahum King. Here is what she wrote about her childhood.
“Ours was a family of four sisters.  Naomi, born 1897, Ethel, 1901, Retha, 1903, and Mabel 1906.  We were born and raised in Kings Valley, Oregon.  The valley was named for the several King families who took up their Donation Land Claim there.

“When I was two years old [1905] my father bought a large part of the Isaac King DLC.  We lived in the Isaac King house until we were grown.  The house was large and well built.  Every piece of lumber in it was hand hewn.  The old square-cut iron nails were used throughout. “
Isaac King House in 1985
“There were secret passageways in it. (To what purpose I never know).  Flush with the floor upstairs was a trap door with handle and hinges of thick leather.  We children would open the door and lower ourselves down between two floor to ceiling built-ins, a clothes-press and dish cupboard.  At the bottom we would edge our way on between them, then past the back and side of the fireplace.  This brought me to a low, narrow door.  We opened the door and, presto, we were in a ground floor room without coming down the stairs.  All this was done in near darkness, our only light being from the open trap door above.”
Martha's comment: When I was a child, I always liked to imagine a secret passage in the house we lived in then.  How cool to actually have one!!

Retha continues: “The windows were six feet in height.  It was three feet from the floor to window sill and three feet from window top to ceiling, making the walls twelve feet high.  There were hooks in the ceiling of one room for lowering the quilting frames or to pull them out of the way.

“Back of the house was a built-on room called the “cellar.” Its double walls and ceiling were sawdust filled for insulation. The room stayed cool in the hottest weather.  Dairy products and fresh meat were kept there.  When the fall butchering of fifteen to twenty hogs was done, the rendered out lard was put into four and five gallon earthen jars to be stored in the cellar. The hams, shoulders and sides were salted, then when ready were hung in a tight building and smoked over a slow fire of oak and applewood.  The pork trimmings were made into sausage.  Other things were stored in the cellar, smaller stoneware jars of green tomato and, or pear preserves cooked down so thick and rich they kept without sealing. Pickles and sour kraut in the big jars.  Sweet, ripe grapes were placed in wooden boxes between layers of grape leaves.  They would keep this way so well, that we always had grapes for Christmas and the New Year holidays.

“Hopestill, daughter of Nahum and Sarepta Norton King, married Lucius Norton. They named one daughter Sarepta, hence a second Sarepta Norton.  That Sarepta married Willard Price.  Dora, their daughter, was our mother.
In addition to grandmother Sarepta, I knew one other of Hopestill's daughter, Ashney Plunkett.  We used to visit Great Aunt Ashney.  I can see her at her big carpet loom.  I think she mad the rag carpets for most of Kings Valley folk. The loom and Aunt Ashney's operation of it fascinated me.  She would feed the long, many colored rag strips into the loom, then with a quick movement of her hands and feet and an almost deafening “Clack! Clack!” of the loom the ugly rag strips became beautiful carpeting and hall runners.  It seemed like magic.”
More of Retha's recollections next time. 

 By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Featured Artifact: Silkworm Cocoons

Today I'd like to feature one item from the Benton County Historical Museum's Horner Collection. At the time the Horner Museum began, one of its goals was to assemble a large collection of natural history artifacts which would be of use to students in a number of disciplines. However useful they may have been to students, some of these items do not display well.  Many of the shells are very small and would be hard to see in an exhibit space, for example.  So it's nice to be able to feature one item from the collection here.

The items in the photograph above are silkworm cocoons from Thailand. These cocoons are the source of the fibers used to make silk fabrics.  The silkworm moth (Bombyx mori) lays eggs which hatch after about 14 days.  The larvae then feed on their preferred food-- the leaves of the white mulberry.  They eat continuously for about 42 days and enter the pupal phase by spinning a cocoon of fibers produced by their salivary glands. If humans do not intervene, the silk moth develops within, produces an enzyme which eats a hole in the cocoon, enabling the moth to emerge.

Humans began cultivating the silkworms in China about 5,000 years ago.  They provide the mulberry leaves and collect the cocoons.  Before the moth can emerge, humans would immerse the cocoon in hot water to kill the pupa within and to soften the cocoon. Then, the filament which makes up the cocoon is unraveled.  The individual thread is incredibly fine (.0004 inch in diameter) and stretches an amazing 1,000 to 3,000 feet long!

The filaments are so fine that several must be twisted together to create silk thread which can then be woven into silk fabric.  The sheen or shimmer characteristic of silk results from the prism-like structures of the filaments. It takes about 2,500 cocoons to make one pound of silk!

The production of silk began in China and eventually spread to Japan and westward, eventually reaching Italy and France.  Disease and the development of synthetic fabrics brought an end to silkworm cultivation in Europe. Today, China is the leading producer of silk; India is the second largest. Thailand, where these cocoons come from, is the fourth largest producer. 

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon