D. E. Larsen, DVM
Dad was drying his hands as he entered the kitchen. He had just finished the morning milking and had washed up for breakfast.
Looking over Mom’s shoulder as she stood at the stove, he asked, “What’s for breakfast? I am hungry as a horse.”
“David wanted hotcakes, but I also cooked some bacon and eggs for you,” Mom said.
Dad sat down at the table to wait for breakfast.
“Vern stopped by the barn this morning to pick up a jug of milk,” Dad said. “He said that Shorty Shull sold his place yesterday.”
“Oh, that’s great,” Mom said. “He has been trying to get it sold ever since he hurt his back last fall.”
“Yes, but the price he got is almost obscene,” Dad said. “These damn Californians keep coming up here and paying these high prices for a place, and it just drives the prices so high that a young man can’t get start anymore.”
“It will help Shorty get his back taken care of and allow them to move to town with no problem,” Mom said.
“At these prices, a place can’t pay for itself,” Dad said. “It doesn’t matter how many cows you milk. You would have to work out also. And not just to feed the family, but to pay the mortgage.”
This was the same conversation that I had heard my entire life. The influx of money into the local real estate was ruining the market for local folks. Of course, it was true, but it was unavoidable in a free market society.
It was also the beginning of the end for the family farm, at least in our little corner of southwestern Oregon. To some extent, farmers became little more than land speculators. All they had to do was struggle to pay the mortgage and provide a living for their families for a decade or two before cashing in on the inflationary spiral for the price of their land.
Years later, Sandy and I started exploring the family histories and soon became engrossed in genealogy.
“Sandy, look at this article,” I said as I placed the old newspaper article in front of her. “This is an article showing the taxpayers in Coos County in 1910 who paid more than a hundred dollars in property tax.”
“So, who is of interest to us?” Sandy asked.
I pointed to a name on the list, Joseph Davenport.
“There is my great grandfather,” I said. “I looked through this list. He paid three hundred thirty-seven dollars, which ranks him about 68 on the list. But forty of those above him are companies. This guy was well to do. We need to investigate this some more.”
Over the next ten years, we gleaned all the family information we could get from family members. Still, it was not until the internet became available that we really started on the road to mapping out our various family groups. Joseph Davenport proved to be interesting.
Joseph was born in England in 1835, and he came to this country with his family in 1847. He lost a brother and a newborn sister at sea on the trip.
After settling in Wisconsin, his father traveled to California during the gold rush. He returned to Wisconsin after a year of limited success in the goldfields.
Joseph married his wife, Libbie, in Wisconsin in 1866, and he came west to Grizzly Bluff, California, in 1871. There he had a dairy farm and raised a family of five children.
He built a creamy in Ferndale, California, when the dairy farm needed to expand its market, and shipped butter to San Francisco on lumber schooners sailing up and down the coast. I often wondered if he ever met my Larsen grandfather. The latter sailed one of those lumber schooners in the 1890s.
Sometime between 1900 and 1903, he sold out in California and moved to Coos County. My grandfather was married in Grizzly Bluff in March of 1904 and moved to Coos County with his new wife.
“Look at this, Sandy,” I said as we scoured documents on the computer screen. “They bought four ranches, two on Catching Creek, one on Fat Elk out of Coquille and one below Cedar Point just out of Coquille. He also built a creamy and ice plant in Coquille.”
“They must have had a bundle of cash when they came to town,” Sandy said.
“Their house in Coquille is one of those classic old houses,” I said. “Very large and elaborate for being built in the early 1900s.”
“We will never know what people thought of them when they came to town,” Sandy said. “I wonder if people complained about the Californians in those days?”
“It is just like Mike Enright said, the most ardent environmentalist is the guy who has just built a new house on Big Sur,” I said. “I have heard nothing but complaints about the prices the Californians pay for property in Oregon.”
“Maybe those people didn’t know the family history,” Sandy said.
“It is just a little upsetting,” I said. “After I heard all those complaints about transplanted Californians, for all those years, and repeating them myself at times, and now I find out that I are one.”
Photo of Davenport House in Coquille, OR by D. E. Larsen.