Criteser Crossroad

J. I. Criteser

In 1949 Fred Lockley did an interview of John Isaac Criteser (photo above).  The interview appeared in the Portland Oregonian in three installments.

Correction: The article incorrectly reported John Isaac's brother to be John Henry, but John Isaac's brothers name is actually James Henry.

John Isaac Criteser
  Born7 Sep 1860,Lucas, IA
  Married1 Jul 1885,Douglas, OR
  Death13 Mar 1953,Multnomah, OR

Special thanks to Linda (Criteser) Petro who was generous enough to share the articles and allow me to photocopy them.

Fred Lockley's impressions

Old Timer Tells of Passage of Plains in 1864
    If you take the Hawthorne bus to the end of the line at SE 80th avenue, then walk four blocks east and one south, you will find on sunny days a group of old men sitting under the trees on the lawn of the Schultz nursing home.  There isn't a patient there but can tell a worth-while story.
    A few days ago I spent some hours visiting the old-timers there.  John I. Criteser sized me up and asked, "How old are you?".
    I told him and he said, "I was a good-sized lad when you were born.  I was born September 7, 1860 in Iowa.  This means that I will be 89 years old shortly.  I was born on my mother's 16th birthday.  My father, Francis Marion Criteser, was a Hoosier.  He and my mother, whose maiden name was Mary Spray, eloped when mother was 14.  They hunted up a preacher and were married.  I have their wedding certificate.  The preacher did some fancy spelling in making it out.  It is dated from 'State of Missouria.'  There were six of us children.  My brother, John Henry , a railroad man who lives in Portland and who is the youngest child, and myself, the eldest, are the only ones left of the family now living.
*  *  *
    "In the fall of 1863 my father decided to head for Oregon, so we, with relatives and neighbors, met on the banks of the Missouri to organize the wagon train.  As it was too late in the season to start, we spent the winter in Nebraska so as to be ready early in the spring of 1864.  Most of the party used oxen, but my father bought young cows and broke them to the yoke.
    "Mother milked them night and morning all the way across the plains.  She put what milk we did not use in a tin churn each morning and when we camped that night we had all the butter we needed as well as plenty of buttermilk.
    "My mother's uncle, George Taylor, was elected captain of the wagon train.  He was born in Indiana in March, 1832, and was the youngest of 13 children.  He served in the 31st Iowa infantry and received his discharge on account of sickness in the spring of 1864 when he joined our party and was elected captain.  He was just and firm and if ever had an enemy, I never heard of it.
*  *  *
    "WHEN we got to Umatilla, our wagon train broke up.  Our family and some others stayed at Umatilla.  Uncle George and his family went next spring to Yelm Prairie on Puget Sound.  In 1866 he went to the Yakima valley and took a homestead in Selah valley.  He served as county commissioner for several terms in the '70s.  He helped round up renegade Indians, including Chief Moses.  He was a great man to play jokes and he excelled in whatever he did.  One time he and one of his hired me, Orville Cherry, while spending a few weeks with his cattle which were ranging between the Big and Little Rattlesnake about 40 miles from Yakima, stopped on what was known as the Devil's Table.  Orville began rolling big rocks down the canyon.
    "Uncle George saw a big boulder overhanging the canyon which he thought he could dislodge.  He finally succeeded in loosening it but, as it was dislodged and made huge leaps down the steep sides of the canyon, the edge of the cliff on which Uncle George was standing watching it gave away and Uncle George went over the edge of the precipice.  He lodged for a second or so on a shelf 40 or 50 feet below then dropped about 150 feet to another ledge.
    "Orville hurried to the Nile settlement to get help.  They took ropes and one of the rescue party was lowered to where Uncle George's body was lodged.  They tied his body on a packhorse and took him to the Nile settlement.  The funeral was held at Yakima and was one of the most largely attended funerals ever held there up to that time.  His wife, three sons and a daughter survived him.
*  *  *
    "IT IS CURIOUS what a vivid memory I have of the incident of our trip across the plains.  I remember how one of the women in our wagon train cried heart-brokenly when the men dug a grave for her baby.  She wanted to have a headboard put over its grave but the men buried the baby in a shallow grave and built a sagebrush fire over it and had the oxen tramp over the grave so the Indians would not dig up the body to get the baby's clothes.  In the '50s the emigrants killed lots of buffalo and antelopes but when we came along we never saw a buffalo or an antelope although we killed all the sagehens, prairie chickens and jackrabbits we need- and gathered wild berries and caught fish in the streams."
[The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon.  Sunday September 4, 1949.]

Plains Crossing Leaves Vivid Print on Boy's Mind
    John I. Criteser of 2704 SE 84th avenue, who was born in 1860, has spent four score and five years in Oregon.  He spent the winter of 1863-1864 in Nebraska and the winter of 1865 on the meadows of Butter creek in Umatilla county.
    "When we crossed the plains we had an easy trip, as the Old Oregon Trail was deeply rutted by the countless wheels of the covered wagons that had been plodding their way westward to the Willamette valley ever since 1843," he said.
    "We didn't see over a dozen Indians on the entire trip.  One was a wrinkled old squaw who begged some sugar of us, and one was an Indian boy about 10 years old.  Father met him along the Platte.  Father was carrying a sack in which he was gathering buffalo chips to cook our supper.  Father tied the mouth of the sack up and made signs for the boy to see whether he could shoot an arrow into the sack when father threw it in the air.  The little Indian nodded, and every time father threw it up, the boy shot two arrows in it before it hit the earth.
*  *  *
    "WHEN WE came to the crossing of the Platte, heavy rains had made the shallow river a raging torrent.  The men of our train chained two wagon beds together, after calking them with old rags and torn bed sheets, to ferry our supplies and goods across the river.  Father was a strong swimmer.  He and some of the younger men swam beside the wagon beds, keeping them headed for the opposite shore.  In spite of their best efforts, they landed far downstream.
    "Father made nine round trips across the river before the job was finished.  Then they swam the stock across.  Before they had time to get the tents up and the goods under shelter, a terrific storm blew up.  I can remember yet seeing father wearing a pail over his head to protect himself from the hailstones as large as pigeon eggs, while he tried to quiet the four cows we had in place of oxen.  They were terrified and broke loose, and in 10 minutes or less, all of the oxen, with tails in air and bawling in terror, stampeded.  It was two days before the men rounded them up and we were able to resume our trip.
    "I was a small boy, but I remember distinctly Independence Rock and Chimney Rock and how the Rocky mountains, which looked so high in the distance, seemed to get no closer as we traveled westward, but as we approached they seemed to get flatter and level off.  We crossed South Pass, and I can remember the excitement when my folks exclaimed over the water as it finally flowed westward.
    "I have tried to keep track of the members of our wagon train, but most of them have crossed the Last Divide.  Uncle Hughie Goodman, head of the Goodman clan, had three grown sons.  They were big bodied with powerful shoulders and long legs, and were quiet, sober, God-fearing men, who did their share and then some, and were afraid of nothing.  Then there were the Pollards and the Briagans.  Uncle George Taylor's sister married Jim Longmire.
*  *  *
    "MY UNCLE, George Taylor, stopped for a while at Umatilla, but father spent the winter on Butter creek, herding sheep.  The owner of the band of sheep agreed to pay father $1.50 a day, but deducted $2 for every lamb stolen by the coyotes.  In 1866 father bought a team of young mares and we drove to The Dalles, where we took passage on a steamer for Portland.  We stopped at the St. Charles hotel on Morrison street.  Our room was on the East Side, and there were no buildings between the hotel and the river, as the land was owned by the city.  I have never understood how it was lost to public ownership.  We could see the steamers land and heavy draft horses pull drays with the goods being unloaded on the wharves.
    "In a few days we headed for Roseburg.  I went to school with a pretty, dark-haired little girl, Clintona La Raut, and I guess it was a case of what they call puppy love, but Bob Booth beat me to it.  Bob, who was two years older than I, and Tony were married at Roseburg in the spring of 1881.  Bob and his brother, Henry, were bankers, and Bob became wealthy as a member of the Booth-Kelly Lumber company.  His father, the Rev. Robert Booth, was a Methodist church circuit rider.  My first teacher at the French Settlement in Douglas county was George Jones.
    "The first day I went there one of the French boys, a big husky lad larger and older than I was, said to me: 'You are a new boy.  I am going to lick you.'  So he gave me a bloody nose.  Next day I hunted him up again and started for him, and he looked scared and ran.  He was an attorney here in Portland and died not long ago.  George Brown, at one time on the Oregon supreme bench, and I graduated from Umpqua academy at Wilbur as classmates in 1883."
[The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon.  Sunday September 11, 1949.]
Early Day Douglas County Experiences Told
    "When I went to school in the French Settlement in Douglas county, the teacher taught from the ABCs to algebra," said John I. Criteser of 2704 SE 84th avenue.
    "Our farm was near the LaRaut claim.  Clintona LaRaut, or Toni as we called her, a pretty, black-eyed, black-haired, vivacious girl of about my age, was one of my schoolmates.
    "She married Robert A. Booth in 1881.  We had in our school a big boy who took pride in the fact that he had licked most of the teachers.  The school board hired a small chap and this muscular, overgrown boy told my father that the new teacher was so little he wouldn't be able to put up much of a scrap.  Friday when school was dismissed, the big boy jumped our new teacher, and I guess no one was ever more surprised than that big boy.  The teacher beat him up so badly he could hardly crawl off into the brush.  The school board had hired a college student who was a middleweight boxer.  That was the last teacher this boy ever tried to lick.
*  *  *
    I GRADUATED from Umpqua academy at Wilbur in 1883.  Frank Benson was county school superintendent.  He fixed me up with a teacher's certificate, and I landed a job as teacher at North Fork at $20 a month, and board.  I had a new boarding place each week, as I boarded free with the families whose children I taught.  Frank Benson got for me a place as principal of the school at Canyonville.  Addie Fullerton was my assistant.  She resigned and with one of the Gazley girls taught a subscription school.
    "I taught in Green Valley two terms and then got a position as teacher at Gardiner, known as 'spotless town,' because most of the houses were painted white.  Gardiner is on the Umpqua about seven miles from Winchester bay.  I went to church the first Sunday I was there and saw a girl of high school age come in with a young fellow.  If she had been made to order to my own specifications, she couldn't have suited me better.  I said to myself as I sized up the fellow she was with, 'That son of a gun is going with my wife.   I'll have to get busy right away.'
*  *  *
    "SHE WAS ONE of my students, and it wasn't long until we were engaged.  Here is her picture not long before her 18th birthday.  Her name was Frances Balderee, and she lived on Smith River.  We were married at Gardiner on July 1, 1885, by the Rev. Mr. Black, a Baptist preacher.  My wife died last year.  We had six children, including a pair of twins.  Our daughter and two sons are still living.  My daughter, Mary, has taught school at Oakland, Cal., for the past 30 years.  My son, the Rev. Robert R. Criteser, is pastor of the McLoughlin Heights church.  My son, George, is a civil engineer at Carson, Nev.  He helped lay out the Alcan highway, 1023 miles of difficult engineering.  He is an expert with a camera.  He said to me when he visited me during the war, 'My salary as engineer is mere chicken feed to what I make with my camera.'  He sold his negatives to the popular magazines at high prices, from $100 to $300 for exclusive rights.
*  *  *
    "DID YOU EVER hear of a religious paper called 'The Religious Telescope,' edited by Bishop Wright, who taught the Sublimity, Or., Academy in early days?  My folks took it for years.  His two sons, Orville and Wilbur Wright, were the first men to fly a plane.  Bishop Wright left Oregon and went to Dayton, O., where his boys ran a bicycle shop before taking up flying.  John Mill Hockett of Douglas county is largely responsible for my making teaching my life work.  As you probably know, he married Sarah Booth, the daughter of the Rev. Robert Booth, the Methodist circuit rider, and the sister of Bob Booth, my boyhood friend, who, like myself, was educated at Umpqua academy in Douglas county.
*  *  *
    "AFTER I FINISHED school at the French Settlement, I was plowing on my father's place.  Mr. Hockett climbed our rail fence and waited until I had plowed to where he awaited me.  He said, 'John, I want you to come to Wilbur and stay at my home and work for your board so you can attend Umpqua academy.'  I lived at his home for the two years I went to school there.  I made friends with as fine a group of young folks as I ever met.  From the day I was 5 years old back in 1865 on Butter creek and at Umatilla to the present, I have been mighty glad that I cast my lot in Oregon."
[The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon.  Sunday September 18, 1949.]