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Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Best Laid Plans . . .




Well, Robert Burns said it best when he wrote “To a Mouse”  and the line I remember as “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry …”

That is exactly what happened when trying to write this particular piece for you.  The plans:  write about Ellen Victoria Forsberg using excerpts from her diary covering her life from October 1906 (age 19) to January 1910 (age 22).

In 1906 Ellen was in her “second teaching year she was located near Eatonville (Elbe, Alder)” per an unsigned note of helpful information relating to her diary.  Unfortunately, the diary was written on both sides of the pages and the niece or nephew who photocopies it, only copied what appears to be the odd numbered pages.  

According to Findagrave.com, Ellen taught school in Washington State for 57 years:  Alder, American Lake, Hay, Hooper (Whitman County), and then finished at Poulsbo for the last 27 years.

Ellen’s parents, John Victor Rosberg and Sophia Carolina Stromberg had five children:  Julia, Ellen Victoria, Lily Magnahild, Ruth Sophia and Ruben Victor.  Following Sophia’s death in 1895, John married Johanna Bjur and they had three children:  Eva M, Victor John, Laura Erikka, Leo Julian, Malcom Iver and Alma Leona.

Despite a lengthy search for the missing pages of Ellen’s diary, we found nothing.  But, I found quite a bit of information on Ellen’s sister, Lily Magnahild Forsberg Knapp.  So switching gears, let’s share a little information on Lily and her husband, Earl Horace Knapp.

A lot has been written about Josephine Fuller Knapp, mother of Earl Horace (he when by his middle name and I’ll use that going forward) and his father.  Issac Hawk sold 19 acres of land in what is now Purdy to Horace’s father in 1884 for $23.75.  His mother was the first white woman to live on Henderson Bay following her marriage in 1885 to Horace Knapp, Sr. 

Harbor History Museum has been very fortunate to have received substantial information from Laura M. Knapp Otto regarding her family, her own recollections, her father’s recollection on his father, etc.  There is also information in “Along The Waterfront, aa history of the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula Areas” complied and written by Students of 1974-75, Goodman Middle School, Gig Harbor WA and in Colleen A. Slater’s recently released book “Peninsula Pioneers” to mention a couple sources for further research, including the internet. 

My Father, Horace Knapp (Born March 23, 1845)

How does one go about writing a biography of one’s father?  To be objective is commendable but hardly possible.  I will start with the earliest associations I remember.

Father owned two logging camps on Puget Sound when I entered the picture.  One on Hartstine Island the other around Purdy.  I say around Purdy for headquarters was a floating camp.  It consisted of a one story building eighteen by thirty-six feet which rested on five huge cedar logs.  The rear ten feet was a bedroom in which I was born.  The remaining space was used as office, living room, and kitchen.  The furniture was home made but well built by father and his men.  I still have the bureau and  part of the writing desk.  The interior was decorated with newspapers from which I learned to read.

My first recollections of Father were of a dark haired man with a mustache, wearing a navy blue double breasted wool shirt.  Much of the time he was with other men.  Several of the crew boarded with us.  When alone with us he sat at this desk, book-keeping or studying and writing.  He had a surprising;y complete library consisting of reference works such as Webster’s unabridged dictionary, Chamber’s encyclopedia, Bullion’s English grammer and many other books.  He had current periodicals from Harper’s to Little’s Living Age.  Books were his joy and pride.  To misuse a book was unforgivable.  My love for books stems from this living example.  I felt at times that Father though more of his books than of his family.  Of course I know better now.  But he built up years of association with books before he met Mother.  Father had lived some forty years as a bachelor before I was born.  A chasm of years hard to bridge.  I had great respect for Father but perhaps little love.  Mother was seventeen years his junior and more of a companion to me.  

Father was a true pioneer in spirit.  The twenty-six years I lived before his death were not years of continuous association.  He spent many months and sometimes years prospecting for wealth in far places.  But we were never neglected.  Father was a good provider as far as material wants were concerned.  I well remember sitting at Mother’s knee, around the turn of the century, watching her lips spell out words of a months old letter saying this would be the last message until the ice broke and the steamers could get within lighter distance of Nome.  The tear on Mother’s cheek induced no response in the heart of this young hero worshipper who pictured his father a bold knight challenging the icy darkness.

The few years I spent in close contact with Father were tense and impressive.  Father was a tense man.  What he believed he believed with all his heart.  What he did he did with all the fervid ardor he could summon.  Birth meant maturity.  The formative period, youth, held no place in his pattern of life.  To him there was no childhood.  Perhaps because his was cut so short.  He was in the army a few days after his sixteenth birthday.

The lessons I learned from Father have never been forgotten.  One incident will illustrate.  When I was between five and six years old I was playing on the beach near home adjoining a mill pond where logs were kept.  A pickaroon, used in handling lumber, had washed up.  I was playing with it when Father happened along.  He accosted me abruptly, “Where did you get the pickaroon?”  “Right here,” I answered and indicated the drift wash.  “That’s stealing young man.  Come along .”  Grasping my arm in one hand and the pick in the other he marched me to the mill office not far away.  Confronting Frank wright, the superintendent and part owner of the mill, father held up the pickaroon, “The boy took this Wright.  He’s brought it back.”

The boss took the rusty pick, looked at the grinding culprit and decided amnesty was in order, “Well, Knapp it looks as though the tide must have helped in this get-a-way.  We lose quite a few that way.”  “The boy knew whose it was” answered Father, “Stealing is stealing.  I won’t have it in my house.”

Mr. Wright reached down and took me by the arm, “Let’s step outside in the sunshine, it’s too nice to waste our time in here.”  Sitting down on a bench he took me in his lap.  Brushing his bushy gray bread against my face he said, “I’m going to tell you a story.  Maybe Daddy would like to hear it too.  My little dog, he pointed to a black pup lying on the sawdust, was playing out here early this morning.  The corner of the office building was damp from the fogs that drift in at night.  The heat from the early sun made it steam.  Carlow saw it and thought the house was on fire.  Being a smart dog and an honorable little fellow he decided he must do something about it.  He ran up and pee peed on it to stop the smoke.  But it smoked all the more.  So he pee peed some more and more and more until he was all pee peed out.  Being a wise little dog and seeing his effort had been wrong and only made things worse he decided he would forget all about it and take a snooze.  Now my lad, I want you to do the same, I’m giving you this pickaroon, run back to the beach and peck away until you are all tired out, then go to sleep and forget all about it.”

“Thank Mr. Wright for the pick,” said Father.  I did, then we went back to the beach.  Father admonished, “Now remember never to take a thing that does not belong to you.”  How can I ever forget?

Father was tense and just.  He believed in each person standing on his own feet.  Live and let live was his oft quoted motto.  But living, to him, meant independent, active living.  The broader the field of knowledge the wider the base for freedom.  Our home was the center for the best books and literature.  That meant reading, digesting, and discussing.  It was the tense active participation in life that was offered and demanded by Father.  That applied to all branches of home life indoors and out.

I was big for my age.  Physical development was ahead of mental.  To master one’s self and control the emotions was a must.  We had a large boar who had served his purpose as a breeder.  He must be castrated.  We roped and readied him for the operation.  Father noticed I was holding back bit.  I was nine years old.

“Now my boy,” said Father, “This is necessary and must be done.  You are as able as I am to do it.  I will tell you how.”  He handed me the razor sharp knife.  Between sympathy for the squealing beast and the paralyzing terror within me I stood rigid, white as a ghost.  “Now my boy, the quicker done the better for all.  Get busy.”  I obeyed.  I have thanked Father many times for spurring me to do the impossible.

We had a very fine Marino ewe sheep.  She gave birth to three of the cutest lambs I have ever seen.  They were given the run of the orchard and became next to household pets.  Since we were not in the wool business in the fall it became necessary to get rid of the lambs.  The very thought of those darling creatures being slaughtered gave me the cold creeps.  I worried over it several days then suggested we call the buyer of the slaughter house.  Father called me on it quickly.  “Why do you suggest the cattle buyer, my boy?  You are not saving their lives.  You are merely side-stepping an unpleasant task.  We do not know how they may suffer at the slaughter house.  We can dispatch them quickly and with a minimum of pain.”

We stunned them with a blow on the head first.  I have thanked Father many times for this realistic approach to a sentimental stymie.

Yet Father had an achilles heel in his emotional armor, a soft spot that endeared him to us all.  And strangely enough it showed up in the barnyard in connection with the disposal of surplus stock, the arena in which he had trained me so thoroughly against emotional imbalance.  We had always sealed our male calves and sold them to the butcher.  Once when we were leaving with a veal Mother remarked that it seemed so foolish to sell such fine meat and then buy back inferior pieces at higher prices.  We decided to follow her logical advice.  With a choice platter of veal cutlets we started our breakfast.  Father cut a piece, put it in his mouth but could not for the life of him swallow it.  He gagged, went out of doors and didn’t come back for breakfast.  Sometime afterward when I thought it safe I tackled him about it.  With his usual frankness he told me, “All I could see when I tried to swallow the veal was the big brown eyes of the calf pleading for mercy.”

At first I was completely at a loss to account for it.  But after mulling it over for a time I arrived at a reasonable answer.  Father had been logging for years with oxen.  He had always taken unusual care in raising and training of the calves and young bulls.  I still have a calf training yoke.  Not until the young bulls had gained a heavy neck and weighty front quarters with the spirit of aggressiveness well developed did he alter them into steers.  He never dehorned because he said it dampened their spirits.  It was his pride to be able to control his oxen with a gentle tone of voice.  He reserved a short, sharp chirp-like whistle for emphasis.  He carried a goad stick but seldom used it.  He would spend hours with bull calves studying their dispositions in order to select the one most promising for oxen.  In short he really palled with his bovine friends.  I am sure his long years of almost fraternal association with the sturdy kine was the answer to the lapse in emotional rectitude.  One has to rationalize a bit in defense of his own Father.  Anyway that he bowed to an exception to prove his rule brought us much closer to each other.

I realize I am injecting myself into this record to an unpardonable degree but in this personal contact part of the story it seems necessary.

The following incident interfered with and postponed prospecting trip to Atlin, British Columbia.  He had recently returned from a search for gypsum up the Green River country in the Cascades.

It happened on Sunday July 3, 1898.  The Spanish-American war slogan “Remember the Maine to hell with Spain” was ringing in the air.  I was eleven years old and around ten o’clock that forenoon I was in swimming near the south end of a bridge that spanned the mouth of Purdy Creek.  The bridge began on the point where the present oyster plant is situated and ended on the townsite near the old mill office where Marian Riley now lives.  The bridge was part of the first Purdy-Gig Harbor road.  Our home at that time was standing in almost the exact spot of the present store site.

While I was in the water Father came driving along with his well groomed span of black mares.  In the surrey sat Mother and Luella McKinney (a former teacher who had boarded with us).  They were on their way to Sidney (now Port Orchard).  They stopped for a chat with me then drove on.  After leaving the bridge they had to pass through a heavy stand of thistles.  The blossoms were alive with honey bees.  The horses were nervous and began backing and plunging about.  Before Father could get them under control Mother jumped out.  She fell and the wheels ran over her ankle twice crushing the bones badly.  By the time we got Dr. Steward from Tacoma the ankle was painfully swollen and hard to set.  Mother was crippled the rest of her life.

The horse were shy of bees on this occasion because we had been plowing for Nick Gooch the day before and had unearthed a nest of yellow jackets.  The horses were stung unmercifully.

The Stlin trip being called off Father started taking out piling near Elgin.  Although I was busy helping Mother he called on me frequently to help in the woods.  Thanks to his tutoring I knew the fine points of sharpening and handling a cross cut saw.  I could fall and buck well.  To learn by doing was Father’s formula for acquiring and education.

He had very decided ideas in regard to education.  He fought for better schools at all times.  Better schools, better roads, and more settlers were the crying needs as he saw it.

Education was something that the individual should strive for.  It was a continuous process in life.  Schooling could be helpful or not depending on the pupil.  Mother urged me to finish high school and college if possible.  Father disagreed.  Learn by doing was his motto.  If you wished for proficiency study while you worked.  I have always felt the Father’s knowledge on a wide range of subjects was a vindication for his theory.  Little of his education was acquired in school.

I did not always agree with Father’s idea of work, that is the physical kind, for he applied himself with all the energy he could command.  He would never ask anyone to do anything he would not do himself.  That was little consolation to me considering Father would tackle anything that presented itself.

Speaking of roads.  A road was badly needed to Gig Harbor.  Father contacted a Mr. Fay who represented our district.  The board told him there was but $400.00 available.  If he could complete a road for that amount he could have it.He took it.  Not having time to take charge himself he turned it over to a Mr. McLoud who lived across from the Murray Place south of Horse Shoe Lake.  Bismarck Burnum (sic) of Gig Harbor bid the lowest for the right-of-way.  But all who could donated labor.  Father gave freely of time and labor including the team.  A road of sorts was built from the first creek below Purdy winding easterly through the trees to connect with the Peacock Hill road to Olalla.

Father was civic minded.  A layman, he had a good grasp of the law, business fundamentals and surveying.  He was consulted ofter and responded cheerfully.

As to religion, Father belonged to no church or formulated creed.  He fostered the idea of one everliving supreme being or God.  He considered religion a personal matter, sacred to the individual and to be respected by all.  The Golden Rule was a good formula to live by.  It was the essence of human experience.

He had many controversial books which were mine to read.  That was as far as he went in pointing the way for me.  Yet, I have a tiny, leather bound volume of the New Testament which apparently he had carried for years.  He had many close friends of the cloth.  He was a Freemason.

Once we were discussing and evaluating unusual phenomena in front of the fireplace.  Suddenly Father caught my eye and said “Lad (that was the nearest he ever came to using an endearing on me) I am going to tell you something I have never told anyone before.”  As I waited all attention he continued, “At my logging camp on Harstine Island I had a small building overlooking the camp which served as office and bedroom for me.  I arose each morning at 4 A.M. to awaken the cook and feed the oxen.  It was June of the early seventies.  The door and window by which I slept were wide open.  I had been lying awake for perhaps fifteen minutes listening to the birds and looking at the cook shack, the hovel, and over the grounds in general when suddenly in the doorway there materialized the form of a woman.  She was enveloped in a filmy, shroud-like garment tinged with the morning light.  As I stared , wide awake and as conscious as I am at this moment, she walked or floated beside my bunk.  She spoke, “I am your Mother” I reached out my hand, She said, “No you cannot touch me, but I am near you always”.  After a bit she smiled and said “I must go.”  She moved to the doorway and vanished from sight.

Father still looking at me observed “I have no explanation to offer, just an experience that impresses me deeply.  My practical self says ‘an hallucination, a vivid dream’ but dreams fade, this does not.  Just another sign along the mystic trail, Lad.  Sometime we will understand.”

In every day, active life Father was realistic and practical.  In reflective, thoughtful moods he was nominalistic and philosophic.

“Rough hewn - a poet at heart -
In fancy oft took wings:
Through simple verse, expressed in part
His sense of finer things.”

Hanging on the wall was a shadow box frame into which Mother had arranged her wedding wreath, beneath which were pictures of her only two children my bother and me.  Accompanying were these few lines composed by Father,

“Two little boys with flaxen hair,
with laughing lips and eyes.
Two little spirits pure and fair
as Angels from the skies.”

Interspersed among the few meager, fading notes dating from his childhood, which I have been fortunate enough to recover are bits of verse, all of which I shall decipher and preserve.  I will interpret faithfully even though I find, 

“Recorded in some missal
In shaded, fading script,
A passioned love epistle
Unposed and unzipped.”

To read more, please visit us at Harbor History Museum Research Room.

  • Recollections of Earl H. Knapp
  • Christmas 1997, 2004, 2007-Laura M. Otto
  • Along the Waterfront, A History of the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula Area by Goodman Middle School Students 1974-75
  • Peninsula Pioneers by Collen A. Slater


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