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BERTIE SOLOMON SLAVENS

His Autobiography

I was born October 2, 1875. My motherís maiden name was Elmina Clodfelter. She was a daughter of Solomon Clodfelter. I think she was born in the year 1848 and I think she was married to my father J. C. Slavens in the year 1869, and I think she died in the year 1879. She was the mother of four children; two died when they were babies. I have one brother living. His name is Ollie Belford Slavens. He was born January 10, 1872. He is living in Terre Haute, Indiana.

After my mother died I lived with my grandfather and grandmother until my father married again. Then I lived with my father until March before I was 13 in October. In March of that year I went to work for a man by the name of William Evans, and worked for him nine months that winter. I worked for a man in Greene County, Indiana the rest of that winter cutting wood.

In the spring I went back to Putnam County and worked for a man by the name of Jim Shannon until fall (the fall of 1889). The winter of 1889 and 1890 I made my home with Uncle John Clodfelter. The summer and fall of 1890 I worked for Uncle Jack Clodfelter. Then made my home again with Uncle John Clodfelter until in March of 1891.

The 1st of March 1891 I went to work for Simpson Crodian. Worked for him during the years of 1891, 1892, and 1893. I worked for Uncle Jack. The year of 1894 I worked for Jack Sutherland until the first of August. Then went back to Simpson Crodianís and showed sheep at the county and state fairs. Worked for him that winter alter the fairs were over and until they started again in 1895 then made the fairs again. After the fairs were over I worked for him on the farm until fairs started again in 1896. Crodian and I bought a show herd of sheep together and I showed them at the county and state fairs. The fall of 1896 I worked for John Grey McGaughey thru corn husking. Then made home with Uncle Jack that winter until March the 31st.

On March 31st I was married to Lizzie Mae Murray. We went to housekeeping in the Milt McGaughey house, on what was then called Sweet Potato Ridge. We lived there the spring and summer of 1897. I farmed old Uncle Chris Gradiant Sisters place that fall. I rented the Id Gulliams place, farmed that place the years of 1898 and 1899. Our first darling baby girl was born on that place on the 6th of June. Our house was a two room log house. One big room and what then was termed an upstairs room (just the rafters and roof above). After I moved into it I built a lean-to kitchen to it. The framework was all built out of poles that I cut and hewed down enough to straighten so that they would do. I built my barn the same way. Cut the logs and had them sawed into lumber for siding and sheathing. Went to the woods and cut down a red oak tree and split it into boards to cover the building with. It was a very humble home but was a happy home, especially alter our darling daughter came. I worked so much with Dear Old Uncle John and Uncle Turn Clodfelter. My, but we spent many happy hours together. We all worked hard but enjoyed our work and were happy.

In August 1899 I sold out and moved to Illinois and went into the blacksmith business. Our first boy Basil Dale was born October the 25th. I was getting along fine until then in the shop. Shortly alter Basil was born our little girl Gurneth Mae and my wifeís sister Butte (whom we raised from the time we were married til she was 21--15 years) took down sick and before they were able to be up my wife went down with pneumonia fever and just hung between life and death for days. In fact the doctor told me that he didnít think there was much chance for her but she finally did get better, but the doctor told me I would have to get her out of Illinois or he didnít think she could ever get well. He said her lung was so badly affected. I hardly knew what to do. I was broke, I had been to such a heavy expense during their sickness, and after my wife got so low. I had to stay away from business. I sold my blacksmith tools and got enough money to move back to Indiana. I rented a shop until our twins were born (a little girl and a little boy). One of them just lived a few days and the other a few weeks. I became so discouraged that I quit the shop and went out on a farm and went to work for a man by the name of McCabe. Worked for him that summer and winter on until the August of that year. Kenneth Pearl, our next boy was born on March the 2nd of that year.

In August I rented a shop in Silverwood, Indiana and worked there the rest of that year and was doing very well again until my wifeís father and Kenneth our boy went down with pneumonia and before they got well Gurneth and Basil took down with the same thing. There were days we thought we would lose them both. Things looked pretty dark for us again. I was just down to about my last dollar. I didnít know if I had a friend in the town, but one day I was walking along the street passing a grocery store and meat market owned by a man by the name of Holmes. Mr. Holmes was standing out in front of his store waiting for me to come by, so as I was passing he stopped me and said, ďMr. Slavens, I donít know your financial condition, but I do know that you have been at a terrible expense and if there is anything in my store that you need, just let me know and you can have it. When you get on your feet, you can pay me. If not, it will be okay anyway.Ē I surely will always have a soft spot in my heart for that man. I didnít have to bother him. With the help of God our family got well again. Then that year little Leland Ross came and in October of that year we moved to Hollandsburg, but only stayed there a few weeks and then moved back to Portland Mills and went in the shop there. Then that winter we lost little Leland Ross. I stayed there until November 1905.

I sold out and left all my dear friends and relatives behind and moved to Tacoma, Washington. After spending several days and nights on the train we arrived in Tacoma about six A.M. When we got off the train, the fog was so thick we could hardly see the large buildings across the street. My, but I was blue, only a small amount of money and a big family to care for and no job. There was a family by the name of Wysong that had left Indiana a few months before that we knew. They lived ten miles from Tacoma at a little place called South Park out in the big fir forest. My, we had never seen such big tall trees in our lives before. We stayed there a few days and I went back into Tacoma to look for a job. Jobs were very hard do get. About all one could see was men with bedrolls on their backs (for they did carry their beds with them; I wasnít used to seeing that back in Indiana) looking for work. Well, when I was becoming about as discouraged as a man could be, I decided I would go down to the N. P. Car Shops and see if I could find any job. When I went to their employment agent, he said, "I am sorry but we are laying off men every day.Ē I told him I just had to have work, I had a family there and they had to eat. I told him I would work at anything but work I must have. Well, he says, ďYoung man, I believe you really want to work. You can come back in the morning and I will put you to work.Ē And I sure was there for work. Wages were low, $1.68 per day, but it was better than nothing. I worked at the shops until I got a chance to go to work for the city at $2.00 per day and worked that until spring. That spring of 1906 on the 9th day of April another boy was born, Murland Keith.

Then came the terrible earthquake of San Francisco. It shook up Tacoma quite a bit. We decided there was a good chance for the entire west coast to cave off into the ocean. So we got on the train and went back to Indiana again. Had one hundred and fifty dollars left when we arrived in Terre Haute, went down to Saline City the next day and bought out a blacksmith there and went to work in 1908.

Bertie Murray Slavens was born then, and with so many boys in our family we decided we should get on a farm. In November 1909 we went to Kansas and rented a farm. Landed there with $1,050. We worked hard, but did well. Another boy was born into our family in September 1910. Dear old Uncle Turn Clodfelter and wife and their youngest son Glen came out to see us that fall. We had such a nice time but it was the last time I ever got to see them. We lived in Kansas until the fall of 1912 (Valley Center, Kansas).

In the fall of 1912 we had a public sale and left Kansas for western Oklahoma with about $3,500. Rented a large farm, put in a big crop the spring of 1913. Was at a large expense for hired help, tools and teams. Had a wonderful prospect, but just as our corn was in tassel, the hot winds came and burned it to the ground. Our youngest son, Camun Cloin, was born on August the 27th, 1913. When our crop that we had put so much hard labor and money into was lost, I again became discouraged. Called a public sale and sold all we had but two good mule teams and a team of young mares and drove through to Rays Mills, Arkansas. I traded one mule team, wagon and harness for a house on nine acres of land there. Sold the other team of mules for $330 and built me a shop and bought my tools and went to work. Just got started good again when my wifeís father got sick and soon alter that Gurneth, our daughter, got sick so in the spring of 1914 we moved back to Kansas.

By this time I was about broke again. Well, we first moved into Wichita. But I knew that was a poor place for boys so I soon rented a place out in Nie County and went to work for two young fellows by the name of Wilson. For my work I earned two dollars per day and Basil, our oldest boy, earned one dollar per day. We worked until fall, then rented a farm close to Didquick, Kansas. We all worked hard that summer, the summer of 1915, and raised a good crop.

I went to Colorado in August and homesteaded 320 acres of land 74 miles from the railroad. It was a beautiful piece of land. I had three head of good horses, a wagon and harness. Enough furniture to go to housekeeping (with the only piano in the neighborhood), $250 in cash, a wife and one girl, and six boys. We left Sedgwick, Kansas October 10th, 1915. In a prairie schooner, had a nice trip with the exception of about two days of rain. The roads got so muddy that we had to stop over a day and stayed at Pratt, Kansas. On the evening of the 24th of October just after dark we went into camp and the next morning when it got light we found out that we were within about one mile of our homestead. We didnít wait to get our breakfast, but just hitched the horses to the wagon and drove down to the homestead and cooked our first breakfast on the morning of the 25th of October, 1915 and were we a happy family. There was about two hundred acres in a sort of valley with the rest of the land sloping down to it from the north. We could stand on one corner and see over all of it. My, it looked fine to us. The big blue stem grass was about as high as the horses backs over most of it.

We took our overlet off the wagon and set it on the ground (it was 7 ft. by 14 ft.) and we had a tent 12 x 12 and lived in them until we got our little house up. I gave a freighter two hundred dollars to go to Lamar, Colorado 74 miles from our homestead to get the lumber for our house. He brought back enough to build a house 14 x 28 divided into two rooms. It was just planked up and down with what we called in the country a box car roof, with a paper over the outside, a cement floor in one room and just a dirt floor in the other. Before I started to build the house, I made a trip to the cedars about 20 miles away for wood as it gets pretty cold there in November. It took me two days to make the trip and get the wood.

When I got back, I started the house, exchanged work with one of our neighbors and got him to help. We didnít have any school house near so we neighbors started to build one by donation, some by money and some by work. They called me to go to Kinton, Oklahoma with some more of our neighbors to get lumber for it. I got up and started before daylight one morning and left the neighbor that was helping me on the house to put the windows in. That evening it began to look stormy and my wife concluded she had better move into the house. It was a good thing she did, for the next morning when she got up there was a blizzard on. It was blowing and snowing so one could hardly stick their head out the door. The tent and overlet had blown down and our chickens were scattered through the sagebrush. I and the neighbors that were with me on the trip were camped out in a canyon with our beds on the ground when the storm struck us. We were awakened by the snow falling in our faces, but the wind wasnít blowing so hard down there like it was out on the prairie. We went on and got our lumber for the schoolhouse and arrived back home okay. We had to walk and wade through snow a lot to keep warm. My, but I was uneasy about my folks. I was afraid they hadnít got moved into the house before the blizzard struck. But when I found them all safe, I was sure thankful.

By the time we got settled I was out of money or so near it that there was no fun in it. It was beginning to look a little dark for us but there was a man by the name of Brown that lived about a mile from us. He had a lot of broom corn that he had cut with a corn binder and hauled it in and stacked it in a big shed he had built. He wanted us to pull the brush out of the bundle. Basil, Kenneth and I took the job at one cent per bundle. We didnít get much money, but got quite a bit of food for our work. When the weather was fit I husked corn for the same man so we got through the winter very well. I never had to go hungry.

Then along toward spring there was a dear old couple by the name of Crots that lived in the neighborhood that had found out I was a blacksmith. They came over and wanted me to start a shop on my homestead. I told them that I didnít have the money to put up the building and get the tools and material to do it. They said that their foster son had a set of tools I could get if I would do his blacksmithing for the use of the tools. They would loan me what money I needed to start up so I borrowed fifty dollars off them am soon had the shop going. I soon had all I could do for they cam as far as 40 miles Ďto get their blacksmithing done. I never will forget those dear people that helped me get started in the shop They also came over and said they would sell me two of the best cows they had and I could pay for them whenever I got the money to spare. So with those cows and the shop we made it fine that spring.

Basil took the three horses and a sod plow and broke out 70 acres of sod and planted it to crop. We had a fine prospect until along about the last of June it got so dry it didnít look like we would have a thing. By that time there wasnít any work in the shop s Basil and I hitched our horses to the wagon and went to Oklahoma and got a job in harvest. Basil drove the header barge and stacked wheat. I think Basil got four dollars per day for him and team, and I got six dollars per day for stacking. We worked for German and I think it was the dirtiest place I ever saw. They had a hole in the screen door. They had about a dozen pigs running loose and they just ran in and out through the door whenever they wanted to. Of course, the flies were as thick as could be. Them times I could eat about anything, but poor Basil--he didnít eat much Just as soon as we could, we got another job and it was a nice clean place and plenty to eat.

Well, as soon as harvest was over we went back home and when we got there it still hadnít rained. By that time the crop looked like if one was to touch a match to it, that it would almost burn. We didnít like to be away from home but we had to make a living, and we had bet Uncle Sam (the government) about $48 that we were going to stick with that homestead until we could get a patent (or deed) for it, and I was going to do it if we had to live on pinto beans for three years. So one morning Basil and I again told the folks good by and started for the Arkansas Valley to hunt work. We found work in the alfalfa fields putting up hay. I received $3.00 per day for stacking and Basil $3.00 for himself and team. That was about the 1st of August, 1916.

Well, we worked till about the 13th, I think. In the morning of the 14th we received a letter telling us they had a rain that had just flooded our crop and that we had better come home as the neighbors thought maybe the crop would make something yet. And say, we werenít long getting started home; we were both homesick anyway. I will never forget that Basil said on the road home. He said, ďPapa, I hope we never have to go so far away from home again to work.Ē Well, we finally arrived at home again alter a long tiresome drive of 74 miles. It had begun to look like a different place already since the rain and, my, how the crop did green up and grow. The corn didnít make much. But we raised enough beans to do us to eat and enough for our seed the next year. Our broom corn made a pretty good crop. I sold quite a bit of hay off the place. In fact, I think the broom corn and hay brought us around $400.

The following letter was addressed to Mr. D. N. Clodfelter, Russellville, Indiana and was postmarked February 7, 1916, Colorado, with a return address of Bert Slavens, Seton, Baca Co., Colorado. The postage was 2 cents.

Seton Color. Baca Co. Feb - 7 - 16

Dear Uncle Newt and all

We received your letter after so long a time. It layed at Valley Center for I donít know how long and finally was sent to us. We moved out here the 26th of last October. We filed on 320 acres of land here. And I sure have a fine piece of land. About 250 acres in the valley just as level as a floor. The entire place can be plowed. I have just started a shop here. I will run the shop and the boys will do the farming. It is 24 miles to another shop. We can raise most anything here that we want to. Corn donít make as much as it does with you, but it does very well. About 35 bushels to the acre. Broom corn is a good crop. It is 100 dollars a ton. It takes about four acres to make a ton. The worst drawback here is it is so far to the railroad. It is 64 miles, that sounds awful to you, but we have hopes of a railroad. This leaves us all well but colds. With the exception of Kenneth. He fell off the wagon Saturday and it hurt him awful bad. He canít use one side to do any good. He canít get in and out of bed without help. Hope this will find you well. Be sure and send your pictures. Send our mail to Seton Colorado. There is a man here wanting some work done so I will have to quit.

With love to all,

Bert Slavens

Note: This letter has been saved by the family of Uncle Newt Clodfelter and was loaned to me by Willard Clodfelter, his oldest living grandson. Bertís son, Bertie Murray (Bert) lives in Hawaii and tells me the shop referred to in the letter is a blacksmith shop. He also assured me that the injury suffered by Kenneth was nothing and that he got over it.

Note: The autobiography stopped in 1916 when Bert Slavens was 44 years old.

Later, the family moved on--to Seagraves, Texas; Madera, California; Springfield, Colorado; Farley, New Mexico, and in 1935 to Vallejo, California. Their sons all became builders except for Basil who was in a related business, a hardware store owner in Cortez, Colorado. Bert Slavens has two sons still living, Bertie Mae (Bert) who lives in Hawaii and the youngest son, Cameron Elven (Tot) who lives near Little Rock, Arkansas. He has grandchildren now living in Cortez, Colorado; St. Helena, California; Tucson, Arizona; Blanding, Utah; Evanston, Wyoming; and in Hawaii.

from Clodfelter Pioneer Days
compiled by Hubert Clodfelter and Malcolm Romine, edited by Paul H. Clodfelter.
Copies of the book are available from Mr. Romine at 66 Ridgeway Dr., Brownsburg, IN 46112 or Don Harbison, 200 Howard Ave., Rockville, IN. 47872.