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The Sawtell Family

In 1853 the Sawtell family harvested their first crop of teasel.  The family's farm was the only producer of teasel (an essential for the processing of wool) west of New York.  The last crop of Oregon teasel was harvested in 1899, as by this time metal nappers had replaced teasel burrs in wool processing).  In 1979, Virginia Sawtell Gooding, a descendant, gave a talk to the Dibble House relating her early experiences growing up in Molalla.

The following is a transcription of a talk given by Virginia Sawtell to the Dibble House in 1979, relating her early experiences growing up in Molalla.

Many of you know that I am not  a public speaker, and that I am not running for any office, but I am fortunate that I have  9,999 wonderful relatives and friends.

The place to begin on early Molalla history is with the Molalla Indians. There is a detailed account, with pictures, of the tribe by Dale Toll in the November 23, 1974 issue of the “Bulletin”. Also, Sam Engle (son of Clay and Victoria Engle) wrote an article on this topic years ago that is probably in the Molalla Library.

The first white settlers to arrive, walking and on horseback, in the Molalla region were the William Russel family in 1840. They located near the banks of the Molalla River, east of Liberal. Sickness took many of their group and they were buried nearby.  High water later washed away the graves and buildings, and William Russell moved to higher ground. His grave is in the Sanders cemetery north of Molalla, on the right side of the road, before you come to the Vick Road. There is also a Sturges grave there, who was a Dibble relative, and also related to the Husband family.

I have a copy of the 26 page survey of Clackamas County cemeteries compiled by the Clackamas County Pomona Grange in 1953, if you would like to see it. Also I have a copy of the Donation Land Claims of this area secured by early settlers in the 1840s and 1850s.

My grandfather, William Oliver Sawtell, wanted a farm with a creek and a good spring, so he worked in the gold mines in southern Oregon and northern California to earn $900 to buy 320 acres of the Hubbard Donation Land Claim, located in Sec. 21,27, and 28, Twp 5, S Range 2 east of the Willamette Meridian. This he purchased in 1857, and this property was inherited by this children and grandchildren. If I had lived there 5 more years, it would have qualified as a 100 year old Century Farm. One 4th of July we were asked to display historical documents for visitors to see, so I exhibited the original Donation Land Claim and the hand written deed (on a piece of lavender letter paper) in the window of the Molalla Bakery, with the names of the people who owned the property at that time. After we sold, I donated the claim and deed to the Oregon Historical Society.

If anyone writes another history of the Molalla area, I hope they will include the districts of Yoder, Glad Tidings, Rural Dell, Needy, Eby, Liberal, Mulino, and Dickey Prairie, as well as Russelville, Maple Grove, and Teasel Creek. Students from all these districts were enrolled in the Molalla Union High School.

How many here remember the days when the streets of Molalla were hub-deep with mud in the winter and dust in the summer? I remember our Saturday trips to Molalla driving the dappled grey mares to the patent leather surry (no fringe on top) and my mother and I would step onto the porch of the Robbins store (on the northeast corner of the intersection) and my father and brother would drive around to the horse shed to tie up the team. The store was owned and operated by Wayne and Everman Robbins. My brother, Wayne, and I soon learned that children who parents “charged” groceries and supplies were rewarded with a sack of candy in a striped sack when they paid their bills. We resented the fact that we were not a recipient of this “free handout” , as our parents always paid cash. Mr. John S Dungan was a clerk at this store, and it is reported that he gave the same amount of candy, regardless of a five cent or a ten cent purchase. His sister, Mabel Dungan, married my cousin Martin Baty.

Speaking of candy – do you remember the early dentist Willie Thomas, whose office was above the Robbins store? He pulled my first ulcerated tooth and had the past patient's tooth in the forceps as he came to pull mine. Incidentally, I received some nice pink flowered material for a new dress for my doll for undergoing this ordeal. Another early dentist was Dr Derby, who had a technique of inserting a long this wire in an aching tooth, and pulling out the nerves. This caused the tooth to decay and have to be pulled. He fastened a gold wire with clamps to Wayne's teeth to straighten them -which had to be checked quite often. When my teeth needed to be straightened he had moved away.

Our first automobile was a right-hand drive 1911 Studebaker E.M.F. (my father called it Every Morning Fix'em). The car was blocked up in the winter, as roads were impassable. Roads were extremely dusty in the summer, and the trip to Wilhoit Springs or Wright Springs was quite an event.

Edwin Woodworth was one of my Teasel Creek teachers. “Woody” influenced  the school directors to  construct a “Play Shed” of rough lumber, with sawdust on the dirt floor, so we had a nice dry place to play, and the boys played basketball there.  He would play games with us a recess and noon, but in the schoolroom he was “strictly business”. He was Clackamas County School Superintendent for quite a few years.

In 1918 our farm was rented to Frank Lay and we moved to Molalla, buying the home that was later sold to George and Ethel Blatchford. I graduated from Molalla Grade School in 1919 under Elgiva M. Joy. My Methodist Sunday School teacher was Mrs. Peter Faurie. My folks bought some acreage from Mr. Mallet, north of Molalla. Also some acreage from Gilbert Engle, where my father started building a larger home.  They decided to sell this to Curtis Connett and our residence to the Blatchfords, and we returned to the farm.

I graduated from Molalla High School in 1923. That fall we moved back to Molalla, buying the John Vernon property on 3rd and Engle Street, adjacent to our cousin Dr. Elmer Todd's property.  I took a business course at Northwestern Business College and could type 80-100 words per minute, but hated Gregg Shorthand. I worked for my cousin Ruth Kaylor's aunt and uncle, who had a Chinese Antique Studio at Seaside in the summer. Later I attended and graduated from Lewiston, Idaho State Normal School, doing primary teaching in eastern and central Washington. Then back to dressmaking and alterations, before I married Dewy S Miller. We farmed for 15 years before selling and building on 10th and N Holly, in Canby.

Some of my school mates who helped put Molalla on the map were: Harold Ridings, who was our star basketball player at high school and at Corvallis {now OSU}; the late Dr Charles Holman, dean of the University of Oregon Medical School {now OHSU}in Portland; Ralph Holman, judge in Clackamas County and now a judge of the State Supreme Court in Salem; Les Rood, Clackamas County School Superintendent for many years, who married my cousin Margaret Daugherty; Audrey Hendricksen, who represented the US Information Service for 25 years in Beruit, New Dehli, and other places.  There were many more, too numerous to mention, who were successful in their work as teachers, farmers, etc, etc.

Many children remember my doll house, with the elevator in the corner. That entertained them while I measured a hem, etc. Among them were Mary Cockrell and Margaret Slyter, then Joe Wallace, Addie Itschner, and Joanne Breen spent many an hour in our home. This doll house was made of an ordinary wooden box by my brother Wayne when he was 12 years old and I was 8. He cut holes for the windows, put in dividers for four rooms, two upper and two lower. The most important was the elevator in one corner, which was powered by a string through a scaffolding on top, so the passengers could ride to the second floor, or up to the outside,  I gave this to Wayne and Helen when I sold my home and moved to an apartment, so the doll house is at their home.

I have contributed many articles of furniture, etc to the Dibble house, as it means a great deal to me. Horace and Julia Sturges Dibble's first daughter was Eliza Emily Dibble who married my great-uncle Alfred Sawtell, the teasel grower. When they retired and sold the business to George Gregory, who worked for them, they moved temporarily to the Perry Hotel in Molalla, where he died. Great-aunt Eliza lived part time with her daughter Iva Lewis (Neta Garley's mother) and wintered in San Diego.  We looked forward to her visits with us every summer, and although she had a crippled foot and had to have a built up shoe, she always wore a long full skirted dress, so it was never noticed. She was a wonderful person in posture, speech, etc, and every inch a “lady”.


In the 1940's and 50's I started on genealogy or Roots of my four grandparents and will give a short history of each. {These records are available in the MAHS genealogy library}.

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