Chocolate cake and obituaries make for surprising combo in museum collection


November 29, 2017

Indian Lize

Frequently, surprising objects come to light at the East Linn Museum. This is partly because the museum centers on donations from people in the local area, artifacts which have survived from the past and which often reflect individual interests.

One of these artifacts attracting renewed attention happens to be a battered narrow ledger with crumbling, yellowing pages. Though its appearance says "ledger," it actually serves as a scrapbook for newspaper clippings collected over an uncertain number of years, starting in 1912.

The identity of the collector remains unclear. Since the contents lean decidedly toward cake recipes and obituaries, one might suspect a lady of being at work gathering clippings from various newspapers coming to hand. Perhaps she sat in a kitchen somewhat like the one arranged in the museum with a cast iron stove on one side and cupboards on the other.

Maybe she wore an encompassing apron similar to the surpassingly cross-stitch decorated one on the headless mannequin next to the cupboard, although she likely had a head! And possibly she poured coffee from a mottled enamelware pot into her heavy pottery cup.

Not that it couldn't have been a man, but whoever it was liked cake.

Of all the recipes involved, cake recipes predominate. A penciled name inside the scrapbook looks like "Clark Crocker." Penciled notes appear throughout the ledger, often regarding someone's death, but, alas, they are not always readable.

Aside from cake and other recipes, obituaries feature along with several human interest stories, some examples of song and poetry, and, at one point, pictures of soldiers returning from World War I, although little play is given to politics or current events.

Anyway, when events took place has to be guessed at because a number of clippings have lost their paste moorings and have piled up higgeldy-piggeldy.

Sometimes the day and month will appear on a clipping, but not the year.

In a way, the scrapbook reflects the importance newspapers have played and still do, in offering information and entertainment to their readers. At least two newspapers can be identified as having supplied scrapbook material: The Journal, likely the Oregon Journal from Portland, and The New Era. Of course, regarding The New Era, the date involved would have to be later than 1929, when the paper began publication.

Why chocolate cake and obituaries? At the very beginning you run into a recipe for chocolate cake and the obituary of a former Civil War soldier who died in the Sweet Home area, Benson Harris. A little confusing, the cake recipe isn't really for chocolate cake, but for a white cake with vanilla or lemon flavoring and a chocolate filling made of grated chocolate, sugar, and strong coffee melted together.


The identity of Benson Harris is more direct, however. He fought with Company B of the Eighth Iowa Cavalry and, in 1883, he and his wife, the former Lettie Brammer, came to Oregon and settled near Sweet Home.

Though he had no children, he did have three nephews, one living at Foster. Born in 1844, he died at age 68, which helps date the clipping to 1912. Whether cakes can be associated with wakes might be a question – no disrespect intended.

In the same vicinity is found another obituary, one for A.M. Templeton of Brownsville, who died in 1928 and whose notice of passing is accentuated by recipes for coconut, strawberry and prune cakes. Plus, a notation seems to tell of the scrapbook maker's having had supper with an Aunt Woodes and cousin, unfortunately of undecipherable first names.

One clipping so well read, according to worn appearances, although not of a local event, bears mentioning.

It perhaps reflected the wishes of unhappily married women, for the headlines read: "Woman, Deceived, Whips Bad Spouse" and "Medford Wife Finds Letter Proving Mate's Faithlessness and Acts." "Best cure," she says. The bad boy was a bigamist.

Not only that, the wife in question ran a boarding house in which he had met the writer of the letter which was intercepted. Concerning her husband's bigamy, the deceived woman had decided to allow for it, agreeing he could get a divorce from his first wife. Sometime later, she was appalled to discover he already had four children, not just the two he'd mentioned.

What riled her was finding he had taken up with a woman who'd stayed as a guest in her own boarding house, the operation of which supplied most of the income for her and her errant husband.

Luring him into the sitting room the irate wife trussed him up with 30 feet of stout rope and read the letter to him. As she began tying him up he asked, "What are you doing, my dear?"

He soon found out as she trounced him with a nearly 6-foot-long hose from a (hot?) water bottle.

She later described herself a "peaceable woman", but added that if more women would try her method of cure on blackguard husbands, fewer divorces would result.

However, her husband was also arrested for bigamy. This was a long clipping saved in its entirety.

In conjunction with this tale of woman triumphant, a second clipping speaks more to a tragic figure of a woman closer to the East Linn area, Aunt Eliza, better known as Indian Lize of Brownsville.

This one has a penciled date of 1919 when Eliza Young was still living, but blind and receiving a small sum of support money from the county while a Brownsville family looked after her. Many reckoned her to be over 100.

The article sees her as the tragic last of the Calapooians, at least of those living on the river of that name in this area. Her father had been a Calapooian and her mother a Mohawk, but both bands were of the same loose tribal affiliation as were the Molallas, of whom a family took her in when her parents died, making her virtually a slave at the age of 10.

Running away from them, she made her way back to the Mohawk (Oregon) country, where she became one of her first husband's three wives. He drank and beat her, and her three children by him all died.

Running away again, she went to Brownsville where she eventually married her second husband, who paid the first one for her hand. The second husband proved no better than the first – more drinking and beating. But she remained faithful to him after he was jailed for killing a man.

Visiting him at the penitentiary, and pleading with the governor for his early release proved of no avail. As soon as he got out he was, however, also killed.

So Eliza stayed in Brownsville, weaving baskets and finally losing her sight. At least the people of the town offered her respect and more – her memory still is revered.

However, the clipping in the scrapbook focuses upon her as a woman who outlasted consolations of her past for she was depicted as wailing, "I want my people, I want my people."

Facts regarding Aunt Lize's life vary from account to account. Two children who died likely of tuberculosis lie buried near her in the Brownsville cemetery but she had already gained an amount of fame, reflected by the appearance of this article in the scrapbook.

A sad entry below the tale of Aunt Eliza adds, Aunt "Idie" Woods died May 20, 1916.

A happier announcement, showing an attractive, somewhat stern-faced lady, tells of Mrs. Ida Maxwell Cummings' election as the superintendent of schools for Linn County. She had worked in western Linn County for women's suffrage and general community advancement.

In regards to mayhem comes a report on the trial of the Lebanon man accused of contributing to the death of Mounts Story, Sweet Home's marshal and former mayor.

At the age of 78, Marshal Story intervened in a "melee." Subsequently, an intoxicated James Ward, of Lebanon, beat Mounts Story about the head with Story's own cane.

When the marshal attempted to escape and reach the nearby home of his son, Ward pelted him with rocks. Story actually died a few months later, making it possible for the defense to argue against the prosecution's insistence that the beating had caused Mr. Story's death. Other reasons for the marshal's death had time to develop.

The jury had not reached a decision yet when the article was published.

A trial closer to Sweet Home took place in the court of Justice John S. Geil.

Two Holley men, Ivan Murphy and Jacob Pugh, were charged with killing a doe contrary to new hunting regulations. The jury said "not guilty, insufficient evidence." But, as the observation made in the account said, the only evidence available came from hunters and friends of the accused.

On the stand, they told as little as they could and likely a good deal less than they might.

A happier event involving local justice had Judge Payce impersonating Dan Cupid when he married Ola Strikler, 19, to Beulah McKern, 18 in Lebanon on Valentine's Day. This snippet no longer is glued in place, and on its back is part of an ad for a radio with loudspeaker built in, Radiola X, a four-dry cell radio sold at $245. In 1924, which this may have been, $245 was a lot of money, reflecting the growing appeal of having radio entertainment.

Did they play on the radio such songs as appear as lyrics in the scrapbook, ones like "You'll Miss Your Mother When She's Gone," and "The Harper and His Dog," an old dog Tray? It seems likely.

No doubt, many of the collected recipes were as Mother made them, too, except for an angel food cake calling for thirty-six egg whites, three tiered, and iced with sugar and egg white frosting. Maybe for a wedding?

"Cake is Good Food" reads one heading. Right above a recipe for chocolate layer cake comes information declaring cake to be a concentrated food with the average slice containing as much food value as 1½ glasses of milk.

Prof. Ava D. Milan of the Domestic Science Department at the Oregon Agricultural College made this statement as part of a series of scientific articles. Doubtless, this message reassured the cake recipe collector of the scrapbook.

It's no accident that a full-page ad for Iglehart's Swan's Down Cake Flour occupies the scrapbook.

On the ad's back appear 17 cake recipes – a bonanza!

Two personal pieces of memorabilia occur in the scrapbook. One is a folded paper with various locks of hair. A small photograph, above, comprises the other. In it, two no-longer-young women pose together. One has her arm around the other who leans with her head on the first woman's shoulder.

The closeness in the pose meant being together in the small space of the photo, but it seems possible for them to have been sisters or cousins. Their clothing and hair styles suggest the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Along with the ad for cake flour lies an appropriate poem by Sweet Home's local bard, William Mealy, considering the juxtaposition of the collected cake recipes and obituaries. And it looks appropriate, too, for an ending here. The title has been scissored off but otherwise it is complete:

We would not wake the weary one from rest,

God knoweth best.

Nor stand beside their lowly couch and weep

But spread sweet flowers o'er their quiet breasts,

And leave them to sleep.

What is it more our feeble hands can do,

Their days of toil are through.

With silent hearts, we leave them with their God,

'Tis only but a space, till I and you,

Will join the silent sleepers 'neath the sod.

God's ways are past our understanding, great and just,

Sad hearts, have trust.

Some time, far beyond our earthly ken,

We, reanimated creatures of the dust,

We'll meet again.

(Titled "El Requiem," this poem is found in the book, Songs of the Santiam by William Ralph "Bill" Mealey, page 232. Copies of this book are available at The New Era.)

As the contents of the ledger-scrapbook show, people in the past thought more of mortality and immortality than we perhaps do today. But as the recipes in the book indicate, with being mortal comes the desire to eat cake!


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