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The Cundiff Saga: an oral history dictated by Susie Cundiff Patrick

The Cundiff Saga, Part Two

This is the second part of the Cundiff Saga, an oral history of my great-grandparents' trek across the country from Missouri around the turn of the century as told to my mother by her aunt, Susie [Cundiff] Patrick.

Part One of the Cundiff Saga



We had lost so much: everything material, clothing, our treasures, the phonograph -- gramophone, it was called then -- brother and son, Sam; a good friend, Shorty.

The gramophone Dad had bought as a Christmas present for the family and home in Arroyo Grande. From then on, every time we had had 35, we bought a new record. I saw a magazine ad for an 'indestructible record', and sent for one. It was really tough, we could drop it and it wouldn't break like the early delicate wax records. I don't remember what the music was. This gramophone used records shaped like water glasses with both ends open. They slipped over a sort of roll.

Below: Susie Cundiff around 1911

We had our house moved back from the creek bank, which had come up to our very back step, so that we now were located on slightly higher ground.

Aaron built a little house behind our main house, half for his wireless (telegraph) apparatus, and half for my photography materials. These were our hobbies.

The owners of the horses and wagon lost, didn't want any replacement, for we had lost too much.

Dad worked for hire whenever, wnerever he could, and kept on with the crops, rebuilding and cleaning up. There was very little 'hire' to be had.

Mother and I took in washing and ironing for two families in town. I worked for hire whenever I could, and Aaron, just to put food on the table.

The family now consisted of Mother and Dad, me, 21, Aaron, 18, Lucy, 16, Louis, 13; Elsie, 8; Mary, 6; Dick, 9; and little Hazel, 3. A boy born in 1910, died the same day.

By now, Lucy was suffering less agony with her injured leg, but she was crippled and walked on crutches. Our friend, Ed Rears, who had been with us on part of our journey, made her first pair of crutches from willow limbs. He carefully chose a straight limb, split it, polished it, put in a hand grip and ashoulder rest. As she grew, he made new ones to keep the right size. Lucy, now, could not work so much outside. She sewed for our family, for neighbors, and watched the littlest ones while Mother and I worked outside, or away from home. She learned to get around very well, and often used only one crutch which she clamped under her arm, in order to have both hands free for carrying, cooking, working, or tending babies.


The house had been moved away from the creek bank; we were settling in again. Some of our clothing had been replaced by neighbors, most of our bedding, fortunately, had been moved to the neighbor's, so we had it. I had lost two new quilts in the wagon.

Aprll 30 was a balmy spring day, no rain. Elsie, 8, Dick, 9 , and little Mary, 6, were playing together near the creek. Dick had had a severe illness the previous year, and had had to stay in bed more than was our custom. He was still showing some effects and very thin.

Elsie ran into the house screaming, "Dick's a dyin' , Dick's a dyin!" He had jumped or fallen off the creek bank and was lying down in the creek bed. We could hear him screaming. Dad ran out and carried him into the house. He was gone before he could be brought in. The autopsy report said it was a blood clot on the brain.

He was buried beside Sam in the Arroyo Grande ceme­tery. He was born in Idaho, October 2, 1901, and died April 30, 1911.



Somewhere on our way down from Oregon, Ed Rears, a widower who had two sons living in the midwest with other relatives, had joined our caravan. He had bought a place in the neighborhood near the Harris's and ours. It was Ed Rears who made Lucy's first crutches. He used willow, a lightweight wood, slit one end part way down, put in a hand-hold, then fitted on an arm rest. They were well made, so carefully crafted that she used them until she outgrew them. He also made the second pair, and after that Mother bought them.


Shorty, or William Brampton was an Englishman who had been travelling. He was jailed because someone had put rocks on the railroad tracks and Shorty was handy. Dad got him out of jail in San Luis Obispo where Charlie had met him. Shorty had lost his trunk, and had only a small suitcase and the clothes he wore. He lived with us and worked with Dad, cutting and hauling cord wood to the oil-rigs. The wood was used to make power to run the drilling rigs. When the rains came and came and came, the men had to stop the wood-hauling, and, hence, were both at home when the flood occurred.

There was no way we could find out where Shorty came from, or if he had family who should know what became of him. We never even what part of England he came from. We don't know exactly how, or when, Shorty first entered our lives, but, to get him out of jail and to bring him home to share our little possessions and big table, was typical of Dad.



Helen Bernice was born December 13, 1911. Mother was just getting around again by Christmas. I worked and used my money to buy 'dry goods' to make all the little girls new dresses -- one each. Mary's was a white sailor dress with little black anchors on it.

I don't remember exactly what I gave the boys. Aaron was really a man, as he was 18 and carrying a man's load. Louis was 13, and small. He stayed small until we went to Arizona.

It was the best Christmas we could manage. In spite of the tragedies, Mother somehow made it a special day. We often wonder among ourselves how our Helen could have become the prettiest, liveliest, merriest clown of us all, conceived and carried in that terrible, tragic year: Lucy's crippling accident and pain which necessitated crutches; the flood in which a son, a friend, and all our dearest possessions were lost.

Then little Dick's sudden death as he played on the creek bank while we were still resettling ourselves in our house. Crops were good but the needs exceeded our returns, and the hard, hard work was unceasing.

When Helen was born, I was at home and did the cooking and housekeeping for the rest of the family while Mother was confined. I didn't officiate at the birth, however. Dad did it as usual.


Spring came again, 1912, no very bad events, but there was no work in Arroyo Grande, and another responsibility. 'A' went to Sisquoc and found a job tending an oil rig that wasn't pumping. Charlie was already there, working, so the whole family made plans to go. Maybe Dad could find work there, too. We sold our property to Walter Harris, the son of the family we kept meeting; first, in Colorado, then in New Mexico; in Union, Oregon, and again on our way to this place in California. The senior Harrises had sheltered us in our misfortunes, shared with us, and it was they who owned another portion of this property. Members of their family were settled all around the area, and descendants still live there, Walter's widow lived in that very house the last I knew of her -- about 1970.

Another family, the Parrishes, helped us, shared with us, also. There were two girls, Lena and Reeta, and a boy, Ralph. I have written to Lena all my life since, visited her when I could. Lucy's special friend was Reeta, and they too, corresponded all their lives. Lucy visited her when Helen (Blanke) Hamer lived for a little while in Santa Maria.

We remember Mrs. Parrish for her very unusual breakfasts. She always made biscuits and pancakes, both. When everyone had finished eating, Mrs. Parrish would fix herself 5 or 6 pancakes with butter and syrup, then pour vinegar on it !! and eat it all!! She was a tiny thin woman.

For at least a week after the flood, the Parrishes fed and sheltered a large crowd: themselves and three children, his mother, her brother; the Pierce family of parents and two children; plus all the Cundiffs; parents and eight children. This was a total of 21 persons. The Pierce place was just above Parrish's. The water ran right through it, destroying everything and filling it with logs, muck, mud and debris. They could never live ln it afterwards, but rented another house away from there.



As our loaded wagon was pulling away from the house, Aaron looked at the furniture piled on it, chair legs sticking out, and said, "Isn't that a chairfull load?"

In Sisquoc, we rented a small house for awhile, then moved out to the oilfield where Aaron worked. We lived in the cookshack, but there were no workers to cook for.

We were occupying the house as protection for the rig. It was a big place, quite commodious even for our family.

Dad didn't find work, so he went looking for a place to settle where there was not enough water ever to flood again. He went to southern Arizona.

From Sisquoc, I had to go back to Parrishes at Arroyo Grande, to wait for, and help deliver, a baby for the Pierces. I can still remember his name: Evan Fletcher Pierce.

While the family remained in Sisquoc, I worked for one family, the Neguses, until I went to Arizona to join Dad. The Neguses lived in Lompoc. That year, 1912, was the first place I ever worked where there was water power for the washing machine! A hose connected to the motor, and somehow, made it wash!

ARIZONA 1912--13

That December of 1912 when I was twenty-two years old, I went on a train to join Dad in Arizona. I travelled two whole days and a night to get to Willcox. Dad sent a young man to meet me and take me to the boarding house.

Dad and I had Christmas together. Aaron had given me some money which I gave to Dad. He bought some lumber to build us a shelter, in case it snowed -­ which it did. The shelter was built like a teepee, or A-frame; there was no time to build it fancy. In the spring we used the same lumber to build a house for me. When the weather got warmer, we started to make adobe bricks for the family's house.

Kangaroo rats were plentiful. We put some water in a kerosene can, sprinkled it with grain, and every night we caught some rats!

Kerosene was the fuel with which we filled our lantern, which we seldom used.  We used the light from the campfire in front of our shelter home.

We started to dig a well, using hand tools. We reached good water for our use after only 36 feet of digging.

That well is in use yet, although with artesian wells, it has had to be deepened and cased. We didn't work every day, digging by shovel, crowbar, and hand. It took us three weeks. We borrowed a windlass to haul out the dirt, and when it was too deep to climb out, I had to windlass Dad out. That was a real chore. Up to the time we finished our well, we had had to haul water in cans and buckets from the Duncan place -- kitty-corner from my place a half­mile.

We were homesteading. A homestead consists of 160 acres.

Dad's place was on the west side of the section-line road, and mine was on the east side directly across from it. In the spring of 1913, Charlie chartered a railroad car to bring all our possessions and livestock to Arizona. Louis and Aaron were to ride in the car with the livestock.

There were chickens, one horse, and a cow for the Fausts, (Loie's grandparents). Mother had a team of horses and a cow, plus the wagon and spring wagon which we hadn't lost in the flood.* In addition, there was all the furniture for all of us. Loie's father, Waldo Burns, was already in Arizona.

*( A spring wagon was a lighter weight wagon than a farm wagon, and had springs to make it easier riding for passengers or for transportation, rather than for heavy loads. It was also easier for a team to pull, hence, faster.)

All the rest of the family members were to go by passenger coach: two Fausts, Loie's brother and neighbor, Charlie, Loie, their two little girls and baby, Richard, plus Mother and the five girls in our family.

Everything was arranged to load the freight car. Aaron rode to Santa Maria on his new motorcycle to say goodbye to his friends there.

The next day about 10:00 AM, Mother got a telephone call that Aaron had gone to bed in a rooming house and never awoke. It was April 19, 1913. 'A' would have been twenty years old in June.

He was laid beside his brothers, Sam and Dick.

Charlie helped Mother with these sad duties, and then rode in the car with the stock and Louis. Louis was not yet fifteen years old. His birthday is in December. The telegram to us at Pearce was brought out by Bill Bemiss, a barber in Pearce. There was nothing for us to do but wait.

In a few days, the folks arrived. Mr. Burnes* borrowed a team and wagon to go to Cochise to meet them. They were just sort of 'parked' on the Depot platform there, waiting. *(The name 'Burns" is also spelled 'Burnes" in some of the records.)

Two days after everyone got to our camp, Ethel, about 5 years old, wandered away from us and was lost for all night and until about 10:00 the next morning. Mr. Fogarty, who was a little crippled and couldn't walk too well, hitched up a team and wagon, took a wider circle than the foot searchers.

He took some lunch and water with him. He found her.

She had curled up under a mesquite bush, but complained that the burros kept sniffing her and kept her awake! There was real rejoicing when she was brought in!

In a few days, we went to work in earnest making adobes. The kids loved to tramp in the mud, barefoot! Adobes require a lot of mud, and this is poured into a mold to make a 'brick'. The brick is reinforced with grass or twigs to keep it from cracking. It has to be drled in the mold for some days, then it is taken out of the mold and dried some more by the hot sun. When it is thoroughly dry, it makes a very solid brick, but it isn't a very speedy process.

As soon as the kids found out about mesquite beans, they roamed about picking the sweet dry beans to eat. Good for kids, but bad for horses. The dried beans swell inside the horse, and often kill him. The beans don't hurt the cows, however, because they have a double stomach, and chew their cuds thoroughly. The mesquite beans ripen in late summer, and then, there are different flavors. After a few trials, the kids knew which were the sweet beans, and which were flavorless or bitter.

With everyone working, the two houses began to take shape. The first house we built for Charlie's in-law grandparents, the Fausts, and mine. It was south of Dad's horne-site.

After their house was built, they didn't enjoy it for long. Grandma Faust got sick and died the next sprlng, 1914, and was buried at the little cemetery at the Sulphur Springs schoolhouse. Grandpa Faust returned to California. The little house was used to store hay. It was only two rooms: a bedroom and an all-purpose kitchen.

After the Faust house, we went on making adobes for Dad's and Mother's house. We built a 10x12 foot lumber shack for me.

When the well was finished, a big white owl built a nest down in it, and raised a family. This owl or descendants raised a family there each summer for years, at least fifteen years, that we know of.

The corrugated, galvanized tin sheets for our roofs had to be ordered by mail, and came to Cochise on the train. Then we brought it the last 8 or 10 miles by wagon.

Before the family came, Dad and I had borrowed a .22 rifle from our neighbors, so we could have jackrabbits to eat. One time, I shot a cotton-tail three times and it never did move.

I went over to pick it up -- it had been dead for ages, was only a skin and bones!

Our main two rooms of adobe with galvanized tin roof were complete before the first winter. One large room had the cookstove and table with packed earth floor. The whitewash for the walls had to wait. The second large room had a heating stove, the bed for Mother and Dad, trunks, extra chairs, and so on.

The first heating stove had been made out of a gas tank by the Ft. Grant boys. (Ft. Grant was an Industrial school for 'bad' boys.) It would hold a great big mesquite stump. The wood for every heating and cooking purpose was mesquite. As Dad cleared the land, he also created fuel. (Mesquite is a very hard wood, and burns for a long time with a very hot flame.)

Planting shade and fruit trees was of great urgency. Mother had her coy, chickens and a garden by the spring of 1914, and the beginnings of an orchard. My well was still the main source of our water. We carried water across the road to Mother's for kitchen use, heating it on the stove for washing and bathing. We carried the water in pails a distance of about 250 yards -­ more than a city block!

The washing 'machine' was at my place. The water for it was heated in a galvanized tub over an outside fire. The tub was set on a 3-sided ring of rocks over the fire. Mother brought this crude washing machine from California. It was a wooden tub which had to be kept filled with water all the time so the wood didn't shrink and leak.

There was a wooden handle, which when pulled pack and forth by hand, rotated four paddles half-way to and half-way back. There were vertical ribs inside the tub to increase the scrubbing action. I helped usually with the washing. We turned a handle to operate the wringer.


Once a week, Dad took a load of wood cut into cook­stove lengths into Pearce. He sold this and that bought our groceries. We grubbed mesquite, cut it, and I ran the long limbs onto the chopping block for Dad to cut with the axe.

Louis and all the girls who were old enough, went to school. Lucy rode a horse, or drove a light wagon and took all the kids with her. Helen was still too small to go to school. Before and after school, everybody helped with the chores.

I worked out wherever and whenever I could for money to help feed us, or build, or clothe us. Between paid jobs, I grubbed mesquite all day, ate with the family, but slept in my own small house. One of the requirements of 'proving up' on a homestead is that one live on the property.

One year, 1916, while working as Cascabel, I met Pat, Frank E. Patrick. We were married later, and I worked for a little longer. Pat tried to sell a copper mine he was working, but it didn't sell. World War I broke out for the United States in 1917, and we went back to Pat's homestead in Oklahoma. He didn't get drafted. Our three children were born in Oklahoma.

Susie Gladys Cundiff was married to Frank E. Patrick, on October 28, 1916. "Pat' died in Canyon City, Colorado, on April 12, 1941.


In the spring of 1915, the orchard was growing, shade trees were planted over the house: mulberries. There were chickens for eggs, two cows for milk, a garden growing, and there was a big gasoline engine on my well to pump water across the road to the orchard.

The road was simply two wagon tracks down the section line. On section lines where there was to be a road, each owner granted a sixteen foot right-of-way for the road. If fences were built, these would make a lane, and the 'road' simply meandered down this lane as the horses avoided the bigger grass bumps, sage or mesquite bushes. When the ruts got too deep for the horses' comfort, the driver just moved them over one way or the other.

On an average hot summer day, July 29, 1915, Patty was born. It was about 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon. Louis had gone to find Dad, who was working out, and they got back just in time for Dad to officiate--again.

The next day was hot, and before I dressed Patty, I made her a thin, sheer, dress out of some curtain material I had. That was the first time any of had a short dress! That dress just came to her little knees. The only time a woman ever got a vacation was the bed rest after having a baby.

Lucy Cundiff, my grandmother, was married to Arthur C. Blanke, another homesteader on March 1, 1916.


I was eight years old when we moved to Arizona. Dad and Susie were already there and had homesteaded. The homestead were 160 Acres each, and covered with mesquite brush. Our trip there was by train.

The family chartered a box car and took the household stuff, the horse and a cow. Charlie rode in the box car to look after the animals.

The trip was very interesting for us small children. I remember seeing wild gourd vines and thought the gourds were baseballs. Of course, later we found there were lots of them growing wild.

Arrived at Pearce, we actually came to the Cochise Depot, there was no one to meet us right away.

Dad put up a temporary roof to keep the rain off our beds, until they could get some buildings done, at the homestead. One night a hard wind came up and was about to blow the roof off. I remember, when the lightning flashed, seeing Dad standing bracing the middle pole to keep it from golng over. It was such a comfort knowing he was standing between us and the storm.

That brings to mind the first streaks of lightning we had ever seen. Before that, in California, we had seen only flashes of lightning. It was mid afternoon, and the lightning was so far away we could hear no thunder.

Elsie and I were alone at the time. We wondered if the world were coming to an end. But it didn't.

That fall, we started to school. It was two and a half miles around the road. Lucy went that term. She drove a horse and buggy. Elsie and I sat in the back with our feet and legs hanging out, and we got our toes frostbitten.

When Lucy wasn't going, we walked; by cutting straight through the pasture, it was two miles. By jogging, we could make it in about twenty-six minutes.

In spring and summer, we all helped with the garden. There was lots of hoeing to be done. We didn't have farm machinery in those days. Most was done by hand or with the help of a horse.

Laundry was done on a rub board. We girls helped as soon as we were big enough. (Later there was a wooden wash machine.) After I was gone from home, Mother did have a gasoline driven wash machine.

We all learned to cut wood. Dad would take a load of mesquite wood to town and bring back groceries, in the wagon. It was an all day job to drive the team with a load of wood to Pearce. We lived 11 miles from Pearce, a small copper mining town. Dad got $4.00 for a load of wood.

Mother did midwife work. She delivered many babies in that area.

My father worked as the Roundup Cook's helper several times. Those were real rodeos. We would go watch the cowboys round up the cattle and brand the calves, (on a Big Cattle Ranch, not ours!), and we would eat with them at noon.

Cooking was done on an open fire; biscuits baked in a dutch oven, with steaks and beans and coffee. Sometimes, Mother would take doughnuts or cookies as an extra treat for the cowboys.

At that time, most of the land was open range. As the years passed, more and more was homesteaded so there were no more BIG roundups.

Another memory I cherish is of Dad showing us the different stars and planets as we sat outside in the summertime, after the days work was over, in the cool of the evenlng. He taught us a lot about astronomy. The stars seemed so big and close there where the sky was so clear and clean.

One day, Elsie and I had climbed on the roof. Why, I don't remember. Lucy came by and the subject of our grandmother came up. Lucy said our grandmother had a Beard six feet long.

Of course, we weren't going to believe that!

She told us that Gram had been married before she married our Grandfather Cundiff, to a man named Beard. He was six feet tall. We laughed so hard we nearly fell off the roof!

We cut milo, cane, corn crops and the like, with big knives. I think they are called machetes south of the border.

One day some neighbor kids came. We were cutting a certain patch and must not stop to play until we finished. We worked so hard and fast that when we got through, my right hand had cramped onto the knife handle. The other kids had to help me turn loose of that handle.

I think that from then on I believed that some work and some play is best.

Years have a way of flying by. In about 1924, I was working away from home for a school teacher. My salary was $20.00 a month.

Mother and Dad bought a 1914 Model 'T' Ford. Mother learned to drive; Dad never learned. Helen had already learned to drive, when she rode to school with some neighbors -- the Parker boys. When school was out, I went home and learned to drive. I liked that so much better than driving horses.

We went to California that summer to work in the fruit. When we returned home that fall, we paid off our debts and Hazel and I went to high school in Willcox that term.

In 1935, Mother and Dad sold their place in Arizona and moved to Los Molinos, California.

By this time, our youngest sister, Patty, was the only child left at home. She had just finished high school in Willcox.

They bought a little house in Los Molinos, California, and were together there for their Golden Wedding, on March 15, 1887. They both died in 1937, and are buried in the Los Molinos Cemetery.

Mary Evelyn Cundiff was married to Clarence John Childers, on May 16, 1930. Clarence died on December 23, 1980.