Mathews Homestead > Mathews Family History Page One

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History of Francis Elmer Mathews Family
edited by, Vern James Andrews, Jr.
April 10, 2002

     In 1864, Elvira and Bryce Shipley left Knoxville, Iowa, to connect with a wagon train at Omaha to begin their journey west.  Their two daughters, Emma Etta Shipley and Avrilla, her sister, came with them.  They journeyed as far as Rocky Bar, Idaho.  Emma was four years old at the time.  Elvira was Francis Elmer Mathews' great-grandmother.  Emma Shipley, Francis Mathews' grandmother married William J. Mathews.  They were married in the Boise Valley.  From this union, Elmer Winfred Mathews was born.  He was born August 30, 1885, in Parma, Idaho.  He married Mary Evalyne Hallford around 1906.  In 1907 Ralph Kenneth Mathews was born.  Jess William Mathews was born in December, 1908.  Twin boys, Francis Elmer Mathews and Carl Lewis Mathews were born September 1, 1910.  They were born about five miles east of Jordan Valley, Oregon, on a place called South Mountain, where their dad had pitched a tent.  He was on his way to find a doctor and that was as far as he could journey.  He rode the rest of the way into Jordan Valley to get a doctor.  The babies being born in the 8th month of pregnancy.  They were actually born in Owyhee County, Idaho.
    Elmer Mathews, their father, graduated from high school in Star, Idaho.  He attended the College of Idaho for a year, being the star track man at the College that year.  After he married Evalyne Hallford, he started a butcher shop in Parma.  He had to compete with another butcher.  There was probably not that much demand for two shops, so he closed his butcher shop.  He went over to Owyhee County and took up a homestead on Annie Valley Creek.  This was approximately in 1909.  Ralph and Jess were small.  They made their journey in a hack with a team of horses.  A hack was a small wagon with springs.  It had one seat and the rest was for carrying small cargo.  He claimed 640 acres, a section of land.  He had to shoot game for meat.  He was a master at braiding rope from rawhide, which were in great demand.  Every cattleman in the country bought his ropes when they were available.  He would take the cowhides from the beginning, trim all the flabby part out of the outside, using only the back and the sides, which were the best.  He would cut it into string, probably 3/8's of an inch wide.  Then he made a gauge so the strings would be exactly the same thickness all the way through.  He made a gauge out of 4 x 4 and used a section off a mowing machine sickle.  He used that to get a long enough string of the same thickness to make the lasso rope.  He could make one rope off one hide.  Another part of a gauge, he used a jack-knife to cut it off.  He had to set it at an angle as when braiding rope, the fleshy part of the side had to be a little wider than the grain.  So he had to run this string through twice on each side.  Then he cut it into four equal lengths of string to begin the braiding.  The rawhide had to be kept wet all the time he was braiding it.  He used soap to pull the strings tight so they were pulled exactly the same.  He would braid a length approximately two feet long, then he would take a marlin spike and tighten the strands and to make it slick he would run soap on the rope to keep it tight.  If one string was tighter than the other, one string would break, so they all had to be the same tightness.  It would take at least three days to braid a 50 ft. rope.  These were in great demand because a rawhide rope was lighter than any others and would throw longer and would last longer.  One he made for Bill Hackberry was the only one he made 50 ft. long.  If he could find a critter (cow) who had starved to death, this hide was tougher and stronger and was not as thick.  They found a lot in this condition due to the heavy snows and not being able to forage for feed and grasses.
    The family which now consisted of 4 boys lived in a tent while their father built a log cabin.  Their mother did all her washing on a wash board with water carried from a creek.  She did have a wringer turned by a crank to get the clothes dry.  Francis remembers turning the wringer when he wasn't very old.  One time when he was turning the wringer for his mother, and Carl got his finger caught in the cogs.  It just about cut his finger off and they had to get him to the doctor to sew it up.
    At that time, in Idaho, there was a law that cattle could be grazed on two miles from any direction from the outside boundary lines of the homestead, providing it was not owned by anyone else.  It was a complicated law and caused a lot of trouble.  Before Elmer Mathews homesteaded Annie Valley, the other rancher closest to him had used this grazing land.  One year dad took a herd of young stock out from a man in Boise Valley named Finch.  He was to raise these on shares.  Dad spent all summer putting up hay to feed these cattle through the winter.  This mean rancher cut the fence and ran his cattle down where it wrecked the haystack, ruined the hay (cattle broke fence around haystack).  Practically all these cattle he had taken out there starved to death and dad lost several horses besides the cattle.  On top of this, the next year the rancher ran a fence all the way around our place on two sides about 40 feet from our fence.  Dad had to ride to Silver City, the county seat, to get the sheriff to serve a paper to have the rancher remove the fence, so our stock could graze out on our share of the two mile limit.  This area of the country was settled by many ranchers that had left Wyoming right after the Cattleman and Sheepman's War.  They left Wyoming to avoid going to jail for their misdeeds in running sheepmen off their range.  Later, one of these men became Governor of the state of Idaho in the early 1900's.  He was named Dow Dunning.  His daughter married Wanzel Turmes.
    There were no schools in this part of the country.  By this time, the year 1917, the family had increased by two more girls, Emma Mathews (Smith) and Evalyne Mathews (Henderson).  They moved to Grandview on the Snake River so the children could attend school.  Francis and Carl started school at the age of seven.  Summers were spent back on the homestead at Annie Valley for a number of years.  The last year they owned the homestead, he took Carl and Ralph back with him and worked on a reservoir for John Hackberry in Antelope Basin.  He mortaged the homestead for $1,000, buying sheep with a portion of the money.  He had to pay $20.00 a ton for hay.  The next year, the bottom dropped out of everything and lost the ranch, sheep and everything.  He wound up with an old holstein cow, all he got out of the thousand dollars.  This was about 1921.  Previous to this, he had to hold the homestead with a gun.  At one time, he carried a 38 automatic and a 30-30 rifle.  Many times he had a bullet shot over his head trying to scare him out.  He knew who it was but had no proof.  They never dared face him with a gun, as he was a crack shot.  This was done by men who thought it should be free range and wanted to graze their own cattle on it.  The bank took the sheep as the market dropped and they were practically worthless.  He had paid $10.00 a head for them.  It was probably a good thing he lost them because by himself, he could not have held onto them due to the animosity of the cattlemen in the area.  The first sheep brought into the area was brought in by the Spencer brothers, Charlie, Earl and Wales.  When they brought them in, they had herders bringing them in.  Charlie and Wales rode on each side with a .45 automatic on each hip and a 30-30 Winchester rifle.  Earl brought up the rear, armed the same way.  They drove them in without a bit of trouble.  Their father had homesteaded in there years before and they were brought up rough and tough.  They used to fight with each other just to keep in shape.  Charlie was the biggest.  They brought a phonograph out there.  Wales wanted to hear his and Charlie wanted to hear his so Charlie knocked Wales out, playing his record while Wales was coming to.  From then on, they ran sheep successfully in the area.  All three sold out their holdings as wealthy men.  That was the way life was in the early days in Owyhee County.
    In Grandview, they rented a great big house by the schoolgrounds.  Ralph started in the third grade and Jess started in the second grade.  Mother had given us a lot of training.  By the time we started, we knew all the multiplication table, could count over a thousand, could read and write.  Dad taught us all the math, while mom taught us to read and write.
    Dad earned a living working for other farmers, trapping coyotes for their pelts, and later, when I was about 12, he started in the horse business.  The bank repossessed these horses, sold them to Joe Foster.  Joe gave dad 50% of the horses to brand them, as they were unbranded.  They had been raised by old man named Vic Hongey.  He had turned them loose and they turned into wild horses.  He owed the bank some money so the bank repossessed the horses.  He spent all one summer out there branding horses.  He had to get out there before Albert Black got his brand on them.  The law stated anything over a year old that was unbranded belonged to anyone that put a brand on them.  He felt he couldn't do the job himself, running them into the corral, so he made a deal with Albert Black.  If he would help him, they would share, as he had already been running horses in that area, Rough Mountain.  There was a lot of them he wouldn't have gotten out if it hadn't been for the Blacks.  They were rough riders, riding over the rock, daring and good riders.  Dad was good with a rope also, running them into a corral at Big Springs near Battle Creek.
    I was working for Joe Foster that summer, at 12 years of age, irrigating 80 acres of land for $1.00 a day, and helping with the hay.  I probably weighed about 80 pounds, could ride a horse bareback as fast as the horse could run.  I lived at the Foster Ranch with a bedroll thrown on the floor of the porch.  Carl lived and worked at the Bill Baker Ranch cultivating corn and helping with the hay.  He drove hayrakes, mowing machines, and was paid $2.00 a day.  I envied him but he was only there during the season.  Everyone was after us by the time we were 14 to work in the hay and by then I earned the same as any man.  I had to pick the pitchfork up by sticking the fork in the hay shock and stick the end of the fork in the ground to pick it up.  I kept up my share and always got to drive the slip (it was a 1 x 12 seven feet wide, nailed 2 x 4's across 14 ft. long to drag the hay into the haystack).
    The next summer, dad had to put up a fence to show improvements on the homestead.  It had to be a four wire barbed wire fence with a fence post every 16 feet and two stays between each post.  Carl, my brother, tells that story about the loss of the hay by the actions of the neighboring rancher of the previous winter.

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