Esther Parrish Covington — My Life in Oak Glen, California

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Esther Mathilde Parrish Covington, a child of Oak Glen pioneer Enoch Parrish, dictated these life memories on April 17, 1959, when she was 94 years old..  (When you are in Oak Glen, make sure to visit Parrish Pioneer Ranch.)

Editor’s Note: words in doubt are bracketed []

My Life in Oak Glen, California

I was born in San Bernardino in 1865 and moved to Oak Glen in 1868 when I was three years old.  There was only a log house and a barn on the property of 160 acres.  It was bought by my dad who traded 16 mules and harness and two freight wagons for it.  Dad then homesteaded it, and planted various kinds of potatoes, from which we got our living.  They were sold in San Bernardino, 25 miles away.  Three trips a week were made to the hotels and stores.

There were many [cinigues] and streams of water flowing from the hills.  These [cinigues] and streams provided water for irrigation and home use.  The soil, through which these streams ran, was very, very black like leaf mold.

The weather was cold in the winter with snow and ice and the summers were mild.  The summers were about three months long.

There were only about five neighbors and they were white people.  They were all farmers.  Farming was done by horses and plowing and hand spading.  Fruit consisted only of apple trees until I was twelve years old when other fruit was put out, namely cherries, peaches and plums.

Around the house there was a trail of choke cherry brush.  Every morning Dad went out and grabbed the choke cherry and I and my oldest brother, Ezra, piled it up for burning as trash.  There were lots of snakes and lizards, and bumble bees, yellow jackets, hornets around the house.  The snakes were [racers] — gopher snakes, rattle snakes.  Bears and lions were numerous up here.

The house was a straight walled log house with a roof over it made from clapboards gotten in [the] mountains back of the house.

We got our water for cooking from a spring east of the house. We dipped it out of the well with a bucket and carried it to the house.  We did our cooking on a wood stove with oak, ash, elderberry and many other kinds.  There were nine children and our parents to cook for.  Our nearest neighbor was a quarter of a mile away.

We milked fifteen cows, part were Holstein and part were Jersey.  Mother made cheese and butter and we sold them in San Bernardino to the hotels and stores.  We raised alfalfa hay for the cows and we let them graze in the pasture too.

In 1878, when I was ten years old, we had our first school in dad’s shoe shop, on the old road, Oak Glen Road. It was just a short distance from the house.  There were only six scholars, Esther, Ezra, Charlie, Parrish and Rose, Lizzy and Henry Webster.  Mr. MacDonald, our teacher, taught the first three months of school. He had been working for dad.  Mr. MacDonald was instrumental in helping organize the first public school in Oak glen.  The original student’s names were Esther, Ezra, Charlie, Will Parrish and Rose and Lizzie Webster.

The school in Dad’s shoe shop had long windows on the side next to the road.  In the middle there was one long table and bench like a picnic table of today.  The teacher had no desk or blackboard.  We used the common school books like they have in school and we had to buy them.  The shoe equipment was moved to the work shop in the same building and separated from the school room by a thin partition.  We used an iron wood stove to heat the school room.  We went down the path for lunch.

My dad, Mr. Enoch Parrish, gave an acre of land, one mile east of our house for the school to be established.  The new building was just a lumber building.  There were two windows on the south side.  The furniture were desks fixed up against the wall, one behind the other in a row.  The teacher had no desk.  There was an iron wood stove to heat with.  This new school was our first public school in Oak Glen.  We bought our books. Mr. Fred Kelsey was our teacher.  […] Trading was done in San Bernardino.  We carried our lunch.  We walked in the boiling sun in summer.  In winter we wore men’s high boots, topped with cloth to keep out snow and carried our shoes.  The boys brought hoes and made steps up the little hill for all of us.  We stayed in school from 9 to 4 PM.  The kindergarten, first, second grades were taught.  Both schools were established in 1878, three months apart,

We had five new scholars, Rose, Lizzie and Henry Webster, Walter White and Ed Wilshire.  Kelsey left after the first year.  Mr. Bledso succeeded him and came from San Bernardino.  Mr. Bledso taught one term,. He was followed by Mrs. Wilson who taught two terms.  Miss Foy came after her and taught two terms.  After Miss Foy finished teaching us, they moved the school house east of our home about a mile and a half near the Wilshires.  That ended my schooling.  I was in school for three years.  Dad and mother helped us with our homework at night around the table with tallow candles.

We didn’t have any churches in Oak Glen and the only time I went to church was in San Bernardino in the winter.  We moved to San Bernardino, winters, because Dad was on the road most of the time and didn’t want mother to stay alone.

After I left school, I helped at home and often worked out doing house work.  My mother was often called upon to do mid-wife work because it wasn’t possible to get a doctor from San Bernardino in time.

In 1888, on May 1st, I was married to Steven Covington.  A justice of the peace married us in San Bernardino.  Mr. Covington took up 160 acres between Yucaipa and Oak Glen.  He homesteaded it.  We lived on it ten years, then moved to San Bernardino.  We raised grain on this land.  In 1898, we moved to San Bernardino for one year.  We lived on 5th and D Streets.

In 1899 we moved to Redlands and bought a home in the Lugonia Precinct.  There were no street names then.  My children, Elsie, Clarence, Lila went to Lugonia school.  We lived here until 1904, when we moved to Beaumont.  We moved on to a ranch and stayed two years.  Then we bought a house and lot in Beaumont and stayed 13 years. We raised wheat and barley for hay and [—].  My husband passed away in 1929, and I continued to stay for a few months and then moved to Redlands.  While in Redlands, Eva [—Wess] were born and Ernie in Yucaipa making six children in all.

While I was on the ranch I cooked for hired hands and Indians to the number of 32.  The Indians were very nice people and we often bought fruit, pink beans and vegetables from them.  They lived on the Potrero (Indian Reservation) north of Banning.  When there was sickness in the family, the Indians of San Bernardino brought many herbs and weeds to my grandmother for healing while the Indians on the Portrero brought us fruit when my family was ill.

Mother canned with honey.  We had our own bee farm.  The honey was placed on tin with holes in it.  The tin was set in a V-shaped box with a hole in it.  The sun melted the cones and the honey ran down into the V-shaped box and out the hole into containers.  Dad built a square box for us to store our honey and took what we didn’t need to town.  What couldn’t be dipped out because of crystallization was scraped out and heated to liquify it again.  Flowing honey was called draw honey.

The water for washing came from the pasture and was led down a v-shaped trough to a big box for storing. This water was not fit to drink.  It ran too close to the calf pasture and the pasture place was [cinigue] running down hill bring [sic] leaves and debris with it.

April 21 Odd Notes

In the summer of 1882 a fire started in a [flat] on which there was bee [aviary], about three miles from my home in Potato Canyon which was surveyed by Mr. Ford and renamed Oak Glen.  The owner of the [aviary] was extracting honey for which fire was needed.  It is not known how the fire got out of his hands, but the grass caught fire and spread the fire quickly to the mountain.  It went clear up the top of the mountain and on all sides.  The fire took five months to burn itself out as there was no fire trail or equipment in those days.  A lot of timber on the mountain was destroyed.

During the First World War, date unknown, a large group of laboring class Russians, at least 20 or more could be counted, came to Oak Glen.  They were not up there on business.  They went around to each home terrorizing the women.   They stole chickens, came to the doors and ordered food and some walked right in without knocking.  Someone in Oak Glen informed the San Bernardino Police who sent a four horse drawn wagon to get them.  They were brought down to Redlands and it is not known what happened after that.  They bothered people in Beaumont too, after leaving my place, but were arrested in Oak Glen, implying that there were two groups of them.

While I was growing up a young child of five years was playing beneath a tree when he was bitten by a rattlesnake.  Mr. Van Louvin, who lived near by, heard the child scream and ran to see what was the matter.  He had brought his shot gun with him and killed the snake.  Then he went to the neighbors for baking soda.  Meanwhile, the child was placed in Mr. Van Louvin’s wagon and laid on the floor.  Mr. Van Louvin’s team driver drove them to Redlands to a doctor, while Mr. van Louvin put the soda on the bite, brushing it off as it turned green and placing fresh soda on for the entire journey.  The doctor said nearly all of the poison had been drawn out by the time they got there and that it had save the child’s life.

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This post was written by Jim Riley

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