"Oldies but Goodies by Joni Stewart"
Everyone listened with pride as he told of Grandpa James who arrived here through providence (and the help of Joe Meek.) Despite being on the wagon, forever to be known as the lost wagon train, Officer put down roots in Grant County and before long Robert, Joe's grandpa was born. "I remember him always chewin' tobacco, and he used to hit the spittoon clear over by the stove," says Joe.
This memory goes back eighty some years. As does his recollections of wearing knickerbockers and riding his first horse Whitey in 1908. "Course I was raised on a horse," says Joe, "to us they were necessary." One horse which he broke, 'Cal Kern' went on the national racing circuit.
His school days are punctuated with dramatic events both in Izee and John Day. During the first ever Grant County Fair he entered a foot race for youngsters, he was approximately six years old. The object was to take your shoes off, run a distance and back, and then put your shoes on again. He was winning that race when, looking up into the grandstands (which then were on the opposite side of the track) he saw his wonderfully supportive mother cheering him on. Well, he just got so distracted he couldn't get his shoes tied and ultimately lost the race.
Once while attending John Day High School he was asked to overtake the stage south of Canyon City, pick up medicine for young Frances Carson and hurry it to their home. He can still sense the urgency he felt that day at age 14 as he galloped down that road. The trip from John Day toIzee on horseback regularly took six hours. On that day he made it in under two. Frances ultimately succumbed to the disease.
Old Doc Hay was to factor in big in Joe's life and in his father Wade's. Joe remembers once when his dad contracted spotted fever, Doc Hay came to Izee and spent four weeks tending to him. Then at age 15, Joe was injured during a football scrimmage. He was hit on the mastoid and immediately went unconscious. "Everyone was convinced I should be sent to the white doctors, but Doc Hay sent word that he wanted to see me. He felt my pulse and announced I had a blood clot and proceeded to treat me with herbs. In two days I was awake and fine," says Joe with unabashed reverence. Doc Hay had always called him 'Young Jodi' and the nickname has become a family endearment.
Once out on his own, Joe purchased 205 acres in Izee and was "looking for some help." He had met Iva Keizur in High School, proposed to her and the 45 ranch was born; along with Betty, Gene and Wade.
"All of his purpose in life has been the ranch and the family," states Wade adding, "he and mother helped raise a lot of kids during the lean years."
"We are a close-knit family and could always feel how much our parents loved us," says Betty. Joe and family built up the ranch to 10,000 acres with over 2100 head of cattle.
In the late 1950's Joe began serving as county commissioner and over the next 16 years he helped adjudicate issues under six judges. "Don't ask about those cases, I don't want to think about 'em," he says (with feeling!) And yes, there were heated battles over roads even back then.
His list of civic and fraternal memberships is extensive, in fact with so many overlapping, he must have known everything there was to know about the goings on in Grant County at one time.
So much has changed though from the horse and buggy days. Today, living just blocks away from where he was born (where the Dairy Queen is now,) he says the whole town has changed, "It even smells different."
I visited for over two hours and there were still many stories untold. The 50 plus years he provided guide services to hunters; his trip to Hawaii where he finally relented and traded in cowboy boots and pants for shorts; the entrance into Oregon Agricultural College at age 14 (he registered as 18,) and the almost unavoidable analogy between the45 ranch and TV series Bonanza.
Just as I begin to say goodbye, grandson Bob comes in and I can't resist asking him about his earliest memory of his grandpa. "Oh, that's easy. I was about six years old and we were out burning some willow branches and he offered me my first chew of tobacco, it was Beechnut," he says with a smile.
Sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same.