Remembering a completely different world
Interview by Marcy Stamper
Cecelia Campbell grew up on a homestead near Beaver Creek and has spent most of her 88 years farming and ranching. She was inducted into the Washington State 4-H Hall of Fame in 2007, and has accrued other honors including Mother of the Year for Eastern Washington and a People’s Choice ribbon at the County Fair for her oil painting. Still, she insists, “My life really is not all that outstanding.”
Have you painted all of your life?
Off and on, when I wasn’t busy raising kids. Mostly oils, and I’ve done a little pastels. The thing with oils – you can change them, you know. If you don’t like it, you just let it dry and paint over it. That painting’s getting its mind changed. I’m going to put some wooded hills where that fog is, to bring it in, more of a gradual thing.
How do you come up with your ideas in the first place?
Things I’ve seen, things I’ve done. I don’t try to copy something per se. Maybe I like that mountain, that hill over there, some animal in it.
Did you study painting?
I went to Frazer Creek School, and I was the only one in the second grade. The beauty of one-room schools, you could listen to the kids ahead and always keep ahead of yourself, so my teacher would let me draw pictures instead of bothering with lessons.
How many students were there?
There were four kids one year, and 16 one year – it varied that much. I went through the eighth grade, and I graduated from the high school in Twisp.
I got elected Princess Twisp when I was a senior to go to the Wenatchee Blossom Festival. That was in the heart of the Depression, in 1938, and Twisp couldn’t afford a float. So Stonebreaker was taking freight into the Azurite Mine and he put wheels on his dogsled and I went through Wenatchee on a dog team.
You started the 4-H Club here?
I can’t remember what year it was, ’52, I think – and then I took all of my kids through and then some of my grandkids. I stayed with it for 25 years. Kids took in steers, mostly, some sheep. They had a lot of fun; so did I. At that time, the kids slept in the trucks, on hay.
You grew up on a ranch?
I was born on a homestead between Beaver Creek and Frazer Creek. I got married in 1940 and we lived in Holden at the copper mine for two years. My husband had worked on this ranch out of high school and knew it real well, so the new fellow asked if he would run it. I’ve sat here ever since. I worked the cows and mowed for cattle and everything with him – it made it a lot of fun.
When we started, they didn’t have all this fancy machinery and you did it all by hand. Mowed the hay and cut it, then you raked it into a windrow, and then you made it into hay shocks and picked it up and put it onto what they called a slide, and then you took it in and stacked it. It was intensive.
Did you also work outside of the home?
For several years for Community Action Council. I even managed a bakery here for two years – they were trying to make work for people who didn’t have jobs.
Do you still grow most of your food?
Pretty much. You just kind of grow into it, you know. Back in the Depression, when they say how hard it was, actually, people that had their own gardens and things – it was tough, I mean you didn’t have any money to spend, but you had plenty to eat.
I’ve heard people say that, around here, there wasn’t really a big contrast.
No, there wasn’t. Nobody had any money anyway. They had cows for a little cream check, and chickens, and a pig to butcher.
Did it seem that the climate was wetter then?
No. In fact, the ’30s were hotter and drier than it is right now. Way up into the ’40s it was awfully dry. My second son was born in ’44, the first week in August, and we hadn’t had a drop of rain since April. That morning he was born, it just poured rain.
Was he born at home?
There was a lady in town who had a maternity practice. My two older ones were born there, my third one was born at home, and my last one was born on the Loup Loup Highway. We pulled over and got it over with. We had a little boy. My little girl was with us.
Were you not too nervous because by then you knew what to expect?
Well, it’s natural. When my daughter was born at home my husband was out deer hunting. He and the doctor both got here about 15 minutes after she was born. My dad had shown us how to take care of the umbilical cord because, when all of us kids were born, we never got a doctor because it was too far from town – by the time they drove out in a wagon, it was all over.
At that time, people looked after themselves. The neighbors all helped each other and worked back and forth and had pinochle parties. Now everybody’s got their own thing to do.
What was your childhood like?
I had a ball. You could ride for miles and miles and never hit a fence. We had to milk in the morning and the evening, and I had to learn to cook when I was about eight. In the winter, when the deer started dropping their horns we’d go out to see who could collect the most deer horns.
It must seem like a pretty different world today.
It’s a completely different world, and I don’t think it’s for the better. Our freedoms are being taken away from us – you used to be able to go out and do almost anything. As long as it wasn’t bothering anyone, nobody paid any attention to it.
What kinds of things?
Well, now if you go across somebody’s place, they charge you with trespassing. If you wanted to go swimming in somebody’s lake, they didn’t care. The first time I’d ever heard a radio, it had earphones so only one person could listen to it at a time, so we passed it around and all got bits and pieces of the program.
When I was in high school, I would draw pictures in biology and then trade other kids for paper and pencils.
It was when you were older that you started oil painting?
I raised my family in two groups, so in that gap I did quite a bit of painting. I got into it pretty strong about 20 years ago. I just paint wherever I land, mostly on my lap. I’ve got quite a few snow scenes; I’ve got a buffalo in one, and a cow, and a lake. There’s a cougar.
You seem to have a sense for the glow of autumn leaves and sunsets.
Well, you see it so much. The bear, I got that when I was in Alaska – I thought that would be pretty neat. That was the hardest thing I ever did; it took about three weeks to do that darn thing. Just layer after layer of hair to give it the depth. A mountain scene I can whip out in no time.
Do you have any other significant memories?
The Methow has changed so terribly much. Twisp just had 325 people when I graduated high school. Winthrop had about half of what they have now.
Did it ever feel too small?
I loved it then. We used to have whole neighborhood entertainments. We’d have dances at the schoolhouses and card parties and picnics in the summertime. I chorded on the piano and others played the guitar and fiddle for dances.
It was 1946 before we got electricity – after we moved here. They had electricity in town when I was 12 because I stayed with an aunt and uncle and went to school, because Frazer Creek ran out of money mid-term one year – they couldn’t pay the teacher $40 a month, or whatever she was getting.
Did you cut ice for refrigeration?
My family did. We made lots of ice cream in the summer. The ice would last all summer. They had a building built just for it. They’d put a layer of sawdust on the bottom, and then they had the ice, and then they’d cover it with a layer of sawdust and just kept doing that, and then they’d have about three foot of sawdust clear around the outside of it.
In school, we would haul water from the creek and everybody drank out of the dipper – nobody ever died. Now you wouldn’t dare drink out of the creek. The teacher had to get the fire started. When we’d get to school we’d be froze to death in the winter, walking a mile and a half against the wind, and we’d sit in front of that thing and by the time we’d get ready to go home we’d be warm.
Did the teachers live there?
They boarded with one of the families. For a while, they couldn’t be married to teach.
I guess they were expecting they’d get pregnant.
Right, they might decide to have a baby in the middle of things, and heavens to Betsy, you couldn’t have anything like that happening in front of us.
Because you’d ask a lot of questions about how it all happened?
Yeah, but when you’re around stock you can kind of figure it out.