Homesteaders and Pioneers
Lena Fletcher and children

Bear Creek Homestead History

The Ditlefsen Family

On June 20, 1998 we were visited by some of the original homesteaders' children, Ruth Rayment, of Port Angeles, WA, Rose M. Scott of Everett, WA and Ivan N Ditlefsen of Springfield, OR. They are three of the 12 children of the original couple who homesteaded the Bear Creek land. There were 6 girls and 6 boys. One brother died at age 11 of diabetes.

The parents, Ole and Petra Ditlefsen, were from Norway and immigrated here with two children. They moved to the Homestead in 1916. There was no road and their dad built the Bear Creek Road with horses and wagons. He built two bridges to cross the streams, so the original Bear Creek Road had two bridges. The children believe that their parents came to the homestead here because their mother's brother, Isac Anderson homesteaded on the Hoh and sponsored them to come from Norway. Nanson founded Nanson Anderson logging company.

Rose was born on the Quillayute Prairie where they knew many of the homesteaders in that area; the Maxwells, Gaydeskis, Marshalls, Smiths, and the Fletchers. They also had neighbors across the Sol Duc River, Joel Oberg and the Schutz's. The Nesses lived about three miles away and the Konopaski family lived in Beaver. There was a swinging bridge across the river and as children they remember going across that bridge. Ruth remembers she and her sister taking calves across the bridge to Joe Oberg's place.

^ top

When the Ditlefsen's came there were no fields, only trees. The parents cleared the land with horses and blasting powder. The children remember there was a water tower that stood about 30 feet in the air for gravity fed water. They had a woodshed and blacksmith shop and lived in there while their dad built the house. There was a room next to the well where the milk separator was kept.

They remember there being a small, fenced, graveyard near the woodshed. This would be the grassy area just behind our existing woodshed. They were told that two girls were buried there. They were told one had died from eating poisonous berries and weren't sure what had befallen the second child. They believe these girls were Iverson girls. (We were told that Olga-Iverson-Hillstrom's eight year old sister had drowned in the creek and was buried here.) They wondered who was here before them that there was a graveyard. As children, they would pick flowers and place on the graves. They recall there were three homesteads on the road, but no one lived there and they were just old fallen down houses that they often hiked to. They believe that at some time, someone may have lived at the Homestead before them.

They remembered that during haying season, all the neighbors helped one another. They used horses and wagons and put the hay up loose in the barn. Joel Oberg came to help with haying. He and his sister, Mrs. Dorst, who lived in what is now called the Wahlgren homestead, at the end of the Wahlgren Road were both blind. Joe accidentally pitch-forked George Ness, so after that Mr. Ditlefsen had him chop wood instead.

The Ditlefsen children remember how hard their parents worked. With 12 children to feed, they raised a big garden in the area that is now in the field west of the kitchen. They raised lots of potatoes, milked cows and sold cream, and their dad drove school bus and did miscellaneous carpentry work to make ends meet. There weren't any store-bought toys and if you wanted something to play with, you made your own toys. They remember playing on a huge cedar stump which was located over the bank in front of the house. Ike said it must have been 20' in diameter.

^ top

They remember some of the odd brand cars their dad owned. They left a 1923 Columbia in the barn when they moved away. They remember owning a Chandler and later a Star.

They remember the nice apples, gravensteins, and winesaps, but are unsure of whether the trees were planted by their parents or were here already.

The outhouse was located in the southern part of the existing garden. Rose remembers she and her sister going to the outhouse in the snow and their mother told them to come straight back, but they decided to sled down the hill. On the second ride down the hill her sister was on front and her legs slid under the sled and she was badly cut. They took her to the neighbors and the neighbors stitched her leg.

They remember Bloedel Donovan had a cookhouse up on the mountain (behind the house). Food was transported every day from Sappho camp on a speeder to feed the crews. Sometimes the kids went along and they said they never saw so much good food. The children remember the cellar under the house where their mother kept the produce from the garden. Fruit and vegetables were canned in jars and eggs were preserved in some kind of a jelly substance that kept them fresh for a long time. They used kerosene lamps and their mother gave the nicest one to Joe Oberg when they left.

The family was having a hard time making it and thought they could do better if they were where there were more people to work for, so they moved to Agnew. Shortly after this, their dad died at age 54. Mrs. Ditlefsen couldn't make the house payments so she moved the family back to the homestead at Bear Creek. Some folks by the name of Parker were renting the house and they left so the Ditlefsen's could move back in. They stayed at Bear Creek for about three years. Mrs. Ditlefsen then decided she could find more work in the Port Angeles area so they moved again. Mrs. Ditlefsen died at age 56. The children said their parents worked so hard that they just wore out at a young age.

Rose wrote later to say she wished she knew more about how their family came to Bear Creek, but "when you're young, you don't ask questions".

Magda Kaemmle's History

^ top

On July 22 I had opportunity to visit with Magda Kaemmle. Her maiden name was Meredith and her father, Iver Iverson was Olga(Iverson) Hillstrom's brother. Olga and Iver's parents, John and Hannah Iverson originally homesteaded the Bear Creek property, probably in the late 1800's. Magda remembered the Ditlefsen family, but she did not know how or why they happened to end up at the Homestead. She thought possibly they needed a place to make a living and perhaps the Iversons let them move up there.

Magda said there was a couple named Jack and Jean Rainey who lived on Rainey Road. That would probably be the logging road referred to as Rainey Creek Road. She believes that Jack and Jean Rainey took one of the Ditlefsen girls to raise as their own. She said the girl's name was Jean and that the Rainey's renamed her so it wouldn't be confusing to have two "Jeans" in the family. There was a school at Bear Creek and a man teacher who the kids disliked, but she couldn't remember his name.

She recalled a story that Olga told her. Hannah, Olga's mother, was called to help a neighbor, Mrs. Tomlin, in childbirth. Olga went along and was present when Etta Tomlin was born. After the baby was born Hannah sent Olga back home with a lantern as it was now dark. On the way home she tripped and fell, breaking the lantern and had to go home through the woods in the dark.

^ top

I asked Magda about the graves and the story of the young girls. She said that Olga's sister, Louise, had fallen in the creek and drowned. She was 9 or 10 years old. She and her uncle were crossing on a foot log when the creek was at flood stage. She slipped and fell in. They weren't able to find the body for several days. She was buried where the Ditlefsen's remember the graves, but Magda was unaware of the other grave. She said many people lost children in those days, so it could be the other grave was another homesteader's child.

Magda recalls the kind of lumber that the Homesteaders built with in those days. When the Shuwah school house was torn down, she said a 20 foot piece of flooring 3" thick could be hand split the entire length.

Magda suggested we get a map of the property called the Iverson Homestead, which is the property now occupied by Johnny Hillstrom. This was homesteaded by Olga Iverson, or Olga Thorsen between 1900-1915. Olga lived there in 1915 at Thanksgiving time. Magda spent time around Thanksgiving that year with Aunt Olga while her mother and Iver Iverson went out to "civilization" [probably Port Angeles] to get married.

Anton "Johnny" Hillstrom came for a visit one afternoon during the summer of 1998. He is the son of Olga (Iverson) Hillstrom. He said that Olga's father, was a surveyor and found and homesteaded this place. Later he left his wife and family and went to Florida. He said that Olga was born and raised at the Homestead.

Johnny's father, John Hillstrom homesteaded at Lake Ozette. He met and married Olga. Olga was a cook for M & R's camp at Physht. John Hillstrom was an old sailor and could tie any knot. He was a head fire warden out at Ozette, and the Hoh. Edie Castell's dad and the Cowans were also wardens. John used to go with his Dad to check on all the wardens. They had an open model-T pickup.

^ top

Johnny was raised in Forks where the family had a dairy. The family moved out here when Johnny was about 10-12 years old. His dad, didn't want to come, but Olga said she was going anyway. He said his Mom "worked the hell out of Dad". He said his dad built the root cellar for storing the rutabagas, mangos and potatoes. His mother had a "voracious" garden and fed the mangos and turnips to the cows. He said they always had boarders and it was nothing for Olga to put up 1,000 jars of produce from the garden.

He said there used to be a deserted homestead up the creek and the kids used to go up there. He and Jack Mostogetta hunted across the creek in a swampy area and found a homestead intact. It was wallpapered in newspapers.

He said there were two mines up on the mountain. Vic Oberg founded the mine up on top. Joe Damon logged up to the mine and put his spar tree up there. Johnny logged the place which is now Von Behren's. He remembered Joe Oberg and said there was a swinging bridge going across the river where Breed's place is now, across to Mary Clark Road (spur 4) and that is where Joe lived.

He remembers the day a forest fire came over the mountain and was heading straight for the homestead. His mother and Jack Mostagotta were in Port Angeles. He could see the fire coming, but it stopped a short ways off from the house.

Olga left 65-70 acres on the Solduc River to John. They divided and sold it in five acre plots. He and his wife Mary raised two sons and three daughters. He also had a brother, David who was killed in an accident on Lake Creek.

Earl Lenning: Homesteader's Boarder & Farm Helper

^ top

Earl Lenning drove in to see if the homestead was still standing. He had worked for Olga as a 19 year old. One of the farm hands needed time off, so he came to fill in and ended up staying for a time. Earl's dad died and his family needed money so he moved here from Port Angeles to work.

He said Olga had a full string of cows [a string was 30] and the barn was full from one end to the other. His day started at 4:00 a.m. when he would fix coffee for Olga. She was very particular about how to fix the coffee. First you boiled the water, then added grounds and the one cup of cold water on top and then you took it off the stove. He milked cows, cooled and bottled milk. The left over milk went through the separator then to the creamery where they made butter out of it. He delivered milk on the way to Forks taking Johnny Hillstrom, who he thought was 9 years old or so, to school. He also took Irene Iverson to school. She was living with the Hillstroms and was a housekeeper.

He remembered helping put loose hay into the hay mow.

Olga had umpteen cats and she told Earl she wanted him to get rid of some. He shot one with a .22 right off the porch and was fired on the spot.

Larry Hillstrom: Olga (Grandma) Iverson-Hillstrom's Grandson

^ top

Olga (Iverson) Hillstrom was born in July 19, 1891 and she passed away in October 10, 1985. She was 94 years old when she died. She was the fifth of twelve children born to the Iversons. She was born in the house which stood by the big maple tree alongside of Bear Creek. Later the house was skidded up to higher ground because of flooding of the creek. Larry believes the Bear Creek Homestead house was built in 1914.

Olga married John Hillstrom and for some time they lived in Forks and then came back to the Bear Creek area in 1937. They lived on the Hillstrom Road [near the Solduc River] for a while. They had only one child, a daughter, Jessie, who died of cancer. Dave, Larry's father, was left on the doorstep and Grandma raised him as her own son. Johnny Hillstrom, an orphan, was also adopted. Dave was killed in a truck wreck at Lake Creek on his way to work in 1978. Grandpa Hillstrom died before Larry was born.

Grandma's uncle lived where Lucken's place is [down the creek, past the little creek that flows into Bear Creek].

Grandma Hillstrom helped raise over 35 children. During the depression there were open houses. Grandma always had a garden and canned her produce so there was always food. There was a cellar under the house and the shelves were full of jars of fruit and vegetables. Grandma ran a dairy farm. Dairy inspectors wanted her to quit selling milk, but she needed the income to take care of her husband. She ran the inspector off with a baseball bat and continued to sell her milk to the neighbors.

Grandma Hillstrom knew how to make penicillin from bread mold. She took the kids out into the woods to get medicine. The school nurse wanted to know how Grandma made her medicine, but she wouldn't tell.

^ top

Larry remembered the story that Grandma told about coming home from the neighbors after her mother helped with the birth of a baby. It was dark and he said that Grandma dropped the lantern when a white owl swooped down and scared her.

Grandma had a big barn in the field close to the driveway. There was a walkway from the big barn to a little barn and just beyond that was a milk shed for cooling the milk. Grandma had hay delivered and put into the big barn. She could still help butcher and cut up a cow when she was in her 80's. The big barn fell down with snow load. Grandma told him she remembered looking out the kitchen window and seeing ten feet of snow.

Grandma said that Bear Creek bridge used to be further east from where it now is. The road used to come through where the Hull's now live. There used to be a blacksmith's shop at the Leavitt's place [across from the Hungry Bear Café]. Grandma used to make blood pudding.

There were around 100 head of elk coming into the fields. Grandma called the US Forest Service and they came with a 10-man crew and built an elk fence around the house. [Part of that elk fence was still standing when we bought the Homestead; it was 10 feet high, chickenwire]. Grandma knew that Don Stevens, one of the Bear Creek neighbors was poaching elk. She said, "Don't tell, he has a big family and he needs it."

The apple trees were planted before Grandma Hillstrom was born. There used to be a wild, very fragrant purple flower growing at the end of the row of holly trees by the outhouse. Larry said that he thought the graves were on the left side of the woodshed. He said one guy who leased the property had three stills; one in the dugout, one in the ravine and one in the cellar. He said the hook in the old ceiling was used to hang Grandma's quilt frame.

^ top

In the late 1960's Grandma sold off part of the homestead. She sold land to the Whites and the VonBarens; 40 acres for $3,000.

Larry spent a good share of his childhood under the shadow of Grandma Hillstrom's wings. When he was little, she had a bed for him in her dresser drawer. She was more than a mother to him.

Larry and his wife Pam married in 1974, a year after Larry graduated from Forks high school. They moved here to take care of Grandma, who was bedridden, but still as alert and quick-witted as ever. They had three children while living here, Holly, Misty, and Joshua. The children would climb into bed with Grandma and she usually had candy or something to give them for a treat. In December 1983, Larry and Pam and the three children were coming around Lake Crescent when their car slid on ice and went into the lake. Misty and Joshua both died. They are buried in the Forks Cemetery. Part of Grandma's ashes are sprinkled on their graves.

Larry and Pam cared for Grandma until she died and then they sold the Homestead to Steve and Sandra Ironhill and moved to Hoodsport, where they now live. They had three more children; Jeremy, who died of SIDS, Sheena, age 14 and Tasha, who was born the same day as Misty, age 9. Holly is attending college and plans to become a grade school teacher.

The remainder of Grandma Hillstrom's ashes are scattered down in the field and under the maple tree where she was born. There was no service for her. She wanted to be remembered like she had just walked out the door.

^ top

© University of Washington. All rights reserved.
The Community Museum is a project of community organizations and Tribes across the Olympic Peninsula and the University of Washington.
Support for the project comes from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Preston, Gates and Ellis, LLP.