Remembering the Uncle Sylvester Gaydeski | Wally's World

I had a great uncle, Sylvester Gaydeski, who died in 1970 at the age of 96. This, in and of itself, may not seem especially mind-boggling until you realize that when he was 10 or 11 years old, he migrated to this region via a covered wagon on the Oregon Trail.

Granted, you still may not find that especially surprising, but I do.

Prior to his death, we had a few extended conversations about his pioneer experiences. Contrary to what I expected, during the three or four months it took to complete the trip from Lincoln, Neb., to Oregon, he said the wagon train had no dealings or interaction whatsoever with Native Americans. However, the Indians were certainly around. Syl saw them nearly everyday. But they were always "off in the distance on a hill, sitting on their horses, just watchin'."  I asked him if he remembered Chimney Rock, supposedly an important landmark on the trail and today a national monument. He said there were several such landmarks along the way and no particular one stood out in his mind.

When he arrived in our area, there wasn't a town. There were only a handful of families scattered about a heavily-wooded region on land they'd claimed under the government's Homestead Act.

Syl homesteaded on 10 or 12 acres across the street from where Circle K is located.   (Today, the Emerald Court apartments occupy the site.) He build a funny little house and barn and shared the place with his sister, whom I mistakenly assumed was his wife during my childhood. Syl never married.

Initially, he and his sister lived off the land. Syl would occasionally shoot a deer in the backyard, but mostly they raised a garden, canned the produce and ate a lot of salmon. At the time, there were so many salmon in Boise and Newaukum creeks, he could simply wade into the water, scoop the fish up and throw them onto the

He had vivid memories of Sam Lafromboise's saloon, the first business to open in what would later become Enumclaw. The tavern was located within a block or two of a switchyard the Northern Pacific Railroad was building.

A few years later, particularly after the White River Lumber Company was established around the turn of the century, a community started to take shape. By this time, Syl had a few milk cows, but he was never much of a farmer. Mostly he worked for the railroad laying track connecting various hamlets like Selleck and Cumberland. He also worked in the woods, falling trees for White River.

Around 1915, Syl bought a suit. Just one. It was the only suit he'd ever own. He wore it to church, weddings and funerals, including his own. Each and every Saturday night for a least 40 years, he'd put it on and walk into downtown Enumclaw.

By then, there were seven or eight taverns within a block of the Cole and Griffin intersection and Syl and his friends would smokea cigar or two and drink a couple of beers. Even during Prohibition, from 1920 through 1933, the "poolhalls" had backroom speakeasies where illegal "hooch" was readily available. But Syl would very rarely get drunk. He was never a really heavy drinker.

Nevertheless, whenever I visited his house he'd fix me a "hot schnapps" – that is, a half-shot of whiskey in a cup filled with hot water from a teapot on the woodstove.   Most of the booze would evaporate when the hot water hit it.

Syl lived long enough to watch the moon landings. I find this quite astounding.   Both the landings and the fact that he lived long enough to see them. From a horse-drawn covered wagon on the Oregon Trail to the moon landings. I dare say, there are relatively few people in the entire history of mankind who have witnessed such incredible technological change within their lifespans.

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