Julie McDonald: Detering offspring among the Rayton descendants in Lewis County


John and Angeline Rayton raised a family of 11 children, and their descendants still populate Lewis County today.

The Rayton family history has been preserved in a history book compiled by June Crocker Strickland Strovas, the eldest grandchild of LeRoy Rayton, who was the eighth child of John and Angeline. Much of the information for this column and previous installments, which can be found at chronline.com, comes from her book.

Last week, I wrote about the two eldest Rayton sons, Albert and John Henry. One of the most prolific of their offspring was their third-born child, Nellie Rayton Detering, the mother of 10 children raised near Wildwood in the Chehalis River Valley.

Nellie May Rayton, who was born on April 23, 1880, at Claquato, attended school at St. Francis Mission near Toledo when the family lived on Cowlitz Prairie. She married an Iowa native, Herman C. Detering, on May 5, 1897, in Chehalis. He arrived in Seattle in 1889 and worked in a brickyard, saving his money to buy 40 acres of railroad land — sight unseen — in the Boistfort area.

Herman and Nellie bought 160 acres in the Wildwood Valley of Lewis County, where Herman ran a shingle-bolting business and was employed as a carpenter, millworker, and bridge builder. Nellie cooked for the hired help as well as for her family.

The couple’s 10 children were Edna Jones, Georgia Toporke, Frederick, Ralph, Ruby Barr, Howard, Hazel Duncan, Elma Detering, Charles and Alice Gaines Cripe. Most of the children had three or four offspring, although Edna had nine and Ralph fathered six. Howard and Elma remained single, lived on the family farm, and hosted the annual Fourth of July party. 

Nellie died in October 1940 at 69, nine years before the farm received electricity. Herman died in 1960 at the age of 91.

Edna wrote that she attended the one-room Wildwood School with six to 10 pupils but never attended high school. She and her sister Georgia helped their mother by setting tables, washing dishes, doing laundry on a washboard, cleaning house, and preparing meals. Their mother milked a few cows morning and night. Their father carried the milk to the house and helped separate the cream, feeding the skim milk to the pigs. They made butter and cottage cheese. They also raised chickens.

The  family attended the circus and occasionally saw a movie.

“One time Georgia and I wanted a desk-bookcase that was in a catalog (Sears, Roebuck),” Edna wrote. “Mother said if we picked enough wild blackberries to can — 100 quarts — they would get it for us. We did it, but we sure hated to have her use any to eat or make pies. I still have the desk. Although we had many chores, I don’t remember we ever felt abused or mistreated.”

In the summer of 1910, their father started building a new house, which they moved into before Christmas. In the past, they drew water from a well in a bucket with a rope and pulley, heated water on the woodstove, and took baths once a week in an old wash tub in the split cedar, two-story house built in about 1884 by homesteader Robert Groves.

The new house had indoor plumbing with an upstairs bathroom, a large downstairs bedroom, five upstairs bedrooms and a half-bath downstairs. It also had three stationary wash tubs with hot water heated by the cook stove. They dried clothes upstairs.

A gravity system brought water from a creek on a hill into the house. A drain system drew it away from the building.

“No one else in the neighborhood had indoor plumbing at this time,” Edna wrote. “It was a big change from the small house we had lived in for 12 years where there was an outdoor toilet.”

On Nov. 14, 1917, Edna married Frank Jones, a Winlock native and one of seven children whose parents arrived in Washington Territory from Kansas in 1882. Edna and Frank worked as dairy farmers and raised nine children. Frank was a charter member of the Lewis Pacific Dairymen’s Association.

In 1985, Georgia Toporke wrote about her early life in Wildwood Valley where her father cut cedar into shingle bolts and floated them down the south fork of the Chehalis River to mills at Littell and Centralia. Her mother cooked for a dozen hired men. Her brother Fred was born on her second birthday.

She attended three-month sessions at Wildwood School No. 39 near their house. The terms were later extended to six months and finally eight months. After eighth grade, students were required to pass a state examination. The Deterings walked home for lunch.

“We would roam the woods, pick wildflowers, and once went fishing in Cedar Creek on a day that we had taken our lunch,” Georgia wrote. “Sorry to say we couldn’t hear the teacher’s hand bell and didn’t get back to school until afternoon recess.”

Students played on a split log that they used as a raft in a pond at the corner of the school yard.

To attend Boistfort High School, Georgia boarded with an uncle and aunt at Curtis. Her father drove his Ford to bring her home on weekends. She was in high school when her parents’ 10th child, Alice, was born.

“In season I liked to work in the family garden, pick wild blackberries and sew clothes for the family,” Georgia wrote.

She pursued her teaching credentials at Washington State Normal School at Ellensburg and taught three years in a one-room school at Ostrander, Washington, and then 26 students in a one-room school in Caldwell, Montona. She later taught three years in a one-room school on Ceres Hill near Chehalis.

She and her husband, Martin Toporke, raised their two daughters — Lois and Ellen — near Beaver Creek.

Georgia coauthored a book about Wildwood history, “Out of a Wilderness,” with Priscilla Tiller.

Her brother, Fred Detering, said his mother milked the cows and farmed while her father’s interest leaned toward lumber and construction. Fred, who helped milk the cows, wanted to farm and raise dairy cows.

“Aside from a critical attack of pneumonia around age seven and using a draw knife to split my knee cap when I was nine or 10, I had a normal and reasonably healthy childhood,” wrote Fred Detering, who bought the home farm and worked as supervisor of the Dairy Herd Improvement Association during the Depression. He later worked as a Federal Land Bank appraiser and then managed a farm in Yakima. He returned to Washington State College, where he had graduated in soils, so he could teach vocational agriculture.

Georgia also shared childhood recollections of Ralph, saying as early as four or five, he showed an unhealthy attraction to matches and once hid inside a clothes closet to strike them, igniting a fire. But it was detected early enough to prevent much damage.

Herman and Nellie Detering closed the sawmill temporarily in 1909 to visit Seattle for the Alaska-Yukon exposition, leaving their children in the care of a hired girl who took year-old Ruby to school to visit the teacher, Laura Wilson, but left Fred and Ralph at home.

Edna rushed home from school to check on her brothers, where she found Fred and Ralph trying to start a fire in the big, old firebox of the Case engine designed to operate the sawmill. Ralph accepted responsibility for spearheading the project.

One teacher at Wildwood outlawed paper spit balls only to discover her students threw tiny mud balls made from dirt carried in on shoes.

During high school, Ralph drove the school bus and played basketball until rupturing his appendix in a collision with another player. He tried college at Washington State College in Pullman but opted instead to drive a gravel truck and later worked as a fire district warden.

In her recollections, Ruby Detering Barr said she grew up as a tomboy wearing her brother’s old bib overalls to drive horses to the hay fork, haul slab wood from the mill to the woodshed and pick blackberries. She attended the one-room school near home as a child and then rode an old open bus with curtains eight miles to Boistfort High School. She attended a year at Washington State College and then cleaned houses in Chehalis for a year until she married Kenneth Barr.

The sixth child born to Herman and Nellie Detering was Howard, who was lying on a bridge with sisters Ruby and Hazel when he lost his balance and toppled over 12 feet into the water below. He narrowly missed hitting logs alongside the river. His sisters ran to the house to seek help, but by the time his father arrived, Howard had crawled out of the river, sand in his hair and clothes. His mother plopped him into the bathtub.

When asked if he was scared, Howard said, “No, but I bet the suckers were.”

Howard missed a lot of school after a thistle in his bare foot injured his leg, forcing him to recover at Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland. He also drove the school bus to Boistfort High School. After his parents moved to Bunker Creek,  he graduated from Adna High School. He attended polytechnic school in Oakland, California, and rowed on a crew for sport. He drove tractors, logged, cleared land, built roads, and worked in sawmills. After buying his parents’ ranch, he ran a modern dairy. He remained a favorite bachelor uncle of his nieces and nephews.

“Young and old will never forget the Fourth of July hay rides through the woods on dirt roads over the many acres belonging to the home place,” Georgia wrote. “The hay ride was on a huge, flat-bed trailer with baled hay for seats being pulled by a large John Deere tractor. One year a sudden hard shower caught the group far from home base. Everyone was soaked that trip!”

Hazel, the seventh child, recalled attending her first eight years in a one-room schoolhouse near their home and passed examinations before entering Boistfort High School, where she graduated in 1929. During high school she met Hewitt Duncan, the grandson of Claquato pioneers Lewis H. and Susan Clinger Davis.

He worked in the Klaber hopyard, and Hazel earned a dollar a day cleaning houses in Chehalis. After they married in 1931 during the Depression, they lived on the Klaber hopyard where Hewitt worked as a teamster, earning $60 a month plus living quarters. Then they moved to Adna. Hewitt cruised timber and worked for Weyerhaeuser while Hazel became a nurse at Centralia General Hospital.

Elma Detering, the eighth child, recalled lunch at home during school days consisted of homemade soup and fruit with fresh bread and butter. After completing eighth grade in 1928, she started at Boistfort High School, where she graduated in 1932. She cleaned houses in Chehalis and then attended Centralia Business College for nine months. She worked for the Lewis-Pacific Dairymen’s Association in the Chehalis office. After living in Chehalis two years, she bought a car and commuted from her family’s home in Bunker. She later worked at Darigold and eventually moved back to the home place in Wildwood, where she lived with her father and her brother Howard. After they both died, she sold the buildings and farmland but built a house a mile south, still on the original farm purchased in 1899. The home place’s mailing address had changed from Wildwood to Klaber to Curtis.

The six Detering sisters joined the Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington, Lewis County chapter, on Feb. 17, 1976, on the 200th birthday of their great-great-grandfather, Christian Friedrich Detering, who was born in Prussia.

When she passed away in 1998, Elma gave generous financial gifts to family members.

Charles, the ninth child, grew up on the family farm and attended Wildwood School until fourth grade when his father bought the Bunker farm near Adna from Ed Pratt.  Charles graduated from Adna High School in 1936 and joined the grange, playing basketball on the grange team for several years and remaining a member for nearly half a century. He served eight years as grange master. In 1946, he  married Loraine VanHoy in Goldendale and purchased the Detering family farm at Bunker.

The tenth and final child was Alice, born on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, in Wildwood. She attended Wildwood until third grade, when the school closed, and her family moved to Adna. She graduated from Adna High School in 1937 and attended Washington State College, where she met John Gaines, whom she married. He served in the U.S. Army Air Service during World War II.  They had a daughter, Xerpha. Alice worked for childcare centers and then for the Lewis County Extension Service before becoming a Social Security claims representative, working in Idaho, Eugene, Oregon, Vancouver, and Longview. Her husband died in a plane crash in 1955. She met Allen Cripe in Longview and married him in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1969.

Alice, the youngest Detering child, was an 80-year member of the Baw Faw Grange, which she joined at the age of 14. She also belonged to the Lewis County Daughters of the Pioneers. She died July 23, 2013, at her home on Wildwood Road at the age of 94.

Next week I’ll share more about Leonard and Anna (Black) Rayton and their offspring.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.