Julie McDonald Commentary: Early Pioneer Recounts Saving to Buy a Rubber Ball


As Black Friday passed and Christmas wish lists grew, I reflected on a story about early Lewis County pioneer J.T. Alexander, who was born Aug. 3, 1866, near what today is Lintott/Alexander Park and saved his money as a child to buy a ball.

The longtime banker known as the father of 4-H in Lewis County, shared his recollections in a booklet published in 1938 called “Told by the Pioneers: Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in Washington Vol. 3.” It was a federally funded project launched under the Works Progress Administration, which provided jobs and income to unemployed people during the Great Depression. The booklet describes its contents as “tales of frontier life as told by those who remember the days of the territory and early statehood of Washington.”

“During my school days the most popular games were ball and ante-over,” Alexander said. “Anything was used for a ball, usually a homemade yarn affair, with a rock wound in heavy material to lend weight. I saved my money for quite a while to buy a ball, and when Father and I went to Seattle, he gave me my money (about 50 cents), and loaned me an additional 25 cents so I could buy the ball. It was of solid rubber, and I had to save for quite a time to repay the loan.”

J.T. “Jim” Alexander’s father was John Alexander, a Scotsman who immigrated to the United States from Ireland, panned for gold in California and the Fraser River, and settled in Lewis County in 1858. His mother was Margaret (Urquhart) Alexander, the daughter of James and Ellen Urquhart, natives of Scotland who settled in Lewis County in 1853 after sailing around Cape Horn. His mother died in 1890; his father in 1905.

J.T. described early 19th century Lewis County, including how the Lintott/Alexander Park on a bend of the Chehalis River was once an Indian campground.

“The river was the main thoroughfare in early days, as often the roads were impassable,” he said. “Hungry travelers were welcomed into every home they passed, and it was customary to feed them. It was not unusual of settlers, returning to their homes, to find that visitors had come and gone, helped themselves to food and lodging perhaps, but custom decreed that the dishes be washed and the unused food replaced as found.”

Most of the pioneers’ furniture was handcrafted, but perhaps not always sanded smooth.

“My first lesson in school was when I was went in and sat down on the end of a split cedar log,” Alexander said. “When another boy came in and wanted to sit down, instead of getting up and moving over, I just slid over for him. I never forgot to be polite after that, and not to try sliding about on a rough bench seat.”

He recalled that most men wore buckskin pants with fringes on the side seams.

“When they got wet they would stretch and get to be much too long,” he said. “Sometimes men who did not understand would take a knife or shears and cut them off. Then, when they were dry they would not be much longer than ‘knee pants.’”

While his father helped build the first bridge across the Chehalis River, J.T. Alexander was instrumental in organizing the first Chehalis Fire Department. He and his brother, John, were farmers who worked at Security State Bank, which was established in 1903. John left Coffman-Dobson Bank in 1910 to serve as president of the seven-year-old Security State, where his son, John Alexander Jr., was chairman of the board from 1974 to 2001. J.T., who joined Security State in 1913 as vice president, also served as president of the Pacific Wool Growers’ Association.

On Sept. 20, 1892, in Chehalis, J.T. married Drucilla Dulaney, a Kentucky native, and they had two sons — Harry and William — and three daughters, Florence Doll, Edith Luebke, and Vera Kelley. In September 1942, they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.

Beginning in 1920, J.T. devoted three years to organizing the first 4-H clubs in Lewis County. He established 30 clubs and helped sponsor another 25. In 1921, he furnished pigs at a nominal price to boys and girls willing to raise them, and Security State offered $100 in prizes for winning exhibits in Southwest Washington Fair competition. He also drove a delegation of five local boys and girls to summer camp at Washington State College in Pullman.

In 1959, the new 4-H livestock barn at the Southwest Washington Fair was dedicated in his honor.

“The J.T. Alexander 4-H Livestock Building at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds is one manifestation of the appreciation and love shared by 4-H club members past and present,” Ralph Roffler, Lewis County’s extension agent, wrote upon J.T. Alexander’s death in April 1962 at the age of 95.

“Alexander was one of those who made full use of every opportunity to serve and improve the lives of (his) fellow men.”


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at chaptersoflife1999@gmail.com.