Aunt Ruth’s Life Story

(exact title optional)(suggestions welcome)


“Ruth Delia Warner’s Life Story”


Donald Elbert Mote


Added comment in red


Phillip E. Harris Jr.



I hereby take the liberty with the consent of the relatives of writing this true life story about Ruth Delia Warner from the standpoint of an adoring nephew, because she was always my favorite “auntie”.


No life story about Ruth would be complete without mention of her parents.  Her father was Clifford Wallace Warner, who was a railroad engineer who apparently worked for one of the rail lines which served the Battle Creek area.


Her mother was Eva Claudia (Jaycox) Warner, who took nurse’s training in Dr. Kellogg’s old Sanitarium in Battle Creek under Dr. Kate Lindsay, and was evidently employed there at the San upon completion of her course.  I have her graduation class picture and one of her text books.


Apparently it was there at the Sanitarium the Eva Claudia Jaycox met her future husband, Clifford Warner.  His first wife died there of tuberculosis.  Ironically, Eva Claudia Jaycox contracted the disease from the first Mrs. Warner, who had been one of her patients.  According to Aunt Ruth’s own brief write-up about her life, the nurses there at the San had to work very hard for long hours and her mother was in what she termed, “in a run-down condition”, which made her more susceptible to the disease.


Aunt Ruth relates in her own brief write-up about her life the she first opened her eyes to the light of day on January 30, 1897, in Dr. John Harvey Kellogg’s world famous Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, during a big blizzard.  Her grandmother had gone out to get some things for her mother, and had considerable difficulty in finding her way back in the storm.


The story of Ruth Delia Warner’s immediate family seems to have been one of leaving Battle Creek, which was the early-day Mecca of Seventh-day Adventism, and travelling to the West Coast and settling in what was then a back-woods community known as Blachly, Oregon.


When Ruth was age 3, her mother decided to give up her job there at the San and travel west to Oregon in the hope that her health might improve.  This was in the year 1900.  Accompanying her on the trip were her three little girls, Clara, Ruth and Mildred, and grandmother Devina (Cromer) Jaycox, who was totally blind at this time.  Clifford Warner was unable to leave his job at that point, but joined them later.


They traveled by passenger train to San Francisco.  From there they traveled by ocean liner to Portland, Oregon.  There they caught another passenger train south through the Williamette Valley to Junction City.  There, they were met by great uncle Rosewell Tramaine Clevenger, who took them by team and wagon to Blachly.  Uncle Rosewell was a half-brother to blind grandmother.


In those early days, Uncle Rosewell operated a small grist mill at their Swamp Creek location, powered by a water wheel.


Eva Warner spent some time at the Portland Adventist Sanitarium, and her health improved to the point the she decided to take a nursing job there.  Clara and Ruth went with her and stayed with a family in Portland, while Mildred apparently stayed on with the Clevengers in Blachly.


About that time Clifford Warner also came West and joined his family.  He filed on a homestead in the Blachly area and there they made their home.


I have often heard my own mother, Clara while she was living, relate stories about some of the hardships they endured while clearing land and carving a home out of the wilderness, so to speak.  Blachly was a remote, backwoods community in those days, and life was not easy.


By this time, another baby was on the way, and Ruth’s mother grew worse, again.  When the baby came they barely saved it, and (Ruth’s) mother only lived a short time after that.  The new baby was (her) little brother, Lester.  This was in the month of August, 1902.


Aunt Ruth relates how difficult it was to lose here mother and go live with another family.  A Mrs. Atkins had promised to take in Clara and Ruth, so they stayed with the Atkins family for a while.  Apparently, Mildred and Lester stayed on with the Clevengers and eventually became two of their adopted children.


In a couple of years their father remarried and they were together again.  However, it didn’t last.  A few months later their step-mother was killed in an unfortunate accident.  Clara and Ruth lived with their father and blind grandmother for a while on the homestead, until Clifford Warner decided to return to Michigan.  He had intended to take the girls with him, but grandmother begged him to leave the girls with her.  So, (their) father said the girls could remain with grandmother until they became 12 years of age, at which time they could then choose who they wanted to live with.


Aunt Ruth stated in her own life-story that their grandmother had been blind since about age 60, but that she could still do house-work., and even sew and knit.


So, the girls remained with grandmother on the homestead.  Their father had given each one of them a heifer calf, and when their calves were grown and started giving milk, the girls milked their cows and separated the milk and sold the cream.  Ruth also stated that some of their neighbors assisted them in getting in their hay crops and fire wood.  They also raised a garden.


About 1910, several families in the Blachly area decided to go to Texas.  The group included the Clevengers, some of the Slayters, and the Newt (Isaac Newton, father of James Theodore) Sprague family.  Blind grandmother and the girls went along with the Clevengers.


Aunt Ruth relates that she had wanted to become a nurse, like her mother, but she met (see note) Theodore Sprague in Texas, who persuaded her to marry him, instead.  While they were courting, Theodore wanted her to go with him to visit his family.  They were walking through some woods at night to a railway station to catch a train.  Theodore was carrying Ruth’s suitcase and a lantern.  They both heard a noise that sounded like something was following them.  Neither of them said anything for fear of scaring the other.  Suddenly, just as the lantern went out, a wolf leaped at Theodore.  He let out a yell and swung at the wolf with the suitcase.  The wolf was scared away, and they were able to continue on their way.  They learned later that the wolf had escaped from a circus and that it was known to have killed at least one person.


Note, Ruth states:  “When I was sixteen I started going with Theodore Sprague, whom I had known in Oregon.”



Ruth and Theodore were married in April of 1913.  Ruth was 16 years of age.  They made their home in Texas, first.  Ruth said that as it turned out, she became a nurse, anyway, as there were seven little one, Juanita, Archie, Leonard, Denzil, Violet, Winona and Arthur.  Two of them (Archie and Leonard) died in infancy and were buried in Texas.



Only Juanita was born in Texas.  All the others, including Archie and Leonard, were born in Oregon.


Ruth was always a hard worker.  Right up until the time her eldest (Juanita, her first-born) child was born, she worked in the cotton fields.  She picked cotton under the scorching hot Texas sun.  Beside all of that, she milked the cows, chopped wood and cooked for her family, and kept a neat and orderly house.


When Juanita was just a baby, Ruth was riding side-saddle one day, and dressed up in a long dress, with her hair done up in a bun, and with a hat on her head, and a veil over her face, and holding baby Juanita in her arms as she rode.  What a striking sight they must have been.  One of those new-fangled autos scared the horse and it broke into a dead run.  She lost her hat and her hairpins, and her long hair was blowing in the wind.  However, Ruth didn’t panic.  She kept her cool as best she could.  It took quite a while for her husband to catch up with her, but when he did, Ruth and baby Juanita were just fine.


Another story was related about the black snake incident.  Ruth’s sewing machine stood in front of a window.  There was a clothes line full of clothes hanging above it.  Suddenly, Ruth noticed the clothes moving.  She thought that was strange since it was such a calm day with no breeze, whatever.  She pulled some of the clothing aside and discovered a black snake hiding amongst the clothing.  Ruth let out a scream and someone rushed in and killed the snake.  Black snakes have been known to a length of 10 feet.  In the old days, they were used as buggy whips.  Life was far from being boring in those days.


At some point (between July, 1914 and May 1915) the family decided to return to Oregon.  Apparently, going back to Blachly at first.  Later they settled in the Cottage Grove area.  Apparently, they lived in what was known as the Silk Creek area, just west of Cottage Grove.  I have heard my mother, Clara, tell about an Adventist academy located there, and evidently she and Ruth attended school there at one time or another.  It may have been before they left to go to Texas.


What was perhaps my earliest recollection concerning Aunt Ruth probably occurred around 1918 or 1919.  Apparently my mother had gone back to Michigan to live with her father at age 12, since she later met and married my father there in Michigan, and brother Victor and I were born there.  At any rate, my mother and brother Victor and I, made the long trip by train from Michigan to Oregon.  I can vaguely remember the long trip by railroad train.  I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old.  Upon arriving in Oregon, we went to visit Aunt Ruth.  At that time, Aunt Ruth’s husband, Theodore Sprague, had a partnership going with the Clevengers on a small farm about 5 miles east of Cottage Grove, on Row River.  Aunt Ruth and family were living in the rear apartment of the old farm house which later became the kitchen and dining area for the Clevengers.


I distinctly remember Aunt Ruth telling my mother that the Clevengers lived in the front part of the house.  What I did not know then was that the old Clevenger farm would figure prominently in my own personal life a few years hence.


My father and mother had separated and it was for that reason that we came west to join relatives in Oregon.  Mother had to find employment, and brother Victor and I were farmed out to the Clevengers, who partially raised us, until mother remarried again.  At some point, father came west, too, and my parents were re-united for a time.  We lived in Eugene, and my sister was born there.  However, it didn’t last, and all three of us kids were farmed out to the Cevengers, again, and mother got a job.


That old farm house on the Clevenger farm was constructed of rough-sawn lumber and built box-and-batten style, as was often common practice in the early days of Oregon’s history.


At some point after that, the partnership with the Clevengers on the farm was dissolved and Theodore Sprague obtained employment in the logging industry.


In Aunt Ruth’s own write-up about her life, mention was made about the untimely and tragic death of her husband in a logging accident.


As I recall it, my mother and stepfather, and we kids, had made a trip down to the Cottage Grove area in an old Model T Ford to visit Aunt Ruth and our cousins, and they returned with us to our home for an extended visit.  This must have been about 1925.  At that time we lived on the large Foster ranch about 5 miles north of Independence, Oregon, where stepfather was employed.


Mother and Aunt Ruth were having such a wonderful time visiting, as sisters usually do, and we three kids, Iris, Victor and I, were also having a wonderful time playing with our cousins, Juanita, Denzil, Violet, Winona and Arthur.


One night after we had all gone to bed, a strange car appeared in the driveway, and the driver was inquiring for a Mrs. Sprague.  It turned out to be Aunt Ruth’s pastor.  His name was Patterson.  He had brought bad news.  Aunt Ruth’s husband, Theodore Sprague, had just been killed in an unfortunate logging accident.


Aunt Ruth managed, with my mother’s help and in spite of her tears, to get her children dressed, and into the pastor’s car, and they returned with him to the Cottage Grove area where they lived.  We all slept but very little the rest of that night.


Aunt Ruth remained a single parent for more than 2 years, but finally remarried, this time to Lincoln Medley Harris.  I still remember their visit to our home on the Foster ranch again, north of Independence, soon after they were married.  This must have been around 1927 or 28.


As I recall it, Lincoln Medley Harris leased a farm a few miles out in the country from Eugene, and the family lived there for some time.


We didn’t see them again until I was high school age and we were living in the coastal town of Newport, Oregon.  Stepfather and I weren’t getting along very well, and I decided to go visit my real father in Bellingham, Washington, where he lived at that time.  Enroute, I stopped off in Kelso, Washington to visit my Aunt Ruth and cousins, before going on to Bellingham.  It was a matter of hitch-hiking or riding a freight train back then.  My father wanted me to stay but it was a strained situation.  They were very poor and I felt like they didn’t need another mouth to feed.  More over, father had a stepson that he wasn’t getting along with, either, and father’s new wife obviously resented my presence.  So, when I received a letter from my brother saying he had a job picking hops in the Independence area, I decided to go back down South and join him.  Of course, hop picking is only seasonal farm labor and when it was over, there was nowhere else to go but back to Newport and mother and stepfather.


Some time after that, Aunt Ruth and family must have returned to the Cottage Grove area, because Medley Harris, Aunt Ruth’s husband, came up to Newport to work with stepfather in the logging industry.  For some reason it didn't work out, and Medley Harris returned to their home, which was then about half a mile up the road from the Clevenger farm.  Stepfather and I still weren't getting along, so I went with Medley Harris and stayed with the Clevengers for a while, working on their farm for them.  It was during that great depression and there wasn't nearly enough jobs for the experienced men, to say nothing of youths in their late teens, just out of high school.


I stayed with the Clevengers on their farm for some time, working without pay.  I offered my services free to them just to have a place to stay.  Naturally, since Aunt Ruth lived just up the road a piece, I frequently went up to visit them of an evening, after working hours.  This may have occurred around the year 1933, or even later, as my high schooling was interrupted several times for various reasons, due to the depression and what not.


Sometime after this, brother Victor and I were both jobless, so we got into my old Model T Ford Sedan and went up to Hood River, Oregon to look for a job picking fruit.  Out of Portland a few miles, who should we catch up with but Denzil, hitch-hiking.  Naturally we stopped to pick him up, and learned that he was headed for Hood River, too, and for the same reason.  I’ve always felt like maybe the Lord had something to do with that.  We finally found a pear picking job on a ranch, some miles up the Hood River Valley.  One week-end while we were there, Denzil decided to go get his wife, Nita, so she joined us in this rubber-tramp venture.  Being dissatisfied with the little that we were making there, we decided to go on up to Yakima, Washington to pick apples.


When all of the seasonable farm labor seemed to be over, we all wound up at Aunt Ruth’s place.  At that time she lived near Sandy, Oregon, some miles east of Portland, up towards Mt. Hood.


Aunt Ruth and her husband were living in a large, two-story white house.  Daughter Winona and her husband were living in an upstairs apartment.  Denzil and Nita moved into a small cabin behind the house.  Brother Victor and I moved into an old log house on the same property.  We worked briefly in the area for some of the Harris’ that Aunt Ruth’s husband was related to.  As I recall it, cousin Violet was newly married to Phil Harris at this time and lived in Sandy where he was employed at a bakery.


When we first arrived at Aunt Ruth’s home, she invited me up to the house to use their bath tub.  It had been a couple of months since I had a decent bath.  When I was finished with taking my bath and had gotten dressed, I came out of the bathroom and I asked Aunt Ruth if they had a scoop shovel.  She said she thought they did and that it was probably out back in a certain storage shed.  Then she asked what I wanted it for.  I replied that my bath water was so muddy that I was a little afraid that it might clog the drain, and that perhaps I should use the scoop shovel to empty the tub.  We both had a good chuckle out of that one.  She had a sense of humor, too, in addition to her other good qualities.


One summer, in more recent years, we loaded our camper onto the pick-up truck and took a vacation trip to Oregon.  We stopped in Cottage Grove and rode the O.P.&E. passenger train up to the end of the line and back.  When we passed that area where the old Clevenger farm had been, we could hardly tell exactly where the old property lines had been.  The old house and barn and other farm buildings were gone, and the land had been sub-divided into lots and new houses built on them.  It pained me to look.  It just wasn’t the same any more.  Among other things, on this trip, we went to see Aunt Ruth.  At this time she lived near Pendleton, in northeast Oregon.  We enjoyed our visit so much with Aunt Ruth and her husband, Medley Harris.  By this time, Aunt Ruth’s daughter, Donna, by her second husband was grown and had a home of her own, also in the Pendleton area, and we went to see her, too.


It had been only a few years since their son, Lincoln Medley Harris, Jr. had been killed in Alaska, in another logging accident.  Aunt Ruth lost her first husband, and a son by her second marriage to the logging industry.


Not many years after this visit she lost her second husband to cancer.  Some time after that she went to live with daughter Winona in Canby, Oregon.


I am sure Winona will have many precious memories about her mother’s final years with her.  Aunt Ruth’s last pastor, Elder Ross Winkle of the Canby, Oregon church stated in his funeral address that Ruth was “a Christian through and through”


Her mother and grand mother were Seventh-day Adventists all their lives, and the Adventist influence on her was very strong.  Several of her relatives (see note) had personally known Ellen G. White, one of the early founders of the Adventist church.  Ruth could recall the time she rode in a surrey belonging to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who was another one of the early Adventist pioneers and founder (see note) of the Battle Creek Sanitarium.  She could also recall dropping coins in the offering plate at the old Dime Tabernacle in Battle Creek.


Note:    They were Sherman Chandler Harris and Myrtle Olive Lillard.  Grandmother Myrtle related to me that Ellen White, who lived nearby, at Elmshaven, provided a wedding gift when she and Chan were married.  They both received nurses training at the St. Helena Sanitarium and then were married there.  They then went to Shanghai, China as Adventist Medical Missionaries.


Note:    The Battle Creek Sanitarium was founded as the “Western Health Reform Institute” in 1866 by James and Ellen White.  John Harvey Kellogg was only eight years old at the time.  After receiving medical training, he became the superintendent in 1875.  He changed the focus to total health care and coined the term, “sanitarium”.  Under his direction, the renamed, Battle Creek Sanitarium gain world wide fame.  He is also credited with the development of corn flakes as a ready-to-eat cereal and together with his brother, William K. Kellogg, established the Kellogg Cereal Company.


I have heard my own mother tell about Dr. Kellogg’s huge mansion in Battle Creek and about the large number of orphaned children that he had adopted.


Aunt Ruth loved to sing and she had a beautiful high soprano voice.  She loved to sing in the choir, and sang duets with her husband.  She also held various offices in the church, such as Sabbath School Superintendent, deaconess, and a teacher  in the children’s classes.  She donated regularly to Adventist radio and television ministries such as the Voice of Prophecy, the Quiet Hour, and others.


She passed to her rest in the Lord at Williamette Falls in Oregon City on December 10th, 1990 approximately 7 weeks from what would have been her 94th birthday.


If there is really any such things as a new heavens and a new earth, and a future life, I want to be a part of it, and see dear Aunt Ruth again, as well as all the other beautiful people mentioned in the true story of her life.


                                                                        By an adoring nephew,




                                                                        Donald Elbert Mote