Clark & Ramona Morris
"Oldies by Goodies by Joni Stewart"
Aug. 02, 1995

Fate dealt Ramona Morris a very interesting hand gauging by her stories of life in these parts.

Like far too many of Ramona's peers, she too, was orphaned at a very young age. Her mom died when she was five and the rest of the family moved to Corvallis where they picked peas and hops to make a living.

When her dad died, there was a choice to be made. Divide the five brothers and sisters amoung family members, or take Aunt Blanch's offer to raise them all. The latter choice proved fortunitous for Ramona. "My aunt was strict; if you were to be home at 9 p.m. she was right there at the gate and there was no excuses," remembers Ramona. "Kids need to be taught discipline."

She began attending Oregon State University in the late 20's but quit to accept an offer to live and work in New York City. "I was there in the Depression years; first working for DuPont and then for a linen importer on Wall Street," says Ramona, adding "I saw people on the streets wrapped in newspaper during the winter. And the soup lines, they were unforgettable."

She began to get homesick and eventually moved back to John Day to work. Her first job was tax collecting for Grant County. She was told by then Sheriff I.B. Hazeltine that if she learned to work on her own (no pay) she would be given the very first opening that occurred in his department.

Well now, Deputy Sheriff Hoberson saw fit to resign from the force and to go to work at Grant County Bank. Yep that's right. Ramona was sworn in as Deputy Sheriff of Grant County!

From 1934 to the mid 40's she was privy to all the low-down dirty deeds goin' on, and first hand witness to some classic shenanigans.

To Ramona fell the duty of serving all divorce and summons papers. An unsavory job to say the least. "I once headed up to Hayes campground to serve a lady with divorce papers. She answered the door without a stitch of clothes on and said she couldn't find her glasses. Oh, there were lots of ladies around back then," she says with a smile.

The ladies she is referring to were "ladies of the evening," and evidently they were quite numerous and visible. "Pretty regularly they'd all file into Dr. Fell's office for a physical. We would see them from the courthouse; back then they were accepted as providing a necessary service and weren't treated as outlaws," Ramona says.

Even the real outlaws were treated better back then. Ramona remembers that the guys in jail had it pretty good. "I would shop for them and the prisoners would cook their own meals."

There was seemingly no end to the unusual situation she encountered. She once was called to Bates to apprehend a woman gone beserk. When they went over, they had to ride the hand car along the train tracks to reach the woman at her camp. "There was no place to put a woman in the jail, so I had to stay with her in the jury room. When I look back on that, I don't know how I had the nerve, but I was young," she rationalizes.

Of all the stories concerning murder and mayhem, my favorite is her story of the daring bank robbery. Seems a fire was started in town one night and at the same time an emergency call was made to a Grant County Bank employee to meet at the bank. In the ensuing confusion, the "callers" forced the employee to open the bank doors. Then, while making their escape, they skided out of control at the corner where Les Schwab is today. Money flew everywhere, most of what had been stolen was left on the road. The robbers got away that night, but were ultimately caught.

The first time she ever saw a $1000 bill was when they found a fella with dope. "They brought him in, took the bill and the dope and let him go. Dope was new then, we didn't know what to do, but tell him to go and get out of the county," remembers Ramona.

She tells me of the good time spent at the courthouse and how she's had a good life; a lot of fun, and how great a place John Day is to raise a family. Ramona speaks from experience. She married Clark Morris in 1939, and they moved onto the Wynn Allen place west of John Day. They raised two children, and today Ramona has five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

She sums up life 50 plus years ago in a familiar way, "Everyone was poor ... we had pot lucks and played cards. It would do some of the young kids good to do that type of thing," she says.

Ramona is particularly pleased that 62 Days is being kept alive. "It would be so easy to lose all of the history, and to let it get buried along with people. I'm glad they're still holding on to it," she states.

While visiting with Ramona, I was sure wishing there was a room full of people with me enjoying the recollections; you know, someone to turn to when your jaw drops as you try to recapture the stories. Suffice it to say, I want to go back again soon and listen to some more of her stories.

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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