Louis Judson of Ruth Lake has seen his share of adversity over his 87 years, but with the same fortitude of his homesteader parents, Marion and Opal Judson, he’s pulled through and forged ahead.
He’s seen some great changes along the way, having grown up on a homestead in Bradley Creek, lived through the Great Depression (1930s), worked in bush mills, hired himself out as a water witch, married, raised a family and lost his wife of 56 years.
On Nov. 25, 2011, he started yet another chapter by marrying his new love Lorraine Moore. They met through the local square dance club where Judson has been shaking a leg since about 2005, and a prosthetic leg, at that. He lost his foot in a sawmilling accident in 1947 at the age of 23.
Moore was a round dance cue instructor in Edmonton before coming to the South Cariboo eight years ago.
The couple had a simple ceremony at their home at Ruth Lake in front of a marriage commissioner, a couple of friends as witnesses and Moore’s son there to give her away. Their little dog was the ring bearer and a kitten was their flower girl.
When Moore married Judson, she married a piece of Cariboo history. The vibrant man with an infectious laugh was born in 1924 at Ashcroft Hospital, although his parents and siblings lived on a homestead at Bradley Creek.
The family arrived in the Cariboo in 1922, travelling from Washington State in horse-drawn wagons. Judson’s dad, Marion, drove a freight wagon loaded with farm equipment and his mom, Opal, drove a covered wagon with baby Marjorie and son, Alonzo, by her side. Eight-year-old Daymond endured the entire three-month trip on horseback.
They had a milk cow in tow, which provided milk along the way for the children and they also had a crate of chickens, which produced an egg day.
Marion, his brother, Matney, and father, Noble Judson, had come to the Cariboo in 1912 and applied to pre-empt land at Bridge Lake. Not long after the First World War started and Marion was sent to serve in the Mediterranean. As it took 10 years for the family to come north and occupy the land, their application expired, leaving them to find land elsewhere.
They built a small cabin on Biss Road, just past Forest Grove and stayed there through the winter. Opal contracted tuberculosis, says Louis, but according to the stories he’s been told, she overcame the disease with fresh air and good food.
The following year was spent living in a tent at Beddingfield Lake, where remnants of the log foundation still stand. The following year, a log house was built on their 160-acre homestead at Bradley Creek. The house still stands and Louis visits its current owner occasionally.
Through his eyes as a child, the home seemed big and there was always some kind of mischief to get into, says Louis. He’s been told that when he was a youngster, his mom came back from milking the cow to find him at the screen door, eating wasps.
By the age of seven, Louis was milking one cow daily, and at 10, he could milk at least three before making the 2.5-mile walk to school.
The school was built after their arrival in the area by Marion and other men of the community. It still stands and is known as The Stump Ranchers. Louis attended school through Grade 8.
But there were some rough times, specifically with a teacher by the name of Mr. Becket. He left Louis standing in the corner in detention frequently and it resulted in Marion and Opal pulling all of their children from the school for more than a year, until Becket finished his term.
During the Great Depression, money for luxuries, such as shoes, was scarce so most of the children went barefoot when the weather was warm enough. Louis says he didn’t really start wearing shoes regularly until he was 14 years old, and on one occasion, it was disastrous.
“I wore shoes to school one day but my feet stunk so bad. I washed my feet in the creek before I got there and left my shoes behind, but when I got to school, the teacher said that my feet stunk too bad and I had to go back and put on my shoes to cover the smell.”
People relied on their own devices to survive in a time of no money and no stores to spend what little they had.
Marion did some blacksmithing and he also threshed his home-grown wheat, as well as crops grown by his neighbours, with a threshing machine he would cart on a wagon from farm to farm. Louis says people would often trade garden produce or other goods as payment for the service. At home, his mom would grind their wheat in a coffee mill, using the fine flour for baking bread and the coarse material for a hearty porridge.
At the age of 15, Louis joined his dad to work near Gold Bridge. They cut and delivered firewood and bags of sawdust to people who worked and lived at the mine. After six months of work and no pay, Louis confronted one of the partners of the enterprise about it and was given a one-third share in the company in lieu of cash.
When they were back home, Louis and his dad rented a sawmill from Lorne Houseman and partnered with other men to start Ruth Lake Lumber. They sold ties and lumber to HR McMillan Exporters until 1945 when Louis was called to Vancouver to enlist in the Army.
He’d recently broken his wrist, so the Army turned him away but seeing as he was in the city, Louis made the most of it.
He and Archie Hunter got their hands on several wild horses from the Hat Creek area and kept them on a rented orchard near Boundary Road in Burnaby. They broke the horses for selling and Louis remembers delivering one of them to a buyer in North Vancouver. With no such thing as a trailer at their disposal, Louis rode the horse bareback through the streets of Vancouver, along Pender Street and across Lions Gate Bridge, then walked all the way back, with bridle in hand.
Done with the city after a year, Louis returned home, and in 1947, set up his own sawmill at Bradley Creek. Just three months later, he got himself hung up on the carriage and sawed off his foot.
His brother rushed him to Forest Grove where there was a first-aid man, named Bob Harkins. He bandaged Louis up, called a taxi and took him to Williams Lake for surgery.
Back home in just over three weeks, Louis built a pegleg from a piece of board and was back sawing again in a little more than a week.
“I got around pretty good.”
After the accident, mill employees buried Louis’ foot under a spruce tree on the mill site. Louis says that sometimes he can feel pressure where his big toe should be.
“I think it’s the roots of that spruce tree getting bigger and pushing down on my foot.”
Prior to losing his foot, Louis had tried many times to witch for water but was unsuccessful. After the accident, the gift came to him, and since then, he’s witched hundreds of wells, witched the location of mineral deposits using a quartz crystal held over a map and has even been called on to find stolen and lost gold from the gold rush days.
He uses a car antenna to look for water, and claims he can tell the depth of the water and the quality according to the number of bobs the antenna makes. “Good water bobs once and water with more contaminants can make it bob up to six times.”
In 1949, Louis married Sheila Tomey, a city gal from West Vancouver. They were married for 56 years until she passed a way in 2005. Together, they had four children, Donna, Bonnie, Wayne and Julie, and raised them on a piece of property at Ruth Lake.
In 1954, Louis bought the portable sawmill that David Ainsworth had hauled from Vancouver to 100 Mile House in 1952 and started what became the wood-manufacturing empire, Ainsworth Lumber. Louis ran it intermittently for 35 years, hauling it from site to site as needed. That mill was eventually bought back by Ainsworth’s sons and now sits on display at the 108 Heritage Site.
Louis is done with sawmilling now, but looking for gold still excites him, even though his life has brought him riches far beyond that which can be weighed, measured and counted.