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Bovee Families on the Commonage

This blog continues a story of the Bovee families that settled in Oyama in 1894 and then moved to the Commonage in 1898.

Manfred pre-empted a half section of land in the northern Commonage, a dry grassland environment about 10 miles south of the Oyama property.[1] Manfred’s farm was located on the North ½ of Sec. 36, Tp. 14, ODYD, a rough, hilly acreage south of where Kekuli Park is today. It partially fronted on Kalamalka Lake and the Vernon to Mission Wagon Road passed through the property.

Map showing northern Commonage Crown Grants, LCMA

Manfred apparently needed off-the-farm income and consequently he left his farm for some time, seeking employment in the US. He is listed in the 1900 US Census as living with his family at Torodo Creek, Okanagan County, a small town on the Kettle River, employed as a saloon man. The family apparently temporarily returned to BC because the Vernon News reported on 7 September 1903 that Mrs. Manfred Bovee had recently recovered from an illness and then on 30 June 1904 that paper reported that the Bovee Ranch had been sold to a Winnipeg man. In his later application for naturalization to the USA, Manfred claimed that he entered the USA by team and wagon, arriving at Chesaw, Washington on 1 September 1904. The Manfred Bovee family then settled near Seattle where two more children were born – Ruth Olive (b. 23 September 1910) and Harry Franklin (b. 10 January 1912). In 1910 the family was living in Tacoma where Manfred was employed as a woodcutter, then in 1920 he was listed as a shipyard carpenter.[2] Manfred died in February 1942 and Mattie on 5 May 1958.

After leaving Oyama the Orbie Bovee family moved a few times in the Vernon area. Louis Bovee wrote of his family’s movements in his 1992 reminiscence:

Later they moved to Vernon, then to the Coldstream, then back to Vernon and then to the Commonage, six miles south of Vernon. For a while we lived on [Manfred’s] farm, as he had returned to the States, and from there we moved to an adjoining farm. In 1902 [Orbie] homesteaded about two miles southwest of where we had been living, where we resided until he sold the homestead in the summer of 1910. For the rest of the summer we lived in tents about a mile away and by a group of lakes. That fall we moved to the James place… [then to the USA].

The opening of the Commonage School in 1898 likely prompted the Bovee families’ relocation to Vernon and the Commonage.  Walter was seven years of age that year and Mabel was nine. When the 1901 and 1911 Canada Censuses were taken the Orbie Bovee family resided on the Commonage.  In 1911, the family comprised Orbie and May and children Mabel, Arthur, Louis, Hazel, Hallie and Claude. Daughter Elsie (b. 29 January 1902) had died 19 April 1905 of “infantile paralysis” (polio). 

To supplement his subsistence living on a series of farms, Orbie worked at various jobs, at least seasonally. Moving to the Commonage made it difficult to continue working on Ellison’s cattle ranch in Lake Country but he likely worked for Ellison in the Coldstream. In 1900, an O. O. Bovee is listed in Henderson’s Directory as a teamster working in Penticton, which was where goods were off-loaded from the CPR steamers for transport to Camp McKinney and other mining camps in the south Okanagan.[3] Still, Orbie listed himself as a farmer on numerous occasions.

Bovee family circa 1903. Back (l to r): Mabel and Louis. Front (l to r): Hazel, Orbie, Arthur, May and Elsie. Photo credit to the Vernon Museum and Archives.

  1. J. Venables, a neighbour of the Orbie Bovee family, in his reminiscences of life on the Commonage, left a colorful image of Orbie:


A certain Bovee moved to the Commonage and became a neighbour of ours. He was a wonderful axe-man and would, on occasion, cut rashers of bacon with his axe. I remember he became involved in a dispute with my brother Vernon regarding the fence between our two properties, and at the height of the argument offered to “slap the so and so jaws right off his face,” and to “knock him so ugly that his mother wouldn’t know him,“ etc. On one occasion, we were having a mid-day meal in his house, and Mrs. Bovee holding forth at great length when her husband got up and walked round the table to where she was sitting and taking her by the throat requested her “For God Almighty’s sake shut up.” This rather drastic means of getting a hearing for oneself would hardly find a place in a book on modern etiquette.[4]

Another reference to the Bovees appears in the Clara (Bailey) Hallam reminiscence. Clara wrote of an experience in 1908:

One night we drove up to Bovee’s to a dance on the Commonage near Vernon. That was in the wintertime. As the snow was very steep that winter, we got up near their place and the horses got stuck in a drift, got upset, and piled us all out in the snow.[5]

Ben Thorlaksen recalled attending the Commonage School with Mabel, Arthur and Louis Bovee in the years leading up to the school closure in 1912.[6]

The school closure was likely a factor in the decision to leave the community. The family returned to Washington in July 1912, crossing the border at Marcus. The family unit was then Orbie, May, Arthur, Louis, Hazel, Hallie and Claude. Orbie and Arthur were both listed as farmers. Louis Orbie recalled:

[The family moved] to Oroville, Washington, where we arrived June 21 [1912] and where we, as children, saw our first dust storm. The trip was made in a Democrat [a two-seated open rig], a two-horse and a four-horse wagon. The trip of about 200 miles took ten days elapsed time, as we stopped over one day to rest the horses and do the washing.

We camped on the river near Oroville for most of the summer, but in the fall we rented a place near Wanicut Lake where we lived for about four years, moving from there to Ellemeham Mountain in 1915. We lived there for about two years, when my dad and brother, Arthur, homesteaded on the south half of the Colville Reservation in 1917.

In the 1920 US Census the family was living near Oroville in Okanagan County, Washington State, by now consisting of Orbie, May and the youngest two children, Hallie and Claude, along with May’s mother, Belinda  (Malinda?) A. Parker. The Bovees later lived in Wenatchee, where Orbie died on 3 June 1930 and May on 22 May 1945. [7]

The history of the Bovee families in Oyama and the northern Commonage is one of struggling to gain an economic foothold in a frontier community. The Commonage was attractive to a young family as the school was within walking distance and Vernon with its medical care was only twelve miles away. The Orbie Bovee family remained on the Commonage for fourteen years, on Manfred Bovee’s property and on rented lan, before Orbie pre-empted land himself. They remained until the community failed, when enough families had moved away to force the closure of the school. Although some families survived, e.g. the Baileys, Thorlaksens and Mills, many others gave up. The McQuarries sold their 1200 acres in July 1915, the Daytons, Palmers and Howards also abandoned their hopes and dreams. The northern Commonage reverted to an area of sheep and cattle grazing operations. The Bovee family had the bad luck of settling in a marginal agricultural community that could not support a large enough population to remain viable.

[1] The Commonage was land between Okanagan and Kalamalka and Wood lakes that was designated by the Joint Indian Reserve Commission as a grazing reserve for Okanagan-Syilx and white ranchers in common. The Commonage reserve was cancelled in 1889, then surveyed and sold by auction in 1893.

[2] Olive became a schoolteacher. Walter, married to Bessie, managed a hotel in Port Angeles.

[3] Penticton was within easy weekly reach of the Commonage because the CPR steamship, the SS Aberdeen, made daily runs from Okanagan Landing to Penticton.

[4] E. P. Venables, “Experiences of E. P. Venables,” Okanagan Historical Society Report 55 (1971); 143.

[5] See the Lake country Museum and Archives holdings.

[6] Duane Thomson interview with Ben Thorlakson, Okanagan Centre, 1972.

[7] Orbie and May Bovee’s children found their own way in Washington. Mabel married Virgil William Tidwell on 5 October 1913 and the couple lived for years in Turnbow, Whitman County, Washington. Arthur married Alma Dupslaff in 1920 in Wenatchee where the couple became well-established orchardists. He died on 17 December 1981 in Yakima and was buried in Wenatchee, Washington. Louis married Irene Alspach in 1923 in Wenatchee where he worked as an executive for the Farmers Telephone Company. Louis and wife became orchardists in 1942 with orchards in North Wenatchee, Rock Island and West Cashmere. He remarried to Hilma Kimes on 23 Feb 1966 in Riverside, CA. Hallie married Robert Pasher on 13 Oct 1924. Hallie died on 18 December 1932, at age 25, in Wenatchee, and Louis and Ada Carta adopted her two children. Hazel married Pomroy “Roy” W. Worthington and they lived in Okanagan, Washington and California until his death on 20 November 1951. She remarried to William Gustave Spiecker who died in Wenatchee in October 1983. Hazel died in Marysville, Snohomish in April 1986 and was buried in Wenatchee. The youngest child, Claude, became a naturalized American citizen. He joined the US Marine Corps about 1931 and spent his career with the Marines, rising to Staff Sergeant in 1940 and serving until 1955. He died 14 June 1979 in Kittitas, Washington.



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