Archive for the ‘The Honorary Oysterville Militia’ Category

Monday’s Cannon Salute from Oysterville!

Wednesday, May 31st, 2023

Oysterville Memorial Day Gathering 2023 – Chris Goeser Photo

This year, for the first time: The Honorary Oysterville Militia (T.H.O.M.) was without the leadership of its founder, our beloved General Nyel Stevens.   Yet we heard the order loud and clear, “Carry on!”

Acting Chaplain Lt. Cate Gable reads the names of the fallen – Chris Goeser Photo

Our traditional Memorial Day Cannon Salute in honor of those members and other loved ones “lost in the line of duty” went with ‘nary a hitch on Monday.  Well maybe “half a hitch.” As we were partway through the steps leading to the “Fire!” command, someone said to me, “What about Cate?”  Yikes!

Pvt. Charley Wachsmuth sets the charge – Chris Goeser Photo

So we all did a mental back-up while our Acting Chaplain, Lt. Cate Gable, read the names of the 41 T.H.O.M. members who have died since the organization’s inception in 2004, Oysterville’s sesquicentennial year.  She read the names in rank order beginning with “General Nyel LeRoy Stevens.”

Adjutant General Sydney Stevens tells the history of cannons in Oysterville at the beginning of Monday’s ceremony. – Chris Goeser Photo

This year, for the the first time:  I, as co-founder and Adjutant General, had taken on the role of leadership (the easy part) and Lt. Chester N. Wachsmuth, Jr. (known to most of us as “Tucker”) prepared the cannon and charge and led the firing squad, Pvt. Charley Wachsmuth and Lt. Charlie Talbott (the hard parts.)

“Fire!” – Chris Goeser Photo

The event was well attended by the loved ones of the fallen and by friends, neighbors and those who just wanted to see and hear the “big boom.”  It all came off (just about) flawlessly — another Oysterville day to remember!

Please join us Monday in honor of our own.

Wednesday, May 24th, 2023

The Honorary Oysterville Militia (THOM) will gather at 11:00 a.m. on Memorial Day Monday, May 29th, to fire their cannon in honor of members who have died “in the line of duty” and in memory of all of our friends and loved ones who are no longer with us.

The cannon is a replica of an 1841 mountain howitzer and is fired (blank charges only) by THOM personnel on special occasions such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.  The cannon was built especially for the 2004 Sesquicentennial of Oysterville to replace the village cannon of Pioneer times.

The firing on Monday will be the first occasion of the cannon’s use since General Nyel Stevens, Founder of THOM and Caretaker of the Cannon, gave his final order to “Fire!” last Memorial Day, May 30, 2022.  He passed away a week later on June 8th, ironically followed shortly thereafter on June 23, 2022 by his friend and right-hand-THOM-assistant, Ron Biggs.

Captain Ron Biggs and General Nyel Stevens, 2015


Going into hibernation until Spring!

Friday, November 11th, 2022

It was cold and windy and wet around the edges — the perfect day to think about hunkering down till better prospects showed themselves.  And besides that, it was Veteran’s Day!  What better day to put The Honorary Oysterville Militia’s cannon into protective custody (or as I prefer to think of it, hibernation) for the winter!

Bronze Plaque Listing Founding Members of THOM

Two Militia members from around the corner volunteered their services — Father and Elder Son Wachsmuth — Lieutenant Chester and Private Charles!  Along with the cannon, they stowed the plaque with the names of the original THOM members from Oysterville’s Sesquicentennial Year,2004.

THOM’s First Muster – Oysterville Sesquicentennial 2004

As I watched them roll the 1841 Mountain Howitzer into its winter quarters, I couldn’t help wondering how many times it had been fired over the years and for how many different events.  For Memorial Days and Veterans’ Days, for weddings and birthdays, for anniversaries and commemorations — and once in a rare while just for the hell of it.

The Honorary Oysterville Militia, Memorial Day 2022 – General Nyel in Wheelchair at left; Ron Biggs, center in beige vest,

The last time it was fired was Memorial Day 2022.  It was one of the best salutes ever. Scarcely a week later, on June 8, THOM’s General Nyel Stevens would die.  He would be followed just two weeks later on June 23 by THOM’s Captain Ronald Biggs.  Oysterville is still reeling.

Snugging In Against Winter

Sunday, October 10th, 2021

The Cannon Heads toward Winter Quarters

Yesterday, without fanfare, the replica 1841 Mountain Howitzer that rests on its own cement pad for six months of the year in our North Garden was retired for the winter.  General Nyel of The Honorary Oysterville Militia (THOM) oversaw the cannon’s Snugging In process by Lieutenant Chester “Tucker” Wachsmuth and his son Clark.

“The weatherman has been predicting serious rain for days now” said the General, “so we thought we’d better do our due diligence before it materializes.”  The cannon is now safely at parade rest in a snug corner of the Stevens’ garage as is the bronze plaque which displays the names of the founding members of THOM.

Bronze Plaque Listing Founding Members of THOM

Oysterville Daybook readers may remember that THOM was organized at the time of Oysterville’s Sesquicentennial in 2004. It was Nyel’s idea that the village should have a cannon to replace the one that was used here in the early days on ceremonial occasions. Cannons are expensive so we formed The Honorary Oysterville Militia and offered friends and family the opportunity to buy commissions. We raised enough money to purchase an exact replica of an 1841 Mountain Howitzer and to have it shipped from the factory in Coolville, Ohio. It, like it’s long-ago Oysterville predecessor, is fired only on ceremonial occasions and only with blank charges.

Snugged In for The Season

If the weather cooperates in the Spring, the cannon will return to its outside quarters sometime in May.  It has become the tradition to fire it on Memorial Day to honor those THOM members who have “fallen in the line of duty,” as well as all other Oysterville friends and loved ones who are no longer on the “active duty” list.

Meanwhile, we’re ready for those winter rains, Mr. Weatherman.  Bring ’em on!


That’s quite a many, Marian!

Saturday, September 4th, 2021

Today is Marian Lee’s 99th birthday!  Not only that, it’s the 78th anniversary of the day she signed up to join the WAVES — the acronym for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.  That was the military unit established on July 30, 1942 as the U.S. Navy’s corps of female members.  According to the enlistment announcement Marian had read in the Portland paper,  “You had to be 21 to join.”

Marian’s mind was already made up and, so, on her 21st birthday, September 4, 1943, she marched herself down to the enlistment office and joined up.  “Then I went home and told my folks what I had done,” she laughs.  “They were not any too pleased, but it was too late.”

Marian’s fondest desire was to “Join the navy and see the world!” as the enticing enlistment posters promised.  “In those days women weren’t  posted to anyplace where there was fighting so I only got as far as Washington D.C. ” she laughs.  And you can still hear a little bit of disappointment, even after all these years.  “I did enjoy my time in Washington D.C. though,” she remembers.  “I loved seeing all those old, old buildings.  I went into any where we were allowed.  Lots of places were off limits, though, during the war.”

Today at one o’clock, friends and family gathered in Oysterville for a “21 gun salute – canon style” in honor of Marian’s 99th birthday and of her service to our country as a WAVE.  The Honorary Oysterville Militia under the command of General Nyel did the honors with Capt. Sturges Dorrance setting the charge,  while Lieut. Harry Schleef readied the touch-hole, Lieut. Chester “Tucker” Wachsmuth pierced the charge and Lieutenant Diana Thompson (the birthday girl’s daughter) fired it off on the General’s command.




Big Doings and A Major Decision

Friday, July 9th, 2021

In 1956, the C.L. Smith Family bought the property just north of the Heckes place and separated from the R.H. Espy House by the grassy lane called Division Street.  This weekend, some sixty-five years later, the Smith’s great-grandson is getting married on that property, part of which is still in the family.  His mother and father were also married in Oysterville — in the historic church some 31 or 32 years ago, I think.

Since their arrival in Oysterville, all generations of the Smith family have been “summer people” as I, myself, was until I moved here permanently in the 1970s.  And, it wasn’t until then that I began to know the family — sisters Anne Kepner and Jean Stamper who, with their husbands, would eventually build two places on the property.  Jean and Wayne’s, to the south, incorporated the original cabin; Anne and Jim’s to the north was a new construction, lovingly designed to fit in with “Old Oysterville.”

Smith Cabin, 1984

Like so many Oysterville property owners, the Smith descendants have embraced the village.  No matter that they don’t live here full-time.  No matter that they spend most of their years far from this little corner of the world.  They come back to mark important occasions in their lives — like this weekend’s wedding.  It’s the way of many folks who have been connected to Oysterville over the years.

Kepner and Stamper Homes, 2006

This evening is the big rehearsal dinner on the old Smith Property.  The father of the groom has asked General Nyel if the cannon could be fired to mark the beginnings of the festivities — at 5:30.  The General has arranged for militia members to gather  here at 5:00 and the dinner party will “parade” to the cannon grounds for the big bang.  As Major and Aide de Camp to the General, I have decided that my place this evening is inside our house as hostess with our usual Friday Night guests.  A “Major” decision on my part… so to speak.  I’m pretty sure the General and The Honorary Oysterville Militia members will have things well in hand without my services on this stellar occasion!

Hip! Hip! Hooray! Winter Hiatus Is Over!

Thursday, May 6th, 2021

THOM Cannon – May 2021

General Nyel gave the order yesterday that the cannon belonging to The Honorary Oysterville Militia (THOM) should be returned to its place of honor at the west end of The Willard R. Espy Memorial Croquet Court just north of our house.  Private Eugene Busenius did the honors, returning the replica 1842 Howitzer from its winter resting place to its customary cement pad along with the bronze plaque listing the names of the Militia’s founding members.

Created in 2004 at the time of Oysterville’s Bicentennial, the group’s purpose was to acquire a cannon to replace the one originally used for ceremonial purposes in Oysterville during the 19th century.  That one met an inglorious end when some over-zealous revelers inadvertently blew it up.  Although I told the story not many months ago, it’s well worth re-telling — for the happy ending if nothing else!

Early ‘Oyster Boys’ Abe Wing and Jimmy Johnson

From one of Frank Turner’s “From Auld Lang Syne” columns written back in the 1950s for the Ilwaco Tribune.  (Perhaps Mr. Turner’s great-grandson, Keith Cox, can weigh in with the exact date.)  The column fills in some of the information about that first cannon that had heretofore been missing:

There was little in the way of entertainment for the young people and bachelor oystermen, aside from church and school, and the young men, waiting between tides for their work on the oyster beds were accustomed to displays of strength and skill for a certain amount of recreation.  There was a pile of pig iron, and one stunt was to lift it by the teeth.  Shooting with the white man’s gun, and with the Indian’s stout yew wood bows, was practiced in competition.  But top competition in weight lifting was practiced on a 400 pound cannon, or cannonade, that had been unloaded from shipboard on the high tide bank of the bay.  It took a he-man to lift the three-inch cannon as some claimed they did.  However, although the remains of the cannon are still said to be here and there in Oysterville, there is now no way to check on the prowess of the young pioneers.

THOM Plaque – May 2021

The fact is, the thing blew up.  It happened, according to the best recollection of the late Mrs. J.A. Morehead, on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1878 — perhaps a year or so earlier.  The young men waiting on the tide, including Captain Peter Jordan and Johnnie Clark, loaded her up good, ramming home a big charge of powder, followed by a heavy round rock from the pile of discarded ballast on the beach.  They touched her off.  There was a mighty roar.  One chunk fell through the roof of the Chris Johnson home 500 feet away and others in sundry places about the village.  But the worst was one that slapped Peter Jordan on the side of the head.

It was nip and tuck with Jordan in the days that followed, whether he would live or die.  Possibly the skill of  Mrs. Stevens, as a nurse, and the prayers of her daughter, Laura Belle, pulled him through.  On a July day in 1881 Captain Jordan married Laura Belle, but he carried the scars of the cannon all through life.

All Quiet With A Promise of Boom

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

Cannon on Display Again

Memorial Day was strangely quiet in Oysterville despite most of homeowners being in residence for the three-day weekend.  For the first time since 2010 there was no music at the church, no brunch at the schoolhouse hosted by Hal and Diane, and no big boom from the cannon.  I’m not even sure if the VFW had their traditional ceremony at the Oysterville Cemetery.

On the other hand, when I took flowers up to the Espy plot on Sunday, the Cemetery had never looked lovlier. The grass was freshly mowed, there were dozens of bouquets and flowering plants near grave markers old and new, and there were bright flags commemorating those who had  died in the service of our country.

For a few minutes I had the old burying ground completely to myself and I couldn’t help thinking of Willard’s book Skulduggery on Shoalwater Bay with its descriptive annotation: (Whispered Up from the Graves of the Pioneers.)   With so many friends and loved ones surrounding me in that place of peace and tranquility — there was nothing lonely or even sad about it.

Cannon on the Move

About mid-morning, in answer to General Nyel’s call for assistance, Lt. Tucker Wachsnuth arrived with his son Charley (a willing volunteer.)  They cheerfully transferred the Oysterville Honorary Militia’s cannon from its winter quarters (our garage) to its seasonal resting place in the garden north of the house.

The full-sized replica 1841 Mountain Howitzer is now ready for duties as assigned — “but probably not until Oysterville is no longer sheltering,” says the General.  “Meanwhile, keep your earplugs at the ready!”





Sorry. The cannon is indisposed.

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018


By rights, THOM (The Honorary Oysterville Militia) should gather day after tomorrow to fire their cannon in commemoration of Oysterville’s founding.  It was April 12, 1854, according to accounts by both Isaac Clark and Robert Espy, that they paddled their canoe shoreward to the sound of Old Klickeas’s drumbeat.  That foggy day, as far as we know, marked the beginning of a permanent settlement here.  Worth noting with a cannon salute, eh?

But, unfortunately, THOM’s cannon is confined to quarters for a time.  After fourteen seasons – and not even the winter ones – out of doors in our northwest weather, her underpinnings are needing replacement.  New carriage wheels!  Nyel is ordering them today from an outfit in Pennsylvania and until they get here, the cannon will remain indisposed.  Which means she will stay tucked away in our garage until the new wheels arrive.

“Obviously, a canon of living in Oysterville is to have a gorgeous garden.” Diedre Duewel

We have been custodians of the cannon– a full-sized replica of an 1841 mountain howitzer made by Cannon Ltd. of Coolville, Ohio – for some years now.  We purchased it just in time to be used for Oysterville’s 2004 Sesquicentennial celebration. And, of course, as with most things in Oysterville, there is a story to go with it.

Oysterville has a long history of celebrations marked by cannon fire. According to my esteemed late Uncle Willard Espy’s account in Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village, in the 1870s R.H. Espy would don special black broadcloth pants, a maroon and black brocaded vest, a light linen duster, a stiff shirt with boiled bosom, a stiff collar, a bow tie, and a beaver hat and would discharge the cannon to begin festivities such as the annual regatta.

There are accounts that Oysterville’s original cannon was blown to bits by a rowdy group of midnight revelers, so for several generations we had to make do with only the stories about it. Hardly satisfactory thought Nyel. We happened to be in Gettysburg a few years before Oysterville was to observe the sesquicentennial year of its founding, and all those cannons on display prompted Nyel to make inquiries. He learned that for a mere ten or twelve thousand dollars Oysterville could once again have a cannon.

Cannon Squad, 2007

We pondered… and on the long road trip back home we conceived the idea of forming The Honorary Oysterville Militia. We would sell commissions to our friends and relatives and buy the cannon with the proceeds. General Nyel was the first to invest. The plan was successful beyond our wildest expectations and in early 2003 the cannon was ordered. It arrived in the spring of 2004, just in time for Oysterville’s 150th celebration. We’ve been celebrating loudly ever since!

THOM’s Call to Duty

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

General Nyel

In addition to his sobriquet as ‘Farmer Nyel,’ my husband is also recognized by many of our friends and family as ‘General Nyel’ or, more familiarly as, simply, ‘The General.’ This notable title harkens back to 2004 when, in preparation for Oysterville’s sesquicentennial, we invited friends and family to join the Honorary Oysterville Militia (THOM) and gave them the opportunity to purchase commissions. We thought it fitting that Nyel reserve the position of General for himself (and thus far there has been no challenge to that decision).

THOM Cannon

Our idea for the creation of THOM was to replace the once-upon-a-time cannon that had heralded the opening of important ceremonies in early Oysterville – events such as the Oysterville Yacht Club’s Regatta, the Fourth of July Parade, and various other celebrations, both solemn and jubilant. The fund-raising drive was successful and an 1841 Mountain Howitzer resides proudly on its own cement pad in our north garden. (During the rainy months, it is safely under cover nearby.) For the story of what happened to that first cannon, I commend you to my blog:

Cannon Squad, 2007

Like its historic predecessor, the cannon is used only on special occasions, the first of which for 2017 is fast approaching – Memorial Day, May 29th. As we speak, the General is preparing to call local militiamen to muster Monday morning at ten o’clock-ish, to fire the cannon at the close of the church service across the street.
In traditional manner, THOM Chaplain Pat McKibbin will speak a few words in honor of militia members who have died ‘in the line of duty,’ their names will be read, and the cannon will be fired in salute. The public is invited to attend this short ceremony. Bring your earplugs!