Character

by Gale Price


Friends. Family. They are the people that we remember. The people we care about. The people with character. Whether it was our stem, but gentle father, or the girl who grew up on the farm next door. We remember them because they were unique. They had character.w99ch!.jpg (19358 bytes)

Character can be many things. Courage, faith, humor, and liveliness are all things that we remember people for. It is what makes them special. And it is the characteristics that make the people and the people that have made Corvallis.

Two such people are Milt and Dan Hightower. They were best known for being a constant reminder of the past, of the hillbilly roots of Corvallis. Somehow, they never quite made it into our modem world of running water, telephones, and electricity. They lived in the memory of 1902, when they first moved to Corvallis, and over the years, they changed very little.                 

Dan (left) and Milt (right) Hightower with Ned Applebury's  daughter                           

"Yeah, he'd walk, oh, it's about twelve miles from where they lived and he'd walk in to get some groceries. He'd come in and go to Economy Grocery, which was a couple of blocks from the hotel. Incidentally, it was the Sportsman Hotel, instead of the Hamilton Inn. And they'd buy the groceries and set them on the corner of the grocery store, and then walk up and sit real hard until I took them home. And I suppose I must have done that, time and time again, you know. And if I didn't have time, why I'd send someone in a car to take'em."

Milt and Dan weren't afraid to take the charity that the community offered.

"I remember one time Dan was sitting in the barbershop in Corvallis getting a haircut. Of course, he'd get a haircut probably once every two years. The barber gave him a haircut and Dan got up and said to the barber, 'How much do I owe you?' The barber said, 'Oh, that's free.' Dan got back in the chair and said, 'Then I'll take a shave.'"

Edna Giesy remembered Milt's quieter way of accepting the generosity.

"Milt stopped in, wanted to know if Dad had some tobacco. Dad smoked at the time...Milt had a great big pipe, and he filled that pipe full of tobacco, and then he said to Dad, 'Louie, you're not goin' to use that tobacco can, are ya?' He said no. Milt said, 'Well I'd like to have it for my fishing worms.' Dad said he knew good and well Milt went on down the road and dumped the tobacco back into the can."

Milt and Dan didn't live alone for most of their lives. Their mother lived in the tar paper shack with the two boys. She was a very small lady, especially compared to her two sons, who were both over six feet tall. She was probably about five feet tall, and she always wore a black dress with a white apron over it. And she smoked a pipe, as well as chewing tobacco. Gayle Tintznian recollected Ma Hightower.

There was a spittoon across the hall. Now, I don't know how far, but, you know, when you're little, it's a long ways. She'd hit it. She would hit it. And you could have ate off her floors, and they were wooden floors. Very nice lady. In fact, sometimes too nice, because she'd want to give you a kiss and

here'd be this tobacco. I'm sure I always let her kiss me, probably."

After Ma Hightower died, the boys were devastated. But still, they managed to take care of each other. Milt did most of the work, and Dan walked to town, as well as other places, to get what they needed. Dan and Milt were very different. As Ned Applebury says, Dan just kind of bubbled up when he saw you. Dan was a real people person, and a kind soul. You just couldn't help but like him. Milt preferred to stay home, be alone, or in the early years, be with Ma.

"Someone told Dan to see a special doctor in Missoula, so he walked.

Said he got a ride to Stevensville, and then he walked into Missoula. And of course, he was sick and ill. Sick as I've ever seen anybody and he got lost in town. And the sheriff, of course, come along, took and put him in jail. And they didn't know who he was, why they asked him where he was from and he said Willow Creek. Well there's a town over by Bozeman, named Willow Creek. So they called over there and couldn't find it and couldn't hear anything. That's all he'd knew about where he lived is Willow Creek. Finally someone in Hamilton missed him, or some damned thing. They kept him three or four days, he said he had a good time. The sheriff picked him up and brought him home. Later the whole thing was over with, I saw him going to town so I picked him up and told him he was going to go to Missoula. He said, 'Just let me out right now, that guy down there told me that if I ever came back he was going to lock me up for thirty days.' He said, 'I won't go near that place.'

Milt died in January of 1969. Dan went to Marion Gregg's home nearby for help, but it was too late. Shortly after that, Dan moved to a small rest home in Hamilton, and later Stevensville, where he saw friends in town, watched the kids at the city pool, and developed a love of candy.

"I remember, just before he died, I"went down to Stevensville to see him. And you know that guy has a quality to him that nobody really ever knew because he'd just bubble over when he'd see you, he was just so tickled to see ya and you couldn't help but like him just because. The affection he showed you. I remember he came out, and you were with me, he came outside, we'd done this just before Christmas. I took him... I always took him a carton of cigarettes every single time. And I gave him the carton of cigarettes after he'd hugged me, he looked me in the face and said, "Ned, I gotta ask you somethin'. I just gotta ask you somethin' - Do you care if I take that carton of cigarettes and trade it for candy?" And I said, "Dan, you been smokin' all your life," and he said "No sir, I quit smokin'."

Later, residents of Upper Willow Creek heard a car zoom past in the middle of the night. It came speeding out after a while, and the next day the shack was gone, burned to the ground. Dan died on May 15, 1975, and is buried in Corvallis Cemetery with his brother Milton.

There's not much left now, to remind us of the wonderful men who lived in the shack. Some old photos. A pile of cans, where the shack was. And the stories that will be passed on, from generation to generation, reminding us of better times, when people weren't scared to pick up a stranger and give him a ride. When little old ladies chewed tobacco, and people got paid with a hot meal or feed for their horses. The old days, Corvallis's golden years.

But things haven't changed much since then, really. The people are the same, the stores are the same, the entire spirit of the town is just as warm and embracing. Corvallis is still a wonderful place to call home.

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