Recollections of Kauai boy, William E. Rowell, 1916.

Dec. 6, 1915

The following interview with the late W. E. Rowell, who died recently in Honolulu, was read at the meeting of the Kauai Historical Society last week by J. M. Lydgate:

I was born at Hanalei in 1845. My father followed Alexander there for a couple of years. When I was about one year old were moved to Waimea. We came by canoe I believe, bag and baggage. No I don’t remember anything about it. Mr. Gulick I understand had built the house at Waimea. Mr. Whitney had died I think just before our arrival or soon after so that the whole work and responsibility of the station fell on my father. The Whitney house stood just about where the Hofgaard house is now, while ours stood near by. No, no, the Whitney house wasn’t built of adobie, but of stone coral sand stone. I remember very distinctly how it cracked because of imperfect foundation and the walls bulged out and had to be shoved up with heavy timber props. The house was demolished finally for the stone which was taken to build the Kekaha chimney. I think they paid $100 for it. Mother Whitney lived there for a good many years. In the division of the mission sands there was some difficulty about coming to an amicable decision, for, you know, these old missionaries were quite human in spite of the fact that they were missionaries. Mrs. Whitney wanted about everything that was any good.

We got a piece of pasture land on the east of the river called Mahai-hai: it was there we kept our stock, and in dry times they fairly grubbed up the roots of the manienie.

We had an old man who took the stock back and forth: he took them to the river and they swam across and when he wanted them he called them and they came across the river.

When Mrs. Whitney died she left her land to the native church. The minister was to live at the Whitney place, but that was inconvenient so an exchange was made for a kuleana in the valley, and I bought the balance of the land for $1800. That is the basis of the church fund to this day.

There was a grass church in those days down on the beach west of the river, where afterwards the school house stood and about where the Chinese church is now. There were two services on Sunday and a prayer meeting on Wednesday afternoon. No, the crowds were not very large and the church was not as big as the stone church built later. The church was built of pili grass, closed in, as I remember it, on the mauka and windward side, but open makai on the lee side. There were no windows, at least no glazed windows. The people sat on mats on the floor. The matter of windows, reminds me that I made quite a little money in my boyhood days, making window and door cases for Hawaiian grass houses. Yes, all the houses at that time were of grass.

The one exception in my early boyhood was that of Kauai, the local chief or konohike [konohiki]; his was probably the first wooden house.

Yes, Kaikioewa’s house was just mauka of the Hospital on the edge of the pali. I think it still stands, doesn’t it? No, I didn’t know Kaikioewa; he was gone before my time. Debora Kapule was governess. She was a big woman, over 6 feet. Yes, her grave is there. The “pa ilina o na alii” was just a little west of the road running makai from our house to the Alaloa to Kekaha. It was fenced off with a substantial cut sandstone wall. It was about an acr in extent, and when that tract was conveyed to me, this pa ilina was reserved and it ought to be there yet. Malaihi the heir of Debora reserved it.

It was all kula, open country, from our house down to the sea, with no cultivation and no trees, but with an adobe wall, fencing in a mission tract. Just west a little way there was a neke pond, where were ducks.

I think it is all dried up now and planted to cane. No there was no irrigation, and we had to depend on the river for our drinking water. A man bought two buckets a day; its quite a distance you know, and we took mighty good care of that water. No, no, wee never dreamed that there was any question about it being sanitary or wholesome—it was mountain water, no matter if it did flow through a thickly inhabited region. For all other purposes we used well water. My father sank a well near the house. He had to go down 26 ft. and the water was brackish, but it was allright for cooking, etc.

Strange to say farther makai the water was fresher. Later I built the windmill which still stands directly over the well. My father had an ingenious balance for drawing the water. The Whitney’s had a similar well.

My father had a garden, up the valley, where he worked a great deal himself. He was a good gardener. He raised the first mango tree in Waimea. We had loquats, oranges, bananas, vis [wi] and peaches from this garden, the latter by the bucket. The name of the garden was Kakalae.

We lived mostly on taro and sweet potatoes, which we got largely from the natives by way of payment for their books.

No, we didn’t have rice much, only as a luxury, from abroad. No rice was grown here in those days. Yes we had plenty of milk. We had twenty cows. I remember I had to milk them before breakfast and I have known how to milk ever since. Yes we had butter. Good butter in spite of the climate and no ice. My father fixed up a sort of refrigerator open window, and my mother made fine butter without boiling the milk. Her daughters could never make any so good. On Niihau they made butter too, but they boiled the milk. It wasn’t so good. We used to get flour from Boston, and it was so hard we had to dig it out, like cement. I remember that was one of my jobs. But it made good bread. Later we got Island grown Makawao flour—it was very different—it was sticky.

Once a year we killed beef and distributed round to our neighbors what we couldn’t salt, dry or otherwise keep. Occasionally we had pork. We also had chickens and turkeys. The latter did well—we had quite a flock of white turkeys.

Yes we had a stove, but there was an old fashioned fire-place in the house with a crane, and also a brick oven, but I think we never used it much, it took too much wood. Our wood came from the mountains. With bullocks we hauled down great logs once in a while. We had the old fashioned whale oil lamps, mighty poor lights, mostly grease and smell.

As to recreation, I don’t remember that it cut much figure. We had horses of course and all rode like Jehus. To go up to the garden, up the valley, was a voyage of discovery, and a red letter day of excursion. Every night for a long time went down to the sea with father for a bath and it was then I learned to swim.

we were not allowed to play with the Hawaiian children nor speak the language; that was tabu loa. Later when we went to Koloa to school we had a good time there with other children. We started out Monday morning early on horseback and came home every second week. Yes, Dole was a good teacher and though the classes were small we were some of us quite well advanced. I was in a class with Sanford and George…

(Garden Island, 3/28/1916, p. 3)


The Garden Island, Volume 12, Number 13, Page 3. March 28, 1916.

…Dole. We read Latin and Greek, and did some higher mathematics.

Sunday we had to go to church which was an infliction, which i, at any rate, didn’t enjoy.

For one thing we had to wear shoes, and the service was long the minute we got out, off came the shoes. Yes, I’ve pretty well evened it up by not going since. On the whole I suppose I haven’t done more than my share of church going!

Occasionally we went up to Halemanu where Knudsen had a place, even in those early days.

Archer and Gruben were the first farmers at Kekaha, raising tobacco, depending on the winter rains, associated with them, probably, Clifford made cigars. But it was a failure and they threw it up I suppose they had some kind of a lease from the goat. Knudsen followed them, in 54 you say yes about them.

Yes, tapa making was still a thriving industry in my boyhood days. I can remember hearing 6 tapa-beaters going at once in the valley; they got the wauke up in the mountains, perhaps they raised it makai.

We came to general meeting, not every year—at least the family didn’t come every year. That was a red letter occasion. We were distributed round amound the Honolulu members of the mission, we generally staid at the Castles, or the Clarks. Sometimes families had to be divided up. No, the meetings were not held at Kawaiahao church, but in the Depository Building on Printers Lane. The Depository was run by Castle who was the financial agent. He got out printed lists of the goods in stock, from which the missionaries made up their orders, which were filled for them from the stock. The firm of Castle & Cooke grew out of this, and for a considerable time this firm was located at that place.

Whalers came to Waimea from time to time and sometimes the captains’ wives stayed with us. Two in particular I remember Mrs. Jeffries and Mrs. Hall. One of these took quite a fancy to me and engaged me as cabin boy and paid me $12 by way of advance according to the custom which was prevalent in those days. To me it was a serious business transaction. I learned afterwards to my disappointment that it was a joke and presume my mother gave the money back.

Opportunities for earning money were scarce in those days. There were no plantations or other industrial enterprises, the roads were worked mainly by prisoners and there was no other public work going on, except the building work going on, except the building of churches. And this work assumed large proportions, and was for some years, in most of the island communities, the great general industry. This was the building of permanent durable structure. The earliest churches were flimsy, temporary affairs, built to meet emergency requirements, and in a very short time they fell into ruin and had to be replaced with something more permanent. The Waimea church was built of sand-stone, which was quarried out in blocks about 3 ft. long by 18 in. wide and 6 to 8 in. thick. This and-stone lay in great layers down near the beach, in mile or so away from the church site.

The stone was cut out with an axe, it was quite soft when cut, and hardened with exposure. These blocks were transported to the church by bullock carts, and were laid up with lime mortar. The lime for this mortar was home-made from coral secured from the reefs by diving, pieces broken off, all shapes and sizes. A lime kiln, a big open pit 20 ft. or so in diameter, was made near the church, just makai in what is now a cane field, no doubt you will find the place readily when the cane is off. The fuel for burning this lime had to be brought from the mountains 15 or 16 miles away, logs hauled down by ox teams. By virtue of necessity, as well perhaps, as fitness, my paymaster and finance committee all in one. The wood work involved selecting and squaring lehua timbers in the mountains and hauling them down. You know from  our experience on the Wainiha pole line what an undertaking this was.

The woods are full of trees but when you want to find any particular kind or size, then they are few and far between, and all the tall straight trees were down in the bottom of narrow steep gulches and had to be snaked out by hand.

The tie beams had to be 42 feet long, straight, and free from defect, and they were mighty hard to find. You might think that hauling them down, dragging over the rocky road, would have worn them out. Well it ground the corners off sure! The floor, the doors and windows were of imported material, also the seats. No I don’t think they were the same ones that they had now, they have been changed they are in the Waimea hall. Instead of an old-fashioned pulpit my father made a nice little deal table and later I went to the church people and begged them to let me have this table and I gave them another a koa table in exchange and I have that table yet. You know the church has a tower, with a pole, in the middle, and on this pole, in those days anyway, there was a large gilded ball 18 ins. in diameter. The original ball was solid, of heavy wood. My father found that this was too heavy, so he made another built up hollow. I remember he had to be very careful applying the gold leaf, he had to do it in a still room where there was no wind.

(Continued in next issue.)

(Garden Island, 3/28/1916, p. 6)


The Garden Island, Volume 12, Number 13, Page 6. March 28, 1916.

2 thoughts on “Recollections of Kauai boy, William E. Rowell, 1916.

  1. I didn’t know this had been in the paper – It’s a historical society paper so I’ve seen it before. Cool stories, no?

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