John Terry won a homestead in Tulelake in 1949
John Terry, 92, is one of the few remaining original homesteaders in the Basin. Here, Terry visits the workshop he used as a base of operation for ranching his land before losing his right leg in 1997.
There wasn’t so much as a fencepost on the 240 acres
they won in the land drawing of 1949. But the couple
slowly made their way on the windswept acreage,
growing potatoes and other crops and raising cattle.
John Terry will be 93 on April 9. He sat down recently to recall the high points in his life that reached from his father’s farm in Missouri to his years as a military policeman in the Southwest Pacific theater of operations during World War II.
One of Terry’s early memories involved a commotion in his parents’ house in 1920. It was a celebration because women had just won the right to vote. Terry, who was barely 5 years old at the time, had little idea the ruckus had historic significance.
“I was just looking 4 for something to eat, but I think I knew something special was going on,” he said.
Terry’s father died when he was 7, and Terry stayed on in Missouri until he was 19. That’s when he struck out on his own, settling in Tulelake in 1934. He did a variety of jobs, including loading hay bales for Klamath Basin Feed Co., and surveying refuge roads as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
There was never any doubt that Terry would work the land, given his upbringing on a farm.
“I liked to grow things,” he said. “That’s the way we made our living. We were always just darn farmers. After the war, I came back to Tulelake and the real work began.”
He recalled one temporary job that involved hauling potatoes out of a cellar and loading them onto a truck. Terry earned $1 per load and was paid with 60 silver dollars.
“I thought I was the richest man in Tulelake,” he said.
He farmed with a Tulelake family and lived on their property before receiving land of his own and beginning to homestead.
With the exception of his military service, Terry has not been away from Tulelake since arriving in 1934.
“He knows so much about the history of Tulelake,” said Aline. “He was here when they had dirt streets and board sidewalks.”
The couple has been married 66 years. They spent their first year on the homestead living in a metal shed from the Tulelake internment camp that had no electricity. A year later they moved into their current house — which also was relocated from the internment camp.
Terry was a successful farmer. One time he got a bid from Campbell Soup Co. in Sacramento to supply potatoes. He sent off the product, which filled several refrigerated railroad cars.
On the rails
Terry said all the hay and grain, along with cattle, went out via the railroad in those days.
Despite long hours on the farm, he found time to serve as a 4-H leader for several years. A plaque of thanks from the Tule Basin 4-H chapter hangs on his living room wall.
The family sold their 300-plus head of cattle in 1993, but Terry continued to work the fields. However, he came into the house one day in 1997 with a crippling pain in his right leg.
He thought it was a charley horse, but it turned out to be blood clots. Terry was rushed to the hospital, where doctors amputated the leg.
Leasing the land
His health problems grew in 1998 when he suffered two strokes. He moves slowly these days, but he still gets around with a walker and a battery-powered scooter he uses outdoors. The Terrys continue to live on their homestead and lease the agricultural land.
Terry keeps a sense of humor. Asked how he feels these days, he replied, “Like a new Corvette that’s been run over by a train or two.”
He has some advice about what it takes to live a long life.
“My secret is to take it one day at a time, and do your best,” he said.
Aline, who will be 84 next month, says her husband has a special quality.
“He’s a tough old guy,” she said.
John Terry was 30 and Aline was 20 when they got married. Sixty-six years later, the two still live on the same homestead they moved onto in 1949.