Oregon Maverick – Freda Cant

If living in Oregon for 102 years doesn’t make you a maverick, I’m not sure what would. It is impossible to sum up 102 years of life in a single article, so I won’t even try. I will, however, offer a glimpse into the ‘ordinary life’ as she refers to it, of Freda Cant.
Born to Boyd and Sylvia Stirritt, on February 3, 1912, in John Day, Freda was the youngest of three children. Lloyd was her older brother and Willia her older sister.
Freda and her siblings would ride an old grey mare named Gin to school in Dayville, which was two miles from their grandparent’s house where they lived during the school year.
“We rode horse back until we got too big and then we just walked the two miles to school,” she said. “I remember going out to the barn at the school and thinking about hopping on the old mare and heading for home instead of staying in school all day. I never did do that, but the memory is strong and lasting, so I’m sure I contemplated it often.”
“Dad was a very smart man. He was a farmer and owned Erikson Sawmill in the Basin Country of Dayville,” she said. “Dad was a good provider. His favorite saying when we were about to do something wrong was, ‘you don’t want to do that do you?’”
I listened to her memories, as fresh as if they were yesterday, and watched as the emotions played out across her face.
“One time Dad was at hunting camp when he had an appendicitis attack. We all went along with them to the hospital in Prairie City. They must have thought he wasn’t going to make it, so that is why I suspect we went along with them. He made it though, he survived,” she smiled.
“I had good parents. My mom was a good mother. We stayed with my grandparents during school since mom and dad lived too far away from the school.” I sensed mixed emotions, but left it alone.
A fond memory of her childhood was doing chores alongside her sister. “She kept me drying ‘til the last spoon was dry. She didn’t growl at me, that is just the way it was.”
She recited her life in a close-to-perfect timeline, leaving out thousands of days of normal life on the ranch, yet interjected bits and pieces of history for me to follow along with.
“The last time I remember seeing Doc Hay I introduced myself and he said, ‘you don’t have to tell me who you are, I know you are Bill Stirritt’s granddaughter,’ That just about knocked me off the tree,” she said with a giggle.
Doc Hay was a very well-known Chinese doctor that practiced in John Day. If you get a chance to go to the Kam Wah Chung Oregon State Heritage Site in John Day, it is well worth it.
In 1929 Freda graduated from Dayville High School with just five other students.
“I graduated from high school right into the Great Depression. No one had any money back then. I went to College at Oregon State for a while, but I didn’t get to go for very long,” she said. “Then I came back to Dayville.”
Shortly after coming back home from college, RG Johnson, the Grant County Agent, stopped in to visit with her while she was at her grandmothers.
“He asked if I would come to work for him. I just stepped right into the county job. I was the only hired position,” she said proudly. “I boarded with the Sheriff, Cy Bingham and his wife, Connie. They were very good to me.”
After two years at her county job, Freda met and then married James A. Cant.
“We lived on the Cant Ranch for 45 years,” she said. “We lived just up the road from the in-laws. We got a small wage and we raised the kids.”
The history of the Cant Ranch will have to wait for another article, but if you would like to learn more before I get a chance to tell you all about it please search for Cant Ranch and Dayville online and you will find information about this fascinating part of Oregon.
Freda and her husband, James, lived in a cabin that was moved to the ranch on a wagon from a nearby ‘road camp’.
“Outlying places were so far from town that the road workers made their own settlements called Road Camps. I can remember them blasting to make the road through the canyon.
Once the cabin arrived at the ranch they soon began adding onto it, turning it into the house they would raise all of their children in.
Freda and James had four children, Betty Ann, Kathleen, Kerma, and James.
“I taught my children how to grow up in the country, and to except what they had. We weren’t in distress. It may have been difficult at times, but we were never in distress,” said Freda. “Raising my family meant something to me. I wanted to be able to send my own kids off to school. I’ve tried to teach them to have a little security. You need a roof over your head, and you need to take responsibility for raising your family.”
James and Freda moved to Imbler in 1977. “It is home to me here,” she said, “but Dayville country is my first home, it is really home to me.”
Freda lost her husband in 1993 and she said she still misses him. “I’ve just been drifting along since then.”
I timidly asked her if death scared her. She told me no with a reassuring smile.
“I just hope to go to sleep in my own bed one day and wake up somewhere else.”
At 102 Freda attributes her long life to always living a clean life.
“We didn’t play around and get into trouble. We lived with rules and regulations, and if you live within these rules, as a family, then you didn’t get into trouble.”
When asked how she sees the world today she said, “I say live and let live.”
I asked her if she had ever had a computer. She gently tapped her forehead and said, “This is my computer and it still keeps me going.”
“My life is just an ordinary life. It isn’t anything spectacular,” she claimed. But as her latest and newest friend, I beg to differ. I was honored to spend the afternoon with this fairly spry, young woman that bubbles out behind wrinkles brought about by living for 102 years in a couple small towns in Oregon. I think her life seems very spectacular and I would bet that her other friends and family would agree with me wholeheartedly.