Donna Tackman is this year’s Pioneer Queen Mother. Tackman grew up homesteading in a three-room cabin. (Submitted photo)
Family and early life
Donna Yvonne Carey was born in the old Burns hospital, which is an apartment building today, on May 1, 1928. Her father and mother were Forest Carey and Nellie Marie Moore.
Donna’s family was originally from England, but relocated to Independence, Mo. From there, her extended family (great-uncles, aunts and great-grandparents) followed a wagon train west.
Donna grew up in a home on the west side of a little valley called “Diamond Valley.” The home was built from the remains of the Camp Harney Fort. When they tore the fort down, the family got some of the lumber to build a three-room cabin, which was first started as a homestead on Riddle Mountain. Donna’s grandmother, Myrtle Barnes, later bought 80 acres in Diamond and moved the cabin there.
Donna grew up in that three-room cabin with her grandparents and mother (when she was between jobs helping somebody cook for big crews). There was a bedroom, a living room, and a kitchen.
Donna remarked, “I guess it was my teachers and my folks at home who raised me that influenced my life the most. That’s where you learned. Like Grandma taught me to sew, crochet, and cook. And I just picked up things from my granddad by being with him and by doing things outside. And you know, during those times you learned survival habits and things to carry you on through to the next generation. That’s the way I look at it.”
Her earliest memory as a child was when she was about 2 or 3. She said she woke up one morning with something wet and soft on her face. It was winter, and it was cold, and the old cook stove was really cranking out the heat. She looked over and found a little, black puppy that her granddad had brought home for her, and he was licking her face.
Donna also recalled the first time her granddad shoed her horse, Shorty.
“My horse bit him on the butt, so he learned to tie the head up, so he wouldn’t get bit,” she said.
Donna said her granddad, Art, was a little Swedish man, and she was with him all the time when he was working. For example, she spent a lot of time helping him look for cows.
He would say, “Get to bed early tonight, girl, because we’re leaving early in the morning to look for cows!”
Regarding her granddad, Donna added, “He had quite a taste for apricot wine, just loved it. He’d go check on some cows some place in the valley. He’d come home, and my grandmother could look up the road and see him coming on his big old black horse. Well, he had stopped at the joint and she could see him swaying as he rode his horse. His biggest desire was to wrestle grandma to the ground. You couldn’t have made him mad if you wanted to. He was so happy with life at that point.”
What Donna remembers most about growing up in Diamond was living off of what she described as the “bare necessities” during the tail end of the Depression.
She explained, “Everybody in the valley was in the same boat. There was no money. When I say ‘no money,’ that’s what I mean. There was no money. The neighbors traded tasks if they didn’t have a team. All the machinery was drawn by horses. There were no power tractors or any such thing as that. So if you were short a pair of horses, and you needed to get so much work done, you traded that fellow for a pair of horses and he got so much hay in exchange for payment.”
She further explained, “When I tell the young people now that there was no money when I was a kid, they ask, ‘What did you do?’ Well, you just went to the old swimming pool and picked the leeches off of you when you got out of the water. You couldn’t hire me to do that now!”
Donna said, “My grandmother was a very honest person, strong-willed, but good. She would sew clothes for other families that needed help. She was always helping somebody and had just as little money as anybody else. She always seemed to manage to come up with a way to do something, fix something.”
She added, “My mother was a happy person. She did lots of cooking. And when she worked in the hay fields, she whistled.
Donna went to grade school in Diamond and high school in Crane.
“School was fun back then because I was with the rest of the kids. All eight grades in one room,” she said, adding that, “All the kids rode horses to school.”
Two of Donna’s best childhood friends were Marianna Brown and Shirley Thompson.
She remarked, “Marianna Brown and her family moved to Diamond, as I remember, probably when she was pre-school. Then she started off at grade school there, and then somewhere along the way, the family moved away before she got into her teen years. We went through grade school together and still stayed in touch until her death.”
Three miles away, up the canyon, was where Shirley Thompson and her family lived. She was a year younger than Donna, and they have always been good friends. They went through all the schools together, grade school and high school, and they still stay in touch to this day.
Donna said, “I’ll never forget her family had lots of fruit trees and especially a Bing cherry tree. It had black cherries, and every fall, I would go visit Shirley and prop myself up in that cherry tree and eat cherries all day and vomit all night. I did that year after year and never did get smart. Living three miles from the nearest neighbor, I loved to go see Shirley, and didn’t always ask permission.”
Marriage, career and family life
Donna had five children by her first husband, Bill Winn. They lost their oldest child, Marie Alene, who passed away at a very young age of polio. She went on to raise her other four children, LaNeva, Bill, Judy, and Sherri.
Donna went to Boise Junior College for half a year, and spent a year at Central Oregon Community College. Then she took training as an LPN in Redmond.
After becoming a nurse, she worked 33 years at the Burns hospital.
She said, “I liked working with older people, and I was lucky enough to give a lot of the newborns their first bath. But after bathing several generations of babies, I thought it was time to let somebody else take over.”
After Donna retired from the Burns hospital, she went right across the street and started working for Harney County Home Health.
Some of the accomplishments she is most proud of in life are helping to pioneer the local Hospice program in 1992, receiving the 1995 Senior Woman of the Year award, and receiving the 2007 Harney Partners for Kids and Families Volunteer Award.
‘Try one more thing to make it better’
Donna said she hopes to be known for her willingness to help others.
“The most valuable thing I learned from my parents was to always do your part and be willing to help,” she said, adding, “I’m most proud of my years of nursing. I saw lots of happy things happen and lots of sad things. It was a time in my life that I felt like I grew up and realized the full value of life and what it takes to be a part of a community and a home.”
She added, “I always felt that I was a happy person. I giggled all the time, if you can imagine it. Giggle, giggle, giggle. I knew there were bad times, but it was just a part of life, and you just tried one more thing to make it better in some way. I guess that would be a good explanation for someone to remember me by. Try one more thing to make it better.”
Donna noted, “I felt mighty honored when I was notified that I was selected as the Queen Mother this year. Then I recalled perhaps why I was selected, other than my birthday. My earliest family moved here in 1872, and was one of the first permanent families to live in the area and make Happy Valley their home. They homesteaded and eventually established a ranch. My great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother were all honored as Queen Mothers over the years.”
She reflected, “I feel like especially the early ladies really played an important part in helping to establish the Happy Valley and Diamond areas and communities. They were involved in the early meetings along with the men to help develop and govern the communities, playing an important role in the history of Harney County.”
She concluded, “They were true pioneers. It took everybody in the family to make a go of it. It still does, but it was a different side of life. It was complicated, no medical facilities. You would have to travel far distances to get your supplies for the year. You didn’t go back to the store every 45 minutes for a loaf of bread or a jar of jam. You made it or you did without it.”
Donna added, “To me, the 70s were really the end of an era. That’s the way I feel about Harney County. We were the last to get electricity, and then indoor plumbing. We would hear next year Diamond will get such and such, and sure enough, we would be a year behind everyplace else in the state. I guess you could say we were a part of the last frontier of the West.”