The Hood River News, Hood River, OR., February 25, 1949, page 7
HISTORY OF WINTERS THAT WERE "REALLY" SEVERE
By Arline Winchell Moore
As Hood River is my birthplace and that of my father
before me, some of my very earliest memories are stories of the hardships
endured, during this or that winter of "the big snow" or the "hard freeze."
Today I can add a few of my own early memories which may make interesting
reading for some of our come-latelys in this valley who may think our mild
northwest winter weather has suddenly gone completely haywire. Truly this
Hood River of ours has a record from its very beginning of an occasional
winter that is really tough. It may be that there is a weather cycle that
graduates from extremely severe to mild, then back again but I have always
liked to think that the little weather gremlyns simply pin our ears back
when we become somewhat smug about our weather.
Looking over data at hand, I find that Elizabeth Laughlin Lord writes in her "Reminiscences" of her father, William Catesby Laughlin and a Dr. Farnsworth, in the year 1852, settled in our Hood River valley with an aim toward becoming great cattle barons. They brought with them some 500 head of stock as a nucleus for their future herds. One of their cabins was built beside the spring that is near the Ted Barton home on State street and the other on the approximate site of the Paradise Auto courts.
Grass grew waist high in this valley in the open glades in those days. Their plan was to cut and store this grass for weather feeding but illness in the family and other unavoidable circumstances prevented their plans materializing in this connection. Winter "struck early in November that year" Mrs. Lord writes, "Early and hard." About the same number of stock as those owned by Farnsworth and Laughlin were being grazed on the hills west of Hood River by the Barton boys, owners of the portage at the Cascades. So severe was the onset of winter weather that the herders left their charges to fend for themselves and hurried back to the Cascades.
These animals soon joined those of the settlers which made a thousand head of starving cattle milling around the little cabins begging aid from human hands. All the desperate settlers could do was to fell trees to fence the animals a safe distance from the cabins.
The country was covered with snow from November 1st to late in March of 1853. The Farnsworths fashioned a 30-foot canoe by hollowing out a huge fir tree. As soon as the ice broke up in January they returned to The Dalles. The Laughlin family stayed until they could drive the fourteen head of animals, which was all that came through the winter, back over the trails in April of 1853.
The late David A. Turner, beloved and well known pioneer of the early 1860's, was related to our family by marriage. Thus the habit of carefully recording and filing weather conditions from year to year was well-known by all of us even unto the third and fourth generations. Searching through some of his writings I found him stating that "The winter of 1861 and 62 was one of the most severe in the record of Oregon's history. The country was paralyzed from Portland to Walla Walla. On Year's Day, in 1862, the ice that formed in the Columbia put an end to boat traffic. One of the boats was forced to tie up at Stanley's landing (Koberg Ranch.) The caretaker, who swept the decks of the craft everyday, measured each day's snowfall. His records showed at the end of the season a total of thirteen and one half feet of snow. The river remained frozen until March 19.
"It is impossible," writes Mr. Turner, "to tell you what we went through that winter. My partner, who had taken up an adjoining claim, and I had a lot of barley and poor venison. The Neals (Mr. Turner later married Amanda Neal) who were our nearest neighbors, were without flour for a period of five weeks. We finally grew desperate. Jerome Winchell (the writer's grandfather) and I set off for The Dalles to get provisions. The trip consumed four days. We came down to the Columbia and walked over the ice to The Dalles (nearest source for provisions.)
At Rowena, where George Snipes had settled (later established Snipes Furniture company of The Dalles) I became too thirsty to go further. Fearing to drink from air holes in the ice, we went ashore to his place. We found five dead cows on his front porch and between his place at The Dalles, we counted hundreds of dead horses and cattle. I shall never forget the horror of that winter. It just about cleaned out the animals in the valley.
I recall another story often told by Uncle Turner, but with unable to locate the record. I think, however, it was about the winter of 1865-66. His favorite topic was on the vagaries of our weather and he could always prove his contention with a story of a certain year. As I recall this story, the weather was unusually mild throughout the early winter months. The latter part of January the bluebells bloomed enmass. Anticipating an early dry summer, the settlers had planted their crops as soon as they could work the soil. Everything was well up by April 1. Peas were beginning to bloom when one of those temperamental notions hit the weather Gods. It began to pour rain on April Fools date and kept up steady downpour for days with the temperature sliding lower each day. The rain turned to snow which piled to a considerable depth. On April 21, this sky suddenly cleared and the temperature dropped to several degrees below zero. Uncle Turner told us that every down log was shelter for hundreds of frozen birds when the weather got back to normal and the settlers could take stock of their losses and proceed with the business of recuperation.
(To be continued)
© Jeffrey L. Elmer