An Illustrated History of Klickitat, Yakima,
& Kittitas Counties
Interstate Publishing Co., Chicago, IL., published 1904
History Of Klickitat County
General 1859 - 1889
Although the territory now known as Klickitat seems to
have been equal in the favorableness of its situation to the Oregon country
across the river, no permanent settlers came into it for a number of years
after the first pioneers had taken possession of the south shore of the Columbia.
The centers of settlement had been established during the days of the Hudson's
Bay Company and the missionaries, and naturally the later comers gathered
around them, seeking new fields to conquer only when the older ones had become
partially subdued. The original settlement in what is now Washington state,
aside from Hudson's Bay Company's posts, had been blotted out by the terrible
Whitman massacre and the war growing out of it, and when the Walla Walla
country began to recover from the shock of this dreadful tragedy, the war
of 1855-56 came on, furnishing an excuse for General Wool's military order
remanding to barbarism all of eastern Washington. The order remained in force
until the fall of 1858, when Wool's successor, General Clarke, rescinded
In 1856 the government commenced the construction of a military road across the Simcoe range to Fort Simcoe, on the Yakima reservation, and during the summer of that year a small fortification was erected on Spring creek, seven miles northwest of Goldendale, and garrisoned with a troop of United States cavalry. This little fort, known as the blockhouse, was a log structure surrounded by an eight-foot stockade. The building still stands to mark the location but the stockade has long since been removed. The early settlers say that this building when first seen by them showed plainly the marks of bullets fired the Indians in skirmishes with the soldiers. In 1860 the troops were removed.
The first immigrants began to arrive in the valley late in the fifties. It was a beautiful country then, covered everywhere with rich, luxuriant bunch grass, a cattleman's paradise. From the hills along the Columbia to the foot of the timber-covered Simcoe range stretched immense undivided pasture field. Now a thousand fences separate that same area into numerous fine grain farms which furnish homes for many prosperous people. The pioneer's judgment selecting Klickitat as a home has surely been justified by the subsequent development. It possesses all the advantages an agricultural country needs and few drawbacks.
The surrounding country was as yet unsettled and there was no demand for farm produce and no means of transporting the same to market Any way the pioneer settlers were stockmen. The country was by nature suited to this enterprise, as abundance of natural grass grew everywhere, furnishing feed sufficient for winter and summer alike, unless the winters proved unusually severe. As a general rule the winters were so mild that the cattle did well without any other feed than the native grass, which grew rich and abundant everywhere in the valley and on the hillsides. As large herds of cattle could be raised and fattened ready for slaughter at almost nominal expense, the rearing of stock was a decidedly profitable business. Another advantage in the enterprise was that stock could be transported readily overland to the market, while any other commodity required a conveyance, a thing which is difficult to furnish in a newly settled country.
Most of the early settlers came from the Willamette valley, to which they had come across the plains at an earlier date. Some had grown dissatisfied with the damp climate of western Oregon and had moved in search of a drier country, others came to seek more extensive pastures for their increasing herds. To these Klickitat offered both a dry healthful climate and a moist magnificent stretch of rich grazing land for stock where each might extend his lines as widely as he pleased without fear of encroaching on his neighbor's right.
By nature and past experience these early settlers were suited to pioneer life. Hardihood was to them a birthright. Their fathers and grandfathers had also been pioneers and had spent their lives on the border of the wilderness. They, in their turn, were born and raised on the frontier and the hardships and inconveniences of that sort of life held no terrors for them. They were possessed of an experience indispensable to the successful pioneer. Next to our soldiers, who won our liberties and maintained by their courage and sacrifice our integrity as a nation, this country should honor her pioneers, that brave and hardy class of citizens who penetrated the wilderness and blazed the way for the civilization which was to follow. To them is due much of the credit for the national greatness of which we boast today. They had to forego all such comforts and pleasures of life as are possible only in thickly settled regions. The benefits of church and school were denied them. Neighbors were few and far apart. For all these advantages they must be content to wait patiently. Theirs were all the hardships, while it was left to those who followed after them to enjoy much of the fruits of their toil.
The faith of the common people in the western country was really remarkable, notwithstanding the fact that it has been justified by subsequent development. Whether the American pioneer in his settlement of the west has been guided by blind instinct or a foresight that has transcended the wisdom of sages, is difficult to determine. They held the Northwest for the United States when our greatest statesmen were troubled lest they could not get rid of it. That theirs was the real statesmanship has been abundantly proven by subsequent developments.
Any settlement in the county previous to 1859 is scarcely worthy of notice. Sometime previous to the Indian war, probably as early as 1852 Erastus S. Joslyn, just out from Massachusetts, crossed the Columbia river to a point opposite the mouth of the Hood river and settled on a place now owned by Judge Byrkett. This farm lies in the Columbia valley, about a mile and a half east of the t6wn of White Salmon. Joslyn built a cabin, set out a small orchard, placed a tract of land in cultivation and acquired a considerable herd of stock. When the Indian war of 1855-56 broke out, friendly Indians warned Joslyn that he would he attacked. To avoid the danger, he hastily fled across the river with his family, where from a place of concealment he watched the Indians burn his dwelling, destroy his orchard and drive off his stock. The following day soldiers came to the rescue of the Joslyn family and saved them from falling into the hands of the savages. At the close of the war, Joslyn returned to his ranch and lived there until the fall of 1874.
The Joslyn place is thought to be the oldest ranch in the county with the possible exception of the Curtis farm near The Dalles. An army officer named Jordan fenced in several hundred acres of land on Rockland Flats, across from The Dalles, and at a very early date several others had settled for a time on the north side of the river, but most of them went back and forth, spending part of their time on the Klickitat side of the river and part at The Dalles. Several men with squaw wives located at different points along the Columbia during the ante-bellum days. Egbert French, who afterward kept a store above Goldendale had a place at the mouth of the Klickitat and J.H. Alexander, also in after years a settler of the Klickitat valley, lived at Rockland both French and Alexander had squaw wives.
Some time in the spring of 1859* Amos Stark came to the valley and built a log house. There was no settler then in all that country. Save for the soldiers at the blockhouse and a few roving Indians, the entire district to the north of the Columbia was unpopulated. Mr. Stark was obliged to build his cabin alone, as there was no one to whom be could apply for aid, but he managed to raise the logs by sliding them up inclined skids. First he would pull one end up a distance with a rope, then fasten it and work the other end up a little way. By this means he managed to raise the logs although the process was tediously slow. He finally by this method completed the walls without assistance, then covered the structure with a roof. He thereupon went back to California, where he met Stanton H. Jones, whose acquaintance he had previously made. They planned to return to Klickitat county together, but Mr. Jones was delayed for a few weeks in California by business affairs, so Stark came back alone, Jones following a little later. *The year 1859 is given by at the first settlers of Klickitat county, who now reside there, as the date of their settlement. L.L. Thorp, of North Yakima, is, however, positive that his father, F. Mortimer Thorp, and family, also a considerable party of others from western Oregon, came in during the summer of 1855. Charles Splawn also gives that year as the date of settlement. Mr. Thorp does not claim that his father's family were the first 10 settle in Klickitat county, but that they belonged to the first party of settlers, all of whom came together to The Dalles. The Thorps were delayed a few days at that point, owing to the fact that their cattle did not arrive promptly by boat, while others of the party went direct to the Klickitat valley, preceding them a few days. As the memories of men are fallible, especially as to the dates of events which occurred many years ago, all dates which like this one can not he fixed by contemporaneous documents are of necessity given tentatively.
During Stark's absence in California a number of settlers had arrived in the valley. Among the first of these were Willis Jenkins and family. Willis Jenkins was one of the earliest settlers in Oregon. He had brought his family across the plains as early as 1844 and had settled in Polk county, near the present town of Dallas. In 1849 he moved to California to the newly discovered gold fields. During the first winter there he washed out about seven thousand dollars in gold dust, most of which he invested in merchandise. The following spring he returned with his goods to Oregon, where be started a store. As most of his neighbors had likewise sought their fortunes in the new El Dorado, money was about the only thing that was plentiful and Mr. Jenkins disposed of his merchandise at a good profit. From Polk county he moved to Wilbur, a small settlement in southern Oregon named for Father Wilbur, and there he also kept a store and a way-side lodging house. He lived at Wilbur during the Rogue River war. Later the family moved to Forest Grove, in Washington county, and finally in the summer of 1859 they came to Klickitat. They settled near the blockhouse, where the garrison was stationed, and when, in 1860, the soldiers were removed Jenkins filed on the claim. They brought with them to Klickitat one hundred and fifty head of cattle and a few horses.
The Jenkins family were not yet settled in the valley when Lewis S. Parrott and his son-in-law, John J. Golden, came. With the Parrotts and Goldens came the Tarter family, also from the Willamette. Mr. Golden preceded the party into the valley, arriving with a large herd of cattle July 9th, 1859, to the best of his recollection. He says the others joined him in August following. They settled on the Swale, a few miles southwest of the site of Goldendale John Golden afterward moved to Columbus and lived there for a time. The party brought with them herds of stock, as did most of the early settlers. While living at Columbus, Mr. Golden took a contract to deliver one thousand cords of wood to the boats and wood hauling soon after became one of the chief industries of the county.
A little later John W. Burgen and his brother Thomas came, also bringing a large herd of cattle and horses. In 1860 John Burgen settled on the Columbus road, near Swale creek, about four miles south of the site of Goldendale. His family have ever since occupied this place, to which forty-four years ago he purchased the prior right of a young man for a twenty-dollar greenback. Here, in the following year, his son Newton to whom belongs the distinction of being the first white child born in Klickitat, was born. The first house built on the place, a substantial log one, is still standing, although it has long ago been replaced as a residence by a more comfortable dwelling. Thomas Burgen also settled in the valley for a time, but in 1864 moved to Chamberlain Flats, where his family still live.
Among the others who came into the valley during the first year was Mortimer Thorp, who settled on the site of Goldendale. His house stood just north of the lot on which the Methodist church how is. Alfred Henson settled just below Thorp, building a cabin, and Charles Splawn settled near what is known as the Alexander place. Just above him was Calvin Pell. John Nelson and Robert Carter lived farther down the Swale. Alfred Allen and A.H. Curtis lived at Rockland Flats across from The Dalles. Besides those mentioned there were also Jacob Halstead, James Clark. Nelson Whitney, William Murphy, Captain McFarland and his son Neil; Francis Venables, Marion Stafford, Jacob Gulliford, --- Waters and sons, and Tim Chamberlain, who came to Chamberlain Flats some time during the year. In all about fifteen families passed the winter of 1859-60 in Klickitat county.
The Klickitat country was so thickly settled in 1859 that it was generally considered by the citizens of the new district that the necessity for county organization had not yet arisen. Few people were anxious to hasten the time when they will be required to pay taxes, especially when no apparent benefit is to be derived from their payment. The territorial government, however, insisted that the settlers must organize and pay taxes. As early as December 20, 1859, it passed an act setting off Klickitat as a separate county and naming officers for the new organization. As this act is of interest as being the first reference in the statutes to Klickitat county, it is given verbatim below:
To Create and organize the County of Clicatat.
Be it enacted by the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Washington;
Section 1. That all that portion of Washington Territory embraced within the following boundaries, to-wit; Commencing in the middle of the Columbia river, five miles below the mouth of the Clicatat river; thence north to the summit of the mountains, the divide between the waters of the Clicatat and Yakima rivers thence east, along said divide, to a point north of the mouth of Rock Creek thence south to the middle of the Columbia river; thence along the channel of said river to the place of beginning. The same is hereby constituted into a separate county, to be known and called Clicatat county.
Section 2. The said territory shall compose a county for civil and military purposes and shall be under the same laws, rules, regulations, as all other counties in the Territory of Washington and entitled to elect the same officers as other counties are entitled to elect.
Section 3. That the county seat of said county be, and the same is hereby, temporarily located on the land claim of Alfred Allen.
Section 4. That Alfred Allen, Robert Tartar and Jacob Halstead be, and the same are hereby, appointed a board of county commissioners and that Willis Jenkins be, and he is hereby, appointed probate Judge; that James Clark Clark be, and he is hereby, appointed sheriff; that Nelson Whitney he, and he is hereby, appointed county auditor; that Edwin Grant he, and he is hereby appointed assessor; that William Murphy he, and he is hereby appointed treasurer: that John Nelson be, and he is hereby appointed a justice of the peace.
Section 5. That the persons hereby constituted officers by the fourth section of this act, shalt, before entering upon the duties of their respective offices, qualify in the same manner, and with like restrictions, as those elected at an annual or general election.
Passed December 20, 1859.
By this act Klickitat county (it was spelled Clickitat
previous to 1869) was organized and its boundaries outlined in a general
way. But the early settlers gave little thought to the organization of the
county. The government at Olympia could appoint county officers but it could
not compel them to qualify, and this the majority of the newly officers refused
or neglected to do. Without having qualified, they could not act in the capacity
to which they were appointed, so no efficient county organization was effected,
no assessment rolls were made and no taxes were levied. The Klickitat county
was, therefore, in much the same condition as before it had been organized.
The absorbing problems of the time were not governmental, but industrial, as they must needs be in a new and sparsely settled community. As early as 1860 the people of Klickitat began taking contracts for the delivery of wood to boats on the Columbia river. These boats ran only to Wallula at this time, but the discovery that winter of gold in the Clearwater county of Idaho caused an effort to navigate the Snake and Clearwater rivers. The first boat to attempt this got as far up the latter stream as the Big Eddy, but no later efforts were made to penetrate the country with steamboats beyond Lewiston. The subsequent discoveries in other parts of North Idaho, in the Boise and Powder river basins and elsewhere, gave a tremendous impetus to navigation on the Columbia, creating a great demand for fuel. A wood-yard was established at Columbus and placed in charge of a man named Hadley, and at Chamberlain Flats, about thirteen miles further up the river, another wood-yard was put in operation by Tim Chamberlain. At both these points large contracts were let by steam boat companies for the cutting and hauling of wood.
In this way remunerative employment was furnished for all the men who had not brought into the valley sufficient stock to require their whole attention. The first contract price was ten dollars a cord for wood delivered at the landing. After that the price was cut to eight dollars. At this rate the business was only moderately profitable; for all the wood had to be hauled across the Swale from the hills beyond where Goldendale now stands, a distance of twelve miles, as no timber grew in the valley or on the hills along the Columbia. The first settlers brought very few American horses with them to Klickitat, and what few they had were considered very valuable, so all the hauling was done with ox teams, which, because of their slowness, made two days necessary for the round trip. One day they would go to the woods and load; the next they would make the return trip to the river. With six yoke of cattle to each wagon it was possible to haul about five cords at a load. The cost of feeding the ox teams amounted to nothing, as they could be turned out at night, and the luxuriant Punch grass, which grew everywhere plentifully then, was sufficiently nutritious and rich to keep them in good working order.
The furnishing of employment through the wood contracts was only one of the advantages accruing to the people of the valley through the mines, which also furnished a uniformly good market for their stock. The demand for beef in the upper country kept cattle at a high price and made stock-raising a profitable business. Ponies, being in demand for pack animals, and saddle horses also sold readily at a good figure. These different industries made money plentiful in the valley during the first few years and greatly aided the rapid development of Klickitat county.
During the summer of 1860 the first road to Columbus was opened by private subscription. That year witnessed also the first efforts to test the value of the soil for agricultural purposes, a little grain having been sown for hay and a few feeble efforts having been made at gardening. The results of these early attempts were not so flattering as to inspire further efforts in the same direction, for the first settlers did not as yet understand the soil and climate sufficiently to enable them to get the best results. It was only after some years of experimenting that they learned the land best suited to the different crops, and for the first years even the vegetables they used were brought to the valley on pack horses. Most of the clothing they wore was hand-spun and hand-woven.
The first county election was held in 1860. Conventions were held and the nominations were made on strictly party lines. Complete Democratic and Republican tickets were placed in the field, although the Republicans, being very much in the minority in those days, experienced some little difficulty in finding enough men for all the offices. The result of the election was a complete victory for the Democrats. The county was divided into three precincts, the polls being at Rockland, the site of Goldendale, and the blockhouse. All were Democratic. The most of the officers elected again failed to qualify. A general understanding existed among the settlers that the men elected were not to qualify and thus to set at naught the organization of the county. The government at Olympia was persistent, however, and passed an act, January 24, 1861, appointing the following officers to fill vacancies: John Nelson, probate judge; Willis Jenkins, treasurer; G.W. Phillips, auditor; William T. Waters, sheriff; James H. Herman, A. Waters, A.G. Davis, county commissioners; C.J. McFarland, S. Peasley and W.T. Murphy, justices of the peace.
Another act was passed by the territorial legislature on the 31st of January of the same year, extending the northern boundary line of Klickitat county as far north as the northeast corner of Skamania county, from which place it was to run due east to a point from which, by running due south, it would strike the northeast corner at the previous boundary of Klickitat. At that time the longest dimension of the county was from north to south, embracing a large body of territory that is now embraced in Yakima county. By the same act the northern boundary of Walla Walla county was extended north to British Columbia.
During the first two years of white settlement in Klickitat everything seemed to promise well for the stockmen. So far they had been favored by circumstances. The grass grew in luxuriant abundance. The weather was favorable, and so far as their experience went there was no reason to expect anything different. Not all the seasons, however, were to be like those of their experience. Not only was the winter of 1861-62 more severe than the two previous ones; it was the coldest and longest ever experienced by the white inhabitants of Klickitat. The summer of 1861 was unusual. Heavy frosts occurred in some parts of the valley every month throughout the entire season. Cold weather came early in the fall. Snow fell in the hills on the 10th of October and November 3d several inches fell in the valley. All through the month of November regular snows occurred, some days as much as ten inches falling, then the weather would turn warmer and all the snow would go. Cold, disagreeable fogs hung continually over the valley.
For the first four or five days of December it snowed and rained every day, and the exceptional precipitation caused the streams and rivers to rise higher than was ever known at that season of the year. Klickitat creek flooded all the flat below the site of the town of Goldendale, the water standing eighteen inches deep in a house in the hollow, while the Columbia river almost reached the high-water mark for June freshets.
By the 22d of December there was no snow lying on the ground, although it was estimated by men who kept track of the different falls, that at least six feet had fallen previous to that date. Already cattle were dying. They were suffering from cold and hunger and their lowing was something terrible to hear. Had the weather been dry, they would not have suffered so much, but cattle seem to perish more quickly in a damp, chilly atmosphere than in an extremely cold, dry one. Beginning with the night of December 2d it continued to snow daily up to the new year, by which time fully thirty inches lay along the Columbia while at the blockhouse the snow came within a couple of inches of the top of a four foot fence and was so soft as to make travel extremely inconvenient. Coyotes were very numerous in the valley at that time as were also all kinds of game. The settlers from their snow-blocked cabins would see a couple of ears moving along above the snow, the remainder of the lank coy ate being buried in the drifts that yielded beneath the weight of his body like eiderdown. Sometimes they would amuse themselves by pursuing on horseback these silent-footed thieves of the night, and killing them with clubs. It was easy to overtake them in the deep, soft snow and the slinking creatures, when they found they could not escape their pursuers, would crouch down in their tracks and alloy themselves to be clubbed to death.
The 1st, 2d, 3d and 4th of January, it sleeted, the snow and rain being attended with lightning and heavy thunder. This is the only- time on record when heavy thunder accompanied a winter storm in this locality. The sleet falling on the top of the soft snow packed it down hard and thoroughly saturated it with water. Such was the condition existing on the 4th of January, 1862. On the evening of the 4th the weather changed suddenly and the chinook wind began to blow. The change from a damp, penetrating cold to summer warmth was speedy, and soon the snow began to disappear very rapidly. The water dripped from the roofs of the houses as if they were under a water-spout. The cattlemen were wild with joy and hailed this change in the weather as their salvation, for they thought that if the warm wind prevailed for a fey days their deliverance was at hand. Hope took the place of dejection, every one feeling sure that the ruin and disaster with which they were threatened had been averted. They went to bed that night expecting that the morning would show great improvement in conditions.
During the night, however, another change occurred. The wind had suddenly veered to the northeast and the thermometer had fallen to zero. On the top of the snow was one vast sheet of ice which would everywhere bear the weight of a man. On that morning the despair of the cattlemen was as complete as had been their elation the previous evening. The loss of the cattle was discouraging enough, but to witness the hunger and suffering of the poor, starving brutes without any means of relieving their distress, was most uncomfortable.
This condition remained without change for six weeks, the thermometer ranging all the time from fourteen to thirty degrees below zero. People could now travel anywhere on the top of the snow crust, but large animals would break through and the sharp crust would cut their limbs to the bone. Unable to move in search of fodder, they stood there in the snow until they fell from weakness and died. One cow near the Waldron place, four miles south of Goldendale survived forty-three days without food or water except what she could obtain from licking the snow. She became so savage from hunger that no person dared to approach within her reach. She survived until tile warm weather softened the snow crust and set her free, then went to the water and drank copiously. After that she lived only a short time.
If the cattle had been left in the valley it is doubtful if a single head would have survived this terrible winter, but down along the hills that flank the Columbia it was more sheltered and the snow was less deep upon the ground. Besides it was not so difficult for the animals to dig away the snow on the hillsides. They would turn their heads up the hill, always pawing the snow downward. The great problem was how to get the cattle there without their being all lacerated by the cruel sharpness of the snow crust. The way the settlers accomplished this was to bind up their horses' legs with the tops of old boots or with rawhide and drive them ahead to break the way. This was very tiresome on the horses that led and they had to be changed frequently. Finally, after two days of this kind of work they reached the hills along the river, where the horses could dig away the snow and get at the grass, while the cattle could manage to live by following up the horses and eating what they left. Where the rye grass grew the stock could feed with less trouble, as it was very tall and protruded above the snow. The bunch grass, however, was entirely covered and it was only after much digging and pawing that the animals could reach it. After the cattle got down to the hills along the river most of them would have survived had it not been for the numerous holes into which they were continually falling as they wallowed about in the deep snow, and in their weak and helpless condition they were unable to get out once they fell in. The owners, when they found them in these holes, generally ended their misery with a rifle ball.
February 10th the snow started to go away and by March 1st cattle could feed. They had just started to gain strength when, on March 15th, there came another snowfall a foot deep, remaining until April 1st. Many of the cattle that had survived the long, cold winter were still too weak from starvation and exposure to weather another storm and the result was that many of the remaining cattle died. Fully three-fourths of all the stock in the country perished that year. The largest cattle owners in the county at that tune were Willis Jenkins, William Murphy, Ben F. Snipes, John and Thomas Burgen, Lewis Parrott, John Glolden and Joseph Knott, of Portland.
Willis Jenkins had close to two hundred head of cattle out of which he saved about fifty, most of them steers. Ben F. Snipes lost practically all he had in Klickitat county. He had, however, about two hundred head in the Okanogan country and these wintered all right. The following summer he drove them with some others he bought to British Columbia. where he disposed of them at a very high price. Beef sold that summer at the Caribou mines as high as a dollar and fifty cents a pound. In the spring, because of his heavy losses, he had been generally considered a broken stockman, but by fall he had cleared over forty thousand dollars.
The losses of other stockmen were proportionately heavy. M.S. Short, on Chamberlain Flats, succeeded in saving ten head out of the sixty-five he brought to the county the previous year. These also would have perished if he had not driven them to the mouth of Ten-mile creek, where they were in a measure sheltered and could get sufficient grass to sustain life. The journey over a rough trail through the deep snow, Mr. Short informs us, was attended with trials and hardships never to be forgotten. At the same time he moved his family to The Dalles, where they spent the remainder of the winter. It was the 23d of January when he started with his wife and one small child to make this journey down the Columbia to The Dalles. The weather was cold, the coldest of that unusual winter. The trail was rough, as a train of pack mules had gone over it just before the heavy frosts had hardened the snow, leaving it very uneven and full of holes. This unevenness made walking extremely difficult, as the trail was narrow. The distance from Chamberlain Flats to The Dalles is in the neighborhood of thirty-five miles and two days were required to make the journey. Mr. Short was forced to camp one night with his family in an open cabin without blankets, and the discomforts of that night may be readily imagined, bunt the following day they arrived at The Dalles without accident.
By January 1st the water in the Columbia was very high and the snow and sleet falling in the river formed a slush ice, which increased in the cold weather to a thickness of about fifteen feet, as nearly as could he determined. At one point a crack formed in the ice, which, though almost closed at night, expanded during the day to nearly a yard in width. At this place it was possible to look down probably fifteen feet and no open water was to be seen. When the ice broke up in the spring and floated out of the river, the ice press was tremendous. The high water crowded huge blocks of ice well out on the sandbars, where they remained until April 1st. Should a bridge be built across the lower Columbia, the ice is a mighty force that would have to be reckoned with. Some winters there is no floating ice in the river; others there is very little, but should such a condition as has just been described ever again occur, the structure must be strong and the foundations secure indeed that would withstand the heavy ice flow brought down upon it with the current when the ice should break up and float out of the channel.
Before the cold winter there were thousands of jack rabbits and prairie chickens in the valley, but the severe winter left hundreds of them dead on the plains. The prairie chickens, in accordance with their custom, allowed themselves to be covered in the snow, and when the crust formed on the top they were unable to get out, and perished in great numbers from starvation. After it got warm in the spring and a man's weight would break through the snow crust, it was not uncommon to see birds that had survived escape through the holes made by the feet of pedestrians. The rabbits were not able to get enough food to keep them alive and many starved to death.
The very unusual winter of 1861-62 was to say the least most discouraging to the cattlemen. In one year they had seen the herds, which had taken them years to accumulate, worse than decimated. A few were entirely disheartened and left the valley, but most of the settlers remained and went bravely to work to build anew their shattered fortunes. It speaks volumes for the fortitude of these early settlers that they were sufficiently courageous to take up the struggles again in the face of such disasters. Had such a winter as has been described occurred a little later in the history of the county, it is doubtful if the losses would have been so great, to with each succeeding year an increased amount of winter feed has been provided in the valley while improved transportation facilities early made it possible to secure assistance from outside sources in case of need.
There are few disasters so complete that they do not bring a certain measure of compensation and in one respect the severe winter was a fortunate circumstance for the settlers of the valley. It is believed that the Indians had planned a general uprising for the summer of 1862 with the intention of ridding the whole country of white settlers. As the Indian population far outnumbered the whites at that time, they would probably have experienced little difficulty in executing their plan had it not been for their loss of ponies during the previous winter. But the Indians lost nearly all their horses, and as they will not make war on foot the white people were left unmolested.
The cattle losses also had a tendency indirectly to encourage agriculture. The importance of providing some winter feed for stock could no longer be denied and some of the settlers turned their attention to raising grain for fodder. It was with reluctance at first that the cattlemen contenanced any attempt at farming, for they watched with a jealous eye experiments that might, if successful, result in their being finally deprived of the valley for a stock range. It was a good cattle country and they, as cattlemen, did not wish to see it devoted to any other use. They were inclined to discourage all experiments in agriculture, maintaining that the valley was more valuable as a stock range than it would ever he for anything else, and there are still people in the district who maintain that when they plowed down the bunch grass they destroyed a better crop than can ever be raised in its place. But the time was nevertheless fast approaching when agriculture would supersede all other pursuits in the county.
As early as 1861 some grain was sown in the valley. This, because of the exceptional winter that followed, was valued very highly for horse feed. In 1862 a little more grain was grown. As there were no threshing machines or mills in the valley for a number of years afterward, it was used for fodder only, but these experiments were useful in that they showed what the country was capable of doing.
The people also began to branch out into other industrial pursuits. At first all lumber used in the county had been manufactured by the use of the whipsaw, a slow and unsatisfactory implement. There was no lack of first-class timber in the county to supply any number of mills, but no little difficulty attended the bringing of the necessary machinery to the valley over poor roads and with poor transportation facilities. A company of men was found, however, who were willing to undertake the difficult task, and during the year 1860 Jacob Halstead, David Kitson, Benjamin Alverson and his brother Isaac, built a mill on Mill creek and furnished it with the necessary equipment for sawing timber. This first little mill was of small capacity and made no pretense of furnishing anything but rough lumber, but it was the beginning of an important industry in Klickitat county. It is estimated that the county contains seven hundred and forty-three million feet of standing timber, and although much of this is not yet opened up, the lumbering business has since assumed important proportions and now furnishes labor to a small army of men throughout the county.
The furnishing of wood for the boats was still an important business. Columbus had become quite a center of activity. One man opened a shop where he furnished fresh meat to the boats, and A.G. Davis started a store there. A couple of years later, however, he sold the building to a man who utilized it as a saloon. As the man had no license to sell liquor, his business was illegal, but, if he had proceeded quietly in the business and had not sold whiskey to the Indians, it is doubtful if anyone have molested him. But he persisted in dispensing his bad whiskey to the red men and they became very noisy and troublesome; indeed, conditions soon became so bad that men's lives were scarcely safe. There was no satisfactory manner of the proceeding against the man by law, as the county had no effective organization of its own. An appeal to the courts would have to be made at Vancouver and the people of the valley were in no way sure that any redress could be obtained from that source. Thomas Jenkins, who at that time was loading wood for the boats, lived with his family at Columbus. As he had a sick child, these night orgies were especially annoying to him, and he asked the owner of the saloon to desist from selling whiskey to the Indians, as it made the town an unsafe place to live in. This the saloonkeeper refused to do, saying that he would sell whiskey to the Indians as long as he pleased. Exasperated beyond their endurance, a number of the citizens of the valley eventually decided to put an end to the whole matter. It was agreed by a company of men, among whom were Thomas Jenkins, Nelson Whitney, Lewis Parrott, Stanton H. Jones and William Hicinbotham, that they would enter the saloon and empty of all the liquor. As the members of the party where respected citizens and no mob, they chose the daylight in which to execute their designs. It was known that the owner of the saloon kept a loaded gun always in readiness on the counter; also that he was a desperate man and liable to use it. He was a good customer at his own bar and very often rendered harmless by over-intoxication, but it was nevertheless a wise precaution to dispose of the shotgun before anything else was attempted. Jenkins walked into the saloon alone and taking the gun from the counter, discharged both barrels into the air. Then the others entered, each took a kegs or demijohn out to an old hole where once had stood an Indian hut, and emptied out its contents. They kept this up as long as there was any liquor left in the building. When the saloon-keeper, who had been in a drunken stupor while the operation was going on, came to his senses and found his shop empty, he made all manner of dire threats of what he would do, but in the end he did nothing. The saloon has never since been reopened nor was there ever another established at Columbus.
Although some of the settlers became discouraged because of the hard winter and heavy loss of stock and left the valley, others came in to take their places and the county slowly increased in population. The country was still very attractive to the stockmen and during the summer of 1862 a number of extensive stock-raisers moved their herds to Klickitat. William Connel and William Hicinbotham settled at Rockland and went into partnership in the cattle business. Thomas Johnson, a nephew of Connell, also came to the county that year and was also associated with his uncle and Mr. Hicinbotham in the business. They bought stock from the settlers and drove them overland to British Columbia, where they disposed of them at the mining camps. Watson Helm also brought a band of cattle to the county from Willamette valley during the year and sold them to Ben E. Snipes at thirty dollars a head. These Snipes afterward took them to British Columbia with a herd of his own and sold at a high figure.
By January, 1863, there were two ferries connecting different points in the country with the Oregon shore, one running between Rockland and The Dalles and the other connecting the Rock creek wagon road with the road on the Oregon side. These were operated under restrictions and limits prescribed by law. The following rates were established by an act of the legislature: wagon and span, three dollars; each additional span, one dollar; man and a horse or horse with pack, one dollar; loose animals, 50 cents each; sheep and hogs, fifteen cents each. The ferry connecting Rockland and The Dalles was established by James Herman in 1859, and when it made its first trip, July 9th of that year, John J. Golden, who was then on his way to Klickitat, was aboard. A second ferry was put in operation at Umatilla in 1863, and in 1868 William Hicinbotham established a third at Columbus.
As if to lend credit to the view of the stockmen that Klickitat was not for the agriculturists, a new enemy of the farm products appeared in the valley at an early date. This was a tiny black cricket. When the first settlers came to the valley, and no one can tell how long before, there were crickets along the south side of the mountain that flanks the Columbia, but it was not until 1864 that they crossed into the valley. It is claimed by some that the significance of the word Klickitat is cricket, but there is a difference of opinion on this matter, and as few Indians can any longer talk the language of the Klickitats, it is difficult to determine what is the correct English translation of the word. These insects were small in size and in color about like a housefly. During the summer season they traveled in bands and after depositing their millions of tiny eggs they died off. One peculiar habit of these insects was that they always traveled in straight lines. When the young were hatched in the spring they were as apt to start out in one direction as another, but whatever direction they took in the first place, they never varied from it afterwards. They would hop right into a stream of water or a ditch nor would they ever make any effort to avoid them. If they came to a wall or a tree, repeated attempts were made to climb over but none to find a way around. Whatever crops or gardens their course brought them to they utterly destroyed. In the morning they would attack a green field and by evening it would be as bare as the streets.
Ingenious methods were devised by the settlers to protect their crops and gardens. They nailed hoards around the bottoms of the fences so close to the ground that none of the insects could crawl under, and on top of this they nailed a strip at right angles so as to protrude a short distance outward beyond the vertical boards, so that when the insects attempted to climb over the top board they would fall back. To destroy the pests they dug trenches along at the edges of the fence in such a way that the insects would fall and could not climb out. It is claimed that as soon as the crickets fell into the pit dug for them they would fall each upon the other, tearing off all their limbs as if their neighbors in distress had been responsible for their own trouble. When the trenches were filled with the insects, the farmers would cover them up with dirt to prevent stench. Some built fires across the line of travel of the pests, into which they would jump and be consumed, and by these and other methods a few saved their grain and gardens from being entirely destroyed. The crickets made their appearance each successive year until 1870, and by the 1st of March of that year the hillsides and valleys were almost black with the little insects, but ten days later a heavy fall of snow covered the ground and before it melted away the crickets were all dead. This species has never given any serious trouble since.
Up to this time. 1864, the whole Alder creek and Camas prairie country was an unsettled wilderness, nor were there many settlers on Rock creek or Chamberlain Flats. In 1861 Joseph Chapman settled and put out an orchard on a place along the Columbia beyond Rock creek. The same year Merrill S. Short came to Chamberlain Flats, where Tim Chamberlain and his brother had a wood-yard and were engaged in hauling wood for the boats. Mr. Short moved away the following winter and did not return for some years. The Chamberlain brothers lost all their oxen during the severe winter and had to abandon the wood business. In 1863 Chancey Goodnoe first came to the Flats and remained a short time, but he did not become a permanent settler until the following year. Thomas Burgen moved to Chamberlain Flats in 1864, settled on the place where his family still live, and spent there the remainder of his life.
A few years after the Indian war, Neil and A. Girdon Palmer, brothers, became the second permanent white settlers in the White Salmon country, locating on land just below the Joslyn place. Rev. E. P. Roberts, a retired missionary, and his wife were the next to enter that region. They came in 1860 or 1861, and settled upon the claim adjoining Joslyn on the east. Roberts sold out to J.R. Warner in 1864. A year or two later John Perry and his Indian wife settled on the river near Lyle. E.S. Tanner came to White Salmon in 1865, and in the early sixties, also David Street, a bachelor, settled in the valley about 4 miles above White Salmon river.
The first schoolhouse in the Klickitat valley was built in the year 1866 by private donations of the settlers. The building was afterward moved to its present location on the Columbus road, about four miles south of Goldendale, as a more central site than the one it originally occupied. It has since given place to a more comfortable and commodious structure erected across the road. A private school supported by subscriptions of the settlers had been established several years before on the Swale. Nelson Whitney taught the first term in the private school, and Mrs. Jennie Chamberlain, afterward Mrs. Nelson Whitney, taught the first public school. No particular system of text-books was used, each pupil making use of the books he happened to possess, whether they were purchased for his special benefit or came to him as the abandoned text-books of his parents. These irregularities would be demoralizing to a school of this day, but it is surprising how much the children learned, notwithstanding such disadvantages.
To continue this text, go to part II
© Jeffrey L. Elmer