"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Dr. J.I. Pogue – Renaissance Man

By on August 24, 2020 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Rod Molzahn

By RodMolzahn

In January of 1888, Dr. Joseph Pogue ordered apple tree whips from the Atlantic Nursery in Iowa. 

They were shipped by train to Spokane then loaded on wagons for the trip across the Big Bend to Wilbur. They crossed the Columbia on the Condon Ferry then followed the right bank of the Columbia to the Okanogan River where they ferried the Okanogan then up to Pogue Flat and delivered to the Pogue ranch. When they arrived they were frozen solid.

Dr. Pogue buried the starts in a trench dug into unfrozen ground where a haystack had just been removed. 

During the next months they slowly thawed out and, as spring was beginning, they were planted. Every tree survived to mark the beginning of what became the 60-acre Pogue Orchard. 

Dr. J.I. Pogue was an innovator and problem solver. 

In May of 1888 he, his brother and two neighbors completed a 3.5-mile ditch and flume system to bring water from Salmon Creek to their ranches on Pogue Flat. The ditch was described as a visionary project that most people believed could not be done. 

The ditch turned Pogue Flat, the largest kame terrace in Okanogan County, “from a barren waste into a Garden of Eden.”

Two years earlier Dr. Pogue loaded belongings, 11 head of horses, two dogs and a cat onto an emigrant rail car in Iowa for a two-week trip to Tacoma. 

It was the spring of 1886 and the doctor had given up his medical practice in Iowa to go west and become a farmer. It didn’t take long for Dr. Pogue to conclude that the coast was not a place for stock-raising. 

He headed off with John Campbell driving cattle to the Okanogan Valley, a place Campbell spoke highly of. Once there the doctor was impressed, especially with the potential for bringing water to the terrace Campbell showed him.

The Pogue family at their home.

Pogue returned to Iowa for his wife, Marion, and their daughters and sent his brother, John, to the Okanogan to locate claims on the kame terrace for the brothers and for their mother. John Pogue staked out the claims in the spring of 1887. 

In November, Dr. Pogue and the family arrived. Though he had given up his practice, Pogue quickly realized that he was the only doctor in the central part of Okanogan County, a distinction he held until 1905.

H.C. Richardson had taken a squatter’s claim on the terrace in 1886 and begun work on an irrigation ditch from Salmon Creek. Dr. Pogue convinced Richardson to make some design changes in the ditch then the Pogue brothers along with a new settler, Victor Ruffenach, joined the efforts. 

Irrigation water began flowing May 12, 1888 just in time for Dr. Pogue’s freshly planted, thawed out trees.

Dr. Pogue’s first task after the family arrived was a house. 

From left, Dr. Joseph Pogue, daughters Grace and Leta, and wife Marion.

With the help of his brother, who had already hauled logs, the family soon moved into a two-room cabin. The next year the doctor brought lumber from a Conconully mill to add a parlor to the cabin. 

The hard winter of 1889/90 turned the parlor into a life-saving stable for the family milk cow. 

When the winter struck, Dr. Pogue’s 150 well-bred Hambletonian horses had no shelter. As horses died, Dr. Pogue salted their meat and fed it to still living animals. He also fed them his own concoction of boiled potatoes, bran and flour. 

A third of the horses survived the winter, a good result compared to other farmers who lost entire herds of livestock.

By 1894 the Pogue Orchard was bearing fruit and the doctor was looking for a faster way to handle the wooden apple boxes that were industry standard in orchards across Washington’s fruit growing regions. 

He invented a lidding and stamping press to speed up the operation. “As each box emerged from a sorting and packing line, it was placed in Dr. Pogue’s press whereupon an operator, with the least number of movements, could position a lid, attach it with eight nails and stamp the size and grade of the fruit on the lid.” It quickly became the most popular lidding machine in use in the state.

That same year, Joseph and Marion Pogue were instrumental in organizing the first church service in the area when Dr. Pogue met a young Canadian reverend at Conconully and convinced him to hold a service in the town of Clover, just west of Alma. 

Sixty people gathered for the service. The Pogues were late. They were still out drumming up a congregation.

Dr. Pogue was always a believer in community service, a backer of agriculture, (he introduced a new variety of Yellow Dent corn from Illinois that yielded 100 bushels an acre) and a strong supporter of schools. 

His first involvement in politics came in 1892 when he was elected to serve as a county commissioner. In 1903 he was elected Okanogan County representative to the state legislature where, in support of cattle ranchers, he proposed anti-sheep measures including a prohibition of sheep herding within two miles of any dwelling. Though the bills had support they did not survive the legislative process.

He had better luck in 1905 when he became a senator. Pogue was “the father of the fish screen bill.” 

The successful legislation attacked a problem that is still being addressed. Pogue’s bill required irrigation ditches, including his own on Pogue Flat, to be screened to prevent the great loss of fish happening in unscreened ditches.

That same year, a group of citizens in the town of Alma in the valley below the south end of Pogue Flat determined to honor Dr. Pogue for his many contributions to the town and community. They changed the town’s name from Alma to Pogue. 

Dr. Pogue was pleased, but not for long. Another group of citizens strongly objected and forced a vote on the question. The result dropped both the names Alma and Pogue and named the town Okanogan.

Dr. Pogue was not pleased. In response he encouraged his friend, Ben Ross, a surveyor with a homestead several miles north of the town of many names, to plat a new town below the north end of Pogue Flat. 

It would compete with Okanogan for population and economic development. Ben Ross liked the idea and the town of Omak was born.

The fruit from the Pogue Orchard had always been popular with local people, but with his crop increasing he needed to expand his market. 

In June of 1913 he loaded a railcar of Ben Davis apples onto the steamboat Okanogan. In Wenatchee they boarded a Great Northern train bound for Seattle. 

The exporting of Okanogan Valley fruit grew quickly after the Great Northern line from Wenatchee to Oroville was complete. 

In 1914, 20 carloads left the Okanogan. The next year the number rose to 200 carloads. Dr. Pogue’s vision for the valley had become reality.

Historian, actor and teacher Rod Molzahn can be reached at shake.speak@nwi.net. His third history CD, Legends & Legacies Vol. III – Stories of Wenatchee and North Central Washington, is now available at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center and at other locations throughout the area.

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