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Married at 16, and on to homesteading

By on December 22, 2019 in Columnist with 1 Comment
Rod Molzahn

The Richardsons – A pioneer family that grew apples and a bushel of kids

By Rod Molzahn

Ida Olivia Meacham was 16 when she married 30 year-old George Thomas Richardson on Nov. 29, 1877. 

That day they became partners in the grand and demanding, life-long adventure of homesteading. 

They began life together in Kansas where Ida had grown up and George had claimed a small homestead. Neither Kansas nor a short stay on a Michigan farm satisfied their longings.

In 1886, with four children — Walter, Alice, Philip and Leon — the family moved to the Puget Sound country where George had family. 

Two years later, drawn by the promise of good land in the Big Bend, George left Ida and the children, now including little Elsie, in Seattle and boarded a train for Ellensburg.

In a later interview George recalled his journey from the Kittitas Valley. “I had not at this time even heard of Wenatchee or the Wenatchee Valley. I bought a $15 cayuse and started for Waterville. When I got to the top of the range (Colockum Pass) I met a fellow by the name of Woods who was coming up to Old Mission. He advised me to take a trip up the Wenatchee Valley to look at a ranch there and if I didn’t like it there to go on to Waterville.

George Thomas and Ida Richardson together. Photo courtesy Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center 011-5-1

“I looked first at a nice spot (along lower Mission Creek) but found that Henry Treadwell had filed on it. So I dropped down the river after staying all night at Deak and Lucy Brown’s and located my present home. The next day, Monday, I went to Ellensburg and filed on my claim, bought a team and came back.”

George worked on the land for a short time, staking corners, clearing and preparing a place for the tents that would come with Ida and the children. 

With that done George sent a letter off from Wenatchee to Ida extolling the virtues and beauty of the land he had chosen. He told her to pack up the kids and belongings and take the train to Ellensburg where he would meet them.

Ida picks up the story from there recalling the trip to their new home. “We arrived in Ellensburg in due season and went up to the Oriental Hotel. The first person we met was N.N. Brown who was the landlord. (Noah Brown was also a brother of Deak Brown, their new neighbor at “Brown’s Flat.”) 

“We then made the trip across the mountains. The trip from Ellensburg over the Colockum Trail in a wagon was surely a hard one.” 

Ida’s obituary years later included more about the trip. They had “a cow and calf tied behind the wagon, a half dozen chickens in a box and the household goods on the lumber wagon.” 

In a 1989 interview for the Cashmere Valley Record, Victor Richardson recalled his mother saying, “Talk about a hard trip! I would not ride down but walked down.”

They arrived at the Wenatchee Flat on Sunday, May 3, 1888 and discovered that the Indian trail over the Horse Lake hills was too steep and sandy for their two-horse team to pull. 

Like some before them and many after, they left their horses and wagon at the William Davidson ranch on the flat along the Wenatchee River and walked the four miles to the ridge and down Fairview Canyon to their homesite.

Ida recalled later that, “When we got to our homestead it was nearly dusk and Mr. Richardson was pointing out what a nice piece of ground he had gotten, but all the ground the children and I wanted to see was enough to spread out our blankets on and go to bed.” 

The next morning they borrowed four horses from Deak and Lucy Brown, retrieved their wagon from the Davidsons, pulled it over the hill and down the canyon and went to work building their dream.

They all lived in tents the rest of the summer while Ida and the children cleared land for the garden and grubbed sagebrush. With the garden planted, water hauling began. 

Phillip and Leon took on the job of carrying full buckets of water for the garden and for the household needs. Ida recalled, “Our first crop was peas and beans in our small garden and corn to feed the stock.”

George was often gone that summer. He, his team and lumber/freight wagon found cash money work in Ellensburg. 

When he returned to the homestead in August, he, along with Walter, Philip and Leon, began house building. They cut logs in Fairview Canyon and built a two-story home with room upstairs for the children’s bedroom.

The Richardson’s homestead was a timber claim. In order to prove up on it they had to plant five acres of trees and keep them growing for five years. 

Philip and Leon’s water carrying took a big leap in 1889 when George planted five acres with a variety of apples including Ben Davis, Arkansas Black, Baldwins, Bell Flower and Winesaps. 

These were not the first apples in the upper valley. Five years earlier, D.S. Farrar planted trees on his Nahahum Canyon Ranch.

A year later George’s young trees became a persuasive argument for his neighbors. They had been developing their homesteads into stock raising ranches. The “Hard Winter” of 1889/’90 changed all that. When spring came in May nearly all the cattle had starved to death but the Richardson’s apple trees were still alive. That changed a lot of minds.

A 1902 photo showing George T. Richardson and nine of his children. Photo courtesy Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center 012-51-2546

Ida and daughter Alice were busy. 

They had to cook and feed the growing family three meals each day. On Saturday, along with the cooking, there was a week’s worth of washing to do; boil water, scrub, rinse and hang out to dry. 

The garden needed care and the cow, calf and chickens wanted tending. There was butter to make and canning to do, clothes to sew and knit and a house to clean. 

There always seemed to be babies to care for. Eight more boys arrived between 1889 and 1902; Jack, George, Lemuel, Roy, Oscar, Norman, Victor and Horace. Ida was often pregnant.

George was anxious to expand the orchard but needed more water than Philip and Leon could carry. 

In the early 1890s, George built a waterwheel on a patch of land next to the river. It worked well until the great flood of 1894 tore the wheel from its moorings and destroyed it. George then worked to help build the Shotwell irrigation ditch that began delivering water to his trees in 1905.

In the midst of the constant demands that they faced, Ida and George were active in all the efforts to build a community around them and their neighbors. 

Ida was involved and held offices in service organizations including the Ladies Aid Society, the Red Cross Auxiliary, Monitor Home Arts Club, the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Chelan County Tuberculosis League and the Chelan County Pioneer Association.

As a young man, George Richardson walked 30 miles to enlist in the Union Army during the Civil War but was rejected for being a fraction of an inch too short. 

His interest in the war showed itself again when he and his neighbors on Brown’s Flat were called upon to choose a new name for their community. George suggested the name Monitor in honor of the Union Army’s iron clad warship that defeated the Confederate’s ship the Merrimac. His neighbors agreed.

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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  1. peter prehn says:

    Thanks…the story emphasizes how much we take for granted

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