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

New white settlers had great needs but their pockets were empty

By on January 25, 2021 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Rod Molzahn

By Rod Molzahn

The importance of neighbors was clear to the early settlers of north central Washington. 

Sharing what you have with those who have need was a common trait that kept communities healthy. It could be physical labor, foodstuffs, resources or knowledge. If you had extra you shared the abundance with neighbors.

The Wenatchi/P’squose people understood the value of sharing. Their valley had the most productive salmon-river in north central Washington. There were far more fish than the people could ever use so they invited neighboring tribes to share in the bounty.

During the height of the summer Chinook and steelhead runs more than a thousand people would gather around the fishery at the Icicle/Wenatchee confluence to catch, smoke, dry and feast on the life sustaining fish. 

They would fill their baskets and return to their own valleys with a year’s supply of protein. They came from the Kittitas, Yakima, Entiat, Chelan and Methow valleys where the salmon runs were not so abundant.

Frank Streamer, wanderer and journalist, spent eight days at the fishery in the summer of 1882 where he wrote a detailed description of the gathering and the fishing. 

Streamer called it a “great fishery” filled with many Indians “from all over.” As he was preparing to leave he added that “each day brings fresh arrivals into camp, new tents are going up; immense numbers of salmon are being caught and everybody seems busy and all are happy.”

Sam Miller and the trading post at the Wenatchee/Columbia Confluence financed the building up of the Wenatchee Flat and assured the success of many early settlers. They got the time they needed to develop rugged, sagebrush-covered homesteads into producing farms and ranches.

New white settlers had great needs but their pockets were empty. They needed food staples — flour, salt and bacon. Clothes, shoes and gloves, worn out from hard work, needed to be replaced. Tools were a necessity — shovels, picks, axes and more. Sam supplied all these along with tobacco and whiskey, pain medicine, soap and rope.

Some settler’s bills were years in the making. Tom Doak began charging goods in 1879 and paid off his $1,100 balance eight years later with $19 in cash and credit for 34 months labor for Sam. 

George Blair and his family began their account in the fall of 1883 and finally paid off the balance in the spring of 1891, three years after the store closed and Sam retired. 

Christopher Rickman took five years to pay his tab and Ira Freer took three years. No interest was ever charged on the bills.

After Sam’s death in 1906, Clara Lanham wrote that he “will long be remembered for his innumerable acts of kindness towards the newcomer who was invariably poor. He gave them a welcome.”

Alex Brender settled in his canyon west of Cashmere in 1881. His first white neighbor, Deak Brown, claimed a homestead near Monitor in 1884. During the winter of ‘84/’85 Brender shared his one-room cabin with Brown who spent the three months cutting and hauling logs for his own cabin.

Lucy Brown, who married Deak in 1885, was a healer who shared her skills and home remedies with all her neighbors, Indian and white alike. 

Her granddaughter, Fern Kelly, remembered that “grandmother was never so busy that she didn’t have time to be an exceptionally good neighbor. She spent many hours caring for the sick, either going to their home or having them come to her home to be nursed back to health.” 

Lucy Brown was especially known for a “sticking” salve that could heal any wound. She made it from a combination of rosin, burgundy pitch, bees wax, mutton tallow, spermaceti and “British” oil.

A farmer in the big bend wheat country could raise a crop on his own but needed the help of neighbors to harvest it. They all worked together hauling harvesting equipment from farm to farm until everyone’s crop was mowed, threshed and sacked.

By 1884, the Blairs, Rickmans, Hollenbecks and Tripps had adjoining homesteads on the Wenatchee Flat from the Columbia River to Western Avenue and from Washington Street to Springwater Street. 

They were all determined to bring irrigation water to their lands. They banded together with a few other area farmers and spent two years digging the Settler’s Ditch from Squilchuck Creek to their fields.

In 1901 Alonzo Collins Jones partnered with Joe Shotwell to build a mile-and-a-half long ditch to bring water to their Cashmere area orchards. 

A.C. Jones recalled, “We had not gone far with our work when a delegation of ranchers from Brown’s Flat (Monitor) came to see if some arrangement could not be made to build the ditch down to their land thereby adding several hundred acres to the project.”

That would mean extending the ditch 5 ½ miles over difficult terrain needing expensive flume work. That was more work and expense than Jones and Shotwell could handle on their own. 

The Brown’s Flat farmers were “desperately in earnest” and swung the deal by providing labor and financing for the extension. By the spring of 1903, the seven-mile long ditch was complete and delivering water to 700 acres of farmland.

It was 1887 when three Okanogan neighbors, Dr. J.I. Pogue, H.C. Richardson and Victor Ruffenach built a 3 ½ mile long ditch to bring water from Salmon Creek to their ranches on the large kame terrace above Omak and Okanogan. 

The terrace turned green and flowered with apple trees, soft fruit trees and alfalfa.

It’s always a challenge to get an appointment with a doctor. 

For the new settlements of north central Washington the challenge was to get a doctor. 

The people of the Entiat Valley welcomed Dr. Eugene Mead and his wife to the community in May of 1889. To show their appreciation the men of the valley, led by J.C. Bonar and Ed Adams, built the Meads a house in September. 

Logs were cut and hauled from the valley forest. Walls were raised and a roof set on top with shingles hand split by Axel Erickson. 

In October the Mead’s furnishings and household goods were moved to the new house from their previous home at Medical Lake just in time for the coldest, snowiest and longest winter the Entiat people had ever seen.

As the Meads were settling in along the Entiat River, Laura and Fred Thompson were building their 12-by-16 foot cabin on Wolf Creek in the upper Methow Valley. They had little enough time to finish their home and no time to put up feed for their horses and cattle before winter struck. 

Their closest neighbor, George Thompson, six miles away, snowshoed through snow several feet deep to share his horse feed with Fred and Laura. He made other trips that winter to bring them food and tallow cakes for cooking.

The only foodstuff that Laura Thompson had in abundance was flour. 

By March her neighbors were out of flour and Laura shared her supply with anyone in need. 

As young Abbie Williams recalled, “People were very friendly and everyone was your neighbor from one end of the valley to the other.”

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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