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The Southside: A little piece of paradise

By on June 22, 2020 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Rod Molzahn

By Rod Molzahn

By 1889/90, all the usable land in the valley bottoms of north central Washington had been claimed, squatted on, homesteaded and settled. 

Some of the last lands to be homesteaded in the Wenatchee area were the southern foothills of Badger Mountain. 

The area was part of the ancestral lands of the Sinkiuse, Moses’ people. Their lands reached from the Rock Island Rapids to Badger Mountain and from the Columbia River to the Moses Lake/Ephrata area. 

The southern foothills of Badger Mountain were the gateway to pastures of natural grass for horses and upper areas where the camas root and bitterroot grew.

Late homesteaders faced the choice between buying land on the valley floors or searching out unclaimed but tillable land farther out. 

One area that gained favor in those years came to be called “Southside.” 

Lindley Hull, in 1929, described this little piece of paradise high up on the south side of Badger Mountain. To reach this country one has to first cross the Columbia from Wenatchee to the East Wenatchee side, “and follow a winding road through deep canyons and around steep hillsides, climbing higher and ever higher until reaching (at about 1,700 feet above the Columbia) the outskirts of a fine, rolling country, not unlike some of the eastern prairies. In size it may be estimated as an average of six miles in width and eight to 10 miles in length. The soil is of good depth and exceedingly fertile.” 

It looked to be the ideal place for dry-land wheat farming and stock raising. Hull added that Southside had the finest view of the Cascade Mountains to be found anywhere.

The first homesteader to settle in Southside was Fred Kamholz in 1886. 

In its July 21, 1926 obituary of Mr. Kamholz, The Daily World remembered that, “At the time Mr. Kamholz located on his ranch he was about the first settler to locate on Badger Mountain. 

“His ranch was the so-called stockman’s paradise, and considered the choicest land in the valley. (Mr. Kamholz) engaged in farming and stock raising, and through industry and thrift he accumulated several hundred acres of land and herds of cattle and horses.”

Kamholz was joined by the Paris Kern family in 1887. Kern began raising cattle, grain and hay. The 1889/90 winter killed most of his cattle. After that, he earned a fine reputation for the Clydesdale work horses he bred and raised.

The year 1888 was a boom time for Southside. At least five new families began to turn Southside into a community. 

That year, brothers Frank and Wilson Bromiley crossed Colockum Pass and explored the Wenatchee Valley up to the Old Mission area. 

At Brown’s Flat (Monitor), they met Deak Brown who, on learning the brothers were unmarried, expressed his feeling that they should look elsewhere for homesteads since the Wenatchee Valley, “was already too full of bachelors.” 

Perhaps in a search for friendlier neighbors, the Bromileys crossed the Columbia and claimed separate homesteads in Southside.

Frank Bromiley, in later years, described the difficulties of getting their rail car load of wheat crop across the Columbia to the rail terminal at Wenatchee. 

1894 was a record flood year and the cable ferry normally used to move sacks of wheat across the river was out of service because of high water. “I was compelled to move the wheat across the river in a rowboat, with the help of Mr. Patterson (the ferry owner) and Zeb Parrish. From the rowboat we had to pile the sacks on the ground, and from that point carry them to a wagon that could finally reach the warehouse. 

“For all this fun and exercise I received the magnificent sum of 30 cents per bushel, and the gunnysacks cost 10 cents each. But we were young in those days and hardship didn’t count so much.”

William and Ida Ball, with their three sons, claimed a homestead on Southside in 1889 just before the onset of the Hard Winter. 

They raised some grain but mostly engaged in raising cattle and dairy cows. 

In an interview with Lindley Hull, Mr. and Mrs. Ball recalled early times and concerns in the community that was growing on Southside: they would need a school, how barbed wire fences became the lines of the community phone system, how everybody wanted a post office but no one wanted to be postmaster. 

The Balls were asked why people chose the remote Southside to homestead. Mr. Ball explained that timber and water were nearby and that most of the houses were built near productive springs.

Homesteaders continued a slow flow into Southside over the next 10 years.

In 1898 the families asked Douglas County for a school. The county approved and District #49 began to take shape. In June of 1899 John Doneen, Southside’s largest landowner, donated land for the school. Construction on the “Dry Flat” school began immediately with donated materials and labor. 

The school board approved the purchase of needed supplies including: 12 desks at a total cost of $61.50, a three-foot by nine-foot and a three-foot by 10-foot blackboard for $1.80 per square yard and one Webster’s Dictionary and stand. 

Teacher salaries were $40/month for women and $50/month for male teachers.

As a young man, John Doneen spent several years in Virginia City, Nevada during that silver town’s boom days. His grandson, Mike Doneen, told John’s story in a recent interview.

After leaving Nevada, John and a brother traveled to eastern Washington looking for prospects. They settled in Oakesdale, a small town between Spokane and Pullman in the midst of the Palouse wheat country. There they established a general mercantile store that did very well. 

Sometime during the first two years John Doneen bought, sight unseen, 160 acres of wheat land in Southside. In 1889 Doneen traveled to Southside for the first time to see the land he owned and, perhaps, to establish a mercantile store there. During that time he met his wife to be, Margaret Greelish.

John Doneen’s time in the Palouse had made clear the profit to be had raising wheat. He was very pleased with his Southside land and began buying adjacent acreage, a practice he followed until he had accumulated 5,000 acres that he farmed with mules and plow. 

He continued to keep his store in Oakesdale with his brother though he built a fine home on his Southside land where he and Margaret raised five children. The home and land are still in the Doneen family. 

The ranch did well and John invested in Wenatchee real estate. Southside was filling up. Hull claimed that by the year 1900 it had, “reached full occupation and development.”

Southside was not a town. It didn’t have a store, or a livery stable, or a blacksmith or a sheriff. Nor was it a settlement since homes were not clustered. Everyone’s home was somewhere on their ranch more likely decided by available spring or well water than proximity to neighbors.

Southside was a community without even a meeting space until the school was built. 

It was a strong community of families with similar concerns and interests. Everyone grew dry-land wheat and depended on rain and snowfall for success. 

In the wet years they all prospered together. In the dry years, and there were many, they all suffered and bore up under the same conditions. 

Mike Doneen grew up there. He says it was a good place to live, but if Southsiders needed supplies and services they had to go down the hill and across the Columbia to the growing town of Wenatchee until 1908 when irrigation water arrived in East Wenatchee and a store came with it.

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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