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

The West called and Guy Waring answered

By on September 28, 2020 in Columnist with 1 Comment
Rod Molzahn

By Rod Molzahn

Laura Thompson lived with her husband, Fred, and their son, Roy, in a 12-foot by 16-foot one-room cabin on Wolf Creek in the upper Methow Valley. 

In one of her written recollections of her early pioneer days, she described the arrival of the Waring family in the Methow Valley on September 26, 1891.

“We passed a distinguished looking family camped by the river — a gentleman, a lady, a 15-year-old boy with a smile on his face and a very pretty little girl about 13 years old. A few days later friends visited and exclaimed, ‘Good news! Good news! We are going to have a store.’ 

“Mr. Waring and family planned to build a store at the forks of the Methow (and the Chewuch rivers), the true beginning of the town of Winthrop. At that time there was nothing in Winthrop. All of us settlers spent every cent we could with Mr. Waring.” 

Guy Waring on the right with Alex Barron on left — founder of the mining town of Barron where Waring built a store. Photo courtesy of Okanogan County Historical Society. Photo donor Jessie Schmidt

Guy Waring was determined to settle in the West. The Boston resident and Harvard graduate had already tried once in Okanogan County in early 1885.

The 25-year old Waring had married Helen Greene, his stepmother’s sister, a widow 10 years his senior with three young children. Waring’s father was not pleased with the marriage or with his son’s lack of interest in the family engineering business. To Guy it seemed like the right time to be on the other side of the country.

Leaving his new family behind, Waring rode the train to Oregon. Soon after reaching Portland he heard tales of the 15-mile strip across the top of Okanogan County opening for settlement. 

Waring took the train back to Spokane Falls. There he found Cullen Bash, collector of customs at Lake Osoyoos, who readily agreed to guide him to the Sinlahekin Valley in the 15-mile strip.

Bash took Waring to see Henry Wellington’s well-developed ranch just above the confluence of the Sinlahekin and Similkameen Rivers. 

Waring liked what he saw, a working cattle ranch with a house ready for his family. He bought Wellington’s buildings and squatter’s rights. 

In the spring of 1885 Waring loaded up his family and belongings for a train ride back to Portland and from there to Sprague, Washington, near Spokane.

At Sprague the “Governor,” as Waring’s family called him, loaded people and supplies into two wagons, one with the team attached and a trailing wagon set off on the 190-mile journey to the Sinlahekin Valley and their new home. 

Stepdaughter, Anna Greene, recalled that it took 21 days to make the trip. 

Five days were spent crossing the Columbia at “Wild Goose Bill’s” ferry. There, Indian dugout canoes made numerous trips carrying the freight from the wagons. 

The wagons were disassembled and carried across in pieces on two canoes lashed together before being rebuilt and loaded again. 

Horses, mules and six pure bred bulls were whipped into the Columbia to swim for their lives. 

Helen Waring was so terrified that she insisted the children ride in the same canoe with her. If they perished, she wanted them to all go together.

The family settled into ranch life — mostly. Helen and the children spent winters in Spokane where the climate was milder and more to her liking. 

They spent three-and one-half years on the ranch. After two years Waring opened a store, in what is now the town of Loomis, catering mostly to miners and local Indians. 

Guy Waring found his Indian customers to be a better lot than the miners. He said, of the miners, “Their wholesale annihilation could not honestly be regretted.”

In 1888 Okanogan County was formed with Guy Waring as one of the first three commissioners. 

By then, Helen Waring had had enough of frontier living and Guy Waring was weary of the miners and their drunken violence. They sold the Sinlahekin ranch and the store and returned to Boston.

Three years later they came west again to the Okanogan country. This time the destination was the sparsely settled Methow Valley. 

And this time “Wild Goose Bill” Condon had a cable ferry replacing the dugout canoes from their first crossing of the Columbia.

Anna Greene described the family’s daily schedule on the trip from Sprague to Winthrop. “The days were unbelievably long. We were up at 3 a.m. to get started on breakfast and chores, so we could be ready to be on our way about 5 a.m. 

“We covered 30 miles a day. By 4 p.m. we were all glad to make camp so we could look out for the horses, cook supper and get settled in for the night before darkness came.”

Waring’s wagon load of merchandise for the store did not sit idle for long. 

With the help of neighbors, a house was built by November. Anna Greene remembered, “Neighbors came to help build our home, which was the custom in the West. Nobody wants pay. They just always help newcomers get established.” 

The store came next; four walls, a roof, dirt for the floor and a blanket for the door. The store opened in the cold January of 1892 with $2,100 of inventory, bought on credit.

Soon after the store opened, Guy Waring was named postmaster of Winthrop and the post office was moved to his store. 

Things were looking up. Business was on the rise. That all crashed in March of 1893 when fire destroyed the store and the Waring’s house. 

Undeterred, Guy Waring moved his family into a 16-foot by 20-foot cabin and the remaining store inventory and post office into a 12-foot by 14-foot root cellar while he returned to Michigan to work and raise financing for a third start in the West. 

Again he found success. After rebuilding his house and store he built a cable ferry across the Methow River to make his store easier to reach for more valley settlers.

In the spring of 1897, Waring returned, again, to Boston where he raised over $17,000 from wealthy friends to finance a new corporation, The Methow Trading Company. 

On his return to the valley, he began a business expansion, first buying Jim Sewell’s store in Twisp then building a sawmill at Rock View on the upper Methow River.

Two years later, he built a store in the busy mining community of Barron, 5,000 feet up in the mountains west of Hart’s Pass.

He followed with a store and warehouse at the small outpost of Robinson Creek, 13 miles east of Barron. In 1903 he added a fifth store at Pateros on the Columbia at the mouth of the Methow River.

With his stores profiting, Waring thought it was a good time to begin work on a dream, an idea, he had been thinking on. 

He believed apples could be grown successfully without irrigation. They would be watered by captured rainfall and snowmelt. 

In 1904, he bought, for $1,000, 120 acres he called the L 5 Ranch. He planted 22 acres of winter apples. By 1909 there were 75 acres in apples and by 1911 trees covered 100 acres. 

The first crop was shipped to Boston and found a good price, but not enough to pay the growing and shipping costs. The orchard was expensive and soon was devouring all the profits from the Methow Trading Company stores. 

The company was, at last, done in by climate change.

When Waring planted his trees, the Methow Valley averaged 14 inches of rain and snowmelt annually. 

For 16 years following 1915, the annual average dropped to 5 inches. 

In 1917, the Methow Trading Company, unable to pay their obligations, went into receivership and was sold at auction for $1,300. 

Guy Waring, the “Father” of Winthrop, left the Methow Valley and made his final trip back to Massachusetts.

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. Wow! Mr. Molzahn! I was looking up another article, that mentioned my mother, WHS art teacher Doris Kirkpatrick (now deceased.) That article was about artist/entrepreneur Kirk Dietrich, who mentioned her as inspiration. I’ll have to tell my brother Chris about this site! Thx for the NCW history, too!

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