Atlantis Arisen/Chapter 5
NOTES ON THE COLUMBIA RIVER.
The river is the soul of the land to which it belongs. Fringing its banks, floating upon its waters, are the interests, the history, and the romance of the people. Our ideas of every nation are intimately associated with our ideas of its rivers. To mention the name of one is to suggest the characteristics of the other.
How the word Euphrates recalls the earliest ages of man's history on this globe! The Nile reminds us of a civilization on which the whole of Europe depended for whatever was enlightened or refined anterior to the Christian era. The Tiber is rich in historic associations of the proudest empire the world ever knew. What romances of Moorish power and splendor are conjured up by the mention of the Guadalquivir! The Rhine is so enwreathed with flowers of song, that the actual history of its battlemented towers is lost from view; and yet the mention of its name gives us a satisfying conception of the ideal Germany, past and present.
So the Thames, the Rhone, the Danube, are so many words for the English, the French, and the Austrian peoples. In our own country, what different ideas attach to Connecticut, Hudson, Savannah, and Mississippi! How quickly the pictures are shifted in the stereoscope of imagination by changing Orinoco for San Joaquin, Amazon for Sacramento, or Rio de la Plata for Columbia, upon our tongues. It is not that one is longer or shorter, or wider or deeper, than another: it is that each conveys a thought of the country, the people, the history, and the commerce of its own peculiar region.
In comparison with other rivers of equal size and geographical importance, the Columbia is little known. That generation has not yet passed away which was taught that the whole of the Northwest Territory was Oregon, that it had one river, the Columbia, and one town, Portland, situated on the Columbia.
Above Astoria, for some distance, there are no important settlements on the river. But the grandeur of the wooded highlands, the frequently projecting cliffs covered with forest to their very edges, and embroidered and festooned with mosses, ferns, and vines, together with the far-stretching views of the broad Columbia, suffice to engage the admiring attention of the tourist. In consequence of fires, which every year spread through and destroy large tracts of timber, the mountains in many places present a desolated appearance, the naked trunks alone of the towering firs being left standing to decay. This remark applies to the north bank, on the lower portion of the river, for an archipelago of islands on the south rises not far above the surface of the river, covered with a luxuriant growth of trees, and in high water the river covers many miles of low land.
Opposite Puget Island, the largest of the group, is Cathlamet, in Washington, the seat of government of Wahkiakum County, and the seat also of a fish-canning establishment. It is perched on a high bluff, and has a small population.
The mountains approach the river again on both sides at the Narrows, and opposite to the Oak Point of Captain Winship is the modern Oak Point, which seems to have borrowed the name, and shifted it to the Washington side. The name is pretty and distinctive, and ought never to be changed, as it marks the western boundary of the oak-tree in Oregon and Washington. Between this and the sea not an oak-tree grows. The only business at or about Oak Point is that of the fisheries already mentioned, and a lumbering establishment erected in 1848-49. It is run by water-power, and capable of manufacturing four million feet annually.
About ten miles above Oak Point we come to the mouth of the Cowlitz River. Just below it is a high, conical hill, known as Mount Coffin. This eminence, together with Coffin Rock, seven miles above, on the Oregon side, formed the burial-places of the Indians of this vicinity before the settlement of the country by whites. Here the dead were deposited in canoes, well wrapped up in mats or blankets, with their most valuable property beside them, and their domestic utensils hung upon the posts which supported their unique coffins. Wilkes relates in his journal how his men accidentally set fire to the underbrush on Mount Coffin, causing a number of the canoes to be consumed, to the grief and horror of the Indians, who would have avenged the insult had they not been convinced of its accidental occurrence.
The Cowlitz is a small river, though navigable for twenty miles when the water is high enough, and about half that distance at all times. It rises in Mount St. Helen, and runs westwardly for some distance, when it turns abruptly to the south. The valley of the Cowlitz is small, being not more than twenty miles long and four or five wide. It is heavily timbered, except for a few miles above its mouth, where the rich alluvial bottomlands are cleared and cultivated. No finer soil could possibly exist than this in the Cowlitz Valley. In 1868 the town of Monticello, four miles from the Columbia, was all swept away in a flood. It has been replaced by a fresher edition of its former self, however, and looks as cheerful and ambitious as if it knew there could be no second delude.
This portion of the Cowlitz Valley does not depend alone upon its fertility for its future importance. There are extensive deposits of coal in the mountains which border the river, besides other mineral deposits which an increase of population will eventually bring into notice. There is, too, an almost inexhaustible supply of the finest fir and cedar upon the mountains which hem it in. The river, as might be conjectured, is a rapid stream, and cold from the snows of St. Helen. Its waters in summer, when the snows are melting rapidly, are white, from being mixed with volcanic ashes, or some disintegrated infusorial marl or chalk.
So disguised in a luxuriance of trees and shrubbery is the mouth of the Cowlitz that, when we are in the open Columbia, we can scarcely detect the place of our exit from it. Crossing over to the Oregon side, we find ourselves at Rainier, where lumber is manufactured, chiefly for export. The location of Rainier is, in many respects, fine; but, at present, there seems to be little besides the lumber trade to give it business, though there are a few excellent farms in the vicinity. Along here, on the Oregon side, is a tract of level land, extending back from the Columbia for some distance. It answers to the depression of the Cowlitz Valley; and it is remarkable that, wherever a stream comes into the Columbia large enough to be said to have a valley, there is on the opposite side a break in, or a curvature of, the highlands, making more or less level country facing the valley perpendicular to it, so that the valleys of the streams may be said to cross the Columbia, and, even, to be widest on the opposite side. Somewhere in here on the Oregon side is the Klaskanie, a stream with a fertile and cultivated valley on its head-waters, the mouth of the stream being far down the river, opposite Cathlemet.
Advancing several miles, we find ourselves abreast of Kalama, on the Washington side, the initial point of the Portland branch of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Here it was that first the silent grandeur of the Columbia was made vocal with the shriek of "resonant steam eagles" that speed from ocean to ocean, bearing the good-will of the nations of the world in bales of merchandise. It is the dream of Jefferson and Benton realized—only could the latter have had his wish fulfilled to live until this day!
"In conclusion I have to assure you, that the same spirit which has made me the friend of Oregon for thirty years—which led me to denounce the Joint Occupation Treaty the day it was made, and to oppose its renewal in 1828, and to labor for its abrogation until it was terminated; the same spirit which led me to reveal the grand destiny of Oregon in articles written in 1818, and to support every measure for her benefit since—this same spirit still animates me, and will continue to do so while I live—which I hope will be long enough to see an emporium or Asiatic commerce at the mouth of your river, and a stream of Asiatic trade pouring into the Valley of the Mississippi through the channel of Oregon."—Letter of Benton to the People of Oregon, in 1847.
But, Benton did not understand the geography of the coast; neither did he know much of the practical working of railroads in recognizing or ignoring any points but their own. He did not foresee the Central Pacific going .to San Francisco, and the Northern Pacific to Puget Sound, and an emporium of Asiatic commerce at either of these termini, while a third great city distributed commerce along the Columbia and its tributaries, from its mouth to its sources.
Twelve miles above Kalama the Cathlapootle or Lewis River enters the Columbia. Like the Cowlitz, it rises in Mount St. Helen, and is a cold and rapid stream. Opening within a few hundred feet from the mouth of Lewis is Lake River, not born of mountain glaciers, but coming from a lake in the vicinity of Vancouver. It is fed also by a creek from a high source which runs parallel with the South Fork of Lewis River. Between the latter and the Columbia, to which it runs nearly parallel for a few miles, is a stretch of bottom-land, and, according to the rule I have laid down, the highlands recede on the Oregon side, giving room for two towns, Columbia City and St. Helen, both occupying excellent sites, but never having made the progress which might justly be expected of them. At this latter point, it is said, Wyeth had his fort and trading house in 1834, from which it was called "Wyeth's Rock" until it was settled upon, a dozen years later, by H. M. Knighton, to whom it was patented by the United States. In the early years of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, this great corporation owned a wharf at St. Helen, and stopped its steamers there; but the exigencies of commerce at that period compelled them to go to Portland.
Just above this place lies Sauvé Island, about eighteen miles long by six broad in the widest part; having on one side of it the Columbia, and on the other one lower Wallamet River, which is known as the "Columbia Slough." At the junction of these two rivers is an inlet called Scappoose Bay, extending back towards the high hills a distance of seven miles, and navigable by small boats for that distance, but for sailing vessels only two or three miles. In 1851-52 a town named Milton was laid out on the low land adjacent to Scappoose Bay by a company of sea-captains. The first summer flood in the Columbia showed them their mistake, driving the inhabitants to the high bluff behind Wyeth's Rock. Hot a vestige of Milton remains at this day, and most of its projectors are gone the way of all the earth.
It should have been mentioned that the Columbia, at about the mouth of the Cowlitz, sixty miles from the sea, makes a decided bend, running from the upper end of Sauvé Island to this point in a northerly course. The Wallamet has its upper mouth at the head of this island, entering the Columbia, where it makes another bend, the course of the river being in a general east and west direction for one hundred and eighty miles above this point.
Passing the entrance to the Wallamet, we observe that the before-mentioned rule holds good here, and that the wide and fertile valley of this river seems to cross Over to the Washington side, the flat country on both sides of the Columbia continuing from the lower mouth of the Wallamet to the foot-hills of the Cascades which border the great valley on the east. Though this level country is now covered with timber, it must, from its alluvial nature, when cleared, prove very excellent farming land. That portion of it nearest the river is subject to the annual overflow; but there is no difficulty in determining the limits of submersion, for, wherever fir-trees are found, there the high-water never comes.
At a distance of about six miles above the Wallamet we come to the town of Vancouver, on the Washington side. This place is beautifully situated on a sloping plain, with a strip of velvety-looking meadow land on its river-front. It is the old head-quarters of the Hudson's Bay Company in Oregon, where resided, for more than twenty-five years, the governor and chief factors of that company, nominally holding "joint possession," with the United States, of the whole Oregon Territory, out really, for the greater portion of that time, holding it alone.
Here lived in bachelorhood, or with wives of Indian descent, a little colony of educated and refined men, who, by the conditions of their servitude to the London Company, were forced to lead a life of almost monastic seclusion. True, it happened sometimes that naturalists, adventurous travellers, and others drifted to this comfortable haven in the wilderness, and by their talk made a little variety for the recluses; and very hospitable they found them—ready to provide every civilized luxury their fort contained, without money and without price, so long as it pleased their guests to abide with them.
There are few traces remaining of the old, stockaded fort. When the British company abandoned it the United States government took possession of Vancouver for a military post; and now the tourist beholds, scattered over the plain, a thriving town of two thousand inhabitants, and bordering on it the wellkept garrison grounds of the troops, with neat officers' quarters encircling the parade. Vancouver is the seat of government of Clarke County, and possesses many advantages, which are to be brought more prominently to light by railroad communication with the Puget Sound region and Eastern Washington in the near future. The Union Pacific Company will soon unite Washington and Oregon, at this point, by a steel bridge whose estimated cost reaches into the millions.
Above Vancouver, for a distance of twenty miles, there are many beautiful situations all along on the Washington side, though the country is timbered heavily. The southern shore is lower: the Sandy—a stream coming down from Mount Hood —having its entrance into the Columbia above and opposite Vancouver, through alluvial, sandy bottoms. Beyond this the whole surface of the country becomes elevated, and we are among the foot-hills of the Cascade Mountains. Not a mile of the passage has appeared monotonous from Astoria to this point. We have enjoyed river, forest, mountains, and snow-peaks, with little intervals of human interest, all along; and enjoyed these in absolute comfort, for the steamboat service on the Columbia is excellent, thanks to the original Oregon Steam Navigation Company, and its successors.
We arrive now at what the tourist must ever regard as the most interesting portion of the river—the gorge of the Columbia. Here wonder, curiosity, and admiration combine to arouse sentiments of awe and delight in the beholder. Entering by the lower end of the gorge, we commence the passage, of fifty miles or more, directly through the solid mountain range of the Cascades. The snow-peaks, which looked so lofty at the distance of eighty miles, as we approach them gradually sink into the mountain mass, until we lose sight of them entirely. The river narrows, and the scenery grows more and more wild and magnificent.
Fantastic forms of rock—some with names by which they can be recognized—begin to attract our attention. Crow's Roost is a single, detached rock on the right, which time and weather are slowly wearing down to the "needle" shape, so common among the trappean formations. It stands with its feet in the -river, at the extremity of a heavily-wooded point; and in the crevices about its base, and half-way up, good-sized firs are growing. Above the Crow's Roost the mountains tower higher and higher. Frequently from lofty ledges and terraces of rock silvery water-falls are seen descending, hundreds of feet, to some basin hidden by intervening curtains of wooded ridges. From the steamer's deck they look like mere ribbons; some of them, indeed, are dashed into invisible spray before they reach the bottom.
One of the handsomest of these is Multnomah Fall, which has a straight descent of several hundred feet to a pool surrounded by mosses, ferns, and drooping foliage, after which the stream hastens impetuously to a second plunge over a ledge of rock, and speeds on to the Columbia. A rustic bridge spans the torrent just above the lower fall. Somebody more given to ponies than to poetry, has named one of the highest of these Cascade falls Horse-tail; and another has the rather hackneyed name of Bridal Veil, which, of course, it does not in the least resemble.
Above Multnomah Fall, on the Washington side, is a high, precipitous wall of needle-pointed, reddish rock, coming quite down to the river, and curving in a rounded face, so as to form a little bay above. This is the Cape Horn of the lower Columbia—a point where the Wind Spirit lies in wait for canoes and other small craft, keeping them weather-bound for days together. Fine as it is steaming up the Columbia in July weather, there are times when storms of wind and sand make the voyage impossible to any but a steam-propelled vessel. It is at our peril that we invade the grand sanctuaries of Nature in her winter moods. The narrow channel of the river among the mountains, the height of the overhanging cliffs,—which confine the wind as in a funnel,—and the changes of temperature to which, even in summer, mountain localities are subject, make this a stormy passage at some periods of the year.
Sitting out upon the steamer's deck, of a summer morning, we are not much troubled with visions of storms: the scene is as peaceful as it is magnificent. Steaming ahead, straight into the heart of the mountains, where they rise to a height of four thousand feet, each moment affords a fresh delight to the wondering senses. The panorama of grandeur and beauty seems endless. As we approach the lower end of the rapids, we find that at the left the heights recede and enclose a strip of level, sandy land, in the midst of which stands a solitary shaft of basalt called Castle Bock, about six hundred feet in altitude. How it came there, is the question which the beholder first asks himself, but which, so far, has never been satisfactorily answered.
A mile or two beyond Castle Rock, situated on this bit of warm, sandy bottom-land, on the Washington side, is the little mountain hamlet known as the Lower Cascades. Why it is that one name is made to serve for so many objects, in the same locality, must ever puzzle the tourist in Oregon. At the Cascades the tautology threatens to overwhelm us in perplexity. Not only is it the Cascade Range, which the cascades of the river cut in twain, but there are no less than three points on the north side, within a distance of six miles, known as the Lower, Middle, and Upper Cascades. Pretty as the name is, we weary of it when it is continually in our mouths.
It is a pretty spot, too, this Lower Cascades, surrounded by majestic mountains, and bordered by a foaming river; charmingly nestled in thickets of blossoming shrubbery, and can regale its guests on strawberries and mountain-trout. Here the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company has a wharf and warehouse, and here we take our seats in the cars which transfer us to the Upper Cascades, and another steamer. We find the change agreeable, as a change, and enjoy intensely the glimpses of the rapids we are passing, and the wonderful luxuriance of vegetation on every side, coupled with the grandeur of the towering mountains.
At the Upper Cascades is a block-house, reminding us of the Indian war of 1855-56, and another one about the middle rapids. The scene looks peaceful enough now to make the history of these forts seem very legendary.
Aside from scenic features, there is a great deal to interest one at this place. One object of curiosity and surprise is the immense wheels for taking salmon. A wheel is generally forty feet in diameter, and eight feet from disk to disk. In place of paddles, there are three buckets or pouches of strong wire screening. The wheel, attached to a shaft, may be raised or lowered at the will of the operator; and the buckets are so constructed that whatever enters them is thrown to the centre of the wheel, where an opening above water-line delivers them into a large tank. Each bucket, when fish are running well, will turn into the tank seventy-five fish per minute, or two hundred and twenty five for one wheel every sixty seconds. As a wheel is kept going quite constantly through the season, and as there are about two .dozen of them in motion on the river, we have an opportunity to exercise our arithmetical skill in estimating the quantity of salmon taken by this method every season.
The rapids at the Cascades are five miles in length, and the fall of the river is about sixty feet, the bed of the stream being formerly choked up with rock in such a manner as to suggest recent volcanic agency. The government has expended some money in removing the obstructions below the Middle Cascades, and a very large amount is being annually laid out in constructing a ship canal three thousand feet long around the upper rapids. This artificial channel, which is "making haste slowly," is a fine specimen of engineering skill, and a solid piece of work. When completed it will remove the now existing monopoly of this mountain pass, allowing boats to ascend and descend without reshipment of cargoes.
One of the natural wonders of the gorge of the Columbia on the Oregon side is a moving mountain. This is a mass of basalt, with three peaks, extending six or more miles along the river, and rising two thousand feet above it. Its motion is not perceptible but it is certain. It slides both forward into the river, and downward towards the sea. In its forward movement it has carried below the surface of the Columbia a tract of timbered shore, the trees on which long ago were killed by submergence, and stand dark and naked under the water, or when the river is low, projecting above it. The Oregon Bail way and Navigation Railroad, which is carried along the side of this mountain, is unable to keep its track in situ owing to this movement, the road-bed and rails having in some places been pushed, in a few years, eight or ten feet out of line. The explanation of this phenomenon is supposed to be that the great bulk of basalt which constitutes the mountain was poured out upon a substratum of conglomerate, or softer subrock, which is being slowly disintegrated by the action of the current of the Columbia, or is yielding to the mighty pressure upon it from above, or possibly both. The lateral movement is explained in a similar manner, by the concave shape of the rock foundation of the country to the west, and the yielding of the overlying softer strata.
From the deck of the steamer waiting for us at the end of the railroad portage, a beautiful picture is spread out on every side. The river seems a lake dotted with islands, with low shores, surrounded by mountain walls. Almost the first thing which strikes the eye is an immensely high and bold, perpendicular cliff of red rock, pointed at top with the regularity of a pyramid, and looking as if freshly split off from some other half which has totally disappeared. The freshly-broken appearance of this cliff, so different from the worn and mossy faces of most of the rocks that border the river, suggested to the savage one of his legends concerning the formation of the Cascades: which is, that Mount Hood and Mount Adams had a quarrel, and took to throwing fire-stones at each other; and, with their rage and struggling, so shook the earth for many miles around that a bridge of rock which spanned the river at this place was torn from its mountain abutments, and cast in fragments into the river. So closely does legend sometimes border on scientific fact!
While I am making this grave reflection upon the scientific truth of legends, some one presents me with a story, in rhyme, which he assures me is the true, original Indian legend of the formation of those other notable points on the river,—the Dalles, Horse-tail Falls, Crow's Boost, as also the Falls of the Wallamet and Mount Hood. Making all due allowance for poetic license in some of the details, the story and the manner of its telling are worthy of notice; and I give it as a pleasing chapter of the early, romantic history of this romantic country!
THE SONG OF KAMIAKIN.
|Should you ask me where I caught it—
Caught this flame and inspiration—
Should you ask me where I got it—
Got this old and true tradition—
I would answer, I would tell you:
Where the virgins of the forest
Sit with quills thrust through their noses,
Eating calmly cricket hashes;
Where the tar-head maid reposes;
Where the proud Columbia dashes,
Hearing nothing but his dashing.
Hias skookum Kamiakin,
Of the vale of Klikatata—
Which I know each nook and track in
As well as Johnny knew his daddy—
Was the chief of all the Siwash,
And the great high-cockalorem—
Of the winding Wallametta,
Which I sing—and say it surely
As the jingling Juniata
Sounds as well; but 'tis unpretty,
Poets of the sunset sea-rim
Flying off to Acropolis—
Very absurd it is, and silly—
While the glassy Umatilla,
And the classic Longus Thomas,
And the grassy Tuda-Willa,
All do flash and flow before us.
Well, my hero Kamiakin
Was in love; you know such folly
Must go in, or something's lacking
In all great, good rhymes emetic.
Now, she dwelt in Walla Walla;
But her ma was awful stuck up;
And her pious dad, ascetic,
'Gainst our hero got his back up;
And he swore on stacks of Bibles,
Higher than the hay you stack up.
He would sue for breaches, libels;
He would sue him, shoot him, boot him—
That, in fact, he didn't suit him—
Didn't vote the proper ticket.
Now, it cost him like the nation
Going from the land of cider
(You know how these Navigation
Fellows charge a horse and rider);
And, though he was law-abiding,
To be treated thus about her
He declared was rather binding,
And that he wouldn't go without her.
So he strode a cayuse charger
With white eyes, also white as
Foam of creamy, dreamy lager
From her nostrils to her caudle;
With a woolly sheepskin folding
Back behind his jockey saddle,
Where the girl could ride by holding.
"Come back, come back, O Pickaninny—
Back across the stormy water,"
Cried the old man, like a ninny.
One hand skewed her water-fall up,
While the other held her garter,
As they set off at a gallop.
Oh! she looked majestic, very,
As she answered, "Nary, nary!"
And the river so is flowing,
Though wider washed a foot or so,
For this was in the gleaming, glowing,
Gilded, golden long-ago.
Then they fled far down the river,
But the old man came upon them,
And she cried, "O Lord, deliver!"
And she blew a silver trumpet,
And she cried, "O hiac—jump it,"
Till the cayuse jumped the river-
Jumped the awful yawning chasms-
With the lovers both astride her.
Ah, enough to throw in spasms
Belles of this sweet land of cider!
But the daddy, hot and snarling
At the chief and chieftain's darling,
Hip and thigh smote with his sabre,
While the cuitan was crossing,
And her silver tail was tossing;
And her long tail, white and shaggy,
Cleft where Tam O'Shanter's carlin
Caught the tail of faithful Maggie.
And that horse-tail still is flowing
From the dark rim of the river,
Drifting, shifting, flowing, going,
Like a veil or vision flurried,
But is never combed or curried,
As a body can diskiver.
Then while dad on the piazza
Read the latest act of Andy,
And the maid on her piano
Trilled a ditty for some dandy,
"Chaco, chaco, cumtux mika?"
From afar in tones coyote.
"Ah, you bet you, cumtux nika,"
Sang the maiden sotto voce.
With this sign the chieftain sought her,
For the old man's bull-dog Towzer
Would have made it rather hot for
Kamiakin, Thane of Chowder.
Night and day they flew like arrows,
Till they passed by sweet Celilo:
"Bully," cried the chief; "tomollo's
Sun will see us hias lolo."
But the old man missed his daughter;
Vowing he would catch and score them,
Took the steamer, and by water
Reached the Dalles the day before them.
"Stop, you bummer," yelled the daddy
While the chief fled to the river;
And the dad pursued, and had a
Henry-rifle, bow and quiver.
Then the chief wished him a beaver—
Big or little, didn't mind him—
But the gal, would you believe her,
Stuck like wax, tight on behind him.
Then she waved a wand of willow,
And behold the mighty river
(For the maiden was a fairy)
All did surge and shake and shiver,
Till the banks did kiss, or nearly,
And confine the foaming billow;
So they crossed without a ferry.
"Verbum sat.," now yelled the daughter,
As she with her lover vamosed;
And the dad sat in the water
'Till he chilled and died, and so was
Turned to stone forever after.
Now this dad a noble Crow was,
And a chief of fame and power,
And is known unto this hour
As the "Crow-Rock" or the "Crow-Roost."
Well, they travelled in a canter
'Till they reached the sweet Wallamet,
And cried, "Boatman, do not tarry;
We will give three pound of salmon
If you'll row us o'er the ferry."
But he answered, "Nary, nary."
Then the maiden cried out, "Dam it,"
And the stream was dammed instanter.
Of Mount Hood from Mountain Hoo-doo.
So the chieftain reached his nation,
And his mother gave a party—
Gave a July celebration—
And they dinnered very hearty,
All on kouse and salmon smoky,
And then danced the hoky-poky.
But her troubles grew the thicker,
As in truth so did the maiden,
For the chief began to lick her,
And distract her with upbraiding;
But she had to grin and bear it,
For the gods had got so mad, they
Said she never should repass the
Place she left her dear old daddy.
So she went up in the hill-tops
At the head of the Molalla,
For to look at Walla Walla;
And by magic spells and hoo-doo—
For, you know, she was a fairy—
She did manage soon to rear a
Mountain like the pile of Cheops.
And Siwash, who saw her mammuk
Called the peak "Old Mountain Hoo-doo."
But there came a Jewish peddler,
Packing head-gear, hoods, and small t'ings
(Says the Almanac McCormick),
And who didn't care three fardings
For this dear and true tradition—
As the learned like me and you do—
And made the gross abbreviation
Turning from this bit of pleasantry with a smile, I am again absorbed in the beauty and majesty of the Columbia. The Hudson, which has so long been the pride of America, is but the younger brother of the Columbia. Place a hundred Dunderbergs side by side, and you have some idea of these stupendous bluffs; double the height of the Palisades, and you can form an idea of these precipitous cliffs. Elevate the dwarfed evergreens of the Hudson highlands into firs and pines like these, and then you may compare. There is no other river in United States territory which gives such impressions of grandeur.
Down this noble stream, eighty-five years ago, floated those adventurous explorers Lewis and Clarke. Seven years later the overland party of the Astor expedition struggled along these wild mountain shores, among inhospitable tribes, trying to reach the sea party at the mouth of the river. A few years later still the annual "brigades" of the Hudson's Bay Company descended the river with their fleet of mackinaw barges to the rhythm of their Canadian boating-songs, as they approached Fort Vancouver with the year's peltry, these noble cliffs echoing their noisy gayety. Fifty-six years ago missionaries and men of science, filtering through the crust of semi-civilization in the West, found their way down the Columbia; and a dozen years later immigration set in. A hard time these "men of destiny" had of it, too, drowning at The Dalles, starving at the Cascades, entering upon their Canaan destitute of everything but indomitable American pluck.
The farther we depart from the heart of the mountains the more marked is the change in the character and quantity of the timber. Firs have entirely disappeared, while spruce and pine have taken their places. The form, too, of the highlands is changed, being arranged in long ridges, either parallel with the river or at right angles to it, but all very extensive, and forming benches, dotted only with trees, instead of being heavily wooded, as on the western side of the range. The climate, also, is changed, and a dryness and warmth quite different from the Western climate are observable.
On nearing The Dalles the country opens out more and more, the terraced appearance continuing quite to that city, and the basalt here presenting a columnar formation. We come now to the last, and by far the most singular, portion of the gorge of the Columbia. The river here flows for eight miles through a narrow channel, cut in solid trap-rock, and more or less tortuous. It is, of course, not navigable, and travellers by the river make a portage by rail to Celilo, at the upper end of the gorge. The word dalles comes from the French word dale, a trough or conduit, and was first applied by the French voyageurs, being corrupted into its present form of spelling by Americans.
What a strange scene it is! Sand, rock, and water,—not uncommon elements in a pleasing picture; but here it is not pleasing—it is uncanny to a degree. I find myself wondering how deep here must be a stream only forty yards wide, which in other places is two thousand yards wide, and deep enough to float any kind of a ship; for I cannot help fancying that what the river here lacks in breadth it makes up in depth. I am not aware that soundings have ever been taken in this part of the river.
Boats have gone through this passage. In low water the barges of the Hudson's Bay Company used to run the dalles. One or two steamers have been brought through at a low stage of water; but it is a very perilous undertaking,—much more perilous than going over the Cascades at high water. I take observations, and decide that I should not willingly embark on this particular portion of the Columbia.
How it swirls, how it twirls, how it eddies and boils!
How it races and chases, how it leaps, how it toils!
How one mile it rushes, and another it flows
As soft as a love-song sung "under the rose
How in one place it seethes, in another is still
And as smooth as the flume of some sleepy old mill.
A rock-entroughed torrent like none else, I pledge;
And, in truth, is a river set up on its edge.
Dalles City—or "The Dalles," as it is officially named, is a town of about twelve hundred inhabitants, situated on the Oregon side of the Columbia, at the lower end of the dalles of the river. In the early history of the country it was fixed upon by the Methodists as a mission station; but failing in their efforts to instruct the Indians, or intimidated by their warlike character, or both, they relinquished the station to the Presbyterians, who held it at the breaking out of the Cayuse War in 1847. On this occurrence the whole country east of the Cascades was abandoned by all missionaries of Protestant denominations, and Dalles was converted into a military station, the mission buildings having been burnt down.
When the Donation Act was passed, giving missions the ground previously occupied by them, the Methodists laid claim to a portion of The Dalles. The government, however, had appropriated a portion of the claim for a military post, paying for the part thus taken. The Presbyterians then disputed the claim, on the ground that they were in possession at the breaking out of the war, which compelled them to quit the place, and had never abandoned it, but had a right to return at the cessation of hostilities. The question of ownership has, however, been satisfactorily settled by the claim of the town being recognized by the government as superior to any of these.
The mining rush to Idaho in 1862–63 gave The Dalles its first start. It has now a good trade, and ought with its fine situation to become a place of importance. There are many attractive homes here, but not the appearance of thrift which might be expected. The Dalles is hoping to have a boat railway from the foot to the head of the Dalles Rapids, the government engineers having made a favorable report upon the project, which is to be accomplished by means of hydraulic lifts at each terminus, the lower to raise the boats sixty-eight feet, and the upper one forty feet, at low water. The lifted boat will be lowered upon a car, and transported by rail to Celilo, the track being of very heavy iron, but of ordinary gauge and double track. Thirty-four wheeled trucks, placed in two lines of seventeen each, are expected to have sufficient flexibility to pass over the curves in the road; and nine hundred tons is the maximum weight to be carried, including the car. Two fifty-ton locomotives will do the hauling. The estimated cost of the whole system, with equipment of two cars and four engines, capable of passing eight loads of six hundred tons both ways in twelve hours, and including the necessary buildings, with ten per cent, for contingencies, is two million six hundred and ninety thousand three hundred and fifty-six dollars. It is also in contemplation to improve some rapids above The Dalles, all of which, when completed, will add a notable feature to Columbia River travel.
There is comparatively little river travel on the Columbia above the Wallamet, all through passengers being carried on the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company's line to its connection with the Oregon Short Line through Idaho, or to a junction with the Northern Pacific on the north side of the Columbia. But sight-seeing is more satisfactory from the deck of a steamboat than from the window of a rapidly-moving and crowded car, and the tourist will do well to bear this in mind.
Aside from the river there is little to interest one about The Dalles. Just above the old garrison grounds is a fine view of Mount Adams and another of Mount Hood. Is seems to .the uneducated vision as if an hour's ride would take one up among the highest firs on Hood, quite to the glistening snow-fields; but it is a good forty miles, over a rough road, to the foot of the mountain where the climbing begins.
Opposite The Dalles is the unfinished village of Rockland, in the county of Klickitat, Washington. The name of Wasco, the county in which The Dalles is situated, was given to this locality —so runs the legend—in the following manner: The Indians being collected at the fishery Winquat, a favorite spot for taking salmon, about three miles from The Dalles, one of them was so unlucky as to lose his squaw, the mother of his children, one of whom was yet only a babe. This babe would not be comforted, and the other children, being young, were clamorous for their mother. In this trying position, with these wailing little ones on his awkward masculine hands, the father was compelled to give up fishing and betake himself to amusing his babies. Many expedients having failed, he at length found that they were diverted by seeing him pick cavities in the rocks in the form of basins, which they could fill with water or pebbles, and accordingly, as many a patient mother does every day, adapted himself to the taste and capacities of his children, and made any number of basins they required. Wasco being the name of a kind of horn basin which is in use among the Des Chutes, his associates gave the name to this devoted father in ridicule of his domestic qualities; and afterward, when he had resolved to found a village at Winquat, and drew many of his people after him, they continued to call them all Wascos, or basins. To-day the tribe is little known, but the county of which Dalles is the metropolis bears the name once given in derision to a poor, perplexed father for descending to the office of basin-maker for his children.
The original Indian name of the place where Dalles stands was Winquat, signifying "surrounded by rocky cliffs." There are many Indian names attached to points in this neighborhood of poetical signification. "Alone in its beauty" is the translation of Gai-galt-whe-la-leth, the name of a fine spring near town. "The mountain denoting the sun's travel" is the meaning of Shim-na-klath, a high hill south of town, etc.
About three miles above Dalles is a noted fishery of the Indians, as mentioned above, and opposite to it is the site of the Indian village of Wishram, spoken of by the earliest writers on Oregon. No village exists there now—at least not anything which could well be recognized as such.
From The Dalles to Celilo there are rocks all about in every direction, a little grass, a great deal of sand, and some very brilliant flowers growing out of it. There are also a few Indian lodges, with salmon drying inside, whose rich orange color shows through the open door-way like a flame; and a few Indians fishing with a net, their long black hair falling over their shoulders, and blowing into their eyes in a most inconvenient fashion. But everything about an Indian's dress is inconvenient, except the ease with which it is put on! Some of these younger savages have ignored dressing altogether as a fatigue not to be undertaken, until with increasing years an increase of strength shall be arrived at.
The railroad takes us along under overhanging cliffs of plutonic rock, one of which is called Cape Horn, like its brother of the lower Columbia. As we near Celilo we discover that we have by no means left behind high banks and noble outlines. Just here, where we re-embark for the continuance of the upriver voyage, is a wide expanse of tumbling rapids, between lofty bluffs, rising precipitously from a narrow, sandy beach.
Of Celilo there is not much more than the immense warehouse of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company—nine hundred feet in length—built in the flush times of gold-mining in the upper country, and the other buildings required by the business of the present owners. This company, formerly the most important factor in the development of the interior, has been succeeded by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, whose property is leased to the Union Pacific.
Lying along the shores, in little coves, are numerous sailing craft of small size, which carry freight from point to point on the river above. The sun of an unclouded morning gilds their white sails, and sparkles in the dancing rapids. The meadowlark's voice—loud, clear, and sweet—reaches us from the overhanging banks. It is at once a wild and a peaceful scene.
A short distance above Celilo, Des Chutes River empties into the Columbia, through a deep canyon. A remarkable feature of the rivers of East Oregon is the depth of their beds below the surface of the country which borders them. Des Chutes flows through a canyon in places more than a thousand feet deep. Where it enters the Columbia its banks are not so high, because the great river itself has its course through the lowest portions of the elevated plains; and its bed is nowhere at any very great elevation above the sea-level. At The Dalles, two hundred miles from the sea, the level of the river is one hundred and nineteen feet above it; and the Walla Walla Valley, at a distance of three hundred and fifty miles, has an elevation of a few feet over four hundred. Away from the Columbia, the elevation of the plains varies from five hundred to twenty-five hundred feet. Hence the great depth of the canyons of streams flowing on the same level with the great river.
Along this portion of the Columbia the traveller has plenty of time to conjecture the future of so remarkable a country—not being startled by constantly-recurring wonders, as he might have been on the lower portion of the river. There certainly is great majesty and grace expressed in the lofty forms and noble outlines of the overhanging bluffs which border the river for great distances; and that is all. There is neither the smoothness of art, nor the wildness which rocks and trees impart to natural scenes; and the simple beauty of long, curving lines becomes monotonous. If it be summer, there are patches of color on the sere-looking, grassy, heights; rosy clarkia, blue lupine, and golden sunflower. We hear the voices of multitudes of meadow-larks; and see a few prairie-hens stooping their long necks shyly among the bunch-grass; or see a herd of cattle fattening on the dry but nutritious bunch-grass.
Thirty-one miles above The Dalles we pass the mouth of John Day River, named after luckless John Day of the Astor expedition,—a stream in all respects similar to Des Chutes, with the same narrow valley, and the same depth below the general level of the country. On the head-waters of John Day River placer-mining was successfully carried on from 1862 for several years, and has since been followed by quartz-mining.
The high bluffs intervening between the Columbia and the interior country quite conceal any appearances of settlement, and leave upon the mind the impression of an altogether uninhabited country,—an impression quite erroneous in fact, though there are thousands of square miles still vacant.
Willow Creek is a small stream, coming into the Columbia thirty-three miles above John Day River, with a small, fertile valley well settled up. After an interval of another thirty-three miles, we find ourselves at Umatilla, a small town set in the sands at the mouth of the river of that name. It served formerly as a port to the mines of Powder River and the Boise country. Here the steamers of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company disembarked passengers and freight; and stages, "prairie schooners," and pack-trains took up their burdens.
The Umatilla River, on account of its valley, is one of the most important streams of East Oregon. The Umatilla Talley, together with the bottom-lands of several tributary creeks, furnishes a fine tract of rich, alluvial land, having a high reputation for its agricultural capacity. About seven thousand acres, nearly all bottom-land, are under cultivation in Umatilla County, the whole area of which is over forty-seven thousand square miles.
All the way from the Cascade Mountains to Umatilla—a hundred miles, more or less—we have found the rivers all coming into the Columbia from the south side. Rising in the Blue Mountains, which traverse the eastern half of Oregon from northeast to southwest, they flow in nearly direct courses to the Columbia, showing thereby the greater elevation of the central portion of East Oregon over the valley of the Columbia. Not far above the junction of the Umatilla and Columbia the great river makes a long bend, receiving, after it takes the north and south direction, the rivers flowing east from the Cascade Range in East Washington, as well as the tumultuous Lewis or Snake River, which divides Oregon from Idaho.
It is nearly sunset when the steamer quits Umatilla to finish the voyage we have entered upon, at Wallula,—a distance of twenty-five miles farther up stream, in a direction a little east of north. We steam along in the rosy sunset and purple twilight, by which the hills are clothed in royal dyes. About eight in the evening we arrive at Wallula, too late to be aware of the waste of sand and gravel in which it is situated. Wallula has been the port for the Walla Walla Valley ever since the occupation of the country by white people. It was formerly a post of the Hudson's Bay Company, some of the old adobe buildings being still standing.
The bluffs bordering the Columbia at this place repeat those harmonies of grandeur with grace, which won remark from us on other portions of the river. The Walla Walla River, which comes in just here, is a very pretty stream, with, however, very little bottom-land near the Columbia.
The sand of Wallula is something to be dreaded. It insinuates itself everywhere. You find it scattered over the plate on which you are to dine; piled up in little hillocks in the corner of your wash-stand; dredged over the pillows on which you thoughtlessly sink your weary head, without stopping to shake them; setting your teeth on edge with grit, everywhere. And this ocean of sand extends several miles back from the river. In sight of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, it seems to cry out, like the Ancient Mariner,—
"Water, water everywhere,
And never a drop to drink."
Bathed in a rosy sunset, with a royal purple twilight stealing over the hills, it has a simple and chaste grandeur about it that appertains to desert scenes, making one think of the Nile; the more so, as the rising moon touches with a soft gilding the summit of a great rock that might be the pyramid of Cheops. And so good-night to it.
When I wake in the morning I think to inquire into the navigability in general of this upper part of the Columbia and its southern branch, and am handed the report of Captain T. W. Symons, recently made to the department at Washington. Of this he says that the Upper Columbia and Snake form a continuous line of navigable rivers from Celilo at the head of The Dalles to Lewiston in Idaho, but broken by many rapids, rendering navigation difficult and dangerous, the rapids in nearly every instance being caused by rocky bars and occasional boulders, while the channels were crooked and narrow, and the water, before improvement, ruling from two to three feet on the bars, which were practically impassable at low water.
This statement, from including the Columbia River, is misleading. The Columbia below the Snake junction, although having some rapids, especially near Celilo, has been constantly navigated by steamboats of considerable size ever since 1859, when the "Colonel Wright,"—named in honor of Colonel, afterwards General, Wright,—a small steamer, was put on the river experimentally. The frequent rocky bars are encountered in the Snake River between its mouth and Riparia, although the Columbia River steamers used to run, during high water, to Lewiston. After July 1, they were usually drawn off. Some plans for improving the rivers were adopted in 1877.
According to the report cited, the Snake River has a general breadth of one thousand feet, a slope of 2.48 feet per mile, and a discharge of twenty thousand cubic feet per second. All the bars have been improved to an extent which removes all danger to competent navigators acquainted with them, with the single exception of Long Crossing Bar, all the others having three feet of water on them at low water. Navigation below Riparia has been suspended, but quite as much, I imagine, on account of railroad competition as by reason of bars. Above there, where a rich agricultural region still depends on navigation, boats are running. Even far up the Snake a steamer runs between the crossing of the O. E. and N. Railway, and Seven Devils in Idaho, a distance of sixty-five miles north. Still farther up, a steamer plies between the same crossing and a point beyond, but the Union Pacific bridges interfere with navigation, not being provided with draws.
In this merely superficial sketch of the most magnificent of American rivers its scenic features chiefly have been spoken of. But no thoughtful traveller can make this voyage without picturing to his imagination the splendid possibilities here afforded for a display of the wealth and taste of the nation. The delightful variety of arrangement in a panorama of two hundred miles of grandeur, the cunning with which nature has interspersed imposing ruggedness with enticing beauty, is a strong feature of Columbia scenery, and suggests the still more charming effect of the whole when is added the attraction of refined human habitations perched every here and there, especially along the highlands from Astoria to The Dalles, and from Cape Disappointment to Wallula. With railways on both sides of the Columbia, and with the opening of the river to continuous travel by the improvements in progress and projected, the volume of commerce destined to roll between these noble shores is simply incalculable. Very little effort has been made toward settlement along the great stream, the pioneers of the country first taking up the open lands in the interior; but there is a large amount of excellent grass, vegetable, and fruit land near the river, and a little distance away from it land which, when cleared, will make the best of farms.