The Columbia River: Its History, Its Myths, Its Scenery, Its Commerce/Part 2/Chapter 3
In the Land of Wheat-field, Orchard, and Garden
Increasing Population and Cultivation as we go South—Chelan and Wenatchee Orchards—The Wheat-plains East of Wenatchee to Spokane—Spokane, the Metropolis of the Inland Empire—The Falls and their Power—Interesting Points in and around Spokane—The Palouse Farming Country—Snake River and its Orchards—Vast Irrigating Enterprises of the Upper Snake—Shoshone Falls—Walla Walla—Waiilatpu and Whitman Monument—Whitman College—Pendleton and its Wheat-fields and Historical Characters—Wallowa Lake—From Wenatchee to Priest Rapids—Origin of Name of Priest Rapids—Irrigating Enterprises below Priest Rapids—By Steamboat from Priest Rapids to Pasco—The Yakima Valley, its Fruits and Towns—Pasco and Kennewick and the Meeting of the Waters—Prospects of the Future for the Irrigable Country—From Pasco to Celilo—The Umatilla Palisades—Umatilla Rapids—Tumwater Falls—The Canal and Locks at Celilo—What Will be Accomplished by them for the Inland Empire—The Dalles—Its Historic Interest—Its Wool Business, its Horticultural and Agricultural Resources, its Scenery.
OUR journey on the River thus far has been mainly in those sections where scenery is the greatest product, and where the country, scantily inhabited, has almost as primitive an appearance as when the gay songs of the voyageurs raised the echoes against the rock-walls of the lakes, while paddles and bateau-prows started correspondent ripples on the clear surface.
But as we proceed southward into the State of Washington, we find more and more evidences of cultivation and inhabitancy. At the mouths of the streams and on the frequent "benches" and islands, orchards and gardens attest the enterprise and patience of the settlers. Around the lower end of Lake Chelan the big red apple, luscious peaches, plethoric pears, huge bunches of grapes, like the grapes of Eschol, make a picture of fruitfulness and delight. When we reach Wenatchee on the Columbia,—a river, a lake, and a town of the same name, meaning in the native tongue the "butterfly,"—we find ourselves in the uppermost of those belts of fruit land which have made the River so famous. As we stroll through these model orchards and vines and berry patches and gardens, and see the wonders wrought on the arid soil by the life-giving waters of the Wenatchee, we are almost ready to join the throng that are continually accepting the invitation to "be independent on ten acres of land and find health, wealth, and happiness in Wenatchee." In truth, these irrigated lands are marvels of productiveness. The valley of the Wenatchee is small, and not over twelve thousand acres are yet in productive bearing; but in 1907 not less than five hundred carloads of fruit and vegetables were shipped.Like all the irrigated regions, Wenatchee is a place of pleasant homes, good schools and social advantages, and all the accompaniments of the finest type of genuine, whole-souled, ambitious Americanism. At Wenatchee we are on the main line of the Great Northern Railroad, and by it we can go west through the Cascade Mountains to Puget Sound, or east to Spokane. We must return again to Wenatchee in
order to resume our journey down the River, but we will first turn eastward and make a tour of the great "Inland Empire" of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon.
One must necessarily visit Spokane on a journey through the great wheat country. Spokane, the metropolis and the pride of Eastern Washington, is a wonder to the Eastern tourist. Such a city, over one hundred thousand people, with costly brick and stone buildings, four, six, ten stories high, impressive public buildings, schools, churches, hotels, hundred-foot avenues well-paved, private dwellings of architectural excellence,—and hardly a soul there thirty years ago!
A grand spectacle the falls offered the eye in old Spokane, but now, alas, so cribbed and cabined is the noble stream by the march of industrial and electrical power that its wild energy is well-nigh gone except at the highest water. The total fall in the Spokane River is one hundred and forty-six feet, and the horse-power capacity at low water is forty thousand, at high water over half a million.
Many points of interest must be hastily passed. The author feels great reluctance to omit a visit to the State College of Washington at Pullman, and the University of Idaho at Moscow. There are also historic spots, as one at Rosalia where a monument has recently been erected in commemoration of the Steptoe defeat in 1858, and the site of the first church in Eastern Washington on Walker's Prairie, where Eells and Walker started a mission for the Spokane Indians in 1838. There is also at the junction of the Spokane and Little Spokane, the site of Spokane House, a post of the Hudson's Bay Company, started in 1811. One might also well desire to visit the location of the old Spokane Bridge, where Colonel Wright crushed forever the pride and power of the Spokanes by killing eight hundred of their choicest horses.
On whatever side viewed, either past or present, or in the forecast of the future, Spokane is worthy of careful study. Its extensive railroad system and its network of electric lines reaching the many lakes, garden and fruit tracts, and rapidly developing suburbs, are concentrating the interests of a vast and wealthy region. But there are other cities to see and other boomers to hear and other bright futures to forecast, and so we turn our faces southward on the line of the O. R. & N. Railway, passing through vale after vale between the swelling prairies, with wheat, wheat, wheat, oats, oats, oats, hay, hay, hay, cattle, horses, hogs, apple trees, and sugar beets, elegant farmhouses on the knolls and spacious barns in the hollows,—the great Palouse farming country, one of the most productive in the world. Whitman County has produced eight million bushels of wheat in a season, besides vast quantities of other products.A hundred and forty miles from Spokane the great wheat plateau is broken by the profound abyss of Snake River. Dark, turbid, sullen, not so beautiful as the northern branches flowing out of the lakes, this largest of all the tributaries of the River goes on its swift and treacherous course to the union with the Columbia. Snake River is famous for its orchards. Almota, Penewawa, Alpowa, Kelly's Bar, Clarkston, Asotin, are the most prominent among many points where the cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, berries, grapes,
go out by the carload and steamerload, earlier than anywhere else except on the banks of the Columbia itself, to all parts of the West and even at times to Chicago and New York. The region of these enormously productive fruit ranches is a narrow ribbon of fertile land at the bottom of a cañon fifteen hundred feet deep. Hot? Yes, hot! They say the mercury sometimes boils out of the top of the thermometer. But heat and water and good soil make the rich juice and bright cheeks of the peach and nectarine. Hundreds of miles up Snake River in the wide expanses of Southern Idaho the waters are being diverted for some of the largest irrigation enterprises on earth. There the Twin Falls canal, one hundred feet wide and deep enough for a steamboat, conveys the water to two hundred and eighty thousand acres of land. The Minidoka canal covers almost as much. That part of the Snake River Valley, three hundred miles long by fifty miles wide, will ere long count its inhabitants by the million.
No one could consider that he had really seen Snake River unless he had visited the Great Shoshone Falls, or "Pahchulaka." This sublime manifestation of nature's power is about forty miles from the town of Shoshone on the Oregon Short Line. The total descent is nearly three hundred feet, of which eighty consists of cataracts and chutes broken by rocky islands, while the entire stream unites in the one final plunge of two hundred and twelve feet. It is ten hundred and fifty feet wide, and the walls of basaltic rock rise perpendicularly a thousand feet. Niagara is the only waterfall on the American continent that can be compared with Shoshone. Niagara is much wider but not so high. Its banks are tame, while those of Shoshone are wildly sublime.
The spectres of history rise up at every stage of a journey along Snake River. But we cannot pause. We pass on from the crossing of Snake River and soon find ourselves approaching Walla Walla. This is the most historic city of the Inland Empire and the oldest of the entire State of Washington, with the exception of Vancouver. The pleasant-sounding name signifies in the native tongue "Many Waters," though more literally, as the author has been told by an old Cayuse Indian, "Place where four creeks meet." The city of Walla Walla is thirty-two miles from the Columbia River in the midst of a broad and fertile valley, through which dozens of clear rivulets issuing from springs make their way through the birches and cottonwoods. The warm climate, rich soil, and abundant water, with multitudes of trees, give the "Garden City" an appearance of almost tropical luxuriance. On all sides for many miles stretch the wheat-fields, orchards, gardens, and alfalfa-fields. It is a land of plenty. It is commonly said that Walla Walla has more automobiles, more bicycles, more pianos, more flowers, and more pretty girls in proportion to population, than any other town in the North-west.The special historic interest of Walla Walla is found in the fact that it was the location of the Whitman Mission and that the Whitman massacre took place at the Mission Station, Waiilatpu, six miles from the city. That spot is now marked with a marble crypt in which the bones of the martyrs rest, and a plain but imposing granite shaft stands upon the crest of the hill just above. A more living monument to the missionary is found in Whitman College. This institution, planned on the model of Amherst, Yale, and Williams, though co-educational, was founded by Rev. Cushing Eells in 1859 as an academy. It was not till 1883 that college work was undertaken. During that period the self-denying missionary and his family supported the infant institution by selling the products of their farm and devoting to it all except what was absolutely necessary for their own support. During years of slow, patient growth under very discouraging conditions, Whitman College has made friends East and West, and within the last few years it has become equipped with buildings and general facilities of high grade. An effort is now in progress, apparently sure of fulfilment, to raise two million dollars for buildings and general endowment. Walla Walla is becoming peculiarly known as the educational centre and the home city of the Inland Empire.
From Walla Walla we take a flying trip through the continued wheat belt on the Umatilla and its branches in Northern Oregon, a region similar to that around Walla Walla, rich and fruitful. Of this part of Oregon, Pendleton on the Umatilla is the metropolis. The Umatilla Indian Reservation, one of the most important in the history of this country, adjoins it. One of the most interesting persons in North-west history, now deceased, lived at Pendleton many years, Dr. William C. McKay, the son of Thomas McKay, and grandson of Alexander McKay, the last named being that one of the Astor company who lost his life on the Tonquin. Dr. William McKay was a three-quarter-blood Indian, but he was well educated and one of the most interesting men in our history. Another noted man, still living in the prime of life, is Major Lee Moorehouse, famous in earlier times as an Indian fighter and agent, and more recently as one of the most successful students and photographers of Indian life. Some of his pictures have gained national fame, and the publishers of this volume are indebted to his courtesy for their appearance here. Another interesting fact in connection with Pendleton is that here the Pendleton Indian robes and blankets are manufactured, and these have borne the name of their home place to all parts of the United States and even the world.
While in this part of Oregon we must take advantage of the opportunity to visit Lake Wallowa, with its tragic and pathetic memories of Indian war and early settlement and with its glorious scenery, almost equal to that of Chelan. Right over the lake, deep-set in precipitous mountain walls, towers the battlemented crest of Eagle Cap, which the people of Wallowa now declare to be the highest mountain in Oregon, 12,000 feet in elevation. Wallowa Lake is the veritable jewel of the Blue Mountains, a chain which, while not in general equal to the Cascades for height, grandeur, and variety, possesses in the Wallowa Basin a group of attractions not surpassed in any part of the North-west.And now we must retrace our course after this long detour through the productive land bordering the tributaries of the River or we can in imagination fly on the wings of the south wind, which almost always blows across the Inland Empire, and find ourselves again at Wenatchee in order to resume our interrupted journey down the River. From Wenatchee to the foot of Priest Rapids, about sixty miles, there is no regular steamboat communication. We can, however, use the same means of transportation that we have hitherto used so liberally, imagination, and upon that airy and convenient ship we can descend the swift and tortuous stream. The fur brigades used to trust themselves to the skill of their paddles and boldly descend the rapids, seldom meeting with disaster. There are three principal rapids in this section of the River, Rock Island, Cabinet, and Priest. In the first the River is very narrow and split in sunder by ragged pinnacles of basaltic rock. At first observation it looks a reckless thing to push a boat out into the white water whirling through these fantastic points of rock. Yet a bateau or canoe skilfully handled will plunge like a race-horse down the foaming stretch, and emerge below bow down with little water aboard and inmates intact. Steamboats have both descended and ascended this rapid, though it is considered a somewhat dangerous performance. Cabinet Rapids are less picturesque and interesting than Rock Island, but they offer even more serious obstacles to navigation, the channel being narrow and the water shallow. The river has cut this part of its course through the great plateau, and its banks on either side are rocky walls a thousand feet high, with occasional sandy stretches, sad, barren, and monotonous. There is, in fact, not so much to catch the eye or enlist the interest of the tourist (if he were here) in this dismal expanse of rock and sand as there is either above or below. It is practically uninhabited. But as we proceed upon our way the banks fall away, wider expanses of land appear, and we discover an occasional band of cattle or a settler's hut on the generally bare, brown prairie. We are now approaching the longest rapid and the most serious impediment to navigation in the whole course of the River from Kettle Falls to Tumwater Falls. This is Priest Rapids. It is ten miles in length and represents a descent in the River of seventy feet. It would certainly be impossible of navigation by steamboats, were it not that the descent is distributed quite uniformly over the ten miles and the River in general is quite straight and with a fair depth of water throughout. The old voyageurs'had little difficulty in racing down, and they seem to have usually ascended by cordelling their bateaux beside the rocks, and at some especially difficult places by lightening the load and carrying around. Steamers have both ascended and descended, but it is so slow and tedious (on one occasion requiring a steamer three days to ascend the ten miles) that it cannot be considered commercially navigable. It will doubtless become necessary to construct a canal and locks at this point to render the River continuously and profitably navigable. Alexander Ross, in his Adventures on the Columbia, tells us how Priest Rapids came to be named. The first expedition of the Pacific Fur Company, of which Ross was a member, was making its way from Astoria up the River in 1811, and had reached the lower end of this fall. While reconnoitring and making preparations for proceeding, a large body of Indians gathered, watching operations with great interest. Among them was a fantastically dressed individual, with many feathers on his head, who was going through some kind of a performance which the explorers conceived to have a religious significance. Considering him a priest, they named the rapids thus.
The country around Priest Rapids is barren and unpromising in its natural state, but just below the foot of the rapids is one of the most interesting irrigation projects in the State. Along the west side of the River for twenty-five miles extends a belt of the most fertile land. An immense pumping plant run by electricity, which in turn is generated by the current, has been put in at the foot of the rapids. By this the water is conducted over the twenty thousand or more acres of land available, and it is the expectation that within a few years a dense population will line the river bank and repeat on a larger and finer scale the miracle of redemption by water already performed at various points on the River and its tributaries. Several town sites, of which the chief is Hanford, named from the president of the company, have already been laid out, and investments both in town property and orchard land are being rapidly made. The same process of irrigating is becoming inaugurated at many points from Hanford for a hundred and fifty miles down the River. It is plain to the observer that it is but a question of time when the shores of the River in this arid section will bloom and blossom like the rose, and repeat the history of Old Nile in massing of population and creation of cities and towns. It has been estimated that there are about a million acres of irrigable land contiguous to the River between Chelan and The Dalles. Since from five to twenty acres of irrigated land are ample to maintain a family, and since cities and villages are bound to grow on such tracts commensurate with their productive capacity, it seems probable that a million people will sometime live on this long belt of fertile soil redeemed by the River.
The beauty of irrigation on the Columbia is that it can be made to pump itself. For by taking advantage of such a fall as that of Priest Rapids (a half million horse-power at ordinary water), electric power can be generated by which limitless water can be raised sufficiently to cover any desired amount of land. Some have expressed the opinion that this process would exhaust the River, but this is hardly possible. For the great demands are in June and July when the River is at its flood. It has been estimated that at low water the Columbia at Celilo discharges 125,000 cubic feet per second, and at extreme high water, 1,600,000 cubic feet per second. Such a prodigious volume of water would be scarcely at all affected by any possible withdrawals.The River from the foot of Priest Rapids is regularly navigated by several steamers connecting the new lands and towns with Pasco, the railroad centre seventy miles below. This section of the River is deep and tranquil, a superb watercourse. Below Hanford the River receives the Yakima River, which is the important agent in the irrigation of the great Yakima Valley. No one could say that he knew the Columbia River or the State of Washington without a visit to that valley, the largest in the State and the scene of the most extensive development in irrigated lands anywhere in the North-west. Three thousand carloads of fruit and vegetables were shipped from the Yakima in 1907. Buyers of Yakima fruits come from all parts of the East, from England, and even from France. Fortunes have been made in that fair land,—a fair land when supplied with water, but an arid waste without it. The United States Government has acquired control of most of the water system of the Yakima, and by means of storage basins in the mountain lakes where the Yakima and its branches rise, will be able to supply water for over a million acres of land.
The productive capacity of these fat lands when softened with an irrigating ditch and tickled with a hoe or cultivator is almost beyond belief. In 1907 an orchardist in what is known as Parker Bottom in the Yakima Valley raised on fifty-eight pear trees a crop of pears which was sold for over three thousand dollars. This statement is well attested, extraordinary as it sounds. It should be understood that such production does not represent an average yield. The trees were of large size and of the choicest variety, while conditions of production, price, and sale were of the best. Yet similar records may be found in Wenatchee, Hood River, Walla Walla, and others of the fine fruit-producing regions of the Columbia Valley. A man in the Touchet Valley near Dayton, who had been for twenty years a teacher at an average salary of a thousand a year, became discontented with his narrow conditions, and by making credit arrangements for a rich body of land has devoted himself for some years to the development of an apple orchard. He has a hundred acres of trees, young and of choice varieties, from which in the year 1907 he sold thirty-four thousand boxes of fruit for approximately fifty thousand dollars.
But while we have been flying in imagination over the spacious valley of the Yakima, our steamer has been speeding down the broad River, and we are now within sight of a vast prairie stretching east and south, bounded on the southern horizon by the azure wall, ridged with white, of the Blue Mountains. To the east, this great plain melts into the sky. In fact it extends to the Bitter Root Mountains, a distance of over two hundred miles. On the west bank of the River we see a narrower plain bounded by a steep treeless ridge. On either bank we see taking shape before us houses and trees, while extended over the River, like threads of gossamer in the distance, a bridge is outlined against the sky. We soon discover that we are near Pasco on the east bank and Kennewick on the west bank of the River. The bridge is that of the Northern Pacific and Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railroads. A mile below the bridge the Snake River joins its greater brother.This point is the very hub of the Inland Empire. Here the two great rivers unite. Here steamboating on a vast scale will take place in the near future. As soon as the locks are placed in the River at Celilo, a hundred and thirty miles below, steamers can move freely to the ocean. Here three transcontinental railroads pass, two down the River and one to Puget Sound. Another is in process of construction to Puget Sound. Here a body of the richest soil, on both sides of both rivers, embracing at least a hundred and fifty thousand acres, waits only for water to bloom and yield as Wenatchee and Yakima have already done. Here the long, hot summer insures the earliest production of any part of the North-west, and in early production the profit is found.
It is, in fact, obvious at a glance that here at the junction of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, at the crossings of the great railroads, and at the point of the greatest area of irrigable land in one body, with every advantage of soil, climate, and transportation, there is bound to be in the near future a large city. Already on the west side of the Columbia the beautiful little town of Kennewick, of three thousand inhabitants, where six years ago the jack-rabbits, coyotes, and sage-hens held sway, shows what can be done with water. For at that point the first irrigating canal was put through the waste, and the traveller can now see the results.
Other irrigating enterprises are now in progress, and by the time the readers of this volume come to descend the River in the splendid steamboats which will sometime run through canals and locks the whole length from Revelstoke to the ocean, there will be one of the most splendid cities in the North-west at this meeting of the waters. Pasco is likely to be the location of the big city. From Pasco there are steamers running to Celilo, conveying wheat. The traveller who desires to know the River from its surface should take passage on such a steamer. We see the same characteristic features of the inauguration of irrigating enterprises from point to point, but mainly the shores are still uninhabited and barren, and the River, mainly untouched by sail or steamer, sweeps on its swift course, as lonely as when Lewis and Clark first turned their canoe prows westward.
As we pass the desolate sand heaps near the disconsolate little old town of Wallula, we can recall the old Hudson's Bay fort, the Indian wars, the struggle for possession, the missions, the incoming immigrants, all the tragedy and striving which marked the century just closed. Below Wallula the Umatilla highlands throw a barrier eight hundred feet high athwart the course of the stream, and the bold escarpments of rock, palisades grander than those of the Hudson, attest the energy with which the River fulfilled his mission of cleaving the intercepting barrier in two. Below these palisades, a vast plain extends many miles on the south to where the purple line of the Blue Mountains cuts the horizon. On the margin of this plain the little town of Irrigon (where is published a paper with the alliterative title of the Irrigon Irrigationist of Irrigon, Oregon), green and flowery in the wide aridity, shows us again what part water plays in reclamation of land. Of similar interest is Blalock Island, commemorating the name of Dr. N. G. Blalock of Walla Walla, whom the North-west honours as the father of great enterprises.We pass several rapids on this section of the River, the chief of which are the Umatilla, John Day, and Hell-gate. These are somewhat serious impediments to navigation at low water. The Umatilla Rapid presents the curious feature of a reef extending almost directly across the River with the channel running parallel to it and at right angles to the course of the stream. Hence when the water is so low that the reef cannot be passed directly over, the steamer pilot must follow a channel running right across the current, a current which tends to throw him broadside onto the reef. The Government is at present engaged in
This is the beginning of the greatest series of obstructions on the River and the point where the Government is now constructing a canal, by means of which the entire upper course of the River will be brought into connection with the lower. In the distance of twelve miles the River falls eighty-one feet at low water and sixty feet at high water. The Tumwater Falls at the head of this series of obstructions has a descent of twenty feet at low water, but at high water the volume of the River is so great that it passes directly over the fall and a boat can shoot over the steep slope. Here was one of the most famous places in early history. On the north side was the Wishram village, noted in Irving's Astoria. This, too, was the greatest place for fishing on the upper River. Even now the Indians gather in autumn in great numbers and can be seen spearing the salmon. Several immense fish-wheels also can be seen upon the verge of the falls.
The most remarkable of all these obstructions is Five-Mile Rapids. This is the place to which in the first place the French voyageurs applied the name Dalles, meaning a trough through the flat plates of rock. It is sometimes called the "Big Chute."
It is planned by the Government to overcome these obstructions by a canal and locks. The expense is estimated at four and a half million dollars. The sulting advantages will be vast. The greater part of the Inland Empire will be thrown open to steamer competition with the railroads. The freight tariff at the present time is heavier than in any other part of the United States. If the productive capacity of the region were not extraordinary, it could not have developed as it has with such a handicap. It is estimated that by the reduction of freight which will follow steamboat navigation, the Inland Empire will save not less than two million dollars annually. In the tremendous movement now sweeping over our country to improve waterways, the Columbia will bear its part and receive its improvement. It will be a great day for the storied and scenic River of the West when some magnificent excursion steamer descends the thousand miles from Revelstoke to the outer headlands. And with canals at Celilo, Priest Rapids, and Kettle Falls, with some improvements at minor points, at no immoderate expense, the thing can be done.And now we reach the city of The Dalles. The traveller will find this a place hardly surpassed in historic interest by any other on the River. The old trading posts, the United States fort, the missions, the Indian wars, the early immigrations, the steamboat enterprises, all unite to give rare value to this picturesque "capital of the sheep country." For, aside from historic interest, The Dalles surpasses any other point in the United States as a wool shipping station. It is now becoming also the centre of a farming and orchard country. For it is now understood that the rolling hill land for many miles is adapted to wheat raising and to fruit of the finest quality. If our visitors to the River should happen to be in The Dalles in autumn they would find at the Wasco County Horticultural Fair one of the most attractive and appetising displays of fruit that the whole country affords.
The scenery about The Dalles, with the majestic River, the great white cones of Hood and Adams, and wide sweeps of rolling prairie and hollowed hills, is noble and inspiring. It may be considered the gateway of the open prairie to the east and the passage of the Cascade Mountains by the River to the west.