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   Chapter 8 No.8

Two Years in Oregon By Wallis Nash Characters: 29821

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Up to the Cascades-?Farming by happy-go-lucky-?The foot-hills-?Sweet Home Valley-?Its name, and how deserved and proved-?The road by the Santiam-?Eastward and upward-?Timber-?Lower Soda Springs-?Different vegetation-?Upper Soda Springs-?Mr. Keith-?Our reception-?His home and surroundings-?Emigrants on the road-?The emigrant's dog-?Off to the Spokane-?Whence they came-?Where they were bound-?Still eastward-?Fish Lake-?Clear Lake-?Fly-fishing in still water-?The down slope east-? Lava-beds-?Bunch-grass-?The valleys in Eastern Oregon-?Their products -?Wheat-growing there-?Cattle-ranchers-?Their home-?Their life-?In the saddle and away-?Branding-time-?Hay for the winter-?The Malheur reservation-?The Indians' outbreak-?The building of the road-?When, how, and by whom built-?The opening of the pass-?The history of the road-?Squatters-?The special agent from Washington-?A sham survey.

After recovering from a sharp attack of illness last fall, I was sent away for change of air. I fancied the mountain air would revive me speedily; so we resolved to travel up to the Upper Soda Springs, in the Cascades. It was two days' journey from the valley. The first twenty miles led us across the rich valley portion of Linn County. We had to pass through the little town of Lebanon.

Near here we saw an illustration of farming carelessness that I must mention. The harvest of 1879 was marked by the first recorded instance of rust attacking the spring-sown wheat. The spring was unusually late, and when the rains ceased, about the 25th of May, the summer sun broke forth at once with unclouded warmth and splendor. The lately sown grain sprang up in marvelous vigor, and the crop promised abundantly for the farmer, when, just before the wheat hardened in the ear, the rust seized it, the leaf took a yellow tinge, and the grain shriveled up. The valley portions of Linn, Lane, Marion, and Benton Counties suffered, the first-named the most severely.

In our ride across the valley we passed several fields which were standing abandoned and unreaped; the preparations for next year's crop were in active progress; in one great wheat-field we saw the farmer, with his broad-cast grain-distributor fixed in his wagon, sowing his seed among the untouched, shriveled crop! And the wonder is that the crop of this year, all through this stricken district, was unusually fine for both quality and quantity of wheat.

I do not know that a stronger fact could be adduced in proof of the still wonderful fertility of this Willamette Valley than that it should be possible this year to reap a good crop, grown on ground that was neither reaped, plowed, nor rolled-nothing done but to cast abroad the seed and harrow it lightly in.

Soon after passing Lebanon, eighteen miles from here, we reached the foot-hills of the Cascades; round, swelling, sandy buttes; sometimes covered with short pasture-grass; generally bearing a growth of oak-brush, sprinkled with firs of a moderate size.

SWEET HOME VALLEY.We slept at the first toll-gate, at the other side of Sweet Home Valley. This pretty vale deserved its name. Some five or six miles long by about two in width, there was a good expanse of fertile bottom-land, plowed and cultivated; all round the hills rose, lightly timbered in part, affording pasture for the cattle. We were told that the first five settlers were bachelors, and called the Valley "Sweet Home" to induce their lady-loves to follow them so far into what was then a wilderness. That their invitation succeeded, I judge from the fact that the valley has now three hundred inhabitants; that the settlement was a permanent one, I judge from the fact that a neat schoolhouse, well filled with scholars, is now the chief ornament of the valley.

The road followed on along the course of the Santiam River, now becoming a rapid mountain-stream, with many a rock and ripple. By the side of every farmhouse stood one or two "fish-poles," betokening that the river was of use as well as ornament to the dwellers by its banks.

The road now led us straight eastward to the mountains, whose fir-crowned summits frowned on us from every side. Here and there a little valley nestling among the hills had been reclaimed to the use of man; and many a neat little farm and well-grown orchard, with fenced grain-fields and hay-fields, witnessing to the successful labor of the owner, smiled on us as we passed.

On nearly all appeared the magic words: "Hay and oats sold here. Good accommodation for campers"; betokening that we were on the main road of travel, and that the farmers found a ready market for their produce at their very door.

At one farm stood a set of Fairbanks's scales, for weighing and apportioning the wagon-loads before undertaking the passage of the mountains. The ascent was soon commenced; indeed, we had mounted several hundred feet before we were well aware of it, so good was the engineering of the road.

LOWER SODA SPRINGS.The timber grew larger on either side and ahead; no burned timber here, but massive, heavy growths, extending mile after mile, of spruce, hemlock, and pine, interspersed with many a cedar, tall, straight, and strong. Very little undergrowth of brush; a good deal of brake-fern and of grass; and by the sides and along the edges of the little gullies and ca?ons that we crossed, the large maidenhair-fern grew in beautiful profusion. We were never far from the Santiam, and now and again the roar and rush of water told us of little falls and rapids in the stream. Always ascending, here with a long, straight stretch of grading cut into the hill-side, there with a winding course to cheat the hill that rose to bar our road; down a short distance, then along the little valley with its farm, then up again, till we gained the brow overlooking the settlement at the Lower Soda Springs. The little wooden houses, with galleries overhanging the rocky stream; the heavy fir-woods clothing the hill-sides; the abundant ferns and creeping plants growing down to the water's edge; the abrupt outlines of the rocks in places too steep for vegetation-all reminded us of Norway, and of happy tours in bygone years. And the welcome we received from the hospitable innkeepers served to strengthen the remembrance.

We went down to drink at the soda-springs. Long, inclined ledges of white and gray rocks lead down to the river's edge; there, within a few feet of the sweet, running water, so near that the rise of one foot in actual level of the stream would overrun the spring, we found the alkaline spring, welling out from a hole six inches across in one of the wide ledges of gray rock. I never yet tasted a mineral water that was nice, and it seems as if the medical value of a spring varied exactly with its nastiness; so judged, I should say that the Lower Soda Springs were very valuable. A few hours more, over broken country, which grew wilder as we advanced, brought us in twelve miles' travel to our destination. The last few miles entered a burned timber-patch, where the black trunks either towered high into the air or lay supine, rotting by degrees into yellow mold. The vegetation had a different aspect from the Coast Range; a great feature in the brush was the abundance of elder-bushes, then covered with blue-gray berries, and the flourishing dogwood-trees, whose branches bore a quantity of large, white flowers and also of scarlet fruit. We had crossed the Santiam several times, here by timber bridges, there by fords.

The excellence of the road, its freedom from rocks and "chuck-holes," alike surprised and pleased us, and my poor bones would have told a sad tale if all the stories of "mere wagon-track" had been founded in even the semblance of fact.

MR. KEITH.We mounted the little rise which brought us in sight of Upper Soda Springs. On the left of the road stood a barn; on the right, three little detached wooden huts, from one of which the thin, blue smoke was rising and betokened the habitation of the owner. A thin, bent, elderly man issued from the barn with a big bundle of hay in his arms, as we drove up, and came across to meet us. "Mr. Keith?" I asked. "I have a letter of introduction from a friend of yours, and we wish to stay with you for a week or ten days." "You read it to me," was the answer; "I haven't got my spectacles." So I read it. "Well, sir, can we stay?" "I don't mind men, but I can't abear women," was the somewhat forbidding response, as my wife smiled across from the back of the carriage. "I don't think you need mind my wife, Mr. Keith; she won't give you any extra trouble." "I don't mind cooking for men-they don't know any better; but, as for the women, they are always thinking how much better they could do it." However, we settled it amicably, and took possession of the third little hut, where the bundle of hay was soon shaken out on to the two standing bed-places on either side. We made great friends with the old gentleman, whose roughness was all on the outside, and who slew his chickens, and cooked his cabbages, and stewed his dried plums and apples for us without stint, and in a manner that no woman could object to.

The situation was most romantic-just under the shadow of a huge body of rugged rocks on one side, while on the other Mr. Keith's little fields, from which all the dogwood and elderberry bushes had not been grubbed out, led to the edge of the bank overhanging the Santiam. The river here is a beautiful stream, rocky and broken, deep and shallow, by turns, with a trout under every stone.

Mr. Keith's garden was a few steps from the house, in a little bottom; although so high up above sea-level (about twenty-five hundred feet, I believe), the vegetables were as fine as I ever saw, and the grape-vines, trained over a trellis in front of the house, were loaded with fruit.

Here, among the hills, trout-rod for me and sketch-book and water-colors for my wife, we spent ten happy days. There was no lack of company, for, besides our old host, all the passers-by stopped at the house. Hardly a day went, even at that late period of the season, without from six to ten wagons passing, on their way from Western and Southern Oregon to the wide plains and fertile valleys of Eastern Oregon and Washington Territory.

The self-reliance, the absolute trusting to the future, of all these good people was impressive. The whole family were together: beds, chairs, stove, blankets, clock, saucepans, and household stores were all packed or piled into the wagon; underneath hung a box or basket with a couple of little pigs or a dozen cocks and hens. A couple of cows were driven along or took their parts as a yoke of oxen in draught; a colt or two and a few young cattle ran by the side, and the family dog, presiding over the cavalcade, seemed to have more of a burden on his mind than the human heads of the expedition. Many stopped to camp for the night, almost all for at least one meal, and all without exception to get a drink from the effervescing soda-spring.

OFF TO THE SPOKANE.One wagon was driven by a pleasant-spoken man; with him were his wife and a sick baby of a year old. They had nothing for the baby but potatoes and flour. Their stores were but scanty. "Where are you going?" said I. "To the Spokane, I guess," was the reply. "Where do you come from?" "Well, I had a valley-farm, and we were doing pretty well, but I hadn't my health good, and I thought we'd try the Spokane." "Do you know where it is you are going?" "No, but they told us to take this road and we'd find our way." "Have you any idea how far it is?" "Not much; a hundred miles or two, isn't it?" "Put five hundred or so on, and you'll get there." "You don't say so! Well, I dare say we shall get through all right." "What do you mean to do?" "Well, I haven't money enough to buy a farm, so I shall just take up a place." "You mean to homestead, then?" "I guess so." "How many miles can you make in a day?" "Not more than ten or fifteen with this old scrub team." "Have you thought that this is the first week in October, and that you can't expect to get there much before January?" "I guess not; but I dare say we shall get on very well." "You told me just now you had not much money; have you thought how long it will last you, spending two dollars a day on the road?" "No, I haven't rightly figured it. I knew we shouldn't have much left when we got there." "What makes you want to go to the Spokane?" "Well, I've heard it's good land up there." "Isn't Oregon good enough for you?" "I don't know but what it is. I didn't know the place was so far off." I fetched him a large scale map, and left him to think it over after supper. They were off in the morning before we were out, and I have no idea whether they reached the Spokane; my only consolation was, that the baby was the better for the care and food it got that night, and for the additional stores they carried away for it.

This conversation was, perhaps, an extreme one; but it is absolutely true to facts. All that we talked to were equally hopeful, and few much better instructed as to their course. Certainly no people in the world could be better qualified to make a little go far, to take cheerily all the inevitable discomforts of both the long journey and the new home, and to make the best use of every advantage they found or made. Only a few were going to this Spokane country, away north in Washington Territory; the rest were bound for Eastern Oregon, which is being settled up marvelously fast, when the difficulties of getting there, and of getting their produce out from there, are taken into account.

The stretch of burned timber country ended about the Upper Soda. All round it, and on from there eastward, grew miles upon miles of magnificent fir, hemlock, spruce, and cedar-trees, averaging three feet through, and, I judged, a hundred and fifty feet in height. I measured several of the dead trees on the ground, which ran from two hundred and twenty to two hundred and fifty feet in length, and the tops of all of them were gone.

A few miles farther on eastward are Fish Lake and Clear Lake. The former merits its name from the abundance of trout from one to three and four pounds in weight. In summer the water shrinks away to little more than a stream in the middle of the depression which forms the lake, and a growth of rich, succulent grass follows the subsidence of the waters. Clear Lake, some four miles off, is vastly different. It evidently occupies the place of a great and sudden depression of timber-covered country, for, looking down into the deep, clear water, the great firs are seen still standing erect on the bottom, far, far below. Fly-fishing on this lake is wonderfully good. Throw the flies on to the still water, oh! so quietly, and there let them lie motionless; in a moment or two a dim form shines deep down, rising with a quick, vibrat

ing motion, and up comes your friend: with a greedy snatch he takes the fly, and bolts downward with it, to be speedily checked and brought to book.

Soon begins the descent, much more gradual than the ascent, and not so prolonged, since all Eastern Oregon is a kind of plateau, elevated from one to two thousand feet above sea-level.

VALLEYS IN EASTERN OREGON.A stretch of lava-bed is soon reached, the acme of desolation, where the road has been painfully worked by crushing down the rugged blocks, or laboriously moving them with levers from the path. Two or three miles carry us across, and then the bunch-grass country begins. Great tussocks of succulent feed for spring and early summer, dried by the hot sun into natural hay for autumn and winter use, afford pasture for countless herds of cattle. Even here there are watercourses and springs a few miles apart. The valleys-namely, Des Chutes, Crooked River Valley, Ochoco, Beaver Creek, Grindstone Creek, Silver Creek, Harney Lake, and Malheur-stretch in a practically unbroken line across the whole of the remainder of Oregon to the eastern boundary of Snake River.

Take Crooked River Valley as a specimen. It varies from one to three miles in width, but is bounded, not by the steep and rugged hills we are used to in the Coast Range, but by gently swelling bluffs, covered with bunch-grass to and over their tops. The valley-land is rich and fertile, and wherever cultivated yields abundantly in potatoes, cereals, vegetables, and small fruits of all kinds. Sixty and eighty bushels of oats to the acre is not an unusual crop. And tame grasses take firm hold of the country wherever opportunity is given them. The bunch-grass slopes, with occasional sagebrush scattered among the grass, are not to be always set apart for such common use as at present.

Precisely the same character of land has been plowed up and put into wheat during the last few years round Walla Walla, just north of the northeast corner of Oregon, and produces forty bushels of wheat to the acre. Indeed, it is from country like this that the great crops of Northeastern Oregon and Washington Territory are produced; crops yielding a magnificent return, if not to the farmer whose enterprise and industry have served to raise them, yet to the recently formed transportation company called the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, by whose boats plying on the Columbia the wheat is carried to Portland to be shipped.

At present these vast stretches of rolling hill and dale are the home of the cattle-rancher-a strange and wild life. A suitable site is fixed on, commanding ample water privilege, with some valley-land near by to grow sufficient hay, and to raise the desired quantity of oats and vegetables; here the house is built, the lumber being hauled by wagons perhaps fifty or a hundred miles from the mill. The rancher's family consists of his wife and children, and possibly five or six herdsmen. While looking after cattle, these men almost live in the saddle. Horses abound, and form as good a source of revenue as cattle, in proportion to the capital engaged. The Eastern Oregon horse is taller and bigger-boned than the valley horse, but naturally his education is not so well attended to, and he is apt to be "mean" and to buck. Little recks his rider, and after a bout of bucking, in which the horse has not dislodged the man, but has shaken up every bone in his body till he is sore all over with the constant jar, as the horse comes to the ground all four feet at once after a mighty jump, then it is the man's turn. Driving in the heavy Mexican spurs, with their rowels two or three inches across, the rider starts wildly out, and mile after mile the open country is crossed at a hard-gallop. The herd is soon seen and ridden round, and a close lookout is kept to see if any stragglers have joined the band, and if the calves and yearlings are all right. Branding-time comes twice a year, in spring and autumn, when the cattle of a whole "stretch" of country are driven together, separated according to the various ownerships determined by marks and brands.

In spring come in the Eastern buyers, who travel through the country, collecting a huge drove of perhaps from ten to twenty thousand head. The three-year-old steers fetch about fifteen or seventeen dollars a head; no wonder the ranchers prosper, considering that the cost from calfhood was only that of herding.

Some of the provident ones collect one or two hundred tons of natural hay against the severities of winter. It may be that for two or three years the hay will stand unused; then comes the stress. Deep snow will cover the face of the country and lie for weeks, too deep for the cattle to live, as in ordinary winters, on the dry bunch-grass protruding from the snow, or easily reached by scratching a slight covering away. Even an abundant store will not save all, for many of the herd will have taken refuge in distant valleys, or perhaps have retreated far off the whole range in the face of the driving storm. And even those that are found will move very unwillingly from any poor shelter they may have secured toward the life-saving food.

THE MALHEUR RESERVATION.There is a large Indian reservation called the Malheur Reserve; the road crosses its southwest corner. These Indians are quiet enough now, but only three years ago there was an outbreak among them. One rancher had built a fine stone house, just outside the reservation bounds, and there lived in comfort, surrounded by all the necessaries and many of the luxuries of life. He had six or eight thousand head of cattle and some three hundred horses in his band. One morning a friendly Indian rode up in haste, telling him to get away, as the hostiles were coming to kill them all. Mounting their horses, the rancher and his wife took to flight; they looked back from the hill-top to see the flames and smoke rising from their comfortable home, telling how narrow had been their escape. A hurried ride of fifty miles took them to safe refuge; and the speedy repulse of the Indians, and their being driven once again within their own boundaries, enabled the rancher to rebuild his house, and restore once more his household goods.

This road was built by men who were sent out from Albany, and spent years in the work, rifles by their side; for the country fourteen years ago was not the safe domain it has now become. The first idea was to use the pass through the Cascades (which is the lowest and safest in Oregon, so far as I can learn), to build a road to open the plains of Eastern Oregon to the Willamette Valley. After a good deal of the work had been accomplished, a suggestion was made to the owners of the road that if they would undertake to extend it clear across the State to the Idaho boundary, a distance from Albany of some four hundred and fifty miles by the necessary deviations from a straight line, a land grant might probably be procured from Congress to aid the work. Whatever may be said of the general policy of granting the national lands to corporations to aid wagon-road and railroad enterprises, there may surely be cases where the effect is not only to secure the execution of the work, but also to encourage the settling up of a district, and the consequent increase of the population and wealth of a State.

Here was the state of affairs in Eastern Oregon prior to 1866: A vast country, adapted for the gradual settlement and ultimate habitation of a prosperous race, was lying at the mercy of a few roving bands of Indians, who made the lives and property of even casual travelers their speculation and sport. What was the value then of all that country? Could any purchaser for it have been then found, at even a few cents an acre?

BUILDING OF THE ROAD.The projectors of the road took their lives in their hands when they ventured forth to work. They risked themselves, their horses and equipments. Every pound of food consumed had to be brought in wagons from their starting-point. As they progressed, their danger and difficulty increased with every mile they traversed; and the last section of the road was built by men who had suffered themselves to be snowed in and shut off from families and friends, and to give up every chance of succor in distress, that the work might not stand still. And it was no light work, even judged by us who travel the road at ease, and have hardly a passing glance for the rocky grade, the deep cutting, the ponderous lava-block, the huge black trunk. How appalling must the undertaking have appeared to those who had first to face the dangers and difficulties of a mountain-chain, to plan for and survey out the most favorable route among heavy timber and rocky precipice, beside rushing waters and through deep gorges; and then across those wide and then silent plains, where the timid antelope ranged by day, and the skulking wolf by night made solitude hideous with his melancholy howl! No roadside farms to welcome them, no little towns to mark, as now, the stages of their journey, but farther and farther into the wilderness, till four hundred miles lay between the workers and the valley-homes they had left months before.

And this was no wealthy corporation, which has but to announce its readiness to receive, and dollars are poured into its lap by a public hungry for dividends, until it has to cry, "Hold, enough!" Here were no regiments of yellow workmen, trained to labor in many a ditch and grade; but citizens of Oregon, who desired to build up their State; who believed the records of their fellows as to the miles of country that could be forced to contribute their quota of productions if but the way were opened in and out; who, having themselves prospered in the sound and moderate way in which Oregon encourages her children, were ready to risk what they had gained in a cause they knew was good-these men combined their energies to the common end. It was an enterprise which roused and maintained the kindly interest of all. The working parties in the Cascade Range were followed up by the teams of those who desired the first choice of settlement in the promised land beyond.

By the time the last great log that barred the pass was reached, a long string of wagons stood waiting its removal. While the long saws were plied, and then the levers brought, all stood in expectation; willing hands lent their eager aid: the great wooden mass rolled sullenly away, and the tide of settlement poured through the gap. Between that day in 1867 and 1880 upward of five thousand wagons have made the journey, and, to the honor of the original locators be it said, all without accident arising from the road.

The first few years all went merry as a marriage-bell. The road naturally followed the fertile valleys; and small blame to the road-makers if, having the whole country before them, they chose the smoothest and cheapest route. No man will climb a hill and cut his way along its side if he can find good level ground at the bottom.

The road-makers were entitled under their congressional grant to alternate mile-square sections in a wide belt on either side of their road; the intervening sections were, of course, opened to settlement by the construction of the road. The open-valley sections were soon seized on, and a band of settlements justified, even so soon, the principle of the road-grant.

SQUATTERS.But to many men in this world, and Oregon has her share, the descriptive motto is not, "Labor is sweet, and we have toiled," but the antithesis, "Other men have labored: let us enter into the fruits of their labor." So squatters entered with the legitimate settler, or close on his heels, and took possession of many a section of the road company's land, "taking the chances," as they would express it, of something happening to help them to hold. To aid matters, these men fenced across the road near their houses, and carried the road round on the hill-sides above their farms. The settlers were not slow to follow so promising an example, and, to have the benefit of the bottom-land through which the road ran, they also pushed the road away up the hills.

On more than one occasion the road company sent and had these fences removed and opened the original road afresh. But travelers did not aid them; for here came in a trait of American character I have often noticed, namely, unwillingness to insist on strict right against their neighbors, and a readiness to make any shift, or agree to and use any détour, when to keep the old, straight road would involve a question. So the valley road got disused in places, and travel went round by the hills.

Next, the squatters bethought them that they might in time upset the road grant, and get good title to their neighbors' vineyard. So they sent on a petition to Washington, alleging that the road had never been made; that there was no road at all; that there had been a colossal fraud. But the matter was investigated, and discovery made that the United States authorities had ceased to have any jurisdiction so long ago as 1866. Still, those who were agitating thought something might be made of it. So, somehow or other, the Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Carl Schurz, was induced to interfere, not deterred by the knowledge that the land department had declined to act twelve months before; and so, a year after the squatters' complaint had been refused, an agent was sent out to report; he was well armed with the assailants' stories in advance, and he need be a man of superexcellent straightforwardness and hardihood unless he too could "see something in it."

In this case the ph?nix was not discovered, and the eyes, ears, and common-sense of hundreds of men who knew the road well were outraged by a report that no road existed or had been made except for about sixty miles at the western end; and that the road, if road it could be called, was a mere wagon-track, capable of use only for a short time and under exceptionally favorable circumstances!

It was of course assumed that, at so great a distance from headquarters, a hostile report would end matters, and that all the advantages hoped for by the squatters, and by any and all who had espoused their cause, would be forthwith enjoyed.

We have yet to learn that the American Congress will consent to be made parties to such an outrageous conspiracy; to cast an infamous slur on the characters of American citizens who ventured much in an undertaking for the public good; in violation of plain and acknowledged principles of law, to hamper and delay an enterprise relying on the title gained in 1871, and quietly enjoyed for ten years.

HARNEY LAKE VALLEY.The largest of the valleys through which this road passes is Harney Lake Valley, only about eighty miles from the eastern boundary of the State, which will receive fuller description farther on.

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