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Rowdy River

Chapter 5 of historian Keith McCoy's continuing story on the White Salmon River.

Chapter V

EARLY SETTLEMENT: White Salmon and Bingen

We generally think of rivers as routes of access from point to point. Not so with the White Salmon River. Its deep canyons, swift, rowdy currents and heavily forested shores actually made it a barrier to its upper valleys.

It was not surprising that Columbia River bottomlands where the White Salmon poured into it should be settled early. But the unusual nature of the river ruled that the Trout Lake Valley should be one of the last favorable areas to be settled by Euro-Americans.

The influx of Americans over the Oregon Trail resulted in early statehood for Oregon in 1859. Lands north of the Columbia River developed much more slowly.

Washington gained territorial status in 1853 but would not become a state until 1889. The governor, General I. I. Stevens, had two priorities. One was to bring rails to the Northwest; the other to get the Indians out of the way.

The Whitman massacre of 1847 brought a military response and the Columbia suddenly became a busy river. The first steamboat to ply mid-Columbia waters was built there in 1851. It was followed by many others.

The E.R. Joslyn family, en route from Massachusetts to The Dalles, was attracted to the rich riparian land backed by basalt bluffs that would become White Salmon Flats. Since homestead opportunities were not yet available in the new territory, they filed a pre-emptive land claim and were thus the first Euro-American settlers on the north bank between the Cascades and the confluence of the Columbia and Snake Rivers. These and other early settlers sent alarm signals through the Tribes.

The Walla Walla Treaty of 1855 resulted in many tribes relinquishing their ancestral lands and agreeing to go onto reservations. Not all the bands and tribes agreed. We recall that a force of Yakamas and some disgruntled Klickitats struck with tragic results -- the burning out of the Joslyns, the Cascade Massacre with the loss of 11 whites and destruction of most of the improvements made at the Cascades portage, and creation of the temporary White Salmon Indian Reservation.

All this delayed the Joslyns and those who followed them from developing their farms and the towns to follow.

During the 1860s much of this area along the Columbia was settled. By 1870, the growing settlement merited a post office.

In the next decade much of the business activity moved up onto the bluff that provided such grand views of the Columbia River and Mount Hood. It soon became the commercial and cultural center that developed the excellent schools and library found there today.

Bingen, named for Bingen-on-the-Rhine in Germany, developed into the industrial town still supported by lumber and plywood, fruit packing, storage and shipping, truck gardening and light industry.

Unfortunately, persistent tensions developed between the growing towns. White Salmon was platted in 1901 and incorporated in 1907. Bingen was not incorporated until 1924.

White Salmon, with its grand views, became a popular resort town when such successful facilities as the Jewett Farm Resort and The Eyrie were developed. White Salmon built one of the first and finest sternwheeler landings in 1903 and was one of the first stops for the grand passenger packets that plied the Columbia after the opening of Cascade Locks in 1896.

It was natural that logging and lumbering should become the first and foremost economic activity. The heavily forested river valley and Mount Adams foothills provided a rich resource. Cutting wood for the sternwheelers became the early-day occupation and then extensive land clearing stimulated sawmilling.

A special chapter of the White Salmon Valley was written by the Monominee Lumber Company of Michigan when they came west seeking greener forests. For several years just before and after the turn of the century they harvested the virgin forests along the White Salmon, driving logs down the turbulent river for rafting at the mouth of the White Salmon. It was a colorful, prosperous, dangerous era that ended with the completion of Condit Dam in 1912.

By 1900 it was evident that the White Salmon Valley had a bright future as an orchard center. Hood River Valley across the Columbia was rapidly developing. It had the bonus of an early-day irrigation system that served much of that valley.

The real estate fraternity saw an opening to advertise dry land fruit as being of superior quality -- more suitable for shipment to foreign markets. By 1910 the small town of White Salmon boasted having four banks, seven attorneys, 15 realtors and an opera house. Vast acreages were cleared and planted to the popular apple brands of the day. Timber from the clearings stimulated the lumber business. Many fine homes were built in the town and on the growing orchards.

As it developed, most of the land was too dry and too much cut up with hills and ridges to make general irrigation feasible. A disastrous freeze in the winter of 1919-20 killed most of the plantings. Most of the land was allowed to revert back to brush and forest land. The one principal exception is the Mount Adams Orchards that was planted to pears and survives as the world's largest d'Anjou orchard with an extensive packing and shipping facility along the Columbia.


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