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Chance Days in Oregon

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[H. H. "Chance Days in Oregon," Atlantic Monthly, Volume 51, Number 303 (January 1883) (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Co) pp.115-127.]


THE best things in life seem always snatched on chances. The longer one lives and looks back, the more he realizes this, and the harder he finds it to "make option which of two," in the perpetually recurring cases when "there ‘s not enough for this and that," and lie must choose which he will do or take. Chancing right in a decision, and seeing clearly what a blunder any other decision would have been, only makes the next such decision harder, and contributes to increased vacillation of purpose and infirmity of will; until one comes to have serious doubts whether there be not a truer philosophy in the "toss up" test than in any other method. "Heads we go, tails we stay," will prove right as many times out of ten as the most pains- taking pros and cons, weighing, consulting, and slow deciding.

It was not exactly by "heads and tails" that we won our glimpse of Oregon; but it came so nearly to the same thing that our recollections of the journey are still mingled with that sort of exultant sense of delight with which the human mind always regards a purely fortuitous possession.

Three days and two nights on the Pacific Ocean is a round price to pay for a thing, even for Oregon, with the Columbia River thrown in. There is not so misnamed a piece of water on the globe as the Pacific Ocean, nor so unexplainable a delusion as the almost universal impression that it is smooth sailing there. It is British Channel and North Sea and off the Hebrides combined,—as many different twists and chops and swells as there are waves. People who have crossed the Atlantic again and again without so much as a qualm are desperately ill between San Francisco and Portland. There is but one comparison for the motion: it is as if one’s stomach were being treated as double teeth are handled, when country doctors are forced to officiate as dentists, and know no better way to get a four-pronged tooth out of its socket than to turn it round and round till it is torn loose.

Three days and two nights! I spent no inconsiderable portion of the time in speculations as to Monsieur Antoine Crozat’s probable reasons for giving back to King Louis his magnificent grant of Pacific coast country. He kept it five years, I believe. In that time he probably voyaged up and down its shores thoroughly. Having been an adventurous trader in the Indies, he must have been well wonted to seas; and being worth forty millions of livres, he could afford to make himself as comfortable in the matter of a ship as was possible a century and a half ago. His grant was a princely domain: an empire five times larger than France itself, What could lie have been thinking of, to hand it back to King Louis like a worthless bauble of which he had grown tired? Nothing but the terrors of sea-sickness can explain it. If he could have foreseen the steam-engine, and have had a vision of it flying on iron roads across continents and mountains, how differently would he have conducted! The heirs of Monsieur Antoine, if any such there he today, must chafe when they read the terms of our Louisiana Purchase.

Three days and two nights—from Thursday morning till Saturday afternoon—between San Francisco and the mouth of the Columbia, and then we had to lie at Astoria the greater part of Sunday night before the tide would let us go on up the river. It was not waste time, however. Astoria is a place curious to behold. Seen from the water, it seems a tidy little white town nestled on the shore, and well topped off by wooded hills. Landing, one finds that it must be ranked as amphibious, being literally half on land and half on water. From Astoria proper, the old Astoria, which Mr. Astor founded, and Washing- ton Irving described, up to the new town, or upper Astoria, is a mile and a half, two thirds bridges and piers. Long wooden wharves, more streets than wharves, resting on hundreds of piles, are built out to deep water. They fairly fringe the shore; and the street nearest the water is little more than a succession of bridges from wharf to wharf. Frequent bays and inlets make up, leaving unsightly muddy wastes when the tide goes out. To see family washing hung out on lines over these tidal fiats, and the family infants draw- ing their go - carts in the mud below, was a droll sight. At least every oth- er building on these strange wharf streets is a salmon cannery, and acres of the wharf surfaces were covered with salmon nets spread out to dry. The streets were crowded with wild-looking men, sailor-like, and yet not sailor-like, all wearing india-rubber boots reaching far above the knee, with queer wing-like flaps projecting all around at top. These were the fishers of salmon, two thousand of them, Russians, Finns, Germans, Italians,—"every kind on the earth," an old restaurant keeper, said in speaking of them; "every kind on the earth, they pour in here, for four months, from May to September. They’re a wild set; clear out with the salmon, ‘n’ don’t mind any more ‘n the fish do what they leave behind ‘em."

All day long they kill time in the saloons. The nights they spend on the water, flinging and trolling and drawing in their nets, which often burst with the weight of the captured salmon. It is a strange life, and one sure to foster a man’s worst traits rather than his best ones. The fishermen who have homes and families, and are loyal to them, industrious and thrifty, are the exception.

The site of Mr. Astor’s original fort is now the terraced yard of a spruce new house on the corner of one of the pleasantest streets in the old town. These streets are little more than narrow terraces, rising one above the other on jutting and jagged levels of the river bank. They command superb off-looks across and up and down the majestic river, which is here far more a bay than a river. The Astoria people must be strangely indifferent to these views, for the majority of the finest houses face away from the water, looking straight into the rough, wooded hillside.

Uncouth and quaint vehicles are perpetually plying between the old and the new towns; they jolt along fast over the narrow wooden roads, and the foot passengers, who have no other place to walk, are perpetually scrambling from under the horses’ heels. It is a unique highway: pebbly beaches, marshes, and salt ponds, alder-grown cliffs, hemlock and spruce copses on its inland side; on the water-side, bustling wharves, canneries, fishermen’s boarding-houses, great spaces filled in with bare piles waiting to be floored; at every turn shore and sea seem to change sides, and clumps of brakes, fresh-hewn stumps, maple and madrone trees, shift places with canneries and wharves; tho sea swashes under the planks of the road at one minute, and the next is an eighth of a mile away, at the end of a close-built lane. Even in the thickest settled business part of the town, blocks of water alternate with blocks of brick and stone.

The statistics of the salmon-canning business almost pass belief. In 1881, six hundred thousand cases of canned salmon were shipped from Astoria. We ourselves saw seventy-five hundred cases put on board one steamer. There were forty eight-pound cans in each case; it took five hours’ steady work, of forty "long-shore men," to load them. These long-shore men are another shiftin and turbulent e]ement in the populations of the river-towns. They work day and night, get big wages, go from place to place, and spend money recklessly; a sort of commercial Bohemian, difficult to handle and often dangerous. They sometimes elect to take fifty cents an hour and all the beer they can drink, rather than a dollar an hour and no beer. At the time we saw them, they were on beer wages. The foaming beer casks stood at short intervals along the wharf,—a pitcher, pail, and mug at each cask. The scene was a lively one: four cases loaded at a time on each truck, run swiftly to the wharf edge, and slid down the hold; trucks rattling, turning sharp corners; men laughing, wheeling to right and left of each other, tossing off mugs of beer, wiping their mouths with their hands, and flinging the drops in the air with jests,—one half forgave them for taking part wages in the beer, it made it so much merrier.

On Sunday morning we waked up to find ourselves at sea in the Columbia River. A good part of Oregon and Washington Territory seemed also to be at sea there. When a river of the size of the Columbia gets thirty feet above low-water mark, towns and town- ships go to sea unexpectedly. All the way up the Columbia to the Willamette, and down the Willamette to Portland, we sailed in and on a freshet, and saw at once more and less of the country than could be seen at any other time. At the town of Kalama, facetiously announced as "the water terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad," the hotel, the railroad station, and its warehouses were entirely surrounded by water, and we sailed, in seemingly deep water, discreetly over the wharf where landings were usually made. At other towns on the way we ran well up into the fields, and landed passengers or freight on stray sand spits, or hillocks, from which they could get off again on the other side by small boats. We passed scores of deserted houses, their windows open, the water swashing over their door-sills gardens, with only tops of bushes in sight, one with red roses swaying back and forth, limp and helpless on the tide. It seemed strange that men would build houses and make farms in a place where they are each year liable to be driven out by such freshets. When I expressed this wonder, an Oregonian re plied lightly, "Oh, the river always gives them plenty of time. They‘ve all got boats, and they wait till the last minute always, hoping the water’ll go down." "But it must be unwholesome to the last decree to live on such over- flowed lands. When the water recedes, they must get fevers." "Oh, they get used to it. After they ‘ye taken about a barrel of quinine, they ‘re pretty well acclimated." Other inhabitants of the country asserted roundly that no fevers followed these freshets; that the trade-winds swept away all malarial influences; that the water did no injury whatever to the farms,—on the contrary, made the crops better; and that these farmers along the river bottoms "could n’t be hired to live anywhere else in Oregon."

The higher shore lines were wooded almost without a break; only at long intervals an oasis of clearing, high up, an emerald spot of barley or wheat, and a tiny farm-house. These were said to be usually lumbermen’s homes; it was warmer up there than in the bottom, and crops thrived. In the not far-off day when these kingdoms of forests are overthrown, and the Columbia runs unshaded to the sea, these hill shores will be one vast granary.

The city of Portland is on the Willamette River, fourteen miles south of the junction of that river with the Columbia. Seen from its water approach, Portland is a picturesque city, with a near surrounding of hills, wooded with pines and firs, that make a superb skyline setting to the town, and to the five grand snow peaks, of which clear days give a sight. These dark forests and spear-top fringes are a more distinctive feature in the beauty of Portland’s site than even its fine waters and islands. It is to be hoped that the Portland people will appreciate their value, and never let their near hills be shorn of trees. Not one tree more should be cut. Already there are breaks in the forest horizons, which mar the picture greatly, and it would take but a few days of ruthless woodchoppers’ work to rob the city forever of its backgrounds, turning them into unsightly barrens. The city is on both sides of the river, and is called East and West Portland. With the usual perversity in such cases, the higher ground and the sunny eastern frontage belong to the less popular part of the city, the west town having most of the business and all of the fine houses. Yet in times of freshet, its lower streets are always under water; and the setting-up of back-water into drains, cellars, and empty lots is a yearly source of much illness. When we arrived, two of the principal hotels were surrounded by water; from one of them there was no going out or coming in, except by planks laid on trestle-work in the piazzas, and the air in the lower part of the town was foul with bad smells from the stagnant water.

Portland is only thirty years old, and its population is not over twenty-five thousand. Yet it is said to have more wealth per head than any other city in the United States, except New Haven. Wheat and lumber and salmon have made it rich. Oregon wheat brings such prices in England that ships can afford to cross the ocean to get it, and last year a hundred and thirty-four vessels sailed out of Portland harbor, loaded solely with wheat or flour.

The city reminds one strongly of some of the rural towns in New England. The houses are unpretentious, wooden, either white or of light colors, and uniformly surrounded by pleasant grounds, in which trees, shrubs, and flowers grow freely, without any attempt at formal or decorative culture. One of the most delightful things about the town is its surrounding of wild and wooded country. In an hour, driving up on the hills to the west, one finds him- self in wildernesses of woods: spruce, maple, cedar, and pine; dogwood, wild syringa, honeysuckle, ferns and brakes fitting in for undergrowth, and below all white clover matting the ground. By the roadsides are linned, red clover, yarrow, may-weed, and dandelion, looking to New England eyes strangely familiar and unfamiliar at once. Never in New England woods and roadsides do they have such a luxurious diet of water and rich soil, and such comfort- able warm winters. The white clover especially has an air of spendthrifty indulgence about it, which is delicious. It riots through the woods, even in their densest, darkest depths, making luxuriant pasturage where one would least look for it. On these wooded heights are scores of dairy farms, which have no clearings except of the space needful for the house and outbuildings. The cows, each with a bell at her neck, go roaming and browsing all day in the forests. Out of thickets scarcely penetrable to the eye come everywhere

along the road the contented notes of these bells’ slow tinkling at the cows’ leisure. The milk, cream, and butter from these dairy farms are of the excellent quality to be expected, and we wondered at not seeing "white clover butter" advertised as well as "white clover boney." Land in these wooded wilds brings from forty to eighty dollars an acre; cleared, it is admirable farm land. Here and there we saw orchards of cherry and apple trees, which were loaded with fruit; the cherry-trees so full that they showed red at a distance.

The alternation of these farms with long tracts of forest, where spruces and pines stand a hundred and fifty feet high, and myriads of wild things have grown in generations of tangle, gives to the country around Portland a charm and flavor peculiarly its own; even into the city itself extends something of the same charm of contrast and antithesis; meandering footpaths, or narrow plank sidewalks with grassy rims, running within stone’s throw of solid brick blocks and business thoroughfares. One of the most interesting places in the town is the Bureau of Immigration of the Northern Pacific Railroad. In the centre of the room stands a tall case, made of the native Oregon woods. It journeyed to the Paris and the Philadelphia Expositions, but nowhere can it have given eloquent mute. answer to so many questions as it does in its present place. It now holds jars of all the grains raised in Oregon and Washington Territory; also sheaves of superb stalks of the same grains, arranged in circles, — wheat six feet high, oats ten, red clover over six, and timothy grass eight. To see Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, Irish, come in, stand wonderingly before this case, and then begin to ask their jargon of questions, was an experience which did more in an hour to make one realize what the present tide of immigration to the New Northwest really is than reading of statistics could do in a year. These immigrants are pouring in, it is estimated, at the rate of at least a hundred and fifty a day: one hundred by way of San Francisco and Portland; twenty-five by the Puget Sound ports; and another twenty - five overland by wagons. No two with the same aim; no two alike in quality or capacity. To listen to their inquiries, their narratives, to give them advice and help, requires almost preternatural patience and sagacity. It might be doubted, perhaps, whether this requisite combination could be found in an American; certainly no one of any nationality could fill the office better than it is filled by the tireless Norwegian who occupies the post at present. It was touching to see the brightened faces of his countrymen, as their broken English was answered by him in the familiar words of their own tongue. lie could tell well which parts of the new country would best suit the Hardanger men, and the men from Eide. It must have been hard for them to believe his statements, even when indorsed by the home speech. To the ordinary Scandinavian peasant, accustomed to measuring cultivable ground by hand- breadths, and making gardens in pockets in rocks, tales of hundreds of unbroken miles of wheat country, where crops average from thirty-five to forty- five bushels an acre, must sound incredible; and spite of their faith in their countryman, they are no doubt surprised when their first harvest in the Willamette or Umpqua valley proves that his statements were under, rather than over, the truth.

The Columbia River steamers set off from Portland at dawn, or thereabouts. Wise travelers go on board the night be- fore, and their first morning consciousness is a wonder at finding themselves afloat, — afloat on a sea; for it hardly seems like river voyaging when shores are miles apart, and, in many broad vistas, water is all that can be seen. These vistas, in times of high water, when the

Columbia may be said to be fairly "seas over," are grand. They shine and flicker for miles, right and left, with green feathery fringes of tree-tops, and queer brown stippled points and ridges, which are house gables and roof-trees, not quite gone under. One almost forgets, in the interest of the spectacle, what misery it means to the owners of the gables and roof-trees.

At Washougal Landing, on the morning when we went up the river, all that was to be seen of the warehouse on the wharf at which we should have made landing was the narrow ridge line of its roof; and this was at least a third of a mile out from shore. The boat stopped, and the passengers were rowed out in boats and canoes, steering around among tree -tops and houses as best they might.

The true shore line of the river we never once saw, but it cannot be so beautiful as was the freshet’s shore of upper banks and terraces: dark forests at top, shifting shades of blue in every rift between the hills, iridescent rainbow colors on the slopes, and gray clouds, white edged, piled up in masses above them, all floating apace with us, and changing tone and tint oftener than we changed course.

As we approached the Cascade Mountains, the scenery grew grander with every mile. The river cuts through this range in a winding caon, whose sides for a space of four or five miles are from three to four thousand feet high. But the charm of this pass is not so much in the height and grandeur as in the beauty of its walls. They vary in color and angle, and light and shadow, each second: perpendicular rock fronts, mossy brown; shelves of velvety green-ness and ledges of glistening red or black stone thrown across; great basaltic columns fluted as by a chisel; jutting tables of rock carpeted with yellow and brown lichen; turrets standing out with firs growing on them; bosky points of cottonwood-trees; yellow and white blossoms and curtains of ferns, waving out, hanging over; and towering above all these, peaks and summits wrapped in fleecy clouds. Looking ahead, we could see sometimes only castellated mountain lines, meeting across the river, like walls; as we advanced they retreated, and opened, with new vistas at each opening. Shining threads of water spun down in the highest places, sometimes falling sheer to the river, sometimes sinking out of sight in forest depths mid-way down, like the famed fosses of the Norway fjords. Long sky-lines of pines and firs, which we knew to be from one hundred to three hundred feet tall, looked in the aerial perspective no more than a mossy border along the wall. A little girl, looking up at them, gave by one artless exclamation a true idea of this effect. "Oh," she cried, "they look just as if you could pick a little bunch of them!" At intervals along the right-hand shore were to be seen the white- tented encampments of the Chinese laborers on the road which the Northern Pacific Railroad Company is building to link Saint Paul with Puget Sound. A force of three thousand Chinamen and two thousand whites is at work on this river division, and the road is being pushed forward with great rapidity. The track looked in places as if it were not one inch out of the water, though it was twenty feet; and tunnels which were a hundred and thirty feet high looked only like oven mouths. It has been a hard road to build, costing in some parts sixty-five thousand dollars a mile. One spot was pointed out to us where twenty tons of powder had been put in, in seven drifts, and one hundred and forty cubic yards of rock and soil blown at one blast into the river. It is an odd thing that huge blasts like this make little noise, only a slight puff; whereas small blasts make the hills ring and echo with their racket.

Between the lower cascades and the upper cascades is a portage of six miles, past fierce waters, in which a boat could scarcely live. Here we took cars; they were over-full, and we felt ourselves much aggrieved at being obliged to make the short journey standing on one of the crowded platforms. It proved to be only another instance of the good things caught on chances. Next me stood an old couple, the man’s neck so burnt and wrinkled it looked like fiery red alligator’s skin ; his clothes, evidently his best, donned for a journey, were of a fashion so long gone by that they had a quaint dignity. The woman wore a checked calico sun-bonnet, and a green merino gown of as quaint a fashion as her husband’s coat. With them was a veritable Leather Stocking: an old farmer, whose flannel shirt, tied loosely at the throat with a bit of twine, fell open, and showed a broad hairy breast of which a gladiator might have been proud.

The cars jolted heavily, making it hard to keep one’s footing; and the old man came near being shaken off the step. Recovering himself, he said, laughing, to his friend, — "Anyhow, it ‘s easier n a buckin’ Cayuse horse." Yes," assented the other. "‘T ain’t much like ‘49, is it? "Were you here in ‘49?" I asked eagerly.

"‘49! " he repeated scornfully. "I was here in ‘47. 1 was seven months comm’ across from Iowa to Oregon City in an ox team; an’ we ‘re livin’ on that same section we took up then; an’ I reckon there hain’t nobody got a lien on to it yet. We ‘ye raised nine children, an’ the youngest on em ‘s twenty-one. My woman ‘s been sick for two or three years ; this is the first time I ‘ye got her out. Thought we ‘d go down to Colum

bus, an’ get a little pleasure, if we can. We used to come up to this portage in boats, an’ then pack everything on horses an’ ride across."

"We wore buckskin clo’es in those days," interrupted Leather Stocking, "and spurs with hells ; need n’t do more n jingle the hells, ‘n’ the horse ‘d start. I ‘d like to see them times back agen, too. I vow I ‘m put to ‘t now to know where to go. This civilyzation," with an indescribably sarcastic emphasis on the third syllable, "is too much for me. I don’t want to live where I can’t go out ‘a’ kill a deer before breakfast any mornin’ I take a notion to."

"Were there many Indians here in those days?" I asked.

"Many Injuns?" he retorted ; "why, was all Injuns. All this country long here was jest full on ‘em."

"How did you find them ?

"Jest ‘s civil ‘s any people in the world; never had no trouble with ‘em. Nobody never did have atiy thet treated ‘em fair. I tell ye, it ‘s jest with them ‘s ‘t is with cattle. Now there ‘11 be one man raise cattle, an’ be real mean with ‘em ; an’ they ‘ll all hook, an’ kick, an’ break fences, art run away. An’ there’ll be another, an’ his cattle ‘ll all be kind, an’ come ter yer when you call ‘em. I don’t never want to know any- thin’ more about a man titan the way his stock acts. I hain’t got a critter that won’t come up by its name an’ lick my hand. An’ it ‘s jest so with folks. Ef a man ‘s mean to you, yer goin’ to be mean to him, every time. The great thing with Injuns is, never to tell ‘em a yarn. If yer deceive ‘em once, they won’t ever trust yer again, ‘s long ‘s yer live, an’ you can’t trust them either. Oh. I know Injuns, I tell you. I ‘ye been among ‘em here more ‘a thirty year, an’ I never had the first trouble yet. There ‘s been troubles, but I wa’n’t in ‘em. It ‘s been the white people’s fault every time."

"Did you ever know Chief Joseph?" I asked.

"What, old Jo! You bet I knew him. He’s an A No. 1 Injun, he is. He ‘s real honorable. Why, I got lost once, an’ I came right on his camp before I knowed it, an’ the Injuns they grabbed me; ‘t was night, ‘n’ I was kind o’ creepin’ along cautious, an’ the first thing I knew there was an Injun had me on each side, an’ they jest marched me up to Jo’s tent, to know what they should do with me. I wa’n’t a mite afraid; I jest looked him right square in the eye. That’s another thing with Injuns; you’ve got to look ‘em in the eye, or they won’t trust ye. Well, Jo, he took up a torch, a pine knot he had burnin’, and he held it close’t up to my face, and looked me up an’ down, an’ down an’ up; an’ I never flinched; I jest looked him up an’ down ‘s good ‘s he did me; ‘n’ then he set the knot down, ‘n’ told the men it was all right, — I was ‘turn turn;’ that meant I was good heart; ‘n’ they gave me all I could eat, ‘n’ a guide to show me my way, next day, ‘a’ I could n’t make Jo nor any of ‘em take one cent. I had a kind o’ comforter o’ red yarn, I wore round my neck; an’ at last I got Jo to take that, jest as a kind o’ mornento."

The old man was greatly indignant to hear that Chief Joseph was in Indian Territory. He had been out of the State at the time of the Nez Percé war, and had not heard of Joseph’s fate.

"Well, that was a dirty mean trick!" he exclaimed, — " a dirty mean trick! I don’t care who done it."

Then he told me of another Indian chief he had known well, —" Ercutch" by name. This chief was always a warm friend of the whites; again and again he had warned them of danger from hostile Indians. "Why, when he died, there wa’n’t a white woman in all this country that did n’t mourn ‘s if she ‘d lost a friend ; they felt safe ‘s long ‘s he was round. When he knew he was dyin’ he jest bade all his friends good-by. Said he, ‘ Good-by. I ‘m goin’ to the Great Spirit;’ an’ then he named over each friend he had, Injuns an’ whites, each one by name, and said good-by after each name."

It was a strange half hour, rocking and jolting on this crowded car platform: the splendid tossing and foaming river with its rocks and islands on one hand, high cliffs and fir forests on the other; these three weather-beaten, eager, aged faces by my side, with their shrewd old voices telling such reminiscences, and rising shrill above the din of the cars.

From the upper cascades to the Dalles, by boat again; a splendid forty miles run, through the mountain pass, it’s walls now gradually lowering, and, on the Washington Territory side of the river, terraces and slopes of cleared lands and occasional settlements. Great numbers of drift logs passed us here, coming down apace, from the rush of the Dalles above. Every now and then one would get tangled in the hushes and roots on the shore, swing in, and lodge tight to await the next freshet.

The "log" of one of these driftwood voyages would be interesting; a tree trunk may be ten years getting down to the sea, or it may swirl down in a week. It is one of the businesses along the river to catch them, and pull them in to shore, and much money is made at it. One lucky fisher of logs, on the Snake River Fork, once drew ashore six hundred cords in a single year. Sometimes a whole boom gets loose from its moorings, and comes down stream, without breaking up. This is a godsend to anybody who can head it off and tow it in shore; for by the law of the river he is entitled to one half the value of the logs.

At the Dalles is another short portage of twelve miles, past a portion of the river which, though less grand than its plunge through the Cascade Mountains, is far more unique and wonderful. The waters here are stripped and shred into countless zigzagging torrents, boiling along through labyrinths of black lava rocks and slabs. There is nothing in all nature so gloomy, so weird, as volcanic slag, and the piles, ridges, walls, palisades of it thrown up at this point look like the roof-trees, chimneys, turrets of a half-engulfed Pandemonium. Dark slaty and gray tints spread over the whole shore, also; it is all volcanic matter, oozed or boiled over, and hardened into rigid shapes of death and destruction. The place is terrible to see. Fitting in well with the desolateness of the region was a group of half-naked Indians crouching on the rocks, gaunt and wretched, fishing for salmon ; the hollows in the rocks about them filled with the bright vermilion-colored salmon spawn, spread out to dry. The twilight was nearly over as we sped by, and the deepening ‘darkness added momently to the gloom of the scene.

At Celilo, just above the Dalles, we took boat again for Umatilla, one hundred miles farther up the river.

Next morning we were still among lava beds: on the Washington Territory side, low, rolling shores, or slanting slopes with terraces, and tufty brown surfaces broken by ridges and points of the black slag; on the Oregon side, high brown cliffs mottled with red and yellow lichens, and great beaches and dunes of sand, which had blown into windrows and curving hillock lines as on the sea-shore. This sand is a terrible enemy for a railroad to fight. In a few hours, sometimes, rods of the track are buried by it as deep as by snow in the fiercest winter storms.

The first picture I saw from my state-room windows, this morning, was an Indian standing on a narrow plank shelf that was let down by ropes over a perpendicular rock front, some fifty feet high. There he stood, as composed as if he were on terra firma, bending over towards the water, and flinging in his salmon net. On the rocks above him sat the women of his family, spreading the salmon to dry. We were within so short a distance of the banks that friendly smiles could be distinctly seen; and one of the younger squaws, laughing back at the lookers-on on deck, picked up a salmon, and waving it in her right hand ran swiftly along towards an outjutting point. She was a gay creature, with scarlet fringed leggins, a pale green blanket, and on her head a twisted handkerchief of a fine old Dürer red. As she poised herself, and braced back- wards to throw the salmon on deck, she was a superb figure against the sky; she did not throw straight, and the fish fell a few inches short of reaching the boat. As it struck the water she made a petulant little gesture of disappointment, like a child, threw up her hands, turned, and ran back to her work.

At Umatilla, being forced again to "make option which of two," we reluctantly turned back, leaving the beautiful Walla Walla region unvisited, for the sake of seeing Puget Sound. The Walla Walla region is said to be the finest stretch of wheat country in the world. Lava slag, when decomposed, makes the richest of soil, — deep and seemingly of inexhaustible fertility. A failure of harvests is said never to have been known in that country; the average yield of wheat is thirty-five to forty bushels an acre, and oats have yielded a hundred bushels. Apples and peaches thrive, and are of a superior quality. The country is well watered, and has fine rolling plateaus from fifteen hundred to three thousand feet high, giving a climate neither too cold in win- ter nor too hot in summer, and of a bracing quality not found nearer the sea. Hearing all the unquestionable tributes to the beauty and value of this Walla Walla region, I could not but recall some of Chief Joseph’s pleas that a small share of it should be left in their possession who once owned it all.

From our pilot, on the way down, I heard an Indian story, too touching to be forgotten, though too long to tell here excel)t in briefest outline. As we were passing a little village, half under water, he exclaimed, looking earnestly at a small building to whose window-sills the water nearly reached, —

"Well, I declare, Lucy’s been driven out of her house this time. I was wondering why I did n’t see her handkerchief a- waving. She always waves to me when I go by." Then he told me Lucy’s story.

She was a California Indian, probably of the Tulares, and migrated to Oregon with her family thirty years ago. She was then a young girl, and said to be the handsomest squaw ever seen in Oregon. In those days white men in wildernesses thought it small shame, if any, to take Indian women to live with them as wives, and Lucy was much sought and wooed. But she seems to have had uncommon virtue or coldness, for she resisted all such approaches for a long time.

Finally, a man named Pomeroy appeared, and, as Lucy said afterward, as soon as she looked at him, she knew he was her "tum tum man," and she must go with him. lie had a small sloop, and Lucy became its mate. They two alone ran it for several years up and down the river. He established a little trading-

post, and Lucy always took charge of that when lie went to buy goods. When gold was discovered at Ringgold Bar, Lucy went there, worked with a rocker like a man, and washed out hundreds of dollars’ worth of gold, all which she gave to Pomeroy. With it he built a fine schooner and enlarged his business, the faithful Lucy working always at his side and bidding. At last, after eight or ten years, he grew weary of her and of the country, and made up his mind to go to California. But he had not the heart to tell Lucy he meant to leave her. The pilot who told me this story was at that time captain of a schooner on the river. Pomeroy came to him one day, and asked him to move Lucy and her effects down to Columbus. lie said he had told her that she must go and live there with her relatives, while he went to California and looked about, and then he would send for her. The poor creature, who had no idea of treachery, came on board cheerfully and willingly, and he set her off at Columbus. This was in the early spring. Week after week, month after month, whenever his schooner stopped there, Lucy was on the shore, asking if he had heard from Pomeroy. For a long time, he said, he could n’t bear to tell her. At last he did; but she would not believe him. Winter came on. She had got a few boards together and built herself a sort of lint, near a house where lived an eccentric old bachelor, who finally took compassion on her, and to save her from freezing let her come into his shanty to sleep. He was a mysterious old man, a recluse, with a morbid aversion to women, and at the outset it was a great struggle for him to let even an Indian woman cross his threshold. But little by little Lucy won her way: first she washed the dishes; then she would timidly help at the cooking. Faithful, patient, unpresuming, at last she grew to be really the old man’s housekeeper, as well as servant. he lost his health, and became blind. Lucy took care of him till he died, and followed him to the grave, his only mourner, the only human being in the country with whom he had any tie. He left her his little house and a few hundred dollars, — all he had; and there she is still, alone, making out to live by doing whatever work she can find in the neighborhood. Everybody respects her; she is known as "Lucy" up and down the river. "I did my! best to hire her to come and keep house for my wife, last year," said the pilot. "I’d rather have her for nurse or cook than any white woman in Oregon. But she would n’t come. I don’t know as she’s done looking for Pomeroy to come back yet, and she is going to stay just where he left her. She never misses a time, waving to me, when she knows what boat I’m on, and there isn’t much going on on the river she don’t know."

It was dusk when the pilot finished telling Lucy’s story. We were shooting along through wild passages of water called hell Gate, just above the Dalles. In the dim light the basaltic columnar cliffs looked like grooved ebony. One of the pinnacles has a strange resemblance to the figure of an Indian. It is called the Chief, and the semblance is startling a colossal figure, with a plume-crowned head, turned as if gazing backward over the shoulder; the attitude stately, the drapery graceful, and the whole expression one of profound and dignified sorrow. It seemed a strangely fitting emphasis to the story of the faithful Indian woman.

It was near midnight when we passed the Dalles. Our train was late, and dashed on at its swiftest. Fitful light came from a wisp of a new moon and one star; they seemed tossing in a tumultuous sea of dark clouds. In this glimmering darkness the lava walls and ridges stood up, inky black; the foaming water looked like molten steel, the whole region more ghastly and terrible than before.

There is a village of three thousand inhabitants at the Dalles. The houses are set among lava hillocks and ridges. The fields seem bubbled with lava, their blackened surfaces stippled in with yellow and brown. High up above are wheat fields in clearings, reaching to the sky-line of the hills. Great slopes of crumbling and disintegrating lava rock spread superb purple and slate colors between the greens of forests and wheat fields. It is one of the memorable pictures on the Columbia.

To go both up and down a river is a good deal like spending a summer and a winter in a place, so great difference does it make when right hand and left shift sides, and everything is seen from a new stand-point.

The Columbia River scenery is taken at its best going up especially the gradual crescendo of the Cascade Mountain region, which is far tamer entered from above. But we bad a compensation in the clearer sky and lifted clouds, which gave us the more distant snow peaks in all their glory, and our run down from the Dalles to Portland was the best day of our three on the river. Our steamer was steered by hydraulic pressure, and it was a wonderful thing to sit in the pilot house and see the slight touch of a finger on the shining lever sway the great boat in a second. A baby’s hand is strong enough to steer the largest steamboat by this instrument. It could turn the boat, the captain said, in a maelstrom, where four men together could not budge the rudder-wheel.

The history of the Columbia River navigation would make by itself an interesting chapter. It dates back to 1792, when a Boston ship and Boston captain first sailed up the river. A curious bit of history in regard to that ship is to be found in the archives of the old Spanish government in California. Whenever a royal decree was issued in Madrid in regard to the Indies or New Spain, a copy of it was sent to every viceroy in the Spanish Dominions; he communicated it to his next subordinate, who in turn sent it to all the governors, and so on, till the decree reached every corner of the king’s provinces. In 1789 there was sent from Madrid, by ship to Mexico, and thence by courier to California, and by Fages, the California governor, to every port in California, the following order:

"Whenever there may arrive at the port of San Francisco a ship named the Columbia, said to belong to General Washington of the American States, commanded by John Kendrick, which sailed from Boston in 1787, bound on a voyage of discovery to the Russian settlements on the northern coast of the peninsula, you will cause said vessel to be examined with caution and delicacy, using for this purpose a small boat which you have in your possession."

Two months after this order was promulgated in the Santa Barbara presidio, Captain Gray, of the ship Washington, and Captain Kendrick, of the ship Columbia, changed ships in Wickmanish harbor. Captain Gray took the Columbia to China, and did not sail into San Francisco harbor at all, whereby he escaped being examined with caution and delicacy by the small boat in pos- session of the San Francisco garrison. Not till the 11th of May, 1792, did he return and sail up the Columbia River, then called the Oregon. He renamed it for his ship, "Columbia’s River," but the possessive was soon dropped.

When one looks at the crowded rows of steamboats at the Portland wharves now, it is hard to realize that it is only thirty-two years since the first one was launched there. Two were built and launched in one year, the Columbia and the Lot Whitcomb. The Lot Whitcomb was launched on Christmas Day; there were three days’ feasting and dancing, and people gathered from all parts of the Territory to celebrate the occasion.

It is also hard to realize, when standing on the Portland wharves, that it is less than fifty years since there were angry discussions in the United States Congress as to whether or not it were worth while to obtain Oregon as a possession, and in the Eastern States manuals were being freely distributed, bearing such titles as this: "A general circular to all persons of good character wishing to emigrate to the Oregon Territory." Even those statesmen who were most earnest in favor of the securing of Oregon did not perceive the true nature of its value. One of Benton’s most enthusiastic predictions was that an "emporium of Asiatic commerce" would be situated at the mouth of the Columbia, and that "a stream of Asiatic trade would pour into the valley of the Mississippi through the channel of Oregon." But the future of Oregon and Washington rests not on any transmission of the riches of other countries, however important an element in their prosperity that may ultimately become. Their true riches are their own and inalienable. They are to be among the great feeders of the earth. Gold and silver values are unsteady and capricious; intrigues can overthrow them; markets can be glutted, arid mines fail. But bread the nations of the earth must have. The bread yielder controls the situation always. Given a soil which can grow wheat year after year with no apparent fatigue or exhaustion, a climate where rains never fail and seed- time and harvest are uniformly certain, and conditions are created under which the future success and wealth of a country may be predicted just as surely as the movements of the planets in the heavens.

There are three great valleys in Western Oregon, the Willamette, the Umpqua, and the Rogue River. The Willamette is the largest, being sixty miles long by one hundred and fifty wide. The Umpqua and Rogue River together contain over a million of acres. These valleys are natural gardens; fertile to luxuriance, and watered by all the westward drainage of the great Cascade Range, the Andes of North America, a continuation of the Sierra Nevada. The Coast Range Mountains lie west of these valleys, breaking, but not shutting out, the influence of the sea air and fogs. This valley region between these two ranges contains less than a third of the area of Washington and Oregon. The country east of the Cascade Mountains is no less fertile, but has a drier climate, colder winters, and hotter summers. Its elevation is from two to four thousand feet,—probably the very best elevations for health. A comparison of statistics of yearly death-rates cannot be made with absolute fairness between old and thick-settled and new and sparsely-settled countries. Allowance must be made for the probably superior health and strength of the men and women who have had the youth and energy to go forward as pioneers. But, making all due allowance for these, there still remains difference enough to startle one between the death-rates in some of the Atlantic States and in these infant empires of the New Northwest. The yearly death-rate in Massachusetts is one out of fifty-seven; in Vermont one out of ninety-seven; in Oregon one out of one hundred and seventy-two; and in Washington Territory one out of two hundred and twenty-eight.

As we glided slowly to anchorage in Portland harbor, five dazzling snow- white peaks were in sight on the horizon: Mount Hood, of peerless shape, strong as if it were a bulwark of the very heavens themselves, yet graceful and sharp-cut as Egypt’s pyramids: Saint Helen’s, a little lower, yet looking higher, with the marvelous curves of its slender shining cone, bent on and seemingly into the sky, like an intaglio of ice cut in the blue; miles away, in the farthest north and east horizons, Mounts Tacoma and Adams and Baker, all gleaming white, and all seeming to uphold the skies.

These eternal, unalterable snow peaks will be as eternal and unalterable factors in the history of the country as in its beauty to the eye. Their value will not come under any head of things reckonable by census, statistics, or computation, but it will be none the less real for that; it will be an element in the nature and character of every man and woman born within sight of the radiant splendor, and it will be strange if it does not ultimately develop, in the empire of this New Northwest, a local patriotism and passionate loyalty to soil as strong and lasting as that which has made generations of Swiss mountaineers ready to brave death for a sight of their mountains. H. H.

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© 2007-2009, J. Kidd.

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