Thursday, November 17, 2011

Great Cattle Drives of Eastern Washington

The great cattle drive: Dalles, Oregon to
the Cariboo Mines of British Columbia 1862

Back in high school I took a class called Novel taught by Jim Deatherage. We read a variety of novels some of which I still remember very clearly. For a western novel we read A Thousand for the Cariboo by Bill Gulick. Gulick took the story of Andrew Splawn's cattle drive from the Dalles, Oregon to the Cariboo Country of British Columbia and turned it into a novel. I loved the story, and should add that Jim Deatherage ranked as one of the greatest teachers I ever had.

Gulick's wife Jeanne came across a self-published book by Andrew Splawn titled KA-MI-AKIN The Last Hero of the Yakimas that was published in 1917 in a second hand book shop. The book includes Splawn's account of the cattle drive from the Dalles, Oregon to Barkerville, British Columbia. Gulick and other historians have cited Splawn's accounts.

So I tracked down a print of A.J. Splawn's KA-MI-AKIN The Last Hero of the Yakimas in part because I am very interested in first hand accounts as to what the Washington landscaped once looked like. Splawn moved to what is now the Goldendale area in 1860 from the Willamette Valley at age 16. This was just two years after the Yakima War that had swept across eastern Washington.

In regards to Kamiakin, Splawn does not disappoint. His writing is not a researched history, it is a history as he remembers it and and as told by people that he knew that participated in the treaty negotiations and the fighting on both sides. Splawn met Kamiakin several years after the war and had several encounters with Moses (moses-epic-figure-of-19th-century) another important historic figure that shaped our state.

Though the book is titled KA-MI-AKIN, the story of the great Yakima leader is only the early part of the book. This book is a first hand account of the post fur trade west. The book is mix of stories of early settlement farming, mining and the great cattle drives. The Pacific Northwest cattle drives were epic and many a western novel and movie is based on the life that Splawn wrote about. He is frequently referenced as he provided first person accounts of cattle drives and meetings he had with various Indians, early pioneers, and military leaders.

I traced a couple of Splawn's cattle drives. He made the epic Dalles to the Cariboo trip more than once and that route is shown above. Note the drive is approximately 1,000 miles. His first trip included over wintering the cattle in British Columbia - a learning experience for an 18 year old. He also drove cattle from the present day Selah area to Lewiston, Idaho shown below. The purpose of these drives was to take cattle directly to the mines to feed the miners. At the time there were no towns in Washington along the routes driven and the routes would best be described as lawless and very risky. They passed through significant tracts of land controlled by Indians that had yet to agree to ceding land and many of the Europeans and Americans were flat out criminals and at the time there was no court system to speak of in Washington Territory and a fairly weak one in British Columbia. Mining in north Washington, Idaho and the Cariboo drove much of the early agriculture in eastern Washington and is what made Splawn a successful businessman.

Splawn's Selah, Washington to Lewiston, Idaho drive
Number notations below
1 - Selah
2 - Cold Creek at present day Hanford
3 - Whitebluffs crossing of the Columbia River
4 - Washtucna Coulee including a stop at two lakes in the coulee one near present day Connell the second near Kahlotus.
5 - Palouse River - they followed the river from just upstream of where it cuts into a narrow gorge to Union Flat Creek
6 - Union Flat Creek. A long creek valley that took the cattle up to Union Flat on the plateau south of Pullman and above Lewiston.
7 - Lewiston. The drive actually continued past Lewiston to the Boise Basin as they wanted better prices for the cattle than what was offered in Lewiston.  


Elizabeth said...

Wonderful story Dan. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

I've long appreciated Splawn's book for its insight into the character of Eastern Washington, its Native Americans and pioneers. Thanks for sharing your research on the cattle drives. I've been blogging about that region for a while now.