The first recording of the name Tsill-ane (Chelan), which means "Deep Water" to the native Indians, was in the journals of Alexander Ross on August 27, 1811. Although he and his party of explorers did not travel up the hill from the Columbia River (at one time called the Clarks River) to explore the lake, one night was spent at the foot of the Chelan River, where natives of that area shared information about the mighty lake with them.
In September of 1853, George Brinton McClellan (for whom the McClellan saddle was named) explored the Lake Chelan area in search of a wagon passage over the North Cascade Mountains. He and his party left Wenatchee, traveling northward up the west banks of the Columbia River, and then they traveled through a coulee (either Navarre or Knapp's) until they reached Lake Chelan. At that point they traveled down lake and over the breaks to the Columbia River.
In June and July of 1870, D. C. Linsley and a small party of explorers searched the Lake Chelan Valley and Cascade Pass hoping to establish a feasible rail route over the Cascade Mountains. He stated that the land in the Lake Chelan Valley was worthless except for the lower fifteen miles of the lake.
In 1875 Chinese miners were reported to be in the Chelan area. They had migrated from the San Francisco area and were on their way to the Fraser River in search of gold. While traveling up the Columbia River, gold was discovered along the river. One Chinese settlement was located where the Chelan River empties into the Columbia. They used the method of placer mining which at times was successful, though difficult and inefficient. They were eventually driven away by both the native Indians of that area and by the migrating white man.
In September of 1879, General H. C. Merriam and a body of troops were dispatched to Lake Chelan by the War Department. Their purpose was to locate and establish a post at the foot of Lake Chelan and explore the lake's valley. The post (dubbed "Camp Chelan") was abandoned after a very brief stay and the troops relocated to Fort Spokane further up the Columbia River where the Spokane River joins the Columbia.
In 1886 two men, William Sanders and Henry Domke (sometimes spelled Dumpke or Dumke), set out on a journey to Lake Chelan by way of the Methow Valley. After securing a packhorse to carry their supplies, they traveled from the Columbia River, up the Methow Valley and Twisp Rivers and over the mountain range that separates the Chelan Valley from the Methow Valley. On their descent down the rugged mountains in the upper Lake Chelan Valley, their packhorse stumbled and went tumbling down the mountainside. (Note - this tale has been retold in a few versions.) They were in the headwaters of a creek that they named in honor and remembrance of their faithful little packhorse. Today, the creek still bears the name "Prince".
Sanders and Domke made their way down the mountains to the lake's edge, then proceeded to travel down lake until they reached sheer cliffs, which stopped them from traveling any further. In this area was another small stream. Here they constructed a crude dugout or raft thus giving the little creek the name "Canoe". With the boat they had made, they safely made their way to the foot of the lake where friendly natives fed them. Both Sanders and Domke remained and settled in the Chelan Valley, becoming the first white settles of record here. A couple years later, Domke tried to develop a sawmill toward the upper regions of the lake. Though his little mill was never operational, a mountain, a small lake and a beautiful waterfall still honor this pioneer's name. (Domke Mountain, Domke Lake and Domke Falls).
It was Domke and Sanders who gave other pioneers the courage and confidence to settle in the Lake Chelan Valley. Soon after came L.H. Spader and Mr. and Mrs. I. A. Navarre. Mrs. Navarre has been said to have been the first white woman to live in the Chelan Valley; although other sources indicate that H. C. Merriam had his wife and three children with him at the short-lived Camp Chelan. Regardless, Mrs. Navarre was certainly the first white woman to settle and make the Chelan Valley her home, and her son Joe was the first white child born in the Valley.
Soon after came L. H. Woodin, Charles Cryderman, Captain Charles Johnson, Tunis Hardenberg and Ben F. Smith. By now the migration rush was on. Stories of Lake Chelan's splendor were spreading throughout the region and soon, throughout the country. It seemed as though Lake Chelan's possibilities and potential were endless. The entire Lake Chelan Valley was rich in many different minerals and mining looked to be a promising industry. Timber was plentiful, though difficult to transport, and the soils throughout the Lake Chelan Valley made settlers optimistic about developing a thriving fruit industry. There was also great optimism in the potential of generating power at the lake's base. If that was not enough to encourage settlement in the Chelan Valley, there was always the scenic beauty that would most certainly attract visitors. Lake Chelan had a great deal to offer the early settlers.
THE WATSONS SETTLE ON LAKE CHELAN
After searching several locations in and around the Lake Chelan Valley, J. Howard Watson ended up posting a claim on property located one mile down lake from his friend David Little. The property had what he was looking for. It was lake front property. Good access to water out of First Creek. A gentle slope. Property for farming. Timber and a great view and location.
"On Feb. 8th, 1892, I posted a notice on ranch west of Stevenson at 10:30 a.m. the witnesses being Jerry Dunlee and M. P. Wilson. The Notice claimed land a quarter of a mile wide west of First Creek and running back, that is up the creek, for one mile."
J. Howard Watson
To whom it may concern: Notice is hereby given
that the undersigned has this 8th day of February, 1892, conformed to all the requirements of the law regarding the entry of a homestead on the following property ...
J. Howard Watson
"The night of Feb. 8, I spent at a logging camp back of Stevenson's place. The next day, Feb. 9, 1892, when Russell Peirrepont (who later became Deputy Sheriff) went with me from the logging camp where we laid out four logs for the cabin foundation, Mr. Peirrepont read my notice on the tree."
J. Howard Watson
This was the first day and night spent on the property. J. Howard loved his property and gave it the name "Shadow Bay" which accurately describes the location during the winter months, for the sun sits low behind Bear Mountain. Even on clear winter days, direct sun exposure is very limited.
"Feb. 23, 1892, I went to the place with a carpenter named Herb Jackson, taking up a load of lumber on the boat "Belle"... We built the cabin, sleeping that night on the beach, as the cabin could not be finished that night. The next day I started for Spokane to bring my family, leaving the carpenter to finish the work. He wrote me at Spokane under date of March 1, 1892 enclosing his bill and saying that he had run out of nails and got 25 cents worth from Stevenson."
J. Howard Watson
By March of 1892, J. Howard had finished building the log cabin.
"I left Spokane with my family for the ranch May 4"
J. Howard Watson
J. Howard got settled in his First Creek home.
"Being compelled to wait for our household goods, we were not able to get settled on the ranch until May 25."
J. Howard Watson
All was looking bright for success with the Chelan Falls Water Power Company when President D. W. Little (who was furnishing much of the capital for the project) died in June. [There's much more about this venture in following chapters. - ed.]
FIRST CREEK INDIAN VILLAGE
An Indian village was located where the wilderness begins and the sparsely covered desert mountains end. It was the only permanent village on the south side of the "Deep Water" lake, "Tsill-ane". Though colder in the winter months, it was a beautiful location and had ample food and fish for survival. A small creek ran by the landing, later to be known as "First Creek".
Not much is known about these natives, except that their village consisted of about fifty people. Their name is not known.
The exact location of this village is also not known, however based on artifacts found in years past in the area, one may assume that the main village was about where the Lake Chelan State Park is located, on the water's edge, running south along the shores from the mouth of First Creek to where the lake shore bends eastward. Much of this shoreline was covered by large rock fill by the State Parks system.
Another perhaps smaller settlement may have been located on the present site of Watson's Resort. This smaller settlement may have actually been a branch of the main settlement on the south side of the creek or perhaps just from a different time. This settlement was located in the general area of Watson's Resort marina and to the west about 100 yards, where the shoreline turns to the north.
Although these two sites seem to have been their main villages, it is quite possible that Indian shelters and camps may have been located on the entire shoreline at First Creek Landing.
Prior to the raising of Lake Chelan in 1928 by the dam, many arrowheads and artifacts could be found along the shores in this First Creek area. The arrowheads were made of flint, which is not native to this area. The flint was probably obtained through trading with other bands of Indians in other areas just as seashells were obtained by trading with the coastal Indians.
"A gentle breeze from high in the Cascade Mountains whispers across Lake Chelan and, with a willing imagination, one can hear the long-silenced chants of a proud and noble people The Chelan Indians.
"The Chelans were a peaceful tribe with 30 - 40 people comprising the average village. They maintained friendly relationships with other tribes and the white man, after serving as guides during the early exploration of the valley and into the mountains beyond. They often accepted attacks without retaliation and even the loss of life tended to go un-avenged. 'Our children are dead and our property is destroyed,' one of the area chiefs counseled, 'We are sad, but can we bring our children to life or restore our property by killing other people?' 'It is better not to fight. It can do no good.' Men like Chelan Chief In-no-mo-setch-a, Wapato John, and Captain Jim, are noted for their willingness to work with others, including the invading white man, as a means of avoiding fighting.
"Arrowheads found along the shores of the lake, the historic 'Pictured Rocks' across from present-day Stehekin landing, and legendary tales of a great white dragon rising up from the depths of the lake the Indians called 'Tsill-ane' are continuing reminders of Chelan's Native American past. Allow yourself the privilege of going back in time and looking at the people who shaped the Chelan area in years gone by. Many other reminders can be seen at the local historical museum."
From A trip back in time By Vickie Watson
NEXT: "Chelan Falls Water Power Company And the Men Behind This Vision"
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