Lake Chelan 1895
By Chelan Pioneer Don Mathers
(NOTE by Robert Watson Jr - These writings were retyped in their original form and punctuation. Don Mathers, an early day pioneer of the Lake Chelan Valley gives a narrative description of the early day Lake Chelan Valley, as if you were traveling up lake on the South Shore and returning down lake on the North side of the lake.)
Beginning at the first dam site on the Chelan River banks were covered with pine trees, alders, cottonwood, willows and grass, along the high waterline for some distance back to the point near Lakeside.
A natural park of cottonwood and poplars grew on a gentle slope about three hundred feet from the lake shore, the round was covered with Pine Grass. This was a fine camp ground and during the summer months, many people used it.
ON the east and north side the cottonwood trees were not as big as they were on the south side, and many of them had been cleared away to get to the river to water the livestock and to haul water in barrels for household use. The brush only grew to about the middle of Wapato Avenue. The sand dunes extended to hear the present seaplane docks. At the foot of the sand dunes there was more cottonwoods on the slope to the lake.
Long Jim (Indian) and his family lived on his allotment, about three eights of a mile up lake from Woodin Ave. From the sand dunes to the rocky point up lake from L. H. Spader's place was a fine sandy beach for swimming during the high water. When the water was low it was possible to wade across the lake near Lakeside, except for a small channel perhaps a hundred feet wide near the south shore. In low water there was an island of about fifteen acres with a channel on both north and south sides. In 1894 the year the lake had the highest water ever recorded, many large trees were torn from the mountains by the snow slides, some of them were caught on the island when the water in the lake lowered, became embedded in the sand and caught everything that floated that came their way. The condition was very unsightly and it was several years before all were removed by the high water. Above Lakeside about a mile many burned black snags were standing in the lake, they had floated down the lake, roots filled with rocks caught on the sandy bottom of the lake. Some of those snags stood several feet above the water were used to tie row boats to when the fisherman did not have a anchor rope. Some of the snags were under the surface of the lake and had to be pulled back into deeper water to make it safe for the steam boats.
Lakeside had the most sandy beach. Also a slough of cat tails and frogs. The shore from lakeside to Sunny Band the rocky cliffs to First Creek were covered to the high water ling with the usual brush and pine. John Stevenson homesteaded the land on both sides of First Creek and had a small field cleared for raising truck and feed for some stock.
The next place about half of a mile from First Creek was J. Howard Watson's. The brush and pine and fir timber came down to the lake. From Watson's place to Twenty Five Mile Creek, willows, alders, trees grew wherever there was soil enough. There was quite a few settlers with small fields cleared to grow most everything, except sugar, salt, coffee and flour. Along the lake front, there only outlet was by boat. The thought that there was a welcome for you at each place you passed, if you wanted to stop, gave you a warm feeling for your isolated neighbors.
Leaving Twenty Five Mile Creek going up lake was like starting into a different world. There was a lot of pine trees till you reached Deep Creek, a creek that disappeared before it got to the lake. Vine Maples were so close together it was almost impassible up to the stream of water.
The shoreline was covered with the brush right down to the waters edge if there was enough soil to get rood hold. The next couple of miles to Little Big Creek the trees were either Fir or Lodge Pole Black Pine. From here to Big Creek the trees seemed to take on a darker green color. Beg Creek was one of the best creeks for fishing at the mouth of the creek. The next was Corral Creek, it was divided into two and sometimes three parts. From here the high mountains were closer. The creek heads were covered with ice and snow. There was plenty of brush for the deer to browse on along the shore where there was soil enough to get its roots down. Graham Harbor Creek was a fine place to camp in the summer moths and most the summer some would be camped there.
Pyramid Creek, named for the shape of the mountain it flowed by there was a small permanent glacier at the head of this creek. About two miles up lake Little Creek came out of a quite heavy timbered area, most always it was good for a fish or two.
Twin Harbor Creek had a fine little harbor and camp ground. Next to Graham Harbor was the most used by campers.
Just around the point a mile or so was Bear Creek. It was not so good for fishing as it was exposed to the down lake winds.
Domke Falls came next. It was the outlet of Domke Lake about a mile from Lake Chelan. The falls were about fifty feet of a sheer drop. It was here that Henry Domke tried to build a sawmill, the story is that he did not get it in operation.
Railroad Creek is the largest Creek running into Lake Chelan. IT is hard to get across in high water. There is a fine camp around the mouth of it. In easy walking distance down lake is Refrigerator Harbor, the sun never shines on part of it. About ten miles up Railroad Creek is the Holden mine. Above the mine is Lyman Lake and the Lyman glacier and many other promising claims of several kinds of minerals.
Lightning Creek comes out of the high mountains, does not have any protection from up lake winds.
There is a small creek between Lightning Creek and Riddle Creek. There is a small camp ground and many rattle snakes at Riddle Creek so it is not used as much as other camp grounds.
Bridal Veil Creek is a small stream falling over a high cliff, and from a distance the spray looks like a veil.
Castle Creek was so named because it looked like a castle from a certain place when passing by it out in the lake. It came out of a very rugged district.
One Mile Creek was a very small creek, near the Indian Painted rocks. The Indian paintings, to my knowledge have never been translated. I saw them in 1959 and they were nearly destroyed by bullets from a high power rifle. Only a few of them are left above the water since the lake was raised. The paint is nearly plain as it was in 1895. There is a Indian legend that is about how the lake was named. In the folder of Indian Legends.
Devore Creek is the last creek on the south side of the lake named for an early date resident pack train operator, Dan Devore.
Stehekin Post office and Hotel owned by M. E. Field was located near the mouth of the Stehekin River, was headquarters for all the prospectors and miners that worked in the district.
There is a story about five old prospectors, all of them bachelors, all of them Scotchmen, McAlester, McGregor, McBroom and McKeever were hard rock men and spent most of their winters arguing about which mountain in the Stehekin would be named for them. McCollum was a placer miner and there was not any hill small enough to be named after a placer miner.
McCollum lived in a cabin in Chelan during the last years. I knew him well and he told me many stories of the rich diggings he just missed. He must have hit at least one of them for he had money enough to take care of his last needs. He was well educated, he traveled a lot, minded his own business.
The Stehekin Valley early trails were mostly laid out by the wild life, as the prospectors knew that they could get through if they followed them. The Stehekin River was a stream that could rise and fall quickly. A heavy rain or a Chinook wind would change the flow over night. Some places along its band brush was so think it was almost impossible to get near it, others were cliffs of rocks to steep it could not be followed.
There is something fascinating about a mountain stream that draws people in the summer months for many miles around. Rainbow Falls is the highest falls in the N. W. Washington. It is rightly named, when the sun and mist mix at certain times during the day all the colors of the rainbow can be seen.
It seem that many good things have their drawback. The head of the lake with all its beauty also had mosquitoes at certain times of the year that were quite small but had a sharp bite.
Purple Creek or Purple Point was named after a squatter of the same name. Four Mile Creek was a very small stream and a very good camping place with little or no harbor.
Fish Creek was a short stream, at times a very good fishing spot; it was dangerous when a hard rain or cloudburst occurred because it drained a rocky canyon. A man named Moore built a summer resort here about 1896 and had regular customers that came and stayed during the summer season. There was a very different change in the timber on the north side of the lake, not as much brush along the shore line, fir trees only grew near the creeks or where there were springs. The pine trees are not like the eastern pines.
Meadow Creek is one of the finest camping places along the lake and has great possibilities as becoming the leading mining districts on the lake. S. J. Gray and Tott Millard have extensive holdings in the basin. Cascade Creek is a small creek suitable for a reduction plant for mining operations.
Rex Creek has a small drainage area, Sherman Pearl has a cabin near it. Prince Creek is a large stream with some cotton wood trees. There is a Falls a short distance from the lake. IT is named for a pack horse that fell into the canyon and was killed when Wm. Sanders and Henry Domke tried to come from the Methow River to Lake Chelan in 1886. Earlier they had come from British Columbia to the Methow Mining District looking for a mine they did not find. Prince Creek is a fine place to camp if an occasional rattle snake did not bother you.
Canoe Creek, named by Wm. Sanders and Henry Domke. After they lost their pack horse in Prince Creek they tried to go down lake to get out of the country, this was impossible because of the many cliffs along the lake shore. They lost most of their provisions and cooking utensils when Prince fell over the cliff. One of them had a small axe in his belt. They tried to make some kind of a canoe (there are several versions to the story) but with only a small hand axe they did not get on very fast. There supplies were about gone and had to live on grouse and fish.
Early one morning they sighted a boat near the shore across the lake, they quickly make a big fire, covered it with green boughs and made a big smoke, the boat came across the lake, gave them some supplies and told them they would be back the next day and take them to the lower end of the lake. The story is that these hunters used one of the army boats that was left at the post when the army moved out. Wm. (Billy) Sanders was the first white man to homestead in the Chelan Valley.
For several miles along the lake shore it seems like the rocky points all look alike, these are known as Point No Point, there are no good camping spots and creeks are small along the shore till you get to Lone Fir Creek and it is not very good. Little Goat Creek and Big Goat Creek are no better. Safety Harbor Creek, so named because neither up lake or down lake wind can get into it.
Falls Creek is only a short distance down lake from Safety Harbor. It does not have any harbor at all. All along the lake the shores have some brush and trees. The mountains sides do not have much timber below the two thousand feet elevation.
Coyote Creek is next, has a small harbor for the up lake winds.
Deer Point or Camas Creek are very good camping grounds. The mountains cover with grass to about the two thousand foot elevation.
Grade Creek is a small creek not much camping grounds and many rattle snakes. Why it is call Grade is any bodies guess.
Poison, Gold and Mitchell are not good camping places. To many rattlesnakes.
From Mitchell Creek to Green's landing or a short distance up lake is the allotment line. The Columbia Indian Reservation had a heavy leaning fence put up from this point to a rocky point about four miles from the foot of the lake. All the land toward the lake was supposed to be Indian Property. Most of this land is covered by small pine trees, pine grass under the trees and bunch grass on the open spaces. There was many pin tailed grouse (so called Prairie Chickens) and blue Grouse that nested here.
From Rocky Point to Chelan had only two settlers. D. J. Switzer and L. H. Spader. Dick R. H. Lard had a cabin but did not live in it much of the time.
Lake Chelan is very hard to describe, it is at times peaceful as a babe in its mother's arms, in a few minutes it can change to almost black. The waves have white tips that seem to chase each other all over the lake trying to clean everything from it surface.
During the winter months the lake is quiet most of the time. An occasional Chinook (warm wind) will kick up quite a storm, down the lake, especially in the straits (from Graham Harbor to Mitchell Creek). The prevailing winds are up lake in the winter months and down the lake in the summer time. IN the spring the willows, alders, poplars leaf out and many other plants change the hills from a drab gray to many shades of green. The wild flowers blossom when the spring rains come. Crops of all kinds are planted for feed and food for the people and stock to live on. The shore lands will produce during the summer much more than is needed for the winter ahead. When fall comes to the lake country the frost and sun turn the leaves of plants and trees to almost any color imaginable for a month or so. When the crops are harvested and fall turns to winter, leaves are gone and the snow covers the ground, trees, brush and lake shore plants. It is hard to tell which season is the most beautiful. Sometimes the lake and sunlight put on a show by reflecting a picture of the mountains. Sometimes the scattered clouds on its surface are more perfect than any artist has ever done.
During the winter of 1893 and 1894 the wild life had a very hard time finding feed enough to survive. Many of the deer died because their browse patches were berried in snow and didn't get uncovered till late spring.
There were many cutthroat trout in the streams and lake, sometimes they would not take any bait offered, perhaps because the water was so clear they could see the line and hooks or the fisherman. Other times the beauties would take the bait so fast it took most of the sport out of the fishing trip. The big Mountain Goats did not suffer as much loss as the deer because they used a much steeper feeding grounds and snow slides helped to uncover their feed. There was quite a few bear in the higher hills, some times the female will have a black or brown (cinnamon) cub in the same litter. (Wise Wild Life) For a number of years there was talk of a grizzly bear in the Railroad Creek area. I never talked with anyone that saw it, only tracks were said to be very large.
Railroad Creek had several prospectors in the summer months. Some of them lived there in the winter. Many more came to Railroad Creek after the Holden Mine was located, all of them left without getting rich over night.
All along the north side of the lake there were many swifts, small lizards like reptiles, they are appropriately named for their fast get away when scared. There are several type of them, some of them have a blue tail. The wild life population is very small compared to the area mountains around the lake. Some cougars (Mountain Lions) are in the high places, they follow the deer down during the winter when the snow gets deep. Quit a number of lynx and bobcats and some marten. Oh, I almost forgot the small skinks that live in the ground in the creek bands and come out at night and wonder around camp looking for some thing to feed on, an experience camper will not try to scare them away.
Notes by Don Mathers:
There was a time in the early 1890's a group of people wanted to have more educational entertainment programs.
The Chautauqua Circle of New York was contacted and Chelan was added to the circle. The Chelan group was organized on June 30, 1893 (by Wm. Emerson's history) and continued till 1932. Almost everyone in the valley looked forward to the coming of this event. Many of the meetings were held on the point across the Woodin Ave. Bridge, before the lake was raised by the Washington Water Power Company's Dam.
Mr. Everson gives the following list of members of the organizers.
- Mrs. C. C. Campbell
- Mrs. L. H. Woodin
- L. H. Woodin
- Mrs. Fred Plaeging
- Mrs. K. K. Ford
- Mrs. E. F. Christy
- Mrs. Al Johnson
- Mrs. C. E. Whaley
- Mrs. B. F. Smith
- Mrs. G. S. Converse
- Mr. Charles Woodin
- Rev. W. C. Wise
- Mr. W. S. Nichleson
Mrs. Kenneth Kingman was with the circle in 1932. Came back to Chelan later and married one of our leading citizens.
More Notes by Don Mathers
Lake Chelan is about fifty five miles long as the boat travels from point to point.
The widest place is about three and one half miles from the town of Chelan, its narrowest place is Hollywood Beach.
The Altitude in 1895, 1079 feet above sea level, average high water.
Has about fifty square miles of service area.
It has been frozen over three times since 1895:
- Once at Green's Landing
- Once at Hollywood Beach
- Once at Wapato Point
In about 1892 it was frozen solid enough for the Little family to haul bunch grass hay from Willow Point to Granite Creek to feed their stock. Will and Ben Little used a homemade sled to haul the bunch grass they cut along the shore of the lake. (Information by Ben Little)
The first attempt to find out the depth was made about 1896 when a small group of men with a block of lead and fourteen hundred feet of line could not find the bottom out from Prince Creek.
In 1895 just the larger creeks were named, later the forest dept. named for their convenience, all the small creeks on both sides of the lake, to get more accurate locations for fires.
In 1928 the Washington Water Power Co. raised the lake twenty-one feet by a dam located in Chelan River near the South boundary of the Government town site. When the new shore line was established many of the fine camping places were destroyed, as was the green brush and trees, leaving unsightly eroded water line that will never be restored. So called progress by MAN had did much to Nature that will never be repaid, most of it to satisfy a greed that is not found in other animals. Lake Chelan will never be the beautiful gem it was when nature had control.
J. Howard's son Harold Watson in the mid 1890s. The rifle is a Remington Model 4, probably .22 or .25 caliber.
With the clear and limpid water casting shadows near the shore,
Of the roses and the posies - making pictures by the score;
With a wealth of mountain scenery and the snow capped peaks on high;
Standing monarch like and terrible up in the blue domed sky;
With a heart in touch with nature, loving rocks and sky and sea,
Is it any wonder that I write a wee small verse for thee? -
A word, a sigh - yes, that is all - a reminder of today,
That may bring to memory's face a smile when we are both quite gray.
- J. H. W.
Harverene, June 26, 1893
Across the North Cascades
My next article will detail the many adventures of attempting to find a route over the North Cascade Mountains. Native American had used this route for thousands of years. It was not until the middle 1800's that the first white man is known to have explored this area; and it would not be until the 1970's that a route would be firmly established. And even now, this route the North Cascades Highway cannot be open on a yearly basis.
For several years, I have gathered information about the many exploration partyies that traversed this range. J. Howard Watson was one of those who spent over two months exploring this region. And what a story and adventure it has been putting this all together!
We will have the special privilege of presenting never-before-published photos from the 1895 expedition in which J. Howard participated, which we've been able to place in context and sequence throughout the party's arduous travels.
We look forward to sharing this story with you in the not-too-distant future. We may present this information in sections, or we may hold off until we can present it all at once. Regardless of how and when we do this, we are sure you will enjoy it.
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