Crab Creek Homestead

Elmquists and Danielsons near Seattle, ca. 1914 Oscar F. Danielson holds baby Walter, front right. Edla stands near him, wearing the dark skirt.

In an earlier post to this blog (Illegal Immigrants) I introduced my grandfather, Oscar Fritiof Danielson. In this entry, I will sketch out the history of his farm on Lower Crab Creek. But first, a little about his background.

Oscar was born in a small town called Slatthog in southern Sweden in April 1885. A number of his brothers seem to have left the area, and Oscar followed. His arrival in America is shrouded in mystery. I found what appears to be his name on the 1910 census, as a boarder in a lumber camp at Avondale in King County. He is listed as a lumber worker, 29 years old. The age is right, but his birthplace is given as Minnesota. And on closer inspection, I think I see the ghost of the word “Sweden” under the heavier writing. Somebody changed his birthplace, perhaps the same person who scribed out the date 1899 in the column provided for year of immigration. Family tradition holds that Oscar was serving on a Swedish vessel in 1905 when word arrived that the Norwegian Parliament had dissolved its relationship with Sweden, an act that could lead to war. Oscar reportedly jumped ship in either Canada or the United States to avoid being drafted. He probably had no papers to show that he had legally immigrated, and lying about it on the census may have seemed dangerous to him. I recently located a naturalization record for him in King County, dating from 1912. On this document he gave the date of his arrival (by way of Liverpool) as March 28, 1906. Only one  ship arrived in Halifax on that date from Liverpool, the Corean, and Oscar does not appear on the manifest.

Within a couple of years he appears to have joined a thriving Scandinavian community that possibly included a brother who went by a different name, Elmquist. Oscar reportedly took a job at some shipyards in Renton, where he built ferry boats and submarines. His tool chest included some heavy chisels, augurs and planes that a carpenter would have used for framing timbers.

I’ve never been entirely clear on how Elmquist became Elmquist (my father always referred to him that way, or as Uncle Elmquist), but it was certain that Elmquist was descended from the same Daniel Jonorson whose given name provided my family’s surname. One story told in our family reports that Elmquist was given that name when he entered the Swedish army, because there were already too many Danielsons on the roster. The two brothers and their families kept in close contact with each other for their entire lives, and my father continued the contact until his generation passed away.

Edla Margareta Norberg, who was born and raised in Angermanland, near the Baltic coast. She arrived in America aboard the Mauritania around 1906.

Oscar met Edla Margareta Norberg in Seattle soon after arriving there. She and a brother, Gustaf, had immigrated aboard the Mauritania around1906.  She was employed as a domestic in the Bagley household near Green Lake. Oscar completed the process of naturalization in 1912, which probably made it easier for him to purchase land. By 1914 Oscar and Edla were married and she was pregnant with their first child, my father.

The ornate certificate from Walter's baptism in 1916.

Around this time, he made plans to acquire farmland, which was available in Eastern Washington for a fairly reasonable rate. BLM records show that in 1920 he acquired two parcels of land under the Desert Land Act of 1877. These were a half section and a smaller parcel, both in Section 30 of T16N, R28E, located about a half mile from the present course of Lower Crab Creek in Grant County.

It is hard to imagine a greater contrast between the green rolling hills and countless lakes of southern Sweden and the blistering heat,  the ragged canyons and sand wastes of the Lower Crab Creek. Oscar had to possess boundless optimism to believe that he could prosper on his desert acres. But he gave it a try.

Call it the American way, but Oscar initially succeeded by working hard alongside his neighbors. To the east there was another searing range of rock and sand called the Frick homestead. On the west of Oscar’s land was what became known as the Orchard. My research hasn’t extended to uncovering who owned these plots, but whoever they were, they must have realized that they could only survive by working with their neighbors.

By horse and mule, shovel and pick, with perhaps a bit of dynamite when there were stony obstacles to be overcome, Oscar and his neighbors built their own irrigation system. They dug a trench around thirty feet wide for a couple of miles through the desert, wide enough to accommodate the flow of Lower Crab Creek. To provide sufficient headwater for a pump-operated irrigation system, Oscar threw a wooden dam across the canal. There was enough water impounded behind the dam to provide for a cool swim in the summertime. It became a site for social gatherings where all the neighbors and their children could come for a good time.

The remains of the Danielson Dam are still to be seen just inside the boundaries of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge beneath Saddle Mountain.

Youngsters from miles around found the waters behind the Danielson Dam an attractive respite from the summertime heat.

Oscar purchased a load of wooden pipe wrapped with steel wire from the City of Seattle when they pulled the pipes out of their streets and replaced them with more modern metal pipe. Using a single-stroke engine, he pumped water out of the reservoir to irrigate several acres of potatoes, wheat and alfalfa.

The remains of Oscar's irrigation pipes, formerly used in the water system of the City of Seattle, were still visible in his fields in the 1990s.

Virtually everything they needed was shipped into the valley on the Milwaukee Railroad, offloaded at Corfu, Washington (of which barely a trace survives), and then lugged by horse-drawn wagon several miles over sagebrush and stone to the site of the homestead. As the family grew, Oscar’s children attended a two-room brick public school that stood on a terrace at the bottom of the town. (The Corfu schoolhouse was burned by vandals in the 1980s so that they could recover the bricks.) Later, the children were sent to a different school located on a broad terrace below the Milwaukee tracks at the little substation of Taunton.

The two-room Taunton schoolhouse where most of Oscar's children attended Elementary School.

The reason we still have so many images of this era is that somebody decided early on that they ought to own a camera. Edla’s brother, Gustaf Norberg, and his wife Olga helped Oscar and Edla build and maintain their homestead. Photographs from very early on feature the children, Oscar and Edla, and Olga, but Gustaf rarely appears. Perhaps it was his camera.

Dick Kelly holds the horses for Oscar while Edla and her sister-in-law tend to a growing family of Danielson children near Corfu in the 1920s.

Oscar and Edla had a number of photographs taken of the farm itself. They must have been extremely proud of the products of their labor, wrenched from desert sands at the expense of so much work.

Edla and Oscar pose with produce from their farm. Compare Oscar's sunburnt complexion with his fair skin in the photograph from his days in Seattle.

Several years of effort established the farm. There were fields of alfalfa and wheat, gardens with melons, corn and potatoes, livestock, including sheep, cattle and chickens. Besides the wooden pipes, Oscar dug and blasted ditches that followed the contours of the land to irrigate more distant fields and to flood low areas, creating ponds to provide for livestock. The productivity of places like Oscar’s farm could be pointed at as evidence of the potential of all that Eastern Washington desert. Perhaps Grand Coulee Dam was built because of farms like this one.

An overview of Oscar's homestead, taken from the top of a butte to the west of the farm in the 1920s.

The land, of course, had seen plenty of human endeavor before my grandfather arrived. Native Americans continued to cross the farm as they migrated from the Yakima Valley to the Okanogan to take part in the fruit harvest. Their ancestors left chips and beautiful stone points scattered over the dunes near Crab Creek. After visiting an exhibit of Plateau Indian culture at the Burke Museum, where a reconstruction of a Wanapum longhouse was displayed, I stumbled across the footprint of a longhouse on the banks of Crab Creek not far from what my family has always called grandpa’s homestead. I’ll devote a future article to a description of the historical significance of this area on Lower Crab Creek.

Oscar cuts lush alfalfa to make hay near the Danielson Dam.

It seems like Oscar’s thriving farm was only beginning to produce when disaster struck. In that era, Crab Creek was still flowing the way it always had. When sand dunes swept across the creek, it was dammed up and it created a natural reservoir, which we call Moses Lake (after the local Sahaptian chief, Sulk-talthscosum). Sand also blocked the channel of Crab Creek near where Oscar’s home was located. At its best, Crab Creek had always been unpredictable. Historically, it seldom reached the Columbia River as a surface stream, sinking into the sand several miles away from its confluence. And the sand dunes that blocked the creek, creating Moses Lake, had already washed out once, in 1904. In the late 1920s another flood occurred. Heavy rains sent a flood of raging water southward into the Lower Crab Creek Valley. When the flood reached the pioneer irrigation diversion dam, it carved a deep ravine through which the stream would flow forever after. The canal feeding the Danielson Dam was left stranded high above the level of the normal flow of the creek.

The waters of Crab Creek cascade over basalt ledges near the Danielson homestead.

Suddenly, years of labor and effort were made worthless. From that point on, the irrigation system would never function again. The fields dried up as the canal failed. The family fell into poverty. Eventually Oscar moved the family into a small house on the lands they called the Orchard. He drove bus, cut firewood, did odd jobs of all sorts to support his family. By 1941, Oscar was dead.

Crab Creek's flood of about 1927 tore a new channel through soft sediment, stranding the pioneer irrigation canal so high above creek level that it had to be abandoned.

The homestead has remained an essential memory in our family. My father took us out to visit it a number of times when I was young. Over the years we witnessed the way nature reclaimed all the work my grandfather spent to make it into a profitable home for his family.

A view of Oscar's farm as it appeared in 1957, from the same location as the previous view.

Edla and Oscar raised seven children on this land, and there are multitudes of descendents from this family. Over the years we have made a number of pilgrimages to the site, which is now on a section of private land nearly surrounded by the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. My most recent visit was made because I had the opportunity to show the place to my son.

An expedition to the ruins of the homestead in the late 1990s provided a last visit to the site for some of Oscar and Edla's children. They take a rest on the remains of Oscar's house.

As you follow Highway 26 between Othello and Royal City, you come to a place where the highway crosses Crab Creek. Looking northward, the land looks bleak. It seems like it has forever (that’s where the image that forms my blog’s banner comes from). It’s hard to believe that people earned a living there, but they did: Native Americans, trappers and traders, cowboys and cattlemen, soldiers, immigrants and orchardists. Today, it’s gone back to desert but its secrets are there to be read. I’ve always told my wife that Eastern Washington is an honest land: evidence of everything that’s happened there remains to be seen by the alert observer.

Oscar’s homestead is located on private land. Please do not trespass.

14 responses to “Crab Creek Homestead

  1. I passed over Lower Crab Creek for the first time in a long time last week taking my son to Pullman to begin WSU. As I passed Danielson Road I wondered….Good to read this.

    • You just missed me there, Rick! My son and I spent a night at the old ranch the following week. Good to hear from you.

  2. Mark:

    This is wonderful information for all of us. Thanks for putting this together.

    Paul Danielson

  3. Mark – wonderful to read about the earnest, hardworking heritage of the Danielsons. What an establishment we are!! I look forward to learning more about the history of our blood.

  4. Mark,
    I drink coffee with Arnold Danielson almost every morning. He introduced me to your family story. I have looked at the pictures and enjoyed the wonderful historical information about them. Thank you for assembling this incredible back ground highlighting what hard work and persistence can do for someone when the need arises.
    My best to your great family
    Sidney Busch

  5. This site interesting for me who is both interested in Swedish immigration and the Milwaukee Road.

  6. I grew up in Moses Lake-52 – 65. We lived on a farm 12 miles north on Stratford Rd, then 1 mile west. Our ‘back yard’ was near Crab Creek. There was a railroad in the area. We would ride our horses in the area. We did find an abandoned house that was located near the RR tracks. The wind mill had fallen over. The house still had food in the cupboards and the mattress was barely recognizable. We knew nothing about who lived there or why they left possessions behind.

  7. Daniel & Ingrid Jonasson lived in Elmhult Östregård (just south of the small village of Möcklehult) in Slätthög Parish, where they raised their 8 Children, 3 Girls & 5 boys. In April of 1905, two of Oscars older brothers emigrated. According to ship manifest here in Sweden were Johan Alfred & Johannes Gustaf headed to Fairmont MN. After they left, no one back home heard from them again. The rest of the 5 siblings stayed in Sweden. Oscars 2 year older sister Selma became my great grandmother.

    Elmquist was not a relative, that I’m pretty sure of, rather someone who he met after he left his childhood home. Back then it was more or less a rule that the children got their surname after their father. That’s why Oscars father was named Jonasson (son of Jonas) and Oscar got Danielsson (son of Daniel), Selma and her two sisters got Danielsdotter (daughter of Daniel) as a surname. Elmquist was not a common name at all and records show that only 6 households in Sweden hade someone with that surname in 1880, all residents in the Kalmar vicinity.

    If you have any questions about those who was left behind, don’t hesitate to ask, maybe I’ll be able to fill in some blanks.

    • It is fantastic to get this information, after so many people have tried so hard to find it. The place names you give match some in my records. My father always claimed that Uncle Elmquist was his father’s brother, who had changed his name. We assumed it was a name assigned to him in military service, but perhaps not. I wonder if he might have been either Johan or Johannes. There is a family story that my grandfather Oscar went to Minnesota first, then to the Pacific Northwest. Your comment opens up a number of research opportunities for us, and I really appreciate it. We should get in touch.

      • I’ve started my research after my ancestors just recently, and have gotten as far as Daniel & Ingrid and their children on my grandmothers side. 5 of them was easy to find out about, due to birth, census and death-records. 2 of them, I lost the trace of at the same time they reached Ellis Island (17th of April 1905) and then Oscar that just vanished into thin air, but through your blog post was able to find again.
        I get that it could be some trouble with the names, It ain’t easy to read what’s been written in the old church books. I read “Illegal Immigrants” during the night and discovered a couple of misspellings that could/would trouble your further research. We swedes have a tendency to make everything complicated by adding letters to the alphabet.
        I would love to get in touch, we would both be in benefit of it. It would be exciting to find out a bit more about Oscar, you’ll get some info about the relatives here and perhaps we’ll be able to find out who Elmquist really was 😉

      • Mark Danielson

        Josephine and I are continuing our discussion of our family history by email. A later posting will inform the public of the results of our collaboration.

      • Allan Danielson sent me information on his family. I am his son, Claus’ mother-in-law, Nancy. I have done the genealogical research for my daughter’s family. I have really appreciated reading your blogs on the Danielson family, especially since any Scandinavian/American research is new to me! I appreciate your dedication to continuing to blog. I might get one started, but just would not stay with it. I did take a look again at Ancestry recently and found your Oscar F. Danielson’s Declaration of Intent filed in 1908 in Washington, which led me to Boston as his port of entry. He appears in the Boston passenger list books, immigrating on the exact date he gave, 28 March 1906. If you are interested I can send these documents to you which I downloaded. These seem to be relatively new databases there. Thanks for your work from a fellow researcher!

      • Mark Danielson

        That is great news, Nancy! It really messes up the proud dodging-the-Swedish-v-Norwegian-War cover story our family somehow developed.That was probably in the 1960s! I would love to get copies of the documents. I’m not on Ancestry just now. We are presently rebuilding Oscar’s family connections in Sweden, from a comment sent to this blog from a member of the Swedish branch we lost track of after Oscar died. I can try to help you answer some questions you might have about that, although I haven’t been doing the heavy research lately. It’s testing season at school.

  8. I remember dad telling me that Oscar first came to Chicago (I think- anyway a midwest city) and then moved to Salt Lake City and worked there. The Mormans treated him very well, but he decided not to stay there and then went to the Seattle area to work. Dad said that Oscar didn’t like boring work and always wanted to do his own thing. From Uncle Larry: So when he was doing carpentry in 1908 in Othello (he helped build the First Presbyterian Church) he found out about the Crab Creek area and ended up filing for a homestead. You have well covered the homestead. Dad always said that Edla was working as a housekeeper on Five Mile Prarie (north of Spokane) and that that is where Oscar found her.

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