The Customary Celebration on Lower Crab Creek

The remains of Oscar Danielson's irrigation pipes lead to his fields and ditches from the site of the Danielson dam.

The remains of Oscar Danielson’s irrigation pipes lead to his fields and ditches from the site of the Danielson dam.

In a previous post I published a photograph of swimmers perched on the top rail of the irrigation dam Oscar Danielson built to draw water out of the community canal. This canal redirected some of the flow from Crab Creek towards a number of farms or orchards west of the watercourse. Around 1920 Oscar purchased surplus wire-wrapped wooden water pipes from the city of Seattle to tap into the canal, pumping water from the reservoir behind his wooden dam. His single-stroke gas engine is still hidden in the weeds near the ranch he later occupied on the banks of Lower Crab Creek.

Oscar Danielson on his Crab Creek farm in Grant County, WA, circa 1920

Oscar Danielson mows hay in a field watered by the pipes leading from the Danielson dam. The photograph is probably from the latter half of the 1920s.

The swimmers were part of a larger crowd gathered at the dam for a Fourth of July celebration. It was a custom amongst the farmers and ranchers in the vicinity to meet near some running water to hold a celebratory picnic, hold conversations, share music and news, and display their best clothes. In those days before radio and television, entertainment often meant visiting with the neighbors.

My father identified his mother, Edla Danielson, Mr. and Mrs. Seleen and their son Ted, Larry Danielson and Norman Young at the Fourth of July picnic at the Danielson dam.

My father identified his mother, Edla Danielson, Mr. and Mrs. Seleen and their son Ted, Larry Danielson and Norman Young at the Fourth of July picnic at the Danielson dam.

Oscar Danielson hosts residents of the surrounding farms and ranches at the 1927 Fourth of July picnic.

Oscar Danielson hosts residents of the surrounding farms and ranches at the 1927 Fourth of July picnic.

The Danielson dam served as the site of at least one Fourth of July celebration. Before Oscar built his dam the celebrations were held on the flats along Lower Crab Creek, not far from the site of an Indian longhouse that had disappeared. Immediately adjacent to the longhouse site is a flat-topped butte with a cairn of flat hunks of lava, well encrusted with lichens. Between the rocks, where rain and sun don’t reach as well, the lichen doesn’t grow. It seems likely that the cairn has been there for a very long time.

 

A pile of basalt rocks shows evidence of having been in the same place for a very long time. Lichen and moss are absent from the spaces beneath the rocks, where sun and rain can't reach.

A pile of basalt rocks shows evidence of having been in the same place for a very long time. Lichen and moss are absent from the spaces beneath the rocks, where sun and rain can’t reach.

That butte is one of those peculiar places where you can play the earth like a drum. When you stomp on the ground, it reverberates. It’s easy to believe that the Indians who lived in the draw next to the earth drum used its sound in dances to celebrate special events.

The falling waters and flats along Lower Crab Creek provided the farm and ranch community with a gathering place for their yearly celebrations.

The falling waters and flats along Lower Crab Creek provided the farm and ranch community with a gathering place for their yearly celebrations.

This flat where the creek meanders and flows over riffles of volcanic stone is a natural gathering place. An ancient foot trail leads from it directly towards the coulee west of Taunton, which provides easy access to the Low Gap crossing of Saddle Mountain used by later wagon traffic. In his book Kamiakin, A. J. Splawn remarks that in 1879 Chief Moses was camped at the crossing of Crab Creek, where his campfire was visible from the top of Saddle Mountain. That might describe an encampment in this meadow.

A ghostly ring in the soil reveals the remains of a Native American dwelling. It lies in line with and adjacent to a longhouse site just paces from the banks of Crab Creek. The lake will cover this unexcavated and un-looted site.

A ghostly ring in the soil reveals the remains of a Native American dwelling. It lies in line with and adjacent to a longhouse site paces from the banks of Crab Creek.

The celebration on Lower Crab Creek were probably annual events looked forward to with anticipation in the area. But they weren’t fated to continue long after the picnic shown in the photographs above. The canal that Oscar dammed had been constructed as a community effort by farmers and ranchers who used its water. The head of the ditch was a diversion dam on Crab Creek upstream from the homesteads. This stretch of the creek was fed by water seeping through sand dunes that made a natural dam behind which Moses Lake had formed. One winter a tremendous storm caused the waters of Moses Lake to break through the sand dunes, sending a torrent downstream. The swift water carved a deep channel through the Scablands, and afterwards the pioneer canal was stranded high above the creek. The canal was never rebuilt and the farms and ranches it fed mostly dried up. The people moved away. Oscar and his family moved to what they called the Orchard, and later to what they called the Creek Ranch, about where Highway 26 crosses Crab Creek today.

 

Advertisements

One response to “The Customary Celebration on Lower Crab Creek

  1. I enjoy your posts. I’m constantly amazed at the ebb and flow of community. Sites that decades ago harbored tepees, homes, barns, roads, even towns, now sit deserted in remote locales. Inhabitants seemingly shift toward new trails, then new wagon roads, then new railway routes, and now, new pavement. The abandoned homesites seem so desolate and stark, yet people once lived, worked, laughed and played there. Where does that sense of community and rapport go? Does it merely vanish with the people? It’s just so weird how physical centers of activity, kinship and connection simply expire.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s