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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.