Tag Archives: Nez Perces

The First Chelan

Although Wikipedia describes this image as the steamer John Gates navigating Priest Rapids in 1884, the locality is surely not Priest Rapids, but Rock Island Rapids where the Chelan capsized on her upriver attempt and lost her rudder on her return downriver.

I’ve struggled with where to begin the story of the first steamboat Chelan. It’s a tale with roots in the larger conflicts that made the Northwest of the 1870s such a tragic and violent place. The steamboat wouldn’t even have been built if it were not for the breakout of the Nez Percés under Chief Joseph, but it wasn’t built as a direct result of that conflict. It was a response to another attempt by Native Americans to claim their natural rights and to reclaim their freedom. Even so, that was still only an indirect cause of this steamboat’s birth. It was a result of a murder by renegade Indians, angered by the deaths of their friends and family who were cut to pieces by the gatling gun mounted on a different river steamboat. Yet Chelan wasn’t built because the Perkins died. But all of these events led to the eventual arrest of Chief Moses and the removal of his followers from their land in the Columbia Basin. It was the creation of a new reservation for the Sinkiuse Indians that inspired the army to build the Chelan. The boat was needed as a ferry for crossing the Columbia River on the trail to a newly established fort that would safeguard Moses’ Indians on their new reservation.

As far as I know, no photographs of the steamboat Chelan exist. There are photographs of a later steamboat, built in 1902, which operated on the upper stretch of the Columbia until it was retired in 1910 when freight began moving by rail. The 125 foot sternwheeler was operated by the Columbia & Okanogan Steamboat Company. It was one of four retired steamboats tied to one another at a Wenatchee mooring, that burned in a spectacular fire on July 8, 1915. Continue reading

The Hutchinsons of Crab Creek

The railroad tracks at Corfu, looking west. The photograph probably dates from around 1934

I did a Google search for Ben Hutchinson recently, and found out that he’s a sports figure of some repute in Europe. This must be a mistake, or I’m way out of touch with sports…which, come to think of it, I am! The man I’m thinking of passed on years ago.

I was a small boy when I first heard about Ben Hutchinson. My family liked to pile into a pickup or a station wagon and take a drive down what we called the Old Corfu Road, or in grandiose moments, the Old Corfu Highway. Along the way we would pass by the rear of the old Danielson Ranch near the banks of Crab Creek. My dad’s abandoned Model T truck was visible as a hunk of rusted machinery sticking up out of the sagebrush. Continue reading