Travel to Winthrop, 1892

The following is the introduction written by Owen Wister to Guy Waring's book My Pioneer Past. Guy Waring was the founder of Winthrop. Owen Wister was Waring's roommate at Harvard. They graduated in 1882 and were friends with Teddy Roosevelt. Owen Wister was a popular author of the late 19th century and early 20th century. He is credited with writing the first Western novel, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (1902) The introduction Chronicles on Wister’s attempts to visit Guy Waring in the late 19th and century. I hope you find this interesting.

My Pioneer Past has been out of print for some years, but it is available at the library. In it, Waring writes about when he first came west in the 1880’s and he settled near what is now Loomis in the Okanogan Valley. He was appointed by the Washington first governor to be one Okanogan county's first commissioners when the county was in the grip of a gold and silver fever. The Shafer Museum has three reprints of Owen Wister’s publications for sale: The Virginian, The White Goat, and A Journey in Search of Christmas (1904).

-- Ralph Carlberg, Winthrop, WA - Shafer Museum Docent & Board Member, May 2022

Introduction, by Owen Wister


Guy Waring's My Pioneer Past

"WARING, Harvard 1882, classmate, table companion and friend since our freshman year, gave us all the slip before we had lived deep into our twenties. He went from the Atlantic shores of Newport nearly as far as you can travel without falling into the Pacific. And there he stayed beyond reach, but by no means out of our lives. Letters took I forget how long, going and coming. This did not prevent their being written; and to receive one was an event. Nothing seems distant anymore; if science keeps it up, both Heaven and Hell may become week-end resorts. In the summer of 1887, I was still so unaware of distances in our Northwest that I left our party at Victoria and travelled two days ahead of them to Portland under the delusion that in those two days I could just run up to Waring's place for a night, see him, comfortably rejoin my party in Portland, and go on to San Francisco. It would have been the matter of a week from Portland to Marcus, which was then Waring's post-office address, in the territory of Washington, and the matter of another week back, with transportation not very certain for part of the way.

That was in 1887. Five years later, I did go. Science had not annihilated space; and this was how you reached Waring, no longer at Marcus, but still inhabiting Washington territory, in the Autumn of 1892: The train took you from Atlantic shores to the town of Spokane, a matter of four days. In Spokane you slept, leaving it at an early hour without regret for Coulee City, at the end of a branch line of the Northern Pacific. This branch ran at first through a region where now and again some tower-like edifice stuck up out of the plain like a finger and something grew, wheat, if I remember, but which in an hour or so wasted to nothing as if the earth had gone into galloping consumption. To-day, from what gaudy railroad folders were prophesying then, that region should be a land flowing with milk and honey and teeming with noble men and women. At Coulee City the branch train arrived too late for the stage which took you to Bridgeport on the Columbia River. Train and stage were scheduled to miss each other and were invariably faithful to schedule. Had they connected, the hotel would have died. So one waited in Coulee City till next day. On Sundays no stage ran, and this unmercifully happened to be Saturday. In bed that night, copious cockroaches ran over my pillow, in such a lively way, that I lugged my camp bedding down to the office and slept on a table. No bath was in the hotel, you found it at the barber's, whose single customer I was on that occasion. This discouraged artist told me that the only woman in Coulee City who lived there professionally for the recreation of men, had left last Spring. “A bad sign for any town,” said he; "bad.”

As the stage bore me away on Monday to Bridgeport, it was idle to wish that I might never see Coulee City again; since unless one's intention was never to go home, but to settle in the country, there was no escaping it. After we had rattled down into the Grand Coulee and up and out of it, a light opaque dust arose as we went along, and, borne by a favoring breeze traveled with us, so that to see your neighbor's face inside the stage was to see a dim, featureless shape. On my return trip with a freight wagon by another route across the country, we passed a signpost inscribed I forget what; but written below the inscription in a bold hand was, “Twenty miles to water"; and in a bolder hand, “one mile to hell.” At Bridgeport came another night's rest, with more stage next day. We crossed the Columbia on a raft geared to a wire by a trolley, and so steered as to be propelled by the current. The current was fierce, and the river wide. On a later occasion the wire broke loose, and raft and passengers had no luck at all.

It was not many miles distant from this crossing that Waring's family had the bad night with Indians and whiskey at the cabin of Wild Goose Bill, while Waring slept outside on the haystack undisturbed, and knowing nothing till morning. It was upon this adventure, to which he refers, that I based a yarn for Harper's Magazine during the nineties. In this yarn I brought Wild Goose Bill (whom I called Jake) to a bloody and violent end. Some years later he brought himself to an end identical. Nothing safer than to prophesy correctly about a lawbreaker who sold whiskey to Siwashes and was free with other men's women.

North of the Columbia, which up there for miles and miles gashes its way deep below the level of the land in a somber, menacing rush, the country grows better. Trees appeared as the stage took us along the valley of the Okanagan to the town of Ruby, where I called it another day, and slept. Waring had sent a wagon for me there. In this I drove out of Ruby next morning, bound for the Methow Valley to the West. We slept out that night, and descended to the Methow the afternoon following, and here at the town of Winthrop was Waring's frontier store, and my journey's end.

Waring, as you will see if you essay to compute the number of days that it took me to reach him from Atlantic shores, had gone a long way off from us all. He was just as far six years later, when I found him at Winthrop again; but by 1898, the Great Northern railway was through to the coast, and dropped my wife and me after nightfall at the town of Wenatchee, much farther down the Columbia than where I had crossed it on that raft in 1892. It was a steamboat we got into at Wenatchee, at some hour of the black dark. She started up the river before dawn. I wish I could remember her name; her captain, stewardess, and her in-sides, I could not forger if I tried. She was worked by a high-pressure engine, wood was her fuel, one huge wheel turned at her stern, a common model for riverboats formerly, and familiar to humorists as a “wet-behinded” steamer. I fancy that few of her kind ply any more in those of our waters where many plied once.

When a steamer is high-pressure, it pants and gasps loudly, like a locomotive, only when at full speed with much fewer puffs to the minute. I don't know what full speed was on that boat. She had to labor against the portentous current of the Columbia. We had boarded her in the dead vast and middle of the night; we were to desert her at the crack of the second dawn, a bit short of our destination. The stewardess presided over the meals. She was hearty, forcible, and full of scorn, and put me in mind of some weather-beaten bird of prey. If clothed in sombrero, cartridge belt, and trousers, she could have passed without effort for a male bandit. The captain wore a grizzled, unmitigated beard, more violent even than his occasional language. His panting craft made landings from time to time, and these were the occasion of his ready oaths. When we came to the foot of rapids, of which there was a series, logs were hurled into the roaring furnace, the boat panted and shook all the way up to the top of the rapids, and then proceeded as usual.

I was up and dressed and out on deck when we reached at first morning light the rapids below Pateros, where the Methow flows into the Columbia. These rapids, it appeared, were more energetic than any of their predecessors. The boat was tied up to the bank, a plank lifted ashore, and a great long rope, geared to a donkey engine, was carried to land and hauled along and tied round a tree stump far up at the head of the foaming water. Then logs were flung into the furnace, the donkey engine started, the boat panted and shook, and we climbed slowly by the help of the straining rope to near the head of those rapids, when the rope parted with a wild cavort, and the boat went back- ward down the river, while the captain dashed his hat on the deck and danced on it all the way, swearing at every leap, the stewardess contemplating him with a sardonic eye.

At the foot of the rapids, we came to a halt. The plank was again lifted ashore. No breakfast was ready yet, but the dry land looked very good to me. A road ran by to Pateros, and amid the caustic jeers of the stewardess, my wife and I made use of the plank, and walked up the road. The bridge over the Methow was barred half way across by a locked gate. We climbed outside the gate over the edge, and reached the hotel at Pateros, and went to bed. An hour or so later we had breakfast and saw the boat pass up the Columbia, with our luggage aboard, to the next landing, which was to be ours, and where a team, sent by Waring to meet us, received our luggage. In time it drove by, picked us up, and that afternoon we reached Winthrop.

Not many years later, that steamboat, bound down the Columbia, with Waring and an Eastern visitor aboard, struck something and sank. Waring swam to shore dragging after him his Eastern visitor.

By the better sort at Winthrop and in that Methow valley, Waring was respected for his puritanic standards, his inflexible honesty, and his out- spoken remarks; by the less worthy, he was less well liked, because of precisely these same qualities. It was unusual to deal with a storekeeper who warned you against what you were proposing to buy as being inferior in quality and not worth its price. He sold groceries, dry goods, hardware, candy, and ammunition; and he was capable of telling a customer what he thought of him. I have heard him do it when I was lying in the store on a couple of flour sacks with a quilt spread over them. One night when all were in bed, a shot was fired somewhere down the riverbank rather close outside the window. We were uncertain what it meant. It turned out next day to mean nothing objectionable.

They called Waring "the man at the forks”; and on my camping expeditions in the mountains with some of the neighbors whom I engaged to guide me where I might find the white goat, I used to explain him to them. One of them, G. L. Thompson, who didn't wish to leave his cabin and take me into the high places where snow and ice already were (it was late October by then) took pity on my bad luck so far, and went. We had good luck in two camps three or four days apart, and we had some ticklish climbs. No worse than climbs I have had after mountain sheep, but as bad; and in those rocky and almost perpendicular circumstances, to carry a Kodak and a Winchester 45-90 (the latest and best model in 1892) was not entirely simple. The days had run into weeks before Thompson and I shook hands in farewell, and during that time I think that I converted him to Waring; that I ever converted Waring to him is less certain. But he was a joyous camp-mate and knew how to hunt the white goat. The goats watch the world beneath them. You have to get above them. If you don't, you will find a vacant landscape where they were, and the goats upon a neighboring precipice, ten minutes away for them, and half-a-day for you.

We spoke of a recent jubilee in London that Thompson had read of in The Illustrated London News. Something of it not reported, but repeated by word of mouth, I told him. The Prince of Wales did not greatly fancy The Marquis of Lorne, whose horsemanship was not perfect. And the future King Edward the seventh had seen to it that a somewhat frisky horse was assigned The Marquis to ride in the royal procession through the streets of London. In the midst of the stately pageant, with many of the great, and multitudes of the small, looking on, the horse gave a jump, and off tumbled his noble rider. I was not quite sure if Thompson would appreciate the untimeliness of this gesture on the part of the marquis. “The queen,” I finished, "is said to have called someone near her and told them to go and see if the Marquis of Lorne was hurt." "And if he ain't hurt, hurt him," said Thompson.

In an article for the Book of the Boone and Crockett Club, entitled The White Goat and his Country, which I wrote at the request of Theodore Roosevelt after my return from this first visit to Waring at Winthrop by the Forks of the Methow, I told this story. But word came from the publishers of the London edition of the book, that the anecdote would, without any possible shadow of doubt, produce a painful impression upon the British reader, and must absolutely be cut out. So it was; and until now has never been printed.

I wish that Waring had written daily of his life in that country in those far days, written down his adventures and experiences as soon as might be after they had happened. Hot off the griddle, they would have had a very pungent flavor indeed, the flavor they had when he told some of them to me, as rich a flavor as any book of the vanished frontier could possess. All events, actions, words, sights, recorded on the spot, are likely to radiate an authentic vividness, which fiction distilled from them is seldom able to equal; but though Waring's feats are no longer hot off the griddle, they were so hot at the time as to have retained enough warmth to make very good reading."

December 10, 1935