Farthest Reach
165 Pages

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Farthest Reach


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165 Pages

You can change the print size of this book


New edition of a classic. Originally published in 1941 by Knopf.
Charming retro look at the time when the Northwest was “the farthest reach” in the days of blue highways, passenger trains, and propeller planes that could not fly nonstop coast to coast.
If, while in Baker or any adjacent community, you ask any questions about the old days you are at once driven out to Medical Springs to see Baker County’s oldest resident, a fabled character named Dunham Wright, aged ninety-nine in 1940. A sprier centenarian I never expect to meet.
We drove up to the old Wright house, long and sprawling and tree-shaded, with the Medical Springs spa just across the road. We entered upon a most 1890 scene of Patriarch in Midst of Family; the old man, now paralyzed—legs only—with his little spotless white beard and his bright blue eye, white shirt and broad-brimmed white hat, in the midst of a group of laughing and talking people, all seated under a long arbor through which the wind was blowing from the bare brown hills. His daughter, a white-haired, plump, gay woman, announced in loud clear tones, “Papa, here’s Nancy Ross come to see you from New York. Not Betsy, but her niece.” After the laughter at this witticism had subsided the old man fixed me for a moment with his bright blue glance, dropped his eyes to my nail-polish and drawled with finely placed ironic emphasis and a mounting appreciation of his powers of observation and humor: “Laws sake! Look at all that blood! Terrible wounded in every finger. Think you could still sew a flag single-handed?”
When the roars at the old man’s wit had died down there was a chorus of eager voices urging me just to ask him anything I wanted to know. “The trouble isn’t getting papa started, it’s getting him stopped. He has such a wonderful memory.” A slight hesitation on my part was fatal, for a well-meaning man—no longer young except by comparison—stepped up and said in the old man’s ear, “Tell her about the Black Hawk War.” Mr. Wright responded like a race horse to the gun; and after that I had some difficulty getting him down to comparatively recent times like 1860. He sat there remembering with vivid detail the stories his own father had told him. Some of them were about Lincoln. Mr. Wright is a descendant of the Hanks family and he told, with a nice sense of timing and good dramatic feeling, how his grandmother, a Hanks and a midwife, was up early getting breakfast before going over to the Lincoln cabin to deliver the expected child, “when Thomas Lincoln thrust his head through the cabin opening and drawled, ‘We got a new baby over t’ our house this morning, and we think we’ll call him Abe.’”
At one point Mr. Wright dwelt with loving detail on a contrasted picture of the lives of the women in pioneer times and at present. After painting an unappealing picture of the past he again announced, with heightened sparkle of his bright blue eye, that he hoped to have his audience in the aisles for the second time, and launched into a descriptive passage about the twentieth century woman: “Now today a woman goes into her Queen Anne House or Bungalow” (you felt he meant them to be capitalized); “she unlaces those close-fitting stays” (slight fixing and abrupt removal of the glance at this point); “she takes off her toothpick shoes, she puts on something loose and comfortable, she draws down all the blinds and she goes out and says to whoever is running that house, Don’t disturb me for a week. I’m just plumb wore out.”
I managed to get in a question then about Joe Meek. “Yes,” he said, “I knew Joe Meek—saw him often—had an Indian woman.” This seemed an odd thing to emphasize in a country where such alliances were fairly commonplace. He went on then to tell the story of Joe Meek waving his coon-skin cap in the air at the Champoeg Wolf Meeting and shouting “Divide! Divide!”—so whether apocryphal or not one might as well accept the story as these old people tell it. Indeed, interviewing the old settlers is one way to appreciate the manifest inability of the historian to arrive at “truth.” What really happened is pleasantly confused with wish and dream and yarn and promise; so that one carries away few facts but something perhaps more valuable: an enlivening sense of the quality of life in these old people. No dwindling and fading, becoming parasitic and looking toward the next generation for the answers; but a sort of intensification of the life forces, a real expression of the “personality.”
The Northwest is proud of its old people, and they are a tough-fibred lot. “Seven-months babies” born on the plains are to be found at ninety, exceptionally hale old women. On a country road on the Olympic Peninsula an old farm woman in her seventies had an almost mythological encounter with a maddened ram which broke her bones and pinned her to earth, but she lived to describe it to her grandchildren. In central Washington a man of seventy-four was riding a bad horse which fell with him. He climbed back on with a broken leg and rode the twelve miles home. Five months later he was up and about as well as ever.
Mrs. Mary Ramsey Lemons Woods, who lived in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, died in Hillsboro in 1908 at the age of one hundred and twenty years, seven months, and eleven days. At one hundred and sixteen she testified in court with what was said to be remarkable clarity. She had lived under the administration of every president from Washington down to Theodore Roosevelt, and among the lot of them favored “Teddy” and “Old Hickory.” The Oregon Pioneer Association crowned her “Mother Queen of Oregon” when she was one hundred and twenty years and five weeks old, and she sat up and wore the crown and had her picture taken.
To children in the Northwest some years ago Ezra Meeker, coming annually into town with his famous ox team, his long white beard, his oft-repeated tales, and his zeal for getting the Oregon Trail marked, was a figure as ancient as God. Actually this spry old man was in his late seventies and eighties when he traveled with his oxen from the Pacific to the Atlantic, establishing monuments along 1800 of the 3000 miles.
SECTION I The Last Playground
1 What Is the Pacific Northwest?
2 Historical Background
3 The Seasons
4 Where to Play
SECTION II Some Places and People
1 Cow Country
2 Farewell Bend
3 Among the Basques with a Scotchman
4 Burns
5 John Day Country
6 Gold, Uncivic Potatoes, and a Centenarian
7 Enterprise—A Lost Hat—The Canyon of Hell
8 Pendleton Round-up
9 Grande Ronde Country: An American Family
10 En Route: In Sheep Country
11 Walla Walla: Missionaries, Vigilantes, and a Rawhide Railroad
12 Yakima Valley: Two Towns. Irrigation and Indians
13 Apple Valleys
14 Beautiful Deep Water
15 Grand Coulee Dam: Man’s Biggest Job to Date
SECTION III Cities as Symbols
1 Seattle
2 Portland
3 Spokane
4 Tacoma
SECTION IV More Places and People
1 The Islands and the Land To and From
2 Spirit Dancing
3 Olympic Peninsula: Big Trees—Sacred Elk—Ghost Towns
4 Capital Towns: Olympia, Salem
5 River of the West
6 Oregon Coast
7 Southern Oregon: Pelicans, Pears, Spade Beards, and Cave Men
SECTION V Highlights on the Last Horizon
1 Tales, Tall and Small
2 Paul Bunyan’s Larder
3 The Jumping-off Place
Reading List



Published by
Published 01 April 2015
Reads 1
EAN13 9781941821619
Language English

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