Sunday, April 19, 2009

The "Miserable Little Town" Called Coulee City

Below is part of a letter by C.F.B. Haskell to his wife. He was on reconnaissance for the Great Northern in its quest to find a suitable route through Washington.

Haskell was an assistant engineer for the GN who did the physical search for the pass that was discovered by John F. Stevens. This pass is still in use today by the BNSF and US Highway 2.

Davenport Wash. July 3rd 1890

“…We left Waterville last Saturday morning and that night stayed at Coulee City in Grand Coulee. It is a little miserable town about six weeks old. The N.P. are building through the town and the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern are, or have been doing some grading around there. Grand Coulee is a great hole in the country, by some supposed to be the bed of an ancient lake. On some maps it is called the old channel of the Columbia River. At all events it is very long, over 100 miles and from half a mile to 5 miles wide & about 1000 feet deep. Several hundred feet of vertical bluff of rock form the walls for 60 miles, where a man cannot climb up. There is only one place where this can be crossed for along way & that is at Coulee City, they think they have the world by the tail, and are bound to have a city second hardly to Chicago.

“The hotel keeper is the greenest fellow out. We didn’t tell him who we were & he proceeded to give us a great yarn about the town & its future prospects. I was not feeling very good natured that night. Had ridden 30 miles with only one place where we could get water for either ourselves or horses and I told him what I thought of the country pretty freely. We got him started and argued with him & poked fun at him for an hour. He told us all sorts of absurd nonsense about the Great Northern road and we laughed at him and he evidently thought we were fools and got most wild. When we go back there we expect to see him again, & expect he will scalp us, as he will know who we are by that time.

“The people generally size us up pretty quick when we get into town. I came in here tonight alone left my field glasses at the livery barn so no one would suspect that I was a R. R. man. These little towns are all wild over railroad matters & ask so many questions that it gets monotonous. I had never been here & thought if I kept still I should rest in peace. Alas! I had not been in the hotel ten minutes when a fellow walked in, “Hello, you here?” I looked up and saw a fellow from Waterville. I went into Supper and had just got seated when the fellow opposite looked up and asked, “Well you got down the river all right?” and on my failing to remember him he told me where he saw me.

“It is annoying when I get settled down for a quiet rest or to write you or something or other to have a lot of folks coming around & ask a hundred insipid questions about the country the railroad & everything else. I think this country is a miserable country most of it. What I have seen of Eastern Wash I would rather have So. Dak. Until I saw this country I thought that the worst country in the world. This country is much of the way rocky & terribly dry. This is the wettest season they have had for years, & it is terrible dry and hot is seems to me. I never saw a country with so few springs & so little running water. Several times we got no water for a half a day & rode hard. There are clouds of dust every where. We can see a person traveling for miles by the cloud of dust in their wake. It seems to me it should be called the Great American Desert. I believe I never saw a country where the people living in it has so little liking for country, found so much to apologize for, and condemn. I found one very intelligent lady who said she thought a great wrong was done when this country was taken from the Indians, for it was never made for white people to live in.

“They had a very hard winter here last winter, though a considerable part of the country the stockmen lost 90 per cent of their stock, yet they will tell you that they have no winter here. There are a few places that are very pretty and I like them but of the country as a whole it is impossible to speak well of the Big Bend of the Columbia.”

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