From "Birth Of A Town," by Faye Morris
From my collection.
Ninety years or so ago there emerged in this great nation, the little town of Quincy, near the center of the state of Washington. Today’s bustling small city with its vegetable processing plants, controlled atmosphere storage and seed warehouses, has little resemblance to the windswept spot once designated by a sign post with the name Quincy. The Hartline Standard of September 19, 1903 reported: “Two years ago this coming October, Quincy was nothing but a sign board-a-name.” The sign was to indicate the siding where the booster engine could leave the trains after making the climb from the river, seven miles to the west. The name is said to have been chosen by a brakeman from Quincy, Illinois. Another story is told that the daughter of Jim Hill, owner of the Great Northern railroad had picked the name. The GN Co could shed no light on the subject.
While the railroad had planned for shipping points to the west and the east, the siding called Quincy was for railroad use only. Each siding (a place for trains to pass) was identified by a name attached on a post for easier use by railroad workers. Columbia Siding, Vulcan, Trinidad, Crater, Quincy, Winchester, Naylor and Ephrata in the local area.
It was back in 1870 that the federal government, wanting to increase their tax income by settlement of the west, contracted to have a railroad built. The Northern Pacific was to receive land along the route from Lake Superior to Puget Sound, every other section for twenty miles on either side of the line, in return for an operating railroad and telegraph line. Building of the railroad had been completed in the Quincy area in 1892. To bring the road from the north rim of the desert down to the river had taken nearly a year. To cross the river at Rock Island was also quite a problem. Late in 1892 a gale toppled the nearly finished bridge into the river with a loss to the contractor of $8,000. One month later a second bridge with the track laying machine went into the river along with seven men killed.
During the early settlement of the state of Washington, the vast area now known as the Columbia Basin in the Big Bend country was considered an uninviting desert and not a livable land; just a vast cattle range overgrown with sagebrush. Even the Indians by-passed it for there was no water for man or animal.
By the 1880’s a few stockmen had established headquarters bordering the area. They found that the bunch grass, which grew among the sagebrush of the desert, made excellent winter pasture for their cattle, sheep and horses. With snow on the ground the stock could go without water for some time. Cowboys and sheep-herders roasted jackrabbit over sagebrush fires. A 22 was a necessity to secure a meal or chase away marauding coyotes. Tom (Lord) Blythe of Rocky reach Ford on Crab Creek (of whom there are many colorful stories told) and Senator Helm of Ellensburg (who had a large camp on Lower Crab Creek) ran cattle and Hutchenson brothers had horses at the “Sinks” in between, where Crab Creek ran underground part of the way. Sam was 7’4” tall and his brother Ben 6’8”, a graduate of St Mary’s college in San Francisco. Their sister Bessie a mere 6’. Sam was thrown from a horse and killed in 1906. Other pastured large bands of sheep during parts of the winters. Also, hundreds of wild horses from the Horse Heaven country below Yakima migrated here, feeding on the lush bunch grass of the desert and traveling to Crab Creek of the Columbia River for water.
After title was received by the N P, the state and county began assessing taxes on this land. Douglas County’s bill alone was around $25,000 a year. (Douglas county was split out of Spokane county in 1885 with only one person in the whole area.) It was in July of 1901 that the N P’s land agent, E F Benson appeared in Ritzville and began a push to sell the railroad land. He talked Ben E Hervey (formerly the manager of a harness and furniture store at Ritzville who had just celebrated his fiftieth birthday) into buying land in the desert. Mr. Hervey formed a partnership for the purpose of buying eighteen sections in the township around the Quincy siding at $3 per acre. James Hawks of Phoenix, New York put up half the money while W C Reeder of Spokane, O R Height of Ritzville, J M Woeher of Freaze, Idaho and Ben Hervey made up the other half. Mr. Hervey to receive $100 for every section he sold. Terms were one third cash and the balance in 1, 2 and 3 years at 6% interest. By 2-12-02 all 18 sections were resold at $7.50 and up per acre, over $70,000 return on their $11,500 investment in six months, and there were many more townships handled in this same manner.
Township corners had been established every six miles which left settlers to figure out their own locations. Trails used by the early stockmen were the only roads. Several surveys were rejected by the federal government so that some settlers found their buildings and improvements on adjoining land. Blythe had established a corral and butchering scaffold at Willow Springs in the canyon north of the Trinidad siding. Here he prepared meat for the railroad builders. It was at this spring that the railroad built a watering tank to supply the trains steam engines and settlers were allowed to fill their water barrels.
A post office was established at the Trinidad siding by E F Benson, a partner with Willard H Babcock in the B & B ranch, June 20, 1899. Babcock and Benson were raising sheep at Trinidad Bar which they pastured in the mountains across the river during the summer. Babcock had purchased railroad land on either side of the river during the 1890’s. A section crew and depot were located at the Trinidad siding. Carloads of wool were shipped from here.
Lord Blythe became the first postmaster at Ephrata in 1900. Here wheat was being hauled from the Waterville country for shipment on the Great Northern. Fifty-one wagons at a time were reported waiting to unload sacks of wheat. One half of a boxcar was used as a depot and the town of Ephrata was platted 7-10-1901, known as Beasley Springs or Two Springs up to this time. In earlier days it had been a stopping place for traveling Indians as well as headquarters for horse roundups for there was water available in the draw west of the town site. When homesteaders encroached on the open range so that cattle raising was no longer profitable, Lord Blythe sold his holdings to Tom and Geo Drumheller of Walla Walla and gave up the Ephrata post office to move to the Methow area.
Winchester had a section crew and a telegraph office in another half of a boxcar. A post office was not granted until April, 1903. A Ritzville Times Quincy item of November 1902: “Mrs. Jennie Burr has located on a homestead west of Ephrata near the Winchester siding.” (Years later her daughter Nellie Burr Ring remembered her mother tending the clacking telegraph keys at the first Winchester depot. Nellie Ring operated a grocery store at Winchester until a few years ago).