The Real Old West

When the US Army cleared all White settlers, drifters, and missionaries out of Washington Territory during the Yakima War (1855-1858), many of them ended up at Fort Colville, at Kettle Falls on the Columbia River, one of two great fishing holes on that, the greatest of all salmon rivers. One of them, Father Charles Pandosy, missionary of the Yakimas, suspected (wrongly) by the US Army of being a spy for the Yakimas and of selling them ammunition, begged to be returned to his people at the southern tip of the future site of the Manhattan Project’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation, and was sent to the Okanagan instead and so entered our story here, in the Okanagan Okanogan, in 1859. History’s a funny thing. Here’s a scene from the town of Colville, just up the ranching valley from Fort Colville …

Historical Site Signs, Keller House, Colville Washington

That’s one view of history in the foreground, and the actual current state of the same history in the background.

The Wild West lives on. Sometimes it lives on in almost complete silence. Here’s St. Paul’s Mission on the Fort Colville Site.

The Hand-Axed Walls of St. Paul’s Mission, Fort Colville

The portage around Kettle Falls went past the mission’s doors. Note to the similarity of construction with Pandosy’s mission in British territory several days’ journey to the north.

The building is nicely preserved, so hats off to the historians of Kettle Falls, but, still, it’s curious. Those trees that surround the mission are all ingrowth during the 20th century. The site itself would have been grassland and gardens, back in the day. It’s picturesque, but ahistorical. That may be neither here nor there, but check out the new crop of trees that have sprouted in the last five years or so…

Too Many Ponderosa Pines, Fort Colville

The fire will come, and when it does no-one will be saving St. Paul’s Mission. This, like the giant log sort yard crane above at Colville, is the current state of history, and the Wild West, today.

Here’s another view of where the West is at (and has always been at) …

Stone Monsters at the Mouth of the Spokane River, Fort Spokane, Washington

Now described as ice-and-water eroded basalt lava flows, aka wilderness. Fort Spokane was the military fort set up to separate the Indians of the post-war reservations to the north from the post-war settlers to the south. It went on to become a residential school, in which local indigenous children would look up to this living rock every day, while being trained to forget the language that had words for it. 

This, too, is history. I am imagining a new history of the West, which puts words to the current state of affairs, in which all of these realities are still alive and still visible in the landscape today, a view in which, in fact, the landscape is the physical representation of this history. And so I journey on.

 

 

 

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