Columbia River

  THERE is probably no large river in North America of which the readers know so little as the Columbia. If you will take a map of North America, or of the United States, it will aid you in considering what I now write to you.

Comparing the American coasts of the Atlantic and the Pacific you will notice a great difference of outline. The Atlantic coast is fringed with inlets, river-mouths, bays, and gulfs, while the Pacific coast is regularly and smoothly outlined. 

From the San Diego (DeeĀ­a-go), in the extreme south of California, to Vancouver's Island, in British Columbia, there is scarcely a good harbor or safe refuge from storm except that of San Francisco through the "Golden Gate." And even that is often difficult to enter in a storm on account of the frequency of heavy fogs. 

Looking at the map you may think the mouth of the Columbia River is a good refuge from storm, but there is a heavy "bar" at the mouth which makes an entrance difficult, and sometimes impossible, to sail vessels, in stormy weather.

When I was a boy and studied geography, I was told that the name Pacific was given to this ocean because it was so quiet and free from storms. The number of vessels and lives lost along this coast during the last two years make me doubt the propriety of so naming it; but that may be owing in part to the lack of good, safe harbors, for I believe it is not subject to such terrific storms as is the Atlantic, unless it is far to the south.

"Crossing the bar" at the mouth of the Columbia is quite an event to weak-nerved and seasick passengers, with whom, however, I could not sympathize. We crossed at early dawn, and I was on the upper deck to enjoy the scene. On the northern point, on the Washington side, is Cape Disappointment, or used to be, and I felt considerable disappointment to learn that our government has changed its name to Cape Hancock, as it was a geographical landmark of my school days.

Our vessel was a propeller, that is, it had no wheels on its sides, but a large iron screw at the stern by which it was propelled or pushed ahead. 

These vessels are narrower than others, and when in the trough of the tide they rock constantly even when there is no wind. We had rocked all the way from San Francisco, and in crossing the bar we had its last desperate struggle, as if the vessel wished to have one hearty shake before entering the quiet waters of the river. Everything movable had to move, and some of the seasick ones took the first exercise they had had for several days.

But this over, we were in smooth water, and the sick began to come on deck. We soon landed at Astoria, an old village founded by Astor for the Fur Company. There are some new buildings, yet the town is very small for its age. It is surrounded, except on the river side, with high sand-hills which are covered with small fir-trees. 

Canning salmon appears to be the principal business of the place. While we were at the wharf, a tugboat steamed up with twelve fishing-boats, which it had gathered on the river, each having a quantity of large salmon. Hundreds of Chinamen are employed in these canneries.

From the mouth of the Columbia to the mouth of the Willamette (accent on second syllable), the scenery is varied and pleasing. Perhaps the effect is heightened to the traveler by the sudden change from the ocean voyage. 

The banks are mostly high and precipitous, often quite rocky, with frequent mountain streams forming beautiful cascades as they dash on to the river. Except on the bottomlands, which are nowhere extensive, there is no variety of timber, as there is on our Eastern Rivers. The continuous fringe of fir becomes monotonous, and detracts from the interest of the view. 

When I ascended the river, the bottomlands were all overflowed, many houses being carried away. At Kalama (Ca-lam'-a), the southern terminus of the railroad to Puget Sound, the water was over the floors of cars on the highly elevated track. But the height of the flood was unusual.

All vessels, which make into the Columbia River go to Portland, which is the largest city in Oregon, about one hundred miles above Astoria, and twelve or fourteen up the Willamette. 

The latter stream is rather narrow, but deep as far up as to Portland. The vessels, which run on the upper Columbia, to the Cascades, start from Portland.  Leaving Portland we find fifty miles of river similar to that which we have already parsed, except that there is rather more bottom-land, and therefore a little more variety of trees. Not far above the mouth of the Willamette, on the north side of the Columbia, is Vancouver, the pleasantest-looking; place on the river. Fort Vancouver, just above the village, lies on a beautiful plat sloping south toward the river.

The hills gradually increase in height, until we reach the Cascades. This is the name both of the mountain range and of the rapids of the river.

The Cascade Mountains rise abruptly from the river's bank on the south, of Oregon side, to a height of 3000 Feet. On the north side there is a valley several miles in width in some places. At the foot of the Cascades on the north side is Castle Rock, an isolated rock, which towers up 800 feet. It was the intention of Jay Cooke, in the days of his prosperity, to place on its top a sheet of iron painted to represent the American flag. In a more open country it would be a splendid landmark. Viewing it, I thought no ambition nor curiosity could induce me to scale its steep sides to its dizzy height. I did not learn that anybody has ever ascended it. The Cascades (rapids) are six miles in length. A narrow-gauge rail-road, conveys passengers and freight this distance. The river is very narrow, sometimes looking like a small stream as we almost hang over its waters in rounding a rocky point. It is also very crooked, rushing through its rugged confines, and foaming over its rocky bed.

In this range, about forty miles from the river, in Oregon, is Mt. Hood, the highest of all the peaks in that part of the country; about 15,000 feet. It is a beautiful mount, as seen from a distance, rising with great regularity of surface, a perfect cone as seen from most directions, always covered with snow. It is a notable landmark, being plainly seen from a great distance. On the north side of the river is Mt. St. Helens. The Indians have a tradition that the Cascade Range was once entire, shutting in the waters into a large lake or sea to the east, and that Mt. Hood and St. Helens got mad and threw stones at each other, and thus broke up the mountains, forming the river channel through them. It is not difficult to imagine that great convulsions of nature have wrought such changes. A company who ascended Mt. Hood in July, 1876, reported that a crater is found at the top from which smoke still issues.




ABOVE and near the Cascades is a wonderful curiosity. The river spreads over a shallow place on which there are stumps of trees, evidently of fir, which shows that the land has been depressed, perhaps by a slide, as fir does not grow on wet bottoms. At the ordinary stage of the river these stumps are seen, being wood above the water, and petrified, or turned to stone, under the water. 

Of course I could not examine these, passing on the boat, but had to trust to information received. I was told that the State Geologist of Oregon says it is the only place in the world where such a curious combination of wood and stone is found.

Above the Cascades we embark on another boat, which conveys us another fifty miles to the Dalles. This is, perhaps, the most beautiful part of the river. The rocky hills are high, and so peculiar in formation that they present an endless variety of interesting shapes to the eye. Sometimes they are perpendicular from the water's edge, and sometimes so pointed as to present a succession of turrets, reminding one of extensive ruins of castles and fortresses.

Arriving at the Dalles, we find a pleasant village, and here we take another railroad fifteen miles in length. 

From this point my disappointment in the river was continuous. We always form some idea of a country when we hear or read of it, and my ideas of this part of the country were as far as possible from the truth. The Dalles are even narrower than the Cascades, the river running between banks of rock perpendicular on both sides; sometimes in one channel, sometimes dividing around rocks into two or more channels, and yet in banks mostly perpendicular. Toward the head of the Dalles are rapids or falls of ten to fifteen feet.

From the description of its rocky passes, I supposed the river was here, shut in by the mountains as at the Cascades. The hills back from the river, though high, do not present the same mountainous appearance, but resemble the rocky bluffs of a prairie country, there being no timber of any consequence in sight. Often, as we fide through the narrow valley in which the river lies, though the track is considerably elevated, the river is entirely lost to sight in its deep and narrow bed. If the reader will look on the map, he will see that the Clarke Fork, or Columbia River, rises in Montana near the head waters of the Missouri, takes a west and north-west course into British Columbia, and then stretches down the whole width of Washington Territory, gathering the waters of many streams in its long course; while the Lewis Fork, or Snake River, rises also in the borders of Montana and Wyoming, passes through Idaho, then north, forming the east line of Oregon, takes a circuit into Washington Territory, and unites with the other fork a short distance above the Oregon line. And all the waters from this vast region are compressed within such narrow bounds at the Dalles that you may look over the treeless valley, not a level plain, but scooped out from hill to hill, and there is no appearance of water presented. There is no wide break, as of a riverbed, but it is so narrow that you seem to behold every foot of the valley. And it is difficult to realize that the waters gathered from many mountains in the noble Columbia lie unseen almost at your feet.

Above the Dalles, the river scenery does not resume any of the appearance with which we have become so familiar below. There is no more timber in sight. The banks vary in height, being sometimes bold and rocky, and again low enough to give a view of the plain far back; but the steamer plows its way from sunrise to sunset, and no trees are to be seen except a few along the bank.

The land immediately along the river is mostly worthless, if not from natural sterility, from the impossibility to get water upon it. Occasionally small strips of bottomland are found and settled upon, but these are rare. 

Umatilla and Wallula are the only river villages between the Dalles and the eastern boundary of Washington, and these make a better show on the map than any other way. They are set down in the desert, where it is not possible to raise anything, and of course they look dreary and forsaken. They are little villages, made necessary by the want of trade, the farming country commencing fifteen twenty, and sometimes thirty miles from the river. 

This makes it hard for the farmer, as he has to team from fifteen to thirty miles over a sandy, barren or alkali desert to get his produce to the river where it is shipped to market.

Wallula is in Washington, near the line, at the mouth of Walla Walla River. Here old Fort Walla Walla was built, by the Fur Company in 1820; it was an adobe, or mud fort, and part of it is yet standing. The United States fort of the same name is about thirty miles from the river, near Walla Walla City.  In justice to the country, I must say there is an excellent wheat-raising country back of this desert-lining to the river; but these two difficulties are much against the settlers; that of getting their produce to the river, and the difficult navigation of the river. 

Near the foot of the Blue Mountains there is a strip, which is well adapted to fruit. And wherever the streams are available for irrigation, fruit is easily raised.

Above Wallula I was not on the river, and must therefore now take leave of the subject, as I proposed to notice only the river and the country along its banks. But I was informed by those, who had traveled much on it, that the general features of both forks are similar to those we find above the Dalles, on the main stream.

Taken altogether, it lacks the loveliness and home-like beauty of the scenery on the Hudson and the Upper Mississippi, but there is often a grandeur and nobleness which inspire the beholder with awe; and I wish I could give the reader some idea of the feelings with which I looked upon these wonderful works of the great Creator. But this I shall not attempt. 

It is far beyond my power. I hope, however, that I have enabled the youthful reader to study the map of that country with additional interest and to greater profit.



FOR several days in the past, the frost has been gathering and clinging to everything within its reach, presenting the most beautiful work of nature we ever witnessed. Perhaps it has pervaded the country extensively, and adorned the towns, villages and country in other States; but we think no place can look so beautiful as our own little valley among the Adirondack Mountains.

High mountain ranges surround us on every side; the river and brooks are frozen, excepting in places where the rapids are, and the snow lies upon the ground a foot deep. The frost clings to the highest peaks, where it is too cold and windy for the snow to lie, and has made its way down, enwrapping the valley below with its snowy drapery. The alders on the banks of the river; the willows and ferns by the brook; every bush and stalk lifting its head above the snow; every leaf of the evergreen, and tiny twig of the tall, stately trees, is completely covered with the sparkling frost, so thick that only the trunks of the large trees can be seen.

As we look out upon the mountains, hills, valleys, lakes, rivers, brooks, and waterfalls, so beautifully dressed in white, and glittering in the sun- light, what feelings of sublimity it awakens! How we love the beautiful and pure! How it raises our thoughts and desires above to the Author of all purity!


HEDGE round thy life with prayer, 

Knowing this truth, 

That sin in youth

Is seed which, sown in unknown fields, 

A crown of thorns in manhood yields, 

Which he who sows must wear.