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Okanogan County, Washington

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  • Name Okanogan County, Washington 
    Address USA 
    Repository ID REPO1 
    Linked to 1920 US Census - Hill, Ray and Celia 

  •  Notes 
    • History of Okanogan County -

      Okanogan County was formed out of Stevens County on February 2, 1888. In area, it is the largest county in the state.

      The county seat is at Okanogan, and its largest city is Omak.
      The first county seat was Ruby, Washington, which has now been a ghost town for more than 100 years.

      Census Recognized Communities
      Brewster * Conconully * Coulee Dam (partial) * Elmer City * Nespelem * Nespelem Community *North Omak * Okanogan * Omak * Oroville * Pateros * Riverside * Tonasket * Twisp * Winthrop

      Unincorporated communities
      Aeneas * Azwell * Carlton * Ellisford (aka Ellisforde) * Havillah * Loomis * Malott * Mason City * Mazama * Methow * Monse * Nighthawk * Rocky Butte * Synarep * Wauconda

      Ghost Towns
      Molson * Bodie * Bolster * Chesaw * Disautel * Ruby
      Although classed as ghost towns by the county, a few souls still live in Molson and Chesaw and in the surrounding areas.


      David Thompson was the first white man to descend the northern portion of the Columbia river. He was connected with the Northwest Fur Company. Thompson arrived at The Dalles in July, 1811. An expedition for the exploration of the northern Columbia had been arranged which was to be commanded by David Stuart. The appearance of Thompson delayed this expedition eight days, but it was finally settled that Stuart should proceed on his journey northward, and July 23, 1811, he, with four clerks, Pellet, Ross, Montigny and McLennan, four boat men, Thompson and his crew and a couple of Indians set forth on their hazardous trip.

      They were provided with light canoes and these craft carried sails as well as paddles. Thus was organized the first commercial enterprise on this portion of the waters of the Colombia river. It had been decided that Thompson should continue on northeasterly to Montreal, and by him Mr. McDougall, in command of the post at The Dalles, sent forward a letter to John Jacob Astor.

      For some distance up the river Stuart and Thompson remained in company. But finally the latter cast loose from the convoy of canoes and passed on ahead, leaving Stuart and his voyagers to proceed more leisurely on the route. It was a part of Stuart's plan to spy out a location for a new fort in the wilderness for the Northwest Company.

      As the party continued the ascent of the magnificent river they reached a broad, treeless prairie surrounded by a number of elevations which, without gaining the distinction of mountains, could be termed with propriety exceedingly high hills. Tall, rich grass was in abundant growth.

      To the southeast the landscape was open and expansive, but closed in on the north by a dense forest of pine and fir. It was fragrant with flowers and musical with the clear bell-notes of bird life. And down from the lakes far to the north coursed a cool stream which the natives called the O-kan-a-kan, or Okanogan in the modern acceptance of its orthography. At this point it joined its waters with those of the Columbia, and near here is now located the town of Brewster.

      On the east bank of the Okanogan, five miles above its mouth, Stuart located his fort, post or factory, as the place was subsequently recognized by all these names.

      The significance and derivation of the word "Okanogan" has always been a subject of dispute and uncertainty with Chinook authorities. Father E. de Rouge, who for more than twenty years had been among the Indians and has made a special study of their nomenclature, asserts that the proper word is not Okanogan at all, but Okanakan. He advances three good reasons for this position: First, the Indians invariably use the "kan" or "kain" sound; second, there is no letter "g" or sound answering to "g" in the Indian dialect; third, in the formation of new Indian words, and after the analogy of the Greek, two words or roots are used. The last two letters of the first and the first two letters of the last are dropped and the words are then amalgamated.

      In Okanogan the first three syllables are the first part of the word meaning "nothing," and the last is the remnant of "zasekan," meaning "head;" from which the true significance of Okanogan or Okanokan is found to be "head-of-nothing." Father de Rouge is unable to account for the application of the word to the river and says it is simply a custom of the Indians to attach words to things without reference to the fitness thereof.

      It is probable that the river having its source in a lake, so far as the knowledge of these Indians goes, may explain the origin of the name.

      The Okanogan Outlook, published at Conconully, has another explanation of the meaning of the word. It says:
      "The English meaning of the word 'Okanikane,'? Okanogan, as it is now spelled is 'rendezvous,' and was given to the head of the Okanogan river, where it takes its source in the lake of the same name.

      It is here that the Indians from all parts of the Territory, British Columbia and even Alaska, meet for the annual 'potlatch,' even to this day (1888) and lay in their supply of fish and game. The word 'Scooyos,' which has been corrupted to O Sooyos, means 'narrows,' and here are the grandest fishing grounds in the Pacific Northwest.

      'Conconully,' also a corrupt Indian name means 'cloudy,' but was applied to the lower branch of the Salmon river. The proper Indian name for the valley where Conconully lies is Sklow Outiman, which means 'money hole,' so named on account of the abundance of beaver to be caught there in the early days, and beaver skins were money to the Indians then."

      Here, then, was the original interior fort of the company, a post antedating that of "Fort" Colville by some fifteen years.

      As Mr. Bancroft says: "It was the stopping place of the overland brigade, and in due time became the chief station for the deposit of furs from the New Caledonian district." For a "factory" of this description there were few locations more favorable throughout the great northwest.

      The climate was unsurpassed; Indians friendly; horses in abundance; the river alive with fish; the adjacent forest abounding in many varieties of toothsome game. The trend of the Okanogan northward provided access to that valuable fur-producing country; to the westward a natural highway, the Columbia, lay open to the sea.

      The first structure erected by Stuart was a log house 16x20 feet in size, built from driftwood caught in the bend of the river. Then he reduced his force by sending Pellet and McLennan back to Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia, where they arrived safely October 15, 1811.

      Naturally an Indian dearly loves a trading post. And it was through the mediums of trading posts that the all-prevading Hudson's Bay and Northwest Companies retained their strong controlling hold on the North American red men.

      Having erected the log structure, Stuart, having great confidence in the Indians, decided to leave the station in charge of Ross, without one white companion, while he and Montigny and the two boatmen pushed on northward. This daring expedition was successfully accomplished; Ross continued his solitary vigil throughout the winter of 1811-12. Of this experience Mr. Ross says in his "Adventures:"

      "During Mr. Stuart's absence of 188 days I had procured 1,550 beavers, besides other peltries worth in the Canton market two thousand two hundred and fifty pounds sterling, and which on an average stood the concern in but five and one-half pence apiece, valuing the merchandise at sterling cost, or in round numbers, thirty-five pounds sterling; a specimen of our trade among the Indians."

      Thus, as concisely as possible is presented a historical record of the earliest exploration, by white men, of the 5,318 square miles now contained within the modern limits of Okanogan county.

      Of course in those early days no geographical division lines were known, nor for many years thereafter was any attempt made to separate territory into county limitations. Eventually what is now Okanogan became, together with other vast territory east of the Cascades, Spokane, and subsequently Stevens county.

      In the religious field of Okanogan county the original pioneer was Reverend Father De Smet. In his celebrated letters he speaks of having gone up the Okanogan lake, in British Columbia, and returning. This was as early as 1839. The Colville Mission had previously been established by Father De Smet, and it was from this point, now in Stevens county, that he and other Catholic priests came westward.

      Gradually the Indians of the Okanogan country came under the beneficent influence of these religious people, and many of them joined the church. It is the testimony of Father de Rouge, now at the head of St. Mary's Mission, that as a rule these Indians were good, honest people, and that any old settler might leave his cabin for days at a time without the least danger of loss of property.

      It was in the fall of 1885 that Father de Rouge arrived at the Okanogan river where he built a home and a small chapel. The ruins of these primitive edifices may yet be seen. At this period the father claims that the Indians were inveterate gamblers, but that within one year the greater majority of them had abandoned the practice.

      Later, in 1889, a log chapel was built at Omak, at the head of the lake of that name, east of the Okanogan river, in the "South Half" of the Colville Indian reservation. This was the inception of St. Mary's Mission, which, in charge of Father de Rouge, has become one of the educational institutions for the use of Indians in the state of Washington.

      It was in 1889 that the father returned from France with some money collected abroad, and with his nucleus he placed the mission in the field.

      It is the testimony of Father de Rouge that the site of St. Mary's Mission had already been selected by Father de Grassi, who is described as a true missionary who did much for the people then in the country, whites as well as Indians. Having no house and no church Father de Grassi was accustomed to travel from Yakima to Colville with a pack horse, stopping for short periods at any points where Indians were gathered for the purpose of imparting instruction to them.

      In this manner Father de Grassi claimed that he had lived on an outlay of not over $20 per annum. He was loved and respected by a large majority of the nomadic tribes of Indians then in the country. However, there are Indians and Indians; good, bad and indifferent.

      One day it was was [sic] Father de Grassi's misfortune to fall into the hands of a band of bad ones; they were setting the father across the mouth of the Okanagan river by means of a canoe. It was here that a deliberate attempt was made to drown the missionary. The canoe was intentionally upset and only by a remarkable display of energy and presence of mind on his part was his life spared by the treacherous red men.

      Father de Rouge speaks of a certain class of Indian fanatics near the mouth of the Okanogan, whose peculiar religion was termed the "Dreams," and whose God was supposed to reveal them everything. They said prayers and practiced a number of peculiar ceremonies.

      On the arrival of Father de Rouge among this sect he was immediately ordered away. Paying no attention to such intimidation he continued the construction of the mission, and was eventually rewarded by the southern wing of the Okanogan Indians joining the church. It is said now by Father de Rouge that "were it not for the evil influence of bad white men and the horrible type of whisky they would still be a good class of citizens."

      [SOURCE: "An Illustrated History of Stevens, Ferry, Okanogan, and Chelan Counties in the state of Washington"; Western Historical Publishing Company, 1904]