By Ann Briley
"Okanogan" Smith farmed near Oroville. He planted the first orchard, filed the first mining claim, served in the State Legislature and otherwise distinguished himself as a pioneer leading citizen
What did the Okanogan semi-savages think of the large red fruit of the white man? It is an interesting thought but we will never know, so long ago were the times of this man's arrival. But in the "early days" now slipping from remembered history, when the few settlers came from miles around to Smith's oasis, the soft fruits of summer and fall's apples are remembered gratefully. One seventy-year-old with nostalgic glimmer of boyhood memories in his eyes says, "I'll never forget those blue permain apples we used to get there."
Hiram Francis Smith, born in 1829, was a Maine boy who learned the printer's trade, ultimately working as a skilled craftsman on large daily newspapers in New York, Detroit, and elsewhere. The gold rush in California lured him west in 1849; thence to The Dalles in Oregon, where he operated a freighting and packing service; and finally he hit the trail north to the Cariboo gold fields when rich finds were made there in 1858. This trail was an ancient one so far as the portion now lying in Washington and British Columbia. It followed natural earth contours; fording the powerful Columbia River at old decaying Fort Okanogan, it progressed northward by logical means. It had long been traversed by the Indians, then by the fur traders, and in an area not yet begun would be followed by the settlers and their wagons. The stream of travel in 1858 lent some air of bustle to the practically abandoned Hudson's Bay post, and, while the Canadian gold excitement lasted, would give a borrowed activity to the place.
It was on the return trip from Cariboo late in 1858 that a disappointed Hiram Smith made his establishment that would later mean so much to the then unformed county and state. He established a store, a kind of combination trading post and miners' supply house on the shores of Osoyoos Lake. He took to himself Mary, an Indian girl of the Okanogan tribe, and there he prospered and became a legend during the next thirty-five years. The 29-year old Smith branched out as a trader, miners' outfitter, operator of pack trains, stock raiser, pioneer orchardist, and, finally, a legislator. His mining interests, who were famed during the early days of the Fifteen-Mile Strip, with its numerous important advantages, never garnered such for Smith.
He was a remarkable man. He was so many of the things we might not expect and so few of the things we might naturally expect. Familiar patterns of human living he pushed aside; the old story plots he refreshed. He was not a renegade from the whites; living in a time and place wherein he was not answerable to judge or vicar, he was not licentious; he was not an uneducated ruffian who sought a low animal sort of existence among the Western Indians. But here was an educated and accomplished man who, without the spiritual calling of the missionary, nevertheless lived among the Indians straight and moral; moderate in all things; pleasantly spoken; an arbiter sought after where he might have been a rummy tyrant holding sway. Judge William C. Brown of Okanogan in a recent address compares him with Jim Bridger and Kit Carson, but adds these attributes to Smith: "He was well educated, also had an adaptable personality, and was of pleasing address; furthermore, was honest, fair-minded and capable." Guy Waring, in everyday terms considered among the earliest of the pioneers, became acquainted with Smith in 1885 and later wrote that Smith was a man of cultivation who found social freedom where he was. "Smith was a quiet man, polite and genial, but with a pioneer's love of solitude. Always good-natured when approached, one felt that he much preferred to live his solitary life without interruption from others, unless they were friends."
Smith was tall, athletically built dark of eye and hair. Although there are few known pictures of him, there is one that has emerged to present-day light, developed from some glass plates reposing in a rusty tin box under the eves of his old house above Oroville. This historical "find" reveals a mild; rather long face, an eye calm and kindly. His face reflects his character, and it is not surprising that Hiram Smith, peculiarly located as he was, should become a sort of judge to the Indians, a settler of disputes. He was never the violent participant, the engager, it seems, but had the same faculty that perhaps impresarios possess an overseer, a rationalizing supervisor. He might be owner of the famed Figure 3 bunch of horses, mean and splendid animals which cast their shadow on the forming of the Okanogan country; but he was not a bronco buster; he had cow-punchers like Gallagher and Dooley who liked the wild tussles.
His ranch soon became a horn of plenty in the savage wilderness. The two hundred fenced acres he had under cultivation could provide the table with lavishness seldom seen in the Okanogan country. Berries, fruits, fresh vegetables, dairy products were unheard of in the upper country of roving Indians and sagebrush; but Hiram Smith filled his table with them, and the ever-present traveler, be he miner, soldier, priest or Hudson's Bay trapper, was always welcome. Smith presided at the head of the table, his Indian wife Mary, opposite, and his one daughter Julia, and her half-sister Lizzie, and the inevitable guests grouped around.
One visitor at the Smith ranch years later wrote this account of Smith and his surroundings for a Spokane paper: "Smith, like a feudal lord presided at the head of the board. Then the Okanogan country was a place of magnificent distances, and a long way between stopping places. The uplands were covered with bunch grass and the valleys with sagebrush. Bands of horses and cattle roamed the vast plains. Fenced and cultivated farms were very few and far between. There were few roads, and no good ones. Neither were their bridges, and the traveler forded the creeks and rivers on his trusty Cayuse."
Smith was the lone Yankee there for many years. Fifteen years after Smith's arrival, Alexander MacCauley settled some ten miles to the south, just below the present site of Oroville. But still the Okanogan was a wilderness. The Austrian, William Richter, were over in the next valley to the west, the Similkameen; and the Hudson's Bay post still flourished north of the 49th parallel at Keremeos. But Hiram Smith antedated the mass of homeseekers into the Okanogan Valley by at least twenty-five years. He lived there unthreatened through all the various Indian troubles which surged near and far throughout the state, safeguarded by nothing but the opinion of the Indians that here, at least, was one good white man. In the winter of 1891, when the camps at Ruby and Conconully believed they were all to die in their beds at the hands of Indians and the local citizenry hysterically beseeched the governor for arms, ammunition, and soldiers. The calm voice of old Smith, then serving in the legislature, was heard, "The Okanogan Indians are peaceful. They have taken little stock in the Messiah craze, nor is it likely that they will join with the Canadian Indians."
His title of "Okanogan" Smith was most probably earned when he made his debut into politics, namely as a member of the Territorial Legislature in 1865-66, where surely by contrast he would personify the fabled Okanogan. With the years, the security of the title grew; and sometimes it varied with another title, "The Father of Okanogan County."
It can be shown, if political activity or diplomatic negotiations were at all responsible, that "Okanogan" Smith, during his term as legislator, engendered the purchase of Alaska. The historian, Steele, goes so far as to state that Secretary of State Seward publicly thanked Smith for his part; bur critical examination does not verify this, although it is a glib assertion which is often made in sketchy references to Smith's life. The National Archives, the Library of Congress, various state libraries, can find no substantiation of this assertion. But there are numerous proofs that Smith did introduce a memorial to Congress that probably did bear fruit regarding the cession of Alaska. There is the Journal of the House of Representatives of the Territory of Washington for the year 1865, which states that H.F. Smith introduced a memorial to Congress "Relative to Cod and other Fisheries on the Pacific Coast." True, about this time several Californians were agitating for greater harmony between the two great powers where the fishing industry and fur trade of Russian America was concerned, and the Russians were worn out with the struggle in Alaskan waters. But Smith's efforts could be summarized as the timely punch, the shove which sent the ball rolling. That his memorial did reach President Johnson and did result in some definite steps regarding Alaska is contained in Charles Sumner's speech in 1867 on the cession of Russian America. Sumner states: "The Legislature of Washington Territory in the winter of 1866, adopted a memorial to the President of the United States, entitled, 'In reference to the Cod and other Fisheries as follows. The Memorial on its presentation to the President in February 1866 was referred to Mr. De Stoechl, the Russian minister with remarks on the importance of some early and comprehensive arrangement between the two powers. In order to prevent the growth of difficulties, especially from fisheries in that region." The formal transfer of Alaska was made in October 1867, at Sitka.
During this same session, this Indian hailing from an Okanogan reservation caused to have passed the Chinese Act, whereby they were taxed a certain amount each quarter, one half of this going to the upkeep of county roads, bridges, etc.
That he could have his influence felt clear through to the nation's capital is clearly shown by the enactment of the Fifteen Mile Strip or Fifteen Mile Cut-off, which might be considered a vast modification of the Chief Moses Reservation.
When Hiram Smith first came to the Okanogan Valley in 1858, the region thereabouts was pretty much unfettered. No Indian reserves; Washington was Oregon Territory and little else; and of course, there were no fences; nor was there a division which we know as the International Boundary. Shortly after his arrival, he was faced with the question of whether he was on King George's soil or in Yankeeland, as the Royal Engineers were just then going through drawing up the lines for the 49th parallel, the boundary between Canada and United States. This was a force omnipotent, and there was no holding it back. But luckily, that portion of his ranch occupied by his buildings and most of his cultivated lands were left high and dry in the States. In 1872 came a greater threat to his happy empire: The forming of the reserve for Chief Moses and his people. This would encompass Smith's home; the embodiment of his peace and fortune would be swept away, so he began to fight. He wrote to the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., advising that his property could not be made part of an Indian reservation as he held it under squatter sovereignty and had lived on it continuously for the past fifteen years. However, he offered to relinquish it for the sum of $250,000. Nothing more was done about it at that time, but a few years later, Major R.D. Gwydir, local Indian agent, was instructed to go up to Smith's place and seize it. In the words of Major Gwydir: "Smith produced affidavits from Kruegar, Judge Haynes, William Richtar, all saying that he had lived there continuously since 1858. Then Smith said he would sell for $250,000 which I informed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. I was instructed to drop the matter." Finally, to make an official settlement of a long pending matter, President Grant signed a document that set aside a strip of land fifteen miles long. Extending from British Columbia down the Okanogan River and to the summit of the Cascades, which would be kept apart from the Moses reserve for mineral entry. Time has changed this: the Indian reserve was squeezed tighter and tighter until the North Half was thrown completely open; and the reputed wealth of "Okanogan" Smith in mineral holdings proved not so vast. But in those first years, when the era of gold and silver excitement was just developing, the Fifteen Mile Strip was considered to be one of the biggest booms to Washington mining ever made. Today dozen or more river towns and thousands of stable landowners dwell within its confines.
The years of the sixties and seventies stole away. Smith was happy. He was content to be the old settler living back a week's ride from civilization. The man who had left a good desk job in the East to find a desirable state of being beyond the Great American Desert had found it.
With the passing of the years, however, the old way had altered into a New World. Though only a shadow, civilization was breaking in little waves upon his shore. The Hudson's Bay post had long since closed; settlement was creeping in, if only in the form of bachelor ranchers or an occasional man, who like himself, had taken an Indian wife.
They lived miles apart on big isolated ranches, but they were there: several in the Palmer Lake-Loomis area; William Richter and Alonzo Anderson in the Similkameen Valley, and close about him, besides his old neighbor, old Scottish Alex MacCauley, was the minor officialdom. This was composed of Judge Haynes, an educated Irish man who was gold commissioner and justice of the peace; Charles Bash, representing the United States in the Custom Service; and Theodore Kruegar, another founder of a family of breeds and whites, who was Canadian customs officer. It wasn't like the days when Smith arrived, when the country in its very freshness made him feel content, when, looking out across still azure Osoyoos in early morning, he knew he wouldn't have to talk to anyone that whole day if he did not choose.
The first civil court case appearing on the record of Okanogan County was between Smith and a neighbor, the aforementioned Charles Bash. The litigation was carried on at distant Spokane Falls in 1888, as the county of Okanogan had not yet been formed. It involved a $500 promissory note which Bash gave Smith in early 1880s for a mining claim. The litigants and their attorneys sparred around for a year or so, then apparently settled out of court.
More widely known was the election of 1892, which received notice far beyond the state. Charles E. Laughton, the first lieutenant governor of the state and a Conconully (northern Okanogan County) resident, was a man eminent in state activities and virtually Okanogan County's most distinguished citizen. He often acted in the stead of Governor Ferry. His political career was ended in a surprise upset in 1892, when he ran for Republican representative. The Democrats had nominated the incumbent, "Okanogan" Smith. To complicate the campaign and make it a three-faceted affair, the Populists also ran a man. "Okanogan" Smith was reelected; the political career of Charles E. Laughton was over, and for years afterwards the romancers, not entirely in possession of the facts, went on telling how the polished gentleman, able lawyer, and high-placed official was defeated by the old mountaineer squawman off an Indian reservation.
It was the year 1893. "Okanogan" Smith was sixty-two, still in the legislature, and recently and unexpectedly married to Nancy, a young Seattle woman. The end of his life was stormy, sorely troubled, and much beclouded. The long horseback ride that fall to attend session (from Osoyoos Lake to Olympia!) gave him a bad cold. He was never well again; dysentery commenced, and he came to Seattle for treatment. He had a suite at the old Diller Hotel. The papers of September 10, 1893, carried the news of his death, dwelling on personal details at considerable length, as he was a man well known all over the West and the Pacific Coast.
From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sunday, September 10, 1893, are taken these excerpts: "Hiram F. Smith, member of the State House of Representatives for Okanogan County, who was known as "Okanogan" Smith and was one of the best known pioneers of the Pacific Coast. Smith died of dysentery at 10: 15 o'clock last night at the Diller Hotel, where he was temporarily stopping. His death followed upon a long and painful illness, which had lasted over three months.
There follows a long account of his whole life. "By the death of "Okanogan" Smith, the state of Washington loses a whole-souled, generous and energetic citizen. With the development of the Okanogan country Mr. Smith had more to do than any other man, probably. The productiveness of the (Smith) farm can be realizes when it is known that in one season 1,000 bushels of peaches were raised upon it. The only persons present at the deathbed were his wife, and R. B. Scott, who was for a long time customs inspector at Osoyoos."
The Seattle Telegraph had this to say: "Throughout his political career no suspicion of dishonest methods or practices attached to his name. His defeat of ex-Lieutenant Laughton for the legislature when chicanery, money and odds were against him told in fitting terms of the love and esteem in which he was held."
On September 12, the papers dwelt upon such things as funeral arrangements, also his last will and testament. This last has caused more litigation and copious shedding of tears then all the onions in Bermuda. Recorded in Okanogan County, the will was accurately described by the Post-Intelligencer of Seattle: "a brief clause directing of $5,000 be paid to Nancy S. Smith, widow…a bequest of $1,500 to his daughter Lizzie, a half-breed, and also $1,500 to each of his grandchildren, Ella and Robert Evans. The two children were born to a daughter now dead. He bequests his ranch of 160 acres located on Osoyoos Lake in Okanogan County and valued at $40,000 or $50,000, together with all mines and mining interests, to his widow, Nancy S. Smith."
His one true daughter Julia had married Jack Evans, "a crack rider," and had died the year previous. The generation then coming up, the era of towns and settlement in the Okanogan, would hear much of the Evans "string of Figure 3" horses, of the ranch which would always be known as the Smith Ranch, of much cloudy dispute over his estate. In 1905 the countryside would again be stirred by the memorable Hercules Hayward-Charlie Rinehart, "shootin' match at the Smith corrals." This is still discussed by old-timers when in their mellowest moods. His Indian squaw Mary would drown in the Okanogan River one day while crossing in her hack.
But lasting longer than any of these was to be the name of "Okanogan" Smith, which would grow in eminence with the passing of the years, and his home at Osoyoos Lake became a shrine of history.
Three Senators and three Representatives were the pallbearers at his funeral, and his final resting-place was in Lakeview Cemetery between two of Seattle's great, Henry L. Yesler and Otto Ranke.
The above article is based upon several collections of manuscripts and clippings. Mrs. Ella Irwin of Oroville, "Okanogan" Smith's granddaughter, graciously made available all the material in her possession, consisting of a folder of pictures, letters of several old timers, and a few newspapers. The "Palmer Clippings" are preserved in the town library at Okanogan. A number of items relating to Smith's contribution to the purchase of Alaska were found in the Washington State Library, the University of Washington library, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives. These are supplemented by the author's long personal acquaintance with the area and by correspondence with Judge William C. Brown of Okanogan and Mrs. D. A. Thorndike, the present owner of the Smith ranch.
Where is He Now?
"Okanogan" Smith was buried September 12, 1893, in Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle. But he isn't their now. And nobody seems to know where he is.
Smith's grave in Lakeview, overlooking Lake Washington from Capitol Hill, was located near an ornate granite monument marking the entombment of Seattle Pioneer Henry L. Yesler.
Contemporary newspaper accounts as well as Smith's King County death certificate testifies to his burial in Lakeview. A Lakeview record book shows that in September 1893, Smith's estate contracted for the SW ¼ of Lot 130 for $200. There is no indication this was paid. Astonishingly, there is no Lakeview record of any nature of the burial of Hiram F. Smith. Lakeview a few years ago contained 35 Smith's, none of them Hiram.
The body may have been disinterred after only a week or so, according to a search conducted for the State Apple Commission, which wished to honor Smith. Or it may have been removed two years later, according to Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Frank Lynch, who reported finding evidence of $7 paid to an undertaker to dig up the Smith casket in 1895.
There is no Lakeview record of an exhumation. There is no indication that a grave marker was ever placed there.
Why Okanogan County's famous pioneer was moved, on whose authority, and where are questions, which may never, be answered.
Can you help? Where is "Okanogan" Smith?