Arlington, OR
OTCC Interpretive Kiosk

River So Wild Picture

River So Wild

Before the network of dams that today control the Columbia River it was a raging torrent. Jesse A. applegate, emigrant of 1843, recalled his passage through rapids "so wild, so commotional, so fearful and exciting, had not death been there, were worth a month of ordinary life." Unfortunately, for the Applegates and others, death was indeed lurking among the river's infamous rocks and whirlpools.

"...presently there was a wail of anguish, a shriek, and a scene of confusion in our boat that no language can describe. the boat we were watching disappeared and we saw the men and boys struggling in the water. Father and Uncle Jesse, seeing their children drowning, were seized with frenzy, and droppiig their oars, sprang up from their seats and were about to leap from the goat to make a desparate attempt to sswim to them, when Mother and Aunt Cynthia, in voices that were distinctly heard above the roar of the rushing waters, by commands and entreaties brought them to a realization of our own perilous situation, and the madness of an attempt to reach the other side of the river by swimming." Jesse A. Applegate; emigrant of 1843 (Recollection)

Arlington Campsite

Across the Columbia Plateau

Early emigrants floated down the Columbia River or followed its souht bank from |Fort Walla Walla. In the 1840's an alternate route was established from Pendeleton to The Dalles across the Columbia Plateau. The new route shortened the journey to the Willamette Valley, but it lacked one thing the river route had in abundance--water.

" over rocks, gravel and sand we plod along all day. Nothing indicates life except an occasional Juniper tree. Where it gets soil or moisture was to us a question,. We reach Willow Creek late in the day and camp when another heavy wind and sand storm was in evidence. After a hard day's work, we of course were hungry but to cook with fire made of green sage brush with the sand driving into your eyes, ears, and mouth, being mixed in our dough, eat and coffee was a task that we seldom want repeated. We finally abandon the fire part and crouch into our wagons and nibble hard tack." Harriet Loughary; August 20, 1864

Fork in the Road

Emigrants crossing the Columbia Plateau could see Mt. Hood and the Cascade Mountains towerings before them,. On the west side of the John Day River they were offered a choice; to the left, Tthe Barlow Pass and over the Cascade Mountains; to the right; The Dalles and down the Columbia River.

"To day travel up Rock Creek, five miles to John Day River quite a large stream and beautiful valley, all being taken by ranchers. After noon go up steep hill three miles long, or rather up. there we reach the junction of the two roads leading to the Willamette Valley, one going over the Cascade Mountains through 'Barlow Pass' the other to The Dalles then by boat to Portland."  Harriet Loughary; August 23, 1864

Canoe and Bateau

In the early 1840's emigrants either traveled the rugged and sandy south bank of the Columbia river, or faced peril in Indian canoes or Hudson's Bay Company bateaux.

"We hired a Chinook canoe. This canoe is about thirty-five feet in length and four feet in breadth. This canoe is made of cedar they are generallly made of cedar. Some of them are a great deal longer than this and eight feet wide. Those canoes are neatly made. The large ones is one good year's work for a Chinook Indian." Jacob Hammer; October 22, 1844

"We procured from Mr; McKinley, at Walla Walla, an old Hudson's Bay Company's boat, constructed expressly for the navigation of the Columbia and its tributaries. These boats are very light, yet strong. They are open, about forty feet long, five feet wide, and three feet deep, made of light, tough materials, and clinker-built." Peter Hardeman Burnett, emigrant of 1843 (Recollection)

Other Oregon Trail SitesOther Sites Map

The route of the Oregon Trail across today's state of Oregon changed many imes during the emigration era. Early emigrants braved the wild Columbia River or followed its rugged banks. Later many chose to trek across the desolate Columbia Plateau from Pendleton to The Dalles. Arlington is one of the few places that allows easy access to historically significant sites on both routes of the trail.

Interstate 84 parallels the Columbia River for many miles and presents excellent opportunities to imagine the river as emigrants found it long before the construction of modern dams. A short drive south 4 miles along Highway 19, then left onto Eightmile Road for 6 miles leads to Fourmile Canyon where the Bureau of Land Managemement interprets deep ruts indicating a steep and arduous wagon ascent. Continue south from Fourmile Canyon 1 mile, turn east onto Cecil road for 4 miles to Cecil; turn east at Cecil onto Immigrant Road (gravel) for a 13 mile drive to Well Spring, where the Morrow county Historical Society interprets one of the few water holes on the Columbia Plateau. Well Spring may also be found by driving south on Highway 74 and following the signs from Ione.

Rugged South BankThe Rugged South Bank

Many emigrants in the 1840's attempted to avoid risk, and the espense of hiring a canoe or bateau by following the south bank of the Columbia River. It was a poor road sandy and rocky along the river, with little wood for burning or grass for hungry livestock. Steep ascents to the Columbia Plateau along the precipitous ledges and bluffs took emigrants up to a mile away from the river.

"Today we traveled leisurely, crossed a small stream, and passed over some very rugged road, the pack trail in some places going along in the steep and almost perpendicular side of the bluffs 100 feet above the Columvia, and the rock rising 100 feet almost hanging over the trail. In fact, it was rather disagreeable riding along in some places to look down. In event of your horse making a mis-step, himself and rider would be thrown down an awful precipice and buried in the gulf below..." James W. Nesmith; October 15, 1843

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