Atlantis Arisen/Chapter 4

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The situation of Astoria, in point of beauty, is certainly a very fine one. The neck of land occupied by the town is made a peninsula by Young's Bay on one side and the Columbia River on the other, and points to the northwest. A small cove makes in at the east side of the neck, just back of which the ground rises much more gently and smoothly than it does a little farther towards the sea. The whole point was originally covered with heavy timber, which came quite down to high-water mark; and whatever there is unlovely in the present aspect of Astoria arises from the roughness always attendant upon the clearing up of timbered lands.

Standing facing the sea or the river, the view is one of unsurpassed beauty. Towards the sea, the low, green point on which Fort Stevens stands—the Cape Frondosa (leafy cape) of the Spanish navigators—and the high one of Cape Hancock, topped by the light-house tower, mark the entrance to the river. Above them is a blue sky; between them a blue river celebrating eternally its union with the sea by the roar of its breakers, whose white crests are often distinctly visible. There is a sail or two in the offing, and a pilot-boat going out to bring them over the bar; perhaps the vessel is from "far Cathay," with the silks and spices of the Ind. While we gaze, there is seen against the horizon the black smoke of a steamer. On she comes over the bar, breathing asthmatically and beating the waters with her great wheels in a steady rhythm, until at last the boom of her gun gives notice to the custom-house officials of her arrival, and all the town hastens to the wharf to learn of her cargo and her passengers, and to question what sort of a voyage she has had.

Towards night, when the sun is setting behind the light-house cape, and gilding sky and sea beyond the bar, there suddenly appear upon the river hundreds of fishing-boats, whose white sails dot its blue surface as summer clouds a June sky. They are going out to their night's fishing with drag-nets.

Opposite us, and distant four miles, is the northern shore,—a line of rounded highlands, covered with trees, with a narrow, low, and level strip of land between them and the beach. The village of Chinook is a little to the northwest; another village, Knappton, a little to the northeast. Following the opposite shore-line with the eye, as far to the east as the view extends, a considerable indentation in the shore marks Gray's Bay, where the discoverer of the river went ashore with his mate, to "view the country."

On the Astoria side the shore curves beautifully in a northeast direction, quite to Tongue Point, four miles up the river. This point is one of the handsomest projections on the Columbia. Connected with the main-land by a low, narrow isthmus, it rises gradually to the height of fifty or sixty feet, and is crowned with a splendid growth of trees. Between Tongue Point and Astoria was erected the first custom-house in Oregon; the building and wharf have gone to decay, and "Upper Astoria" has become united to the main town by a line of fish canning establishments.

Following down the curving shore, I inquire for the site of the Astor establishment of 1811 and the cove where the "Dolly" was launched. A few years ago, I am told, the foundations of Fort George, as the place was named by the English successors to Astor, could have been traced, but they are now built over, and the cove in front is also concealed from view by a wilderness of wharves.

In 1849, a company or two of United States soldiers being temporarily quartered in the old "Shark" house, a squared-log mansion built to shelter the crew of the United States schooner wrecked on the bar in 1846, the canoes of eight hundred native warriors of the Chinooks covered the water in Astor Bay, curious, as savages always are, to watch the acts and note the customs of civilized men. Not a canoe is now in sight. The white race are to the red as sun to snow: as silently and surely the red men disappear, dissipated by the beams of civilization. Among those who came to gaze at the overpowering white race on that occasion was an old Chinook chief, named Waluska, the number of whose years was one hundred. His picture, which some one gave me, shows a shrewd character. So, no doubt, looked Com-com-ly, the chief whom Washington Irving describes in his "Astoria," and whose contemporary this venerable savage must have been. His then sightless eyes, in his early manhood beheld the entrance into the river of that vessel whose name it bears. Between that time and the day of his death he saw the Columbia River tribes, which once numbered thirty thousand souls, decimated again and again, until they scarcely counted up one-tenth of that number. Only a few years ago, I am told, there might have been found, on a pretty, level piece of land around Smith's Point west of Astoria, away from the shingly beach, and where on the edge of the forest thickets of wild roses, white spiraea, woodbine, and mock-orange made a charming solitude, an Indian lodge, the residence of the native Clatsop. Exteriorly, the Clatsop residence could not be praised for its beauty, being made of cedar planks, set upright and fastened to a square or oblong frame of poles, and roofed with cedar bark. Outside were numberless dogs, and some pretty girls of ten and twelve years of age, with glorious great, black, smiling eyes. Inside might be seen three squaws of various ages, braiding baskets and tending a baby of tender age, with two "warriors" sitting on their haunches and doing nothing; and salmon everywhere,—on the fire, on the walls, overhead, dripping grease, and smelling villanously, salmon,—nothing but salmon. A conversation with the mother of the little stranger, in jargon, related to the fair complexion of the tillicum. One of the warriors, presumed to be its papa, laughed and declared it all was as it should be. Such are the benefits of civilization to the savage!

I went in search of this aboriginal family and fell in with a different sort of savage,—an Irishman, on a little patch of ground which he cultivates after a fashion of his own, at the same time doing his housekeeping in preference to being bothered with a woman." He is cooking his afternoon meal, which consists of soup made from boiling a ham-bone, with thistles for greens, and a cup of spruce tea. Think of this, unlucky men, bothered with women, who, but for them, might yourselves be subsisting on thistles and spruce tea!

Young's Bay, which forms the southwest boundary of Smith's Point, is a deep inlet of the Columbia, and receives the waters of Young's River, Lewis and Clarke's River, and the Skipanon, all which flow from the south; Young's River, however, having two considerable branches coming in from the east. The peninsula formed by Young's Bay and the ocean is a sandy plain, roughened with many hummocks, cut up by tide-sloughs, lakes, and marshy hollows, and timbered near the sea with scrubby pines. It has two rivers rising in the Coast Range,—one, Lewis and Clarke's, emptying into Young' Bay, and one, the Neahcanacum, flowing into the ocean. I stood upon the spot beside the former where the brave explorers Lewis and Clarke wintered in 1805-6, subsisting themselves and their company on elk-meat obtained on this peninsula. There they listened to Indian tales of the Yankee traders who had been in the river in past times, and even learned their names and the names of their vessels, so well had they been remembered by the natives. The Neahcanacum is a beautiful mountain stream, overhung with trees, rapid and cold enough for trout-fishing, and deep enough for boating. Very singularly, it runs parallel to the ocean and very near it, and is one of the most charming features of the summer resort known as Clatsop Beach. There is good hunting in the coast mountains bordering on Clatsop Plains to the south, and this sea-bathing place has for many years been the recreation-ground of Portlanders in the dry months of July, August, and September, a distinction now shared by similar resorts on the beach north of the Columbia. Steamers leave Portland late in the evening, arriving at Astoria in the morning, throughout the week; and on Saturdays leave the city early enough to reach their destination the same evening and give business men a Sunday with their families at the sea-side, to which they are conveyed by boat and train from Astoria.

From Young's Bay there is a view of Saddle Mountain, the highest of its twin peaks, Neah-car-ny, being the subject of a tradition preserved among the Indians of a vessel once cast ashore near the mouth of their river, the crew of which were saved, together with their private property, and a box which they carried ashore and buried on Mount Neah-car-ny, with much care, leaving two swords placed on it in the form of a cross.

Another version is that one of their own number was slain, and his bones laid on top of the box when it was buried. This, were it true, would more effectually keep away the Indians than all the swords in Spain.

The story sounds very well, and is firmly believed by the Indians, who cannot be induced to go near the spot, because their ancestors were told by those who buried the box, that, should they ever go near it, they would provoke the wrath of the Great Spirit. The tale corresponds with that told by the Indians of the upper Columbia, who say that some shipwrecked men, one of whom was called Soto, lived two or three years with their tribe, and then left them to try to reach the Spanish countries overland. It is probable enough that a Spanish galleon may have gone ashore near the mouth of the Columbia, and it agrees with the character of the early explorers of that nation that they should undertake to reach Mexico by land. That they never did, we feel sure, and give a sigh to their memory.

If the tourist is so fortunate as to secure an old Astorian for a guide, he may, if he chooses, call up manifold "spirits from the vasty deep." One of the stories of wreck a century or so ago relates to our almond-eyed neighbors at the antipodes. The story-teller will most likely take from his pocket, where he must have placed it for this purpose, a thin cake of beeswax, well sanded over, which he avers was a portion of the cargo of a Japanese junk, cast ashore near the Columbia in some time out of mind. When we have wondered over this, to us, singular evidence of wrecking, he produces another, in the form of a waxen tube. At this we are more stultified than before, and then are told that this was a large wax candle, such as the Japanese priest, as well as the Eoman, uses to burn before altars. The wick is entirely rotted out, leaving the candle a hollow cylinder of wax.

By this self-evident explanation we are convinced. Certain it is that for years, whenever there has been an unusually violent storm, portions of this waxen cargo are washed ashore, ground full of sand. As beeswax is a common commodity in Japan, we see no reason to doubt that this, which the sea gives up from time to time, originally came from there. The supposition is the more natural, as the mouth of the Columbia is exactly opposite the northern extremity of that Island Empire, and a junk, once disabled, would naturally drift this way. The thing has been known to occur in later years; and that other wrecks, probably Spanish, have happened on this coast, is evidenced by the light-haired and freckle-faced natives of some portions of it farther north, discovered by the earliest traders.

Fort Stevens, on the north shore of the Clatsop Peninsula, is a military post occupying a low, sandy plain, just inside the projection of Point Adams. It is one of the strongest and best-armed on the Pacific coast. Its shape is a nonagon, surrounded by a ditch, thirty feet wide. This ditch is again surrounded by earthworks, intended to protect the wall of the fort, from which rise the earthworks supporting the ordnance. Viewed from the outside, nothing is seen but the gently-inclined banks of earth, smoothly sodded. The officers' quarters, outside the fort, are very pleasant; and, although there is nothing attractive in the location of the fort, or in its surroundings, it is an interesting place in which to spend an hour. The view from the embankment is extensive, commanding the entrance to the river, the fortifications of Cape Hancock, opposite, and the handsome highlands of the north side, as well as of a portion of Young's Bay. The troops quartered here have been temporarily withdrawn to accommodate the officers and men connected with the engineer department of the United States Army, who are at work upon a jetty built by the government to improve the south channel of the Columbia, which extends from Fort Stevens four miles out towards deep water, and will probably be still further extended, the improvement in the channel being manifest. This work was commenced in 1885, before which the channels over the bar were capricious in location and variable in depth, the water on the bar being from nineteen to twenty-one feet, and the channels from one to three in number. The effect of the jetty has been to build up Clatsop spit, and concentrate the waters on the middle sands, which have been removed, leaving from eighteen to twenty-five feet of water in their place. Between three and four square miles of ground in front of Fort Stevens have been built up, where formerly it was being eaten away by the impingement of the current upon the shore-line.

Tansy Point, on the northeast corner of the Clatsop Peninsula, and adjoining the military reservation, has recently been laid off in town lots, and named New Astoria. This brings to mind the project of some adventurers of 1839, one of whom was J. T. Farnham, author of the "History of Oregon Territory," and another, Medorum Crawford, of Salem, in this State, to build a city to be a second New York, on this identical point. We build cities with wonderful rapidity in these days, with every force made available. But wdiat courage and wbat imagination must these young fellows have had, who crossed the continent by hook and by crook" to found a New York at the mouth of the Columbia! Few of them ever saw their destination.

Another recent town enterprise is East Astoria, laid out above Tongue Point, at the mouth of John Day River, an affluent of the Columbia. As a suburb of Astoria it will in time be settled up, but as an independent site it has no apparent advantages. A local railway line has been projected which is to connect New Astoria with old Astoria by following around the shore of Young's Bay to Smith's Point, which is also now laid off in city lots. A similar connection will probably be made with the eastern addition. Astoria, although the oldest American settlement on the Pacific coast, has been very slow of development. The situation for a commercial entrepót, although in some respects a fine one, had its drawbacks, being cut off from the interior by the densely-timbered mountains of the Coast Range, and having apparently few resources outside of salmon canning, which business is of comparatively recent date. If you had asked an Astorian in 1870 what constituted the importance of his town, present or future, he would have told you that it had a commodious harbor, with depth of water enough to accommodate vessels of the deepest draft, with good anchorage, and shelter from southwest (winter) storms. He would have pointed to the forts at the mouth of the river, which made business; to the custom-house, which brought business; to the pilotage of all incoming and outgoing vessels; to a certain amount of lumber manufactured here, and cement manufactured at Knappton, by workmen who spent their wages in Astoria, and so on.

If you had inquired what back country it had to support it, he would have pointed to Clatsop, and the valley of the Nehalem, south of it; and have told you that it is but seventy miles into the great valley of Western Oregon, and that a railroad is to be built into it from Astoria, through the coast mountains. He would mention, besides, that there are numerous small valleys of streams running into the Columbia within twenty miles, which are of the best of rich bottom-lands, and only need opening up. This was the Astorian's view of his town, and nothing to the contrary could be seen. That there were in the neighborhood of Astoria many elements of wealth, both mineral and agricultural, which only required time and capital to develop, could not be doubted, even then. The same conditions remain, but the resources then modestly claimed have been considerably developed.

To fishing, more than to any other, or all other, business, Astoria owes its prosperity from 1870 to the present time. The first fishery established on the Lower Columbia since 1834, when Wyeth failed, was in 1862, by Captain John West, of Westport, some distance above Astoria; the first cannery in 1867, by Hapgood and Hume, on the north side of the river, also above Astoria. A fishery proper is understood to mean a barrelling establishment, while a cannery is one where fish are preserved in cans, either fresh or spiced, and pickled. Often they are combined.

The fishing season begins in May, and ends in August. The manner of taking salmon in the Columbia is usually by driftnets, from twenty to a hundred fathoms long. The boats used by the fishermen are similar to the Whitehall boat. According to laws of their own, the men engaged in taking the fish, where the drift is large, allow each boat a stated time to go back and forth along the drift to hook up the salmon. The meshes of the nets are just of a size to catch the fish by the gills, when attempting to pass through; and their misfortune is betrayed to the watchful eye of the fisherman by the bobbing of the corks on the surface of the river.

When brought to the fishery, they are piled up on long tables which project out over the water. Here stand Chinamen, two at each table, armed with long, sharp knives, who, with great celerity and skill, disembowel and behead the fresh arrivals, pushing the offal over the brink into the river at the same time. After cleaning, the fish are thrown into brine vats, where they remain from one to two days to undergo the necessary shrinkage, which is nearly one-half. They are then taken out, washed thoroughly, and packed down in barrels, with the proper quantity of salt. That they may keep perfectly well, it is necessary to heap them up in the barrels, and force them down with a screw-press.

The canning process, which was kept secret for one or two seasons, is a much more elaborate one, requiring a large outlay, many hands, and much skill and precision, for its success. Such was the profit derived from this business that canneries multiplied rapidly until 1880, when it reached its height, since which time there has been a decrease in the output, owing to over-fishing. The legislature has come to the protection of salmon with a law confining fishing to a period from the first of April to the first of August. A hatchery is also in operation on the Clackamas River, a branch of the Wallamet, where spawn is cared for and developed, the young fish being placed in the river at a proper stage of growth. With these precautions, it is hoped to save this industry from further loss, and even to excel its former yield.

There are nineteen canneries at Astoria, in which are invested two million dollars, and almost as many more which are tributary to it, the capital operating them being furnished by Astoria. Shipments are made direct to foreign countries, as well as to domestic ports. In 1889 one cargo of salmon which was cleared for Liverpool was valued at three hundred and fourteen thousand three hundred and three dollars, the largest cargo, with one exception, ever cleared direct, by sail, for a foreign port from 4he Pacific coast. Astoria is the greatest salmon-fishing station in the world, the canneries using between four hundred thousand and five hundred thousand salmon annually, and Astoria sends out larger cargoes by sailing-vessels than San Francisco of fish and wheat.

There is no part of the Pacific coast so well adapted to fishcuring as Oregon and Washington. The climate, either north or south of their latitude, is either too moist or too dry. Wood for barrels is close at hand; and, not yet utilized, close at hand, too, is the best salt in the world for curing meats of any kind. Seeing to what an immense business salmon-fishing is growing, one cannot help wishing that Nathaniel Wyeth, who tried so hard, in 1832, to establish a fishery on the Columbia, and failed through a combination of causes, could see his dream fulfilled, of making the Columbia famous for its fisheries and its lumber trade. But he, like most enthusiasts, was born too soon to behold the realization of the truths he felt convinced of.

There are several species of salmon and salmon-trout which are found in the Columbia. Of these, three species of the silvery spring salmon, known to naturalists as Salmo quinnat, S. gairdneri, and S. paucidens, are those used for commercial purposes, and known as the "square-tailed" and "white salmon,"—the third species being considered as smaller individuals of the same kinds, though really distinct in kind.

When they enter the river, near its mouth, they may be caught by hook and bait. The Indians use small herring for bait, sinking it with a stone, and trolling, by paddling silently and occasionally jerking the line. Near the mouth of the Columbia they can be taken with the fly; but, as salmon do not feed, on their annual journey up the river to spawn, it is useless to offer them bait. They can only be caught at a distance from the ocean by nets and seines, or by spearing. The natives usually take them by using scoop-nets, which they dip into the water, at random, near the falls and rapids, where large numbers of salmon collect to jump the falls. As these falls are all at a considerable distance from the sea, by the time they arrive at them the fish are more or less emaciated, from fasting and the exertion of stemming currents and climbing rapids, and, consequently, not in so good a condition as when caught near the sea. Hence the superior quality of Chinook salmon.

The numbers of all kinds of salmon which ascend the Columbia annually is something wonderful. They seem to be seeking quiet and safe places in which to deposit their spawn, and thousands of them never stop until they reach the great falls of the Snake River, more than six hundred miles from the sea, or those of Clarke's Fork, a still greater distance. All the small tributaries of the Snake, Boise, Powder, Burnt, and Payette Rivers swarm with them in the months of September and October.

Great numbers of salmon die on having discharged their instinctive duty; some of them, evidently, because exhausted by their long journey, and others, apparently, because their term of life ends with arrival and spawning. Their six hundred miles of travel against the current, and exertion in overcoming rapids, or jumping falls, often deprives them of sight, and wears off their noses. Of course, all these mutilated individuals perish, besides very many others; so that the shores of the small lakes and tributaries of both branches of the Columbia are lined, in autumn, with dead and dying fish. But they leave their roe in the beds of these interior rivers, to replace them in their return to the sea by still greater numbers.

The fishery business has developed vastly improved methods of taking the salmon, including "salmon wheels," which, placed in the narrower portions of the Columbia, as at the Cascades, scoop them up by the hundreds every minute. The fishermen who supply the Astoria canneries, however, do so by means of boats and nets, which are thrown out at night, and drawn in at an early hour in the morning. It is a perilous occupation about the mouth of the Columbia, where currents, tides, and winds must be encountered. Formerly the men were employed and furnished with boats and nets, an outfit costing several hundred dollars. But in 1880 the fishermen, chiefly Scandinavians, combined to sell their fish by the piece, at fifty cents each; and this year they have asked a dollar, and a dollar and a quarter. At the same time, owing to the great amount of fish unconsumed in the market, from last year's catch, a low price for canned salmon is prevailing, and this year's business will not prove as remunerative as in former seasons. About four thousand men are employed every season in the salmon fishing and canning.

Besides the salmon of commerce, the Columbia furnishes a great many other species of edible fish, including salmon-trout, sturgeon, tom-cod, flounder, and smelt,—all of which are excellent table-fish, in their proper seasons.

There are three large lumber-mills located at Astoria, manufacturing daily one hundred and fifty thousand feet of rough and dressed lumber; a planing-mill, and a box-factory turning out annually one million boxes; besides half a dozen other mills in the vicinity. The timber to feed these mills is in the immediate neighborhood, and consists of fir, spruce, hemlock, and cedar. Spruce is used for boxes, owing to its being odorless and free from warping. Ship and bridge timber is also obtained from the adjacent forests. The material for manufacturing furniture is abundant,—namely, oak, maple, ash, cedar, larch, and alder, which is still unappropriated.

Astoria has a large iron and brass foundry, three machine-, two boiler-, and several blacksmith-shops; but the iron, coal, and limestone in its vicinity are unworked; a tannery utilizes the helmlock bark found conveniently near; these few manufacturing enterprises being all that are represented in this city by the sea. It has a national and a private bank; good schools and handsome school buildings; eight church edifices, and all the usual orders and societies; two morning newspapers and one evening journal; a chamber of commerce; water-works, street-car lines, and most of the other accessories of modern urban comfort.

The imports of Astoria for eleven months in 1889 amounted to one hundred and twenty-one thousand seven hundred and forty-nine dollars, on which the duties were forty-two thousand one hundred and thirty-seven dollars and forty-five cents, the heaviest bill being for tin plates used in manufacturing fish-cans. The value of cargoes of wheat, lumber, fish, flour, and miscellaneous exports shipped direct from Astoria was nine hundred and thirty-three thousand six hundred and ninety-eight dollars. The arrivals of vessels from January 1 to December 1 numbered ninety, with a total tonnage of ninety-three thousand seven hundred and fifty-eight. The steamers, sloops, schooners, barks, and ships owned in this city number seventy-five.

Within half a dozen years about one thousand acres of tideland have been reclaimed by diking at Tansy Point on the Clatsop peninsula, the land proving immensely productive, and demonstrating that farming is not a lost art on the sea-coast. Other similar improvements will undoubtedly follow, giving, in time, the Astoria of Oregon as beautiful environments as surround the Astoria of New York.

Only last year the first railroad from Astoria into the Wallamet Yalley was commenced. This is the Astoria and South Coast Railway, which begins at the west end of the town, crosses Young's Bay by a bridge a mile and a half in length, and, running west to Skipanon, turns south along the coast to the seaside resort at Clatsop Beach, a distance of eighteen miles, whence it takes a course southeast and east to a junction with the Southern Pacific's west-side line at Hillsborough, in Washington County, which gives it connection with trains for Portland or for the southern counties and San Francisco; or by the Oregon Pacific for Eastern Oregon. This line will be completed in 1891, being already opened to Clatsop Beach. Another road under survey is the Albany and Astoria Railroad, which is to run south along the coast to Tillamook, and thence southeast through the west-side grain-fields to Albany. Another projected line is the Salem, Astoria and Eastern, whose pet name will be the "Salem to the Sea road;" while the Union Pacific has indicated its intention of building from Portland to Astoria along the Columbia. These are enterprises pointing to the accession of great shipping advantages by the city at the mouth of this great river which must affect it very advantageously.