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Tale of a torn wagon cover

Steamboat_theFrom the desk of Evan Robb

COLUMBIA Magazine contributor Lionel Youst recently contacted us to identify a ca. 1901-1905 photo of a covered wagon (at right). The wagon is depicted aboard the Columbia River steamboat Charles R. Spencer. This badly-faded albumen print is from the Stevenson Community Library’s Skamania County Heritage digital collection (click image to see full record). Despite the photo’s poor condition, Youst spotted something about the wagon’s canvas cover—a large tear. It made him recall a detail from the reminiscences of his grandfather. Here’s what he told us:

“My grandparents, Frank and Alice Youst sold their homestead in Woods County, Oklahoma Territory and headed toward Centralia, Washington on August 22, 1903. [Their family of five] stopped and worked the horses at railroad construction and mining jobs on the way out. The canvas sheet [on the family’s wagon] was badly torn when it tipped over trying to go around a slide on the road over the Rocky Mountains. Dad said it was too hard to sew, and it remained torn all the way out to Centralia. I think what we see on the left side bottom of the sheet is a tear—bigger than I thought it would be, but that could be it.”

SK0228-Edit-Grayscale With a bit of assistance from his friend Shirley Bridgham, Youst was able to tease a bit more detail out of the faded photo—click on the image at left to see a full-sized version of the optimized photo.

In addition to the tear, other details about the photo line up with Youst’s grandfather’s recollections.

“The last leg of the journey was from Tonopah, Nevada where Grandad was hauling ore. They came up through Eastern Oregon to Prineville and Madras, and on to The Dalles where they took passage on a steamboat with the three horses, the wagon, and the family, down through the Cascade Locks to Vancouver. They arrived in in Centralia, Washington on June 26, 1904, after 308 days on the road, a family of five living out of that wagon. They certainly boarded the steamboat at The Dalles on or about June 20, 1904—give or take two or three days.”

While we don’t have an exact date for the original photo, we do know that this photo was very likely taken at Cascade Locks (across the Columbia River from Stevenson), between 1901 and 1905, and that the Charles R. Spencer was one of the two steamboats running The Dalles to Portland/Vancouver route at that time.

So is it his grandparents’ wagon?  According to Youst: “If it isn’t…it’s close enough!” For a detailed account of Youst’s family’s journey, see his upcoming article in COLUMBIA: The Magazine of Northwest History.


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