Courtesy of the Hermiston Herald
UMATILLA CITY END OF OLD TRAIL
_____________ TEAM AND BOATS MEET _____________
Railroad Came 1883; Commercial Prestige Passed; Again Heads Navigation. From Elmer Dodd Scrapbook, Hermiston Herald, circa 1948
The history of Umatilla is largely traditional, and dependent upon the uncertain memories of sons and daughters of the early pioneers at Umatilla Landing. No pioneers at Umatilla Landing. No accurately written record of events was found in the investigation made by the Herald for this edition. the word Umatilla is Indian, and is translated as "rippling waters." It seems certain that along in the late fifties the town was at or near Irrigon, called Grande Ronde, where there was a boat landing. The road from the boats was then across the hills south of the Umatilla river, easterly toward Fort Henrietta on the Meadows, and thence south of the river, and later across a ferry at Echo. In 1860, a boat landing was built at Umatilla and it was called Umatilla Landing. In 1863 a town was laid out. It was called Columbia, and later changed to Umatilla Landing, and finally to Umatilla City. Rivalry followed between the two landings, but soon after all river traffic was transferred to the Umatilla point. A road was built to Four Mile house, then to the Twelve Mile house at the present town of Stanfield which became a stage station for changing horses between Pendleton and Umatilla. Ten Mile house was on the Umatilla river two miles west of the stage station, and was a hotel and feed stable for traverlers and freighters. This new road then became the great highway for freight trains drawn by oxen, mules and horses, and for pack trains. Because of the discovery of gold in the Blue Mountains and in Idaho, and the heavy business in transporting supplies and mining machinery, Umatilla became an imporant commercial point and grew to a city of 3000 to 4000 inhabitants, and became a county seat for most of eastern Oregon. It was not incorporated until 1862. During active business period the two heaviest concerns were Kunzie and J.H. Koontz, who conducted rival forwarding companies and other businesses. When the railroad was built east from Umatilla, J.H. Koontz moved and laid out the town of Echo, and Kunzie remained and died at Umatilla many years ago, but Mrs. Kunzie lived in Umatilla to an advanced age before she died. The materials for her home were shipped in by boat and is said to have ben very fine grade of lumber and cost $9000. She also had beautiful furniture and during her life there gathered a valuable collection of Indian relics. During the early days only three saloons were allowed in the town. There were two hotels, one the Orleans built by Jesse Failing in 1863 on the bank of the Columbia, and was washed away in the flood of 1894. The old Umatilla House still stands but is unused. The first railroad into Umatilla was built from Wallula down the Columbia following the present railroad track. It was a narrow gauge and connected with the Baker wooden railroad from Wallula to Walla Walla. The reason this road was built then was because of the dangerous hazards and difficult and short season of navigation over the Umatilla rapids. When the railroad was completed form The Dalles to Umatilla in 1882 the narrow gauge and Baker roads were taken over and made part of the same system which later was extended to Huntington. When Pendleton was made a county seat of the new Umatilla county, it is claimed that the officials stole or unlawfully took the records one Sunday morning and removed them to Pendleton, though they were compelled to return them and later the courts allowed them removed to the new courthouse. After the railroads were built into the interior points, Umatilla ceased to be an important head of navigation and shipping center, and gradually was reduced to a small railroad town. It improved after highways were ubilt and still maintains that it holds the strategic location for a city when the channel developments now in progress on the Columbia are completed, and the Umatilla dam is built. Until the beginning of this century there were always a large number of Chinese at Umatilla, some doing placer mining and others dealing with the freighters and river men. These Chinamen always said "me no sabbe" to the tax collectors and were difficult to collect taxes from. Canoes of hollowed out logs were used by the Indians at Umatilla until recent years. The best known names associated with history of Umatilla are Kunzie, Koontz, Stanfield; Thompson, Zerxa, Switzler, Means, Brownell, Villard, Teel, Holliday, and Hailey. Such pioneers as Lot Livermore, Jesse Failing, Fred Hendley and Lee Moorhouse follwed the county seat to Pendleton. Many interesting tales of frontier life are told along with the activities at Umatilla now dating back to nearly 80 years.