Thursday, January 25, 2018

Glimpses of the Past

Alfred Downing writes about seeking refuge in John Horton's cabin when a forest fire raged through the valley during the summer of 1889.

--excerpt from “A Trip to Lake Chelan” by Alfred Downing; written in 1889

“We reached the head of the lake after dark, at the point where its main tributary flows in with great force.  This is the Stehekin river, which heads in the main Cascade range, about forty miles to the westward and near the Skagit pass. We disembarked the next morning with our pack pony which we had taken up on the boat with us, and it was our intention to make our way by trail to the Skagit pass, the boat, with other passengers, returning to the foot of the lake next day.  Our plans, however, were frustrated by the extensive forest fires which we encountered in the Stehekin canyon, five miles from our starting point, the hot ashes and burning logs so badly injuring the hoofs and fetlocks of the pack pony, and making it exceedingly tropical for ourselves as well, that we returned to the mouth of the river.  

At this point a settler named Horton has built a cabin and leads the life of a hermit mountaineer.  On returning to this cabin we attended to the suffering pony by besmearing his hoofs and legs with grease and bandaging them, not only to exclude the air, but to prevent the yellow jackets or wasps, which were there in swarms, from annoying the affected limbs. By evening the fire which we had encountered in the morning had swept down to near the cabin, and only by the greatest exertions, and by ourselves burning a space around it, was it saved.  We were all compelled to spread our blankets that night on a sand island at the mouth of the river in order to be secure from the burning trees.  Fanned by a strong northwest wind, the fire ran up both sides of the canyon to the very summits of the mountains with the speed of a hurricane, accompanied by terrific crackling and roaring.  

It was a grand, but fearful spectacle, as we lay on the sand bar on the night of August 2nd, watching the immense sheets of lurid flame licking up everything in their path as they followed along the shore of the lake, from the water's edge to the very summit, making a veritable mountain of fire.  At frequent intervals huge rocks loosened by the great heat went tumbling down the precipitous mountain sides with a crashing noise and plunged into the lake below, throwing up great columns of water, red tinted in the glare of the burning forest.”