Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Homestead Heritage

[We are going to be featuring some blog posts about homesteading in the next few months. If your family homesteaded in the upper reaches of Lake Chelan, and you have pictures, journals or stories that you would like to share, we would be very receptive to sharing those treasures.]
McGregor Mountain viewed from the river at the Stanley place - originally homesteaded by Billy McGregor

The Stanley Place
by Bucky Gans [originally printed in the Stehekin Choice newspaper; edition August/September 1993]

Where the name of McGregor Mountain originated
Approximately five miles upvalley from the head of the lake lies one of the more desirable homestead sites in the Stehekin Valley, with level, fertile land, not heavily timbered and abundant water available from the Stehekin River. The first man to cast eyes on this site as a possible abode built himself a cabin, dug about half a mile of irrigation ditch, and planted a garden. This would-be homesteader was named Billy McGregor, and although he disappeared from the scene in 1901, his name lives on in the mountain which dominates the view at the head of the lake and which mightily overshadowed his modest homesite.

An updated map shows a 73.5 acre plot designated as the “McGregor Flats” Ranger Station, indicating the irrigation ditch and site of Billy McGregor's cabin. In 1906, Jake M. Richardson of Chelan filed on 79.14 acres, including a portion of the old Ranger Station site, which had been downsized to ten acres, thus releasing 63 acres for settlement. A metes and bounds survey by E.O. (Jack) Blankenship dated August 26, 1913, shows the area thus filed on.

A New Beginning for a Young Family
But Jake Richardson also relinquished this site, and on September 3, 1914, Robert A. Stanley, of Tenino, Thurston County, Washington, made homestead entry 013412 for List NO. 6-1129 (H.E. Survey No. 233) in sections 8, 9, and 16 of T. 33n, R17EWM, in the area known then and now as McGregor Flats. What brought him to the valley is now unclear – possibly work at Lesh's Sawmill. At any rate, he and his family moved onto the land in late November of 1914. A “shack” (his terminology) was built that fall, and a proper house in 1915 – described as 1½ (or 2) stories, of logs, with 5 rooms and a root cellar, 2 doors, 6 windows. The family consisted of Mr. Stanley, his wife, Nellie McKay Stanley, and three children aged 5 and under. Two more children were born during their time on the land, the youngest being 4 years old in 1921.

Homesteading's Requirements
Homesteading was not an easy proposition, but over the next six years improvements were added-- a 26' x 30' barn (they had several head of livestock, a couple of horses, one or more sheep), a wagon bridge over “McGregor Creek” (which still runs rampant through the area during high water and is actually a branch of the Stehekin River), two irrigation dams, two ditches, 12 acres fenced with 3 strands of wire, several acres cleared, and 5½ acres under cultivation. Bear in mind that this was done with hand or horse drawn implements – no chain saws or tractors for the Stanleys!
Present owner in front of the old school on the Stanley homestead
Some Hardships of Homesteading
In order to earn a little money for the necessities of homestead life, Robert Stanley periodically left the land and sought work elsewhere, leaving his family to look after things at home. Fron June 1 to September 1, 1915, he was absent working for wages. From the fall of 1916, to May 1, 1917, the whole family moved to Stehekin  [meaning from up valley they moved down the road to the lower valley] where he cut wood and the older children attended school. He was absent from the claim November 1, 1017, to April 1, 1918, and again from January 1, to April 1 1920 working in lumber camps on the coast. 
In the early 1900's, winter in a primitive cabin with 5 children, and a husband working out of the valley, was not for the faint of heart.
Mrs. Stanley and the children remained on the claim. Their nearest neighbors were the Courtneys, who lived across the river. Hugh Courtney cut a tree to fall across the river to provide access between the two places, but Mrs. Stanley was afraid to cross it, even though Hugh put up a hand rail. Mrs. Courtney would go over now and then to pay a visit and verify that things were all right – and reportedly from home she could hear Mrs. Stanley yelling at her children or the livestock or life in general, so was reassured that all was proceeding normally.

A Strong and Hearty Woman 
Nellie Stanley seems to have been a rather rough and tough individual, talkative in the extreme, and loud. Leota Patterson Yocum who taught school in the McGregor flats school (built on land leased by the Stanleys for as long as it was used for a school), in 1920 and 1921, later wrote: I remember her riding their tall, white horse at gallop, her wide-brimmed hat turned back in the wind, her skirts flapping and she hanging on to the saddle for dear life. She'd wave her hand and shout at me, as I'd scramble quickly to the side of the road out of the was as she passed, her words trailing unintelligibly behind her. But I had many conversations with her. These were one-sided conversations. How she loved to talk, and she could go on interminably, never giving one time to answer. A not at the appropriate spot was all that was necessary.” And my grandmother, May Buckner, told of hearing Nellie Stanley approaching one day, and of her (May's) flight to hide in the cellar until she departed. Nellie seems to have been a bit too rough for my proper, genteel Baptist grandmother? However, once in the cellar, May had no way of determining when Mrs. Stanley had departed, and thus was prisoner for many minutes of her own rather un-neighborly action.

They Persevered in the Face of Challenges
But Nellie Stanley was equal to all that fate threw her way, and that took the unfortunate form of Robert Stanley's bout with terminal cancer. In June, 1920, he underwent an operation for cancer of the bladder in a Tacoma hospital. It was at this time that he was making his final proof on the homestead in order to obtain his patent (title). His testimony was taken before the Clerk of Pierce County in Tacoma on June 19, 1920, while the testimony of his two witnesses, Barney Zell and Lew Weaver, was taken in Waterville on the same date. Mr. Stanley returned to the valley late in the summer, ad continued in residence through the winter, but in the spring while the road was still blocked with snow, it was necessary to move him out to Wenatchee where medical attention was at hand. The neighbors constructed a special sled to transport him and assisted in getting the family the five miles to the boat landing. Accorkding to Leota Yocum, a niece from Chicago came out to help care for the school-age children for at least a time.

"Proving Up"
Meanwhile, the homestead title did not appear, and as Robert Stanely's conditon worsened so did his condern for the land title. On August 2, the Chelan County Auditor, A.V. Shepard, wrote the General Land Office in Washington, D.C., inquiring as to the status of the patent. In a letter to the Waterville Land Office, dated August 23, 1921, the Assistant Comissioner of the Department of the Interior stated:

The Wheels of Bureaucracy 
“This office is in receipt of a letter from the Acting Forester, Forest Service, dated February 17, 1921, in which he states that on July 1, 1920, the district forester at Portland, Oregon, advised your office 'that from an examination made of the land covered by this entry it was found that only 5 ½ acres had been cultivated; that unless the entryman secured a reduction of the area of cultivation the Forest Service would be obliged to protest the final proof. (Ten acres was necessary to meet the requirements.) The Forest Service has heard nothing further about this matter.'” While proof is unsatisfactory as to cultivation, it appears, however, that the claimant has otherwise shown his good faith … in view of which you will advise him that he will be allowed 30 days to file an affidavit, corroborated by two of the proof witnesses stating why he failed to cultivate the required area each year . . . “

A Recounting of Work completed
Affidavits he wants? Affidavits he gets!!! First from Robert A. Stanley deposing “that he has been in ill health for the past four years; that for the last year and a half he has been bedfast, and at this time is almost entirely helpless with a cancer; that for the past two years affiant has been unable to do any work, ad for two years prior to that could do very little; that the development work on said ranch was on by affiant's wife, Nellie Stanley . . . That the only property affiant and his wife have is the said property with some personal property . . . That affiant did all he could possibly do . . . and that his wife did grubbing, slashing and other work . . . “ Nellie McKay Stanley deposed all of the above, adding “That affiant and her husband were unable financially to employ any help in development work on said homestead, and for that reason, since Robert A. Stanly was stricken with cancer, affiant has cut down trees, sawing and splitting them up, and has raised crops, commencing work as early as four and five o'clock in the morning and working until ten and eleven o'clock at night in order to develop the homestead and to support herself, her husband and family . . . That affiant worked like a slave until compelled to leave (to care for her husband in Wenatchee) . . . That affiant was there day in and day out, never leaving and drudged and slaved to assist in making a living . . .”
the "old school" on the Stanley Homestead - still standing today

Thank Goodness for Neighbors
In addition, affidavits were sent from Mrs. J.M. Jack, one of the officers engaged in distributing charity in Wenatchee, verifying Mr. Stanley's condition and the family's destitution and dependency on charity for food and clothing, and that the homstead constituted all that they had; from Frank E. Beatty, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Wenatchee, deposing the same thing; from Drs. C. Gilchrist and A.E. Gerhardt, deposing all of the above as well as the rapidly approaching end of Mr. Stanley's life; from the County Auditor and one County Commissioner, the former having gone to Stehekin to examine the homestead and talk with the neighbors and secure their signatures on an affidavit swearing to the honesty, industriousness, and good faith of the Stanleys and from the neighbors, attesting to the above and describing the improvements on the homestead. This affidavit was signed by Bernard Zell, Lewis M. Weaver, Dan Devore, W. V. Buckner, O.J. Hart, Alfard D. Bowen, H.L. Courtney, H.S. Buckner, Althea Rice, Lydia George, and Myrtle Merritt – a pretty good representation of valley residents at that time.

One additional affidavit was sent a few days later from Dr. Frank K. Culp, saying that Robert Stanley died on September 9, 1921.

The Forest Service was thoroughly convinced that the niceties of the law had been satisfied. The patent was granted, dated October 8, 1921.

So far as this writer has been able to determine, Nellie Stanley moved her personal belongings (and her children) to Wentachee and never lived on the homestead again. The land was sold for taxes probably sometime in the thirties; it was owned by Guy Imus at one time and later by Sam Tollber, who subdivided it. Some of the land is still privately owned.

a family that owns a part of the original McGregor/Stanley homestead

In 1923 a marriage license was issued to Nellie Stanley and Nels C. Nelson. The family is thought to have remained in the Wenatchee-Chelan area for a number of years and there may be descendants among the readership of this paper. If so, please let us know the rest of the story.  

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