Lost Treasure Hidden in Plain Sight
I love to do research into the history of the area, and I get surprised by the amount of information that leads to new discoveries for me. This gives me insights as to who, what, when, where, and why the area is the way it is. I have started on many stories only to get sidetracked by something I feel would best benefit the readers as well as my editor. As a result my stories take on a more personal feel so the history comes alive again.
While researching for the story, “Grays River, Then and Now,” I came across the pioneer Samuel Walker. It is his old house across the street from Duffy’s Irish Pub that this story is about, but more than that, it is Samuel Walker’s story with as much information available at this time. This man appears in early Grays River history only to disappear. The following is a synopsis of his life.
Samuel Charles Walker Sr. was born on August 15, 1837 in Hamilton, Butler County, Ohio. His parents died when he was young, and the only relative able to take him in was his grandfather. For whatever reason the arrangement was not working, so at the age of 12 his grandfather hired him out as a “wagon boy” to an outfit planning an overland wagon train to the Oregon country. The party of pioneers after many hardships arrived at their destination in Hillsboro, Ore., sometime in 1850.
At the age of 18 in 1855, Samuel joined the Oregon Volunteers and served as a scout in southern Oregon. Twice he was taken captive by one of the tribes, but he was able to escape back to his outfit. After 18 months, he was mustered out and he returned to Hillsboro. In 1857, he joined the Washington Volunteers and served for a year. As a result of these experiences he became a life member of the Oregon Pioneer Association as well as the Indian Wars Veterans.
While living in Hillsboro, Samuel, then 21, met and married Julia Sigler, a 15 year old girl, on Christmas Eve, 1858. She was a strong willed girl who had also survived the trek at the age of five across the country in a covered wagon. Julia was born in Peoria, Illinois, on March 22, 1843. She, like her new husband, also lost her parents. They were killed in an attack by Indians while traveling west to Oregon. Fellow travelers looked after her until they got to Hillsboro in 1849. She would have an unhappy childhood as a servant to one of her benefactors. It was no surprise when she left out on her own; she was ready.
In 1867 this pioneering couple moved to Humboldt County, Calif., but after a year, they moved back to Oregon. Soon their pioneering spirit would move them again to southwestern Washington to the Grays River Valley on April 20, 1868, where they would become the first resident white settlers. At this time, the area was one of the remotest places in the Pacific Northwest. They originally used an abandoned trapper’s shack near the river, but they were warned by friendly Indians that “Chuck” would carry them away. “Chuck” is what they called the spring freshets to inundate the valley. As a result of this warning, they would eventually build a two story home that was known as “Walker’s Landing.” It is still there today after almost a century and a half at the junction of SR4 and Loop Road.
Samuel would spend much of his time hunting and fishing, sometimes gone for three days with his two dogs and always returned with lots of meat. They would sun dry the fish and smoke the meat for winter. While he was gone hunting or gone the 25 miles to Astoria for supplies, Julia was left alone with the children.
This young couple already had three young children, two girls and a boy. On July 2, 1870, Samuel Charles Walker Jr. was born, becoming the first white to be born in Grays River. This couple had a total of seven children. They would live in Grays River valley for 37 years, watching the community grow with them. Their store on the river would also serve as a post office of which Julia was postmistress for 15 years. Julia died on July 1, 1932, in Hemet, Calif., and is buried next to Samuel who died August 1, 1909.
The Walker family built a store on the river and business flourished. After the Meserve brothers, William and Lincoln moved into Grays River in 1899, they would become friends with the Walker family. In 1904 William bought the store and property from Samuel and would add on to the original which would be completed by 1909. Samuel sold the place because his youngest son’s health was deteriorating, so they moved to Hemet. Their story is not complete here, but one can see that their lives had a great influence on the history of Grays River Valley.
This old home is a likely candidate for becoming a heritage site. The right care and this historical landmark could be a great tourist attraction that could generate money for the county as well as generate tourist dollars. There has been an influx of new blood in the area, and the area is changing. Keeping the county history alive now, while it can be done, is an important step in preserving what is left before time erodes it to nothing. This old house is truly a treasure hidden in plain sight here in Grays River, Washington.
The Naselle/Grays River Valley Seniors luncheon is held on Wednesdays for those who are 55 and older; also the potluck will be at the Valley Bible Church on every fourth Wednesday. Volunteers are needed so please contact the Naselle/Grays River Valley Seniors’ president Diane Hollenbeck at email@example.com or phone her at 1(360) 465-2991. Anyone interested in renting the Rosburg Hall is encouraged to contact Sonja Kruse at (360) 465-2251 or Dee Nikkila at (360) 465-2595. Thursday luncheon at noon at the Rosburg Hall is sponsored by the Community Action Program (CAP) out of Kelso/Longview. Any questions, contact Denise Rae at (360) 425-3430 extension 259.
West End Food Pantry at Johnson Park is open every Thursday from 1-5 p.m. The food is free. Johnson Park is looking for board members to help coordinate the facility. Contact Shonda Ware at (360) 465-2722 or Toni Fest at (360) 465-2393.
Community Open Forum
The public is invited to attend an open forum at Johnson Park in the cafeteria on Sept.17 at 7 p.m. The Johnson Park board of directors needs to come up with a six year plan for the community center in order to qualify for funding. The community is encouraged to come and present your ideas on how this community center can be better used. The desire of many is to see that the field is maintained in order to play both baseball and soccer: outdoor restroom facilities in place of port-a-potties; slides, swings, jungle gyms; handicap accessibility for the inside restrooms; new heat efficient windows, new flooring. In other words, money is needed as well as a plan. They need your input.
The Finnish American Folk Festival is sponsoring another concert Sept. 21, 6 p.m., at the new Naselle Community Center, 14 Parpala Road, Naselle. Food will be served downstairs after the concert, and donations will be taken at the door to help offset costs for maintenance and upgrades to the building. Jennifer Goodenberger will play on piano and Astoria vocalist Phil Keim will perform. He has a well-known tenor voice and has sung with the North Coast Chorale and the Cannon Beach chorus for many years. He has given many solo performances and has played parts in local musical productions including “42nd Street” and “Man of La Mancha”. He has also sung the national anthem at the Rose Garden in Portland for the Trail Blazers.
Ruusamari Teppo October Concert
The Finnish American Folk Festival also has a very big concert scheduled for Oct. 26 at the Valley Bible Church in Rosburg. This one will feature Ruusamari Teppo, a great-great-granddaughter of Sibelius, the famous Finnish composer. She is coming over from Finland for this with the help of a grant from the Finlandia Foundation and a donation from one of our Finnish community members. Teppo, a pianist, grew up in Finland and began playing piano at the age of five. She graduated from Sibelius High School in Helsinki and continued her music studies in Paris for three years. She has been teaching since she was 20 and she practices 2-4 hours daily. She also plays the fortepiano, harpsichord, and organ.