Whiskey Joe

The Coast magazine

Now to Okanagan/Spokane country, from The Coast…

Whiskey Joe

“Whiskey Joe” by Fred F. Flanders, in The Coast (Wilhelm’s Magazine) VII(1) (January 1904):53-54.

This tale of mayhem and murder may be a reminiscence of a reminiscence — not fiction. The author’s name is reported as an Okanogan County (WA) commissioner in 1899, and later as a professor of chemistry at the State College — now WSU — in Pullman. Internal details such as the existence of Fort Spokane place the events in 1880 or after, which was indeed peak Chinuk Wawa times in northern interior Washington.

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Whiskey Joe’s ranch occupied a grassy fiat in a prominent bend of the Okanogan River, some ten miles above the site of old Fort Okanogan. Not a prosperous ranch as they are rated among the white settlers, but exceptionally so among the Indians.

To me Joe’s ranch was attractive in but one respect; it abounded in prairie chickens, and it and the adjoining sage-brush flats were the scenes of many successful hunts. The memory of these hunts is strangely identified with many curious stories, which the old Indian has told me.

Yes, Joe would say, “Heap chicken, too many chicken, you kill ’em,” and needless to say the injunction was obeyed. Among many fragmentary remembrances of old Joe one tale remains more curious and fascinating than the rest. His recitals were commonly carried on in the Chinook Jargon with occasional expressions in English and his native Siwash dialect [DDR: presumably Salish] thrown in. He was a natural orator and spoke quite as much in gesture and facial expression as in words.

“What makes your hair so white, Joe?” I asked in Chinook one warm afternoon as I sat down to rest in the shade of his cabin. “Oh hiyu quash [ó háyú k’wás(h) ‘oh very frightening], yes heap scare,” he replied, and then launched into his curious tale, the evidence of which was too certain to be disputed.

“A long time ago,” he began, “when there were no white settlers on the Okanogan, a white man by the name of Baldwin [DDR: any connection with CH & Emily Baldwin?] kept a little trading store on the bank of the Columbia just above the mouth of the Okanogan.

“Baldwin, who was not a good man, had been nicknamed Old Baldy by the soldiers. The Indians had been prompt to adopt the name and scarcely knew him by any other.

“My two brothers and I made many trips to Baldy’s store, and came to know him quite well. We also came to know that he kept whiskey uid were not long in discovering that a sufficient price was all that was necessary for us to obtain it.

“The commander at Fort Spokane had repeatedly sent Baldy notice that he would be expelled from the territory it he did not stop selling whiskey to the Indians. But Baldy was not to be scared by threats, as we learned soon after.

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“One night late in the fall, when the ground was covered with a thin coat of snow, my brothers and I drew up before Baldy’s store and began calling to him to bring us a bottle of whiskey, as we were very cold. Baldy appeared at the door and commanded us to shut up, as there was a man from the fort up at his cabin and we could not have the whiskey. We thereupon dismounted and went inside to argue with him. He was obstinate, however, and after an hour’s ‘wawa‘ [‘talking’] we were no nearer the whiskey than before.

“Then my oldest brother changed his tactics. ‘All right, Baldy, if you won’t give us any more, we’ll go to the soldiers and inform on you.’ The words had hardly been spoken when two shots rang out. My two brothers fell upon the floor and Baldy with his pistol under my ear was forcing me back into a corner. The dim light from the fireplace but poorly lighted the room — enough, however, to show me my brothers lying still and Baldy hurriedly rummaging among his boxes behind the rude counter. The significance of this search and the reason why he did not kill me also did not appear to me till later.

“At last with an oath Baldy rushed out of the door, banged it shut and locked it on the outside. He then shouted to me that he would go get his rifle and kill me. His cabin was about 100 yards away on a little knoll, and I began dimly to wonder how long it would be before he would return. As the moments passed the real terror of my situation began to dawn upon me. After ten minutes I started for the door, but on reaching it stopped, dumb. I was sure Baldy was waiting just outside. He had probably unlocked the door and was only waiting for me to open it and give him a good chance to shoot me. I looked at my brothers. They were quite still and I dared not go very near them. I was a boy but 17 and the superstitions of my tribe were all with me. The log in the fireplace dropped. I threw up my hands with a little gasp before I realized what caused the noise. My breath came in faint gasps and I stood near the door not daring to move. ” [‘]Nika halo, lie‘ “ [náyka hílu [lie]] (I am not lying), the old man would say, holding out a lock of his hair. ” ‘Nan-

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ich nika tipso‘ “  [nánich náyka típsu] (see my hair) and indeed his hair was as white as snow.

“After I had waited,” he resumed, “what seemed like hours to me, the fire began to grow dim and finally sank to a dull glow. Objects in the room began to disappear and I was soon in total darkness. I was overcome with a strange, dull terror which seemed to root me to the ground. I imagined I was turned to stone and wondered If my people would take my stone image for an idol.

“I was finally awakened from this lethargy by a tap, tap, tap at the door. My first thought was of Baldy, but after the noise was repeated several times, a voice spoke my name very faintly. My heart gave a great leap of joy. I recognized the voice, not as Baldy’s, but as that of Cooper, a man I had known, and I was sure he would let me out. I tried to speak but could not. I moved to the door and tapped weakly. Cooper opened the door and whispered, ‘Ipsoot charco‘ (don’t make a sound). I stepped out mechanically. As I did so I noticed that my horse was gone. ‘Baldy took the ponies,’ said Cooper; ‘he is asleep now. We must get to his canoe and cross the Columbia.’ Immediately my faculties returned and I realized the risk we ran in doing this. The canoe was pulled up on the bar directly under the cabin, not more than thirty yards distant. We climbed cautiously down the sandy bank and moved across the gravel bar toward the river. As we neared the cabin, and the canoe, we crept on hands and knees. ‘Close nanich‘ [ɬúsh nánich ‘good-watch](look out), I heard Cooper whisper.” Here Joe’s natural oratory came into play, as he described with many grimaces and gestures how they crept along, avoiding the sticks and stones and keeping a sharp lookout in the direction of Baldy’s cabin.

” ‘Ipsoot klatawa, Ispoot [sic]’ ” [ípsut ɬátwa ‘secretly go’] (we crept along), said Joe, “and I was looking over my shoulder at Baldy’s cabin. We were about thirty feet from the canoe when I suddenly struck a small patch of cobble stones. Bur-r-r, bur-r-r, went the stones with a sharp, ringing clatter, that echoed out

whiskey joe 4upon the water with an unearthly noise. With a sharp cry I sprang up, dashed to the canoe, and seized it by the bow. Cooper was beside me. We gave a great shove and the canoe shot out. I sprang to the farther end and grabbed a paddle. ‘Huh, Huh, Hiak‘ [[huh, huh] (h)áyáq] (hurry), I yelled, and Cooper made no effort to silence me. We paddled like demons and the canoe shot across the stream in great leaps. We must have reached the middle of the river, when there was a flash, and a shot rang out behind us. Another and still another followed. Our noise had awakened Baldy and he was firing at us, but the bullets flew wide and we were soon out of range.

“We reached the opposite shore and climbed the bank without stopping to tie the canoe. After running for an hour across the gravel flats, we laid down in the sagebrush to rest. Cooper then told me that a party of soldiers were camped up at Tumwater [təmwáta ‘waterfall’] (rapid water) ten miles up the river. At daylight we continued up the river and finally reached the camp about 8 o’clock. Cooper told the story to the officer in charge, who immediately set out to capture Baldy.

“It seemed that Baldy had only two cartridges in his pistol. These he used on my brothers, and his rummaging behind the counter was in search of more. Not finding them, he went to his cabin to get his rifle.

“Cooper had persuaded him to wait there till daylight, as I might have a gun. He had agreed, but threatened to kill Cooper also if he tried to help me to escape. Cooper then became frightened and when Baldy had finally dropped to sleep, he stole out of the cabin and came to my relief.

“About 3 o’clock the officer and his men returned. Baldy had gone, they said, and his cabins were in ashes. He had taken our three ponies and gone north into British Columbia.

“The next day we went down to the burned cabins and buried the charred remains of my brothers. I never saw Baldy again. But the strangest part of it all was, while we were out in the sagebrush and daylight came, Cooper called my attention to the fact that my hair was as white as snow.”

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