The Hood River News, Hood River, OR., December 30, 1949, page 8


     Winters in Hood River can be rugged -- that many an oldtimer knows, as well as those who have been here the past 30 years or so.
     What is believed to have been one of the most severe winters in the history of the white man came in 1862.
     Capt. H.C. Coe who, with his brother, Eugene Coe, once owned the townsite of Hood River, wrote an article for the Hood River News in 1909 that tells of that rugged winter in a yarn work relating again.
     Capt. Coe, a resident of the Hood River area since 1854, wrote:
     The winter of 1861-62 was the most severe in my experience. In the long and glorious summer as we enjoy, many people are apt to forget the cold and deep snowfalls of some of our winters. There is no use, however, in dwelling on the other winters as compared to '61-'62.
     What has happened in the past may happen again. One in Hood River never knows what kind of a winter he is going to have until it is past and my advice is to always prepare for and expect the worst, and be glad if you are disappointed. There was a legend that the Indians were very fond of repeating to us by way of consolation of a winter many years previous to '62, when so much snow fell that it did not melt off the ensuing summer. Then horses died, and many of the Indians succumbed. Had it not been for a very plentiful run of salmon in the spring all would have perished for want of food.
     Our first winter in Hood River (1854), then known as Dog River, was a delightful one: A little snow and freezing weather in December. Early in February we made a garden and there was not a frost after that to do any damage. The year 1858 was the record breaker for deep snows, five feet and one inch on the level -- and not drifted. The weather was notable for the quantity of snow on the ground at one time, rather than for its cold or duration, for by the middle of February the ground was bare.
     But '62 was a record smasher of note. Snow fell on the 19th day of November, 1861, and from that time until the 22nd day of April the ground was never entirely clear of snow. November was a month of disaster. Fifteen days of rain and three of snow is the record. From the fourth until the tenth, five days, the rain came down in torrents. Hood river was full from bank to bank, four or five feet higher than has ever been since. The Willamette valley above Oregon city was transformed into a great lake. Steamboats navigated the country roads, miles away from the main channel, rescuing farmers who had taken refuge on house-tops and on barns. Buildings of all descriptions came down the river and over the Oregon City falls intact and on down past Portland to the Columbia river.
     The entire flat on the east Portland side of the river up to what is now known as Union avenue was covered with wreckage and drift many feet deep. Some 18 inches of snow fell during the month.
     In December we had 10 days of rain and three of snow, 19 inches of snow during the month. On the 19th, the mercury went down to 22 degrees and never got above the freezing point but once until February 15. On January 16 the thermometer registered 24 degrees below zero and the general mean was only 10.45 degrees for the month. Seven feet of snow fell and there was four feet, two inches on the level at one time. The river closed January 1 and navigation was not resumed until March 12.
     This was the year of mining excitement in the Boise and Northern Idaho countries and the casualties were many. Some six or eight persons were frozen to death between the John Day's river and The Dalles. Several people lost their lives between The Dalles and Portland. And report had it that every house between these points had from one or two more or less badly frozen. But the craze was on. Miners had made their way up from California and were not to be deterred by a snowstorm and a little cold weather. Men but ill prepared to withstand the rigors of an ordinary winter, some without money and but a single pair of blankets, rushed headlong into the awful gorge of the Columbia, without a vestige of a road or even a trail to guide them, facing the fierce gales that drove the blinding snow in clouds into their faces.
     It was my fortune -- or misfortune to have to make a trip to Portland at the very commencement of winter.
     The steamer Idaho when down to the Cascades on New Year's day, her last trip. The lower river was closed, so Wells Fargo's messenger, Jones, and myself took a small boat at the Cascades and made our way through the drift ice to the mouth of the Sandy river and went on foot to Portland, reaching that place at about eight o'clock that night. On the sixth I was ready to return, and in company with Lew Day, a well-known express manager, noted for his pluck and endurance, left Portland in a two-horse hack for the Sandy river, to which point there was a fair wagon road.
     We drove across the Willamette on the ice and reached Joe Latourelle's in good season. On our way to Sandy we met Geo. H. Knaggs, a well-known middle river steamboat man with several others, on their way to Portland. They were badly used up and tried to dissuade us from attempting the trip. At Latourelle we found 28 miners on their way to the Boise mines. That night it commenced to snow and snow was about 12 inches deep by morning. A bitter east wind was howling down the river. Day and I soon left the miners behind and broke the trail the entire distance to the middle Cascades.
     There we were cordially greeted by John Barzee, the genial manager of the portage road, then operated on the south, or Oregon side of the river. Snow fell that night and was over two feet deep by morning. A few miles above the Cascades we met Captains E.W. Baughman and E.F. Coe and Engineer John Girty, of the upper Columbia river, bound for Portland, then as now the mecca of the Northwest.
     We had some hard falls making our way around Shell rock mountain, which was then noted far and near as the worst place on the route. We reached Mitchell's point that night completely done up. Day gave out about a mile from our destination and I thought it was all over with him, but he finally got on his feet again and made our stopping place. The wind had blown a living gale all day, drifting and driving the snow in our faces and adding greatly to the difficulty of the trip. We reached Hood River early the next morning, the snow then measuring three feet deep.
     In March, we ran out of provisions and I made two trips on the ice to The Dalles, hauling back flour on a hand sled.
     Stock of all kinds suffered and it was said that east of the Cascade mountains not a hoof of range stock was left. A good many cattle died here in the valley. Jenkins and Benson lost in the neighborhood of 100 head, and Pierce and Weathereaux, north of Belmont, lost nearly that many. None of our cattle died for want of food, though we lost several of our best cows from feeding on pine leaves.
     The ice in the Columbia froze to a great depth. At the foot of the rapids at Cascades, Captain John McNulty of the steamer Idaho told me that it piled up fully 80 feet high. At The Dalles I saw a 16-foot pole run down a crack its full length without touching water.
     On the 21st of March we cut a trail through the snow and ice across Hood River and drove our cattle to the bare hills west of Mosier, where an abundance of grass remained, and our troubles were practically over for the winter.

©  Jeffrey L. Elmer