Thursday, March 10, 2016

Alva McKinley (January 20, 1881-December 12, 1968)

Alva McKinley

We’ve met Alva a couple times in past blogs:  the first I believe was about the scuttled naval vessels from the First World War and then in the last blog about Summer Camps on Horsehead Bay.  

Since his name keeps coming up, perhaps we should discover a little more about him as a person.  In his obituary published by The Peninsula Gateway on December 19, 1968 his birthday is shown as January 20, 1880 and his name as “Alvin”.  The Tacoma News Tribune obituary published December 14, 1968 shows his birth as “50 years ago.” shows the year as “1881” in their documentation of his life from census records, draft cards, et cetera and his name shown as “Alva” which is how he signed himself.

Alva was a prolific writer and in the Collections at the Harbor History Museum that are several of his writings running from the History of Horsehead Bay to The Arletta Hall to The Spirit Salmon and many more.  Supposedly he also wrote a family biography which is mentioned on the short bio on his father, John McKinley’s Find-a-Grave memorial.  However I was unable to discover it in the Collections available in the museum, nor was I able to find it elsewhere.  So I shall shall some of the biographical information on the Find-a-Grave site created by Dave McMurrin and maintained by Barbara Griswold.  

John’s parents were from Kentucky but had moved to Indiana where “John and his twin brother George, James, Nancy and Samuel were bornIn the early 1840s they moved to Iowa and the family grew with William, Jeremiah and Charles.  … In 1860 John married Rowena Williamson and begun (sic) a family of his own.  He sold his farm in Iowa and moved to Colorado …”  First to northeastern Colorado following Horace Greeley’s call for western expansion “Go West, young man, go west and grow up with the country”.  Unfortunately, northeastern Colorado being part of the Plains or prairie area has limited water, and farmers had to depend upon artesian wells for irrigation.  He also tried his hand a running a sawmill, but neither venture was successful.  The family packed up and moved yet again, this time to Gunnison, high on the west side of the Rockies, and by the 1880s the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad and the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad came to town.  Farming was poor, again due to lack of water so the main industries were cattle ranching and the mining boom.

John’s daughter Lucinda Alice had married Walter Verry who worked in the lumber industry, but staked claims that her brothers mined.  Which I believe is how the family found themselves living in Ironton, Colorado.  Because of the rich mining fields, Ironton was established in 1883 and platted in 1884. A short biography of Ironton reads:  "There are five towns in the district as follows: Chattanooga, eight miles from Silverton and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad; Red Mountain City, one mile distant(both of these towns are in San Juan County, the latter being about one-half mile from the county line); Red Mountain Town or Hudson Town is one-mile from Red Mountain City, in Ouray County and one-half mile from the county line: Rogerville is about half a mile from Hudson Town; and Ironton is four miles distant from Hudson Town….”.

John and Rowena’s daughter died in 1895; John had died in 1896 two days after his twin brother, George died.  (George had been injured at a very early age and never fully recovered.  He was able to perform light work only and as a result had lived his entire life either with his parents, or with his twin, John.)

During the time that Alva and his family were living in Colorado he attended the University of Colorado Law School, following graduation, he completed his law education at Portland University.  Despite having a law degree, he never practiced law according to his obituary.  I thought at first that he attended The Colorado State Normal School for Children (aka Western State College or Western State Colorado University) which opened their doors in 1901 since he lived in Gunnison.  But the University of Colorado was founded in 1876 and they have a law school in 1892.  Gunnison and Boulder are only 135 miles apart, but at the turn of the twentieth century, 135 miles is a long distance.

After working in the mines in Ouray and Creede, they moved on to Delamar, Nevada also known as the Widomaker for a short time.  By the time the McKinley’s arrived in 1902, the mines were drying up.  So the family members still living packed up once again and this time left for Tacoma.  When they arrived in 1903 they purchased some land on Horsehead Bay.   They built a home, and lived much as the other settlers lived, farming, hunting, fishing.  During the Russian-Japanese War (February 1904-September 1905) they smoked salmon to sell to the Japanese Army.  

The family was hoping that the climate in Washington would be beneficial and help the boys recover from “miner’s consumption (silicosis), but it was too late for Charles.  He died at home on Horsehead Bay in January 1907 and his body was taken by boat to Rosedale for burial.

The sisters, Nancy Cathrine “Cathrine”,Lucinda Alice “Alice” and her husband, Walter Verry,and Anna May “Annie” and her husband, Claude Griswold all moved to California, mostly the Red Bluff area.  Rowena and James had originally accompanied them, but they returned to Horsehead Bay.
Looking towards Kopachuck from head of Horsehead Bay
By 1910, he, his mother, his brother James and sister Catherine were living in Rosedale.  He earned his living in various occupations such as farming, carpentry, working in the Seattle shipyards for Ames Ship Building Company when he received his World War I draft card in September, 1918.  He remained a bachelor all his life.  

By the 1940s, he was living on Horsehead Bay and following his retirement decided to write a history of Horsehead Bay, as well as many other papers as noted above in paragraph three.

But rather than continuing in my words, let’s hear Alva speak in his own.  the following is part of Alva’s “The Story of Horsehead Bay”.  He wrote chapter one in the form of a play looking back which will soon become apparent.
View of Horsehead Bay
"From the shore line in front of my home I have but a limited view of Horsehead Bay, being able to see only half of the Bay and the shore line down the west side.  Often when I look out upon this scene, as it is now, with its row of good modern homes, lawns, flower beds and well built seawalls erected to protect the sandy banks from further erosion by rain, wind, and tide, my wind (sic) wanders back to that day so long ago when I first saw it, and I see the shore line and beach not as they are now, but as they were then, but I can not stop even there.  I think of a more distant day, and I try to see the picture as it must have appeared to the pioneers-for instance to John Furlong and G. W. Powell-eighty years ago.

There was no human habitation of any kind along the shores of the Bay or in the neighboring woods.  Nothing but trees and brush lines the banks of the bay and these grew so closely together as to, in places, form thickets so dense that they could be penetrated only by a small animal or a powerful bear.  Even the beach was covered with the trunks of trees, some large, some small, that the washing away of the banks had toppled over.  Logs lay along the beach everywhere and in places trees falling across each other had formed piles of considerable size.  Some of these logs were used for many years by a large herd of seals that made the Bay their home.

A wall of trees stood along the shore line, but many of these were small.  Only a thin line of big trees stood along the west bank.  Inland a short distance the trees grew very close together but all were small.  Along the east side of the bay there were no big trees except a grove near the head of the bay and a few scattered trees along the north shore.  Along the east side of the Bay, also, the trees grew very close together, and here they were somewhat larger than those on the west side.  Some sixty years before fierce and destructive fires had swept both sides of the Bay and only this thin line of old trees had escaped.  Probably they escaped because the heat from the fire had drawn breezes from the bay and these breezes had carried the heat away from the front line of trees so that, altho damaged, they escaped destruction.  A few trees did escape, however.  On the southwest corner of the peninsula long known to trappers and to the pioneer settlers of the region as the “Horsehead” a grove covering several areas was spared, and some of the trees are still there.  This grove of trees was for many years the home of numerous flocks of wild pigeons and a number of flying squirells  (sic) lived there.  On the narrow isthmus between the Bay and the body of water now known as “Hale’s Pass” a grove of several trees covering several acres was left standing and on the point of the peninsula another grove was left.  Among the trees in this grove the ground was covered with an almost innumerable hordes of raccoons, skunks, and other small animals native to the region.  The tall tree tops were also occupied by wild life, being the home and nesting place of a number of blue herons.  Unbelievable as it may seem, these long necked, long legged wading birds make their nests in the tops of tall trees.  No human habitation of any kind.  Only on rare occasions did there appear a trapper’s boat or an Indian canoe-some of the latter well built, some ungainly awkward craft, but all howled out of cedar logs.  This is the overall picture of the place as it must have appeared eighty years ago.  Now for a picture of the life of that time.  For altho humans were few, life there was in great abundance.

Scene One: 
It is about nine P.M. on a night is(sic) mid December ; there are clouds overhead and a light rain is falling.  Altho is it night, cloudy and rainy, it is not very dark.  Extremely dark nights are somewhat unusual here.  The tide is low, but rising.  Along the shore may be seen several phosphorescent streaks where dogfish are chasing and trying to catch bullheads and such other small fish as there may be there.  Just above the water’s edge may be seen a number of small animals hurrying back and forth across the wet sand.  Raccoons they re, and they are busy hunting for anything edible they may find.  Which the raccoons are busily minding their own affairs another animal is moving slowly through the darkness.  A raccoon seeing it gives a note of alarm that send the small animals hurrying to the safety of the brush upon the bank.  All but one.  One has been too slow.  A squeal of fright and pain, and a bear has a substantial part of a good meal.  A solitary heron is wading in the shallow water nearby-for these birds hunt for food both in the night and daytime.  Hearing the squeal of the raccoon and the slight noise made by the bear, the heron takes to the air with a scream that echoes and is reechoed from the forest wall to forest wall across the bay.  Then for a time all is still except for the patter of the rain upon the water and the splash of the dogfish still chasing their prey in shallow water.  Several hours have passed and the tide has risen considerably.  Suddenly there is a great splash as though some heavy body had fallen from a considerable height into the bay.  This is followed by a sound like the exhaust of a steam engine working under low pressure.  Then follows a bellow and roar that starts the ethos flying widely (sic) back and forth across the bay.  Then more splashes, more grunts and roars and more echoes.  This is taken up and repeated farther and still farther down the bay until the echoes are flying wildly from the trees and also the cliffs along the north shore.  This will continue until the uproar becomes deafening and will continue for several hours.  Many bull seals are staging a free-for-all fight and will continue until exhausted, the victor and vanquished alike will climb onto his favorite log to remain there until daylight when they will slip into the water and each go about the business of seeking his daily supply of food and to be ready to continue the battle the next night.  This will go on for several weeks.

Scene Two:  We will imagine we are standing on the high bluff with in those days and long after was called “Burnt Point”.  In front of us we can see the water between Fox Island and McNeil’s Island and to our left we can see the water almost to the entrance of Hale’s Pass and to our right almost to the entrance to Joe’s Bay.  It is a day in November.  The sky is overcast, but no rain is falling, and visibility is good.  The sight that first attracts our attention is at the entrance to Hale’s Pass.  Here we see a large area of water in wild commotion as though it were being stirred by many living things.  And it is.  A large “school” of salmon has just emerged from Hale’s Pass on its way to the streams that flow into Henderson Bay.  As they come closer we can plainly see the fish.  They are swimming near the surface and are leaping clear of the water in numbers from one to a hundred at a time.  Sometimes straight up into the air and call(sic) back into the water tail first, and at other times, a fish will make a series of short quick leaps that will carry it around in a complete circle.  As a school they move slowly but always in a direction that will take them by the shortest way to the stream of their choice.  While we are watching this school suddenly another that has evidently been swimming deeper arises to the surface directly in front of us and goes thru all the movements of those we have been watching.  Then off to the right and almost out of sight around the turn of the shore line a third school appears.  Sights such as this could have been see(sic) almost any day from October first to December first in those days.

One more story of the salmon.  At some time or another most of us have seen many small fish suddenly break water in a very small space.  If the person who sees this were in an elevated place where he could look down on that spot, this is what he would see:  A school of small fish-herring usually-swimming along minding their own business suddenly meet a number of hungry salmon.  The salmon quickly form into lines, some going in one direction, some the other like trained cowboys and by running swiftly around the herring force them into a tight mass, then several of the salmon will dive quickly under the mass and come up through it with their tails thrashing swiftly.  The purpose of this is to stun as many of the herring as possible, then the salmon dash in and seize the stunned herring before the little fish can again gain control of themselves.  The salmon swim so swiftly that the herring have but little chance of escape.  This goes on until the salmon have had a good meal.  It seems incredible that salmon would develop the co-operation and team work required to carry this out successfully and probably but few people would believe it, but I have seen it done from a vantage point that enable me to see he whole thing even the big lazy dogfish that was swimming around below hoping to profit from the performance.

Now to change the scene; …”

What do you think about Alva’s writing?  Is he informative enough in his description, so that if you closed your eyes you would see the scene exactly as he described it?  Are you interested in learning more from Alva’s history of Horsehead Bay?  How about visiting the Research Room at the Harbor History Museum and reading more of it.  The Research Room is open Thursday from 10 AM until 12 noon.

  • Find-a-Grave Memorials - The immediate family members
  • Wikipedia - History of Cororado; History of Ironton, Cororado; History of Gunnison, Colorado
  • Alva McKinley’s “The History of Horsehead Bay, Chapter One
  • Colorado Law, University of Colorado Boulder
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