Ferry County

A History of Ferry County
Ronald MacDonald
Native Americans in Ferry County
A humorous story about a store on the U.S.-Canadian border

This information and photographs were provided courtesy of Mary Warring, former President of the Ferry County Historical Society.

A History of Ferry County

Like all areas of Washington Territory, Ferry County was explored by many famous explorers, such as David Thompson of the Northwest Fur Traders and David Douglas, the noted botanist.

One notable adventurer-explorer was Ranald MacDonald who panned the creeks flowing into the Kettle River and Boundary Creek in search of gold. Ranald was the son of Chief Trader Archibald McDonald and Princess Raven, daughter of Chief Concomly of the Chinook Tribe. He traveled all over the world, and the Japanese revered him as their first teacher of English. Ranald died on the Colville reservation in 1894 in the arms of his niece, Jenny Lynch. She was the daughter of his half-brother Benjamin MacDonald and an Okanogan Indian, Catherine Michel. Cabin where Ranald died

In addition fur trapping, Ferry County area was used as a hunting and food-gathering area for the Interior Salish peoples, now commonly referred to as the San Poils, the Okanogans, the Colvilles and the Lakes. Okanogan Indians grazed their animals on the bunch grass along the Tonasket creek (now Toroda) during the winter months.

Many tribes were scattered throughout Ferry County. The confluence of the Columbia and the San Poil River was the home of the San Poil. The Kettle River, both east and west of the Kettle Range, had a concentration of members of the Lake Tribe, and Inchelium on the western side of the Columbia was the home of a band of Colvilles.

Confluence—a flowing together of two or more rivers.

Because of other pressing matters, Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens postponed discussing territorial rights with tribes in Ferry County since the local Salish Tribes did not threaten the invasion routes of the settlers moving into the area or the territorial designs of the government, they were essentially left out of negotiations until after the Civil War.

Although Chief Tonasket of the Okanogans attended the Indian conference at Grand Ronde and later at the Yakima Treat negotiations, the tribes of this area were not given reservation land until 1872 when the Colville Reservation was created by President Grant through a presidential executive order. The reservation had as its boundaries the Okanogan River to the west, the International Border to the north, the Columbia River to the east and south. Chief Tonasket

The original Colville reservation was steadily reduced as a result of pressure from settlers and miners who had invaded the area, particularly in the Okanogan and Columbia River areas as well as the Colville River Valley. Others crossed the reservation on their way to the Cariboo and Rock Creek gold fields in Canada, or they searched the local streams for gold. In the 1860’s Chinese placer miners were in the Malo area and many areas of the reservation supported rudimentary homes for early trappers and hunters.

The reservation system broke down after Congress passed the Allotment Act of 1887. The Allotment Act was part of the Dawes Act which granted 80 acres of reservation land to each registered member of the tribes before the land was opened for white settlement. Many families who had a mixed-racial heritage from the fur trade moved onto the Colville reservation and began ranching operations. Many of the creeks and roads were named after the children of fur-trade families: Herron, Peone, Gendron, Desautel, La Fleur, St. Peter and O’Brien to name just a few. Other early pioneers in the Okanogan who had been mining in that area, such as Arthur Best and George Runnels, had Indian wives and moved onto the reservation where they developed their mining interests. Baptista

In 1884 Chief Tonasket, along with other members of his band, felt the pressure of white settlers in the Northern Okanogan and moved to the Toroda Creek and Kettle River area. They brought with them their cattle, sheep, horses and possessions. Martin Tonasket brought farm implements over Cummings Pass, and Martin Alec brought over the first wagon to the Colville reservation, piece by piece on pack horses.

Chief Tonasket and his sons were one of the first Indian families to raise hay for their animals and develop ranching techniques. Grain was cut by cradling and then threshed by horses trampling on the grain in a specially constructed corral. The winnowed grain was packed on horses and sent to the markets in Marcus and Spokane.

There was also a local economy on the reservation. Chief Tonasket, Chief Long Alec, and Dennis Peone owned the first stores on the northern-half of the reservation. Eneas and Louise Somday owned a boarding house and stage coach depot from 1896-1905 Chief Long Alec also operated a ferry across the Kettle River in addition to his store. Chief Long Alec

Long Alec, Tonasket and the inter-related Somday family tried to help their people in their adjustment to agriculture and survival on their respective allotments. Both Tonasket and Somday were strong supporters of the establishment of schools. Long Alec, Tonasket and Somday were also enthusiastic supporters of the efforts of Catholic priests in their Christianizing efforts on the reservation.

The northern half of the Colville Indian Reservation was opened to mining in 1896 and shortly later homesteading. The southern half of the reservation was open to mining in 1898 and homesteaders shortly thereafter. Today the Reservation Lands encompass 1.4 million acres with the headquarters of the Colville Confederated Tribes at Nespelem.

Ferry County was created in 1899 and named for Governor Ferry, the last territorial governor and first governor of Washington State. The county seat, Republic, has had a mining history from the time of its inception. For many years in the 20th century, the Republic mines were the major producers of gold in Washington; the last remaining operational gold mine in the state is in Republic. Barn on Tonasket Ranch

Ranald MacDonald

Ranald MacDonald was the oldest son of Chief Trader Archibald McDonald of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the only son of Koale’ zoa, sometimes called Princess Raven or Princess Sunday. She was the daughter of Concomly, the powerful chief of the Chinook Tribe which was located near the mouth of the Columbia River. Ranald’s mother died a few short weeks after his birth at Fort George (Astoria), and afterward his mother’s sister raised him at the Concomly’s lodge until his father married Jane Klyne. Jane was a remarkable young lady nurtured on the fur trade frontier. She provided Ranald with a loving family that eventually expanded to include twelve half-brothers and one half-sister.

Educated by his father, Ranald lived with his family at Forts Okanogan, Kamloops, Langley and Vancouver. For a year he attended Ball Academy (located at Fort Vancouver and the first school in the Oregon Territory) before he was sent to the Red River Academy in Canada to further his education. Ranald’s education was in preparation for his future service as an officer in the fur trade on the western frontier. He was apprenticed into the banking profession under the direction of Edward Ermatinger, a long-time family friend residing in St. Thomas, Ontario; however, Ranald nurtured his own dreams and ran off to sea where he became a highly valued whale-boat navigator and harpoonist. Ranald MacDonald

Another dream of Ranald’s was to enter the closed society of Japan. He was curious as to whether there was a relationship between the people of Japan and the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. He conceived a plan to help prepare the Japanese for the inevitability of international trade by teaching them English.

In order to enter Japan, Ranald enlisted the support of Captain Edwards of the whaling ship Plymouth to set him adrift in a small boat off the coast of Hokaido where he feigned his own shipwreck. Rescued by Ainu fishermen from Rishiri Island, he was imprisoned and subsequently sent to Nagasake where he was tried and imprisoned for illegal entry in violation of the laws of Japan. Classified as a navigator as opposed to a common sailor, he was placed under house arrest and well treated.

After careful observation as to his integrity, Ranald was entrusted with the responsibility of teaching fourteen Japanese interpreters English. One of his students was the brilliant Moriyama who wisely guided him through his trial and captivity. Approximately ten years later, his students and Moriyama became involved in the difficult interactions with Commodore Perry and the complicated trade treaties negotiated by Townsend Harris for the U.S. and Japan.

It could realistically be argued that Ranald set the stage for the successful conclusion of both events. Unlike other shipwrecked sailors who were often deserters, Ranald created a positive relationship with the Japanese by attempting to learn Japanese and his willingness to share his knowledge of Western culture. Nine months after landing on the Japanese coast, Ranald was released to Captain Glenn of the U.S.S. Preble and taken to Macoa where he resumed his global wanderings.

When Ranald returned to Canada, he visited his family home near St. Andrews, only to find his father died a short time earlier. Between visits to his family, Ranald once more took to the high seas and traveled to the Ballarat gold fields in Australia where he apparently became a successful miner. Leaving Ballarat he traveled to Europe and returned to his family.

After an extended visit on the family farm, he and his half-brother Allan returned to the northwest to participate in the Cariboo gold rush. This time Ranald preferred to sell mining supplies instead of searching for the illusive sparkle of gold. The brothers opened a store, ran pack trains and ferried miners across the Frasier River. In addition to their merchant duties, Ranald and his brother preempted land near Cache Creek, British Columbia. He also pursued schemes to develop a much needed route from the coast to Quesnel and Barkerville; however, his plans, although enthusiastically supported by Victoria businessmen, failed to receive financial backing from the B.C. government.

Ranlad and his brothers, Allan and Ben, prospected in addition to their many other adventures in Cariboo. Allan and Ben both invested in the Cameron claim but sold out before it proved to be extremely successful. According to Christina, a distant cousin, Ranald made a large amount of money in either the Cariboo or Horsefly Country but lost it all. In 1864 Ranald joined the Brown expedition in the successful mineral exploration of Vancouver Island and later led a mineral exploration into Horsefly County north of his ranch at Cache Creek.

In his later years, Ranald joined Christina, his cousin and Angus MacDonald’s daughter, at her fur trading post in Kamloops and later met her brother Donald at the old Hudson’s Bay Fort Colville. Along with Donald, Ranald preempted land that was formerly part of the old fort where his father had been Chief Factor for so many years and continued his search for gold on the creeks that nourished the Columbia and Kettle Rivers. With his years of adventuring over, Ranald renewed his interest in writing and having his book Adventures published. Finally, worn out by his travels and years of exposure to the harsh reality of placer mining, Ranald sold his property on the east side of the Columbia to his cousin Donald and moved onto the Colville Indian Reservation in 1892. Ranald built a cabin on the west side of the Columbia River directly across from old Fort Colville. (This area is currently under water). In midsummer of 1894, Jenny Nelson (later Lynch), daughter of his half-brother Benjamin, drove her horse and buggy over Sherman Pass to nurse her uncle to health. He died in her arms at her cabin on a bench above the confluence of Toroda Creek and the Kettle River. Reportedly his last words were “Sayonara my dear, sayonora.”

Since his death, his memoirs have been published and several articles as well as biographies have been written. In both Japan and the United States, Ranald has been remembered as Japan’s first teacher of English and an extraordinary adventurer.

Native Americans in Ferry County

From very ancient times, the Native Americans traveled across Ferry County. Their trails connected the fishing grounds at Kettle Falls with the southern Okanogan and the northern trail connected the northern Okanogans from Lake Osyoos to Lake Okanogan with the Kettle Falls and Arrow Lakes. Traveling north and south through the interior was achieved by going north through the San Poil and Curlew Valleys to the Kettle River Valley. The heart of the county near its county seat, Republic, has always been difficult to access due to its geological structure. The Kettle Ridge as a part of the Okanogan Highlands runs in two parallel ridges north and south, hindering easy passage east and west. Nevertheless, this created a spectacular wilderness area treasured by the Native Americans. Nelson

A humorous story about a store on the U.S.-Canadian border

With the permission of the Indians, Peter Nelson opened a store on the northern border of what later became Nelson (now Danville). One fascinating feature of his early store is that his building had one door on the Canadian side and the other door on the U.S. side. Understandably, the custom officials soon became suspicious and forced him to move.