Related Sections: Bingen | Fishing | Hood River | Real Estate

History of White Salmon, Washington

The History of Bingen – White Salmon
by Stu of

Lewis and Clark were two of the first white men to visit the area of what is now known as Bingen and White Salmon. Great numbers of white-fleshed salmon were being caught and dried by the Indians at the mouth of a nearby river which sufficiently impressed Lewis and Clark to name the river “White Salmon.”

When the first white settlers arrived, they encountered the Klickitats who were a tribe of nomadic Indians. They were gentle people whose ancestors had roamed the area for many years. In 1853, when Erastus S. Joslyn and his wife Mary traveled westward on a Columbia steamer, they sighted the friendly Indians and also spotted a flatland on the north bank of the Columbia River directly across from the mouth of the Hood River. The Joslyns were in search of rich, fertile land on which they could build a homestead. They had first arrived at The Dalles and signed in with the First Congregational Church but were apparently unimpressed with the dry, arid land there and continued westward on a Columbia steamer. When they spotted the flatland on the north bank of the Columbia River, they recognized it as a suitable lowland farming area for agriculture and dairy raising. The location was approximately one mile to the east of the mouth of the White Salmon River. The Joslyns were the first white settlers on the north bank of the Columbia River between Fort Vancouver in Skamania County and Walla Walla.

Joslyn befriended the Indians and he was greatly helped by them in building his farm. By the end of the summer after arriving, Joslyn had built a log cabin to live in and also saw the fruits of his first harvest. In addition to the cabin, he built a large barn to house the dairy cattle and a large area of the land was used for planting vegetables as well as a few fruit trees.

Joslyn was a religious man and although not a missionary, he would often hold regular Sunday services in the Joslyn home which were attended by the local Indian tribes. There were occasional disturbances among the tribes but Joslyn aways managed to keep control of the services.

In 1855, at a time when the Joslyns had become well-established, the Yakima Indian war broke out. Somewhere between November of 1855 and early 1856, members of the Klickitat tribe came to Joslyn’s homestead warning him of imminent danger. He was told that a large war party of Yakimas were on their way to kill him and his family. It is not certain what happened next, but one account states that the Klickitats escorted the Joslyns to a distant hiding place atop the bluff and from there they watched as the Yakimas burned the Joslyn’s home, pillage his buildings, and drive the animals away. Anarchy had broken out along the north bank of the Columbia River and there was no one in the area at the time to suppress the uprising. The Joslyns were guided by the Klickitats to the Fort Cascades’ blockhouse 20 miles to the west where they were protected by soldiers until the end of the war. In 1859, Joslyn and his wife returned to rebuild his homestead.

Other early settlers to the White Salmon area were the Jewetts and the Suksdorfs who bought land in the 1870’s. The banks of the Columbia River reminded the Suksdorfs of much of their native Rhineland and they wanted to preserve their German heritage. The Jewitt family settled in the White Salmon area and a feud developed between the two families, reportedly over the location of the post office. Nearly every issue discussed was disagreed upon so the area became two separate towns. The Suksdorfs settled in Bingen which they named after Bingen on the Rhine in Germany while the Jewetts settled up on the bluff, retaining the name White Salmon. The railroad station is the only one in the United States to bear the name of two towns – “Bingen-White Salmon” since the Suksdorfs and Jewitts could never accede on the matter.

At one time, Sam Hill wanted to build his mansion on the Jewitt property and offered to buy it for $80,000. However, the agreement which was written up and signed was immediately dissolved when Sam Hill proposed a drink to celebrate the purchase of the property. Mrs. Jewett was fiercely opposed to drinking. Had the purchase gone through, Sam Hill could have built the now famous Maryhill Museum in White Salmon.