That Old Barn
From the very beginning of immigration of Americans to the Yakama Nation barns would mark the farmer’s land. Often the barn was the nerve center of the family farm.
In the early days of Cowiche the horse, mule, or oxen was essential to a successful farm and the barn was generally the place where they were harnessed for work, fed, and sheltered in bad weather.
Coming over the crest of Cowiche mountain in the late eighteen hundreds one could almost count the farms by the many barn roof tops visible. One such barn was found on the farm Michael Austin and his family grew up on at the east end of Cowiche Valley. Mike writes the following story of growing up on that farm over a half century after leaving the Valley.
| Photo is of a farm family at haying time along the North Fork of Cowiche Creek, circa 1900
|Michael Austin farm at the east end of Cowiche Valley just beyond the fence line in mid photo
The old faded red barn (center photo above) that still stands as one of the prominent features in the lower Cowiche valley just before it enters the canyon at Weikel has a long and productive history. The fact that it was designed around functional rather than less productive architectural features is probably its salvation. The barn was an essential center piece of any dairy/cattle raising operation in that environ during the late 19th and early 20th century. Although I haven’t researched land deeds or other official documents, from our family experience and what we could learn of its early history it was probably built during the first era of irrigated farming—so probably around 1900—1910. We received our allotment of water from a point off the ditch about a half mile away. The water had to travel by a hand-dug ditch and cross a small ravine by a flume. The water was brought to the high point of our property and from there was used either for flood irrigation or moved by ditch where needed. I think that dates the barn. Our family moved onto the Cowiche farm in the very cold winter of 1948 when there was a foot or two of snow on the ground. My dad continued working in a feed mill in Yakima 10 hours each day after moving to the new farm. Before the Austin’s the farm had been owned by the Overholster family who some years before had sold off the front 10 acres to our neighbor Leroy Brackett. That left only 10 acres which included the barn, house, and outbuildings toward the back of the property, a substantial volcanic rock butte (an inescapable part of any property in our area) and Cowiche Creek which meandered across the very back corner.
Mark White owned and operated several hundred acres of good bottom land to the south and west of our farm and Lloyd Underwood owned a 20 acre piece between us and Weikel. Brackett’s orchard wrapped around between us and the beginning of Naches Heights. Thus we only had about 4 acres of good hay land. The cows had to scrounge around in the corners and between the rocks for pasture. My dad didn’t realize how little workable land he had bought until the spring thaw and black objects began to appear where he anticipated growing crops. I will never forget his exasperation (not the actual language he used) when he stuck his head into the kitchen and said to my mother, “Fern come out and look at all these damned rocks growing up in my hay field.”
The primary source of fodder for the cows was alfalfa hay although orchard grass made acceptable hay as well. In the era before hay bailers, it was put up loose which meant that after cutting and drying in the fields it was hauled “loose” into the barn. With the vagaries of weather it was a challenge to leave the hay in the fields long enough to properly dry. In optimum situations, you would rake it into windrows; leave it for a day or two, then turn it; rake into shocks, and finally load it onto a hay wagon.
A “buck” rake was used to move the drying hay into the windrows. From that point everything was done with a three or four pronged pitchfork. The hay was forked onto a wagon which had a sling laid along its bed. The sling consisted of two chains that created parallel bands that would wrap around the load when it was lifted up into the barn. To get a firmer and bigger load on each trip the younger kids were used as stompers. Of course the hay was never entirely alfalfa; there was always a healthy amount of Canadian thistle, cheat grass barbs, and an occasional cocklebur so it was an itchy- scratchy process.
While we boys always wore jeans, in those days the girls (I had 5 younger sisters) a