“Tieton From Hatton Road Looking Northeast”

Bill Schenk

When Bill Schenk sold the store in Old Cowychee (Cowiche) the name was spelled ‘*Cowychee’, sugar was selling at five cents a pound, eggs fifteen cents a dozen, flour was at ninety-eight cents for a fifty pound sack, and Bull Durham tobacco was at five cents a bag or six for a quarter – it was March 1903.

Lafe Masters purchased fifteen acres from Anson White along the South Fork of the Cowychee where Cowiche Mill Road and Old Cowiche Road of today intersect. The Masters brothers had come into the Cowychee back in the 1870s and were a part of the pioneering families participating in setting up the first school in May of 1872. It is believed the Lafe Masters family lived near Cowiche Mill Road just north of the South Fork. Mr. Masters opened a post office in his house on February 26, 1884 and made his wife the first postmaster in Cowychee. So the first postmaster of Cowychee was not a man at all, but instead Mrs. Eliza F. Masters, Postmistress. At the time, even though she could not even vote, Eliza held the most prestigious position in the Cowychee region outside of the position of school teacher.

It wasn’t uncommon to have post offices in residences in 1884. You could find the same all along the stage coach road from The Dalles to Wenatchee. Remember the railroad didn’t come into Yakima Valley from Walla Walla until the following year. Wherever there was a post office in a residence more often than not a town began to spring up. That is precisely what happened in Cowychee. Lafe Masters opened a store in 1889 as an outgrowth of his post office of 1884 and a town began to develop. It wasn’t called Old Cowychee then, probably just Cowychee or Cowychee City but as time went on it took the name of Old Cowychee because the town moved in 1925 and became Cowychee Siding and ultimately Cowychee City before the spelling change to Cowiche.*

William M. Schenk came to Cowychee sometime around the turn of the century from Illinois. How old he was is unknown, but we know he was a store-keeper back home in Illinois and we can presume he came west with the intent of being a store-keeper. I believe the Schenk family came in the 1890s with the intent of purchasing and operating the Masters store in Old Cowychee. How long Mr. Schenk had owned the store is unknown, but we assume he had been operating the store for a number of years before he sold it. We do know he had been the second owner of the store prior to selling it to Archibald Rightmire in March 1903.

Mr. Schenk who has a road named after him north of the town of Tieton tried his hand at farming after selling the Cowychee store. It has been said he purchased the old John W. Stevenson place in 1903 or 1904 near the intersection of Mahoney Road and North Pioneer Way, but it must have been a ranch close by because that property has remained in the Stevenson family for over 100 years and a portion of it remains so today. In the year 1906, maybe 1907 we find Bill Schenk on a fifteen acre parcel he purchased from Tom Weddle. Weddle had come to the area in about 1895-1897 and was granted his homestead patent for the 160 acres in 1902 astraddle two creeks one of which was the North Fork of the Cowiche. We best know the homestead as a parcel bordered by Franklin Road on the west, Rosenkranz Road on the north, Tieton Road North on the east, and Tieton Naches Road on the south. Put another way Tom Weddle homesteaded the land where the town of Tieton is today.

The fifteen acre tract that Schenk purchased from Tom Weddle had the home place on it which included a two story house, a blacksmith shop, barn, and other minor buildings. Tom had sunk a deep year-round well near the house not far from the creek that flowed near the barn. Many confuse that creek with the North Fork of the Cowiche, but in the early part of the twentieth century there was a second creek running through what is now the town of Tieton. It likely did not flow year- round because in some years even the North Fork of the Cowiche was known to dry up. Some neighbors used to use the Schenk well to water animals rather than drive them all the way to Horse Camp Spring in French Canyon or the Old Kelly Spring near where the Highland Saddle Club is today.

The locations of the well based on maps of today is in the back yard of 513 Newland Pl. in Tieton, Washington some fifty yards west of where Minnesota Ave. and Newland Pl. intersect. There is no trace of the creek today it having been long since filled in and one would not even know of the well except for a sign beneath the trees reading “Van Epps’ Well”. Mrs. Pearl (Van Epps) Morris whose father Elmer Van Epps constructed the house now at 513 Newland Pl. was still living there when this was written. She can personally verify that the well and creek did in fact exist. She said the creek was so wide that a person could not jump across it. The well in fact was the ‘town’ well for the first few years even after the town moved. The house was constructed by Elmer Van Epps in 1928 from the lumber reclaimed from the business office of the waterwheel operated Pine Box Mill found high up the South Fork of the Cowiche.

The old Tom Weddle house Schenk purchased was a two-story home with a large living room on the ground level along with one good sized bedroom, dining room, an a lean-to-kitchen. Upstairs were additional bedrooms and a balcony above the first floor porch. The house was reported to have had a basement in it as well.

Bill Schenk operated the blacksmith shop in the beginning and did a little butchering, but he was a store-keeper by trade not a farrier or meat cutter. His opportunity to once again follow his chosen vocation came one morning as he rode his horse ‘Ginger’ north along the Cobb Trail down to where Addison Cobb (Steve Vanderhouwen’s great grandfather) had his homestead two maybe three miles upstream from the mouth of the Tieton River.

It was there that the United States Reclamation Service (USRS) had hundreds of workers located at Camp No. 1 constructing the Tieton Canal that is high on the south wall of Tieton Canyon today. Addison Cobb had opened a tent store to take advantage of the labor camp being on or near his homestead. What Bill Schenk found that morning was a store in disarray. He immediately saw his opportunity to again be a store-keeper and purchased the remaining inventory Cobb had and moved it to his home up on the North Fork.

The inventory wasn’t much even by the standards of the USRS, but it was a beginning. Bill Schenk placed his Bull Durham tobacco, Arbuckles and Lions coffee, Pepper, bluing, shoe strings, salt, and the rest including a poplar new drink, Instant Postum, right there on the

shelves of his blacksmith shop along with the horse shoes, leather goods, shovels, axes, and other equipment. Store was open for the first time in North Fork and just in time because the flurry of canal building now moved from the Valley of the Tieton to French Canyon and points east and south. The above photo shows the store Schenk made out of his house. It is believed the building shown in the middle of the photo was the blacksmith shop where he first started selling goods. All throughout Cowychee things were booming because of the construction underway in the Tieton Division of the Yakima Irrigation Project.

Almost before the word hit the trails and wagon roads Schenk had more business than the blacksmith shop could handle. He built a dock or porch on the front of his house, removed the second story balcony and boarded up the balcony door to keep kids from falling to the ground and moved the store into his living room from the blacksmith shop. Even before that move was complete he was planning a new two story building to move the store into. The first floor of the new building was to be a store and the second story a dance hall for the workers in the area and a town meeting hall. He even contemplated constructing a three-story building after all there were times the demand was such that crews would come in and literally purchase all the food stuffs he had forcing him to close the store and go to Yakima City (Union Gap) to purchase more goods.

Margaret Crews writes, “The winter of the five-foot snow (believed to be the winter of 1908/1909). I took my daily constitutional by driving the cows to water over the three miles distance trail, at each side of which stood the full depth of the snow, almost higher than my head. By golly, I found the town pump (Schenk’s Well) frozen up and the town store was locked up. I saw Glen, a small boy, as I passed the blacksmith shop and asked him what happened. ‘The town gone dry! The store locked!’ (He) told me that ‘The men came down from the USRS camp and bought might nigh every dad-blamed thing in town.” Margaret Crews wrote that she returned home three miles and started a sage brush fire and melted snow to provide water for her cows.

No Schenk didn’t have a town yet even if people were already calling it a town, but he would; first things first – he needed a post office to create a town. Schenk applied for a post office in mid 1909 submitting the required application to the United States Postal Department (USPD) with the requisite three suggestions for the name of the post office; Schenkville, North Fork, and Tieton in that order of priority!
Schenk had his new store nearly completed, some say all but the counter was finished when he and his family and others in the community decided to go down to Camp No. 1 to celebrate. Depending on who writes the story Bill Schenk and his family were celebrating; (1) the closing of Camp No. 1 by the USRS, (2) Independence Day or, (3) the completion of his new store.

It was no celebration however as little 8 year-old Viva Schenk and 4 year old Minna drown that day in a diversion ditch dug to provide water to power the camp dynamos. The Schenk family had lost two daughters one in 1903 and another in 1905, both very early in life to diphtheria. Probably the most haunting element of the loss that July 3, 1909 was that the body of little 4 year-old Minna was never found.

Some United States Post Office clerk chose the name ‘Tieton’ from the list Bill Schenk had presented and on December 3. 1909 Schenk was granted his post office. The Schenk’s went on to open their new store at the location in Pearl Morris’ back yard of today – Tieton was born.

Bill Schenk, it was said never was the same after the death of the two little girls. He and his wife Emma may have divorced which is not uncommon for parents who suffer such tragedies. We know that Emma was to remarry a fellow by the name of McCoy. McCoy I believe was the Postmaster of Tieton for a while. He is said to have died of a heart attack leaving Emma to live out her life as a widow. Schenk later sold the store to Fred Crum and Truman Jeffery and faded into history.

The new two-story store was moved to the corner of Tieton Ave. and Elm Street (S.W. quadrant) in approximately 1917. It continued as a grocery and drug store as well as a post office for a short while and later the second floor was converted to a boarding house. Ownership changed hands a number of times before it was finally purchased by Herb Rademacher who also owned a lumber yard across the street. The lumber yard burned before most of us were born or came to the area. The old store was not burned, but instead was raised by Herb Rademacher for its lumber.

As you know Emma and Bill Schenk’s daughter Nola (Schenk) Curtis, gave us Janet, Mike, and Hilda Curtis all graduates of Highland High School in the 1950s.

*The spelling of Cowychee did not change until sometime after 1920, probably between 1925 and 1930.

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