Friday, August 15, 2008

Motorcycle Ride. Re-Visiting & Re-Thinking a Gunfight

My bike "Liberty" parked at "Spong's Landing"

Today's post is about my ride out to the scene of a shooting. No need to worry though, the gun-smoke cleared away some 140 years ago and time the great eraser had done it's work, rendering the incident all but forgotten.

One of the cool things about going for a motorcycle ride is the added benefit of being able to pursue secondary interests. In my case, I'm a bit of a history buff.

The other day I had an opportunity to take the bike out for a spin and spend some time at a place along the Willamette River with some little known history behind it. I grew up nearby and spent countless hours there swimming, picking wild blackberries, catching crawdads, skipping rocks and exploring. Sometimes with only the ghosts of the early day pioneers to keep me company. Often I would sit on the river bank and try to visualize the scene as it would have been a hundred years ago and more, -imaginary steamboats rounding the bend.

Back in the nineteenth and early twentieth century the Willamette River was the main means of transporting goods and people up and down the valley. Riverboats navigated these waters with regularity. I have heard it said that in the old days if you sat on the bank of the river one could see at least one steamboat at any given time.

Towns and river boat landings along the river were alive with human activity. Towns sprang up along the banks of the Willamette almost overnight and many disappeared just as fast when the river lost out to improved wagon roads, bridges being built, the laying of train track and the final swan song of the river boat was the advent of the internal combustion engine and the building of highways.

Now the river sits mostly silent except when it passes through towns like Eugene, Corvallis, Independence, Salem, Oregon City and Portland. The rest of the river is protected by a “greenway” where no development of any kind is allowed near its banks. So mostly there is only the gentle ripple of the waters, the wind blowing through the trees, the rustle of dry leaves racing to wherever dry leaves go, and the occasional call of a Blue Heron.

A once busy ferry landing was here.

About 10 miles north of Salem and 4 miles west of the present day life blood of the Willamette Valley which is Interstate 5, is a lightly used and out of the way rural park called “Spong's Landing.” It was named for Alexander Spong who came to Oregon on a wagon train in 1851 with his wife and child. He took up a donation land claim in 1853 along the Willamette River and began to farm. His land was heavily wooded and a natural place for steam boats to stop and load up wood to burn in their boilers. He started a ferry service as well to move people and crops from one side of the river to the other.

Looking west from Spong's Landing toward the Ghost Town of Lincoln.

Across the river from Spong's Landing is the site of the once bustling town of Lincoln.

The town was fairly large for the time, it consisted of about a half mile of riverfront warehouses and wharves. It was platted by an earlier emigrant to the area in the 1840s, a man named Andrew Jackson Doake. He also was running a ferry service across the river from that location which apparently caused some bad blood between Misters Doake and Spong. Local lore has it that the two even exchanged gun fire on at least one occasion, luckily nobody was hurt.

The town of Lincoln along with steamboats lost their usefulness when bridges, railroads and eventually improved roads and highways came. Lincoln has long since disappeared from the western bank of the Willamette. Reclaimed by Mother Nature, a riparian woods thrive as though the town never was. Mr. Spong's farm, his boat docks and ferry landing are all long gone too.

Steps down to the landing and back in time.

"The Grandfather Tree"

This magnificent old oak tree sits on the side of a trail that must have been the original wagon road leading down to the river and to the place where steam boats once sat at dock and the ferry landing used to be.

Too small to feed the hungry boilers of the steamboats of the 1800s it was spared the axe. The tree now big and grand watches silently over those who pass. Some even notice the tree, mostly old folks, small children and the like. Those in-between often seem too pre-occupied to see the beauty and wonder that lies all around. Once in awhile I bring my kids over to the landing and my girls don't pass the tree without giving it a hug. They call it the "Grandfather Tree".

Eventually Mr. Spong won out and his family operated the ferry business for many years after the shooting. Mr. Doake at some point in time ceased ferry operations and sold his Lincoln land in 1860. Eventually Lincoln the town was gone too.

Did Mr. Spong and Mr. Doake resolve their differences peacefully and become friends? Or was it an uneasy truce? History does a poor job of recording thoughts and feelings. One can only guess, given the facts what we would think, feel and do under the same circumstances.

War and peace, conflict and cooperation, human nature is capable of going either way. Hopefully Mr. Doake and Mr. Spong came to a mutual agreement for the common good and chose to live out their days in peace. Life being too short to let ambition and selfish interests get in the way. I wonder.

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Conchscooter said...

Nice. I hate hearing kids say history is boring. I hope Doak and Spong glared at each other for decades.

Baron's Life said...

Very interesting read.
You should consider writing books, telling stories...You'd be very good at it

Kano said...

conchscooter -hey, how's the weather down there? I've heard about a big tropical storm in Fla. -Doake & Spong are probably sitting on a cloud and having to share the same harp since they were so dang ornery here on earth!

baron's life -Thanks man,It's difficult to get published though. I do plan on giving it a go someday when my writing skills improve to that level.