Ford: Built Tough

     In 1912 two important events came together that put Ford on the map. The Long Lake Dam was being built on the Spokane River, six miles from Ford, and a railroad was being built to haul equipment to build the dam. The dam, built by Washington Water Company, was to be the highest spillway dam in the world. The little town of Curby, which had the only Post Office in that part of Stevens County, was located in the path of the rising waters. The town moved to a new location, but did not prosper. Curby was abandoned by 1914. By 1912 Ford had established the next Post Office. Mrs. William Morgan was the first postmistress and they proposed to name the new town ‘Clay Hill’, but the Postal Department rejected the name and so the name ‘Ford’ was chosen because of its proximity to where the road crossed Tshimakain Creek.

     The town grew and filled with characters. As well as the butcher shops, grocery stores, blacksmith shops and local school, there were also dance halls and a pool hall. Fred Blizzard owned one of the blacksmith’s shops. "He was a man who had followed his trade half way across the continent in railroad and logging camps and was without a doubt the most interesting character that ever lived in Ford. He loved to tell the strangers wild tales that he swore were true, and often scared the life nearly out of some that did not know him by taking after them with a red hot horseshoe, or other items with such fervor that the victim was fully convinced that he was going to be branded in one way or another with the red hot metal."

     The newly built dam did not supply electricity to Ford, even thought the main line ran within a 100 yards from the town, because the power company charged unreasonable rates for small users. The town water was drawn from wells, but since there was not an abundant supply, or enough pressure, the town had no quick protection against fire. In 1917 the store and pool hall owned by the Hayes brothers and many other small buildings were destroyed in a blaze. In 1919 the town burned again. Ford was never re-built to its original size.

     The Post Office changed hands many times and was slowly updated. It was only profitable in conjunction with the store. In the 1940’s the owner made a special trip on Sunday to get the Spokesman Review in hopes of bringing in Sunday customers.

     In more recent years Ford became home to the Dawn Mining Mill and Uranium City. Another disastrous fire in the late 1950’s showed that Ford citizens do not give up easily. A council gathered and talked about how to make their town prosper and survive. To this day you can still visit Ford and see an example of how a small pioneer town can weather many storms.

 

The Passing of a Patriarch

     "Blind Alec has fallen into the long sleep.

     The aged Indian of the Tsimakain country died a few days ago at his home between Wellpinit and Ford, leaving a neighborhood which he has not seen since a time so long ago that he did not remember. In all the swiftly flying years since he was young, the stoic native had refused to yield to his handicap. He made his own haystacks and patched his own roof. He and his wife went their way, ‘held high their heads and bowed to no man, they.’ He and the countryside he loved were inseparable.

     Sometimes when the wine of autumn runs red along the Tshimikain valley, in years that have forgotten him, there may come whispering down among the pines a vagrant wind like the hush-hush of moccasined feet. It might be Blind Alec, come back to his hills."

 

 

 

The Tshimikain Mission

In the mid 1830’s many religions became interested in sending missionaries to the Western Frontier. In 1836 Samuel Parker, a Protestant clergyman, investigated Stevens County. He was impressed with the recently planted gardens of the Spokane Indians and took that as a sure sign that the Spokanes were no longer nomadic, therefore Stevens County would make a "promising mission field." Two years later Elkanah Walker and Cushing Eells and their wives Mary and Myra were sent to Stevens County to set up a mission. After a long trek across the Oregon Trail they arrived in 1838. They built their mission in the Tshimikain Valley near the town of Ford. The mission site was located between the camas grounds and the fisheries on the main trail connecting the Walla Walla country with Fort Colville. "…it was at the heart of a rich area inhabited by 2,000 Spokane Indians." The Native Spokanes called it "the place of the springs," but later settlers called it Walker Prairie. With the help of Spokane Chief Big Head and his tribe, the first Christian mission opened in November 1839.

"Like other missionaries in the Pacific Northwest, Walker and Eells were not overly successful in converting the Indians to Christianity and convincing them to adopt European culture. Throughout the nine years the missionaries worked at Tshimikain, the Indians continued to maintain their nomadic lifestyle; not a single Spokane became a member of the mission church. As Reverend Walker astutely observed: ‘It is as hard and unnatural for them to lead a settled life as it would be for a New England farmer to change and lead a wandering life.’" In 1848 the Walkers and Eells abandoned their mission because of the threat of meeting a similar fate as the Whitmans, who were killed by the Cayuse Indians.