History

Drawing Lincoln county courthouse

In 1883, Lincoln County was cre­at­ed from a por­tion of Spokane County, and four days lat­er it, in turn, lost ter­ri­to­ry in the cre­ation of Douglas County. Since that time there have been no changes in the bound­aries of Lincoln County. When Lincoln County was es­tab­lished, Ferry County had not been cre­at­ed from Stevens County nor had Adams County been cre­at­ed from Whitman; and Lincoln County’s south-west, west and north­ern bound­aries were de­fined as ”the mid-channel of the Columbia River; thence up said river in the mid­dle of the chan­nel there­of to the mouth of the Spokane River; thence up said Spokane River, in the mid­dle of the chan­nel there­of, to the place of be­gin­ning”. It is now bound­ed on the north by the coun­ties of Stevens, Ferry and Okanogan; on the west by Grant coun­ty; on the south by Adams and Whitman Counties; and on the east by Spokane County. Comprising 2,317 square miles, it ranks eighth in size among the coun­ties of the State.

Previous to the ad­vent of white men, Lincoln County con­tained an Indian Trail ex­tend­ing from east to west. It was con­sid­ered one of the most pop­u­lar Indian thor­ough­fares in east­ern Washington. The overnight camp­ing place was the spring where now is lo­cat­ed the town of Davenport. Bunch grass was abun­dant in the neigh­bour­hood and the present site of Davenport was in the na­ture of an oa­sis.

One of the ear­li­est record­ed ref­er­ences to a now def­i­nite­ly known lo­cal­i­ty was that by Dave Thompson of the North-West Company of Montreal when, on July 3, 1811, he called Hell gate Rapid, a treach­er­ous part of the Columbia River, 4 miles above the mouth of the San Poil River, “Strong Rapid”. Hell gate Rapids are now well ironed out be­cause of the de­vel­op­ment of Grand Coulee Dam. The “Great Bend”, men­tioned by Richard Arnold in 1853 in Pacific Railroad Reports, was the fea­ture of the Columbia River, and the re­gion about it now com­mon­ly called the “Big Bend”.

This Big Bend coun­try lay to the north of the route of Lewis and Clark and was not tra­versed by them. The first white man here of whom we have any pos­i­tive record, was David Thompson who de­scend­ed the Columbia River from Kettle Falls to its mouth in 1811. For the next forty years fur traders fre­quent­ly crossed over this coun­try, and there was con­sid­er­able trav­el over­land. The Scotch botanist, David Douglas, af­ter whom the Douglas fir is named, known to the Indians as the Grass man, tra­versed this sec­tion in 1826. The Rev. Samuel Parker of Ithaca, New York, a mis­sion­ary ex­plor­er, was through the coun­try in 1836. The Wilkes (U.S. Govt.) ex­plor­ing ex­pe­di­tion was al­so through here in 1841. Early mis­sion­ar­ies in­clud­ed Catholic Fathers, F. N. Blanchet and Demers, who passed through here in 1838. Rev. Eells and Walker and their fam­i­lies camped near the site of Sprague in 1839. In 1853 part of a sur­vey­ing com­pa­ny sent out by gov­er­nor Stevens passed through and camped at var­i­ous places with­in the present lim­its of the coun­ty.

As ear­ly as 1858 what is now Lincoln County was tra­versed by a par­ty of min­ers on their way to the fa­mous Fraser River mi­nes. Hundreds of san­guine, stal­wart men passed through the Territory of Washington and up the Okanogan River that year, to the new­ly dis­cov­ered gold fields which, at that pe­ri­od, had cre­at­ed the wildest ex­cite­ment, as did the Klondike coun­try in the “90s. There is sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence that at least one par­ty en route to the Fraser River made its way there via Lincoln County. A com­pa­ny of 350 men and sev­er­al thou­sand head of stock left the Dalles, Oregon bound for Fraser River. They trav­eled from the Dalles to Walla Walla where gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials were then build­ing the fort. Here the com­pa­ny em­ployed an Indian to guide them to the mouth of the Okanogan River. The guide lost the trail and the min­ing par­ty struck the Columbia op­po­site the mouth of the San Poil River. In due time they wound their way to the Fraser River, about thir­ty days out from the Dalles to the dig­gings.

Among the par­ty who crossed the Big Bend plains in 1858 were J. R. Whitaker, who in 1881 re­turned to Lincoln County and set­tled on a ranch near Harrington, and Hiram F. Smith, bet­ter known in pol­i­tics and min­ing cir­cles as “Okanogan Smith”. Returning from the Fraser River coun­try in 1860 Mr. Smith took up a ranch at the foot of Osoyoos Lake, in whit is now Okanogan County. Here he resid­ed for many years and did much for the ad­vance­ment of that north­ern coun­try. In 1861 William Newman, af­ter whom Newman’s Lake was named, came to the present site of Sprague. Here he be­came pro­pri­etor of a sta­tion for trav­el­ers and gov­ern­ment ex­press an­i­mals. At that ear­ly pe­ri­od Mr. Newman’s near­est neigh­bors were a lone set­tler at the mouth of the Palouse River, and Mr. James Monoghan. The lat­ter came to this coun­try in 1860 and es­tab­lished a fer­ry on the new­ly com­plet­ed mil­i­tary road where it crossed the Spokane River, some twen­ty miles be­low the falls. Mr. Monoghan sub­se­quent­ly had charge of what was known as the LaPray bridge.

One of the first per­ma­nent set­tlers ” if not the first ” to lo­cate in what af­ter­wards be­came Lincoln County, was R. M. Bacon. Mr. Bacon left his home in Boston in 1860 and head­ed for the west. Three years lat­er he came to the Colville val­ley, in Stevens coun­ty, where he re­mained un­til 1871. He then came to the Crab Creek coun­try, in Lincoln County, and en­gaged in rais­ing cat­tle. Except for an oc­ca­sion­al band of Indians and the wild an­i­mals that ranged over the prairies, the en­tire coun­try was a wild waste, des­ti­tute of life and de­nounced by mil­i­tary au­thor­i­ty as a howl­ing de­sert. Mr. Bacon con­fess­es that he was a tri­fle lone­some the first year he spent in the Crab Creek coun­try, but af­ter that he was sat­is­fied with his lot. He says that oc­ca­sion­al­ly the Indians were a lit­tle ug­ly, but he was nev­er mo­lest­ed, and did not think there was ever re­al cause for alarm. Within a few years af­ter Mr. Bacon’s ar­rival in this part of the coun­try, oth­er hardy pi­o­neers came and set­tled in his vicin­i­ty. In course of time a post of­fice was es­tab­lished on Crab Creek know as the Crab Creek Post Office. Mr. Bacon be­came the first Postmaster in Lincoln County. Mail was re­ceived on­ce a week by stage.

When the first set­tlers ven­tured out up­on the broad bunch grass plains of Lincoln County and oth­er parts of Central Washington, on­ly the bot­tom lands along flow­ing creeks were con­sid­ered of any val­ue, and in such places the­se ear­ly pi­o­neers sought to make them­selves homes. For agri­cul­tur­al pur­pos­es the up­lands were con­sid­ered worth­less; fit on­ly for rov­ing banks of cat­tle, hors­es and sheep. But a few years lat­er, it was dis­cov­ered that the up­lands were bet­ter, and set­tlers who lo­cat­ed up­on them soon found that they were more el­i­gi­bly sit­u­at­ed than those who had pre­ced­ed them and cho­sen homes on creek bot­toms.

“Wild Goose Bill” (Samuel Wilbur Condit) might have just­ly claimed the hon­or of be­ing the first ac­tu­al white set­tler of Lincoln County as he claims his ad­vent in­to this coun­try as a set­tler where the town of Wilbur now stands in 1875. Wilbur, named for its founder in 1887, was in­cor­po­rat­ed in 1889. While out hunt­ing Mr. Condit on­ce mis­took a settler’s poul­try and shot a fat gan­der. Ever af­ter he was known as “Wild Goose Bill”. Before he plat­ted and named Wilbur, his trad­ing place was known as “Goosetown”. He was a unique char­ac­ter. He en­gaged in all those var­i­ous vo­ca­tions typ­i­cal of the fron­tiers­man: stock rais­ing, trad­ing, freight­ing and fer­ry­ing. He took ad­van­tage of three Government land laws and lo­cat­ed home­stead, pre-emption, and tim­ber cul­ture claims on land now form­ing part of or con­tigu­ous to the present town of Wilbur. He al­so pur­chased forty acres of land from the Northern Pacific rail­road and bought that pre-emption patent of one of his em­ploy­ees. These forty acres of rail­road land formed the ini­tial point of the orig­i­nal town of Wilbur. He owned Condin’s Ferry, Condin be­ing his re­al name, but through a mis­take his claim was made out to Condit.

“Virginia Bill” Covington was an­oth­er well-known pi­o­neer char­ac­ter and first set­tled near Brewster, at the mouth of the Okanogan, and ran a fer­ry there in 1865. In 1878 he lo­cat­ed at the mouth of Hawk Creek, near Peach, and lat­er had a sa­loon and dance hall at Fort Spokane. Matt Brislawn, a pi­o­neer of ’78, set­tled on the Colville Road, sev­en miles north-east of Sprague in 1879.

The years 1877, 1878 and 1879 saw many set­tlers come to that part of the state to be lat­er known as Lincoln County. Egypt was one of the ear­li­est lo­cal­i­ties to at­tract the at­ten­tion of the prospec­tive set­tler. About 1880 two events oc­curred which has­tened the set­tle­ment of the Lincoln County lands: the build­ing of the Northern Pacific rail­road and the es­tab­lish­ment of Fort Spokane, which cre­at­ed de­mands for hay, grain and oth­er com­modi­ties.

LOCATION OF COUNTY SEAT

In the act es­tab­lish­ing Lincoln County, Davenport was made the tem­po­rary coun­ty seat. John Bartol, Edward D. Willis and John McGourin, named as the first coun­ty com­mis­sion­ers, con­vened at Davenport as pro­vid­ed by the act which cre­at­ed the coun­ty. Present with the com­mis­sion­ers was at­tor­ney S. C. Hyde. With the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the oaths of of­fice they qual­i­fied and en­tered up­on the dis­charge of their du­ties. Commissioner Bartol was elect­ed chair­man; and arrange­ments were made with Barney Fitzpatrick for the rent of a build­ing, 24′ x 36′ in size, at $10 month­ly rental, for the use of the coun­ty of­fi­cers to be named by the com­mis­sion­ers.

The lo­ca­tion of the per­ma­nent coun­ty seat caused some strife and led to amus­ing episodes dur­ing the ear­ly days of Lincoln County’s ex­is­tence. When set apart from Spokane County, the town of Sprague had ex­pect­ed to have the coun­ty named Sprague and to be­come the coun­ty seat it­self. When the name Lincoln was con­ferred up­on the coun­ty and Davenport des­ig­nat­ed as the tem­po­rary coun­ty seat, a spirit­ed con­test was in­evitable.

At the next gen­er­al elec­tion, Davenport, Sprague, and Harrington en­tered the con­test for the per­ma­nent coun­ty seat. The num­ber of votes cast in both Davenport and Sprague was in ex­cess of pop­u­la­tion. It was charged that chil­dren were vot­ed as well as pas­sen­gers on the through trains and names from tomb­stones in the ceme­ter­ies. Sprague seemed to have the ad­van­tage fo the rail­road made the im­por­ta­tion of votes easy, and every rail­road man who could be spared came in­to town on elec­tion day, while Davenport had to trans­port its out­side vote by horse­back. Sprague showed the great­est num­ber of votes and Davenport lost. The board of coun­ty com­mis­sion­ers was in ses­sion at 2:30 o’clock in the morn­ing, November 12, 1884, and re­mained in ses­sion to re­ceive re­ports from the can­vass­ing board of elec­tion re­turns; and when it ap­peared to them that Sprague had re­ceived a ma­jor­i­ty of votes case for coun­ty seat, they re­solved to ad­journ to meet at Sprague at 2 o’clock in the af­ter­noon of the same day and ad­vised the coun­ty au­di­tor to no­ti­fy the coun­ty of­fi­cers to re­move their of­fices to Sprague as soon as con­ve­nient.

Charges of fraud were hurled at each oth­er by the towns; cit­i­zens were ar­rest­ed for il­le­gal vot­ing, but no con­vic­tions were se­cured. A build­ing was leased for a cour­t­house and even­tu­al­ly the trans­fer of records was done though by force of arms.

In 1890, an­oth­er vote was tak­en on the lo­ca­tion of the coun­ty seat, Davenport try­ing to re­trieve its loss. Wilbur gave its strength to Sprague, and again Davenport was de­feat­ed. In 1896, the bat­tle was re­newed, and this time Davenport was vic­to­ri­ous. The sup­port­ers of Davenport gave a block of land 215′ x 250′, where the cour­t­house now stands, and a bonus to re­place the cour­t­house erect­ed at Sprague. The re­turns of the elec­tion on the coun­ty seat gave 1,582 votes for the re­moval of coun­ty seat to Davenport, 240 for re­moval to Harrington, and 537 votes again­st re­moval from Sprague, and it was or­dered by the board of coun­ty com­mis­sion­ers “that af­ter 12 o’clock mid­night on the 14th day of December A. D. 1896, Davenport, Washington is de­clared to be the coun­ty seat”. A cour­t­house was built at Davenport at a cost of $12,119, and the coun­ty build­ings and lots lo­cat­ed in Sprague were sold at pub­lic auc­tion for $300, a poor com­pen­sa­tion for the $10,000 Lincoln County had spent for them.

TOPOGRAPHY OF LINCOLN COUNTY

Nearly all of Lincoln County lies in the phys­io­graph­ic province ter­med by ge­ol­o­gists as the chan­nelled Scablands. More pop­u­lar­ly, this re­gion is called the Big Bend Plateau. The area es­sen­tial­ly is a plateau, 1,500 to 2,500 feet in el­e­va­tion with a sys­tem of chan­nels or coulees erod­ed in­to bedrock by glacial rivers and streams of the re­cent ice age. These an­cient rivers flowed from the north-eastern high­lands of Washington in a south-westerly di­rec­tion. Part of the ear­ly drainage of the up­per Columbia wa­ter­shed was car­ried through the­se chan­nels dur­ing the ice age 20,000 or more years ago. Today the­se chan­nels re­main as the beds of small­er streams such as Wilson Creek, Crab Creek, Cow Creek and Lake Creek and some shal­low wa­ter bod­ies such as Colville, Sylvan and Tue Lakes. The plateau sur­face and the table­lands be­tween the chan­nels are gen­tly rolling with wide ex­pans­es of wind-deposited soil suit­ed for grain farm­ing. In places, such as west of Davenport, bed-rock or “scab rock” is ex­posed at the sur­face. In north­ern Lincoln County the ter­rain is more el­e­vat­ed and is rougher where the Columbia River has cut a gorge across the plateau. This gorge is now oc­cu­pied by Franklin Roosevelt Lake, the reser­voir be­hind Grand Coulee Dam. In gen­er­al, it can be ter­med a plains area dis­sect­ed by a few shal­low stream cours­es with many of its fea­tures mod­i­fied since glacial times by a dry cli­mate and wind ero­sion.

CLIMATE

Lincoln County has a semi-arid con­ti­nen­tal type of cli­mate which is hot and dry in the sum­mer and cold and mod­er­ate­ly hu­mid in the win­ter. Temperatures are quite uni­form over most of the coun­ty be­cause ter­rain does not vary more than 1,200 feet from the low­est to high­est el­e­va­tions. Precipitation varies from an arid con­di­tion in the west­ern part of the coun­ty to semi-arid con­di­tions in the north-east. The en­tire area lies in the dry in­ter­mon­tane bas­in be­tween the Cascades and the Rocky Mountain System. Precipitation is a ma­jor con­trol­ling fac­tor in agri­cul­ture. Most crop farm­ing is in a zone of 10 to 20 inch an­nu­al pre­cip­i­ta­tion near the re­li­a­bil­i­ty mar­gin for grow­ing wheat. Climatic con­di­tions re­quire ad­her­ence to a dry farm­ing sys­tem of sum­mer fal­low­ing grain land and fall seed­ing to take ad­van­tage of max­i­mum pre­cip­i­ta­tion of the win­ter months. Precipitation in the Big Bend re­gion is un­re­li­able. Fluctuations in snow fall and rain­fall, cre­at­ing top soil mois­ture de­fi­cien­cies have in the past caused fail­ures or low yields of grain cops.

Annual pre­cip­i­ta­tion ranges from 8 inch­es and less along the west­ern line of Lincoln County to over 20 inch­es in the north-eastern cor­ner. In gen­er­al, the west­ern two-thirds of the coun­ty has less than 16 inch­es of rain­fall. Available data shows that Odessa is the dri­est sta­tion with about 10.58 inch­es per year. Davenport, in the north-east, has 16.48 inch­es. The sum­mer sea­son of June through September is dry, char­ac­ter­ized by oc­ca­sion­al lo­cal show­ers or hail storms. The win­ter is cloudy and mod­er­ate­ly hu­mid and most pre­cip­i­ta­tion is re­ceived as snow­fall. Winter rains and snow melt are ab­sorbed by loam soils. By keep­ing the top soil stirred and loose through sum­mer fal­low­ing to lessen evap­o­ra­tion dur­ing hot sum­mer days, a re­serve of top soil mois­ture is ac­cu­mu­lat­ed for fall sown grains. A gen­er­al­ly re­li­able snow cov­er of mid-winter al­so pro­tects win­ter wheat and bar­ley sprouts from freez­ing tem­per­a­tures.

Monthly tem­per­a­ture av­er­ages range from be­low freez­ing in mid-winter to highs of about 65 to 71 de­grees Fahrenheit in mid-summer. Records at Davenport, Odessa and Wilbur show that win­ter months are cold and sum­mer months are hot. During December and January av­er­age tem­per­a­tures range from 28 to 35 de­grees while in July and August the range is from 66 to 71 de­grees.

WHEAT FARMING

Lincoln County is the sec­ond most im­por­tant wheat pro­duc­ing coun­ty in Washington and al­so ranked sec­ond in the United States in 1954. Throughout the county’s his­to­ry the most im­por­tant crop has been wheat. Grown on the dry lands of the Big Bend re­gion, it was the first im­por­tant com­mer­cial crop grown by the pi­o­neer farm­ers. The summer-fallow, dry farm­ing sys­tem is wide­ly used in wheat grow­ing. Some 895 farms re­port­ed 392,000 acres of cul­ti­vat­ed sum­mer fal­low dur­ing 1954. Most of this was used in wheat farm­ing. Winter wheat is sown in the fall to take ad­van­tage of win­ter mois­ture and pro­tec­tive snow cov­er. Heavier and more re­li­able yields are ob­tained through this sys­tem.

LIVESTOCK, DAIRYING AND POULTRY

Livestock, dairy­ing and poul­try are sec­ondary ac­tiv­i­ties in Lincoln County when com­pared with field crops. In 1954 Lincoln County had the third high­est in­come in the state from crops ($6,275,000), but ranked twenty-first in in­come from live­stock and live­stock prod­ucts ($2,398,000).

Raising beef cat­tle is the ma­jor type of live­stock farm­ing. The com­bined to­tal of beef and dairy cat­tle reached a new high in 1956 with 46,000. Beef cat­tle num­ber reached an all-time high of 43,400 head. At the same time, dairy cat­tle num­ber con­tin­ued at their all-time low of 3,100 head. The coun­ty ranked eighth in the state in num­ber of cat­tle and calves sold.

LINCOLN COUNTY FLAG DESIGN

  1. The back­ground col­or is aqua-blue, rep­re­sent­ing the blue that pre­dom­i­nates our sky, in ad­di­tion to the wa­ters of the Columbia and Spokane rivers, which bor­der our County to the North, as well as the many lakes and streams which grace our County.
  2. The bust of President Abraham Lincoln, the 16th pres­i­dent of the United States and af­ter whom our County was named.
  3. A shaft of wheat, both on the left and right sides of President Lincoln’s bust, rep­re­sent­ing our County’s ma­jor in­dus­try and the fact it is record­ed as the sec­ond largest white wheat-producing County in the na­tion.
  4. The num­ber un­der the bust of Lincoln, rep­re­sent­ing the year our County was formed while Washington was still a ter­ri­to­ry.
  5. Lincoln County’s flag was de­vel­oped by res­i­dents of the County. It was pre­sent­ed to the County Commissioners and the pub­lic at the County Courthouse in Davenport on November 10, 1986 The flag was made in con­junc­tion with the Centennial cel­e­bra­tion com­mem­o­rat­ing Washington Territory gain­ing state­hood.