Eteläkarjalainen maisema

Eteläkarjalainen maisema
Tässä blogissa on sekä kuvia että tarinoita upean Etelä-Karjalan luonnosta, ihmisistä ja kulttuurista. Kuvassa syyskuinen näkymä Saimaan kanavan varrelta.

tiistai 8. syyskuuta 2015

Finnish settlement in Centerville, Washington

Majestic snow-capped Mt. Adams looms to west in Centerville

On the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state lies the Klickitat Valley, a level woodless area made fertile by the lava flow. Nestled there is the farming community of Centerville, settled by Finnish immigrants in 1877.  To the south, separated by a 2,000 foot divide, flows the Columbia River. Majestic snow-capped Mt. Adams on the Cascade Range looms to the west, and to the north are the Simcoe Mountains.  On a clear day, one can view five snowcapped mountain peaks, namely Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Jefferson.

On my trip with the theme "Go West Old Man” I was able to visit in 30th June, 2005 this beautiful valley, where many Finnish pioneers found their home in 1877. Afterwards I compiled the following story of Centerville Finns. It's based mainly on Mrs. Otis Mattson’s article Klickitat Finnish Pioneers in a booklet Centerville Finns published by the Finnish Historical Society of the West in July 1977 and on article Centerville was settled by Finnish in the Goldendale Sentinel, July 1, 1954.

Klickitat Valley and Mt. Adams
History of the Finnish settlement in the Centerville region.

The first Finnish settlers arrived in Centerville by accident. 

In the 1860's and 1870's, many Finns left their homeland to seek a better life in America. Many of the Finns immigrated to northern Michigan where work was available in the copper mines.  The Finns were used to work on the land and in the forests, so they began look for an opportunity to get out of the work underground in the dark mines.  Then a man by the name of Elias Peltopera wrote to them to come to Pendleton to get their homesteads. Three different groups left Houghton County, Michigan. They traveled by train to San Francisco, and on to Astoria and Portland, Oregon, by boat. They continued to Pendleton, arriving there in the spring of 1877. But the fourth group from Michigan got lost before they reached their destination. In this group were John Hagen, Lars Mattson, John Crocker, Jacob Jacobson, and Peter Karkiainen, with their families.  In Astoria, Peter Karkiainen decided to stay to visit friends who lived there.  The others continued on to Portland.  When it came time to purchase their tickets, they discovered that no one remembered the name of the destination. The letter from Peltoperä was in Astoria, in the possession of Peter Karkiainen. The situation looked discouraging, and they were planning to go back to Astoria.

Beautiful scenery

However, they decided to spend a little time in Portland where they could look over the land along the Willamette River.  At that time, an 80 acre tract along the east side of the river, were sold for $800.  The land was covered with brush, and did not appeal to them. Finland was at that time under Russian rule, and they were directed at the port to speak to the Russian vice-consul.  This gentleman was not familiar with the Pendleton settlement, but he advised the travelers to go to The Dalles, 100 miles up the Columbia River, where homesteads were available.  Taking the consul's advice, the Finns bought tickets, boarded a river boat, and continued their journey

Apostolic Lutheran Church

They arrived safely in The Dalles on July 4, 1877. While inquiring about land around the place, they met a farmer named Al Brown who happened to be in town for supplies.  After he heard about their intentions to settle in the area, Mr. Brown told them about Centerville across the river.  He explained that he called the place Centerville because it was located in the middle of the valley.  There was good fertile free land to be had in 160 acre lots, he told them, as he tried to encourage them to come there to live.  The Indians were hostile at that time, so the farmers would welcome more white neighbours.

Several of the Finns decided to look into the proposition.  Leaving the rest of the party at The Dalles, Lars Mattson, John Crocker, and John Hagen set out at once on their adventurous journey.  They took with them eleven year old Matt Mattson, Lars Mattson’s son, who had gone to school in Michigan and could act as their translator. Lars Mattson was the first of the pioneers to set foot on Washington soil as the party crossed from Oregon.

The group of men crossed the Columbia by boat, then continued up the hill on foot. They slept the first night in the barn, continuing on at daybreak.  As they reached the ridge of the Columbia hills, it came to Mr. Crocker as to the prophet of old, "This is the promised land; here is where I shall live, and here is where I shall die."They found early settlers, the Browns, the Jaeckels, the Garners and the Childers living at Centerville.  The Finns established their land claims, and then returned to The Dalles to rejoin their families.Upon arriving in the Oregon city, the immigrants purchased horses and wagons to carry their families and supplies.  On Thursday, July 10, 1877, they started for their new home site in the "promised land".  As the Finns were entering the Klickitat valley, they met a caravan of white settlers who were leaving the place. A couple of young boys in the group overheard those leaving say, "Those poor fools will be scalped before morning." The Indian scare at that time was bad, but as time went on the Finns had no great problem with the Indians.

Centerville Cemetery

The settlers sent letters to Calumet, Michigan, advising their countrymen to come to Klickitat Valley, where one could get 160 acres of free land for each family. They wrote about fertile soil free of stumps and ready to be tilled, and of heavy bunch grass which was good feed for cattle and sheep. That fall the following families arrived:  Erick Jussila, Henry Molstrom, Andrew Liimatta, Jacob Lawery, John Kaidera, August Klockner and Fred Johnson.  In November a third group arrived. That group included Matt Ahola, Henry Lahti, Sivert Törmänen, Gabriel Walman, Andrew Wiidanen, John Witikka, and Mike Wilson.  Altogether by the next spring, over twenty Finnish families and a few single men had arrived to Kickitat valley.

When the first Finns eame, they found a mystery.  No one knew when and who had a home that was burned long ago, five miles west of town.  There were corner stones of a house in place, pieces of broken dishes and other evidence that someone had lived there.  John Hagen prospered on his small farm.  He was not interested in additional land as his only son, William, was thrown from his horse at the age of twenty-one years and fatally injured.  Hagen had money to lend to other farmers who wished to buy more land to add to their holdings.

It wasn't long before most of the homesteads were taken.  The farmers bought ad-joining acres, as much as they could afford.  The value of the land went up, and that made it very difficult for a man with little capital.  Altogether, about fifty families were able to get homesteads around Centerville between1877-1880.

In midwinter of 1878, the Piute Indians were moved from the Malheur Reservation in southeastern Oregon to Fort Simcoe, north of Centerville, as punishment for their supposed sympathy with the uprisings of the tribes of Oregon and Idaho.  They did not want to move from their land, but quarters had been arranged for them at the Washington fort.  Five little Indian children and the widow of Chief Winnemucca who was old and ill died on the way to Fort Simcoe.  They were buried in the snow beside the trail.  The Indians were taken through the valley in a bitter cold by the cavalry.

A pic from the cemetery

Some of the pioneers became good friends of the Indians.  Each tribe had its own linguistics, and some of the whites learned enough of the Chinook jargon so they could communicate with them.  Edward Mattson became a special friend of the Indians. They borrowed money from him, and brought him their beadwork bags, purses, gloves, vests and other items for security.  Some of the pioneers grazed their cattle on open land in the Simcoe Mountains.  The Kaideras and the Jussilas kept their milk cows there in the summertime where the grass was green.  The territory was large, wooded, with no fences, and the cattle had to be herded.  Mrs. Kaidera and Mrs. Jussila stayed up there with their children.  They milked cows, made butter, and baked bread.  Mr. Kaidera and Mr. Jussila took supplies up to their wives about every two weeks.

 Some of the Centerville farmers formed a company to purchase a separator and a Case gasoline engine.  This was the company thrasher, nicknamed "Vallankumous" = revolution. Each outfit had a nickname.  The Niva - Wiidanen outfit was called "Akka Walta" = Woman Power.  Crocker's was called "Hiki-Liikkuja" = Sweat mover, and Mattson's outfit was called "Elinkeino" = Source of Livelihood.

Besides farming, many of the Finns went into business.  The town had the Jussila - Kononen general store. Peter Ahola was a carpenter and also had a general store, Mr. Hutanter was a jeweler, and Frank Johnson was editor of the Centerville Times. Matt Mattson operated a hotel, John Kaidera managed the Farmer's State Bank, and Nathan Liimatta was a barber.  John Walman served as a blacksmith, William Niva a warehouse operator, William Niva and A. J. Niva as depot agents.  August Jussila operated a garage, as did Chester Mattson.  Jussila was a Chevrolet dealer, and had the first gas pumps in Centerville.  Abshier and Niva had a hardware store, A. J. Niva a grocery store and general merchandise, and Zenas Mattson was the U. S. mail carrier.

Mrs. Matt (Permelia) Mattson operated the restaurant in the Klondike Hotel run by her husband.  She rang a bell to signal to the townspeople when the meal was ready. The Klondike Hotel was destroyed by fire in the 1920's. The Post Office was located in Peter Ahola's store.  Abe Ahola served as the Justice of Peace for the county for many years.  Goldendale was the county seat, eight miles away, so all legal business was done there. Peter Anderson was a lover of outdoor life.  He enjoyed the songs and sounds of birds and all wildlife, and used to quote this little verse: "Piis, piis, pikku lintu, missä sinun pesä on? Kivikossa savikossa, pikku kiven alla." "Cheep, cheep, little bird, Where is your nest? In the rocks, in the clay, beneath the Stones."

Joseph Anderson, Adolph Maatta, Herman Lehto and several others had saunas on their farms.  Some of the older saunas were built with the rocks heated by the flames, and the exit for the smoke was small holes in the valls.  The fire had to be completely out before the water could be poured on the rocks or there would be "häkä", a form of gas that would make one very sick.  Later saunas had a stove with stove-pipe and chimney.  The rocks were heated on the top of an iron plate, so there was no smoke or soot in the room.  It has been said, "If you survive a sauna, you are either a fool or a Finn."

Beautiful, beautiful

Saturday night was a social evening when neighbors would gather for sauna.  The women all went in at the same time, taking their small children with them.  The men then had their turn; or vice versa.  Coffee and sweet yeast bread, and cheese "Leipä Juusto" were served after the sauna.  At some homes group singing was enjoyed afterwards.

Doctors were never called except in very severe cases. Mrs. John (Matilda) Kaidera and Mrs. Henry (Dorthea) Niva were midwives who helped friends and neighbours when babies were born. Every home had a spinning wheel, and the women spun yarn and knitted warm clothing for the family.  In the evenings after chores vere finished, the men made furniture for their homes.  They were skilled, too, in making skiis, skates and harnesses.

The simple thrifty life, mingled with the Christian spirit, enriched the life of these Finns.  The one kind of togetherness the Centerville Finns enjoyed was belonging to the local Apostolic Lutheran Church, which was organized in 1879.  Their little country church, one and a half miles northwest of town, was erected on the corner of Jacob Jacobson's homestead.  A larger church was built in town in 1911.

By the beginning of the 20th century, many changes took place at Centerville, as in other Finnish communities. The simple homes were improved and enlarged. and automobiles came into use. More land was cleared for crops so that wheat and hay could be grown.  It was all dry land farming at first, but in later years irrigation has been started from wells and streams. Finnish customs and the language have been passed from one generation to the next. The third and a few of the fourth generation still spoke Finnish.  The local people are now in the seventh generation and have mixed and married well with other nationalities.  The early Finns applied for and secured their citizenship papers within a few years of their arrival.  They are proud to be Americans.

The automobile age changed Centerville.  Very few businesses remained.  Now (in 1970s) there is one grocery store, a post office, a good sized grange hall, a grade school, grain elevator, the fire station, a number of residences, and a Christian Church as well as the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church. 

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