Picking Hops

Part 5 of 14: Memories of Long Ago

by Hiram Ellsworth Pearsall

In the fall of 1886, after the house had burned down with its contents, things were looking pretty blue. Winter was coming on and no work in sight that would make it possible to earn a dollar.

Well, Jack Stretch and I had worked together for a while that summer and I really owed him for the help he had given me after the fire.

Jack proposed picking hops. There were a couple of small hop yards in the Tualco Valley, but he proposed going to the big hop ranch. The “big hop ranch” as it was known then, was located on that flat between Snoqualmie and North Bend, containing 300 acres of hops. It was owned by a Seattle company and was claimed to be the largest hop yard in the world but I cannot say as to that.

The panic came on a few years later and hops became so badly infested with hop lice and aphids that everybody went out of the hop business. Well, we decided to go to the big hop ranch. Jack would take his wife and two boys, Bob and Bert. Bob was big enough to pick hops.

There was no road up the Snoqualmie River, only a pony trail. Ponies were used to carry the mail to Novelty, Tolt and Fall City. That mail was carried by the steamer Nellie from Seattle to Snohomish, round about way, but Uncle Sam had to deliver the mail.

We engaged an Indian with his canoe to meet us at Phillip’s landing. That is where the high bridge is across the Tualco Valley on the Snoqualmie River. Mr. Altizer took the team with a camp outfit over the landing where it was loaded into the canoe and we were ready for a voyage up the Snoqualmie River.

To make any progress we all had to paddle. We were by no means alone, as the river was lined with canoes loaded with Indians with their families. They had come from all over the Sound; some from British Columbia, and many even claimed they had come from Alaska. The Alaskan Indians had very large and beautiful canoes with high bows and painted very nicely. Some of the large Saltchuck canoes, as they called them, had two or three families. Indians, clootchmans and papooses. All going to pick hops at the big hop ranch.

We traveled slowly, and many of the canoes would pass us. We camped two nights on our way to Fall City. Arriving at Fall City, we engaged a man who had just come over the Snoqualmie Pass by covered wagon from Missouri. He hauled our outfit up to the hop ranch. We pitched our tent and were ready for business. Jack and I went to work the next morning in a dry kiln helping to dry hops, getting one dollar a day with board and sleeping in the tent. Ww thought we were doing fine but Mrs. Stretch and Bob were making more than we were picking hops at $1 a box.

We were camped close to the Indian village. There were hundreds of them, women, men, papooses, and dogs. All picked hops in the daytime, but at night, they were pretty noisy. We had worked less than two weeks when Jack decided to go home. We pulled up camp and happened to find a man with a team who took us back to Fall City. Here we were stuck. There were plenty of canoes and plenty of Indians, but they were all too busy picking hops to take us downriver.

We couldn’t camp there and wait for the Indians to go downriver, so we decided to make a boat. There was a small sawmill at the mouth of Tokul Creek, a short way below the Snoqualmie Falls. We walked up there and bought a little lumber. We got two 12-inch boards 16 feet long and nailed them on the 16-foot boards and the boat was done. The mill man had a little tar and a kettle that we could use to tar up the boat.

We built a fire to heat the tar. Well, as I found out then, that tar will get hot in the bottom of the kettle and will bubble up when it is scarcely warm on top. I saw it was bubbling up and we thought it was ready. It was a small kettle and I found out the bail was pretty hot. So I took a stick and put it under the bail and started to the boat. But a great disaster came when I stubbed my toe and down I went with the tar. Well, what wasn’t on my face and clothes was in the gravel and river bank. It was then that I was glad I didn’t know when the tar was hot.

Now we were up against it proper. A boat, but no tar, as the mill man had no more. Jack said, “We will go down to Fall City without any tar.” Jack found a canoe pole that he thought would do. We launched the boat, got in and away we went for Fall City. Jack said, “I will steer the boat and you bail water out with the old tin can we found at the mill.” The Snoqualmie, from the falls to Fall City, is pretty rapid and full of large rocks. Jack was pretty busy keeping clear of the rocks and I was busy trying to keep the boat from sinking. As the water is swift it was but a very few minutes when we landed at camp. When they looked at me I didn’t know whether they wanted to laugh or cry, but after using a little coal oil on a rag, I was pretty well cleaned up and felt better with the tar off my face.

The next morning we pulled the boat upon the bank. The lumber had swelled up and it scarcely leaked. We got a little more tar and tried again to make it a little more seaworthy. We launched the boat again, loaded in the camp outfit, and were on our way home.

The Snoqualmie River, after leaving the Tolt rapids, is very crooked. First on one side of the valley and then the other. Also, it was very sluggish, with very little current.

That night we camped near where Duvall is now. The next day we arrived home safely and the boat had performed very nicely.

Well, after taking stock and sizing up everything, we decided we had a very enjoyable outing, but financially were about where we were when we left home.

And then a little later, when there was nothing to do to earn a dollar, I felt very much as in the “Song of the Settlers”: “I tried to get out of the country, But poverty forced me to stay. But when I got used to the country, There was nothing could drive me away.”

–transcribed from the 1944 Monroe Monitor by Nellie Robertson

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