FAMILY HISTORIC SITES: The Town of Wheatland (Atchison) and the 1890 Flood

James O’Neil, J.P. sold Daniel and Mary Matheny his claim to the future site of Wheatland.

When Walter Becker was fifteen years old in 1890, a great flood came to the Willamette Valley, the one that destroyed Champoeg for the last time and also left Wheatland moribund, the town founded by Daniel and Mary Cooper Matheny. Although Walter hadn’t yet joined the family, his account of that flood in Wheatland is of interest to us:
Flood of 1890 at Wheatland
During the freshet of 1890, I was at home with my father in the village of Wheatland, which is situated on low ground on the west bank of and near the Willamette River about twelve miles below Salem. The village has a store, post office, blacksmith shop, and warehouse. It was the misfortune of some farmers to have held their grain, which was stored in the warehouse, expecting to get a higher price for it in the spring of 1890 than had been offered in the fall of 1889. In the latter part of January, 1890, the water began to rise and by February first, lacked but little more than three feet of being on the lower floor of the warehouse. By this time those having grain in the warehouse were very much alarmed and came down to move the same to the upper floor. Up to this time no one else seemed to be uneasy, but Sunday, February second, the water was in nearly every house in town and the men began taking their families in small boats to the high ground where they lived in a church until the waters subsided. The water had been so swift up to twelve o’clock Sunday night that it was not considered safe to bring the ferry boat up from where it was tied near the river channel. However, at that time the water did not seem so swift and we began ferrying. The first load consisted of five horses, a cow, and a calf; with these we landed safely and went back after a flock of sheep. On landing the sheep, we started out on a third trip. It was now so dark that we could not see where to go, and before reaching town, we first ran onto the top of a small ash tree that stood in a hollow, and by much hard pulling got loose from it. The next bad luck we had was to strike a stump that held us fast. With a great deal of difficulty we succeeded in freeing ourselves for the second time. It was 5 a.m. when we got back to town, where we waited for dawn. In the morning of February 3, the water was in both stores; in one it was so deep that we brought the goods out of the store in a small boat, the other one being on higher ground we could wade in and carry the goods out to the door until about 11a.m., that being the last trip in which I assisted as there were a great many people there from the country who were willing to help. At 11a.m. while we were at the store putting on the last load of goods, the warehouse went down the river and as it turned over, the sacks of wheat could be seen plunging out into the water in such a manner as to remind us of a flock of sheep. At 12 a.m. February 3, I started out into the country, where I stayed with a farmer until the water went down. The water raised until Wednesday, February 5, to the height of 12 feet above the ground where our house stood and about 10 feet where the store stood. It fell rapidly, leaving Wheatland with no fences but with mud to the depth of about one inch in every house. [Published in in Family Records – Hewitt Family; Manuscript was in the possession of Meda Becker Johnson, Portland, OR; Contributed by Don Rivara]

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