the legend of Steamboat Bill

There was a time when the coulee that holds Banks Lake was dry. It was the early 1900’s The Homestead act of 1862 was still in effect allowing people to move into the Washington Territory and claim a parcel of 160 acres if proper conditions were met. In 1904 William and Richard Andrews heard the call of adventure and arrived via train and horseback at the foot of Steamboat Rock.

The Steamboat Rock area was much different back in the days of the Andrews brothers. The coulee around the area had several lakes, abundant streams and wildlife making it a very hospitable area for settlers, and a few farms already dotted the landscape. It was also a major crossing area for travelers coming down the Schiebner Grade near Northrup and up through Barker Canyon and on to Waterville.

As the story goes, Bill and Dick Andrews came up from Coulee following the Pilot Rock. When the Andrews got to what seemed to be the center of it all they first spied Steamboat Rock looming tall over the surrounding walls, Bill knew where his claim was going to be. The two young men scrambled up the steep east side. At the top they found a huge flat land filled with abundant grasses and pot holes that held seasonal ponds. From up on top of Steamboat Rock the brothers looked down onto the stage coach trails and neighboring farms. Bill might have been a simple shy man, but he had big ideas. Looking out over the 600 acres of land on Steamboat Rock his eyes filled with dreams and he could only see one thing: horse ranch. Within a week he had filed his claim and started to work perched up high on Steamboat Rock making his dream ranch. Locals started calling him Steamboat Rock Bill, or more often just referred to him as Steamboat Bill, a name he wore with pride as he worked his horses up the same trail hikers use today to ascend the steep 800 foot climb. I’m sure people stopped while in route on the stage coach to watch Steamboat Bill and his amazing herd of rock climbing horses kicking up dust as they progressed up the perilous trail. Somewhere along the trail Bill stopped to carve the date of his land claim and name in a bright orange-ish yellow basalt face. His name is still there, carved into the rock overlooking the Steamboat Rock state park.

Life on top of Steamboat Rock as a horse farmer was not easy. Bill created a simple structure he sometimes stayed in made from the flat basalt and natural granite that lay everywhere. It was quite simple with three stone walls stacked stacked tightly together and a fourth wall made from woven sagebrush that also served as a door. Once he came home to find a huge rattlesnake under his table. Steamboat Bill rarely stayed in the rock house and really just made the house as a condition of the Homestead Act. He actually had a cabin at the bottom of the legendary rock. In the spring and fall the seasonal ponds on top of Steamboat Rock would allow the horses drinking water and they would be fenced off up there, but in the summer they had to travel down to nearby Devil’s lake to get water, and then back up the steep cliff side. Bill’s horse farm on top of Steamboat Rock didn’t last long as the brothers learned that it probably wasn’t the most sensible idea. A visit from their Mother and Sister in 1911 seemed to be enough to convince them to leave the homesteader’s life behind and return to Tennessee. Many years have passed and Steamboat Bill Andrews is mostly forgotten, but if you listen hard enough you can still hear stories of the horses that once lived on top of Steamboat Rock.

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