Charlie Osborne Goes West

The end of the Civil War left the South in financial ruin and uncertain future, meanwhile across the nation the West was opening up, a chance for a new life in a new land. It was Manifest Destiny and the romantic dream of the Wild West. Charley had never been out of his home state of Tennessee and now in the spring of 1884 he was stepping off a train on the other side of the country in Spokane. His plan was to travel by whatever means he could facilitate down into the Coulee to a place he had never been before and meet up with his brother Oscar. Back in 1884 the road leaving Spokane and running in the direction of the Grand Coulee only went as far as Davenport, and it wasn’t much of a road. Once down in Davenport Charley planned on walking the rest of the way. It took two days over uncertain territory following trader and indian trails until he started to wind his way down the deep chasm following the creek into Northrup Canyon. At the bottom he finally staggered out into the Coulee… supplies depleted and feeling lost, he was about to turn and head back up the canyon when he spied a man on a horse riding up the trail towards them. As it turned out, it was Oscar Osborne. Oscar was surprised to see his youngest brother standing out here in the middle of nowhere, looking dirty and tired.

With less than 30 dollars between the two of them, the Osborne brothers were at the bottom of their luck. Oscar had a squat on some property at the mouth of the Coulee several miles from the Columbia River and in sight of Steamboat Rock. A simple log shack with a thatch roof and door that was little more than hinged branches. It sat in a field of sagebrush and luxurious grass that would be good for livestock. Oscar had a few claims and was waiting to hear back from the feds, there were several land grants in the days of opening the west and Oscar had applied for a couple different ones in a bid to grab up land. They started by selling the grass hay that was on the land. Slowly, they added livestock to their collection. As they started to make money they also started to buy up neighboring land from failed settlers, creating an even bigger land holding, 3,000 acres located about where Osborne Bay sits now, stretching from one coulee wall to the other. Their neighbors were the Langes a little further in the Coulee by Barker Canyon and the Seatons down on the Columbia River. Charley’s first job was riding the range. That meant that he would spend long hours on horseback chasing down errant cows or even small herds. During this time he got to know the nature of the Coulee well. Often he would be out for days on end under the endless blue sky with nothing for company but his imagination and the whistling wind, sleeping out under the stars on the hard ground. Charley liked to dress the cowboy part as well with the hat boots, he was called Buck. Here in what truly was the wild west Charley was living his dream. The cattle drives were the real test of character. Often the Osborne’s would hire stockhands and drive the cattle up into Ellensburg to be boarded on trains and sold in Seattle. The drive meant hard work and long days. The cattle would have to be rounded up and branded first, then they were shooed on horse back over hundreds of miles of seemingly endless sage ridden prairie and scablands, over a mountain pass, swim the whole herd across the Columbia River and then continue on into the city of Ellensburg. It meant days of being in the saddle unprotected against the elements. Drinking water from springs, creeks and sometimes lakes. Sleeping with a rifle tucked close under a blanket of stars in a night filled with both known and unknown dangers. Waking up to strong coffee, a kettle of beans and miles to ride. It was a rough life with no excuses. Sometimes the brothers would run herds as large as 800 head. By this time the Osborne brothers had a successful stockfarm and a sturdy community reputation.

Oscar met and wed a southern belle from the Osborne home state of Tennessee. Her name was Lillie Scheibner of Wilbur. She was down in Northrup Canyon visiting her brother Charles Scheibner. The two started talking about the south and hit it off immediately. Oscar had a huge plantation style house built on his land that they all moved into. Southern hospitality was the rule of the house and even the yard and landscaping reflected southern aesthetics. It was a huge two story house with a veranda. In that house Lillie gave birth to three children, Floyd, Joanna and the youngest Thomas. All three would eventually attend the infamous “traveling” Mountain View school District number 55: the Steamboat Rock school.

In 1900 Oscar sent for his youngest sister, Hattie. Together they all lived in Oscar’s two story house on the ranch until construction of a new granite two story house was completed in the Coulee. Charley and Hattie moved into the new house and life went on as usual, long hot days and short restful nights in the Coulee.

The turn of the century also saw a change of settler type. At first the area around Steamboat Rock was sparsely populated with pioneers. Now the homesteaders started to show up. The difference was the homesteaders brought family and sometimes extended family with them into the great western expansion. Sometimes wagons filled with household goods and even keepsakes to be later discarded along the way. Now whole families were arriving at once in the Coulee with premade homes just needing a final resting spot to be set up. Manifest Destiny at its most fevered moment. Some succeeded, others failed. The Osborne brothers in their southern style two story houses where at the top of their game, their brand recognized as a standard in quality. As he grew older and passed middle age, Charley, still single and living in the Coulee with his sister started to dabble in wheat. With all these new homesteaders it was surely just a matter of time before the fences went up again like they had in so many other areas of the west. It was the free range that had for so long been a driving force behind the Osborne’s stock quality. It was decided in 1919 to sell out their stock holdings, but unfortunately that was the same year a record breaking drought struck the Coulee, temperatures soared into the triple digits and heatwaves danced off rocks. The drought lasted several years and was so bad it drove off homesteaders who lost everything. They left behind wagons, houses, and abandoned their dreams and property as they fled the dust storms of the Coulee. By 1921 the Osborne brothers had once more resumed ownership of the property they had homesteaded and made their living on. They had the land but the lifestyle that was a part of their youth didn’t return so gloriously. Oscar’s vision was failing, and he lost complete sight in one eye. In 1927 Miss Hattie passed away in Oscar’s southern style two story house surrounded by family. Charley also had health issues and Oscars’ now grown son Thomas helped his “Uncle Buck” through. Charley moved down by the river into a small one room shack. He had a good life there living with the land he had grown old with, he was in his late 70s, a wise man with years of experience finally settling down on the Columbia river beside Seatons landing. Here he could watch slowly pass by in retirement. Thomas now fully grown married a young lady named Glady in 1933 and took over the old homestead ranch.

It was also in 1933 when Charley first heard from the US Government. They wanted to build a dam and had use for the land he now lived on down by the river. They moved in and set up camp, later grading the whole area and turning it into Engineers Town. The US Government also wanted to buy a slice of the old homestead and Oscar had already agreed. Oscar also sold property to two speculators from Seattle who had squared off parcels and started building a city that would become Electric City. Seeing this Thomas got the idea to create parcels on some of the remaining land and from this the city of Osborne was created. Down in the Coulee things were heating up by Seaton’s landing. A camp of engineers set up by Charley’s shack and started scrambling around in the sagebrush taking measurements, and soon they started diamond tip drilling core samples. It all became even bigger when the trucks showed up and men with dynamite. Soon there was a major road leading right past Charley’s small two room shack. Suddenly, the wild west looked so outdated, like antiquated memories. And imagine what Charley saw. He would stand and watch the construction with amazement, literally all he had to do was look out his window and he could see his world changing daily. Of course, people could see Charley too, up there in the construction site in a cabin while huge trucks loaded with tons of rocks raced by on roads that look like raw dirt speckled with rocks. Dust was everywhere, but Charley didn’t seem to mind, he always took it with a grain of salt and a healthy dash of humor. When he was discovered by the first reporter he became a Coulee Dam celebrity overnight. Reporters loved to talk to him and Charley never seemed to run out of stories to tell. Pretty soon he had every one listening.


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