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Richter Mountain Settlements


by Katie Lacey

(as published in the Okanagan Historical Society's 19th Report, 1955, pp. 46-50)


Between the Similkameen and Okanagan valleys, and north of Richter Pass, is a high mountain extending east and west at the southern end, with a high tree-clad ridge running north towards Fairview and surmounted by a cone shaped peak. On the map it is shown as Mt. Kobau, elevation 6,175 ft.  Kobau is a word of German origin, but with no apparent reason for its application. There is no evidence to show who named it. It is so named on Dawson's map of 1877.

However, to the early settlers of the district the southern end, extending east and west is known as "Richter Mountain", the northern end as "Old Timer's Mountain;" and the high cone in the middle as the "Big Knoll." The Indians called it "Nice Top."

Jacob Swartz took up the first homestead in this district sometime around the 1880's, owning the original homestead that later became known as the Richter Lower Ranch. The late Frank Richter built a sizable cattle ranch out of it and he and his sons ran several hundred head of cattle there and on the surrounding ranges.

In 1914 land on Richter Mountain was thrown open for pre-emptions and before long there was a small settlement there, although the roads were almost inaccessible. The soil was not too good and the dry years had started to come back, and it was only a few years before it was all back to range as it should have been.

Mr. and Mrs. Harry Gray and small daughter Barbara were the first settlers there. At the time of their marriage a few years previously, Harry Gray had been tending bar for Dick Sidley at the Mountain View Hotel at Sidley and Mrs. Gray and her sister, daughters of Mr. and Mrs. C. Knight, early settlers of the Molson district, also worked there. After homesteading on Anarchist Mountain they took up the first homestead on Richter Mountain in the fall of 1914.

Mrs. Gray tells of living in a tent for four months; herself and Barbara being alone for as long as two weeks at a time; large herds of cattle around them at all times, her only protection a .22 rifle; and for months on end never seeing a white woman, only an occasional rider or passing Indians.

The next spring several families moved in:  Mr. and Mrs. Harry Walker, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Hobbs and seven children and Edward Hobbs' brother Hank, all from the State of Washington. The Hobbs hauled in machinery and set up a small sawmill. There was a local demand for their lumber for a short time.

Jasper Sharp, his daughter, Mrs. Tyson, with four children, and another daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Al Smith and three children, all from Texas, somehow found their way there and took up land. There were now about 12 children of school age and application was made for a school. A one-room building was erected by volunteer labor and furnished with home-made seats and desks.  A Miss Morrow was the first teacher. She boarded with Mrs. Gray. The second year a young fellow named Richards from Vancouver taught, but when one of the parents thought he was paying too much attention to one of his pupils he was sent packing and the school closed down. Later, some of the seats and desks from this school were used in the first school in Osoyoos until more desks were available.

Early in 1915 Harry Gray took sick. Zeb Parrish, who was foreman at the Lower Ranch at the time, and another man, went up and brought him down to the ranch in a spring wagon, but he was too sick to go farther and died shortly after. The same year Parrish and Mrs. Gray were married and in 1916 Mrs. Parrish gave birth to a son. One room of the old log court house at Osoyoos was fixed for a temporary maternity ward and the baby was born there. A few weeks later Mrs. Harry Walker, also from Richter Mountain, came here to have her baby. Dr. Effner of Oroville was the attending physician and Mrs. Germyn, wife of the Osoyoos Customs Officer was the nurse for both cases. The courthouse later became the first Osoyoos school.

In 1917 the Parrishes moved away and in 1921 Zeb Parrish was killed in a logging accident near Kettle Falls. Shortly after this, Mrs. Parrish moved to Everett, Washington, and has resided there ever since.

Other settlers on the Mountain were Andy Hamilton who, after proving up his pre-emption, sold out and went to Olds, Alberta, where he "cowboyed" for Pat Burns for many years. Jasper Sharp sold his place to Dave Orr who now resides near Oliver. Another was Harry Hanson an expert with a broad axe. He later married and brought his new wife up there where they lived till about 1924. Harry Stevens had homesteaded on Swartz Creek. By 1920 most of the families had left.

In 1916, Frank Thomas, an Englishman, who had spent much time at sea on sailing vessels, took up a homestead and is still living there in a comfortable cabin; the only one of all the settlers there to stay on, although he has not raised crops for several years.

A few years ago as Osoyoos was settled, a group of young people formed a club known as the Skyline Ski Club. The open slopes on Richter Mountain and around the Big Knoll were ideal Ski Country and for the most part of winter the snow is ideal for this fascinating sport. To Frank Thomas spending his long winters alone on his homestead this was indeed an adventure. Holidays and week-ends when the snow is suitable, some of the group hike to Frank's. A warm fire and hot coffee are always available and he makes every effort for their comfort in return for the enjoyable company the group gives him whenever they come his way. It has become a ritual with him that whenever he knows that any of the skiers are coming up he sends aloft the Union Jack on a stout flag pole that stands beside his cabin, and it is indeed a welcome sight, a gesture of good friendship, always looked for by the members of the club as they round the turn of the hill and Frank's cabin comes into view.

At the foot of the eastern end of Richter Mountain is a lake known as Spotted Lake. It is about thirty acres in area. The peculiar formation of white rings, caused by large deposits of epsom salts, gives the lake its name. It gave considerable trouble to the early cattlemen as the water was poisonous to cattle and horses, and many were lost before the lake was fenced.

In the early days this lake was used extensively by the Indians, who would spend much time soaking themselves in the chemically-rich mud and warming in the blazing sun, the high percentage of epsom salts giving relief to arthritic and rheumatic sufferers.

During the first world war American interests mined the lake for the salts which were used in the manufacture of explosives. A large gang of Chinamen skimmed off the salts into barrows, which were wheeled ashore on planks. Then it was loaded into trucks and taken to Oroville, Washington, and from there shipped east.

At the present time Osoyoos sawmills are doing extensive logging on this mountain. There is also near the lake at the top a small sawmill owned by V. Swensen. The Forestry Department has a lookout station on top of Big Knoll. There is a good jeep road to the top, a sharp contrast to the scarcely passable roads with which the first settlers had to contend.

 

Stories of Early Settlement

 
Want to read more stories about early settlements on Kruger and Richter Mountains, by Ed Lacey, Doug Fraser and Dorothy Fraser? Click here.