Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Market Ruined by Electricity/ Sad Ending to Story

Tri-City Pioneer
Sunday, 30 April 1961, page 22

Joe Baxter, in his youth, was a cattle driver in the great cattle drives of the longhorn cattle from the deep South to the northern railway shipping points. The early pioneers of the Tri-City region knew little of his early background. It was rumored that he had been a member of the famous Qantrell’s Raiders during the Civil War and fought for the Confederacy. His early experience with the cattle drives gave him a wonderful firsthand knowledge of much of the Civil War’s battle grounds. At the close of the Civil War, Baxter came to the Far West to forget the horrors of the conflict. He intended to become a Western stockman. He married a Western girl and they had two children, a son, Elgin, and a daughter, Elva.

Joe Baxter was quite successful. He had a very charming personality and a keen sense of humor. He ranged his stock from the Horse Heaven Hills to the lower Yakima River. His headquarters were located on the west side of the Yakima River, about 15 miles up from Kennewick, on a large meadow, then known as Lockwood Bottom. His large log ranch house was one of the finest log houses in the Tri-City area. Baxter branded his stock with a letter “B” on the left shoulder. Due to his extraordinary knowledge of horses and their handling, his stock always brought premium price on the market.

Baxter’s nickname was “Beany.” He received this name because his horse brand was a letter “B” and also because of his fat pudgy body. He prospered and became quite wealthy, by the standards of those days. He sent Elgin, the son, East to study art and the daughter, Elva, to a preparatory school for Vassar. A Chinese chef and helper was hired from Sherries’ New York restaurant. The old log house was remodeled and refurnished.

Prosperity was not to continue forever. The horse market broke due to the electrification of the streetcar systems of the large Eastern cities. Horse drawn streetcars were doomed. Baxter was shrewd and saw the handwriting on the wall. He peddled his entire holdings to a wealthy tenderfoot by the name of Sharkey, who had come from Salt Lake City to seek investment and the thrill of stock raising.

Baxter had been active in the local Democratic Party. He was appointed as a representative to the Washington State Constitutional Convention, that would make recommendations to the voters. Due to his congeniality, he became quite a power in the meeting and could secure almost anything within reason for his home constituents. He could have secured, at one time, the location of the state capital at North Yakima or the location of the State Agricultural College.

He could not forget his first love, horses. He sought the location for the State Fair Grounds at Yakima and was successful. Tons of tan bark were purchased and Baxter took personal charge of the construction. He took particular interest in the construction of the race track. The location of the track was graded as level as possible. The circular mile track was laid out. It was slightly excavated and partly filled with tons of tan bark on which sifted sand, soil, and clay were back filled. This gave a springy track. This track when completed became the fastest circular mile track in the United States.

Baxter was elected president of the North Yakima Commercial Club. He owned and trained running and trotting horses. He was a “hale fellow well met”, but he had grown extremely fleshy. He died suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage, leaving his financial affairs in sad condition. His daughter had preceded him in death. The son, a dreamy artist, was not one who could pull the estate out of debt. He and his mother sold their fine home and its furnishings. They spent much of the funds secured from this sale in paying off the debts. They then moved into one of the vacant horse trainer’s cottages, located on the State Fair Grounds. Here they eked out a pitiful existence. One cold night the old air tight heater caused a fire and Elgin and his mother were burned to death. I shall never forget the vivid description Lucien Kellog gave me of the tragedy.

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