Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Mr. Kanable Was Mystery Man/Large Watering Hole Nearby

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 21 January 1962

“The Cottonwoods” was one of the first and the best-constructed residential buildings on Cheneworth Flat, which the U.S. Surveyors mispronounced Kennewick Flat. It was built in the 1870’s by the U.S. Surveyors for their headquarters in this area. The sight was in a small cottonwood grove that skirted the high bank of the Columbia at this point. The location was about two miles upstream from today’s portal of the old Kennewick NPRR bridge. After the U.S. Surveyors completed their work in this area and departed, the place was vacant for a short time before it was acquired by Otho Kanable, a very distinguished appearing gentleman who batched alone in the large old place for many years.

He walked downstream a distance of nearly two miles to our large ranch house, situated near the Kennewick portal of the old wooden Kennewick railroad bridge. He bought loaves of fresh baked, home-made bread, eggs, fresh milk and butter from us.

He was a great favorite of we children. We always looked forward to his visits. We called him Uncle Otho. Otho Kanable was a tall, very erect man. He had a very long white silken beard which he kept immaculately groomed. No Santa Claus ever had a more beautiful one. In cold weather he would button his vest over it. He always wore a white Panama hat in the summer time and a black felt plug hat in the winter time. He kept his boots well polished. He usually wore a black Prince Albert coat with striped trousers. Otho Kanable looked and acted like a college professor. A large gold key hung from his watch chain, which I learned in after years, was the insignia for a scholastic society.

He never spoke of his former life or invited anyone into his home. He would often bring books and read to we children. They were usually poetical works, especially Keats and Shakespeare. Sometimes he would bring a wild flower which he had picked and gave us a botanical lesson concerning it.

The pioneers thought he had a pension or some continual source of income as he never worked on any project or grew anything, yet always paid his bills promptly with cash.

The old building was kept in good repair. Its walls, floors and ceilings were doubled constructed throughout. It was cool in summer and warm in winter as explained to me by one of the former U.S. Surveyors who had lived in it.

He would always give we children Christmas presents, generally books of poems. His nearest neighbor was Newton J. Potter, Kennewick’s first blacksmith, who had a fine irrigated farm near the foot of Relief Hill and the Columbia River. The Potters had three children, Frank, the oldest, Nora, the second child, and Maude, the youngest.

Otho Kanable was fond of children. He would walk over to his neighbor, Potter, and visit the family. The Potter children also called him Uncle Otho.

It was due to the excellent construction of the structure and the protection of the cottonwood trees that saved the old house from destruction by the high Columbia River flood of 1894.

Downstream from the old house about a half mile, a small draw or canyon came from the lower point of Relief Hill and drained into the Columbia River forming a large watering hole for wild range stock. This was one of the largest watering holes on the Columbia River. Thousands of head of wild stock watered there every twenty four hours. On hot summer afternoons great clouds of white dust would rise hundreds of feet in the skies over the Horse Heaven Hills as the wild range horses would travel their trails from the bunch grass hills to this watering hole. The wildest stock would water at this place in the early morning and in the late evening. A large alkali lick was near the watering hole. The wild horses would drink their fill and swim in the watering hole, come out, lick the alkali, then roll in the dust and go back into the watering hole. Nature had prepared an ideal spot for the way its was used. The bank of the Columbia was a gradual slope and the current was just enough to keep the water clean.

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