methow grist 2011-2014 archive

Seven Years on the Pacific Slope

“There are conflicting opinions even now on the value of that part of Washington State which forms a much-elongated triangle between the frontiers of British Columbia on the north, and the Okanogan and Methow rivers, which empty themselves within a few miles of one another, into the Columbia, on the South. The enthusiasts claim a splendid future for it: the pessimists declare that since the Great Northern Railway has found no use for it yet, it will live unstoried and “peter out” unmourned. As I am among the enthusiasts I would remind our opponents that Daniel Webster, whom they as well as we rank among American’s great statesmen, thus regarded the whole of the West. In Congress he fiercely opposed the acquisition of the Oregon Territory, which at that time embraced all the country now covered by the State of Washington, and over which America was quarrelling violently with Great Britian. Daniel Webster, in a famous speech, said, “What do we want with those barren wastes, this uninhabitable region filled with icebergs (!) and mountains covered with eternal snow? Mr. President, I will not vote for the Government of the United States to spend one dollar to bring the Pacific coast a single foot nearer than it is today!”

When one realizes that if the United States had listened to Daniel Webster then, and to those who opposed the Louisiana Purchase later, Great Britain and France would now be owning vast territories—some of the richest on our Continent—within our own borders, one shivers retrospectively at the disasters avoided and rejoices at the enthusiasm which carried the hard-fought days. I think that all else being equal, it is better, more profitable, in the long run to risk chances with the enthusiast than to sit down and croak with the pessimist. The latter is always fearfully dull company, and the former does supply us occasionally with a pleasant surprise. He has the courage of his conventions, at any rate, and whether he succeed or fail, stands much higher in personal value than the indolent prophet of evil who never raises a hand to help the world along and whose only satisfaction comes in the sour triumph of saying “I told you so!”

It is a pleasing occupation to watch the pessimist worsted, to see him openly convicted of false prophecy; and this amusement was afforded me several times during the years of my residence in the Methow Valley. The enthusiast’s schedule was, one must admit, often at fault; the good results did not always arrive on time; but they did come in their own slow, sure way, and when I look back on things as they were in the Valley in 1905 and then contemplate the immensely improved conditions now, I can nail my flag tighter than ever to the optimist’s flag-staff, for the years have shown that we were right—right to trust the good country, right in believing that her hard-handed, clear-eyed sons and daughters could and would carry through what they had begun.

From the start of a 1914 book, Mrs. Hugh Fraser’s Seven Years on a Pacific Slope--written about life in Winthrop.



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