By Gary Fletcher
Observer Staff Writer
WALLOWA With her fifth and newest book, Wallowa County author Irene Locke Barklow has once again shown that history in her beloved Wallowa County is still close enough to reach out and touch.
Barklow will host an autograph party for "Gateway to the Wallowas" until 6 p.m. today Dec. 13 at her home at 504 Donald Street in Wallowa. Ten percent of the day's book sales will go to help maintain the historic Lostine Presbyterian Church, built in 1888.
"I think this is her best book yet," said her husband, Kenneth Barklow. His father worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a subject included in the new book.
The map dot labeled Minam is the Gateway to the Wallowas. There, Highway 82 enters Wallowa County, and intersects the railroad, and the Minam and Wallowa rivers.
People still remember a time described in the book when Wallowa County had a stoplight. In 1962, it was installed at Minam, where the highway went under a railroad overpass.
Barklow's book, though, takes the reader back in time to when traffic into the Wallowas first followed Indian trails.
"Gateway" opens with the story of old Chief Joseph's rock-post markers erected along the breaks of the hill "to emphasize his claim to the Wallowa ... after the treaty with the government in 1863, which old Joseph did not sign."
As with other subjects in her book, Barklow brings the reader from the beginning to the present. Among the more than 350 photos, maps and illustrations are historical and current photos of some of Joseph's markers still on Minam Hill.
People traveling the Oregon Trail had no idea what was on the other side of the snow-capped mountains so they didn't venture over the high terrain to the remote Wallowa Country just as with some people today on Interstate 84.
"Most pioneers had their minds set on reaching the Willamette Valley," Barklow explains.
The natural barriers even kept out most of the fur traders and mountain men. She relates stories of some of the few who did trek into the Wallowas.
Oregon achieved statehood on Feb. 14, 1859, "two years before the first handful of white settlers staked their claims in the Grande Ronde Valley." It would be another decade before the Wallowa began to be settled.
Barklow recounts the experiences of early pioneers bringing wagons down Minam Hill and Smith Mountain. Narratives describe how big, green logs with shortened limbs were dragged behind the wagons to act as brakes. "The horses were on their butts with forefeet out in front, plowing up soil to their knees."
There is also information about Elgin, Summerville, Cove known as Forest Cove then and La Grande.
There was no Imbler when homesteaders came across Cricket Flat, named for the millions of big crickets that got in horses' eyes and nostrils and "just drove them raving mad."
Barklow recounts the development and history of Minam City with its toll bridge, lumber mill, school, post office, two-story hotel, houses, sheep-shearing shed, logging horse-barn, combination store, gas station and dance hall, the dam and Minam Falls. The root of the name Minam is found in Indian words for a valley where roots were easily collected close to the surface under loose rocks.
Large, loose rocks on the grade resulted in several accidents recounted in "Gateway.''
Other tragic stories include that of the fish hatchery built on the river, which ended the salmon run.
Transportation development is documented with photos of the building of the railroad and the first train in 1908, and the 1921 completion of the fourth road into the Wallowa Valley, at the time a modern highway.
In between are stories of stage stops and travel via swaying stage coaches. Some folks, when peering over the long grade as the teamster stopped to double check his rig, suddenly needed the exercise and walked down.
Deadly accidents are recounted along the much improved but attention-grabbing Minam Grade of Highway 82.
Even after the state spent some $6 million to blast away the scenic rimrocks in 1993, the grade has still proved to be fatal.
Barklow's photos and maps show where the traveler can still see landmarks such as the old road and the rock Indian face.
Though Barklow's three years of research for the 320-page book focused on the Minam area, including Looking Glass, Rondowa, Palmer Junction and Vincent, it broadened to include the history of the development of the Wallowa Valley.
Included are other interesting photos like that of pristine Wallowa Lake before it became ringed with houses and mercury-vapor lights.
Some people can look up their ancestors in the nine-page index. There are individual stories like that of John D. Fisher (1850-1934). His grave is on Minam Hill. As he requested, he was buried by the pine tree he saw rattlesnakes coming out of when he first came to the Wallowas.
"Gateway" is a collection of short-story gems that can be read in a few minutes.
Subjects range from floaters on the Grande Ronde River to tales of horse thieves and moonshiners.
"Gateway to the Wallowas" is priced at $39.95.
Barklow's first two books are collectors' items, "The Old and the New," about Wallowa County's 45 community post offices, and "From Trails to Rails," about Union County's wagon roads and 54 stage stops.
Her other books include "School Days in the Wallowas," about the 91 communities centered around their schools, and "The Forgotten Grist and Flour Mills of Wallowa County," about the new industry that brought electricity to Wallowa, Lostine, Enterprise and Joseph.
"This gets harder each year," Barklow said, adding that this will likely be her last book.