A.J. Splawn


Andrew J. Splawn... From Cowboy To Politician

As told to Grace Millay by Homer B. Splawn
Yakima Valley Sun -- June 3, 1976

AJ1.jpg (57821 bytes)
   Cowboy, civic leader, politician -- that was Andrew Jackson Splawn.
    Jack Splawn had a colorful career, 35 years of which were spent as a courageous, adventurous, pioneering cowboy.  At the age of 16 he hired out to Major John Thorp, and they with a young Indian cowboy, Keneho and his wife Eliza as cook, and another white cowboy, in the late summer of 1861 started from the Klickitat area with a herd of 2-year-old steers headed for the mining settlements in the Caribou country of upper British Columbia.  It was an expedition of 800 miles, to the Lower Yakima Valley over the Konowac Pass to the Moxee Valley, over the Selah Ridge at Terrace Heights, through the present Firing Range [Yakima Training Center] to Badger Pocket, over the Colockum Trail to the Wenatchee Valley and then following old fur traders' route to Fort Kamloops.  At Cache Creek he was left alone with the herd during the winter of '61-'62.  The next spring he and Thorp took the herd on to the Caribou country and sold the beef.
    Young Splawn endured many hardships and at one time his life was saved by Chief Moses from being killed by Indians.  The Oroville chief Tonasket came to kill him to avenge the death of an Indian whom he had shot rustling some cattle.   Chief Tonasket was finally persuaded that the death of a thief did not deserve to be avenged.  [More details]
    At Fort Kamloops he was given a subpoena to serve on a homicide case where the trial was short, the verdict guilty, and the man hanged immediately.
    On the return trip, having sold most of the herd, he and Thorp were almost killed by the famous Boone Helm, a trail robber, who was later hung as a member of the Plummer Gang at Virginia City, Montana.  [More details]
    Helm crept upon them while they were sleeping, but Major Thorp was half asleep and dreaming that Helm was creeping up, and he and young Splawn rolled into the brush just before Helm got to them.  This was one of the first cattle drives into Caribou country, and was one of the reasons why Jack Splawn was elected to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame
    After this first expedition, when he was 17 years old, Splawn went out alone and became a drover of cattle, horses, and a packer into British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, and Eastern Oregon.  He encountered many new dangers, and opened up many new routes for cattle drives to market.
    In the 1880s he introduced into the Pacific Northwest the first purebred Hereford cattle imported from England and established the famous Springdale Ranch in Cowiche Valley.  From there he exported purebred Hereford breeding stock throughout the Northwest, Alaska, Hawaiian Islands, and to the Manchu Empress of China.
    Splawn promoted the first packing house in the Pacific Northwest and was outside partner of Frve and Co. of Seattle.  Many of his cattle drives were in the interest of the packing house.
    After 35 years in the saddle, he climbed off and took a whirl at politics, being elected Washington State Senator from Yakima County 1903-1905, and a Democratic candidate for governor in 1905.
    He was the first mayor of North Yakima under a commission form of government in 1911, coming in from his cattle ranch in the Cowiche to establish residence.  He was encouraged to clean up the town, particularly to get rid of the Chinese opium trade, and rid the central part of town of prostitutes.  These things he did.
    He is also credited with saving the Tieton Irrigation Project by filing on the Tieton River to hold it for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation which was then being set up under the administration of Theodore Roosevelt.  This filing was done pursuant with a plan layed down by Sen. Wesley C. Jones.
    With some other Yakima businessmen, he established the first transit system in the city, the Yakima Valley Transportation Co., and was its first president.
    He established the Robber's Roost Trading Post, the first of its kind, in the Kittitas country in 1870.  [More details]
He was one of the earliest members of the Yakima County Horticultural Union, now Snowkist Growers, and was livestock agent for the Great Northern Railroad.  He was an organizer and first president of the Pacific International Livestock Exposition in Portland, and one of the early organizers and president of the Washington State Fair
    Besides the Cowiche spread he established the Figger II Ranch which is now covered by the Priest Rapids Dam.
    A.J. Splawn was always seen with his Stetson hat and gold-headed walking cane.  He was a true friend of the Indian and was known as a man without fear.  One of the most dangerous expeditions he undertook was running supplies by pack train from the Dalles to Canyon City, Oregon, during the Paiute War in Eastern Oregon.  He and his brother Billy Splawn, had a 3-day running encounter with the Indian military chief and horsemen.
    Jack Splawn was born in 1845 in Missouri.  At the age of six he crossed the Plains with his widowed mother, Nancy Splawn, and several brothers and sisters.  Bethena Splawn, a sister of Nancy, was captain of the wagon train.   The two women who were sisters, had married two Splawn brothers, and the men had both died prior to the time the women decided to come west.  They settled the Willamette Valley in Oregon first, and in 1860 A.J. at the age of 15, left home with an older brother, Charles A. Splawn, and came to the Washington Territory.    [More details]  They lived in a little valley north of Goldendale for a year.  There his only playmate was a little Indian girl named Lallooh.
Early the next year he hired out to Major Thorp and helped move the Thorp family from Goldendale to the Moxee Valley where they were the first settlers.
    Shortly after this move, Charles Splawn married Dulcena Thorp, eldest daughter of the Thorps, and they settled in the Moxee Valley.
    Jack Splawn returned to Goldendale after his Caribou expedition and contemplated marriage to the Indian girl, Lallooh, but she died of some disease which hit the tribe.  [More details]
    Late in life, Splawn married Margaret C. Larsen, a young pioneer school teacher, who in her own right became a historian and civic leader.
    Splawn died in March, 1917 in North Yakima at the age of 72 of a disease contracted from a parrot in a pet store.  The funeral procession included many Indians on horseback and hack.  He is buried in Tahoma Cemetery.
    Mrs. Splawn ran the Cowiche spread until 1950 when she sold the last of the holdings.  She died in 1954.
    The Jack Splawns had two children, Mrs. Lallooh Splawn Carpenter, and Homer Splawn, both of Yakima.

The following are excerpts from KA-MI-AKIN...
    In the year 1861, when I was only sixteen, Maj. John Thorp hired me to help drive a band of cattle from the Yakima Valley to the Cariboo mines in British Columbia. . . We reached the Columbia and followed up its banks. . . on the opposite side of the river, we could see an Indian village, apparently greatly excited at our appearance.  Out from it came a solitary horseman and rode straight across the river towards us. . . Coming up the bank, he asked me to whom the cattle belonged.  I pointed to the Major. . . As the Indian turned to ride towards Thorp, I asked him his name. . . Looking me squarely in the eye, he said, "Sulk-talth-scosum, but known to the white men as Chief Moses."
    After finishing the parley, Moses rode back as he had come, and we moved the cattle on. . . and camped. . . We had not been asleep long before we were awakened by the sound of horses' feet.  In the moonlight we could see approaching a band of Indians, painted and feathered, from which arose loud voices suggesting argument.   Presently, there dismounted an aged Indian, who spoke in low, earnest tones as if pleading, but we could hear only a few murmurs of assent.  Not realizing our danger, I was fascinated. To me it was just a wonderfully interesting sight. . . but to the Major, who had gathered knowledge of Indian character. . . it meant something more.  His set lip and flashing eyes warned me of danger.
    Now there rode out in plain view one who seemed to be of note. . . and commenced a loud harangue, which seemed to strike a responsive chord, for whoops went up all sides and the war cry was raised.  At this exciting moment we heard horses fording the river.  The Indians heard it, too, and waited.  Two horsemen came riding swiftly past us towards the war party.  The foremost one jumped from his horse, threw his blanket on the ground before him and waved back the hostile Indians with his hands till the hill was cleared.
    Our deliverers were Chief Moses and our friend the guide, Nan-num-kin. . . A few years later I learned from Nan-num-kin that he had overheard the plan to massacre us and steal our cattle. . . so he stole away. . . and told Moses what was about to occur.  Moses, who admired pluck above everything, said, "No.  The old man is brave; he must not die.  And the boy with the white hair is no cowardly dog to be killed so.  My people are bloodthirsty."
    As I looked at Moses that night, realizing how heavy the odds had been against us, and the unselfishness of his act, I knew that he claimed no reward beyond the friendship one man gives to another.  We shook hands and went our separate ways.   I would not meet many such men, I knew, even among my own race.

    We were up and away early next morning. . . To my chagrin, the Major reported "Six head shy, boy; but we are lucky at that."  I didn't look at it that way.  I was mad to think that we had let a band of breechclouts steal from us. . . I wheeled my horse and lit back. . . I had gone only a few miles when I spied twenty Indians driving our cattle towards their camp.  Whip in hand, I rode hard into their midst, striking at the Siwashes in all directions, hitting as many as possible.   The Indians rode off to a hill and did not follow me.
    By next night we had made the mouth of Johnson Creek. . . Here a band of Indians passed us, going up the Okanogan, and among them I recognized some of the cattle thieves of the previous day.  That night. . . I trailed behind. . .Just at the break of day, six Indians approached. . . and before I could move around in front had three steers cut out and on the run.  A full, well-directed shot did the required work.
    Next morning. . . About noon. . . we heard a sound from the nearby hills and saw a band of red men coming towards us headlong.  The leader was a grand-looking fellow, big and strong.  The Major, gun in hand, stepped forward with arms upheld as if ordering a halt.  The strange Indians came wo within fifty yards of us, then halted, and their leader advanced.
    "I am Chief To-nas-ket," he said.  "I was told that a boy with a band of cattle had shot and fatally wounded an Indian.  They are now singing the death song for him.  I come to find out."  When the Major had explained the circumstances, he replied: "Well done.  I hope he dies.  He is a bad one, a renegade, not of my tribe.  He has killed one white man, maybe more, but the spilling of blood is always bad medicine for young warriors.  If they smell it, they want to taste more.  I will send some of these men of mine along with you. . . till you reach Lake Okanogan, where your danger from this source will be over."

The following are excerpts from KA-MI-AKIN...
    A strange man had been in Cottonwood a couple of weeks and had become quite friendly with me.  One evening we had a talk.  He asked me if my people had not come from Missouri, said that his parents and mine had been neighbors back in the good old state, and that mu older brothers had been his playmates.  Then, looking steadily at me, he said, "My name is Boone Helm.  Did you ever hear of me?"
    His was the most revolting a face a man ever had, the look in his eyes was indescribable--something like that of a fiery vulture--and they were turned full upon me when I replied in the affirmative.  Who had not heard of Boone Helm?  The very name spelled blood and crime.  He came closer and almost hissed in my ear: "You waste your time here.  You are young and you will never get ahead.   Join me; make big money.  The country is tame.  We will make one big haul, then skip"
    I shuddered at the thought of being linked with such a creature.   He had stopped at nothing.  Cannibalism, even, had been laid at his door. . .

    [The Major and I] were traveling along now as merrily as two children. . . we were leaving that awful country behind.  The second night out, I woke up to find my companion sitting up by a big fire, his weapons close at hand.  When I sang out to know what the trouble was, he motioned silence. . . "Jack," he said, "Boone Helm is in this neighborhood. . . I dreamed just now he was creeping up to camp with an ax ready to strike.  I saw that fiendish look in his eye right over me."  The Major actually shuddered. . . We smothered the fire and sat in darkness till morning. . .
    We took passage for Victoria. . . Two days later we took the steamer Eliza Anderson for Olympia.  The first person to greet me aboard was Boone Helm.   He was full of whiskey and his tongue wagged at both ends.  Grasping my shoulder, he burst out with an oath, "What's the matter with the old man?   What's his card, bub?  Hey?  I would have had you at Deer Creek but the old son-of-a-gun got up.  A knock in the head is good medicine, damn you, when there's [gold] dust around.  What did he build that big fire for, and you sit up, too?"
    Eluding the ruffian, I hunted up the Major and told him that dreams sometimes were true.

   The following are excerpts from KA-MI-AKIN...
    In the year 1870 Ben Burch. . . and I decided to start a store.  We bought a hewn log house, 14x18 feet, which stood a few miles away and contracted with Martin Daverin to haul it and put it up near our old camp.  We bought goods and on November 20 our pack train and loaded wagons arrived.  When we got through unloading the stuff, the cabin was so full it looked as if there would be no room inside for customers.  John Gillispie. . . rode up and asked how I was going to get inside to do business.  I told him that I should sell first the goods nearest the door and thus gradually work my way in.  He said that I needed a sign and volunteered to make one.  I accepted his offer.  A few mornings later I read over my door, "Robber's Roost."  It staggered me for a moment, but, on second thought, I concluded that perhaps John knew more about the sign business than I did.  Though it did look very suggestive, I decided to let it stay.
    Robber's Roost soon became famous throughout the land. . . In the spring I bought out Burch's interest and became sole proprietor of the Roost. . . I fenced in a pasture adjoining the store which enclosed the ground where the Northern Pacific Railroad depot, yards and roundhouse now [circa 1917] stand at Ellensburg.
    The call of the mountains and plains was too constant and too strong for me to remain long in one place.  In the early summer of 1872 I sold my stock of goods to John A. Shoudy.  Afterwards I made him a present of my squatter's right to the 160 acres of land comprising the present site of Ellensburg.  Shoudy platted the townsite and named it after his good little wife.  The settlers, however, for many years, still clung to the old name, Robber's Roost.

The following are excerpts from KA-MI-AKIN...
    A few, among whom were F.M. Thorp and my brother Charles A. Splawn, had crossed the Columbia at The Dalles and located in the Klickitat valley. . . In the summer of 1860, my brother returned to the Willamette with glowing tales of his new home.  His description aroused in me, a boy of fifteen, the slumbering restlessness of the pioneer.  I wanted to see this wild land, inhabited only by the red man.   After much persuasion, my mother finally consented to let me go with my brother.

    . . . Passing over a high ride, I looked back.  Spread out before me was the river, with the old swimming hole, and its many haunts of my boyhood.  I was leaving behind me everything held dear,--schoolmates, the neighbors; pioneers whom I had learned to love for their goodness in time of need, who had been kind to my mother when she arrived in Oregon penniless.  I wiped away the tears with my coat sleeve, lest my brother should see, and rode on away from that land of poetry and romance. . .   

The following are some excerpts relating to the story of "Lallooh."  I have heard many versions in many years -- my attempt is to relate that which I have heard and read with that which A.J. Splawn describes in his book, KA-MI-AKIN, which I believe to be the more accurate description.

"Sparkling Water"

The following is an extract of a newspaper article... "Lallooh -- captivating name -- and belonging to an attractive and interesting girl, Miss Splawn, of Yakima, Whitman '38.
    When Jack Splawn, Lallooh's father, was a young man, the Indians around Yakima were not friendly -- in fact, there was a series of uprisings, scalps were at a premium and Mr. Splawn's heavy hair was much desired as a trophy.
    On a trip to the country, he and a companion stopped at a cabin for the night, and in the wee small hours were awakened by a discreet and hurried knock
    When they opened the door an Indian girl whispered that they were in danger -- that some Indians had stopped at her father's wigwam asking for guns and that he was detaining them until she could carry the warning.  She led them through a valley to a fort where they were safe until the uprising was over.
    Her name was Lallooh and as a token of gratitude for saving his life, Mr. Splawn named his daughter for her.
    The times were full of peril and Chief Saluskin [sic], a young brave, became Splawn's devoted body guard shadowing his every movement.  When Lallooh was born his wife presented her mother with a beautiful white buckskin dress heavily embroidered in beads
    The cape is fringed and the beading represents the story of the Chief's and Splawn's lives together.
    The replica of a deer is the motif on the cape and is symbolic of the faith the American Indian has in charms.
    Mrs. [Margaret Ceclian Larsen] Splawn whose life is replete with adventure is the historian of the Yakima Pioneer's Association.  She is also a member of the Geological Society of Wenatchee and joins. . . "

The following are excerpts from KA-MI-AKIN...
One evening a small band of Indians set up their lodges a short distance above our cabin.  The next morning they moved away, leaving one lone wigwam.  My curiosity was aroused and I proceeded to pay a visit of inspection.   The only occupant was an old gray-haired Indian of noble and commanding appearance. . . His squaw, who came in later, was equally remarkable. . . As I stood gaping, wondering if these people were of royal origin, sprung from a long line of warrior chieftains, or merely wealthy and aristocratic like some of their pale-faced brothers I had met, the mat used for the door of the wigwam was raised and in stepped a young girl.  She looked me over.  I was equally interested in her.  Her face, painted red, was clean cut, her eyes like stars and her black braids hung far down over her shoulders.  She was dressed in beaded buckskin.
    Very much in the manner of a fairy story she seemed to have come from another world, -- a red angel.  She spoke, but I did not understand her language.   I had yet to learn the Chinook Jargon. . . Her name was Lal-looh (Sparkling Water).   I went back to our cabin firmly resolved to learn the Chinook language. . . The old Indian was Squim-kin of the Klickitat tribe.  He was said to be nearly a hundred.   (p. 141)

    Many hours I spent in the lodge of old Squim-kin and his aged squaw, who remained all winter near our cabin.  The little girl and I became good friends.  We talked of many things; the legends. . . and my home. . .  (p. 144)

    The many rumors of Indian depredations along the border are such that no one can tell what a few hours may bring forth. . . I did not return to the road, but made my way over the hills to the cabin of Calvin Pell. . . The old man let me in and was glad of my return.  Not long after I had gone to bed, a gentle tapping at the door awoke me.  The door slowly opened and in stepped my little Indian girl friend, Lal-looh.  She said, "Wake the old man up.  You and he must get out of this place quick.  Two Indians are now at my father's lodge who were watching this house when you rode up.  They have only one gun and want to get another from father, who is detaining them as best he can."
    We were soon ready.  "Follow the creek to the forks and stay there until I come," she said.  We stayed there till the following afternoon, when Lal-looh looked us up and said that the two Indians had gone, but that a big council was to be held, beginning the next day, to decide on peace or war.  She advised us to keep our horses hidden away in the brush along the creek and to have some food cooked ready for a start a a moments notice.  Her brother, Ken-e-ho, was to be at the council and had promised, if war was decided on, to ride swiftly to her with the news.
    That little Indian girl has always been a sweet memory. . . Lal-looh brought us the news that war was averted and the Indians had returned to their homes.   (p. 152-153)

    In the midst of the noise and confusion a young girl in beaded buckskin dress, with great strings of beads hanging around her neck, entered the wigwam.  After speaking a few words to Ken-e-ho, she came to where I was resting by the fire.  There, before me, stood the little princess, Lal-looh, whom I had not seen for two years.  She was as beautiful as she was good, she had saved my life, and, as she stood there trying to persuade me to join her tribe, she looked every inch a queen.   She said I was too good a boy to belong to the white race. . . When I told her where I was going, she replied that it was right for me to visit my mother, but, when the grass came in the spring, to return to her.  I never saw her again, but I learned, afterwards, that she died two years later.  (p. 198)

This page accessed times.
Created by Jerry Carpenter
Last Update: Wednesday October 10, 1998