Roast Horse- It’s What’s for Dinner

Frank and Nell have arrived in Portland. Though the path north to Alaska may look straightforward on a map, there are many bumps and surprising turns along the way. In this portion of his letter, Frank describes the terrible condition of Portland streets (you might even call the town Pothole Land…does that count as a pun?) The traveling pair also encounter an unscrupulous travel agent who tries to pass them a plugged quarter, and (my personal favorite) are slightly horrified by a visit to a canning factory that slaughters and processes “Roast Horse.” Turns out this was probably the Western Packing Company’s horse canning factory– the first plant of its kind in the world. Though unsavory it turns out Americans have a long history of dining on our steeds. Yikes! And speaking of unsavory- like his earlier observations on Chinese immigrants in San Francisco, Frank also takes the time to describe American Indians in the area as savage and child-like. Many other Americans writing in the early 20th century had the same superior attitudes in their writings.

Were it not for the fact that the bus is crowded we would be thrown from our seats every two minutes. The pavement has once been asphalt but now is full of holes. Portland is without exception the worst paved city I ever saw. If necessary to repair a sewer or water pipe, the asphalt is cut through, in the usual manner, and when repairs have been completed the excavation is filled with loose dirt which soon settles and leaves a deep hole. No attempt is made to repair this, or to fill it up again, and it is left to add one more bump to the thousands which already make life a misery to the Portland worse, and to those individuals who have the temerity to ride through these streets. I have spoken of this, first because it was the first impression made upon us as we were driven at a rapid pace regardless of bumps, -to the hotel, where we got out and were shown our rooms for the night.

Having cleaned off the dust of travel and partaken of a good dinner we walked around a little and then retired. The morrow finds us up early, for some car rides, which, when taken, demonstrate the fact that the upper and the residential parts of Portland are very beautiful.

Imperial Hotel_Portland
Imperial Hotel, Portland, Oregon, circa 1906. Oregon Historical Society.

So we set out to locate ourselves more pleasantly, and further up the hill among the trees, We succeed so well in this that we spend over five weeks in this city of wonderfully green trees, grass and shrubs, and flowers, all seeming to grow so luxuriantly, because they wanted to, and could not help it. June is the best month of the year to see Portland, -having so little rain and such abundance of flowers at that time. The winters here are extremely wet and rainy, as they are also in Tacoma and Seattle, farther North. Some people seem to have the impression that the North Western part of the United States must be extremely cold in winter, because of its high latitude. This is only true of that part of the Northwest that lies in winter, because of its high latitude. This is only true of that part of the Northwest that lies East of the Cascade range of mountains, while in all that part of Washington and Oregon which lies West of these mountains, and continuing nearly half of these States, the climate is mild the year round, having cool summers and warm winters. The lowest average which the thermometer has recorded here for many winters is 10 degrees above Zero, as compared with 15 and 20 below Zero for the same latitude on the Atlantic Coast.

Wilamette River_portland
Willamette River, Portland, Oregon, 1901. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Portland is situated on the Willamette River a few miles south of its junction with the Columbia. It has a population of perhaps 80,000 and is cut in two by the Willamette, which is perhaps three-fourths of a mile wide at this point, and is crossed by four or five draw-bridges. We are extremely anxious for a steamboat ride on the river, and after a few inquiries learn that the Railroad and Steamship lines are cutting rates, and one can go by rail or water to Astoria, which is about 100 miles down the Columbia river for 25 cents (about one sixth the former price). Surely this would seem cheap enough, four miles for one cent, but when we went down to the wharf at Six o’clock one morning, prepared for the trip, we heard some one inquire of the agent (without a smile and in apparent earnestness) if the twenty-five cent ticket was for the round trip, and did it include a berth and meals? I won’t mention the name of the gentleman in question, but the agent looked at him a moment, turned white, and nearly fainted. So great was the shock that he forgot to give me in change the plugged quarter he had been holding in his hand while waiting for an easy victim to pass it on. At last the boat was off.

We go through the immense draw-bridges and soon cut the water at a rapid pace. These river steamers are all stern wheelers, and some are very speedy. A few miles on our journey and we are told to look to the left at the horses grazing. There seem to be 5000 or 10,000 of them, and the building close by is a cannery where these animals are put into tin cans and sold as “Roast Horse.” The greater amount of the product is shipped to Europe, but some is sold and consumed in the United States. A tenderloin of Horse is said to equal the best cut in a beef. These horses are most of them wild or unbroken, and are periodically driven into the railroad towns in vast herds by the Indians, who catch them wild, and sometimes raise them extensively. Their prices run from $1.00 to $3.00 for the “cayuse,” as they call these horses. The buyers, after picking out the best which sometimes bring them $15.00 or $20.00 each, ship the balance to the cannery by the train load, averaging $3.00 or more delivered.

Blood Indian and Cayuse, Southern Alberta 1882. National Museum of the American Indian.

The Indians usually spend most of their money before leaving town all seeming to have a weakness for fire-water and bright colors.

This post is part of a longer travelogue written by Frank L. Felter of Los Angeles, a distant relative of mine, as he and his wife Nell journeyed up to and around Alaska in 1900. To read the previous part, click here. To read the next part, click here.


Carlisle Indian School Disinterment

Students outside after classes, circa 1895. Image credit: Dickinson College.

Earlier this week U.S. Army personnel began excavating the remains of three Northern Arahapo boys who were students at the Carlisle Indian School in the 1880s. Little Chief, Horse, and Little Plume all arrived at the school on March 11, 1881 from the Dakota Rosebud reservation. Unfortunately, all three died within the next few years and were buried in the school’s cemetery.

The Carlisle Indian School was founded as a government-run boarding school in 1879 with the goal of assimilating thousands of Native American children into mainstream “American” culture. Students came from reservations and tribes all across North America. According to the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center : “the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (CIS) served as the model for off-reservation boarding schools across the U.S. and Canada. Operating from 1879-1918, CIS enrolled over 10,000 students from across the United States. Rather than continue the costly “Indian wars,” the founder of Carlisle, Capt. Henry Richard Pratt convinced Congress that schools such as Carlisle should be established to assimilate and “civilize” Indian children.”

Check out their website to view thousands of digitized photos and documents, as well as links to teaching resources and other publications about the school and its impact on Native Americans and the United States as a whole. There is a lot of really interesting and important material here.

To make sure that no remains or artifacts are accidentally destroyed or lost in the disinterment process this week, the graves are being dug up by hand and the soil sifted through screens. Delicate but important work for sure. After the remains are disinterred, they will be buried at the Winder River Reservation in Wyoming where the tribe currently lives.

Rose White Thunder
Rose White Thunder attended the school in the 1880s.Image credit: Dickinson College.

When I worked at the National Anthropological Archives in Washington D.C., we occasionally had different tribal groups travel to the museum to repatriate (is that the right term?) the remains of their ancestors that had been collected by Smithsonian scientists in the 19th and early 20th century for research purposes. If you want to learn more about the repatriation process see this link.

The best resource for learning more about the school is Dickinson College’s Digital Resource Center (linked above). The PA State Archives also has a small collection of photos and publications, as well as a microfilm collection of school records that are also useful for learning more.


This photograph of the entire student body was taken in 1884. Image credit: Dickinson College.