Pateros -- Thumbnail History

  • By Rita Cipalla
  • Posted 7/31/2019
  • Essay 20826

Pateros is a small town in Okanogan County, Washington, in the foothills of the eastern Cascades with a population of around 700. Located along the Cascade Loop Scenic Highway, it is some 60 miles northeast of Wenatchee and 80 miles south of the Canadian border. The town was established around 1885 by Lee Ives, who opened a road house on the Columbia River which became known as Ives Landing. In 1900, a Spanish American War veteran, Charles E. Nosler, renamed it Pateros after a village he had visited in the Philippines. In May 1913, Pateros was incorporated and for the next several decades, it remained a peaceful community known for its fruit orchards and cattle ranches. But major challenges were in the wings. In 1966, Pateros was submerged beneath the Columbia River when the Wells Dam opened. Although some houses and businesses were moved, most of the structures were lost. In 2014 the Carlton Complex fire, at the time the largest wildfire in state history, ravaged 391 square miles of north central Washington that included Pateros, leveling entire city blocks, causing $100 million in damages, and leaving behind a charred landscape. In the years following the fire, the town that Ives founded and Nosler named was down but not out. Its residents rebuilt, updated the history museum to tell the story of the fire and the town's resilience, and created a memorial to their Native American past.

Where the Methow and Columbia Meet

Around 1885, pioneers Lee Ives and Charles Mansur traveled north from Wenatchee until they reached an area where the Methow and Columbia rivers met. The region was home to a small band of Native Americans and about 20 Chinese miners. Ives thought it would be a good place to settle, and built three log cabins. Two were 8 feet apart, connected by a common roof. There he established a road house with a small store attached, and the area was called Ives Landing.

In 1886, Ives brought his wife Rena there and the couple eventually built an 18-room hotel and operated a ferry crossing. Ives traded in furs while Rena took care of the hotel. "The second year ... Lee [Ives] bought $24,000 worth of furs, principally beaver, otter, bear, and deer. Twice a year he hauled these to Spokane in a wagon, then shipped them to St. Louis. He would refresh his supplies by pack train from Ellensburg" ("History -- City of Pateros").

Settlers were drawn to Ives Landing by tales of unending supplies of wild game and a gentle landscape covered in wildflowers and grasses. Around 1888, sternwheelers started running up the river two or three times a week. One early pioneer was Knight K. Parker, who had been a salesman back east. His son Russell was the first white child born in Ives Landing. Unfortunately, the Parker family earned another distinction: Their daughter Ella became the first death in the community when she choked on a rivet at the age of 3.

The Year of the Crickets

The winter of 1893-94 was unusually long, followed by a too-rapid snow melt, which triggered flooding. "Some reported the river to be as much as 70 feet above low-water mark. Almost anything could be seen floating down the river at this time including entire houses, wagons, boats, barrels and even a haystack with a crowing rooster on top" ("History -- City of Pateros"). The Ives' road house flooded and the couple moved to higher ground for several weeks, setting up a tent to keep serving meals to travelers.

Not only did the community have to deal with the flooding, but the unusual weather caused an infestation of crickets that ate everything in sight. Kids dug ditches around the crops to try to trap them, and farm wives fed them to the chickens. "In places the crickets were so thick that the wagon wheels became wet and muddy when passed over them. Within a year or so they mysteriously disappeared" ("History -- City of Pateros").

Duck Eggs and the Philippines

Around 1899, Charles Ed Nosler, along with his family and his sister Ella, arrived in Ives Landing. Nosler, an attorney and notary public, had served in the Spanish American War in 1898 and had traveled to the Philippines. After arriving in town, Nosler purchased the Ives' homestead for $8,000 and renamed the town Pateros, a village he had visited near Manila which was famous for its duck eggs. It was said that the ducks on the Methow River reminded Nosler of that far-away Philippine town. 

Ella Nosler was as much a go-getter as her brother. She acquired most of the downtown area, including the lot where the Ives Landing Hotel stood as well as other properties, about 3 acres in total. In 1900, she recorded and platted the streets and alleyways of Pateros, and on June 25, 1900, took out a $1,850 loan on the property from the Pennsylvania Mortgage investment Company. Five months later, she sold the 3 acres back to Rena Ives for $2,500.

In 1903, Pateros was home to four businesses and nine residences, including that of Christian Jensen Steiner, a lay preacher and real estate salesman. Steiner, along with Knight K. Parker, dug an irrigation ditch to carry water for crops and cattle, a much-needed improvement. Before long, Pateros had added a trading post, telephone office, livery stable, school, and more houses. "All the stores were in a single row facing south along the river ... The road was fairly straight and ran well over a 1/4 mile up the Methow. This seemed too much of a temptation at times, and horse races were a fairly common occurrence, with the local Indians often involved" ("History -- City of Pateros").

These businesses were later joined by a drugstore, barber shop, and ice house. A wooden boardwalk connected the downtown businesses, used daily by the 400 people who now called Pateros home. Knight Parker donated land for a town cemetery, where his daughter Ella was buried. In 1908, Rena Ives sold the Ives hotel property and other lots to Knight Parker for $5,000.

In 1909, the townspeople voted to go dry and shut down three saloons. Town residents could instead attend services at the Methodist Church or join the literary club and debate society. There were picnics during the summer and skating parties on nearby Alta Lake during the winter. (Alta Lake, named in 1900 for the daughter of a Mr. Heinz, a jeweler from Wilbur, Washington, was deeded in 1951 by the city of Pateros to Washington state to create Alta Lake State Park.)  

Pateros Incorporates May 1, 1913

In 1913, a notice of intent to incorporate was published in the local weekly paper, The Pateros Reporter, and 60 male voters signed the petition. On May 1, 1913, Pateros was incorporated. In its first election, 71 voters cast ballots, electing Charles T. Borg mayor and O. A. Johnson treasurer. Five councilmembers were also elected (C. J. Steiner, H. A. Littlejohn, J. W. Mansfield, E. F. Johnson, and W. V. Tukey) and the first city council meeting was held May 13, 1913. The selection of Borg as mayor was not a complete surprise. The previous year, he had successfully organized the Methow Valley Bank of Pateros.

The railroad reached Pateros in 1914 when the Great Northern came to town. This heralded a new era for the community and before long, the sternwheelers were out of business. When the railroad line was completed from Wenatchee, Mayor John Hatch drove in a golden spike where the lines met, and a big dinner was held to celebration the occasion.

Bringing Fruit to Market

Several enhancements to life in Pateros can be traced to the importance of its fruit crop. At first Pateros farmers grew mainly peaches and cherries, but apples were soon added to the mix, primarily Winesaps, Jonathons, and Spitzenbergs. "Sometimes, in the early years, the crops could not be shipped out until the spring when the boats could get up river ... Many growers unfortunately did lose fruit to freezing. This prompted the formation of the Co-ops, which started to build storage warehouses for this ever-growing crop" ("History -- City of Pateros").

Just as the co-ops were created to store the harvest, new county roads were built to transport it safely to market. Previously, fruit was taken over heavily rutted wagon trails that caused significant bruising and damage to the crop. It was obvious that better roads were needed, but that was no easy task. The area was peppered with large boulders, and road crews had to drill and blast their way through. Men with hand shovels built up the grade over the broken rocks while boys, carrying water a quarter-mile from the Columbia River using shoulder yokes, helped keep the men hydrated.

By the 1950s, Pateros had grown to 850 residents. The main street had more than 40 business including "two grocery stores, Elgin Yeager's Barber Shop, a hardware store, the Pateros Theater, a furniture store, and two lumber yards, Brownson and Wagner. There were several service stations, Meadow's Electric and Ola Robbin's Dry Good Store ... Residents had three choices for dining, The Billingsley and Robinson’s Café along with Wagg’s Café" ("History -- City of Pateros"). There were two churches in town, Methodist and Church of Christ, and the trains had use of a large railyard and boxcar repair shop.

Buried Beneath the Columbia

In 1962, the Federal Power Commission gave the Douglas County Public Utility District a 50-year license to build and operate Wells Dam, 8 miles downstream from Pateros. Since the dam would flood much of the town, the Pateros City Council worked with the Douglas County PUD to move or demolish buildings at a cost of about $1 million. Dam construction began in 1963 and became operational in 1967. The nearby reservoir is called Lake Pateros.

Although the town was physically relocated, there were still problems. Pateros was "recreated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with little regard for the town's needs. 'They provided us with a styleless architecture and split the town in half with the business sector on one side (of Highway 97) and residents on the other,'" [Pateros resident Richard] Beyer explained. 'They erased the town's identity'" ("Patron of Pateros"). The population of Pateros dropped by almost a third between 1960 and 1970. (Richard Beyer (1925-2012) was an American sculptor most famous for his "Waiting for the Interurban" statue installed in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle.)

On June 24, 2011, Pateros opened a museum to tell the story of the town's history. Occupying a converted fire hall adjacent to city hall, the museum was spearheaded by Joni Parks, president of the Pateros Chamber of Commerce. Included were displays donated by Douglas County PUD previously on view at the Wells Dam Visitor Center. Several of the town's pioneer families volunteered countless hours as well as donated artifacts and photographs. "'If you drive through town, you'd think we were a fairly new town. But we’re not,' said Parks. Despite its relatively new buildings, Pateros has a long history ... Parks said she's hoping the museum's changing exhibits, and continued development will eventually give visitors an idea of what the city looked like before it was flooded and during the process of rebuilding it in its current location" ("City Welcome ...").

As part of the museum's ribbon-cutting ceremony, more than 200 paddling enthusiasts and history buffs arrived on shore in 10 long canoes as part of the 200th anniversary commemoration of the first navigation of the Columbia River by explorer David Thompson (1770-1857). The David Thompson Brigade, as it was called, included surveyors, paddlers, outdoorsmen, and history re-enactors who started their journey at the river's source in British Columbia and traveled the river's 1,040-mile length.

From Water to Fire

In July 2014, the 391-square-mile Carlton Complex fire swept through town. It was the largest wildfire in state history since the Yacolt Complex fire near Mount St. Helen's in 1902 (later eclipsed by the Okanogan Complex fire in 2015). At first, the townspeople thought they were safe, protected by a 158-acre orchard that might serve as a firewall. They were wrong. The Pateros firefighters, assisted by four fire companies from other jurisdictions, were quickly overwhelmed. The city's hydrants went dry as the fire melted the water towers' electronics. The town went dark and was without means of communication as cell towers and fiber-optic lines burned. Portable pumps were brought in, which enabled the firefighters to use water from the Columbia River, but it was a losing battle.

"In all, 33 homes within city limits and 55 more just outside of town were lost; the fire would destroy 152 homes within the school district and 312 overall before it was contained on August 24 after burning more than a month. Miraculously, there was only a single death (a Carlton resident, who died of a heart attack while trying to save his home) ... But the impact on a small town like Pateros, which before the fire had a 1 percent vacancy rate and lost 20 percent of its housing stock, was devastating" (Katauskas).

Pateros's mayor Libby Harrison, only six months into her first term in office, lost her home, as did her mother and an uncle. She chose to step down from office to help her family, ceding her duties to councilmember George Brady. Brady quickly realized the town needed help. He put out a call to the nonprofit organization Team Rubicon, a group of military veterans who assist cities in managing natural disasters.

"The organization (which had aided tornado recovery efforts in Moore, Oklahoma, in 2013 and mudslide recovery efforts at Oso, Washington, in 2014) dispatched two representatives the next day, who toured the community and met with city leaders. Brady and [parks supervisor] Jord Wilson then did something unprecedented: they gave Team Rubicon authority to make decisions on the city's behalf in managing the entire relief and recovery effort ... Within 36 hours, Team Rubicon had fielded an incident command team (consisting of 70 volunteers from 11 states) in Pateros" (Katauskas).

The city's quick actions helped the traumatized community respond efficiently and the town slowly began to rebuild. A new $20,000 water telemetry system was installed, paid for by insurance claims. A local bank pledged $2 million in loans to homeowners and Habitat for Humanity volunteers helped with the rebuilding. The town's population began to creep up.

The Methow Memorial

Although it has not been an easy road, the town of Pateros continued to move forward while honoring its roots. In 2017, a memorial to the Methow Indians, the indigenous people who populated the area long before Lee Ives arrived, was dedicated. The Methow is one of 12 bands that make up the Confederal Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

The Memorial to the Methow, installed in Memorial Park, took about a year to complete and cost $90,000, a combination of private donations and lodging tax funds. "The idea came about when Chuck Borg, a Wenatchee resident who grew up in the lower Methow Valley, was struck by the lack of recognition given to tribal history. The county is filled with signs and stories recalling the history of orchards and mining, fires and floods, old schoolhouses and ghost towns. 'A lot of people don't know about the Indian history,' he said. 'They aren't aware that where Pateros was located, there was the Moses Columbia Reservation -- a very short-lived reservation'" ("Pateros Park to Recognize ...").

The memorial featured a 14-foot canvas teepee and life-size sculptures by Native artist Virgil "Smoker" Marchand. A dry streambed was filled with metal salmon sculptures and a 9-foot Methow Indian figure, seated on horseback spearing salmon, is the centerpiece, inspired by a 1920s photo showing a similar scene. Marchand, who grew up in Omak, Washington, "expressed his surprise to discover that a horse would actually stand in a river and allow someone to hang salmon from its back" (Maltais). The installation also includes a walking path with petroglyph-like tiles created by the students of Pateros High School as part of a senior class community project, a salmon bake oven for community and cultural events, sitting logs, and native plantings. 

The Next 100 Years

In 2013, Pateros celebrated its 100th birthday, timed to coincide with the 66th annual Apple Pie Jamboree, a popular community tradition. For the centennial, residents of Pateros were joined by a delegation of 10 visitors who traveled from Pateros in the Philippines, including Filipino mayor Joey Medina. Both towns signed resolutions establishing a sister-city friendship although the designation was not formally submitted to Sister Cities International. In a parade through town, Joey Medina rode atop a horse-drawn stage coach adorned with both American and Philippine flags. He later presented a painting of his town and some Chinese slippers handmade in Pateros to Mayor Gail Howe; she in turn gave him a glass platter used at the Ives Landing Hotel, a reminder of the city’s 100-year-old founding.

With the memory of the Carlton Complex fire still fresh, in 2015 Pateros officials commissioned several studies to explore the community's readiness for another major wildfire. Worried that the existing water system was not sufficient, town officials retired its two reservoirs in 2018 and built a new one that upped capacity from 300,000 gallons to 500,000 gallons. The upgrade also included two new wells and pump stations to service about 300 connections. A package of government grants, loans, and state appropriations, amounting to just under $7.5 million, financed the water improvement projects.

During the 2018-2019 school year, Pateros Elementary School had 168 students and the high school had 147. Minority enrollment, primarily Hispanic students, was about 62 percent of the student body, and the school mascots were the Billygoats and Nannies. The town remained proud of its four-season recreational opportunities and its many community events, such as the Apple Pie Jamboree, jet ski and hydroplane races, and Arbor Day celebration.


"History -- City of Pateros," City of Pateros website accessed July 17, 2019 (; Nancy Lemons, "Finding Peace at Pateros," The Spokesman-Review, June 19, 2005 (; Mike Maltais, "Memorial to Methow Dedicated May 27," Quad City Herald, June 1, 2017 (; "Patron of Pateros Pushes Community," The Wenatchee World, March 16, 1995, p. B-6; K. C. Mehaffey, "City Welcome of New Museum, Will Coincide with Thompson Brigade," Ibid., June 23, 2011 (; K. C. Mehaffey, "Pateros Park to Recognize Methow Indians," Ibid., October 25, 2016 (; Rick Steigmeyer, "Paddlers to Commemorate First Navigation of Columbia," The Seattle Times, June 1, 2011 (; Joanna Bastian, "Pateros Unveils A Lasting Monument to the Methow Valley’s First People," Methow Valley News, May 25, 2017 (; Ted Katsauskas, "Recovery Room," CityVision Magazine, January/February 2015 (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Douglas County -- Thumbnail History" (by Paula Becker) (accessed July 11, 2019).

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