And a Great Hush

Another sad story for you today. A closer look at this photo reveals a small pile of stones at the base of the cliff. These were placed there as a memorial to Edward O’Roarke.

In April of 1880, fifteen year old Edward from Walla Walla, Washington was part of a cattle roundup crew. At night, they were drive the cattle up on top of this large mesa. While there were cliffs on three sides of it, the southern end was more like an immense ramp. The cowboys would drive the cattle up the “ramp” and would be able to corral them for the night, keeping only a single hand at the ramped entrance.

One night in April, Edward was by himself (and his mule) guarding the cattle. The next morning, after the other cowboys rose and went to relieve Edward, they could find no trace of him. They did, however, see mule tracks leading up the ramp. Following them, they saw to their horror that they went right over the edge of the cliff in the photo.

Peering down 100 feet below, they saw the twisted bodies of both mule and boy. The quickly rode to the base of the wall, but there was nothing they could do. Both were dead.

They took Edward’s body to a nearby lake, washed it and prepared it for its trip back to Walla Walla, the home of Edward’s Ma and Pa – a journey that would take it overland to White Bluffs along the Columbia River. Once at the river, they paid some local Native Americans to take his body by canoe to Wallula, west of Walla Walla. From there, the parents claimed their son’s remains.

The cliff was soon named Deadman’s Bluff, and the lake where they washed Edward’s body was called Deadman Lake.

The rock memorial was probably erected almost immediately, and still stands to this day. The mule’s skull was also prepared as a memorial, and could still be seen well into the early 1900s. Two smaller piles of rocks are apparently on top of the cliff where the boy and mule went over, but I believe Deadman’s Bluff is on leased land and not accessible to the public.

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‘And a Great Hush’

Camera: Ricoh KR-10
Film: Polypan F (x-2006); 100iso
Process: Rodinal 1+25; 10.5min

Drumheller Channels, Adams County, Washington

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