Biography of Ira Isom Irby     



This Historical Biography was submitted by Sandy Kruse, September 21, 2002.

Spokesman-Review - Saturday August 20, 1938  By; Willa Lou Woods

One of State’s Oldest Settlers, Now an Apple Grower, Born in Vancouver In "57"---Carried All Spokane's Mail On One Horse

Transportation and communication---yes, those have brought the biggest change in the west, says Ira Isom Irby, who has had a ranch on Castlerock Avenue since August 1908, and was born in Vancouver, Washington, June 21, 1857.  His parents crossed the plains by ox team from Missouri in 1852, and his father was a member of the first state legislature under Governor Isaac Stevens.
During the first 26 years of his life, everything which he and his associates used, except the food produced by them, had to be brought around Cape Horn or across the Isthmus of Panama to Portland.
Then it went by boat to the lower cascades of the Columbia at Bonneville.  There was a small railroad to which the merchandise was transferred there.  Than it was put on a boat again and staked to The Dalles, where a 12 mile railroad took it to Celilo Rapids.  Then another boat took it to White Bluffs or up the Snake River to Lewiston.
                                           Freighting Cumbersome
From Lewiston, shipments were freighted to Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana districts by mule teams or wagons.
All the equipment for the first railroad in the state, which was built about 1875 from Walla Walla to Wallula, had to take this cumbersome route by sea and river.
In the winter of 1875 and 1877 Irby carried the mail from Rosalia to Spokane Bridge.  On one Horse, he carried all the mail for everyone in Rock Creek, Spangle, Spokane, Spokane Bridge, and Ft. Colville, where the soldiers were stationed.
He made the trip to Spokane Bridge three times weekly.  Once a week the Colville carrier met him to get the letters.
                                           Little Mail Then
It intrigues the pioneer to think that he with his horse carried all the mail to Spokane, which now has 300 post office employees with a monthly payroll of $45,00.  Irby's salary was $40 a month, with board and horses furnished.  He used four horses on a trip.
When Irby was 11, his folks moved to Yakima.  That was in 1868.  At the time there wasn't any Yakima.  Not even Old Yakima was started.  There was one ferry across the Yakima River, and no bridges.  To cross, the family ran the wagon wheels in and swam the horses.  The country then was all sage brush and bunch grass, but that was good for the cattle business, in which the Irby family participated. Four yeas later when the Irby's and another family by the name of Mulligan made the 14 day trip to Spokane, they saw two white men on the whole trip.  These two were living at White Bluffs.
                                           Indian War
The Irby family settled in Spangle, then called Old Pine Grove, which was west of Spokane.  In 1875 the family moved to Crab Creek, but in 1877 the Nez Pierce Indians went on the war path.  The few Crab Creek settlers hurried to Walla Walla.  No white people were killed but the Irby home was robbed and some horses and cattle were stolen.
The next year in Oregon, the Bannac tribe became unruly and several white men were killed.  The Indians started to cross the Columbia, but the boatloads of government troops arrived just then and the Indians fled.
                                           Mrs. Irby A Pioneer
In 1882, Irby married Lettia Bingham, who was also born in Washington and whose father crossed the plains several times to bring harbored horses in the Northwest.
Their children are W. L. Irby of Sumner, Mrs. A. L. Scott of Tacoma, and Miss Edna Irby who lives  here with her father, Mrs. Irby died in 1930.
                                          Had 1700 Acres
During the hard winter of 1889 and 1890, 75 percent of Irby's cattle died.
"We had no food for them, and if we had some we couldn't have found them on the range to give it to them."  The Irby land covered 1700 acres at that time.
The corner of the western development was turned when the railroad came in 1892.  No longer was it necessary to bring supplies around Cape Horn, or through the Isthmus.  No longer could all the Spokane mail be carried by Mr. Irby on one horse.
The railroad not only came in to Irby's property, but the best place for the road bed was right through his house.
                                          Irby Station Created
So his house and barn were moved, and Irby station was created nine miles west of Odessa.  The days when a trip to Walla Walla took 10 to 15 days, twice every year, and was a special event, were soon to be over.
From 1902 to 1904, the Irby family lived in Spokane, and then tried their luck on 1000 acres of cattle ranch 25 miles up Crab Creek.
But the cattle business was becoming crowded, the price being $15 a head for the herds, and $20 to $30 a head for 3 and 4 year old steers.  And the Wenatchee valley looked like it had possibilities, so thirty years ago this month, the Irbys came here where Mr. Irby has been since.
                                          Old Days Happiest
"Well," Mr. Irby was asked "Do you like it better now, or in the old days?"
"Ah," says the native son, "Those early days 60 to 70 years ago were the happiest of my life.  We had no luxuries, but we were contented and neighborly."
"No one ever locked his house.  If guests came while he was gone, they were expected to make themselves at home."
"We had little money, but our needs were simple."
"Our chief amusement was basket suppers, after which there would be dancing until daylight.  I was the chief violinist."
"There was little reading matter or mail in the winter time, but when the mail was brought up from Walla Walla by a chance traveler it was an event of Importance.  One winter on Crap Creek we got mail only once.  We were 135 miles from the post office.
                                         Not Much Sickness
"What did we do about sickness?  Well, it seems to me that we didn't have many deaths or sicknesses.  We just got along somehow with home remedies.  Once in a long while, a doctor would be brought from Walla Walla."
Irby circulated the petition for the first post offices on Crab Creek, but that was 45 miles from the Irby ranch, which seemed close after the distance they had to travel before.
What school there was---three months or six months a year---was by subscription from the families which had children.  The teacher would be boarded from house to house.
"There always seemed to be plenty of food.  We raised our own vegetables and meat and had wild berries.  Dried fruit, dried beans, syrup, and sugar was bought once a year from Walla Walla."
The first year the Irbys were in Yakima, their mother cooked from May to October with only a fireplace.  Then they were able to get a stove.
Mr. Irby's health is good now, he says although he is 81.  Two of his sisters are still living, Mrs.C. R. Goodwin of Yakima, and Mrs. Laura Stout of Rockford, which is east of Spokane.


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