Horseback Riding on The Historic Columbia River Highway

It was 1915 and a lot was going on just east of Troutdale Oregon in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge.

The Columbia River Gorge back then had only limited ways of accessing it. Traditionally excursions from Portland on steam powered sternwheeler paddle boats were the way that most transportation took place. In time the railroads were built, primarily for trade but in time passenger trains started taking people there on day trips. Tourist excursions to the waterfalls on the south side of the river were common. Locations such as Multnomah Falls were the main attractions.

Of course many people rode horses or travelled in horse drawn wagons back then but with the advent of automobiles the old primitive roads were improved and new roads were made but they were still dirt wagon roads. Not long after the idea to create one of the first paved scenic automobile roads in America was imagined by several prominent Portland businessmen. Thus was created the Scenic Columbia River Highway.

Although a cultural treasure today, not all who lived in the area back then supported this idea. Many people still used horses and automobiles were owned by the wealthy. Many people back then never thought that they would ever own a car let alone use one to tour the Columbia River Gorge. Public support for financing the highway was tenuous at best.

As we all know, the highway was built and within a couple of decades was being used heavily for transporting cars from central Oregon to the Willamette Valley. Heavy trucks had been developed to carry commodities and products and most everyone had a car in their garage. It didn’t take long to see how those who imagined the highway were visionaries. The highway was quickly becoming overused and plans for a riverside highway, which would become Highway 84, was in the works.

And so back in 1915 the Columbia River Highway was in construction. It would be dedicated a couple years later in 1917, but that didn’t keep people from going out to explore the modern engineering marvel. Of course traffic was minimal back then. Today we can only imagine a peaceful horseback ride along it’s path to familiar waterfalls along the way, but that’s just what this couple did.

Cal and Grace Calvert decided to take a trip out to survey the progress on the old highway via horseback. Cal Calvert was a photographer from Portland Oregon. He was known as the Ten Minute Photo Man. He operated his Mazeograph Studio in downtown Portland as well as a studio at Council Crest, a popular amusement park of the day.

These photos are some of his personal photos. Snapshots into his and his wife Grace’s life. In these photos you can see familiar places such as Crown Point, Latourell including the falls and the old arched footbridge that was removed due to obstruction of trucks that needed to pass as well as the recently constructed highway bridge. Other locations include Bishops Cap and the Sheppards Dell Bridge, as well as Multnomah Falls. Grace and Cal take turns posing in the photos with their horse, including one where one of them made their way to the Simon Benson bridge between the upper and lower tier of Multnomah Falls.

Needless to say a horse ride on the old Historic Columbia River Highway is totally impractical today, but there once was a time. I’m certainly glad that Cal and Grace took the time to document their day in the Scenic Columbia River Gorge.

Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge – Crown Point
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge – Latourell Walking Bridge
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge – Latourell Falls Bridge
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge – Latourell Falls
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge – Shepperd’s Dell Bridge
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge – Bishop’s Cap at Shepperds Dell
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge – Multnomah Falls
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge – Multnomah Falls
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge
Horse Ride in The Columbia River Gorge – Multnomah Falls

Chief Tommy Thompson

This is Chief Tommy Thompson. I don’t hear his name mentioned much these days. When my father was a boy growing up in The Dalles he was legend. He would come to the schools and give talks to the children about the local native history and heritage. He was a man who was respected by all races.

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“Chief Tommy Thompson was a most exceptional human being, a cross between Jim Thorpe and the Pope. Tall, handsome, and athletic, a famed swimmer and boatman in his youth, he was married to as many as seven women at one time but never to a white woman; it would have been unthinkable. Chief Tommy Thompson was a holy man. His ancient religion was that of the Waashat, the drums.

He had begun serving as salmon chief at Celilo Village in 1875, when he was but twenty, after the death of the previous chief, his uncle Stocketly, who had been killed by friendly fire while serving as a scout for the U.S. Army. Tommy was salmon chief of Celilo Falls for the next eighty-five years, making him, without much question, the longest-serving public official in American history. Chief Tommy Thompson was also the most revered man on the river, the last true chief.

Chief Tommy was 102 years old when Celilo Falls were drowned. The death of Celilo Falls in 1957 foreshadowed the death of Chief Thompson two years later, at age 104. The River People believe he died of a broken heart. (from George Rohrbacher “Talk of the Past”)”