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Wendell George | Tracing my roots from Entiat to the Kartar Valley

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The 1800s were challenging times for Indians in this region. In 1872 they were told to move from their aboriginal land to the Colville Indian Reservation 100 miles north.

Then the Homestead Act opened up the reservation for non-Indians and tribal members were given small allotments that many of them sold for a pittance. Land ownership was strange and not understood by tribal people. Land was for the use of everyone and was not a commodity that could be sold.

During this time my grandfather, Lahompt, migrated from the Entiat Valley to Kartar Valley. He first researched the reservation to find the best place to raise cattle. Kartar Valley offered that and, in addition, was isolated so further infringement would be discouraged.

His relocation was the transition from nomadic life to farming and cattle ranching. His dad, my great-grandfather Chilcosahaskt, stayed at Entiat.

After all these years I am still impressed, like my grandfather was, with the scenic beauty of Omak Lake, which is on the way to Kartar Valley. My grandfather never tired of the view as he made the trip on a wagon or horse to get supplies in Okanogan. As you leave Okanogan Valley going southeast you come over a ridge about seven miles out and are confronted with the panoramic view of the brilliant blue-green water set in rocky cliffs reaching up 650 feet on each side. The lake wanders through the rock formations for nine miles to the entrance of Kartar Valley.

It is almost a mile wide in places and is 350 feet deep at the northwest end. There is no outlet so the water is somewhat alkaline and buoyant. No fish could survive in the lake until a special breed of Lahotan trout from Nevada’s Pyramid Lake was planted by the tribe in 1969.

As you travel around the southern end of the lake you come upon Balance Rock which has become a popular tourist attraction. It was formed when the glaciers receded.

Then you enter Kartar Valley which was formed about 12,000 years ago during the Ice Age. Glaciers slowly pushed volcano ash and top soil into the Valley until it had a bed of about 200 feet deep. You can’t find a rock of any size. It has been perfect for growing alfalfa. The valley is ringed on three sides with pine forest. It is about 1,200-foot elevation and is 300 feet higher than Omak Lake two miles northwest.

Lahompt was a genius for picking the valley for his Indian allotment. But they only did dry land farming as deep wells weren’t possible at the time. My dad finally got electricity and telephones in the 1970s which enabled him to drill wells.

In the late 1800s Lahompt and my grandmother, Kwa-ni, had Victor Jangraw, a Frenchman from Oregon, build a log house for them. He squared the big logs and mortised the corners so perfectly that it still stands today. The house faces east as is the Indian custom and the back has no windows or doors because of the prevailing winds. I recently moved the log house to my mother’s allotment one and a half miles northwest toward the lake. I am renovating it so it can be used as a memento of my family’s history.

My dad and cousins had to go to the St. Mary’s school which is about 25 miles from the valley. My cousins mostly remember the Kartar Valley ranch as an isolated and lonely place.

After 40 years of effort the tribe finally finished paving the Columbia River Road which comes within seven miles of the Valley. Those last miles are a challenge most of the time as it is dirt and rocks which can’t be dignified to be called gravel. The pot holes and washboard road puts a lot of wear on your vehicle.

My family was disappointed when we decided to sell the operating part of our ranch to the tribe. They all had careers and were not motivated to be farmers or cattlemen and I couldn’t do it alone. This story has been repeated many times across America. Only the big agriculture enterprises can survive today. Individual farmers have been reduced to about 3 percent of the population, about the same number as Indians. But neither will disappear entirely.

Wendell George writes Go-la’-ka Wa-wal-sh (Raven Speaks) He can be reached via email at wvegeorge