OROVILLE — Several historians before her had tried to locate the remains of Hiram F. “Okanogan” Smith. He was, after all, a state representative when he died, and was known as Okanogan County’s first white settler and the father of Washington’s apple industry.
So when Oroville researcher Dorothy Petry decided to look into the mystery of where Smith was buried, she knew she had her work cut out for her.
After five years, lots of visits to cemeteries, and countless exchanged emails, Petry found his unmarked grave in April, in the same Seattle cemetery where he was first buried after his death on Sept. 9, 1893.
No one really knows why he was moved to a different plot at the Lake View Cemetery two years after he was buried there. But Petry said she has her suspicions, and the Okanogan Borderlands Historical Society plans to reveal more about the mystery by the 120th anniversary of his death this September.
“What we’re trying to do is compile the rest of the story,” she said. “There are things I don’t really want to say at this time. But there’s a lot more to the story.”
There’s also a lot more to Smith’s life that is known, including the fact that at least one of the apple trees he planted on the east shores of Lake Osoyoos more than 150 years ago is still alive.
According to more than one historical account, Smith settled in the Oroville area in 1858, and by 1861 he had planted some 1,200 vines and trees, including apple varieties of Pippins, Winesaps, and Delicious. He dug the region’s first irrigation ditch, and by the end of the 1860s, he had 24 acres of apples and 8 acres of peaches, pears and grapes.
This became the first commercial orchard in the state, Petry said.
He married an American Indian named Mary, and one of their great grandsons is now in his 90s and lives in Oroville. “He was tickled we found his great grandpa’s grave,” Petry added.
In addition to selling dried fruit from his orchard, Smith raised cattle, operated a trading post, and later served in the territorial legislature, and then Washington’s House of Representatives, which is apparently how he got the name “Okanogan” Smith.
Reports say that a year before he died, Smith divorced his wife to marry a young Seattle woman. While traveling from Oroville to Puget Sound by horseback, he developed a cold which developed into pneumonia. He died at the Diller Hotel in Seattle, where he was temporarily staying.
A story on Smith in the book, “Boom Town Tales and Historic People,” says three senators and three representatives were pallbearers at his funeral, when he was buried at the Lake View Cemetery.
“But he isn’t there now. And nobody seems to know where he is,” it says. “Why Okanogan County’s famous pioneer was moved, on whose authority, and where are questions, which may never, be answered,” the article concludes.
Petry said it was part luck, part persistence, and part intuition that led her to discover its whereabouts.
She said she looked for him at cemeteries in Okanogan County, and in Olympia before going back to the Lake View Cemetery in Seattle, where he was originally interred.
After visiting there in October, “I just had this intuition, this feeling, that he was still there,” she said.
She collected more information, and solicited help from Julie Lindquist, the cemetery’s customer service coordinator.
“Finally, they typed his name into their computer system in reverse,” she said. That is, as Smith Okanogan. And there he was, in plot 873.
“So he’s buried with the first name of Smith and the last name of Okanogan,” Petry said.
Whether the comma between his first and last names was left out by mistake or on purpose is still a mystery.
But now that his grave site is known, the historical society is looking for someone to raise funds for a headstone to mark the grave of one of Okanogan County’s best-known pioneers.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512