A SHORT HISTORY OF McCONIHE FLATS

 

 

The known history of McConihe Flats dates from around 1,200 years ago, when indigenous  peoples made camps along the north end of what is now Moses Lake. Evidence of those camps was discovered along the McConihe Flats shoreline in 1948 by noted archaeologist Richard Daugherty.

The descendants of those people were a band of Inland Salish Indians known as the Sinkiuse. In the early 1800s the Sinkiuse, led by their chieftain, Sulktalthscosum (Half-Sun), accumulated a large fleet of half-wild horses known as cayuse. According to historians, Half-Sun and his men then became as capable as any horsemen in history.

 

In 1829 Half-Sun's favorite wife bore him a son. Strong willed, fun-loving and charismatic, the boy was given the Christian name “Moses” during a brief stint at a mission school in Idaho Territory; he embraced the name for the rest of his life. Moses became chief of the Sinkiuse after his father was killed in battle.

Chief Moses

Their horse culture allowed the Sinkiuse to travel across the Columbia Basin throughout the year. They usually wintered in the protection of the cliffs of Moses Coulee, then traveled south in the spring. Rocky Ford Creek, five miles north of McConihe Flats, was a favorite camping spot. One can still clamber up Moses Rock where the chief and his men tethered their cayuses, and the smaller “Trading Rock” on which were piled hides and other valuables used for wagering on the tribe’s beloved horse races.

Trading Rock

Moses Rock

From Rocky Ford the band rode south to Howaph (the “Willows,” now Moses Lake) to gather duck eggs, camas roots and tule reeds along the lakeshore. The first such gathering spot would have been the shoreline in the area now known as McConihe Flats.

 

By the late 1870s Chief Moses was a leading Indian figure in the Northwest Territories. Moses made two trips to the nation’s capital to secure adequate lands for his people. On one of his trips he met President Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House. (“Me and the President…,” Moses would often begin his slightly embellished stories of the encounter.) Moses was also great pals with the legendary Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce.

In the 1880s the monocled Englishman Thomas Blythe, known locally as “Lord” Blythe, put the bunchgrass rangeland to more intensive use by operating a huge Hereford cattle herd in the area. Lord Blythe had several homes in Grant County, including a rather stately one along Rocky Ford Creek. Friction sometimes arose between the “Lord” and the Chief as Blythe’s Herefords competed with Moses’ cayuses for grazing rights in McConihe Flats.

Around 1905 Thomas J. Drumheller, Jr. bought up most of Blythe’s holdings in the area and built up a 25,000-acre sheep ranch, including grazing land in the Flats. The Drumhellers were one of the most prominent families in Washington history. Tom Drumheller had played quarterback at the University of Michigan, roomed with future President Herbert Hoover at Stanford, practiced law briefly in Spokane, and tried his luck in the Alaska Gold Rush before finding his life’s calling as a sheep baron. Drumheller died in 1954, but many descendants of the Drumheller family live in the Columbia Basin.

Another early settler, Lucien Forrest McConihe Sr., homesteaded in the area beginning in 1881. His son, L.F. McConihe Jr., was raised in Tacoma, attended the University of Puget Sound and served in France in WWI before returning to Moses Lake, where he built homes and farmed the family land until his death in 1970. The name “McConihe Flats” was memorialized in a U.S. Geodetic Survey, in recognition of the name locals had long used in referring to the area.

 

Source: Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, Half-Sun on the Columbia: A Biography of Chief Moses, University of Oklahoma Press (1965).

 

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