An ad that appeared in the Okanogan Independent for several issues in April 1907
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Chronicle photo by Dee Camp
Tatsuo Kurihara (right) talks about Frank S. Matsura during a visit to the Okanogan County Historical Society's Okanogan museum in mid-May while museum volunteer Georgene Fitzgerald pages through a book transcribed by Matsura. Kurihara brought along a handwritten letter from Matsura to a relative in Japan and the textbook, which the photographer translated and copied while living in Conconully and sent to a school in Japan.
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From Okanogan Centennial
June 1907 was an exciting time in the little settlement on the banks of the Okanogan River that in October of that year was to be officially incorporated as Okanogan.
A reporter from the Riverside Argus newspaper stated that "Okanogan's citizens are full of push and faith and they confidently expect to build, at the mouth of the Salmon, the supreme city of the Okanogan valley."
By 1907, the mining excitement in the county had abated somewhat. Land and the water to irrigate it was the new bonanza.
The long-talked-about Bureau of Reclamation Okanogan Irrigation Project had been approved by Congress and work had begun on the storage dam on the Salmon River near Conconully.
With reclamation headquarters on Pogue Flat, Okanogan was the hub of activity and the center of commerce. The air must have fairly crackled with energy and enthusiasm.
Settlers looking to take advantage of this new bonanza of land and water were already pouring in by steamboat and stage, horseback and afoot.
Rumors of the railroads coming abounded. The Conconully newspaper, The Okanogan Record, reported on May 4, 1906: "An automobile has, for the first time, made its way in safety into the county, and no cowboy has roped or branded it, nor has accident befallen it. Some of the old settlers who have not been to the cities for many years, traveled long miles a-horseback to take a look at the horseless carriage and cayuses balked and snorted at the strange new monster."
The account continued in a more serious vein. "More important to Okanogan than the coming of the new methods of conveyance, was the party who composed the passenger list. There were three prominent Great Northern railroad men aboard and they were making inspection of the survey of the new line from Wenatchee to Oroville."
It was not until 1914 that the promise of the railroads was realized. In the meantime, the steamboats and freighters were the lifeline of commerce into and out of the Okanogan.
On June 7, 1907, The Okanogan Independent reported: "The steamer Enterprise brought up eleven tons of fruit jars on Tuesday's trip. This would indicate that the housewives of Okanogan country anticipate canning some fruit during the coming summer."
New businesses were popping up overnight on the dusty streets of Okanogan. If building material was not available quickly enough, they set up shop in a tent.
O.H. Woody, the newspaperman, had moved his presses from Molson to Okanogan in April and was churning out the Independent, first from a tent and by June, from a partially finished space in the building Capt. Bureau was erecting at First and Pine.
Judge William C. Brown was erecting a new law office at the corner of Third and Pine. Sam Nelson had moved down from Conconully and opened a new mercantile store.
On June 14, 1907, The Independent reported that "Okanogan's new Presbyterian church has been sufficiently completed so that all services are held there" and on June 21 it reported, "The foundation of the new school house is practically completed and carpenter work will commence next week."
Among the new businesses in town was the photographic studio of Frank S. Matsura. Frank had come to Conconully in 1903 to work for Mrs. Dillabough at the Elliott Hotel and quickly made quite a reputation as an excellent photographer.
In June 1907 he relocated to Okanogan and set up shop, first in a tent, then upgraded to a small two-room studio on First Avenue near the docks where the steamboats came in.
On June 7, 1907, The Okanogan Record reported: "Frank Matsura has been selected by Engineer Anderson to take official photographs of the irrigation work. He will make a series of pictures, taking views each month thus showing the progress of the work."
In addition, the Great Northern Railroad commissioned a series of his photos, his pictures were appearing regularly in the local papers and also the Spokesman-Review and Seattle papers.
His souvenir postcards, stamp photos, portraits and scenic views were increasingly popular. He traveled all over Okanogan County at a time when travel was difficult at best, and scrambled up steep hillsides to get the best angle for a shot.
Photographers today who have attempted to follow in Frank's footsteps to recreate his scenes have expressed amazement at the strenuous hiking required.
The story of Frank's life in the Okanogan and his untimely death at the age of 39 on June 16, 1913, has become well known, not only here in his adopted home, but in his native country.
Thanks in large part to the dedication of the popular Japanese photographer, Tatsuo Kurihara, Frank's life in the Okanogan and his work have been well documented in Japan.
Kurihara has made numerous trips to the Okanogan researching the photos in the Wilson Research Center and visiting the places Frank photographed. The Matsura story and his pictures have appeared in the Japanese language National Geographic, the Sunday magazine of a large Japanese newspaper and in showings at Mr. Kurihara's elegant studio in Tokyo.
On May 17, Kurihara once again visited Okanogan to prepare for a centennial showing of the Matsura photos, celebrating both Okanogan's centennial and the centennial of the opening of Frank's studio in Okanogan.
This very special event was to be held at the Matsura Historical Museum on Hirado Island from June 1 through June 24.
The Matsura lineage can be traced back to the year 832. Akira Matsura, the 41st head of the Matsura family, visited Okanogan and the Wilson Research Center the summer of 2006. He was pleased with the respect and love still shown by the community for Frank and his work.
Frank Matsura came here a stranger in a strange land and made a lasting place for himself in our hearts. In this centennial year, his legacy continues to enrich our lives and our memory of who we were.