0

History buffs locate infamous "Dead Horse Cliff"

Okanogan County Historical Society expedition puts location on the map


Brian Evans of Okanogan inspects bones he pulled out from under rocks Friday during a trek to the infamous Dead Horse Cliff site where more than 85 animals were killed nearly a century ago east of Riverside.

Photo by Roger Harnack


Brian Evans of Okanogan inspects bones he pulled out from under rocks Friday during a trek to the infamous Dead Horse Cliff site where more than 85 animals were killed nearly a century ago east of Riverside.

Buy photos

— It’s the stuff folklore is made of: Homesteaders fed up with wild horses eating all the foliage make a secret pact to round them up, run them off a cliff and then disappear back into their country life.

Here, the story is real.

The year is 1924, and homesteaders were upset, not just with the wild horses, but with others turning their horses free in Tunk Valley. They decided to act, and in at least three different incidents horses were driven to their deaths or shot — and they weren’t just wild horses, but also well-bred work horses and Clydesdales.

The event would’ve remained secret, if it hadn’t been for a hunter who happened upon the slaughter.

Now 90 years later, Riverside, Omak and Tunk Valley residents are still telling the story.

Few people have ventured to the location. And nobody ever reported the actual site for county records.

So about two years ago, a couple researchers spurred by the stories and encouraged by Gary Mundinger, decided to try to pinpoint the location and mark it in the annals of history.

Last Friday, a group of three volunteers and a journalist — Brian Evans, Barry George, Wayne Carpenter and Roger Harnack, hit the rugged terrain armed with global-positioning systems, maps and historical descriptions of the site.

It was the second such “expedition in two weeks.

After more than two hours of hiking in the rugged terrain in the Riverside trust land managed by the state Department of Natural Resources, the group reached Dead Horse Canyon wall.

Standing atop the approximately 239-foot precipice, the group slit up to find a route down the cliffside and begin their search for evidence of the infamous horse-kill site.

Evans spotted the first bone, bleached white and laying atop some gray rocks.

“We just kind of stumbled onto them,” said Evans, the first of the researchers to spot any of the remains.

Evans notified the others of his find, and soon all four were finding bone fragments on and under rocks, and in brush along the canyon wall.

Some of the fragments were burned. Others were crushed and broken.

There were leg bones, vertebrae, jaw bones and teeth found scattered in and among rocks and woody debris littering the canyon floor.

“It’s pretty cool,” Evans said. “But it might not be so good when I have to hike out.” It was the second such “expedition” in two weeks.

After more than two hours of hiking in the rugged terrain in the Riverside trust land managed by the state Department of Natural Resources, the group reached Dead Horse Canyon wall.

Standing atop the approximately 239-foot precipice, the group slid up to find a route down the cliffside and begin their search for evidence of the infamous horse-kill site.

Evans spotted the first bone, bleached white and lying atop some gray rocks.

“We just kind of stumbled onto them,” said Evans.

Evans notified the others of his find, and soon all four were finding bone fragments on and under rocks, and in brush along the canyon wall.

Some of the fragments were burned. Others were crushed and broken.

There were leg bones, vertebrae, jaw bones and teeth found scattered in and among rocks and woody debris littering the canyon floor.

“It’s pretty cool,” Evans said. “But it might not be so good when I have to hike out.”

Carpenter and George have been interested in the story for years. In fact, Carpenter’s family homesteaded at the mouth of what is commonly referred to as Dead Horse Canyon.

The canyon originally was named Carpenter Canyon. But with time and folklore, the Dead Horse name now appears on the maps.

“I’ve heard about this, but never really seen the bones,” Carpenter said. “This is quite interesting.”

Carpenter said he got involved in the effort to find the actual site last fall.

“Wayne and the guys at the historical society started talking about Dead Horse Canyon and finding the bones, I thought it would make a good trip,” George added.

George, a researcher and volunteer with the Okanogan County Historical Society, said the site needed to be documented for posterity.

But he couldn’t say what the organization would do with the site information — which now includes global-position system coordinates, elevation, cliff height and photographs.

Tunk Valley artists Jodi Olson and Lillie Finn visited more than 15 years ago and painted a depiction of the horse-kill.

Their painting and accompanying artifacts were on display for a while at the Okanogan County Historical Museum in Okanogan.

“People were very upset about the painting and the whole display,” Olson said, noting the painting has since been returned to her.

The kill site lies on state Department of Natural Resources-managed public land.

Regional Manager Loren Torgerson said Monday that should the local historical society need assistance further investigating the site, that he’d be willing to help out.

Previously, Natural Resources personal declined to help and insisted the group trek several miles round trip into the steep backcountry.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment