The Hudson/Gower raft tragedy is the answer for Week 184 of Orofino History Trivia a special feature to celebrate the history and heritage of Clearwater Country. Watch each day for another clue.
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Monday: Financial times were hard.
Tuesday: Spring run-off
Thursday: Two brothers and a friend
Friday: A log raft
Saturday: Big Eddy on the Clearwater River
Monday: Mid-March 1908
Tuesday: Lived on Bobbitt Bench
Wednesday: One young man died
In the spring of 1908, the weather was much warmer than usual and with chinook winds and rain, mid level snow melted much faster than usual swelling the Clearwater River with early runoff, according to Marion Kayler's book, Early Days in Big Canyon Country.
Three young men who lived on Bobbitt Bench, Alex and John Hudson and Gower Jones, decided to take advantage of the early runoff and float a raft of logs to Harrington's saw mill in Lewiston. It would be an opportunity for some income in March, instead of late April, the usual log floating season. The Hudson had acquired knowledge of operating the log rafts while helping their older brothers in previous years.
The three prepared supplies, packsacks and equipment needed to build the raft, then rowed across the river to catch the train to Ahsahka. Then they walked up the North Fork of the Clearwater to the point were saw logs were available for raft building. By nightfall on March 14 the three had constructed a well-made raft with 5,000 board feet that was 20-foot by 50-foot long. The next morning, they fashioned and installed the raft sweeps, tightened the sapling bindings and bored a hole in a log for the auger. About noon, they jumped aboard for the 50 mile ride to the mill.
Kayler said shortly after the young men reached the mouth of the North Fork and entered the swollen main Clearwater they came to Saddle Bag Rapids near the Clearwater-Nez Perce county line. Both ends of the raft lifted when riding the crest and ploughed low in the water in the trough. The action had the steering sweeps either out of the water or also ploughing deep. It was not a good sign.
Normally, the Hudson brothers tied up the rafts at Jones Beach until the river went down and passage was safer. This time, the young men influenced by the ease of going through Saddlebag and the thrill of being the first to bring in a raft to the mill decided to forego the usual cautions. It was the wrong decision.
Alex kept the front of the raft close to shore while John and Gower tried to keep the raft in a staight trajectory with the rear sweep. However, they were soon pulled into the ever-tightening circles of the rivers roughest eddy. The deep vortex caught the right rear of the raft and began pulling it down making the raft tilt nearly vertical. The three desparately clung to parts of the raft as it was sucked downward into the vortex of the eddy. Gower later described going down under the cold, water and thinking they were going to die. When the wrecked raft was finally thrown clear of the eddy, the near lifeless forms of John and Gower were still clinging to it. It washed down to an area near Cherry Lane where a family who live nearby helped the young men. Alex's body was never found. The river running days of the two survivors had ended.
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