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The mystery of Justin Chenoweth

   I think what I like the most about history is the thrill of the detective work, and uncovering hidden nuggets of treasured bits of knowledge that are scattered like debris amidst mountains of documents and data.
   Sometimes the mystery is right in front of you.
   Take Justin Chenoweth, for example.
   In The Dalles, Oregon, Chenoweth's name (spelled Chenowith by the locals) is plastered all over town. There's the Chenowith area, meaning the west side of town. Chenowith Elementary School. Chenowith Middle School. Chenowith Rim Apartments. Chenowith Loop Road. Chenowith Creek. There isn't a more recognized namesake in this town.
   You don't have to delve very deep into local history to run across the fact that Justin Chenowith/Chenoweth ran the mail between The Dalles and the Upper Cascades on the Columbia River in the early 1850's.
   As a historian in a town rich with history, I just hadn't gotten around to researching Justin Chenowith/Chenoweth, beyond discovering the reason for the confusion about the spelling of his last name might have stemmed from the fact -- a conclusion based on his signature -- that you couldn't tell WHICH way he spelled it.
   So I was unprepared for the discovery of how little history on Chenoweth is in the normal local archives.
   I was contacted by a gentleman who is researching early Washington state surveyors. Since the Columbia River is the boundary between Oregon and Washington from south of the Tri-Cities to the coast, it stands to reason that history is full of people who played on both sides of the boundary. And Chenoweth is one of them.
   Jerry's request was simple. Did I know where to find a photo of Chenoweth?
   "No problem," I thought. As prominent of a citizen as he was, it should be a snap to dig one up.
   I called in the big guns... Mary Mouse and Ms Wildflower.... both rabid history detectives. Ms Wildflower came through with a crappy photocopy of an old photo of Chenoweth stuck in the paper genealogy files of the Discovery Center's William Dick research library.
   It wasn't the fact that a good photo was nowhere to be found that stunned me. It was the fact that there is so little information out there locally about him. Anywhere.
   Yes, I've found mention of him running the mail, which I knew. But in a town that recognizes Chenoweth by naming nearly everything on the west side after him, you would think there would be more information about him. A LOT more.
   Mr. Jerry tells me he has compiled a five-inch thick file folder on Chenoweth, but he didn't get that information here in The Dalles, I can assure you!
   It's become a point of honor - a challenge - to see if I can churn up a better photo. For someone who has been feted with so much name recognition, we owe it to Justin Chenoweth, our community, and history's children, to honor his contribution as a pioneer of the Mid-Columbia.

   To read what Jerry Olson has compiled on early Washington State surveyors, visit his website:

Or download the Chenoweth biography he has written:


And just for the record, here's the only photo of Justin Chenoweth we've been able to find. Yet.
Justin Chenoweth