Transcribed from "An Illustrated History of The Big Bend Country, embracing
Lincoln, Douglas, Adams and Franklin counties, State of Washington",
published by Western Historical Publishing Co., 1904.
JOHN R. HARDING, who is entitled
to the distinction of being one of the earliest pioneers in the Big Bend
country, is now dwelling ten miles west from Sprague, where he owns a valuable
estate of two sections of grain and hay land. His place is well improved
and supplied with all machinery and buildings necessary for its successful
operation. He also handles considerable stock, having a good band
John R. Harding was born in Bucksport, Maine,
on September 6, 1842, the son of Foster and Ann (Robinson) Harding.
The father was a sea captain, was born in Sedgwick, Maine, fought in the
War of 1812, and died in his native state in 1882. The mother was
born in Maine, and there died in 1887. Her father was captain of
a privateer in the War of 1812, and was twice captured by the British;
however, he escaped both times, once in an open boat at sea. John
R. was educated in the common schools, and when sixteen went to do for
himself. He went to sea and served in the China trade. In 1860
he landed in San Francisco, came to Portland, Oregon, in 1862, and one
year later was engaged in packing to the Idaho mines. From that time
until he settled in what is now Lincoln county, his life was spent in all
the various experiences that are to be had in the west. Upon the
discovery of gold in Montana, he settled at Coeur d'Alene and operated
a ferry and trading post. He mined in California, operated a butcher
shop in Danville, that state, then walked to Portland, Oregon, arriving
in May, 1862, having stopped en route to build a ferry boat at the Trinity
river. At Portland he cut wood, then was employed by Johnson &
Perkins, wholesale packers. In those days the Oregonian
a small affair, and Portland was under water that year to the door knobs
on Front street. A year later he went to John Day river, but finding
the snow fourteen feet deep, he abandoned the idea of prospecting and joined
a pack train to Placerville, Idaho. He paid his last eighteen dollars
for a shovel, the price of which was twenty-one dollars, and went to work
mining. Other things were proportionately high and also they had
trouble with the Indians, but a company went out and took some scalps and
quieted the Reds down. After that, Mr. Harding packed, and later
went to Wildhorse, British Columbia. Provisions were high, flour
being thirty-five dollars per sack, and it required great pluck to stay
with the arduous work of packing and prospecting. En route he passed
through the section where he now lives, but no white people were here then.
The next winter he lost nearly all his horses and his meat was horse flesh.
This was near Bonner's Ferry. In the spring he went to Walla Walla,
and as clothes were scarce, he made a pair of trousers from blankets.
But having not enough of one color, one leg was red and the other one blue,
and so he came into Walla Walla. Later we see him in the Salmon river
gold diggings, and in 1866 he was back in Lewiston. Then came a journey
to Montana, after which he operated several ferries in eastern Washington,
and then he went to Colville. In the spring of 1872, Mr. Harding
came where he now dwells, but owing to Indian outbreaks, he was forced
to abandon his place several times. Finally, however, he made a permanent
location and since then he has labored here with display of energy and
industry. The nearest doctor was one hundred and twenty miles distant
and his supplies all had to be transported from Walla Walla. Mail
was received about twice a year, and he knew little of what was going on
in the out-side world. Mr. Harding has been many times at the falls
in the Spokane river, when there was not even a shanty there.
By his first marriage, Mr. Harding had four
children, John F., Evelyn D., Jessie F., and Alice M. All are married
and living in Whitman and Lincoln counties, this state. John F. is
a progressive farmer in Lincoln county.
In 1882 Mr. Harding married Miss Lenore
Thompson, the wedding occurring in Sprague. Her parents, George and
Drusilla (Ware) Thompson, were natives of Missouri. The father died
in Lincoln county in 1889. The mother is living here married to Aaron
Miller. Three children have come to gladden the home of Mr. and Mrs.
Harding, George, aged sixteen, Zella, fourteen, and Ruby, ten. Mr.
Harding was one of the earliest justices of the peace in Stevens county
and about the only official act he did was to perform the marriage ceremony
of a half-breed woman and a white man. The fee was three sacks of
potatoes. Mr. Harding remarks that he invoked the aid of a Jaynes'
almanac for the operation and feels sure he had the date exact. Mr.
Harding's residence is a tasty seven-room cottage, which is partially constructed
of logs. Some of the lumber was hauled from Walla Walla and is of
historic interest. Few men in this country have had a wider experience
in the west than has Mr. Harding and his memory is well stored with historic
incident and facts of those frontier experiences.