Thursday, August 21, 2014

The King of Swan Island

In mid-April 1861 a group of local lads formed a boating club, which they named the “Regatta  Club.” It so happened that about this time the Willamette River went into a semi flood stage, and a boathouse in Oregon City came loose and floated down to Swan Island. Seeing a fine opportunity the members of the newly formed nautical association made arrangements with the owner of the boathouse to purchase it at a greatly reduced price should they be able to salvage it, and bring it up to Portland.

At that time there was a farmer living on the island who claimed that he had grown up there since he was a “waif.” Furthermore he claimed that he had long ago claimed the island as his own, and declared his sole right as sovereign of the isle to claim as flotsam any items that washed ashore on his beach. It was upon this right that the “agriculturalist” (as the Oregonian put it) laid claim to the boathouse.

Undeterred by these proofs the lads (Did I mention they were stout chaps, used to handling an oar?) shoved the farmer aside and went about their business of towing the errant ark to its new moorage, secured to the pilings of Couch’s Wharf.

When the irate sovereign came to town he was put off by the local authorities. It was reported that he went off with a “very large flea in his ear.”

At that time the Swan Island Bar was a major impediment to those doing business in ships. That very month the San Francisco packet “Panama” was able to negotiate the other sand bars between Astoria and Sauvie Island, but was stopped at Swan Island. From there the cargo was handed, to and from Portland, by small barges. The list of vessels running aground on the bar is long and varied—it was a major nuisance, and headache for Portland businessmen. Had the “king of Swan Island” tried to claim salvage rights to them all, it would have gotten old quickly.

Soon the farmer king either died, or decided to cash out. The following ad began appearing in the newspapers in August 1868, Just think, an island of one’s own, close to the comforts of a warm-hearted metropolis! “Swan Island!” What a remarkably beautiful name, how lovely it must be!