Over the years many stories have been written about the
experiences of John Cochran and his family on Doumecq Plains. John
spent more years at Hover than on Doumecq. Much of the material in
the story about Hover was taken from books written by Edith
Erickson, copies of Courier the publication of the East Benton
County Historical Society provided by Margaret Perkins, and a
narrative written by Leo Montague. Marion Shinn compiled the
information into the following narrative.
Before the winter of 1916 was over, the family had decided to
move away from Doumecq. John Cochran, our grandfather, suffered more
and more from arthritis, which was then called sciatic rheumatism.
The cold winters on the plains made his suffering more acute. In the
fall it would be time for Sidney, the last child at home, to go away
to high school. That meant John would be caring for the herds of
cattle and horses alone, whether he was in pain or not. Another
deciding point was that there had been a very poor crop, which meant
there would not be enough winter-feed for the animals.
Brother Billy, W. L. Cochran, had moved to the Horse Heaven
Country in 1908. On March 4, 1909 he had written the hometown paper
in Tennessee describing the country in this way: "The country I
now call my home is quite different from Old Monroe County. Farming
is much easier here. We plow eight horses instead of two and there
are generally ten or twelve plows running in the same field or on
the same land, and from 640 to 2000 acres in the field. We raise
nothing but wheat. I live in what is known as Horse Heaven
As John wrote of moving it is likely that Billy encouraged them
to move nearer to them. Billy probably told John that the Horse
Heaven Hills were a good place to turn animals loose and let them
forage for themselves most of the winter and spring months. That
would have sounded good to a man looking forward to feeding the
animals in the coming winter. By this time Billy and Nora, his wife,
had left the ranch and lived on acreage in the little settlement of
Finley a few miles from their ranch in the hills.
It must have been difficult to consider moving away from Doumecq.
John and Emma had lived on the Plains for nearly two decades and the
hardships of earlier years were behind them. The wonderful new house
that had been a dream for years had been completed and was the
showplace of the community. The overall family unit had control of
nearly 1000 acres of land, albeit some it was steep and hard to
access. But it was time to move—, the family was nearly gone and the
fun and excitement of a growing family was past. John and Emma still
had a bit of wanderlust in their blood and were ready for a new
Making the move took a lot of planning and trading. Even though
the economy of the Doumecq plains had improved over the years very
little fluid money was available. Most of the transactions, except
purchase of staple groceries and equipment, were accomplished by
barter or trading work. John would need actual cash money to make
the 300-mile move from Doumecq to the Horse Heaven hills. Traveling
by covered wagon, as he had come to Doumecq at the turn of the
century, was no longer possible. Raising money for a major move was
not easy. Banks were very conservative especially when it came to
lending more than annual operating capital to local farmers.
The transactions that occurred are complicated and the records
are a little fuzzy—but we know what finally resulted. First of
all, John mortgaged the 160-acre homestead for $3,200. The lender
was C. S. Smith who the locals privately called 10% Smith. John’s
loan was for 8% and there was no plan for paying the principal. A
payment of $256 was to be made to Smith and the end of harvest each
year. That was a lot of money for Doumecq farmers to pay in 1917.
John took the $3200 as moving money and gave the homestead (and the
debt) to his eighteen-year old son, Robert. Although there is
nothing in our written documents, apparently the mortgaged ranch was
to pay for Robert’s help in moving the horses from Doumecq to the
new location. Robert never took over the house. He traded the ranch
(and the debt) to Clark and Edna McCoy who immediately moved to the
family house and took over the post office. (Emma’s name continued
to be listed as the Postmaster until 1919).
Clark had been trading land, too. He traded part of Edna’s
homestead and his 360 acres, which were very steep and
non-productive, to the neighbor Ed Fick. The trade squared up both
the Fick and McCoy property. The part of Edna’s homestead that was
traded included good grazing land and most of the good water sources
in Seven Springs canyon. In return Clark received title to some
better farmland on the ridge top, known as the Garrett and Bicksell
homesteads. Clark traded Robert the Bicksell place the old family
homestead and the new house—and the $3200 debt. Robert had a piece
of land debt free for his labor moving the horses. The total $3200
debt remained with the "home place" for more than
twenty-five years and through three changes in ownership.
In preparation for the move Emma, Ruth, and Sidney moved to
Clarkston, Washington. They rented the upper floor of a house and
both Ruth and Sidney started to school. Ruth had spent the two
previous winters at Walla Walla attending school and working for her
room and board. Robert had been going to high school in Walla Walla
and working for his board and room.
The horses were driven from Doumecq to the Horse Heaven Hills— a
distance of about 300 miles. Robert, with the help of Ross Zehner
and Butler Wells, drove them down Center Canyon, down the Waha grade
and across the Snake River from Lewiston to Clarkston. The entourage
traveled through Pomeroy, Dayton, Waitsburg, Dixie, Walla Walla,
Lowden, and cross the Columbia River at Attalia. (See the story
"Brave Cowboy Bob" in the family archives).
The cattle were shipped by railroad and they were unloaded at the
siding at Hedges. John rode on the same train as the cattle and was
there when they were unloaded from the rail car. There were no
corrals to hold the cattle. It must have quite an experience for
John as he worked to keep the cattle under control. Ruth remembered
that her father arrived at his brother Billy’s home in Finley on
There is no record of where the cattle were driven from the
railroad siding in Hedges or where Bob Cochran and has helpers
finally left the horses. Sometime that winter John negotiated to
move to the Gregerson place in the Horse Heaven Hills that was next
to Uncle Billy’s farm. There is no record whether land was
purchased or rented. Probably trading horses and cattle was part of
the deal. Roy Cochran, Billy’s son, had married Merle Gregerson
and they lived in Uncle Billy’s house.
The Gregerson house was a typical two story farm-house with ten
foot high ceilings, bedrooms upstairs, a kitchen with a big cast
iron range, a large living room that served as the dining room, a
front porch, a back stoop and a privy down the back path. Windows
and doors may have been tightly fitted when first installed, but
long since had shrunk in the arid climate, leaving cracks through
which the wind whistled and the dust sifted. The windows rattled in
the wind, which blew much of the time.
In Grandpa John’s letters to Grandmother Emma he
wrote of the mild winter, how sleek looking the horses were, and how
well his niece could cook. He did not mention the dry and treeless land or the unceasing wind and sand storms. He wasn'’t one to dwell on unpleasantness or adversity. Grandmother, Ruth and Sydney arrived at the Horse Heaven hills in late fall or early in the spring of 1918. Grandmother knew what the country was like, having visited Uncle Billy and Aunt Nora one time in May. Ruth and Sidney were totally unprepared for the stark contrast between their past home and the barren hills! Doumecq had canyons with streams of flowing water for the cattle and the weather was usually calm.
In the barren Horse Heaven hills the summer sun burnt Ruth and
Sid’s skin and parched their throats as they drove the cattle down
to the Columbia River for water, through the concrete arch under the
SPS Railroad at Mottinger and then drove them back to the hills to
graze. The ranch was about 8 miles from the river. There was little
rain and few wells—every farm had one ore more cisterns. Everyone
hauled water from the Columbia River—the little amount coming from
wells was too alkaline for most uses. About twice a week Grandfather
took his four or six horse team and water wagon to the river to haul
water for household use.
The water tank was filled near the old Mills place a couple of
miles south of the little village of Hover. Water wagons were backed
into the river as far as possible and water was dipped or pumped
into the tank that was mounted on the wagon frame. These large tanks
held about 500 gallons. Small wagons were filled by dipping the
water one-bucket at a time, but big ranches had pumps. Uncle Billy
had a big tank and during harvest it kept one man busy all day
hauling water. Grandpa John farmed with his Brother Billy’s
At the end of summer Ruth and Sidney happily headed back to High
School in Kennewick where they boarded with families during the
week. Most often, they went home to the hills on weekends catching a
ride with a neighbor or Grandfather would "herd" his old
model T Ford into town to pick them up and buy necessary supplies in
the same trip.
Their first winter was especially cold, one in contrast to the
previous season. Grandmother said she did not stop shivering from
December to April. Fuel was in limited supply, with dealers in
Kennewick having to ration coal to their customers. The big
potbellied stove in the middle of the classroom in School District 9
in the Horse Heaven Hills could not keep the place warm, even when
it was glowing red. The Directors closed the school until the
weather warmed. The teacher left for a warmer climate and never
returned. When school convened the Directors hired Grandmother to
teach the rest of the term. This was the first time she had been in
a classroom as a teacher since marrying Grandfather in 1883. She
saved her pay and used it to buy seven and a half acres of sagebrush
covered land just below the irrigation ditch in the little town of
Hover. She had enough of life in the Horse Heaven Hills.
This region along the Columbia River was not always so quiet. The
famous Longmire wagon train passed through in 1853. In 1854 the U.S.
Congress authorized Mr. E. J. Allen to operate a ferry across the
Columbia River three miles upriver from Wallula. The fee was set at
$5.00. By 1862, 600 passengers and 150 tons of freight were crossing
every week. The road was called the Cascade Wagon Road. It went from
Walla Walla, over the Horse Heaven Hills into Yakima and on to Puget
Sound. John Mills started a sheep ranch on 113 acres along the river
In 1900, due to the efforts of James J. Hill, the Great Northern
and Northern Pacific RR decided to establish a railroad through the
area. The new railroad was named the Spokane, Portland and Seattle (SPS).
Construction started in 1905 and that brought much activity to the
In 1902, Northern Pacific took over the holdings of the Yakima
Irrigation Improvement Company and started construction of the Horn
Rapids ditch to bring water from the Yakima River to the Columbia.
This was to be the Kennewick Valley Canal network.
In 1902 Herbert A. Hover, president of the Kennewick Land
Company, bought thousands of acres of land began sending out
brochures promoting the virtues of the area. He envisioned that this
small section of the state would become a city. Two prosperous
villages came into existence. The little town of Finley was named
after the man who had promoted construction of a school in the area.
The other population center was named Hover after the land promoter.
The village name was correctly pronounced Hoever sometimes
pronounced Whover, and by uninformed readers as
Huhver. These two little hamlets were not actually in the Horse
Heaven Hills. However, the Hills were only a mile away and were
definitely a part of the environment. The hot dusty winds blew from
there in the summertime and the cold dusty winds blew from there in
the wintertime. When the SPS railroad rejected the bids from both
Hover and Finley for the site of their roundhouse in favor of Pasco
both towns began to decline and soon became small farming
communities revolving around their schools and churches. The land
became very productive when irrigation water was available and there
was a ready sale for most of the products that were raised. The
ditch ran along the flatland a short distance from the base of the
Horse Heaven Hills
Although records are scarce and sometimes conflicting, it appears
the Cochran family moved to the little village of Hover sometime in
the spring of 1920—it might have been 1919. Edith and Bob McCoy
were the only members of the family who are now alive and both were
too young to remember. The boom of earlier years had already been a
bust, and land was cheap. They rented a small house from Mr. Hampton
next to Charley and Lily Evans’ farm and down the lane from their
newly purchased land. Grandpa set to work clearing the sagebrush and
Grandma did her usual chores of cleaning, cooking, and canning. With
abundant irrigation water and sunshine, she raised a magnificent
garden. She liked working out-of-doors and took on the task of
helping neighboring farmers during peak labor demands by picking and
packing the produce that grew so well.
Grover Montague and Steve Holcomb owned 23 acres of land across
the road from the Cochran property. Grandpa traded at least one
horse to Grover for labor to help build the house. Ruth, the
youngest Cochran daughter, went to the Normal School long enough to
get a teaching certificate. She spent her first teaching year in
Burbank, which was only about 25 miles from Hover. The next year she
got a job in Hover and was able to rejoin the family full time.
After two years she would have been required to go back to school to
renew her certificate and Grover urged her to make other plans.
Grover and Ruth were married in May 1922. They lived across the
street for nearly 15 years and were very much a part of the extended
family in Hover.
All the Cochran children except Sidney and Ruth were grown by the
time John and Emma had moved into their house in Hover. The house
was much smaller than the one of Doumecq, but would have been more
than adequate for an older couple. However the term
"family" varied from year to year or from week to week.
All of John and Emma’s children or some of their family used the
Hover house as their home sometime in the 1920’s.
Clark McCoy and his children, John, Louise, Bob, and Margaret
moved from Doumecq after the death of Edna in the winter of 1923.
The children called the Cochran house at Hover home until their
adulthood. Both Margaret and Louise had descriptions of their life
at Hover in their biography in the Chronicles. Louis Shinn
spent the winter of his freshman year with his grandparents and went
to high school. Nellie Sheets, John’s niece, spent a year with
them while she was going to high school.
Inez graduated from nursing school and joined the Red Cross
Nursing Corp at Fort Lewis during World War I. After the war she
went to Hover and again joined the family circle. Her mother
encouraged her to grab the invitation to be a nurse in Nome and
later Juneau, Alaska. Hover was her home between jobs until she
married the local Methodist preacher Erling Bergen in 1932. She
helped at home as farm worker or a nurse, whichever was needed,
until her marriage.
Mary taught in several schools through Idaho, Washington, and
probably Montana. Most of these years she spent her summer months
working and living at Hover. She was in Hover when sister Inez made
an urgent call for help and Mary joined the tiny staff in the small
Methodist hospital in Nome with two nurses and one doctor as they
tried to cope with the flu epidemic among the Eskimos.
Robert graduated from High School and went for a year at
Washington State College which would have been considered an A and M
(Agricultural and Mechanical) institution. He joined the family in
Hover and leaving WSC and soon met and married Edna Ashby. Robert
traded the Bicksell place he had acquired by trade from his father
and Clark to Joe Vaughan for the ferryboat across the Columbia River
that operated from Hover. The closest village on the other side was
Attalia. The ferry was old and was powered by a steam engine. He and
Edna moved into a house adjacent to the ferry landing. Three
children, Pat, Dick and Nancy were born there. There was no ferry
schedule. When someone rang the bell on the other side of the river
the crew stoked the fire and went across the river to get them.
Clark McCoy worked as fireman for a time. When Robert acquired the
ferry it had a good business, but traffic almost came to a
standstill when the bridge across the river was completed at Pasco.
Omie spent time in that part of the state a couple of times. Her
first school, after graduating from Lewiston Normal, was in Finley.
She did live for half a year in the house in Hover. In September
1926 she left Nome, Alaska on the last boat to be closer to medical
attention during her first pregnancy. Paul was born in March 1927
and they returned to Nome on the first spring boat in June 1927. Her
visit was a festive time and the "Aunts" took every
opportunity to show off the young offspring. In April Mary, Omie,
and Zenna persuaded Sidney to drive Robert’s big Buick to Doumecq
to see the old homestead—probably the first time they had been
back as a group since leaving for college years before. The road
from Whitebird was only dirt and it was rainy. The car slid off the
road and Ray Shinn had to take a team of horses to pull them back on
Zenna spent very little time at Hover. After graduating from
Whitman she started teaching and spent only a few summers with her
parents. Zenna’s letters mentioned that when the depression struck
and she was without a job consideration was given to moving to Hover
with Eileen until jobs opened up. That was not necessary—one of
her professors at Whitman referred her to a friend who provided a
job for her in the bay area.
The Hover house was a rectangular two-story structure probably 30
x 40 feet. The large living room was in the front and the kitchen
and wash room was in the back There were four bedrooms, two upstairs
and two down. Grandpa and Grandma used the bedroom at the back of
the house, just off the kitchen. The front bedroom was reserved for
guests—and there were lots of them. The two bedrooms upstairs were
unfinished. Each room had two full sized beds. The boys had one room
and the girls the other. This included both youth and adults. Clark,
John, and Bob were in the boy’s room and at times Mary and Inez,
Louise, and Margaret were in the girl’s room. The chimney from the
kitchen went through the middle of the girl’s room and the heat
from the kitchen stove made that room comfortable in the winter—but
not in the summer. There was no other heat upstairs. Nails were
pounded into the walls to walls to hang clothes. Drinking water came
from a well with a pump and an open water bucket stood in the
kitchen. Everyone drank water from a common dipper. The water that
was used for animals and for washing was hauled from the Columbia
River about a mile away and stored in a cistern. There was no
running water in the house and bath water would be heated on the
kitchen stove and poured into a metal wash tub. After a few years
Inez bought a bathtub and a sink and Grover added a room alongside
the kitchen for them—but there was still no running water.
A large irrigation ditch ran along the upper side of the
property. The ditch was the "life blood" of the community—nothing
would grow without the irrigation water. The 7 ½ acre Cochran farm
was very fertile and the crops were abundant. There were grapes,
asparagus, cantaloupes, vegetables, hay, and some apple and apricot
trees. The grapes were sold to the Welch grape juice plant in
Kennewick. All of these crops were labor intensive and all hands
worked in the fields. On the high side of the ditch the land was
arid and covered with sagebrush and tumbleweeds. Great balls of
weeds would blow past the house.
The Irrigation Company had a full-time ditch man whose job was to
keep the weeds from plugging the waterway. In the winter, when the
water was not needed, there were some jobs paying cash money for men
of the community to clean and repair the ditch. During the summer
the kids spent many leisure hours swimming or soaking in the
irrigation ditch. On the hot days even Mary and Inez would join the
kids in the water.
Wild horses were a danger along the ditch—they came in hordes
because this was the only source of water except the river itself.
People who owned horses for their farming enterprise frequently let
them run loose in the winter so they could ferret out their own
A large garage stood behind the house. It was used as the laundry
room and a big wood stove was used to heat the water. Monday was
always wash day and it was an all day job. The garage had been
built, in part, to house the Model T Ford that had been purchased
for family use by Inez. Model T Fords were very different to drive
than cars of today—there was no transmission and one changed gears
by pushing on levers on the floor. Grandpa John was not a very good
driver—the car would not stop when he yelled "Whoa." A
concrete wall about 2 feet high made up the lower part of the garage
wall. It was not uncommon for the Ford to make solid contact with
the concrete before it came to a complete stop.
The school started in Hover in 1906 in the Opera House. A small
sturdy brick building was built the next year. A new larger school
building was built in 1923, but it burned down during Christmas
vacation in 1924. After the fire the students were in adjacent
bunkhouses and a large house across the street.
The community recognized the need for an even bigger school so
they rebuilt with the new foundation outside the original one. A
contest was held to determine the name of the new school. Mary
Turner, the sister of Maggie Turner McCoy was the winner—her name
was Riverview. There was intense rivalry between Hover and Finley
High Schools. The schools did not consolidate until 1957 after it
was apparent that the backwater from McNary Dam would inundate the
village. The new consolidated school is still called Riverview, even
though it is several miles from the Columbia River.
Horse Heaven had its share of rabbits and they were pests to
farmers and orchardists. Usually the rabbits cross one of the many
bridges, but in some instances they swam across the canal. Coyotes
and rabbits usually kept in balance, but some years there were just
too many rabbits. In looking for food during the cold winter they
would seriously damage fruit trees. Some orchardists wrapped screens
around the trunk to prevent them from girdling the bark. It soon
became a New Year’s tradition to have a rabbit drive. The hunters
would spread out a safe distance apart in a long line. As they
walked along slowly jumping the jacks and shooting them on the run.
It was not considered good sport to shot a sitting rabbit, but many
people did. After the sweep was over everyone met at the schoolhouse
where the women had a big dinner prepared. These rabbit drives
continued into the late 1930’s. It was said that Aunt Georgia
Cochran was one of the best shots in the crew.
On December 23 1931 Emma Cochran died and was buried in the
Kennewick Cemetery. Suddenly the house at Hover seemed very big and
lonely. Inez and Mary had both married ministers and moved away.
Robert and his family had sold the ferry and moved to a farm in
Pomeroy. Omie was married and living in Alaska—a very long way
from Hover. Zenna was married and living in California. The
following summer he married Emma’s younger sister, Georgia Pickard
Kelly, who had been widowed since 1928. Georgia, known by most of
the family as Aunt Georgia, became the grandmother to most of the
younger grandchildren and loved over the next 30 years. As the year
passed the McCoy children all grew up, graduated from school, and
went their own way. The farm work was almost too much for John and
for a time Georgia’s daughter Lena Bafus and her husband George
came to live with them and help out.
There was a lot of government activity around the area in the
1940’s. McNary dam was being considered and there was lots of
secret activity nearby that turned out to be the Atomic Energy plant
at Richland. By 1943 John and Georgia could no longer take care of
the 7 acres so they sold their land to the U. S. Government and
moved to a house on Main Street in Colfax —a busy place between the
highway and the railroad track.
After the construction of McNary dam became a reality the
Government purchased all the land that had been Hover. They paid a
good price for the orchards and improvement, but by that time John
and Georgia Cochran were gone. People were allowed to buy back their
houses with the understanding they would be moved. People were
encouraged to keep farming the land until slack water came, but most
of the people left their land and found a new life above the high
water line. The government brought in big equipment and leveled the
structures and trees. All that remain were a few old foundations.
Hover has been gone for more than 60 years and is forgotten by all
except those few remaining people who called it home.
Reprinted from Cochran Chronicles, Volume 26, Number 1, October 2004
(c) 2004 JECFA