There is generally a freshet in the river for about two weeks, during the month of June, when the fishing is done during the day, but at other times all fishing is done in the night, for the salmon are very shy and the water at other times so clear, that even by tanning the net, they detect it.
It is a pretty sight, in the early twilight of a pleasant day, to see the boats, with sails all spread, skimming along the water, on their way to the fishing grounds.
Then it seems as though the fisherman’s life must be a pleasant one, but when, as is more often the case, it rains- as it can only rain in Oregon-and with the nights intensely dark, the romance vanishes; and as we draw the curtain to shut out the dreariness, it is with an earnest hope that no boat will be capsized by the gale, or that in the darkness and fog, none may drift outside the bar, for the river is rapid and broad. Probably at no point where fishing is done is it less than three miles wide and in some places six or seven.
Each cannery has a steamboat which is sent out in the morning to tow the fishing boats home. These steamers will tow sometimes thirty boats at one time.
By this means the boats are usually in by 9 o’clock in the morning, giving the fishermen the day for sleep, so they are able to go fishing the next night again. When the boats come in, the nets are all given to a net-tender, who examines them, mends all rents, and gets them ready for the men at night.
The fish, as they are landed on the wharf, are counted; then a man takes them, and, by quick strokes with a knife, the heads, tails and fins are dissevered; then he splits, cleans and throws them into a large tank of salt water.
Another man takes the scales, slimes and thoroughly washes them; then they are taken to a machine that cuts them in pieces to fit the cans; these are taken to the fillers, who press them in cans and salt them, each can receiving the same amount; then the tops are put in.
The machine that cuts these tops punches a hole in each. Now the solderers receive the cans and solder the tops on, and also the hole in the tops. These cans are, or supposed to be air tight; they are passed through the testing tank, and if no leak is discernable they are ready for cooking. This is done in most canneries with steam. In this way they are cooked one hour; then they are taken out, a hole is punctured in them to let out the air, and immediately re-soldered. After this process, they are ready for the last cooking; this is done in steam-tight tanks.
When taken from these tanks they are dipped in strong lye to take off all grease. After cooling they are again tested and the perfect ones lacquered. When this is dry they are labeled, and when thoroughly dry are cased and ready for shipping.
Most of this work is done by people who work well, if they have a good overseer, and are very expeditious.
Before closing this article I will give a little description of the places where these establishments are situated. The canneries are invariably built over the water on piles. Back of these, on the banks of the river are clustered a few dwellings, with generally a pretty cottage, where the proprietor or foreman resides. Back of these are high bluffs, covered with evergreen trees, mostly spruce, hemlock and fir. These might rival the big trees of California, if not in diameter, in height. The mail is brought to these places daily by the boats plying between Portland and Astoria. Of course this description does not apply to the canneries situated at Astoria.
Just now I hear that Mr. E.C. Rufus, who runs Badollet & Co’s boat No. 10, was capsized this morning. Himself and boat puller were in the water two hours before being rescued. The boat righted and net saved. It seems that the fishermen are venturing too near the bar for their own safety.
About 1 o’clock P.M., at high tide yesterday, one of Badollet & Co’s fishing boats capsized near Scarborough hill, the fishermen clung to the bottom and were rescued by one of Watson’s fishing boats. The net and boat are probably lost, as the wind was blowing a gale at the time.
April 20, 1878
One of Jos. Hume’s fishing boats was seen returning to the cannery at Knappton about noon yesterday with only one man and part of a net. Whether the other man was lost or not we did not learn. The wind was blowing severely.
April 20, 1878 WA
Messrs. Badollet & Co’s fishing boat No. 12 in charge of Nicholas Devinich, capsized last night below Scarborough hill. The occupants of the boat saved themselves with difficulty. The net was picked up by Mr. John Lewis, who runs Watson Bros. boat No. 17, who had the meanness to demand the sum of $100 for a few minutes work, refusing to give up the net unless paid that sum. Messrs. B. & Co. tendered him $20, which he finally concluded to accept rather than to go to law. The boat was picked up by Mr. Peter Rosset, who had the manliness to charge nothing for the same.
April 20. 1878 WA
About 3 o’clock yesterday morning, a fishing boat was upset while under sail in the river near the city, the wind being very strong. The boat was picked up by two fishing boats passing about two hours afterwards, with two men setting on the bottom, and brought to the shore. The boat belonged to Wm. Hume, of Eagle Cliff, and upon righting her it was found that the night’s catch, which consisted of thirteen fish, and a few utensils had been lost.
SALMON FEVER: RIVER'S END TRAGEDIES ON THE LOWER COLUMBIA RIVER IN THE 1870S, 1880S, AND 1890S BY LISA PENNER