Oral History

Narrator: Dottie Stephens
Date: March 28, 1999

Dottie Stephens, a long term Umatilla resident, recorded her memories of Umatilla for the Umatilla Community history project based on questions provided for the oral history project.

How did you or your family come to Umatilla?

[seems to be reading]

The Ernest Red Reeves Family, wife Florence and sons Harold and Benny came to Umatilla by railroad from Kansas and Illinois in 1927. Dottie Reeves Stephens, myself, was born in Umatilla and, on C and 7th Street. I went through grade and high schools in Umatilla. My dad, Ernest, was city nightwatchman, later city marshall for several years. He kept the cemetery up, planted grass and trees down on the Columbia River as part of his job. The trees, all locusts, are still there now in 1999. Another task was he walked down to Harry's Tavern where on a power pole was hanging a stick with a hook on it. This he used to turn on all of the streetlights in town. Times were tough everywhere, so when men came to town by foot or rail, etc., they needed food and a place to sleep, and Ernest Reeves as town marshall, would take them to the restaurant to eat, usually on the house, or they would have bummed a meal from a family. Then Red would take them to the city jail and give them a place to sleep. He always locked them in, then let them out the next morning.

How did dams affect the physical landscape?

Covered old Umatilla, all homes and businesses were gone. And where they had been was not covered by water as was supposed, and to this day, March 28, 1999, the area is still out of the water.

How has Umatilla changed since you came to the community?

There were only three homes on 7th Street in 1928. Red Reeves built his house there, making only four homes clear to the school. In about 1933 or '34, a row of cabins were built on 7th Street right in front of the Red Reeves home, and on the vacant lot where the whole neighborhood and anyone else who came along, including the transients, known as bums in those days. I graduated in 1945, so I didn't attend school when the barracks building came. The influx of people when the dam was built was a big change, but our children made many friends of their classmates that came at that time.

Has either dam affected you personally or economically?

McNary Dam really affected the special spots where we caught steelhead from our boat, but it didn't stop us, we just found new methods.

Were you aware of any opposition to building either dam?

One big one the homes that were affected by the takeover of lower Umatilla. Many were elderly people having to give a home of many years for what the government deemed enough. Most of the history of Umatilla was wiped out.

How did the dams affect the population, ethnic groups?

The big farms needed workers, so many people came for the jobs. Where we used to know everyone, we now know some. We have Hispanic customers in our business. Most of all of them are good customers. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation have fenced off the lower old part on the Columbia, so no one can go on it. They wish to keep the graves and artifacts intact.

What impact has McNary Dam on the community?

McNary Dam brought in many people. The post office had to put in many more boxes even though McNary City had a post office. Handling much more mail was a [challenge].

What do you recall about the building of the dam?

Mostly the many people who came.


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