The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Jess Macinko
News Editor 

Klickitat County's first wedding predates statehood

 

Contributed

FIRST WEDDING: The marriage certificate for Henry Howe and America Jenkins is dated Aug. 19, 1867.

On Aug. 20, 1867, a 21-year-old woman named America Jenkins married Henry Howe, 35, in her father's home near the blockhouse, a small log fort some seven miles northwest of Goldendale on Spring Creek. It was the first recorded marriage in what was then called "the County of Clicatat."

America was born to Willis Jenkins and Elizabeth née Parmeter. Willis was from North Carolina, Elizabeth from Tennessee. The record of their trip west can be read in the births of their children: James Jenkins was born in Missouri in 1844; his sister America in Oregon just two years later.

According to An Illustrated History of Klickitat, Yakima and Kittitas Counties, the Jenkinses settled in Polk County, "near the present town of Dallas." It's possible the Jenkinses first became acquainted with America's future husband then; the marriage certificate has the groom hailing from Polk County.

The Jenkinses were true pioneers. Willis Jenkins scored $7,000 (almost $213,000 today) worth of gold dust in the California Gold Rush, ran stores in Oregon and Washington, and was one of Klickitat's leading cattlemen of the time-at one point he had almost two-hundred head, though he lost all but fifty in the hard winter of 1861-62. He was appointed probate judge in 1859 and treasurer in 1861, though the extent to which he fulfilled these roles is uncertain. County offices were created at the insistence of the territorial government for the purpose of collecting taxes. Settlers, opposed to that purpose, generally refused to qualify for the offices they were assigned.

Elizabeth Jenkins singlehandedly faced down a pair of hostile Indians trying to steal "half a dozen sacks of hazelnuts and camas," which the Jenkins were holding in trust for members of the Klickitat tribe. Two of the Jenkins boys, Thomas and James, operated one of the first ferry services in the region. A third brother, Henry Jenkins, acted as minister in the marriage of America and Henry Howe.

But little is known about the bride herself. Though 14 years her husband's junior, America preceded him in death by 11. The Polk County Observer records her passing on Oct. 15, 1897, "in this city." The city in question is unclear-perhaps Monmouth, where The Observer is published; perhaps Dallas, where Mr. Howe is buried.

Henry Howe is almost as obscure a figure as his wife. From what we do know, he was something of an adventurer. Born in Newtown, Indiana on Nov. 11, 1832, he came to Oregon in 1851 at the age of 19. After America's death, he moved to Skagway, Alaska-the gateway to the Yukon gold rush. If he went seeking his fortune in the frozen north, it would have been an impressive display of grit-he was over 65. Howe spent his final years in Bellingham, where he passed away from "an attack of asthma and heart trouble" on Tuesday Nov. 17, 1908. He was buried in "the old cemetery west of the Odd Fellows cemetery" in Dallas, OR.

That's everything one reporter could find in time for this Valentine's Day publication-it's certainly not all the extant information about Klickitat County's first married couple. According to The Observer, Howe was survived "by three brothers, Robert and James Howe, of Dallas, and Zachary Howe, of Seattle; a daughter, Mrs. Nellie Shoeniake, of Seattle, and a son, Frank Howe, of Bellingham." On the Jenkins side, a 1999 posting on ancestry.com from Chris McKinley tells of a marriage between Andrew Jackson Masters and Sarah Jane Jenkins-apparently a younger sister to America:

"Her parents, the Willis Jenkins, came on the 1844 wagon train and settled in Goldendale, WA. The Masters settled in Reedville where their home is still standing and occupied, and is listed as a Century House. A. J. Masters was shot in the back and killed over a property line dispute on a Sunday morning. Sarah Jenkins Masters eventually married a Mr. Willoughby from whom I am descended. Following that marriage, she married Mr. Noah Mull. My father is 83 and remembers Sarah's son, his grandfather, Charles Willoughby."

Perhaps you know a Howe, a Jenkins. Perhaps you are a Willoughby, a Mull, a Shoeniake. If you can paint a fuller picture of lives of America and Henry, please let us know. The pieces of the puzzle are out there-names, stories, heirlooms scattered by the rush of years, waiting to be reunited.

Special thanks to Jean Smeltzer, Ada Ruth Whitmore, the Klickitat County Historical Society, the Klickitat County Auditor's Office and the Goldendale Library for research assistance.

 

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