Peavine Jimmy aka James Walton (1830-1902)

  • By Stephen B. Emerson
  • Posted 2/11/2010
  • Essay 9273
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An old crib-style log building stands near the confluence of the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers, not far from the site of the original Spokane House fur-trading post.  When that post was established in 1810, the vicinity was a popular gathering place for people of the Spokane Tribe of American Indians. Years after the last traces of Spokane House had largely disappeared, there was much speculation about the origin of the log building. At first some thought it was a remnant of the fur post, or that it was built by the Indians. Subsequent research determined that the building was of much more recent origin. A local historian suggested that it was built by a “squatter” named Peavine Jimmy, a shadowy figure who appears only at the fringes of the written historical record. Only recently has research been able to flesh out the story of James Walton, a true Wild Western jack-of-all-trades who made his way from the Eastern United States to try his fortune with the opportunities offered by the frontier. He eventually settled down, sort of, north of Spokane, where he operated supply stations along wagon roads, first on the Colville Road, at the Spokane House site, and then on the Cottonwood Road, further upstream on the Little Spokane River. And the old crib-style log building finally has a true name -- Peavine Jimmy’s Threshing Barn.

The Threshing Barn

The Threshing Barn is a type of structure usually referred to as a double-crib barn.  Variations of this building type are found both in Europe and North America, being most common in the southeastern United States.  It is a one-story log structure with a rectangular plan.  The dimensions are ca. 18 feet by 42 feet.  The floor plan is divided into ca. 18 feet by 18 feet enclosed areas separated by a separate open space, like a breezeway, in the middle.  The log walls facing the open space are foreshortened to create half-walls.  The logs for the main walls are of moderate girth and peeled, probably of fir brought from local mountainous areas.  Each log is placed an inch or so above the next lower log, thus leaving the building somewhat open to ventilating outer air, indicating that it was never meant to function as a human habitation.  The logs are joined at the corners using a V-notch technique.  Small openings are cut into the log walls.  The largest one, on the west wall, is of sufficient size to allow stock animals to pass, while openings on the south wall and on both north and south crib breezeway half walls are smaller and low to the ground.  The floor is earthen, although there has been some speculation that there was once a wood floor in the breezeway.

The building's foundation consists only of the lower sill logs.  The original roof consisted of narrow girth peeled logs for rafters and purlins, as well as upright gable supports.  These components were joined by pegs set into drilled holes.  The shingles were nailed to the roof framework.  Nails are present in the 1940s-era roof, often adjacent to wood pegs and it is not known if the nails are contemporaneous with the 1940s roof construction or were added later.  The Threshing Barn, often touted as the oldest standing structure in Spokane County, is actually the second oldest.  The honor of being the oldest goes to the Bassett family cabin, located southwest of Spokane, near Granite Lake.  It was probably built in 1874, whereas Peavine Jimmy's building was most likely constructed in the late 1870s.

A Historic Site     

The location of Peavine Jimmy’s Threshing Barn, at the confluence of the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers, is one of the most significant historical sites in the Pacific Northwest.  It was in this vicinity that, in 1810, the fur trading post Spokane House was established by Jacques (Jaco) Finlay (1768-1828) and Finnan McDonald (?-1851), of the North West Company (NWC), a British-Canadian firm.  In 1812, the Pacific Fur Company (PFC), owned by American John Jacob Astor (1763-1848), built a competing post, called Fort Spokane, nearby. The War of 1812 prompted the Americans to leave, allowing the North West Company men to move into the larger American post, thenceforth called Spokane House. 

In 1821, the North West Company  was absorbed by the larger British firm, the Hudson's Bay Company. Within four years, in 1825, Hudson's Bay Company Governor George Simpson (1792-1860) ordered the Spokane House operation to pull up stakes and move to the Kettle Falls vicinity. John Work (1792?-1860) was in charge of the move, taking the hardware but leaving the buildings and other structures, where Jacques Finlay and his wife lived on for a few more years. Then the buildings were abandoned and gradually deteriorated or were salvaged for other uses.  Shortly after the abandonment of the post in 1826, naturalist David Douglas (1799-1834) stopped at the place twice, noting that Jacques Finlay still lived in one of the old buildings, probably in one of the bastions placed at two corners of the Spokane House stockade. 

By 1833, when Captain Nathaniel Wyeth (1802-1856) visited the site, the bastion was the only building standing, possibly left intact because Jacques, who died in 1828, was thought to be buried there.  Apparently other structures had been dismantled by Indians and burned as fire wood.  In 1836, when missionary Samuel Parker (1806-1886) passed through, only remnants of the bastion were visible.  But when Isaac Ingalls Stevens (1818-1862), recently appointed governor of Washington Territory, stopped in 1853, he made no note of any ruins at all. 

William P. Winans (1836-1917) visited the site in 1870 and observed nothing but low mounds and some graves, indicating that the Threshing Barn was not present in that year.  This contradicts the speculation of historian Edmund T. Becher, who thought that the Threshing Barn might have been built in the 1850s or 1860s, possibly by local Indians who used it as a storehouse for hay or grain. Indian grain storage structures were noted by Lawrence Kip (1837-1899), who served as an officer with Colonel George Wright’s (1803-1865) 1858 campaign to punish the Indians for their defeat of Colonel Edward Steptoe (1816-1865) the previous spring.  As the soldiers swept through the Spokane Valley, Kip reported that “we came across four Indian lodges, filled with wheat, which we burned.” It is unlikely, however, that the Threshing Barn dates to the 1850s period of armed warfare. 

Alternately, Becher offers another, more plausible, explanation -- the Threshing Barn was built by a white "squatter" who ran a roadhouse at the site that served the old Colville Road, a man known as Peavine Jimmy.

The Burnett Family  

We know the Threshing Barn was present in 1883.  That is the year that Reverend Charles Compton Burnett and his family settled on the land.  The Burnetts noted the presence of three old buildings: the Threshing Barn, a log cabin with a stone fireplace at the center, and another highly deteriorated log cabin that was soon after dismantled.  Charles Burnett's son, Hugh Burnett, later described the Threshing Barn as it appeared in 1883:   

"About half a mile south of the mouth of the Little Spokane and toward the Spokane River there was then standing a log building built of peeled logs.  The roof timbers were fastened on with wooden pegs and the roof, of cedar shakes, was also fastened on with wooden pegs. The building was built up with a log enclosure at each end and a threshing floor in the middle. At that time it had a floor made of logs hewn by hand.  On this floor the Indians threshed their grain, either by using a flail or by putting in two or three cayuse ponies to trample the grain out" (Lewis 1925).

Hugh Burnett surmised that the buildings were associated with a roadhouse on the old Colville Road that had been built by "the Frenchman Bone," and dated back to the 1840s or 1850s.  He made no mention of Peavine Jimmy.   

Enter Peavine Jimmy   

More compelling information is available, however, in a statement given by freighter Alex McLeod, taken by historian William S. Lewis in 1930 (Lewis 1930).  McLeod attributes the buildings directly to Peavine Jimmy. The interview, published in the Spokesman-Review, reveals McLeod as a man who, though approaching 80 years of age, had vivid recollections of a remarkable number of the region's early inhabitants, including Spokane Garry (1811-1892) ("an awfully nice old Indian"), Angus McDonald (Fort Colvile HBC trader) and his daughter Christina, Sam Oppenheimer (Colville Mill), Antoine Plante (ca. 1800-1890) (Plante's Ferry), Charles Kendall (Kendall Yards), Steven Liberty (Liberty Lake), and Bill Newman (Newman Lake). 

On a number of occasions, McLeod hauled freight between Spokane Falls and Colvile.  Heading north, he always spent the first night at Peavine Jimmy's, who had, according to McLeod "put up quite a collection of buildings -- a two-room log house with a fireplace between the rooms; a log barn with inclosed grain stacks and a threshing floor in the center where his cayuse ponies trampled out the grain, and a lot of sheds" (Lewis, 1930).  There can be no doubt that the two major buildings are those that were later described by Hugh Burnett.  McLeod said that Peavine Jimmy had built his roadhouse on the Colville Road in the late 1870s, identifying that period as the likeliest time that the Threshing Barn was constructed. 

Curiously, General Land Office (GLO) surveyors who mapped the township in 1883 make no mention of these buildings, but that is consistent with their similar lack in not noting other improvements in the area. Historian J. Neilson Barry, in a manuscript on file at the Spokane Public Library Northwest Room, dated 1947, makes reference to the Colville Road station as well, noting that a "man called PEAVINE JIMMY built a two-room log cabin as a way-side tavern.  This was locally called "THE HOTEL."  Barry goes on to say that this building was torn down by the Burnetts, but that a "well-built barn" was still standing, most likely referring to the Threshing Barn.

Who Was Peavine Jimmy?     

Alex McLeod, the Colville Road freighter, never learned Peavine Jimmy's actual name, but Peavine was indeed a real person.  A short biography of him appears in Reverend Jonathan Edward's Illustrated History of Spokane County, published in 1900.  The man was James Walton, born in Pennsylvania in 1830.  At the age of 20 he set out west to make his fortune.  He traveled extensively throughout the Western United States, and Canada as well.  He worked as a miner, rancher, freighter, guide, and carpenter.  According to Edwards, Walton settled in Chattaroy, north of Spokane, in 1882, where he operated a "Government Forage Station."  Reverend Edward's described Mr. Walton as "a very unpretentious man, not ambitious for leadership, but is well liked by his neighbors, by whom he is familiarly known as Pea Vine Jimmy."  Another short bio of James Walton, written by J. W. Owen in 1946, is on file at the Spokane Public Library Northwest Room.  Much of this information was obviously derived from Edwards, but some of the details must have been supplied to Owen directly from Peavine Jimmy, or at least someone who knew him well. 

Owen’s typed statement reveals that James Walton was born in Pennsylvania on July 7, 1830.  When he was 4 years old, his family moved to Marion County, Ohio.  He worked on the family farm and in his father’s distillery until age 20, when he headed overland to make his fortune in California.  The year was 1850, and the gold rush was on.  He staked his nest egg of $505 in a part interest in the American Mining Company.  But he soon sold his share and made a placer gold mining claim on Dry Creek, where he scraped out $5 a day.  In 1853, now probably somewhat well-to-do, he returned home to Ohio. 

But the wanderlust persisted and he returned to California via ship and the Isthmus of Panama.  He worked a ranch near Marysville, California, until 1858, when the gold fever struck again, this time sending him to the Frazer River Country of British Columbia, where he stayed for seven years.  He then moved on to what was called the “Caribou Country,” in British Columbia east of the Frazer River and north of the Okanogan area.  There he worked another placer claim, pulling in up to $160 a day in gold.  While there, he first got into the freighting business, earning $60 a day supplying timber. He was able to take charge of a pack train.  From this British Columbia base, he traveled extensively, visiting, among other places, Victoria, B.C., Boise, Walla Walla, Spokane, Marcus, and other points in the Colville River Valley.  Besides mining and freighting, Walton became an accomplished carpenter, and often worked at this trade.

Owen skips over the time when James Walton operated the foraging station on the Colville Road, near the site of Spokane House.  He picks up the tale again when, in 1882, Walton opened another foraging station on the newly constructed Cottonwood Road, an alternative to the old Colville Road, providing a shorter route to Spokane, which was becoming the trading hub of the Inland Northwest.  Owen states that James Walton was 52 years old at the time he opened the new station, and that he was 72 when he sold it and moved back east to Indiana (another source indicates that he returned to Ohio, not Indiana). 

Then Owens adds the source of James’ nickname. While living in the Caribou Country of British Columbia, James Walton kept his pack horses and oxen alive through the winter by feeding them large quantities of pea vines, probably an introduced species commonly referred to as purple, or hairy, vetch, that he had harvested the previous summer.   

A Kind, Gentle Man, Extremely Independent

In 1956, an article appeared in the Spokesman-Review filling in other aspects of the story of James Walton.  Research and interviews conducted by Daniel Johnson reveal that the man known as Peavine Jimmy moved to Chattaroy, then called Kidd, in 1882. There he operated a foraging station on the Cottonwood Road.  It was a natural transition.  In 1882, as freighting and travel moved from the old Colville Road to the new route, so moved Jimmy's roadhouse facility.  The only known picture of Peavine Jimmy appears in the 1956 newspaper article, to the right of an unidentified man, standing in the doorway of a log cabin with a wood shake roof.  Peavine stands in shadow; his facial features cannot be made out.   

Daniel Johnson's article contains information on Jimmy’s life, seemingly gleaned from people that still recalled his later years near Chattaroy.  He interviewed a woman named Katherine Larkin, who referred to James Walton as “Uncle Jimmy” while he was alive, although of no relation.  She described him as “a small man, about 5 feet 6 inches tall, slender, small boned, very neat and very active.” On many Saturday nights, Jimmy arrived at her father’s farm to pick up butter and buttermilk. Johnson also spoke with Mr. and Mrs. Ardie Woods, who looked after Jimmy in his later years.  The couple noted that Jimmy was “kind and gentle,” never “quarrelsome,” but “extremely independent.”  Johnson confirmed that Peavine Jimmy had operated two foraging stations in his life, the earlier one at the Spokane House site, which he called Pea Vine Flat, and the “better known” location near Chattaroy. 

Johnson even speculated that for several years he operated both stations simultaneously.  He called Jimmy’s cabin near Chattaroy a “half way house.”  It was a 11/2-story log building with an attic divided into two sleeping rooms, one for men and the other for women and children.  For a time, Jimmy had a partner (perhaps the other man in the photo) named Dan Glashusia, described as “the dandy of that time.”  Occasionally Jimmy would travel north to British Columbia on prospecting trips. For untold reasons, Dan committed suicide during one of these absences. This act left dark stains on the wood of the cabin attic, stains that would frighten children in the coming years. 

Several of the persons that Johnson spoke with remembered Jimmy as a quiet teetotaler, but others maintained that he had a weakness for the “devil rum.”  One story told by Katherine Larkin’s father, Dan Heally, indicated that Jimmy would come sometimes to the Heally farm for dinner.  On one such occasion, Jimmy brought along his own supply of “fire water.”  In the excitement of some card games, Jimmy overindulged, and Dan sent him home with a lantern to guide his way in the moonless night. The next morning, a hung over Jimmy returned to the Heally farm with the lantern, thanking Dan, saying “You know Dan, it was a good thing you gave me the light, or I’d never have found my way home.” Johnson concludes his article by remarking that Jimmy was a “dead shot” with a rifle and was an expert ax man, who carved the “best canoe paddles in the country.”  Despite his many talents, Jimmy apparently died nearly penniless, after spending his last coins to pay for the train fare to Ohio (not Indiana as indicated elsewhere).

Jimmy Peavine's Legacy

The land upon which the Spokane House site and Peavine Jimmy’s Threshing Barn are located is currently owned by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission (WSPRC), as part of Riverside State Park.  The land was given as a grant to the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883 and later passed through various hands to eventually become the state park, beginning in 1934.  In particular, the land upon which the Threshing Barn is situated was preempted and proved upon by Mrs. Burnett in 1892.  She sold the property to R. J. Hurd in 1906, who in turn sold it, in 1910, to three investors -- J. W. Binkley, a probate court judge, Robert Strickland, of the Dutch investment firm of Binkley and Taylor, and Ben Norman, who once owned the Spokane Hotel. 

In 1918, these men sold the property to B. L. Gordon. Following Mr. Gordon’s death, his wife proclaimed that it had been his dream to donate part of the land for use as a state park.  In a deal coordinated between Mrs. Gordon, D. Van Worden, W. C. Mading, and Mr. and Mrs. Murl C. Shoemaker, the land was gifted to the state parks system.  Aubrey White (1864-1948), who was promoting the creation of the Spokane city parks system, was instrumental in bringing these parties together.  

After Peavine Jimmy moved his foraging operation to the Chattaroy vicinity in 1882, his buildings at the previous location were occupied by Indians for several years.  They were present when the Burnett family arrived.  These Native Americans left a few years later, probably in the late 1880s. Subsequently, the Threshing Barn was used mostly as storage and perhaps as an animal pen by the Burnetts and later owners. 

By the early 1940s, most of the roof shingles had fallen off and the rafters and purlins had mostly collapsed.  A Rogers High School history class took on the project of replacing the shingles and most of the roof support framework.  Peeled logs were acquired from Mt. Spokane State Park and connected with pegs, recreating the original construction methods.  This rebuilt roof lasted for more than 50 years, until record-breaking snow fall in December, 2008, led to another roof collapse, causing damage to the original log building as well.  Reconstruction efforts are currently (2010) being discussed.

The location of Jimmy’s second foraging station is not exactly known.  There are indications that it was located in the small community of Chattaroy, but that’s not quite true.  Comparisons between homestead patent records and the original General Land Office (GLO) survey map reveal that his land was located near the confluence of the Little Spokane River and Dragoon Creek, near where the Cottonwood Road once passed.  This is about two miles south of Chattaroy. 

One can only assume that his cabin either rotted away or was moved.  But somewhere in the damp, grassy wetlands, some trace of James Walton, aka Peavine Jimmy, must remain.

Sources: J. Neilson Barry, letter to the Spokane Public Library, 1947, Northwest Room, Spokane; Edmund T. Becher, Spokane Corona (Spokane: C.W. Hill Printers, 1974); Rev. Jonathan Edwards, An Illustrated History of Spokane County, State of Washington (H. H. Lever, 1900); Stephen Emerson, "Effects of Cross-Cultural Contact," in A Design for Management of Cultural Resources in the Lake Roosevelt Basin of Northeastern Washington edited by Jerry R. Galm (Cheney: Eastern Washington University Reports in Archaeology and History 100-83, Archaeological and Historical Services, 1994); Otis W. Freeman, "Early Wagon Roads in the Inland Empire," The Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 4, 1954, pp. 125-130; General Land Office, Cadastral Survey Notes, T27N, R42E, Microfiche on file, Bureau of Land Management, Spokane; Daniel J. Johnson, "Pea Vine Jimmy of Half Way House," Spokesman-Review, Magazine Section, July 26, 1956, p. 7; Ceylon S. Kingston, "House State Park in Retrospect," The Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 3 (1948), p. 181-199; Lawrence Kip, Army Life on the Pacific (Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, 1986); William S. Lewis, "Old Hudson’s Bay Post was His First Home," Part 4, Spokesman-Review, March 8, 1925, pp 1-2; William S. Lewis, "Spokane’s First White Man Was Joe Paine," Spokesman-Review, Magazine Section, March 23, 1930, p. 3; J. W. Owen, untitled manuscript dated 1946 Northwest Room, Spokane Public Library; Samuel Parker, Journal of an Exploring Tour Beyond the Rock Mountains (Moscow: University of Idaho Press, 1990); "Son of Burnett's Recalls Scene," Spokesman-Review, Magazine Section, December 24, 1939, p. 5; United States War Department, Reports of Exploration and Survey to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, Vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: A.O.P. Nicholson, Printer, 1855); Aubrey L. White, "Old Shrine Saved," Spokesman-Review, December 24, 1939, p. 3-4; William P. Winans, "Stevens County, Washington, its Creation, Addition, Subtraction and Division," Manuscript 272, Washington State Library, Olympia.

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