Bear Prairie

June 14, 1979

Bear Prairie and Skye are two sides of the same coin.

Both districts cover rolling hills overlooking the Washougal River 7 to 10 miles northeast of the city of Washougal.

The Clark-Skamania county line splits the area down the middle. Bear Prairie to the west is in Clark County, Skye to the east in Skamania.

Bear Prairie was among the early farming areas settled in Clark County. The first settlers might have arrived as early as the 1850s.

In 1879, Robert Robb, Clark County superintendent of schools, walked to Bear Prairie over forest trails. There he discovered and described beautiful farms and orchards and hard-working settlers who were in the process of building a school.

Nina Chevron, 84, a Washougal resident since the age of 3, is the granddaughter of bear Prairie pioneers. Her maternal grandparents were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Stoops, among the first to wrestle a homestead from the thick forest that once carpeted Bear Prairie.

The old Stoops residence, about the last of the historic landmarks, burned to the ground just this spring.

“Those early settlers moved up to Bear Prairie because they wanted to get as far away as possible from city life,” Mrs. Chevron explained. “Most of them had big families and needed lots of room for them to grow up in.”

They were a tough and hardy people. Mrs. Chevron’s late husband, Lou Chevron, was born on Bear Prairie. His mother and father had immigrated from France and had about 10 children.

Chevron used to tell about the time his mother, who hand-sewed clothing for all the children, ran out of thread. She walked a 10-mile forest trail to the village of LaCamas to buy a spool, them walked the 10 miles back to Bear Prairie.

Arriving home, she discovered she had the wrong kind of thread. She promptly walked the entire route again to exchange the spool of thread.

Most of the Bear Prairie residents went to Washougal for their supplies. Their wagon road forded the Washougal River at about the site of the present Mount Norway Bridge, then wound over the top of Mount Norway, dropping down to Washougal on the other side.

The present road (state Highway 140) that follows the Washougal River was not completed until 1909. Mrs. Chevron recalls attending a big community celebration when this route was opened and the Bear Prairie residents no longer had to toll over the top of Mount Norway.

One of the early Bear Prairie residents was D.W. Hutchinson. In 1909, Hutchinson wrote his own version of how the Washougal River got its name.

“When the dusky warriors first saw this country in bygone years, they exclaimed ‘Wa-Shu-Go’, which translated into English, means land of plenty,” Hutchinson wrote.

There seems to be no record of how Bear Prairie and Skye were named, although black bears still prowl the old orchards, and Skye is the name of an island off the coast of Scotland.

The old Bear Prairie school, near the top of the hill, was discontinued after the district voted to consolidate with Washougal on May 22, 1925. All evidence of the building has disappeared.

On the other side of the county line, in the Skye district, an attractive school was built in 1910 and continued in use until about 1957. In that year, the Skye and Cape Horn districts, enriched by construction of the Swift Creek Dam, built Cape Horn-Skye School near the Steel Bridge.

Later, the Washougal School District annexed both school districts and the school itself in a bitter legal battle.

The original Skye school still stands, having been remodeled into an attractive residence.

Gerald and Louise Erickson live at the bottom of the Skye Road. Erickson was born near the covered bridge used by Bear Prairie residents to cross the Washougal. Mrs. Erickson was the daughter of Henry and Victoria Buhman, who operated a large farm that sprawled across the hills of Skye.

“The old Buhman place is being subdivided into residences,” Mrs. Erickson said. “So are a lot of the other old places.”

Just about all of the old families have disappeared from the Bear Prairie and Skye districts, but their names live on in the network of county roads that crisscross the country McGuire, Buhman, Alder and others.

However, a new breed of settlers had moved in, people who live in the country and work in the cities, driving to Camas and Washougal in a matter of minutes.

“Imagine anyone today walking 10 miles each way just to buy a spool of thread,” Mrs. Chevron said.

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