By Chuck King
Above, one of the steamboats captained by William Polk Gray, the Annie Faxon circa 1890. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Digital Archives.
One of the early settlers of the city of Pasco, Washington was William Polk Gray. His father, William Henry Gray, was born in New York in 1810, and he came to Oregon in September of 1836. He arrived with Marcus Whitman and Henry H. Spalding and helped them establish the Whitman Mission near Walla Walla. On a return trip to New York, William Henry Gray married Mary A. Dix in February of 1838. A short time later, the young couple made their way back to the mission site, a journey that took over four months. William Henry Gray would help with the construction of mission buildings and a flour mill there. The Grays remained at the mission until 1842. During that time, three children were added to the family.
The Gray family next acquired a donation land claim where the city of Salem, Oregon would later be built. After the birth of another daughter, this property was traded for land on Clatsop Plains near Astoria. William Polk Gray was born in Oregon City in 1845. The family then moved to their property at Clatsop Plains and took up farming. Around 1853, the family moved to the city of Astoria. A total of nine children had been born to William and Mary, two of which died young. During his school years in Astoria, young William made money delivering mail and newspapers brought in by steamships.
Early River Travel
In 1858, William’s father decided there was a great opportunity to make money in British Columbia, and for a couple of years, William worked with his father building and running supply boats on the Fraser River. In 1860, the family moved to Osoyoos Lake on the American side of the border near the mouth of the Okanogan River. There they built a 91 ft. boat used for running supplies to the miners. His father sold their boat in 1862, but William continued sailing it for the new owners for the season, his first job as captain of a ship. In the fall of 1862, he helped his father build another ship that they operated until 1864.
His Legacy in Pasco
William Polk Gray continued to sail, becoming captain of many of the best-known ships in the northwest, including the Almota, Spokane, and Annie Faxon. He then became captain of the Frederick Billings at the town of Ainsworth near present-day Pasco. Here, the railroad cars of the Northern Pacific Railroad were loaded on the ship and carried across the Snake River until a bridge was built in 1884. The town of Ainsworth then ceased to exist. Some of the buildings were hauled to the new settlement of Pasco. He then purchased his first property there and built a home with his wife, Oceanna, whom he had married at Portland in 1868. He first bought 19 acres, but soon acquired another 80 acres. He later became a land agent for the Northern Pacific Railroad, County Commissioner, and had a dairy with ten milk cows, 100 hogs, and 200 horses. William Polk Gray died on October 26, 1929.