The Drowning of Eugene Leonard

On a hot summer day in 1909, Eugene Leonard dove into the rapid Deschutes river in an attempt to save his wife and others from drowning.  Instead, he became the only victim of the chilly waters.

Eugene Leonard occupies a special place in the family tree as he was the youngest child of the youngest child of the youngest child: being a son of Sarilda (Herren) Leonard and a grandson of Dosha (Robbins) Herren and great-grandson of William Robbins.  His mother Sarilda was born after the family arrived in Oregon and she met and married Thomas Sylvester Leonard in 1868.  In just a few years the family had moved to southeastern Washington, settling in the small town of Dayton.  The had four children, a smaller family than average for that time period. The oldest was Caroline Eloise (“Carrie”), followed by Edgar Harvey, Inez Olive, and finally Eugene K. Leonard, born in Dayton in 1887.

Eugene Leonard as child

Eugene Leonard

The parents, Thomas and Sarilda, remained in Dayton for the rest of their lives, while the two daughters moved around quite a bit once they were married.  The sons, Edgar and Eugene, remained in southeast Washington. Edgar worked as foreman, manager, and vice-president of milling companies in Waitsburg and Prescott, Washington, including the Portland Flouring Mill Company, and his younger brother Eugene followed in his footsteps.

Eugene Leonard was married to Goldie Thorington in 1907 in Walla Walla.  During their short marriage they had no children.

In 1909 Eugene was working as the manager of the Sandow Milling Company, a branch of the Portland Flour Mill Company, in the small town of Wasco, Oregon.  Wasco is located about 9 miles south of the Columbia River, in the heart of north-central Oregon’s wheat country.

On July 3rd, 1909, Eugene Leonard and his wife Goldie left their home in Wasco for an automobile drive down to Bend for a trout barbecue.  They were traveling with friends, including R. C. Atwood, the agent for the Wasco Warehouse & Milling company, V. H. Smith, a farmer from near Wasco; and G. W. Berrian, agent at Moro for the Eastern Lane company, and the three men’s wives (who in all the newspaper articles are simply referred to as “Mrs.” with no first names provided).

Deschutes or Crooked R view

Near the confluence of the Deschutes and Crooked rivers

The party decided to stop near Cove for a rest and to do some fishing.  Cove was a location along the Crooked River near where it enters into the larger Deschutes River, which drains much of the east side of the Cascade Range.  Today the entire area is inundated behind Round Butte Dam and is part of Cove Palisades State Park.  According the book Oregon Geographic Names (2003, 7th edition):

The place on Crooked River known as Cove is not inappropriately named.  At this point, which is about two miles south of the old river mouth, the stream was in a canyon with an overall depth of some 900 feet.  About halfway down from the bluffs west of Culver, there is a bench or shelf, and this shelf is closed on the east by rock walls, forming a natural cove.  Farther down into the canyon there was another natural cove near the river.  The county highway from Culver to Grandview crossed Crooked River at the Cove Bridge and, after passing over a rocky divide several hundred feet high, made a second descent, this time to cross the Deschutes River.  [This must be approximate location of the events in this story.]

According to newspaper reports the women were wading in shallow water when Mrs. Smith let out a cry, having stepped into a deep hole.  Both Goldie Leonard and Mrs. Berrian rushed to help and were themselves caught in the deep water.  Mrs. Berrian, a good swimmer, was able to get one of the women to shore, and then the men entered the water to save the remaining woman.  Mr. Berrian succeeded in getting the women to shore but Eugene Leonard, who had gone in to try to save his wife, was caught in the swift water and disappeared.  Goldie Leonard was pulled out by Mr. Berrian but was unconscious.  She was taken to the small town of Shaniko on the road back to Wasco to recover.  (Today’s Shaniko is a noted “ghost town” but in 1909 was an active community with a hotel.)

Eugene Leonard’s body traveled down the Deschutes and then down the Columbia before it was found ten days later twelve miles downstream from The Dalles.

The youngest member of the Leonard family, Eugene was the first to pass away, and was returned to his parent’s town of Dayton to be buried in the local cemetery.  He was later joined by his parents (Thomas in 1921 and Sarilda in 1924).  He wasn’t the first Robbins descendant buried there though, as his cousin Nettie Herren (daughter of Noah Herren) was buried in the Dayton Cemetery at the age of 20 in 1882. Years later the Leonards would be joined by more family, the Turners, descendants of Nathaniel Robbins, Dosha’s older brother, but whether they knew one another is doubtful.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren-Sarilda (Herren) Leonard-Eugene Leonard)

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