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Annie Gaines, the girl who touched the water

Looking down from the sheer rock edge that surrounded a deep, blue lake, few in the group thought it possible to reach the water, but some would try.

When a couple of men disappeared over the precipice and soon were waving up from the water’s edge, Annie Gaines looked at Roxana Brown with her typical spirit of adventure, and both women quickly joined the men, scrambling down over the rocks.

Barely 20 years old, Anna reached the water before Roxanna, and by putting her hand into the icy water Oct. 9, 1865, she forever attached her name in history as the first woman known to ever reach the water of Crater Lake.

Anna, who preferred Annie, was visiting her sister, Amanda, at Fort Klamath, where Amanda’s husband, Major William Vance Rinehart, recently had been appointed commander.

Oliver Applegate, of the Applegate Trail family, met Annie that summer and remembered her intelligence and energy.

“She was an expert on horseback,” he said, “and was seen almost daily riding over the grassy plains and among the evergreen groves of Klamath land. No obstacle seemed too great for her to overcome when seeking to indulge her passion for adventure.”

In 1846, Annie was born into Oregon pioneer royalty. Albert Gaines, her father, met and married Sarah Barlow in Illinois in 1839. Sarah was the daughter of Samuel Barlow, the man who would blaze the Barlow Road through the mountains into Oregon City, a final shortcut on the Oregon Trail. Albert, who is believed to be related to Oregon’s third territorial governor, John Gaines, was elected to Oregon’s first territorial legislature.

They came west with Sam Barlow and Annie’s two older sisters in 1845 and lived for a while in Northern Oregon before moving south to Marion County, near Salem.

Oliver Cromwell fondly remembered floating on Klamath Lake with Annie, Major Rinehart and others.

“Miss Gaines,” he said, “was, as usual, the most enthusiastic and adventurous of our party. While on the lake we spent some time drifting among the green islands, to one of which, lying away out in the center of the lake, covered with gigantic green cane-grass, and bordered with green willows — we gave it her name.”

When Rinehart left the Army in 1866, he, his family and Annie returned to Salem. Annie began studies in the Academy of the Sacred Heart. When she graduated she became a teacher.

On June 25, 1871, Annie married August Charles Schwatka, owner of one of the largest printing companies in the state and foreman of the Salem Statesman newspaper printing department.

“Our friend, Gus,” said his newspaper friends, “has fulfilled the hopes of his youth and the promise of his manhood by getting married.”

The boys laughed when they heard Annie had sworn Gus off liquor, but they wished the couple well.

“The gain of a companion for life seems to fill Mr. Schwatka’s cup of bliss to the brim, and we have no doubt the lady’s too. We wish him a pleasant voyage in the matrimonial cruise.”

The cruise brought the birth of a daughter and hope for another, but Annie had problems while giving birth Feb. 5, 1876. The baby girl survived, but Annie, 29 years old, did not. She was buried in Salem’s Pioneer Cemetery.

Gus took his daughters to San Francisco and had a successful printing career there before dying in 1904.

Annie Creek and Annie Spring in Crater Lake National Park are named as monuments to the girl who touched the nearby lake.

“The bright and pleasant friend,” said Oliver Applegate, “the enthusiastic lover of art and nature, the gentle wife and loving mother, sleeps the sleep that knows no waking hour.”

An update: In last week’s column about Dorland Robinson, I mentioned one of her drawings of a windmill surrounded by a cemetery. Former Historical Society alum, Dawna, has discovered that the windmill actually exists. It is Old Hook Windmill, built in 1806 and operated regularly until 1908 in Hampton, Long Island, New York. The mill is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.