Mossyrock to Glenoma Before Mossyrock Dam

Riffe Presentation 10/04/2023
by Buddy Rose

Map showing the former towns and roads in relation to Riffe Lake and the current route of Hwy 12.
Map showing the former towns and roads in relation to Riffe Lake and the current route of Hwy 12.

I grew up in the town of Riffe and left in 1963 at the age of 15 when my family property was bought out by the City of Tacoma. In 2004, after a 30+ year career with the Forest Service in Randle, I started writing outdoor and other newspaper articles; first for the Chronicle in Centralia and then the East County Journal in Morton. I began including stories about Riffe in the Morton paper in 2008. In 2013, I compiled what I had written up to that time into a book, “Stories from Riffe, Wash.”

The first residents of the Cowlitz River Valley in this area were Indians. From about Mossyrock eastward they were called Upper Cowlitz or Taitnapam. They spoke Sahaptin, the language of the Yakama and other groups living in the Columbia Plateau region. They occupied a number of permanent and temporary settlements along the Cowlitz, Tilton and Cispus rivers. There were probably about 250 Taitnapam residing in this area in the mid-1800s when the first Europeans explored this area. By the 1880s, when the first European settlers began showing up, their number had dropped to about 100. Most of the others had relocated onto reservations established by treaties during the mid-1800s.

Early European settlers in the Cowlitz Valley settled on homesteads – usually 160 acres – or on railroad grant land that they purchased. About half of this area was available for homesteading and about half was Northern Pacific grant land. Northern Pacific began selling their grant lands in Washington in the late 1880s for $2.60 – $6.00 per acre.

Floyd and Armedia (Blankenship) Riffe came to the Riffe area Sept. 1893 from West Virginia with a group of about 60 people (Families: Floyd Riffe, William R. Osborne, Elexious Coleman, Wilburn Coleman, Jasper Coleman, Noah Coleman, Thomas I. Blankenship, James Stinson, George Thompson, George Rakes, John Hunt, and John Wilkerson, who was single.

Riffe Post Office established Sept. 20, 1898 – Floyd Riffe first postmaster. Replaced Osborn Post Office, near Swofford Jct. 1886-1896. Nesika Post Office also established in 1898, closed in 1934. Alta Vista Post Office, on Green Mountain, 1913-1920. Swofford Post Office, at Duran Davis store near Perkins Road jct.,1890-1922.

Riffe Post Office closed May 31, 1966 – last postmaster was William Oscar Jackson with wife, Fern (Hunt) Jackson – as many as 1500 patrons in the late 1950s, early 1960s, according to Jackson.

In the Tacoma condemnation lawsuits of the 1960s for the Riffe and Kosmos areas, about 376 individuals or couples who owned property were listed (not including timber companies and other business land owners). With their families and others who lived here as renters, it is likely that 1500-2000 people were displaced by Mossyrock Dam.