"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

A.B. Brender’s winding road to the Valley

By on April 22, 2019 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Rod Molzahn

By Rod Molzahn

Most of the early settlers, 1880s and 1890s, who came to the Wenatchee Valley had other destinations in mind when they set out on their journey west. 

A.B. Brender was no exception. He claimed and developed homesteads in three states before ending up in the Wenatchee Valley.

Alexander Bartholomew Brender was born in Wurtenberg, East Prussia (part of Germany) in 1851. By the time he was 15 he had determined to come to America. 

His father refused to let him go until he had learned a trade. Brender apprenticed to a blacksmith and in two years had learned the basics of the work. 

In 1869, he sailed for America then traveled on to Eudora, Kansas where he had an uncle. He stayed there working at his blacksmithing trade until he was conscripted into the U.S. army and sent off to relocate Indians in New Mexico.

He served five years in the army. In 1877 he wrote to his family that in those years he had fought some bloody battles with the Indians and came out unharmed but, by then, he had had enough and was ready to “settle down.”

A.B. bought 390 acres near Littleton, Colorado and began raising wheat. 

His 1877 letter to family began with, “Honored and beloved parents.” He went on to extoll the virtues of America. “Later on I shall have cattle and I want to tell you that you do not feed cattle over here but they stay in the pasture grounds all year ’round and I can have 1,000 or 10,000 animals grazing and they don’t cost me anything.”

In the same letter, he began his ongoing efforts to persuade his parents to come and join him in America. “You won’t have to work yourself to death to make a living and you can eat whatever you want. We don’t eat any black bread over here. We’ve got meat a plenty… and when I want deer or rabbit… I just go ahead and shoot it and don’t have to ask anyone. 

“This here is a good country and everybody can do as he pleases. I could not and would not live in your country. You have to tip your hat to every priest or mayor or king. This is not the case over here.” 

He goes on to talk about a German girl he had met and might marry.

The girl didn’t work out but A.B. continued his letter campaign to convince his parents to come and join him. 

In a February, 1878 letter to them he wrote, “If you come here you won’t have to work anymore and can enjoy life. Dear father, over here you can get land for nothing… and can have everything real comfortable… stock does not cost you anything to feed because there are millions of acres of land which nobody owns and the cattle live on that… so, dear father think of all that, leave everything behind and come over and don’t eat the black bread any longer. We don’t eat black bread over here but white bread.”

By 1878 the wanderlust had struck again. A.B. sold his land and headed to San Francisco to see the world. He didn’t stay long. 

By November of 1878, he had settled in Woodburn, Oregon and began working as a blacksmith again. He wrote to his parents about the tools and machinery he had learned to make, “in the American style.” 

He told how he had made a machine that, “cuts as much grass in one day as 10 or 15 men can cut with a scythe.” 

At the end of the letter, A.B. considers going back to Germany to start a blacksmith business. That, however, didn’t happen. He had not saved enough money to make the trip. 

He soon tired of Oregon (too much rain) and by 1880 Brender was homesteading in the Ellensburg area and working again as a blacksmith.

On July 28, 1880, A.B. wrote another letter to his family in Germany. He explained that he had moved and started over again. 

He ended the letter with another plea for his parents and brothers to join him in America. “I have enough land here to feed you and mother and I am not going to feed you any black bread either because we don’t know anything about black bread here, butter and milk and meat as much as you want and if you still like hunting you will enjoy it very much. Badger, rabbits by the thousand, quail and partridge, deer and fish, anything you want and the climate would be very good for your illness (rheumatism)… because it is very dry here and a person will not get wet all year long unless he jumps into the water or takes a bath.” 

He signed this one; “Your faithful son, A.B. Brender.”

He made his final move the next year, 1881. He was driven out of the Kittitas Valley by, “the wind and sagebrush.” 

Mr. Shoudy (his wife, Ellen was the namesake of Ellensburg) owner of the “Robber’s Roost” trading post tried to convince Brender to go into business with him. A.B. declined. 

About then he went over the mountains to explore the Wenatchee Valley. He traveled into the upper valley looking for his new home. He asked local Indians about several possible homestead locations but they, not wanting white men in the upper valley, gave reasons against them all: too hot in the summer, too much snow in the winter. 

Undeterred, Brender finally found the canyon that now bears his name. He went back to Ellensburg to gather his belongings.

Before leaving, he went to the trading post to buy a shovel, nails and a rope. Shoudy said, “Here’s your rope, go hang yourself, here are your nails, go make yourself a coffin and here is your shovel, go dig your grave.” 

Brender recalled that with every word Shoudy said, “he blinked and squinted.”

Brender filed on his new homestead, built a log cabin, cleared land, cut wild hay and raised potatoes, corn, onions and beets. He packed his ripe vegetables up to the Blewett mines and sold them to the miners. 

Brender in a later interview said that, as the first white man in the upper valley, “I would see no one for months at a time. I spoke Chinook and an Indian was a welcome guest.” 

Deak Brown, the first white settler in the Monitor area, did live with A.B. during the winter of 1883/84 while he cut and hauled logs for his own cabin.

For six years, A.B. “wrestled with the skillet and sourdough and did not know I was tired of it until I met Mrs. Samantha Warren Trout.” She was a widow in Texas with three children, a girl and two boys. 

She and A.B. corresponded by mail for a time then agreed to marry. They wed the day she and her children arrived in Ellensburg on the train. In time, four boys joined her three children.

In a 1936 interview, Brender spoke of his seven grown children and 12 grandchildren. 

“My sons,” he said, “live in houses of their own on the original homestead. It will be a long time before the name of Brender will die out of the canyon.”

Historian, actor and teacher Rod Molzahn can be reached at shake.speak@nwi.net. His third history CD, Legends & Legacies Vol. III – Stories of Wenatchee and North Central Washington, is now available at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center and at other locations throughout the area.

Deak Brown washes dishes and A.B. Brender stands on right at Brender’s cabin in Brender Canyon. Photo courtesy of Dick Brender

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