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Mike Horan: rifle-toting Vigilante, family man, community booster: The man who would be the ‘Apple King’

By on March 29, 2018 in Columnist with 0 Comments

Rod MolzahnBy Rod Molzahn

On a dusty Wenatchee street, Mike Horan, rifle in hand, stood defiantly at the head of a vigilante group of Wenatchee men also armed with guns and clubs.

In late 1892 the Great Northern Railroad reached Wenatchee. Along with the railroad came gangs of men bringing violence and crime. Wenatchee became known as the toughest “berg” in the state.

Lindley Hull wrote that in the fall and winter of 1892 – ’93 “Robbery ran riot. There was one deliberate murder as well as several suspicious deaths.”

The only real law enforcement was the deputy sheriff of Kittitas County who worked out of Ellensburg. He did little or nothing as long as the crimes were committed against other gangs and not the permanent residents of the town. That worked for a time but soon the gangs began to prey on citizens.

That’s when things went too far for Mike Horan, a law-abiding family man. He formed the vigilante committee to run the toughs out of town.

They rounded up the thugs and showed them the door. Faced with the threats and guns of the citizens, the gangs quickly disappeared.

For Mike Horan there was a bit of irony in the threat of violence by the vigilantes.

Mike Horan, the “Apple King,” drives with his family in their new Buick automobile near the Horan Orchard on Birch Flats (Olds Station area); left to right from the back seat are Walt, Esther, Mrs. Mike (Margaret), Mike, Kathleen and John. Date: 1909-1910. Photo from the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center, 94-64-16.1

He had come across the mountains to Wenatchee from the coal town of Roslyn where he operated a butcher shop and meat market. In the fall of 1888 he married Margaret Rankin and by the end of the year she was pregnant.

Roslyn was a violent town in those years when coal miners employed by the Northern Pacific Railroad were on strike and the railroad brought in African American miners from the Midwest to break the strike. The Horans decided that Roslyn was not a safe place to raise a family.

In the spring of 1889 Mike packed his bags, saddled his horse and rode across Colockum Pass into the Wenatchee Valley. Margaret stayed behind in Roslyn.

Over the next six months Mike prepared for his family to join him. He built them a four- room house in “Old Town” on the corner of Springwater and Miller streets. Next door he built a storefront for his meat market.

In September Margaret and newborn William arrived by wagon with all their belongings.

Things were good until November when snow started falling, along with temperatures, marking the start of the “Hard Winter of ’89-’90” that did not end until May. The cold often plummeted to double-digit negative numbers and rarely rose out of the single digits.

The Horans moved their furniture into the one room with the stove and hunkered down.

When the world thawed out, Mike Horan took his first foray into politics. He was elected Kittitas County Commissioner for the north half of the county that ended at the Wenatchee River.

When the Great Northern track laying crews reached the valley in 1892 Mike contracted to supply meat to the crews. His business grew quickly then dropped off again as the track crews moved on west.

Horan was on the organizing committee in early 1893 to form the first Wenatchee City government and served on the first city council.

One of their beginning items of business was the formation of the vigilante group to run the gangs out of town.

With that success to spur them on Mike Horan and Frank Reeves, owner, with his wife Belle, of the town’s first newspaper, called a general meeting to rid the valley of the hundreds of Chinese miners working the banks of the Columbia and Wenatchee rivers. Horan was named leader of the small group that would, by “whatever means necessary,” persuade the Chinese to leave.

In this they were also successful.

That year, however, also brought the beginning of a national financial panic that had severe consequences for all of north central Washington.

One of only two area banks to barely escape going under was Wenatchee’s Columbia Valley Bank where Horan was vice president. He, along with bank president Arthur Gunn and bank officer Lindley Hull, used every delaying tactic they could think of to forestall a run on the bank.

Mike Horan had an unbreakable faith in the future success of the valley he had chosen for his home. He needed that faith in those early days.

In a December 1906 story for the Republic newspaper Horan described the valley when he arrived.

“There was all the sunshine you could use, lots of land that was worthless, plenty of water with no way to get it to the land and no money. And while all of us knew that the place ought to be all right there seemed no way to make it so.”

They relished any small bit of progress in irrigation and orcharding that kept their hopes alive. Horan wrote, “We all pulled hard for one another.”

In 1894 the Horans bought Sam Miller’s 160 acre homestead that straddled the Wenatchee River just upstream from the confluence.

Mike sold his meat market business in “Old Town” and began preparing for life as a farmer. He started a beef cattle herd along with a herd of Holstein cows for milking. He made improvements on the ranch. His family, however, stayed in the “Old Town” house where two more children were born, Esther and John.

In 1897 the family downsized and moved into Sam’s old log cabin on the homestead where son Walt was born the next year.

Mike began making plans for a grand, new house along the Wenatchee where friends could gather for parties and he could play his fiddle for dances.

In those years Mike Horan began planting apples and pears. He said “that was when progress in the valley began in earnest with the agitation for a Highline Canal.”

He was on the committee of businessmen to obtain agreement from landowners served by the proposed canal to pay a per/acre fee for the construction and maintenance of the ditch.

With the arrival of irrigation water the Wenatchee Flat bloomed with the blossoms of fruit trees. Orchards increased rapidly along with production.

In 1908 the first National Apple Show was held in Spokane.

Mike Horan’s colorful display of mixed apples filled a railroad boxcar with Winesap, Spitzenberg, Arkansas Black, Rome Beauty, King David Delicious, Jonathan, Northern Spy, Rhode Island Greening and Winter Banana varieties. He won first prize and was crowned “The Apple King.”

Mike Horan put the $2,000 prize money in his pocket and Wenatchee Apples on the national table.

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.

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