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by Tina Wynecoop

River valleys are composed of biologic, geologic, and cultural wonders. Our own Little Spokane River Valley is no exception. Kay Ringo, who lived on a farm called “Buckeye” near this meandering river, wrote several books about the area she came to love. Thanks to her passion to record its history the reader can go back in time and gain a clearer sense of “the way it was.” She focused her published writings on the local milltown, Buckeye, the Little Spokane Garden Club, post offices in the area, and her pioneer family. In 2012, just four years shy of a century, she published her last history book, based on letters written by her aunt and uncle, about pioneer days in Washington Territory, 1879-1886.

Postmarked letters are a researcher’s valuable resource and postmarks led Kay to many historical discoveries, including first person accounts of our Colbert area recorded during the last fifteen decades. The post office story is twined with Kay’s – for in her life the post office was a center of community and communication. This was also true for our family when we made our home here in 1976 and our address was Route 1, Box 319, Colbert, Washington. There weren’t many homes in the area at the time. We enjoyed, and still do look forward to the daily one half mile walk to get our mail. For many years our rural mail carrier traveled on two lane dirt or macadam roads lined with wild rose bushes and vast fields of farmland to make deliveries. Whitetail deer were rarely seen, and wild turkeys were non-existent. Occasionally we would receive a notice in our mailbox telling us there was a package too big to deliver and we would drive the six miles to pick it up in Colbert, at the old wood frame building that had served as store and post office since 1890. Talk about stepping back in time! 

This 1940 photo of the Colbert Post Office from Kay Ringo’s collection looks just the same as it did when we picked up our packages there in the 1970-80’s.

In 1890 a fellow named William Guyer moved his store and post office to this new little town being built along Little Deep Creek. It was not called Colbert, yet, but Dragoon. Then Henry Colbert bought Guyer’s store and property and was appointed postmaster in 1902. The name of the P.O. was changed to Colbert. Then the name changed to ‘Dean’ because mail dispatchers would confuse Colbert with other rural towns with names beginning with “Col”. Harry Dean was an engineer for the Great Northern Railway and owned land next to the tracks that ran through Colbert. Thus the name was changed, temporarily.

Dragoon, Colbert, Dean, and then Colbert once again, was a sawmill town, having hotels, shops, five sawmills, three livery stables, two saloons, two blacksmith shops and a general store. In 1986 only the store was still standing — and still operating as the post office. 

Kay and her husband, Howard Ringo, moved to the Buckeye area in the 1960’s. Her daughter, Kayanne Wendel, in her eulogy given at the recent memorial service honoring her mother, wrote, “Soon after moving to Buckeye Farm they began the remodeling project of the old house and this sparked her curiosity and interest in the history of the area. This led to researching and writing a book about the history of Buckeye. Writing about history was a special interest and passion of hers, connecting the present with the past.”

This map, drawn by Clarence H. Austin, is from Kay’s book, The Milltown, Buckeye, Washington and Surrounding Area, 1889-1912.(This winter, when researching this article, I drove by the old store. It is still standing, but cosmetic changes to its siding and porch and windows make it unrecognizable.)

Whenever I was doing my own research about something to do with our Little Spokane River Valley, usually for an article for the newsletter, I knew I could ask Kay Ringo questions. She was a wonderful resource and it gave me special pleasure to visit her. She found something interesting to appreciate in everything, including her visitors. She was what I call ‘a gentle beam of living Love.’ She loved the outdoors, loved to travel, loved her extensive family, her humor permeated her relationships, and she could carry on a joke for a lon-n-n-n-n-ng time:

Let me take you back to Christmas Eve, 1970, where all the family was gathered at Buckeye Farm. A meal was served and there was one toasted cheese sandwich left on the platter. As Kay cleared the table she remarked, “If someone doesn’t eat that sandwich I am going to wrap it up and put someone’s name on it and put it under the tree.” The sandwich disappeared and Kay didn’t give it another thought. The sandwich was wrapped in blue foil paper (by someone else) and placed under the Christmas tree with Kay’s name on it. Imagine the laughter on Christmas morning when the be-ribboned package was opened! 

The saga of that toasted cheese sandwich is history-making in itself, and of course Kay wrote a story about it, imaginatively having the sandwich tell the story of its 16 years of travels to Montana, Idaho, Oregon, disguised as a Christmas present — always coming back every other year as a Christmas gift to the beloved owner of Buckeye Farm – sometimes by mail delivery postmarked “Colbert.”

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