January 1, 2012

History as long as the river

By Michael Johnson, Editor

Within the river bottoms full of cottonwood trees, near the place where the land changes dramatically from rich cropland to arid badlands, the diverse landscape will take your breath  away. It is a place that people hundreds of years ago found to be quite amazing, too. Little of that has changed in the area that Washburn resident John Yunker calls “Heaven on earth.” The Yunker family first came to the area at the start of the 20th century. It was John Yunker who built a small cabin in the river bottoms on the east side of the Missouri River, just across the way from the present day Milton R. Young Station. He was a commercial fisherman and in the winter he ran an extensive trap line. Those were his means of providing for his family in that time. A life so tough that only the strong could survive. At that time, Yunker picked up the property for a song, it’s said. The land was not fit to handle many cattle as it was filled with coulees, cliffs, steep hills and sandstone. No crops would grow on much of the land. There was, and still is, a flat spot along the cabin that was sufficient for growing vegetables, which he would sell in Washburn. His crops included carrots, which were more than most had, during the Great Depression. It was a different time. When the snow blew in, the families would stay in those trees along the river. Yunker would take the oil out of the Model A overnight and put it near the stove, so if he had to take a trip to town, he could pour the warm oil in before cranking the engine by hand. That John Yunker drowned while out fishing with his grandson, also named John Yunker, in 1943.  The last remaining John Yunker looks back over the history of his family on top of the hills of that riverfront property. Despite losing his great-grandfather and an uncle on that great big Missouri River, he still loves to spend his days looking over that river.


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