Marking the life of homestead pioneer Peterson

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COUGAR — Amateur historian Gene Ritter of Vancouver has had a long interest in the life of Ole Peterson, who homesteaded along the North Fork of the Lewis River west of the current Swift Dam.

Peterson's history is now shared with the public through a marker along Lewis River road No. 90 at the Swift Power Canal in Skamania County.

The marker is a joint effort between Ritter, a longtime Vancouver sportsman and real estate agent, and Cowlitz PUD, which has a hydroelectric plant near the Peterson homestead.

Peterson came to the Lewis River country from Iowa in 1894 at age 26. He built a cabin and survived the Yacolt Burn in 1902 when the flames did not go north of the Lewis River in his area.

Peterson got a homestead certificate for 160 acres in 1911. Over the years, he had a garden, orchard, bee colony and hay fields. Eventually, Peterson built a two-story home, several sheds and a barn.

Federal agents arrested Peterson several times for moonshining during Prohibition, according to Ritter.

Peterson became known as a guide and charged visitors for trips through a 5,800-foot cave. He also rented equipment to cave visitors. He accumulated several automobiles.

Peterson was burned severely in the spring of 1953 while trying to save his burning home with buckets of water. He died two days later at Vancouver Memorial Hospital.

Quentin Robbins of Ariel assisted Ritter with his research.