Neighbor Relations: Ray and Neil Shelden


Ray and Neil Shelden

The Shelden family, Ray and his son Neil, claim the longest continuous relationship with the park of any family living next to Whitman Mission. The Sheldens' land claim dates to 1880 when Charles Swegle purchased the property from Montraville Fiske. [93] After Swegle died, the 640 acres was partitioned to his heirs in 1888 (see map, Appendix A). The Sheldens own the property west of the park, their claim resulting from May Swegle Dicus, formerly May Swegle Shelden. The other portion of the Swegle land is owned by the U. S. government (see map, Appendix O).

Given that the Sheldens lived on their farm before the national park was established, they have seen many changes in park operations. Neil Shelden has a keen sense of this past and many of his letters reflect his knowledge of park management precedents. For example, Shelden opposed Superintendent Amdor's attempt to run water down the Oxbow channel, because, he claimed, it contaminated his well and because "None of the previous National Park Service superintendents, since its origin in 1940, ever ponded water in the oxbow area." [94 ] Shelden is also aware that previous superintendents relied on his family, especially his father. Whether it was storage for Garth's archeological specimens or lending his tractor to Superintendent Weldon, Ray Shelden was often called upon to assist the park's basic operation. Thus, in recent controversies with Superintendent Amdor, Neil Shelden noted that, "It has certainly been convenient and speedy to call for the assistance of a tractor from the Sheldens those few times [y]our equipment has been stuck in the mud or ditch." [95]

The Sheldens, like most of us, are sensitive to change. Sharing a boundary line with the park, as they do, any changes at the park are evident. Oftentimes, whenever Ray or Neil felt a problem warranted the park staff's attention, it was due to some change that they perceived affected them. Both Ray and Neil wanted reassurance that any changes at the park would not harm their operations. For example, Neil submitted a copy of his income tax statement to Superintendent Kowalkowski and reiterated to him that, "Average estimated farm size for Walla Walla county is 650 acres--Sheldens 80 acres." [96] These actions reflect the same feelings of E. B. Miller almost thirty years ago: the park threatens his small farm. [97] Whether completely justified in their fear or not, the Sheldens' attitudes influenced their negotiations with the various superintendents over the two issues of principal concern: grazing rights and water rights.


Last updated: March 1, 2015

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