Last Bite - The Land of the Yakamas
Earle Cowin and others leased land on the Yakama Indian Reservation, grew fruit, and prospered.
Cowin paid careful attention to marketing, and his high-quality fruit stood out in the marketplace.
In 1909-1910, Earle Cowin earned the distinction of being one of first Pacific Northwest fruit growers to plant an orchard on the Yakama Indian Reservation. Established as a result of the Treaty of 1855 between the U.S. government and 14 independent, but related, tribes and bands of Indians who shared a common language, the Yakama Reservation lands were originally owned by the tribal government. There were no individual landowners—Indian or non-Indian—until after the 1887 passage of the Dawes Act by the U.S. Congress. The Dawes Act allowed tribal lands to be split into individual parcels which could be bought, sold, and/or leased by the individual tribal member. The stated intention of the legislation was to give the individual Indian more incentive to take advantage of the potential in the reservation land, but the new law also opened the way for non-Indians to buy and lease land that had previously been unavailable. Both Indian and non-Indian entrepreneurs, such as Earle Cowin, took advantage of this opportunity.
Cowin grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where his father was in real estate. After finishing high school in 1903, he enrolled at the local Case School of Applied Sciences, from which he was graduated in 1907 with a degree in civil engineering.
He spent his first post-college year working for a bridge builder in Cleveland, but then accepted a position in the Pacific Northwest as a spillway designer for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Services on the new Tieton Project in the Yakima Valley. He was soon placed in charge of the office force on the drainage work in Sunnyside, Washington, but decided to return to Cleveland to help his father in the real estate business. After two years back in the East, Earle Cowin returned to the Yakima Valley, where in 1909 he had purchased, for reasons of health, a ranch on Lateral B Road on the Yakama Reservation. This became his home for the remainder of his life.
When Cowin finally settled in the Yakima Valley, he immediately went to work clearing the property of sagebrush and setting out his first fruit trees. Needing an income until the trees could bear a commercially viable crop, he continued his engineering work for a few more years. However, once the trees were in full production, Cowin became a full-time orchardist. He was the first major producer of Golden Delicious apples in the area, and his success was primarily the result of his careful attention to proper marketing. The Cowin Orchards fruit was packed in cartons with a separate compartment for each apple. His unblemished fruit stood out in the marketplace, and the increasing demand for Cowin fruit allowed apple production to become the focal point of the Cowin ranch operation. Packing and cold storage of the fruit was done on the ranch, and he personally supervised the shipping. His brother-in-law, J.P. Ryan, and later his son, Robert Cowin, joined him in the production and distribution of high-quality fruit.
Cowin fruit was packed under the Sunshine brand label first, and later he added the Western brand label. He was one of the most successful of the pioneer orchardists, and his descendants are still farming the original ranch Earle acquired on the Yakama Indian Reservation in 1909. He probably never imagined that civil engineering studies in Ohio would one day lead him to find a healthful climate and a prosperous future as an apple grower in the Pacific Northwest.