Even before the steamboat and the railroad Garfield had the mark of prosperity. It was over 450 miles from saltwater and yet it was a seaport. Some stretches of the Big River were harrowing to navigate, yet the early rivermen found a course by way of steady hand and sober mind. Now it is the big city to which folks in Warhaven travel, the place to go if you really want to be a consumer. Here is a bit of its history.
This growing city was originally known as Blue Fields for all the camas growing on its plateau, above the banks of the river. In the autumn of 1881 with the death of President James A. Garfield by a tragic combination of speculative medicine and an assassin’s two bullets, a nation mourned for the loss of this virtuous politician. One of the memorials bestowed upon our dead leader was the renaming of this community from Blue Fields to Garfield.
The first settlers were French Canadian voyageurs and their Cree wives of the 1820’s. These folks were followed by more from the trapping business, Scots from the Hudson’s Bay Company. By 1838 Blue Fields was hosting a well-attended rendezvous of mountain men, which led to more growth with new permanent residents every year.
As a seaport there has been much commerce, some of it legitimate, some dangerously covert and illicit. Crime can get muddled in a place like Blue Fields, and it did. Had there been sin taxes, the roads and sewage lines would have been much improved. Some of the fine homes today close to the water were once prosperous brothels, and some of the deep basalt basements of the area had housed stills to confound the revenuers. It was a freewheeling place in the late 1800’s. Prohibition barely fazed the tippling. With smuggling and moonshining, the highlife continued.
This is not to say that the town did not have its moral fiber. Several of the business community were of Puritan stock, Congregationalists. There were Calvinists and ambitious Suffragists. The seriousness in this quarter made for a counterbalance to the rowdy side of town. Early manufacturing supplied goods throughout the West. When the Western Mountains Railroad established its terminus in Garfield, local goods and their dominance were challenged by the competitive prices from Pittsburgh, Boston, and Chicago, but this small railroad looked out for the region’s health.
Blue Fields, as an incorporated city, existed in name from 1850 until the name change in 1881. Perhaps its greatest mark on history was its experimentation and development of railroad car refrigeration. The first patent for this technology was issued in 1867 to a Detroit. Michigan man, but trial and error had been going on for close to twenty years. Since the sides of carcasses were hanging, they swayed with the curves, and would cause the occasional derailment. It was the Blue Fields meat packing plant, Hoof to Platter Packers, that developed a highly insulated car with meat sitting in one of eighty slotted steel troughs. While the big greedy railroads wanted nothing of this innovation, the Western Mountains Railroad, while not wholly altruistic, yet whose board of directors was genuinely concerned about the welfare of its communities, invested generously. Progress meant competition along the line for the small meat producer, which naturally led to some indignation among ranchers and farmers who packed for cash and bartering. In the end, all parties, including those of Warhaven, profited as the rail line permitted everyone’s market to expand.
Blue Fields found itself on the industrial map for another reason. The town housed a prison, which was one of the reasons the town grew into a city, not unlike some places in Siberia with their gulags. The prisoners were kept busy manufacturing steel kitchen utensils, from slotted spoons to pressure cookers. Incar Cooking Supply made some very high-quality products and walked the international gourmet path until 1942 when the government firmly requested retooling the factory to make mess kits for the U.S. Army. Keep in mind this was eight years prior to the Defense Production Act. Incar never looked back, entering the industrial military complex, making field convenience kits for cooking and shaving for militaries around the world.
It was serendipitous, beyond coincidence, that the citizens changed the name of the town, for in the early 1880’s the last of the great expanses of blue camas had been plowed under for wheat and alfalfa and city blocks of stick-framed bungalows.