How and where the name of Scappoose originated is the source of much debate among pioneers of the area and historians. You can read several versions in the following three sketches and pick the version you like the best.
Reported in the Rainier Review, December 17, 1914
According to the great authority pertaining to the history of Scappoose and which is given by John McPherson, a Scotchman who is said to be the earliest settler in the vicinity of Scappoose, the place gets its name from the Indians. McPherson was an employee of the old Hudson Bay Company, and acting in this capacity he came in contact with most of the hunters and trappers of the early days, which enables him to relate much interesting history of this part of Oregon.
Most of the men in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company in early days were Chapeaus Frenchmen, who wore chapeaus; a peculiar head gear. They spent most of their time hunting and trapping in the winter time on what is now known as Scappoose creek. It was while they were thus engaged that they had the misfortune to have a wreck in which they lost all of their stock and traps including their chapeaus.
It is said however, they recovered all their belongings after much labor with the exception of their chapeaus. Being disgusted with their bad luck, they returned to Vancouver, Washington, where was located their source of supplies — the Hudson Bay company. To the agents of the mentioned company, they related their accident and of losing their chapeaus.
Scappoose Creek was called by the Indians, “Cappo Creek,” the name finally became twisted into “Scappoose”, which in addition to the creek, the whole country was known for many years afterwards.
Scappoose History According to James Grant Watts as reported by the Rainier Review July, 9, 1925
Between St. Helens and Scappoose is an area comprising 1,000 acres of land that has never been timbered and never was inundated by the backwaters that periodically crept up from the river. It was level, free from the dense growth of timber that grew to the very water’s edge in other portions of this region; and because of this was used as a meeting place by the Indians.
Because it was so easily turned into cultivation, the Hudson Bay people from Vancouver, Wash., came to Scappoose plains to raise their grain and vegetables. It is believed to be the first cultivated land in Oregon, for this reason.
The origin of the word “Scappoose” is indefinite, but it is generally understood to mean “gravelly ground,” as applied to the lighter soil of the plains compared with the soil of the hills in the background. Quite probably the name originated in connection with the plains, which were “gravelly,” low lying, level, and convenient for a meeting place for Indians from all over this section. The name then became applicable to the bay, the creek, the hills (or “mountains”) and finally to the town.
That is the explanation for the word “Scappoose” as Grant Watts of Scappoose understands it. He is in a position to know from as nearly first hand knowledge as anyone has now, for his grandfather, William Watts, drove across the plains from Pike county, Missouri, in 1852. In that party was James Watts, then only 17 years old, who later became the father of Grant Watts.
In those early days all the territory between Scappoose bay to Rocky Point was known as the Scappoose country. Salmon came up the river in uncountable numbers, and migratory birds flocked over the plains and lowlands at the rivers edge. Of the latter there were wild duck, geese, snipe, crane and even swan. They fed on the wapato, a tuber also used by the Indians and early settlers as a vegetable, much as we use the potato now. When, however, in 1880 the German carp was imported into these parts the foreign fish ate the wapato growing in the sloughs along the river, and the birds hunted other feeding grounds.
In the early days, too, the present townsite of Scappoose was covered with almost impenetrable timber, where now almost treeless fields reach around the town. The first road constructed in the south end of the county, between St. Helens, and Scappoose, was not a reality until years after the Watts family had arrived in that section. It led to the highlands and down to St. Helens, zig zagging around stumps and swamps. It was ten miles of long, long road for the early settlers who made trips to St. Helens.
Connecting with this trail was the old military trail, over which the farmers of Tualitin plains hauled their wheat to the boats in the river. Over the old military trail, too, the circuit riders came on their missions of mercy and duty. The trail finally was discontinued because it was too steep for practical purposes, and because with the establishment of shipping facilities at Portland, it no longer was necessary for the Tualatin valley people to make such a long haul with their produce. In those days, too, each man took his donation land claim as he staked it out, and his claim was given a number. All the settlers had land in this way. Among the early ones are the family names of Boncer, Joy, Leonard, Stump, Gossa, Jackson, Miles, McKay, Lamberson, Cloninger, Fullerton, Laffer, Nessly, Williams, Stoughton, Frakes, Rolland and McPherson.
At first mail came up the St. Helens-Scappoose trail, having been unloaded from the boats at St. Helens. Later a postoffice was established and mail came up twice a week. Usually, mail days were on Tuesdays and Saturday, which were big days in the neighborhood, for everybody went to the postoffice on mail days. They swapped yarns, made their plans for picnic parties and exchanged opinions as to the probable fate of the country. He who never experienced the thrill of the biweekly post office gathering has missed an experience that is passing, like the epic of the pioneer.
Through many of these early pioneer scenes James Grant Watts has lived. He was born on his father’s place at Scappoose on October 23, 1864, and his memory goes back to a period dating back to the early ’70’s. In even that time, Scappoose was considerably pioneer in its development, and was making a mere beginning as a community.
The first Scappoose post office was on Willamette Slough, at what is now called Johnson’s landing, and the first postmaster was S. T. Gossa. That was prior to 1872. In 1873 [?] the railroad was built between Portland and Goble and the postoffice was moved to a building near the present site of the Fairview cemetery in South Scappoose. In the early 80’s Henry Sharringhausen was postmaster.
The coming of the railroad changed the contour of the country entirely. Whereas before, business was conducted on the river, which was the principal means of transportation, when the railroad came everything faced the railroad. The railroad route ran directly through the Watt donation claim, which was where the city of Scappoose now stands.
The store operated by Mr. Watts and his brother in law, J. D. Price, originally belonged to A. T. Creasey, who conducted his store on the river front, conducted Sunday school, led prayer meetings, and, in short, did all the many things that often fall to a man in pioneer communities. It then went into the hands of W. W. West, who, in the early ’80’s was postmaster also. Mr. West placed his son, J. P. West, in charge of the store. In February of 1888 J. D. Price and Grant Watts took over the business and have conducted it ever since.
Reported in the Rainier Review, September 25, 1926 Alexander H. Boncer [Bonser]
The Boncer family has lived in and around Columbia county since 1852, and in the Scappoose section formed a part of the earlier life of the community. Alexander, far better known among his friends as “Alec” is the only member of the family in that vicinity now, bearing the name. Alexander Hamilton Boncer is the son of Clinton and Mary A. Boncer. He was born at Willow Bar on Sauvies Island on August 21, 1857. But before that there is still a bit of that kind of history that is vanishing because those who lived it have gone, leaving us with a rather imperfect or indifferent memory.
Clinton Boncer came to Oregon in 1852 with Hal Preener and family. The trip, of course, was made with an ox team. During the Indian unrest of 1855 and ’56, he was in the army, and at the close of that period returned to Sauvies Island and married Mary A. McQuinn, whose parents, Alec and Rebecca McQuinn came to Oregon in 1844.
In 1862 the family moved off the island to what has since been known as the Boncer place, 4 miles south of Scappoose. The children attended Scappoose school, which had its beginning about that time. In fact, Mr. Boncer’s first teacher was about the second teacher the school had. She was Elmira Harrison; then there was Nellie Taylor, Joe Adams, E. G. Adams, Merritt Pomeroy and a list of others that is being increases up to the present time.
This first school was located in the vicinity where the old road passed, northeast from the railroad station. Mr. Boncer remembers that it fronted west, and was made of weather boards hewed out from the timbers.
It must be remembered however, that the town of Scappoose did not exist until after the railroad came, in 1883 [?]. Before that the residents of that section as well as those on the island traded at the station now officially known as Whitwood. This is the place where the ferry crosses the Willamette to St. Johns. When it first came into being it was called Springville.
A. T. Creasey had established his store at Scappoose before the railroad came. It is now known as the Kouteck store. Soon after the railroad came, in 1883, W. W. West established a store at that place. Then the center of attraction became the railroad instead of the river as was the case before. Creasey’s store was close to the river, so that the steamboats could leave the mail.
When the railroad came this was changed. The mail was brought by rail, and the post office was changed and the mail received at the railroad’s office and store. The town that has grown around this nucleus is the result of locating a railroad station at that point.
There are so many explanations for the name “Scappoose” that a new one always is interesting. If it does not solve the riddle it is no less interesting for it. Mr. Boncer’s derivation for the word is from French origin.
“The French have a word — ‘capoose’ – meaning a tall hat,” said Mr. Boncer, in discussing the probable origin of the name. “Later the word was changed to ‘Scappoose.’ The word has no meaning in Indian phrases, that I know of, and I know practically all of the jargon.”