History is like an onion. Once you peel off the skin, there’s always another layer of stories rich with flavor. On the eve of lockdown in March 2020, the Shafer Museum halted the second presentation in a series called “Our Methow Home,” featuring stories from homesteaders and settlers in the various localities that compose the patchwork of the valley. The event, entitled “History of Poorman Creek,” finally debuted at the Methow Valley Community Center on July 10, with nearly 60 attendees.
The Poorman Creek area has been home to a wave of generations who call the area home in a pocket of land that seldom sees the winter sun and basks in blankets of wildflowers in the spring.
Above Poorman Creek, a special landmark sits atop a bluff overlooking the Twisp River Valley, marking the land with piece of celebrated history. This is the story of the Buttermilk Lookout and how it came to live out a life on the Reynaud Ranch, as a beacon to all who call this pocket of earth home for over 70 years.
The Reynaud family tree has its roots deep in the valley. Norman Reynaud grew up on a homestead near Gold Creek. He married Fern Myer, from whose family Myers Creek takes its name. When the Grand Coulee Dam needed laborers, Norman moved his young family to Electric City. After his pockets were flush with cash, he returned to the Methow and bought a ranch on Poorman Creek.
In 1933, the U.S. Forest Service purchased a fire lookout for Buttermilk Butte, above Poorman Creek, for the cost of $323.30. The kit building was loaded on horseback and brought to the lookout, where it would be assembled under direction of a local supervisor with labor from the Civilian Conservation Crews. The construction costs added to a total value of $719.87, and in 1934 Ned Betty oversaw the construction. The one-room, 14-by-14 feet lookout house remained on Buttermilk until 1951, when the Forest Service decommissioned the structure and sold it at public auction to Norman Reynaud. Implicit in the purchase was the transport of the structure off the butte.
Thankfully, Reynaud’s neighbor Perry Brewster had recently became the proud owner of a Diamond T flatbed truck and it was dutifully put to work. The two neighbors hoisted it up on girders and slid the building on to the bed. Norman fastened himself atop the structure, using a chainsaw to trim back interfering branches, and (as the story goes) with the help of two bottles of whiskey, they found a spot on the Reynaud Ranch near the barn where it had a long and beloved location.
During summertime, the Reynaud children Steve and Stewart slept in it as a bunk house. Once autumn rolled around, hunters would come stay in the lookout and stay through the season. It served as a useful tack room and general storage until 2003, when Norman decided it warranted a more proper presence on the ranch. Steve and Stewart put hours into jacking the structure up to place on a tractor that would gently take it to an overlook along the Reynaud Loop Road.
With the help of Howard Betty, son of builder Ned Betty, along with family and friends like John Quisenberry, the lookout got a make-over that included new shingles and windowpanes, as well as ridding the structure of rodent excrement and empty whiskey bottles.
In the spring of 2003, with a finished paint job and a new deck, the lookout welcomed family and friends again for card games and sunsets.
This story was compiled through personal interviews with Steve and Debbie Reynaud, who graciously loaned me their Reynaud Lookout scrapbook. Thank you!