Early history of Thurston County, Washington

Upon presenting this modest volume to the public the author desires to present a few facts regarding the aims and purposes of its publication.

As I am not myself a pioneer or, in the proper conception of the term, an early settler, it may be necessary to explain why I should intrude in a field more properly the work of others. As one who crossed the plains three times in an ox wagon, and whose parents were inured to the hardships of frontier life, I myself took a deep interest in this subject. Upon coming to Puget Sound I found the ranks of the pioneers decreasing rapidly. With the modesty characteristic of this race of hardy empire builders, they had not appreciated the value of their work and its import to their posterity. They did not appreciate the fact that those who were to reap where they had sown would be eager to learn of the vicissitudes and hardships endured by their antecedents in this new empire for which they had laid the foundation so vast that Atlas must needs square his shoulders to bear the burdens of another world and without leaving proper records of their heroic and self-denying lives, they have one by one gone to a well-deserved rest, leaving but few today to detail the reminiscences here related. The compiler, then, encouraged in the work, by many who desire to see a task accomplished, which they themselves had no inclination to undertake, offers this volume, with a sincere hope that it may to some extent endure as a record of the lives of many who made history in Thurston County in the early days.

This publication makes no claim to literary merit, but aims to relate the simple annals of the pioneers' lives and vicissitudes in the language of the actors of that time.

The work has been at once interesting and educating. Thrown in contact with these survivors of the late '40's and early '50's one is astonished at the physical vigor and mental brilliancy encountered.

In one instance, in quest of facts regarding the early experiences of one old family, I was compelled to interview the maternal ancestor, who complied cheerfully but said that inasmuch as it was early Spring and she had her gardening to do she must ask her interviewer to call later in the evening when the day's tasks were done.

Another old lady, who furnished a fund of information, was found vigorously sewing upon her own dresses and much interested in her wardrobe, which, however, contained no narrow and slit skirts.

These instances are presented not as exceptional in character, but as typical of the people who left homes in the East to endure a perilous six months' trip over the trackless plains for a destination of which they knew nothing except that it promised a hard and perilous existence, with problematical results. They came, leaving their trail marked with mute evidences of severed family ties; they saw, and before their vision unrolled a panorama of vast possibilities; they conquered, first the savage Indian and then the none less wild forests and laid wide and deep the foundation for a State that must in time take rank with the first in this great Union.

Then it was, that the wild nature of the country having been subdued, transcontinental railroads built and the country became a fit habitation for man, the work of these hardly pioneers was done, their proud, erect forms were bent with age and hardship endured. The flashing eyes were dimmed, the heads ripened for the grave, and they must reap slight reward for their self-denial and hardships. Even the United States Government was tardy in acknowledging their worth and bestowing a well-deserved pension upon these empire builders to aid them in their declining years. Indeed, the great majority had sought their reward in another world, when the Federal Government passed a law granting Indian war veterans pensions. Few there were then to receive it and they not long to be beneficiaries.

Let posterity, then, do its duty in granting the early settler his just due in respect and homage.


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It is not necessary to the purposes of this brief historical sketch to detail the events connected with the early voyages of discovery to the Northwest, although they constituted the basis upon which Spain, Great Britain and the United States asserted claims to the Northwest Coast.

Russia claimed north of the 51st degree, with all adjacent islands; Spain claimed to the 55th degree by right of discovery; Great Britain asserted no exclusive right to particular portions of the coast, but maintained that the voyages of Drake, Cook, Meares and Vancouver to the coast ; the overland voyages of Mackenzie and Thomson, followed by the formation of establishments within the territory "conferred a right of joint occupancy with other states, leaving the right of exclusive do minion in abeyance."

At the outset of the controversy the United States' claim was two-fold: First, in its own right, based upon the discovery of the Columbia river by Captain Gray; the exploration of that river by Lewis and Clark, followed by settlements by its citizens upon its banks. Upon the principal that the discovery of a river followed by acts of occupancy, secured a right to the territory such river drained, the United States asserted claim to the territory west of the Rocky Mountains lying between 42 and 51 degrees north, subject, however, to the rights of Spain of prior discoveries of islands and lands upon the coast. Second, as successor to France.

By the Louisiana purchase of 1803, the United States acquired the right of continuity of the territory west of the Mississippi river to the Pacific Ocean, of the breadth of that province, its north line being the boundary between the Hudson's Bay territory and the French provinces in Canada. Negotiations between the United States and Great Britain were commenced early in the century; the war of 1812 intervened; Astoria, captured during that war, had been restored. In 1818, the condition was slightly changed by the convention which permitted a joint occupancy of the territory by citizens and subjects of both nations, really a non-occupancy by the nations themselves, for they but agreed that they would not exclude the citizens of the other, nor gain any right or claim by virtue of the occupancy by their own citizens. On the 22nd of February, 1819, the United States, by the Florida treaty, acquired from Spain all that nation's rights to land upon the Pacific Coast north of 42nd degree north latitude. In 1824 and 1825 the United States and Great Britain had respectively concluded treaties with Russia by which 54 degrees 40 minutes north latitude was established as the south boundary of Russian possessions on the Northwest Coast.

In 1827 the joint occupancy treaty was renewed, with the modification that either nation could abrogate it by giving twelve months' notice. The Oregon question continued to be agitated until June 15. 1846, the United States Senate advised President Polk to accept the treaty of limits then offered. By that treaty 49 degrees north was fixed as the northern boundary. But the treaty of 1846 proved but a temporization, not a settlement. It yielded to Great Britain all of Vancouver Island, but was vague as to water boundaries. The indistinct recognition of the possessory rights of the Hudson Bay and Puget Sound Agricultural Companies, almost wholly in Washington, left much for controversy. In 1859, war was imminent, growing out of dispte as to sovereignty as to San Juan Island. This difficulty was temporized by a military joint occupancy A special treaty enabled the United States to secure by purchase the extinguishment of the possessory rights of the Hudson Bay Company' and Puget Sound Agricultural Company. Not until 1872, by the award of the German Emperor, was the water boundary adjusted and the Oregon controversy finally settled.

What was known as the provisional government of Oregon was organized in July, 1845, and all that country north of the Columbia River formed a single County known as Vancouver District. Sir James Douglas, M.T. Simmons and John Forrest were the first County Commissioners. Douglas was connected with the Hudson Bay Company and Simmons came into the country in the year 1844, with a company from Missouri.

Lewis County was organized in 1846, and embraced all the territory lying north of the Columbia river and west of the Cowlitz River. Dr. W.T. Tolmie, of Nisqually, was elected the first representative.