“So Fair a Dwelling Place”: A History of Olympia and Thurston County Washington
By Gordon Newell
Olympia: Olympia News Publishing, 1950.
Electronically Transcribed 2001.
By Edward Echtle
Note: transcription retains errors appearing in the original text, and no doubt includes a few
added in the transcription process. Please check unclear passages against an original copy.
THE MAP MAKERS
The sea changes but little and in 1841, as today, the ocean gateways to the Par
West were not always hospitable to the stranger seeking a landfall. The squadron of
Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, acting Commodore, U.S.N., 33 months out of Norfolk by way
of Antarctic, South Pacific and California, lay hove-to off the mouth of the Columbia.
It was April 28, and the bar was breaking. Great seas flung themselves against the
rock bulwark of Cape Disappointment and foamed outward over the unnamed sand-spit at
its base. To the South, seas broke on the sands of Clatsop Spit, and they, too, roared
outward toward the channel. Where they met with the cracking of titanic whips, the bar
itself was a seething maelstrom of churning, sand-filled water.
Lieutenant Wilkes was not a timid man. He it was who, 20 years later, almost
precipitated war between the United States and England when he stopped a British mail
steamer on the high seas and removed from her the Confederate commissioners, Mason
But the Great River of the West is treacherous as it meets the sea and not to be
taken lightly at the best of times. The brig Porpoise was standing in dangerously close to
the nameless sands at Disappointment’s foot. Signal flags soared to the Vincennes’ mizzen,
and the little squadron squared away to the north, rolling up the northern coast of the
Two days later, on May 1, the squadron raised Cape Flattery; the yards were braced
round and the ships swept past the tall rock, Tatoosh. The seamen watched smoke climb
from the Indian villages and the Indians watched the first American government vessels
sail into American waters in the Pacific Northwest.
Captain George Vancouver had sailed these waters 49 years earlier, in command of
His Majesty’s sloop, Discovery, and the armed tender, Chatham. Off the coast, he had met
the Yankee merchant skipper Robert Gray on the ship Columbia.
From this meeting, the Discovery and Chatham sailed north to discover and chart
the waters of Puget Sound. The Columbia sailed south to discover and chart the waters of
Grays Harbor and the Columbia.
For countless centuries the far Northwest had remained a trackless territory. In the space of a few weeks, Vancouver and Gray placed the present coast of Washington in the well-mapped atlas of exact knowledge.
Vancouver and Gray, in 1792, were the true pioneers of the far Northwest, but it is
Wilkes the last of the explorers, who has left his mark most deeply on the headlands and
inlets of the upper Sound.
Vancouver and his lieutenant, Peter Puget, spent but little time in the Discovery’s
launch and yawl south of Vashon’s Island, which Vancouver named for another of his
Mount Rainier and Discovery Bay, Admiralty Inlet, Hoods Canal, Elliott Bay and
Dungeness they named for British ships and seamen and British villages, but it remained
for Wilkes thoroughly to chart and name the shores and bays of the southern tip of Puget
The geography of these shores is well sprinkled with good American names from
the muster-lists of Wilkes’ ships. Hartstene Island he named for his first lieutenant, H. J.
Hartstene. Henderson, Eld, Totten and Hammersley Inlets bear the names of Wilkes’
officers, as does Budd Inlet, the harbor of Olympia. Beautiful Drayton Passage, off
Anderson Island, was fittingly enough named for Joseph Drayton, the expedition’s artist. A
half hundred or more points and capes, from Olympia to the San Juans, were likewise
named by Wilkes, and most of those names remain to this day.
Two English names were given to islands of the upper Sound by Wilkes, however.
Anderson Island and McNeil Island were named for officers of the Hudson’s Bay
Company, who entertained the Americans at Nisqually and served as pilots aboard the
squadron flagship on the upper Sound.
The Hudson’s Bay men knew the waterways well. As early as 1824 an expedition
left Astoria for the Puget Sound country. Led by James McMillan, it made its way by
canoe and portage from the Columbia River to Grays Harbor. Through a dark and tangled
wilderness, it paddled its way through November rains up the Chehalis River to the Black
River, up the Black River to its headwaters in Black Lake, just west of the present site of
Olympia. From there the men portaged to Eld Inlet and made their way up Puget Sound to
the Fraser River.
Upon their return, the group divided at the Chehalis, one group returning to Astoria
by the route they had come, the other traveling overland to the Cowlitz River near the
present site of Toledo and down that stream to the Columbia. This route became the famed
Cowlitz Trail, over which the first American settlers were later to pour into the Puget
In the spring of 1833, the company sent Archibald McDonald to establish a trading
post at Nisqually, and when this fortress-store was occupied, the old circuitous route to the
Columbia River by way of Black Lake, the Chehalis River and Grays Harbor fell into
disuse. The Cowlitz Trail was the accepted land entrance to the new frontier.
The Englishmen took leave of Wilkes when he received word of the loss of one of
his sloops which he had dispatched to the Columbia River. It had stranded on those
treacherous sands below Cape Disappointment, and the sands had received a name, along
with the bones, of the U.S.S. Peacock. Peacock Spit has claimed many proud ships in the
100 or more years since then.
Wilkes never returned to Puget Sound. The Hudson’s Bay post at Nisqually was
eight years old when the American squadron arrived. It was to remain for 30 more … until
1870, but it was free of American visitors and competitors for less than five years of that
THE EMPIRE BUILDERS
In April, 1845, a covered wagon train stopped at Washougal while a baby was born
to Mrs. Michael Simmons … the first white child to be born north of the Columbia. Then
the train pushed on over the Cowlitz Trail to the Falls of the DesChutes, called Tumwater
by the Indians.
Colonel Michael T. Simmons was a Kentucky man who didn’t like to be crowded.
He had a taste for danger and a way with savages. George Bush was a Negro – a very light
mulatto, but, by the harsh judgement of slave days, a free Negro. He was making the age-
old search of his race for tolerance and a place where he could be a free man… not a free
James McAllister wanted a lot of land where he could raise big crops and a big
family in peace and security. With them came David Kindred and Gabriel Jones, with their
families, and two single men, Jesse Ferguson and Samuel Crockett.
Peter Bercier had guided them from the last outpost of American civilization on the
Columbia. They were met on the way by a big Nisqually Indian, whose homely, kind face
smiled a great welcome to his people’s land. The Indian’s name was Leschi, and he gave
more than a welcome to the settlers. He had brought them pack-horse loads of badly
Colonel Simmons stayed at Tumwater, staked a claim, and named his new town
New Market. He was letting the Hudson’s Bay men know that they had a new market to
contend with. It took a quarter of a century, but the new market finally triumphed over the
old one at Nisqually. This was the first American settlement in what is now Western
Using water power from the falls, he built a saw mill and grist mill – Washington’s
first industries used water power, as do her newest. It was Simmons, too, who founded the
state’s great oyster industry. The hills of Kentucky hadn’t given the Colonel much in the
way of an education and historians have called him illiterate.
He was actually a self-educated man of considerable intelligence. A natural
linguist, he became fluent in the Indian languages and was later of great assistance to
Governor Stevens in dealing with the Puget Sound tribes.
Michael Simmons was first in many things, but like most of the true pioneers he
reaped little financial reward from the enterprises he started.
Bush, too, was a man of intelligence and character and had done well in a world
where all the cards were stacked against him. When he unpacked his goods he removed a
false bottom from his wagon. The boards below were neatly covered with silver dollars,
laid edge to edge.
Because the Bush family were officially Negroes, one historian has facetiously, but
falsely, stated that the first white child born in Washington was a Negro.
Bush did not stay at New Market, but settled on a fertile little prairie nearby, which
is still called Bush Prairie. The later settlers had much reason to bless the name of George
Bush. By the fall of 1852, his farm was bursting with acres of wheat, corn, potatoes, beans,
pumpkins and livestock in abundance.
Then came the wagon-trains of that ill-fated year. Cholera had attacked them on the
broiling plains. Starvation had struck in the mountains and many of them had been forced
by hunger to eat the grain meant for seed in the new land. They arrived on Puget Sound in
Says Archie Binns, in his beautifully written historical novel of the Puget Sound
country, Mighty Mountain: “Watching those emigrants come in, I saw that flesh is a
luxury. It’s the bones that matter. When flesh gets to be too expensive a luxury, the skull
comes out in the face and takes charge. It’s the skull and some dream burning in it that
keeps the leg bones walking on, and the wrist bones cracking the whip on galled skeletons
of horses and cattle that must not be allowed to lie down because they would never get up
Most of these tattered men had a few dollars to start a new life in a now country,
but they would have given all they had to George Bush for a pittance from his plenty. He
could have made himself a fortune, but instead he gave his fortune away. He gave the
newcomers all they needed to start a new life and didn’t collect a dollar.
Later he almost lost his farm because Negroes weren’t allowed to own land in the
United States. But his neighbors rallied to his defense and carried their protest to the
national capitol, where Congress passed a special act allowing George Bush and his heirs
to hold land forever.
The settler’s good Indian friend, Leschi, sent a dozen of his braves to help harvest
Bush’s life-giving crop before the autumn rains fell, and the brown man and the red
deserve the credit for saving Olympia from death by starvation almost before it was born.
There is little racial discrimination at the southern tip of Puget Sound. Here men are
not looked upon as less than men because their skins are dark. Here in a country that was
given life by two men whose skins were dark, they never should be.
The James McAllisters settled in the Nisqually Valley, in the midst of Leschi’s
people. Their first home was in two huge hollow cedar stumps until Leschi and his braves
helped them to build a log farm house. Leschi wanted his people to learn the farming
techniques of the Boston men, and McAllister was encouraged to take land among the
McAllister, as a lieutenant of territorial Rangers, was to die at the hands of an
Indian sharpshooter in 1856. The original McAllister homestead included McAllister
Springs, now the source of Olympia’s water supply.
THE BIRTH OF A CITY
The present city of Olympia was really born in 1846, but under a temporary and
almost forgotten name. Edmund Sylvester and Levi Lathrop Smith staked a joint claim on
the present site of Washington’s capital city.
Edmund Sylvester was a Maine fisherman who wanted to forget the cold seas and
rocky soil of New England. Smith was an epileptic, cultured, solitary, with a call to the
ministry which had been frustrated by ill health.
Each filed on 320 acres under the homestead law of that time, which provided in its
partnership clause, sole ownership for the survivor in the event of death of either partner.
Sylvester, weary of the sea, settled on an inland section now known as Chambers Prairie.
Smith chose for his claim the land at the southern tip of Budd’s Inlet, some two
miles north of the already settled town of New Market, or Tumwater.
Although most of the embryo townsite was covered by virgin timber and tangled
underbrush, the sandy point at the north end of Smith’s claim, now the foot of Capitol Way
in Olympia, was the northern tip of a two acre clearing which was above extreme high
A small bay, extensive at high tide, bounded the claim on the northeast and when
the tide was up, the bare land somewhat resembled the silhouette of a bear. The area was
called “Cheet-woot,” which in the Nisqually tongue, means “bear”. Here in the winter
months, the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes of Indians under Chief Sealth, or as the white
men called him, Seattle, were accustomed to camp for the rainy season.
The first building of the new city was built in this area – a log cabin about sixteen
feet square. It stood adjacent to and west of a point midway between the present State and
Olympia Avenues, and since the town had not yet been laid out, part of the cabin stood on
what is now Capitol Way.
The tragic figure of Smith was soon to depart from the rude stage of pioneer
Olympia, or Smithfield, as he called his claim. He did not live to see any of the beginnings
beyond the first rude cabin.
At this time, Smithfield was in Lewis County, Oregon Territory, and at the first
county elections in 1848, Smith was elected representative to the Oregon Provisional
Legislature. He did not live to take office. As he was traveling to New Market by canoe, he
was gripped by an epileptic attack, fell into the Sound and was drowned. His was the first
American death in the Puget Sound country.
The life of Olympia’s co-founder was not a happy one. Sheets of a diary left by
Smith show that his fatal disease had long preyed upon his mind. He had renounced a half-
caste Catholic sweetheart in the east to become a Presbyterian minister, but his malady
made it impossible for him to continue his theological studies.
His life of aching loneliness in a wild, new land made him pitifully dependent upon
the hearty good cheer of his partner, Sylvester, the bluff New England sailor. It is part of
the dark tragedy of Levi Lathrop Smith that he did not live to glimpse even a hint of the
beautiful city which was to grow from his rough shack between the empty bay and the
After Smith’s death, Sylvester gave up his Chambers Prairie claim and became the
permanent occupant of his dead partner’s claim.
The Washington Standard, published at Olympia, in 1867, reproduced an inventory
of Smith’s former holdings, made by Sylvester on a torn leaf from a ship’s log book. Editor
John Miller Murphy wrote:
“The following copy of an original document is pleasant as well as a curious reminiscence of those primitive times. The contrast between that cabin and its simple furniture and the present mansion (Sylvester’s) is not only marked, but affords a fair comparison between Olympia of 1848 and Olympia of 1867. It also serves to remind us how
the pioneers of the American settlements were obliged to live, and while they so willingly
submitted to privation in their great mission of making homes for American men and
women, yet they found time for jest in the very poverty that surrounded them, satisfied
because they had abundance to supply their passing wants.”
July 25, 1848.
” ‘N. B. New Market Precinct, Lewis County, on the shore of Puget’s Sound,
Simmon’s Inlet, one mile below the falls on the La Shutes River.
” ‘In it you will find one house built of split cedar with a stone fireplace and a stick
chimney. It is covered with four foot shingles, put on with weight poles. It has three lights
and one door, with a rough puncheon floor, made of split cedar, with a closet and a bed
room made of the same materials.
” ‘The furniture consists of two tables, one bedstead which is made by boring holes
in the side of the house and driving in sticks; three benches and two stools. The cooking
utensils consist of one frying pan and tin kettles, one 12-quart and one 6-quart and one 3-
quart, for boiling and one tea-kettle. The closet contains one tin pan, three tin cups, three
tin plates, three knives and forks, two half-pint kettles, one basin and one trencher.
” ‘The enclosure two acres of land, with one and a half under cultivation with corn,
beans, pumpkins, squashes, potatoes, peas, cabbage, melons, cucumbers, beets, parsnips,
carrots, onions, tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, parsley, sweet fennel, peppergrass, summer
savory and sunflowers.
” ‘The out house, one hog house and one hen house, with five hogs three pigs,
seven hens, and a cock, cat and dog, one yoke of oxen and two horses.
” ‘ Signed
” ‘Edmund Sylvester.
Michael T. Simmons
Samuel B. Crockett
Daniel D. Kinsey.'”
Such then, was Smithfield, or Smithter, in the year 1848. Destined to become the
capital city of a great state yet to be born, the table service for three in its one rude
dwelling was more than enough to serve its entire population.
It was not an impressive beginning, but 1847 and 1848 were years of destiny for
the city of the future. A trail was cleared between Smithfield and New Market in the late
summer of 1847, and the seeds of a complex transportation network were planted.
By 1848, the population of the Smithfield-Newmarket area had increased. Early in
1847, a party consisting of Mr. Davis and family, Samuel Cool, A. J. Moore, Benjamin
Gordon, Thomas W. Glasgow, Samuel Hancock and Leander C. Wallace arrived at New
Later that year, Elisha and William Packwood arrived with their families, followed
by J. B. Logan, A. D. Carnefix and Frank Shaw.
Thomas Chambers and his sons, David, Andrew, Thomas J. and McLain, with
George Shazer and a Mr. Brail arrived during the winter.
In 1848, too, the area became an educational center with the arrival of Father Pascal
Ricard and a little band of Oblat missionaries. The gentle fathers found a cathedral waiting
On a long-ago June day, they stood on a jutting headland of the Sound and saw the
benediction of slanted sunlight streaming through the hushed nave of ancient fir trees, and
they knew that this was the place where they would bring the red men to a knowledge of
the white man’s God.
More than a century has fled since then and the good fathers are long gone to their
reward. The few descendants of their Indian friends live on a somber island reservation
down the Sound, and the only living memory of Father Ricard and his mission is the name
of the beautiful headland where he lived and worked – Priest’s Point.
After the Indian wars of the ’50s, the Squaxin tribe was moved to its reservation on
Squaxin Island, and the mission declined. Father Ricard left soon after to found other
frontier missions. With its passing, the first spark of Old World culture to reach Puget
Sound was extinguished.
Priest Point is now an Olympia city park. Almost as hushed and lovely as it was
when the Mission of St. Joseph of New Market was founded there, it is rich in historic
To the imaginative visitor, there on a quiet day may come, as he strolls through
dark forests above the quiet ebb of Puget Sound, an echo soft as memory down the corridor
of years, echo of the chant of priest and mission Indian, and he may be reminded of the
ringing, tragic words of Old Seattle:
“And when the last red man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall
have become a myth among the white man, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead
of my tribe, and when your children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the
the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth
there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages
are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once
filled them and still love this beautiful land. The white man will never be alone. “
Some of the quaint old 16th century French text books used by the priests of
Priest’s Point are now kept at the State Library in Olympia.
GOLD RUSH DAYS
The formal Territorial Government of Oregon was established on August 14, 1848.
It included all the Pacific possessions of the United States north of the 32nd parallel. The
Olympia of today was still officially known as Smithfield, Lewis County, Oregon.
The year 1849 was a dark one for the Puget Sound country as the bright flame of
California gold eclipsed the northern coast. Crops were left to rot and half-built cabins
were deserted, as all but a few devoted souls stampeded for the California gold fields.
With most of the able-bodied white men gone, Patkanim, chief of the Snoqualmie,
called together a great council of the Puget Sound Indians. Patkanim urged the canoe
Indians to join with the horse Indians from east of the great mountains, to drive the whites
from the land.
“Soon,” he said, “the white men will outnumber the Indians, and then we shall be
driven to a land where the sun never shines, and there we shall be left to sicken and die.”
The Puget Sound tribes refused to join with Patkanim in his proposed massacre.
The Hudson Bay men at Fort Nisqually had long treated the Indians kindly and fairly.
When the first Americans at Tumwater Falls felt the autumn chill of 1846, they delegated
Colonel Simmons and Jim McAllister to call upon Dr. Tolmie, the chief factor at Fort
Nisqually, for help.
Although it was contrary to the interests of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the
British government to encourage American settlers in this disputed territory, the kindly
factor agreed to furnish clothing, food and blankets to the people of New Market, and to
buy shingles from them. In return he demanded that they observe the company’s policy of
dealing with the Indians and to help in protecting the gentle Puget Sound Indians from the
brutal raids of the war-like Haidahs of British Columbia, who swept down periodically in
their 70-foot ocean- going war canoes to murder, pillage and take slaves and women.
The first American settlers observed this code scrupulously, and as a result the
Nisquallys, Squaxons [Squaxin] and other tribes of the upper Sound, looked upon the
white men as friends and protectors. Had later settlers been as wise, the Puget Sound
country might have gone down in history as the only section of America where red men
and white worked out their destiny without murder, bitterness or tragedy.
A war party of Patkanim’s braves did attack Fort Nisqually in 1849, and a white
man, Leander C. Wallace, was killed. Later Patkanim was bribed with 80 blankets to
deliver up six of the supposed murderers for trial and as a result of this sordid episode,
which reflects credit on neither Indians nor whites, two of the six Indians were found
guilty and hanged.
While this was transpiring, Leschi, son-in-law of the Chief of the Nisquallys, was
learning agriculture from his friend, Jim McAllister, and as the most influential of the
upper Sound Indians, he was building a firm foundation of peace and good will between
his people and the Americans.
So it was that the tiny settlements of Puget Sound escaped annihilation at the hands
of the Indians while their men were away in the gold rush of ’49.
RETURN OF THE GOLD SEEKERS
The treasure hunters began to drift back in a year or so. Some were broke, just as
they were when they started. Some, like Sylvester, brought back pokes of dust to buy land
and goods and ships to found new, solid fortunes in the northwest. Some brought new
settlers with them.
The year 1850 was another year of great beginnings. In the spring the Smith claim
was dedicated as a town. Edmund Sylvester still owned the whole town, and he decided to
launch it with a new name – Olympia.
The name Olympia appears to have been suggested by Colonel I. N. Ebey, who
joined the gold rush and was fairly successful, returning north in 1850 and settling on a
valuable claim on Whidby Island.
The Colonel was down for the dedication ceremony and added his oratory to the
occasion. He composed these lines for the little assemblage gathered at the city’s birth, and
they have become a part of the capital’s history:
“Afar their crystal summits rise
Like gems against the sunset skies,
While far below, the shadowy mist
In waves of pearl and amethyst,
‘Round somber fir and stately pine,
Its dewy, jeweled fingers twine;
Olympia’s gods might view with grace,
Nor scorn so fair a dwelling place.”
Historians disagree as to who should receive credit for suggesting the very fitting
name, Olympia, for Washington’s capital city. Some claim that it was actually the
suggestion of Charles Harte Smith, who was a partner of Simmons in an early Olympia
store located at First and Main.
Hubert Howe Bancroft quotes Elwood Evans (Washington’s first historian and
pioneer Olympian), backed by Sylvester, as crediting Ebey with the name. In later years,
Evans credited Smith. Still later, in a booklet edited by Evans for the State World’s Fair
Commission of 1893, Hugh Goldsborough is listed as suggesting the name.
In this regard, it is interesting to note that the only two books mentioned in Ebey’s
journal are the Bible and a Life of Olympia Fluvius Morata (an Italian scholar of the 16th
century). This, coupled with the foregoing poem, indicate that the name Olympia was in
the Colonel’s mind at the time, and it is likely that the credit should go to him.
Colonel Ebey’s subsequent life was quite a saga in itself. In 1853 he was appointed
a Collector of Customs. He was a doughty champion of the rights of the American settlers
in conflicts with the British colonial government at Vancouver, and was the first to explore
inland in what is now King County.
In 1857 a band of raiding Northern Indians of the Haidah tribe fell into battle with
the U.S. Government steamers, Massachusetts and Traveler, and were given a sound
drubbing, losing 27 killed and 21 wounded. Instead of teaching the savages a lesson, it left
them burning for revenge, and they made a sneak attack on Ebey’s isolated homestead. His
official position and great popularity made him a white chief “Boston Tyee” – in their
Shortly after midnight, the Colonel’s dogs gave the alarm and he stepped to the
door to investigate the disturbance. Two shots flashed in the dark, wounding him. Two
more dropped him to the ground and as he fell, the Indians sprang upon him and
Ebey’s wife and three children escaped to spread the alarm and the neighbors
gathered for defense, but in the morning it was found that the Haidahs had gone as silently
as they had come. Haidah revenge was complete with the death of the man who took a
lovely name from Greek mythology and gave it to Washington’s capital city.
A NEW COUNTY
Olympia’s water-borne commerce began in 1850 when, on New Year’s Day, the
brig Orbit arrived in the harbor from California where she had been purchased by
Sylvester, Ebey and other Olympians with California gold.
Olympia was the Orbit’s home port, and she was the first sea-going ship owned on
Puget Sound. On her first voyage, she loaded a cargo of piling for San Francisco. This
development was of interest to the federal government as well as the settlers of Olympia
and New Market, and, the following year, a customs house was established at Olympia.
A customs house employee has left a journal which contains a vivid description of
the city at about the time of its first birthday in 1851:
” ‘The place is situated near the head of Budd’s Wet, on a low flat, and the tide
rushes in and falls nearly 24 feet. On the margin of the sound, clams and mussels abound
and ducks of diverse varieties are most numerous. The largest house by far in the place is
now occupied by the Customs House. It is a large two-story house, not far from the
extreme northermost point, and on paper is designed as being near First and Main streets,
though the streets, to a great extent, exist in the imagination.
” ‘It belongs to Colonel Simmons, the American settler on the Sound, who has a
little room parcelled off for a store, though the stock is slim, and a still smaller apartment
dedicated as a post office. As the Colonel repudiates being “book larnt”, the post office
runs itself, or rather some half a dozen or more, having been sworn in as deputies, help
themselves and the few who come to inquire for letters. The upper story has been fitted for
a customs house and residence for which Col. Simmons receives the snug little rent of $50
” ‘There are about a dozen one-story cabins of primitive architecture covered with
split cedar siding, well-ventilated but healthy. They answer the purpose well, for the
winters are mild though moist. Snow and ice are comparatively unknown, but it rains on
short notice and without difficulty. There are some 20 or more Indian huts at a short
distance from the Customs House.
” ‘The Indians are of the D’Wamish tribe, a filthy, fish-eating flat-headed lot, who
live without much effort and are content with such clothing and conveniences as they can
purchase or obtain with the little they earn by occasional labor for the whites and the trifle
they receive for fish, ducks, venison, oysters, berries, etc.
” ‘Old Seattle is their Chief, a venerable looking old personage who, by his stately
walk and dignified carriage, would remind you of Col. Benton. He is friendly to the whites,
claims to remember the voyage of the renowned Vancouver, and while he considers it
beneath his dignity to use the jargon of the country, he will show you by friendly shake of
the hand and a grunt that he expects to be noticed by the newcomer.
” ‘The hospitable people consist of immigrants from Missouri and Illinois, and a
goodly sprinkling from the state of Maine. Col. Isaac N. Ebey is perhaps the most
influential of the citizens, but Goldsborough, Simmons, Poe and the Custom House
officials are worthy of mention. Edmund Sylvester, the town proprietor and native of
Maine, has recently built a dwelling. Beside it stands the old log cabin – the first house
built on the townsite. Dr. Lansdale has a little shanty east of it on a back street where he
dispenses calomel and occasionally justice, for the worthy doctor has been selected by his
fellow citizens as justice of the peace.
” ‘I recently witnessed a trial before him in which Captain Crosby and Colonel
Michael T. Simmons were parties, growing out of a question of title to and possession of
the Tumwater claim. It originally was taken by Simmons in 1845, but purchased by Crosby
in 1849. J. B. Chapman, Esq., of Steilacoom, was attorney for Crosby, Col. Simmons being
represented by Daniel R. Bigelow, Esq., of Massachusetts, who crossed the plains this last
season and arrived in Olympia in the Schooner Exact from Portland on a voyage to Queen
Charlotte’s Island, where gold is supposed to exist in large quantities.
” ‘Mr. Bigelow is a retiring, modest man, but seems to understand his profession
well enough, and though his old and unscrupulous antagonist attempted to badger and
bully him, yet he held his own with imperturbable good temper. Bigelow had grammar and
good English on his side, anyway.
” ‘Quincy A. Brooks, Esq., now employed in the Customs House, is another
attorney just arrived. He has on several occasions helped us while away these dreadfully
long nights of this northern latitude, by his admirable playing on the violin of which he is a
master. It really seems to me that should he fail to convince a jury by his oratory, he might
by leave of the court, prove irresistible with his fiddle. Dr. D. S. Maynard, hailing from
Ohio, like his brother Lansdale, with the melancholy experience that there is no demand
for pills, has taken to store keeping about 100 yards south of the Customs House. He offers
great inducements to his very limited supply of purchasers.’ “
Smith’s cabin had expanded into a crude hotel and store, but only the barest
essentials were to be bought in Olympia until 1852, when George Barnes opened a general
merchandise store at the west end of First Street. This opened a new era, with such luxuries
as soap, sperm candles, hoop skirts and patent medicines added to the pioneer necessities
of axes, powder, shot, whiskey and smoked fish.
Before long, business houses were opened by A. J. Moses, J. G. Parker, Sam
Coulter, L. Bettman, Goldman and Rosenblatt, and Louison and Company.
Another ship sailed out of Olympia harbor in 1851 when a schooner was chartered
by Samuel Williams, J. Colvig, William Billings, S. D. Howe, Charles Weed, S. S. Ford
and three Sargent brothers to explore the new-found gold fields on Queen Charlotte’s
The schooner was wrecked on the east side of the island and the fierce Haidahs
stripped the ship, capturing the hopeful Olympians. After two months of captivity, they
were released by a revenue cutter and troops from Fort Steilacoom.
The year 1852 found the little settlement fairly prosperous and its citizens with high
hopes for the future. Coal had been discovered nearby, several saw mills had been
established and these pioneer industries were the nucleus of a growing trade with booming
California. They felt, however, that their interests were jeopardized by their political
The Sound country was then the northern part of the Territory of Oregon. Many of
the towns and settlements were 500 wilderness-miles from the seat of government, and the
settlers weren’t getting much attention or consideration from the Territorial Legislature. All
the territory north of Cowlitz County was a part of Lewis County and it contained
somewhat more than 300 white inhabitants.
Pacific County was created in 1851, and, in 1852, another new county was
approved to include the land west of the Cascade Mountains and north of the Cowlitz
divide. The new county was named Thurston in honor of Oregon Territory’s delegate to
Congress, Samuel R. Thurston, who was pledged to defend the territorial rights of the
northern section against the claims of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Thurston had died at sea while returning home from the national capitol in 1851
and was buried at Acapulco. Years later his body was brought home and now lies in
Salem, Oregon, marked with a stone bearing this inscription:
“Here rests Oregon’s delegate, a man of genius and learning, a lawyer and
statesman, his Christian virtues equalled by his wide philanthropy. His public acts were his
With a new county on the map, an election was in order, so in June, 1852, the
citizens went to the polls and elected A. J. Simmons as Thurston County’s first sheriff; A.
M. Poe, county clerk; D. R. Bigelow treasurer; R. S. Bailey, assessor, and Edmund
Sylvester, coroner. A. A. Denny, S. S. Ford and David Shelton were the first Thurston
The records of the first session of the county commissioners show the following
The tax levy was fixed at 4 mills for county purposes, 11/2 mills for schools, 11/2
mills territorial, and $1 poll tax.
T. F. McElroy and George Barnes were appointed justices of the peace.
Road districts were established and William Packwood was authorized to establish
a ferry across the Nisqually River.
Precincts were established as follows: Skagit precinct, Whidby Island and all
islands north; Port Townsend precinct, territory north of Hood’s Canal on the west side of
the Sound; Duwamish (or Duwamps) precinct, east side of Sound north of Puyallup River
and all south of Hood’s Canal to the parallel of the north parallel of the Puyallup River on
the west side of the Sound; Steilacoom precinct, territory north of the Nisqually River to
the Puyallup River on the east side of the Sound and thence due west to the mouth of the
Nisqually River to the parallel of the mouth of the Puyallup River; Olympia precinct
included all territory south of Steilacoom precinct.
Olympia precinct had two school districts, with one each in Duwamish, Skagit and
Port Townsend precincts. The first term of district court was convened at Olympia in 1852
and Elwood Evans, D. R. Bigelow, Quincy A. Brooks, and S. H. Moses were admitted to
This was truly a year of progress for Olympia and Thurston County, and not least
of the developments was the founding of the first newspaper in what is now the state of
Washington. Publishers Thornton F. McElroy and J. W. Wiley issued Volume 1, Number
1, of the weekly Columbian on September 11, 1852.
The new paper vigorously advocated a new territory to be formed of the area north
of the Columbia. The editors chose their stand well, for their subscribers were all heartily
in favor of the idea.
Continued agitation along this line resulted in the historic Monticello Convention
on the banks of the Cowlitz River on November 25, 1852. Thurston County’s delegates
were M. T. Simmons, S. D. Ruddle, S. P. Moses, Adam Whyte, Q. A. Brooks and C. H.
As a result of the convention, Congress was memorialized to create the Territory of
Columbia out of that portion or Oregon lying north and west of the Columbia River. There
was no opposition from the other citizens of Oregon, and the new territory was created the
Congress didn’t go along with the citizens in their choice of a name, however.
Richard H. Stanton of Kentucky suggested that a District of Columbia and a Territory of
Columbia would be confusing. He wanted to honor the Father of His Country – and the
Territory of Washington was the result.
Olympia’s first public school was built at the corner of Sixth and Franklin, on the
present site of the building which houses the Olympia News 52, in the spring of 1852, but
the heavy snow of that winter caused it to collapse. It was soon replaced by a sturdier
In February of that year, four men named Bell, Boren, David and Arthur Denny set
up claims in the wilderness on the east side of Elliott Bay. This hopeful young town, with a
population of four, was soon to be named after the friendly Duwamish Chief, Seattle.
Olympia was a lusty two-year-old, the metropolis of a new territory, and there was little
time, with all the new developments, to take note of the birth of another tiny settlement
along the great tidal forests.
When the schooner Mary Lane dropped anchor in Olympia Harbor and the weekly
Columbian’s little Ramage hand press was hoisted from her hold, the printed word had
come to the new frontier to stay. The newspaper had come to the Northwest and the slow
stamping of the little Ramage was to swell into the clatter of a great network of news wires
and the thunder of the mighty power presses that now pour out more than 300 newspapers,
large and small, in 167 Washington cities and towns.
Most important of all, to the historian, the coming of the press meant the coming of
detailed history, for from 1852 to the present day, the yellowed files of the Columbian and
the newspapers which followed it provide a detailed, day-by-day chronology of the great
and small events of a growing empire.
The Columbian’s crude hand press had more than its share of glory. It was already
nearly a quarter of a century old when it arrived in Olympia, having been shipped around
the Horn from New York to Mexico City. By 1834, it was in Monterey, California, where
the Spanish governor used it to print the Alta California, the first newspaper on the Pacific
Coast. In 1836, it was in Upper California, stamping out San Francisco’s first newspaper,
the Star. Later it was moved north to print the famous Old Oregon Spectator, which was
Oregon’s first paper, later becoming the Portland Oregonian.
In her long career, the little Ramage changed her language and her politics more
than once, but she was consistent in following the first waves of the pioneers and bringing
the printed word to the outposts of civilization. When her work at Olympia was done, she
served in Seattle, Steilacoom, Whatcom and Port Townsend, and is now at well earned rest
in the University of Washington Museum.
The first issue of the Columbian carried considerable advertising. Edmund
Sylvester, father of Olympia and proprietor of the first “hall for travelers,” the Olympia
House, corner of Second and Main (now Olympia Avenue and Capitol Way), advertised
“an accomplished Chinese cook who comes highly recommended by the American Consul
at Canton” and also “commodious rooms without bath for those who furnish their own
Michael Simmons, father of Washington industry, placed the first “help wanted”
advertisement, a call for “40 to 50 axmen and 8 sawyers to attend a shingle mill.”
Publisher McElroy wrote back to his bride in Pittsfield, Illinois, on August 10,
1852, describing his trip by steamer, horseback and canoe to Olympia:
“I left Portland on Monday the 3rd inst., and after a pleasant passage of about four
hours down the Columbia on the steamer Lot Whitcomb (the first Columbia River
steamboat), arrived at the mouth of the Cowlitz River. Here I left the steamer to go up the
Cowlitz River. I embarked in a canoe with two Indians on Tuesday morning for
Warbassport, a trading post at the head of canoe navigation on this river. The ascent is very
slow on ‘account of the many rapids. Despite the rapid current, we reached the forks of the
river, 18 miles from the mouth, before night. Next day at about 9 o’clock arrived at
“From this place to Olympia, the conveyance is on horse back. I procured a horse
and rode 30 miles before night, over a fine farming and grazing country, very sparsely
settled. On my way, I met a gentleman and a lady on horseback. The lady was riding
astride and seemed to be as expert in managing her horse as her husband. I hear that all the
ladies in this part of Oregon have adopted this mode of riding. They follow the example of
the Indian women in this respect. The next day I arrived at Olympia.”
McElroy and Wiley set up their crude press and took turns as editor, business
manager, circulation man and printer’s devil. By the following year, young McElroy was
beginning to feel the separation from his bride more and more, and on September 4, 1853,
“Well, the first year of the Columbian has about closed. I am completely worn out
by constant attention to business. Many times I wish I had never left you and home. I am
glad you are willing to follow my fortunes wherever. I may go, and I do not doubt that you
would be perfectly happy with me here.”
That month, the paper was sold to Matt Smith, who published it only a few months
when he sold it to Wiley. The single owner changed the name to the Washington Pioneer
and the paper’s politics from Whig (Republican) to Democratic.
By 1853, the trickle of emigration had become a steady stream. In three years,
Olympia had sprung from a hopeful dream to a growing reality of a score or more of cedar-
shingled houses and two or three muddy streets. True, Main Street was lined with massive
stumps, the primal forest still pressed darkly upon the settler’s cabins and the Indians still
camped along the shore, but the solid kernel of a city was there.
Lumber was in great demand as the town grew, and another mill was built to
harness the pulsing water of the falls at New Market. Ira Ward, N. Barnes and S. Hays
were the owners and the mill delivered 3,000 feet of lumber a day. Colonel Simmons no
longer owned the original mill at Tumwater. The Kentucky lumberman sold his mill to a
New England sailor and used the proceeds to buy the brig Orbit. The sailor-turned-
lumberman prospered. The lumberman-turned-sailor didn’t do so well.
The Wiscatt, Maine, Crosbys owned The Mill now, and their story is one to be
remembered. Captain Nathaniel Crosby was the first of the clan to see the Sound country.
The United States government sent him out in command of the brig O. C. Raymond with
supplies for the first settlers on the Sound, who were seldom far from starvation in the
earliest days. Captain Nat liked the new frontier and he believed in direct action. He sent
word to his elder brother, Clanrick, back in Maine, to buy a ship and bring the family out.
Clanrick bought the 270-ton brig Grecian, loaded her with the household
furnishings of the Crosbys, manned her with a crew of Crosbys and their kinfolk, and took
her around the Horn to Portland. That voyage brought famous pioneers to New Market,
whence they overflowed to Olympia.
But people have to be careful about tracing their ancestry to the Grecian. Of the
whole ship’s company, passengers, officers and crew, all but four were members of the
Crosby family, and one of the non-Crosbys was the colored cook.
A California vocalist, one Bing Crosby, is one who can legitimately claim descent
from the afterguard of the Grecian. The old Crosby House still stands at Tumwater and,
unlike most historic old land. marks in the Olympia area, is to be preserved as an historical
Olympia now had industries to compete with the water-powered mills at Tumwater
Falls. In July of 1853, D. C. Beatty opened a furniture manufacturing shop, a brick yard
had been opened in May by Conrad Snyder, and a bed of small native oysters had been
discovered at South Bay and was being exploited.
Large shipments of coal were being hauled from the Skookumchuck coal fields for
shipment to California, and little brigs and schooners, the James Marshall, Orbit, G. W.
Kendall, June, Kingsbury and the bark Sarah Warren were calling at Olympia for cargoes
of shingles, timber, pilings and coal for San Francisco.
On January 8, 1853, the Sarah Warren dropped anchor with $15,000 worth of
merchandise for Olympia stores. She left two passengers, Captain and Mrs. S. W. Percival.
They were destined to live out their lives in Olympia and to leave their mark on the
community. The name is still well-known in and around the capital city.
Captain Percival soon built and operated a saw mill at the mouth of what is now
Capitol Lake. He also built a dock for the accommodation of the first steamers running at
Olympia, and Percival’s Dock at the foot of Water Street was a center of community life
for more than half a century.
Most of the famous old Puget Sound steamers rubbed their trim flanks against its
pilings in their day, and it is still used by unglamorous but efficient diesel freighters of the
Puget Sound Freight Lines. Percival also conducted one of the town’s leading mercantile
establishments at the corner of Main and Second Streets until 1876. Captain Percival’s son,
Samuel, operated the dock and steamship ticket office until shortly before the second
The census of that year showed Thurston County with a population of 996, Pierce
513, the Territory 3,965.
J. R. Johnson, M D., announced the opening of a hospital on his claim at Johnson’s
Point at the head of South Bay. The doctor was the first settler at South Bay and the name
of his point is famous in upper Sound steamboat lore. Like “old Bachus,” the naval surgeon
of H. M. & Bounty, Dr. Johnson’s favorite, and at times, only, medicine was a high-test
whiskey, for which his “hospital” was noted.
THE GOVERNOR ARRIVES
All this the settlers noted with considerable satisfaction, but the really big news of
the year was the arrival of the territory’s first governor. Isaac Ingalls Stevens arrived at
Olympia on November 26, 1853. On November 28th, he proclaimed Olympia the Capital
of Washington Territory.
The figure of Isaac Stevens, first governor of Washington, is a controversial one to
this day. Some historians paint him as a knight in shining armor, the champion of the new
frontier, a statesman without flaw or blemish.
Others portray him as a hard-drinking, autocratic martinet, who brought the tragedy
of an unnecessary Indian war upon the territory.
The truth probably lies somewhere between the two extremes. Here the facts shall
speak for themselves and the reader may form his own opinion.
The arrival of Governor Stevens marked the first step in Olympia’s governmental
growth to become one of the nation’s most beautiful capital cities. Only eight months had
passed since the northwest pioneers had received separate recognition from Oregon.
The weekly Columbian, now named the Washington Pioneer, which had done a lot
of heavy editorializing to help bring this about, was still happy about the achievement of
separate territorial status for Washington. Said the editor, “The recent enactment of the law
to establish a territory… has give a gallant, dashing, sparkling and ponderous momentum to
the march and swagger of progress. During our poor dependence upon the cold charity of
Oregon, we must as weak and puny infants, creep. But now… no longer in the hands of go-
betweens, we have become a people within ourselves. Progress is our watchword. Our
destiny is in the keeping of God, the national government and our own judgement.”
The Pioneer did not fail to keep its readers posted on the matter of a governor for
the new territory. “Just as we are going to press, a gentleman who came passenger on the
steamer Columbia informs us that a Mr. Stevens of Massachusetts has been appointed
governor of Washington Territory.”
By the following week, Olympia had learned this stranger from the States was
Brevet-Major Isaac I. Stevens, U. S. Engineers, and a month later the Pioneer’s editor had
received vastly cheering and important news by post from the governor himself. He passed
Steven’s message on to his readers.
“I herewith enclose to you,” Stevens had written, “my private instructions from the
War Department regarding an exploration and survey of a railroad from the headwaters of
the upper Mississippi river to Puget Sound.”
The governor assured that “While I am delayed by the charge of this work, there
will be no delay in the organization of the government as Col. Anderson, the marshal, will
at once take the census preliminary to a proclamation ordering an election of a Territorial
Legislature. . .”
The citizens were greatly cheered as the published letter continued, “Twenty
thousand dollars have been appropriated and placed in my hands to construct a military
road from Fort Walla Walla to the Sound, early enough for this year’s immigration.”
This was of particular importance to the Olympia area as more and more settlers
were reaching the area by way of Natchez Pass – an arduous and terribly dangerous route.
A wagon road to Eastern Washington would bring a golden harvest of wealth and new
The governor’s dispatch continued, “I do feel no doubt but that I shall succeed this
year in piercing the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Ranges and in opening a direct
communication between the Mississippi and the Sound on the Pacific. As I must devote
myself thoroughly to the interests of the Territory, I shall consult freely and be advised by
my fellow citizens. I remain, Isaac I. Stevens.”
Although the eager readers of the Washington Pioneer probably didn’t note it, the
governor’s letter gave an indication of what was to prove probably his greatest weakness.
Governor Stevens, to use an old American expression, had a tendency to “bite off more
than he could chew.”
He had no apparent doubts as to his ability to survey a transcontinental railway,
build a trans-territorial highway, settle the Indian and Hudson’s Bay Company problems,
and establish a territorial government, all more or less at once. No man, however brilliant –
and Isaac Stevens was brilliant – could do all these things and do all of them well. His
greatest failure was to be in the field of Indian affairs, and it was to prove a tragic failure.
But to the eager settlers, awaiting the coming of their new leader, no such doubts
obtruded. True, there was much to be done when the governmental wheels of the new
territory would finally be set into motion.
The eastern Washington Indians were openly hostile. The Sound Indians, once
docile and friendly as children, were becoming sullen as they saw their tribal lands taken
over by new settlers, many of whom refused to follow the old code of fair play,
considering the Indians on a par with wild beasts which should be exterminated as soon as
Other troublesome problems pressed close upon the people as Hudson’s Bay Company
traps bit deep into the territory’s choicest sections, and British aggression was asserting
But a railroad route was being explored! A railroad that would some day creep
across a continent, a slender thread of iron linking fast two shores across a nation’s future!
The territory tempered its impatience and waited.
Then.. . “Glorious news for Washington! Arrival of Governor Stevens! Complete
success of the Expedition! Entire practicability of the Northern Pacific Route,” the Pioneer
shouted, breathless, to its readers.
Then, more coherently, “Governor Stevens arrived at this place on Saturday last,
November 25, 1853, through a drenching rain, having completed one of the most arduous
and triumphantly successful explorations ever performed since the organization of the
“Six months devoted to incessant toil, danger and the overcoming of insuperable
obstacles, has brought to our new territory a governor, and with him, as we believe, the
ground work of the Pacific railway… A new Territory, set apart and organized in one year,
and a favorable report for a railway from the Atlantic states to the Sound! Who can
anticipate our future Territory!”
In spite of the advance notice, the governor’s arrival took the villagers by surprise.
They were preparing a big reception for him at the Washington Hotel at Second and Main,
once Sylvester’s Olympia House, now operated by a Mr. Stanley. When a swarthy, black-
bearded little stranger in shabby frontier garb dismounted stiffly from his horse in the chill
November rain, the citizens were too busy to notice him.
The newcomer entered the hotel dining room, but was told to go to the kitchen for
food, as the dining room was reserved for a great welcoming banquet for the new governor
of the Territory, who was expected momentarily. When the travel-stained little stranger at
last convinced the proprietor that he was the long-awaited governor, the effect was electric.
The astonished settlers thronged about, the Olympia Light Artillery fired a national
salute of 100 guns from the village’s small but enthusiastic cannon, flags fluttered in the
chill, wet wind, and the first governor of Washington was literally swept into the arms of a
All of the leading citizens of Olympia and New Market were at the hotel for the
official meeting. These included Colonel William Cock, Shirley Ensign, D. R. Bigelow,
George A. Barnes, H. A. Goldsborough, Jno. M. Swan, C. H. Hale, Judge B. F. Yantis,
Judge Gilmore Hays, Jno. G. Parker, Quincy A. Brooks, Dr. G. K. Willard, Colonel
Michael T. Simmons, Capt. Clanrick Crosby, Ira Ward, James Biles, Joseph Cushman, S.
W. Percival, Edwin Marsh, R. M. Walker, Levi and James Offut, J. C. Head, W. Dobbins,
Isaac Hawk, Rev. George F. Whitworth, Jared S. Hurd, H. R. Woodward, B. F. Brown, and
Publisher Wiley of the Washington Pioneer delivered the address of welcome, and
Governor Stevens responded with a talk on the results of his explorations for a northern
transcontinental rail route and his plans for the future government of the territory.
Never a man to waste time, Stevens immediately issued a proclamation establishing
election districts, and naming January 30, 1854, as the time for holding an election for
delegate to Congress and members of the first Territorial Legislature, which was to
convene at Olympia, February 28.
The governor appointed Colonel Simmons Indian Agent for the Puget Sound
Indians and sent him to visit the various tribes, “bearing a message of friendship from the
White Father.” The baby-faced Kentuckian was apparently a sort of pioneer Dale Carnegie,
with a gift for making friends and influencing Indians.
His persuasive powers were instrumental in coaxing all the chiefs and leaders of the
Puget Sound tribes, except Leschi, to give up their people’s birth-right for a mess of
pottage in the form of cheap gifts and hazy promises.
Charles H. Mason, the first secretary of state, had arrived before Governor Stevens.
The first treasurer was Colonel William Cock. Daniel Bigelow was the first auditor. Judge
Edward Lander was first chief justice of the Territorial Supreme Court, and Columbia
Lancaster was elected delegate to Congress.
The first political campaign in Thurston County was a spirited one. Elected were
Councilmen (Senators) B. F. Yantis, Whig and D. R. Bigelow, Democrat. Representatives
were L. D. Durgin and David Shelton, Democrats, and Ira Ward and C. H. Hale, Whigs.
The Whigs, forerunners of the present Republicans, were elected without much help from
the very Democratic Washington Pioneer. The Union party failed to place any of its
The first legislature met in a little two-story frame building on Main, between
Second and Third Streets. The Gold Bar Store and Restaurant occupied the street floor, the
law-makers the upper story. There Stevens predicted a brilliant future for the Territory,
urged county and school organization, and the establishment of a state militia.
He dwelt upon the importance of extinguishing the Indian land titles and the claims
of the Hudson’s Bay Company and its subsidiary Puget Sound Agricultural Company, and
settling of the British boundary line. Most of his measures were promptly adopted by the
legislature. The militia bill was not passed, however, and the legislators had cause to regret
their oversight before two years were past.
Several acts of the first Territorial Legislature had considerable effect on Thurston
County. Chehalis (later Grays Harbor) County was created from the southwest part of
Thurston County. Sawamish County was made from the northwest section.
This name was later changed to Mason County, in honor of the first secretary of
state, or territorial secretary, as he was then called. Secretary Mason died of a fever in
1856. He was then 29 years old. Mason’s fatal fever, like that of other pioneers, was
probably brought on by overdoses of the kind of medicine prescribed by Dr. Johnson of
The Oregon Territorial Legislature has already carved the counties of Pierce, King,
Island, and Jefferson from Thurston during the previous year, and the Washington
legislature of 1854 left Thurston County with substantially its present boundaries, except
for a section at the south, which later went back to Lewis County.
Roads were authorized between Olympia and Shoalwater Bay (Willapa Harbor);
from Cathlamet to S. S. Ford’s place in Thurston County (now Fords Prairie, Lewis
County); Olympia to the mouth of the Columbia River, and Olympia to Monticello
County officers were appointed by the legislature, with the following for Thurston
County: Commissioners, S. E. Ford, David J. Chambers, and James McAllister; Auditor,
V. E. Hicks; Sheriff, Frank Kennedy; Assessor, Whitfield Kertly; Probate Judge, Stephen
D. Ruddle; Treasurer, D. R. Bigelow; School Superintendent, Elwood Evans; and Justices
of Peace, William (Squire) Plumb, Nathan Eaton and Joseph Broshears. Ruddle declined
the judgeship and Judge Joseph Cushman was appointed in his place.
While the political structure of the Territory was being formed, material progress
continued in the capital city, still a tiny settlement of scarce 100 folk huddled in a clearing
between the salt water of its inlet and the dark wilderness of its forests.
The Washington Pioneer, ex-Columbian, became the Pioneer and Democrat, but
its little hand press on the edge of the tideflats continued to thump out the events of the
tiny community it served.
The first seal of the Territory was designated by a member of Steven’s Northern
Railway Exploring party. The seal, representing a sheet of water being traversed by a
steamer and sailing vessel, with a Goddess of Hope with an anchor, pointing to the
Chinook word “Alki” (By and by), was adopted and used until the Territory became a state
The present state seal was designed at that time by the Talcott brothers of the
pioneer Olympia jewelry firm. The Talcott brothers also drilled the first of the famous
Olympia artesian wells.
A CHURCH IS BUILT
The Rev. J. F. DeVore completed construction of the Methodist Church and it was
dedicated March 19, 1854. This pioneer minister approached doughty Captain Clanrick
Crosby at his Tumwater mill with a request that he donate some lumber for the erection of
the new church.
The New Englander regarded the scholarly looking clergyman with no great favor,
and replied that he could have as much lumber as he could carry away by himself in one
DeVore showed up at dawn the next day, carried from the mill enough lumber to build his
church, and rafted it down the DesChutes waterway to his building site. History does not
record Captain Crosby’s reaction to the Methodist minister’s unexpected vigor, and perhaps
it is just as well.
At any event the building, constructed in the ’50s with lumber rafted by an intrepid
clergyman from Washington’s first mill, served for many years as a church, as Epworth
Hall, and later as a lodging house. It was destroyed by fire in 1949 – just short of its 100th
April 8, 1854, saw the first of a long series of Legislative Balls. It was held at the
new Pacific Hotel under the supervision of the busy Colonel William Cock, and in the
same month A. J. and N. P. Miller began to build a steam saw mill at North Olympia, two
miles below town, “the largest lumbering establishment on the Sound.”
A Mr. Henry Yesler had a steam saw mill operating at the upstart village of Seattle
by this time, too. In May, Bishop Scott and the Rev. D. McCarthy announced a meeting to
form an Episcopal Church, which was built on the present site of the Governor Hotel, and
in July, Olympia’s first Sunday school was opened.
In August, a pile driver began work on the waterfront, constructing a dock from the
foot of Main Street to deeper water. Until the harbor was dredged in later years, deep water
was a long way from town at low tide.
The original dock, known as Giddings Wharf, extended only 300 feet and was high
and dry at low tide. By 1888, the dock extended a mile into the bay and was known far and
wide as Olympia’s “Mile Wharf.”
Its term of usefulness extended into the early 20th century, although wharves north
of town on deeper water were used by most of the sea-going ships which called at Olympia
for lumber cargoes in the early days.
MUD AND STUMPS
This year Governor Stevens purchased property in Olympia for his future home.
Deeply disappointed at Secretary of War Jefferson Davis’ orders to discontinue his railway
survey, Stevens returned East, spent some time at the national capital, and began the return
trip with his family from New York City on September 20.
They arrived at their new home in December. The city’s most ardent boosters of
today will seldom claim that Olympia is at its best in December, and in 1854 it was
definitely on the bleak side.
The Governor’s family was less than enthusiastic, this being the pen picture left in
the family archives: “It was a dreary, dark December day. It had rained considerably. The
road from Tumwater to Olympia was ankle deep in mud and thrided a dense forest with a
narrow track. With expectations raised at the idea of seeing the Capital and chief town of
the Territory, the weary travelers toiled up a small hill in the edge of the timber, reached
the summit and eagerly looked to see the new metropolis.
“Their hearts sank with bitter disappointment as they surveyed the dismal and
forlorn scene before them. A low, flat neck of land, running into the bay, down it stretched
the narrow, muddy track, winding among the stumps, which stood thickly on either side.
“Twenty small wooden houses bordered the road, while back of them on the left
and next to the shore were a number of Indian lodges, with canoes drawn up on the beach,
and Indians and dogs lounging about.”
(The little hill mentioned is where the Masonic Temple now stands, opposite the
Federal building. The site of the Indian camp is now Columbia Street, between Third and
“There were only one or two buildings above, or south of Sixth Street. The public
square was a tangle of fallen timber. Main Street terminated in Giddings’ wharf, which was
left high and dry at low tides. ”
Kate Stevens Bates, one of the children who made this journey to Olympia in the
early 1850s, lived her whole life in the city her father had made the capital of Washington.
She died at Olympia in the late 1940s.
William Winlock Miller built a sawmill on the east side of Budd’s Inlet a short
distance north of town, late in the year, and the original Masonic Temple was built on the
site of the present lodge building.
The town’s first fraternal order, Olympia Lodge 5, Free and Accepted Masons, had
received its chapter that year.
The second legislature moved from the Gold Bar Store and Restaurant to this new
structure in 1855. In December, W. B. Goodell established a stage line between Olympia
and Cowlitz Landing (Toledo). The stage left the Capitol on Tuesdays and Fridays, and
connected with steamers for Monticello and Portland at Cowlitz Landing.
The fare was $3.50 to Grand Mound, $10 to Cowlitz. The lumbering coaches and
lathered horses pulled up at a stage house where the [old] Olympia City Hall now stands.
Also on the high side were commodity prices in Olympia stores. Potatoes, $3 a
bushel; flour, $10 for 100 pounds; butter, $1 a pound; onions, $4 a bushel; eggs $1 a
dozen; tea, $1 a pound.
Pork at 20 cents a pound and coffee at 18 cents were reasonable as compared to
present prices, but high when paid for in 1854 dollars. A mess of clams could be had for
the digging and a big salmon could be purchased by non-anglers from an Indian for a bit
Sawed lumber was going at $20 per thousand; cedar, $30; shingles, $4.50; piles,
per foot, 5 to 8 cents; and square timber, per foot, 12 to 15 cents.
In 1855, the legislature officially located the capital at Olympia (but the fight had
really only begun), the city got regular steamer service to the still inferior but rapidly
growing village of Seattle, and the Sound Indians were finally goaded into action – the
Territory had a full- fledged Indian War on its hands.
The steamer Traveler was placed on a regular mail, passenger and freight run to
Seattle by John G. Parker. This advertisement was inserted in the Pioneer & Democrat:
U.S. MAIL STEAMER TRAVELER
W. N. Horton, Master
FROM OLYMPIA via STEILACOOM to SEATTLE
For freight or passage apply on board
The steamer, Fairy, was on the Steilacoom run, and the fabulous Puget Sound
mosquito fleet was on its way. A later chapter will deal more fully with the history of the
steamboat days on Puget Sound.
THE INDIAN WAR
To contemporary citizens the Indian troubles overshadowed all other developments
and the history of 1855-56 is largely a bloody and shameful one.
For several years, as some adventurers of limited vision and flexible conscience
followed the tide of migration to the Sound country, renegade whites had been abusing and
murdering Indians, and renegade Indians had been terrorizing isolated cabins and
murdering an occasional white settler.
In 1854, a northern Indian of the Kake tribe was working at H. L. Butler’s sawmill
at Butler’s Cove – the present site of the Olympia Golf and Country Club. A dispute arose
over wages, and as a result of the controversy, he was shot and killed by one Burke, a
white employee of the mill.
Butler and Burke were arrested for the murder, but to many of the settlers a “good
Indian was a dead Indian,” and the presiding judge, Squire Plumb (for whom Plumb
Station was named) moved for the discharge of the accused white men “because Thurston
County has no jail and it will be an expense to the county to retain them in custody”!
About the time of the murder, the northern tribes were en route home from their
annual trip to the Sound, and the killing served as a pretext for widespread depredations on
the settlements they passed.
Commander Swartout, in command of the U.S.S. Massachusetts, decided to teach
them another lesson and raided their camp at Port Gamble, leaving blazing huts, smashed
canoes and twenty-seven corpses on the beach. So far most of the killing had been done by
the superior race, but they were soon to answer grievously for it.
By 1855, tension was gripping the whole Sound country. Secretary Mason was
acting as governor during one of Stevens’ many absences from the Territory – he was
making treaties with the Nebraska Indians – and in October, Mason issued a proclamation
calling for two companies of volunteers to consist of 86 officers and men. Olympia and
Vancouver were designated as places of enrollment.
At that time, an inlet of the bay extended well into the present business district of
the city, a southerly extension of the present east
waterway. The town of 1855 was well inside the limits of this bay and that formed by the
west waterway or main harbor.
The jittery citizens decided to fortify the town, and soon a 12-foot log stockade was
extended along both sides of Fourth Street from bay to bay. A block house was built at the
corner of Fourth and Main (Capitol Way) with the town’s trusty cannon mounted on it.
The first militia company enrolled at Olympia was designated as the Puget Sound
Mounted Volunteers. Captain George Goudy commanded it; W. B. Affleck was first
lieutenant and J. K. Hurd, second lieutenant.
A little later, Nathan Eaton, a pioneer of 1842, was authorized to form a company
of Rangers; Jim McAllister was chosen first lieutenant, James Tullis, second lieutenant and
A. M. Poe, third lieutenant.
McAllister didn’t think the Nisquallys would fight. “They’re so gentle I could drive
the whole tribe before me like sheep,” he said.
So confident was he of their friendship that he left his wife and five little girls, with
three boys, the oldest 12, to guard them in the midst of the Nisqually camp when he went
to join the Rangers. The McAllisters stayed in the farm house that was the gift of Leschi
and his braves.
But Leschi had reached his decision. Governor Stevens was turning out treaties
much as Detroit now turns out automobiles, and a lemon was bound to creep in now and
then. The Medicine Creek Treaty, held on the Nisqually Flats east of Olympia, was one of
the little governor’s tragic mistakes.
He settled the destiny of the Nisqually Tribe by moving them from the lush bottom
lands of the Nisqually to a rocky table-land. Crops could not be raised there, and there was
no water for fishing.
Leschi, like Seattle, was noted for his friendship with the whites, but his first
loyalty was to his tribe. He was convinced that to comply with the treaty meant a slow
death by starvation for him and his people.
The opinion of historians differs as to whether Leschi signed the Medicine Creek
Treaty. Mrs. George Blankenship says, in her history of Thurston County, “Sixty-two
Indians signed. Leschi, an intelligent and designing Indian, who since has been
immortalized by having a Seattle park named after him, being third. The first signer was
Qui-ee-muth, Leschi’s brother. Both these Indians met death as a reward for their
Clarence B. Bagley, in his history of King County, indicates doubt as to whether
Leschi actually signed. The Indians’ signatures were simply X’s after their names, and
could easily have been forged. Ezra Meeker is emphatic in denying that Leschi signed the
treaty. Archie Binns gives this interpretation of the scene at Medicine Creek:
” ‘Leschi, sub-chief of the Nisquallys and Puyallups!’
“The name was always like a great cry . . . and by the gathering silence, you would
think it some special meaning of hope or fear. In the silence, you became aware of the still
treaty ground in the falling rain, and the great fir trees on a strange planet whirling through
“Under those mysterious trees, people clustered together to decide how things
should be. And they tried to decide what was right or profitable by the color of each others’
faces. But none of them knew what was right or what would be profitable. And they did
not know what they were doing or how it would end…
“Looking at Leschi, you did not think about his race or yours. He was like a wise
and homely friend you had always known and would trust in anything. He was standing
beside the unpainted wooden table, and Colonel Shaw was holding out the ready-dipped
“Leschi’s arms were folded under the tawny Hudson’s Bay blanket. He did not seem
to notice the pen. In the stillness, you could hear the failing rain. Then Leschi spoke in
” ‘I will not put my name on that paper. My people need land they can plough, and
prairie land for their herds. They need the creek for their canoes. I have told Governor
Stevens these things. Even if my heart had changed, the need of my people has not
Binns writes that, “Colonel Simmons was beside Leschi again, with a colicky smile
on his baby face, while he talked Soothingly in Nisqually. When that brought no result, he
started to pat the chief’s arm. His hand touched once, and then it was flung aside as Leschi
whirled on him so swiftly that he blurred.
” ‘ Klatawa!’
“Simmonds recoiled with a singed look, from the great explosion of a word. Leschi
turned back to the angry little governor, and looked down at him with blazing eyes. ‘We
ask for farms, so we can live, and you give us gravel for a burial ground! We ask for bread
and you give us a stone!’
” ‘Aie lah, Leschi!’ The name had become a great cry in more than the…
“Jim McAllister was on his feet, looking from Leschi, to whom he owed his farm
and wealth and a thousand kindnesses, to the governor, to whom he owed his allegiance as
a citizen. He looked irresolutely from one to the other. Then he sat down heavily.
“At the treaty table, they were trying to shout Leschi down. The furious little
governor was shouting, ‘Tell him he is a Klickitat! Tell him he has nothing to do with this
treaty!’ And Shaw repeated it in jargon.
“In answer, the Nisqually drew a folded paper from inside his blanket. The others
quieted as he held it up. ‘If I am a Klickitat,’ he said mildly, ‘why did Governor Stevens
give me this paper which makes me a little chief of the Nisquallys? That was yesterday.’
” ‘Today I am a Klickitat with no business here. But if I had put mark on that paper,
Governor Stevens would not remember my Klickitat mother. I would be a great Nisqually
today. Governor Stevens made me a little chief so I would do my people a big wrong. This
is my answer.’ He held up the folded paper so every one could see, and tore it into long
strips, which he dropped on the muddy ground.
” ‘Aie Iah!”
“‘Go away! The treaty makers were shouting. ‘We don’t want you here!’. . .
“Leschi raised his powerful voice. ‘I am going, but hear one thing: burn that paper
or it will burn you! That evil paper means war!’
“Settlers who had not been at the treaty believed Leschi had signed. The governor’s
friends who had been there told people who had not that Leschi had stepped up to the table
and signed without protest, like all the others.
“In proof, there was a mark after Leschi’s name on the treaty. The treaty was
witnessed by some of the settlers and members of the Governor’s party, including the
Governor’s 12-year-old son who had sat under a tree with the Indian boys, eating
blackstrap and playing a jews-harp.”
For a time nothing happened on the upper Sound. The treaty was not enforced and
Leschi began his fall plowing. The governor, having stirred up a hornet’s nest at his capital,
had dashed back across the Rockies to make more rapid-fire treaties, driven on by war
Acting-governor Mason sent Puget Sound Volunteers to take Leschi into
“protective custody.” Leschi fled to the hostile camp in the White River area of King
County and the die was cast.
Late in October, both Olympia volunteer companies left for the White River. Four
more companies were mustered in as a reserve force, and stockades were built on
Chambers Prairie and at Grand Mound. At Puyallup Crossing, Lieutenant McAllister, still
counting on the gentleness of the Nisquallys, rode toward the hostile camp.
He and his companion, Connell, were fired on from ambush and killed.
McAllister’s faithful Indian farm hand, Chipwalen, escaped and returned to Nisqually in
time to warn Mrs. McAllister and conduct her, with the eight children, to the stockade on
Chambers Prairie. A. B. Moses and Col. Joseph Miles were killed a few days later.
In Olympia, word of the deaths cast a pall of gloom over the little settlement. The
bodies of the three volunteers were brought in, and under a dismal fall of autumn rain, the
settlers bowed their heads in grief over their first war dead. The three young men were
buried on Chambers Prairie.
Only two other Thurston County settlers, William Northcraft and William White,
were to be killed in the Indian war. A savage massacre of settlers occurred in the White
River Valley, but the Nisquallys had no part in this. Most of the actual fighting took place
there, in the Puyallup Valley and at Seattle.
There is a little doubt that Leschi, disgusted with his Klickitat and Duwamish allies’
wanton butchery on the White River, stopped a planned campaign of extermination as far
south as Olympia.
By December, 1855, most of the hostile Indians were scattered and hungry and
Governor Stevens, back from his treaty making, decided the war was over. He disbanded
the militia companies that month, and on January 24, 1856, sailed into Elliott Bay aboard
the U.S.S. Active.
The citizens of Seattle were still expecting an Indian attack, but the fast-moving
governor scoffed at their fears, stating in a speech, “I ton you there are not 50 hostile
Indians in the territory, and I believe the citizens of New York and San Francisco will as
soon be attacked by Indians as the town of Seattle!”
He urged the commander of the U.&& Decatur, which was moored in the harbor, to
go on about his business. Fortunately for Seattle, Captain Gransvoort stayed where he was.
Before dawn on January 26, Seattle was attacked without warning by a large and
determined band of hostile Indians.
Had it not been for the naval cannon and shore parties of sailors and marines from
the Decatur, the little town would probably have been annihilated. As it was, the fate of
Washington’s future metropolis hung by a thread until the Indians were finally beaten off.
When the Indians were repulsed at Seattle, the Indian War was really over. The
chiefs had counted on the loot of Seattle to carry on their campaign, more regular army
troops were coming into the territory, and the Indian’s cause was lost.
DEATH OF A CHIEF
Leschi led a little band of starving Indians over Natchez Pass to sanctuary with his
mother’s people, the Klickitats, but he was unable to resist the call of his beloved salt-
chuck, and he soon returned to Puget Sound.
Here he was betrayed by his nephew, Slugia, for a reward of 50 blankets, and was
imprisoned at Fort Steilacoom in the custody of Colonel Casey of the U.S. Army.
The military authorities considered Leschi a prisoner of war and refused to treat
him as a criminal. The little governor had been flouted by the big red man, and he pressed
murder charges based on the death of Moses.
The jury disagreed at Leschi’s first trial… and this is a telling point when it is
considered that it was an all-white jury made up of settlers who had suffered bitterly in a
long and vicious war, in an age when the life of a red man was of little importance at best.
The Pioneer and Democrat had this to say in its November 28, 1856, issue: “The
failure of the jury to agree upon a verdict with the character of the evidence before them,
we are informed, created general surprise.
“The attorneys for the prisoner expressed no doubt but that he would be convicted,
and merely labored to discharge a duty imposed upon them professionally; and Judge
Chenoweth is said to have been astonished when, on concluding his charge, he was
informed that it was necessary to clear the courtroom, expecting that a verdict of guilty
would be pronounced from the jury box.”
Ezra Meeker was one of the four jurors who believed Leschi innocent.
At a second trial, the sub-chief of the Nisquallys was sentenced to hang on January
22, 1858, at Fort Steilacoom. The Pierce County sheriff wasn’t anxious to carry out the
vindictive legal murder and the army refused to surrender Leschi to the hangman, anyway.
Finally, the Supreme Court met. They listened to an impassioned plea for mercy
from old Doctor Tolmie of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who had known Leschi longer
than any white man. They heard the statements of army officers that they considered
Leschi innocent. Then the Supreme Court resentenced Leschi. This time the Thurston
County sheriff was charged with the execution, which was to take place on February 19.
An intimation of the strong feeling against Leschi in pioneer Olympia which
extended its bitterness to those who defended him, may be gathered from this account of
Leschi’s final defense in the Pioneer and Democrat, a staunch partisan of Governor
“Dr. William F. Tolmie, the chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company at Nisqually
in Pierce County, addressed the governor an elaborate and powerful appeal in Leschi’s
behalf, in which he exhibits an artful cunning, ingenious special pleading, worthy the
representative of an unlawful illegitimate foreign corporation.
Lieutenant Kautz, the erstwhile 4th of July speaker, surveyed the area where Moses
was killed and, according to the Pioneer and Democrat, “made a cautious and cunning
affidavit that it was impossible for Leschi to have been present when the murder was
Sheriff Hays wasn’t around on execution day, so Deputy Mitchell went to
Steilacoom with a posse of 12 men. Colonel Casey still felt he was turning an innocent
man over to be hanged, and he was fighting mad. The execution took place well out on the
prairie. The Colonel said they couldn’t commit murder on army ground.
Leschi died without a struggle. It was, said witnesses, like hanging a statue.
“I felt that I was hanging an innocent man, and I believe it yet,” said Charles
Granger, the executioner, when he discussed the death of Leschi with Ezra Meeker in later
In his history of King County, Clarence Bagley says, “He (Leschi) was promised
protection for himself and followers, in good faith so far as the army was concerned. His
after-fate is too well known to be reviewed in this history; nor is it germane thereto. King
County had no part in this wretched business.”
Ironically, Governor Stevens revoked the Medicine Creek Treaty before Leschi’s
death, and the great Nisqually saw his people given the very land he had requested for
them before the war.
The Nisquallys still live there, and Leschi, who had really won his fight, although it
cost him his life, is buried in the heart of the great reservation he gave his people.
Qui-ee-muth, Leschi’s brother, and chief of the Nisquallys, was captured near Yelm
and taken to the governor’s office at Olympia. There, late at night, he was murdered.
No one was arrested, but it appeared to be common knowledge among the settlers
that Joseph Bunting, son-in-law of Jim McAllister, had shot and stabbed the chief to death
with the connivance of his guards.
Many brutal and wanton murders of Indians were committed by white men,
including a horrible slaughter of helpless women and children by Maxon’s Volunteers, but
none of the white murderers were brought to trial.
By the time the war was really over, the governor, dead wrong in declaring peace to
the citizens of Seattle on the eve of their greatest battle, refused to admit that peace was
Settlers persisted in returning to their homesteads for the spring planting, and a
group of settlers, removed from their claims near Steilacoom by the governor, had the
temerity to apply for a writ of habeas corpus.
Judge Lander was so disrespectful as to hold court against the governor’s wishes to
hear their case. Stevens declared marital law in April, 1856, and the territory was treated to
the spectacle of militia kicking in the doors of a judicial chamber, of a Supreme Court
Justice harried from town to town, and of a U.S. Marshal, trying to serve a contempt of
court order on the governor, being ejected from the executive chambers by a group of
militia officers, territorial officials and citizens.
Martial law was ended May 24, 1856, and Governor Stevens paid Judge Lander a
$50 fine for contempt of court.
In October, 1856, the following advertisement appeared in the Pioneer and
GENERAL ORDERS NO. 7
Head Quarters, W.T. Volunteers
Olympia, Oct. 30, 1856
1st The Volunteers of Washington Territory of both staff and line, are hereby disbanded.
The Indian War ended as it had begun, on a note of tragic blundering and pathetic
The war left the Territory decimated and shaky. Barns and cabins were burned,
stock slaughtered and land untitled while the men were off with the volunteers. Olympia
suffered less than many of the settlements, however, and the Pioneer and Democrat
sounded a note of optimism in the autumn of 1856.
Said the editor on November 14: “Four years ago, where stood but a few solitary
buildings, OLYMPIA may be found, with its numerous stores, workshops and scores of
neat, substantial dwellings.
“In its vicinity, Swanville (now a part of the city east of East Bay Drive) had sprung
from chaos, New Market has become a place of considerable business, and the once dense
forests of fir lining the bay on either side are fast being supplanted by cultivated farms.”
The harbor was doing well, too, as this November 28 news item attests: HARBOR
OF OLYMPIA – During the past week, four vessels have been lying at anchor in the harbor
“Three of them belong to ‘Kendall Co’s line, viz: the clipper barks Live Yankee and
Samuel Merritt, the bark Sarah Warren, and the schooner Rob Roy, McLane, master.
“The first three named were freighted with merchandise for the different parts of
the Sound, and will clear with lumber, timbers & etc. for San Francisco.
“This is the first time for the last year that four merchant vessels of large
dimensions have been anchored in our harbor at one time, and would seem to augur that a
revival of business is at hand.”
A little later, foreign trade had started, the paper reporting: “The Prussian bark Ica,
Schwencke, master, is now loading with lumber at North Olympia. She is a vessel of 500
tons burthen. The cargo is destined for the South American market.
Olympia entered its 10th year, as an incorporated town. Articles of incorporation
were filed on January 29, 1859, but the entire county had a population of less than 1,000
by 1860. It was another decade – 1870 – before Olympia could boast a population of more
The census figures of that year showed the capital city with 1,203 inhabitants.
Thurston County had 2,246. The second city of the territory in 1870 was Seattle, with a
population of 1,142. King County had 2,164.
The Indian War seriously retarded the territory’s development and the outbreak of
the Civil War in 1861 almost halted the westward flood of immigration.
PROGRESS IN THE SIXTIES
The growth of Olympia and Thurston County was gradual but continuous during
the decade 1860 to 1870. The fight for the capital was waged almost continuously.
Portland interests wanted the capitol at Vancouver.
At one time, it was announced that the legislature had actually moved the
headquarters of government, but a legal technicality saved the day. Again the capitol was
retained in Olympia by one vote.
In 1860, the town’s first hook-and-ladder company was formed, and Mt. Baker was
reported in eruption, “throwing off clouds of smoke and steam. ”
The famous Washington Standard, Olympia’s second newspaper, was founded by
John Miller Murphy, who was to become one of the state’s great newsmen, and the Pioneer
and Democrat was sold to Jaxnes Lodge.
Bridges were built connecting Swantown on the east and the west side district with
the original site of Smithfield. The Swantown Bridge, extending from the present Jefferson
Street to East Bay, later collapsed, depositing a herd of cattle in the mud flats.
In 1861 the people of Tumwater gave their Olympia neighbors a bad time, trying to
annex the county seat for their community. Olympia, goaded by capitol-grabbers, offered
the town’s public square to the county if it would build a courthouse there, and so kept the
seat of county government.
Later, it was discovered that this deal was illegal, Edmund Sylvester having
donated the square to the town for park purposes only. Eventually the courthouse was built
elsewhere, and the old town square is now beautiful little Sylvester Park in the heart of the
city’s business district.
News of the death of General Isaac Ingalls Stevens reached Olympia on October
18, 1862. The little governor had died a hero’s death at the Battle of Chantilly.
The Pioneer and Democrat was now being published as the Overland Press by a
combative journalist named B. F. Kendal. An angry reader attempted to whip Editor
Kendall on the street and was shot, but not killed, in self-defense. The editor’s version of
the affair, as printed in his paper, apparently prompted the choleric subscriber’s son to enter
the newspaper office and murder Kendall.
The gun used in the crime was traced to a prominent territorial official. It was
believed at the time that the newsman, too outspoken for his own good, was the victim of a
plot among political enemies. Olympia had its first “big murder story” and “political
scandal” in one package.
On Sunday evening, September 4, 1864, the telegraph was completed to Olympia.
Territorial Governor Pickering dispatched a congratulatory message to President
The next day the marvelous brass key in the Olympia telegraph office chattered and
this message was copied in the operator’s fluent copperplate script:
“Washington, D. C.
Sept. 6, 1864
“Gov. Pickering, Olympia, W. T.:
“Your patriotic dispatch of yesterday received and will be published.
Olympia was strongly pro-union in its Civil War sympathies. John Miller Murphy,
though a Democrat, favored the preservation of the Union at any cost and reflected that
attitude in his Washington Standard. The town was almost wrecked in the victory
celebration when the war ended.
There were still lusty pioneers around in 1865, and two of them, James Pray, saloon
owner and veteran of the California Vigilantes, and Benjamin Cleal, an ancient mariner,
decided to fire victory salutes with the town’s fabled Indian War cannon, which still
reposed on the waterfront at the foot of Main Street.
They used large quantities of powder, and as the ancient cannon warmed up it
began bounding backward in great leaps as it recoiled.
It progressed up Main Street backward, knocking out windows at every blast, until
it arrived at Pray’s saloon, near Fourth, where the victory celebration was continued. Mr.
Pray paid for his hearty patriotism by having all his glasses and windows and most of his
In 1865, the long-awaited wagon road across the Cascades was finished; the
pioneer town pump at Fourth and Main, where the Chambers Building now stands, gave
way to a cistern and water mains; and, by 1866, newspapers were coming to the little
community in a flurry of newsprint.
The 1868 legislature was “a most acrimonious one,” with brawls and fisticuffs
frequent in the halls of state, the local saloons and on the streets. The first Olympia city
library and the first city hall were built in 1869.
A wooden water pipe company, which was to develop into one of Olympia’s major
industries for many years was established in Tumwater in 1868.
By 1871 Governor Stevens’ vision of a northern transcontinental railway was
nearing reality. The Northern Pacific Railroad was approaching Puget Sound and the
location of its western terminus was the burning question of the day.
It was taken for granted that the railway terminus would become the greatest city of
the territory. Seattle and Olympia were making frantic efforts to get the steel rails, and in
November, 1871, the road was within 15 miles of Olympia, with the location of the
terminus still undecided.
The company asked a right-of-way to Budd’s Inlet, and the town went on an
optimism jag. Property values sky-rocketed.
The Puget Sound Land Company, a subsidiary of the Northern Pacific and bought
up large tracts of land on Budd’s Inlet in the name of one Ira Bradley Thomas. Before the
rails reached Olympia, Thomas died.
Rather than face the legal delays of probating his estate, the company quickly
bought up new land near Old Tacoma and told the Northern Pacific to change its terminus
to that location.
Had an obscure business man, Ira Thomas, lived just a little longer, Olympia would
undoubtedly have become the western terminus of the first northern transcontinental
railway and the site of the present city of Tacoma might still be a comparative wilderness.
The year 1872 saw the end of Olympia’s dream of becoming the great city of
Washington. The failure of the railway to end its line on Budd’s Inlet blasted that hope.
That year ended the city’s pioneer era, too, and it was ushered out with a severe earthquake
in November – the worst in the city’s history to that time.
The Society of Thurston Pioneers long ago made residence in the county before
1872 a requirement for membership. The true pioneers of the ’40s and ’50s would never
concede that those who came in the ’60s and ’70s were more than “early settlers,” and those
who came after 1872 were forever doomed to remain “Che Chacos.”
Of late years, however, it has become common to confer pioneer rank upon those
who lived in the area before the territory achieved statehood in 1889.
The year 1872 also saw the end of the last phases of the ancient boundary disputes
between England and the United States, with the northern boundary finally located as it
From 1873 to 1889, the period during which Washington remained a territory,
Olympia and Thurston County made slow progress. The location of the railway at Tacoma
took much trade and industry from the head of the Sound, and Seattle’s amazing
development was drawing a large segment of the territory’s population to that booming
Seattle’s “skid-road” was wide open. Olympia was respectable and sedate. The lusty
workingmen of the territory preferred to spend their money in Seattle.
The Northern Pacific, which dealt a death blow to Olympia’s dreams of easy
commercial greatness did, however, bring a measure of prosperity to other Thurston
In 1852 Stephen Hodgson took a donation claim on the prairie some 15 miles south
of Olympia. It gradually developed into a small settlement, and in 1872 the Northern
Pacific Railroad established a station there.
Several myths are prevalent as to how Tenino got its name . . . that it was from the
number 10-9-0 on a railway surveyor’s stake or on an early locomotive.
The fact is that the railway used the Chinook word meaning “junction” in naming
the station Tenino. It referred to the junction of the old military roads from Vancouver to
Steilacoom and Olympia, which branched at that point.
Tenino achieved commercial importance in 1888 when its magnificent sandstone
quarries were discovered. Tenino sandstone was the approved building material for most of
the state’s greatest buildings, until the use of structural steel and concrete supplanted it.
Although the quarries are no longer in regular operation, Tenino has enjoyed a
modest but consistent growth throughout the years.
The first settler on a small prairie south of Tenino was Aaron Webster, who came
to the Sound country in 1854. In the Chinook language, the stream crossing the Webster
claim was Skookum Chuck – strong water.
In 1857, Webster harnessed the strong water to a mill wheel and turned out lumber
for the neighboring settlers. When the mill went into operation, he sold his farm to Oliver
Shead, who named the place Seatco – a Chinook word meaning ghost, or devil.
As early as 1852, large coal deposits had been found in the area, and later the coal
fields were purchased by J. B. David of Portland and Samuel Coulter.
When Coulter and David met with William Buckley of the railway company to
decide on a name for the new station there, the picturesque Seatco was abandoned and they
coined a new word by taking the two first letters of each of their own names. Bu-Co-Da
was the result.
Mr. Shead preferred his Indian word and continued to call his townsite by that
name. Seatco remained a town with a railroad station named Bucoda until 1890, when the
legislature made it officially Bucoda.
Bucoda, or Seatco, was the site of the first penitentiary in Washington. At the
legislature of 1874, Sheriff Billings of Thurston County and Sheriff Smith of Pierce
County got a bill passed turning the territorial prisoners over to them for contract labor.
Shead put up the money to finance them and a timber prison with well-spiked, 12-
inch walls was built at Seatco to house the convicts. This continued as the territorial prison
until 1888, when a new one was built at Walla Walla.
Samuel James had staked a claim at Grand Mound Prairie in 1852, and the James
name is still a prominent one in the Rochester community. George Edwards and John
Edgon had settled on Yelm Prairie in 1850, and they were joined by James Longmire and
William McLane settled at the head of Eld Inlet in 1852, and that rural community
still bears his name.
NARROW GAUGE RAILROAD
When the people of Olympia had somewhat recovered from the stunning failure of
the Northern Pacific to touch their city, they took matters into their own hands.
The county commissioners floated a $75,000 bond issue and a new narrow gauge
railway was built to connect Olympia with the main line at Tenino. The first little train
clattered into Tenino carrying a fun load of happy Olympia excursionists in 1878.
The little road was operated as a local project until 1890, when it was purchased by
the Port Townsend Southern Railway. The same year, the Northern Pacific relented
somewhat, and built a branch line from Tacoma to Grays Harbor by way of Olympia.
In 1903, the N. P. bought the 15-mile Port Townsend Southern, and the historic
little railway soon passed into oblivion. The long rail way trestles on the west side of
Budd’s Inlet are the only present-day reminders of the old Port Townsend Southern.
The little trains used to enter town from the south by way of a trestle west of the
present capitol group, pass under the West Side Bridge and terminate their run at a depot
alongside the trestle on West Bay Drive.
Washington became a state in 1889, and to the people of the territorial capital, it
meant another fight to get their city named state capital. This involved undergoing the new
ordeal of a state-wide vote on the location.
Although various other cities put up a strong campaign, Olympia managed to get
the most votes, 25,490, but Ellensburg got 14,711, Centralia 607, Yakima 314, Pasco 130,
and scattered locations, 1,088.
Since the law required a majority of all votes cast, jittery Olympians faced another
vote in 1890. The great Seattle fire intervened, and the Olympia city fathers dispatched the
town’s fine new steam pumper to the stricken city by fast steamer. Then they gave $500 of
the taxpayers’ money to Seattle as a relief donation.
There was some grumbling about this, of course, but it proved a wise investment.
Grateful and growing Seattle threw its support behind Olympia in the capital fight and next
year Olympia got 37,413 votes, Ellensburg only 7,722.
The capital stayed in Olympia, but at that time the state capitol consisted of one
frame building, which was located on the present site of the Insurance Building.
Bills authorizing completion of a new capitol building were vetoed by the governor
in 1897 and 1899. Finally, in 1901, the Thurston County Court House was purchased by
the state and enlarged for a capitol building. Tacoma interests made a final attempt to grab
the capitol for the City of Destiny, but their measure was defeated.
Olympians breathed somewhat easier when the big stone building with its tall,
eight-sided clock tower was acquired by the state, but the more pessimistic citizens,
plagued for decades by the attempts of other
cities to take over the headquarters of state government, never really relaxed until the
present magnificently Roman-Doric capitol group was completed in 1935.
Then they felt that the capitol was firmly attached to Olympia with a $15 million
Although the buildings were paid for from state timber grants and used up no tax
money, the group was completed in a state-wide rumble of disapproval.
These were depression times, and Washington was still only one life-time away
from the puncheon-floored settler’s cabin on the beach. Imported marbles, bronzes and
seamless carpets were viewed by many as a bit “highfalutin.”
But the buildings crown their hilltop in undeniable grandeur, ruled over by the
great dome of the Legislative Building – one of the highest in the world – and with the
completion of Capitol Lake, citizens get more than $15 million worth of reflected beauty.
The Old Capitol in downtown Olympia still serves as a state office building, having
survived a great fire, which destroyed its old-world clock tower, and a recent earthquake
that nearly wrecked the new buildings on the hill.
The first years of statehood were boom times for Olympia and by 1890, it had
grown to a town of 4,698 inhabitants, but the great depression of 1893, coupled with the
emergence of Seattle and Tacoma as the “big cities” of the Puget Sound country, hit the
Times were bad, and it is said of that period that many of the citizens consumed
clams until the town’s stomachs rose and fell with the tide. Still the ’90s were years of
progress – Olympia’s franchise years.
The Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Company put in the first telephone lines in
1889. Street railway franchises were granted, E. T. Young was given permission to erect
electric light poles along the city streets, Western Union was allowed to put in telegraph
poles, and the Olympia Water Company laid plans for the modern water system which met
the city’s needs until the great McAllister Springs development was completed in 1948.
In 1894, the federal government began the harbor dredging, with silt confined
behind bulkheads, which resulted in Olympia’s modern port and industrial districts.
The fabled Olympia Hotel was built in 1890 at Eighth and Main. A gigantic
gingerbread edifice, it was the city’s pride, but didn’t fare well financially. It was later
destroyed in a 1904 by fire.
The 1900 census showed a population loss – a drop to 3,863. This was the first time
this had happened since the California gold rush days. By 1910, the city had come back
with a vengeance, almost doubling its population to 6,000.
Even during the depression days of falling population figures, things had been
accomplished. The street railway system was built in 1890.
The rolling stock consisted of two horse-cars, and the line extended from Puget
Street west to Main Street and south to Maple Park. In 1892, the franchise and equipment
were sold to the Olympia Light & Power Company and an electric line was projected.
Of the street cars, a March 4, 1892 newspaper boasted, in anticipation, that they
“are to be the best in all respects and will be finished in white, with gold trimmings.” The
gold-trimmed cars began operating in July and were declared an immediate success.
Said the press of July 22, 1892, “The inauguration of the electric street car system
in Olympia marks another epoch in the progress of the capital city. The first street car
passed over the track of the Olympia Light & Power Company yesterday at 4:30, with
Superintendent Shock at the electric lever.
“The passengers on the memorable occasion, besides the news correspondent, were
George D. Shannon, Robert Frost, George L. Sickles, Thomas Henderson Boyd, C. T.
Whitney, A. S. Gills and L. B. Faulkner.” Mr. Faulkner, who later became president of the
Olympia Light and Power Company and superintendent of the street railway system, still
resides in Olympia (1950).
The news story continued, “The car, as soon as the current was turned on, moved
like a thing of life, smoothly and without friction, and responded steadily to the will of its
master as if endowed with reason.
“People appeared on the street and at doors and windows all along the route and
waved hats and handkerchiefs in greeting this new and tangible evidence of progress.”
The electric line was extended to the West Side and to Tumwater on the south, with
five cars in operation – three closed and two open. They were advertised as running to
Tumwater every hour and giving seven-minute service within the city.
Fall rains brought problems to Superintendent Shock of the street railway. On
September 23, the morning paper reported, “The open street cars have been doing a
shocking business this week.
“When the interior woodwork became wet, the electric current played like the
aurora borealis among the passengers and converted the whole vehicle into immense
Leyden jars, ready to discharge a current whenever a proper connection was made. They
were, of necessity, promptly withdrawn from service.”
Olympia was learning that progress is not without its painful side.
The street railways system remained in operation until 1933, when the present
 bus transportation system was installed.
The second decade of the 20th century saw a modest advance in population to
7,795 by 1920. By 1930, the census figures showed 11,733 and those of 1940, 13,254. The
1949 estimated population was between 16 and 18 thousand, with approximately 50
thousand in the immediate trading area.
The journalistic history of Olympia is a long and complicated one, and deserves a
short chapter of its own.
As has been stated, the territory’s first newspaper, the Columbian, changed hands
and names frequently. Established in 1852, it became the Pioneer in 1853. A new paper,
the Northwest Democrat appeared on the scene in 1855, but since its politics agreed with
those of the Pioneer, the two papers merged to form the Pioneer and Democrat.
In 1860, the historic Washington Standard was established by John Miller Murphy,
who had come to Olympia as a small boy in the early ’50s. Murphy was to become a dean
of Washington journalists and a real civic leader.
He brought the first steam powered press to the territory and later built the
magnificent Olympia Theater on Fourth Avenue. Although Murphy was a Democrat,
Republican forces induced him to establish a paper in Olympia to promote the Republican
policy of national unity, which was to result in the Civil War.
The citizens of Olympia were to fete Murphy at a great banquet in 1910
commemorating the Standard’s first half-century of publication without missing an issue.
The Pioneer and Democrat expired in 1861 and was revived as the Overland Press
the same year. When its publisher was shot, the Overland Press became the Pacific
Tribune in 1864, and the little Ramage hand press was sold and moved to Seattle.
The Washington Democrat was established in 1864 and lasted until 1865. The
Territorial Republican, founded in 1867, was just as short- lived.
The first attempt at daily publication was made by the Tribune in 1867. This was
too much for its resources and the plant and subscription lists were put up at sheriff’s sale.
John Miller Murphy, rival publisher, bought much of the essential equipment,
including the Tribune’s subscription lists – and gave ot [sic] back to the Tribune’s
Perhaps the end of our pioneer era won’t really have come until there are no more
George Bushes and John Miller Murphys left in the land.
The Tribune moved to Seattle and then to Tacoma, where it prospered, and the
name is still in use there. A radical Republican paper, the Transcript, was founded in the
post-civil war period and lasted until 1885, and in 1867, a temperance paper, the Echo,
The Puget Sound Courier was moved from Port Townsend to Olympia in 1871,
and its publisher, Clarence Bagley, joined forces with Murphy of the Standard to run the
Temperance Echo out of business. Apparently the pioneer newsmen, like many of their
present-day brethren, were not in favor of militant teetotalism.
Bagley was an ardent Republican and Murphy was a Democrat. They named their
combined Standard-Courier the Daily Olympian and agreed that each would edit the paper
on alternate days, keeping it strictly neutral in politics.
During Murphy’s absence from town, Bagley’s father, the Rev. Daniel Bagley,
slipped a great deal of strong Republican propaganda in the paper’s forms. When Murphy
returned, he said nothing, but when his day as editor came up he issued an extremely
Democratic Daily Olympian.
This so enraged Bagley that he moved his equipment from the printing shop, but
the hated Echo was still in business, so he returned, a truce was declared, and in 1874, the
Olympian succeeded in forcing the Echo out of business.
Then they went their separate ways and the Olympian was no more until 1889
when Murphy published it as a daily for about a year, with Olympia real estate men
underwriting it. The theory was that a daily would add prestige for real estate boom and
The Courier combined with the Daily Critic as the Daily Critic and Weekly
Courier in 1884. These were extremely Republican papers and in 1885 they emerged into
one paper, the Republican Partisan.
The Partisan, in turn, became the Olympia Tribune in 1890 and published as a
daily until 1893, when it combined with a new Daily Olympian as the Olympian-Tribune.
In 1903, this became the Olympia Daily Recorder.
Then the Olympian and Recorder published as separate dailies until 1927, the
Recorder being purchased by the Olympian and issued as an evening paper, while the
Olympian remained a morning edition.
In 1927, the morning and evening editions became the morning and evening
Olympian, while the Evening Recorder discontinued. The morning edition of the Olympian
has also since been discontinued.
The Weekly Capital was printed from 1897 to 1901, the Olympia Chronicle from
1899 to 1927, the Washington Saturday Review from 1909 to 1910, and the Anti-
Imperialist in 1900.
In 1913, six papers were printed in Olympia: the Chronicle, the Independent,
Olympian, Recorder, Washington Standard and State Capitol Record (a legislative digest).
The first paper was printed in Tenino in 1880. The Tenino Herald’s life was a short
one, but it was the forerunner of the present Thurston County Independent.
The Olympia High School News, predecessor of the present Olympus, began
publication in 1893.
At the present time, Olympia’s newspaper needs are met by one evening daily and
one weekly newspaper. The Olympia News was founded in 1922.
The period from 1872, the end of the pioneer era, to 1920, the beginning of the
gasoline era, was the golden age of steamboating on Puget Sound. The little sailing vessels
of the ’40s and ’50s scattered settlements about the Sound. The steamboats drew them
together into a civilization.
Steamboats were the only means of comfortable travel on the new frontier, and they
were more than that to the people they served. When there was a fair or a picnic or a
potlatch, the little steamers and the big were there.
Citizens from the smallest and farthest settlement chartered their local steamer and
traveled to the scene of glamour, like owners of a private yacht. The steamboats were
personal and friendly, and they had a lovely steamboat smell of steam and hot paint and
They stopped to pick up the families of isolated settlers in rowboats, and take them
to town, and they stopped to unload a few sacks of feed for them on the way back.
They were slow, the slim white steamers with their tall, black smokestacks and
beating paddle wheels, but they seldom dropped a passenger onto a mountain top or
swerved over a cliff at 60 miles an hour. The people had an affection for the steamboats
that has no counterpart in this age of high speed, streamlined, impersonal transportation.
The Hudson’s Bay steamer Beaver, built in England in the 1830s and navigated to
the Columbia River under sail, was the first steamer to beat the waters of the Sound with
its paddle wheels, plying between the company posts at Vancouver and Nisqually.
The first American steamboat was the little side-wheeler, Fairy, brought to Puget
Sound on the deck of the bark, Sarah Warren, in 1853. She plied intermittently between
Seattle and Olympia, and was later put on the Olympia-Steilacoom run.
In 1857, her boiler exploded near the Steilacoom dock, and she sank while
operating on this route. The pioneer steamer, Traveler, was also brought up from
California on the deck of a sailing ship and assembled on the beach a mile north of Priest
Point in 1855.
She made regular trips between Olympia and Seattle for some time and eventually
sank off Port Townsend. The iron propellor steamer, Major Tompkins, began the Olympia-
Victoria run in 1854, but was wrecked outside Victoria Harbor in 1855. The wooden
propellor steamer, Constitution, replaced her.
In 1859, the fabulous old side-wheeler, Eliza Anderson, began plying between
Olympia and Vancouver, B.C., on a weekly mail schedule. The run was a highly profitable
one and many other steamers – Enterprise, Alexandria, Josie McNear, New World, Alida
and Wilson G. Hunt made a losing fight for lucrative business, but were either beaten off
with a rate war or bought off with hard cash by the Anderson’s owners. The Eliza Anderson
was tied up to her wharf in 1870, and her owners put the beautiful new steamer, Olympia,
on her run.
The Anderson was wrecked while on her way to join the Alaska gold rush in 1897,
but legend has it that she “earned her weight in gold” for her owners during her long
An old schedule at the State Library indicates that in 1870, the Anderson and Alida
were plying between Olympia and Victoria, and the Varuna and Chehalis from Olympia to
Seattle. The Chehalis, a stern- wheeler, was built at Tumwater; the Alida at Olympia.
During most of those years, the Anderson’s owners had the mail contract, but in
1872, a Portland firm, the Starrs, underbid them and put another historic boat on the run –
the North Pacific.
The Olympia and the North Pacific made an epic race from Victoria to Olympia in
June, the North Pacific winning the money bets on the short dash to Port Townsend, but
the Olympia winning the long pull, up-Sound, to the capital city.
Early in September, 1871, the new, 100-foot stern-wheeler, Zephyr, was launched
at Seattle and placed on the Olympia-Seattle run, which she maintained for many years.
By the early 1900s, the Greyhound, a speed queen of the Sound in her day, was
plying between Olympia and Tacoma, and the big Multonomah was running from Olympia
to Seattle. The Greyhound connected with the Flyer for Seattle.
In 1911, the beautiful propellor-steamer, Nisqually, steamed into Olympia harbor
on her maiden trip and was placed on the Tacoma- Olympia route. She was slim and fleet –
140 feet long and 23 feet wide – and she could slash her way from Olympia to Tacoma
against the tide in two hours.
But the day of the steamboat was almost over, and the Nisqually didn’t last long. By
1917, the little 112-foot propellor Magnolia could handle all the business there was, and
when she made her last trip, trundling north down Budd Inlet, the era had ended.
Other little steamers served Olympia and the bays and inlets of the upper Sound.
The Sol G. Simpson and City of Shelton were the last and best-known of the Shelton boats,
although the little stern-wheeler, Willie, which preceded them, was well-known in her day.
In the early 1900s, the tiny steamer, Mizpah, plied between Olympia, Oyster Bay and
The Mizpah sank once and burned to the water’s edge, but she is still in service
(1950) in Olympia harbor as a diesel tug, owned by her first skipper, Captain Volney C. P.
Young of the Capitol City Tug Company.
In 1911, when the Nisqually was the pride of Olympia, everyone thought the Sound
would go on building bigger and faster steamers forever.
Ten years later, the mosquito fleet was almost gone, swept from the bays and inlets
on a cloud of carbon-monoxide and the stench of gasoline. The deep-sea trade had long
since departed for the lower Sound ports, and Olympia turned her back on the water.
The city’s interest didn’t focus on the waterfront again until 1925 when, with the
mud flats which had choked the harbor dredged away and confined behind bulkheads to
form a deep-water harbor, the Japanese steamer, Milan Maru, entered the new Port of
Olympia and began loading a big lumber cargo for the Orient.
From then on, deep sea ships began calling regularly again at the only capital port
in America, and Olympia has regained her place among the ocean terminals of Puget
The present harbor is a much different place from the waterfront of pioneer days,
where Duwamish squaws dug clams on the mudflats and the flat-bottomed paddle-wheel
steamers grounded at their moorings out at the end of the long wharf when the tide was
Olympia has many ties with the past, among them pioneer business firms that have
grown from small beginnings with the city. Bettman’s Clothing Store is the oldest of these.
Louis Bettman came to Olympia in 1853 and opened a general merchandise store in
the tiny hamlet. He prospered with the city in which he had faith and died at his adopted
home in 1904. The business has continued under the same name for almost a century.
Millard Lemon was born while his parents’ covered wagon creaked toward the
promised land of Puget Sound, and he, too, devoted his life to the development of
Olympia, building up the present Casco Company, which is now managed by his son, Gary
Gustave Rosenthal arrived in Olympia in 1863 and opened a general store at
Second and Main. That firm is still in business under the ownership of M. M. Morris.
I. Harris arrived in Oregon Territory by ship in 1853 and entered the general
merchandise business in what is now Eastern Washington. In 1870, he opened the dry
goods store in Olympia which in 1949 became the big Miller’s Department Store.
Two years later, in 1872, the Talcott Brothers established their jewelry firm, which
in 1949 was operated by three generations of the family, including one of the founders.
The Olympia Oyster Company was established in 1878.
the Mottman Mercantile Company began in 1880 as Toklas end Kaufman, the
present building [NW corner Capitol and Fourth] being completed in 1891. In the 1850s,
C. E. Williams conducted a store there, and his house, which now stands between the
YMCA and Sunset Building, was moved from Fourth and Capitol Way to make way for
the Mottman Building.
The Olympia Brewing Company, the oldest of the city’s larger industries, was
established in 1896 at Tumwater where, fittingly enough, the first Washington industry had
been begun 50 years before by Michael Simmons. The Olympia Brewing Company
brought not only a payroll, but valuable civic leadership to the city.
Leopold Schmidt, its founder, worked always for the welfare of Olympia, and he it
is, with P. M. Troy, pioneer lawyer and father of the present State Attorney General, Smith
Troy, to whom the people of Olympia owe their beautiful civic playground, Priest Point
Troy, as city attorney, saved the land from speculators, and Leopold Schmidt
provided most of the equipment and the Swiss chalet which have been used and enjoyed by
thousands of Olympians for many years.
THE WORK OF A CENTURY
Olympia has matured gracefully in the century just gone by, and it has mellowed
more than most western cities in the changing.
The muddy, stump-lined streets of 1850 thunder now with motor traffic, and where
at night the somber firs were once reflected in a qui- et bay, with only the stars and the dim
light from settlers’ cabins to hold back the darkness, neon and mercury vapor flare in the
The log trading post of Edmund Sylvester has expanded into hundreds of retail
stores. Five theaters and a radio station have sup- planted General Rag and his pioneer
vaudeville of a century ago.
Trains and huge buses and space-eating airliners now serve the city whose fathers
hacked their way over the Cowlitz Trail, and great ocean ships are moored in the waters
once ploughed by the little paddle steamers.
A hundred service stations dispense the magic liquid that brought these changes,
and to the casual observer, Olympia is a pulsing, noisy, modern city.
But in the quiet residential streets, where old houses built of timbers hewed by
Clanrick Crosby still stand, and on the still shores of Puget Sound, where Seattle and
Leschi once walked with loving feet, and in the marble halls of state where Isaac Stevens’
picture hangs, you may feel the quiet calm of a city which has lived a century with a
remarkable tolerance and calm and lack of violence.
Olympia escaped the worst hatreds of the Indian War and of the Chinese troubles,
the great fires which ushered in statehood year to many Washington cities, and the I.W.W.
troubles and the other upheavals that wracked the new frontier around her.
Basically, Olympia is serene and calm. It is a lovely little city which is sure of its
place in a green and lovely land. It is a good place to live. Perhaps the pioneer colonel had
a vision of this future city when a century ago he said:
“Olympia’s gods might view with grace
Nor scorn so fair a dwelling place.”
CHINOOK JARGON WAS HELP TO PIONEERS
Language differences have many times caused misunderstandings leading to woe
and misery and war among humans since the beginning of history.
Just as now, since 1945, at least part of our troubles with the Soviets has been due
to language misinterpretations leading to dangerous misunderstandings, so were the Indian
uprisings of 100 years ago caused by misinterpretations and lack of understanding because
of the limited facility of the Chinook jargon or language that had to be used in negotiations
with the Indians. The Chinook language was the only common medium for the exchange
of ideas between various tribes of Indians and the American, English and French of the
When Washington’s first territorial governor, Isaac I. Stevens, attempted to control
the activities of the Indians in western and eastern Washington, he failed to secure their
compliance with his treaties largely because, as it soon became apparent, the Indians
simply had not understood what their leaders had agreed they were to do, or why.
Naturally, they resented being pushed around.
Soon after arriving at Olympia, Governor Stevens delegated Col. M. T. Simmons to
represent him in Puget Sound Indian affairs largely because Simmons was one of the few
American white leaders able to speak and understand the Chinook jargon sufficiently to get
along well with a majority of the Indians.
No doubt during the treaty-making, both sides took advantage of the possibilities
for misconceptions. Historical records make frequent references to wrong interpretations
being blamed for acts of violence by both whites and Indians. But the fact remains that the
Chinook language they were able to use as a common means of intercourse was the best in
Explaining the origins of the jargon, George C. Shaw, in his book The Chinook
Jargon and How to Use It, published as late as 1909, states that, “The origin of this Jargon,
a conventional language similar to the Lingua Franca of the Mediterranean, the Negro-
English- Dutch of the Surinam, the Pigeon English of China, dates back to the explorers
and traders of the 18th century.”
These were the Spanish, English and American mariners and French Canadian fur
traders who came to the Pacific Northwest before the Lewis and Clark expedition’s arrival
in 1806. When Lewis and Clark arrived on the north bank at the Columbia River’s mouth,
they found that the Chinook Indians there already understood English and French words as
well as the language of the Nootka tribes on Vancouver Island in what is now British
For many generations before, the various tribes of the North Pacific region,
especially along the coast, had practiced a common, though limited, manner of speech
understandable between tribes. George Vancouver’s men found the Indians in Grays
Harbor able to understand Chinook and Nootka.
But with the arrival of the Astor party, the Chinook language became enlarged and
more common in use among the Indian tribes and whites, and by the time the Hudson’s
Bay Company settled at Vancouver on the Columbia, French words were added to the
American and English idioms commonly used by the Indians.
As movement started up the Columbia, on the Fraser River, and over the eastern
plains to the Rockies, the Chinook jargon became more and more common in use between
Indians and whites in their trade and government transactions.
Author Shaw says that words adopted from the several languages were naturally
those most easily uttered by all, but that when objects new to the Indians were introduced,
they would use the English, American or French names, if at all pronounceable.
The various tribes were accustomed to different sound tones and in Chinook, the
gutturals of the Indian were softened or dropped; and the “f ” and “r” of the English and
French were modified into “p ” and “l”. Expressions were simplified, and mood and tense
conveyed only by adverbs of the context.
Eventually Chinook became used widely, even Americans and English using it
when speaking to non-English speaking French and the kanakas of the South Sea Islands
who more and more frequently came to the territory in ships’ crews. The language was
comparatively easy to learn, because of its small number of words.
Known as “The Trade Language”, the Chinook jargon ultimately comprised around
500 words, according to George Gibbs, one-time assistant to Governor Stevens, his first
adjutant general, who for 14 years studied the development of the lingo. There were,
according to Gibbs, 221 Indian words, 94 French words, 67 English words and 29 Flathead
(eastern Indians) words. The balance was a conglomeration of idioms developed in local
Of the Chinook language, Gibbs wrote later: “There can be no doubt that it will
remain a living and useful language so long as the native tribes continue to speak their own
“Rude and formless as it is, the spontaneous product of the commercial needs of
mingled races, it has been the source of great and varied benefits. It may well serve, if not
as a model, at least as a finger post to direct us to some higher invention for advancing
civilization through better understanding.”
Wrote Myron Eells, D. D., another authority of the Chinook language: “With the
spelling… I have learned that it is useless for any person who has not heard a Chinook
word used to try to give its pronunciation. The accented syllable is marked but it must not
be supposed that any one pronunciation is the only correct one. There are often many
different ways of pronouncing the same word in different localities. ”
Perhaps a short demonstration of the use of the Chinook jargon is the best
explanation of it. From the autobiography of John Roger James of Thurston county comes
this interesting extract:
“There was no racking of brains to acquire grammatical expressions in Chinook. At
the same time, a proficient would pride himself in knowing when to use ‘Claxto’ (who)
instead of ‘Icta” for what.
“Common expressions used among the early settlers and the Indians included
‘Cumtux’ (understand); ‘tickey mucka muck’ (I want something to eat); ‘Ca mika clatawa’
(where are you going?); ‘leta mike tickey’ (what do you want?).
” ‘Clahoua, six?’ (How do you do, sir?)
“While in Victoria in 1870, an Indian there said to me, ‘I mika clauk nesika salon’
which meant, ‘You, opened your ears’.”
OLYMPIA 100 YEARS AGO
By BERNICE A. SAPP
In the area bounded by the then waterfront, Second Street and Third Street (now
State), and Fourth Street and Columbia and Washington, was most of Olympia 100 years
ago. Crowded in these few blocks were all of the buildings of the Town of Olympia, laid
out by Sylvester in 1850 and incorporated as a town in 1859.
Here was the home of Levi Lathrop Smith, first owner of the townsite of Olympia;
he lived in a log cabin which was shared by Edmund Sylvester, his partner. A building
which Sylvester built later contained the famous Gold Bar Restaurant. Upstairs, the first
legislature of the Territory was held in 1854. Facing Second Street was the first Masonic
Temple. On one corner was Bettman’s Store; on the other were the buildings of Governor
Stevens surveying party. Percivals and Munsons lived down there, and on the corner where
the City Hall is, stood the stable of Rice Tilley, owner of the first Overland Stages. Across
the street was the New England Hotel and the Pacific House – two early hotels of Olympia.
Here Stevens stopped after his long overland journey.
On the corner of Second and Washington stood the building which housed the
Washington Standard for over half a century. Next door, the home of John Miller Murphy,
proprietor and editor of the Washington Standard. Murphy was a brother-in-law of George
A. Barnes who had a general merchandise store in the next block. Barnes also started the
first bank in the Territory which still stands just south of the Daily Olympian building. The
site of the Daily Olympian once was a two-story brick building built by Charles
Burmeister, a saloon keeper. Becky Howard, a negro woman, ran the Pacific House, owned
and built by Colonel Cock.
Over on Columbia Street were John Clark and family who ran the Columbia Hotel.
On the corner of Columbia and Third (now State) was a wagon shop. The top floor, or
story, of the wagon shop was Olympia’s first theater. A furniture store across the street
became the scene of an early school conducted by Annie Stevens. Around the block on
Main Street was the Woodruff Building; one of the first music stores was below, and one
of the first post offices.
On the northwest corner of Main and Fourth stood the residence of Sam Williams,
the hardware man. This house is still here, having been moved to a location just south of
the Y.M.C.A. North of Williams’ house stood his hardware store. After the house was
moved away, Toklas and Kauffman had a drygoods store on the corner, where Mottman’s
Store is now. On the southwest corner was the scene of the first circus.
On the northeast corner was the first water system in Olympia – a town pump where
Indians and whites came to draw water and exchange gossip. Maybe this was the reason
the newspapers have remained on the block so long. Afterwards, the Chambers Building
was erected on this corner and still stands there.
On the southeast corner of Main and Fourth was the Turner Block, built by Dr.
George Turner, the first licensed pharmacist in the Territory. Many governors had offices
in this block, upstairs and handy to the “Capitol”, just across the street. In the Chambers
Block, in an early day, Julian Guyot, formerly of Switzerland, became the first jeweler in
the Territory of Washington. Talcotts came later, in 1873, but have continued in business
all the years. George and Grant Talcott were the makers of the State Seal.
Continuing on around the block on Fourth Street and Washington stood the home
of Thos. Prather, early Indian fighter, who lived to be nearly 90 years old. Across the
street, on the northeast corner of Washington and Fourth, was the home of Burmeister, also
his saloon. On the southeast corner of Fourth and Washington, where the Security Building
stands, was Mann’s Drug Store. Across the alley, on Washington, was the old Odd Fellow’s
Hall, where one of the early schools was conducted by Mary O’Neill. Across Washington
the other corner by the alley was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Ott, also from
Switzerland – with them were their sons, Walter and Henry, and daughter, Gertrude, now
Gertrude Ott Martin. Then on the northwest corner of Fifth and Washington stood the
Tilley home; across on the southwest corner of Fifth and Washington, Doane’s Restaurant,
home of the Oyster Pan Roast, and rendezvous, of Captain Woodbury Doane, a retired sea
On the southeast corner of Fifth and Washington, about midway of the block, was
the home of Thomas Milburn Reed, Territorial Auditor. The Olympic Theater stands about
where the Reed home stood. Reed built the block on the northeast corner of Washington
and Sixth (now Legion Way). Where the Olympian Hotel stands, stood the home of
Tarbells; north of them were Hamer’s, the first undertaker, and west of them, Carroll’s,
parents of Mrs. Walter Beals. South of Carroll’s, on the southeast [northeast] corner of
Capitol Way and Legion Way where the new building for Miller Brothers is, was the home
of Governor Stevens.
Where the Harris’ Store was, stood Grainger’s Livery Stable, operated by Wm.
Littlejohn. Grainger’s house was across on the other side of Main Street. On the northeast
corner of Main and Sixth, [Capitol and Legion] where
Penney’s Store is now, was the home of Peterfield Turpin. On the southwest corner of
Main and Sixth stood the Charles Talcott residence.
Next, going south, was the Ike Ellis house where the Elks’ building stands; then the
Episcopal Church where the Hotel Governor stands. Next was the Unitarian Church in the
middle of Seventh, and then the T. I. McKenney House. Then in succession, a block-
house, burned up; U.S. Land Office, burned down; Olympia Hotel Building, which burned
in 1904 – all where the Post Office is now. On the southeast corner of Main and Sixth, at
the corner of Sylvester Park, was a block-house used in Indian War days. After the war, it
was used as a jail. Speaking of jails – one of the earliest was the large brick jail, two stories
high, which stood about where the flats are in back of the First Presbyterian Church on
Legion Way. The jail was there long after the turn of the century, until it was torn down.
Why a jail in a place like that? Well, the courthouse from an early day was only a block
away on the southeast corner of Legion Way and Washington; afterwards the courthouse
was on the northwest corner of Legion Way and Franklin. Then, in 1890, the large stone
courthouse was built which is now a part of the old downtown Capitol, facing Sylvester
Edmund Sylvester’s house was erected in 1857 on Eighth Street, between
Washington and the present Capitol Way. He donated the land for Sylvester Park, and land
for the Masonic Temple, and 10 acres for the Capitol grounds.
Across the street is the Thornton McElroy house, another old land- mark. Where
the bus station is, was the Harris house, still standing on another location at 7th and
Adams. At Seventh and Adams are the old Harris house, the Alexander Farquhar house
and the T.M. Reed house, all made over into apartment houses. On Eighth and Jefferson
still stands the remains of the old Jefferson Hotel constructed by Farquhar. It was once
known as the Capitol Hotel – now is the Baird.
Farquhar once built and owned a huge barn down on the waterfront on Seventh and
Jefferson, which fell down in a snowstorm, killing his stock. The hardware store he had on
the southeast corner of Seventh and Adams was later used as a legislative building, was the
scene of a Governor’s Ball, was used as the State Printing Office, and last, as the State
Armory, harboring the supplies of the Adjutant General’s office. On the southwest corner
of Eighth and Adams, is the old Territorial manse of the First Presbyterian Church. Next
door is the old home of Dr. Nathaniel Ostrander, a pioneer physician, who was a member
of the Cowlitz Convention at Monticello which sent the Memorial to Congress to create
the Territory of Washington. This house was built about 1875. He also built around the
block, which he owned, houses for his daughters as they married; the Walter Crosby house,
the Fanny Moore house, the Mike O’Connor house, are all in the block. (The O’Connor
house has been torn down.)
Further south on Adams Street are the McFadden house; the William Billings
house, home of the pioneer sheriff; the old school house; the Howard flat, built by a son of
Becky Howard; the old Ben John’s house, built by a pioneer schoolteacher who held the
first kindergarten in her living room (Mrs. Houghton). The Fidelia Boyd house on 11th and
Adams has been torn down, but her first home is still standing on Franklin Street. She was
the first Mrs. Baker, then Mrs. George Turner, then Mrs. Boyd. Bush Baker is her son.
There are an endless number of old houses all over Olympia: the Chambers house,
on Water Street; the Anders house, on 19th and Capitol Way; somne old houses on Maple
Park; the William Sternberg house and old waterwheel was on East Union Street; Ike Ellis
logging camp in that vicinity.
I am returning now to East Bay Drive in order to get in a school building. I almost
overlooked the Olympia Collegiate Institute at Second and Pear. It was organized in 1875
and operated until the early ’90s as a school for the whole northwest. This school is
deserving of a marker.
The old Bigelow home is on Glass Street. The first water system in Olympia was
on East Bay Drive, built by Wm. Horton, and the second brewery in Olympia was East
Bay Drive; the Robert Frost home was there; the Sally Eaton home; the Pattison home was
on Second Street; the Galliher’s donation claim was down toward the park. The
Whitworth’s was in back of the park, the St. Joseph’s Mission just outside the entrance of
the park. The land was acquired for this mission in 1848. An Indian graveyard just south of
HISTORIC BUILDINGS ON FRANKLIN STREET
Starting at Fourth Avenue, going south, the Olympic Hotel is on the site of an early
theater in Olympia, at Fourth and Franklin on the southeast corner. On the southeast corner
of the next block was the C. B. Mann house where Mann’s Seed Store is now. Next was the
J. J. Gilbert house (house torn down). He was head man of the U. S. Geodetic Coast
Survey. Next stands the Chas. Williams house. This once stood where Mottman’s Store is
now at Fourth and Main. On the southwest corner of Franklin and Fifth Street stood the
first real telephone building in Olympia. They had a telephone company before that, but
they were always in rented buildings. The home of Williamson, the logger, was next, high
on the hill. Next south of that, on the hillside, was the first American schoolhouse, north of
Columbia River and west of the Rocky Mountains, on the northeast corner of Franklin and
Sixth Street (Legion Way). Later in this building were the Courthouse and the Daily
On the opposite corner, on the southeast corner of Legion Way, and Franklin
Street, was the First Presbyterian Church, erected in 1862. Olympia had the first church of
this denomination organized north of the Columbia River on the shores of Puget Sound.
The church itself was organized in 1854 in a cooper shop on Fifth and Columbia, but held
Sunday School and church for eight or ten years in the old schoolhouse on the opposite
corner of Legion and Franklin. This church building is still standing and is used by Gloria
Dei Lutheran Church (on Adams between Legion Way and 5th).
On the west side of the next block stands the old Thurston County Courthouse,
built in 1892 and added onto about 1905 for a Capitol. Next to the Presbyterian Church and
across the alley was a low piece of ground where stood the home of Jack Baldwin, pioneer
logger. This house was afterwards occupied by Captain Hatch of Steamboat fame. The
house stood there until the present public [Carnegie] library was built on the spot. The lot
was filled in. As evidence that the lot was low, notice the holes in the sidewalk on the
Seventh Avenue side for a fence which was there once. Across the way on the opposite
side is the old Kauffman house, owned by the man who had the Kauffman store. The
Kauffman house is an ancient edifice with a square roof and a small balcony on the upper
story. South of the Kauffman home is the John Scott and Mary Jane Scott house. He was
an early saloon keeper. She had lived here nearly all of her 82 years, having come from
Liverpool, England at the age of two. Next south of that on the northeast corner of Franklin
and Eighth Street was the house of Sam Willey, a pioneer logger. This home was
afterwards occupied by some people who were related to the Willeys and the house was
known as the Leighton house.
On the southwest corner of Eighth and Franklin were the five houses built by
Lafayette Willey, and occupied for most of his life by Sam. Willey II, his son, who lived in
the corner house and rented the others. They are still standing there. The elder Willey
logged with ox teams, then was the owner of the Willey Navigation Company which
operated steamboats on Puget Sound. Sam Willey II was born here and lived here all his
On the northeast corner of Eighth and Franklin is the site of the old First Christian
Church, organized in 1890; this building was torn down. It occupied most of the corner.
South of the Willey houses and on the northwest corner of Ninth and Franklin is the old
Bettman house. He was a pioneer merchant, having one of the first stores in town at the
corner of Second and Main Street. (The old Bettman store near Fourth and Capitol Way is
still there, but was recently sold to a new concern after nearly 100 years in business in
Olympia.) West of the Bettman house is the Oppenheimer house, belonging to a son-in-
law of Bettman.
The block bounded by Eighth and Ninth, and Adams and Franklin, was known as
the Ostrander Block, so called for Dr. Nathaniel Ostrander, pioneer physician, who arrived
in Olympia about 1875 and thereafter built most of the old houses in the block. Besides the
Ostrander house, facing Eighth Street, are the Fanny Moore house
still standing, and the Michael O’Connor house which stood on the northeast corner of
Ninth and Franklin, and which was torn down in 1948.
Next east of that was the Walter Crosby house and next the Pixler house which
formerly was the Ostrander barn. East of that, on the corner, was the large house known as
the Billings house, occupied by Janette Billings, the widow of William Billings, pioneer
sheriff. Just south of that, on the next corner, is the little old house where the Billings lived
in the early ’70s; here Frederick Billings was born. Billings, about 1874, built a brick
house, one of the first in the Territory, on the lot where now stands the Mottman house at
9th and Washington. The next block, bounded by Ninth and Tenth streets, and Adams and
Franklin, was known as the Brown Block. Mrs. Brown was a sister of Edmund Sylvester.
Their house stood on the northwest corner of Tenth and Adams. There were several Mrs.
Browns in those days, and to distinguish them, they were known as: Cold-Water Brown or
On the block bounded by Ninth and Tenth, and Franklin and Washington, were two
of the early pioneer churches of Olympia. On the southwest corner of Ninth and Franklin
was the Unitarian Church, built by that denomination, and also the flats facing Tenth
Street; these flats were known as the Unitarian flats. This church was bought years later by
the Baptist denomination. On the opposite side of the block, facing Washington, is the old
Episcopal Church, built about 1890 and still in use. The old Episcopal manse, or Parish
House, which stood for many years on the southeast corner of Ninth and Washington
streets, was torn down years ago to make room for the new Parish House. Down in back of
the Parish House stood the old Holman house, one of the oldest houses in town. (Mrs. Fred
Sylvester is a grand-daughter of Holman; Arno Glidden is a grandson). Where the Baptist
Church stands, once stood a sawmill in the early days, a log pond was in the block, and the
bay was not far away to the east.
On the southeast corner of Tenth and Franklin is the palatial residence, on a hill, of
Sam Williams, the pioneer hardware man. This is the second house he built. (He was a
brother of Mrs. Harry McElroy.) West of that is the Addie Wood house, and next the
Woman’s Clubhouse. On that corner once stood the home of Judge Sparks. This home was
used for years as a Woman’s Clubhouse until the present clubhouse was built in 1908.
Then the Sparks house was moved over to Adams in the middle of the block between
Ninth and Tenth streets. Here the first Christian Science Church was organized and used
the building as a church until they built the present Christian Science Church building on
the southeast corner of Eighth and Washington. Here once stood the home of G. Rosenthal,
Going south from the Woman’s Clubhouse is the home of Helen Cowles and J.
Todd Cowles; her brother and Annie Cowles Claypool, born in Olympia. On the northeast
corner of Washington and Union, where the home of Mrs. J. W. Mowell now stands, once
stood one of the most historic school buildings in Olympia. This was first built for the
Puget Sound Wesleyan Institute, then bought for a courthouse, then leased for a young
ladies seminary, and last was the old Central School. It was moved to the southwest corner
of Union and Adams in two pieces and still stands there – the main part facing Union and
the other part facing Adams. To this school from the earliest days trooped the children of
the pioneers. Among these pupils of Old Central School was Harry Crosby, the father of
Bing Crosby. John Miller Murphy, pioneer newspaperman, attended the old institute.
On the southwest corner of Tenth and Adams is the old Kearney house, on the hill.
On the northwest corner of Union and Franklin stands the G. F. Kearney house recently
sold for a Y.W.C.A. Across the street, on the northeast corner of Union and Franklin, is the
old Woodard house, and north of that the old Dr. J. M. Steele house – over 85 years old.
Next west of the old schoolhouse, on the corner of Union and Adams, is the old home of
Mrs. Raggermeyer, a German woman, who ran a private school in her home. She taught
German, French and music.
On the southeast corner of Washington and Union, on a high point of ground, is the
old Rose [Ross?] O’Brien house, occupied so many years by the daughter, Hazel Aetzel –
now her daughter, Virginia and husband live there (Mr. and Mrs. Robert Schmidt). So this
makes about the fifth generation of that family to live in Olympia; on that same property is
a little old house where once lived John B. Allen, a United States Senator, the first librarian
in the Territory.
On the southwest corner of Twelfth and Adams is the William Campbell house. He
was an old pioneer who became blind crossing the plains. The house is very old and of a
type commonly built in pioneer days – large fireplace, a large pantry, big hall, etc. On the
northeast corner of Adams and Twelfth stand the Howard Flats, part of which are occupied
by a grocery store. These flats were built by the son of Becky Howard, a Negro woman,
who ran the Pacific House. The son was a mixture of Negro, Chinese and Indian [sic].
On the southeast corner of Twelfth and Adams is the old B. F. Johns property, but
he didn’t build it. It was built by a family by the name of Houghton. Mrs. Houghton taught
the first kindergarten in town. Two of her star pupils were Carrie Williams, afterwards
Carrie McElroy, and George Tarbell. She taught them their French and Latin. George
Tarbell lived in this same house when he was 85 years old, when the house was sold. Mrs.
Houghton taught the Masonic Temple School also.
On the southeast corner of Franklin and Eleventh (or maybe 12th) is a high level
piece of ground. On it, at the back of the lot, is the old Paisley house. In this house once
lived Fidelia Baker Turner Boyd. She had just come west from old Kentucky, and had
brought along a negro for a servant. She lived there for years until she moved to Eleventh
and Adams where she died when she was past 90 years of age. (Gladys Horton Johnson is
A house that is one of the oldest and has one of the most interesting histories is the
old William Winlock Miller house at about Cherry and
Eighth Avenues. The house sets back from Eighth Street, in a grove of trees, which is
known as the orchard. He was Quartermaster General for Governor Isaac Stevens during
the Indian War. It is presumed that he built the house about that time – in the middle ’50s.
The old house has a very large kitchen as was customary in those days. The boards in the
floors of the kitchen and the other rooms were very wide, almost a foot, and of rough
lumber. The panels of the rooms were of boards placed up and down, or stood on end. The
Olympia High School was named after this man, because his widow gave a block of land
in the present Capitol grounds for the high school in 1908. This is one of the historic
houses or spots in Olympia that should be marked. It is down by the railroad tracks and I
think is owned by the railroad. The Martensens lived on this property in an early day. One
of the Martensen girls married George A. Mottman. The other girl became Mrs. Harbst.
Emil Martensen was a brother. Mrs. Chris Nommensen was one of the Martensen girls.
Down in that same vicinity, on Jefferson Street and Tenth, stands an old, weather-
beaten, unpainted, forlorn-looking house – standing back among the trees. That is the first
priest’s house, for the Catholic parish, and was moved there years ago from Tenth and
Columbia streets. Where Temple Beth Hatfiloh stands, near the corner of Eighth and
Jefferson, once stood the home of Selucious Garfielde, who was once a delegate to
Congress but was defeated by Judge O. B. McFadden. He was a famous orator of that early
day and campaigned up and down the Sound in Indian canoes, paddled by Indians. The
house is gone now, the Jewish Temple being on the spot. Garfielde was a charter member
of the Masonic Lodge. He married the widow Varner. Varner had a logging camp over on
Union which was afterwards taken over by Ike Ellis. There were two Garfielde boys:
Charles and Guy.
In that early day, the salt water extended to Union Street. Clem Johnston, said he
used to walk logs across Union to get to the camp buildings which were in the vicinity of
Plum and Pear streets. The logs were brought in from Chambers Lake on a tram road, the
cars being hauled by mules, then at the top of the hill the mules would be unhitched and
the cars would ramble clear to Union where the logs were dumped in the water. On Union
in this same vicinity, between Plum and Pear, across Union Street, was the old William
Sternberg house. He was a pioneer furrier who traded with the Indians in furs. His son,
William, had a cabinet shop there and also a big waterwheel in Moxlie Creek to use in
connection with his shop. These were landmarks in early days but are gone now. Clem
Johnston’s house was built in 1879, and it is still there.
At the end of Cherry Street and Eleventh Avenue stands the old Henry Dittman
house which he built in the early ’70s. He came here in 1873 from Chicago and before that
from Germany. He had learned the weaving trade in Germany, but in Chicago did
carpenter work. His widow lived long after him until she was 93 years ago and never spoke
a word of English. Amelia Dittman, daughter, taught in the schools
for 46 years.
Next to the Dittman house was an orchard known as the Thos. Prather orchard. Dr.
F.A. Longaker bought the land from Mrs. J. D. Knox and moved about nine houses onto
the block off the Capitol grounds. One of these houses was the Thos. Mcleay house;
another was the John Percival house. Another was the Ace Rowe house, and many others;
also the Louise Ayer house.
On the southwest corner of Chestnut and Twelfth Street is the old square-roofed
house which was built by a John Slisby, a native of Maine who came to Olympia in 1878.
He was a pioneer grocer who had a grocery store in the old Episcopal Church which stood
where the Governor Hotel stands now. The classic yarn about this store is that Bob Lee,
son of the Presbyterian minister, on Hallowe’en tacked up the following sign on the church,
“My House was a House of Prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves”. Needless to say,
there was many a chuckle as the early passersby going to work saw the sign, but the irate
grocer tore it down when he arrived later.
In the jungle of fruit trees and other trees across Chestnut Street was the home of
James Swan, the original plattor of Swantown. The whole Eastside was his donation claim,
and could only be reached by crossing the body of water. He built a very large house,
although he was a bachelor. Some said the house was to be some kind of a home for men.
Whatever the idea was, it was never used for that purpose. The old house and the orchard
are still there at Eleventh and Chestnut. Swan originally lived over on the Eastside in the
vicinity of Second Street, about where the Pattison house was built. Pattison platted out an
addition over there.
One old landmark that was built in 1890 at the southeast corner of Thirteenth and
Cherry was the old Lincoln School. It was a very large brick structure that nearly fell down
on account of a severe storm while it was being built, so that in later years it had to be
propped up some. However, several generations of Olympia children attended school down
here, before it was torn down. The old steps at the corner of the block are plainly visible,
worn smooth by childish feet.
At the end of Fourteenth East are two houses worthy of mention. One is the old
Butler house or McBratney home. McBratneys had a livery stable. Mrs. Ben Turner and
her daughter, Mrs. Balch, lived there in their later years. Mrs. Balch died in the house. The
real Ben Turner house was in the block between 18th and 19th and Franklin and
Washington. He was a pioneer logger about whom many colorful takes are told.
At the end of East Fourteenth Street, on the south side of the street, on a high bank,
stands the old Whitney house. He logged with ox teams. Fred Reichel and his wife now
live in the old Whitney house. It is at the end of the trail as it were; in the late ’70s, this was
a logging road and logs were rolled over the hill to be taken to the Bay on Union Street.
MAYORS OF OLYMPIA
Nine years after it was officially dedicated as a town, Olympia was incorporated by
act of the Territorial Legislature. The first meeting of the town trustees was held on
February 17, 1859, with T. F. McElroy, James Tilton, Joseph Cushman and Elwood Evans
present. The board of trustees corresponded to the present city commission, and one of
their first acts was to elect a president of the board of trustees. This office was similar to
that of the mayor in the present city government. Joseph Cushman was elected board
president, and so goes down in history as the first head of the Olympia city government.
Other city officials appointed by the board were Richard Lane, town clerk; William
Mitchell, town marshal; and Thomas M. Reed, committing magistrate. By-laws for the
town were adopted, which required that all ordinances passed by the board be published in
the town’s leading newspaper, the Pioneer and Democrat.
The first town election was held on April 4, 1859, with George A. Barnes, U. G.
Warbass, William Rutledge, Jr., Butler P. Anderson and Harvey Winsor winning seats on
the board of trustees. Mr. Rutledge resigned shortly after being elected and Elwood Evans
was appointed to take his place.
When Olympia was reincorporated in 1873 as a city, the office of mayor replaced
that of president of the board of trustees. The following is a complete list of the board
presidents of the town of Olympia, and the mayors of the city of Olympia from 1859 to the
present time, and is, as far as can be determined, the first such compilation to be published
in a book of general circulation.
Presidents of the Board of Trustees,
Town of Olympia
Joseph Cushman, 1859 (temporary)
Elwood Evans, 1859-62
George A. Barnes, 1862
Joseph Cushman, 1863
E. Giddings, 1864
B. F. Yantis, 1865
George A. Barnes, 1866-70
Francis Henry, 1870-72
W. W. Miller, 1872-73
Mayors Under Council Form of City Government
I. C. Ellis, 1874
T. F. McElroy, 1875
J. C. Horr, 1876
John P. Judson, 1877
E. N. Ouimette, 1878-79
George A. Barnes, 1880
E. T. Young, 1881
Dr. N. Ostrander, 1882-83
J. S. Dobbins, 1884
A. A. Phillips, 1885
A. H. Chambers, 1886-88
John F. Garvey, 1889-90
J. C. Horr, 1891
R. G. O’Brien, 1892
J. W. Robinson, 1893
C. B. Mann, 1894-95
Charles H. Ayers, 1896
John Byrne, 1897
George B. Lane, 1898
C. S. Reinhart, 1899-1901
C. J. Lord, 1902-03
H. G. Richardson, 1904
Dr. P. H. Carlyon, 1905-06
Thomas McClarty, 1907
W. A. Hagemeyer, 1908
Mitchell Harris, 1909-11
Dr. W. L. Bridgford, 1912
George A. Mottman, 1913-16
Jesse T. Mills, 1917-20
C. H. Bowen, 1921-22
George W. Draham, 1923-24
James C. Johnson, 1925-28
Mayors Under Commission Form of City Government
George G. Mills, 1929-31
Newell Steele, 1932-35
Dr. Francis A. Longaker, 1936-37
David Gammell, 1938-39
J. Truman Trullinger, 1940-46
Ernest Mallory, 1947-49
WHO WAS WHO IN OLYMPIA IN 1889
By RAY C. GRUHLKE
Olympia in 1889, just prior to the admittance of the Territory of Washington, as a
state, was a thriving city of about 4,000 people and apparently in the process of growing
pains as its boosters estimated that it was growing at the rate of 600 persons per month.
The townsite was platted in 1851; in the same year, Olympia was selected as the
Capital of Washington Territory and in 1959, the city was incorporated. By 1889, the real
estate men had evidently taken over, as there were about as many real estate firms as there
were other businesses in town.
Among the real estate operators that year were J. F. Murphy & Co., J. C. Boyd &
Co., E. L. Sawyer & Co., T. C. Van Epps & Co., Shoecraft, Cook & Smith, Alfred
Thompson, George Gelbash and Henderson & Guyot. The firm of Olympia Real Estate
Loan and Insurance Agency was composed of R. G. O’Brien, S. C. Woodruff and H. T.
The T. C. Van Epps & Co., real estate dealers, advertised: “IF YOU WOULD BE
HAPPY, COME TO OLYMPIA: IF YOU WOULD BE HEALTHY, COME TO
OLYMPIA: IF YOU WOULD BE RICH, COME TO OLYMPIA.”
In 1889, there were 40 logging camps located around Olympia, employing about
800 men with wages from $30.00 to $100.00 per month, AND BOARD. There were three
saw mills, a planing mill, a wooden pipe factory, a brewery and fishing curing
Also one bank with a capital stock of $90,000.00.
The leading store in Olympia was Toklas & Kaufman, whose two- story business
block was located at Nos. 335, 337 and 339 Main Street. Arthur Ellis had a furniture store
at Third and Main, O. R. Simenson, a jewelry store in the Woodruff Block. Clayton
Aldridge had a grocery store, James Brewer a meat market and Albert D. Wright sold
harness and saddles.
Francis Henry was an attorney at law. He also sold real estate and had the abstract
company. Rogers, the photographer, took pictures of the pioneers, and Young’s Hotel, on
Main Street was the leading hotel, with rates at $1 to $1.50 per day and was the office of
the Montesano Stage Line.
The first Olympia Hotel was in the process of construction, at a cost of $50,000.00.
This was an ornate structure, with a many-gabled roof and two towers. There was a porch
clear around two sides, and it stood on an eminence overlooking the sound.
Some of the manufacturing concerns were the Puget Sound Pipe Company,
manufacturers of wooden water pipe; Olympia Planing Mill; R. G. Esterly, sash, doors and
chairs; and two flour mills at Tumwater, deriving their power from Tumwater Falls.
At that time, Tumwater Falls was the greatest asset of Olympia and was considered
the best water power in western Washington. An electric light plant was being constructed
at the Falls and a street railway contemplated. The narrow gauge railway line ran from
Olympia to Tenino where it connected with the main line of the Northern Pacific.
There were three weekly newspapers in Olympia in 1889 (The Washington
Standard, The Republican Partisan and the Olympian Review) and one daily The Evening
There were seven churches in Olympia, and two academies (the Sisters Academy
and Collegiate Institute, and Methodist College), each two-story structures of wood
construction. St. Vincent Hospital was a three-story building located near the present post
office. The high school apparently contained ten rooms, probably sufficient in those days
for those who wanted to go beyond the eighth grade.
The most important building at that time was the State Capitol, situated on an
eminence in the southern part of the City, which would be on a part of the present capital
grounds. The building was a frame structure, two stories in height with a dome; even on
that date was crowded with part of the state offices located in downtown office buildings,
even as of now.
The Masons and Oddfellows had their own buildings, and the Knights Templar
were very active, having their own library with over 2,000 volumes.
GAS MOTORS CHANGE STORY OF STATE
In Olympia, in 1903, was held the state’s first “Horse and Automobile Show”. It
was managed by Charles Hartwell who probably did not realize that his efforts symbolized
the dawning of a complete change of life for every citizen in Washington.
That year, several automobiles were operating in Olympia and the records show
that among car owners then were Dr. Wayne Bridgeford, Dr. G. W. Ingham, Otis Duby, C.
J. Lord and E. N. Steele. In Tacoma and Seattle, a proportionate number of cars were
snorting and groaning and clanking their way along the more level streets, terrorizing dray
horses, and occasionally scattering pedestrians who had not yet learned the penalties for
Six year before, in 1897, the Winton car was introduced with the spectacular
announcement that it had made a mile in 1 minute and 7 seconds.
By 1910, there were 4,192 automobiles registered in the United States, and the state
of New York became the first to receive revenue from registering. and licensing cars.
During this first decade of the automobile, it has been estimated that some 1,800 different
makes of cars were built, many of them powered by steam engines such as the White and
Stanley Steamer. By 1908, the Ford Motor Company had a sales and service establishment
in Seattle and the first hill climbing contest was held in 1909 on Queen Anne hill.
In 1910, a Pierce Arrow came out, equipped, believe it or not, with a wash stand
and toilet. It was probably the first genuine “touring car”. However, it was worthy of note
that the development of other “extra” equipment for early day automobiles took some time.
For instance, steering wheels were introduced in 1903 to replace the “tiller” that was first
In 1904, headlights were offered for sale with new cars – extra charge, of course.
Electric horns came in 1906, and the general acceptance of closed models began in 1911.
Semi-balloon tires were featured in 1922, and 4-wheel brakes came widely heralded in the
snappy new models of 1923.
And people who didn’t have enough money to pay the big prices of cars in 1905
began to “arrange terms” installment buying which was soon a common practice that
became big business for banks. Finance companies soon came into being. Only three
makes of cars were offered for sale at less than $1,000 in 1910.
In 1906, there were 763 cars known of record in the state of Washington. Ten years
later, in 1916, the first Washington license plates were issued to 70,032 car owners. By
1921, it was necessary to set up the state license department which issued 195,074 sets of
plates that year. In 1934, there were reported 439,979 cars, and in 1940, the records
covered 603,037 cars of all makes. In 1960, at the end of Olympia’s first hundred years, the
estimate exceeds 900,000.
WIDE INFLUENCE NOTED
The impact of the automobile on the way of living by our people was a gradual but
tremendously powerful one. It has been fully as influential to the development of our state
during the last half of the first hundred years as was the coming of the railroads in the
second quarter of the century. It has so completely changed social as well as commercial
and industrial concepts of our existence that the removal of the automobiles from general
use in 1950 would completely throttle our day-to-day activities.
With the constantly increasing numbers of cars that so quickly developed through
the years until the first world war, there came naturally the demand for more and more
roads and highways. At first,
highway engineering as we know it now did not exist. The early engineers tackling the
problems came from those whose training had been on railroad construction. And of
course, the problems were different.
Perhaps one of the biggest difficulties which have confronted the builders of
automobile highways was caused by the rapidly increasing number of cars, and the
constant changes in their mechanical ability to attain high speeds.
The first city-to-city roads which were available to motorists were simply the
existing wagon roads of general rural use. And the going was tough! When Charles
Hartwell programmed his first “Horse and Auto Show” in 1903, an auto “race” was
scheduled. There were two entry classes. The large cars were routed out of Olympia to
Yelm and back via Tenino and Tumwater. The smaller cars were to make a round trip to
Nisqually and back by way of Lacey. Only a few cars finished, and it was remembered by
many farmers en route that hauling business was good for several days.
In a statement appearing in the November 9, 1939 issue of the Olympia News, only
about 10 years ago, it was pointed out that “The rapid increase in both traffic volume and
speed has changed road building standards… ro