Biography of Henry Van Asselt

HENRY VAN ASSELT. – The subject of this sketch was born in Holland April 11, 1817. In 1847 he emigrated to the United States, being the first person living in the locality of his old country home to come to this country. Prior to leaving home he promised to travel from one end of the Union to the other, and write his people and friends the results of his observations. From Castle Garden he went to New Jersey, and in that state remained for nine months, and then came west to St. Louis, Missouri. After a stop there of five months he went to Iowa, and worked there in a sawmill for ten months, and then journeyed on to Illinois, living in that state until 1850, when he returned to Iowa, and made one of a party of eight, who with two ox-teams as a motive power started across the plains to Oregon. The party consisted of John and James Thornton, Humphery Long, Jake Wagner and Charles Hendricks.

They met with many experiences and hardships incident to such a trip, but arrived in safety at Clackamas river, near Oregon City, on September 21, 1850. They crossed the Willamette and went up to the Tualatin, where they worked at making shingles until spring. Everybody then had the gold fever; and the entire party caught the disease, and accordingly started for the Northern California gold mines. In five and a half weeks of mining, they divided up their accumulation of gold dust, and it was found that each was the possessor of one thousand dollars’ worth of the precious metal. The water supply giving out, the claims could not longer be worked; and five of the party returned to the Willamette valley in June, 1851. On the road they fell in with LM. Collins, who had a land claim on the Nisqually river, on Puget Sound. In his party was Hill Harmon, of New Tacoma, and Jacob and Samuel Maple. He persuaded John Thornton, Charles Hendricks and our subject to go to the Sound with him.

In ferrying across the Columbia river at St. Helens, on July 7th, Mr. Asselt accidentally shot himself in the right arm and shoulder, and was compelled to remain at St. Helens a month for medical treatment. That accident, which seemed a great affliction at that time, afterwards proved a great blessing to him and to his companions, which will appear later on in this sketch. Starting again on his journey, in company with John Thornton, who had remained behind with him, they proceeded to the mouth of the Cowlitz river in a small boat, up that stream to Pumphrey’s Landing in a canoe, and from thence footed it across the country to Nisqually, where they joined the others of the party who had left them at St. Helens. From Nisqually he made excursions, on foot and on horseback, in every direction, thoroughly exploring the section now embracing the counties of Thurston and Pierce.

But he could find nothing to suit him, and made up his mind to return again to the Willamette valley. His intention was changed through an offer of Collins to hire a boat and take the party to a location some forty miles down the Sound, where he thought they would find homes acceptable to them. The plan being agreed to, they set out for the Duwamish river on September 12, 1851; and on the fourteenth they camped at what is now Milton. The site now occupied by Seattle was a howling wilderness, inhabited by nothing but Indians; and at that time there was not a white settler within the boundaries of King county. On the morning of September 15, 1851, they entered the mouth of the Duwamish river, and proceeded up that stream as far as the mouths of White and Black rivers. The appearance of the country pleased our subject; and he proposed to the party that if any of them would take up a claim that he would second him. Collins agreed to locate a claim provided that he could dispose of his interest at Nisqually, which he did, finding a purchaser in Balland.

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The matter being settled, Messrs. Collins, Eli and Jacob Maples and our subject staked out their locations, the latter also selecting one for Sam Maples. This claim so taken up by Mr. Van Asselt yet remains in his possession. The preliminaries towards founding a home being completed, they returned to Nisqually to prepare for moving on their places. From there our subject, accompanied by Collins, went to Olympia; and they purchased a scow on which to transport their household effects, etc. The stock belonging to the party consisted of twenty head of horses and cows. These were driven from Nisqually to Puyallup, and from there around the beach as far as Milton, where they were put on the scow and taken to their new home. The locations already made were followed soon after by those of D.T. Denny, Doctor Maynard and others; and within nine weeks after the first claim stakes were in the ground there were nine houses between Alki Point and that of our subject.

The nearest store where provisions and clothing could be procured was located at Steilacoom; and often that establishment would be out of stock. In which event a trip to Olympia or Tumwater for the wanted articles would be necessary. The last of these trips made by our subject was in 1851-52. Those going with him were George Holt and August Hograve. The time now consumed in making the journey on one of the numerous palatial steamers on the Sound is but a few hours; but, in those pioneer days, the whistles of such craft had not echoed on its shore, nor yet plowed its waters with their prows. The trip then was made with canoe or scow, the former being used on this occasion; and three weeks were consumed in getting to Olympia and back home again, both Christmas and New Year being spent on the way. Early in the spring of 1852 Charles C. Terry and John Low opened up a little trading store on Alki Point, which gave the settlers a market nearer home. For the first few years, in addition to opening their farms, they got out square timbers and cut piles, which they sold to Captains Plummer and Fuller, who ran schooners between the Sound and San Francisco. Settlers continued to come in slowly; and places were one by one being taken up.

On the arrival of our subject at the home of his adoption, and for some time thereafter, he carried his arm in a ling, not having recovered from the wound received at St. Helens. Meeting some Indians, they were curious to know the cause, and were often shown the wound and allowed to feel the buckshot still remaining in his shoulder. This excited great wonderment in their minds; and they began to look upon him as a devil; for, among their many other superstitions, they believe that one with lead in his body cannot be killed by being shot. The first difficulties with the Indians in the locality where our subject resided occurred in 1852. It was brought about through a misunderstanding between a Mr. Loweman and an Indian called Grizzly. It finally culminated in the latter’s enlisting the services of other Indians in his cause; and they took possession of Loweman’s place. He appealed to his neighbors for help; and Sam and Jacob Maples, Collins and our subject responded. They accompanied Loweman to his place, and on arriving found the Indians in possession and fortified. At the risk of their lives they took the guilty Indian out, chained him, locked him up, and sent to Steilacoom for the soldiers. In lieu of such there came an Indian agent; and, instead of punishing Grizzly, he gave him a couple of shirts and a blanket, and told him to be a good Indian in the future.

Again, during that same summer, the Indians broke into the Peace brothers’ home, on what is now known as the Terry farm, and stole everything. our subject promised a friendly Indian five dollars if he would find out who the transgressors were. After an absence of three days he returned and reported that Tom Pepper and his father were the thieves. Giving the informant his reward, our subject, together with six of his neighbors, went to an Indian village of several hundred inhabitants located on Black river, where Pepper lived. On their arrival there they went to the culprit’s lodge, and fund Pepper very busily engaged in transferring the stolen property from the house to the brush. When an attempt was made to arrest the old scamp, he showed fight and drew a large knife as a weapon of warfare. Before he could use it, however, he was knocked down with the butt of a rifle. During this time twenty or thirty guns were leveled at the party by the Indians. Knowing their superstition relative to our subject, he charged on them; and the would-be assailants took flight without firing a shot. After securing the captive, the party took him to their settlement and endeavored to wring from him a confession as regard to who did the stealing. For a time he maintained that he did not know, but became more conversant with the facts in the matter after he had been hung up by the neck a few times, and confessed that he and his father were the guilty parties. Old Chief Seattle heard of the trouble, and the next day came up and pawned guns and blankets for the safe return of the stolen property; and it is needless to say it was all returned to its rightful owners.

Shortly after this a party of Indians came to Sam Maples’ place in the evening. Maples was sick, and asked a young Indian to split him some wood, promising him his supper. While doing the work the boy cut his foot. At the sight of the blood the Indians pounced upon the sick man with their knives, and would have killed him had he made any resistance. He lay still and allowed them to carry out all the provisions, cooking utensils and everything else there was about the house. After they had plundered the place, the sick man crawled out and started for assistance. In going to where our subject was hewing out timber, he met Mr. Van Asselt; and the recital of the Indian’s deviltry roused him so that his first impulse was to mete out punishment upon several of them with his axe; but on reflection it was deemed best to use strategy. Learning that the savages had some property at the home of Collins, the settlers collected and made that point a rendezvous. When the Indians came along for their belongings, they were made prisoners, and, by threats of sending for the soldiers, were induced to give up the stolen articles, and pay in venison for their meanness.

Little affairs of that kind would occasionally happen; but on the whole the Indians were peaceable and friendly till September 15, 1855. On that eventful Sunday morning, just four years from the date of the first settlement of what is know King county, the merciless Indians, in pursuance of well-arranged plans, swooped down on the settlers of White river, and massacred Mr. and Mrs. King, Mr. and Mrs. Jones Mr. and Mrs. Brannan and child, and a Mr. Cooper. During the night the Indians had secreted themselves in the brush near the residence of these people, and in the morning shot the settlers down as they ventured from their houses. Joe Lake, a settler on White river, was also shot, but not killed; and it was through him that the news spread before other murders could be committed. People in terror left their farms and fled to Seattle. In twelve hours after the massacre, the only white persons in King county, outside of Seattle, were Sam Maples, Doctor Grow and his brother, and our subject. They remained on their places till the morning of the sixteenth, but slept in the woods for safety, and left at daylight for Seattle. shortly afterwards the Indians came along and burned their houses, barns and fences, stole their horses and drove off their stock. Not a building of any description was left standing from the head of White river to the mouth of the Duwamish.

On the morning of the sixteenth, as these settlers were leaving for Seattle, a party of friendly Indians came along with three white children belonging to the Jones family. Their parents having been murdered, they were turned over to the party, who took them to Seattle and placed them in the custody of the authorities, who cared for them and finally sent them to their friends in the East. Seattle was barricaded by the people, who converted the town into a fort; and a three months’ volunteer company of settlers was formed, with Captain Hay ward in command. The company protected the town, marched through the country, killed a few Indians, and were finally mustered out.

In the meantime an American man-of-war, the Decatur, had arrived, and was lying at anchor in the harbor. She would occasionally send a cannon ball whizzing by the town into the woods where the Indians were secreted. On the 5th of January, 1856, after the disbanding of the volunteer company, the Indians attacked the town and killed two men, – one a brother of Lemuel Holgate, and another whose name cannot now be called to mind. A six months’ volunteer company was then organized, with Judge Lander as captain, and A.A. Denny and D. Neely as lieutenants. This company did good service in guarding the town and converting the hostiles into good Indians. One day it was reported that the Indian who had killed Holgate was upon the hill above the fort, about where John Collins’ house now stands, firing at anyone who chanced to put in an appearance. Our subject, believing that he could stop the Indian, began to watch closely the locality from whence the firing came, and in a short time discovered him. It was noticed that the Indian would get behind a tree and load his gun, and then go to a log where he could get a better aim and fire away. Taking his Sharpe’s carbine, our subject laid down behind a fir stump just outside the fort and fired. he can’t say whether he hit his mark or not; but at all events the settlers were not troubled again by the Indian.

H.L. Yesler at that time had a sort of charge or supervision over a lot of friendly Indians camped at what is now Milton. One evening Sergeant John Hannan, of the volunteer company, called Mr. Van Asselt out and said there was a hostile Indian named Lucha and his squaw over at Milton trying to induce the peaceable Indians at that place to join the hostiles, and that Yesler had ordered him to leave there before the next morning. He determined to blockade the mouth of the river, in order to kill Lucha and all who went with him to join the hostiles. Among those who made up the party sent in this behalf was our subject. An account of what transpired is here given in his own language:

“That night the moon shone out brightly; and the weather was bitter cold. We waited till the Indians were all asleep, when a party of five took a canoe and paddled cautiously to the mouth of the river, a little above the place where Conkling’s house now stands, where there is a short curve in the stream. Drawing our frail craft out into the brush, we divided and posted ourselves in three different places, – two men together, forty yards apart, and myself forty yards above the upper two. The understanding was that the lower two should let the canoes pass, and when they were opposite the second two should be fired upon. The party consisted of J.W. Johns, C.D. Boren, John Hannan, Sam Bicklehammer and myself. We remained at our posts until daybreak without an adventure. The weather was fearfully cold; and we were stiff and numb. We held a consultation; and a majority favored returning home. But I urged them to remain half an hour longer; and all consented.

“We again took our posts; and in les than fifteen minutes we heard the splash of paddles, and knew that a number of canoes were approaching. Finally a dugout, containing the before-mentioned hostile and his wife, hove in sight,. When directly in from of us, I heard three guns snap and one fire. At the first crack of the guns the Indian crouched down and lurched his boat over for protection. His wife rose up and yelled in Chinook: “Don’t kill us; we are your friends! Don’t kill us.’ We did not want to kill her. Three of our guns had been rendered useless by the damp and cold. I, however, banged away at Mr. Indian and riddles his boat with bullet holes; but he made his escape in the brush on the opposite side of the river.

“The other canoes, hearing the report of the guns, turned back. We launched our boat and made chase. We soon sighted a canoe, and worked hard to overtake it. By this time the guns had been cleaned and reloaded; and all four of my companions fired at the Indians; but their shots feel short. I was steering the boat. Mr. Boren stood up in front of me; and I gave him my gun and told him to fire. He did; and the Indians all dodged down, then rose up and paddled for shore. They landed at the extreme mouth of the river, beached their canoe and took to the woods. We ran alongside, captured their boat and found it smeared with blood from one end to the other. We afterwards learned that Boren’s shot had struck one of the Indians in the shoulder. We took the canoe out into the bay and broke it up.”

By 1857 hostilities had ceased; and the settlers returned to their homes. Our subject among others then found plenty to do. His houses and barns had to be rebuilt, his fences renewed; and, in fact, he almost had to begin anew. When he had got things in a somewhat comfortable shape, he left for the Willamette valley, and there worked for several months; and with the funds thus derived he restored his ranch. He was united in marriage to Miss Jane Maples in 1862, the fruits of the union being four children.

Mr. Van Asselt, through his energy in the past, has acquired means sufficient to surround his home with comfort during the declining years of himself and his estimable wife. Aside from the distinction of being a pioneer and state-builder, it is said of him by all that he is a man of strict integrity and unsullied reputation, and that he has legions of friends, and few if any enemies.

Van Asselt,


Holland, King County WA,

History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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