Cattle, Sheep and Horses in Washington

To what an extent the people of the Puget Sound country and the Cowlitz and Chehalis valleys depended upon their cattle for support was illustrated in 1863, when the government prohibited for a time the exportation of livestock. The order was in consequence of Canada being made a field of operations for the leaders of the rebellion, and the danger that supplies might be shipped to them from the British provinces. It was not intended to affect Washington. S. P. Alta, July 30, 1863; Portland Oregonian, Sept. 3, 1863; Or. Argos, Aug. 17, 1803. Exports into V. I. from the Pacific United States in 18011 amounted to three millions of dollars. Of this amount about one million was in cattle from Oregon and Washington that were carried by the way of Portland and Puget Sound to Victoria. Those driven into B. C. east of the Cascades were not taken into the account. They were to stock the country, as well as for beef. A small proportion of them only were from Oregon, while they represented the ready cash of the farmers of Washington. The order from the department of state deprived them of this income, as well as the British colonies of beef. Victor Smith was then collector of the Puget Sound district; and although Governor Pickering was of opinion that the law was not applicable to the territory, he insisted upon its observance. Much of the hostility felt toward the collector and his schemes came from this. Pickering visited Gov. Douglas to explain the embargo, and for a number of months much excitement and evident inconvenience prevailed on both sides of the straits. When at last the embargo was raised, there was a corresponding rejoicing. Instantly the H. B. Co. despatched a steamer for a cargo of livestock, and the money market was relieved. But there had also been evasion of the law by the shipment of cattle to San Juan Island, then neutral territory, and thence to V. I. For a brief period the patriotic citizens of Paget Sound had cause to congratulate themselves that the boundary question was still unsettled.

The prices obtained for cattle in the early settlement of the country were great, as great almost as in Oregon when the Willamette Cattle Company was formed in 1838. I find several entries in Ebey’s Journal, MS., which throw light on this subject. In volume v. 26, he says that his brother, I. N. Ebey, sold, in 1837, four Spanish cows with calves for $80 each. The following year, at a sale of cattle on Whidbey Island, by W. S. Ebey, 49 head brought $2,324. At another sale in 1859, at the same place, 25 cows and heifers brought $959, or an average of over $33 each, common stock. In 1863, when the embargo was raised, beef cattle on foot, for shipment, brought from 3 to 6 cents per pound, showing the gradual decline in prices with the increase of numbers.

Notwithstanding this decline, the value of livestock exported from Puget Sound in 1867-8 was $106,989 for 9,476 animals of all kinds. In the following year there were exported over 13,000 animals at an aggregate value of nearly $200,000. The total value of livestock in the territory in 1870 was $2,103,313; in 1873 there were 23,000 neat cattle owned in Walla Walla County alone, and 20,000 sheep. For a number of years cattle and sheep were driven from the plains of eastern Washington to Nebraska to be shipped to eastern markets. Sheep were sometimes two or three years on the road, notwithstanding the first Oregon importations overland came through from the Missouri in one season. Sheep raising both for mutton and wool became a most profitable industry in all parts of the territory, but particularly in the eastern division. Large tracts of land on the Cowlitz prairie, the Nisqually plains, the islands of the Haro archipelago, and Whidbey Island are peculiarly adapted to sheep farming, while the whole of eastern Washington is favorable both in climate and natural food to the production and improvement of sheep. Inferior breeds average five pounds of wool per annum, and the finer breeds as much as in any country of the world. It was estimated that in 1865, 50,000 pounds of wool were shipped from Washington to California, which brought the highest average price in the market because cleaner than the California wool. Yet sheep were comparatively scarce considering the demand, and worth $4 each by the drove. In 1870, according to the census report, nearly 200,000 pounds of wool were exported. Since that time large numbers of sheep have been driven out of the territory.

Historically speaking, the H. B. Co. introduced the first sheep, both common from California and Saxony and merino from England. Watt and other Oregon stock farmers followed later with various improved breeds. The first wool shipment of Washington was 15,000 pounds from Puget Sound in 1860 by William Rutledge, Jr, for which he paid from twelve to sixteen cents per pound. Olympia Pioneer and Dem., July 27, 1860. The wool was of good quality and neatly put up. A legislative act was passed in Jan. 1860 incorporating the Puget Sound Woolen Manufacturing Company of Tumwater, but nothing ever came of it except the name, which was suggestive of what ought to be done, if no more. Again, five years later, the Washington Woolen Manufacturing Company of Thurston County was incorporated, with like results. There was an attempt made by A. R. Elder and Clark to establish a woolen-mill on Steilacoom Creek. The carding machine was purchased by Elder in North Andover, Massachusetts, with the design of putting it up in Olympia, but Clark selling out to Elder, it went to Steilacoom. A building 50 by 80 feet was erected, four stories high. The factory had a capacity for carding 250 pounds a day, three spinning-jacks of 240 spindles each, and four looms of different sizes. The cost was over $33,000, and it was completed, together with a boarding house for operatives, in the spring of 1870. It was bid off at auction for $16,050 in June 1871, when it stopped running. Olympia Pac. Tribune, April 11, 1868; Olympia Commercial Age, Jan. S, 1870; Olympia Wash. Standard, Oct. 29, 1870; Olympia Transcript, June 17, 1871. Alfred Ridgely Elder was born in Lexington, Kentucky, Aug. 16, 1806. He removed to Springfield, Illinois, where he was a neighbor and friend of Lincoln. He came to Oregon in 1849 and settled in Yamhill County, where he farmed and preached, being a Presbyterian. In 1862 he was appointed Indian agent at the Puyallup reservation, where he resided for 8 years. He was subsequently elected probate judge of Thurston County. He died Feb. 14, 1882, at Olympia. Three sons and 4 daughters survived him. Olympia Courier, Feb. 17, 1882. The first successful woolen company was one organized in Dayton, Columbia County, of which S. M. Wait was president and Reynolds of Walla Walla a large owner. The foundation was laid in 1872, the capital stock being $40,000. Over $30,000 was paid out in 1878 for raw wool.

The natives of eastern Washington found horse-raising a profitable pursuit, and white breeders are equally prosperous. They are raised with little expense, which enables the owner to sell them cheap at home, while they bring a good price abroad for speed and endurance. Hog raising, especially adapted to the coast counties, has been neglected, although hogs will thrive on clover and grasses, and could be cheaply fattened on pease, to which the soil and climate are peculiarly favorable. Corn, upon which farmers east of the Missouri depend for making pork, does not produce a good crop in the moist and cool climate of western Washington, but grows and ripens well in the eastern portion of the territory, and, together with the waste of the wheat-fields, should furnish the material for much of the meat consumed on the coast. Bees were introduced into the territory about 1858 from southern Oregon, but little honey has been furnished to the markets. That which is made in the Columbia River region, and sold in Portland, is of great excellence, white, pure, and of a delicate flavor.


Bancroft, Hubert H. Bancroft Works, Volume 31, History Of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, 1845-1889. San Francisco: The History Company. 1890.

Search Military Records - Fold3

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top