First Settlements of Washington State

Doctor John McLoughlin, autocrat of Fort Vancouver, at the instigation of the London managers of the Hudson’s Bay Company, but contrary to his own judgment, exercised his influence to induce the incoming citizens of the United States not to locate themselves north of the Columbia River, as in the partition presently to be made all that region would probably be British territory. To the average American emigrant of that day the simple fact that a Britisher should wish him not to settle in any certain part of the undivided territory was of itself sufficient incentive for him to select that spot, provided it was not much worse than any other. There must be some special attraction in the direction of Puget Sound, else the fur company would not so strongly advise people not to go there.

So thought Michael T. Simmons, a stanch. Kentuckian, whom the reader has met before, history of Oregon, he being of the immigration 1844, and spending the ensuing winter with family at Fort Vancouver, where he made shingles to pay expenses, his wife meanwhile improving the time by giving birth to a son, named Christopher, the American born in western Washington.

Simmons was a fine specimen of a man, and representative of the class that went into Washington about this time, determined to remain there, particularly if England’s majesty ordered them out. Just past thirty, having been born at Sheppar the 5th of August, 1814, possessing the grand physique of the early men of Kentucky, unlettered though not unenlightened, he possessed the qualities which in feudal times made men chiefs and founders of families. His courage was equaled only by his independence; he could not comprehend the idea of a superior, having come from a land wherein all kings though they ruled only a pigsty or a potato patch.

He had intended to settle in the valley of Rogue River before so much had been said against his going north, but this determined him. During the winter of 1844-5, with five companions, 1 he proceeded northward, but only reached the fork of the Cowlitz whence he returned to Fort Vancouver. Again he set out the following July with eight others 2 and guided beyond Cowlitz prairie by Peter Borcier, who had performed the same service for Wilkes in 1841, he not only reached the Sound, but made a voyage as far as Whidbey Island, satisfying himself of the commercial advantages of this region. Then he made his selection at the head of Budd inlet where Des Chutes River drops by successive falls a distance of eighty feet, constituting a fine mill-power. The place had the further advantage of being at no great distance from Fort Nisqually, the only supply post in this part of the territory, with the French settlements to the south of it on the Cowlitz prairie constituting a link with the Columbia River and Willamette settlements. The selection for the purposes of a new community in a new country was a good one, and was prompted by a desire somewhat similar to that of the Methodist missionaries to get possession of Oregon City, on account of the waterpower.

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Having chosen his site, he returned to the Columbia to remove his family, which he did in October, accompanied by James McAllister, David Kindred, Gabriel Jones, George W. Bush, and their wives and children, five families in all, and two single men, Jesse Ferguson and Samuel B. Crockett, these seven men being the first Americans 3 to settle in the region of Puget Sound, 4 although John R. Jackson, of the same immigration, had been a little beforehand with them in point of time, and selected a claim five miles north of the French settlements, and ten miles beyond the Cowlitz landing, on a small tributary of that river, near the trail to the Chehalis, 5 which site he called Highlands, and where he had already erected a house. 6

It required fifteen days to open a road for the passage of the ox-teams from Cowlitz landing to Inlet, a distance of less than sixty miles. Simmons named his place New Market, but subsequent settlers called it by the Indian, and more appropriate, name Tumwater, 7which it keeps, and which to avoid confusion I shall hereafter use.

The seven Puget Sound settlers took their claims within a radius of six miles, Kindred two miles south of Tumwater, McAllister about six miles northeast and the others intermediate, on a sandy plain mow known as Bush prairie, from George W. Bush. 8 the same summer or autumn George Waunch located himself on the Skookum Chuck, making the ninth man not in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s service settled north of the Cowlitz farm in 1845.

The first house was built on Kindred’s claim, a west edge of Bush prairie, 9 Simmons building at Tumwater the following summer. These men had enough to do to discharge their debts to the Hudson’s Bay Company. McLoughlin and Douglas, who, notwithstanding their efforts to turn the American settlers south of the Columbia, seeing they would go north, gave the officers of the company on Cowlitz prairie and at Fort Nisqually orders to furnish Simmons’ company with 200 bushels of wheat at eighty cents a bushel, 100 bushels of pease at one dollar, 300 bushels of potatoes at fifty cents, and a dozen head of cattle at twelve dollars each. 10 During the winter they were visited by a party of four men, who proceeded as far as Nisqually, but did not remain in this region. 11 In March Mrs McAllister 12 gave birth to a son, who was named James Benton, the first American born on Puget Sound.

In the following year as many American men settled north of the Cowlitz and about the head of the Sound as in 1845, but not as many families. At the confluence of the Skookum Chuck and the Chehalis, halfway from the Cowlitz landing to Tumwater, two claims were made by Sidney S. Ford 13 and Joseph Barst. Those who went to the Sound were Charles H. Eaton, 14 and his brother Nathan, who located himself on the east side of Budd Inlet, on what is now called Chambers prairie, being the first to take claim north of Tumwater; Edmund Sylvester, 15 Oregon City, who, in partnership with Levi L. Smith, took two half-sections of land, one directly on Budd Inlet, two miles below Tumwater, and the other on the edge of Chambers prairie; Alonzo Marion Poe, Daniel D. Kinsey, and Antonio B. Rabbeson. 16 Several other persons arrived at the Sound during the autumn, but did not remain at that time. 17

In January 1847 three brothers from Marion County named Davis, one with a family, arrived at Tumwater, besides Samuel Cool, A. J. Moore, Benjamin Gordon, Leander C. Wallace, Thomas W. Glasgow, and Samuel Hancock. 18 In March there arrived Elisha and William Packwood, with their families. The first settled on land later owned by David J. Chambers. Packwood abandoned it in August to return to the Willamette. William Packwood took a claim on the south bank of the Nisqually, and there remined. 19 During the summer John Kindred, J. B. Logan, B. F. Shaw, Robert Logan, and A. D. Carnefix joined the settlement at the head of the Sound, and on the 10th of June the Skookum Chuck settlement was re-enforced by the birth of Angeline Ford,P 20 the first American girl born north of the Columbia. Late in the autumn there arrived at the Sound Thorn Chambers, with his sons, David, Andrew, Thomas J. and McLean, two of whom had families, 21 and George Brail and George Shazar.

From Nisqually the settlers obtained pork, wheat, pease, potatoes, and such other needful articles as the company’s stores furnished. In 1846 Simmons put up a small flouring mill at Des Chutes falls, in a log house, with a set of stones hewn out of some granite blocks found on the beach, which was ready to grind the first crop of wheat, if not to bolt it; but unbolted flour was a luxury after boiled wheat.

Late the following year a sawmill was completed at Tumwater, built by M. T. Simmons, B. F. Shaw, E. Sylvester, Jesse Ferguson, A. B. Rabbeson, Gabriel Jones, A. D. Carnefix, and John R. Kindred, who formed the Puget Sound Milling Company, October 25, 1847, Simmons holding the principal number of shares, and being elected superintendent. The mill irons, which had been in use at Fort Vancouver, were obtained from the Hudson’s Bay Company. The lumber found a market among the settlers, but chiefly at Nisqually, where it was sent in rafts, and also a little later was in requisition to erect barracks and officers’ quarters at Steilacoom. 22 Shingle-making was also an important industry, shingles passing current at Fort Nisqually in exchange for clothing or other articles. Room for idlers there was none, and this was fortunate, since indolence in contact with savagery soon breeds vice, aggravated by enforced solitude.

Daniel D. Kinsey was the first lucky bachelor to secure a mate in these wilds, by marrying, on the 6th of July, 1847, Ruth Brock, M. T. Simmons, one of the judges of Vancouver County, officiating. Samuel Hancock and A. B. Rabbeson were the first to vary shingle-making with brick-making, these two taking a contract to burn a kiln of brick in July 1847, on the farm of Simon Plomondon at the Cowlitz. And thus they not only held their own in the new country, but increased in property and power,

As early as the summer of this second year they had begun to recognize the necessity of communication between points, and in August blazed out a trail from Tumwater to the claim of Sylvester and Smith, two miles below on the Sound, which now began to be called Smithfield, because Levi L. Smith resided there, and because it came to be the head of navigation by the law of the tides.

In the autumn of 1847, rendered memorable by the massacre at Waiilatpu, which alarmed these feeble settlements, and by the prevalence of measles among the Indians, for which the white people knew themselves held responsible by the miserable victims and their friends, there were few additions to the population. Jonathan Burbee, an immigrant of that year took to himself some land on the little Kalama River; Peter W. Crawford, E. West, and James O. Raynor located claims on the Cowlitz near its mouth, being the first settlers in this vicinity, 23 and Andrew J. Simmons took a claim on Cowlitz prairie, where he died February 1872. 24

Nor were there many accessions to the population of the Sound in 1848. Rev. Pascal Ricard, oblate father, established a mission three miles below Tumwater, June 14th, on the eastern shore of the inlet, and thereby secured half a section of land to the church. Thomas W. Glasgow made a tour of exploration down the Sound, and took a claim on Whidbey Island, the first settlement attempted there, and situated northeast from the Port Townsend of Vancouver, directly facing the strait of Fuca. Here he erected a cabin and planted potatoes and wheat, loneliness seems to have been alleviated during his brief residence, a half-caste daughter testifying to the favor with which he was regarded by some native brunette; 25 yet he returned to Tumwater to secure other companions, and persuaded Rabbeson and Carnefix to accompany him back to his island home.

On the voyage, performed in a canoe, they proceeded to the head of Case Inlet, and carrying their canoe across the portage to the head of Hood canal, explored that remarkable passage. Carnefix turned back from the mouth of the Skokomish River, 26 Glasgow and Rabbeson continuing on to Whidbey Island, which they reached in July. But they were not permitted to remain. Soon after their arrival a general council of the tribes of the Sound was held on the island, at the instigation of Patkanim, chief of the Snoqualimichs, to confer upon the policy of permitting American settlements in their country. It was decided that Glasgow must quit the island, which he was at length forced to do, 27 escaping by the aid of an Indian from the vicinity of Tumwater.

Glasgow seems to have taken a claim subsequently in Pierce County, and to have finally left territory. 28

During this summer Hancock took a claim on the west side of Budd Inlet, and built a wharf and warehouse; but having subsequently engaged in several commercial ventures involving loss, he settled in 1852 on Whidbey Island, Patkanim having in the mean time failed in his design of exterminating the American settlers. Rabbeson, glad to be well away from the neighborhood of the Snoqualimich chief, went with Ferguson to work in the wheat fields of the Cowlitz farm, now in charge of George B. Roberts, where they taught the Frenchmen to save grain by cradling, after which the new method was high in favor and the cradling party in demand.

All at once this wholesome plodding was interrupted by the news of the gold discovery in California, and every man who could do so set off at once for the gold-fields. They made flat-boats and floated their loaded wagons down the Cowlitz River to where the old Hudson’s Bay Company’s trail left it, drove their ox-teams to the Columbia River opposite St. Helen, and again taking the trail from the old McKay farm, which the Lees had travelled in 1834, emerged on the Tualatin plains, keeping on the west side of the Willamette to the head of the valley. They here came into the southern immigrant road which they followed to its junction with the Lassen trail to the Sacramento Valley, where they arrived late in the autumn, having performed this remarkable journey without accident 29

The rush to the mines had the same temporary effect upon the improvement of the country north of the Columbia that I have noticed in my account of the gold excitement in the Willamette Valley. Farming, building, and all other industries were suspended, while for about two years the working population of the country were absent in search of gold. This interruption to the steady and healthy growth which had begun has been much lamented by some writers, 30 with what justice I am unable to perceive; because although the country stood still in respect to agriculture and the ordinary pursuits of a new and small population, this loss was more than made up by the commercial prosperity which the rapid settlement of the Pacific coast bestowed upon the whole of the Oregon territory, and especially upon Puget Sound, which without the excitement of the gold discovery must have been twenty years in gaining the milling and other improvements it now gained in three.

In the mean time, and before these results became apparent, the settlements on the Sound were threatened with a more serious check by the Snoqualimichs, who about the first of May attacked Fort Nisqually with the intention of taking it, and if they had succeeded in this, Patkanim’s plans for the extermination of the white people would have been carried out. In this affair Leander C. Wallace was killed, and two other Americans, Walker and Lewis, wounded, the latter surviving but a short time. For this crime Quallawort, a brother of Patkanim, and Kassass, another Snoqualimich chief, suffered death by hanging, as related in a previous volume. 31 This was a somewhat different termination from that anticipated. Patkanim, even after the Snoqualimichs were repulsed, sent word to the American settlers that they would be permitted to quit the country by leaving their property. To this they answered that they had come to stay, and immediately erected block houses at Tumwater and Skookum Chuck. This decided movement, with the friendship of the Indians on the upper part of the Sound, and the prompt measures of Governor Lane, who arrived March 2d at Oregon City, followed by the establishment of Fort Steilacoom about the middle of July, crushed an incipient Indian war. 32

The outbreak did not seriously interrupt the dawning fortunes of the settlers, who were scrupulously careful to prevent any difficulties with the natives by a custom of uniform prices for labor and goods, and go perfect equity in dealing with them. 33

Owing to the California exodus, the year 1849 was remarkable only for its dearth of immigration. But by the end of the year most of the gold hunters were back on their claims, somewhat richer than before in the product of the mines. Early in January 1850 there arrived the first American merchant vessel to visit the Sound since its settlement. This was the brig Orbit, William H. Dunham master, from Calais, Maine. She had brought a company of adventurers to California, who having no further use for her, sold her for a few thousand dollars to four men, who thought this a good investment, and a means of getting to Puget Sound. Their names were I. N. Ebey, B. F. Shaw, Edmund Sylvester, and one Jackson. There came as passenger also Charles Hart Smith, a young man from Maine and a friend of Captain Dunham. M. T. Simmons, who had not gone to the mines, had sold, in the autumn of 1849, his land claim at Tumwater, with the mills, to Crosby 34 and Gray, formerly of Portland, for thirty-five thousand dollars. With a portion of this money he purchased a controlling interest in the Orbit, and taking C. H. Smith as partner, sent the brig back to San Francisco with a cargo of piles, with Smith as supercargo, to dispose of them and purchase a stock of general merchandise. The vessel returned in July, and the goods were opened at Smithfield, which by the death of Smith 35 had come to be the sole property of Sylvester, and was now called Olympia, at the suggestion of I. N. Ebey. 36 Sylvester’s claim on the prairie was abandoned when he took possession of the claim on the Sound, 37 and was taken by Captain Dunham of the Orbit, who was killed by being thrown from his horse 38 July 4, 1851, the government reserving the land for his heirs, who long after took possession.

In order to give his town a start, Sylvester offered to give Simmons two lots for business purposes, which were accepted; and a house of rough boards, two stories high-its ground dimensions twenty feet front by forty in depth-was erected at the corner of First and Main streets, and the cargo of the Orbit displayed for sale, 39 Smith acting as clerk. The firm had a profitable trade, as we may well believe when cooking-stoves without furniture sold for eighty dollars 40 American commerce was thus begun with a population of not more than one hundred citizens of the United States in the region immediately about Puget Sound. 41 Three of the crew of the British ship Albion settled in the region of Steilacoom; namely, William Bolton, Frederick Rabjohn, and William Elders. If it is true, as I have shown in a previous volume, 42 that the Americans, as soon as they were armed with the power by congress, exhibited a most unfriendly exclusiveness toward the British company which had fostered them in its way, it is easy to perceive that they were actuated partly by a feeling of revenge, and a desire for retaliation for having been compelled to show the rents in their breeches as a reason for requiring a new pair, 43 and to account for the rents besides, to prove that the Indian trade had not been interfered with. Now these irrepressible Americans were bringing their own goods by the shipload, and peddling them about the Sound in canoes under the noses of the company. It was certainly an unequal contest when legal impediment was removed.

In the Orbit came John M. Swan, 44 who in 1850 settled on a claim immediately east of Olympia, which became Swantown. Another passenger was Henry Murray, who took a claim east of Steilacoom. In July Lafayette Balch, owner of the brig George Emory, arrived at Olympia with a cargo of goods, which he unloaded at that place; but finding he could not get such terms as he desired from the owner of the town lots, he put his vessel about and went down the Sound, establishing the town of Port Steilacoom, putting up a large business house, the frame of which he brought from San Francisco, and to which he removed the goods left at Olympia to be sold by Henry C. Wilson 45 who appears to have arrived with Balch, and who settled on the west shore of Port Townsend on the 15th of August. On the 15th of October I. N. Ebey took up the claim from which Glasgow had been ejected by the Indians on the west side of Whidbey Island, about a mile south of Penn Cove. R. H. Lansdale about the same time took a claim at the head of Penn Cove, where the town of Coveland was ultimately laid out. In November the George Emory, which had made a voyage to San Francisco, brought up as passengers half a dozen men who intended getting out a cargo of piles for that market, and who landed five miles north of Steilacoom. One of their number, William B. Wilton, selecting a claim, built a cabin, and the adventurers went to work with a will to make their fortunes. Their only neighbor was William Bolton, who could not have been very well supplied with the requirements for a life in the woods, as they were unable to obtain oxen to drag the fallen timber to the water’s edge, and in April 1851 abandoned their enterprise, after disposing of as much of the timber they had felled as could be loaded on a vessel without the aid of oxen. Two of their number, Charles C. Bachelder and A. A. Plummer, 46 then went to Port Townsend, and took claims on Point Hudson, about a mile northwest of Wilson, where they were joined in November by L. B. Hastings and F. W. Pettygrove, formerly of Oregon City and Portland, who had ruined himself by speculating in property at Benicia, California. In February, J. G. Clinger 47 and Pettygrove and Hastings took claims adjoining those of Bachelder and Plummer on the north and west, and soon these four agreed to lay out a town, and to devote a third of each of their claims to town-site purposes-a fair division, considering the relative size and location of the Bachelder and Plummer, being unmarried, could take no more than a quarter-section under the Oregon land law, which granted but 160 acres as a donation when such claim was taken after the 1st of December 1850, or by a person who was not a resident of Oregon previous to that time. Pettygrove and Hastings, 48 having both emigrated to the territory previous to 1850, and being married, were entitled to take a whole section, but their land, being less favorably situated for a town site, was worth less to the company; hence the terms of the agreement.

The new town was named after the bay upon which it was situated, Port Townsend, and the owners constituted a firm for the prosecution of trade. 49

As timber was the chief marketable product of the country, and as Hastings and Pettygrove were owners of three yokes of oxen, the company at once set to work cutting piles and squaring timbers; at which labor they continued for about two years, loading several vessels, 50 and carrying on a general merchandise business besides. 51

In May 1852 Albert Briggs settled a mile and a half south from Port Townsend, 52 and in September came Thomas M. Hammond, who took a narrow strip of land west of the claims of Hastings and Wilson, and which, coming down to the bay, adjoined Briggs on the north. 53 The names of all the donation land claimants about Port Townsend are here mentioned in my account of its settlements.

In the latter part of August 1851, in the van of the immigration, arrived at Portland John N. Low and C. C. Terry. In September they took their cattle and whatever live-stock they possessed down the Columbia, and by the Hudson’s Bay Company’s trail to the valley of the Chehalis, where they were left, while Low 54 and Terry proceeded to the Sound to explore for a town site, fixing at last upon Alki Point, on the west side of Elliott Bay, where a claim was taken about the 25th, and a house partially constructed of logs. They found that others were preparing to settle in the vicinity, and were encouraged. John C. Holgate, a young man and an immigrant of 1847, who had served in the Cayuse war, had visited the east side of Elliott Bay in 1850, selecting a claim for himself. 55

Previous to the arrival of Low and Terry at Alki Point, Luther M. Collins took a claim in the valley of the Dwamish or White River, 56 and before they returned to Portland, Collins, Henry Van Assalt, and Jacob and Samuel Maple arrived and settled upon the Dwamish, where they had previously taken clairns. 57

Leaving their house half built, the settlers at Alki Point returned to Portland, where Low had left his wife and four children. Here they found Arthur A. Denny, also from Illinois, although born in Indiana, with a wife and two children; William N. Bell, a native of Illinois, with a wife and two children; and C. D. Boreal, with a wife and child; besides David T. Denny, unmarried-who were willing to accept their statement that they had discovered the choicest spot for a great city to be found in the northwest.

On the 5th of November this company took passage on the schooner Exact, Captain Folger, which had been chartered to carry a party of gold-hunters to Queen Charlotte Island, and Low’s party with a few others to Puget Sound. The Alki Point settlers arrived at their destination on the 13th, and were disembarked at low tide, spending the dull November afternoon in carrying their goods by hand out of the reach of high water, assisted by the women and children. “And then,” says Bell, artlessly, in an autograph letter, “the women sat down and cried.” 58 Poor women! Is it any wonder? Think of it: the long journey overland, the wearisome detention in Portland, the sea-voyage in the little schooner, and all to be set down on the beach of this lonely inland sea, at the beginning of a long winter, without a shelter from the never-ceasing rains for themselves or their babes. It did not make it any easier that nobody was to blame, and that in this way only could their husbands take their choice of the government’s bounty to them. It was hard, but it is good to know that they survived it, and that a house was erected during the winter that was in a measure comfortable. 59

Low and Terry laid out a town at Alki Point, calling it New York, and offering lots to those members of the company who would remain and build upon them. But the Indians in the vicinity had given information during the winter concerning a pass in the Cascade Range which induced the majority to remove in the spring of 1852 to the east side of the bay, where they founded a town of their own, which they called Seattle, after a chief of the Dwamish tribe residing in the vicinity, who stood high in the estimation of the American settlers. 60

D. T. Denny, W. N. Bell, A. A. Denny, and C. D. Boren took claims in the order mentioned on the east shore, D. T. Denny’s being farthest north, and Boren’s adjoining on the south a claim made at the same time by D. S. Maynard from Olympia, who in turn adjoined Holgate, and who kept the first trading- house in the town. Seattle was laid off upon the water front from about the middle of Maynard’s claim, a larger one than either of the others, 61 and on which the first house was built, to the north line of Bell’s claim. Then in the autumn came Henry L. Yesler, who was looking for a mill site, and who was admitted to the water front by a re-arrangement of the contiguous boundaries of Boren and Maynard. 62

Before proceeding to these decisive measures, the town-site company made a careful hydrographic survey of the bay, Bell and Boren paddling the canoe while Denny took the soundings. On the 23d of May, 1853, the town plat was filed for record, 63 Bell keeping, his claim separate, from which it was long called Belltown. Being really well situated, and midway between Port Townsend and Olympia, it rewarded its founders by a steady growth and by becoming the county seat of King County. Its population in 1855 was about three hundred.

The embryo city of New York never advanced beyond a chrysalid condition; but after having achieved a steam sawmill, a public house, and two or three stores, and after having changed its name to Alki, an Indian word signifying in the future, or by and by, which was both name and motto, it gave way to its more fortunate rival. It had a better landing than Seattle at that time, but a harbor that was exposed to the winds, where vessels were sometimes blown ashore, and was otherwise inferior in position. 64 Terry, at the end of two years, removed to Seattle, where he died in 1867. 65 Low went to California and the east, but finally returned to Puget Sound and settled in Seattle.



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

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