Nature Notes

Vol. XI September -- 1933 No. 7

An 'Old Timer' Recalls Some Interesting Happenings of the Past

"Indian Henry was a very wise Indian", said Len Longmire, as we sat on a rock in front of the Park Museum, watching the Sunday throngs of visitors hurrying to and fro. "His real name sounded like 'Sotulie', but the Indians here in the early days were kind of ashamed of their Indians names and asked us to give them 'Boston names'. Isaac Stevens, the first territorial governor of Washington was a Bostonian so the Indians called all Americans "Bostonmen'. The English were 'King George men'. Anyway, Indian Henry was a chief of the Klickitats and a mighty good one too. He was a slim little fellow but was straight as a young fir and when he walked he went in a straight line. One of the prettiest places on the mountain is Indian Henry's Hunting Ground, that big 'park' north of Satulick Point. He led his tribe in there every year for their summer camping grounds; the men hunted gamed while the women picked huckleberries. Satulick point was named for Indian Henry. That's how his name was spelled on the maps. The Whites tried to write Indian names as they sounded them, but often the spelling doesn't give the right pronunciation. Take the Indian name for Mount Rainier. We spell the Klickitat word for it T-a-h-o-m-a, but they pronounced it with an 'a' as in 'at' and the rest as though it had three of four 'o's' instead of one. Indian Henry told me the word meant 'highest' or 'highest hill'. The Nisqually name for the mountain sounded like 'Nebat'."

Len Longmire paused as though to reflect on the old days, before this region had become a National Park - long before its tall Douglas Firs cast their shade upon two hundred thousand visitors each year. For Len was in his teens when in 1888 he helped his father, Elcain Longmire, build the homestead cabin which still stands on the Trail of the Shadows, at Longmire.

"How did your grandfather, James Longmire, happen to discover the springs which prompted him to settle here?"

My question broke his revery. "Well," he began. "When young Stevens, son of the Governor, and Van Trump, the Governor's secretary, were on their way to make the first climb to the summit, Grandfather brought them as far as Bear Prairie with his horses. Thirteen years later, in 1883, when Van Trump went up again, they had the same plan in mind. But before reaching Bear Prairie, Grandfather decided to go along with them all the way. He was curious to see what it was like at the summit. Only two parties had ever reached it. He hobbled the horses and left them where they camped that night n the bank of the Nisqually opposite where the Longmire Community House is today. On the return trip from the summit he found that the horses had wandered away. He located them in a meadow and found the mineral and hot springs there. This gave Grandfather the idea of establishing a mineral claim and building a hotel up here in the wilds. The first building was a cabin put up that fall near the Soda Spring. It was crushed down by the heavy snows in a year or so.

"Speaking of the first summit party," Len continued, "We found their blazes on trees along Paradise River when Carter and I built the trail from Longmire to Paradise Valley. Then too, I had heard as a boy that Van Trump had lost the ice axe that he had carried on the first successful climb in 1870. He said he left it in Paradise Valley where they camped on the return trip. Twenty-three years later I found it hung in a tree, with the handle mostly rotted away. This was during my fourth trip up the mountain, so I cut a stick for a handle and carried that ice axe on up. We had to spend the night in the summit crater, and I lost Van Trump's axe in one of the snow caverns melted by the steam up there. These caves melt out differently from year to year, and somebody may find it again sometime."

Longmire Homestead Cabin

"How did Paradise Valley get its name, Len?" I inquired.

"My Mother named it. She and Grandmother were the first white women to see the place. We all went up there in '85. It was my first summer in the region that's now the National Park. I remember that when we first saw the valley with its thick carpet of wild flowers everywhere, Mother said, 'This must be called Paradise!'"

"You know, the first woman to climb Mount Rainier was Fay Fuller, now Mrs. Briesen. Well, I was along on that trip in 1890, in charge of Rev. Ernest Smith. Fay was the only girl, and there were four men. We were not roped together, and Fay wouldn't let us help her in the least. At one real dangerous place one of us offered her a hand, but she said, 'No thanks, I want to get up there under my own power or not at all'. And you should have seen the climbing costume she had rigged up. Baggy black bloomers that fastened around her ankles, with a skirt over them that went to about eight inches from the ground. Since this was before bloomers were being worn, this outfit was considered very immodest. We had to spend the night in the crater, for that day the ice above Gibraltar was so bad we had to cut steps in it. Yes, Fay Fuller was a pioneer in more ways than one. She shocked everyone around here by riding horseback like a man, in a bloomer costume she had made, instead of riding side-saddle. She was the first woman harbor-master in the world, at Seattle. Fay Peak, up near Mowich Lake, is named in her honor."

"But say," I broke in, "How could anyone make the climb in a family-album garb like that, when today we need special mountaineering equipment to be at all safe? Are you going to heave a sigh about the softness of our younger generation?"

"Not on that score. In the old days it was a much easier mountain to climb than it is now. Since then the snow has become a good deal thinner, leaving more ice and crevasses exposed. You have to strap crampons on your feet now, and be tied to the other climbers. We used to wear ordinary shoes, not even hob-nails, and for an alpenstock I carried a stick with a nail in one end. Columbia Crest is just a big mound of snow at the very top of Mt. Rainier. When Emmons and Wilson took the first altitude measurement in October, 1870, they made it 14,444 feet, using a thermometer in boiling water. Now, judging by the glaciers it seems possible that their figure was fairly accurate, and the snow at the summit could have lowered about thirty-six feet since then."

Thousands of visitors each summer marvel at the rapid recession of the glaciers, learning that the snout of the Nisqually is backing up the mountainside about seventy feet annually. Len Longmire was the first man to realize that our glaciers are losing ground. He noticed this in 1893, when the Nisqually reached well below the site of the present Glacier Bridge. It has since receded about three-quarters of a mile, due to the excess of melting over downward flow.

"Yes, the climate in these parts must be gradually getting milder. There's a lot less snow falls in Paradise Valley than there used to. Reece had his big tourist camp there, and kept his meats in a nearby snowbank which lasted all summer. Year by year he had to put the meat farther up the hillside to keep it in the summer. In 1910 it was so far from cap that the bears got it. Then he bought a refrigerator. Today the bears would get it if he slept beside it, but then they didn't have the taking ways of modern bears. They were as wild as the cougars and mountain goat are now. Bears were never seen near any camp in those days. I never saw one fed by man until 1927, and was sorry to see it. Some folks will take chances like that in spite of rules.

This part of our conversation reminded Len of his intention to hunt mountain goat on this Sunday afternoon. He hunts birds and animals with binoculars instead of a gun, and when off duty is seldom without them. With an intelligent interest in the wild animals and plants of the park, he enjoys the ever-changing pageant of nature throughout each year. As he walked away, with his binoculars slung from his shoulders, I was struck with the contrast between him and all those visitors who are satisfied to spend a Sunday afternoon here, and tell their friends back home that they have "seen" Mount Rainier National Park.

Alton Lindsey,

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