Nature Notes

Vol. XV June - 1937 No. 2

Chapter Two


It was forty-one years after Captain George Vancouver's epic journey into Puget Sound before the white men established the first permanent settlement upon its shores. Captain Robert Gray, of Boston, Massachusetts, had traded along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, had sailed along the coast of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia (*) and these and later journeys resulted in his discovery of the Columbia River and Gray's Harbor in 1792. Lewis and Clark had reached the Pacific, via the overland route, in 1805 in that well-known effort to explore the great northwest. However, sovereignty of the "Oregon Country", as the northwest was then known, was in doubt. The present state of Washington was included in this area, and both England and the United States were making efforts to prove title to this region by means of further exploration and settlement. England had dispatched Alexander Mackenzie westward from Fort Chipewyan in 1789, but this intrepid Scotchman selected the wrong water course on the divide and eventually came, not to the Pacific but to the Arctic Ocean. Later, in 1793, the same man made a second westward journey from Fort Fork and eventually emerged on the Pacific Coast via the Bella Coola River. For a time he and his band traveled down the Fraser River, but believing the course of this stream not a satisfactory one for a proper conclusion of his mission, left it and struck out overland to the Bella Coola. It was not until 1808 that Simon Fraser traveled the entire course of the river that today bears his name to emerge on the waters of the great Pacific. These journeys were to have a profound effect on eventual settlement of the Oregon question between England and the United States as they preceded the first American settlement by the Astor Company at the present site of Astoria, Oregon in 1811. (**)


(*) Captain Gray first made his appearance in northwest waters in 1788.

(**) An attempt was made to establish a settlement on the Columbia by a group of Americans in 1809, but this outpost was soon abandoned due to the hostile nature of the Indians. (Meany's "History of the State of Washington", page 81)


Astoria, however, was abandoned to the British during the war of 1812 in the year 1813 and the fur trade which had been started by the American concern was carried on by the Northwest Company, a British firm, at that point after it was re-christened Fort George. Following the War of 1812, as per the treaty between the two nations which provided that all lands taken by either side by armed force during the conflict be returned to the original owner, Astoria was formally returned to the possession of the United States (1818), but the Astor Company made no effort to regain the lost fur trade and this business continued to be operated under the English flag by the Northwest Company in this far flung American outpost on the western shores of the continent. Later the Northwest Company was merged with the Hudson's Bay Co., (1821) Astoria was practically abandoned and Ft. Vancouver established as the regional headquarters of the latter firm in this section.

These facts are mentioned here primarily to (1) point out the basis for America's claims in the Pacific Northwest and (2) to introduce the activities of the English fur trading companies into this publication - an activity that was to have a profound effect upon the colonization and development of Puget Sound which were to bring about subsequent happenings of historical note bearing upon the region known as Mount Rainier National Park.

Fort Vancouver was established by the Hudson's Bay Co. on the site of the present city of Vancouver, Washington in 1625. Doctor John McLaughlin was its factor. Some time after Fort Vancouver had been established a second trading post was founded on the Fraser River but after one of McLaughlin's men had been murdered by the Indians in making the long journey from Fort Vancouver to the newer post on the Fraser River it became apparent that an establishment midway between was necessary. Accordingly, in 1832, the site of the midway post was located on Nisqually Bay of Puget Sound and the following year - May 30, 1833 - the first permanent settlement on Puget Sound was begun by the Hudson's Bay Co. Nisqually House or Fort Nisqually it was termed, and it was located at the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek. (*)


(*) Sequalitchew is an Indian term meaning "shallow". Fort Nisqually was moved to a point one mile inland in 1844 as this latter site was considered superior to the original location. One of the original buildings of this relocated site still stood near the entrance of the Dupont Powder works, one mile west of the Pacific Highway at Fort Lewis, until 1933 when it was moved to Point Defiance Park in Tacoma to become part of reconstructed Fort Nisqually built at that time in commemoration of Puget Sound's historic past.


Thirteen men made up the party that made the initial effort in this establishment. Among them was a young man Dr. William Fraser Tolmie, who had just come from Scotland where he had prepared himself for the practice of medicine, and who was to have a profound influence upon the development of Puget Sound and also upon the history of Mt. Rainier. Having been trained in medicine he was employed by the Hudson's Bay Company as physician and surgeon and as the study of plants was, in those days, an important phase of medical training Dr. Tolmie was also considerable of a botanist as well. He had no official connection with the Fort Nisqually party; he was merely accompanying them thus far on his way north to another post. However, before he took his leave one of the men was injured and as his services as physician were sorely needed at that time he remained in the region for several months during which time he made extensive botanical surveys of the area. It was on one of these "botanizing expeditions" as he termed them, that Dr. Tolmie approached Mt . Rainier and became the first white man to enter the area which is now included in the park.

Dr. Tolmie started from Fort Nisqually on August 29, 1833 with five Indians as companions, crossed the Nisqually plains to the Puyallup River, followed this stream to its junction with the Mowich, thence up the Mowich to its junction with Meadow Creek, thence to Mountain Meadows. From this point, on September 2nd, he climbed to the "summit of a snowy peak immediately under Rainier" which we know today as Tolmie Peak.(*) He returned to Fort Nisqually on September 5th. Tolmie Creek and Tolmie's Saxifrage (**), a plant common in the upper regions of Mount Rainier National Park, also bears his name. (***)


(*) Dr. William Fraser Tolmie later returned to Ft. Nisqually, after a time in the northern posts, as factor in 1843. He also became the head of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, a subsidiary organization of the Hudson's Bay Company which had been formed in order to utilize the great agricultural advantages of the region in this lower Puget Sound area. He was admired and respected by all who knew him during these early days, even during the period of joint occupancy between America and England when American settlers were crowding into the "Oregon Country" and thus vigorously contesting Britain's rights in the Pacific Northwest.

(**) In his diary Dr. Tolmie states that he "collected a vasculum of plants at the snow" and he noted on his type specimen of the saxifrage that bears his name its location as "northwest coast" it may be possible that the original collection of this plant was made while he was in the region now the park.

(***) A photostat copy of the pages of Dr. Tolmie's diary, which refer to his journey into this region, is found in the Museum Library, Longmire, Washington. His account of this trip may also be read in Meany's "Mount Rainier - A Record of Exploration". The original diary is in the possession of the Tolmie family of Victoria, B. C.


In 1841 an event of more than casual interest occurred. The Wilkes Expedition - more properly known as the United States Exploring Expedition - under command of Commander Charles Wilkes, U. S. N., arrived at Fort Nisqually. From this base they made extensive scientific and geographical studies of the area, naming many points on lower Puget Sound, making the first calculation of the elevation of Mt. Rainier (*) and making the first recorded crossing of the Cascades via Naches Pass to Western Washington (**) . It was over this pass that many of the early settlers of the Puget Sound Country wore to come later - including James Longmire, who figures prominently in the history of Mount Rainier National Park. While the treaty of joint occupancy between England and America and the activities of the Hudson's Bay Company in the Pacific Northwest served to discourage settlement by Americans in the Puget Sound area there were, nevertheless, about 1840, more than one-hundred men, women and children in the "Oregon Country" who professed American sympathies. (***) In 1846 the dispute between England and America was settled by establishing the northern boundary of the United States where it is today. Thus the period of joint occupancy came to an end.


(*) By triangulation from a base line laid out upon the Nisqually Prairie this expedition determined the elevation of Mt. Rainier to be 12,330 feet above the sea.

(**) See Meany's "Mt. Rainier - A Record of Exploration" page 13.

(***) Simon Plomondeau was the first settler in Puget Sound area - exclusive of missions and trading posts. He established himself on the Cowlitz Prairie in 1837.


Simmons and his associates founded the settlement of Tumwater in 1845 and in the following year Sylvester and Smith settled at the site of Olympia. The town of Steilacoom was founded by Lafayette Balch after he was disappointed at the treatment given him and his proposed enterprises by the town of Olympia in 1850 and this rival town soon became the busiest post on Puget Sound. After the formation of Washington Territory Fort Steilacoom was established (1849) and an army garrision stationed there for the protection of the settlers who were now crowding into this region - coming overland via the Oregon Trail to the Columbia, thence down that river and finally north via the Cowlitz and an overland trail to Puget Sound. This long circutious route gave evidence that a more direct passage was needed over the Cascades and a road was put under construction in 1853. It was not completed that year as the builders finally gave up hope of the coming of the expected immigrant train. In this they proved to be wrong for this first group of trail blazers did come, crossing the Cascades via Naches Pass on the semi-completed path through the wilderness that was hardly more than a swath through the heavy timber; this "swath" being available for only a part of the way. In this immigrant train came James Longmire a native of Fountain County, Indiana, who was later to figure prominently in the history of Mt. Rainier National Park. (*)


(*) See "Narrative of James Longmire", Mrs. Lou Palmer. Washington Historical Quarterly, Vol. XXIII, No. 1 and No. 2.


The journey of these people across the Cascades is an epic which requires more space than we are able to give it in this publication. Shortly after they left the main route of travel to the Pacific Coast at Umatilla Trail they passed the site of the Whitman Mission where Marcus Whitman and most of his herioc band were murdered by the Indians in 1847. It is doubtful if this episode relieved the minds of the party as they made their way through the Yakima country toward the distant Cascades for a party of Indians were generally close by, though they showed no evidence of harmful intention and, in fact, tried to help the immigrants when they became lost at Wells Springs. However, lack of verbal communication between the white men and their Indian calvalcade prevented an understanding of the red man's intentions and the bewildered pioneers felt for some time that they were being led into a trap that would end in their massacre. About the middle of September two men, who had been reconoitering the country round about, discovered blazes on the trees which marked the route over Naches Pass. These blazes were placed there by the road builders who had discontinued active work on the immigrant trail over the pass a short time before. So along this crudely marked trail pushed the clumsy caravan of ox teams and "prairie schooners", slowly working their way toward the summit - and in so doing they were forced to cross the Naches River sixty-eight times in the four day's travel along this stream to its source. At last they reached the pass, rested for two days as grass was plentiful in the vicinity, and after this short respite started to make the steep descent. Their wagons were lowered down the steep face of Summit Hill by snubbing the vehicles on the trunks of trees, and today we may still see evidence of the scars left on the bark of these timbers where the ropes scored the trunks as the heavy wagons were slipped down the steep embankment. All but one wagon was safely lowered over this cliff in this manner. It was destroyed when the ropes that hold it parted, and its owner proceeded on horseback.

Eventually they reached the Greenwater River and news of the coming of this first train over the Cascades was carried on to Olympia by a man who was bringing food to the road builders. He had not been informed that the road builders had discontinued work for the year and was much surprised to see these people coming over a country with ponderous ox teams and heavy wagons for he felt that this feat under existing conditions was next to impossible. Nevertheless they completed their journey. The party which had spent so many weary weeks on the trail now split up, taking up claims and establishing themselves where their fancy dictated - Longmire settling on Yelm Prairie in the shadow of the great mountain which he was to know even more intimately in later years.

With the opening of the Naches Pass trail over the Cascades and the discovery of gold in California which brought about a great need for the products of the Northwest - particularly lumber - numerous cities end towns sprang up along Puget Sound and immigrants came in increasing numbers. The entire region benefited by this influx of new blood from the eastern states. This, of course, aroused jealousy and bad feeling among the Indians and in consequence Fort Steilacoom, established near the town of the same name in 1849, became an asset to these pioneers. The Indian trouble broke out in 1855, and the guerrilla warfare that cost the lives of many settlers was not brought to an end until 1858.

This episode had no connection with Mount Rainier however, except that the establishment at Fort Steilacoom included in its garrison a daring and hardy lieutenant by the name of A.V. Kautz. He determined to reach the summit of Mt. Rainier and accordingly, at noon on July 8, 1857, he started for "The Mountain" with four soldiers, Dr. O. R. Craig from the army garrison at Fort Bellingham and a Nisqually Indian by the name of Wapowety, who was to serve as a guide.

Kautz did not reach the actual summit nor did he claim to do so on this journey. Active interest in Mt. Rainier now lay dormant for some years, but on August 17, 1870, two young and active men by the name of Hazard Stevens and P. B. VanTrump stood upon the crest of Mt. Rainier for the first time. (*)


(*) See chapter on Ascents for more complete description of these early attempts on Mt. Rainier. Hazard Stevens was the son of the first governor of Washington Territory and P. B. VanTrump was the secretary of the governor of Washington Territory, Marshall F. Moore, at that time.


In October of 1870, Samuel Franklin Emmons and A. D. Wilson climbed to the summit of Mt. Rainier as a part of their duties in mapping the area about the mountain and making geological studies of this region. This work was in conjunction with similar work conducted by the U. S. Geological Survey on all major peaks of the Pacific Coast.

It was not until 1883 however, that white men made any attempts at permanent settlements within the present park area. In that year we find James Longmire ushering in a new era - that of the development of the area later to be Mount Rainier National Park.

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