History & Culture
A Short History of Seattle
Although people had inhabited the Puget Sound area for thousands of years, the first non Native American settlers -12 adults and their 12 children- didn't arrive until 1851. They settled briefly at Alki Point, in today's West Seattle, before moving to a more hospitable area a few miles away on the eastern coast of the Sound-now the Pioneer Square Historic District adjacent to downtown Seattle. They named their village after a friendly tyee, or chief, of two local Native American tribes.
Among the original settlers were Arthur Denny and David S. "Doc" Maynard, soon joined by Henry Yesler who sought a site for a steam engine-powered sawmill. Denny and Maynard gave him a strip where their land holdings joined along the Seattle waterfront. Yesler reciprocated by turning the nascent city into an important lumber producer. Aided by animals, wood cutters slid, or "skidded" timber down a greased log road to the sawmill. In time, this "skid road" separated Seattle's respectable and wide-open neighborhoods. "Skid road" evolved into "skid row," a term that refers to the seedy part of a city.
Despite early problems such as skirmishes with the original inhabitants, floods, and economic insecurity, Seattle slowly grew. In 1860, the first federal census of Washington Territory counted 302 people in King County, most of them in Seattle. By 1870 Seattle's population had topped 1,100, and in 1880, 3,500. Cultural and social advances accompanied population growth. In 1861 the "Washington Territorial University" - today's University of Washington- opened although 15 years would pass before it granted Clara McCarty its first baccalaureate degree. The city's first newspaper, the Gazette, creaked off an old press in 1863. And in 1864 the first 11 " Mercer girls" arrived. These young women, recruited in the east by Asa Mercer, the Territorial University's youthful president, added substantially to the pool of marriageable women in a frontier society where men outnumbered women by a 10-to-1 ratio. Mercer brought another contingent of 34 marriageable young women to Seattle in 1866.
On July 17th, 1897, the steamship Portland docked in Seattle from St Michael, Alaska, carrying 68 prospectors and what newspapers said was "a ton of gold." Two days earlier a similarly laden ship had arrived in San Francisco from Alaska. What had been a trickle of prospectors soon turned into a stampede as newspapers spread word, telegraphed from Seattle, that a great quantity of gold had been found along a remote river in what is today the Yukon Territory of Canada. While it has been erroneously recorded, even to this day, that the Canada's Northwest Mounted Police required each person headed there to bring a year's supply of food and equipment, that was not to be the case.
This didn't stop the Seattle merchants from quickly exploiting this rumor, advertising the city far and wide as the "Gateway to the Gold Fields" - the place where all one's Klondike needs, from food and warm clothing to tents and transportation-could easily be fulfilled. As a result, some 30,000 to 40,000 of the estimated 70,000 stampeders, who outfitted to go to the Klondike, bought their "ton of provisions" in Seattle. The city prospered.
In 1900, Seattle's population had nearly doubled from 1890, to 80,000. Despite occasional downturns, economic and population growth continued in the 20th century, and into the 21st. Shipbuilding was a major industry early in the 20th. In 1916 William Boeing launched the company bearing his surname, now the world's largest aircraft manufacturer. In the 1970s Microsoft Corporation led the way in Seattle's becoming a world-wide computer technology center. The city's port evolved into a major depot for container ships, a grain exporting center, and in the early 2000s a summer base for Alaska-bound cruise ships. The University of Washington advanced to leadership among the country's research institutions. By 2008, with a population of 592,000, the city was the core of a growing metropolitan area totaling some 3.5 million people.
A Short History of the Klondike Gold Rush
“GOLD! GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!” screamed the banner headline of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on July 17, 1897. Smaller headlines following told of "Sixty-Eight Rich Men on the Steamer Portland" and "STACKS OF YELLOW METAL!" While the news of the gold strike on the Klondike River, a tributary of the Yukon River in northwestern Canada, near the border with Alaska, had been heard for almost a already a year before the Portland docked. It wwasn't till the sight of all that gold excited people across the globe, especially in North America. By noon that July day eager fortune seekers had booked the last berth on the Portland for the return trip to Alaska. Once there, they headed by riverboat up the Yukon to a mining camp near the gold strike called Dawson City, soon, though briefly, to become a boomtown.
Prospectors had found fairly good gold deposits in the Yukon River valley for decades. But on August 16, 1896, a member of a local Tagish tribe named Keish (known as Skookum Jim Mason by English speakers), his nephew Kaa Goox (called Tagish Charlie or Dawson Charlie), and his American brother-in-law, George Washington Carmack, struck pay dirt on a tributary of the Klondike they named Bonanza Creek. They filed claims the next day, triggering a scramble among prospectors already in the area for similar rich claims. Within a few months every potentially valuable claim along Bonanza Creek and nearby streams and hillsides had been staked, All this took place before word of the great discovery reached the outside world. When it did, almost a year later, the Klondike Gold Rush began.
Gold fever affected people from all walks of life. Even Seattle's mayor quit to join the stampede. Most were Americans and Canadians, but some came from almost every corner of the globe. Few had any idea of the hardships that awaited them on the way to, and in, the frozen north: climbing the steep, 3,000-foot Chilkoot Pass 40 or 50 times, for example, each time laden with a heavy load on one's back in order to bring into the desolate Yukon region enough food and supplies to last a year. Nor was taking the treacherous White Pass alternative any better. So many horses perished on this narrow, boulder-strewn route that it became know as the Dead Horse Trail. Once in the Yukon region, imagine yourself and a partner spending a dark and frigid winter chopping down trees so the logs could be whipsawed into planks or boards for a boat or raft. Such watercraft would be needed when the ice broke in the spring on the Yukon. Then you'd load your boat or raft with food and supplies, get in, push off, and hope you'd safely negotiate dangerous rapids, sandbars, and other obstacles. Finally, some 560 downstream miles later, you'd reach Dawson City. Imagine discovering, soon after arriving, that your dreams of riches are mostly just that: dreams. Of the 70,000 or so who would leave home for the Klondike historians estimated, only 40,000 actually set out on the Klondike Trail; with nearly thirty thousand reaching Dawson... 300 found gold in quantities large enough to call themselves rich. And out of these fortunate men, only the merest handful managed to keep their wealth."
Did You Know?
While the Yukon stampeders waited in Seattle for passage north a cottage industry of entertainment kept the town moving 24 hours a day.