Opening History North of the Columbia

Excerpted from "Pen Pictures from The Garden of the World - An Illustrated History of the State of Washington"
By Rev. H. K. Hines
Published by The Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, IL., 1893

Chapter XV, "Opening History North of the Columbia" (pp. 141-142)

American history fairly begun on Puget Sound just a decade after it began in the Willamette valley. It was on this wise. As the controversy concerning ownership of Oregon opened to the minds of the gentlemen of the Hudson's Bay Company, it became probable to Dr. McLaoughlin and his associates that Great Britain would not be able to vindicate her pretensions to the country south of the Columbia, but they hoped a compromise would be made on the line of that river as the boundary between the two countries. With this hope they discouraged all American settlement north of it, and it was not until the winter of 1844 and 1845 that any attempt was made to carry American occupancy to the shores of Puget Sound. The leader of this attempt was Michael T. Simmons, an emigrant of 1844, who had remained at Fort Vancouvery during the winter following his arrival in the country. It was doubtless his residence in the near neighborhood of these gentlemen, and his consequent information concerning their views and purposes that determined him to give emphasis of an actual American settlement to the other claims of the United States to that region. As this decision of Mr. Simmons made his name historic, as par excellence, the pioneer of Washington, it is suitable that we introduce him more ceremoniously to our readers.

Mr. Simmons was a stalwart Kentuckian, born in 1814, and inheriting the splendid physique and indomitable purpose and courage that have made Kentuckians so famous. Just past thirty when he reached the Pacific Coast, he was in the morning of his best powers of life. Independent, courageous, intensely American, what the Hudson's Bay people desired him not to do was the very thing that he would be most certain to perform. He therefore abandoned his previous purpose to settle in Southern Oregon, where they desired him to go, and resolved to go northward, where they desired him not to go, and see what it was in that region that was so enticing to British cupidity. Accordingly, in the winter of 1844 and 1845, with five companions, he attempted to penetrate the hundred miles of wilderness that lay between the Columbia river and Puget Sound. The company found the season too unpropitious for the exploration of such continuous and gigantic forests, and, after ascending the Cowlitz river about fifty miles they returned to Fort Vancouver. Yet his purpose was not abandoned, but only postponed. In July, with eight companions, he again set out, and finally reached Puget Sound under the guidance of Mr. Peter Borcier. He performed a canoe voyage as far as Whidbey Island, exploring different parts of the shore on his way, and fully satisfied himself of the commercial value of the country. Returning, he selected a picturesque spot at the head of the Budd's Inlet, the most souther extension of the waters of the Sound, at the Falls of Des Chutes river, as the site for his future home, and the first American settlement north of the Columbia. He then returned to Vancouver, and in October, accompanied by Messrs. James McAlister, David Kindred, Gabriel Jones, George W. Bush and their families, and S.B. Crocket and Jesse Ferguson, two single men, found his way back again to the place selected for their resettlement. These seven men were the first Americans to permanently locate on the Puget sound, and they belong to history as pioneers of Washington.

This first settlement occupied a radius of about six miles about the head of Budd's Inlet, and but a little south of where Olympia, the present capital of the State, now is. It was also not many miles from Nisqually, the headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company in that region, from which company, by order of Dr. McLoughlin, they received considerable mercantile favors, never, however, to the detriment of the company. Thus, nine years after the first American families had effected a settlement south of the Columbia, these people had performed the same patriotic office for the region of the Puget Sound.

No one entering this region at the present time can form any idea of the difficulty attending the enterprise of these people. The forests of the country were almost inpenetrable, and they covered nearly all its face. To open a trail from the Cowlitz river northward was the hard work of weeks, and then to make such an inroad upon the forests as to give any hope of future support for their families was a task that only brave and manly men would dare to undertake. But empire and destiny were in these men's hands and hearts, and they were equal to the work they had undertaken. But, as we think of it now, after fifty years, we wonder how these seven men, isolated 150 miles from any who could aid them, and surrounded by the savages of Puget Sound, who were watching with evil eye the inroads of the whites, succeeded in establishing themselves and their families in this then most inhospitable region. That they did marks them as heroes.

Note from the transcriber (Alice Harrison): The "evil eye" of the "savages", was really not that evil. Most of the Tribes north of the Columbia river were peaceful and very helpful to the settlers and were already trading peacefully with the Hudson's Bay people. This first wave of settlers had a very amiable relationship with the natives here. The second wave of settlers was a different story.

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