The sources used below may be found on the Bibliography page. The following information may be used freely for personal research and by non-profit groups, but may not be reprinted in any way for profit. Thank you.
The early history of white settlement in Washington Territory (which was part of the Oregon Territory until 1850) was dominated by the Hudson Bay Company, who sought to expand their trading and agricultural pursuits in the northwest. During this time, the land that made up Washington Territory had been claimed by the British government. However, as a result of the treaty which established the 49th parallel as the division between American and British territory, the British lost Washington Territory to the U.S. Government. Thus ended the heydey of the Hudson Bay Company in western Washington. In 1844, the Oregon Territorial government created Clark county out of the Vancouver District (which comprised most of what is now Western Washington and British Columbia). In 1845, Lewis County was created from Clark county. Of course, Lewis and Clark counties were named after Capt. Merriwether Lewis and Lt. William Clark, leaders of the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition that spent the winter of 1805-1806 in the Oregon Territory. Clark county comprised present-day Clark and Skamania counties, while Lewis made up the rest of the former Clark county. From Lewis, four other counties were created: Pacific (1851); Thurston (and subsequently Pierce; 1852); Cowlitz (1854) and Wahkiakum (1854).
One of the first settlers in the Cowlitz County region was Peter Crawford, a native of Scotland, who became a well-known surveyor in the Oregon Territory. His donation land claim was near the present-day site of Kelso. The Cowlitz, Lincoln and Columbia Rivers became the sites of numerous settlements as these rivers provided the most convenient forms of transportation. The first school was built in Monticello (near present-day Longview) in the Fall of 1850. The school was built by Alexander and Nathaniel Stone, Harry Darby Huntington, Seth Catlin, Jonathan Burbee and Peter Crawford. The first teacher was Fredrick Huntress (Summers, p. 182).
The early settlers of Cowlitz County were very involved in the move to create a separate Washington Territory. On August 20, 1851, the first planning convention was held at the home of John R. Jackson in Lewis County. The convention drafted a memorial creating a territory north of the Columbia River separate from the Oregon Territory and to be named the Columbia Territory. Seth Catlin, Jonathan Burbee, and Fredrick Huntress were the representatives from the Cowlitz County area. It was decided that a second convention would be held later to draft a final memorial. On November 25, 1852, at Harry Darby Huntington's home in Monticello, the Monticello Convention was signed, asking for the establishment of a Washington Territory. Among the signers were Huntington, Seth Catlin, Nathaniel Stone, Jonathan Burbee, Peter Crawford, and his brother Alec (Summers, p. 192). The Monticello Convention was forwarded to the U.S. Congress, who ratified the convention, with the one exception that the territory be named Washington instead of Columbia. President Millard Fillmore signed the order on March 3, 1853 (Summers, p. 192).
Upon the creation of Washington Territory, Isaac Stevens was appointed the first governor. Seth Catlin and Harry Darby Huntington were the first representatives of the Cowlitz County region in the Territory legislature (Summers, p. 214). Hunt and Kaylor (p. 446) described the establishment of Cowlitz County: "Famous old Monticello became the county seat of Cowlitz County when the Legislature on April 1, 1854, adopted the bill introduced by H. D. Huntington March 8. Thomas Roe, Alexander S. Abernathy and Taylor Rue were the first commissioners; Charles Holman, auditor; Alexander Crawford, treasurer; James Huntington, sheriff; Nathaniel Ostrander, probate judge; Benjamin Huntington, assessor; Nathaniel Stone and W. H. Harris, justices of the peace." The name Cowlitz was taken from that of a local Indian tribe, Cow-e-lis-kee. Peter Crawford was elected the first county surveyor in 1855, and held that position for 28 years (Summers, p. 225).
The county seat changed several times. Monticello became an inconvenient location as there was no place for county officials to meet on a regular basis. On November 13, 1865, voters elected to move the seat to Freeport, where Nathaniel Stone's warehouse provided a site for county meetings (Summers, p. 233-34). In 1866, the county commissioned Victor Wallace to build a desk specifically for county business, which was used for over eighty years (and is now on display at the Cowlitz County Historical Museum) (Summers, p. 242-43). In 1872, Kalama was voted the new county seat as it became an important transportation center with construction of a north-south railway connecting Vancouver to Tacoma. Kazana House served as the county courthouse from 1876 to 1922 (Summers, p. 242-44). The current county seat, Kelso, was selected in 1922 (Summers, p. 294).
Sheila Tate (of Woodland, WA) submitted this interesting tidbit about transportation in early Cowlitz County: (From Quarterly "Port of Woodland", 141 Davidson Ave, Woodland, WA 98674.):
"In this modern day and age, it is very difficult to visualize what obstacles early day pioneers faced with transportation. In 1903, the transportation by rail to Seattle was quite an ordeal. On the Washington side, the rail line went from Vancouver and ended in Woodland. Because of the terrain, no rail lines were built from Woodland to Kalama until 1908. If rail cars were needed to go to Seattle, they were taken by rail to Goble, Oregon, loaded on the ferry "Tacoma", and ferried across to Kalama, Washington. From there, the rail line completed its journey to Seattle."
The population of Cowlitz County enumerated in the 2000 census was 92,948. The list of towns and communities was taken from the US Geological Survey for Cowlitz County, from the Washington State Highway map, and from "Postmarked Washington: Lewis and Cowlitz County," by Guy Ramsey. Every attempt has been made to find information on these locations, but in some cases the towns have vanished without record. If you have any information to contribute, or wish to make corrections to what I have, please do not hesitate to contact me!
More historical information can be found here:
- Washington History website.
- Cowlitz County - Thumbnail History - article written by David Wilma for HistoryLink.org
The Immigration of 1844 - This is an excerpt from Hubert Howe Bancroft's "History of Oregon," which includes a listing of all known emigrants to Oregon Territory in 1844, and biographies of some of these emigrants. Many of these emigrants became well-known pioneers in Cowlitz County. I have created a database of these immigrants, annotating as many names as possible with known resources. Contributions welcome!