(Robert W. Fraser, Forts of the West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965. p.174 75.)

Established August 28, 1849. Located at the present town of Steilacoom, a few miles south of Tacoma, near the head but more than a mile east of Puget Sound. Established to protect the settlers in the area, principally those in the vicinity of the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Nisqually, from Indian depredations.

Established by Captain Bennet H. Hill, First U.S. Artillery. The post was located on land belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company. Erected under the direction of Second Lieutenant Grier Tallmadge, 4th U.S. Artillery, acting assistant quartermaster.

Originally referred to as the "Post on Puget Sound," or simply "Steilacoom." Named for the Steilacoom River, a small stream near the post. Abandoned on April 22, 1868.

On April 15, 1874, a portion of the reservation was donated to the Territory of Washington, which there established the Western State Hospital for the Insane. The remaining portion of the military reservation was transferred to the Interior Department on July 22, 1884. The post buildings were sold on January 15, 1870.

(Robert W. Fraser, Forts of the West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965 p. 174-75)


(E.P. Alexander, "Memoirs of E.P. Alexander" typescript at the University of North Carolina.)

The sappers with whom I came to serve were under command of 1st Lieut. Thomas Lincoln Casey of the engineers and I had known him slightly at West Point before I went to Utah. His wife, Emma, was a daughter of dear old Professor Robert Weir, professor of drawing at West Point.

Perhaps this is as good a place as any to say that among all the many friendships which Miss Teen and I have made, in our varied journeyings, our friendship with the Caseys was one of the very dearest and it has proved the very longest of all in its duration. It continues today with poor Mrs. Casey. Tom having died last year, after being retired as Brig. General and Chief of Engineers, though still charged with and having nearly completed one of the great works of his life, the Congressional Library in Washington City.

Tom and Emma met us on the dock at Steilacoom City and drove up in the post ambulance to the fort, where we became the guests of his father, Lt. Colonel Silas Casey of the 9th Infantry, who was in command of the post. I am tempted to linger a little over our six months stay at Fort Steilacoom. As I look back at it, now it seems to have been the last of my youth.

Never to, or during that time, did I begin to realize what care and responsibility may mean. I had a position for life and an assured support in the profession I loved and I had only to get the most pleasure that I could out of my surroundings.

I kept up some professional reading and study and I worked a bit at two proposed patents I had in mind for projectiles to give greatly increased ranges. (One was for a projectile with a hole through its long axis; and one was for a flat projectile to sail like an aeroplane.

Some Germans are just perfecting this hole through the center invention now and getting very wonderful results. The aeroplane idea I am sure will also be utilized, probably to throw dynamite.) But my company duties were very light and I had plenty of time for shooting, fishing, playing chess and for social pleasures.

Our garrison consisted, besides the sappers of two companies of the 9th infantry. The other officers, besides the Casey mentioned, were Captain Thomas English; Lieut. David McKibben, both married; Lieut. Arthur Shaaf; Quartermaster Major "Nosey" Myers; Chaplain Rev. Mr. Kendig (married); Paymaster Major A. B. Ragan, with Mrs. Ragan and two adopted children (Frank and Wyly B.( and her brother, John Ector; the surgeon Dr. Brown and family soon succeeded however by young Dr. Vansant and he later by Dr. Heger. In Colonel Casey's household beside Mrs. Casey were also his two sweet daughters, Abbie who while we were there married Captain Hunt of the 4th Infantry and beautiful Bessie with her lovely eyes, who afterwards became Mrs. Robert N. Scott.

Besides these families there was the family of the sutler, a Mr. Bacheler, who were visited by the ladies and there were also Capt. Fauntleroy in command of the armed steamer Massachusetts with his wife.

The Massachusetts did not belong to the Navy, but was kept by the army to protect the settlers and Puget Sound Indians from a very warlike Alaska Tribe, the Stikines, who sometimes made incursions in immense war canoes carrying 60 warriors each. Captain Fauntleroy was a Virginian, son of a former army officer, celebrated as a great rifle shot and he had with him a Midshipman Barron son of Commodore Barron who I think fought a duel with Commodore Decatur.

We stayed with Colonel Casey as his guests for about two weeks. He quarters were a double cottage, l/2 stories facing the center of the parade ground; 4 rooms and 2 shed rooms on the lower floor and four rooms in the l/2 story above. On each side of it were three other cottages with two full rooms and two shed rooms below and two rooms in the 1/2 story above.

After looking around we found our only chance for quarters was to divide the cottage next on the right to Colonel Casey's with Lieut. Shaaf who being unmarried only needed half of the downstairs. He took the rooms on ones' left entering.

The right front room, on entering was our parlor and dining room. The rear or shed room was the kitchen. Upstairs, the upstairs rooms had no fire places, our bedroom was over our parlor which was the side next to Colonel Casey's and Anne our cook and house girl whom we had brought from West Point had the room over Shaaf's parlor for her bedroom.

It took us some little time to find all the furniture, bedding etc. we needed to go to housekeeping, but we finally got fixed sending thirty miles to Olympia the capital for some things, getting some in Steilacoom and some at Nisqually, a fort or station of the Hudson Bay Company on the prairie about six miles to the south.

Mount Rainier, in the southeast, across the parade ground, towered high above the Cascade Range which bounds the horizon there, apparently some forty to fifty miles away. The country is one of interspersed prairie and forests of fir, with many little lakes scattered about, a dozen or more within an hour's walk.

Since the war the fort has been given to the territory for an insane asylum and Miss Teen and I revisited it in 1892. Colonel Casey's quarters and our house on the right and Tom Casey's on its left were the only buildings left of the officers quarters existing in our day, but some of the old soldiers barracks still stood and the old trees about the vicinity and we walked out to the little lake nearby where we used to walking the old days of our honeymoon and cut our initials on a tree with the dates '61 and '92.

One of our favorite walks, too, was to a little mill pond, about a mile north on a stream flowing into the Sound, a deep ravine. Here Miss Teen would sit on the bank and read while I, out on a log could always catch a fine string of brook trout in a little while.

Indeed we nearly lived on game and fish. I bought a nice pony which Colonel Casey kept in his stable, for the privilege of joint use by his daughters and once a week I would ride down to the mouth of the Puyallup River, where the City of Tacoma is now situated, and leaving Charley, the pony, at the house of a Swede named DeLinn who had a little shingle mill on a little brook emptying into the Sound I would walk up a mile or two to the Indian village on the Puyallup River and get an Indian to take me in his Kynim to paddle around the flats and creeks at the mouth of the river for a cultus mimeloose Kulla Kulla or for amusement kill ducks. I could usually get fifteen or twenty by the time he would land me at Delinns and if I cared to get any pheasants I could always get them in an adjacent crab apple thicket with Mrs. Delinns little dog.

About five miles southeast form the fort was a large late, about one mile wide by four long which was a great resort for wild geese to roost in. At least twice every week I would get up long before day and saddle Charley and by dawn would be on the far side of the lake to get a shot at the geese as they flew for their feeding grounds and I usually brought one or two and one afternoon I walked out and back and brought in seven.

Occasionally too I would go deer hunting on the islands in the sound with Capt. Fauntleroy, but only once did we get a deer. Then I killed it, running in the woods, one hundred yards off by a wonderful chance shot, with the old small bore rifle of Capt. Fauntleroy's father, the bullet hitting it in the neck and cutting the jugular vein.

Once I was sent by Colonel Casey on a three days trip over to some settlements on the White River, where it was reported that there were hostile demonstrations by Indians, but the alarm proved unfounded.

Once every five or six days, I was on duty as officer of the day. Our guard had charge of a few very hard cases, deserters, etc. serving long terms. One day one of these fellows mutinied and getting an iron bar cleared the upstairs room in which they were confined and threatened to kill anyone who came up. The sergeant of the guard ran over to my house for me and I went over and advanced on the fellow with my sword when he retreated into his cell where he gave up and submitted to hand cuffs.

By the excitement of the winter was caused by the going crazy of my intimate associate, John Ector, who lived with the Ragans in the cottage adjoining us on the right. As the Ragans were from Georgia and the old major, a charming and hospitable gentleman, we became very intimate and Ector and I used to be together a great deal especially to play chess a great deal.

Some time early in February, 1861, his conduct began to be a little peculiar at times. He got excited upon religious subjects and began to show that exaggerated self appreciation which is so often a sign of incipient insanity. At last it became necessary to have him watched constantly and one night they sent for me about 4:00 a.m. to come over, for he had a violent fit and had driver two soldiers who were nursing him and Major Ragan out of the house with a poker, breaking the bones of one man's hand.

I went over hurriedly in dressing gown and slippers and got him in his room and disarmed him, but had to stay with him till breakfast time, at 8:30 a.m. when he insisted on going over to my house to get my guns and pistol to kill all the people on the post whom he thought were plotting against him.

I got him out on the porch and there a half dozen soldiers brought up behind a fence made a dash on him and after a hard fight tied him. After that he had to be kept in an out house in a straight jacket and his feet fastened to a staple in the floor.

When we all came home in April and May as has yet to be told, Ector was brought along, always with his arms in a straight jacket and his feet tied together and fastened to the floor of a cabin on the steamers or a room in hotels and transferred by main force when necessary and generally making his vicinity known by howling and yelling, crying fire or murder or both, and vituperating every person he saw with a most extensive vocabulary of billingsgate and profanity.

Poor Major Ragan! Mrs. Ragan, Ector's half sister, was not very far from being crazy herself, even before Ector became son and his affliction made her very excited and unreasonable and hard to do anything with. Then the major had a brother of his own with him, I fort his name, a little old man, who I had forgotten until now and who could not help getting maudlin drunk whenever he could get a chance and chances had to be allowed him or he would have D. T. and Mrs. R. had also a miserable pet poodle dog named Annette which she cared for as much as for her adopted boys, Frank and Wyly. 

And the poor Major had to make that trip from Fort Steilacoom to George with that menagerie, Mrs. Ragan, Ector (the) major's brother, Frank, Wyly B. and Annette. Duly I will tell what happened to Annette on the journey when I come to that.

After getting to New York he took Ector to an asylum in Philadelphia where he was cured within a year and came down to Georgia. And in 1874 he visited us in Opelika Alabama, and scared Miss Teen awfully, for she had no confidence in his recovery and when I, manoeuvering to bring a long, long tedious and trying visit to a termination said I must go down to my office for a while, Miss Teen nearly fainted at the idea of being left alone with him and she believes to this day that I put her in great danger in making the suggestion. But fortunately it worked and Ector went off with me and did not come back.

For social amusements we had a very occasional hop at some sort of a semi public room or hall, I can't now recall exactly what and once some wretched travelling minstrels gave a show to which Miss Teen and I took Bessie Casey and I remember Joseph Bowers snag to the grinding of a coffee mill used in imitation of a hand organ. Once or twice we had attempts at sleigh rides with dry goods boxes on makeshift runners when we h ad a few inches of snow, but it usually melted in a day and we had to come back through the mud.

Once the little pond we used to walk to froze over so hard that Colonel Casey though he might cut some ice and he walked out there with Miss Teen, Bessie Casey and an orderly. The orderly thought the ice was strong enough and walked far out where the water was very deep when he broke through and would have drowned and not Miss Teen taken an oar and walked out near enough to give it to him while Bessie Casey ran back to the barracks nearly a half a mile and brought help. The oar enabled the soldier to hold up until ropes were brought and he was hauled out.

Sometimes we had riding or walking excursions or picnics with some of the ladies and sometimes pistol practice for them and Miss Teen generally beat them all.

As the spring approached she and I used to take long walks just to pick the beautiful yellow violets of which the woods were full. Bless the memories of old Fort Steilacoom! Though possibly they are seeming peculiarly dear today as I write them, June 9, 1897, way down in Greytown, Nicaragua, where lonesomeness has its own abode and homesickness its everlasting habitation.

(E.P. Alexander, "Memoirs of E. P. Alexander," typescript at the University of North Carolina. written June 9, 1897.).



(William J. Betts, "Briton one of first farmers in this area, started operations near Fort Nisqually," Tacoma Sunday Ledger, April 14, 1963.).

When we need a loaf of bread we need only to hop in the family automobile and head for the corner supermarket where we may find stacks and stacks of it neatly wrapped and sliced, all ready for sandwiches or morning toast. In fact we have become so used to these modern conveniences we give them little thought and become irritated when temporarily deprived of them for one reason or another.

Life, was not always like this, however. Back when Washington was neither state nor territory, when the British still occupied Fort Nisqually, things were very much different. When Joseph Thomas Heath, one of the first Britons to settle on a farm in the Puget Sound Country, wanted something he had to order for a whole year in advance.

Pioneer Heath wrote in his diary for January 17, 1845: "Making out a requisition for things from Fort Vancouver for the ensuing year. My brain is much puzzled; constantly think out what will be necessary.

Came indoors twenty times today to put down things that struck my mind."

And if Heath did not think of everything that he needed he had but one recourse, go without until his next order of supplies was forth coming from Fort Vancouver.

If we wish to make a fast trip today, to use a modern analogy, we may fly to Europe by jet, reaching our destination in a matter of hours. Or closer to home, it takes but a short time to drive to Portland. Now let's see how one traveled in the 1840s.

Heath left England on the Hudson's Bay Company's bark Cowlitz  on September 20, 1843, arriving at Fort Vancouver more than nine months later, June 1, 1844. Of course he saw much more of the world than the modern traveler who flies by jet aircraft. The Cowlitz sailed around Cape Horn, across the Pacific stopping at the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), thence north to Sitka, Alaska, the Russian fur trade capital, and then down the coast to the Columbia River.

After crossing the treacherous Columbia River bar there was a short sail up the wide estuary to Fort Vancouver his final destination.


Heath was still not through with water even though he had been nearly a year at sea; in order to get to his final destination on the Puget Sound he still had to voyage up the Cowlitz River. This was a long and tedious journey in flat bottomed grain boats which h ad to be navigated against the swift current of the river.

After Heath arrived at Cowlitz Landing the going became comparatively easy; from here he traveled by horseback to Fort Nisqually arriving there June 22, 1844, some ten months after he had sailed from England.

Under the Joint Occupation Treaty between England and the United States, each country had equal rights to settle a vast land extending from California north to Alaska and east to the Rocky Mountains, known as the Oregon Country. The British through the Hudson's Bay Company was not interested, primarily, in the actual settlement of the Northwest but rather in the harvest of the animal furs. In fact, settlement could actually end its fur monopoly.

It was not until Dr. John McLoughlin came to Fort Vancouver as chief factor that the policy of the Hudson's Bay Company was changed. Dr. McLoughlin soon realized the great potential the Northwest had for raising cattle, sheep, grain, and other food stuffs. He imported cattle and sheep and began to raise wheat on the flat country above the Cowlitz.

He at first could supply only the needs of Fort Vancouver but soon, under his expert management, there began a surplus of wheat and cattle by which he could supply the needs of other Hudson's Bay Company factories. Later he was even able to negotiate a trade agreement with the Russians at Sitka for wheat and cattle.


The enterprise, separate from the regular work of Fort Vancouver, was called the Cowlitz Farms, a large acreage on the prairie around what is today Chehalis. The farm was worked by retired men from the Hudson's Bay Company who had very little experience in farming. When another farm, chiefly for the raising of cattle and sheep was established near Fort Nisqually on Roy Prairie, Dr. McLoughlin realized that experienced farmers should be encouraged to come out from England in an effort to settle the country north of the Columbia ahead of the Americans.

It was for this reason that Heath was now locating a farm somewhere on Puget Sound. He was a vanguard of British farmers needed to settle the Northwest.

Heath brought a letter of introduction from Dr. McLoughlin to the factor at Fort Nisqually, Dr. William F. Tolmie...Dr. Tolmie informed the new farmer that land was available on Vancouver Island as well as at the vicinity of Fort Nisqually. Heath decided to look the northern site over before he made his choice.

Once again the sturdy Englishman found himself on the water, in an Indian dugout canoe this time, with squat brown, Nisquallies the crewmen. After many stops and starts the large cedar canoe arrived at Victoria. Heath looked the available lands over but decided to return to Fort Nisqually where the land seemed more suitable for his needs. He finally chose a sport, formerly occupied by a retired Hudson Bay man, some six miles north of the fort.


Dr. Tolmie had no authority to issue the necessary supplies to Heath which was the sole province of the chief factor at Fort Vancouver. So Heath had to return to the fort on the Columbia to secure a letter of credit for his winter supplies and then retrace his route back up the Cowlitz and over the prairie to Fort Nisqually. He finally arrived there during the first part of December, 1844. Without the supplies he could never survive the winter on his farm.

Heath was not the first person to be helped over the first difficult year of settling the new country by Dr. McLoughlin. That generous hearted man often had helped Americans who had arrived to the Oregon Country destitute and starving after their long trek by wagon from the east.

The good and wise factor, when newcomers asked where to settle, always steered them south of the Columbia into the Willamette Valley. He hoped, which was only natural considering that he was a British subject by doing so that the land north of the Columbia would be secured for the Crown.

On December 13, Heath moved from Fort Nisqually to his farm. There was an old cabin deserted by the former tenant in a sad state of repair which Heath hoped to make livable. A storm had damaged the roof and the chinking of moss was all gone from between the logs. Heath set about making repairs on his cabin with the help of his hired hand, an Indian by the name of Klapat, an individual quite skilled in the use of carpentry tools as well as in tippling from a rum bottle.


After the cabin roof was repaired, the moss clinking replaced between the logs, Heath placed a wainscoting of cedar bark inside to help conserve the heat from the fire place. He also constructed some furniture, a table, two stools, and a bunk bed, all from cedar planks hand split from large logs.

When the Indians learned that Heath was willing to buy split cedar rails, they moved in bag and baggage. They established a village near his cabin, complete with women, children, and yowling dogs. The gave the poor English settler little peace, entering his cabin when ever they felt like it. An Indian felt it an insult to lock your door against him. They borrowed his horses without asking.

Heath understood that the Indian customs were not like his and tried not be irritated with them.

There were large flocks of sheep kept on the Roy Prairie by the Hudson's Bay Company as well as cattle. Englishmen were employed as shepherds and Heath made friends with one of them, often inviting him to have dinner with him. In his diary, Heath tells of the wolves coming down from the mountains, due to heavy snows, preying on the sheep.

Once his shepherd friend was attacked by wolves and he had great difficulty driving them off as he had forgotten to bring a rifle with him that day. There were great losses of sheep and cattle due to the depredation of the wolves and cougars that year. The loss of stock meant great suffering to the early settlers who often had great difficulty replacing them, if they were lucky to find some for sale.


Heath was not without visitors to his tiny cabin. We read in his diary:

"...four Canadians and their Indian wives dropped in about supper time..."

Heath had only enough food prepared for himself and his shepherd friend but luckily there were ducks and biscuits to cook. The visitors had to wait a while for their food which they didn't seem to mind, talking all the while about farming and the fur trade that they had at one time carried on for the Hudson's Bay Company.

Heath complained about their big appetites but was, however, happy to feed them from his ample food supply.

The seed that Heath had secured from Dr. Tolmie was full of weeds. Being the good farmer that he was, he felt that it would be best to separate the weeds from the wheat. This was a task that he relegated to Indian women. Out of three bushels of wheat one bushel was weed seed.

Heath wrote in his diary:

"Completed picking wheat, commenced sorting peas, white and maple from all sorts and  colors, most tedious, worse than wheat. It is expensive but necessary in order to  obtain true kinds and this is the only means of doing it.

"I do not plow more than half an acre a day. Am confined to the house all day to prevent the women from stealing peas. I know they do do, but cannot detect them. They are most expert."

And so it went for Heath the farmer. A man dedicated to the art of tilling the soil. A man who had hopes of someday owning the best farm on the Puget Sound. His hopes were never to materialize.


Heath had no way of knowing but at that very moment, during all of the days he worked so hard, emigrants from the eastern United States were streaming into the Oregon Country. No longer could Dr. McLoughlin persuade them to go south; more and more people were pushing into the Puget Sound country. The Americans began to out number the British north of the Columbia River.

On June 15, 1846,a treaty was signed in Washington D.C. which terminated the joint occupancy of the Oregon Country. England conceded her claim to all the land up to the 49th parallel.

When Heath heard the news his crop of wheat and peas were ready for the harvest. He was an alien who no longer owned the farm on which he had worked so hard...

We owe Joseph Hath a vote of thanks. He was not only a very good farmer but a meticulous jotter down of details. His diary gives us a clear insight into the trying times that the early farmer suffered through. Much of early Puget Sound history is revealed through his journals. When we read Heath's words we realize how far we've come in just a little over one hundred years.

EDITORIAL COMMENT: Mr. Betts noted that William F. Tolmie was a newcomer to Fort Nisqually when Heath arrived. Tolmie was present when the fort was founded in 1833. Mr. Betts also noted that Heath later returned to England. Heath died while still owning his farm which later became the site of Fort Steilacoom.

(William J. Betts, "Briton One of First Farmers in This Area," Tacoma Sunday Ledger, April 14, 1963.). 


(Charles F.A. Mann, "Land Reclamation by Silting," Scientific American. April 1930, p. 275+ ).

A unique and one of the most successful of the many reclamation schemes in use on the air lands of the west was originated by Dr. Charles E. Taylor, superintendent of Western Washington Hospital, located near Tacoma, Washington, on the farm lands of the institution.

This hospital, the largest operated by the State, was established shortly after Washington was admitted into the Union. Because of its proximity to the densely populated area bordering on Puget Sound, this location was chosen despite the fact that the entire area is part of an immense glacial moraine, left by a mighty glacier that at one time swept southwesterly down the slopes of Mount Rainier Tacoma and emptied its icebergs into the deep waters of Puget Sound.

Cultivation of crops on the loose sandy soil of this area has long been a hopeless task, requiring excessive application of black dirt and water to form a soil that would nourish plants as well as hold moisture.

Some idea of this peculiar formation may be gained by consideration of the fact that one of the world's largest gravel pits is operated at tidewater, just two miles below the hospital, which is at an elevation of about four hundred feet. Test borings indicate that this glacial deposit on which part of the City of Tacoma, as well as the institution is situated is from three hundred to nine hundred feet deep and of unusually uniform size. The sand is nearly all of white quartz silica composition.

Upon assuming charge of the institution several years ago, Dr. Taylor at once set about to discover means to improve the general productiveness of the seven hundred acre farm operated by patients of the institution, from which a major portion of its food supply is derived. For years the institution had taken many prizes from its displays at local agricultural fairs, but these prize crops were all grown by a patient in his small garden situated near the shores of Waughop Lake, from whence comes the irrigation water supply used during the summer months.

Dr. Taylor found that this man was mixing his garden soil with a blackish pasty substance which he dug from the shores of the lake when excessive pumping had lowered its surface during summer months.

Tests of the composition of this deposit showed it to be a pure vegetable mold, of bluish green color, that had been accumulating for centuries on the bottom of the lake. Since its decay had taken place under water, practically all of its mineral content had been retained. It is of almost powdery fineness, a small quantity shaken with water requiring over thirty hours to settle out. 

In its lower strata it took the formation of a thick vegetable jelly. Tests with iron piping driven into the bottom showed the deposit to be nearly two hundred feet thick.

Tracing the course of the glacial moraine, scientists have found it to be about twenty four miles wide at its widest part, running inland into the rock y foothills of Mount Rainier Tacoma for a distance of about forty five miles. The sudden termination of the deposit in these foothills is explained by the fact that the 14,408 foot volcanic cone was at one time about 3,000 feet higher; a gigantic explosion, which must have made the explosion of Krakatoa in Java Strait in modern times a puny affair, scattered the entire top and its masses of ice over a very wide area.

Because of the heavy precipitation on the mountain and the higher altitude of the older cone, the ice pack was forced clear to tidewater, carrying its burden of pulverized rock and sand with it. At the present time many small lakes are scattered over its face, yet only in very recent times have scrub oak and the persistent Douglas Fir with its flat, fan like root structure, gained a foothold on the loose sandy soil.

Traces of the one time glacier have manifested themselves in freakish ways throughout the area. In the northern part of Thurston County there is an area of ground covered with peculiar mounds of gravel. On the soil of these mounds, for the presence of which no explanation can be made, only buttercups and coarse grass grow for a short while each spring although on the heavy clay of Tacoma nearby plant growth is luxuriant the year round.

After careful study, Dr. Taylor found that many of the lakes over this section had similar deposits of the soft mold, which accounted for water remaining on the sandy silt. It is commonly believed by people living on the shores of these lakes that any attempt to drain the lakes in order to remove snags and stumps will break this seal and ruin the property.

Real estate developers are always poetic about describing the virtues and picturesqueness of the snags and stumps, so the lake are never drained for cleaning.

If small scale use of this deposit as fertilizer and binder was successful, why not use it on a large scale and test its merits on a public farm? Thus would be proved for the small farmer the possibility of using land that is not worth over twenty five dollars an acre for crops in its present state.

Dr. Taylor also wondered whether the lake, which is about thirty acres in extent, was not fed by springs instead of merely being a drainage pocket for rain water. Accordingly plans were made for placing the irrigation pump on a barge near the center of the lake.

Early in 1927 the pump was started delivering three hundred gallons per minute, and by autumn the lake was dry. The object was to expose the mud until it was hard enough to shovel out onto trucks. When the bottom was exposed it was discovered that three springs with an inflow of about one hundred fifty gallons per minute kept the bottom stirred up and continually wet.

Tests of the fresh mud rising to the surface showed that it was fine enough to be pumped through the entire irrigation system, even through sprinklers with quarter inch nozzles!

With one stroke it was possible to eliminate expensive hauling of heavy black dirt from the valleys below and to irrigate the land and spread the mud which both sealed the loose sandy formation and fertilized it at the same time all in one operation.

The swiftly revolving blades of the centrifugal pump, which was driven by a twelve horse power motor, using current costing nine cents per hour, helped to mash the small lumps of the blue ooze. Soon the material was pouring over the fields through sprinklers and irrigation ditches at the rate of one hundred fifty gallons per minute.

It had the consistency of thick pea soup. The water soon filtered into the sand leaving the fresh humus to mix with the top soil. Steady flow of the springs during the year made it possible to spread a four inch deposit on the entire farm. Dr. Taylor points out that there is still no explanation for the existence of the vegetable matter in the lake unless it was caused by the constant drifting of grass and leaves which dropped into the three sided pocket.

To the astonishment of agriculturists at the Western Washington station in Puyallup three crops of alfalfa were grown on a field during 1928. Puget Sound climate was supposed to be bad for this crop, with most of its growing centered in the volcanic ash soils of eastern Washington.

Cabbage was grown where even fir trees previously had a hard struggle. Celery grew three feet high last year, on soil that formerly would not support plain grass. In 1927 thirteen acres devoted to corn yielded 148 tons. In 1928 over 200 tons came from the same patch.

Costs for fertilizer and soil hauling were cut to a quarter those of former years and with increased yields. Rutabaga turnips for stock feeding reach ten to sixteen pounds in size.

The success of Dr. Taylor's experiment has attracted wide attention throughout the northwest and it is believed that further projects will be undertaken to utilize the properties of this vegetable mold that is so widely deposited in western mountain and hillside lakes. Costs are limited to pump, power, and labor for digging ditches or running pipelines. Countless thousands of level prairies that are adjacent to lake deposits such as this are scattered over the west.

Application of water alone to these areas would be without result, but the practicability of obtaining this vegetable humus from these natural store houses and supplying it to the soil, would open up an entirely new field for application of the principles of reclamation on a restorative scale.

(Charles F.A.Mann. "Land Reclamation by Silting," Scientific American. April, 1930, pp.276 77.). 

William J. Betts, "Historic Fort's Remains," Tacoma News Tribune and Sunday Ledger. October 3, 1965.

They are the oldest buildings in Pierce County, if not the state. For 108 years they have withstood the ravages of weather, termites, and carpenter ants, not to mention a few earthquakes.

These are the four residences on the grounds of Western State Hospital, all that remains of old Fort Steilacoom. Perhaps it will be just a matter of time until bulldozer and wrecking crane relegate these beautiful examples of pioneer home building to the musty pages of our history books.

And what a history it will be! Old Fort Steilacoom was there when the Nisquallies, the Puyallups and lesser tribes fought against white man's rule. If was there when the Hudson's Bay Company closed the doors of Nisqually House for the last time. It was there to comfort many a notable Army officer. Yes, those old buildings represent a heap of history.

When the Oregon country became a territory of the United States, after the settlement of the Joint Occupation Treat, in 1849, the newly appointed governor, General Joseph Lane, who had distinguished himself in the Mexican War, very early saw the need to establish some sort of a military post on Puget Sound. Each month brought more and more immigrants into the region.

Establishment Ordered.

Governor Lane ordered Captain Bennett R. Hill with fourteen privates and one bugler, to proceed to Olympia for the purpose of establishing a fort or post. Captain Hill and his men went down the Columbia to the Cowlitz River and thence up that waterway all by boat to Cowlitz Landing where they went overland by horse and wagon to Olympia which was the only settlement on the Sound at the time. Neither Seattle nor Tacoma had been dreamed of yet.

Captain Hill scouted around the country for a suitable location to build a fort. He didn't wish to build too far from Olympia as the majority of the newcomers wee settling in this area.

While looking the country over Hill visited Fort Nisqually which was still under the jurisdiction of the Hudson's Bay Company. Doctor William F. Tolmie, the chief factor, greeted Captain Hill with a cordial welcome as he did all visitors to Nisqually House.

Told About Property.

Hill was told about a farm lying to the north of Fort Nisqually that belonged to a British subject who was now dead. Would he be interested in it?

The farm in question was the Joseph Heath place, six miles west and north of Nisqually House. Joseph Heath had come to the Puget Sound country several years before to try to recoup a lost fortune. He leased some six hundred forty acres of land from the Hudson's Bay Company and with the help of local Indians erected a home and farm buildings.

He cultivate about thirty acres and the rest was used to graze cattle and sheep.

When the United States acquired the Oregon Country, Heath decided to return to England but died in 1849 before he could leave.

The Heath farm was graced with a large natural spring from which cool drinking water could be obtained the year around. It was because of this as well as the farm buildings that Captain Hill decided in favor of it.

Twenty acres rented.

The United States government with Hill acting as agent, rented twenty acres from the Heath farm from the Hudson's Bay Company for twenty dollars a month.

On October 1, 1849, Captain Hill with his cadre of men moved out to the Heath farm using the house and farm buildings to live in until ore suitable structures could be built. The United States later took title to the full six hundred forty acres and it became the first United States military reservation north of Fort Vancouver.

By 1853 the new fort had many new buildings, including some of those remaining today. The general plan of the fort was like that of most forts of the day. It was built in the form of a square with a large parade ground in the center.

On the west side were the officer's quarters and headquarters; to the north was a large barracks for the enlisted men and some buildings. Arranged around the other two sides were warehouses, a stable, hospital, etc.

But in no sense were the buildings a fortification that could be used against hostile Indians, the buildings themselves could be used in case of an Indian attack but there was no wall nor bastion as at Fort Nisqually, for instance. The old idea of the fortified quadrangle, so often pictured by writers of the old west, was never intended for Fort Steilacoom.

General McClellan Visited

There was General George McClellan who stopped there while surveying a route through the Cascades for a transcontinental railroad. Even then he was displaying many of the traits that were to get him into hot water with President Abraham Lincoln. He was careless about investigating a situation for himself. For instance, when he was told that the Snoqualmie Pass was not suited for a railroad, he took the informant's word for it rather than finding out for himself. Consequently the route for the railroad went another way, which changed a great deal of history.

Then there was Lieutenant August V. Kautz. Lieutenant Kautz was stationed at Fort Steilacoom for a number of years. He fought in the Indian Wars of 1855 56. He was the first man to attempt to climb Mount Rainier. He almost succeeded too. The summit he scaled was not the highest point and he lost this distinction to Hazard Stevens and Philemon B. Van Trump who later conquered the highest point of the mountain.

Grant too, maybe.

Captain George Pickett was there during the Indian uprising. It is believed the Captain U. S. Grant visited Fort Steilacoom while he was stationed at Fort Vancouver. General Sheridan was also a visitor to the fort as a junior officer.

With the end of Indian hostilities in 1856 the post settled down to routine army life until the outbreak of the Civil War. That conflict made a ghost fort of the military establishments on Puget Sound.

In 1868, Fort Steilacoom was abandoned and the small garrison was removed. In 1871 the Territory of Washington bought twenty five buildings for $850. In 1874 Congress donated the six hundred forty acres to the territory.... 

William J. Betts, "Historic Fort's remains," Tacoma News Tribune and Sunday Ledger. October 3, 1965.


"Story of a historic fort," Tacoma Daily Ledger. March 27, 1898 p. 6.

"All that is now left of the historic old fort near Steilacoom is soon to be sold by the government and there will be nothing left to mark the spot where for years the sturdy troops of Uncle Sam watched over the early settlers in this part of the state, unless the state takes steps to preserve some of the old landmarks."

United States Registrar of Lands Frank G. Deckebach is to sell the land at auction whenever he can find anyone willing to pay the appraised price. Once he has tried it but no one responded to his call save the settler on the land who attended out of idle curiosity, being attracted by the rare spectacle of a stranger mounted on a stump and reading a paper in the wilderness. He had not seen the advertisement and Mr. Deckebach was faithfully carrying out the red tape of a government sale, though there were no bidders in sight.

After that formality had been finished Mr. Deckebach met the settler and agreed to sell the land to him if a second sale was as devoid of results as the first. The time for the second sale is not far off, and it is probably that the government will not own the land much longer.

The old parade ground remains in a fair state of preservation for the officials in charge of the asylum have been kept it green to beautify the premises. The row of cottages in which the officers' quarters were located are now occupied by asylum officials; the old barracks, once ringing with the shouts of gay troopers, is more of a storehouse than anything else. Laundry Row is gone and the old guardhouse is full of wood and odds and ends gathered from all parts of the grounds. Once it served the purposes of the asylum, but it outgrew that use.

The quarters of the young subalterns where youngsters from the East spent so many homesick hours or wearily returned from the bleak prairies to home for excitement to relieve the strain, or perhaps fresh from West Point, went forth to their last battle, are now serving another use. Asylum attendants occupy them.

And meanwhile the old mill where some of the lumber used in the construction of the houses was turned out shares the same fate. Its days of glory are gone and picnickers alone are attracted to the old and decaying wreck down by Chambers Creek. But to be historically correct there was little lumber from that mill used in the construction of the houses, but its history is closely entwined with the old parade grounds now green with grasses kept by other hands.

Moss covers the water tank which soldier hands built. In summer ivy grows in wild profusion over the decaying walls of the old tank. Budding blossoms make a pretty contrast to the ravages of the years since the work was done.

There is a pretty little story in connection with those old houses surrounding the parade ground. It is told to the visitors that General Ulysses S. Grant, General George McClellan and General George Pickett of Confederate fame occupied the most imposing of the group, but it is a fact that history unblushingly dispels that illusion. General Grant occupied a log hut, for he was here in 1849, and the houses were not built until years later.

In the corner of the asylum grounds is the old cemetery, where the dead of the old fort were buried. But one man lies there now who was buried in the cemetery during the days of the fort. That man is Colonel William H. Wallace, a lawyer prominently identified with the early history of the territory and for a time its delegate to Congress. He served during the Indian wars with the territorial troops. The bodies of the soldiers were moved to another cemetery when the station was abandoned but the remains of Colonel Wallace and his wife Luzana were left buried in the soil of the territory he loved so well.

Fort Steilacoom was never an actual fort. It was a station where two companies of United States troops were kept for several years, a welcome to the settlers arriving after a wearisome and dangerous troop across the plains. The soldiers at the fort were numerous enough to remain a menace to the Indians that they never cared to disturb. There was a visible force strong enough to make the place safe without a stockade and one was never built.

Captain Bennett Hill commanded the first detachment of troops that came to the Fort, arriving in 1849. They came around the Horn, two companies, in the old ship Massachusetts, from New York to Vancouver. Of the original detachment, but two men are still living in this vicinity. Fred Myers, when he left the service took up a piece of land on Clover Creek where the settlement known as Custer now stands. He still lives there.

Jacob Kershner, the other survivor, lives on the reservation. Mrs. Christopher Mahon, living on Clover Creek and Edward Huggins, in charge of the Hudson's Bay Company fort at Nisqually are perhaps the only other people who could tell the whole history of the fort.

The father of William Rigney, an asylum attendant, was a member of the first company, and his wife owns the only picture ever taken of any part of the fort, a view of the guard house. It is a small one, and is treasured for its early memories.

It was not a pleasure trip that the troops to the station in the extreme Northwest took when they came to Fort Steilacoom, nor was their work here such as would inspire a great desire to remain. The Indians gave considerable trouble in the early days and there were intermediate altercations with the settlers to while away the time of the officers.

Several commanders of the post went away with the resentment of the people whom they had left strong against them. Sharp criticisms on the volunteers of the Indians wars brought several of them to grief and in fact the wars were conducted largely by the settlers own organizations of troops, owing to the ill feeling that they bore the troops. The capture and hanging of Leschi brought this out more fully.

The fort was abandoned in 1868, just nineteen years after it was founded. The troops in the meantime had assisted the settlers in reducing the country to a safe condition. Puget Sound had been rapidly settled and in that short time the Indians had become so nearly thoroughly civilized that no further trouble was anticipated.

"Story of a historic fort," Tacoma Daily Ledger. March 27, 1898 p. 6.


A chapter for a history of Fort Steilacoom written by Gary Fuller Reese, April May 1992.

The traditional account of the founding of the community of Port Steilacoom is based on the story of an unfriendly reception Lafayette Balch received at the settlement of New Market when he arrived on Puget Sound in 1850. Balch had made at least four trips during the year loading timber on his ships for the California market and spent time looking for an ideal spot for his Puget Sound operations. 

Captain Balch proposed to locate at the head of navigation on Budd Inlet but was rebuffed by developers who had other plans. They were not interested in competition for what was at the time a small market.

While this rebuff may have been an immediate cause for his decision to locate on Steilacoom Bay, Balch also saw the advantages of having his dock, store, and home near the recently founded Steilacoom Barracks of the United States Army. 

The Barracks had been occupied for nearly a year and a half by the Army with officers and men living a series of log buildings erected in the fall of 1849. The soldiers were there in response to an Indian attack at the nearby Hudson's Bay Company post at Fort Nisqually. The attack had convinced the United States government that a military presence on Puget Sound was necessary and elements of the United States First Artillery were despatched from Fort Vancouver.

Assistant Quartermaster Lieutenant Grier Tallmadge managed to upgrade some of the buildings on the farm of the recently deceased Joseph Thomas Heath who occupied the site for several years for the use by the soldiers. As time passed others added more substantial structures making the "barracks" into a "fort."

Although the Army built its own dock to the north and east of the Port Steilacoom townsite it was quickly recognized that Balch's settlement was the arrival and departure point for supplies and visitors. The post had its own suttler's store but off duty officers and men as well as others at the fort went to town for refreshment, entertainment, shopping and other activities.

In 1852 the Oregon Territorial Legislature organized Pierce County and Steilacoom was named county seat. The merging communities of Port Steilacoom and nearby Steilacoom City became well versed in catering to the needs of those who needed the services provided there. The army, with its constant need for supply and its "cash crop" of soldier's pay to fill the coffers of local businesses, was most welcome.

By May of 1855 the town boasted seventy dwellings, six stores, one tailor shop, a cabinet maker, two black smiths, three sawmills, a grist mill, a church, a billiard parlour and two bowling alleys. Left out of the list of civic improvements was a number of saloons and other drinking establishments.

Indian War of 1855 56

A general outbreak of hostilities with local Indians in what is known as the Indian War of 1855 56 caused the Army to send additional troops to Puget Sound. Posts at other locations were established but with Fort Steilacoom serving as the major staging and command center.

The mission of the military officers at Fort Steilacoom was complicated because of a conflict between the Army and Territorial Governor Isaac I. Stevens. Stevens, who had resigned from the Army to accept public office, wished to have control of the conduct of the war and urged vigorous action against the Indians. General John E. Wool, commander of the Department of the Pacific of the Army, represented a voice of moderation. Stevens was popular with the settlers and he used his popularity and army experience to make life difficult for Lieutenant Colonel Silas Casey, commander at the Fort.

The Army, centered at Fort Steilacoom, had many roles in the Puget Sound community during this period. They included protecting local Indians from the Northern Indians, the settlers from the Indians, the Indians from the settlers, and society in general from those who would break the law in a period when civil authority was at best weak and unorganized. These activities created much coming and going and greatly contributed to the growth of the Steilacoom community.

In the fall of 1855 pioneers evacuated the Puyallup Valley after a Paul Revere type warning that the hostile Indians were coming. Abraham Salatat, an Indian, rode through the valley the last week of October, 1855, telling the white settlers that bands of Indians from across the mountains were coming to assist local Indians in their battle against the Americans. Fort Steilacoom and the town of Steilacoom soon filled with refugees and several families were crowded into make shift accommodations.

That winter was quite severe making it most uncomfortable for most town residents. Since Governor Isaac I. Stevens had organized the Washington Territorial Volunteers and was using them to fight the War many families were left without husbands and fathers during that critical period. Luzana Wallace, wife of William Henson Wallace, was forced to move into a block house erected to protect settler's families while her husband was in command of troops prosecuting the war.

Mrs. Wallace noted that Steilacoom soon became a hotbed of rumor about the war. Indian scares or stories of Indian scares were common as people arrived at either the town or the fort to tell their tales. One night, Mrs. Wallace later recalled, she was occupying her room in the waterside blockhouse when a cry that Indians were coming was heard. Mrs. Wallace grabbed her gun to be ready for the attack but no one had showed her how to load the weapon and the noise turned out to be not Indians but a sailing vessel that had apparently dragged anchor and almost hit the log house of refuge.

Economic Gains

Erastus Light, a member of the Longmire Byles wagon train of 1853 and who later served in a variety of public roles in Steilacoom, earned his first real money in the Northwest by working for Lieutenant William A. Slaughter at Steilacoom Barracks hauling potatoes from the soldier's farm east of the present runway at McChord Air Force Base.

Not since the time William F. Tolmie at Fort Nisqually hired local people to make shingles for use in the operations of the Hudson's Bay Company and for the Hawaii trade had there been such a steady infusion of capital into the local economy. While the need for lumber in California to support the Gold Rush provided ready cash for a time it was the contracts for the supply of the post that provided a steady income.

Steilacoom became a regular stop for those who went from place to place around the Sound offering a wide variety of goods and services to the community. Singers and dancers, the sellers of cures and other quackery, and teachers of elocution and drama would do well at Steilacoom for they always knew that there was the extra audience at the fort to come to any activity. One diary writer noted that the German chorus, made up mostly of men from the Fort, provided a beautiful backdrop to at least one visiting group.

There were times, however, when the economic gains provided by the location of the post near the town, were outweighed by other considerations. The addition of usually more than a hundred "foreigners" into the local social scene caused complications. While the officers of the army were generally young gentlemen from the East, the men were often refugees from oppression in Europe who used an army enlistment as an escape. 

On several occasions the local newspaper attacked these "bulwarks of liberty" for excessive behavior. Once soldiers from the 9th Infantry while under the influence of whiskey obtained from one of Steilacoom's many saloons attacked and gained control of the Croft family dairy near present Parkland. Finding little booty the soldiers made off with and finally discarded several pounds of butter which caused a local outcry.

One soldier, perhaps more literate and feeling than the rest, suggested in a letter to the editor of the Steilacoom newspaper that the real villains were those who concocted a special brand of Steilacoom Rotgut Whiskey to sell to the soldiers. It, like the type illegally served to local Indians, was often laced with gun powder sometimes causing temporary blindness and in some cases insanity.

Local attitudes toward Indians were often a cause of difficulties between the people of the fort and the people of the town. Townsmen, generally interested in having legal possession of the land upon which they had built Steilacoom and the surrounding farms, wanted to extinguish Indian title to the land and perhaps the Indians themselves while people at the fort were more neutral.

In July of 1857 most single officers assigned to the Fort were engaged in liaisons with Indian women. These wives did not live at the fort but at nearby Indian camps or even as far away as the Nisqually Valley. While Indian wives had always been part of local arrangements this was the first time young gentlemen were involved as a group.

There were often "incidents" between Indians and local settlers and on several occasions Indian camps were disrupted by townspeople, usually when officers from the fort were absent. The bad blood created when these young officers returned "home" and find their Indian wives and families upset separated the community at the Fort and the community in the town.

Several times when a young officer did marry it was within his own social group. Often there were "daughters" or "nieces" visiting relatives at the fort. Lieutenant Colonel Silas Casey who was in command of the fort for nearly five years had two daughters who married officers at the fort.

One officer had an Indian wife and family who had to be shed when his marriage to a white lady approached. A new husband was found for the Indian wife and all seemed happy with the arrangements.

The Leschi Case

Perhaps the greatest difficulty between the town and the fort occurred in the fall and winter of 1857 58 when, through a series of legal maneuvers the life of Leschi, war chief of the Nisquallies and one of the surviving war leaders, was spared for a time. Officers at the fort, not believing the testimony of Antonio B. Rabbeson that placed Leschi at the place where A. Benton Moses and Joseph Miles were killed, joined with others to prove that Leschi could not have been at the ambush site. He had been seen elsewhere shortly before and could not have covered the ground necessary to be in place to ambush the volunteer officers.

Most of the settlers in and around Steilacoom and the territorial capital of Olympia had connected the demise of Leschi with the end of the war and demanded his death no matter what the officers proved. A series of indignation meetings were held after Leschi was spared hanging on one occasion when the officers of the fort and others used the simple expediency of having the local sheriff arrested for illegally selling liquor to Indians.

The resolutions adopted at meetings both in Steilacoom and Olympia castigated the officers condemning them for their actions and civil authority was called upon to rid the community of those who would interfer with the "...due process of the law..."

Leschi was eventually hanged and Rabbeson went on with his career of providing dubious eye witness accounts. Relations between the town and the post were strained for some time. One officer who was excluded by name from the list of those condemned at the indignation meetings went off to command a post located on a spit of land on the Pacific Ocean and the rest of the post settled down.

Charles Prosch, who served as editor of Steilacoom's Puget Sound Herald from March of 1858 to June of 1863, writing years later remembered with kindness the young officers assigned to the post while he was in Steilacoom. One such officer was August V. Kautz who later became a general officer in the Civil War and retired to the Pacific Northwest in the 1890s. 

Kautz, first assigned to Fort Steilacoom in 1853, remembered the place as being one where there was plenty to eat and little to do. He served elsewhere in the Northwest but was connected with the fort until the beginning of the Civil War. Kautz spent time visiting Prosch's newspaper office and from time to time wrote or rewrote articles for the paper.

Few of the local residents had either the time or the energy to become conversant in things beyond what was needed to sustain life and even fewer of them had a formal education. The Military Academy graduates could choose to spend their off duty time in a wide variety of activities and Prosch was pleased to have men like Kautz, McKibben, Casey and others to share views and opinions of the world outside the Pacific Northwest.

Since the young officers were the only trained engineers in the region their services were called upon for a variety of activities. Before his death in the Indian war of 1855-56 Lieutenant William A. Slaughter undertook a detailed survey of property boundaries in Port Steilacoom. 

Later Lieutenant August V. Kautz attempted to calculate the flow of water in Chambers Creek in an altercation between the Byrd and Chambers families over the level of the creek after the pond behind the Byrd Mill was created. Thomas M. Chambers believed that he should have been compensated for the resulting loss of water for his mill.

Kautz, who was the officer in charge of the 1857 reconstruction of the fort, often had difficulties with water. He constructed a water ram that was to bring water from Garrison Creek, a tributary to Chambers Creek, to the prairie land upon which the Fort was built. The ram often didn't work and although he had lots of advise from other engineers the lack of adequate equipment to assist in getting the ram operational made life difficult for Kautz for some time.

During the reconstruction period Kautz spent a considerable amount of time obtaining building supplies. Most of the small sawmills located at various places around the Sound could not cut some of the specialty lumber needed for such things as windows and sashes and Kautz often had to improvise. Local workers were employed at the Fort and were given army rations as part of their pay. Once when there was a dispute between the workers and the army the workers threatened to strike. 

Army officials merely dispensed with their services and found others willing to work under conditions dictated by the army. This activity and others like it did not endear the army to certain elements of local society.


When it came time for the organization of civic and fraternal organizations on the frontier officers at the fort were generally early members. Attempting to avoid politics these men would often undertake tasks associated with the founding of the Masonic Order and the Sons of Temperance. 

The regular soldiers would often assist in religious services. One sergeant at the fort became the local but unofficial head of the Roman Catholic Community and worked to build a chapel where mass could be held regularly. After the decline in use of the fort the chapel as moved to Steilacoom and continues in use. 

The officers at the fort were friendly with the Priest, Father Louis Rossi, who served throughout the region and always made him welcome. There was one incident when a colleague in California sent Rossi a case of sacramental wine that was drunk up by the officers thinking it was a more general gift but Father Rossi managed to save the few remaining bottles when he came to the fort on his regular visit.

The fort often had its own Protestant chaplain on duty. His services were under the control of the council of command at the fort and on at least once occasion the services of a chaplain were dispensed with when the chaplain became too friendly with a daughter of one of the officers. Generally these chaplains did not serve the local community.

In general the officers at the fort and their ladies did not spend time socializing with the residents of Steilacoom. E. P. Alexander who was at the fort just before the beginning of the Civil War wrote that his company duties were very light and he had plenty of time for "...shooting, fishing, playing chess and for social pleasures..." His long walks in the spring of 1861 "...just to pick the beautiful yellow violets of which the woods were full..." were pursuits entirely foreign to townspeople who had to make their living from the land and had little or no time to "view the prospect."

Those early Steilacoomites probably resented a leisure class who could have gone on "...walking or riding excursions or picnics with the ladies..." and certainly the wasting of ammunition in "pistol practice..." went against the grain of the thrifty farmers and settlers.

Often the fort people had social events of their own to which only people of status were invited. The group would include some of the local merchants, any territorial officials in the neighborhood, and often visiting sea captains, naval officials, and officers on detached service who seemed to wander throughout the region in the pre Civil War period.

When Michael Luark, an early settler of the Southwest part of the Territory, was hired in 1854 to work on the construction of the Steilacoom Court house he presented a different and much less refined story of life at the Fort. He visited the military establishment on Independence Day that year and found nothing to commemorate the day except what he called "...some tall horse racing..." 

He noted in his diary that there were "....Americans, English, French, half breeds, Sandwich Islands and Indians speaking five different languages all in a confused mess, betting and talking indiscriminately, men, women, and children...

Gatherings of this kind generally ended up in fights. Local Indians when attending social occasions often carried dagger like knives made from files used to sharpen tools. They were used mainly to slash and cut and when used in the general melees with the Hawaiians and the half breeds there was much blood and a considerable amount of mess. The fit would quickly leave the area and the sick and infirm would often require the attendance of the local doctor and in some cases the skilled work of Nathaniel Orr, the local coffin maker.


When the Hudson's Bay Company held sovereignty in the region they assured all that they could travel to places like Fort Nisqually in peace, be safe while at the post conducting business and return to their homes unharmed. The government of the United States was unable to continue this "Great Peace" policy and there was always a considerable amount of uneasiness as groups like the Northern Indians arrived in their large canoes generally interested in causing trouble at social and other occasions.

One of the major social events of the 1850s was the marriage of Edward Huggins of the Hudson's Bay Company to Letetia Work, sister in law to William F. Tolmie. Held at Nisqually on October 21, 1857, "society" from both the Fort and the Town attended. A tea-tottler himself Huggins did provide refreshment to all comers but retired with his bride when his fiddler made too many trips to the punch bowl and the music associated with weddings was changed to something less refined.

Young officers from the fort appreciated the party especially since the Work family and their friends from Victoria came in large numbers, filling the boarding houses and hotels in Steilacoom. There was a slight unpleasantness when Lieutenant Arthur Shaaf from the fort "picked up" on a guest of Sam McCaw, a Steilacoom merchant, and offered to take her back to her hotel. 

Both Shaaf and McCaw had partaken liberally of the food and drink offered at the Huggins Work wedding and McCaw didn't notice that his friend, Miss Reed, was missing. Shaaf in the meantime had escorted the lady toward Steilacoom but decided to have a nap against a log on the side of the trail leaving the lady to make her own way home.

The mere existence of a center of United States military power nearby served as a tool for the development of Steilacoom. Many other small towns on the Sound feared incursions of Indians from Alaska and the Queen Charlotte Islands especially after the murder of Isaac N. Ebey on Whidbey Island on August 11, 1857. Settlers often felt that a nearby military presence was a positive feature of the community.

For some time Forts Steilacoom and Nisqually were the only locations listed on maps of the area that circulated throughout the United States. When visitors and potential settlers had to choose terminal points for their travels, for mail, and for visits Steilacoom was chosen over the British post and grew as the civilian center most near the military establishment.

There was some resentment in the community when discharged soldiers failed to either leave the area or caused trouble. Some did settle and became solid members of society but hangers on at the saloons and boarding houses often had military backgrounds and were foreign to the rest of the population. This was especially difficult for local society when the army occasionally whipped a recaptured deserter with forty lashes, shaved his head, cut the buttons from his clothes and drummed him out of the army giving him no other place to go to heal his wounds than in Steilacoom.

During the several "rushes" for precious metals in the region Steilacoom touted itself as a jumping off place and the ex-military  undesirables joining the gold seekers and their hangers-on  created problems. Officers at the fort often came to town to quiz local businessmen as to the whereabouts of possible deserters and sometimes took to the field to chase them down and return them to duty.

The saloons provided liquid refreshment to all who could pay and too often the next stop for a drunken soldier who made trouble in town was the guard house at the fort. On one occasion one of officers at the fort was unable to attend a civil court matter for several days because he had "...stopped too often at the flowing bowl..." along Steilacoom's saloon row. He was taken up the hill to the fort and given the dignity of sprawling on his own bed to recover.

Until the Steilacoom jail was built in 1858 the only place to keep prisoners was at the guard house at the Fort. Since it was a crime to sell liquor to Indians the guard house was sometimes filled with the results of periodic round ups of evil doers. There were few other places in the region in the early years to keep prisoners. Murderers and those who committed major crimes were often kept at the post stockade.

During one of Steilacoom's vigilante episodes one of the first things organizers did was to send a watchman to the road between the fort and the town so that there would be no interference with the task of getting rid of evil doers in an extra legal manner.

With the coming of the Civil War there was a major change in the relationship between the fort and the town. The officers and men of the regular army were withdrawn to fight the Civil War and the "easy life" at the fort ended. A number of officers from the South resigned their commissions in the United States Army and returned to enlist in the Confederate forces. 

The local political establishment was placed in a turmoil as many people headed East to become involved in the Civil War and the surprisingly number of southern sympathizers became more vocal.

For a time the military establishment consisted of units of the California Volunteers who had enlisted to fight in the Civil War and not serve at a frontier post. Relations between the local civilian community and the volunteers were strained and when they finally were sent elsewhere the local newspaper bade the volunteers less than a fond farewell.

Activities along the military frontier were surprisingly quiet during the Civil War as there was a downtrend in most all activities. There were a few confrontations with Indians but in general little was done as the interests of the community were turned to the fighting of the war and perhaps to the careers of the men who once served at the Fort.

Because the population was much larger by this time the soldiers, fewer in number, were generally unnoticed. Steilacoom turned to other pursuits and activities at the fort seemed no longer of interest. Elements of the First Washington Territory Infantry occupied the fort during the remainder of the Civil War. 

As late as April of 1865 the commanding officer of the local military district, Colonel R. F. Maury of the First Oregon Cavalry recommended that two companies of infantry be retained at Fort Steilacoom because "...the large number of Indians in this vicinity make this force necessary to hold in check lawlessness generally, or to punish any aggression on the part of the Indians...." 

Three years later when the fort was finally abandoned its demise went almost unnoticed in the Steilacoom community.

Fort Steilacoom, 1849-1868 

Lou Dunkin, "Historic Fort Steilacoom."

In 1849, the U.S. Army directed Captain Bennett Hill to rent the Joseph Heath farm from the Hudson's Bay Company's Puget's Sound Agricultural Company. Captain Hill's soldiers moved into log farm buildings that Heath had built, ready to fulfill their assignment to protect American interests in the Puget Sound region.

Fort Steilacoom played a major role in the legal, social and economic development of Western Washington. The first trial held in the Puget Sound area convened at Fort Steilacoom in 1849. Soldiers at the fort aided the economy as consumers of goods and providers of "cash money." The fort was the social mecca of the area and settlers went there to see the Army doctor in medical emergencies. Fort Steilacoom never had walls or heavy gates. During the Indian War of 1855, the fort provided refuge for the American settlers.

In 1857, August V. Kautz obtained standard Army plans from Washington, D.C. and supervised the construction of new buildings around a parade ground. Bad weather, shortages of workers and War Department red tape caused frustrating delays. He had trouble finding suitable lumber. He hired civilian carpenters, but the project bogged down from time to time as workers were lured to the new gold fields on the Fraser River. The carpenters who stayed went on strike demanding $6.00 a day, a wage beyond the Army budget. By the end of 1858 the fort was complete.

The start of the Civil War depleted the garrison as personnel went east to take sides in the conflict. By 1868, the U.S. government decided American settlers no longer faced danger and abandoned the fort. The buildings and grounds were then deeded to Washington Territory for use as a mental hospital. Over the years the buildings at the fort were adapted to hospital uses and altered or torn down. Today only four officers' quarters remain, the oldest building group of formal architecture in Washington.

In 1977, the square mile encompassing the four buildings and the old fort site were placed in the National Register of Historic Places. Several years later, when it was proposed to move the buildings to make way for a new mental facility, those plans were changed to relocate the new building and to restore the officers' quarters. A non profit organization, Historic Fort Steilacoom, was formed to assure their restoration. This volunteer group had spent six years completing this work and are in the process of opening the fort to the public. 

Lou Dunkin, "Historic Fort Steilacoom."

Directly across from the laundry and in back of Wards K, L, and M, is the military cemetery where Fort Steilacoom soldiers and members of their families were buried. In the third biennial report (1904 to 1906) it was requested that the old military cemetery either be properly fenced, improved, and cared for through appropriated funds, or that the bodies be exhumed and removed to a more appropriate place. No action was taken. However, in Dr. Keller's time the cemetery was cleaned up and a few shrubs added to the landscaping which consisted mostly of native trees which were trimmed and pruned. A privet hedge was planted enclosing the area. 

In the 1930's when the hospital was in the rebuilding stage, the architectural plans called for a future wing of one of the buildings to be erected on the site of the old cemetery. Nego­tiations were again made to obtain authority for the removal of the bodies to another cemetery. However, when all the plans were approved, Governor Clarence K. Martin reconsidered. The Governor and Dr. Keller decided not to disturb the historic ground. 

From time to time the tombstones have been repaired but otherwise the cemetery remains the same with one exception. A new monument was erected to the memory of William H. Wallace. Mr. and Mrs. Wallace are both buried in this cemetery. The memorial was plated by the Washington State Parks and Recreations Commission. Wallace was the fifth territorial governor of Washington and the first territorial governor of Idaho. When the monument was unveiled, on August 25, 1951, over 300 persons attended the ceremony.

Clara Cooley, "Fort Steilacoom Cemetery," History of Western State Hospital. 

E. T. Short, "Joseph Thomas Heath and the Fort Steilacoom site," The Tacoma Times.

Interesting sidelights on the story of Fort Nisqually and the establishment of a federal army post at Steilacoom to protect settlers from the Indians are contained in a letter just received here from Miss L. F. Ramsey, dated May 10, at Camacha, West Whittering, Chichester, England.

The writers asks for information of Joseph Heath, whose leasehold at Steilacoom was turned over to the federal troops, now the site of the Western Washington State hospital. The letter was referred to W. P. Bonney, secretary of the Washington State Historical Society, for reply.

Miss Ramsey writes that early this year, in looking over some old family papers, the diary of a Joseph Heath, an early settler of Washington, was found. He is believed to have been the son or the grandson of Dr. Geo. Heath, a British educator, a famous headmaster at Eton college and Canon of Windsor.

"The diary," writes Miss Ramsey, "like that of Pepy's, was not written for publication, and so far I have been unable to find the precise location of Joseph's farm. The dates are 1845 to 1849. On Sundays a frequent entry is: 'Rode to the fort.' A Dr. Tolmie was in charge of it.

"Heath speaks of Mount Rainier being 25 miles away; he mentions a six-hour ride to the Puyallup river. Presumably he is close to a lake, for he mentions one of his animals being 'suffocated' in the lake and on another occasion mentions the beauty of the scenery by the lake”

"Can you help me locate him? My, agent in the United States thinks the American public will be much interested in the diary which, in its monotony of daily detail reminds one of Robinson Crusoe with excitements such as murders by the Indians, forest fires, and raids by wolves and panthers to vary such entries."


According to Mr. Bonney's reply to Miss Ramsey, the Joseph Heath referred to was probably J. T. Heath, who leased 640 acres at Steilacoom from the Hudson's Bay Co. about 1848.

The leasehold included what in those days was known as Heath creek, later Steilacoom creek, and now Chambers creek. The farm was located about five miles north of Fort Nisqually, which probably was the "fort" referred to in the diary.

A small lake on the Heath farm was surrounded by swamp land, which quite likely is where the animal referred to in the diary was "suffocated." Heath continued on the property until he died in 1849.

Mr. Bonney recalls that Heath's was the first probate case in what is now Pierce county. Dr. W. F. Tolmie and Thomas M. Chambers were appointed executors of the estate and disposed of the personal property.

Soon after Health's death, Capt. Bennett Hill was ordered to Puget Sound with his artillery company to protect settlers from attacks by the Indians who had become convinced that the white man was coming here to take away his hunting grounds.

The logical place for the post headquarters was what is now Steilacoom, and arrangements were made to lease the Heath farm from the Hudson's Bay Co. Heath's home became the company headquarters and the barns were turned into barracks. This was the beginning of Fort Steilacoom, where the Western Washington hospital now stands. The property was leased from the Hudson's Bay Co. at $50 a month, which the United States government continued to pay for about ten years.


Fort Steilacoom immediately became the refuge of the settlers in the Puget Sound country. It was to Steilacoom that the Judson family fled from their property at the head of the bay in Tacoma when a friendly Indian boy told young Steve Judson his people were going to attack the whites.

Another friendly Indian notified the settlers in the valley of the impending outbreak and they also escaped to Fort Steilacoom. The day after they left all but one building in the Puyallup and Sumner valleys had been burned and the cattle killed by the Indians. It was nearly five years later before the guns of the United States soldiers and the government treaties made it safe for the settlers to return. By that time some of them had become established at Steilacoom and Nisqually and never did go back.

Though the Hudson's Bay property at Fort Nisqually was pretty well protected from the Indians, the presence of the United States troops undoubtedly made it much safer for the company to do business there. For the same reason Nisqually also became a haven for white settlers driven from their homes by sudden Indian rampages. Besides the protection of a heavy stockade and the two bastions in which swivel guns were mounted, and which the Indians had learned to respect, the proximity of the federal troops made Nisqually comparatively safe.

During this trying period, Dr. W. F. Tolmie, Hudson's Bay factor at Nisqually, proved a good friend to both settlers and soldiers. When he could be of service he was not in the least deterred by the fact that even then there were rumblings of the movements that was to drive his company from United States territory.

On the other hand, the United States government was paying the company $5O a month for the Heath buildings and buying all the fresh meat and some other supplies from the Hudson's Bay Co. So after all the account seemed to be pretty well balanced as far as material things were concerned. What Dr. Tolmie did purely from motives of friendship cannot, of course, be estimated in figures to trade!

E. T. Short, "Joseph Thomas Heath and the Fort Steilacoom site," The Tacoma Times.


For three years after the 1846 treaty settling the Oregon boundary debate, the Puget Sound region was relatively quiet. In the future Pierce County, the United States was faced with an economic settlement with the Hudson's Bay Company. Through its subsidiary, the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company, it sought compensation for the land the company claimed. In the mean time it continued to operate; and some of the employees, those who elected to become United States citizens, began to establish farms within the company's domains.

Then, in 1849, an American, Leander Wallace, was killed during an Indian attack on Fort Nisqually. It was time to establish a military presence. In the summer of that year, Captain Bennett H. Hill with the artillery Company "M" of the U.S. Army arrived in the territory with instructions to locate a site for a fort.

He selected the recently abandoned farm of Joseph Thomas Heath. The site is the present day Western State Hospital and Fort Steilacoom Park located in Lakewood. Heath, who died in 1849, had established his farm four years before. The land had been obtained from the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company. At the time, the Company was seeking English farmers to settle the area.

Captain Hill rented one square mile of Heath's farm from the British at $50 a month and moved his troops in. The barn became the barracks and the house, the officers' quarters. Then the men were put to work constructing the fort. It was not a fortress. It lacked walls, bastions or gates. The fort was more a supply depot, social center and a refuge in times of trouble. In October, 1849, it served as the setting for the first U.S. Court in the region when the Indians who killed Leander Wallace were tried.

The establishment of Washington Territory in 1853 brought settlement, and Isaac I. Stevens. He was appointed both Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. His instructions were to negotiate treaties with the local tribes statewide so as to release additional lands for westerners. By 1855, this effort led to war. It was not a long one, it ended in 1856; but, the treaties, the war and its aftermath resulted in the county's first crisis.

While the war was short, it was destructive. Following the deaths near Buckley of James McAllister and Michael Connell, along with two soldiers from Fort Steilacoom, settlers rushed to the fort for protection. They remained there for six months. Some never returned to their claims. Even long after hostilities ceased an uneasy truce prevailed as settlers feared the presence of Native Americans fishing in their usual places off reservation grounds. This was a right granted by treaty. Some settlers were faced with the need to prove ownership of their Donation Land Claims after peace was restored. While this action has left an invaluable record in the National Archives, it also shows one of the unexpected hardships of post war settlement. 

For the Native Americans, while they obtained a better treaty as a result of hostilities, they lost a leader through the death, in 1857, of Leschi. He was hanged because Governor Stevens, as well as others including a court considered him a murderer and not a soldier fighting a legitimate war. In addition, settlers who chose to remain neutral during the war were considered guilty of treason and arrested. 

Territorial Volunteers under Stevens' command competed with U.S. Army soldiers at Fort Steilacoom over questions of jurisdiction. Before the conflict was over, Stevens had declared martial law in Pierce County, had arrested a judge, ignored writs of habeas corpus  and had declared martial law in Thurston County and caused an uproar that was heard in the nation's capital.

The Indian War brought Pierce County to the edge of civil war as settlers took armed sides for or against Stevens. In the end he was fined for contempt of court. Even so, he was successful in seeing Leschi hung, an action opposed by the U.S. Army at Fort Steilacoom.

Following this episode, the fort settled down to a quiet life. In 1857 Lieutenant A. V. Kautz, was authorized to rebuild. The new facility became a social center for county residents. And while Ulysses S. Grant was never an occupant at the fort, other officers who served there, Silas Casey, August V. Kautz, George McClellan and George E. Pickett fought in the Civil War. Isaac I. Stevens, always a thorn in the Army's side as Territorial Governor of Washington, died at the battle of Chantilly in Virginia in 1862.

In 1868, Fort Steilacoom was closed as a military post. By then, the United States had made an economic settlement with the Hudson's Bay Company, and Puget Sound was considered secure for settlement. The Army left behind a reservation of buildings that obtained a second lease on life as Washington's first mental hospital.

As we shall see, the Army's departure was only temporary. Before it returned, however, Pierce County became an encampment location for the Washington National Guard. This occurred at American Lake in 1886. Camp Murray, located near this encampment southwest of Tillicum continues to be the headquarters of this branch of state government.

Tacoma's entrance as an active participant in the territorial militia began in 1880, when the Tacoma Rifles was formed by George Bachman, W. J. Fife and F. B. H. Wing. The Tacoma City Troop, a second guard unit, was also founded that year. Ten years later, it was mustered in as Troop B, with James M. Ashton who became Brigadier General in 1892.

Prior to World Wars I and II, Tacoma units served during the 1898 Spanish American War and the 1916 1917 Mexican Border Campaign. In the former action, W. J. Fife was appointed Executive Officer for the entire Washington state regiment. In 1916, Troop B Cavalry was mustered into active duty and sent to Calexico, California. Part of the campaign centered around the containment of Poncho Villa's border raids. Troop B was mustered out in February, 1917.

Seven years before the Mexican campaign, in 1909, Tacoma's armory was opened. At that time this building, located on Yakima Avenue South and now used as a jail for Pierce County offenders, was viewed as a focal point for community participation. Those who donated the lots for the building specified that it was to also be used for community gatherings. The intent of the owners has changed, but the Guard remains.

The same year that Troop B of the Washington National Guard was chasing Poncho Villa along the California Mexico border, Pierce County residents were considering a bond issue which would purchase, condemn and donate land for a military reservation. Approximately two thirds of the one hundred and forty square miles was private property. In 1916, the project was endorsed by President Woodrow Wilson. On 16 January 1917, Pierce County voters by a large majority approved the measure.

Four months later the U.S. Engineers began their survey of Camp Lewis, the same month that the United States Congress declared war on Germany. The first troops arrived in September. By December, 40,000 men were in training. By 1920, its status was upgraded to a Fort; and in 1941, the construction of North Fort Lewis began. The facility is key to America's defense and crucial to the local economy.