A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY OF FORT STEILACOOM, WASHINGTON
By Gary Fuller Reese. With supporting documents. Tacoma Public Library. Second Edition. August, 1984.
A HISTORY OF FORT STEILACOOM WASHINGTON TERRITORY
Fort Steilacoom was established on August 22, 1849, pursuant to Orders No. 3, Headquarters, 11th Military Department, dated July 13, 1849, and was first garrisoned by Company M, 1st U. S. Artillery, under the command of Capt. B. H. Hill. Fort Steilacoom was abandoned on April 22, 1868, in compliance with Special Orders, No. 26, Headquarters, Military Division of the Pacific, February 13,1868.
RG 393 Records of the United States Army Commands (Army) Posts.
Hudson's Bay Company on Puget Sound.
In the first decades of the nineteenth century the Hudson's Bay Company expanded its business activities to the west coast of North America. Overcoming rival organizations for the control of business the great fur trading company founded Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River in 1824 and Fort Langley on the Frazer River in 1827. Each of these establishments was planned to serve as a headquarters for company operations.
In the Spring of 1833 Company Trader Archibald McDonald traveled from Fort Langley to Fort Vancouver on an overland expedition. In addition to developing contacts with the Indians McDonald was ordered to search for a site for a trading post at some location on Puget Sound. Fort Vancouver and Fort Langley were too far away to effectively serve as headquarters for the contemplated expansion into the Puget Sound Country.
In early April McDonald reached the mouth of a small stream which flowed into Puget Sound just north of the Nisqually River delta. He was impressed with the locality and decided to survey the area to see if it was suitable for a trading post.
The practical advantages of the location seemed obvious. It was readily accessible by boat from anywhere on the Sound. Abundant fresh water was available and the prairies which stretched inland would be able to furnish pasture for stock. The land seemed rich enough to support crops and the site was far enough away from the mouth of the Nisqually River to prevent flooding.
McDonald and his men spent nearly two weeks building a log storehouse. Leaving men to guard the building and a small stock of supplies McDonald and his party traveled to Fort Vancouver where John McLaughlin, Chief Factor at the Fort, received McDonald's report and enthusiastic recommendations about the Nisqually site. Soon arrangements were made for the establishment of the post on Puget Sound at the location McDonald recommended.
McDonald returned to the creek area later in the spring to build more permanent facilities. A schooner was sent from Fort Vancouver with trade goods and building supplies. Soon local Indians were invited to trade their furs, fish, bark and other items for goods provided at the post.
The Hudson's Bay Company was to become an almost sovereign power during these years. With their network of Forts and Trading posts and the need to protect and expand their business enterprises, the Company embarked on a project of securing peace within what was becoming their domain. Since insecurity was bad for business the Company announced that it would guarantee the safety of anyone who traveled to a company outpost to trade, assure that no harm would come to anyone while inside the walls of the trading post, and that a company patron would be protected, if necessary, on his way home after trading.
After a few sharp encounters with those who did not wish to maintain the "Great Peace" that had been established the Company continued to operate on this premise. No attempt was made to influence the lives of the Indians who inhabited the areas served by the Company beyond this general keeping of the peace.
The facility McDonald built was initially known as Nisqually house and during the next twenty years was reconstructed several times, first near the shores of the Sound, and later on high ground above the tideflats. It was finally called Fort Nisqually and served as the local emporium of the Hudson's Bay Company and as headquarters of the subsidiary Puget Sound Agriculture Company.
Red River Settlers
The Agricultural Company was founded in 1838 by the Hudson's Bay Company officials and others who were convinced that the original charter of the parent company did not include provision for agricultural activities. Demands for grain, hides, meat and tallow for Alaska, Hawaii, California and for other Hudson's Bay Company posts made possibilities for profit for an agricultural company seem most attractive.
Founders of the Puget Sound Company thought that it was also possible that an agricultural company could strengthen British claims to the area north of the Columbia River. If permanent settlers loyal to the British Crown were attracted, much of the land would be taken so that Americans would not be able to find prime sites for settlements.
The Oregon County had been claimed at various times by the British, the Russians, the Spanish and the Americans. When the boundary between Russian Alaska and Oregon was drawn in 1824 and the boundary of Spanish claims to California was set at the Forty-second parallel in 1819, only British and American claims remained. To avoid a confrontation over the lightly settled territory, the two nations agreed to jointly occupy Oregon and await developments.
In an attempt to find potential settlers, the Hudson's Bay Company settlements in Canada were surveyed. The large population on the Red River in present Manitoba had the potential for yielding the largest number of recruits and it was there that major efforts were made.
Official records of the Hudson's Bay Company record:
"...... we hope that so favorable a report may be given (that) ... will induce others to follow: this will not only relieve the Red River Settlement of its surplus population, but strengthen the claims of Great Britain to the territory, and increase of the British population in that quarter must operate to the benefit of this Nation whenever a division of the Country takes place."
A number of families and single men signed agreements with the Agricultural Company in June of 1841. One of them, John Flett, wrote many years later that the prospective settlers were promised...... houses, barns, and fenced fields, with fifteen cows, one bull, fifty ewes, one ram, and oxen or horses, with farming implements and seed."
When the group arrived at Fort Vancouver after their overland journey, however, they were told that the Company was not able to fulfill the terms of the agreement and that all were free to return to Canada or strike out on their own. Promises of assistance were given to several families for they did travel north to Fort Nisqually where they built homes and started farms on the plains above the fort and in the valley of the Nisqually River. An early map shows that nine farms were located, one of which was where Fort Steilacoom would one day be built.
By the end of 1843 all who came from Canada had gone, abandoning whatever improvements they had made. In assigning reasons for this failure Company officials wrote that:
"...the land at Nisqually being very indifferent, many settlers left in 1842 and the rest in 1843 ... unfortunately none were called upon to cancel the contract and the consequence is that ever since there has been much complaint and dissatisfaction expressed by many of them on the plea that the Company had not kept terms with them."
After this inauspicious beginning, the Puget Sound Agricultural Company directed by William F. Tolmie and others prospered. Sheep and cattle were imported and a number of farming stations were built near the Cowlitz River between Fort Vancouver and Fort Nisqually and in the Nisqually area. The Company laid claim to all of lowland Pierce County between the Puyallup and Nisqually Rivers, for much of the farming and grazing land located there was managed by Company employees.
Joseph Thomas Heath arrives
One of the first successful agriculturalists to settle in present Pierce County was Joseph Thomas Heath. In an attempt to recoup his sagging fortunes, Heath arranged to lease six hundred forty acres from the company somewhere in their domain along the Pacific Coast.
Arriving from England at Fort Vancouver in early June of 1844 Heath visited several possible locations. He selected a site on the flatlands above Steilacoom Bay north of Fort Nisqually at the abandoned farm of a Red River settler.
Heath soon moved to his farm site and began a cabin. He eventually built three log buildings, had a small split rail corral erected around his barn and cleared nearly thirty acres of land. He raised cattle and sheep, grew wheat, potatoes, peas, and other garden crops. Heath kept a diary during this period giving the first private day-to-day account of life in Pierce County.
United States Control
In 1846 the joint occupancy of the Oregon Country was ended and the boundary between British and American territory was drawn at the forty-ninth parallel. It was well north of major outposts of the Hudson's Bay Company but the property claimed by the two British companies was to be respected. Land owned at and near Nisqually was under Company control until 1869 when it was purchased by the government of the United States.
The policy of the Hudson's Bay Company to provide security to all who traded with it was soon supplanted by the conflicting goals of the various groups of Americans who had won the contest for the control of the Columbia River valley and Puget Sound. The Great Peace which was good for the Hudson's Bay Company business was gone as missionaries, government officials, traders and settlers sought the fulfillment of their own particular goals.
Almost immediately conflicts between the Americans and the Indians arose. Too many white men were coming to permanently settle, taking too much land. The semi-nomadic life style of the Indians was interrupted by fenced fields, farms, and pastures. Favorite camping, hunting, and fishing sites became permanently owned by others.
In May of 1849 Indians attacked Fort Nisqually in an attempt to kidnap Fort Indians or to chastize enemies. The attack was a failure and one white man was killed. Since the area was under the control of the United States, aid was demanded from the United States government. There were few U. S. Army troops in the Oregon county and it was not until August of 1849 that the government was able to respond. Elements of the First United States Artillery arrived at Fort Nisqually looking for the organizers of the May attack.
Founding of Fort Steilacoom
Military officers, searching for a site for a military headquarters, were invited to visit the farm of Joseph Thomas Heath, who had died earlier in the Spring. William F. Tolmie, factor at Fort Nisqually, showed the officers the Heath farm and a site on Sequalitchew Creek but the officers chose Steilacoom "...on account of the number of buildings already erected there."
The buildings constructed by Heath were inadequate for the needs of the garrison which began to arrive and Second Lieutenant Grier Tallmadge of the United States Army was assigned to erect suitable structures in which the Army could spend the winter. His report, dated December 6, 1849, describes his efforts in erecting two officer's quarters, a hospital, a company storehouse, a guardhouse, a commissary storehouse, and a bake house. He reported that the total cost of these buildings was slightly more than three thousand dollars.
Of the actual work done Lieutenant Tallmadge wrote: "We reached this place on the 27th of August and commenced disembarking on the next day. The necessary teams were engaged for hauling the stores up the hill, at the rate of one dollar and a half per day --all coming from a distance of twenty-five miles, and all working for accommodation rather than profit.
"Whilst the necessary number of men were employed in looking after the discharge of the stores and their transportation up the hill, two parties immediately commenced chopping logs for the construction of quarters. more teams were procured and as soon as sufficient numbers of logs had been cut to make a beginning one party was relieved from duty in the woods and ordered to commence building.
"Three days was the average length of time required to complete the body of the house. When the work was advanced thus far, another party took charge of the roofing, another of the building of the chimneys, and still another getting out the materials for doors and windows.
"Thus all the different parties followed each other in such a manner as to be all employed at once. The building went without delay until the four rooms now occupied as officer's quarters and the building used for a hospital were completed and ready for occupancy the first week of October.
In its twenty years of existence as a military base, Fort Steilacoom did not contain the usual apparatus of a frontier post for there were no log walls, bastions, or a heavy gate. Except for preparations made for possible Indian attacks during the Indian War of 1855-56, the Fort served as a headquarters, supply depot, and a center of administration.
The post did, however, take on many of the attributes of any of a number of frontier posts occupied by Federal troops during the period of westward expansion. There were officers about whom much would be heard in their later careers, some whose careers ended in death while in the service of their country and a larger group who served their time, did their duty, and are forgotten to
Enlisted men fit into several categories. Some had no other place to go or were suited to no other occupation. Others used the Army as a means of getting west, intending to become permanent settlers once their terms of enlistment were over.
Almost immediately the military officers at the Fort were confronted with the necessity of arranging for the trial of the Indians accused of the attack on Fort Nisqually in May. The leaders of the Indians who had attacked the Fort had been arrested and were to be tried. In early October the trial was held and two Indians were judged guilty of murder and were hanged.
Perhaps of even greater significance to the soldiers assigned to Fort Steilacoom was a visit of their Commanding General. Percifor F. Smith who was commander in chief of United States forces on the Pacific Coast visited the Fort between December 6th 1849 and December 9th of that year. Accompanied by officers including Colonel Joseph Hooker of Civil War fame, the General inspected the post and the surrounding community and left on a ship to continue his tour of inspection. While at the Fort Colonel Hooker ordered sixty bushels of potatoes from Fort Nisqually paying two dollars per bushel.
In May of 1853 Fort Steilacoom was under the command of DeLancy Floyd-Jones. At that time there were only three officers at the Fort and the post surgeon, Dr. John Haden. One of the officers, William A. Slaughter, was accompanied by his wife who was the only lady at the post. August V. Kautz who was assigned to the post that month recorded his impressions of what he found when he arrived.
As an indication of the general condition of life at the Fort Kautz wrote an account of the commanding officer, Lieutenant Jones in which he said that Jones "...was the only man in the country who changed his shirt every day , which, in those days, certainly exhibited unpardonable pride."
Later in the same year when the portion of Oregon north of the Columbia River became the territory of Washington Fort Steilacoom was commanded by Major Charles H. Larnard. Major Larnard was often in the field with portions of his command which consisted of two companies of the Fourth U.S. Infantry attempting to keep peace with the local Indians. On one such expedition in March of 1854 Major Larnard's boat was lost in a storm near Whidbey Island and all on board were drowned.
Lieutenant William P. Trowbridge of the United States Coast Survey visited the Fort during this time and left his impressions in a diary which has been published. Trowbridqe wrote that the Fort was unfavorably situated and that Major Larnard had requested that it be moved to a point on Whidbey Island. Much of the trouble with Indians on Puget Sound was generated by Indians who inhabited British Columbia who came among the islands and inlets of the Sound to cause trouble. The Major wrote that a location for a military establishment on Whidbey Island would be more effective in controlling these Northern Indians.
Indian War of 1855-56
In 1855 the Indians of Puget Sound joined with other tribes in the Northwest to drive out the unwanted white men. For them it was to be their final major effort.
The war west of the Cascade mountains is generally looked upon as an adjunct to the greater conflict which was taking place east of the mountains. By March of 1856 the Indians west of the Mountains had been totally defeated and were no longer able to carry out offensive operations on any large scale. It was not until the summer of 1858 that the Indians east of the mountains were beaten in battle by the United States Army.
Perhaps the most accurate account of why the Indians West of the mountains joined in the general uprising was written by Fayette McMullen who was governor of the Territory of Washington in 1857 and 1858. The governor was concerned about possible Indian outbreaks in those years and listed what he felt were the still unresolved issues between the Indians and the white settlers that had caused the war in 1855 and 1856 and could be the foundation of still another conflict.
The governor wrote:
"...The Indian tribes within our own territory living west of the Cascade Mountains, numbering some twelve thousand, are showing many signs of discontent, being unquestionable stimulated and encouraged to acts of outrage and violence by the tribes east of the mountains.
"They are located chiefly along the shores of the Sound and the Straits of de Fuca... and by a general and simultaneous rising, could annihilate our settlements, with perhaps the exception of the more considerable villages, in a single night.
"They complain that the government of the United States has been giving away and is still selling their lands to settlers, without making them any sort of compensation that they have in good faith made treaties with the Agent of the United States, whereby they were to receive compensation for their lands, and that these treaties have not been carried out in good faith by our government.
"They also say they are put off with promises by the Indian Agents, with the sole purpose of keeping them quiet until the white population becomes strong enough to drive them off entirely...
"They do not understand by what right these things are done, and upon what principals of justice, the government refuses to ratify the treaties and pay them for the land, while it yet passes laws giving away and selling their homes, their hunting grounds and their graves.
"Reasoning thus, they regard the settlers as tresspassers upon their domain, and consequently view them with extreme jealousy."
The actual war began in mid-September 1855 when Charles H. Mason, acting governor of the territory, was informed that Indians killed a number of men traveling into Eastern Washington. Mason wrote for aid to Captain Maurice Maloney at Fort Steilacoom and Maloney dispatched Lieutenant William A. Slaughter and a detachment of forty men east of the Cascades.
Slaughter's command crossed Naches Pass but when he learned that a large war party of Yakima Indians was gathering he recrossed the pass and camped on the west side of the mountains.
Local citizens were organized into military units as the territorial and federal troops were put on a war footing. At the end of October Captain Maloney left Fort Steilacoom to reinforce Slaughter. He had received orders to proceed across the pass and attack the hostile Indian tribes in Eastern Washington. Not wanting to denude the whole area of troops, Maloney stopped near Naches Pass and decided to report the possibility of outbreaks in the Puget Sound country to his superiors at Fort Vancouver and await developments and further instructions.
Maloney's suspicions of outbreaks of violence were well founded for a few days later local Indians struck at the White River settlements in King County and killed several people. Later two men, Lieutenant James McAllister of the Militia and Michael Connell, a settler, were killed and on October 31, 1855 messengers from the detachment at Naches Pass, A. Benton Moses and Joseph Miles, were ambushed and killed on their way to Fort Steilacoom.
Abraham Salatat, an Indian, rode through the Puyallup valley warning settlers of impending attacks. The settlers, numbering no more than eighty individuals in the entire valley, fled to Fort Steilacoom for protection. Indians also warned Nicholas DeLin, who had a sawmill near the mouth of the Puyallup River. He took two days to travel by scow around Point Defiance to reach the safety of the Fort.
The United States Revenue cutter, Jefferson Davis under the command of William C. Pease was anchored off Steilacoom. Pease loaned two twelve pound guns for local defence and offered to rescue all women and children at the Fort if an attack materialized.
Lieutenant John Nugen, temporary commander of the Fort, began to prepare for possible attacks. He arranged for the settlers who were arriving to find housing in the barracks at the Fort since most of the soldiers were in the field.
With the large influx of settlers with most of their portable goods, the Fort took on an atmosphere unusual at military establishments. Nugen, after settling the first group, wrote the territorial adjutant general that "...for the past seven days (the Fort) was much like a combination of military and horse market."
Ezra Meeker, an early settler, who in the general panic left his home and went to the Fort was more explicit than Nugen for he recalled the situation as being:
"A sorry mess ... of women and children crying some brutes of men cursing and swearing; oxen and cows bellowing, sheep bleating; dogs howling; children lost from parents; wives from husbands; no order, in a word, the utmost disorder."
The day after Miles and Moses were killed Nugen received word from William F. Tolmie, Chief factor at Fort Nisqually, that Indians were preparing to attack Fort Steilacoom. He wrote to territorial officials for supplies since much of what should have been at the fort was in the field with the troops.
Meanwhile Maloney's command was attacked North of the Puyallup River and after several running battles the Indians retreated into the woods to re-group and await further developments. There were casualties on both sides and William A. Slaughter, commander of one of the detachments of troops, was killed.
In mid-December reinforcements began to arrive as the U. S. Active, a government survey ship, reached Steilacoom with a supply of arms and ammunition. In January, 1856, two companies of the Ninth U. S. Infantry arrived on the Steamer Republic under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Silas Casey. The Ninth Infantry joined the elements of the Fourth Infantry already in the field and both groups with the Territorial Militia participated in a whole series of reconnaissances, confrontations, flanking movements, search and destroy episodes, etc. in what one soldier later wrote was "rough field service."
End of the War West of the Cascades
Although there were a number of skirmishes, the decisive battle of the War west of the Mountains was fought in March of 1856 near Connell's Prairie on the main trail to Naches Pass. Lieutenant Gilmore Hays reported that one hundred fifty warriors attacked the one hundred ten men of his command. After a battle lasting much of the day, Hays wrote that "...Indians were routed, put to flight and pursued for a mile or more along the trail."
It was during this time that Major General John E. Wool, Commander-in-Chief of U.S. forces on the Pacific Coast, arrived at Fort Steilacoom from his headquarters in California. Difficulties surrounding a visit by so exaulted a personage by the relatively junior officers in command can be appreciated especially since General Wool was often at odds with Governor Isaac I. Stevens, commander-in-chief of the territorial militia.
William P. Bonney, historian of early Pierce County, was impressed with the decision making ability of the young army officers assigned to Fort Steilacoom during the Indian war. In writing of Captain Maurice Maloney, Bonney recorded
"Perhaps at no time in the history of this territory and state has the young military officer been placed in the responsible and delicate position as was Captain Maloney during the latter part of October 1855 -had he not exercised the sound judgement which he displayed ... when he stopped to consider the situation, the history of the Indian War of 1855-56 would be written entirely differently than we find it."
The defeated Indians broke up into small bands after the battle near Connell's prairie never again to re-assemble in groups large enough to carry out any large scale operations. Some of the Indians returned to the reservations forced on them by the treaties of 1854 and 1855, some went into hiding, and others fled across the mountains.
On May 19,1856, Lieutenant Colonel Silas Casey, commander of the troops at Fort Steilacoom, was able to report to his superiors that the war west of the Cascade mountains was at an end.
Military activity in the Puget Sound country was reduced to attempts to capture Leschi, one of the leaders of the Nisqually Indian tribe. He was blamed for organized several Indian attacks and more specifically was accused of murdering Miles and Moses at Connell's prairie. He was excluded from the general amnesty declared at the close of the war along with several other Indian leaders and was in hiding east of the mountains.
After several adventures and with a price on his head, Leschi was turned over to authorities by a relative, and remained in custody in the guardhouse at Fort Steilacoom. His subsequent trials, the legal maneuvers surrounding them, and his final execution on February 19, 1858 caused much controversy throughout the territory.
Officers at the Fort along with William F. Tolmie, factor at Fort Nisqually, and several other men worked to have the territorial governor grant executive clemency when all legal recourse failed.
Tolmie and Lieutenant A. V. Kautz with two Indians visited Connell's prairie where Miles and Moses where killed and measured the distance between where Leschi had been seen and where the men were ambushed. Kautz drew a map showing that Leschi could not have been present at the murder site. This map and other information was given to the new territorial governor, Fayette McMullen, who seemed to be favorable to granting Leschi clemency.
When the Governor returned to Olympia from Steilacoom where he had gone to hear the Leschi evidence he received a petition containing seven hundred signatures demanding the execution of Leschi. With that many people demanding Leschi's death, the Governor decided to agree with the majority and refused clemency.
On the day Leschi was to be hanged, James Bachelder, U. S. Commissioner, ordered the arrest of the Sheriff of Pierce County on a charge of selling liquor to the Indians. The time of the execution passed and Leschi was saved for a short time.
Later the officers at the Fort and others sponsored the publication of a newspaper which they called the Truth Teller. Using satire as a weapon the two issues of the paper pointed to the Kautz map of Connell's prairie, that the killing of Indians during the War of 1855-56 was apparently legal as a war measure but the killing of white men was judged murder, and finally if there was no real war as some had claimed, then why were war reparations demanded from the Federal government.
Although Tolmie and his associates claimed a moral victory, the Sheriff of Thurston County came in mid-February with a small posse and Leschi was finally executed. Colonel Silas Casey refused permission for the hanging to take place on military property so a gallows was built east of the Fort. The officers and men at the Fort were forbidden to leave the post as the Sheriff, his executioner, the posse, and a few Indians witnessed the event.
Conflicts with Civilian Authorities
The military officers were often at odds with civilian authorities regarding the treatment of Indians in general. Certainly the temporary Indian wives of many of the single officers had an influence in creating a more favorable attitude than the general a-good-Indian-is-a-dead-Indian concept which was so widely held at the time.
A letter written by Silas Casey, one year after the beginning of the war perhaps best shows the attitude of the military: "Governor. For several weeks past there has been more than one hundred Indians, including women and children, encamped near this post. Your agents have taken no charge of them and I understand, decline to do so... In consequence of this, I have considered that the public tranquility required that I should ration them, and I have since then done accordingly.
"...I am fully of the opinion that if the Indians of the Sound are treated with kindness and justice and lawless men restrained from violence towards them, there will be no danger of any outbreak on their part ."
Isaac I. Stevens' angry responses to Colonel Casey's protests in which Stevens demanded that Casey mind his own business and that the civilian authorities were much more qualified to make judgements in Indian matters than the regular Army officers showed what has been called the "...significant and fundamental disagreement..."between the military and civil authorities which "...lay in the question of whether the Indians should be utterly subdued and completely dispossessed. The desires of the land-hungry settlers, not... just and considerate treatment.... prevailed."
Officer's Life at Fort Steilacoom
One officer who was assigned to Fort Steilacoom during the mid 1850s remembered his assignment to the post with a certain amount of pleasure. He wrote that he was well satisfied with the Fort for "..there was plenty to eat and little to do." This officer, August V. Kautz, spent his time before he superintended the major reconstruction of the Fort gardening near Waughop Lake, riding over the plains "...in search of grouse and ducks and other game, fishing in the Sound or Steilacoom Creek...." and fathering several children.
Kautz reported that many of his single colleagues maintained social relationships with Indian women as well and that a number of them fathered half-Indian children during their assignments in the Northwest.
Marriages to Indian women were generally temporary, lasting only as long as the soldier was assigned to the Northwest. One officer during this period served at Fort Steilacoom, at Semiahmoo Bay and at Fort Chehalis. He was accompanied by his Indian wife and family at all three locations and for a year when he was assigned elsewhere sent his family money and urged them to remain on the Nisqually reservation. When the time came for the annual Indian payment he even sent his wife and children to collect their share of the goods which were doled out by the government from time to time.
Few details of the social consequences of these marriages are recorded but it was apparent that while such relationships were common, they were ignored by polite society. Indian wives at Steilacoom lived in a camp near the Fort and usually did not reside in government quarters.
August V. Kautz recorded on one occasion when his son had whooping cough he was kept in quarters and doctored there. Kautz wrote that his wife, Etta, cleaned his quarters from time to time but did it indifferently.
When the Army was withdrawn from the Northwest at the beginning of the Civil War the Indian wives and families were effectively abandoned and usually left to find their own way in the world.
Kautz obtained leave one summer and with a small group of men became the first on record to attempt a climb to the summit of Mount Rainier. He reached the 14,000 foot level but because he lost his hat and would have had to return alone after dark through a particularly treacherous rock pile was unable to reach the summit.
Doctor George Suckley, who served as a naturalist and surgeon on the Stevens Railroad survey in 1853 was assigned as an assistant surgeon at Fort Steilacoom during the winter of 1853-54. While he was there he was asked to collect everything he could for the Smithsonian Institution including marine animals, shellfish, starfish, crab, etc.
While Governor Isaac I. Stevens wrote to Suckley in February of 1854 that there were no funds for special expeditions, Suckley used his time at the Fort gathering natural history specimens and completing those sections of the railroad report to Congress for which he was responsible.
Several years later Dr. Suckley wrote to friends at the Fort asking for specimens of several kinds of fish which he was apparently unable to obtain while he was there.
Officers often found or made an opportunity to visit the other military establishments nearby. Fort Townsend, Fort Bellingham, the post at Semiahmoo Bay and Fort Muckleschute Prairie all had to be inspected and the delights of towns like Port Townsend, Victoria, Olympia, and on occasion Portland and San Francisco needed to be sampled.
The mail steamer often provided transportation for after the contract for mail delivery was extended to cover the entire Puget Sound area in 1857 nearly every town or village on the shores of the Sound was visited weekly. Often the Army chartered a steam or sail vessel to haul supplies from one location or another and many men caught rides on these ships.
During the gold rush on the Fraser River in British Columbia during 1857 and 1858 there were plenty of opportunities to travel on ships bringing prospectors. The revenue cutter, the Jefferson Davis, was present during the late 1850s and was often able to take passengers on "official" business. If worse came to worst, an open Indian canoe could be hired. Leave time for officers seemed to be quite liberal and any new places was much better than what for many was a boring existence.
The entertainment of visitors was both a welcome respite and a burden. Extra guests meant more elaborate meals and a heavy drain on the supply of liquor. Officers who had early morning duty often complained about all night card parties and drinking bouts.
New people, tired from long journeys, were often kept up until the last bit of news or gossip was squeezed from them. Since there were few extra accommodations available, both officers and men had to share quarters with visitors, making already crowded conditions even less tolerable.
More than one young lady from the east who had almost "given up hope" came to visit friends and relatives at the Fort. The supply of young bachelors was greater than could be accommodated by the demands of the daughters of local settlers for husbands and a number of marriages were celebrated at Fort Steilacoom during these years.
As time passed and more officers married or came to Fort Steilacoom with their families the "freedom and ease" remembered by some of the young officers was replaced with a structured off duty life consisting of balls, parties, prayer meetings, dances, theatricals, musical exhibitions and outings.
Officers sometimes involved themselves in the local economy where they were assigned. August V. Kautz, whose diary gives the best account of life at the Fort, writes of buying and selling real estate and while at Steilacoom traded lots on several occasions. Dr. George Suckley whose career at the Fort was quite brief acquired town lots which he felt could be sold at fifteen hundred dollars profit after holding them less than a year.
Lives of the Enlisted Men
The lives of the enlisted men were not as idyllic as that of the officers. There was a wide social gulf between the officers and men which was rarely bridged. Two societies existed side by side and it seemed to many observers that the officers were the only ones who were properly fed, properly housed and given sufficient pay for their work.
A preliminary count of soldiers stationed at the Fort taken for the 1860s census of the United States showed the garrison to consist of approximately two hundred fifty individuals of which at least one hundred seventy-five were foreign born. Of these, one hundred ten were Irish, forty-three from Germany and Prussia, twenty from England and Scotland. There were eighty six born in the United States, mostly from New York, Pennsylvania and New England. The typical soldier was under thirty years of age and more close twenty-three or twenty-four years old.
When the Fraser River gold rush began a number of soldiers from the Fort deserted and left for the mining area. A detachment of soldiers was sent after them and soon all were captured. A court martial was held at which all who deserted were adjudged guilty. The sentences carried out are perhaps a mirror of the place and the time but seem particularly savage. Five men were ordered whipped forty-nine times, after which their heads were shaved and then they were drummed out of the army. Two men were left to serve out the remaining time of their enlistments on a ball and chain, one man for six months and another for three.
The troops received their pay only when the pay officer managed to be in the area. Since most men did not budget their money they drank away what they had. They were often in debt to each other and nearly always to the post suttler.
The suttler was a civilian who was allowed to keep a store on the grounds of the Fort. The store served as a social center and provided extra food, clothing and liquor. Items were of necessity sold on credit when there was no ready cash available.
On one occasion when the time between the visits of the pay officer lengthened into several months, many soldiers owed more to the store than their pay would cover. When the pay officer finally arrived the suttler, James Bachelder, began to collect the debts owed to his store and a number of the men refused to pay.
Attempts were made to break into the suttler's store and someone tried to burn the building down. The guard house was soon full of soldiers accused of causing trouble for Bachelder.
The religious needs of the men at the Fort were met by the appointment of a post chaplain who represented one of the major Protestant Churches. He usually worked with both the officers and the men and traveled throughout the Puget Sound country ministering to the needs of other citizens. There were missionaries and preachers of other religious groups who came from time to time to care for the members of their flocks.
Father Louis Rossi served the spiritual needs of the Roman Catholic population at Fort Steilacoom for nearly seven years. Since he was responsible for Catholics around the Sound, he used Steilacoom as a base of operations and was constantly on the move. The Catholic church built at Fort Steilacoom by Father Rossi still stands and was moved to the town of Steilacoom in the 1860s and serves the Catholic population today.
One of the favorite forms of recreation at the Fort was that of horse racing. Since horses served as the basic means of transportation matching horses in racing contests was common. Usually a flat open piece of ground was developed into a rude track and men from the Fort and local citizens gathered to enjoy the sport. William P. Bonney, historian of early Pierce County, writes of several racing events and tells of near riots on one or two occasions when cheating was discovered.
Everyday life in the garrison at the Fort was often very quiet. The duties of keeping everything in order, training, occasional trips to the field, and visits from the paymaster, inspector general, and others occupied only part of the time. One diarist often wrote, "Nothing worthy of note occurred today..." when summing up his activities.
The celebration of Independence Day, 1857, proved to be a welcome respite from the ordinary day-today life at the Fort. Two naval vessels, one United States and the other British, were anchored at Steilacoom that Fourth of July and everyone was invited to attend the appropriate festivities. In addition to the sailors and officers from the U.S.S. Active and the H.M.S. Satellite, representatives from the United States boundary commission, guests from Victoria and Fort Nisqually and local residents joined in the celebration.
The sailors enjoyed riding the horses of the post over the prairies and it was reported that nearly all horses became lamed because of the enthusiastic antics of the sailors. More than fifty guests ate at the officer's mess and the band from the H.M.S. Satellite provided music during dinner and for the dance that followed.
There was much visiting back and forth and to make certain all guests were treated correctly, some officers of the Fort were forced to eat lunch twice, once on the British vessel, and once on the American ship to avoid any semblance of favoritism. A special divine service was held on the British vessel which many attended.
The next year, 1858, had a much quieter celebration. There were few guests and being cut off from news from the east the National Salute included cannon shots for thirty-four states. It had been assumed that Kansas, Minnesota, and Oregon had been admitted to the Union, but only Minnesota rated the honor.
The howitzers did not fire well and it was discovered that one soldier was putting the wrong end of the cartridge into his gun first making it misfire. Upon investigation it was found that the soldier was an Englishman and his desire to ruin the Yankee salute was deliberate.
Soldiers were required to wear their uniforms at all times and were easily recognizable by the civilian population. One soldier, who had killed another man in a knife fight at Port Townsend, was sent to the guardhouse at Fort Steilacoom until he could be tried for the murder. The sergeant of the guard and the corporal in charge allowed the man to leave the guardhouse unattended and he escaped. He was gone for a number of days and was finally found by residents of the town of Monticello well on the way to Oregon. He had managed to avoid settlements as he traveled south but had to walk all the way and ate only what he could steal.
Since Regan, the accused murderer, was actually under civil control, the territorial officials were informed. Territorial Governor Fayette McMullen arrived at the Fort to investigate just as the evening retreat was under way. The governor thought that the exercise was in his honor so he "took command." The governor demanded a fifteen gun salute in honor of his position but was told there was no powder. He was finally pacified and went off to Steilacoom, to, as one writer put it "...make a further ass of himself."
By this time the relationship between the officers at the Fort and the civilian leaders had reached a low point. There had been confrontations over military tactics during the Indian War of 1855-56 and with the public support given Leschi by the officers, it was difficult to maintain even proper official relationships. The governor, Fayette McMullen who had replaced Isaac I. Stevens when Stevens was elected as Territorial delegate to Congress was a Virginian who was accused of taking the territorial position only because he knew that an easy divorce was possible through the rather liberal territorial legislature and cared little for the government of the territory. The fact that he did obtain a divorce from his wife in Virginia and married a local woman has given credence to these charges.
This is, however, somewhat unfair. In October, 1857, soon after his arrival, McMullen wrote his impressions of activities in the territory in a letter to President James Buchanan. McMullen's comments on the problems local settlers were having with Indians from Canada and the unwillingness of the United States government to act in good faith with local Indians represent positive points of view usually not attributed to him.
Sample of Life at the Fort
A sample of life at Fort Steilacoom relating to relationships between the various segments of society can be shown in the story of the murder of an Indian named Goliah in 1858.
One afternoon a half drunk soldier named Crawley went to the Indian camp near the Fort and traded a half bottle of whiskey to Goliah for a clasp knife owned by the Indian. The soldier discovered that the Indian had money and talked him into going into the nearby forest.
The next morning the body of Goliah was found near the trail between the Fort and the town of Steilacoom. The Indian had been cut and stabbed with a knife and his pockets had been rifled.
Other Indians went to the Fort to report the murder and pointed out Crawley. An officer on his way to breakfast was told of the crime and not wanting to interrupt his meal simply ordered Crawley put in the guardhouse. A little later the officer thought better of his casual attitude and went to the guardhouse to interview the soldier. The officer noticed that the man's shirt was covered with blood or grease but in the dim light could not tell. The soldier said that it was grease.
Later the officer and the Post doctor went to inspect the body of the dead Indian and were shown an empty whiskey bottle of the kind traded the day before. The Indians demanded satisfaction, either by having the accused soldier hanged or Goliah's family recompensed. The officer returned to the guardhouse and found that Crawley had changed his shirt with another man but denied that he did even though the bloody shirt now on the back of the second man was stamped with Crawley's name. The second man swore that the shirt had not been off his back for a week and that he had had a bloody nose when he was confined.
The next day the accused murderer was taken to the post hospital where he was stripped and his body closely inspected to discover any marks of violence. The next day he was again searched and the money known to have belonged to the Indian was found in his pockets.
The money was covered with dried blood and there was a silver rupee from India that had been given to the dead Indian in trade the week before. Crawley claimed he had received the money from the paymaster, but it was shown that the paymaster had given out only new coins and these were old. The soldier stuck to his story.
Crawley's private box in the barracks was searched yielding only two rusty knives and a wood block used for stamping names on clothing. The block matched the name imprinted on the bloody shirt which Crawley claimed was not his.
The local justice of the peace, Erastus Light, came to the Fort to interview all involved but could not take testimony from the Post physician because he was "indisposed" after spending the day in the saloons of Steilacoom on each of three days. Crawley obtained witnesses who gave him an alibi for the day of the murder except for the estimated time of the killing itself.
The questioning of the Indians proved to be most difficult. Much of what was repeated was second or third hand, but finally an Indian woman who had bought a blanket from Goliah identified the money taken from Crawley as the same she had given Goliah.
The soldier was sent to the district court which met later in Olympia. The trial was held over for several days because the court was investigating a case of seduction which was apparently of more interest than the murder of the Indian.
After several trips back and forth to Olympia for all concerned the case was finally tried. Crawley was acquitted "...because of the natural prejudice against white men being punished for killing Indians." The family of the Indian received one hundred dollars.
Relations with the Hudson's Bay Company
Since the Hudson's Bay Company was in reality the landlord of the military garrison at Fort Steilacoom it was inevitable that a close relationship would exist between the two establishments. When the Fort was first located at Steilacoom, William F. Tolmie, Chief Factor at Fort Nisqually, began a series of visits which would last until he was transferred out of the area ten years later.
Being a medical doctor, Tolmie agreed to look after the medical needs of the soldiers of the garrison while the post doctor was gone during the first few months of the existence of the Fort. So close a professional relationship was built that Tolmie called upon the post doctor to look after his own family in the years that followed even those the post doctor refused to treat other civilians.
Since Fort Nisqually had become more of an agricultural than fur trading post, it was certain that Company representatives would work to obtain business and contracts from the Commissary department at the Fort. Large areas of the county were controlled by the Company and large herds of cattle and sheep grazed over the prairies that stretched inland from the coastline of Puget Sound.
From time to time social events were held at either Fort Steilacoom or Fort Nisqually and often Army officers and Hudson's Bay Company families would join for these activities. Sometimes visitors from other Hudson's Bay Company posts, especially Victoria, would come and the Army officers either held dances and parties for the visitors or attended functions at the Hudson's Bay Company post.
August V. Kautz wrote of his friendship with William F. Tolmie and said that they corresponded regularly one with another when separated until Tolmie died many years later.
Several reasons for this close relationship between the two groups of people have been advanced. Certainly neither the Hudson's Bay Company people or the Army officers planned to make Puget Sound their permanent homes and consequently their attitude towards each other, the permanent settlers, and the Indians differed from that of other groups. The Army officers and the Hudson's Bay Company people were of a similar social class, educated and cultured in many cases and were the managers of the activities of others. The Hudson's Bay Company officials were on Puget Sound on a commercial venture and were perhaps not as interested in permanency and the Army was present to keep the peace.
While this situation cannot be followed too far in analysis, it is true that in some situations those at Fort Steilacoom felt closer to the Hudson's Bay Company people at Fort Nisqually than they did their fellow Americans in and near the town of Steilacoom.
The town of Steilacoom was important to all people at the Fort. The suttler's store could not carry all that was wanted by the soldiers and their families so the business establishments of Steilacoom catered to the military as well as to other citizens.
The saloons in town offered enticements that could not be resisted by many of the garrison. Close control was needed to keep the men from spending all their free time in the drinking and gambling establishments of the town.
There was an element of culture in Steilacoom that was enjoyed by the military as well. The Steilacoom Library association was founded in the early 1850s and provided not only books but also scheduled lectures, entertainments, and other activities. There was an annual ball given to raise funds for the Library Association and usually men from the Fort attended to lend their support.
When the time came for the establishment of a Masonic Lodge in Steilacoom, Masons among the officers at the Fort joined their brethren in the town and surrounding area in organizing the lodge. Silas Casey, commander of the Fort, lent his name to several organizations and was president of several worthwhile public service and morally uplifting groups.
The Balch and Webber dock was located near the center of the business district of Steilacoom. Arrivals of the mail steamer, the revenue cutter, supply vessels, and other ships were always a source of interest, especially during the pre-Civil War days when these ships were the only sources of recent news.
The town was named the seat of Pierce County when the County was organized and was the post office as well. People with business with local government were often in Steilacoom and the Fort drew numerous visitors as a consequence.
A medical doctor was assigned to the Fort and he was often called upon to help local residents. There were a number of civilians who were doctors by profession, but they were generally too busy doing other things to perform needed medical services. At one time the post physician announced officially that he could no longer take civilian patients because of the extra work load.
The Puget Sound Herald of Steilacoom in its issue of June 4, 1858, advertised for a Doctor for the town. The editor of the paper reported that there was a population of over eight hundred to serve not counting Indians and that a "...thoroughly educated physician who is also adept in surgery and midwifery..." could make up to two thousand dollars a year.
The relationship between Steilacoom and Fort Steilacoom was generally cordial, with a number of notable exceptions. When the officers at the Fort announced their opposition to the execution of Leschi there were two protest meetings held in the town where the actions of the soldiers were publicly condemned. The friendship between the Hudson's Bay Company employees and some of the officers at the Fort was also looked upon with disfavor by Steilacoom residents. Since the Company looked upon the Americans who were living on land the Company claimed as squatters, little good was said about the Company or its friends.
The presence of the military officers was also an asset to the community. Many of them had graduated from the Military Academy and were trained in engineering, surveying and other useful professions. William Slaughter, who was killed during the Indian War of 1855-56, surveyed land for Lafayette Balch when Mr. Balch divided his holdings into town lots for Steilacoom. August V. Kautz did work for Thomas M. Chambers in leveling and surveying and drew a number of maps and charts for territorial officers.
In April of 1858 soldiers at the Fort assisted in stopping the fire that burned the office of the County Auditor as well as some adjoining structures. Thirty men from the fort were watching a theatrical performance in town when the fire broke out. Too late to save the Auditor's office, the men put together a bucket brigade which kept the roof of the Anthony Hotel wet so that it would not burn.
Not all relations were positive for later that summer the local newspaper took time to condemn soldiers at the Fort for what was called lawless behavior. The condemnation editorial published in the Herald and the response from a soldier at the Fort brought into the open feelings of resentment which had apparently been building for years and although overstated in each case represent a basic and fundamental conflict which exists between a civil population and the military which presents to protect it.
The editor of the Puget Sound Herald on July 9,1858 wrote:
"Grevious complaints are made of the depredations of the soldiers at Fort Steilacoom.
"The evils now complained of are of long duration and have been patiently submitted to for years without abatement or redress.
"Farmers in the vicinity of the garrison say they have never been permitted to raise swine or poultry, owing to the thievish propensities of the "bulwarks of liberty." who seem to think their position as soldiers entitles them the privilege of stealing all game small enough to be carried off and willfully destroying all that cannot be conveniently taken away.
"We were informed last week of a visit made by a party of these vandals about a month ago to the dairy and dwelling of Mr. Crofts a few miles from the Fort, on which occasion they made strenuous efforts to annihilate everything that came in their way, dwelling and all, but only partially succeeded; a few broken window sashes remaining to tell the tale of desolation.
"It seems they were impelled to this visit by another motive than that of mere mischief for they ransacked every portion of the house in pursuit of money, not finding which, as burglars sometimes do, they demolished everything they could get their hands on. Even the butter in the dairy, being a not very portable article in the sun was taken and strewed along the road.
"Since the commission of the above depredation one of the valiant sons of liberty from the Fort favored Mr. Keach with a visit, and kindly shot a fine milch cow belonging to him. The party guilty of this crime has been arrested and is now confined to the guardhouse awaiting trial by court martial.
"We are assured that these offences will always be visited with the severest punishment when complaint is made accompanied with proper evidence; and those who suffer by these depredations do wrong in not complaining."
A private assigned to the Ninth Infantry was outraged at what he felt was an unwarranted attack against the majority at the Fort and the editor of the Herald published his response. The soldier wrote:
"Everything done by soldiers of an evil nature is performed while they are under the influence of that holy stuff, which your pious citizens sell under the name of brandy and whiskey, but which you and I know is the most abominable "rot-gut".
"Soldiers may kill pigs and poultry, main a cow, break windows, and destroy butter, but are they more criminal than those who poison men to death? No; then why not attack the greater culprits? ...
"Does it follow that because there was one swindler and thief in the firm of Lee and Prosch you should be condemned? No: God forbid. And yet you heedlessly asperse the characters of two hundred men for actions committed by four or five. Advise your neighbors to have no dealings with the "sons and bulwarks of liberty." Tell them to give no "rot-gut" to such fellows. The men who have such holy horror of a soldier should not deal with him."
Confrontations of this kind seemed to be the exception and not the rule in the relationship between Steilacoom and the soldiers for generally things were more calm than what was presented in the interchange between the editor and the soldier.
There were contracts for forage and feed for animals that often went to local businessmen. Although there was a post garden, contracts were let to supply beef, pork and other commodities and Steilacoom people were often able to underbid such agencies as the Hudson's Bay Company to receive this army business. Herbert Hunt, in his history of Tacoma, wrote that more than $200,000 was spent in 1857 and 1858 on the reconstruction of the Fort and that a good share of that money was spent locally.
Civilians were often called upon to perform special tasks for the Army. Teamsters were hired by the day to haul items from one location to another and there was a certain amount of business done at the Fort by civilians. On one occasion when the mess officer was unable to provide elegant enough dining for the officers at the post, a civilian and his wife were hired to "manage the mess." Unfortunately the man was addicted to alcohol and was soon fired and another mess officer took over.
Reconstruction of the Fort
It was apparent from the beginning that the Army had planned to occupy Fort Steilacoom only temporarily. In an annual report for 1851 the quartermaster officer at the Fort wrote:
"...This not being a permanent station, we have erected such buildings as were required for present purposes ... they are log buildings put up in a rough and temporary manner..."
As time passed, it was decided that the fort would be more permanent that was expected and more substantial structures were needed. Ezra Meeker, who was among those who fled to Fort Steilacoom during the Indian War of 1855-56, wrote that he did not consider the name "Fort" appropriate for it was "...simply an encampment in log cabin and light board houses."
Permission to begin construction had to come from the headquarters of the Army in Washington. Months passed between the time requests for authorizations were made and the receipt of orders to rebuild the Fort. The summer of 1858 was passing and local officers were anxious to get outside work done before the winter rains came. There had been some confrontations between some of the officers and the quartermaster people who were unwilling to fix up old quarters when new quarters were going to be built.
Finally when building supplies began to arrive from the States local officers assumed that authorization was on its way and work could begin.
August V. Kautz, as quartermaster officer, was responsible for the new buildings. Although some supplies did arrive from the outside much of what was needed had to be obtained locally. Kautz had a difficult time keeping enough building materials available for the carpenters and other workmen who were hired mostly from the civilian population to get the buildings up.
Kautz purchased lumber from a number of the saw mills which were located about Puget Sound and bought materials from as far away from Steilacoom as Tumwater and Port Gamble.
There was a considerable amount of trouble over the brick. A kiln was built and in the middle of the project the commanding officer of the Fort ordered the discharge of the brick workers. Kautz appealed to Washington for help in getting the brickworkers back to their jobs. The commanding officer was sustained by Washington because it was decided that since he had ordered the brickworkers to be hired in the first place he had the authority to fire them as well. Finally this problem was solved and many thousand brick were made and fired.
Quality varied considerably and Kautz often complained of poorly sawn wood and impure lime. Once when carpenters demanded higher pay, Kautz discharged them all and went to Victoria and Port Townsend to find replacements. Others left for the gold rush on the Fraser River and Kautz was hard put to keep construction going.
Wives of senior officers were especially troublesome when they demanded things beyond what was usually provided. Often as well versed in Army regulations as the officers, these women made life miserable for supply officers.
Mrs. Silas Casey, wife of the post commander who arrived during the construction period, decided that she wanted a bell. Patiently Lieutenant Kautz explained that bells were non-regulation items and the purchase of a bell would not get by the auditors. Mrs. Casey kept after Kautz and her husband, but did not get her bell though she spent much time and energy trying.
As part of the reconstruction project, Kautz installed a hydraulic ram to produce water for the garrison. There were a number of artesian wells at the bottom of the canyon which led from the Fort to Chambers Creek. Much work and experimentation had to be completed before the ram threw water in large enough quantities to meet the needs of the garrison.
Other details of construction gathered by Herbert Hunt for his history of Tacoma were:
"The sills for the buildings were hewn by hand. Many of them were too long to be cut by Byrd's sawmill at Custer. They were a foot square .... For the chimneys Stephen Judson made the brick, hauling clay from the hillsides a considerable distance away. His brother John Paul, served as a teamster and hauled lumber to the Fort.
"...The headquarters building at the Fort was constructed with brick between the studding as a protection against the bullets of the Indians".
Several groups are interested in preserving the remains of Fort Steilacoom. The four remaining buildings constructed by Kautz were called "...of major architectural significance..." in papers prepared for the nomination of the Fort area as an historic district. It was reported that all were built according to "stock Army plans" which are possibly still available in the National Archives. They can be described as "cottage" style and were determined to be reminiscent of Colonial Williamsburg.
Steptoe's Defeat in Eastern Washington
In the Summer of 1858 the officers at the Fort were shocked to learn that soldiers in Eastern Washington under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edward Steptoe had met with and were defeated by a combined force of more than one thousand Indians from several tribes including the Spokanes and Couer d'Alenes. Cut off from the real news the men at Fort Steilacoom had to rely on fragmentary messages from friends and partial accounts. Weeks were to pass before the total impact of the Steptoe defeat was felt.
The troops at Fort Steilacoom were not called upon to join Colonel George Wright who was sent into Eastern Washington. The men were, however, put on alert for possible Indian troubles west of the Mountains. Leaders of the Nisqually tribe traveled to Fort Steilacoom to inform Colonel Silas Casey of Indian reactions to the victory and to urge a show of force to keep the peace.
Career officers could not believe that an element of the United States Army could lose to Indians in the field and the consequences of the action were discussed for weeks. Fragmentary reports continued to come and all were relieved when the force under the control of Colonel Wright destroyed the Indian concentrations.
The Indians west of the mountains stayed quiet and no show of force was necessary. There was, however, a considerable amount of soul searching when it was learned that Steptoe would have experienced even greater casualties if it had not been for the allied Nez Perce Indians who actually rescued Steptoe's command and also had a large war party in the field.
Discussions continued for weeks and it was finally decided that the reasons for Steptoe's defeat could be assigned to overconfidence on the part of the commander, poor reconnaissance, green troops and too little ammunition. For all concerned it was an unsettling experience.
Puget Sound Pig War
In mid 1859 there was another flurry of activity at Fort Steilacoom as preparations were made to back United States claims to islands in the San Juan group. The treaty dividing the islands between the United States and Canada spoke of a channel which separated the holdings of the two nations, but the exact channel was not named. The joint boundary commission could not agree on the location of the channel and as citizens from both nations settled on the islands disputes arose over jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters.
Troops were sent from Fort Steilacoom under the command of Captain George Pickett to strengthen American claims in what has been known to history as the Puget Sound Pig War. British troops were also sent to the islands and it looked as if war would break out at any time. Fortunately a peaceful solution was found and American soldiers were not called upon to fight their British counterparts.
Fort Steilacoom was well supplied for General Harney of the United States Army was able to order one hundred thousand rounds of musket and rifle ammunition stored at Fort Steilacoom"... for the use of Governor Gholson of Washington and any volunteers he might summon to fight the British."
The Coming of the Civil War
National events were soon to take precedence over the frontier mission of Fort Steilacoom. With the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States, officers at the Fort closely followed the events that were lead to the outbreak of the War. As state after state left the Union rumors about the lapse of all Army commissions, the inability of the government to pay the Army, and other concerns plagued those at the Fort. Mail was weeks old when it arrived on the sound and newspapers could only report speculation.
Of immediate importance to the officers at the Fort was the status of their home states regarding secession from the Union. Most officers felt obliged to resign from the Army if their state seceded and soon a number of officers from the southern states were leaving for their homes. While men like Captain George Pickett condemned the actions of the southern states, he and his colleagues resigned and returned to offer their services to the Confederacy.
After the attack on Fort Sumter which opened the Civil War, the 4th Infantry, which had been stationed on the west coast for more than a decade was ordered east. Since the regiment was spread up and down the west coast, San Francisco was chosen as the point of concentration as other troops were sent from California to garrison the posts previously assigned to the Fourth and other regular Army regiments.
There was a flurry of activity at the Fort as everyone packed up to leave. Since Fort Steilacoom was the largest of the several military posts on Puget Sound, orders were sent out to all quartermaster officers to send all surplus public property to Steilacoom. The quartermaster at the Fort was ordered to visit each post to take charge of public property and appoint trustworthy agents to care for those items of property that could not be moved.
Interest of local citizens was drawn to the war as well as to the subsequent careers of men who had been assigned to the Fort. Several men who had been at Steilacoom attained high rank in both the Federal and Confederate armies.
Silas Casey who had commanded the Fort several times, eventually reached the rank of Major General and authored books on military tactics which were widely used. Soon before his retirement from active service he was assigned to be Inspector General of the Army.
David McKibben, who served both at Fort Steilacoom and at the post at Semiahmoo Bay with the boundary commission, rose from the rank of First Lieutenant in 1861 to Brigadier General of Volunteers in 1865. He fought in Virginia and after the war was reduced to the rank of Major in the 10th Infantry. He is remembered to history when as a young officer at Semiahmoo Bay he arrested men on Canadian soil, causing an international incident.
Lieutenant August V. Kautz attained the rank of Major General of Volunteers in the Army and participated as a judge in the Court Martial of the group accused of plotting to kill Abraham Lincoln, William E. Seward, and other government leaders. After a career in the Southwest Kautz commanded the Department of the Columbia for a short period of time and then retired from the Army. He later moved to Seattle where he died in 1895.
Maurice Maloney who commanded both Fort Steilacoom and Fort Chehalis at various times became a Colonel in the 13th Wisconsin volunteers but returned to the regular army in 1862 as a Major in the First Infantry. He received the rank of Colonel at the close of the War and died in 1872.
Of the many officers who chose to join the Confederacy George Pickett was the most prominent. He reluctantly resigned his commission in the Army after Fort Sumter and eventually became a Major General in the Confederate army and led the last major charge at Gettysburg.
Continued need for the Fort
As the withdrawal of the regular army troops for war service began, the War Department authorized the establishment of the First Washington Volunteer Infantry. Under the general command of Colonel Justus Steinberger, this unit was to be raised in Washington, Oregon and California. It was authorized to contain nine hundred sixty men organized in ten companies and was mustered into the service of the United States at Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, at Fort Vancouver and at Fort Steilacoom.
In the meantime Company E of the California Volunteers arrived at Fort Steilacoom to replace remnants of two regular army companies which left immediately for the east. Consisting of eighty-five men, this company was to serve at Fort Steilacoom from November 16, 1861 until October 9, 1862.
Soon after the arrival of the Californians, the Steilacoom newspaper reported a flurry of robberies in and around the Fort and blamed the new men. Soon things calmed down as the soldiers fit into the community. When they left nearly a year later they were given a cheer and a Bon Voyage by the community except for their commanding officer who apparently had not made a good impression on the local citizenry. Charles Prosch of the Puget Sound Herald wrote, "He is deemed fit only for a lunatic asylum, and a feeling of relief is experienced at his leaving."
The California troops were replaced by Company F of the Washington Territorial Volunteers and from time to time throughout the Civil War troops belong to the several volunteer organizations were assigned, moved, and reassigned to and from Fort Steilacoom.
The arrival of new settlers slowed to a trickle while the nation fought the Civil War. Fort Steilacoom and other army posts not directly connected with the fighting of the Civil War became backwaters and little mention of them is made even in the general histories of the area.
The Confederate Privateer Shenandoah was heard to be in the North Pacific in the Spring and Summer of 1865 and there was a series of demands for more adequate protection of the sea coast. The ship did not reach the coast but sank twenty-five or more merchant ships in the Pacific during this period. Local citizens were afraid that the Shenandoah would sail into Puget Sound and bombard their homes and businesses.
The territorial legislature memorialized Congress on several occasions during the War asking for continued assistance in garrisoning the military establishments and urging their continuance.
In 1860 Colonel George Wright had designated Point Defiance near Tacoma and part of the coastline opposite it at Gig Harbor as military reservations. In 1864 Brigadier General Benjamin Alvord, commander of local troops, asked that "...application should be made for a fortification at Point Defiance." It was studied from time to time but Army engineers felt that fortifications farther north would be more appropriate and nothing was done.
The threat of possible Indian outbreaks was given as the only reason for the continuance of Fort Steilacoom as a military establishment. Colonel Silas Casey, before he left to fight the Civil War, urged that the garrison at Fort Steilacoom be increased to make certain that local peace was kept.
In 1865 when the Fort was occupied by two companies of the volunteer infantry, it was reported that:
"...the large number of Indians in this vicinity makes this force necessary to hold in check lawlessness generally, or to punish any aggression on the part of the Indians."
Fortunately the peace was kept in the Northwest and it did not become necessary for the troops at Fort Steilacoom to do more than "show the flag" during this period.
Fort Steilacoom Abandoned
When the Civil War ended the regular army went back to its prewar size. Officers who had been generals were reduced to their permanent ranks of Majors, Lieutenant Colonels and Colonels. By the end of 1865 all volunteer troops had been released from service and the regular army was reassigned to the western frontier.
The Indians continued to be hostile in the Southwest. A large concentration of soldiers was necessary to complete the pacification of the Apaches, Navajo, and other tribes. When Alaska was purchased in 1867 the army garrisoned the new territory without a major increase in troop strength.
A general reevaluation of the role and mission of each military post was conducted and it was only a matter of time before the turn of Fort Steilacoom came. It was too far inland to be of any value in coastal defence, the Indian tribes no longer posed a threat to peaceful settlement, and the civil authorities were more able to control lawlessness.
The post had been founded during an emergency to solve an immediate problem and was located on a site which was convenient at the time. Major General H. W. Halleck, Commander of the Military Division of the Pacific wrote to Lieutenant General U. S. Grant that Fort Steilacoom, Fort Bellingham, and probably Fort Townsend should be abandoned "...as a useless expense."
Major General George H. Thomas expressed the end of usefulness of the Fort by writing:
"Steilacoom, up Puget Sound, being also unoccupied by Federal troops since 1861, no longer necessary for military purposes and situated on private ground, for which rent has to be paid, it is recommended that the buildings be disposed of and the land turned over to the owner."
On April 22,1868, Fort Steilacoom was officially abandoned as a military establishment. The last force assigned to the Fort was E. Battery of the U.S. Second Artillery with five officers and one hundred twenty-four men. The Fort began as the home of an artillery unit and ended its existence as one. By the time the Army abandoned the post, the claims of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Puget Sound Agricultural Company were being adjudicated and title to the land would soon pass to the United States.
A portion of the reservation was transferred to the Territory of Washington for the establishment of a mental institution. Several buildings constructed in 1857 and 1858 remain on the grounds of Western State Hospital in a somewhat deteriorated condition. One structure, the Catholic Church was moved to Steilacoom and is still in service. The post cemetery, from which the military burials were removed in the 1890s was fenced in 1970 after incidents of vandalism.
For nearly twenty years Fort Steilacoom served as the military headquarters of the Army for the Puget Sound country. It was a place of refuge during the Indian War of 1855-56, a headquarters and source of supply for a number of military incidents which assured peace and security for those who settled the country, and most importantly served as a secure center which could be relied upon to provide assistance during those early years of settlement in the Puget Sound Country.