Linda Perez, "Judge Thomas M. Chambers, father of Western Washington Industry," Steilacoom Historical Museum Quarterly, XII # 4 Winter, 1983. 

Thomas McCutcheon Chambers was born in Utenards, Ireland on November 15, 1795. There he was educated and ordained a Presbyterian minister. In 1816 Chambers married Latitia Delzel, a cousin of Andrew Jackson. They traveled to America and Chambers became the overseer at Jackson's tobacco and cotton plantation. Chambers and his wife had eight children.

In 1845 Chambers formed an immigrant wagon train and traveled to the Oregon Territory, finally settling in the Willamette Valley. Two years later, they left Oregon and headed to Olympia where his sons set up land donation claims. In the fall of 1847, Chambers and his family arrived in Steilacoom, taking possession of the property surrounding Heath's Creek (also known as Steilacoom Creek) through a donation land claim. 

The donation land claim became effective on September 27,1850, which entitled a married man over twenty-one years of age and his family to settle on 640 acres of land.

He could receive a patent upon proof of having lived on his land continuously for five years.

Heath's Creek was named for J. T. Heath who leased the land from the Puget Sound Agriculture Company, a subsidiary of the Hudson Bay Company, for fifty dollars a month. Heath had died about the same time Chambers had arrived in Steilacoom.

The trouble began when Chambers occupied Heath's land. The Hudson Bay Company had not had its last word on the rights of their land. Doctor Tolmie, a friend of Chambers, sent a letter to him warning of the dire consequences if he did not vacate the land. After no reply from Chambers, officials of the Company visited him on the creek and made their demands. Chambers replied by resting a rifle on his fence and made it quite clear he was going to stay. The Hudson's Bay Company never bothered him again.

In 1848, Chambers was appointed justice of the Peace and County Commissioner of Lewis County, an office he held until the division of the Oregon Territory into the Oregon and Washington Territories.

In 1850, Chambers began to build his business empire by opening the first three story grist mill near the mouth of now Chambers Creek. Machinery was shipped from San Francisco and a thriving industry had begun.

An advertisement that appeared in the Steilacoom Express on March 6, 1873 stated: "The grist mill of T. M. Chambers located about a half mile from Steilacoom, on one of the romantic nooks of this beautiful bay, is one of the most substantial and best filled out with all the latest improved machinery."

In 1852, Chambers built the first saw mill in Pierce County on Chambers Creek. Latitia, his wife of 36 years died at the age of 57. A few months later, Chambers married 18 year-old Agnetta Larson who had come with the Andrew Byrd family to Steilacoom. They had four children.

Besides Chambers' business ambitions, his political career also expanded. In l854, when Pierce County was formed, he was appointed commissioner. Chambers became Judge Chambers by his election as Probate Judge.

Expanding his business once more, Judge Chambers opened a flour mill also on Chambers Creek. A news article that appeared in The Puget Sound Courier on Friday, September 21, 1855 described the new flouring mill as "a highly necessary and important work, not only to the people of Pierce County but to those living in every county north of us and one that the wants of the community imperatively demanded has just been completed and is now in successful operation."

In 1859, the neighboring farmers asked Judge Chambers to enlarge his flour mill. A four story mill was built and machinery was obtained from California.

When the proposal for the establishment of a territorial University was formulated, settlers were asked for donations. Judge Chambers donated 360 acres, half of his holdings. Western State Hospital now stands on that ground.

On December 28,1876, Judge Thomas M. Chambers died of old age and general debility. He was buried in the Masonic Cemetery near Steilacoom. His obituary, which appeared in the Daily Pacific Tribune stated: "In every sense of the word, Judge Chambers was a pioneer, an old settler, and a useful citizen, and of his kind it would be well for the country were there more."

Today the three mills are gone. Only a memorial marker stands in its place. The hillsides that were once blanketed with tall fir trees are slowly being cut down. The banks of the creek are still laden with clam shells and the water teeming with fish. In the distance, a screech of an eagle can be heard competing with the whine of a nearby paper mill.

Varieties of water fowl can be seen searching for their dinner or just sun bathing on the logs drifting to nowhere in particular.

Editor's Note: Linda Perez, a former anthropology student at Fort Steilacoom Community College, has researched the history of  Chambers Creek for Professor Mike Avey.

Linda Perez, "Judge Thomas M. Chambers, father of Western Washington Industry," Steilacoom Historical Museum Quarterly, XII #4 (Winter, 1983) p. 


F. C. Carruthers, "Pioneers," Puget Sound Electric Journal. XXI(April, 1931) p. 295-298.

Some three miles southeast of Olympia lies S a small fertile piece of ground called Chambers Prairie. Why is it called Chambers Prairie? This question has often been asked. The story goes back several generations.

Thomas M. Chambers was born in the year 1795 in the little town of Utenards, Ireland, less than five miles from Belfast. He was raised and educated to be a Presbyterian minister, though he never followed this line of work. At the age of 21 he married a cousin of Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. 

In 1816 he and his wife embarked for the United States. Arriving at New York, and continuing o, t, Tennessee, they arrived at the Jackson plantation. Here Chambers was made overseer of the plantation. This life was not meant for a man with an adventurous spirit such as his, so he set out for Ohio. After a few years of prosperity and one bumper grain crop which, incidentally, was made into whiskey, he felt the urge to move on. 

A report of the Lewis and Clark Expedition seemed to fire him with more of that spirit of adventure, so plans were made for a trip to the West. The next spring he and his wife and nine children set out.

They went as far as Spanish Hollow, Missouri, that summer. Here they spent the winter and made preparations for the trip across the plains. Other families joined them and the following spring ((1845) the little wagon train with Chambers as captain started on the adventure of their lives. 

It took the whole summer of '45 to make the trip across. They were In constant danger of the Indians, though no serious battles took place. There were also the dangers of starvation, thirst, and cold to contend with. One of the Chambers boys, and his wife whom he had married the day before starting from Spanish Hollow, were delegated to go ahead of the train and pick out a suitable camping spot for the rest. It was also their job to gather buffalo chips for fuel, as wood was an unknown thing of the plains.

The wagon train finally reached the place now known as The Dalles, Oregon. Here, due to there not being any road other than an Indian trail down the river, they had to spend the winter. During the stay at The Dalles they made two flat boats to carry them down the river. This was a hard task as all the lumber had to be whipsawed and there being no nails, wooden pins had to be made.

During the stay at The Dalles more trouble was encountered with the Indians. The Indians would steal anything they could get their hands on, at times even taking the children and holding them for ransom.

When the boats were finished the group started down the river for Fort Vancouver. Arriving at the fort in the midst of a blinding snowstorm, they were taken in by Dr. McLoughlin who was at that time head of the post for Hudson's Bay Company.

At this time it was not the policy of the Hudson Bay Co. to give aid in any way to any new settlers, so the outcome of the help given by Dr. McLaughlin was the loss of his job.

At this point the group separated, some going south to finally settle on what is now Tuallitan PIains, while others came north with Chambers.

After taking up and settling a donation claim Chambers sent to San Francisco for machinery for a sawmill, and when it arrived he put up one of the first sawmills on Puget Sound. This was located back from the bay about where the State Hospital is now located. He also hired men to cut and haul logs to his mill. 

There were no blacksmiths in the settlement as luck would have it, but some soldiers came to Steilacoom, and Peter Runquist, a blacksmith, and Frederick Meyer, a miller, were hired by the permission of the captain in charge.

After the sawmill was put into operation, lumber was sawed for a flour mill to be erected alongside the saw mill. The machinery for this mill also came from San Francisco.

Later when the main detachment of soldiers came to Fort Steilacoom, Chambers furnished the teams to haul the supplies from the landing up to the fort. He also supplied the lumber for the officers' quarters and other buildings put up by the government.

In the early history of Puget Sound country, farmers who raised grain had to charter a boat to transport it to Olympia to be ground. On account of the mud flats in Olympia they had to plan their work according to the tides. Arriving at Tumwater they had to hire teams to haul their grain to the Deschutes River about a half mile to the mill. 

Then, after the milling, the same trip had to be taken over again. So in 1859 Chambers built another flour mill on the mouth of what is now Chambers Creek on Steilacoom Bay. By the erection of this mill, at tidewater, the farmers were able to run right up to the mill with the boats and wait there for the flour to be ground. For the few years following, Chambers and his associates did a thriving mill business.

In 1848 Chambers was appointed Justice of the Peace and Commissioner of Lewis County, which office he held until the division of the Oregon Territory. Later he was elected Commissioner of Pierce County. Chambers died at the age of 81 years in the year 1878.

Branches of the Chambers family are scattered from the northern part of Alaska to the southern part of California. One son, Andrew, is located on what is now called Chambers Prairie, another on the spot now occupied by the Mountain View Golf Club, with still another on Muck Creek.

Is it any wonder that we now have places called Chambers Prairie, Chambers Lake, Chambers Creek?

F. C. Carruthers, "Pioneers," Puget Sound Electric Journal. XXI (April, 1931), p. 295-98.