E. T. Short, " The Steilacoom Church Bell, after thirty years," The Tacoma Times.
Methodists mostly are peaceable and inclined to turn the other cheek, but tread too often on their toes and they'll fight like the very dickens for their rights. One of the occasions when the Puget Sound followers of John Wesley got their dander up was recalled at the meeting of the Pierce County Pioneers association at Steilacoom yesterday.
The episode had to do with the Steilacoom Methodist church, built by the Rev. J. F. DeVore in 1853, and the first Protestant church north of the Columbia river. After the church was finished the congregation wanted a bell and ordered one from San Francisco. In due time the bell arrived on a sailing vessel with bill of lading for $350 attached.
The congregation didn't have the money and the captain of the vessel obligingly left the bell on the hoping to collect on the next trip. The money wasn't ready then he gave the Steilacoom folks another chance. When the vessel next arrive they were no better prepared than before and the captain said he would have to load the bell and take it back to San Francisco.
But he didn't know Steilacoom and the Methodists. When they were right up against an emergency they scurried around and raised the money. In a few days the bell, wonderfully sweet toned, was hung and calling the pioneers to worship.
For a time the church prospered but some of the supporters moved away, other churches were established round about and finally the congregation dwindled to a handful and the church was closed. Some time later another group of Methodists established a church at Fern Hill. They had everything but a bell and somebody suggested that perhaps they could get the old Steilacoom bell.
THE BELL STAYED
Right here a link in the story is missing, but it seems that the remnant of Steilacoom Methodism, few but militant, didn't propose to see the bell go to Fern Hill or anywhere else. So, when the Fern Hill brethren arrived they found Steilacoom in anything but a state of neutrality. The whole community was lined up on the side of the home town Methodists. E. R. Rogers, of McCaw & Rogers, was the spokesman and told the Fern Hillers what was what.
And standing back of Rogers was William Downey, who came from Kentucky and crossed the Cascades with the first wagon train. Downey had his Kentucky rifle and let it be known that anybody who touched a finger to the bell would get a slug of lead.
Of course, the bell stayed in Steilacoom, but evil days fell upon the little band. Hard times wiped out their resources, and there was nobody to look after the property. A small assessment for street improvements became delinquent, the property was sold and the building torn down.
Then the Pierce county pioneers, state historical society members and others arranged with the purchaser for the donation of a piece of ground 16 feet square. On that they erected a concrete structure with shrine effect, surmounted by a tower in which the old bell was hung. And that was one of the spots visited by the pioneers yesterday.