These furry little tree chewing creatures had a lot to do with the settlement of western Washington. In the days when our home was called Oregon Territory until 1853, when it became Washington Territory, this area was part of Lewis County, OT (Oregon Territory). When Washington Territory was formed in 1853, our area became Pierce County. These details make doing historical research a little tricky. This is a story about historical families, but first it is necessary to digress into a little history to explain how these families came about.
Between 1832 and 1846, the US was in competition with the British for possession of the area north of the Columbia River. The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) had Fort Vancouver and, in what later became the town of Dupont, Fort Nisqually. Because of Fort Nisqually’s fur trade, much of the beaver population in the area was wiped out. Many other fur bearing animals were also significantly reduced in number. So being businessmen, the HBC decided to capitalize on the incoming American settlers. Settlers were always in need of supplies and the HBC had well established trade routes to provide them. In addition, the HBC started another business venture called the Puget Sound Agricultural Company (PSAC) that provided livestock to the new farmers along with grain products for feed. Most of the animals were sheep, providing wool for clothing. The farms are often referred to a sheep stations. But the PSAC also raised cows, horses and pigs.
PSAC operated several farm stations around Pierce County. The main station was called Muck and was located in what is now the Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) range area 13. In the Elk Plain to Parkland area, there were several stations. Mullock House was in Elk Plain. Spanueh station was along the southeast part Spanaway Lake and another half mile southeast of there, Greig’s cabin was erected. Near Clover Creek Elementary, John Montgomery, who operated Spanueh station, built his home. On the Shibig farm (across from Rainier View Church), but slightly over onto McChord Field, was a station called Sastuc. These outstations were regularly visited by employees of Fort Nisqually, laying the groundwork of the many roads throughout JBLM’s range area.
Hudson’s Bay claimed ownership of much of Pierce County when the decision was made to settle the boundary with Canada. Since they were a company rather than a country, they insisted the American’s government purchase their land claim. They restricted settlement in the area of their claim and their archives include many stern letters sent out to squatters. It took from 1846 to 1867 to reach a court settlement and then until 1869 for Pierce County and the government of Washington Territory to pay for the land. The HBC had asked 2 million dollars and at the end of litigation, received about $750,000.
Meanwhile, many of the farmers from these outstations and workers from the fort became American citizens and took advantage of the Donation Land Claims (DLC) Act. Along Muck Creek, you will find on any plat map, the boundaries of these DLC’s. These farmers included Charles Wren, Henry Murray, Peter Wilson, Henry Smith, John McPhail, and John McLeod along Muck Creek. In Spanaway, there was John Montgomery. Most of these men had native wives. Often their wives succumbed to disease or childbirth so there were often subsequent wives and children. Many lost almost all their children to illness of the time, dysentery, small pox, tuberculosis and often common colds were enough to end lives of those with less disease resistance as those with native blood. But many survived, flourished and have generations of family living through Pierce County and nearby areas. Many also have been able to retain their tribal affiliations as well.
Few of the homes of these historic settlers remain. Henry Murray’s is an exception, although significantly remodeled. Many of their artifacts are at Point Defiance Park or the state museums if not still held lovingly by family members. There is a monument near Clover Creek Elementary denoting Camp Montgomery. Named after John Montgomery who ran Spanueh station and lived on that site, a block house was built to protect local settlers during the unsettling times when the Indian treaties were being worked out. Just below that site along the hillside was the Naches Trail, the northernmost branch of the Oregon Trail.
From what is now Parkland, to Yelm and Dupont, the Hudson’s Bay Company employees settled the area, raised families and live on today through their descendants, some of whom are your neighbors. Most are part Native American with Scottish, British, French or German heritage as well. They formed an organization in order to share their stories and their heritage as part of our local history. That organization is called Descendants of Fort Nisqually Employees Association. Yes, it’s a mouthful to say. It is also a wealth of information and history they hold in their possession. They meet in Dupont twice a year.
If you happen to be one of those special people descended from a local Hudson’s Bay employee, you might just want to pay a visit to the next meeting. You also should join in the conversation on their Facebook group or check out their website. If you just love local history, you are also welcome.
Their next meeting will be at the Liberty Inn in the city of Dupont on Sunday, October 7 at about 12:30 p.m.
This story barely scratched the surface of the histories that are told about these very special settlers. It is possible the name of Bethel High School’s team, the Braves, came from the pride and heritage of these early settlers and their native wives and families. They succeeded and survived in very difficult times and they shaped the place we now call home. More information can be found in you the library’s local history section or online. If you have a library card, you can get some of the more unique materials through interlibrary loans or purchase books about these settlers at the Fort Nisqually gift shop at Point Defiance Park.
Fort Nisqually has a special event coming up. It is a candlelight tour on October 5 and 6th from 7 to 9:30p.m. They will have re-enactors that will take you back to an evening in 1857. Check the website for the fort below for more information. In addition, here are some links to learn more about the local history.
Descendants of Fort Nisqually Employees Association
Tacoma Public Library Northwest Room
History Link.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History
Washington State Historical Society
Washington Secretary of State Historical Archives
Washington State Capital Museum
2 Comments Add yours
“Hudson’s Bay claimed ownership of much of Pierce County when the decision was made to settle the boundary with Canada. ”
The final boundry between British North America and the United States was settled in 1846 (except for the San Juan Islands) so Canada was not a partner in the discussions. In 1867 Canada consisted of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
The negotiations were between a London-based company with extensive holdings in western British North America.
I might also be worth-while to look at the birth places and marriage and death locations of Fort Nisqually employees in a more historic context. For example, until 1871 British Columbia was a colony of Great Britain therefore any event (in B.C.) before 1871 could not have happened in Canada. Before 1866, there were two British colonies on the west coast: Vancouver Island and British Columbia that should be taken into account. Therefore referring to the Canadian -US Boundary before 1871 is erroneous just as referring to territory south of the border established at the 49th parallel as “American” is erroneous (until 1846). So when Margaret Work was born at Fort Vancouver in 1836, she was born in a British Fort and so would be born in British North America or the Columbia District of the Hudson’s Bay Company. She would never have considered herself born in the U.S.A.. Although most British Columbians don’t realize that activities which occurred in present Washington, Oregon, Idaho (Montana?) before 1846 are our history. They are. The establishment of Fort Victoria is directly linked to what was occurring in the southern part of the Columbia District up to 1846 and even to 1872 when the San Juan Islands disputed was settled.
It’s shared history and a history which should be respected on both sides of the border.
Thanks for your patience…I’m a retired high school teacher..Couldn’t you tell???
(I also teach a course on Vancouver Island History 1774-1871 through ElderCollege (University of Vancouver Island). Now you know the why because I do spend a period talking about the HBCo and the PSA in present Washington and Oregon.)