An obscure green fence at 84th Street and Thompson Avenue in Tacoma is indented away from the sidewalk. There, two rocks lay resting, one with markings that have been worn away by years of weather. Across Thompson is a larger rock, almost 6 feet tall, newer with an inscription still visible. These monuments denote the location of the Indian Henry Trail.
Indian Henry, himself, now rests in a small Shaker Cemetery on Mashel Prairie Road near Eatonville, where he and his three wives farmed. His monument and fellow spirits had their resting place updated by a local Eagle Scout in 2005. He lived until 1895, no one is certain of when he was born.
Since Indian Henry spent his summers on the slopes of Mt. Rainier, he knew the mountain well. It is reported that he guided James Longmire to the mountain in 1883 when Longmire climbed to the summit. This link is a short story and photo of Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground on Mt. Rainier. It is a beautiful, flower filled meadow in the late summer, a hike away from Camp Longmire.
Starting in South Tacoma at 84th And Thompson there is a trail, known as the Indian Henry Trail. It runs from there to Spanaway Lake, past Spanaway Marsh, through the Lacamas Valley to Harts Lake and finally, to the Nisqually River. I have been seeking out portions of that trail. Much is on military land now. Portions of the trail are still roadways through the prairie and trees.
In the Lacamas Valley, the trail runs through the Lacamas Valley Ranch, a historic farm with a tale of its own related to a lynching over a century ago. There was a stage coach route that followed that part of the trail. The stage stopped at what is now the home of Rex and Virginia Stead on 40th Avenue South. In May, they shared the story of the parts of their home which was a hotel and general store in the 1800’s.
The trail continues down the Allen Road and winding downhill to Harts Lake through the Wilcox Farm. Jim Wilcox was kind enough to take me through several locations where parts of the old road are still visible winding through their farm this past week. He also is cataloging an amazing collection of museum pieces of family farm and neighborhood history from Harts Lake. Their grandparent’s home and the old Hart’s Lake School are among the collection. It is keeping him busy in his retirement.
Finally, the trail reaches the Nisqually River, where it hugs closely near the banks and up to the Mashel Prairie. At that point, there is a switchback trail winding up the hill to a campground at the top. There, at the fire pit site at the end of March in 1856, a very horrific scene in the Indian War transpired. As I have heard the tale, Captain Maxon of Territorial Governor Stevens volunteer militia build a tiny building and waited for the Indians to come up the trail. It is said they were bound for Yakima, to escape the hostilities in Pierce County while the militia searched for Chief Leschi. They were mostly women, children and elderly. The slaughter can be found in books about the Mashel Massacre. One most recently written by Abbi Wonacott with the help of her Bethel Junior High history class in 2008.
The site at Mashel Priaire is in the process of becoming a state park. With the assistance of local citizens, various trails advocates, and the Nisqually Tribe, there are some incredible plans for the area. You can see the plans for the Nisqually State Park at this link. I had the pleasure of meeting with Lisa Breckenridge, the Nisqually Tribal Parks Development Specialist a few weeks ago regarding the location and discussed some concepts for an appropriate memorial for the sacred site.
The trail itself eventually crossed the mountains to reach the home of the Yakama on the eastern side. Many local tribal members have ancestors from both sides of the mountain as crossings were fairly common. In fact, Leschi and his brother Quiemuth had a Yakama mother. The Leschi Schools site has a good, brief history of them.
This article is accompanied by photos of sections of the trail. I am currently working on getting a GIS map assembled with these portions of the trail. At some point in the future, this trail should have signage and recognition as the historic footpath from Tacoma to the great mountain on our horizon. I hope it is not just my wishful thinking.
South Pierce County history is slowly being revealed for the amazing story that it is. Follow the Pierce Prairie Post, there will be more to come.
Some good local history to read in these books:
Andy Anderson, In the Shadow of the Mountain
William Bonney, The History of Pierce County, 1927
Abbi Wonacott, Where the Mashel Meets the Nisqually: The Mashel Massacre of 1856
Theodore Winthrop, Canoe and Saddle