A Look to the Past: Kirkland In the Beginning… Pre History to 1870

Kirkland In the Beginning… Pre History to 1870

Inevitably, when discussing Kirkland's past the question arises: Who was here first?

The first humans to live in this area came here—probably from Asia, across the land bridge to Alaska, thence down the coast—as long as 10,000 years ago. That was only a few thousand years after the last ice age covered the entire Puget Sound basin with a sheet of ice a mile thick. Of course the new peoples left no written record of their time here. The only evidence of their early existence is occasional stone artifact that archeologists ponder over.

Until modern times these native people survived and occasionally flourished. Then, European, and later, American explorers brought the diseases of the Old World to the denizens of the New World, whose immune systems were vulnerable to diseases such as smallpox and gonorrhea. Over the continent, they died in huge numbers. In our Puget Sound basin, native populations died off to relatively small numbers of survivors.

Archeological evidence shows that native people lived or camped at Juanita Bay where abundant food was available in the fish-filled creeks and where the in bay’s shallows were a garden of wapato, a sweet potato-like tuber of the Sagittaria Latifolia plant. The wapato nourished natives and pioneers alike.

From about the 1850s, regional explorers, a few hermit-like fur trappers, survey crews, and itinerant lumbermen explored and worked the eastern shore of Lake Washington, then called Lake Duwamish, or the unflattering Lake Duwamps. But these men did not put down roots here; they wanted to find and exploit natural resources such as timber and minerals.

The earliest American explorer on record to see and write about Lake Washington and the land adjoining it, was lawyer Isaac N. Ebey, 32, who traveled north by canoe from Olympia in the summer of 1850, the year before the founding of Seattle, seeking good farmland to homestead. Ebey is credited with giving Olympia its name. He also sponsored the 1852 statute naming King County after Vice President William R. King.

Prior to 1916, Lake Washington was nine feet higher than that it is today and the now-extinct Black River flowed out of its southern end to the southwest, where it joined the Cedar River just below Renton. Then it merged with the White River near Tukwila, to become the Duwamish River which, flowed into Elliott Bay through a substantial, smelly mudflat. When Ebey paddled into Elliot Bay, its shoreline probably did not interest him. He would have seen steep hills and dark, dense forest that he would have seen as having no agricultural value. Ebey guided his cedar dugout canoe up the Duwamish River. Curious about what he would find, he pushed forward, followed the fork up the Black, and then into a massive lake, which he christened “Lake Geneva,” because of its clarity, depth, and the beauty of its setting.

Ebey saw promising, fertile soil along the Duwamish River, but he did not claim land there. Instead, in October, 1850, he settled on Whidbey Island where he was the first white settler. Like many early arrivals, over the years he took on numerous civic responsibilities. He served as prosecuting attorney, U.S. Customs Collector and in the Territorial Legislature, where he was instrumental in securing approval of the Monticello Memorial, the legislation separating Washington Territory from Oregon Territory in 1853. During the 1855-56 Puget Sound War (e.g., the Indian War) Ebey was awarded the rank of colonel after he raised a militia company. In 1857, a hostile party of northern Indians traveled south to Puget Sound to avenge the death of one of their chiefs. The party knocked on Ebey’s door, called him from his home, and shot him dead. They beheaded his corpse and scalped his disembodied head. His wife and young children escaped to a nearby blockhouse. Several years later, a family friend was able to purchase Ebey’s scalp from his killers for six blankets, pipes, tobacco and a other trade goods. He returned it to the Ebey family. Ebey’s brother, Winfield, later noted in his diary, “At last a portion of the mutilated remains of my dear brother is returned.”

The first American woman claiming to “see and touch” the lake was Seattle pioneer Mrs. Catherine Maynard, second wife of Dr. David “Doc” Maynard, D.D.S., when the couple ventured up the rivers in an 1853 canoe journey. Doc Maynard had renamed Seattle after its original name, Duwamps, to honor his close friend Chief Sealth (Si’ahl), of the Duwamish (Dkhw’Duw’Absh) Tribe. Catherine Maynard also said she named the Cedar River and Cedar Lake.

Catherine was Maynard’s second wife. After learning his first wife, Lydia, had engaged in an adulterous affair, Maynard migrated west in 1850, leaving Lydia behind in Ohio to file for divorce on the grounds of desertion, thus avoiding a scandal. Lydia neglected to file for divorce, however, and in 1872, two decades after Maynard and Catherine had married, Lydia showed up in Seattle seeking half of his assets. A scandal ensued when the Maynards invited Lydia to share their home—Maynard was frequently seen out and about in Seattle with a wife on each arm. Doc Maynard died the following year. Catherine outlived her husband by three decades. Many Seattle residents referred to her fondly as “Auntie Maynard.” Legend holds that it was she who introduced dandelion seeds to the region by cultivating the plant, along with many others, for medicinal purposes.

The earliest record of Eastside exploration, the notes of the first government land survey teams, give a sense of Kirkland as wilderness. Because the General Land Office of the Federal Government was to offer these lands for homestead it was critical that the land be included in the public land survey system, which divided areas into six-mile squares, called townships. Each township comprised 36 one-mile-square sections. Only after these boundaries were established could settlers identify the exact land parcels they were claiming under the various homestead acts.

In 1855, Seattle was a fledgling village comprising some 500 souls, across Elliot Bay from the village of Alki (originally pronounced AHL-kee by the pioneers). The first General Land Office crew to survey the Kirkland townships (26N and 25N, both with range 5E) was jointly led by United States Deputy Surveyors David L. Phillips and William A. Strickler, from August, 8 until October 1, 1855. It happened that their presence in the woods coincided with the commencement of the 1855-56 Puget Sound War between with the Nisqually, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, and Klickitat tribes. On October 28, nine settlers were killed near Auburn in what became known as The White River Massacre. Perhaps the most famous engagement of the war was the Battle of Seattle in January 26, 1856, in which raiders attacked the settlement, prompting the settlers to seek refuge in Seattle blockhouses. The residents suffered two fatalities and the native raiders lost some 28 killed and 80 wounded.

Surveyor Phillips, 21, was from Illinois. He had traveled west by the Oregon Trail in 1852 with his father and three siblings. He lived in Olympia, and prior to land surveying had taught school in Thurston County. Strickler, 31, was a Virginian who came to Seattle. By 1854 he was the first King County Surveyor and its first probate judge. He lived on his own land claim just north of today’s Aurora Bridge.

While some people today have an image of the pre-settlement Eastside as a pristine, magnificent old-growth natural paradise, the facts do not support this conjecture. Their survey notes refer to large areas of burned timber and old-growth Hemlock and Douglas Fir, intermingled with smaller, young trees of those and other species. Many trees were down, presumably by the wind. Because natural forest fires in the Puget Sound lowlands were not common, some speculate that natives intentionally set the forest fires to create openings in the old growth canopy to allow the penetration of sunlight. This, the theory holds, encouraged the growth of browse, the tender green ground cover plants on which deer feed, which in turn encouraged an increase in the numbers of deer, an important food for native people.

Phillips’ and Strickler’s crew comprised chain men John C. Holgate and Joseph Foster and ax man William Gilliam.

As an 18-year-old John Holgate came west from Iowa on the Oregon Trail in 1847. Because he was a veteran of the 1847-48 Cayuse War, he was entitled to special status in claiming land. Like Ebey, Holgate also explored the Duwamish River during the summer of 1850. He returned to Oregon until 1853, when he came back to Seattle and staked a sizable land claim on Beacon Hill. Holgate was an adventurer. He wandered far from his Seattle homestead, and by 1868 was part owner of an Idaho gold mine, the Golden Chariot. On March 25, 1868 a boundary dispute with operators of an adjacent mine, the Ida Elmore, turned bloody. In what was later called the War on the Mountain, Holgate was shot in the head and killed.

At age 24, fellow chain man Joseph Foster, a Canadian, had come west through Wisconsin, with his brother Stephen, in 1852. Joseph’s life was longer and happier than Holgate’s. Foster and his brother took claims on the Duwamish River a few miles west of Renton. The area was originally called Foster. Joseph’s cabin was near today’s Fort Dent Park. He served in the legislature for 22 years and died in 1911, at age 82.

At about the same time that the Phillips’ and Strickler’s team surveyed the Eastside, another crew, led by John K. Hall, 28, passed through the townships during its 20-day survey of the Puget Sound Guide Meridian. In 1859, William H. Carlton, 25, resurveyed the area with his crew.

The surveyors and others who followed wrote that the land was not suitable for farming. The Puget Sound glaciers (the Vashon Glaciation) of 15,000 years ago had carved out the Puget Sound basin and Lake Washington, shaping the adjacent land forms that we know today. The retreat of the glaciers left glacial moraines–giant mounds of rock, sand, gravel, and clays that are the hills and valleys that comprise the topography of the region. This raw, porous debris was not the topsoil necessary to produce healthy crops.

The mighty, deep-rooted Douglas Fir thrived, but crop varieties did not find the Kirkland-area soil hospitable. Because land was then largely valued for its agricultural potential, much of the soil around Kirkland was described in surveys between 1855-70 as second and, most often, third-rate. In following decades and into the early 20th century, many Kirklanders would scratch a hardscrabble living on their stump ranches, some cultivating hardy berry species in the poor soil. It appeared, in those early days, the area around Lake Washington could offer settlers little but timber.

After the initial surveys in the mid-1850s, little activity was recorded in the townships that would become Kirkland. In 1859, coal had been discovered near Newcastle and Issaquah. By the mid-1860s Eastside commercial activity centered on coal and timber extraction. From 1861-65, the United and Confederate States of America were locked in a bloody war and the subsequent, turbulent post-war Reconstruction. During this time Pacific Northwest growth slowed substantially while the nation reunified and licked its wartime wounds.

In September, 1870, the townships that would be Kirkland were resurveyed by Walter B. Hall, 38 (the younger brother of 1855 surveyor John K Hall) and his crew. Walter Hall described wilderness Kirkland in this way: “This township affords an abundance of timber, fir, cedar, hemlock on the high lands and spruce, maple and alder on the low lands. In the low lands of a productive nature various kinds of plants abound – wild cabbage, wild parsnips, coarse grass. And on the high lands, fern, red and black whortleberry, salmon berry, and Oregon grapes.”

Hall’s 1870 survey foreshadowed a new era in the history of Kirkland—settlement.

[box]Matt McCauley is a Kirkland native who has written about its history since the early 1990s. He is an alumnus of Seattle University, where he majored in Journalism, and the Seattle University School of Law. He is a Kirkland Heritage Society Director At-Large. McCauley has authored the new book, A Look to the Past: Kirkland -- From Wilderness to High Tech, Kirkland’s History in 50 Vignettes which is slated for release later this month: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=lf#!/pages/A-Look-To-The-Past-Kirkland/159417827413248[/box]