I. The Wilkes Expedition
"The United States Exploring Expedition during the years 1838 to 1842 . . . is important to the history of the Pacific Northwest, especially the Puget Sound region, where explorations of real value were made.
Interest in a world exploring expedition to vie with those of European governments began to arise in the United States during President Jackson's administration. Plans began to take shape in 1837 and, because of his skill in the use of astronomical instruments, Lieutenant Charles Wilkes was selected to command the expedition, "over-leaping many of higher rank." The company's ships sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, on August 18, 1838. "After nearly three years of work in the southern seas, on April 28, 1841, most of the expedition appeared off the mouth of the Columbia River. Encountering stormy weather, they continued along the Washington Coast and on May 2 anchored in Port Discovery." On May 11, Fort Nisqually became headquarters of the expedition and from there excursions were made, in the course of which the shores of Puget Sound and adjacent waters were thoroughly examined. (Meany, 1909, 74). Many place names conferred by Wilkes and his men are still in use.
II. The First Recorded Trip Through Naches Pass
Wilkes was much interested in the snowy peaks, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helena, and others, which could be seen clearly from Nisqually House. After his return from reconnoitering on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, he attempted to measure the height of Mount Rainier by the triangulation method, obtaining the result of 12,330 feet. Mount Rainier was described as "at all times a very striking object from the prairies about Nisqually, rising as it does almost imperceptibly from the plain, which a gradual slope, until the snow-line is reached, when the ascent becomes more precipitous." (Wilkes, 1845, IV, 413).
It was Wilkes' great desire to be the first man to ascend "these mountains," in order "to get a view of their terminal craters." He says, "The absence of the 'Peacock', however, (note: the Peacock was destroyed at the mouth of the Columbia) and the great amount of work necessarily devolving on the rest of the squadron made it impossible for me to undertake this additional labor." Almost thirty years elapsed before a successful ascent of Mt. Rainier was accomplished.
The Wilkes expedition did make the first recorded trip over Naches Pass, following an Indian trail around the northern flank of Mount Rainier. This was done by Lieutenant Robert E. Johnson in command of a contingent of six members of the expedition. They were allowed eighty days for the trip across the mountains to Fort Colville, Fort Okanogan, and other posts east of the mountains, but they did it in less time, "leaving Nisqually on May 19, and returning on July 15, a total of fifty-seven days." (Meany, 1909, 76).
Hudson's Bay men had no doubt gone over the same ground, although no record of any such journeys is known. They may be inferred from the fact that Johnson employed two trapper guides, Pierre Charles and Peter Bercier. A detailed account of the journey is given and the general route followed can be retraced. A peak which Johnson called "La Tete," near the junction of the White and Greenwater rivers, was ascended on May 25. On the 29th the summit of the pass was reached. The account states: "Mount Rainier, from the top, bore south-southwest, apparently not more than ten miles distant. A profile of the mountain indicates that it has a terminal crater, as well as some on its flanks." Difficulties were encountered in passing over the thick snow at the summit. (Quotation from Meany, 1916, 22). When they returned the snow had melted and spring was in full possession. An uncharted country had been examined for the first time, and a number of new botanical specimens had been obtained.
One or two additional notations from Wilkes are of interest, since they concern early settlement in the vicinity of Mount Rainier. On his trip from Fort Nisqually to Fort Vancouver, Wilkes used the old Cowlitz trail. At the forks of the Cowlitz he found improvements of which he writes: "Six of seven hundred acres were under cultivation, bearing luxuriant crops. There was also a promising young orchard. Besides numerous farm buildings, including a dairy house, there were comfortable houses for the employees of the company and their superintendent, and the parsonage and chapel of the Catholic Mission. The whole had the thriving look of a well-established settlement in one of the older territories." (Quotation from Snowden, 1909, II, 183).
Five years before this, Lieutenant A. Slocum, an observer sent from Washington to spy out the land, noticed that the Hudson's Bay Company encouraged its superannuated employees to settle on the Cowlitz plains and did everything it could to keep any Americans from seeking homes north of the Columbia. (U. S. Congress, 1839, p. 43). Slocum continues in his report to urge Congress never to abandon the Puget Sound region. In 1841, colonists from Canada were brought in to make homes near Fort Nisqually and on Cowlitz plains. These colonists have left descendants now living in Washington.
The first Fourth of July celebration on Puget Sound occurred at Nisqually July 4, 1841, when Wilkes' men barbecues a beef, unfurled flags, fired salutes, and marched in procession to Sequalitchen Lake, where the day was spent in jollification. On July 5, 1906, the Washington State Historical Society unveiled a monument on the spot. (Meany, 1909, 77).
III. The Naches Pass Road
The early settlement of the Puget Sound Region was greatly handicapped by lack of funds. The trail along the Cowlitz River was, until 1850, almost the only ingress by land, and it was greatly in need of improvement. The few American settlers who had established themselves on the Sound were anxious for neighbors, and as early as 1850 it was determined at a public meeting to open a road over the Cascades and down the Yakima to Walla Walla. M. T. Simmons, the first American settler, was chosen to head a company to hew out a road, but "the undertaking of opening a road through the dense forests and up and down the fearfully steep ridges proved too great" at that time. (Bancroft, Washington, 1890, 63).
In 1853 it was again resolved to open the road for immigration over the mountains. A survey was made in the spring and by July work had begun. Enough was accomplished so that thirty-five wagons crossed over and reached Puget Sound that autumn, "bringing between one and two hundred men, women, and children to populate the rich valleys of White and Puyallup rivers." James Longmire, his wife, and five children, were members of the first band of 47 persons, and he was one of the first to settle on the slopes of Mount Rainier. Longmire Springs is named after name. (Bancroft, 1890, 65).
The settlers had learned something of the Cascades passes from Catholic missionaries who had been "in the habit of visiting the Sound with the Indians for guides." In 1853, the same year that the first emigrants came over the mountains, the United States Government had established a railroad survey expedition of the 47th and 49th parallels under the direction of the first appointed territorial governor of Washington, Isaac Stevens. Bancroft says, "The survey was to be commenced from both ends of the route, to meet somewhere west of the Rocky Mountains. (Captain George B.) McClellan, who had charge of the west end of the line, arrived in San Francisco in June, 1853, and proceeded to explore the Cascade Range for passes leading to Puget Sound, starting from Vancouver and dividing his party so as to make a reconnaissance on both sides of the range the same season. The narratives of those surveys contained in the Pacific Railroad reports are interesting." (Bancroft, 1890, 71). The character of the country is described: its topography, its vegetation, climate, snowfall, etc. Mount Rainier is described as it is seen from the summit of Naches Pass. On page 290 of Volume XII there is a lithograph of "Mount Rainier viewed from near Steilacom." (See Railroad Reports I, 192, 207, 475; XII, 138, 191, 290).
McClellan, in his report, declared Naches Pass impracticable for a railroad, Snoqualmie Pass to the north being much more suitable. He did, however, make recommendations for the building of a wagon road over the Naches route. During 1854 and 1855, Lieutenant Arnold was detailed to aid Col. E. J. Allen in completing the road that had been commenced by Captain McClellan and citizens in 1853. The total distance via this road from Steilacom to Walla Walla was 235 miles. The older road down the Columbia and up the Cowlitz was one hundred and fifty miles further.
Much of the old Naches Pass Road may yet be traced on the east slope of the Cascades, but on the west slope it is all but obliterated. "Fallen timber and dense undergrowth have covered nearly every trace of the trail of the pioneers." Here and there are scars on trees where ropes were wound to hold back the wagons going down the steep slopes; here and there an old ax blaze. "There is little else left to mark what was first the immigrants' road . . . and in the Indian wars . . . the pathways used by the soldiers and the scouts . . ." (U. S. Dept. of Agric. Bul. No. 103, 1920, pp. 11-22).
IV. Theodore Winthrop and Mount Rainier
Theodore Winthrop, descendant of Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay Colony, visited the Northwest in 1853, and wrote an account of his experiences, "in a book which seems destined to remain the chief classic of our early Northwest." (Williams, 1913, p. VII). It was first published under the title, "Canoe and Saddle" in 1863, after the author's death in the battle of Great Bethel, June 10, 1861.
In 1852, after graduating from Yale with honors and after spending two years in Europe in study and travel, Winthrop was employed on the Isthmus of Panama by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Ill-health drove him north, and in August, 1853, we find him being entertained at Vancouver Island by Hudson's Bay men. He head to meet friends at The Dalles of the Columbia by the first of September. "Between me and the rendezvous were the leagues of Puget Sound, the preparation for an ultra-montane trip, the passes of the Cascades, and all the dilatoriness and danger of Indian guidance." (Winthrop, 1863, 9). After engaging his Indian guides and his canoes, Winthrop started for Fort Nisqually, where preparations were to be made by way of Naches Pass around the northern flank of Mount Rainier. In his account he notes evidence that the settlers were beginning to make a road so "that emigrants of this summer (1853) might find their way into Washington Territory direct. . . . Such an enterprise was an epoch in progress. It was the first effort of an infant community to assert its individuality and emancipate itself from the tutelage of Oregon." (Williams, Ed., 1913, 82).
The beauty and grandeur of "Tacoma" was noted frequently by Winthrop on the way up the Puyallup River and across to the White River, where he met some of McClellan's men engaged in the survey of the road. On August 27 he climbed an eminence which he called "La Tete." From it he obtained a marvelous view of the mountain. Williams says, "As he looked southwest from the edge of Naches Pass he saw directly facing him twenty miles away the great ice-stream that has since, and for many years now, been named by local usage 'Winthrop Glacier.' Immediately west of it is Carbon Glacier, lying deep in its cirque." (Williams, 1913, 101. For Winthrop's masterful description, see his "Canoe and Saddle," 1863, 124-131).
During the next two or three days Winthrop covered some distance along the Naches River. After a miraculous escape from his treacherous guide and other Indians, he sought Captain McClellan's camp, where he was hospitably received. Refreshed, he continued his journey down the Yakima to The Dalles.
Winthrop's books is especially felicitous in its descriptions of Mount Rainier and its surroundings. His work is probably the first in which "Tacoma" appeared in print as the alternative name for Mount Rainier. He was impressed with its appearance when canoeing on Puget Sound, and makes the following description with a plea for the Indian name, Tacoma: "We had rounded a point, and opened Puyallup Bay, a breadth of sheltered calmness, when I was suddenly aware of a white shadow in the water. What cloud, piled massive on the horizon, could cast an image so sharp in outline, so full of vigorous detail of surface? No cloud, but a cloud compeller. It was a giant mountain dome of snow, swelling and seeming to fill the aerial spheres as its image displaced the blue deeps of tranquil water. . . . Kingly and alone stood this majesty. . . . Of all the peaks from California to Fraser River, this one before me was royalest. Mount Regnier, Christians have dubbed it in stupid nomenclature, perpetuating the name of somebody or nobody. More melodiously the Siwashes call it Tacoma." (Winthrop, 1863, 43-44).
V. Early Settlement
The first settler upon the slopes of the mountain was James Longmire, "a pioneer of that old school who felt cramped for room if they had neighbors on more than one side of them." He "blazed a trail up Nisqually Valley and located a mineral claim at the very base of the mountain." It "inclosed a group of mineral springs" now known as Longmire Springs.
This trail in time grew into a rough wagon road and was extended to the glacier. Prospectors, followed it in the hope of making a strike. Increasingly, tourists followed it and the mountain became widely known.
James Longmire, Vivinda, his wife, and four children came to Washington Territory in 1853 by way of the Naches Pass trail. He settled at Yelm in Thurston County. He took part in surveying a road up Nisqually River and cross the Cascades via Cowlitz Pass in the early 60's and thus had become familiar with the country on the southern slope of Mount Rainier. He was employed as a guide by General Hazard Stevens and Philemon B. Van Trump when they made the first successful ascent of Mount Rainier in August, 1870.
VI. Resume of Political Boundary History - Washington State
"The possession of the Oregon country of which Washington originally formed a part, was, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, in dispute among the United States, Great Britain, Spain, and Russia, each nation basing it right to possession on discoveries and exploration. . . . All that remained of the Spanish claim after the cession of Louisiana to France in 1800 was relinquished at the time of the Florida purchase in 1819, when Spain transferred to the United States all rights, claims, and pretensions to any country north of the forty-second parallel. In 1824 Russia surrendered to the United States all claims south of 54°40'.
In 1818 a treaty had been concluded between the United States and England, under which the two countries jointly occupied the Oregon region, but in 1846 this joint occupation was terminated by a treaty fixing the boundary between the United States at its present location.
In 1846 Congress provided a territorial government for Oregon which then extended from the 42nd parallel to the Canadian boundary and from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. in 1853 that part of Oregon Lying north of the Columbia River and the 46th parallel east of its point of intersection with that river was organized as Washington Territory. Six years later, when Oregon, with is present boundaries, became a state of the Union, that portion of the former territory lying east of the new state was added to Washington Territory, so that the latter then included the area now constituting Idaho and parts of Western Montana and Wyoming. In 1863 Idaho Territory was organized, leaving the territory of Washington with the same boundaries as the present state.
Washington was admitted as a state in 1889. (Thirteenth census of the United States, taken in the year 1910. Supplement for Washington, Footnote, p. 567).