Guest Writer George O Shields
“The best thing about Seattle is the weather. The world over, people have ocean views. But across our ocean is Bainbridge Island, an evergreen curb, and over it the exploding, craggy, snow-scraped Olympics.” ~Maria Semple
THE Oregon Railway & Navigation Company’s steamers leave Tacoma, for Seattle, at four o’clock in the morning, and at six-thirty in the evening, so we were unable to see this portion of the sound until our return trip. Seattle is another of those rushing, pushing, thriving, Western towns, whose energy and dash always surprise Eastern people. The population of the city is 15,000 souls; it has gas-works, water-works, and a street railway, and does more business, and handles more money each year than many an Eastern city of 50,000 or more.
The annual lumber shipments alone aggregate over a million dollars, from ten saw-mills that cost over four millions, and the value of the salmon-canning product is nearly a million more. The soil of the valleys adjacent to Seattle is peculiarly adapted to hop-raising, and that industry is extensively carried on by a large number of farmers. Some of the largest and finest hop-ranches in the world are located in the vicinity, and their product is shipped to various American and European ports, over 100,000 tons having been shipped in 1888. ….
During the fifteen years since the beginning of this important cultivation, the hop crop is said never to have failed, nor has it been attacked by disease, nor deteriorated by reason of the roots being kept on the same land without replanting. It is believed that the Dwamish, the White River, and the Puyallup Valleys could easily produce as many hops as are now raised in the United States, if labor could be obtained to pick them. Indians have been mainly relied upon to do the picking, and they have flocked to the Sound from nearly all parts of the Territory, even from beyond the mountains. Many have come in canoes from regions near the outlet of the Sound, from British Columbia, and even from far off Alaska, to engage temporarily in this occupation; then to purchase goods and return to their wigwams. They excel the whites in their skill as pickers, and, as a rule, conduct themselves peaceably.
Elliott Bay, on which Seattle is built, affords a fine harbor and good anchorage, while Lakes Union and Washington, large bodies of fresh water—the former eleven and the latter eighteen feet above tide level—lie just outside the city limits, opposite. There are rich coal mines at hand, which produce nearly a million dollars worth each year. Large fertile tracts of agricultural lands, in the near vicinity, produce grain, vegetables, and fruits of many varieties, and in great luxuriance. Iron ore of an excellent quality abounds in the hills and mountains back of the city, and with all these natural resources and advantages at her command, Seattle is sure to become a great metropolis in the near future.
The climate of the Puget Sound country is temperate; snow seldom falls before Christmas, never to a greater depth than a few inches in the valleys and lowlands, and seldom lies more than a few days at a time. My friend, Mr WA Perry, of Seattle, in a letter dated December 6, says:
The weather, since your departure, has been very beautiful. The morning of your arrival was the coldest day we have had this autumn. Flowers are now blooming in the gardens, and yesterday a friend who lives at Lake Washington sent me a box of delicious strawberries, picked from the vines in his garden in the open air on December 4, while you, poor fellow, were shivering, wrapped up in numberless coats and furs, in the arctic regions of Chicago. Why don’t you emigrate? There’s lots of room for you on the Sumas, where the flowers are ever blooming, where the summer never dies, where the good Lord sends the tyee (great) salmon to your very door; and where, if you want to shoot, you have your choice from the tiny jacksnipe to the cultus bear or the lordly elk.
There are thousands of acres of natural cranberry marshes on the shores of the sound, where this fruit grows wild, of good quality, and in great abundance. It has not been cultivated there yet, but fortunes will be made in that industry in the near future.
But the crowning glory of Puget Sound, and its greatest source of wealth, are the vast forests of timber. It is scarcely advisable to tell the truth concerning the size to which some of the giant firs and cedars grow in this country, lest I be accused of exaggeration; but, for proof of what I say, it will only be necessary to inquire of any resident of the Sound country. There are hundreds of fir and cedar trees in these woods twenty to twenty-five feet in diameter, above the spur roots, and over three hundred feet high. A cube was cut from a fir tree, near Vancouver, and shipped to the Colonial Exhibition in London in 1886, that measured nine feet and eight inches in thickness each way. The bark of this tree was fourteen inches thick. Another tree was cut, trimmed to a length of three hundred and two feet, and sent to the same destination; but this one, I am told, was only six feet through at the [base].
From one tree cut near Seattle six saw-logs were taken, five of which were thirty feet long, each, and the other was twenty-four feet in length. This tree was only five feet in diameter at the base, and the first limb grew at a height of two feet above where the last log was cut off, or over one hundred and seventy feet from the ground. A red cedar was cut in the same neighborhood that measured eighteen feet in diameter six feet above the ground ….
A man, named Hepburn, lived in one of these cedars for over a year …. The tree was hollow at the ground, the cavity measuring twenty-two feet in the clear and running up to a knot hole about forty feet above. The homesteader laid a floor in the hollow, seven or eight feet above the ground, and placed a ladder against the wall by which to go up and down. On the floor he built a stone fireplace, and from it to the knot hole above a stick and clay chimney. He lived upstairs and kept his horse and cow downstairs ….
The “Sumas Sapling” stands near Sumas Lake, northeast of Seattle. It is a hollow cedar, twenty-three feet in the clear, on the ground, and is estimated to be fifteen feet in diameter twenty feet above the ground. I have, in several instances, counted more than a hundred of these mammoth trees on an acre of land, and am informed that one tract has been out off that yielded over 1,000,000 feet of lumber per acre. In this case the trees stood so close together that many of the stumps had to be dug out, after the trees had been felled, before the logs could be gotten out. The system of logging in vogue here differs widely from that practiced in Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, and elsewhere. No snow or ice are required here, and, in fact, if snow falls to any considerable depth while crews are in the woods a halt is called until it goes off.
Corduroy roads are built into the timber as fast as required … and the logs are “snaked” over them with four to seven yoke of cattle, as may be required. The wealthier operators use steam locomotives and cars, building tracks into the timber as fast and as far as needed. This great timber belt is co-extensive with Puget Sound, the Straits of Georgia, and the Cascade Mountains. I believe that at the present rate at which lumber is being consumed, there is fir, pine, and cedar enough in Washington Territory and British Columbia to last the world a thousand years.
PUGET SOUND is a great inland sea, extending nearly 200 miles from the ocean, having a surface of about 2,000 square miles, and a shore line of 1,594 miles, indented with numerous bays, harbors, and inlets, each with its peculiar name; and it contains numerous islands inhabited by farmers, lumbermen, herdsmen, and those engaged in quarrying lime and building stone. Nothing can surpass the beauty of these waters and their safety. Not a shoal exists within the Sound, the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Admiralty Bay, Hood’s Canal, or the Straits of Georgia, that would in any way interrupt their navigation by a seventy-four-gun ship. There is no country in the world that possesses waters equal to these. The shores of all the inlets and bays are remarkably bold, so much so that a ship’s side would touch the shore before her keel would touch the ground. The country by which these waters are surrounded has a remarkably salubrious climate.
The region affords every advantage for the accommodation of a vast commercial and military marine, with conveniences for docks, and there are a great many sites for towns and cities, which at all times would be well supplied with water, and the surrounding country, which is well adapted to agriculture, would supply all the wants of a large population. No part of the world affords finer islands, sounds, or a greater number of harbors than are found within these waters. They are capable of receiving the largest class of vessels, and are without a single hidden danger. From the rise and fall of the tide (18 feet), every facility is afforded for the erection of works for a great maritime nation. The rivers also furnish hundreds of sites for water-power for manufacturing purposes. On this Sound are already situated many thriving towns and cities, besides those already mentioned, bidding for the commerce of the world.
The flora of the Sound region is varied and interesting. A saturated atmosphere, constantly in contact with the Coast Range system of upheaval, together with the warm temperature, induces a growth of vegetation almost tropical in its luxuriance. On the better soils, the shot-clay hills and uplands, and on the alluvial plains and river bottoms, grow the great trees, already mentioned, and many other species of almost equal beauty, though of no commercial value.
The characteristic shrubs are the cornels and the spiræas, many species. These, with the low thickets of salal (Gaultheria shallon), Oregon grape (berries), and fern (chiefly pteris, which is the most abundant), and the tangle of the trailing blackberry (Rubus pedatus) make the forests almost impenetrable save where the ax or the wild beast or the wilder fire have left their trails.
The dense shade of the forest gives little opportunity for the growth of the more lowly herbs. Where the fire has opened these shades to the light the almost universal fireweed (epilobium) and the lovely brown fire-moss (funaria) abound. In swamps and lowlands the combustion of decay, almost as quick and effective as fire itself, opens large spaces to the light; and here abound chiefly the skunk cabbage of the Pacific coast (lysichiton) and many forms of the loveliest mosses, grown beyond belief save by those who have looked upon their tropical congeners. Hypnums and Mniums make the great mass which meet the eye; and among the many less obvious forms a careful search will reveal many species characteristic of this coast alone. The lower forms of the cryptogams, the lichens and the fungi, abound in greatest profusion as might be expected. The chief interest in these, in the present state of our knowledge of them, springs from their disposition to invade the more valuable forms of vegetation which follow advancing civilization.
I measured one fungus, which I found growing upon the decaying trunk of a mammoth fir, that was thirteen inches thick and thirty-four inches wide. I have frequently seen mosses growing on rotten logs, in the deep shades of these lonely forests, that were twelve to sixteen inches deep, and others hanging from branches overhead three feet or more in length. There are places in these dense forests where the trees stand so close and their branches are so intertwined that the sun’s rays never reach the ground, and have not, perhaps for centuries; and it is but natural that these shade and moisture loving plants should grow to great size in such places.
The fauna of this Territory includes the elk, black-tailed deer, Cervus columbianus; the mule-deer, Cervus macrotus; the Virginia deer, Cervus virginianus; the caribou, the Rocky Mountain goat, Rocky Mountain sheep, the grizzly and black bear. Among the smaller mammals there are the raccoon, the cougar, wild cat, gray wolf, black wolf, prairie wolf or coyote, gray and red fox, fisher, mink, martin, beaver, otter, sea otter, red squirrel, ermine, muskrat, sea lion, fur and hair seals, wolverine, skunk, badger, porcupine, marmot, swamp hare, jack-rabbit, etc. Of birds and wild fowls there is a long list, among which may be mentioned several varieties of geese and brant, including the rare and toothsome black brant, which in season hovers in black clouds about the sand spits; the canvas back, redhead, blue bill, teal, widgeon, shoveler, and various other ducks; ruffed, pinnated, and blue grouse; various snipes and plovers; eagles, hawks, owls, woodpeckers, jays, magpies, nuthatches, warblers, sparrows, etc. There are many varieties of game and food fishes in the Sound and its tributaries, in addition to the salmon and trout already mentioned. In short, this whole country is a paradise for the sportsman and the naturalist, whatever the specialty of either.
We left Seattle, en route for Victoria, at seven o’clock on a bright, crisp November morning. The air was still, the bay was like a sheet of glass, and only long, low swells were running outside. We had a charming view of the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Olympics to the west, all day. The higher peaks were covered with snow, and the sunlight glinted and shimmered across them in playful, cheery mood. Deep shadows fell athwart dark cañons [canyons], in whose gloomy depths we felt sure herds of elk and deer were nipping the tender herbage, and along whose raging rivers sundry bears were doubtless breakfasting on salmon straight. Old Mount Baker’s majestic head, rising 10,800 feet above us and only fifty miles away, was the most prominent object in the gorgeous landscape, and one on which we never tired of gazing. We had only to cast our eyes from the grand scene ashore to that at our feet, and vice versa, to— “See the mountains kiss high heaven, And the waves clasp one another.”
A large colony of gulls followed the steamer, with ceaseless beat of downy wings, from daylight till dark, and after the first hour they seemed to regard us as old friends. They hovered about the deck like winged spirits around a lost child. Strange bird thus to poise with tireless wing over this watery waste day after day! … Our feathered fellow-passengers greeted us with plaintive cries whenever we stepped out of the cabin, dropping into the water in pursuit of every stray bit of food that was thrown overboard from the cook-room. My wife begged several plates of stale bread from the steward, and, breaking it into small pieces, threw handfuls at a time into the water.
Twenty or thirty of the birds would drop in a bunch where the bread fell, and a lively scramble would ensue for the coveted food. The lucky ones would quickly corral it, however, when the whole flight, rising again, would follow and soon overtake the vessel. Then they would cluster around their patron, cooing, and coaxing for more of the welcome bounty ….
There are many beautiful scenes in and about the Sound; many charming islands, clothed in evergreen foliage, from whose interiors issue clear, sparkling brooks of fresh water; while the mainland shores rise abruptly, in places, to several hundreds of feet, bearing their burdens of giant trees. There are perpendicular cut banks on many of the islands and the mainland shores, thirty, forty, or fifty feet high, almost perpendicular, made so by the hungry waves having eaten away their foundations, and the earth having fallen into the brine, leaving exposed bare walls of sand and gravel.
On Whidbey Island, one of the largest in the Sound, there was, up to a few years ago, a herd of wild cattle, to which no one made claim of ownership, and which were, consequently, considered legitimate game for anyone who cared to hunt them. They were wary and cunning in the extreme. The elk or deer, native and to the manor born, could not be more so. But, alas, these cattle were not to be the prey of true, conscientious sportsmen; for the greed of the market hunter and the skin hunter exceeded the natural cunning of the noble animals, and they have been nearly exterminated; only ten or twelve remain, and they will soon have to yield up their lives to the insatiable greed of those infamous butchers.
One of the most curious and interesting points in the sound is Deception Pass. This is a narrow channel or passage between two islands, only fifty yards wide, and about two hundred yards long. On either side rise abrupt and towering columns of basaltic rock, and during both ebb and flow the tide runs through it, between Padilla and Dugalla Bays, with all the wild fury and bewildering speed of the maelstrom. This pass takes its name from the fact of there being three coves near—on the west coast of Whidbey Island—that look so much like Deception that they are often mistaken for it at night or during foggy weather, even by experienced navigators. All the skill and care of the best pilots are required to make the pass in safety, and the bravest of them heave a sigh of relief when once its beetling cliffs and seething abysses are far astern. Gulls hover about this weird place, and eagles soar above it at all hours, as if admiring its pristine beauties, yet in superstitious awe of the dark depths. Mount Erie, two miles away, rising to a height of 1,300 feet, casting its deep shadows across the pass and surrounding waters, completes a picture of rare beauty and grandeur.
“Seattle [is] a beautiful city. Great setting. You open your front door in the morning and the air smells like pine and the sea.” ~Ron Reagan
Copyright © 2012 Alexandra Lee
* George O Shields, Cruisings in the Cascades / A Narrative of Travel, Exploration, Amateur Photography, / Hunting, and Fishing (Chicago, New York: Rand, McNally, 1889), chapters 3 and 4. Photos, quotes added.