EDITOR’S NOTE: The Sou’wester — under Larry Weathers, Ruth Dixon, Joan Mann, Ruth McCausland, Bruce Weilipp, Steve Rogers and other careful stewards — is a wonderful local asset, but one that is relatively underappreciated. Rogers, the society’s current president in addition to being Pacific County commissioner, has graciously agreed to the Observer’s desire to begin reprinting a selection of Sou’wester’s amazing content. We hope doing so will enhance modern readers’ knowledge and appreciation for our county’s incredibly rich and colorful history.

Visit the Pacific County Museum at 1008 West Robert Bush Drive in South Bend, open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. Call 875-5224 for more information. Individual memberships are $25 a year, payable to P.O. Box P, South Bend, WA 98586-0039.

In 2001 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Pacific County’s creation by the Oregon Territorial Legislature, the Pacific County Historical Society’s Sou’wester Magazine featured the writing of Frank Turner.

Turner was the longtime editor of the Ilwaco Tribune and was an insightful historian who in the 1950s published a series of well-researched articles about county history.

Nowadays, Turner may be best remembered as being the father of the late Martha Murfin, beloved by all as one of the Peninsula’s most kind and generous individuals. Turner retired from the newspaper business in 1942, but remained extremely active in historical circles.

Turner probably never enjoyed anything as much as being selected first curator for the newly established Fort Columbia State Park near Chinook. He worked enthusiastically and tirelessly with individuals and organizations and assembled a very creditable exhibit of artifacts and records of early Pacific County in one of the houses at the park which had been set aside for that purpose. He died in February 1961, at the age of 79.

This compilation of some of Turner’s research was put together by another great historian, former State Sen. Bob Bailey.

Lewis and Clark

Turner was an avid student of the Lewis and Clark expedition, especially of their arrival and winter in the lower Columbia River area near Chinook and at Fort Clatsop. He wrote many articles on this aspect of the expedition. It is interesting to note one of his conclusions, first quoting a letter from President Thomas Jefferson to the great explorers as to the object of their mission:

“The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, and such principal streams of it, as by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, may offer the most direct and water communication across the continent for the purpose of commerce.”

Turner says: “Washington historians tend to skip the story of the Lewis and Clark encampment and the Oregon historians play up Fort Clatsop (a mere winter camp) and a small salt-boiling outpost at Seaside. One does not blame them, but skipping over the ‘attainment of their objective’ at Point Chinook is like skipping Plymouth Rock on Cape Cod as a Pilgrim landing place.”

Early Days

In June 1844, the area north of the Columbia, which is now in the state of Washington, was established as Vancouver County by the Oregon Provisional Government. One and one-half years later, in December 1845, the area west of the Cascades, except for a small sector east of the Cowlitz River in southwestern Washington was taken from Vancouver County and named Lewis County. Later, in 1845, Vancouver County was renamed Clark County. These two counties existed when Oregon became a territory in August 1848.

In December 1850, 35 citizens living near the Washington side of the mouth of the Columbia, petitioned the Oregon Territorial Legislature to establish a new county named Pacific in the southwest corner and that its county seat be Pacific City.

Turner says: “It was more than likely done at the instance of the promoters of the Pacific City townsite, and the name was evidently their choice.”

Turner quotes the Oregon Spectator of Feb. 13, 1851, shortly after Pacific County was authorized, that Pacific City had about 75 people.

Turner writes: Pacific County, which includes the area of discovery and exploration (Lewis and Clark) at the mouth of the Columbia, was set off from Lewis County by act of the legislature of Oregon Territory, approved by the Assembly on Feb. 3, 1851, and approved by the council on the next day, Feb. 4, 1851. The land limit started at Cape Disappointment and was ordered to run ‘northerly along the coast for 25 miles, thence due east 30 miles, thence due south to the Columbia River, thence down the middle of said river to the place of beginning.’ It ordered the first election to be held at Pacific City and named that city as ‘seat of justice’ for the new county.

Pacific City no longer exists. In fact its existence was doomed within a year [after the Oregon legislature named it county seat] by another act, or order, signed in Washington, D. C., in February 1852, making Cape Disappointment a military reservation of the United States and the region involved included the site of Pacific City.

Early Records

Turner writes: The first entries now on record in the minutes of Pacific County were made in the summer of 1852, and were headed ‘Pacific County, Oregon Territory.’ The heading does not signify the place of the first meeting, but it was apparently at Chinookville near the present Fort Columbia Historical State Park. The date was Aug. 31, 1852, and its officers were presumably elected in the preceding June, when Job Lamley, first sheriff, reports 16 votes cast.

The accounts of Sheriff Job Lamley, apparently written up in 1852 by Henry Fiester, indicate there had been an assessment made for the year 1851. With the entry ‘Taxes Due, $634.25.’ This item and a further reference to ‘lost records of the year 1851’ in the meeting of Sept. 6, 1852, indicates there was some kind of county organization set up in the previous year.

In the Aug. 31, 1852, session, the commissioners were John Meldrum, Washington Hall and Cornelius White, and the clerk was Henry Fiester, who entered the records. First business was consideration of a proposed road from Chinookville by way of the McCarty Portage to Bear River on Shoalwater Bay. Viewers appointed for the road project were John Edmonds Pickernell, William McGonigle and Job Lamley. The surveyor was George Dawson. From later records it is known that they did not agree on the route and on Aug. 8, 1854, a new set of viewers were appointed.

At the fall session in 1852, the date being September, the commissioners decided that the assessed valuation of Pacific Steam Mill [Pacific City] at $12,000 was too high. They reduced it to $7,500. There was a meeting on Dec. 6, 1852, that was definitely headed ‘Pacific City, Pacific County’ and at that session the commissioners arranged for a ‘Cathlamet precinct’ in addition to others.

The Job Lamley accounts for the year 1852 indicate the assessment was on a four mill basis and the account for the year was $220. J. D. Holman of Pacific City was the county treasurer.

Washington Territory

Turner writes: After an apparent lapse in the meetings of the Pacific County commissioners of nearly two years, during which time Washington had been set off as a territory, a meeting was held on Aug. 8, 1854, the heading being ‘Chinook, County of Pacific, Territory of Washington.’

George T. Eastabrook was listed as president and Daniel Wilson as commissioner. New viewers were appointed for the new Chinook to Shoalwater Bay road, W. Hall, A. W. Bunnell and Jos. Brown being named. A license for a grocery store was fixed at $50, and George Dawson signed as clerk.

On the following two days, P. J. McGowan’s name was added to the list of commissioners and a petition was granted to survey a road from J. D. Holman’s [Ilwaco] to the Narcottie [sic] portage.

The activities of county government apparently were largely transferred to Chinookville on the Columbia on the demise of Pacific City about the time that Washington became a territory [1853]. In any event some meetings were held there and a court session presided over by Judge Victor Munroe is definitely located there by the early historian, James G. Swan.

There may have been a difference of opinion as to the place of meetings for on the 4th and 5th of December, 1854, a meeting was attempted at Chinook, with Daniel Wilson, commissioner, George Dawson, clerk, and George Bower, sheriff, in attendance, but failing to gain a quorum, no business was transacted.

A meeting was held on March 6, 1855, headed ‘J. D. Holman School House, Baker’s Bay.’ Present were George T. Eastabrook, presiding, John Crellin, commissioner; George Dawson, clerk, and John Briscoe, deputy sheriff. No doubt this was on the present site of Ilwaco to which Holman had moved from Pacific City, the site of which had been included in the government military reservation by purchase in 1852.

Much routine business with reference to settlement of estates was transacted but the most striking entry was ‘Ordered [by the Territorial Legislature] that a special election be held on the second Monday in May, 1855, for the purpose of locating the county seat.’

Evidently the election decided in favor of Oysterville as the next entry was headed ‘Oysterville, County Seat, Shoalwater Bay, W. T., June 4, 1855. Present were George T. Eastabrook and George Crellin, commissioners, John Briscoe, deputy sheriff, and H. K. Stevens, clerk.

From that time on until a certain raid in February 1893, Oysterville remained the county seat and regular meetings were recorded.

County Seats

Turner writes: County seat towns in Pacific County have been fairly numerous considering the size of the county. Old records have brought to light that extinct Pacific City served as the original ‘seat of justice.’ Afterward there was Chinookville, Oysterville and South Bend. One meeting of the county commissioners was even held on the site of present Ilwaco, the date being early 1855. This is likely the school house Holman built in his back yard in Ilwaco after his removal from Pacific City.

Bruceville, afterward called Bruceport, once was designated a county seat by the territorial legislature, April 14, 1854. This will seem strange, but it seems stranger yet that Bruceville was the county seat, not of Pacific, but of Chehalis, now known as Grays Harbor County. Not only was Bruceville the county seat according to Ed Van Syckle’s story of Grays Harbor County published in the 1953 Centennial edition of the Yearbook of the Washington State Associations of County Commissioners and Engineers but at least five of the 10 county officials named were residents of Bruceville and vicinity indicating that it was the principal settlement and oystering the principal business in the entire area at that time.

George Watkins, John Vail, and John Brady were named commissioners. At their first meeting, Aug. 5, 1854, they established a North River voting precinct at the residence of Almoran Smith, and Bruceville precinct at the store of Coon and Woodard.

The third resolution provided that “the southern line of Chehalis county be established from Cape Shoalwater to Stony Point below the residence of C. J. W. Russell until better authority to remove it.”

County Boundaries

Pacific County’s boundaries have been altered many times over the years.

Two of most drastic boundary changes were made to the three-year- old county by the first legislature of Washington Territory in 1854. In March and April of that year, along with others, the counties of Wahkiakum and Chehalis (later Grays Harbor) were formed. Wahkiakum County took over a great portion of the southeast area that had been in Pacific County, and as told above, Chehalis County took over a great deal of Shoalwater Bay, most of which had never clearly been defined.

This southern alignment of Chehalis County resulted not only in a large number of Shoalwater Bay residents holding elective and appointive positions in Chehalis County, but in several cases early residents of the Willapa Valley represented Chehalis County in the territorial legislature. This situation was ended when the 1860 legislature drew boundary lines placing Shoalwater Bay in Pacific County, replacing Bruceport as county seat of Chehalis County, and ordered an election at the next general election for voters of Pacific County to choose its county seat from ‘two or more locations.’

Pacific City

Early Settlers in Bakers and Willapa Bay Region came first to Pacific City

Students of the origin of the settlement of Pacific County, including the Bakers Bay and Willapa Bay regions, are likely to find that Pacific City, the ghost settlement that lasted only a few years after its inception in 1849 and 1850, had a lot to do with it.

Pacific City was located at the time about a mile from the present site of Ilwaco on Bakers Bay in the direction of Fort Canby, and is reported to have been started by the promotional activities of Dr. Elijah White in 1849, in the hope that it would become a great port city at the mouth of the Columbia. White first became familiar with the country in 1837 while on his way to join the Methodist mission [as a doctor] in the Willamette Valley from which he resigned after three years.

White seems to have been a misfit in a mission enterprise but a good promoter for Northwest settlement. As soon as he left the mission he went to New York and came back in 1842 as the head of the first sizeable body of emigrants to arrive in Oregon, 112 persons. He is thought to have followed this occupation for several years, and in the back of his mind was the idea of founding the beginnings of a large port city at the mouth of the Columbia.

He arrived at the Pacific City site in 1849 with a party, many of whom were from Ithaca, NY, his hometown. Ed Loomis, an early pioneer, and elder brother of L. A. Loomis, was in the party; Charles Stuart, grandfather of R. B. Taylor of Ilwaco and C. J. W. Russell, who figured in the founding of the oyster industry at Bruceport, all three later becoming residents of the Shoalwater Bay region.

J. D. Holman of Oregon City was induced to invest in the enterprise and he built a hotel said to cost close to $30,000. A letter bearing the date, Jan. 26, 1850, reports that ‘A large company is forming to build a town immediately adjoining Cape Disappointment, with steam mill, steam boat, etc. This is adjoining the point which the government will first fortify on the north side of the Columbia at the entrance from the ocean.

Besides the hotel, Pacific City had a sawmill operated by Ed Loomis and others. Historians who know Puget Sound history better than they do the Columbia River, sometimes saw that Henry Yesler of Seattle operated “the first steam sawmill in the Territory of Washington in 1853.” However, Ed Loomis sawed lumber at Pacific City three years before that, and was probably getting ready to go out of business by the time Henry Yesler was ready to make his first cut.

Very likely the Ed Loomis and Henry Yesler boilers both came ‘round the Horn’ together in the first shipment of steam boilers to the Pacific Northwest from England.

L. E. Loomis says he was told by his uncle, Ed Loomis that they put out a huge stack of heavy plank, hoping to sell them to build streets in the gold mining center of San Francisco. They mostly rotted for lack of available transportation. The town was thought to have a population of 500 persons.

That the activities of the new city perturbed the citizens of Astoria at the time is indicated by a ‘Memorial of Citizens of Astoria protesting against a proposed removal of distribution post office and port of entry from Astoria to Pacific City, 1850.

The post office was established March 6, 1851. The two-page assessment roll of Pacific City, O. T., for the first year of its creation in 1851, is said to be reposing in the safe of the Oregon Historical Association.

Pacific City started with a sawmill, fine hotel, post office and county seat. The plans were nipped in the bud when the U.S. government decided to confiscate Cape Disappointment and its environs for military purposes, including the site of Pacific City. This took place just one full year, in February 1852, after Pacific County was organized and Pacific City named county seat. Ten years passed before the government built installations and manned the area with soldiers, but Pacific City had no future.

Dr. White left and J. D. Holman took over, stayed and established a donation land claim embracing the western portion of the present site of Ilwaco and the North Beach Addition to Ilwaco which includes the beach area now called “The Willows” and the land around Holman Station now known as Holman Road.

Attributed to the Holman family was the establishment of a school there in 1853 and later activities in promoting Ilwaco and beach areas as a summer resort. He had a set of cabins and many of the Portland visitors pitched their tents in Ilwaco and walked out over the trails on excursions to the ocean beach. In those days ocean beach usually called ‘the weather beach’ was considered too much exposed for home building.

Finally some of the more venturesome built out along the beach. Stout and Tinker developed their hotels and townsites and Ilwaco became the point of debarkation for transfer of passengers and freight from the excursion steamers to the horse-drawn stages and freight wagons of the 1880s.

Ed Loomis plugged the flues of the boiler after dismantling the mill, and floated the boiler down Tarlatt Slough to Willapa Bay. A start was made for a mill structure near Nahcotta but was abandoned when there came news of a gold strike in Northern Idaho in 1855.

Charles J. W. Russell moved to Bruceport becoming an early oysterman and trader. Charles Stewart went with him. Ed Loomis, who ran the sawmill, moved to Oysterville and became a builder of homes and oyster sloops. Henry Fiester and John Meldrum settled on donation land claims as John Edmonds and James Scarborough had done before them. Washington Hall helped build up another settlement at Chinookville.

In 1858, a Coast Survey reports only two or three houses and a sawmill at Pacific City.

The “Formative” Fifties

The 1850s saw the most dramatic happenings in Pacific County development as well as elsewhere. Starting in 1849-50, the promotion of Pacific City drew many to the area and drew the attention of many more. The organization of Pacific County in 1851 was another high point.

Probably the most important influence in the development of the region and the county was the passage in 1850 of the Donation Land Claims Act in which each person in the Territory prior to 1850 could claim 360 acres of land, 620 if married. Later provisions gave men coming after 1850, 160 acres, 320 if married.

The Donation Land Claims act thus encouraged married couples to settle on the lands, bringing many wives and families to the area. Before the end of the 50s, Donation Land claims (many with wives) speckled the area from Willapa Valley to the Peninsula. Settlement was on its way.

First Women

Turner writes: There were not many white women in the coast country prior to 1853, when there became a considerable influx of people with families. It was said the first white woman was the wife of Capt. Fiester, who arrived in 1850, their claim being adjacent to the Wallicut River. Another white woman who came along no doubt was Mrs. J. D. Holman of Pacific City.

It is pretty well established by those who know that Frederick V. Holman, who became a prominent attorney in Oregon, was the first child of white parents born in this area. The exact date is not at hand, but it was in 1852, within a year of the building of the hotel at Pacific City by his father.

However before these births there were a number whose fathers were white and mothers Indian. The dates were not always recorded but they attended early schools and became part and parcel of community life.

Bruceport and Oysterville

Turner writes: Oystering on Shoalwater Bay (now known as Willapa Harbor) having developed as the principle cash crop of the area in 1851. The exiled citizens of Pacific City and others who trekked across the portages from the Columbia River, joined with sailors from the San Francisco coastal vessels in oyster gathering at Bruceport and Oysterville.” There is the story of the burning of the schooner Robert Bruce by a demented cook after he had administered laudanum to the sailors in their coffee in late 1851. The sailors, whose lives were saved by a settler, were stranded and went to work at oystering in the vicinity that is now known as Bruceport.

Oysterville, first settled by R. H. Espy and I. A. Clark in 1854 because of the oysters in that location, attracted men from Pacific City, and by a vote of the people in May, 1855, was designated as the county seat. The county seat-oyster gathering town prospered and became the educational, cultural and religious center of the county. Public education began about 1863. A church was built about 10 years later, the lumber coming from a small mill established in South Bend. The first courthouse owned by the county was built about 1876.

By the year 1890, the economy of Pacific County was undergoing a shift from that of the seashore, bays and rivers with their tourists, oysters and fish, to the established payrolls of the lumbering industry. Coastal schooners carried lumber to San Francisco and Northern Pacific rail lines were extended to South Bend. The town was booming and many boomers were on hand to push it along. They looked with covetous eyes at the county seat at Oysterville and in November, 1892, the election results showed 984 for South Bend and 482 favorable to Oysterville.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.