Upon the eastern slope of the shores of this bay lay the two towns, Port Steilacoom, and Steilacoom City, both established in 1851. A far larger trade centered here than at any other point on Puget Sound, and we decided on a halt to make ourselves acquainted with the surroundings. A mile and a half from the shore we found also Fort Steilacoom.
For in October following there came the first immigrants over the Natchess Pass Trail into Washington. They located in a body over nearly the whole valley, and before the year was ended had made a rough wagon road out to the prairies and to Steilacoom, the county seat. We lingered at the mouth of the river in doubt as to what best to do.
Seattle is sufficiently barbarous; Steilacoom is no better; and I suspect that the Northern Pacific Railroad terminus has been fixed at Tacoma if it is fixed there because that is one of the few places on Puget Sound whose name does not inspire horror and disgust.
Not a sailing craft of any kind was in sight of the little town, though the building activity was going on as before. The memory of those ships, however, remained with us and determined our minds on the important question where the trade center was to be. We decided therefore that our new home should be near Steilacoom, and we finally staked out a claim on an island not far from that place.
On March 21, 1858, the schooner Wild Pigeon arrived at Steilacoom with the news that the Indians had discovered gold on Fraser River, that they had traded several pounds of the precious metal with the Hudson's Bay Company, and that three hundred people had left Victoria and its vicinity for the new land of El Dorado. Furthermore, the report ran, the mines were exceedingly rich.
The brothers went as far as Port Townsend, but turned back to make the second home at Steilacoom. ON the first day of October, 1852, at about nine o'clock at night, with a bright moon shining, we reached Portland. Oliver met us; he had come ahead by the trail and had found a place for us to lodge.
At Steilacoom there was a certain character, a doctor, then understood by few, and I may say not by many even to the end. Yet, somehow, I had implicit confidence in him, though between him and me there would seem to have been a gulf that could not be closed. Our habits of life were diametrically opposite.
One of the little boys of the camp, John I. King, lived to write a graphic account of the tragedy in which his mother and stepfather and their neighbors lost their lives. Another boy, a five-year-old child, was taken off, and after being held captive for nearly four months was then safely delivered over by the Indians to the military authorities at Fort Steilacoom.
They were all good to us, sometimes to the point of embarrassment, in their generous hospitality. Oliver was to have had the cabin ready by the time I returned. He not only had not done that, but had taken the boat and had left no sign to tell us where either brother or boat could be found. Not knowing what else to do, I paddled over to the town of Steilacoom.
The public, generally, gave me the credit of introducing hop culture into the Northwest. Therefore it seems fitting to tell here the story of the beginnings of an industry that came to have great importance. In March of 1865, Charles Wood of Olympia sent about three pecks of hop roots to Steilacoom for my father, Jacob R. Meeker, who then lived on his claim in the Puyallup valley.