When the Judsons arrived

Mr. and Mrs. Peter Judson, their sons Peter and John and niece Gertrude Meller left Galena, Illinois in April 1853, by wagon train and joined the Longmire party. After an indescribably difficult trip over the Cascades and Naches Pass, they all rested along Clover Creek. The Judsons eventually continued on to the prairie land south of Tacoma. According to John Judson, they left their wagon and livestock there, took camping equipment, and went to Steilacoom. From there they took an Indian canoe around the point to Commencement Bay and finally reached Tacoma in October 1853.

To say Tacoma was sparsely settled at this time is an understatement. Nicholas DeLin had a log cabin and mill on Gallagher Creek which is now paved over by South Tacoma Way at the section where it passes the Rescue Mission. His six to eight employees cut trees from the bank of the bay and rolled them to the water, using the tide to get the logs to the mill. On average, the mill put out 3,000 foot of logs a day. They were rafted and floated to ships waiting in the harbor down near 5th and Dock Street.

North of DeLin’s mill an employee named James Barnhart had a log house at 15th and A Street. His was considered to be the first log cabin built on the bay’s west side. North of him, at approximately 3001 No. Starr Street, fisherman and boat builder, George Boldin lived. Farther down the bay, about half way to the smelter site, a man named Chauncey Baird built a home and worked as a fisherman and a cooper. Local fishermen bought Baird’s barrels and packed them with salmon to ship to San Francisco. And finally, the business concern of Swan and Riley was located where the smelter was eventually built.

Four men, all farmers, lived on the east side of the bay: Adam Benston had a house on the Puyallup Indian Reservation where the administration buildings were later built. On the other side of the Puyallup River, Jacob Kishner, Carl Goerichs and Peter Ringquest lived.

When the Judson’s arrived in Tacoma, they weren’t impressed. The land was almost entirely virgin timber. Pacific Avenue was an upland swamp, with alder, ash, crabapple, salmonberries, and skunk cabbages. The foliage attracted grouse and pheasants every fall. In the winter, the bay was covered with ducks, geese and swans. For deer, men walked up to what is now Yakima Avenue to hunt. In spring and summer, the Indians staked their ponies on the tide marshes to feed on the grasses. During spawning season, the air was full of the smell of rotten fish. But on a more pleasant note, John Judson also remembered that the tidelands were full of the sounds of the Indians singing.

The Indians and non natives got along very well. They hunted and fished together, splitting both the costs and whatever they caught. Sometimes they’d stay out all night, sleeping underneath their canoes.

In October 1853, Peter Judson filed for a claim on the land between DeLin’s mill and James Barnhart’s place. He built a home and outbuildings east of the present Union Depot. Eventually, he bought out Mr. Barnhart and changed the boundaries of his claim to include one mile of waterfront and extending up the hill half a mile.

In late autumn, 1853, after the Judson’s built a house, they started clearing the land, a job they worked at all winter using a hoe because so few tools were available. In spring, they sowed wheat, planted potatoes and assorted vegetables. John Judson particularly remembered carrying the potato starts on their backs from Steilacoom which was their nearest trading post.

Everything grew well. When the wheat was ready, they cut it with a sickle and threshed it with a flail A flail is two or more large sticks attached by a short chain; one stick is held and swung, causing the other to strike a pile of grain, loosening the husks and leaving seeds, chaff (bits of seed head) and straw. The Judsons then raked the straw away and shook the grain seeds and chaff using a winnowing tray (or basket). When shaken and tossed on a windy day, the light straw and chaff blew away and the seeds remained in the tray. The family then took their wheat by canoe to Tumwater to be ground into flour.

There was no road between Tacoma and South Tacoma and walking to Steilacoom and back in one day was no easy undertaking. Canoe was the customary mode of transportation. In the fall of 1855, just before the Indian wars, the men cut a road from Tacoma to the prairie, rescued their cattle and oxen, and took them to Tacoma.

Soon after that, the Indian wars began and the Judson’s left. During their two years they had built a house and barn, which was full of grain and feed, outhouses for their animals, had a flock of chickens and pigs, and a root cellar full of vegetables. When they returned after the war, only the land was left. John Judson said memories of their hurried flight were so strong they hadn’t the heart to stay and start over.