I’m researching my next series, which I hope to propose to my publisher this summer. You know I love the Regency period, but so many places call to me right in my own backyard. The famed Pig War in the San Juan Islands, the orphans who traveled the Oregon Trail alone to be adopted at the Whitman Mission, the soldiers who were dispatched to the forests during WWII when loggers couldn’t chop down trees fast enough for the war effort. You can’t make this stuff up!
Most recently, I’ve been concentrating very close to home. I live in an area south of Tacoma, on the way to Mt. Rainier National Park. Our local library had a number of books you likely won’t find elsewhere. One was a collection of remembrances from those who were children of the first pioneers, along with newspaper clippings and bits of state- or census-compiled data. I found a couple of surprises there. One was that school lasted anywhere from 3 to 6 months, and children as young as 4 and as old as 21 were admitted. I don’t know about you, but my vision of a pioneer schoolhouse featured children from about first through fifth grades. Not here!
Another surprise had to do with immigration routes. As you may know, the famous Oregon Trail led valiant travelers down the Columbia River and into the Willamette Valley of Oregon Territory. Getting from there to the towns along Puget Sound was difficult. For one thing, you have to cross the mighty Columbia, no small feat when there were no bridges or ferries. For another, there were no roads or trails leading north. Most people took a ship up the coast, through the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and down into Puget Sound. However, the Longmire Party blazed a trail over the Cascade Mountains, through what is now Naches Pass, to be among the first to come straight into the south Sound area in 1853, less than 2 years after the Denny party landed on Alki Beach (the start of Seattle). The book gave the location of a marker to commemorate the achievement.
It’s six blocks from my house. (It’s also on private property, so I haven’t found a way to take a picture of it, but I will!)
Another book was a Master’s Thesis by a student at Pacific Lutheran University, just north of me. He chronicled the life of one of the local pioneers, a man named James Sales. Sales had quite an impact on the area, selling his original Donation Land Claim for schools, starting civic and professional organizations, and chartering churches. But what I found most fascinating about him was his beginning.
You see, before James was born, his parents moved to the new city of Tacoma. They lived next to Ed and Martha Croft. The poor Crofts had had a difficult marriage, having lost two babies before the baby they currently had. That boy died shortly after they moved to Tacoma. Mrs. Sales, pregnant with James, was so saddened by the couple’s loss that she offered to give them James when he was born. After all, she reasoned, she already had a healthy son.
Now, I’m struggling with this concept. I cannot imagine the sacrifice of the woman, giving away one of her children to a woman who had none and likely never would. But James was born, and weaned, and given to the Crofts to raise. They moved out my way, a distance of some 15 miles from Tacoma, to the cabin you see above. While James kept his birth name, it appears he never saw his parents again.
You can’t make this stuff up!