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Forts of Washington Territory, Indian War Era, 1855-1856

HistoryLink.org Essay 10087 : Printer-Friendly Format

The era of the treaty wars in Washington Territory lasted from 1855-1856. Territorial Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs Isaac Stevens (1818-1862) ordered the building of forts and blockhouses to provide settlers safe refuge. Blockhouses were erected in settler communities around the territory. Only a few had stockades and minimal housing. Most were constructed by the militia, the Washington Territorial Volunteers. The U.S. Army built a few forts and individuals created blockhouses or defenses for themselves and neighbors. These defenses lasted only a short time. The threat was over by the end of 1856 with treaties signed in which Indians gave up huge land areas. With the 1856 treaties most of the forts were abandoned. A few survive today to recall that era. 

Hostilities of the Indian Wars

The hostilities comprised the Yakima Wars in the eastern Washington Territory and the Puget Sound War in the west. Governor Stevens ordered Washington Territorial Volunteers to build forts for settler protection. The forts would be a refuge that they could retreat to during Indians attacks. The term "fort" for many of these shelters is misleading as most were only a blockhouse. Some had stockade fences and hut housing. They lacked barracks, mess halls, parade grounds, and other physical fort features. In addition to the Washington Territorial Volunteer forts, the U.S. Army constructed posts to support operations against the Indians. Also, in some cases the local settler community or individual families erected blockhouse defenses. Unnamed locally built blockhouses went up in many communities. There were approximately 47 named blockhouses -- forts constructed during 1855-1856.

By the end of 1856 treaties had been signed in which the Indians gave up large areas of land to bring about peace. With the treaties the forts and blockhouses were abandoned in 1856. Over the years they disappeared, leaving very few surviving examples.

This fort and blockhouse list does not include trading posts called forts or camps and encampments.  

The Forts and Blockhouses

Alexander Blockhouse, Coupeville, 1855-1856. The two-story Alexander blockhouse was built on the John Alexander (d. 1878) farm, Whidbey Island. It has been moved from the Alexander property to Coupeville and restored. This blockhouse stands next to the Island County Historical Museum.  

Chambers Blockhouse, Olympia, 1855. Settlers built this blockhouse on Andrew Chambers (1825-1908) property for their protection. Today a plaque at 6909 Rainier Road, Olympia, records its history.

Cook Blockhouse, Davis Blockhouse, Whidbey Island, 1855-1856. The Davis blockhouse was built on the James Davis land and originally took his name.  Later it became the Cook Blockhouse for later owners. It was restored in the 1930s and is located adjacent to Sunnyside Cemetery, Sherman Road, Coupeville.

Crockett Blockhouse, Whidbey Island, 1855-1856. Washington Territorial Volunteers built two blockhouses and stockade on the Colonel Walter Crockett (1786-1869) land. The surviving blockhouse was moved a short distance, restored, and open to the public. It is located near Coupeville at the intersection of Fort Casey and Crockett Farm Road. The second blockhouse was moved to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle 1909. Its later history and current location is unknown.  

Ebey Blockhouse, Whidbey Island, 1857. Jacob Ebey (1793-1862) had four blockhouses constructed on his property, each at a corner of a stockade. The surviving blockhouse has been restored and is part of the U.S. National Park Service Ebey Landing National Historic Reserve.  

Fort Alden, Snoqualmie, 1856-1857. Fort Alden was a temporary blockhouse at Snoqualmie and was named to honor Captain James Alden, Washington Territorial Volunteers. The fort was also called Fort Alder. Washington Territorial Volunteers built it in March 1856, at a location approximately 600 feet west of present-day downtown Meadowbrook.

Fort Arkansas, near Castle Rock, 1855-1856. Local settlers built a blockhouse at the southeast end of Arkansas Valley on the Cowlitz River, its name from the location.

Fort Bellingham, Bellingham, 1856-1863. Fort Bellingham was located three miles northwest of the Whatcom Creek mouth, on a bluff.  In August 1856, Captain George E. Pickett (1825-1875), who would become a famous Confederate general, and 68 men of Company D, 9th Infantry Regiment constructed the two blockhouse fort.  

Fort Bennett, vicinity Walla Walla, 1855-1856. Fort Bennett, a temporary stockade, was constructed by Oregon Mounted Volunteers about six miles from present-day Walla Walla. Completed in December 1855, the stockade naming honored Captain Charles Bennett (1811-1855), who was killed in action December 7, 1855, in the Battle of Frenchtown. The fort was soon moved to another location approximately two miles above the Whitman Station.

Fort Borst, Centralia, 1856. Oregon Volunteers built a blockhouse on the Joseph Borst (1822-1885) property. It protected the Chehalis River crossing near the mouth of the Skookumchuck River. In 1922 it was moved to Fort Borst Park in Centralia and restored.   

Fort Cascades, near Cascade City, 1855-1861. The U.S. Army post had two blockhouses on the Columbia River in September 1855. The fort was located near today’s town of Cascade Locks. Fort Cascades had a large stockade fence surrounding the blockhouses. One blockhouse was named Fort Rains in honor of Gabriel Rains (1803-1881), a U.S. Army officer assigned to the Washington Territorial Volunteers (later he served in the Confederate Army as a brigadier general).

Fort at Cowlitz Landing, Toledo, 1855-1856. Washington Territorial Volunteers erected a blockhouse with stockade on the Cowlitz River. Today the site and a marker are on the north side of the Cowlitz River near the Interstate I-5 highway bridge.   

Fort Decatur, Seattle, 1855-1856. Fort Decatur was located in Seattle at today’s 1st  Avenue and Cherry Street. Settlers and U.S. Marines from the USS Decatur built two blockhouses, a northern near Elliott Bay and a southern at about today’s Main Street. The blockhouses were protected by a palisade that ran from the north to the southern blockhouse. The oblong blockhouses were about 25-feet by 40-feet. They provided shelter for the Seattle settlers. Fort Decatur took its name from the ship. A marker at 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street, Seattle, tells its story.  

Fort Dent, Tukwila, 1860.  Washington Territorial Volunteers constructed the Fort Dent blockhouse southeast of the confluence of the Black and Green Rivers as they merge to form the Duwamish River. It was named for Captain Frederick T. Dent (1820-1892), commander Company B, 9th Infantry Regiment. Dent had fought in the Yakima War. He would go on to become a brigadier general. This is now a City Park and has a marker describing the fort.

Fort Duwamish, Seattle, 1855-1856. Fort Duwamish was a two-story blockhouse built of small unpeeled logs by local settlers. It was located in today’s Georgetown district at Corson Avenue S and S Shelton.   

Fort Eaton, Eaton Prairie, 1855-1856. Fort Eaton was established on the Nathan Eaton (1823-1883) claim. It was unusual in design with 16 log houses in a square facing inward. A marker is located near the site on the Yelm highway, just east of Meridian Road.

Fort Ebey, Snohomish River, 1855. The Washington Territorial Volunteers built this blockhouse on the Snohomish River.  It was named in honor of Colonel Isaac Ebey (d. 1857).

Fort Hays, Buckley, 1856. In March 1856, Washington Territorial Volunteers built Fort Hays on Connell’s Prairie, near the present-day town of Bonney Lake. The two-blockhouse fort was named in honor of Major Gilmore Hayes (1810-1880), Washington Territorial Volunteers.  

Fort Henderson, 1855.  Fort Henderson was built by Washington Territorial Volunteers on the Snoqualmie River below Falls City. This fort may have also been known as Fort Patterson.

Fort Henness, Mound Prairie, 1855-1856. Local settlers constructed Fort Henness which had two blockhouses, stockade, and huts for settler shelter.  It was named in honor of Captain Benjamin Lee Henness, Washington Territorial Volunteers, a pioneer who had a nearby land claim. A monument at 183rd and Apricot Road, Grand Mound, has a fort diagram and history.

Fort Hicks, Puyullap River, 1855. Washington Territorial Volunteers built this two-blockhouse fort on the Military Road, near Spanaway.  It was at the location of Camp Montgomery.  The fort name honored Urban East Hicks, Washington Territorial Volunteers and businessman.

Fort Lander, Duwamish River, 1856. Washington Territorial Volunteers erected Fort Lander that had a blockhouse and stockade on the Duwamish River. It was named for Captain Edward Lander, Washington Territorial Volunteers. The Fort Lander site is in today’s City of SeaTac.    

Fort at Lone Tree Point, La Conner, 1856. The Washington Territorial Volunteers built and staffed a blockhouse at this point three and a half miles northwest of La Conner.

Fort Maloney, North Bank Puyallup River, 1856. A two-story blockhouse was constructed by regular Army troops and named in honor of U.S. Army Captain Maurice Maloney (d. 1872), 4th Infantry Regiment. A flood in 1867 washed away the blockhouse, north of downtown Puyallup. A marker is located near the site.

Fort Mason, Walla Walla Valley, 1856. U.S. Army troops of the 9th Infantry Regiment, constructed Fort Mason about 25 miles from Walla Walla, on Mill Creek.

Fort Mason, Point Wilson, 1857. Fort Mason was a rough log hut at Point Wilson, now within the Fort Worden State Park.    

Fort McAllister, South Prairie, 1855-1856. Fort McAllister was a Washington Territorial Volunteer erected blockhouse. It was named for Lieutenant James McAllister (1812-1855) of the Eaton Rangers who had been killed during the Indian Wars.

Fort Miller, Tenalquot Plain, 1855-1856. Washington Territorial Volunteers erected a blockhouse at this location near Olympia.  Its naming honored William Winlock Miller (1822-1876), pioneer and Washington Territorial Volunteers. Miller became the first mayor of Olympia.  

Fort Naches, Naches River, Yakima County, 1856. U.S. Army troops established a wicker-wood, earth-filled fenced, temporary defense located nine miles above the mouth of the Naches River. It included one building within the stockade.  The post was abandoned at the end of Army operations.  

Fort Nugent, Oak Harbor, 1855-1856. Fort Nugent was a log fort west of Oak Harbor.

Fort Pike, White River Crossing, 1856. The Washington Territorial Volunteers established Fort Pike, a blockhouse, at the White River Crossing to protect the route.  This fort may also known as Fort Posey.

Fort Preston, Nisqually River, 1855-1856. Fort Preston was a Washington Territorial Volunteer built blockhouse, located at Micheal’s Fork.  

Fort Raglan, Nisqually River, 1855. Washington Territorial Volunteers built a blockhouse at a critical Nisqually River crossing.     

Fort Riggs, 1856. Washington Territorial Volunteers built a blockhouse on the Colonel Reuben Riggs property on the north bank of the Columbia River, Clark County.    

Fort Simcoe, Yakima, 1856-1859. U.S. Army troops build a complete fort here in 1856. A blockhouse was installed in addition to fort buildings. The blockhouse survives and is now part of the Fort Simcoe State Park. 

Fort Skookum, Skookum Bay, 1856. Washington Territorial Volunteers built Fort Skookum to include two blockhouses, a 10-foot high timber stockade, and five houses.

Fort Slaughter, Muckleshoot Prairie, 1856. U.S. Army Soldiers installed this defensive position that included two blockhouses, log stockade, and log quarters. The fort was located on Agency Creek, 38 miles southeast of Yakima. Its naming honored Lieutenant William A. Slaughter (d. 1855), U.S. Army 4th Regiment, who was killed in action in December 1855.  

Fort Smalley, North Bend, 1856. A log structure, Fort Smalley served as an outpost of Fort Tilton. 

Fort Stevens, Yelm, 1856. Washington Territorial Volunteers built a blockhouse on the Yelm Prairie. This fort served as a supply depot.   

Fort Taylor, vicinity Walla Walla, 1858. The U.S. Army 9th Regiment built these defenses east of Starbuck. This temporary fort, constructed of rocks and logs, was in service one month, from August 11 to September 11, 1858. Its naming honored 1st Lieutenant Oliver H.P. Taylor, who had been killed in action during the Indian Wars.

Fort Thomas, Green River, 1855. Fort Thomas was a blockhouse on the Green River, Kent Washington, erected by regular U.S. Army troops on the John M. Thomas claim. The blockhouse was log construction, about 26 square feet, a standard design.   

Fort Tilton, 1856. A blockhouse was constructed by Washington Territorial Volunteers three miles below the Snoqualmie Falls, near Fall City. It was in operation just two months as a supply depot and then abandoned. The fort naming honored James Tilton (d. 1878), Adjutant General, Washington Territorial Volunteers.

Fort Townsend, Townsend, 1856-1861. Defenses were located at the entrance to Puget Sound on the west side of Townsend Bay. This site is now a State Park with a marker indicating its history.

Fort White, 1856. Fort White was a blockhouse at the Puyullap River Crossing. It was named in honor of Captain J. A. White, Washington Territorial Volunteers.

Olympia Blockhouse, Olympia, 1856. The Washington Territorial Volunteers built two blockhouses in the center of town. Abandoned they became the city jail.  The site is today Capital Park.

Sources:
J. S. Whiting,  Forts of The State of Washington: A Record of Military and Semi-Military Establishments Designated as Forts (Seattle: Kelly Printing Company, 1951); Robert B. Roberts, Encyclopedia Of Historic Forts: The Military, Pioneer, and Trading Posts of the United States, (New York: Macmillan, 1988); Herbert Hart, Tour Guide To Old Western Forts (Boulder, Colorado: Pruett Publishing Company, 1980); Jessie Stensland, “Casket Factory May Bring Blockhouse to Life”, Whidbey News Time, March 16, 2012 (http: //www.whidbeynewstimes.com/community/114822279.html0); “The Official History Of The Washington National Guard, Vol. 2: Washington Territorial Militia In The Indian Wars Of 1855-1856,” pamphlet (Camp Murray, Tacoma: Washington National Guard, ca. 1960), pdf version accessed March 18, 2012 (http://washingtonguard.org/museum/documents/FIELDS_VOL_II.pdf); Gary Reese Fuller, Origins of Pierce County place names (tACOMA: R&M Press, 1989).


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Middle blockhouse, Cascades of the Columbia, 1867
Photo by Carleton Watkins, Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. STE108)


Blockhouse in Borst Park, Centralia, 1940s
Postcard


Alexander's Blockhouse (1855), Coupeville, 2010
HistoryLink.org Photo by Margaret Riddle


Sunnyside Cemetery, Davis blockhouse (rear center), Coupeville, 2010
HistoryLink.org Photo by Margaret Riddle


Fort Nisqually blockhouse, ca. 1885
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. WAS0362)


Fort Simcoe blockhouse (1856), n.d.
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. WAS0365)


Isaac I. Stevens (1818-1862)
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Image No. POR0136)


Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey (1818-1857)
Courtesy Washington State Secretary of State


Hon. Edward Lander (1816-1907)
Courtesy A.A. Denny, Pioneer Days on Puget Sound


Lieutenant and Mrs. William Slaughter, ca. 1854
Courtesy Pollard, A History of the State of Washington


Brannan-Henness family bible, with inscription by Carrie Brannan DeGroote recording 1854 acquisition of bible by Benjamin L. Henness
Courtesy Robert A. DeGroote and family


Early Olympia settlers (l-r) Isaac Ebey, Winlock Miller, Alonzo M. Poe, 1850s
Courtesy Washington State Digital Archives (Image No. AR-07809001-ph004223)


 
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