Michael T. Simmons settles at Tumwater in October 1845.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 1/22/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5089
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In late October 1845, Michael T. Simmons (1814-1867) of Kentucky, Iowa, and Missouri settles at Tumwater near the Falls of the Deschutes River. Tum-wa-ta is a Chinook Jargon word for strong water or waterfall. Simmons calls the location New Market to signify that there is an alternative to the Hudson’s Bay Company post at Nisqually. It is the first American settlement north of the Columbia River.

Simmons arrived in the Northwest by wagon train from Missouri where he was a miller. The members of the wagon train elected him Colonel, a title he held the rest of his life. At Tumwater, he built a saw mill and a grist mill using the hydraulic power of Tumwater Falls. Historian Gordon Newell thus calls Simmons the father of Washington industry.

Simmons sold the mill operation to a New England sailor and moved to Olympia about 1850. Simmons often said of his formal education that he was not "book larnt" (Newell, 8), but he managed to be appointed as Olympia’s first postmaster. He was also assigned by Territorial Governor Isaac I. Stevens (1818-1862) to be an Indian Agent and was instrumental in the treaties imposed on Native Americans in 1854.


Gordon R. Newell, So Fair A Dwelling Place: A History of Olympia and Thurston County, Washington (Olympia: The Olympia News Publishing Co., 1950), 2-7; “Thurston County,” The Daily Olympian, January 12, 2002, Sesquicentennial Section; Shanna B. Stevenson, Olympi, Tumwater, and Lacey, (Virginia Beach, VA: The Donning Co., 1985), 17; J. C. Rathbun, History of Thurston Co., Washington, (1895) June 1972 edition, 8.
Note: This essay was corrected on September 24, 2015.

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