Dr. Henry Smith's Letter from Snohomish County (December 1863)

  • By David Dilgard
  • Posted 9/28/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8307
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Seattle physician Dr. Henry A. Smith (1830-1915) figures prominently in early Seattle history as a doctor, a writer, and a farmer. He has been credited with transcribing Chief Seattle’s famous 1854 speech.  In 1863, Dr. Smith made a trip north to establish a settlement in the new county called Snohomish.  Smith contributed an account of the new place to the Seattle Gazette in December of that year. Dr. Smith's letter is here reprinted from the Seattle Gazette (December 10, 1863) and is introduced by Everett Public Library historian David Dilgard. This People's History is reprinted from the Journal of Everett and Snohomish County History No. 1 (Winter 1980-1981), p. 28-29.

Note by Historian David Dilgard 

One of the functions of pioneer journalism in the Puget Sound region was to promote settlement through the description of attractive areas and one format for this type of article was a letter to the editor extolling the virtues of a sector recently visited by the writer. The letter that follows is just such an effort, a Civil War vintage description of Snohomish County by Dr. Henry A. Smith (1830-1915), a physician who was to settle in 1864 on the island at the mouth of the Snohomish River that still bears his name.

Smith arrived on Puget Sound about 1853, establishing a large farm on a cove at the north end of Elliott Bay which also has his name.  He gained quite a reputation for his grafted fruit orchards. Though his farm was ravaged during the Indian Wars, he rebuilt and went on to become deeply interested in the reclamation of salt marshes such as those at the mouth of the Snohomish River. Pouring his energies into a “New Holland” on the Snohomish, Smith eventually reclaimed some 75 acres with an extensive system of dikes and he continued to forward articles to regional newspapers encouraging others to do the same.  During his stay on the island, Smith continued to practice medicine and it is said that many healthy loggers contrived ailments for a chance to be near the doctor’s comely daughters. He served as resident physician on the Tulalip Reservation for several years, eventually returning to Seattle in 1878 to provide better schooling for his offspring.  After his departure, Smith Island reverted to its primitive state, erasing most of his improvements. 

But the doctor’s 14 years in Snohomish County were still ahead of him when this letter appeared in the Seattle Gazette on December 10, 1963.  Although his purpose was obviously to inspire settlement of promising farmlands along the Snohomish and Snoqualmie rivers, he also gives a rare glimpse of the county as it was, not yet three years old and populated by something like a hundred hardly souls.

Dr. Henry Smith's Letter

Editor Seattle Gazette:

Having just returned from a tour "down Sound," I wish to give your readers a sketch of the Snohomish Valley, a country deserving to be more extensively known to the many persons now seeking homes on our peaceful shores.

I left Seattle on the 6th inst., in a canoe, and arrived, on the evening of the same day, at Mukelteo -- a town just springing into existence, eight miles this side the mouth of Snohomish River, on the land claim of Mr. Frost.  Messrs Frost and Fowler have a dry-goods store and a store house for making and packing salmon at this place.  The day before our arrival they took, at three hauls of the seine, seven thousand and five hundred salmon.  They have already twenty tons packed and ready for the San Francisco market.  They are just finishing a fine schooner, fifty feet beam, to enable them more extensively and profitably to carry on this business.  A store, warehouse, shoe-shop, tavern and several other buildings, make this place already look like a town I embryo.

Next day we proceeded to Tulalip, a distance of about twelve miles, and beyond the Snohomish.  This is an Indian Reservation under the supervision of Mr. Howe, who has made improvements by clearing land, building houses for employees, etc., until the place looks more like a civilized village than a rendezvous for savages.  Government has purchased a sawmill at this place for the benefit of the Indians, and has provided them with instruction in agriculture, horticulture, etc., under the super intendancy of the practical agent Mr. Jones.  These Indians have more facilities given them by government for improvement than any others in the Territory, and under the strict but genial government of Mr. Howe and the ethical training of Father Spronish (Chirouse), the Catholic Missionary, they have grown more civil and better disposed towards strangers than any Indians I have met with in the Territory.

About two hours after leaving Tulalip, we entered the mouth of the Snohomish.  Here are thousands of acres of fresh-water tide lands covered with a luxuriant growth of indigenous clover, red top and pea-vine.  These prairies are made by alluvial deposits during the overflowing of the river, and are consequently more of a sandy loam than salt water marshes, and can easily be reclaimed by ditching.  Several claims have already been taken and the process of redemption by ditching commenced.  The settlers have named this tract of country “New Holland” and expect it to be a garden spot of this Territory in a few years.  About twelve miles up the river Mr. Thompson (E. H. Thompson) has a well filled store and carries on a thriving trade with Indians and the white settlers who have claims, to the number of about one hundred I am told. 

One mile above is Kadiesville (Cadyville), a town site at the crossing of the military road leading from Fort Steilacoom via Seattle to Bellingham Bay.  Five miles above is the junction of the Snoqualmie and Skykomish rivers, the blending of whose pure limped waters forms the Snohomish.  On the Skihomish are extensive prairie lands, soil deep, rich clay-loam; sixty miles further up on the Snoqualmie are the Snoqualmie Falls, younger brother of Niagara.  This is truly a sublime spectacle, the river dashes over a perpendicular bank and is precipitated 300 feet into the boiling, foaming flood below; eternal rainbows circle round in gorgeous beauty, losing themselves ever and anon in snowy columns of spray that continually rise and ascend far over the gigantic pines above; here is the head of navigation.

Above the Falls are the Snoqualmie prairies, extensive and fertile and already extensively claimed.  The bottom lands on the river and their numerous tributaries are identical, as nearly as I could judge, with the White River lands in King county, than which there is none more productive in the world.  There is even a larger extent of bottom land on these rivers, the Stillaguamish included, than there is on White, Black, Cedar, Green and Duwamish rivers in King county.  Three miles up the Sound from the Snohomish, Mr. David Livingston has erected a steam saw mill and is sawing out from ten to twelve hundred feet per day.  He has a steamer the General Mead which tows logs, runs errands and accommodates the settlers with as fine lumber for building as ever a carpenter’s saw sung a duet on.  We returned home pleased and profited by our trip, satisfied that the time is not very distant when Snohomish county will rank second to none in the Territory.

Yours respectfully

H. Smith

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