Thursday, August 16, 2012

Pioneer Days at Gig Harbor, Washington by Mabel Shyleen Ellis Written in 1938 Part 2

[Ed. note: This is the second part of an excerpt from Mabel Shyleen's diary, written between 1903 and 1905, in the collection of the Harbor History Museum. The Shyleen home and property were located at the corner of today's Grandview and Soundview Drives.]

Part 2:

When there was enough land cleared to put up a dwelling, my mother and sisters and brother moved out from Tacoma. The house was surrounded by many giant fir trees, some of which were burned down and others cut down with a crosscut saw. One day we were called out of the house, as one of the huge trees they were felling seemed ready to fall across our home. We were ordered  to stand close to the tree while the sawing went on. Finally the shout, "There she goes!" made us all look skyward to the tip of that massive giant as it swished through the air with a rush and came crashing down to earth and settled with a tremble. Then silence. We were thankful that the house was spared.

The first church was held in the cabin of the steamer Isabel, anchored in the middle of the harbor. Those attending the services went in a rowboat, ascending and descending on a rope ladder. Fenimore Young, son of postmaster A. W. Young, was the first minister. As soon as a schoolhouse was built, services were held there.

The first schoolhouse at Gig Harbor was an Indian hut near the water's edge, close to an Indian village. The beat of tomtoms could be heard to drive away the evil spirits hovering over their afflicted ones. There were ten pupils taught by Miss Anna Goodman, and some of those ten were her own brothers and sisters. Later, school was held for a time in the old mill cookhouse, and I also attended school at one time in Joe Dorotich's saloon. The swinging doors were replaced, but the bar still remained. The mud was ankle deep at times just outside the door. I wore rubber boots to and from school, which were replaced by slippers in the schoolhouse.
The first school in Gig Harbor was taught by Anna Goodman in a small Indian hut
(located in the photo just to the right at the base of the smokestack, the light
colored roof)

We had no picture shows to go to, but we rode horseback, took long walks in the woods, visited, went rowing, fishing, played pump-pump-pullaway, run-sheep-run, crack-the-whip, and other vigorous games.  We put on our own shows in Dr. Burnham's hall, and those were the days of real melodrama.

In the spring, the woods were filled with trilliums, johnny jump ups, Solomon Seal, Lady Slippers, and Indian paintbrush. It was always fun to go picking wild blackberries and to come home with five and ten pound buckets filled with the luscious fruit. The berries went into jars and were stored away in a dirt cellar for pies, sauce, and jelly. Salmon berries were plentiful too, and in the fall, the bushes were black with wild huckleberries.

It was only a short walk to the beach, where at low tide the clams were plentiful, and trolling in the Sound or at the Narrows brought plenty of big, red salmon. It was really something to land one; they would fight so hard that they almost upset the boat. They sold in Tacoma for 10 cents apiece. In the fall, the Siwash Indians came in their canoes to harvest the crop of hops in the Puyallup Valley. It was quite a sight to see all their tents pitched along the railroad track. The squaws were decked out in gaily colored shawls, with their long, black braids tied in red, green, and pink ribbons.  

[To read more of Mabel's diary, visit the Resource Room at the Harbor History Museum, Thursdays from 10 am to noon.]

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