Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pioneer Days in Gig Harbor, by Mabel Shyleen Ellis written in 1938

[Ed. note: 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. Her father was Nils Shyleen, prominent in early Gig Harbor activities.]

Maybel Shyleen

When I was about ready to enter school, [1892] my father's health was so bad he was ordered to give up his business and move to an out-of-door life in the country. He procured 20 acres of rough timberland at Gig Harbor, Washington. A rude one-room cabin served as home until a house could be built. As I too was of delicate health, I was permitted to come with him while my mother and sisters and brother remained in Tacoma to close up the business. 

It is needless to say that we both found robust health in the simple hard life of the pioneer. He just passed on at 86, eight months after my mother went. He was shingling the roof two days before. They celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary about six years ago. He was a member of the school board for over 35 years, organized and was leader of the boy scouts there, and was active in many other club activities.
The Shyleen home along today's Soundview Drive

The underbrush was so thick where the house now stands that it was impossible to walk. He burned, cleared, cultivated, and beautified that land, and grew to love every inch of it. Cedar, fir, spruce, and alder were plentiful, and supplied fuel to the little stove in the corner of the log cabin. Madrona trees grew along the shore of the little harbor. The chipmunks came in through the cracks and scampered over the table for crumbs. The ferns grew in profusion, and in some places were over six feet tall and threatened to completely smother out our first crops of garden vegetables. We had plenty of weeding to do.

Wild animals, including skunks, abounded. One night, just at dark, a friendly Indian from Wollochet Bay came walking up the path to the cabin to see how we were faring. While he and my father were talking, a piercing scream came through the woods. We listened intently. Again came that blood-curdling scream. My father turned to the Indian excitedly. "There must be a child or a woman in distress. We had better hurry!"  The Indian's smile broadened into a grin and then a hearty laugh. He explained to us tenderfeet that the cries came from a cougar in a nearby tree. In later years my mother was one night walking across the yard watering her flower garden. It was a bright, moonlit night and she saw a huge cougar move stealthily across her path directly in front of her. It didn't take her long to get into the house! The next morning we discovered the tracks in the soft dirt, showing the great size of the beast.

Once when my father had some bacon hanging up in the cabin, he was awakened in the night by soft footsteps circling the place outside. At the spot where the bacon was hanging, the footsteps stopped. On looking through the one window, my father saw a big, black bear. When it came to the door, it hesitated and sniffed.  My father held his breath, realizing the door was fastened only by a small cord, and he had no gun.  Finally, after waiting what seemed to him a long time, he heard the bear go rumbling down a ravine through the underbrush. As soon as he could get to town, my father bought a six-shooter and a bolt for the door.


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