We learned a small part of the history of McNeil Island in the last blog. Now let’s find out a little about its neighbor “Anderson, McNeil and Eagle Islands lie approximately half way between Olympia, the capital of Washington State, and the city of Tacoma in what is called by boatmen “upper Puget Sound.”
McNeil Island is no doubt the best known nationally of all Puget Sound islands because established there on in 1870 is the oldest federal penitentiary in the United States.
Anderson Island, on the other hand, is just another island. Nothing of the national fame or interest has ever placed it in the limelight. It lies directly south of McNeil Island and is the most southerly located of all Puget Sound islands. The south end of Anderson Island lies cradled in Nisqually Reach where the luscious salmon are tempted by casting and trolling fisher folk.
Eagle Island, like a hyphen in a compound word, lies almost mid-way between the two larger island in Batch Passage, the principal water route connecting the upper Sound ports with the rest of Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean.” “Island Memoir, A Personal History of Anderson and McNeil Islands” by Betsey John Cammon. 1969 The Valley Press, Inc., Puyallup, Washington
Once again, it was Commander Charles Wilkes who named the island in 1841 while on the same journey he made to reach Fort Nisqually where Hudson’s Bay Company had a post under their representative and chief trader, Alexander Caulfield Anderson. And so, as was his wont, Wilkes named the island closest to Fort Nisqually after Anderson.
Throughout its history though it was also called ‘Fisgard” in 1846, and in 1870-1880 ‘Wallace’ which is why Betsey Johnson Cammon’s birth certificate states her place of birth as Wallace Island.
Rather than going into detail about the settlers - farmers, loggers, fishermen, boat people, I’d like to share 3 separate items in Betsey’s “Island Memoirs” that really caught my attention. One is about one of the first men to explore the island, one is a legend, and one is about the first family to settle.
I believe that you would gain far more knowledge about the island’s history is you were to arrange a visit with the Anderson Island Historical Society. Their phone number is 253-884-2135, their address is 9306 Otso Point Road, Anderson Island, WA 98303-9653. They can also fill in much of the missing information on McNeil Island. I also recommend you read both Betsey’s book, “Island Memoirs” but also “Island in the Sound” by Hazel Heckman. Both are available through the Peninsula Gig Harbor Library.
Now, on with the first man, or men, to leave a written record of their time on Anderson Island:
Michal Fleenen Luark and his brother, Patterson Fletcher Luark, were two young men born in Virginia were used to traveling westward while growing up. So it was only natural that as adults they continued their journey. Patterson had already decided to travel to the Oregon Territory, and in 1853 when the sawmill Michael owned and operated was not bringing in enough money to support his family of five children and his wife he decided to accompany his brother. Nor was his farm profitable and as a teacher he definitely earning enough to support them. On top of that he suffered from poor health.
News of those who had already drifted back to the Midwest, a few books such as Gustave Hines* “Life on the Plains of the Pacific”, and of course the passing of the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 (not to be confused with the Homestead Act which was passed in 1862) all worked upon the desires of people wanting to better their lives. Michael must have imagined that as a family he would able to claim 640 acres and as a result provide not only for his family, but for their future generations.
He and Patterson set off on their journey, and along the way they each kept a diary. Patterson’s is short descriptive sentences whereas Michael’s is much more in depth. All his papers are owned by the University of Washington, and held in their archives. (Interesting they comprise of “circa 3.21 cubic feet (4 boxes) plus 15 microfilm reels”. Their diaries were published by the Oregon-California Trails Association, Independence, MO, 1998 “From the Old Northwest to the Pacific Northwest”. Edited by Howard Jablon and Kenneth R. Elkins.)
It is from these diaries that Betsey Johnson Cannom quoted: “The first authentic description of Wallace Island is found in a diary by Michael Luark, an early logger here. An excerpt dated April 6, 1854, reads, “Took a job of cutting wood on Wallace Island at $3.00 a cord. Provided with blankets rode over on a scow from Steilacoom with a man named Ballard, sharing the scow with a team.” Betsey goes on “He mentions cutting pole on the west side of the island. He used three yoke of cattle in his work. And he complained constantly of the rain. He tells of “laurel” that grows very large, as much as two feet in diameter, and “blackjack pine.” He says Cole complained-he wanted fir wood. One entry records Luark finding a fern stalk six-foot-one-inch tall. He mentions black huckleberry and dogwood being in full bloom. He saw deer, raccoons, and otters. One Sunday he climbed a 300-foot bluff and found a body of water one and one-half miles long, and about 80 rods wide, running east and west with a bend to the north in the middle. further exploration revealed a small marsh on the south side of the lake with a little stream running through and expanding into another lake. From this lake a small stream led off into the bay and in about 20 rods fell into a deep gully reaching the salt water.” Are you anxious to discover more of his story? I discovered it available at Barnes & Noble on line where you can obtain a paperback copy for $14.10 plus shipping and taxes.
The first settlers involves a love story, disinheritance and seamen. “When the lovely daughter of a German baron fell in love and eloped with a young Danish footman, she was disinherited. The young Dane took his bride to Denmark. Their son, Hans Andersen Christensen, a sail maker, married the daughter of a minister of Denmark. Her name was Sophia Dorothea. Sophia is described by a granddaughter, Etta Christensen Wallace, as “a wonderful, devout Christian woman.” Their family consisted of ten children, six sons (John Christian, Hans, Andrew, Jacob and Peter) and four daughters, (Christina, Mary, Katrina and Sophia). When the southern part of Denmark, Schleswig-Holstein, was taken over by Germany, Sophia vowed that none of her sons should ever serve in the German army. Consequently she encouraged her boys to go to sea at a very early young age. Etta Wallace states that her father, Andrew Nelsen Christensen, went to sea when he was 14 years old. Their home was near the sea at Assens on the island of Fyen. It was by ship that the sons found their way to the west coast of America. Eventually the entire family came.” According to Betsey in her memoir, Chapter III, First Settlers.
Oh, I forgot the legend didn’t I? Not really, and I will recount it in Betsey’s words: “An old legend goes something like this: Long, long ago an Indian chief came down the Columbia River and settled somewhere west of The Dalles. He had two sons and they quarreled over who should rule the country. The Chief took two arrows and shot one to the north, telling his older son to “go find it and that will be your country.” He became the progenitor of the Squally tribe. The Chief then shot the other arrow to the south, likewise telling his son younger son to search for the arrow and that country would be his. This son became the progenitor of the Multnomah tribe. Then the Great Spirit reared a range of mountains between the two brothers.” Island Memoirs, Chapter I, page 8, Before the Settlers Came.
Betsey goes directly on from this telling of the legend into what has become known as the first trial in Pierce County which involves a dispute between the Snoqualmies and Skewahamish against the Squallys. The dispute started evidently when stories of the Squally Chief, Lahalet’s treatment of his wife, a Snoqualmie chief’s daughter. During the ensuing commotion a shot was fired causing the Snoqualmies to rush the gate. Suddenly more shots were exchanged between the Indians and the soldiers. Two American soldiers did not return to the fort before the gate was closed. Leander Wallace was killed and the other American, Lewis, was hit in the arm by one bullet and a second one went through his vest and trousers. Leander Wallace was not related to William Henson Wallace, a friend of President Lincoln and whose name was given to the island for a short time during the 1870/1880s. A much longer essay on Leander Wallace submitted by Gary Reese can be found on the internet.
The Indian Legend Betsey told in her book can also be found in “History of Pierce County, William P. Bonney, Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1927, Vol. I. A 10 page document on Nusqually (anglicized form of Squally) Mythology can also be found on the internet.
- University Libraries University of Washington, Guide to the Michael Fleenen Luark Papers
- Nusqually Mythology
- Leander Wallace Submitted by Gary Reese
- Island Memoir by Betsey Johnson Cammon
- Wikipedia Gustave Hines