Lewis Barnard: Yelm’s First Postmaster

By November 1858 the number of people living on the Prairie justified a post office and as a result of his Democratic ties, Lewis Barnard was appointed postmaster at Ft. Stevens (the blockhouse built during the recent fighting).  Note that he was not appointed postmaster of Yelm.  At that point in time there was no such place.  The blockhouse known as Ft. Stevens, however, was a structure with a name. Lewis was Yelm’s first postmaster.

The Democratic Party was pretty much the choice of the men who settled on the Yelm Prairie.  The focus of the party was the control of county government, the territorial legislature, and sending a non-voting delegate to Washington, D.C.  They were not allowed to vote for the president. There on the prairie, thousands of miles and months removed from the political debates, Barnard and his allies excoriated the “Black Republicans” for their tolerance for negroes, while defending the presidency of James Buchanan (Democrat) and the Supreme Court which had only recently dealt anti-slavery forces a blow in the Dred Scott decision.

The federal government had, by Barnard’s day, become known as an important employer for the party occupying the White House.  In 1858 James Buchanan, a Democrat, was still appointing postmasters, nearly two years into his term.  The slow pace of appoint-ments was primarily the result of the more than 16,000 postmasters he could choose.  It was known as the spoils system.  Introduced by Thomas Jefferson and expanded by Andrew Jackson, both parties now rewarded their supporters with federal employment.  How Lewis Barnard made the short list was related to Democratic politics and his continuing support of the territory’ most prominent Democrat, Isaac Stevens.

For his efforts Barnard would receive a salary based on the amount of postal services purchased by prairie residents equal to 30% of the first $100 worth of postage.  Con-sidering the small number of people in the area, the volume of 5-10 cent stamps was not enough for Barnard and his family to give up farming.

The postal connection flowed out of eastern seaboard states, across the Isthmus of Panama and by steamship to Astoria, Oregon.  From Astoria the mail continued to its final destination.  Whether the mail accumulated in Olympia for Barnard to pick up or was dropped off on the prairie is unclear.  The address of people receiving mail was not Yelm or Yelm Prairie, it was Ft. Stevens, the blockhouse built during recent fighting.

The postal system was just beginning to switch over to prepaid postage, with letters and publications providing the bulk of the volume.  The mail from the east arrived in Olympia roughly six times a year and that would have been true for Yelm also.  Local letters and newspapers were a more regular responsibility of the postmaster.  Barnard might have handed over letters to his immediate neighbors, but everyone on the prairie knew to stop by just in case.  Possibly Barnard operated out of his house since there was no public structure on the prairie except for Ft. Stevens.  One can imagine Barnard working in his fields when Levi Shelton or James Longmire rode by and ask, “Anything for me?”  With a shake of his head “no,” Barnard continued to work; the post office was closed.


Yelm During Reconstruction

Yelm During Reconstruction 

By Ed Bergh

Charles Wheeler rode into Olympia in June to stand against Gov. Stevens. Wheeler was a W. H. Wallace man. In Yelm he was a faint voice among the chorus of Stevens’ supporters that lived there. At the convention he ran into his old commander, Gilmore Hays. Hays and Elwood Evans teamed up to give their best arguments for Wallace. The response to their speeches was unbridled enthusiasm. Catching his attention was the demise of the Whigs and the rise of the Republican Party. Republicans, soon to be the party of Lincoln, were pretty sparse on the Yelm Prairie. Men there were Stevens’ men who defended his Indian policies and nationally they supported states’ rights and limited government. When Abraham Lincoln won the four way presidential race of 1860 the southern states started seceding from the union.  Inspired in part by their unwillingness to experience the Republicans use of power when it came to national economic and race policy these predominately Democratic states formed their own nation, the Confederate States of America.

Thousands of miles removed from this increasingly bellicose debate, most Democrats on the Yelm Prairie remained pro-union, but not without a critical eye on the Lincoln presidency and its policies. Though Wheeler did not join with many of his neighbors in contributing money to provide care to disabled soldiers, he did name a son born in 1863, Abraham Lincoln Wheeler, an obvious compliment to the President. When President Lincoln ran for re-election in 1864, the Republican strategy was to form a coalition between their party and pro-war Democrats to represent a bi-partisan front in tamping out the fires of secession. Support for the war had waxed and waned with the report of each battle or the sacking or appointment of some military man, though by 1864 the Confederacy had been reduced to half of its original size.

The cost, however, had been far beyond the realm of the imaginable just three years before. Now Gen. Ulysses Grant was leading his army into a brutal and bloody war of attrition that was intended to simply wear down the Confederate Army through constant battle. Grant’s more numerous, better fed, and better equipped army could better withstand the losses than its southern counterpart. The cost of the war in terms of proscribed civil liberties and its endless grim reality discouraged many who wanted to end the war, maybe even let the south leave and simply be done with them.

Men who did not share such sentiments rallied in a Thurston County schoolhouse on May 14, 1864. Two men from the Yelm Prairie showed up the Union Convention, Charles Wheeler and James Burns. One of the resolutions passed summarized their purpose, “it is the sacred duty of every citizen to sustain and aid the Government in its efforts to crush the rebellion.” To their way of thinking there was no middle ground. They were Lincoln men. At the meeting they reiterated their support for the President’s use of power to save the Union. They supported his suspension of the writ habeas corpus, better to lose the constitution than the country. The attendees probably thought about the implications of black equality, but they did rally behind the Emancipation Proclamation and concurred with the President’s decision to enlist black troops. They had no problem with the Confiscation Act, but agreed with the outreached hand contained in an amnesty program. Yet make no mistake about it, all slavery must be extinguished. It was a violation of God’s law and man’s. From their point of view there was no going back. The war was to be fought until the “last vestige of treason” was rubbed out. By holding such views Wheeler and Burns were in a distinct minority in Yelm, but their faith in the President was rewarded with his victory in November. By the spring of 1865 the war was over.

Abraham Lincoln had died a little over a year in May 1866.  Andrew Johnson, a pro-union Tennessee Democrat, fiery tempered man with a drinking problem, was President.  Congress was controlled by the Republican Party which was increasingly dominated by men referred to as “Radicals.”  Slavery had been ended, but the battle over the protection of freedmen sharply divided Congress and the President.  Another divisive issue was how to treat the traitors.  The principle of “malice toward none and charity for all” had been espoused by Lincoln, but that was no longer the case.

Interestingly, Washington territorial politics, thousands of miles away was dominated by these same issues.  This was particularly true for the Democrats of Thurston County.  They met at the Democratic and Conservative County Convention early in May.  Levi Shelton and F. Goodwin were delegates from the Yelm Precinct.  Lewis Barnard, now living on Chambers Prairie, was also in attendance.  Shelton was named to the Credentials Committee.

Their concern focused less on the needs of the territory, but wanted to make their voices heard regarding national issues.  They had supported the war, but they rejected Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and his silencing of newspapers.  They worried about increased federal power and the corruption that grew with it.  States’ rights had always been part of the Democratic Party.  Democrats similarly concerned about the expanded power of the military in the nation, called for demobilization.  In the fight between Johnson and Congress they were Johnson men.

Much of their discontent with the national government centered on race.  James Longmire was no friend of the black man.  Although not as outspoken than his Copperhead friends Levi Shelton and William Packwood, Longmire nonetheless resisted and possibly resented government help to freedmen.  He applauded President Johnson’s veto of the Freedmen’s Bureau and civil rights laws.  When the Thurston County convention passed a resolution calling for the “jealous care of the elective franchise,” the message was clear, no votes for blacks. Longmire stood against black suffrage.  Longmire and these like-minded Democrats also insisted on the immediate re-admission of southern states to the U.S. which would mean more Democrats in Congress to tempter Republican majorities.  This convention chose Longmire as one of their nominees for legislator and in the summer election he once again was voted to represent Thurston County.

In the 1866 election the Republicans lost their majority in the House.  The Democrats in the majority, however, were deeply divided.  Being pro-Union was now a moot point.  The dividing line was now over race and Reconstruction.  These were, in a sense, philosophic debates with little direct impact on the territory.  This discord among Democrats made the House, on many issues, a three party body with shifting alliances.  For historian, Donald Brazier, the House was “hard to define in partisan terms.”  He concluded, the “session may have been the least productive up to that date.”

Guns had been silent for over a year when men traveled to Olympia to participate in the Democratic and Conservative Convention in 1866.  Union had been restored, but President Lincoln had been murdered.  Now a war of words was being fought through speeches, laws, and written commentary.  Spared the destructive forces of the war in the east, the men in Thurston County now squared off over race and politics.

Levi Shelton made sure he was at the convention and found a place on the credentials committee.  Coming in from Yelm with him was Frank Goodwin.  Once there, they

met former Yelm resident L. D. Barnard representing Chambers Prairie.  They were Johnson men. Vice-President Andrew Johnson, Democrat, a southerner, and unabashed racist had assumed the presidency when Lincoln had died.  Being unable to constructively channel his sense of social inferiority nor understand the political realities of the war just ended, Johnson quickly alienated potential allies within the Republican Party.  He rejected that party’s philosophy of an expanded role for the federal government, but it was in the realm of civil rights that Johnson was heard loud and clear.  He opposed civil rights for former slaves.  This was exactly what Levi Shelton wanted to hear.

Shelton and the other men gathered in Olympia that week, applauded Johnson’s veto of the Freedman’s Bureau and other civil rights legislation.    They yelled their support for the President, the force that stood between them and the “amalgamation” of the races.  There was no support in this assemblage for the granting of suffrage to blacks.  They demanded the immediate restoration of southern representation in Congress.  The convention looked back at the usurpations of power by Lincoln, the suspension of habeas corpus, censorship of speech, profligate spending, and to these vowed never again.  The Washington Standard rated Levi Shelton as one of the more staunch copperheads (a term used to identify anti-war northern Democrats during the Civil War) in the county.  For Shelton that was a badge of honor.  He was quite pleased when James Longmire, who shared these beliefs, was elected to the territorial legislature.


Tall Tale or History: Edgar on Sauvie Island

Tall Tale or History: Edgar on Sauvie Island

By Ed Bergh

In 1853, Edgar joined a group of men who set out to establish a route over the Cascades that might be used by wagons arriving from the east. They were led by Edward Allen who called them the Committee and considered them a wonderfully “motley group.” Allen kept a journal of their trip. Sitting about the campfire, shadows cast on the screen of the surrounding woods they engaged in a delightful “interchange of thoughts and confidences.” One night George Shazer kicked off the evening with one of his “life yarns.” Cannibalism was involved and his description of a “compost” of bear and human flesh. It was disgusting.

Edgar’s turn came next. He had spent time at Ft. Vancouver down on the Columbia River earlier in his Hudson’s Bay career. There he spent time on Sauvie Island where the forces of the native world and the newly arrived Euro-Americans had engaged in biological warfare. The Indians had lost. Invisible wave after invisible wave, smallpox, intermittent fever, smallpox again had destroyed the island’s original inhabitants. Bones were scattered across the island. Finally, John McLaughlin at the Hudson’s Bay Vancouver ordered the bones gathered and any structures burned to the ground to dissipate the danger. They departed, leaving small clusters of cattle and hogs. Edgar had crossed to the island and observed their feral descendants. Allen recounted that Edgar considered those “wild times.” Edgar reasoned that their numbers, located on an island in the Columbia River, had become “so numerous and destructive that it became necessary to wage a war of extermination against them.” Edgar had hunted down and killed the cattle and hogs that had gone feral. New sets of bones bleached on the sands of Sauvie Island, and birds returned to lay their eggs among the rejuvenated plant life. Reminiscent of the scene of extermination on Sauvie Island, on the current trip the men had decided to empty their revolvers into the wild cattle of Muck Prairie. For reasons unknown they stopped short of carrying out their wasteful mission.

Edgar’s other memorable story during the trip must have started the men speculating about Ta-co-bet. Around the campfire, in front of their horse blanket tents, Edgar told the story of Mt. St. Helens blowing its top. A sulfurous ash coated the pastures of Ft. Vancouver, killing cattle who ate it. Edgar added that they moved most of the cattle to Nisqually at that time. The next prairie that crossed afforded a view of the quiet volcano, Ta-co-bet.

A wilderness trail was a conduit of commerce and a frontier bulletin board as strangers crossed paths, sharing information and ‘life yarns.’ Edgar and the Committee were not far from the White River when they came across a band of Indians. They too had been headed east, but had halted on receiving news that smallpox was on the march up the Yakima valley. Allen recorded that the Indians told “doeful tales of the small-pox being very bad across the country— [with] many dying.” He also noted the practice of feverish pox-ridden Indians plunging into extremely cold river water that was denigrated as a medical technique by Euro-Americans who witnessed the resulting spike in mortality rates.

It had been five years since the last measles outbreak. When combined with other newly-arrived microbes, like smallpox and malaria, the impact on Indian populations had been catastrophic. This particular infection had literally crashed on the shores of Washington territory somewhere between the Columbia River and Grays Harbor. Between December 1852 and January 1853 a number of ships engaged in the San Francisco oyster trade had run aground in winter storms. There among the beached shipwrecks Chinooks salvaged trunks of clothing and money. It is more than likely that the clothes were infected. Within months half of the Chinook were dead. Trade carried smallpox to Ft. Vancouver on the Columbia River. By May 1853 the disease had made its way up river to The Dalles where Indians were “dying in crowds” according to Peter Skene Ogden. Edgar and the party left in June of that year.

By the time Edgar and the party were on the way down the eastern side of the mountains it became apparent that smallpox had arrived earlier. Short on food, the Committee tried to trade for dried salmon. But the Indians had none for sale. Smallpox had carried off so many tribesmen that the remaining ones had not caught enough salmon for subsistence, let alone trade. There, “scattered about” in groups of twos and threes, they scoured the valleys for roots and berries.

They told Edgar and the Committee that the plague had come from Ft. Vancouver. There, “bad Indians” had robbed a store. The owner, seeking revenge, invited the Indians to a great dinner. He cynically lavished his guests with small gifts, sugar, and “every Indian luxury.” Unknown to them he infected the gifts so they carried the disease back to their homes in the Yakima Valley and its tributaries. Allen wrestled with the possibility that the men at Ft. Vancouver had intentionally infected their trading partners. He wrote, “I can hardly believe such a fiendish act of retaliation possible, but it seems not improbable, when one recalls Sublette’s devilish revenge [on the Sioux who robbed him] by causing a mule load of inoculated blankets to be exposed to their depredations.”

As far as Edgar knew, Betsy and the rest of the children were safe. Living away from the fort had protected them from the measles and he hoped it would be similarly true with the smallpox. It was. The entire family greeted him on his return. [From “Betsy and John Edgar: Pioneer Settlers on the Yelm Prairie”]

Melancholy Accident June 19, 1857

Melancholy Accident

Pioneer and Democrat June 19, 1857

A son of Mr. Levi Shelton, of the Yelm prairie, while engaged in drawing a cover over a yeager to protect it from the rain, preparatory to a hunt for game, accidentally shot himself through the palm of the hand, whereby most shockingly mutilating that limb – Upon surgical examination, it was discovered that all the fingers of that hand had been rendered useless, and amputation, above the wrist, ad to be resorted to, to save not only the arm, but probably the patient.  This operation was ably performed by Dr. Burns, of this place, assisted by Drs. Willard, Kiser, and Glenn of Oregon, while the patient was under the influence of chloroform.  The invalid is now doing as well as can be expected.

[Education] April 8, 1871


Washington Standard April 8, 1871,

The following is the programme of exercises held at the Yelm Prairie School, on Friday, the 31st, at which the parents and friends of the school were present. After some general exercises in reading, geography and grammar, in which the pupils acquitted themselves tolerably well, the following compositions were read: “A Hunting Excursion,” Robert Grainger; “Yelm Prairie, and Things in General,” Mary O’Neal; “Gardens,” Rosa Girlock; “Fruit,” Willie O’Neal; “Mount Rainier,” Martha Longmire [the future wife of J. C. Conine]; “Birds,” Lizzie Lotz, and “A Letter,” by Lizzie Longmire. Then followed singing by the school, a dialogue by Lizzie and Martha Longmire, Mary O’Neal and Virinda Pollard, and the exhibition closed by declamations from Fred Girlock, Robert, Frank and George Longmire, Johnnie O’Neal, and others.

A lecture on “Education” was delivered here not long ago, for the benefit of the school, and the attendance indicated that nearly all the Yelmites appreciate efforts of an intellectual character. The proceeds were invested in some school furniture, which now renders the house quite comfortable.

A Rural Picnic June 17, 1871

A Rural Picnic

Washington Standard June 17, 1871

A Rural Picnic – The picnic goers of Yelm and Chambers’ Prairies had a pleasant time last Saturday, the tenth, at the Pattison Springs, near Chambers’ Prairie, where they found fields of sweet ripe wild strawberries.  Some people have a prejudice against native picked strawberries, and the excursionists on this occasion were choice enough to keep the sentiment in view and pick with their own hands the delicious food.  For the lovers of strawberries and cream (and who are not?) and everything that makes a picnic a gastronomical success, this was the time and place.  After the feast of good things, followed games of an intellectual and mirth-provoking character.   Many justly complain of the tedium of large gatherings, particularly of picnics, and the conclusion follows that the smaller the picnic the greater the pleasure and the longer it will be remembered.  Give me Thurston county for a PICNIC.

Contributions for Relief of Disabled Soldiers in the Federal Army October 11, 1862

Contributions for Relief of Disabled Soldiers in the Federal Army

Washington Standard October 11, 1862

The following sums have been received from citizens of Yelm precinct:

A. O’Neal                   $5.00

Jas. Longmire             5.00

Fred Wagner               5.00

William Wegner          5.00

Matthew Becker         5.00

Henry Kandle              5.00

Elijah Laiser                5.00

George Edwards         3.00

Levi Shelton                3.00

Union Mass Meeting March 9, 1861

Union Mass Meeting

Washington Standard – March 9, 1861

The undersigned citizens pf Thurston county, Washington Territory, being ardently attached to our General Government under its present structure and decidedly opposed to a Pacific Confederacy (should such a dogma be entertained by any portion of our people) hereby invite all their fellow citizens, to assemble in Mass Meeting at the Capitol, at 3 o’clock p.m. on Thursday March 11, 1861; for the purpose of giving a full public expression of their views in connection therewith:

L. Shelton

Jas. Longmire

G. Brail

J. Remley

G. Jones

J. Broshear

D. R. Bigelow

W. Jordan

C. Grainger

Fourth of July July 6, 1860

Fourth of July

July 6, 1860Pioneer and Democrat

Mr. Jas Longmire, of Yelm prairie, gave a free dinner, which was largely attended and “ably discussed.”  We also heard of another pic-nic party having assembled on the above prairie, which was largely attended on the above prairie, which is said to have been greatly enjoyed by the young people.  Every one, so far as we know, spent the 4th rationality and agreeably.

Yelm’s Agriculture September 16, 1854

Yelm’s Agriculture

Pioneer and Democrat September 16, 1854

John Edgar and James Hughes of the gallant, democratic little Yelm prairie, afforded us a rare treat in the shape of green corn, colliflowers, beets, onions, carrots, &c, of mammoth growth and epicurean flavor.  The Yelm prairie is a trump every time, and in connection with its vegetable reputation, it might be proper to observe that with the handsome present of the aforesaid luxuries, was accompanied a stalk of wheat, perfectly matured and well-headed measuring over eight feet in length!  Mr. Pullum, of the gravelly prairie, has also left at our office specimens of wheat heads that we might challenge the world to surpass in the length, and in the development of the kernel, and in the number of grains per head.  The harvest this year, would be ample to bread the whole territory, and for the credit of our population we hope that the sour flower of San Fran mat be speedily excluded from our market.  Milled at the newly erected mill of Ward and Hays at Tumwater.