Irrigation Puts Yelm on the Map


Nisqually Plains Thrive When Water Projects Proves Big Success

News Tribune  June 17, 1932(?)

By Elmer K. Fristoe  News Tribune Staff Correspondent at Yelm

YELM, June 17.–Stretching southerly from Tacoma, through Pierce and Thurston counties, lie the Nisqually Plains, essentially a wide, gently rolling, open prairie country, but with enough timber in patches to give the landscape variety and charm. To the stranger traveling through, it is a surprise, so entirely different from anything else in the Puget Sound country. A surprise it must have been to the pioneers who came up through the jungles from the Columbia river or across rugged wilderness of the cascades–a pleasant and welcome surprise. probably, for they settled down at Steilacoom, Tumwater and other points on the plains. One of the earliest communities and groups of these people also being at what is now known as Nisqually, one of the earliest newspapers in the state being published at that point and being known as the Nisqually News.

 Grass was very abundant on the prairies in the early days, furnishing pastures for the herds of cattle, sheep and horses. Thomas Chambers, early pioneer of Yelm, told of herding sheep on the prairies as a boy and how he had to ride a large horse to keep track of his flock in the tall grass.

Gradually the prairie became denuded of grass from over pasturing.  The virgin prairie would produce indifferent crops of grain for a time but soon the porous, sandy soil became impoverished and incapable of producing grain and lack of moisture in the summer mouths prevented the production of crops of greater moisture requirements.

One of the earliest prairie settlements is the Yelm community, on Yelm prairie, Thurston county some 25 miles south of Tacoma and 19 miles southest from Olmypia where such pioneers as the Longmires, Chambers, and others settled on their donation claims in early days, and raised stock, grain, and other crops as long as the soil would produce.

Some 20 years ago many sceond generation pioneers were still here and at that time the principal owners of the land were Thomas Chambers, L. N. Rice, James Mosman, O. K. and Chester Thompson,  . . and the Solberg farms, the Mckenna Lumber Company and a few others.  There were probably some 10 or 12 families occupying the principal part of the 6,000 acre prairie.

About 24 years ago some of the farmers on the Yelm prairie conceived of the idea thatr irrigation water wouldf transform the prairie into fertile fields and keep grains, pastures, and other crops green and thriving throughout the dry summer months to a bountifyul harvest.

The idea that irrigation soon took shape and a few of the land owners among them L. N. Rice, J. P. Martin, O. K. and Chester Thompson, James Mosmenm and the McKenna lumber Company had surveys made and decided to divert the water from the Nisqually river and carry it by a main canal and flumes 11 miles to the edge of the Yelm prairie, thence by two main laterals and numerous small distributaries to all parts of the prairie.  This was, indeed, a gigantifc undertaking for a handful of farmers.  However,, by 1916 work was commenced.  At first they tried to divide the work among themselves, every owner building a pi4ece of the ditch.  This, however, was soon given to.  They bought a steam shovel and Chester Thompson, whose principal experience with machinery heretofore had been with threshing outfits, undertook to operate it and with notable success.

 In their eagerness

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