More on the Condemnation of Nisqually Land (from a federal document)
And have since used it as a common pasture, fencing off separately the fields and smaller pastures near the homes. Besides the springs and river the Nisqually Lake, good duck and fishing ground, provided the livestock with ample water. For more than 50 years these Indians have cultivated lands, mostly in the bottom, where they had summer cabins and orchards, and smokehouses for drying the fine salmon which they caught in abundance from the river, sloughs, and spring creeks.
The war spirit, combined with Tacoma’s ambition to possess a great Army post at its doors, and the newspaper and other boosting propaganda to accomplish this, made it very unpopular to oppose the county’s suits and valuations of lands condemned. The trial of cases in groups before a jury and the hurry incident to trial of some 1,500 of such cases in order to acquire the lands needed prevented proper consideration of individual cases. Particular reference is made to statements of a. R. Titlow and Walter Christian, both able lawyers, who were attorneys for a number of owners of important buildings. (A, 8-10, 12-15)
The attorneys’ fees and other costs of condemnation were nearly $300,000 or over $4 per acre. The elaborate preparation of the county is shown by Exhibits C and a 95-96. It will be noted that the basic values for land was very low-from $4 to $25 an acre on the Indian reservation, along the bottom of which some of the best soil in the State is found. (A, 14, 15, 17, 46, 48, 49, 56. C, 2, 36.) The county appraisal allows only $75 an acre for clearing 50 acres of this Indian bottom land, although the appraisers’ own statement (C, 3) asures us that it costs “from $125 to $200 or more per acre” to clear such land of stumps and get it under cultivation. Over 40 years ago the Indians had cleared and were cultivating this fine bottom land. (A, 49.) In his annual report for 1911 (pp. 4, 5, 6, 7) the Tulalip superintendent states that the ost of clearing ranged from $30 per acre for valley land, with brush and only a few stumps (using a donkey engine) to as high as $229.24 per acre for clearing heavily stumped land, using explosives and a donkey engine-in the last case the cost of explosives alone was $86.28 per acre. He mentions the subject has been studied by the Washington Logged-Off Land Association and the United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D. C. One of the best authorities is the Weyerhauser Timber Co., whose manager informed me that is cost from $100 to $200 per acre to prepare logged-off land for cultivation, and he related the company’s recent experience in that line which cost over $200 per acre. Several other excellent authorities agree with these quoted, and several remarked that most of the upland was not woth te price of removing the stumps, the bottom lands being the exception. Note that the State immigration bureau values Nisqually River bottom land from $200 to $500 an acre. (a, 90) And its fertility has been attested for nearly 60 years. (A, 43-49m 50-56)
Upon inquiry among the farmers in the Nisqually bottom adjacent and below the reservation, I find that they value their cultivated lands at $200 an acre and up, and they state it costs them nearly that much to clear the land. Mr. Aldridge owns an 80-acre farm in the bottom next to the reservation for which he paid $7,000 ub 1902m abd gas subce cleared most if it and made good improvements. Mr. William Gardener paid $16,000 for 280 acres in 1907, nearly all bottom, only 12 acres cleared. Prior to his purchase the Northern Pacific Railway had secured a right of way through the place, which reduced it from 357 acres, and since then the railroad has built a double-track line, and the paved highway has been constructed from Tacoma to Olympia across a corner of this land, and 50 acres has been cleared and substantial improvements made. His land is not for sale, and from inquiry of him and others in the neighborhood I find that most of the land is owned by old settlers and very little has been old in recent years. One sale recently made near Gardner’s was that by Otto Coleman of 80 acres for $6,000, only 15 acres being bottom and 8 acres being cleared, the balance of being logged-off hillside. Sheep sheds were the only improvements on this tract. These lands are on the Thurston County side of the Nisqually and between the reservation and the paved highway mentioned. A short distance below Willie Frank, one of the dispossessed Nisquallies, paid $1,000 for 6 acres of bottom land partly cleared and improvements worth $150. Frank Mounts, whose father was once agent of the Nisquallies, informed me that he has land for sale in the Nisqually bottom 3 miles below the reservation. He wants $250 an acre for cultivated land, which, he says is low because of the fact that since so many homes were condemned for Camp Lewis people were afraid to buy. And ha named instances where people had been awarded but a small part what their homes had cost them, and in a few cases hardly enough to pay the encumbrances. (A, 94.)
I visited the farms on the western side of the Nisqually Reservation, where soil is similar to that on the eastern side, which the county valued from $40 to $20 per are (mostly $10), and allowed $10 to $15 per acres for cultivation, although it allowed nothing on 185 acres of “old” or “spl” cultivation. (A, 95.) One place has 20 acres, mostly cleared, 8 acres in cultivation, fenced, good frame house, small outbuildings, well. Improvements worth about $800. Two thousand dollars was wanted for the place.
Another farm near by of 190 acres has 120 acres in cultivation, 30 acres in pasture, 30 acres in second growth-timber, 4-romm house, big barn with shake roof, cistern, 4 outbuildings, well, fenced. It sold in 1918 for $14,000. Improvements are in fair condition, but only small part of value of the farm. The Weyerhauser Timber Co. several years ago sold logged-off lands in this vicinity for as low as $4 an acre, but retained the mineral rights. A recent sale of logged-off land by this same company near Yelm and about 4 miles from the reservation brought $30 an acre, with same reservation of mineral rights.
The Yelm irrigation district begins less than 2 miles from the reservation and extends up the Nisqually River about 6 miles and contain 7,000 acres, recently put under irrigation from the Nisqually River waters. Lands within this project sell from $60 to $200 per acre, in addition to construction costs and maintenance charges. (37-38) Attached is a printed description of this district by Prof. Henry Landes, dean of the College Of Sciences of the University of Washington, a recognized authority on soils, wherein he discusses the advantages of the gravelly prairie soils (which are just like the reservations soils), the fertility of silt-laden waters of the Nisqually, products producced thereby, etc. He shows the district’s advantages over the Sequim Prairie, an irrigated district in the northern part of the State on strait near Port Townsend, in Yelm has better railway and highway facilities, is near to the best markets, and emphasizes that it is only 15 miles to a paved highway. Bulletin 8, published by the Washington Geological Survey, under Prof. Landes’ direction states as follows:
(Page 73) The correlative of Yelm Prairie is found in Nisqually Prairie on the east of the Nisqually River. The river valley between these two prairies is younger than the deposition of the gravels and is consequent on the northward slope of a once-continuous outwash plain. The erosion of this valley has divided the original plain into two longitudinal portions, constituting Nisqually and Yelm Prairies, respectively.
The condemned Indian lands, which are a part of the same gravelly prairie, can be watered by same river and are neared to the same good markets and only 3 miles to the nearest paved highway and railroads on one side, and 4 miles the other side to two railroads and another paved highway soon to be constructed into Tacoma. At Yelm is the first important application of Nisqually silt laden waters to irrigation. I passed through the Yelm district several times and could see the good crops resulting from irrigation, and I noted that the gravelly soil was the same as on the reservation. I talked to several merchants and farmers-old residents-and they were convinced that, with irrigating water to supply needed moisture during the summer drought, they can grow highly profitable crops of vegetables and berries so much in demand in the Puget Sound markets. Mr. J. P. Martin, a merchant and farmer, I found digging his potatoes from the land he valued at $200 per acre, but it was not for sale. He pointed to 40 acres of poorer land, unimproved, which he recently sold for $100 an acre, and to logged-off land just outside of the irrigation district which was recently sold for $40 an acre by the Weyerhauser Timber Co. Mr. Martin added that in 1910 the gravelly prairie land was worth from $15 to $20 an acre. I am informed that the Indian lands were not considered susceptible of irrigation in the future to a degree that would make a value at this time, and therefore that feature was not given value in the condemnation of the Indian lands. However, it is my opinion, based on what is being done successfully at Yelm, only 2 miles south of the nearest condemned Indian lands, that the Indian lands could be irrigated with equal success and rom the same source, but would be much more valuable by reason of their being much closer to paved highway and the markets of Tacoma and Seattle.
On September 12, 1911, Mr. J. W. Martin, superintendent of irrigation, reported to Chief Engineer W. H. Code on the matter of irrigating some of the Nisqually Indian lands from the water of Muck Creek. Should the water of Muck Creek be not available, he submitted estimates for construction of a pumping plant to utilize the water from the perpetual water level which he found from 40 to 50 feet under the surface of the reservation. Withhis report he submitted photographs of thriving crops then growing on ranched near American Lake and irrigated by water pumped from wells, the soil being the same gravelly soil of the reservation. Accompanying the report is a lengthy account in the Daily Ledger. Tacoma, Wash., published September 3, 1911, which describes in enthusiastic terms the crops being grown by irrigation on “at least 20 thriving farms” around Steilacoom and American Lake. The newspaper article is headed “250,000 acres in back yard-Tacomans awake to possibilities of gravel prairies south of the city-Water alone needed-Rotary and Commercial Club men find gravel soil easy to reclaim by simple, inexpensive method.” The article states:
An inducement to irrigation is the fact that the prairies seem to cover an immense underground lake. Water is abundant in every part of the prairie, being reached anywhere depths of 15 to 20 feet, the average well being from 28 to 40 feet.
It mentions the luxuriant crops growing on the irrigated ranches of E. F. Gregory, C. E. Detweller, and others near American Lake and at the farm of the Fort Steilacoom Asylum. Mr. Martin accompanies his report with photographs of the Nisqually Prairie and data to show the feasibility of irrigating. Shortly after this the Tacoma Commercial Club and Chamber of Commerce widely advertised the possibilities of irrigation on the gravelly prairies from wells. (See Exhibit A, p. 42.) Some of the people who answered this appeal and bought homes and small tracts, especially near American Lake, had their lands condemned for a small part of what they cost them. Mr. Gregory gives several cases. (Exhibit E, 36-37) O. S. Brooks (A, 20) bought a tract in same vicinity. One convincing argument given out is that it is cheaper to irrigate and fertilize the gravelly prairie than to pay the enormous prices for removing stumps; and even the best lands must be irrigated during the dry summer months to secure best results in growing berries and garden truck.
It was repeatedly asserted to me that the county ignored values based on favorable location, proximity to paved highways, railroads, bodies of water, scenic views and other value-making features. That the lands were appraised mainly on that they produced. This, notwithstanding that the vicinity of Camp Lewis has rapidly grown in favor since advent of paved roads as a county-club district and summer-residence section, and was also rapidly being cut into home and garden tracts when the cantonment stepped. The publicity given the gravelly prairies helped sell many home tracts, some of which Pierce County later took at great loss to the owners. Tacoma is gradually building toward American Lake and Camp Lewis, about the only direction it has to expand. (A, 42, 94.)
Some of the most prominent real estate dealers in Tacoma who are familiar with Camp Lewis lands state that the county paid much less than the lands were worth, and one of them asserted that the lands in Camp Lewis would sell among the realtors were George M. Elliott, A. H. Barnhisel, and Jesse O. Thomas, Jr. Mr. Thomas accompanied Mr. Stephen Appleby to Washington, D. C., in December, 1916, and secured agreement from the Secretary of War to maintain a division post if 70,000 acres were donated by Pierce County. (A, &, legend on Exhibit I.) I consulted many realtors, bankers, attorneys, and others intimately acquainted with Camp Lewis lands, some of whom had had their own lands condemned or had been employed as attorneys. While all expressed themselves freely and condemned the methods used in securing these lands only a few would give me written statements, the apparent reason being that they could not afford to appear to be antagonizing the establishment of Camp Lewis, Tacoma’s cherished ambition, which all favored, although they deplored the great bitterness engendered in securing it. One prominent realtor, who had done a great deal toward securing Camp Lewis, denounced the inadequate awards and incident expense, and stated that no real estate man or other person who valued his reputation would testify in these suits, as he might know land was actually worth $100 an acre and so testify, but the jury would being in what the county’s appraisers would say-maybe $10 or $20-and the witness would be made the laughing stock. (A, 8, 21, 90, D. E.)
Mr. A. R. Titlow states (A, 8) that-
Fourth. It was unfortunate that the court permitted, which it did, the attorneys for Pierce County to each time select the lands that should be tried first or in the order desired by the county of Pierce. In the first suit the first group of cases tried covered the poorest and worst land, and probably less improved than any of the whole 70,000 acres condemned.
The jury, by its verdict, which was based practically upon the testimony of the county all the way through this first group, which was a very low verdict, indeed, thereby more or less establishing a precedent, or an example, for the same jury in trying the balance of groups of cases in this first suit.
This method of committing the jury to the low values was called to my attention by other parties. Some rich men with large holdings in Tacoma and others through patriotic motives were willing to take whatever was handed them by the county appraisers, and overlooked by the county’s attorneys. Read Mr. Titlow’s comments on this. (A, 9, 10.) Several told me that the county’s attorneys openly told the jury that they held the purse strings on the county, and, judging from their actions, this must have been believed by them. (A, 9, E, 11.) Mr. Walter Christian, of the firm of Sullivan & Christian, leading attorneys, states (A, 14):
In the trial of these suits the county had a splendid organization, and its experts as to values seemed to treat the entire tract practically as useful only for grazing and agricultural purposes, and gave it no value for anything else, and the various juries hearing the evidence seemed to adopt the county’s views. The fact of the matter is that at the time these cases were being tried there was a great popular local wave of patriotism, and because this land was wanted for military purposes, and was necessary to get a big tract for that use and the amount which was to be paid for it had been fixed by a bond issue of $2,000,000, the county officials undertook to show and did convince the jury that it ought of get all the land it wanted for the sum which had been voted for that purposes.
Two suits, each involving 35,000 (approximately) acres, were instituted August, 1917, and September, 1918, in addition to the Indian suit in April, 1918. In the neighborhood of 1,500 respondents, all told. (A, 8, E, 5.) Many of those dispossessed of their homes by the last suit have joined in a petition to the Secretary of War, and several called on me and gave me copies of their printed data and brief filed with Secretary of War. (D, E.) I went carefully into the records of several of these cases and also saw some of their places. It will be noted that many of the them got very much less than their places were worth or had cost them, being homes where they had lived for yeats and had made a living there from. One of them who lost part of his land (not the improvements) is C. H. Thompson, formerly auditor of one of Tacoma’s big banks. After a painstaking and intelligent study of soils, products, transportation, and other advantages he purchased in June, 1915, at what amounted tot a forced sale, 240 acres of land, paying therefore $14,300 in cash. The county appraised the whole at $6,843 and took the poorer prairie land (143 acres for $1,778.77, after increasing its appraisal $418.84 or 30 per cent; to include a half mile of road and fence, which fence was valued at very liberally. The county took nearly all his pasture, leaving 96 acres of land, of which 59 acres is fine creek bottom soil, sub-irrigated. This place is less than 2 miles from Spanaway Lake, 1 ½ miles from the paved highway from Tacoma to Mount Tacoma which a recent bond issue will complete in Tacoma and the park entrance. (Map, Exhibit F), and to Roy the same distance to the south of his place. I verified the sale of this place to Thompson from records and the attorney who handled the matter for the owner in a suit to cancel a contract of purchase for $12,500 which has been defaulted. The defaulting defendant, through a realtor, finally secured Mr. Thompson as a buyer and the suit was dismissed. On the 96 acres which Thompson was permitted to retain the assessed valuation is $2,160, being 50 per cent of full valuation. The tax rate is 53 mills this year on this property. It is part of a narrow wedge jutting for 2 miles into the cantonment south of Spanaway Lake, and was evidently not taken because it was high priced. Southwest toward Roy are several large tracts (in green solid with red border) which the county did not condemn for the same reason.
Contrast this with the million-dollar judgment against the port of Tacoma ( Pierce County) which the same attorneys and expert witness secured for 240 acres of unimproved submerged tide flats, assessed at $198,000. (A, 90)