Said About Yelm (1910 & 1917)

Said About Yelm      Tacoma Daily Ledger   July 17, 1910

How the name of the settlement came to be selected is a matter that will probably interest a large number of people who travel on the railroad to points beyond this place.  The brakeman’s yell of “Yelm” generally nettles the person who has not yet hear the name before, and repeated yells of the station’s title do not enlighten the puzzled listener who doesn’t succeed in clearing the mystery until he reads the name painted in big white letters on the little red depot.  It has happened here just like it has in many more of the towns of Washington at the time settling-the Indian titles were drawn upon to fittingly designate the community. . . 
Yelm’s main thoroughfare is the road from Tacoma to Olympia that is used by auto owners, and it is a dull day in the buzz-wagon line when the machines that whizz through the place do not number two score.

Field Engineer’s Report – Valuation Section Washington #5 Northern Pacific Railway – September 23, 1917

[This was written describing the Northern Pacific Line between Tenino and Lakeview (near Tacoma)]

The entire country covered by this Valuation Section ass indicated above as gravelly flat, the soil is so stony and the country so dry that there is but little productive farming country along the line.  While there are several streams on this Valuation Section they are fed by glaciers from Mt. Rainier and the drainage of the west slope of the Cascades Mountains.  The district is covered with a growth of small pine and fir trees but not completely, the timber being more or less scattered.

The classification on this section consists almost wholly of cement gravel, taking a loose rock classification, loose gravel and boulders, the latter taking a percent of solid rock. . . .

The farming industry from a traffic point of view amounts to very little or nothing.  The main traffic along the line is lumbering and this is on the wane on timber immediately accessible from this district mostly been cut.

 Irrigation Will Bring Prosperity

Fourth of  Project to Be Ready for Cultivation the Coming Summer
By Frances Stone Burns Staff Correspondent of The Ledger

Yelm, Nov. 16.–Last year a woman died in Yelm. She was 65 years old. She had been born here on the prairie in a pioneer settlement  that  had
several years before been named Yelm by the sturdy men who fathered it. So you see that Yelm is something more than a community plastered down one side of the railroad track and two sides of the Pacific highway. Yelm can claim for itself the distinction of having brought a railroad  through its center and of living and being and having its existence some 50 years before the Pacific highway had become a definite dream.  Now as the center of a 6,000 acre tract of fertile prairie land, made usable by the Yelm irrigation system that was opened about a year ago, its group of citizens, many of whom have been here for a longer time Tacoma is old, are looking to development that will make this the shipping and trading point for a great group of men who have made farming a science and profession rather than an accident or a slap from fate. The Yelm irrigation project, which draws water from the Nisqually River by a gravity system in an unlimited supply, was the dream of a few men here for many years. It was not until a little more than a year ago that they were able to see their dream crystallized into a clear, sparkling reality, and the whole system taken under state law by the Yelm irrigation district, with 7,000 acres included in it.  More than $150,000 has already been invested in the system, and before it is completed $50,000 more will have been added, said J. P. Martin, one of the men who planned and hoped for this. About one-forth of the land is being prepared for cultivation the coming season for the sweet corn, the cucumbers, and berries and fruit trees which 1,000 farmers contiguous to the town have found will transform the violet-and-buttercup-strewn prairie of early spring harvest.  Members of the irrigation district board are L. M. Goldsmith, chairman; A.C. Little and C. V. Lotz.  There were seven principal stockholders in the Yelm Irrigation Company as originally conceived.


Prouder probably of its development in the arts and charities is Yelm than in its transformation of dry prairie land into fertile farms. The school here gives a four-year course in High School and everything in a city of any size. It has seven teachers and a consolidated district, with automobile bus to go out each day for the boys and girls in the lands around it. Its board members, J. P. Martin, clerk; J. B. Martin and L. M. Goldsmith, president, are always on the lookout got new ideas to incorporate

Letter from McKenna

Washington is not a built up country. Some of it is clear and fruit and garden stuff are raised by irrigation altho the eastern edge raises nice wheat, the best wheat we saw on our trip, without irrigation but all the rest is irrigation or forest, and it is real forest, no few stick of sapling pine like Michigan but real pine from six to twenty ft across the stumps. There is one tree north of us that you can drive a load of hay through and it isn’t redwood either.

 We crossed the river and went to Yelm Prairie, a beautiful spot, I thought, as it lay before us covered with tall waving grass, a pretty stream flowing through it bordered with shrubs and tall trees, and the majestic mountain, which the Indians almost worshipped, and to which they gave the name Ta-ko-bed, as it seemed standing guard over all in its snowy coat. It was a scene for the artist’s brush, the most beautiful I had ever seen, and good enough for me;  . . . On this prairie the grass grew tall and rank, and herds of deer wandered leisurely as cattle in their pastures at home.

James Longmire (year?)

One August afternoon, Van Trump and I drove out to Yelm Prairie, thirty miles east of Olympia, and on the Nisqually River.  We dashed rapidly over a smooth, hard, level road, traversing wide reaches of prairie, passing under open groves of oaks and firs, and plunging through masses of black, dense forest in ever-changing variety.  The moon had risen as we emerged upon Yelm Prairie; Takhoma, bathed in cold, white, spectral light from summit to base, appeared startingly near and distinct.  Our admiration was not so noisy as usual.

Hazard Stephens (Ascent of Mt. Rainier)

Early Yelm
By Edgar Prescott

THE FOLLY PRESS Tacoma, Washington 1979

We scanned the score of business establishments strung out along the street, gaps between buildings cluttered with rocks and grown up to weeds.  But there to the east – right in-the town’s back yard – Mount Rainier suspended its snow cap above the clouds.  And our hearts lifted considerably when we discovered the high school to be a new brick building surrounded by shrubs and green lawn.

In succeeding days, as we scouted about the prairie, we were intrigued by the wooden flumes, supported on heavy timbers, which spilled water indiscriminately onto fields and roads, and by the roads themselves which curved in and out in any direction and in all directions, but seemed invariably to face into The Mountain.

We were intrigued by rocks, piled into huge mounds bordering the fields, by filbert groves, berry patches, beans climbing strings suspended from wires stretched between poles in the rows; and by the fact that many of the fields were abandoned,  bristling with rows of dead berry
canes, and that many farm houses were deserted, their windows broken and doors hanging open. The town, we concluded, had little to show, either of past achievement or promise of future growth.

I was surprised later to learn from books available in the high school library that the community was one of the oldest in the state, and that it had a proud history:

The name of the town, I learned, was a modification of the one given by the Indians to the prairie. To them the term Shwtm applied to the shimmering heat waves which arose from the earth when the summer sun shone hot.  They reverenced these waves, believing them to be radiated by the Great Spirit to render the earth fruitful.

Propaganda piece on irrigation


Think over what we have to offer!  We know that there are many men
with energy and ambition who only need a little help to be a REAL SUCCESS on a small farm.  Here is the place to accomplish all of this and live like a
 white man while doing it.  THINK IT OVER- CONSIDER WHAT WE HAVE TO OFFER-

The schools at Yelm have something over 600 enrollment.  The High
 School is accredited and has a faculty of 13 members.  The school is one
 of the leading schools of Thurston County.

The schools compare favorably with a larger town and the children
 living at a distance are hauled to school in large comfortable busses in
 the morning and returned at night.


The farmer can sell his whole mild or cream to the local co-operative
 creamery, trucks calling at your door for the cans.  You do not have to
 take your pigs or calves to market, the butcher at Yelm and outside buyers send a truck out for them, hauling and paying top prices for them either alive or dressed.  During the berry picking season, the Olympia Cannery of Olympia and the Puyallup and Sumner Berry Growers Association take the Yelm Berry crop, opening receiving stations at Yelm and either take your berries to the station or they will send a truck to your berry field after them after the  day’s picking is over.


Yelm is well supplied with fraternal organizations.  The Grange, Odd
 Fellows and Rebekahs have a large hall.  The Masons and Eastern Stars have
 a modern Masonic Temple, The Modern Woodmen and Royal Neighbors at present are using the Odd Fellows Hall for their home.  The American Legion and Legion Auxiliary have a fine hall which is also used as a Community Hall, where the annual Yelm Fair is held each fall.  For several years Yelm has had a fair and each year as new members come into the community the fair has improved and become one of the keenest interests of Yelm and community.  There are three churches in Yelm and a Catholic church within two miles of Yelm.


The Yelm Irrigation District is and open stretch of retile land,
comprised of some 7,000 acres, all of which are free and open with no
stumps or brush to the clear, and is being rapidly divided into 10 and 20 acre tracts.  Some 200 acre tracts are now the homes of happy and industrious people who prefer to be their own boss and at the same time make more money than they could possibly earn at any other pursuit.

The lands within the district are being rapidly divided into ten an twenty acre tracts, and Dairying, Chicken raising, Truck gardening and berry
 growing are most successfully practiced.

Two miles and one-half east of the Town of Yelm is the saw mill town of
McKenna.  This town is on the Nisqually river and is owned by the McKenna
 Lumber Company, who operate a large saw mill, employing some 350 men.
 Pavement from this town reaches to the Canadian line north and into
 California on the South.

The Puget Sound Power and Light Co. is lighting and supplying power to
 the town of Yelm and is running its lines to cover the entire district.
Your phone has a long distance connection through the telephone exchange

The city of Centralia has just completed a canal and are working on
the power house and other equipment of a million dollar power system,
originating just above the town of Yelm and the power plant will be just
 two miles below Yelm.

The Northern Pacific, Great Northern and the Chicago, Milwaukee and
Pacific railways have stations here.  There is bus service to Tacoma twice
 daily and sometimes there are four trips, at certain seasons of the year,
 bus service to Olympia and all points south in the same ratio.  Also auto

You can purchase a tract of land at a very reasonable price, on easy
 terms and if your finances are low, if you are willing to work you can
 find all  you want at a good wage to spell you over until you get your land to

The annual payroll for Yelm and vicinity will run around $2,000,000.00

Surrounding the district is a timber country and there are several saw mills close in which employ a large number of men, saying nothing about the
 numerous logging camps, one of which has over six hundred men in the
 woods. Out side of the work in the mills or the woods one can get employment with those that are already raising acreage of berries. 

In the summer time large numbers of berry pickers are employed and whole families take advantage of the vacation season and go into the berry fields with children who earn good money.


This district is located in Western Washington, better known as the Puget Sound country.  The Yelm Irrigation District is an open fertile valley which is irrigated by the waters of the Nisqually River, a mountain stream that has its source in the glaciers of Mount Rainier, some fifty or sixty miles to the East.

If a circle were drawn, with a radius of 75 miles, with Yelm at the center, it would include about one half of the population of the state of  Washington.  Tacoma is 25 miles and Seattle 65 miles to the north, Olympia is 20 miles to the west and Portland, Oregon is 120 miles to the south.  All these cities can be reached by the paved highways.


Here is a place that you can build a home at small cost and in a short time have a good income.  You lice in the country but have all the conveniences of one living in the city.  In about the center of the district is the thriving little town of Yelm.  The town is well built with mostly fireproof structures.  It is well supplied with good general stores, garages, machine shops, confectionery stores, drug store, real estate office, dentist, two doctors, hotel , restaurant, three barber shops, newspaper and modern printing shop, sanitary meat market, telephone exchange and system, Standard Oil, Union Oil, and Shell Oil plants, four automobile agencies, a creamery, two berry receiving stations, laundry wagons call at your door for laundry and many other things.  The Washington Co-Operative Egg and Poultry Association has a truck that calls at your home and picks up your eggs and poultry and delivers your feed.  Cream trucks pick up your mild or cream daily.  Oil or gasoline is delivered at your farm within a few minutes after telephoning your order.


The Yelm Irrigation District is a body of land mapped off under the State’s laws, but is a municipality of itself, handled or governed by a board of directors, three in number, elected by the property owners of the district.

The irrigation system comprises of eleven miles  of main canal through
 which the silt laden waters of the Nisqually River are conveyed to some
 forty miles of lateral and sublaterals to be delivered to the high point on
 every forty acre subdivision within the district.


Berry growing is the principal enterprise as Strawberries, Gooseberries, Red Raspberries, Blackberries, and Black Caps yield heavy tonnage and the quality is unsurpassed by any other berry growing section, owing to the abundant supply of water for irrigation which is so necessary
 during the summer months.


Every Wednesday and Sunday nights a good picture show is put on in the
 large club house in McKenna, and every Friday night in the High School
 Auditorium at Yelm.  Dances are weekly events, given either at the Odd
 Fellows Hall or Legion Hall and also at the Grange Hall a short distance
 from Yelm and at Edward’s Pavilion on Lawrence Lake, about seven miles
 from Yelm.  It is only 45 minutes to Tacoma, a hour and a half to Seattle and
 40 minutes to Olympia, where you can see all the latest shows, etc.

Native Pheasants are the reward of the hunters, while the fisherman
 comes in with good baskets full of trout either from the numerous lakes
 that are close by or from Nisqually, Des Chutes or Skookumchuck rivers which are all good trout streams.

In season the Salmon run in the Nisqually River and during the Smelt  run, by taking half a day off you can drive to the Cowlitz River and back and bring home enough of the smelts to last a good sized family for a week.


Now is the time to come here and make your home with us.  Land prices
 are low, ranging in this district from $100 to $150 per acre, labor is in
 demand and the District has one of the brightest futures of any section in
 this wonderful Puget Sound country

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