Deputy’s A Yelm Fixture November 19, 1979

Deputy’s A Yelm Fixture

by Dan Wheat

          (The Daily Olympian  November 19, 1979)

YELM – Charles S “Chuck” Donaldson is something of an institution in Yelm.

His father and uncle wen cops, and Donaldson has worn the deputy marshal’s badge in Yelm for 37 years Despite his fringe of silver hair and 75 years, the old law man is a familiar figure 01 the streets. He’s usually ii full uniform with a cigar stub between his teeth and his .32 20 caliber pistol at his side.

The gun is at least 50 years old. He has to special order its bullets from a firm back East. Small printing on the barrel indicates the first .32-20 were made in 1884; the last in 1926.

Donaldson’s uncle, Ave Hill, owned the gun when he was Sunnyside Police Chief and a deputy sheriff in Yakima County. Hill put one notch in the butt, a reminder of tin one man he killed.

His nephew has never added a notch, hopes he never has to, but says he’s no: afraid of anybody and will “plug” anyone who tries to get him.

Donaldson was born in Fredonie, Ky., and his family moved west to Zillah, a small town near Yakima. Donaldson finished high school and worked on his father’s farm. He married and moved to Yelm in the mid-1920s. After working on a farm, at a logging camp and a sawmill Donaldson began driving a Yelm school bus and serving as a deputy Yelm marshal.

He served as the town’s marshal several times, usually after another marshal left or had been fired. One was even shot on Yelm’s main street, but that was in the 1920s before Donaldson joined the department.

Dan Carew was one of the more famous marshals Donaldson served under. A man of short stature but much courage, Carew was known for packing a Colt .45 revolver on each hip.

Donaldson’s been a special Thurston County Sheriff’s deputy just as long as he’s served Yelm – since 1942. He still carries his commission cards from Sheriffs Frank C. Tamblyn, Lawrence Huntamer, Clarence Van Allen, Don Redmond and Dan Montgomery.

Yelm had gravel streets and few sidewalks when Donaldson became a lawman. The Yelm marshal and his deputies used their own cars on the job or walked.

“It wasn’t a bad town at all ’20s they made moonshine up in the (Bald) hills, and it was a tough town then,” Donaldson said.

He remembers during prohibition Sheriff Claude Havens once offered a Bald Hills moonshiner’s son a dollar if the boy would tell Havens where his dad was. The lad is said to have replied, “You give me the dollar now because if you go up there you aren’t coming back.”

“I guess Havens kept his dollar and left. He finally located the still later,” Donald-son recalled.

town’s old jail built out of two-by-fours that stood where the new Town Hall now stands. The next town jail was a iron cage in Brown’s garage.

Donaldson says he’s seen a lot of “awful wrecks” and helped successfully investigate two murders.

Yelm still is known for occasional bar fights. Marshal BUI Ruddell says he or another officer might have to wrestle someone to get a fight stopped.

“But, if I sent in Chuck all he’d have to say is ‘that’s enough’ and the guys would escort the troublemaker out.  Chuck has the confidence, trust and respect of everyone in town because he’s known most of them since they were kids. If I accomplish anything in my time, I hope it’s to gain half of that confidence and trust,” Ruddell said.

Ruddell says he never would send Donaldson into a barroom brawl. But, Donaldson, unpaid, still helps in investigations, funeral escorts, parades and football games.

And he brings an apple or a pear to the department’s dispatcher every day.














Colorful Citizens

Colorful Citizens


The Olympian

Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a series of stories intended to introduce readers to the people of the southern Puget Sound region.

Asked to describe Yelm, a former resident said simply, “It’s a town of extremes.” Scattered among its 1,440 citizens are a 77-year-old pilot who has lived in Yelm 39 years, a 75-year-old town marshal who has held county commissions under five sheriffs, and a lot of folks who remember the town’s legend —- a hobo who lived there 33 years.

The hobo’s memory is inscribed in everlasting stone on a drinking fountain in front of the fire hall on main street.

The deputy marshal, Charles S. “Chuck” Donaldson, is still in Yelm and can be seen walking the streets, his uncle’s old pistol snug at his hip, his cigar clamped in his teeth.

Floyd Phillips, the pilot is still flying.

The extremes crop up in Yelm when you take a close look at the old and the new.

To the uneducated eye the town resembles a thousand other small towns in America, each with its past and most at rope’s end as the world passes them by.

Although Yelm can boast that its first hotel still stands, it can also boast of new blood coming in. Yelm has experienced an influx of young people that has increased the population from 970 in 1979 to 1,440 in 1981.

This almost guarantees Yelm is not slated for the boneyard of old towns. Longtime residents prefer the status quo; young folks seek change.

An example is Jim and Elizabeth Slopak, who designed and built Yelm Frontier Village at the corner of Mossman Street and Highway 507. The young couple’s 10-shop center has been a major boost to Yelm’s economy, as have several other construction projects around town.

Virgil Baker has about completed an office and business complex just west of the main section of town, and ground is being broken for a new Maxwell station.

While new businesses are appearing in Yelm, old businesses such as Wolf ‘s Department Store, which has been in Yelm since 1922, are healthy and thriving despite the sometimes grim economic picture faced by businesses in bigger population centers.

The town’s tax base remains as solid as Wolf’s store, with a total valuation of $21.1 million.

Yelm raises money through a 3.072 millage rate per $1,000 evaluation, a 4 percent business and occupations tax on all businesses except Yelm’s independent telephone company, electric company and natural gas company.

There is nothing unusual about Yelm’s budget. Of the $647,456, the biggest amount, $138,238, goes to the police department with other departments cutting up the rest.

If one person has left her mark on Yelm it has been the mayor, Lora B. Coates, who has held the position for 13 years.

The first Coates came to Yelm by ox cart in 1889, and the family has lived there ever since. Mrs. Coates operated an antique store on the Rainier Highway for 26 years, helped guide the town through its growing pains and still oversees the five-member council.

A conservative, Mayor Coates has been a strong supporter of law and order, a fact that the younger and more liberal residents of the town seem to accept.

There are other old-timers who have left their mark on Yelm. Lee Edwards, Bill Mossman, Emmett Stewart, Rod Coates, and the first Longmire, Robert, who operated the first store in Yelm when the town was simply called Yelm Prairie and was little more than a railroad stopover for the Northern Pacific.

At times Yelm has needed a tough law enforcement agency. It has had its share of shootings, beatings, rapes and kidnappings, and many of its residents, loggers, farmers, day laborers and soldiers from Fort Lewis, live close to life in the raw.

Yelm: Biggest Little Town Around January 25, 1981

Yelm: Biggest Little Town Around

The Sunday Olympian   January 25, 1981    By Dave Hendrick

In 1970, Yelm had 632 people and an assessed property value under a $1 million; today, it has over 1,100 people and an assessed property value of $17.6 million. It is Thurston County’s fastest growing town.

“Watch it,” the passenger said to the driver as they passed the 35 mph speed limit sigh which stands just inside the Yelm city limits on Highway 510. “The cops will get you here.” The driver nervously chuckled, then tapped his brakes, slowing the car down from 40 to 35 mph.

The car had traveled hardly 50 yards before the driver spotted a police car which was tucked away on a driveway between a salvage yard and a sign bearing the words, “GET US OUT OF THE U.N.”

A mustachioed man in a policeman’s uniform was operating a radar gun from behind his patrol car’s steering wheel.

“Isn’t that just like small towns?” the driver said. “Speed traps everywhere.”

Although speed traps might be “typical” of some small towns, that is not true in Yelm. Only two speeding tickets were issued last month.

But Yelm is guilty of having a few “typical” characteristics of small towns. And one of the characteristics is that it is slowly (but too rapidly for some) changing from a small town to a large town — complete with shopping centers, higher taxes, rising property values, crime, traffic hassles, more churches and schools. About the only two things that haven’t come to Yelm in the last 10 years are better streets and more taverns.

Folks in these parts even have come to realize that Yelm no longer is a one-horse town that no one ever heard of.

“Anymore, when you tell people in Olympia that you live in Yelm, they don’t say, ‘Oh, you live clear out in Yelm?’ Yelm has come into its own,” said Roberta Longmire, president of Yelm Business Association.

Although Yelm remains one of Thurston County’s smaller towns, it is the fastest growing community in Thurston County, based on the 1980 census figures. And Thurston County is among the fastest growing areas in the nation, according to Yelm Mayor Lora B. Coates who was quoting a recent article found in the Wall Street Journal. The population had been stagnant for many years before 1970, when 632 persons called Yelm home. Since then, the population increased by 82 percent, to 1,152. A large portion of the growth has occurred through annexations of areas which later grew in population. In 1970 Yelm’s borders covered 246 acres. Today, it covers 642 acres. Its appraised property value in 1970 was $955,468. Today it is more than $17.6 million.

“I just liked it,” said Shar Isom, a Montana native who six years ago moved to Yelm with her ex-husband who was stationed at Fort Lewis. “I don’t know. I moved back to Montana once, then came back here. I like it because it’s a small town. It’s like the one I left in Montana. Everyone knows each other.”

Mrs. Isom works at the Top of the Box hamburger shop, a building which is in the shape of a cheeseburger. The building itself is a symbol of Yelm’s growth. Three years ago it was moved to the Wolf’s Shopping Center parking lot from Seattle.

Mrs. Isom hit on a common reason more folks are moving to the small, rural towns. The people in the small town setting feel they are a greater part of the community because everyone knows each other. But there are other reasons city dwellers are pulling stakes and moving to the hinterlands.  Among them – escape.

“The large towns have become too complex for them,” said Carolyn Bobbs, an urban planner at The Evergreen State College. “There is an increasing number of people who want to escape the ills of the cities.”

Small towns, she said, “have a completeness about them.” They are attractive because modern businesses and services are there, but the rush of the cities isn’t.

“It’s just a scale that is more manageable for them,” Ms. Dobbs said.

Long-time resident, fire chief and ARCO service station ‘ owner George Cowles goes along with Ms. Dobbs’ observations.

He says Yelm’s growth has gone in cycles. Back in the late 1920s when 7-year-old Cowles moved with his family to Smith Prairie, which is in the Bald Hills, Yelm was going through a period of growth.

When the depression hit, Yelm grew larger because umber companies were recruiting folks to move there from the Midwest,

Growth was slow but steady up until World War II. When he war ended, the sociological rend around the nation was a return to the cities. That says Cowles, was when Yelm’s growth became stagnant population stayed fairly constant.

Folks began leaving the large towns and cities, Cowles said the migrants mainly were young middle-class persons who had lived the good life with their parents during the 50s and 60s. He said the young people seemed to realize the “good life” wasn’t really very “good.” So they broke away from the cities and the middle class life. Some of those young folks found their way to Yelm.

Cowles calls the new migrants “latter-day pioneers.”

“Did you ever get the feeling in the spring that you needed to get out and work in the dirt? Work in the garden, even if it’s only for a few days? It’s instinct to work the land.”

It’s that same kind of instinct that attracted newcomers to the rural, pastoral setting of the small town, which lies just south of the Nisqually River near the Pierce County line.

“It (Yelm) is a little better,” Cowles said, “It’s a little easier … a little laxer in enforcing all the rules that are enforced, in places like Olympia and Seattle.”

One important feature about Yelm’s growth is that most of it is occurring outside the downtown area. Much of the main street looks just as it did 10 years ago. Storefront signs haven’t even changed much.

Businesses which have cropped up in Yelm during the last 10 years include Jayhawks Shopping Center, Pioneer Village (which contains a vacuum cleaner store, a restaurant, a chiropractor’s office, a jewelry store and a health food store),two new doctors, two attorney’s, and a couple of chiropractors.

“We’ve had a lot of new businesses come in,” said Roberta Longmire. “Ten years ago people shopped out of town, but now, they mostly shop in Yelm. The only reason they go into town now is for specialty items.”

But with the baby comes the bathwater. In Yelm’s case this means increased crime, the need for increased government services and more money to run the school district.

Although crime statistics weren’t kept in Yelm for eight out of the last 10 years, Yelm Mayor Lora B. Coates said the major growth strain has fallen on the police department. In 1970, the town got by with a one-person police department. But now, the department has eight persons, two of whom are dispatchers.

The most startling effect on the crime rate is the use of drugs, mostly marijuana, and burglaries.

“The growing pains are terrific,” said Louise Longmire, director of the Yelm Senior Center. “We’ve got a lot of problems with dope. We can sit here (at senior center which is on the main street and a few doors down from the police department) and see it going on. It doesn’t do any good to turn them in.” Mrs. Longmire adds there have been three break-ins at the senior center during the last year.

“We can’t be as trustworthy as we used to be,” said Fire Chief Cowles. “Most of the crimes are kids’ things.” He agreed most of the serious crime involve burglaries.

The city crew also has increased. The water and street department 10 years ago got by with one person. There were 187 city water customers. Now, there are more than 400 customers, and the department needs a water superintendent, a part-time water maintenance man and a part-time clerk.

The city administration 10 years ago only needed one clerk. Now it needs her, Lyla Eide, and a part-time clerk.

The school district, which includes McKenna, also has had to expand to cope with the growth.

According to school district records, the district school population increased from the 1,424 in 1970 to the present enrollment of 2,035.

In 1971 Southworth Elementary School was built, and in 1976 enlarged. The McKenna Elementary school was enlarged in 1977. The new Yelm High School was built in 1978.

Yelm School district also is facing a levy and three bond issues for 1981-82 school year. The levy is for $718,171 for maintenance operations, transportation and extracurricular activities. The first bond issue is for $3.7 million for a new elementary school and remodeling the middle school. The second, for $990,000, is for building outdoor sports facilities such as a track, five tennis courts, a football field (no stadium) and a baseball field at the high school. The third bond issue, for $700,000, is for a swimming pool at the high school.

In general, it is difficult to determine if growth has helped or hurt Yelm. That, as in beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

But as far as the mayor’s concerned:

“I hear a lot of people saying Yelm is growing too fast,” said Mayor Coates. “They say they wish things could be like they were 30 years ago. But we know that’s impossible … we’ve acquired fine people from growth, too.”


For Yelm: Growth Olympian December 26, 1979




For Yelm: Growth

By Dan Wheat

Olympian     December 26, 1979

In 1970, Yelm’s population was 632. Last April, it officially was 970, and undoubtedly it is over the 1,000 mark by now.

Along with that growth, Yelm built a new City Hall, new elementary school, new high school and has remodeled two old elementary schools.

The fire district serving- Yelm and the surrounding countryside built two new substations, and the town’s water system was updated in 1977 with the installation of a new water tank and water lines.

Among the new businesses opened during the last 10 years were Jayhawks Department Store, Herter’s Clay Pigeon Plant, a veterinarian clinic, a Bank of Olympia branch and a couple of small shopping centers.  Yelm gained a doctor, two chiropractors and three dentists.

In politics, Lora B. Coates was elected the town’s first woman mayor in the fall of 1969. She took office in 1970 and has served a full decade, being re-elected in 1973 and again in 1977, at age 72. Her present term expires in January of 1982.


In 1971, the arrest on vagrancy charges of six of the town’s better young people led to many complaints against Yelm Marshal Bill McCluskey. As the result of a Daily Olympian investigation, a budding bail-bonds racket was exposed, and the town attorney and town judge both resigned.

In 1976, Mayor Coates and the town council were miffed when the town’s three deputy marshals joined the Teamsters Union without first notifying the mayor or council. As a result, the council considered disbanding the Yelm Marshal’s Office and contracting with the county sheriff for law enforcement services.

However, the council decided to keep its marshal’s office because contracting with the sheriff would have been just as expensive and the town would have lost control of its law officers.

Perhaps Yelm’s most colorful figure in the 1970s was Joseph Agosto. Agosto built the Caravan Inn and Algiers Restaurant on the edge of town in 1972.

A short while later, Agosto was called by a federal grand jury to tell what he knew about the disappearance of some funds from Northwest Guarantee Savings and Loan Association. Later the Internal Revenue Service tapped his banking records, a car carrying his wife and children exploded near Ashland, Ore., (nearly taking their lives), and a car he was driving was shot at as he returned to Yelm one day.

In 1974, the Caravan Algiers complex burned. The state fire marshal said it was arson. Agosto had sold the business a year and a half earlier and opened the “Folies Bergere” show at the Tropicana Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas,


Prior to coming to Yelm, Agosto served a brief term in a federal penitentiary following a 1966 conviction for falsifying housing loan documents in Alaska. The US Justice Department, which says Agosto is an illegal alien wanted in Italy to serve a 10-year prison sentence for bigamy, has been trying to deport Agosto since 1968.

The 9th U.S. Court of Appeals ordered Agosto’s deportation in 1977, but then the U.S. Supreme Court heard his case and in June,1978, by a 7-2 decision, ordered that he be given a new trial. Agosto had last been seen in Yelm about a month before talking about opening a new bowling alley on property he still owned there.

Last May, Agosto was named in a FBI affidavit as a front man in Las Vegas for Kansas City and Chicago Mafia figures.




Serious Accident. John A. McKenzie of Yelm Badly Hurt by a Windlass ( (Morning Olympian November 2, 1895)

Serious Accident. John A. McKenzie of Yelm Badly Hurt by a Windlass

( (Morning Olympian   November 2, 1895)

People that came of age in the 1960s might remember a public service annoucment warning one that if you found a blasting cap “Do not pick it up.”  The danger was real “J. A. Piper has begun suit against this county for $25,000 alleged damages to a son from explosion of dynamite cap found by the boy on the road between this city and Yelm. The loss sustained by Bennie Piper, the son, is a thumb and two fingers. It is alleged that the dynamite was left on the road by the county’s employees, so that the boy had easy access to it.”

W.P.A. Workers Get Pay Raise Starting March 6 (Nisqually Valley News March 12, 1936)

W.P.A. Workers Get Pay Raise Starting March 6

(Nisqually Valley News   March 12, 1936)

Employees of the W.P.A. in Yelm and Thurston County received an increase in their pay, starting March 6, which places the minimum pay at   $55, $65 for intermediate work;   skilled workers will receive $85 and the technical and professional workers will receive $94.

Beautification of Homes Urged by Club

(Nisqually Valley News  March 19, 1936)

Various plans and suggestions have been offered the residents of the community along the lines of planting, beautification of home site, etc., and this is something that we should all give considerable thought to.  The Commercial Club will be pleased to have suggestions from anyone in the community and have them meet with the club and assist in bringing about any constructive plans which they may have in mind.

President Cruikshank made a report at the meeting of the club on Tuesday evening, sowing  that the various work projects throughout the community are bringing considerable  cash into the locality.   Much of this he declared this was due to the present heads of the Works Progress Administration, and declared that the community should make every effort to bring about a showing favorable their own efforts.  The community is greatly indebted for the federal assistance, which has been rendered us and which Mr. Cruikshank believes has placed the community at 3 to 5 years ahead on what could be expected to accomplish had it been necessary to rely on our own funds to complete the many projects which have been carried on so successfully with the assistance of the W.P.A.  Apparently this assistance is not to stop at this point as Mr. Cruikshank reported that the request   had been made to file applications for other suitable projects which would be of benefit to the community.

It is a very noticeable fact that the community has apparently improved at least 30 percent in the last 3 year due to the fact that the Resettlement administration has come to the assistance of many off the land owners.  Mortgages have been taken up and in some instances reduced as much a fifty percent.  Small land owners have been assisted  with new buildings, poultry, tock, and other necessary equipment has been purchased through these funds and the land owners on the project have a much brighter outlook than at any time in the past few years.

A  great deal of assistance has been rendered to the community by the men   from the McKenna transient camp   and their work has been beneficial to the Irrigation District and to the flood control work on Thompson and Yelm creeks.

Many of the men from the various projects are being gradually absorbed by private industries.  A number also have received what is believed to be steady employment in the city of Olympia. Several small tie mills have been in operation in this part of the county for several months and with the Johnson and Sons plant now operating and the Gruber-Docherty Lumber Co. expecting to operate in the very near future, considerable employment in being furnished and many dollars are being brought into the community.

Farm Program to Aid Needy Farmers (Nisqually Valley New January 9, 1936)

Farm Program to Aid Needy Farmers

Nisqually Valley New   January 9, 1936

Every effort is being made to assist all Thurston County farm families who have been forced on relief or whose credit facilities have been exhausted, George Lightle of Yelm and R. E. Munson, of Olympia, local rehabilitation supervisors announced.  Many families on potentially productive farms will be given immediate attention.

Rehabilitation is not relief but a plan to place farmers who have been unduly affected by low farm prices of the past few years and unexpected reverses to regain a self-supporting   basis through adjustment of their debts, setting up a profitable farm plan and supplying a loan for capital goods necessary to make a farm aa “going” concern.

Where no debt adjustment or farm plan is necessary loans for the necessary capital goods, such as livestock, seed, feed and equipment can be made in a sort time.  If more extensive adjustments are necessary, the family can be temporarily placed on subsistence grants until debt realignment and the farm plan can be put into effect.

Clients can establish eligibility by being referred to the rehabilitation supervisor through the local relief office or with a statement from the local credit production association stating that credit facilities have been completely exhausted.

Families applying for rehabilitation may do so either directly to the office of the local supervisor or through county relief agencies.

WORK RELIEF PROJECTS DOING GOOD JOB (Nisqually Valley News December 5, 1935)


Nisqually Valley News  December 5, 1935

Under the supervision of Engineer Henry Peoples, work on the lower end of Yelm Creek is progressing very satisfactorily, with thirty men being employed at the present time and the number to be increased to 40 or more as soon as tools are available.

This work will be of ever-lasting benefit to the community as well as being of great benefit to the farmers in the upper country.


A force of forty men from the transient camp at McKenna are at the present time working on the upper end of Yelm Creek through the old Hammerschmith mill site and are doing very valuable work from a drainage standpoint. E. F. Banker, state director of the department of conservation and development, his assistant W. Ulier and Ray Cruikshank made a trip over the Yelm creek project the fore part of the week to see how the work was progressing.

The Yelm Irrigation project is being carried on under the supervision of Chester Thompson, employing about thirty men, most of the work being done on the Main Line Canal, which of course will be of lasting benefit to the community.

The city street project is under the supervision of Mayor J. M. Curry, and is employing twelve men. A very valuable piece of work is being done by these men.

Several road projects are under way in this end of the county and there appears to be very few men in this community who are unemployed.

Plans at .the present time are under way for the construction of a town hall, public library, fire station, city jail and Yelm Irrigation office under one roof and it is hoped this project can be worked out and construction gotten under way. If the present plans

are carried out, this will be a very much needed building tor the community.


YELM CREEK PROJECT IS APPROVED (Nisqually Valley News November 21, 1935)

Nisqually Valley News November 21, 1935

Yelm creek flood control project, which was turned down early in the year came to life with a bang this week when word came from Washington that the project had been approved and on Thursday, army engineers were in Yelm and announced that work would start on the project next Monday. with about twenty men employed. This will be increased to about forty men later.

The man in charge of the work for the army will move to this neighborhood and bring his children here for school.

The ma project is estimated to cost $16,500 and will take some ix or more months to complete.

Work Relief Started on Streets
(Nisqually Valley News November 21, 1935)

Coming as a complete surprise to local authorities, the Works Progress Administration started work on the Yelm streets Tuesday morning with a row of ten men and Ed Kelly for foreman and Godfrey Anderson as the time keeper, making a crew of twelve men.

Mayor Curry reported that no word had been heard since the request tor the project was submitted and they were not prepared for the work.

The city program contemplates the finishing of the sidewalks, of concrete on Yelm avenue, gravel sidewalks and side streets.

The cost of the town project was originally estimated at $19,350.



Nisqually Valley News   August 26, 1935

The Yelm High School is to have aid from the United States government under the National Youth Administration. The High School will receive one hundred dollars a month which is to be given to worthy student who they will be able to remain in school.  A student receiving this aid must be sixteen years of age. The student will be given a job to earn the money, and will not receive more than six dollars a month.

This will help some students who otherwise would have to get out and work rather than being able to complete their education.