1910 – Socialists in Thurston County

Politics

This Friday evening at 7:30 o’clock at Rabeck’s hall the local Socialists will hold their usual weekly meeting. The question up for discussion is: “The Inflexibility of the United States Constitution.” Miss Frances Sylvester has promised to be present and lead off in the debate. Last week four new members joined the local. These meetings close at nine o’clock sharp.  Washington Standard   December 2, 1910

SOCIALIST MEETINGS

The Socialists of Olympia have for the present concluded to hold Friday evening weekly meetings at Rabeck’s hall, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The meeting last Friday evening was for the most part a business session, though there were some pretty lively discussions prompted by the secretary. The tramp question brought cut divers views. It was claimed the tramp is a product of economic and industrial  conditions induced principally by the means of production and distribution being in private hands, which periodically throw men out of employment and place them in the ranks of the unemployed, many of whom become so discouraged and demoralized that they will not work.

A programme committee was appointed consisting of Miss Hernice Sapp, and Miss Frances Sylvester, and it was agreed the other questions, such as the white slave traffic and the frail creatures below the dead line, will be considered at tonight’s meeting, which promises to be interesting. A motion was made and carried that all meetings open promptly at 7:30 and close at nine o’clock, as many persons who usually attend these meetings live at a distance and desire to depart early, while others who are too timid to speak in open session might desire to remain and converse about the propaganda near and dear to their hearts.

Washington Standard  December 2, 1910

1917 – J. C. Conine on Irrigation

“Well the Nisqually is flowing thro’ Yelm and the millenium is fast approaching, in the minds of the promoters.  All prospective millionaires.  They are holding land at $200 per.  There is a family on the Lake place but I don’t know what arrangements Lee made with them.” (Letter from J.C. Conine   April 27, 1917)

I’ll sure be glad when you are through with it and can work your way to God’s country.  You will hardly know Yelm when you see it.  The irrigation in working wonders, there’s a thousand blades of grass growing there one grew before.  A large part of the prairie is laid off in 10 acre tracts, and they are going like hot cakes at $175 per acre.  There are over 30 families recently located on the old Chambers place and 120 scholars attending the Yelm High School including Viv, Treva and Gladys.  (Letter from J.C. Conine   August 12, 1917)

Oh, by the way, the Squally is flowing majestically through Yelm and it’s a success.  The prairie is dotted with new buildings.  It will be the garden spot of Thurston County.  The McKenna Mill co. are selling 10 acre tracts at $175 per acre on the installment plan at 6%– water furnished.”   (Letter from J.C. Conine  

August 21, 1917) 

We have had no rain since the 29th of June and no prospect yet the crops are fairly good and harvesting about done; they are thrashing on the prairie and are getting their second cop of clover thanks to the irrigation.  (Undated Letter from J. C. Conine)

1916 – Irrigation

Olympians will throng to Yelm Ditch Opening 

Chamber of Commerce Obtains Autos for Excursion to Ceremony at Irrigation Canal 

Olympia automobile excursionists will leave from the Chamber of Commerce this morning at 9 o’clock for Yelm, where the Yelm Irrigation company will hold the formal opening of its $100,000 Thurston county project.           

Delegations from towns and cities in this section of the country, including Tacoma, will attend the opening, and Olympia is planning on sending the biggest delegation.   The Morning Olympian     June 28th 1916

1912 – Irrigation

[untitled]

R.D. White, of Yelm, has filed notice, as agent of the Yelm Irrigation Company, of intention to appropriate 2,000 cubic feet of water per second from the Nisqually River, for irrigation purposes on Yelm Prairie. With the appropriation of the water rights it is apparent that all details have been perfected and one of the grandest schemes for the improvement of farming lands will soon begin its sphere of usefulness. The effect of simply copious supplies of water on arid lands has been a gratifying surprise of the possibilities in store from this simple alternative. It has been found that it is a veritable Midas-touch to large areas that had up to a quite modern date been regarded as almost worthless. The notice also states that this water may also be used for generations of electric power.

Washington Standard   February 26, 1912

The Yelm Irrigation Company are well pleased with their steam shovel and are busy every day now.  Washington Standard     November 29, 1912

 The stockholders (and their families) in the Yelm Irrigating company’s ditch ate their Thanksgiving turkeys picnic style, near Bald Hill where work on the ditch is being done.   Washington Standard      December 6, 1912

1911 – J. C. Conine on Irrigation

Results of Irrigation

Yelm, Wash.,    July 18, 1911 

Do you know where Squim is (spelled Sequim) too? Well, it is in the eastern part of Clallam County, on the entrance from the Sound to the Straits of Fuca. On the 5th of July, after the Carnival of Nations, I took a boat and landed at Sequim at 6 o’clock a.m. after a night’s ride without a wink of sleep. Of course I went on a visit, but my principal object was to investigate the results of the irrigation. I found quite a prosperous community of perhaps 500 families. The homes are small, generally from 5 to 40 acres each, but they all show thrift. Fifteen years ago this land was not worth more than $5 per acre. Today it ranges from $100 to $500 per acre, the result of irrigation. By industry and good judgment an abundance of water is conveyed by ditches through every plot of ground from the Dungenness River, about five miles distant. The land is no better than the land on Yelm, and yet it produces three times as much. I had some doubts as to the success of the Yelm project on account of the porosity of the soil but those doubts has dissipated. I believe now that the Yelm irrigation scheme will be a big success and increase production at least 100 per cent., changing a comparatively barren prairie to a splendid agricultural community, provided, however, the owners of the soil don’t get so avaricious that they will set too high a value to the purchaser. A portion of the Nisqually River flowing through the center of Yelm Prairie would be a sight for the gods. Here’s hoping it will materialize.                J.C. Co9

Washington Standard    July 21, 1911

J. C. Conine – Yelm Teacher & Much More

Joseph Conine:  Early Life

Joseph Cowan Conine was born on August 25, 1839, in Ashland County, Ohio.  He was born on his father’s (Otto S. Conine) farm located near the town of Perrysville.  His mother, Mary Cowan Conine, was the daughter of Irish immigrants.  Joseph was the eldest of (possibly) nine children.  Education was important to the Conine family.  At the time of the 1860 census, not only was ten year old Joseph and a seven year old brother going to the local schoolhouse, but so was 5 year old Bartley. 

In 1852, the elder Conine decided to leave his native Ohio for Clarke County, Iowa.  What inspired this move to Hopeville, Iowa is unclear.  Settlers moved into the area in the early 1850s.  The first newcomers were inspired by the communitarian ideas of the French social philosopher, Charles Fourier.  Whether the elder Conine was inspired by this radical philosophy of “sharing” is also unclear.  Nevertheless, Conine traded the flat lands of north central Ohio, for similar terrain near the Iowa-Missouri border.  In 1860, Otto Conine ran the only hotel in Hopeville.

                                                Joseph Conine:  Teacher

At the time of the 1860 census Joseph Conine, 21, was working as a teacher in the common school in Hopeville.  He had begun his teaching career at the age of 17 and like so many teachers of the era he lacked college preparation.  When he enlisted in the army he identified himself as a “professor.” Teaching would remain part of Joseph’s life for decades to come.  How he prepared for his profession is not known at this time.  There is, however, a tantalizing account of the school that Joseph might have worked at during that year.  Writing in 1935, Mrs. Ella Ashley recalled the only school in Hopeville at that time.  In the late 1850’s or early sixties the original log school house was replaced by a frame building.  She believed that the new building was possibly eighteen by thirty feet.  There were “always two teachers, the one who taught the larger scholars had one end of the room in which there were two long desks with a long bench.”  Joseph would have probably signed a contract for a term of three months.  One term lasted from December to February, the other from March until June.  Ella Ashley thought that the teachers of the era might have been paid $20 for working with older students and $15 for those working with the younger scholars. Ashley remembered that the teacher “had to go early in the winter and make the fire or hire it done.”  Joseph ran a multi-age classroom.  “No such thing as a grade [level] was ever known, beginning with learning the letters, each child went on to learn all they could.”  Joseph’s professional life, however, was about to interrupted by events in the nation.

Joseph Conine in the Civil War

Nearly sixty years after its conclusion Ella Ashley recalled the war taking away the young men of her community. 

Looking east from my old home, where Owen Chew now lives, half mile away, two went to the army, Cyrus and Wilson Huff. Wilson came back alone. From a home not a half mile north, Wash Nelson went and never came back. About a half mile northwest, Lem Garrison went, never to return. A short distance west of the Garrison home Conines lived, two, Joe and Bart, went from there. Six near neighbor boys and only three came back.

In 1858 a newspaper was established in Osceola, the largest town in the county.  One can imagine Joseph following the events of the era from copies that circulated in the county.  Stories about John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry and Abraham Lincoln’s run for the presidency in 1860 would have certainly caught his attention.

When Lincoln was inaugurated in 1861 southern states had already been seceding from the United States.  Ft. Sumter surrendered that April.  The first battle of Bull Run was fought that summer.

On August 2, 1861 Joseph enlisted in the army for three years.  Army records described him as five foot six inches tall, with a fair complexion and blue eyes.  Before there was a draft or a signing bonus Joseph threw his lot with the United States.  Whether his motivation was to save the Union or promote equality, Joseph Conine was going to be a soldier.  At Council Bluffs, Iowa men from throughout Iowa met their commander Grenville M. Dodge (later to be involved in the building of the transcontinental railroad). By the middle of August 1861, Joseph and the rest of Company I (commanded by William E Taylor), 4th Iowa Infantry boarded steamboats and headed down the Mississippi to St. Louis.   From St. Louis the unit moved by railroad to Rolla, Missouri.  Joseph was a private in the lst brigade, 4th division of the Army of Southwest Missouri.  There the company remained until the spring campaign was ready to move south.

Once the regiment was fully assembled at the Rolla, Missouri training resumed in earnest.  The “partially uniformed” men were ready, but the War Department had yet to meet the exigencies of the times.  Old Prussian rifles provided to the recruits proved faulty and thirteen exploded when fired.  Col. Dodge finally took it upon himself to visit Gen. Fremont’s headquarters back in St. Louis in order to secure suitable clothing, weapons, and other necessities.  The men built barracks and moved out of their tents.  Once inside the barracks the largely country men and boys suffered from “measles, mumps, and pneumonia.”

In a speech he gave to the 4th Iowa veterans after the war Dodge recalled, with pride, his role as leader of that regiment:

You will all remember that when at Rolla, and whenever I had an opportunity, I drilled the regiment thoroughly. I took it out, exercising it in firing in movements and even taking it through the brush and timber so as to give the practice from any condition they might meet. The boys protested and complained a great deal. The other regiments got no such drilling and the 4th Iowa thought that there was no necessity for it. They wore out their clothes and shoes, and they had very little use for their Colonel at this time, but when they had an opportunity to see how much benefit this drilling was to them, when they got into action, they looked differently upon it.

Joseph Conine was now part of the E. A. Carr’s division of General Curtis’s army.

Curtis’ mission was to drive the Confederate army under General Price out of Missouri.  For over 200 miles the Union forces nipped at the heels of Price’s Confederates.  It was a march few would forget.

Heading South on the “Wire Road

Joseph Conine and the rest of the 4th Iowa Regiment headed down the Telegraph Road toward the Arkansas line.  One soldier recounted that it ‘[wound] along, up and down, guiltless of art, or fill, or bridge; mere hard and beaten path, or prolonged dust-heap, or lengthened quagmire, according to the sun or rain, the shifting and uncertain elements, stretched the ‘Wire road,’ a Via Dolorosa.’  It was still winter in the Ozarks as the Union Army moved south.  There was rain and snow.  Muddy rutted ground, froze at night into upright daggers. Footwear took a beating.  The poorly made shoes tore apart at the stitching on the sole.  Soldiers jerry-rigged the uppers and lowers into one bound up shoe.

Recalled one Illinois soldier:

For two days and the night intervening everything we possessed, and we in connection, became saturated with the rain that was poured down upon us…All this froze right away, and tents and tent occupants and furniture were like little land ice bergs.  Our pantaloons, when we drew them on at reveille, were stiff with ice, so also were shirts, coats, boots, everything.  Yet there was no remedy, so we shivered till our animal heat thawed the ice, and wore wet clothes till they dried upon us.

As the day warmed the road was transformed into mud that swallowed the marching feet of the.

Residents of the area fled before the advancing army.  Marching through the town of Springfield Conine would have seen abandoned houses, doors ajar, with discarded clothes and furniture, items no longer considered essential.  Graffiti, had been scrawled on the sides of buildings, memorializing Confederate victories taunted the Union forces.  Dead horses attracted buzzards which circled over head.

When the 4th division reached Crane Creek the Confederate presence was palpable.  Cooking fires were found the day’s meal in the kettle.  Captured stragglers moved to the rear of Conine’s column.  Joseph Conine’s war was drawing near.  As the evidence mounted of Confederates near by, what went through Joseph’s mind?  The line of march was littered with ‘crippled and demolished wagons, pots, pans, skillets, camp trumpery, dead and dying horses and mules, together with all manner of goods and chattels.’  More prisoners were taken.  Snow fell on the men.  On the night of February 15th, Joseph Conine was discovered to be missing.  Amidst the debris on the Telegraph Road his personal invasion of the Arkansas had stopped, cold, literally, in its tracks. 

The 4th Iowa continued without Joseph.   The Iowans continued to pass discarded

accoutrements of war.  Confederate stragglers were captured.  Firefights broke out, but the southerners were not ready to fight a major engagement.  Veterans of both armies remembered the weather.  The storm of March 5th was described by one Iowan as “spitting snow.”  A Missourian wrote, ‘I felt like dying. . . . our clothes were frozen on our bodies.’  Joseph Conine fought off the cold and his sickness to rejoin his company. 

The Battle of Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern)

The two armies faced off on March 6th.  The battle was on the Union left that day and the 4th Iowa was on the right wing just beyond the crossroads of the Elkhorn Tavern.  When the morning came, Joseph Conine and his company were facing north.  Somewhere in the forest, out of sight, was the enemy.

In the afternoon, however, the Confederates appeared on the right flank of the 4th Iowa.  The Iowans were ordered to face this new threat.  Quickly they swung down like a door hinge so that their line was parallel to the growing Confederate threat.  Company C, along with the rest of the 4th Iowa, dug in at the western edge of the Clemon’s farm.  200 yards to the east, beyond the fallow fields of Rufus Clemon, in the trees, the Confederates unlimbered three batteries of artillery to shell the Union position.

Conine and his compatriots prepared for the inevitable attack.  Farmer Rufus Clemon had spent the winter rooting out trees and piling them at the edge of his field.  The Iowans quickly moved these slash piles.  They piled tree trunks, branches, and fence rails to form a breastwork.  Soon Confederate artillery opened and the men burrowed into their new fortification.  Shells exploded all around them.  The trees to their rear were set ablaze by the shelling.  Capt. William H. Kinsman, of the 4th Iowa wrote:

The thunder of the artillery was terrific, and the shot and shell hissed and screamed through the air like flying devils, while the infantry with their rifles, shotguns, and muskets, kept a perfect hurricane of death howling through the woods.

This continued for a half and hour.  During it all Grenville Dodge rode along the line “encouraging his men and belittling the danger of artillery fire.”   A shell exploded near him and tore his pants.  Another shell fragment glanced off his knuckles.  A shell struck and tree and a falling branch dismounted him.  He cracked two ribs.   He got back on his horse and continued to command.  “He continued to expose himself recklessly, and by the end of the day he had lost three horses and accumulated six bullet and canister holes in his coat.” 

Suddenly, 100 yards away the Confederates appeared at the top of the rise midway in Clemon’s field.  Wrote one Missourian, ‘We charged to within twenty steps of their ambush when they turned loose on us.’   Another recalled,   ‘We were met by a most terrific and deadly volley of musketry . . . “and for a moment our brave men recoiled before its deadly aim.’  The Confederate attack was broken.  Others followed, but they too were broken by the barrage of musket fire coming from the impromptu fortifications along Clemon’s field.  After one assault the Iowans let out ‘Such a yell as they crossed that field with, you never heard. . .  .It was unearthly and scared the rebels so bad they never stopped to fire at us or let us reach them.’  With bayonets pointing the way the 4th Iowa pursued the Confederates back across Clemon’s field.

Conditions, however, along the rest of the Union line, called for realignment of battered regiments.  Slowly the 4th Iowa retreated to the new Union line, a little further south.  In Pea Ridge:  Civil War Campaign in the West, William Shea and Earl Hess, described that evening:

Darkness spread across the Pea Ridge and brought an end to the carnage but there was little rest for the weary on the cold, clear night of March 7-8.  Moonlights filtering through the lingering haze of battle dimly illuminated a scene of surprising activity.  Hundreds of soldiers wandered across the battlefield to succor the wounded or streak from the dead.  Thousands more stumbled through thickets and toiled along rutted roads in preparation for the dawn.  Still others struggled, sometimes in vain, to replenish empty cartridge boxes and ammunition chests.  In the background, sharp in the frigid air, were the terrible sounds of broken men and animals.

Captured

Decades after the battle of Pea Ridge, Joseph Conine wrote that he was captured on March 8, 1862.  This would have been the day after the battle at Clemon’s Farm.   There was fighting that day.  The Union Army advanced as a solid mile front against the southern line.  On that day, the badly depleted 4th Iowa exchanged little fire with the enemy.  There would have no chance for Joseph Conine to be captured that day.  In fact, it was Confederates that became prioners that day.  This writer wonders if Joseph Conine was actually captured on March 7th when the 4th Iowa advanced and retreated on several occasions.  The bayonet charge at the conclusion of the battle at Clemon’s Farm or the 4th Iowa’s retreat to

Ruddick’s farm.

 

On the last day of the battle Joseph Conine was guarded by men in gray.  It is unclear when, where, or under what circumstances on March 8th that Joseph Conine was captured.  He was not one of the fortunate federal prisoners exchanged shortly after the battle.

“A Very Hard, Tedious, Tiresome March”

 

Not being one of the chosen prisoners, Joseph Conine fell into line with the Confederate Army of the West as they headed south.  What he remembered from those weeks was not recorded, but others wrote about their experience:

The army was a confused mob, not a regiment, not a company in rank, save two regiments of cavalry, which, as a rear guard, passed through near sundown; the rest were a rabble-rout, not four or five abreast, but the whole road about fifty feet wide perfectly filled with men, every one seemingly animated by the same desire to get away…They were thoroughly dispirited.  And thus, for hours, the human tide swept by, a broken, drifting, disorganized mass, not an officer, that I could see, to give an order; and had there been, he could not have reduced that formless mass to discipline or order.

The skies ‘poured down from the heavens in abundance.’  The terrain was treacherous.  Concerning heading over the Boston Mountains a southerner on the same march wrote:

There were no roads or bridges; the country was mostly hills covered with scrub oaks, rocks, rivers, and creeks, and very sparsely settled, and so poor, as some of the men expressed it, that turkey buzzards would not fly over it…Price’s army had preceded us; but if they did any good by opening a path, they did us a great deal of harm by clearing the country of everything that could be eaten by man or beast, even to the last acorn, which seemed to be the only thing the country produced.  We proceeded to scramble along the best ways we could, wading through creeks and rivers and scrambling over rocks and through brushwood.  At night we kindled large fires and took off our wet clothes, wrung the water out of them, and dried them the best way we could. 

In the midst of this chaos one may only imagine what the experience was for the captive federal soldiers.  Were the prisoners at the end of the food distribution chain?  Were they allowed some latitude in regard to their own physical needs?  Were the ignored like so much human baggage or were they treated with the disdain extended to “enemy” prisoners?

Food was a major problem.  Those who wrote about those miserable weeks often used variations of the word “starve” to describe the experience.   Soldiers rummaged the countryside for anything that could be eaten or carried away.  Arkansas farmers had much of their produce stolen by the starving soldiers.  One such victim wrote that the hungry men ‘killed every fowl of any kind, all the cattle, hogs and sheep, and took all the bacon and corn that they could find for several miles around . . .  They cooked at our house from 11 o’clock until midnite, until there was nothing left to cook.’  One survivor saw ‘lots of men cut out slices of beef and mutton before it was done bleeding and eat it raw.  The only bread they had was the corn they had hooked on the road.  They threw the ears into the fire and burnt the outside black and eat it.’  Amidst this, Joseph Conine, prisoner of war contemplated his fate.  He had marched over 300 miles and was in the middle of enemy territory. 

                                                            Prison

On August 18, 1892, Mordecai Smith wrote that he had been captured with Joseph Conine at the Battle of Pea Ridge.  They were taken first to Van Buren and then to Little Rock, Arkansas where they were held for five months. Smith wrote that the prisoners were “ill treated.”  An 1892 newspaper article stated, “He spent the 4th of July in a solitary cell in Little Rock prison; lived on cornmeal and water for a month.”  This punishment was for planning an escape. Little else is known about his captivity.   Joseph and others were exchanged for Confederate prisoners and rejoined the 4th Infantry Division at Helena, Arkansas on August 5, 1862. 

Immediately after returning to his comrades Joseph developed a severe case of dysentery with chronic diarrhea.  Unable to fulfill his duties as a soldier he was sent upriver on a steamboat to St. Louis arriving there on September 29th.  From there Joseph was sent to the Estes House Hospital in Keokuk, Iowa.

The Estes House Hospital was one of seven facilities dedicated to the care of soldiers from both sides.  It held over 600 patients and was the largest hospital in Keokuk.   Contemporaneous accounts describe crowded conditions, lousy food, disease, and the numerous amputations.  Joseph Conine remained there from October 1862 through March the following spring.  In April Joseph was discharged from the service with a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability.  His chronic diarrhea and general debility was “not improving under treatment.”

Marriage and a Return to the War

In the July 18, 1863 Union Sentinel the following appeared:

MARRIED

At the residence of Wm Gustin on the evening of the 13th of July 1863, by M. B. Rees, Esqr., Mr. JOSEPH C. CONINE to Miss EMMA P. BATES.

Three months later, October 23, 1863, Joseph re-enlisted.  He received a $25 bounty for being a veteran re-upping.  Moving on to Davenport, Iowa in late November he was promoted to 1st corporal in Co. C, 9th Iowa Cavalry.   From there the regiment traveled south to Arkansas where Joseph spent the rest of the war.

Arkansas was now a sideshow of the Civil War.  Vicksburg had fallen in July 1863 and the war had shifted to eastern Tennessee.  The 9th Iowa spent the rest of the war patrolling the region while occasionally engaging in skirmishes with southern sympathizers.  Few men were lost during this time.  Joseph’s war was much different than his earlier version with prolonged scouting missions replacing the pitched battle of Pea Ridge.  He was promoted to second duty sergeant on September 15, 1864.

Following his return from his last scouting patrol in the fall of 1864 Joseph was assigned to Col. M. M. Trumbull and worked as a clerk at headquarters.  When the war ended in the spring of 1865 Joseph was serving as a clerk for a general court-martial being conducted.  The end of the war, however, did not signal the end of his service.  Joseph continued to clerk, but now serving at the adjutant general’s office.  He received 2nd and 3rd installments of his Veteran’s Bounty, bring that total to $175.  Finally on February 28, 1866, nearly a year after hostilities had ended.  Sergeant Conine was mustered out in Little Rock, Arkansas, the site of his previous imprisonment.  Paying eight dollars for his service revolver and owed $225 in bounty payments he headed north for his reunion with his wife Emma.

Returning from the war Joseph and Emma settled in Illinois.  They remained there two years.  Their first son, Herbert Wilbur (Willie), was born there.  After two years he returned to Iowa with his family. A daughter, Annie, was born in May 3, 1869.  In 1870, Joseph was farming in Pleasant, Union County, Iowa.  The name of the town was misleading.  Something went dreadfully wrong.  Lucy May Conine was born on March 10, 1871.  Emma died on April 12, 1872 and was buried in the North Hopeville Cemetery.  This date is interesting in light of the fact that two other sources (Including a narrative written in 1951 by Jenny Lind Conine Edwards) maintain Joseph moved to the Northwest in October 1871.    

J. C. Conine in Yelm

In 1871 or 1872, J. C. Conine and Henry Fouts arrived in Seattle, just in time for the rainy season.  The mixture of mountains and water, trees and mist, must have impressed the Iowans.  Jennie Conine Edwards later wrote, “Seattle was only a little hamlet on the bay, almost surrounded by gigantic fir and cedar trees, but with one sawmill.  They could have taken a homestead most any where where Seattle is now but they didn’t.”  From Seattle, the pair caught the steamer “North Pacific” heading to Olympia.  The men carried with them a letter of introduction to Mr. Tyrus Himes who they eventually located at his farm six miles outside of Olympia.  Jennie Conine Edwards later wrote, “There was about ten of them in the family including them.  They [Henry and Joseph]  said they never had a better time.  They worked all that winter for their board and room.”

The disposition of the Conine children is unclear.  In 1880, census rolls show Wilbur “Willy” Conine living in Iowa with Joseph’s father Otto.  Sometime after 1880 Willie came to the Yelm area to live with his father.  In the summer of 1884, however, Willie decided to return to Iowa to live.  The girls, Annie and May moved to the northwest, although the year is unclear. 

One night Virinda and James Longmire stopped at the Himes place.  A trip from the Yelm Prairie to Olympia in a horse drawn wagon was sometimes a two day journey.  The Longmires decided to complete their journey the next morning.  After all, their friendship with the Himes family was forged on the wagon train to the northwest.  During the course of the evening’s conversation Longmire mentioned that Yelm was looking for a school teacher.  Conine recalled saying, “That was my line, having taught ten years in Illinois and Iowa.”  Longmire replied, “Come up some time and I think you can get the school.”

Joseph Conine took James Longmire up on his offer.  Conine recalled, “So one fine day in February, my friend Henry Fouts, who came with me from Iowa, and I borrowed a couple of horses from Mr. Himes and drove to Yelm.”   Joseph fell in love with the area at once.  “On coming out of the timber to the prairie, we beheld a sight that was enchanting to those who have never had never seen a snow mountain before.  The morning clouds of fog had cleared away and its snowy cap showed up in great splendor.  I’ll never forget my first view of that great mountain . . .” Plus, he got the teaching job.

According to The Story of Yelm, Joseph began teaching in Yelm in 1872.  “I engaged the school for six months at the enormous salary of $33 per month and board around and was glad to get it.  I got my hash well mixed.  All teachers in those days got the same price and same fare.” 

County records show J. C. Conine working at the Willow Lawn School southeast of Yelm in October 1891.  He was earning $45 dollars a month for a term of three months.  The next year his salary had been reduced by one third.  Later he would serve on the board of directors of Willow Lawn from 1897-1900.

His daughter, Jennie Conine (Edwards), recalled attending six different schools in the area.  Writing late in her life Jennie recalled, “WE walked to school from 2 to 5 miles a day each way.  Would only have three months in a district.  When ours was out we would go to Yelm, then to Eureka, then to a small school up by where Newton Smith live[d].” 

                                                No Better Wife Ever Lived

Joseph’s meager teaching salary was augmented by his ability to hunt to food.  “Deer, bear, cougar, grouse, and pheasant” were plentiful.  It was on one of these hunting journeys that Joseph discovered the land that would eventually become his homestead.  South of Yelm he squatted on land “with the greatest natural facilities,” by which he meant the waters of Yelm creek.  After he “bached” there for two years Joseph again married

 

On April 12, 1874, sixteen year old Martha Longmire married Joseph Conine, her teacher. The newlyweds began a family on this homestead. Over the next decade they had three children, Herbert L. Conine (January 15, 1875), Jennie Lind  (April 15, 1879), and Neonetta (March 4, 1883)  Joseph wrote that it took six years to clear the beaver pond and otherwise make the land productive.  Husband and wife “slashed and cleared” to create a farm in the spring and summer, with Joseph working as a teacher in the winter.  Virinda and James Longmire started the newlyweds off with a “team, two cows, [a] pig, and some chickens.”

Joseph’s daughter Jennie painted the following of life on the Conine homestead:

We had to hustle home from school to weed the garden, dig spuds, pick apples and berries, help top and load wagons with beets and carrots for the cattle in winter, help milk, get wood, get the rutabagas and cabbage in for winter, make sour kraut and such like.  Mamma used to knit socks and stockings, make us shoes and get the vine maple to make pegs to tack the soles on with.  If a sheep died we would pull the wool off, wash it and card it by hand to make quilts, also some carpet rags for carpets.  Mamma would weave the carpet.  Had straw under the carpet and also straw ticks or feather ticks for out beds.

The thrashers would come to thrash our grain with about 10 or 12 horses and as many men.  Some times would be there for a week or more.   We had to feed them and wash dishes.  Besides milking about 25 or 30 cows, set all the milk away in pans for the cream to rise.  Then skim and churn, then all the pans to wash and skim milk for the pigs.  Churned butter in a barrel churn by hand.  Printed butter by hand and sold it to Miller Bros. in Tacoma.  Then later got more modern equipment.

J.C. Conine (CO9) – Populist

 

The 1890’s found a new, activist J. C. Conine competing for elected office in Thurston County.  First, as a Democrat, then as a Populist, Joseph Conine ran for and eventually won elective office.  Joseph ran for county sheriff as a Populist in 1894 and lost.  In 1896 he won the Populist Party’s nomination to represent the 27th legislative district in Olympia.

To promote his candidacy and the Populist cause Joseph wrote numerous letters to the Washington Standard newspaper.  Between 1895 and 1898 he elaborated on the problems confronting the nation and the state.  In addition, he was one of the roving band of Populist speakers who traveled the county spreading the “new gospel of silver.”  Joseph spoke at a rally near Yelm which, according to one estimate, attracted over 100 cheering Populists.  Other speeches were given at Smith Prairie, the Eureka schoolhouse, and the Collins school.  The debate during the campaign season was intense

When talking about the Republicans and their supporters Joseph spared no invective.   The “syndicate [was] in the saddle.”  The Populists were there to fight the “money power” and the “money sharks.”  The Republicans were dominated by “unprincipled scoundrels” and the party supported “pernicious legislation.”  The gold standard, the crime of 1873, the protective tariff, the greenback controversy, the banking system, and other legislative measures supported by the Republicans were so evil as to require a “new vocabulary to describe [them].”  The result was beneficial to the “avarice” and “greed of the Shylocks.”  The “oil trust,” “sugar trust,” “salt trust,” and even the “nail trust” were taking money “from the pockets of labor” and making “colossal fortunes for a few lazy barnacles.”  The Republicans and their wealthy supporters cared for the people like a “vulture has for the lamb, or a hawk for a dove.”  Once elected, Republicans sang “the song of Vanderbilt, ‘the people be damned.’”

What had all of this brought to the laboring classes?  The people were in “bondage.”  Interest rates could be as high as 20% and property values had declined by as much as 50%, wages were low.  They were ruled by injunction, while Pinkerton agents patrolled their towns.  Misery, poverty, and pauperism were the realities of the wealth producing class.  In fact the government seemed more interested in the construction of penitentiaries, jails, asylums, poorhouses, and soup houses, than the “welfare of producers.”

It was, however, time to “get on the populist bandwagon.”  In one letter he compared the current problems facing the nation to that of a boil on one’s body.

“Corruption,” yellow and vile was feeding the boil.  “In fact at the present time this boil has attained such colossal proportions . . . that it has been decided by universal consent to apply a surgical remedy, and William J. Bryan has been selected to perform the operation with his silver lance.”  It was time for the “piratical crew” to be “relegated to the shades of oblivion and smolder in their own rottenness.”

Bryan, according to Conine, should be the choice of the people if democracy was to be “redeemed.”  Joseph Conine reveled in the words of William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold Speech.” “You shall not press this crown of thorns down on the brow of Labor. You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold” were “glorious words,” according to Conine.  Bryan would bring justice for the “toiling masses.”  After all, William McKinley was in the pocket of the moneyed interests.  He had been “bought and bound and owned” by gold interests.  McKinley was the “tool of the money power.”  Worse still, McKinley had changed his traditional position on the silver issue and was a “captive” of the “soulless syndicate.”  By contrast, Bryan, although he was young, was at least “free.”  He had spent his career fighting “tyranny” and “oppression.”

William McKinley won the election of 1896 and became president.  In Thurston County, however, the Populist-Democrat fusion ticket swept the county races.  Joseph Conine would now be serving in the Washington state legislature.

The 1897 Legislative Session

By Meghan Young  (2004)

The election of the Populist Governor John Rogers was accompanied by an insurgence of new faces into Washington State Legislature and various tiffs of great hilarity.  Governor Rogers himself was quite an interesting man.  From the very beginning, he shunned convention and opened his inaugural ball to the public, much to the dismay of fellow politicians.  Governor Rogers established himself as a man of the people.  In his opening speech to the Washington State Legislature, Governor Rogers delivered a solemn speech on the problems facing the state.  With the prevalence of novice legislators, temptations rose greatly.  From illegal railroad passes to liquor interests, fish packers, timber barons and “corporate fat cats” the possibility for corruption abounded. 

Governor Rogers took the opportunity to remind legislators about the low pay standards for laborers, the depreciation of property and (fitting with the Populist movement) the detriment of the gold standard on the economy.  Governor Rogers introduced his idea to have free, state financed books for education.  They would be published at the state penitentiary both to provide inmates with vocational training and avoid monopolies established by publishing companies.  He declared his plan to establish a state bank examiner to prevent losses through bank failure, and a mine inspector to insure mine safety in light of the recent tragic mine accidents.  He urged the passage of anti-coercion acts to protect voters and demanded that no more stationary fish trapping gear be used.  He also called for penalties for violation of the constitutional provision against the acceptance of free railroad transportation passes by state officials. 

The first great excitement came with the senatorial election.  Huge accusations of corruption and bribery were brought out against Judge Turner, the winner of the election. In the Seattle Post Intelligencer, accusations against various legislators where brought out by Dr. G.V. Calhoun who said that many legislators were offering their votes in exchange for money. Representative Conine arose at one meeting to “shock and titillate” his colleagues with a tale of “sexy intrigue” which was recorded by The Standard:

Representative Conine told of his experience with a beautiful woman lobbyist who, he alleged, had offered to pay him a “consideration” to vote for Judge Turner, and that he had repelled the suggestion even as Samson thrice Repelled Delilah.

Eventually, a Senate Committee investigation concluded that there was no evidence of bribes or corruption.  In the opening of the Legislature, Senator Van Patten irritated the legislature with his opening prayer, especially Senator Rhinehart, a known agnostic.  To continue this, the Secretary of Senate Dudley Eshelman sang “My God to Thee” further irritating Rhinehart.  In retaliation, upon the end of the song, Senator Rhinehart arose and stated that he would now like to allow the Salvation Army in, and with that the legislators took a break.  In another disagreement, the legislators argued bitterly for hours about the request of an African American man from Spokane who wanted to become a doorkeeper.  Eventually they decided against him, but not before hours of squabbling took place.  In another fine showing of legislators maturity, they entered into a heated debate on whether or not there soaps and towels should be provided in their outhouse.  The official decision was that “all ablutions should be performed before coming to the capitol.”  These sorts of debates often led to heated outbursts, and (gasp) even fistfights among the legislators amidst the pillows and pots at the Hotel Olympia, the place to be among the politicians.  In fact, because legislators enjoyed immunity from arrest from minor crimes, fights often broke out while the bemused police looked on, unable to stop them even if they wanted to. 

Eventually the legislators got down to business.  Among the first motions passed was one which required that all bills be submitted to the reading clerk typewritten, as there was trouble in trying to decipher the scrawled writings of some legislators.  A bill was introduced to abolish the “fifth wheel” or lieutenant governor; however it served only to arouse controversy and ultimately did not pass.   They were successful in setting a maximum freight of $4.25 a ton within the state, but did not establish a railroad commission with the power to fully regulate the railroads, so it was largely ineffective.  Similarly, a State Labor Board was established to “protect the health and lives of employees” but there were no effective controls established over corporate operations and so it enjoyed little success.  Legislation was passed to protect debtors from foreclosure and garnishment, to encourage agriculture and give laborers priority in liens against employers from nonpayment of wages.  Prison reform was established with a bill that reduced terms for prisoners based upon good behavior and aboard of pardons was established consisting of the Secretary of State, State Auditor, and the Attorney General.  A coal mine inspector was authorized and a commissioner for the Board of Institutions was established.  New state land laws codified land, and authorized land leases at lower rates.  A land commission was born with the Secretary of State, Land Commissioner and Superintendent of Public Instruction.  An insurance committee was created to regulate insurance companies and new regulations were set forth on those doing business in Washington State.  Revenue laws were passed with relatively liberal methods of assessment and collection of taxes as well as the remission of penalties on delinquent taxes except a 6% interest charge from the date of delinquencies.  In a huge step for women, they introduced legislature that would allow women to be the administrix or executrix of their estates and tried to pass women’s suffrage, but it was voted down by the male electorate.  The means was provided for the reservation and improvement of cycle paths and a $50 dollar fee for the willful obstruction or damage of the paths.  Another bill was submitted to protect manufacturers, bottlers and other dealers in ale, porter, lager beer, and other beers as well as the loss of casks, barrels, kegs, bottles and etc.  All of these exciting stories took place in only the first 60 day session of the Washington State Legislation, an omen of even more exciting and potentially nonsensical events.

Joseph Conine served just this one term in the state legislature.  He returned to his farm near Yelm, never to re-enter electoral politics again.

 “I Am Not Asking For Charity”

 

Civil War veterans were voted a pension by Congress in 1890.  An additional sum was provided for those suffering from some sort of war related disability.  During the last half of his life Joseph Conine carried on a vigorous correspondence with the War Department, as well as members of Washington’s Congressional delegation, identifying his disabilities and advocating increased compensation for his military service.

One of the themes he continually returned to was the fact that veterans were richly deserving of their nation’s attention.  “I am not asking for charity” he wrote.  “I simply ask for justice.”  After all, the men in blue had kept the “country from disintegrating.”  Joseph continued writing:

It does seem to me that the old veterans who made it possible for our president to occupy his present position ought to be entitled to as much consideration as the lame ducks like Mr. Dial of S.C. who given a position of the Muscle Shoals Commission at $30 per day.  If $2.40 is too great a strain on the government treasury, nearly fifteen times that much is awful.  Consistency thou art a _______ (writing unclear).

A Long Way Beyond the Age of Production”

 

Between 1903 and 1930 the U.S. Congress raised the basic monthly pension check from $8 to $100.  An extra stipend was granted to those who were disabled.  Throughout this era Joseph carried on a correspondence with the Bureau of Pensions.  His letters not only shared stories of his physical ills, but also made economic arguments demonstrating his claim.  Joseph Conine owned hundreds of acres of land south of Yelm.  He was straight forward about this.  He told them that he could not enter the Soldier’s Home in Washington since he had over a thousand dollars in land and money.  He had been, however, “floundering around from one place to another.”  He was “absolutely nonproductive as a mule.”  Joseph pointed out that he had been living with his son Herbert.

“My general health is not bad for my age,” wrote Joseph in one letter to Washington, D.C.   He had, whoever, “a serious spill this morning.”  As his vicissitudes of aging impacted him Joseph made sure that those making decisions about this “comrade” in his eighties was getting on.  “It’s difficult for me to read ordinary print even with my glasses.  I can’t write as well as I used to.” “I haven’t had a tooth in my head for fifteen years and can’t get a set of teeth that will fit, besides my eye sight and hearing is bad.  What else could one suspect?”

Near the time of his death his letter included these ominous details, “I have been afflicted with a cancer for the past year and for . . . months have been taking X-ray treatment in the Tacoma General hospital [at] considerable expense.” 

J. C. Conine’s Physical Complaints

(By Meghan Young)

Throughout Joseph Conine’s quest to obtain more money from the government, he developed quite a list of ailments.  While some of these were verified, most were dismissed.  The following list entails the various ailments that Mr. Conine claimed to suffer from (as taken from medical reports) due to his service during the American Civil War.

  • January 21, 1891:  Conine claimed to suffer from a disease of the kidneys as well as chronic diarrhea.  The examining physician concluded that Mr. Conine was suffering from lumbago and he was qualified for a 4/18 disability rating. 
  • June 1, 1893:  Conine claimed to be suffering from lumbago, disease of the kidneys, liver dyspepsia and general debility.  He claimed that he could not perform hard work because of lameness and vomiting, and was entitle to an 8/18 disability rating for debility.
  • December 19, 1894:  Conine again claimed lumbago, disease of the kidneys and liver, dyspepsia and general debility.  He was awarded a pension of $6 a month for debility.
  • July 28, 1897:  Mr. Conine claimed to suffer from lumbago, disease of the kidneys, chronic diarrhea, indigestion and disease, weakness of back and general debility.  Additionally, he claimed that he could not perform any hard work nor become excited as he was subject to fainting spells and indigestion problems.  The examining physician, however, concluded that Mr. Conine did not suffer from any real diseases.
  • September 2, 1903:  Mr. Conine claimed to be suffering from lumbago for the last years after he had hurt his back lifting and from that point on had been experiencing pain.  The examining physician concluded that Mr. Conine’s pain was not due to vicious habits, and that Conine indeed had lumbago as well as being old and feeble. Conine was qualified for a 16/18 disability rating and ordered not to perform any manual labor.

 

In a letter responding to an inquiry about Mr. Conine’s ailments from the Medical Division of the Department of The Interior, Dr. Pool responded in regards to Mr. Conine’s health.  He stated that Mr. Conine was able to respond to the “calls of nature” and he was also able to feed himself.  However, he remarked that due to fainting spells, Mr. Conine should not be left without an attendant.  Mr. Conine eventually claimed total disability, stating that he suffered from petit mal, arterio sclerosis, fainting spells, poor sleeping and continued debility and declining strength.  Eventually doctors stated that he needed a full time assistant due to his condition.

Later Years

 

In his more harsh epistles to the bureaucrats in Washington, Conine reflected some of his old Populist spirit. Writing in the twenties, he complained about government’s “callousness” and “parsimonious” demeanor.  He complained about “lame ducks” controlling government and the government’s waste of money.  He reminded the Pension bureau that the current government owed their very existence to the men who fought in the Civil War.  After all, how would President Coolidge like to “live on $50 a month.”  “Our president’s policy of economy reminds me of the old adage save at the spigot and spend at the ____ ”  (writing indecipherable – Whatever the final word in that sentence it appears to be uncomplimentary)

Yet, Joseph Conine the “lion” was softened by Conine the “lamb.”  “Of course I realize that the last Congress was very favorable toward the Civil War veterans.  . . . I have no complaint to make against the great government for which we served.  No government on earth serves it soldiers better.  And the last Congress proved its sympathy by enacting favorable laws.” 

Joseph Conine spent his last decades “wandering” and living with his children.  Martha Longmire, Joseph’s “excellent wife,” died in 1906.  He remained shattered by this loss.  “Those who have had the experience know what a misfortune it is to lose a good wife.  I have never gotten entirely over the loss; it was my greatest misfortune for I had great inspirations for making a model home for my family.”   Joseph the romantic, however, could be replaced by Conine the gritty realist.  Writing about Martha’s death Joseph concluded, “one can get used to most anything.”

He placed his farm in the hands of an attorney and left its operations to others.  For a while he stayed with one of his daughters in Los Angeles.  He lived at the Angeles hotel in Olympia, but he spent much of his time at his son Herbert L.’s place near Yelm.

Writing in the Nisqually Valley News, sometime in the 1920’s, Joseph ruminated about his life’s lessons.  Referring to himself as “the oldest settler, now living, that lived on Yelm [prairie],” Joseph made one last contribution to a local paper:

I love to see everybody happy, though not religious.  Happiness is the greatest good; Reason the greatest torch; Justice the only worship and Love, the priest.”

I am bound by no creed except the Court of Justice and love of my fellowman.  A man holding to some creed or dogma cannot be absolutely free; he is bound to a creed.  I believe in absolute liberty as long as one does not infringe on another and society.  I dislike fanaticism, and that is why I am opposed to prohibition.

People of Yelm, I salute you.  If I was a praying man, I’d pray for you, but it wouldn’t do any good.  No prayer ever changed a natural law, but it may relieve the mind of the believer and I don’t begrudge them the relief.  J. C. Conine

Finally, living with his daughter Jennie Edwards on the shores of Lake Lawrence, J. C. Conine passed away.  He had served his nation well.  He had taught its children, tried to improve its government, and fought for its very survival.  Ninety two years after his birth in central Ohio, J. C. Conine was laid to rest in the Yelm Cemetery.

 

Obituary – J.C. Conine

Olympia News – November 17, 1932

Joseph C. Conine, 92, veteran and pioneer, passed away at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Jennie Edwards, Lawrence Lake, Sunday forenoon.  Mr. Conine was born in Ashland county, Ohio, August 25, 1839.  At the age of 13 he went to Iowa to make his home and began teaching in the schools there at the age of 20.  Two years later he enlisted for service in the Fourth Iowa Infantry.  He was taken prisoner at the battle of Pea Ridge in March, 1862.  He was released by exchange the following August.  Later he was taken prisoner again being held for a month when he returned to his regiment and was discharged and was discharged because of disability.  He was married, in 1863 in Iowa.  Having regained his health he again enlisted for service, this time with the Ninth Iowa Cavalry, serving until the close of the war.  He was promoted to the post of second duty sergeant and received an honorable discharge at Little Rock, Arkansas.  Following the war Mr. and Mrs. Conine moved to Illinois, remaining for two years, when they returned to Iowa, where Mrs. Conine died in 1871, locating in this county [Thurston], where he remained until his death.  He spent the first winter working for his board for the pioneer Himes family.  The next year he secured the Yelm school, which he taught for three terms, afterward continuing at the same profession for thirty years in this county.  He was married to Miss Martha Longmire, a pioneer woman, in 1874.  She died in 1906.

Surviving the deceased are two sons, Harry Wilbur and H. L. of this county; four daughters, Mrs. Annie Ward and Mrs. Neo Squire of Los Angeles, Mrs. May Jewell and Mrs. Jennie Edwards of Yelm; 22 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.  Funeral services were held at Yelm Wednesday afternoon at 2, with interment in Yelm cemetery where military honors were accorded.  The Mills parlors were in charge of funeral arrangements.

Yelm in the Twenties

Yelm in the Twenties (the 1920s)

The Roaring 20s was a very interesting time for all. The Great War was over; the country was experiencing unprecedented prosperity as well as some new and exciting developments. This decade also had its shares of downfalls. During this decade the small town of Yelm was experiencing on a smaller scale the same new things and emotions as the rest of the nation. The 1920s offered tragedy, new developments and fun and leisure activities for America as well as Yelm.

Those that lived in America during the twenties can recall real tragedy. President Warren G. Harding died quickly and mysteriously. Because of post-war nationalism the Ku Klux Klan was at the peak of its power and the entire nation experienced a series of mild recessions.

Yelm may have had a more turbulent decade. In 1924, in the last of a series of three huge fires, Yelm almost completely burned down. The origin of the fire is debated but most say it started on the porch of the Wilson Hotel. The fire started sometime in the seven p.m. hour and spread quickly. Because of strong winds and most structures being constructed of wood, the fire was able to consume most of the town in a short amount of time. Yelm was without a fire department at the time so a bucket brigade was formed.

This valiant effort did little to stop or contain the fire and by Sunday morning, the entire town was charred.

The fire destroyed buildings included Patterson’s Drug Store, Yelm Post Office, Drew’s Confectionery, transformer house, the telephone office, Yelm Cash Mercantile Company, Yelm Hotel, Wilson Hotel, New Method Repair Shop, Fashion Barber Shop, Pastime Confectionery, Yelm Meat Market, Yelm Barber Shop, Yelm Realty, H. L. Wolf & Company, William H. Keller, Nisqually Valley News, Thurston County Utilities Company, U. S. Post Office and a county storehouse. The total monetary loss was estimated at $125,000.

While a time of tragedy, the 20s in mostly remembered as a decade of exciting new developments. The first nationwide commercial radio station was broadcasted as KDKA out of Pittsburgh. Important literary works such as Reader’s Digest and TIME magazine were founded. The Jazz Singer was released as the first feature length motion picture with sound.

New developments in Yelm contributed to making the town what it is today. F. E. Grant and E. K. Fristoe founded the Nisqually Valley News in February of 1922. Yelm finally established a fire department in 1927 after three tragic fires. It was a meager fire department at first, but over the years, it has been built up. A number of social groups and organizations founded by women worked to incorporate Yelm. Such things as public waste baskets, road signs, a water pump and a library were added to the town.

The “Roaring 20s” were named so because of the endless amount of fun and leisure people experienced. There was a renewed interest in motion pictures because of the addition of sound. The new concept of “adolescence” enabled young people to have fun with less restriction. Dancing gave way to the “Swinger” era. Prohibition inspired “speakeasies” led to a new fascination and a subsequent increase in moonshine production. Yelm was also a hopping’ place in the 20s.

The annual community fair offered a wide range of categories to enter in to, so many in fact that every family member could have come home with a blue ribbon. Community dances brought in people of all ages from surrounding areas to dance to the latest music.

The Yelm area was a center for running moonshine. Because of it close location to Puget Sound, many members of the Yelm community were involved in illegal alcohol production. Of course the most important leisure activity in Yelm was sitting on the front porch and having a conversation any person who just walked by. Just like every other part of America, Yelm had a variety of experiences in the 1920s. Disasters like the tragic fire in 1924 led to the development of the Yelm Fire Department three years later. Events in the 1920s contributed to make Yelm what it is today

A Short History of Yelm

  A Short History of Yelm

The history of Yelm’s post office capsulizes the creation of the community. With the exception of a period of time between November 1880 and May 1881 (when mail was delivered to Tenino), Yelm Prairie has had a post office. It was first named Yelm on August 18, 1858, nice months after its creation at Fort Stevens. Until 1974, when Moses M. Metcalf became postmaster, the various post offices were located in homes situated throughout the prairie. Metcalf moved the postmastership into him home and store at Yelm, thus being the first to locate it in the new community. In 1881, Frank Longmire became postmaster, and the post office was moved to his store. Dow R. Hughes, postmaster from 1907 through 1934, moved the post office in 1925 to the Mosman Building, where it stayed until 1968. (A full list of postmasters is provided at the end of this history.)

Yelm greeted the twentieth century with the creation, in 1901, of three plats that formally established the blocks, lots and streets of the town. These included the Yelm Addition, situated immediately to the northwest of the railroad tracks near Yelm Avenue, and two filed by John McKenzie which platted his land southeast of the tracks. Ten years later Ole Solberg purchased the old George Edwards

George Edwards House

claim and, in 1916, platted a portion of it as Solberg’s First Addition. This land was located northwest of the railroad tracks. With Solberg’s filing of a second addition in 1923, the historic town of Yelm was complete.

The first quarter of the twentieth century was a period of growth, development and re-development when fires plagued the town in 1908, 1913 and 1924. In the process its population grew from 50 (by 1908) to 400 (1926). The business district acquired all the trappings of a small town emporium designed to serve the loggers, lumbermen and farmers living nearby. Close friendships were formed with McKenna and Roy, Pierce County neighbors situated north of Yelm along the northern Pacific line. (A listing of Yelm businesses is provided at the end of this history.) The agricultural development of Yelm during this time was related closely to lumbering operations. Many settlers were employees of the McKenna Lumber Company. This firm, in acquiring land for a power site also obtained land on the Yelm Prairie. “Officials of the company encouraged their employees to purchase tracts and to build homes of their own. They believed that such a policy was to the advantage of the employees [and would] promote a more stable labor supply for their lumbering operations.” (WSU, 1943) The land was divided into five to fifteen acre tracts, and was offered to mill employees at reasonable terms. The company provided an agriculturalist to give advice and a home demonstration agent to help the farm-working wives. In this way lumber workers could “increase their earnings through producing a part of their food.” By 1912, when the Northern Pacific Railroad elevated Yelm to official station status, the town had assumed the form still visible today. Businesses, as they had since 1874, concentrated along the rail line and Yelm Avenue, centering at the crossing of these two routes. Surrounding this district were the residential neighborhoods whose architecture reflected the vernacular styles popular in the builder’s manuals and design catalogs of the day. Later, some houses were prefabricated at the Gruber and Docherty Mill, located near Yelm. Some were imported logging camp bunkhouses modified to meet family needs. Others were constructed by local carpenters, such as Charles Mittge. The first quarter century also saw the creation of one of Western Washington’s few irrigation districts. The impetus for this project came in 1910 when a few prairie farmers viewed irrigation as a way to increase productivity, and to invite more families to settle in the area. The Yelm Irrigation Company was organized, issued stock, and began construction. On June 16, 1916, the project was completed. The Yelm Ditch, as it was popularly called, was the product of an enthusiasm rising from the pre-World War I agricultural boom in the United States. Farm prices were good, demand for produce was high. This Golden Age, however, did not last. By the 1930s the economics of farming and problems of maintenance were taking its toll on the irrigation system in spite of Works Projects Administration (WPA) and State assistance.

When the Yelm Irrigation Company ceased operations by the late 1940s it was also faced with the changing demographics of the prairie. Farmers were being replaced by commuters. According to one local resident commenting later, “The people work for Weyerhaeuser. They work in Olympia or Tacoma or at Fort Lewis. They don’t want to farm. They want a place to live and raise their families. Yelm should be a bedroom town.” (Prescott, 1979) On December 8, 1924 Yelm was incorporated as a city. It was one of four in Washington State to do so that year (Bingen, Longview and Winthrop were the other three). The Yelm Women’s Civic Club started the movement following the May, 1924 fire that destroyed much of the business district. The purpose of incorporation was to allow the construction of a water system to fight fires, and one of the main orders of business for Yelm’s first Mayor, R.B. Patterson, and his council was to establish a fire department. Many buildings seen today along Yelm’s main street were built following the 1924 fire. They types of business uses were similar to those of the past, except for one thing. By 1926, Yelm had an automobile dealer to supplement the garages located there prior to the fire. The modern age of commuting had arrived.