"murder most foul" in and around Fort Nisqually, the Nisqually Plains,
Fort Steilacoom and Steilacoom in the early days and the deaths of
local people at the beginning of the Indian War of 1855-56,
by Gary Fuller Reese, Tacoma Public Library.
romantic history of the Old West is filled with stories of vigilantism,
lynching and other examples of frontier justice the actuality of it in
the Puget Sound Country was uncommon.
Perhaps because the first
settlements involved the commercial establishments of the Hudson's Bay
Company followed by a United States military presence the stories of
general lawlessness known elsewhere were not as basic a part of the
history of the region as perhaps as they were elsewhere in the 1850s
The Indian/White conflict
produced many confrontations and a series of episodes called the Indian
War of 1855-56 were lethal to a large number of Indians and some
settlers and soldiers. There were vigilante episodes in and around
Steilacoom but in general the "shoot-um-up" time period was short,
relatively minor and soon passed.
Charles Prosch, an early
newspaper editor, presented a somewhat different view. He wrote
"Washington territory had a fair share..." of such events and that
"..Pierce County became somewhat noted in early days for affairs of
this kind, they having occurred quite frequently there."
Mr. Prosch in his
reminiscences lists three such incidents in Steilacoom's history and
perhaps that was too many for Mr. Prosch's finer sensibilities. The
response to such charges is recorded by Edward Huggins who arrived in
1851 and spent the rest of his life in Pierce County.
The Fort Nisqually stories
tell of the killing of the American Leander Wallace in the 1849 attack
on Fort Nisqually, the murder of Indian Bob by a member of the
Washington Territorial Volunteers and the death of the Cush at the
hands of Indian enemies within the precincts of the fort.
The Steilacoom stories
tell of the murder of a prominent citizen by a supposed half-wit and
his subsequent hanging by a spontaneous episode of vigilantism; the
planned executions of two robbers and claim jumpers by an organized
group, the "doing in" of an enemy by an Indian thought to have
been wronged and the murder of the Indian Goliah attributed to a
soldier stationed at Fort Steilacoom.
It should be noted that
there are differing opinions as to the identity of Charles
McDaniel/McDonald of claim jumping fame. Newspaper articles written at
the time call him McDonald but both Erastus Light and McLain Chambers
who were participants in one form or another call him McDaniel.
His tombstone notes "McDaniel."
The Mr. "X" of the Byrd
tragedy has also been identified by Byrd family tradition as an enemy
who became such for reasons known perhaps only to himself.
The deaths of William
White, James McAllister and Michael Connell, A. Benton Moses and Joseph
Miles and of Lieutenant William A. Slaughter can be considered the
lethal beginning of the Indian War of 1855-56.