Just a reminder that the pages of this blog consist of an overflow, an excess of information I garnered while researching the life and times of the Braget family, owners of a farm on the east bank of the Nisqually River in the South Puget Sound region of Washington State from 1896-2002. In addition to the first inhabitants, the Nisqually, Puyallup, and Steh-Chass, many interesting people inhabited the Nisqually Valley as newcomers. While often referred to as pioneers, these folk more immediately were immigrants, usually youngsters, bringing with them their styles of life, visions, prejudices, and dreams from some other region of the country or world. Some left sizeable footprints, others a bare scrape in the historical dust, but all are worthy of our remembrance.
As I go, I am using the much expanded coverage of the internet to flesh out the material I first started gathering twenty years ago, and of course I am making many discoveries in the process, in some cases most startling and exciting ones. In many instances the new finds come as the result of wonderful old records and biographies that have been put online since (and therefore made available to my very own desk); in others, the digitization of databases such as those available through Ancestry and Find-A-Grave, for example, has made an amazing amount of new information about families and the links between them available. All of it, of course, must be taken with a grain of salt, for it represents someone’s memories, or memories of memories.
But let’s get on with our stories of the immigration of young Germans to the Nisqually.
More than a million and a half Germans immigrated to the U.S. between 1850 and 1869, part of an excess of five million that did so before the end of the century. At times one in every three recent immigrants in the country was from Bavaria, or Prussia, or Saxony, or another of the 41 states of the Holy Roman Empire that had become semi-independent in the mid-seventeenth century and would only become unified under the leadership of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck with the formation of the German Empire in 1871.
The twenty-five or so years that led up to German unification were marked by foment, radical change, and increasing religious persecution. Revolutionary fever swept the region in 1848-49, as the liberal middle-class teamed with a labor class radicalized by a desire for improvements to working and living conditions, only to break upon the resistance of a strong, conservative aristocracy. Meanwhile, crop failures, draconian inheritance laws, a high cost of living and the growing impact of the Industrial Revolution led to widespread suffering and poverty. Some people, such as well-known liberals, were forced to leave to escape persecution, and became known as Forty-Eighters. Others, whose skills and class allowed them to, chose to emigrate in search of a more promising future.
German immigrants spread out all over the East Coast and Midwest of the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century, but a considerable number of them ended up looking for jobs and opportunities in Chicago. There they met Edward S. Salomon, the man who arguably had the greatest impact on continuation of German immigration west to the southern Puget Sound region.
Edward Selig Salomon was born on Christmas Day, 1836, into the Jewish aristocracy of the duchy of Schleswig, then part of Denmark. He attended university in the town of Schleswig before immigrating to America as a seventeen year-old, in 1853, where he quickly made his way to Chicago. Salomon eventually took up the study of law, was admitted to the bar in 1859 and, at age 24, was elected to the Chicago city council as alderman to the Sixth Ward only a year later.
The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 interrupted Salomon’s promising political career, but at the same time it brought him notoriety for bravery, skill in battle, and strategic expertise that was to stand him in good stead in the postwar years. Edward enlisted on May 6, 1861, joining Company H, Twenty-Fourth Illinois Infantry, under Colonel Frederick Hecker, another German lawyer whose radical championship of popular rights and participation in the failed revolution of 1848 had driven him from his home in Baden. Salomon quickly rose to the rank of captain in the 24th, but when Hecker resigned his commission following a disagreement with his officers, Edward followed him and helped form a new regiment, the 82nd Illinois, which came to be composed mainly of German, Jewish, Swedish and other European volunteers. Company C of the 82nd consisted entirely of Jews who had been equipped and armed by the Chicago community.
Now a lieutenant colonel, Edward became the quintessential Civil War hero, and was reported to have two horses shot out from under him, just at Gettysburg. Salomon and the 82nd exemplified the backbone of the Union Army, serving at most of the major battles from 1863-65, including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Missionary Ridge, Resaca, New Hope Church, Peachtree Creek, the siege and occupation of Atlanta, and Sherman’s March to the Sea. Salomon concluded the war as a brigadier general, with commendations for bravery and excellence as an officer, all by the age of twenty-nine.
Back in Chicago, Edward received a hero’s welcome, especially from the so-called Radical Republicans. During and after the Civil War the Republican Party underwent several upheavals, one of the most intense of which occurred when pro-Lincoln members decamped, in 1864, to create the National Union Party. Those left behind, the “Radical Republicans,” were fiercely abolitionist and anti-slavery (as were most German immigrants), felt that the Southern states should be dealt with severely both during and after the war, and opposed Lincoln’s leniency. When Grant emerged as the Radicals’ presidential candidate in 1868, Salomon came to stand out among those in Chicago who organized political clubs to support the “Galena Tanner,” a nickname Grant apparently chose to reflect his humble beginnings as a leather merchant in a small Illinois town. [More about his “Tanners Clubs” will follow in a later post.]
In the first year of his presidency, Grant provided jobs for his friends, among them General Salomon, who he rewarded for outstanding military service and for an ability to turn out the vote in Chicago with an appointment as governor of Washington Territory in early 1870, succeeding the 8th governor, Alvan Flanders.
Now let us leave Gov. Salomon for a moment, and meet the first of the three young German men that are known to have owned land, which would eventually become part of the dairy farm owned by the Braget family, in the Nisqually Valley.
August Charles Wolff
Little is known about the life of August Charles Wolff before he appeared in the 1870 census for Olympia, the territorial capital of Washington state. The census taker recorded that he had been born about 1848, in Mecklenburg in the north of Germany, and that his profession was that of “upholsterer.” The census shows 22 year-old August living at an address owned by George Farmer, perhaps a boarding house that attracted Germanic immigrants, for also listed at the address were William Sternberg, a furrier from Hanover, a city in northern Germany not far from Bremen, and Adam Yost, from Hessen, both in their mid-40s. Of the three boarders, only William Sternberg seems to have left a lasting impression on the town: a house and old waterwheel that survived on East Union Street for some time. However, thanks to Georgiana Mitchell Blankenship, Sternberg’s story is known in detail and provides wonderful clues about the lives of our young Nisqually Germans. For, as recorded in Mrs. Blankenship’s volume, Tillicum Tales of Thurston County,[i] Mr. Sternberg was a friend of Governor Salomon.
Like so many other German immigrants, John Henry William Sternberg made his way to Chicago, where he became a success at his chosen trade as an expert in furs. Somewhere along the line he met Salomon who, when appointed territorial governor, convinced Sternberg to follow him to Washington to pursue the fur-trading business there. Sternberg must have done so with alacrity (leaving wife and four children behind in Chicago), accounting for his presence at Farmer’s boarding house in mid-1870, just months after Salomon’s appointment. As Mrs. Blankenship put it,
With visions of wealth and rapidly acquired fortune to be gained in the West through bartering with the Indians for the furs of wild animals which were so plentiful before the march of civilization drove them to the remote parts of the mountains, Sternberg accepted Salomon’s offer.
(There’s a lot to unpack there, but that’s for another time.)
I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that Salomon and Sternberg accounted for Wolff’s presence at the boardinghouse, as well.
Then, sometime later, Gov. Salomon, realizing “that the vast resources of this country imperatively demanded more men and women to develop them and subdue the wilderness,” and perhaps now missing his wife who had also remained behind in the Windy City, convinced Sternberg to return to Chicago to gather up a “colony” of immigrants. This he did, and soon a party of forty-some families, including the Mmes. Salomon and Sternberg, were travelling by rail to Oakland, California, where they embarked on the steamer Idaho for Steilacoom. There,
the majority of them remained at the military post at that place. Governor Salomon had made arrangements for their support, until the men could locate on homesteads. In addition to this encouragement, the homeseekers were supplied with teams, farming implements and supplies, payment to be made out of the crops as the settlers were able.
We don’t know when August Wolff left home in Mecklenburg, but it is a fair bet that he learned his trade in the manufacture of furniture there and that he succumbed to the blandishments of the City of Bremen’s advertising campaign touting the benefits of immigration to the New World and took ship from the northern port of Bremerhaven. We do know that by 1870 he was in Olympia, living cheek-by-jowl with Sternberg, and that one year later he had the wherewithal, $450, to buy 100 acres on the edge of the river in the Nisqually Valley from Warren and Hepsibah Gove (see my blog post The Germans are Coming, Part 1).
At this point it is anyone’s guess whether August was one of the beneficiaries of Governor Salomon’s largess or perhaps assembled his own grubstake from employment in a professional capacity, as an upholsterer, in Olympia. In any case, on July 26, 1873, August wrote to his friend, Friedrich Richter, on the letterhead of J. C. Horr, “Manufacturer, Importer, Wholesale and Retail Dealer in Furniture, Bedding, Carpets, Picture Frames, Brackets, Toilet Sets, Vases, and All Furnishing Goods.”
J. C. Horr
Because we can, let’s spend a little time with Mr. Horr’s story here. His life, thankfully presented in detail in his obituary in the Morning Olympian on March 11, 1899, stands in stark contrast to what we know of the young Germans’, and is a good example of how interesting and varied were the comings and goings of many of Olympia’s early citizens.
In 1872 forty-year-old James Cortlandt Horr (“J.C.”) was as new to Olympia as Wolff. By this time, the town faced an uncertain financial future. A real estate boom had been spurred by the possibility that it might become the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, connecting the branch that in 1870 the NPR had begun building north at Kalama, Washington, approximately 40 miles north of the Columbia River, with the line stretching west from the Midwest. But Olympia faced intense competition from Steilacoom, Tacoma, Mukilteo and Seattle, and the town fathers were nervous. Then on Dec. 14, 1872, the city was severely shaken by an earthquake. The fact that “chimneys cracked in Olympia, trees toppled in Puyallup and fissures split the ground south of Seattle led early observers to assume the quake was centered under Puget Sound. But windows also shattered as far away as Victoria, B.C., and people were knocked off their feet at Snoqualmie Pass. The first analysis of newspaper reports from the time put the epicenter not far from Vancouver, B.C. The most compelling eyewitness accounts, though, trickled in from east of the Cascades, in the sparsely populated hills near Wenatchee.” It was what proved to be the largest earthquake ever to strike eastern Washington.[ii]
Nonetheless, Olympia at this time was a desirable place to be, as Gordon Newell has pointed out:
Olympia, at this critical period in its history, was still the largest settlement in Washington territory and, despite its miles of mudflats at low tide, the most attractive. As streets were laid out in the 1850’s and 60’s, maple trees were planted to shade the wooden sidewalks, and by the 1870’s these shade trees were the town’s greatest visual asset, giving it the appearance of a carefully tended New England village and sparing it from the raw and temporary look of most frontier towns.[iii]
Considering Horr’s later success as a businessman and political figure in the South Sound region, his beginnings were not particularly auspicious. Born in 1834 of decidedly English stock, James began his westward migration when he was only two by moving with his parents and four brothers from Vermont to Ohio; he “left home at the age of 10 years and from that time earned his own support,” according to the Morning Olympian, but somehow managed to attend Oberlin College “for a time.” As a nineteen year old he acquired miner’s fever and became one of some 18,000 Americans who responded to the gold rushes of the early 1850s in Australia, whose population tripled by 1860 and became relatively more cosmopolitan, due to the influx of Euro-Americans looking to get rich. In his 12 years down under, James spent more time learning and then managing the overland stage transportation business than in the mines; his company, The Cobb and Co Telegraph Line of Royal Mail Coaches out of Victoria, was purported to be the largest stage line in the world.[iv]
James also found a wife in Australia, Eliza Upton, a lass from County Limerick, and they had a daughter, Pearl, who did not survive childhood. The Horrs left Australia for the States about 1865, first moving to Ohio, where with a brother, James operated purportedly the largest cheese factory in the state, and then, finding the weather disagreeable there, continuing on to California’s Santa Cruz County, where they tried ranching. Finally, in 1872, the Horrs found Washington Territory and Olympia.
By this time it seems as though James was willing to try his hand at anything, and/or may have been good at everything. Not content with the furniture store where August Wolff found work, James got himself appointed a special agent of the U.S. Treasury Department by Secretary John Sherman (brother to General William Tecumseh Sherman) the year of the move to Olympia, a position that eventually gave him responsibility for a district that included the state of Oregon and the Washington and Alaska territories. Thirteen years later he was removed from the job during the brief (and tragic) Garfield Administration and the political upheaval that ensued.
In 1876 Horr was elected both mayor of Olympia and a member of the territorial government, where he served in the third and fourth legislatures, according to his obituary. Apparently never one to rest on his laurels, James also went into the grain and feed and real estate businesses somewhere along the line and “later handled hundreds of tons of oysters yearly,” probably the tiny Olympias on their way to becoming Hangtown Fry in San Francisco and other west coast towns.[v]
In 1891, six years after being forcibly retired from his position with Treasury, Horr was re-elected mayor of Olympia, and a year later returned to the legislature as a state senator from Thurston County. Politically he was a “staunch republican,” and was known as an indefatigable (no kidding!) booster of Olympia’s growth and prosperity. He was a Mason (just about everybody seemed to be back then), and a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen (AOUW), an organization that had been created at the end of the Civil War to provide mutual social and financial support. The AOUW was the first of the fraternal benefit societies that would offer insurance as well as sickness, accident, death and burial policies to its members. Horr was also a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE), which modelled itself on the Masons.[vi]
At age 67, James Cortlandt Horr finally came to rest, quietly, about three am on March 11, 1899, due to blood poisoning as the result of “an aggravated attack of erysipelas.” Not a common condition today and called St. Anthony’s Fire in the Middle Ages, erysipelas is a bacterial infection of the skin that results in a fiery red rash. The cure, penicillin, would not come along for another 30 years. Horr’s funeral took place the next day at the Masonic Temple on Eighth and Main streets in Olympia. He was buried at the Masonic cemetery in Tumwater. Elizabeth, his wife, survived him by ten years.
Back to August Wolff (I promise)
Wolff’s employ with Horr, and in fact his presence in the South Sound region, was not to last. He only held on to the land in Nisqually, the 100-acre Gove parcel, for three years before selling it to Richter and Klee, without making any profit, in 1874. One wonders whether the awarding of the western terminus of the railroad by the NPR to Tacoma in July, 1873, may have had something to do with his departure. On the one hand, a case certainly could have been made for a branch of the railroad north and east out of Olympia, had it been made the terminus, coming straight through the Nisqually Valley (one later did, though not from Olympia) and increasing the value of Wolff’s investment many-fold. On the other, there is no indication that Wolff wanted to work the land himself. In fact, August’s letter to Richter mentions that he hired others to cut the marsh grass growing along the mudflats of his land for sale as hay to the Puget Sound Agricultural Company. The lands of the PSAC, an offshoot of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and its flocks and herds spread out on the prairie north and east of the Nisqually River for miles.[vii] Marsh grass, which had been feed for PSAC stock for years, would next provide income to both Richter and Klee, but would also be the cause of Herr Richter’s downfall, as we shall see.
August Wolff next appears in the record as a thirty-two year-old married man with wife Louise and two children, a son, August Jr., age three, and a daughter, Muriel, a toddler, living on Cherry Street in Seattle in 1880. The census still listed him as an upholsterer, but August went on to careers as a soda maker, bottler, and, finally, a candy maker with the new Pacific Coast Biscuit Company, located on Occidental Street, near Jackson, in Seattle.[viii] He died at age 61 in 1909 and was buried by his family and the fraternal benefit society he had shared with Horr, the Ancient Order of United Workmen.
Preview: The Germans are Coming, Part 3
Fred Richter finds Chicago after failing at his own attempt to get rich quick in Iowa. The evolution of Chicago politics (and social life), from the Know Nothings and the Wide-Awakes, to the Tanners.
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[i] Early History of Thurston County, Washington Together with Biographies and Reminiscences of Those Identified with Pioneer Days, Mrs. George Blankenship, ed., Olympia, Washington 1914.
[ii] https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/scientists-may-be-cracking-mystery-of-big-1872-earthquake/ Accessed on 4/25/2021.
[iii] Newell, Gordon, Rogues, Buffoons & Statesmen. Seattle: Hangman Press, 1975.
[iv] Cobb & Co was set up in Melbourne, Victoria in 1853 by a small group of immigrant Americans and originally was called the American Telegraph Line of Coaches. Established with the intention of servicing the Victorian goldfields, the company quickly became the most successful one of its kind during the nineteenth century, pioneering transport routes, delivering mail, gold, and passengers throughout the country, and contributing greatly to social growth and the expansion of settlement across Australia. (https://www.cobbandco.net.au/about/when-cobb-co-was-king; accessed 4/25/2021)
[v] “Hangtown Fry could possibly be the first California cuisine. It consists of fried breaded oysters, eggs, and fried bacon, cooked together like an omelet. In the gold-mining camps of the late 1800s, Hangtown Fry was a one-skillet meal for hungry miners who struck it rich and had plenty of gold to spend.” (https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/HangtownFryHistory.htm, accessed 4/28/2021)
[vi] Both the AOUW and the BPOE, which began as a social club for minstrel show performers in New York City, were for whites only.
[vii] The formation of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company in 1838 ranks, with the U.S. government’s passage of donation land claim laws in the 1850s, among the most significant events in establishing the Puget Sound region as a destination for immigrants. The success of the Agricultural Company in using the landscape to raise cattle, sheep and crops was proof to the newcomers, most of whom were farmers, that the region was a suitable place to start a new life. Students of Hudson’s Bay Company history are in general agreement that the Puget Sound Agricultural Company was formed for two reasons: to try to strengthen British claims to lands north of the Columbia, and to expand the profitability of the mother company, the HBC.
[viii] Formed to compete with the National Biscuit Company (later Nabisco), the Pacific Coast Biscuit Company included seven companies that together controlled most of the commercial biscuit and cracker business west of the Rockies.