After the excitement of Chicago during the 1868 election, the Tanners’ parades and other gatherings (see The Germans are Coming, Part 3 of this blog), the next phase of Friedrich Richter’s life must have seemed rather staid and a little colorless. But it was then that he got back to what probably was the main reason for leaving home in Prussia: to find a little piece of the New World for himself. Unfortunately, that took a lot longer than he had hoped.
Whether or not Richter had heard the admonition to “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country,” that was the point of the compass to which he now directed his attention.[i] This, despite the fact that many of his close relatives had ended up in German communities in other states to the east. Among the family correspondence in the “Richter archives” provided to me by Bud McBride in Nisqually were letters from a brother, Emil, in South Bend, Indiana, and from his Clemens cousins in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where their father had established a saw mill. Richter’s sister, Liddy, and her husband, Andre Zenke, eventually also took up residence in Wisconsin, at Saukville on Lake Michigan. But, by 1869, Richter was receiving mail from cousin Henry Schmidt in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and it was to that town, 460 miles west of Chicago, that he first journeyed. The railroad had reached Council Bluffs two years before, and for Richter it became a jumping off spot for visits to Sioux City, Omaha, and eventually the brand new “town” of Blair City, Iowa. There he, like his countryman, August Wolff, had done in the Nisqually area, he tried his young hand at land speculation, and failed.
John Insley Blair (1802-1899), for whom Blair City, Blairstown, Blairsburgh, and plain old Blair would be named, was a piece of work. Born in New Jersey at the turn of the century, Blair deserved the sobriquets “self-made businessman,” and “capitalist” as much as any man of his era. Beginning his run at age 10, when he informed his mother that he was going to get rich, Blair amassed a $70 million fortune and owned more railroad milage than anyone else in the world before he was done.[ii]
Years of speculation in retailing and wholesaling of local produce, operation of flour mills, the manufacture of cotton products, and coal and iron mining led to an interest and investment in railroads, which Blair began building in New York and Pennsylvania in the 1840s. Railroad construction took him to Wisconsin, Kansas, Nebraska, Dakota Territory, Missouri, Texas, and Iowa. As an official of many of the small railroads that sprang up in the mid-West in anticipation of the transcontinental line, and in response to the federal land give away, Blair was influential in determining where the railroad lines went (and so who made money). Some communities tried to court his favor by naming themselves after him; others he named himself.
In Benton County, Iowa, locals laid out a town on the high ground along the Chicago & North-Western in 1862, a year after the railroad was completed to that point. In 1868 it was incorporated as Blairstown, named after the village in New Jersey where Blair began his rise to financial stardom and from which he managed his extraordinary holdings. In Hamilton County, to the west, a town was platted in 1857 at a stagecoach stop in anticipation of the arrival of the Dubuque & Pacific, and named Hawley after an official of that railroad. Twelve years later, in 1869, the iron horse, now called the Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad, approached, and Chief Engineer/President John Blair was on hand to seek land concessions from the original Hawley investors. Receiving none, Blair platted his own town about a mile to the north, calling it Blairsburgh. (As it turns out, it is possible the Hawley folks knew best. Blairsburg(h)’s population reached its peak of 288 souls in 1980, and has been in decline ever since.)
Five or so more counties further to the west, but still in Iowa and on the banks of the Missouri River, Cherokee County residents William and Ines Van Eeps heard that Blair planned to build a depot for the Dubuque & Sioux City in their area. So they platted and named Blair City in 1869 to induce him to do so in their community. At the same time the magnate himself was establishing a new town called Blair, across the river in the newly-minted state of Nebraska, with the purchase of an 1,075-acre tract of land. (One hundred and fifty years later, Blair is still the county seat of Washington County, Nebraska, and is a small but thriving community with a population of about 8,000.)
Sniffing out an opportunity, in early August, 1869, young Richter had forwarded to him at the Chicago House in Sioux City two money orders totaling fifty dollars. By August 9th he had decided to take a chance on the future of the Van Eeps’ Blair City, for he plunked down twenty dollars as half payment for a third of a lot, “the middle 22 ft off from lot one in Block three,” in their twenty-acre plat, according to a receipt signed by William Van Eeps himself. In late January, 1870, Richter paid the second half and became the rightful owner of the one-third lot.
But then John Blair did it again. When it came time for the Dubuque & Sioux City to cross the Missouri River into Nebraska, the magnate avoided existing towns and built a depot on the Iowa side about a mile and a half from the Blair City site. Adjacent river towns were plundered for their churches and businesses, and by the end of 1869 the crossing site, called New Cherokee, boasted hardware and dry goods stores, a bank, a hotel, and a newspaper. Cherokee (pop. 5,253) still exists. Blair City died on the vine.
Richter’s hopes were dashed. When the news came that the long-awaited depot and railroad would be built a little to the west, his plans for making a killing evaporated. So, too, did those of the Van Eeps (or Van Epps, or VanEps). But only temporarily, for William Van Eeps, an entrepreneur since an early age, was on his way to becoming what the local press called “The Richest Man in South Dakota” for his extensive land holdings in counties and towns all over the territory and state and in Minnesota and Iowa.
By this time events that were to transplant Richter to Washington Territory before year’s end had been set in motion. After the disappointment in Blair City, the next step was for President Grant to appoint Edward Salomon 9th Governor of Washington Territory.
But before we go on, I need to reacquaint you with William Sternberg, the German furrier who ended up in Olympia, Washington Territory, sharing a boarding house life with August Woolf, then owner of the Nisqually land of interest to us (See The Germans Are Coming, Part 2). You will remember that Sternberg, a resident of Chicago, was convinced by Salomon to move to the new territory to harvest the fur-bearing animals there. Then Salomon induced him to return to the windy city to act as a shill and convince their fellow countrymen to accompany him back to the wilds of the west coast. Turns out that Friedrich Richter and a friend, Joseph Klee, were among the “considerable number of emigrants” that responded.[iii]
Klee had emigrated in 1867 in his late teens, from Brohl on the Rhine in Prussia, most likely by way of Bremerhaven. Joseph had worked in his father’s vineyard as a youth, but then had apprenticed to Frederick Nachtsheim, a blacksmith and general machinist, to learn a trade (remember that name). While Richter was becoming part of the immigrant German community in Chicago, Klee explored western Pennsylvania (where he was naturalized in Berks County in 1868) and Ohio for three years, before ending up in Chicago in 1870 as well, where he found work.
In June of that year, Richter received news of Salomon’s appointment to the territorial governorship from Hermann Kaestner, a tobacconist with whom he had stayed on Wells Street in Chicago (see The Germans are Coming, Part 3 of this blog). Returning to Chicago, that summer he joined Klee (it is unclear whether the two were already friends, or just fellow seekers) and about 100 others that responded to the Governor’ call, relayed by Mr. Sternberg, and headed west. Mrs. Blankenship described their journey to the Puget Sound region:
The trip was made by rail on the second train making the transcontinental trip. When Oakland [California] was reached the party embarked on the steamer Idaho with Capt. Doane. This was the last sea trip of this doughty old sea captain, as after that he settled down in Olympia and started the famous Home of the Pan Roast.[iv]
When the colonists reached Steilacoom, 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.[v]
Young bachelors, Richter and Klee apparently weren’t ready to settle down right away (or become indebted to Salomon for that matter), but instead went looking for work. Klee eventually found it on a ranch in Puyallup, but then, hoping to make use of his skills as a mechanic, a year later he walked the 140 miles to Kalama, where he had been told work with the railroad, which was then making its way north to Puget Sound, could be found. This tip didn’t pan out, however, and Klee was forced to ask for assistance from Salomon, who found him a job on another ranch outside Portland. Meanwhile, Richter began receiving his mail in Steilacoom, but worked for the next couple of years in the sawmills of Port Madison and the city of Tacoma, whose population of immigrant Germans was growing at a great rate.
While Richter and Klee began to settle into their adopted homeland of the Pacific Northwest, Salomon’s tenure there was short-lived. The Governor was barely into the second year of his four-year term in Washington Territory when his political leanings brought him into conflict with Colonel Elisha P. Ferry, a crony of Grant and Lincoln, also newly-arrived in the Territory from Illinois.
Ferry and Salomon opposed one another in their choice of territorial representative to Congress, and when Ferry’s candidate went to Washington City, that gentleman convinced Grant that Salomon was a threat to the Republican Party and had him removed (in favor of Ferry, of course). Salomon moved on to California, but not before the state legislature passed a resolution thanking him for “his prompt attention to the acts of the legislative assembly, and his approval of their measures enacted into laws.” Salomon spent the next 40 years of his life in San Francisco laboring in the fields of law and politics, before passing away in 1913.[vi]
Life and Death at Nisqually
Happily, at this point the source of the life narratives for Richter, in the years remaining to him, and Klee—up until now the packet of letters, membership cards, advertisements, and photographs provided to me by Bud McBride—are supplemented by accounts, both contemporary and as reminiscences, by at least two neighbors of the Nisqually land. Closest was Daniel Mounts, who had purchased Joel Myers’ donation land claim, just east of the delta, in 1867, just four years before Wolff was to buy the land on river’s edge from the Goves (see The Germans are Coming, Part 1 of this blog). As he began to build his dynasty—1000 acres of land and a family with 12 children—Mounts kept a journal of everyday occurrences, including brief notations on the comings and goings of his neighbors and people of note, the weather, and business transactions, that is available in the Delbert McBride Collection at the Washington State Historical Society.
The second informant is Edward Huggins, a long-time employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Nisqually, located just a few miles to the northeast of the delta. Huggins was promoted to be chief trader in charge of the fort in 1859 when Dr. William Fraser Tolmie, the Chief Factor, was reassigned to Fort Victoria. Ten years later, when the United States bought the Hudson’s Bay Company’s remaining holdings and the fort was closed, Huggins filed a claim for the land it was on and turned it into a farm. He became an American citizen and went on to become active in Pierce County politics. But he is best known for his journaling, at the fort and after, and for his extensive reminiscences and writings about the early history of the south Puget Sound region composed some thirty years later. His writings are available in the Special Collections of the University of Washington Library.
On August 10, 1870, Huggins’ journal records the arrival of the steamer Idaho at Steilacoom with “upwards of 100 German immigrants, who intend to settle somewhere in the Territory,” (and including Richter, at least—there is some evidence that Mr. Klee may have tarried in San Francisco before moving on to the Puget Sound region eventually). By now the Hudson’s Bay Company’s holdings had been turned over to the United States; Governor Salomon’s visit to Huggin’s new farm on his way to Steilacoom two days after Christmas that year may have been a courtesy call, or possibly an effort to verify that the HBC actually was departing as promised.
The influx of German immigrants to the Nisqually delta area took a while to get going. August Wolff was in Olympia in 1870 and purchased the Goves’ land in 1871. In April of that year Huggins reported the arrival of two Germans at his farm, one of whom, a “Mr. Hanspetre” [sic] bought four cows from him. Huggins does not mention Wolff, possibly because young August appears to have been more of a speculator than a hands-on farmer.
In June, 1872, Huggins is again paid a visit by Governor Salomon (then more of an honorary title, as Salmon had been displaced by his successor, Elisha P. Ferry, two months before). In February, 1873, Huggins recorded the arrival of a “poor German Traveler,” who asked for two or three months’ work in exchange for his board and some clothes. The man, who Huggins identified as “F. Fenau,” worked until dinnertime the next day and then disappeared.
By the following July, Richter and Wolff are corresponding, and the sale of the land, one hundred acres of Nisqually Marsh for $450, to Richter and Klee, takes place in 1874. For the next six years, Huggins and the two young Germans exchanged products, labor, and favors as neighbors do. Huggins bought marsh grass, as fodder for cattle, pickets, and cedar stakes from Richter and 60 bushels of barley “at .60¢ per bushel” as well as “a yoke of fine, seven-year-old work oxen for $55.00, payable in Jan’y next,” from Klee. Huggins’ employee, an Indian named Bill or Willie Huggins, mowed 20 acres of Richter and Klee’s “hay” (probably more marsh grass, “a poor article injured by Rain and tide water,” according to Huggins), and in return for help in threshing, Richter assisted with the dipping of sheep in tobacco water, as a pesticide, at Huggins’ place.
In addition to marsh grass and grains, the young men raised cows, sheep, and chickens and traded with local provisioners, like Mrs. Louisa Goodtime of Steilacoom.[vii] One shopping list shows they bartered twenty-two and a half dozen eggs, twenty-five cow hides and two-and-a-half deer skins for a long list of essential tools, including a plow, a harrow, a mattock, a hoe, a shovel, a rake, a crosscut saw, a scythe, baskets, fishhooks and matches.
Ready cash may have been hard to come by; in 1875 Richter borrowed $140 from Goodtime’s husband and business partner, Hyman, “In Gold Coin for value received with interest at the rate of one and one-half per cent per Month till paid.” The loan was paid off by the end of the year with the help of $60 from the sale of six acres of their marsh land to Georges Remond (also referred to as Raymond and Ramond in various documents), a friend and Frenchman from Port Townsend.[viii]
Richter eventually built a small cabin on the edge of the river that survived for about 85 years (and became a play place for young Bragets. Thanks in part to Klee’s employment in a foundry in New Tacoma recently opened by David Lister, an immigrant from England by way of Philadelphia and Wisconsin, the pair was also able to purchase an adjacent upland parcel of 150 acres for $500, when railroad attorney Frank Clark and his wife, Lena, put it up for sale in 1876.[ix] Richter and Klee then split up their ownership. Richter took the 100 acres of the lowlands they had bought from Wolff, plus 50 acres of the uplands recently acquired from the Clarks.[x] Klee kept the remaining 100 acres of the Clark parcel to the north and east of Richter’s holdings for a while before selling it off. Richter bought back the six acres from Remond a year later (without taking a loss) with the help of another loan, this time $350 from Steilacoom businessman Jay Jacob Hoover.
After he and Klee split up the land, Richter continued to harvest nature’s bounty—marsh grass and cedar pickets and shakes—on the bottom land until 1880. Then, on May 1, 1880, Edward Huggins wrote in his journal, “It is reported that Richter has been drowned, when on his way from Walker’s Ferry [across the Nisqually, about a mile upriver] to his own place on the marsh.”
Richter had succumbed to the Nisqually, purportedly while attempting to ferry his mowing machine from the other side of the river, where it likely had been borrowed by a neighbor. Perhaps, as local historian Delbert McBride once suggested, he had partied a little too hard while visiting across the river.
It took some time to find Richter’s body after the drowning. Huggins reports that he was finally laid to rest two months later:
Wed. July 7 – Was informed this morning by [Daniel] Mounts that the body of F. Richter had been found in the Squally River. In the evening went down to Mount’s place with Eddie and Tom and assisted to convey the body to the ranch of the deceased, where we buried him. Reached home about 2 A.M.
Friedrich Theodor Richter died in his 30th year.
Preview: The Germans are Coming, Part 5.
The sale of Friedrich Richter’s estate reveals the sparse life of a bachelor farmer in the Nisqually. Joseph Klee moves on to Tacoma where he encounters old friends from home, and a young wife. His amusement park outlasts him.
Don’t forget, you can follow this blog by clicking on the “Follow” button located in the lower right hand corner of this page (and the Home page). Then you will have the opportunity to provide your email address so that you will be automatically notified when I make a new post. Thanks for reading!
[iii] Early History of Thurston County, Washington Together with Biographies and Reminiscences of Those Identified with Pioneer Days, Mrs. George Blankenship, ed., Olympia, Washington 1914.
[iv] The story of Woodbury J. Doane’s oyster pan roast, “the like of which were not to be had anywhere else in the world, partly because the native oysters that went into them were super excellent, partly because no one else knew the combination,” is told at length at https://olympiahistory.org/funk-captains-doanes-oyster-pan-roast/. Accessed on 11/1/2021.
[v] Blankenship, Early History of Thurston County,
[vi] For more on Salomon’s life and times, see Prosch, Thomas W. “A Chronological History of Seattle, 1850–1899.” Typescript, University of Washington, Special Collections, Seattle, Washington, 1969, and Meany, Edward S., Governors of Washington, Territorial and State. Seattle: Dept. of Printing, University of Washington, 1915
[vii] Mrs. Goetheim (anglicized to Goodtime) and her husband, Hyman, were part of a wave of German-speaking Jews that immigrated to the Territory in the 1850s and 1860s. Others included Isaac and Seraphina Pincus, and Adolph and Sarah Goetheim. They provided Steilacoom with a close-knit merchant class, operating hardware and general-mercantile stores and offering some financial services. See Deborah K. Freedman’s excellent book, Tacoma’s Dry Goods & Wet Goods: Nineteenth Century Jewish Pioneers, Tacoma Historical Society Press, Tacoma, 2016.
[viii] Remond seems another one of those historical will-o-the-wisps, with little known back story or finishing chapter. After his brief go at land ownership in Nisqually, Georges moved onto Yelm but soon disappeared from any known records.
[ix] If all goes according to plan, the Clarks’ fascinating story, including Frank’s role as defense attorney at the murder trial of the Nisqually leader, Leschi, , will be featured in a later entry in this blog.
[x] This 150 acres became the centerpiece of the northern-most portion of the Braget farm.