The Germans are Coming, Part 5

The Germans are Coming, Part 5

Contrary to the preview with which I ended the previous post (The Germans are Coming, Part 4), I have decided to devote this entry to the life and times of Joseph Klee, Friedrich Richter’s partner in the Nisqually land purchased from August Wolff in 1874. I will bring Richter’s story to a close with a description of the estate sale that followed his death and those who attended it, a who’s who of well-known residents in the Nisqually area at the time, in Part 6.

Klee’s story is less dramatic than Richter’s—he didn’t get to Chicago until after the dust had settled on the Tanners and Grant’s election, as far as we know he didn’t dabble in real estate before coming to Nisqually, and he died at the ripe old age of 82, most likely in bed. But his story both has several tragic elements and sheds some light on the early development of commerce in late 19th Century Tacoma, especially the furniture-making industry, and especially by his fellow Germans. According to local historian, Ed Echtle, furniture making evolved as a companion to the Northwest’s lumber operations. With a ready supply of processed wood products, and the proximity of transportation hubs for rail and sea, the furniture business became “a key industry in Tacoma for nearly a century… Through the decades many significant furniture factories came and went, for a time making Tacoma the largest furniture-manufacturing center west of the Mississippi River.”[i] Klee and his fellow countrymen had an early hand in making this so.

19th Century Tacoma Waterfront
University of Washington Special Collections

Joseph was born to Johann and Anna (Kalmon) Klee in Brohl, on the Rhone, in Prussia, on April 15, 1845. [ii] A vintner, Johann sent his son to school from age six to twelve, then employed him in the family business until he was seventeen, when he was apprenticed to Frederick Nachtsheim in the nearby town of Andernach for three years to learn the trades of blacksmith and general machinist. Joseph then worked in a factory in Brohl that manufactured pins, needles, and hooks for a year before emigrating at age twenty-two.

Klee arrived at the Port of New York in July, 1868. His travels in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and his naturalization as an American citizen in Berks County, Pa., have been mentioned previously (The Germans are Coming, Part 3).[iii] He made it to Chicago in the summer of 1870, and was working as a machinist there when the call from Governor Salomon came, via William Sternberg (see The Germans are Coming, Part 2). Klee joined Richter and over 100 others for the week-long trip by rail from Chicago to San Francisco and thence, by another week’s voyage on the steamer Idaho, to Steilacoom, where he promptly had all his clothes stolen at Fort Steilacoom. Presumably with new or borrowed attire, Joseph made his way to jobs on ranches in Puyallup and Portland, Or., with one failed attempt to find a job with the railroad in Kalama, after a 140-mile walk there, thrown in, one of the darkest times in his life, he later admitted (though there were some doosies yet to come!).

Humping it by shanks mare back from Portland, Klee made it to the Nisqually area in time to join Richter in buying Wolff’s 100 acres of marshland in 1874. Given his unfortunate employment history over the past few years, it isn’t obvious where his portion of the $450 purchase price came from, but the fact that within a year he had found a job as a machinist in a new foundry in Tacoma run by David Lister suggests that he might have had to make up for lost time, financially. And it was with the income from this work (in fact part of his first paycheck from Lister) that he began a lifetime of successful real estate investment in and around Tacoma that would allow him to expand his horizons.

Edward Huggins’ journal records Klee’s last-known day on the Nisqually land, September 8, 1879, when Huggins and his son, Tom, visited to observe the condition of their hay stacked there on the banks of the river. While Klee seems to have left for the Steilacoom-Tacoma region permanently, soon thereafter, he did return to be on hand for the sale of Richter’s estate conducted at the Mounts farm, at which he purchased most of the items his friend had left behind (to be described in the next post of this blog).

David S. Lister

Klee’s employer, the foundry owner Mr. Lister, deserves our attention, not the least for apparently having been the one to peak Klee’s interest in furniture manufacturing. David S. Lister, the rare non-German in our story, was born to Samuel and Sarah (Ogden) Lister in Yorkshire, England in 1821. He emigrated to the East Coast in 1847, seeking employment in the world of steamboats and maritime transportation around New York and Philadelphia, before heading west to Peshtigo, Wisconsin, on Green Bay, where he established a foundry and machine shop in the mid-1860s. Thus he was on hand to watch the entire town of Peshtigo, and his business, destroyed on October 8, 1871 by a forest fire, which, in its magnitude and deadliness, dwarfed the Great Chicago Fire that started the same day. By the time it was done, the Peshtigo fire was the largest forest fire in recorded history, burning 1,875 square miles (an area fifty percent larger than Rhode Island) and some 12-16 towns, and killing between 1,500 and 2,500 people, five times as many as died in the Chicago fire. Eight hundred alone died in Peshtigo [iv]

The Peshtigo Fire, October 8, 1871

Lister lost everything, but was able to rebuild, some say with help from Chicago financier and railroad man, William B. Ogden, who himself had lost a lumber company to the Peshtigo fire (and, in a double whammy, lost “most of his prized possessions” to the Chicago fire the same day[v]). But by 1874 Lister had had enough of Wisconsin and continued west to the growing metropolis on Puget Sound’s Commencement Bay. At the time, “Tacoma” was having birthing pains. Competing developers had filed plats for “Tacoma City” (McCarver) and “Tacoma” (Carr) by the time that the Northern Pacific Railroad chose Commencement Bay as the terminus of its transcontinental line in 1873, but then ignored both and built its depot two miles south of Tacoma City on a spot it called “New Tacoma.” Two years later the territorial legislature incorporated McCarver’s municipality known as Tacoma City, dubbing it the “City of Tacoma,” but the area was commonly known as “Old Tacoma.” In 1876 the legislature incorporated the Northern Pacific’s New Tacoma, and for a while there existed two independent municipalities, Old and New Tacomas, on the Bay.

That year, Lister built Tacoma Foundry and Machine Co. at what is now the corner of 17th Street and Pacific Avenue (then in New Tacoma) and soon was doing major jobs for the railroad. A biography of him written only four years later attributes the beginning of coke manufacturing in the Territory (“Upon the plentiful and inexpensive supply of this article the industrial future of the Pacific coast quite largely depends.”[vi]) to Lister, at Wilkinson, seven miles from Tacoma. Klee came to work early on for Lister, which he did for seven years, and so was on hand when furniture manufacturing was added to the portfolio.

David Lister sold off the furniture portion, by then known as the Tacoma Furniture Factory, to Frederick Bauerle (a German), just as Lister was elected mayor of New Tacoma on May 9, 1881, and just in time for an outbreak of smallpox that ultimately killed some 50 people, out of about 1,000 residents of the new town. An early insistence on an identification of the illness as chickenpox by several doctors delayed the appropriate treatment—quarantining of victims—and exacerbated the spread of the disease; it took nearly a month for the diagnosis of smallpox by a newly arrived physician, Dr. Francis B. H. Wing, to be accepted (but that’s another story).[vii]

At this point I need to bring in two more of Klee’s (and Richter’s) fellow German immigrants, one of whom we met before. Frederick (now Fred) Nachtsheim, who trained Klee as a blacksmith and general mechanic back in Prussia, had by this time immigrated with his extended family to the Northwest. Though significantly older than the 30-something Klee, for $3,000 Nachtsheim brought his young friend in on the purchase of a flour mill located on Steilacoom Lake. This lake actually is a reservoir that began life as a small pond in a wetland but became a full-fledged “lake” when Andrew Byrd dammed the “Steilacoom River” (now known as Chambers Creek) to supply his sawmill with water in 1853.

Byrd’s Mill
from the Lakewood Historical Society

We haven’t formally met the other German before, but like Klee, he was one of “Salomon’s Army,” the group of over 100 Germans that travelled to the Pacific Northwest at the governor’s invitation in 1870. Gustav Frederick Christian Bresmann (Gus, to his friends) was born to Emanuel and Mary (Verke) Bresemann near Stralsund in northern Germany in 1845, making him the same age as Klee. After an apprenticeship in furniture making and a stint in the army that took him to war with Austria and her allies. Bresemann reached Chicago in 1869, in time to join the trek westward. He had been trained as a carpenter and cabinet maker, and as he told a newspaper man, E.T. Short, some sixty-five years later, one of his first jobs was working on new buildings for the garrison of Fort Steilacoom.[viii] Soon after arriving he filed a donation land claim on the edge of Steilacoom Lake, about a mile and a half west of the current city of Lakewood, and within a year acquired the nearby Byrd sawmill which, with business partner August Burow (another German immigrant), he converted to a furniture factory, the first in Pierce County, and began providing fine pieces to homes in Steilacoom, Olympia, and Tacoma and environs. (Some years before, Byrd had been murdered by a “hallucinogenic” neighbor, according to Short; but see below, The Murder of Andrew Byrd, for a fuller and more accurate treatment of this story.)

By 1876 Bresemann relocated to a farm on the northeast side of Spanaway Lake, about ten miles southeast of Steilacoom Lake, building there a new water-powered sawmill and continuing his furniture-making business, still in partnership with Burow. He started a family by marrying seventeen year-old Bertha Vogel from Peoria, Ill., in 1877. The Spanaway enterprise came to an end in 1888, when the Tacoma Light and Power Company bought him out in order to supply water to the city.[ix]  The following year, Joseph Klee joined Bauerle in ownership of a new version of the Tacoma Furniture Factory, located at 25th and H streets in town (now located scant blocks from Burlington Northern’s rail yard between the Puyallup River on the east, the Foss Waterway on the west, I-5 to the south, and Route 509 to the north).

The Tacoma Daily News announced the arrival of the new factory on October 31, 1889, with the headline, “FURNITURE FACTORY: A Plant that will Supply a Big Demand.” Noting that Bauerle & Klee was one of the first firms to buy a lot in this section of town, the TDN reported that Bauerle had tried his luck in furniture manufacturing in Southern California during the real estate boom there set off by the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad in 1885 and the resulting fierce competition with the formerly monopolist control of the Southern Pacific. The boom collapsed in less than two years (though it led to the formation of the County of Orange in 1889, and we know where that went!), and Bauerle returned to Tacoma, “the place of his first choice.”

In reporting an interview with Bauerle, the managing partner of the firm, the TDN said that “Messers. Bauerle & Klee have united strength, financially, and will establish a plant in every particular in keeping with the GROWTH OF THE CITY.” The plant, three stories tall with a 90 by 130 ft. footprint, was expected to cost $50,000, all told, and to employ a workforce of forty men, with a payroll of no less than $2,500 a month. “We will manufacture all kinds of furniture and will sell exclusively to the retail dealers or jobbers,” Bauerle was quoted as saying.

By this time, Klee had acquired an extended family. Sometime around 1881, he traveled to Germany to visit his widowed mother, Anna, and in short order returned to Tacoma with her and a sister and brother. In 1884 Klee ended his thirty-nine-year-long bachelorhood by wedding Mary Anne Niessen (a German, of course) from Steilacoom, and together they produced three children in quick succession. Tragedy soon caught up with the family, however, as Joseph’s wife and two youngest children died in 1888 (possibly of typhus); only the oldest, Anna, survived the year. In 1890 Klee was married a second time, to Anna Maria Gertrude Schmitz, a niece of his old friend, Fred Nachtsheim. Father Peter Francis Hylebos, a Belgian to whom is attributed the major expansion of a Catholic presence in the region, conducted the services. Hylebos’s main function seems to have been to provide properties and support to a succession of Sisters from various orders who opened service facilities in the Puget Sound region, including orphanages and hospitals like St. Josephs in Tacoma and St. Peter hospital in Olympia.

Then disease and death stuck again, claiming the lives of Joseph’s daughter, Anna, and his wife Anna Maria’s first-born, two-year-old Marie. Joseph and Anna Maria went on to have eight more children, however, five of whom survived well into the second half of the 20th Century.

After Gus Bresemann sold his operation at Spanaway Lake, he bought out Bauerle’s interest in the Tacoma Furniture Factory and began a partnership there with Klee in 1889, bringing up three sons in the furniture trade.

Bresemann & Klee’s furniture store at 25th and H streets in Tacoma

According to journalist Short, Bresemann & Klee “soon gained a wide reputation for its fine furniture,” which graced the home of Governor Ferry in Olympia, as well as “the finest homes in Tacoma.”

Workers at Bresemann & Klee

Bresemann retired in 1902-3, but the factory operated at least until 1906. In 1910, two years after the death of his wife, Bertha, Bresemann, now 65, began managing an amusement park that had been opened by Tacoma Railway & Power Company on the Spanaway property some years before. The park, which was served by streetcars from the city, included a dancehall, boathouse, shooting gallery, restaurant, and swimming facilities. Gus, a member of the Germania Society and Lodge Chiller Hein, No. 1, of the Order of Druids, died in 1937 at age ninety-two.

At the turn of the century, Klee began a 26-year term of employment with the Northern Pacific Railroad as a mechanic. He took up residence at “Klee’s Point” on Lake Steilacoom (cited in his obituary as a favorite camping ground for summer campers) and, as early as 1896, in the Midland area southeast of Tacoma, near the trolley stop at Johnson’s Crossing. Joseph and Anna Maria were Catholic, and were charter members of the Holy Rosary Church established in 1891 to serve Tacoma’s German-speaking population by Egidius Junger, Bishop of Nesqually [sic] from 1879 to 1895, himself a German from Prussia.[x]

Forty-seven years after the death of Friedrich Richter, Joseph Klee died in 1927 at age eighty-one, of pneumonia, according to his wife. He was buried in Tacoma’s Calvary Cemetery, not far from Father Hylebos, who had succumbed to the Spanish Flu in 1918. Anna Maria Klee died fifteen years later, surrounded by her surviving children.

The Murder of Andrew Byrd

The shooting of Andrew Byrd, an early pioneer who created Steilacoom Lake, and the subsequent hanging of the shooter, J.M. Bates, in January, 1863, has been called “one of the best documented cases of vigilante justice in Washington.”[xi] Byrd, from Ohio, was thirty-eight at the time of his death; ten years before he had built the dam to create Steilacoom Lake, and had a saw mill, a grist mill, and a slaughter house there. According to Leland Athow, who assembled “a brief history of the Adam Byrd branch of the Byrd family” in 1953, Andrew “was a man of sterling character and enjoyed the highest esteem of all decent and respectable citizens of the county. Being a public spirited man, he spared no effort in promoting the school, library, Masonic Lodge, roads and other activities that benefitted the community.” A newspaper account at the time said Byrd, then a Pierce County commissioner, was “a dutiful son, a kind and generous brother, a devoted husband, and an affectionate father. He leaves behind him, to mourn his loss, an aged mother, who resided with him since he has been amongst us, and whose declining years have been tenderly cared for by him; also a sister and six brothers, and a fond, inconsolable wife and three innocent little children.” Hyperbole, to be sure, but there seems to be no doubt that Byrd was a popular man.[xii]

While the several accounts differ in many details, there is general agreement that Byrd and Bates, a man variously described as “a half-wit” and “insane,” had had a disagreement regarding some livestock, and that Bates lay in wait in Steilacoom for several days until Byrd came to town on business. Coming upon Byrd inside, or just outside, the post office, Bates shot him twice and was only prevented from planting a third ball in the unfortunate man by a faulty pistol and the intervention of bystanders. Bates was swiftly jailed under the watchful eye of Sheriff Steven Judson, while Byrd was carried to Galliher’s Hotel to be attended by Dr. Steinberger. The accounts differ as to what Bates may have said at the time; some have said he kept this own council, others that he uttered a desire to dispatch several others, including a Dr. Spinning and a Mr. Montgomery. In some, Byrd himself was heard to name, blame as an instigator of Bates’ behavior, and forgive a mysterious Mr. X, who the Puget Sound Herald reported as having fled to Oregon soon thereafter.

While there later would be some confusion as to Byrd’s condition after the shooting, it seems that it didn’t take Dr. Steinberger long to determine that his wounds would be fatal. Writing thirty years later, William D. Vaughn was not at all hesitant about his role in what followed, and was ready to act that very evening: “I tried to organize a company and go and hang Bates that night, but they would do nothing until morning.” Byrd lingered until 10 o’clock the following evening, and by the time he expired Vaughn had had more success. “I found twenty men who agreed to hang him if Byrd died, but I wanted to string him up then for it was plain that his intentions were to kill Byrd on the spot.”

Steilacoom’s Commercial Street in the 1880s Washington State Historical Society (2014.0.308)

The following morning Vaughn and others constructed a gallows at an old stable near the jail and then went to get the prisoner. As the Puget Sound Herald put it, “With a coolness and deliberation credited to all concerned the people set about the necessary arrangements which were concluded at noon, shortly after which, to the number of about a hundred, and embracing the most worthy and responsible men of the county, they went in a body to the jail.” Aided and abetted by well-known businessmen, entrepreneurs, and perpetual seekers of political office (and sinecures) Erastus Light and Phillip Keach, the mob found the sturdy jail barricaded by Sheriff Judson. After battering the door with axes, sledges, pick axes, and a battering ram to no avail, the crowd was advised by Light to remove the bricks of the door’s jambs and lift it out in one piece, which they did. Sheriff Judson was quickly overwhelmed and “forcibly borne away by bystanders.” Moments later, “the murderer was in the hands of his executioners, the neighbors, friends, and the avengers of the pure and good man he had slain.”

Before they strung him up, Bates was given the chance to make any dying requests, and versions of the story have him speaking with a Mr. J. R. Meeker and to Mr. Light; yet another version has them both refusing to meet with him. Then, in short order, “An appropriate prayer was made by Rev. Sloan, and after being blind-folded, his body was suspended by the neck and his soul launched into eternity.”

The Puget Sound Herald summed it up thusly: “This, the verdict of the people has been executed. Let this fearful loss of a good and generous friend and useful member of the community and the just but awful punishment of his murderer, be a lesson in the future to those who contemplate the commission of crime.” William Vaughn was a bit more direct: “Bates was hung in the morning and when I left town after dinner time his body was still hanging. Thus ended the life of one of the cowardly dastardly fiends of crime which infested this coast a few years ago.”

As Mr. Vaughn intimates, the lynching of Mr. Bates was not all that unusual an event in a region that was slowly becoming of age.

Preview: The Germans are Coming, Part 6.

Who got Richter’s Meerschaum pipe and bugle? The sale of Richter’s land and belongings, right down to his underwear and handkerchiefs, takes place at the home of Daniel Mounts. Joseph Klee attends, as do many neighbors from illustrious pioneer families. Also there was Ernest Serfling of Steilacoom, yet another German by birth, a fact that would have great significance for the Bragets, when it became the Norwegians’ turn.

[i] “Furniture Manufacturing in Tacoma — Thumbnail History” by Edward Echtle., accessed 11/15/2021.

[ii] I am much indebted to the Rev. H.K. Hines, D.D. who, during the life times of Klee and Gustav Bresemann, whom we will meet in a bit, wrote a volume that was published by Lewis Publishing Company in Chicago in 1893 under two titles, (1) History of Washington, Pen & Pictures from the Garden of the World, and (2) An Illustrated History of the State of Washington Containing a History of the State of Washington from the Earliest Period of its Discovery to the Present Time, together with Glimpses of its Auspicious Future, Illustrations and Full-page Portraits of some of its Eminent Men and Biographical Mention of many of its Pioneers and Prominent Citizens of to-day. Both contain biographies for Klee and Bresemann, apparently based on interviews with the men themselves.

[iii] Klee’s naturalization papers, like those of Kenny Braget’s grandfather, Ole O. Braget, included a statement of renunciation of any former allegiances, to wit: “and I do hereby renounce and relinquish any title or order of Nobility to which I am or hereafter may be entitled; and that I do absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign Prince, Potentate, State, and Sovereignty whatever, and particularly to the Emperor of Germany of whom I was before a subject.”

[iv] References:;;, all accessed 11/11/2021

[v] accessed 11/11/2021.

[vi] accessed 11/12/2021.

[vii]; accessed 10/21/2020; Herbert Hunt, Tacoma: Its History and Its Builders — A Half Century of Activity (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1916), p,111.

[viii] E.T. Short, “After Many Years,” in The Tacoma Times, October 26, 1936.

[ix] 134 years later, Pierce County and the Chambers-Clover Watershed Council celebrated the reopening of the headwaters of Spanaway Creek to salmon migration with the completion of a new channel that bypasses the dams built first by Gus Bresemann, for his lumber mill, and later by others. Bresemann Forest, on the north shore of Spanaway Lake, is named for him.

[x] At last report this church building was slated for demolition; Holy Rosary Parish was amalgamated and merged into neighboring St. Ann Parish on July 1, 2021.

[xi] Conrad Clough, “J.M. Bates, the Lynched Ghost of Steilacoom,” Accessed 11/17/2021.

[xii] Gary Reese, that inestimable historian formerly of the Pacific Northwest Room of the Tacoma Public Library, assembled a number of accounts of the shooting of Byrd and the subsequent lynching of J.M. Bates, including versions provided by Steilacoom residents Erastus Light and William D. Vaughn, and Athow’s version assembled from contemporary reports published in the Puget Sound Herald. See 4. Andrew Byrd, J.M. Bates and the Steilacoom Vigilantes,, accessed 11/17/2021.