Dorothea Nordstrand remembers the Lauth Family

  • By Dorothea Nordstrand
  • Posted 6/23/2003
  • Essay 5478

In this People's History, Dorothea (Pfister) Nordstrand (1916-2011) remembers family visits from Seattle to a family lot in Suquamish, Kitsap County, and the friendship that grew up between the Pfisters and the Lauth family. This story takes place in the 1920s and early 1930s. In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues in our community, including's People's History library.

Finding The Lauth Family

In 1923, when we [the Pfister family] sold the house on Bagley [Avenue in Seattle] to the Van Pelt family, we took in trade for a down payment, two vacant lots. One of these was in Burien, and one about a mile from the ferry dock at Suquamish, across Puget Sound. My folks sold the Burien lot, sight unseen, to a realtor in Burien, since that piece of property was far enough away from us, in Green Lake, to have been on another planet ... hours by street car, our only mode of travel.

One day, Dad, Mom, and I rode the street car to the Ballard stop that took us near the ferry dock and caught the ferry to Suquamish, to see what the other lot looked like. We had directions how to get there on foot. The lot was a heavily wooded piece of property nearly a mile from the beach, but lush with trees, moss, and ferns. We decided to keep it and come visit it once in a while as an outing.

To get to and from the lot, we passed beside a fenced farm with a rambling log house and outbuildings with the name "Lauth" on the rural-type mailbox. As we were about to walk on, we were hailed from the porch, "Come in and sit," and we met Mr. and Mrs. Lauth, and one of their numerous offspring.

Mr. Lauth was a craggy, blond farmer, probably in his late fifties, who had come from Germany when young and who still spoke with a pronounced German accent. His small farm was clean and tidy, with well cared for barn and outbuildings. The horse and two cows looked healthy and there were chickens in a fenced-in area. He kept a fine kitchen garden. There was a hayfield and woodlot. Mrs. Lauth was a daughter of the Suquamish Indian tribe, one of whose earlier chiefs was Noah Sealth, for whom the city of Seattle was named . Their children were an interesting mix of the two races.

I loved Mama Lauth on sight. She was short, sturdy, and brown-skinned, with a rather flat, broad face, and a smile that would warm a room. She had a soft voice, but there was no question but that her voice was that of authority in that household. Her five big sons paid attention when she spoke, although we didn't learn that on the day of our first meeting. That day, we only met Margie, who was my age, seven or eight.

Margie was a young replica of her mother, with Indian features, black hair and eyes, and the same, warm smile. We became immediate friends. The two oldest children were gone from the home. Iris worked for one of the big banks in downtown Seattle. Margie told me Iris was very ashamed of her mixed blood, and very seldom came home. George was married, worked in the Pope & Talbot Lumber Mill in Port Gamble, and lived in one of the company houses.

Then came Jake, in his early 20s, lean, very dark, with an almost hawkish face. Jake had been born with a club foot, which they all accepted as just being how Jake was supposed to be. Willie, just a little younger, was big and beefy and was so blond his hair was almost white, while his face was a mirror of his Indian mother's. Willie had the disposition of an angel, but had a drinking problem. Both of these young men also worked for Pope & Talbot. The 16 year old, Richard, was like his father, fair skinned, with very European cast of feature.

I never met Iris, but the rest of the family was a lot of fun to be around, full of laughter and high spirits. Mama kept everyone more or less in line. If that didn't work, a gruff word (in German) from Papa was all it took to restore order.

For several years, our whole family made the trip to Suquamish a couple of times each summer, to enjoy the trip over the water and the beauty of the forest and picnic on "our lot." We always stopped to visit with the Lauth family, and Margie often joined us for our picnic lunch.

Mom and Dad liked and trusted the Lauths, and, several times the summer I was 12 and thereafter, I rode the Green Lake streetcar alone to Fremont, transferred to a Ballard line, and boarded the ferryboat from Ballard to Suquamish, to spend a few days with them. I helped Margie with chores and then we were free to do as we chose, unless it was laundry day. If so, the 12-year-old Margie packed the family's week's worth of dirty clothes into the big, open touring car and she drove us to Port Gamble, where they had electricity, to use the daughter-in-law's washing machine and peg the clean clothes onto her backyard clothesline. That lady would give us lunch and we would drive back to Suquamish. Later, when they were dry, she would take the clothes from the line, fold what could be finished that way, and sprinkle and roll the pieces that would need to be ironed.

Next morning, Margie and I would drive back to "Gamble," as they called it, do the ironing, and bring home the clean clothes. In those days, almost everything needed ironing ... men's shirts, women and girls' cotton house dresses, blouses, and aprons. Margie brought an extra ironing board from home, and we borrowed an electric iron from one of the neighbors, so we cut through the job in half time. It was fun because we would make it a game. How many blouses equaled a shirt, and could you do three aprons in the same time as a house dress?

One end of the huge kitchen in Lauth's log house was used as a dining room. I remember the clean blue and white checked oilcloth table cover and the heavy, white china, cutlery with bone handles, and cups of blue enamel ware that matched the huge coffee pot that was always on the coal and wood range. All the cooking pots were big, as they had to be to prepare food for that large family.

I remember one day asking Mama Lauth how many eggs she was fixing for breakfast, and her answer, "Just 15 or so, because we have home-made sausage today, too." Toast was made by simply placing cut bread on the polished, clean, hot stovetop. Something unique I enjoyed at her home was jelly made from elderberries and salal berries. There was a large water reservoir in the stove which was their main source of hot water, although I remember there was always a big tea kettle simmering away beside the coffee pot.

On one wall of their main room, the skin of a very large black bear was stretched, and the skin of a cougar covered the back of a wide couch made of peeled logs and padded with big, dark brown pillows.

One Saturday when I was there, (perhaps Margie and I were 15 at this time), we were given permission to go to a dance at a place called "The Chicken Coop." We rode up with Willie, but had strict instructions to get a ride home with either Jake or Richard. Mama was very much aware of Willie's weakness.

The Chicken Coop was a big, raw looking building with a large dance floor, half-walls, posts holding up a roof, and the open part between enclosed with chicken wire. There was the kind of home-grown music that was usual at neighborhood dance halls ... a piano, an accordion, and a couple of fiddles.

We danced with anyone who asked us. It was fun. Jake had probably been asked to look out for us, because he "rescued" us, if we seemed to need it. He didn't let his young sister or her friend dance with someone obviously drunk. We were grateful.

Jake danced awkwardly, due to the club foot, but he had no lack of partners. Willie did not dance, but sat on the edge of the platform where the musicians played, balancing a big glass of beer on each knee while he clapped his hands to the music. Sometime in the middle of the evening, he simply disappeared. When the dance was over, we rode home with Jake.

That night, when we were fast asleep in Margie's room, there was a mighty crash, and Willie came hurtling through the wall. He had night-mares when he drank. I don't know what material that wall was made of, but it might just as well have been tissue paper the way he came through between the 2 x 4's.

Daddy wanted to put up a log cabin on our lot at Suquamish and even started to build it on the occasional week end, but his crippling arthritis finally made him give up the project, and, little by little, as these things happen, our visits to Suquamish became fewer and longer between. Margie and I wrote to each other for a while, until that dried up, too, but I have never forgotten her or her colorful, wonderful family.


In this reminiscence Dad is Joseph A. Pfister (1883-1947) and Mom is Mary Annie (Gierhofer) Pfister (1888-1962).

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