A Story of Pioneering by Nicholas V. Sheffer (1825-1910), Part 4: Settlement

  • Posted 10/21/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7978

In 1909, Nicholas Sheffer (1825-1910) was Whatcom County's oldest pioneer. He prepared his reminiscences for The Lynden Tribune, which ran them in three parts in August of that year as "A Story of Pioneering: Being a Personal Narrative of Early Days in Northwest Washington, told to the Tribune by N. V. Sheffer, of 1854." HistoryLink.org was made aware of this account by Whatcom County family historian Susan Nahas, who connected Sheffer's information with the HistoryLink.org story of Julia Benson Intermela (1855-1907), the half-Duwamish daughter of Seattle pioneer Henry Yesler (1810-1892). In Part 4, Sheffer works his trade as carpenter all over the Puget Sound region and Washington Territory. (Note: This transcription retains Sheffer's original spelling.)

A Story of Pioneering

Everything came to a dead halt except the coal mine. There were some who had brought quite large stocks of goods with them and consequently for a time things were awfully cheap.

I assisted Washburn & Wheeler to move their stock of goods to Port Townsend where they had previously established a store. They had the settlers store at the fort also. I purchased a sloop and I took a contract to build a house at Dungeness. It was there I made the acquaintance of Dr. Barrow and I brought him over to see my Bellingham Bay country. He liked it very much and settled on the road or trail from Whatcom to Everson.

I worked at my trade wherever I could find a job and in 1861 I was appointed carpenter on the Nisqualie [Nisqually] Indian Reservation. My salary was only $1,000 a year in green backs for $1 of which I could only get 33 cents in real cash.

It was there I renewed my acquaintance with Mike Simmons and others that I had known in Olympia. I had a great deal of running around to do for the agent, Mr. Baker. He was quite an old man and really was not able to perform the duties of his office and consequently he used me as a lackey. As for carpentering I never sawed a board or drove a nail all the time I worked for the government there. It was while I was there that I was sent to Steilacoom and stayed over night with Ezra Meeker, finding an acquaintance of boyhood days in Indiana. He has since become well known by starting the hop industry in this state, and by taking the back trail only a year or so ago across the continent, with a yoke of oxen. I found that he had crossed the plains in 1857, and located at Steilacoom. He was then, as he always was and always will be, a very busy man.

I soon found that I could not support my family on the salary I was getting from the government, and at the end of the year resigned and again came to Whatcom. Since that time I have worked in all parts of the state. At Spokane I built a grist mill for Mr. Post, and also a residence. I worked on the Northern Pacific from start to finish. I have worked in all the Sound towns most. I first met C. E. Cline, now of Lynden, in Spokane. R. E. Hawley built and operated one of the first sawmills in or near Lynden.

During the time Hawley was operating his mill Mr. Shoff of Santo Marie [Santa Maria], Cal. came here and employed me to build a steamer designed to run between Lynden and Seattle. It was built on the banks of the Nooksack, about 300 feet from the mill and was successfully launched. I had several men working under me some of who are still here including Jerome Austin, Ed. Philo, and James Calloway. The boat was taken to Tacoma to have her machinery installed. She made a number of successful trips but finally came to grief near Lynden, by accident or otherwise. I will always believe it was otherwise. The same officer had sunk three other boats on this run, and each time he sunk a boat he went back to work for the Steam Navigation company to which the river boats were in opposition. It looked suspicious anyway.

The name of our Lynden-built boat was Nooksack.

While I was in Tacoma I got acquainted with a gentleman who was interested in a big mining company that had some mines and quartz mills in California. He engaged me to do some work on the mill. While I was there, without instructions I made some improvements of my own invention. They proved so satisfactory to the company that I was engaged to do other work, and finally when I finished I was told to report to the company's headquarters in San Francisco.

After coming home for a short time I reported at San Francisco and found they wanted me to go to Chile with a geologist and mining expert to examine and report on a mining proposition. I accepted the offer and made the trip, one of the most interesting of my life.

[Mr. Sheffer told the Lynden Tribune that he planned to write a book about his experiences in Chile, but he passed away less than a year later.]


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