Eli Mapel (or Maple): Pioneer Recollections, 1902

  • By Eli Maple
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2645
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This essay is the complete text of an autobiographical essay by Seattle pioneer Eli Mapel (or Maple) (1831-1911), the son of Jacob Mapel (or Maple) (1798-1884). Eli arrived in Seattle on October 12, 1852, at the age of 20. He relates his experiences of traveling West by wagon, of the Indian wars, and of farming and logging. His recollections were published in a newspaper clipped by Clarence Bagley and found in Bagley's scrapbook.

A Short Autobiography of E. B. Mapel, of No. 316 Wall Street, Seattle, Washington, Who Was One of the First Settlers of Seattle or Puget Sound Country.

I was born in the State of Ohio, November 12, 1831. My parents were Jacob and Catharine Mapel. In my thirteenth year my parents emigrated to Iowa, in 1844, and located in Keokuk County -- which was the new purchase -- being one of the first settlers. The nearest breadstuff obtainable was fifty to seventy-five miles away, which was a great hardship to go so far in the cold winter, where the thermometer stood from 35 to 40 degrees below zero.

In the spring of 1850 Jacob and S. A. Mapel crossed the plains to California. Failing to make much money in the mines, they came overland, in company with M. L. Collins and H. Van Asselt, and landed at the Nesqually River, where Collins had a family. After resting a few days, they got two Indians and a canoe and went down to explore the Sound country. After spending a few days, they pulled into the Duwamish River and each took claims on the east side of the river. They then returned to Nesqually and moved Collins family down and built cabins on their claims. This was then called the Territory of Northern Oregon.

The location where Seattle now stands had not yet been named, but the Indian chief of this place was called Seattle, from which Seattle took its name. Those four men were the first settlers who located here June 22, 1851. The next fall the Dennys, Boren and family, William Bell and family, G. M. McConnaha and family and Dr. Maynard arrived. These parties took up claims where Seattle now is. Those were all of the settlers of Seattle. At Alki Point were Charles Terry and J. Low and family. The other settlers on the river where G. Holt, G. Hogiver and William Ralston, whose claims were where South Park now is. J. Buelly located south of E. A. Clark and J. Harvey located on Lake Washington. Those were all of the white settlers of this place in 1851.

In April, 1852, I crossed the plains and joined my father and brother on the Duwamish River. When I crossed the plains I drove five yoke of oxen for my board and washing. We reached the Missouri River, where Omaha now stands, but not a single building was there then. The ferryboat had sunk, and we laid there sixteen days before we could cross the river and during this time about 8,000 emigrants had collected there to cross the river. A steamboat from St. Louis came to our relief and did the ferrying.

After crossing the river we organized into trains of from twelve to twenty wagons in a train. Each train had a captain, who detailed men to stand guard every night to keep the Indians from stealing our stock. We struck up Platte River, a distance of 500 miles, to Fort Laramie, which was the first house we had seen in that distance. While traveling up the Platte many of our train died of cholera, fresh graves were to be seen on both sides of the road.

On reaching Shell Creek we were met by about 180 Indians, who had taken charge of a bridge and claimed from $8 to $10 toll for each wagon. The bridge was built by the emigrants and the Indians had no right to it. The chief stood in the middle of the bridge and said he would kill the first man who attempted to cross. Our captain ordered the men to arms. He then ordered the chief to clear the track or we would fire on them, which we did. At this time some men from California came up in the rear and joined in with us. We had a lively engagement, resulting in the killing of the chief and nine others, and put the remainder to flight. Three of our men were slightly wounded. We doubled our guard at night. We left the Platte at Fort Laramie and struck up the Sweetwater to the Independent Rock, which stood out by itself in the middle of a nice valley, covering about three acres of ground, and was 150 feet high. On the top of this about 2,000 people celebrated the Fourth of July. There was a spring of fresh cold water coming up through this rock. We had grizzly bear, buffalo, dear and jack rabbit and had a jolly good time.

We then followed the Sweetwater to its head and went on through the Black Hills and crossed the Rocky Mountains over the South Pass. We then went on until we reached the headwaters of the Bear River and followed it down to Ham's Fork. Here we came to Steamboat Spring. The water from this spring was forced up twenty feet or more by the force of gas, which puffed like a steamboat, from which it took its name. This could be heard for several miles.

We traveled up Ham's Fork for quite a distance and came to an Indian town, called Fort Noof. We reached there in the evening and found the Indians on the warpath. They had their torchlights and were flourishing their war clubs and singing war songs with faces painted black and red. Their hostility arose over a white man trading a gun to an Indian for a pony. The Indian not being satisfied with the trade, the white man knocked him down with the gun and rode off on the pony. Our captain being a man of great forethought, he sent several men up and down the creek for some five or six miles to notify the different trains to all concentrate at one camping place, about a mile above the Indian town, where we formed one grand corral with wagons. Soon after we had our stock well secured, about sixty Indians came riding around the corral, yelling at the top of their voices, shaking buffalo skins in order to frighten and stampede our stock. We all turned out with arms and made ready for battle. They failed in their attempt and commenced shooting arrows into our camp, without any bad effect. We returned in exchange a good many shots, not knowing whether we killed any or not. If we did, they were carried out of sight. They all left in the morning at daylight. We pulled out and continued on our journey.

To shorten the history of my journey, I will not give many particulars of my trip, more than to say the country was covered with sage brush and but little grass. We continued on our long, wearisome journey and finally reached Owyhee River, crossed this and traveled through the bunch grass country and came to Mather River. Shortly after leaving this river, we came to Fort Hall, a distance of 1,200 miles from Fort Laramie. There were a few United States soldiers stationed there. This was at that time in Oregon territory, which extended from the Rocky Mountains to British Columbia. We then continued our journey on to Big Sandy River, where we laid over two days to recruit. We then started over the sixty-nine mile desert. There was plenty of grass, but no timber or water except what we carried with us. There was great suffering from thirst. Some one came through to Green River and returned with a wagonload of water. He retailed this at 50 cents per pint for drinking purposes. While crossing this desert, we stopped in the evening at midnight and at daylight ate some grub and grazed our cattle. We divided the water up with our stock and ourselves. We reached Green River the next day about 5 o'clock. We crossed the river that afternoon and laid over for two days and recruited. Grass and fuel were plentiful.

We continued our journey and struck over on to Snake River, and traveled for several weeks down that river. Water and grass in places were very scarce. The country [was] rough and hard to travel through. The Indians had burnt the grass off for about one hundred miles. Here was much suffering for man and brute. We often had to leave the road and go back five or six miles for grass. Sometimes in making cut-offs we would have three or four days travel before we reached the river again. Then we struck over on to Boise River, we followed this down to Fort Boise, now Boise City. This is a thousand miles from Fort Hall. We went on through Fort Burnt and Powder River country and through the Grand Ronde Valley, the finest small valley in the United States, this is in Eastern Oregon. We went on through the Blue Mountains, came down to the head of the Umatilla River, we then came down to Fort Henrietta where Pendleton, Oregon, now is, here we run nearly out of provision. We laid over here several days to recruit ourselves and teams, here we traded several wagons and tents for hard bread, sugar, beans and rice at 75 cents per pound for bread and sugar, and 50 cents for beans and rice. Our wagons were valued at $10 apiece and tents $3.00 to $5.00.

I was very anxious to get through so I proposed to the captain to put two families in one wagon and double the teams, this done away with five drivers and would leave our share of the provisions for the women and children. So five of us shouldered our knapsacks and guns, we had neither provisions nor blankets, we depended on getting grub and blankets of the emigrants, no one had anything to sell, there was not any trading posts on the way. The second day two of our men gave out, could not go any farther, they laid down by the way side to be picked up by the emigrants. As we could not do them any good we went on. The third day we crossed John Day River and camped and lay on the bare ground without cover and still had nothing to eat. When we got up in the morning we were so cold and weak we could hardly walk, we shortly ascended the John Day Mountain. Before we reached the summit we got warmed up and our legs flew like drum-sticks. We went on to Three-Mile Springs, three miles from The Dalles. Here at the Springs was a family in camp who had been through to the settlement, and come back with a good supply of provisions and served meals to the emigrants. We had been five days and nights without anything to eat. I packed a knapsack that weighed forty-five pounds and gun 10 pounds. We stepped up to the tents with appetites as sharp as a razor. We asked if we could get something to eat and said we wanted the best there was in the pot. He said we could have it if we each had $1.00 to pay for it. In a few minutes they had a smiling good supper on the table. I ate ten biscuits and drank six large cups of coffee. I don't know how much my partner ate. I ate enough to have killed a mule. Eli was hollow from his head to his feet. I paid $3.00 as my partners were out of money. We bade the old man goodbye and went on our way rejoicing. We reached The Dalles just at sundown. We called for provisions there to take with us. Failed to get anything. De Casedy, one of my comrades, stopped there. The government had sent up a batteau boat, my partner and I boarded the boat for the Cascades. At midnight the wind was so strong we had to go ashore, built up a fire and laid there until morning without anything to eat or any bed. We reached the Cascades about 4 o'clock p.m., there being a boarding house there. We called for something to eat, we took supper at $1.00 each. After eating eight full grown biscuits, five cups of coffee and other things, a lady waiter said "be careful and not eat too much as you will be sick." As that was an every day occurrence I thanked her for her warning and said, "Pass the biscuits and another cup of coffee if she pleased."

We then went on six miles to the boat landing at the foot of the falls. About 8 o'clock that evening the steamer Lot Whitcomb, which was paid by the government to carry emigrants down the river. We arrived at Portland, Oregon, at 3 o'clock next morning. We found a shack boarding house and got permission to lay on the soft side of the floor. Portland at that time didn't number over sixty buildings and stood in a deep forest. There were a few small stores in the place at that time. W. S. Ladd was there at that time cutting cord wood, who afterwards became a banker of that place. I staid there three days and worked for my board, waiting for the steamer Multnomah to return from Astoria, so I could go down on her return trip. My partner staid at Portland, I went on the boat down to Rainier, and on the boat was H. L. Yesler heading for San Francisco. I stayed all night at Rainier. The next morning I formed the acquaintance of Mr. Starling (an Indian agent of Puget Sound). We crossed the Columbia River and went up to Monticello on the Cowlitz River, where he had a canoe and an Indian and Frenchman waiting his return. He said if I would help paddle the canoe up the river he would give me my board and bed. As I had been used to working for such pay I consented to do so. We all struck up the river, we paddled hard all day without a bite to eat, when night came we camped. Had black tea, salmon and potatoes for supper and breakfast and I had to eat with the Indian. He didn't give me any blanket to sleep in but the Indian gave me one. The agent had four pairs of blankets, plenty of bread, butter, meat and eggs. Next day we made Warbus Landing, a distance of thirty-five miles. I staid here two days and nights to fill up with grub and rest. At this time three emigrants arrived. We all started out with our knapsacks on our backs for Olympia, a distance of about seventy-five miles. Had but two meals and one bed on the road. The second night we staid at George Bush's seven miles from Olympia. He was a colored man, and treated me kindly. The next morning I walked in to Olympia which stood in the deep forest. I don't think there were over twenty shacks in the place. We saw men, some sitting out in front of a shack boarding house, eating raw oysters and clams out of a tub. They invited us to take our knapsacks off and join in with them, which we did. I could not eat the clams but the oysters were all right. These were the first oysters or clams I ever saw. Mr. Sylvester was one of the proprietors of the town and kept this boarding house, from whom I got board and lodging at $16.00 per week. I thought from the price I had landed at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco. The grub consisted of fish, hard tack, clams, oysters and black tea, Sandwich Island sugar full of Kanaka weed. I hired to Mr. Sylvester to fall fir trees from two to four feet through, at $1 each. I felled from four to five a day, as weak and starved as I was. At the end of two weeks Dr. Maynard, from Seattle, with four Indians and a large canoe came to Olympia for goods for Indian trade. He laid there two days, getting his goods ready. Mrs. John Denny, mother of A. A. Denny, and Retta, her little girl, and Mr. Latimer, the father of the banker, came from Oregon to Olympia and came to Seattle with Dr. Maynard.

On our trip down head winds and strong tide compelled us to go ashore and camp until the wind ceased. Crossing from Vashon Island to Alki Point we came near swamping. It kept an Indian busy bailing the water to keep the canoe from sinking. We were all glad when we got ashore. We reached Seattle about 2 o'clock in the night. We let Mrs. Denny and Mr. Latimer out at A. A. Denny's near the beach, I went home with Dr. Maynard and stayed all night. His cabin stood near where the New England Hotel is. The next morning he hired two Indians and a canoe and sent me up the river to Collins, where my father was. I was very much pleased to meet him. I visited with my father and brother for a short time then went to work for Collins for a short time; then my father and I went to living together on his place.

When I reached Seattle it was on the 12th day of October, 1852, one month from my twenty-first birthday, and if I live until the 12th of this month I will be 71 years old. H. L. Yesler returned from Frisco the next winter and built a saw mill in Seattle. In the spring when it started up vessels came in for lumber, piles and square timber which everyone went to work at. My father and I took a contract for getting out 7,000 telegraph poles and 5,000 boat poles. These we packed out of the woods to the water on our shoulders. We rafted them by hand alongside of the ship, as there was no steamers here to do our towing.

This afforded us with money enough to go to the Columbia River and buy two yoke of oxen which cost us $600. We drove them to Olympia and shipped them down on a scow to the Duwamish River. Then we went to farming and lumbering. The winter of 1853 the Legislature was held at Olympia. We elected G. N. McConaha to represent us. At that session of the Legislature we got the Territory of Washington set off from Oregon and got the country divided off in counties and sectionized. In 1854 my father went back to Iowa and did not return with the family until 1862.

In 1855 the Indian war sprung up. The Indians on upper White River killed Mr. Jones and wife, Mr. King and wife, captured two children, killed Mr. Brannon, wife and child and Mr. Cooper. Mrs. Brannon was stabbed and jumped into the well with a child in her arms. This was done early in the morning. Their neighbors came to Seattle and escaped. We then raised a company of fifty men and buried the dead. We came back to Seattle. The government then called for volunteers to serve three months. We organized and enlisted a company, which I joined. Our captain was C. C. Hewet. We then went out to hunt Indians. We built a block house on the Van Asselt place and remained there for two months. Then we went up the river near Auburn and camped a few weeks. While we were there Lieut. Slaughter came over with sixty-five regulars and camped near our quarters. The evening they came there our captain and a few officers went over to communicate with him. The officers were in the cabin and the men outside around camp fires. The Indians had followed them and fired from the brush and killed Lieut. Slaughter in the cabin, and four men outside and badly wounded three others. Our officers stayed there until daylight, when the Indians opened fire again and drove them out. They made stretchers with blankets and carried the dead and wounded except one dead man, to our camp. The soldiers stayed at our camp a few days. We sent the dead to Steilacoom in canoes. The balance of us moved down to the Collins place. We built a fort and stayed there until our time expired. We scouted the country from Whidby Island to Olympia and from the Sound to the foot of the Cascades. We came to Seattle and were discharged January 25, 1855 [sic 1856?].

The Indians were posted as to when we would be discharged and disarmed. About 2,500 of our Indians and east of the mountain Indians had that night come into the woods back of Seattle. Salmon Bay Curley, an Indian from Salmon Bay, walked through the darkness of the night and came to my house in Seattle and told me the Indians were then in the timber back of town, and said we would be attacked next morning about 7 o'clock, while we were at breakfast. He told me to report this to the officers that night, which I did.

Next morning when we were at breakfast the Indians made the attack on us. The plan was to make a rush into the town. The ship Decatur, a man-of-war, had come into port a few days before, and gave them a broadside of grape and cannister. This kept the Indians back. Regular fighting from both sides had fairly commenced, which lasted the entire day and until 8 o'clock at night. The Indian losses were about forty-five killed and a good many wounded. We only lost two men. About 8 o'clock they withdrew and went up on the river and burnt every building in the settlement. They killed several head of cattle and roasted the meat on the coals of our burnt buildings. Next morning we went up to the settlement with a scouting party of ten or twelve men. We scouted the neighborhood over and came back and reported no Indians in the settlement.

Gov. Stevens called for six months volunteers, about the 29th of January. We organized a company to serve six months. Under Edward Landes our captain, we returned to the old Van Asselt blockhouse and were quartered there until discharged, which was the 29th day of July, 1856. We scouted the whole country over. We had one skirmish on a small island in Cedar River, resulting in killing several Indians who attempted to swim across the river and drove them off. We used to catch a good many scouts, whom we settled with there and then. We had one skirmish on Salmon Bay. The Indians were in canoes and we were in hiding on shore. At least four of them fell into the water. One of our men was wounded in the shoulder. We put in our time this way until discharged. After the war was over my brother, S. A. Mapel and I went to Oregon which was in the spring of 1857, moved around for three years and earned enough to buy a team and tools to go to farming again. In the meantime I married. In the fall of 1859 we returned to our farms on the river.

I lived there and improved my farm, which I sold in 1888 and bought property where I now live in Seattle. I spent two years in traveling over the Eastern States and came back and settled down in Seattle. My life has been spent with hard work and many disappointments, but thank God, I yet live.


"A Short Autobiography of E. B. Mapel, of No. 316 Wall Street, Seattle, Washington, Who Was One of the First Settlers of Seattle or Puget Sound Country," Clipping dated by hand November 16, 1902, Clarence B. Bagley Scrapbooks, Vol. 1, pp. 38-39, Microfilm Reel No. A2254, Department of Newspapers and Microforms, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle.

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