Eatonville Pioneer [Nathan Williams] is Stricken

Nate Williams (Center) Andrew (left) Ed (right)
Nate Williams (Center) Andrew (left) Ed (right)

Eatonville Pioneer is Stricken
Death closes long and active career of one of Eatonville’s earliest settlers

Article from Tacoma News-Tribune — Feb. 1934
Written by Jos. C. Larin

Nathan Williams, aged 83 years, was stricken at his home in Eatonville suddenly Friday morning, and passed away within a few minutes. For the three days preceding he had complained of “not feeling well” but was up and around till the time of his death. Sunday he was laid to rest at Eatonville cemetery, with no other services than brief graveside ceremony, as he had requested.

Trapper, hunter, prospector, house mover, mason, miner, horse trader, trailer breaker — these are but some of the pursuits followed by the remarkable man.

He was born in Indiana 83 years ago, the son of a potter and one of a family of four, all long since gone to rest. When he was 5 years old, the family moved to Iowa. When but a lad, he had a perchant for the drum, and ran away to join the army as a drummer in the ranks of the North, then engaged in the Civil War. He was caught, and brought back home.

The restless spirit of adventure was in his blood, and when 18 he joined a bull train in the rush to the Black Hills for gold. After that, he spent years on the plains, sometimes having to very quietly fold up his tent to escape from the braves of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Crow tribes.

He married Sarah Elizabeth Van Eaton, a sister to T.C. Van Eaton. It was at the Pine Ridge Agency, south of the Sioux reservation, that his first children were born.

His sons are Charles, Tom and Clyde, all living in Eatonville.

His companion on his expeditions on the plains was Jim Richy, a very unusual character, adventurous and exceedingly religious. Mr. Richy, by the way, after not seeing Mr. Williams for some 30 years, suddenly popped up in Eatonville and took a homestead in Ashford, which he provide up on and went back east. He was in Eatonville to see his old trail companion last spring.

Williams and Richy hunted antelope for the Omaha market together, and not infrequently saw the last remnants of the once great buffalo herds.

Soapy Smith
Soapy Smith

Mr. Williams’ life was one full of wanderings and one lived in the outdoors. It reads like a western thriller. He was in the Alaskan gold rush, and prospected and “sniped” for gold on the 70-Mile River, 120 miles below Dawson, for two summers. He was one of those hardy spirits who helped build the old Skagway Trail, near where the notorious Soapy Smith ran his gambling hall. He knew Soapy, and frequently talked with him, although he managed to steer clear of playing with him. He distinctly remembered the high excitement when Soapy made his exit from the world with his boots on. It was a rough, hard life, but one that Mr. Williams loved and was adapted for. While he never made a strike, he made good wages.

Before leaving for the gold fields he and T. C. Van Eaton moved to where Eatonville now stands, and he had taken a homestead where Olaf Malcom’s place now is, and built a large log house for his family, before he learned that it was not government land, but railroad land, he was on. He had to move off, and the railroad men burned down his house.

He was unable to get a boat for Washington from Alaska, and had to take one from San Francisco. Scurvy broke out on the boat, and two burials were held on the Bering Sea. When the ship docked 32 were so sick they were unable to walk ashore. Mr. Williams was attacked, but refused to stay off his feet.

Built Observation Tower

The structure Nate Williams built at Anvil Rock
The structure Nate Williams built at Anvil Rock

After he lost his homestead he worked for some time in Tacoma as a longshoreman, then returned and put his hand to whatever turned up. It was he who built the stone house at Anvil Rock, 10,060 feet high, above Paradise. It took him 31 days to do. He never went back to see it, but it still stands and is used as a government observation tower.

It will be remembered that after the Tison murder at Friendly Inn, when the call went out for someone to stay at the deserted house till the investigation was complete, it was old Nate Williams who was the only one who volunteered for the eerie vigil, swearing he never feared man, god nor the devil.

10 responses to “Eatonville Pioneer [Nathan Williams] is Stricken”

  1. This is my great grandfather. His son Charles had a daughter Joy, who was my mom. Thank you for this special treasure of history on my mother’s side. I will share it with my siblings and Williams cousins.


  2. Thanks, Diane, for publishing Nate’s obituary. He was an interesting character and one I would have loved to know. Nate and Elizabeth had several children. Their oldest child, Charles, was named after Nate’s father. The next oldest was Tom followed by my grandfather Clyde. They also had two daughters Hazel and Carolyn. Both girls died at a young age. While doing research on the clan, we discovered that they had two other children, Seth and Ray, who died at birth. Charles “Charley” Williams first son was named Ray. He was probably named after the brother Charley never had. Thanks again for the article.


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