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.
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
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.
Below are the words of Toger Peterson — an Ohop Valley settler and an early County Commissioner.
He wrote this around 1925, and speaks about the race to settle Ohop Valley as well as work on the Ohop Creek. (Text courtesy of Gary Hendrickson, photos courtesy Pat Van Eaton)
In the summer of 1886, during the time I was not working at anything else, I built a boat in October the same year, in the company with five other friends, went down Puget Sounds near Cape Flattery looking for land. We saw several places which would give five to ten acres of agricultural land, but I made up my mind that I would have land enough for a farm, or none at all.
The 4th of July, 1887, in company with a man, whose name I have forgotten, I took a trip southeast from Tacoma and found the Ohop Valley.
Surveying Ohop Valley I returned to Tacoma to again work, and in August of that year, in the company with Erick Anderson, went out and started to survey from the nearest surveyed land, and ran a line down to the lower end of Ohop Lake.That was as much surveying as I could do at that time and I had to go back to work.
Erick Anderson stayed at the Lake and built a shake cabin, and in January, 1888, in company with Herman Anderson and Ole Halverson, we went out to select our land. We found out on the trip that a number of Texas people had left Hillhurst for the Ohop Valley the same morning that we left Tacoma.
The Race is On It then became a race and I made up my mind that if the Texas people had located, we would turn back; and on the other hand, if we would be ahead of them, we would stand our ground against any odds. The morning we left Tacoma, the 6th of January, it began to snow. We camped in the woods that night and in the morning there was about a foot of snow, but we kept on going and started to survey from the point where I had left off in August, close to the Ohop Lake.
We surveyed down the Valley, which was flooded, and sometimes we would get into beaver dams and in water up to our armpits. I remember Herman Anderson hesitated about going into the water for fear his watch might stop. We finally located Section 18, which would be Government land, during the snow storm, and built a little shake cabin, and when the storm was over, we saw the track of the Texas people in the snow a few hundred feet away from our little shack. They had camped during the snow storm while we were working and surveying and getting located. When these Texas people, that later became our neighbors and friends, talked about the race we had made, they said that when they found we had located they went somewhere else.
Settling the Valley We three then began to build a house for ourselves and started in to get our logs and brush for a road so we could get provisions in. In order to get the wagons down Ohop Hill, I bought about three hundred feet of one inch manila rope and tied it to the hind axle of the wagon and lowered the wagon down as the hill was so steep that rough locks would not hold it. During the spring and summer of 1888 Mr. and Mrs. Emil Jacobson, Edwin Anderson, Peter Dabroe and Elias Hong settled in the Valley. In 1889 Edward Simonsen bought out Elias Hong and Henry Kaelstad settled in the lower part of the Valley. Finally John Larsen bought Mr. Simonsen’s place and Louis Grundell bought the place of Peter Debroe, and Salve Jensen got half a section of railroad land that Emil Jacobson claimed, making 80 acres a piece.
Since that time, some of the settlers above named have sold out part of their land to others so that the whole valley from Nisqually river to the Ohop Lake is all occupied. When I first came out to the Ohop Valley all the timber East of the Valley, the Mashell Mountain and clear to the Cascade Mountains in every direction was vacant and unsurveyed. Timber at that time was almost valueless, as for example, the Northern Pacific Railroad Company would sell timber land to the people at $2.50 an acre and if there was a little swamp or agricultural land on the quarter section, they would charge $8.00 an acre, showing to me that they thought the timber was of no value, but people had come in and settled on this timber land until in a couple of years every quarter section of timber was taken up as a homestead, and then after the land was surveyed and a patent secured, they sold out to the big timber companies.
Now we settlers of the Ohop Valley I think had about as hard a times and showed about a much grit as the Vikings of old every showed. And in my opinion, the women who stayed by us in the early history of the Valley settling should wear a crown. They stood by us in poverty and hardship and made no complaint. In the early times, it took us three days to make the round trip to Tacoma, while now we make it in three hours.
Dealing with the Flooding — Moving a Creek After living in the Ohop Valley for a year, I told my wife that I supposed we had made a mistake as I couldn’t see how we could get rid of the floods, as every time we had a little rain, the valley would be under water. She said she was sorry if we had to leave and asked if it wasn’t possible to turn the water of the main creek some other way. I told her I had not thought about it, but she had put an idea into my head, and I then proceeded to find the head of Ohop Creek.
I found that the on the divide between Lake Ohop and Lake Kapowsin that is was just as easy for the water to run into Lake Kapowsin and down the Puyallup as it was to run down the Valley. Finally, after a long struggle, I secured permission [in 1889] form the St. Paul Company and Judge Wickersham, who claimed 80 acres, to turn the main Ohop Creek into Lake Kapowsin, and all the settler in the Ohop Valley from the Nisqually River to Lake Kapowsin, twenty-two strong, turned out and helped turn the water into Lake Kapowsin.
That made it possible for us to farm in the Valley, and we have recently blasted a new channel, straightening the creek through the Valley where it was crooked, so that now a flood is an exception in place of a rul.
The following is one of two memoires written by Torger Perterson (courtesy of Gary Hendrickson). Torger was an original settler of Ohop Valley and tells here how he came, settled and worked to get a roads in place — including one to Mount Rainier.
Torger Perterson I was born the 22nd day of January, 1855 on my Father’s farm (Langtvet) in Holtsogn Norway. This farm had reverted from father to son for over three hundred years.
My Father’s name was Peter Haaversen; my Mother’s name was Anna Togesdatter Goderstad.
We had a very good common school, and I was confirmed at the age of 14. From the time I was nine years old, I would herd my Father’s cattle and sheep, and on a high hill out in the woods, I could see the ocean and the ships sailing, and would wish that I might some day go on these ships and see the foreign land.
At the age of 15, I went to sea as a cabin boy at $3.00 per month. The next year I got $4.00 per month. Able seamen $9.00 per month; First Officer $14.00 per month; Second Officer $12.00 month. Captain $50.00 per month and 5% of gross earnings.
When I was 21 years of age, I took my examination as a Navigator and had a Masters’ certificate at that age. The same year I married Aase Elena Olsdatter Goderstad Holtsogn. I sailed as an Officer for a few years and got badly hurt and quit. Went into the logging business and ship building, but the small wooden ships that we would build could not compete with the big steel vessels and steamers, so I made up my mind to go to America, and to the City of Tacoma in the State of Washington. I had heard that Tacoma was just starting up at the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad on Puget Sound and my intention was to build schooners for the Coasttrade.
On my trip from Norway to Tacoma, I stopped off in Ashton, Dakota Territory to rest my family and also to visit relatives who lived there, and they persuaded to take up land and go farming.
When I decided to take up land, I went to the County seat 12 miles out on the prairie to take out my intention papers to become a citizen. The Clerk asked me my name, and I told him Torger Peterson Langtvet. He fixed up my papers and I paid him the necessary fee and put the papers in my pocket without looking at them. When I came back to Ashton, I looked over my papers and found that the Clerk had omitted the name Langtvet, and hand my name recorded as Torger Peterson. He no doubt thought that was a good enough name for a Swede.
I made the first wagon track fourteen smiles South from Ashton on the Milwaukee Railroad to the Missouri River, going due West and there I located. The first year’s crop was destroyed by grasshoppers; the second year’s crop was destroyed by a hot wind that lasted three days and cooked everything. I then made up my mind it was about time to go there I originally planned, Tacoma.
I covered two wagons and went immigrant style up the Missouri River and over the old Government trail; crossed the Missouri on a ferry at Bismarck and drove into Montana where my wife gave birth to a child, which stopped us for a time. As soon as my wife was able to travel, we took the Northern Pacific train and finally landed in Tacoma, broke. After a couple of years of hard work, and after looking over the a good deal of the Western part of this State, I found the Ohop Valley which was then surveyed, but as a Navigator, I surveyed it to my own satisfaction and knew what section I was in, and squatted on it for seven years before the Government finally surveyed it.
I found the Valley in the summer of 1887 and moved my family out there in April, 1888. At that time it was one of the worst wilderness that it was possible to find, and after we had gotten out some logs and brush so that a wagon could travel, it took us three days to go from Tacoma to my home in the Ohop Valley. I remember friends of our told my wife that I had gone crazy and for her not to go out there, after a while I would get tired and come back. My wife however said she had never found me crazy and laughed at our friends and said she would stay by me.
The pioneers of Western Washington have all had a hard time of it and I think our lot in the Ohop Valley was as hard as any.
After we had cleared up some land, the main thing was to get a road, and the County helped us in this way; for every day we worked gratis, they would give us $2.00 a day for the following day, and this is the way the first road was built into the Ohop Valley and beyond. It was always a puzzle to me how Norway, a poor country, had such splendid roads, and a country as rich in natural resources as our State of Washington, could get along with such poor roads, not better than a cow trail, and it was my chief object to see if I could not interest the people in getting good roads built so that the farmers could get their product to the markets at a reasonable cost.
In October, 1988, I went in company with Indian Henry and some other Indians up to Mount Tacoma. We went on horseback through brush over logs and finally landed in what is now known as Indian Henry’s Hunting Grounds. It was a clear day and the sun was just setting when we reached the Mountain, and I will never as long as I live forget that sights; such a park surrounded with flowers of all colors and descriptions. And right then I made up my mind to do all in my power to get a road to that Mountain so that the people could see that wonderland and inhale that invigorating Mountain air.
For twenty years I attended every County Convention. At first the people thorugh I was crazy when I mentioned a road to Mount Tacoma, but as years went by I had more and more followers. The Commissioners all promised to help, but each time failed me, so that last I decided to run for Commissioner myself, and was elected and the road was completed.
After the people had been there and seen the wonder, it was not difficult to get all the money necessary and today we have a boulevard from Tacoma to the Mountain.
In addition to serving as County Commissioner, I was elected from the 36th Representative District as Representative and served in the 1917 Session of the Legislature.
My wife and I have five children; three died. Anna Elena and Peter being the only living children.
I am writing this with the thought it mind that in the future my great grandchildren might be interested in knowing where their ancestors came from and who they were.
The entire population of Eatonville gathered for this picture when it was taken — around 1890.
Below is what was written about this photo in the 1959 Dispatch:
A settlement of a few buildings grouped together behind a rail fence in a clearing was called Van Eaton’s Trading Post around 1890.
The “surrey with the fring on tope” owned by T.C. Van Eaton, was used a a stage to and from Spanaway and on the trip this way would carry food, passengers and mail, going all the way to Longmire, which was corduroy road most of the way.
On horseback, directly in front of the trading post, Eatonville’s first store, are Mr. and Mrs. T.C. Van Eaton and Mrs. Groe. Sitting in the wagon are Mr. and Mrs. Richard Canty and Mr. and Mrs. Richard White, the teller of tall tales and one of the most colorful characters to come to Eatonville, is at the left.
The Van Eaton log cabin at the rear, now part of the Eatonville Hotel, and the trading post, in a different location, on upper Mashell Avenue, are both still in use. The latter is used by Williams’ Electric.
Pictured is the home built by T.C. Van Eaton in 1898, located on Rainier Street.
It was built after there were sawmills nearby for lumber and was the height of architecture in its day and the finest home for miles around.
It had eight room. Most of the cedar and scroll were were hand-planed by Lou Osborne. Mr. Van Eaton also freighted some boards, such as flooring, from Tacoma,
The dimension lumber came from Andrean’s mill at Muck Creek, and the foundation timbers from the Goe and Tomlin mill on the Little Mashell.
At the time it was the highest building in town and situated on a knoll. Originally there was a 110-foot well near the back door dug by Nate Williams with the assistance of Silas Barr, an Indian from Indian Henry’s village.
The small house next to is, toward Center Street, was built by Mr. Van Eaton for his mother, Mrs. Caroline Van Eaton, who lived there for five years in the early 1900s. (History of Southeastern Pierce County)
During the 2009 Eatonville Centennial there was a tour a tea at the home. You can read more about the home today in Dixie and Bob Walter’s article. Just click HERE.
Pictured are Left to Right: Kate Dutton, Nellie Van Eaton, Jennie Miller, Frank, Susie and John Van Eaton.