Founder of Eatonville Thomas Cobb Van Eaton

Thomas Cobb Van Eaton was an amazing man. Through his deliberate planning and strength of character, his dream of building a town became a reality. However, the whole story of the formation of Eatonville, WA is broader and not only includes TC Van Eaton, but other amazing individuals as well.

1888 Ohop Valley Settlers

          On the Ohop Valley Road today is Pioneer Farms Museum, where the past can be experienced one cabin at a time.  Entering the first cabin built in the Ohop Valley, one steps into the same room where Herman Anderson, wife Marie, their children, and sister-in-law Olava Hansen once warmed up by the fire after tending to all the chores of a farm. 
            To those who know Eatonville’s history, the first Scandinavian families are synonymous with the Ohop Valley.  It was Torger Peterson along with the Anderson and Halvorsen families who first came to cultivate the valley and make it their home. 
Though Torger Peterson was born on a farm that had been in his father’s family for 300 years, his curiosity would take him far away across the seas.  While caring for the cattle and sheep on the high hill in the woods, Peterson saw the ships and dreamed of sailing to far off lands.  At 15 years old, he left his homeland of Norway and worked as a cabin boy aboard a sailing ship.  By age twenty-one, Peterson made captain then, Navigator, and later, earned a Master’s certificate.  Peterson loved life at sea but desired a welcome port to come home to in Norway.  He found this in wife Aase Elena Olsdatter Goderstad Holtsogn.
Peterson was content with his career at sea until an injury would change the course of his life.  No longer able to sail, he worked on land in logging and building small boats.  Peterson realized this was not getting him anywhere and decided his chances were better in America.  Peterson wrote, “I heard that Tacoma was just starting up at the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad on the Puget Sound, and my intention was to build schooners for the Coast trade.”
After arriving in Tacoma, Peterson found work off and on.  During a down time in 1886 in October, he built a small boat and set sail with five other men.  He wanted to survey his surroundings to locate a good spot to build his farm.  Down the Puget Sound around Cape Flattery, there were several good five to ten-acres plots of land, but it was not enough land for his plans.
Torger Peterson, wife Aase with children Peter and Anna
Finally, in July of 1887, Torger Peterson got the itch to try again, only this time over land. With a few other men, he headed southwest from Tacoma and came upon the Ohop Valley just outside of present-day Eatonville.  It was a deep valley framed by huge fir, cedar, and hemlock trees.  The valley floor was covered with alder, ash, and maple trees.  So many types of shrubbery carpeted the area making it thick and difficult to penetrate.  Peterson went back to Tacoma for work but with his mind was set on getting that land.
To obtain the land in the Ohop Valley, Torger Peterson had to file a homestead claim.  The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed for 160 acres of land in exchange for inhabiting and making improvements within five years.  However, when the Northern Pacific Railroad came through, the government gave them 40 square acres for every mile of track laid on it.  The excess land was sold as parcels of 20 to 80 acres for $2.50 an acre. 
Torger Peterson wanted 160 acres, so he went down to the valley again in August of that same year.  Sometime during all of this, Peterson met Erick Anderson, who apparently had been “squatting” in the area since 1880.  Peterson writes, “…in the company of Erik Anderson went and started to measure from the nearest surveyed land, and ran a line down to the lower end of Ohop Lake.”  To secure the claim, they hurriedly constructed a shack by Ohop Lake.
The following January of 1888, Torger Peterson set out again for the Ohop Valley, bringing Herman Anderson and Ole Halvorson with him.  While en route, they discovered that a group of “Texas people” had left Hillhurst planning to claim the same area as Peterson.  The land race began.  The men set off from Tacoma on January 6th as the snow began falling.  They camped overnight only to wake up in about a foot of snow.  Undeterred, they found the spot they left off in August and continued surveying.  Peterson described the event:

We surveyed down the Valley, which was flooded, and sometimes we would get into beaver dams and in the water up to our armpits.  We finally located Section 18, which would be Government land.

Before nightfall, as another snowstorm picked up, the men built a crude shelter.  In the morning, several human tracks peppered the ground about 100 yards away.  The “Texas people” had passed by in the night, saw the lit shelter, and pressed on to the Mashel Prairie.  The “Texas people” were the Kings and other family members.  They became good friends and neighbors with the settlers of Ohop Valley, and the King homestead remains in the family a hundred years later.
Torger Peterson was accustomed to hard work and farm building.  Before coming to Tacoma by train, he traveled by covered wagon and tried to start a homestead in the Dakota Territory only to have it destroyed by blistering hot winds and swarms of locus.  No, big winds or locus swarms in the Ohop Valley but there were plenty of other rough challenges to face.
Shelter was the first major concern for the settlers.  The homes were built from split cedar with the unfinished side forming the exterior.  They first built a cabin for Herman Anderson’s family arriving from Norway.  Herman Anderson was born in Sweden and had a career in sailing, as did Peterson.  Anderson first worked aboard a large ship when he was 14.     After 21 years, the ship he was working on stopped to unload grain at the port of Tacoma.  Anderson decided to stay.  Peterson and Anderson both worked at the Tacoma Mill, met, and formed a friendship.  Together they settled Ohop Valley and provided a future for their families. 
Herman Anderson, wife Marie, son Andrew, daughter Magdalene (Lena), and sister-in-law Olava Hansen
Anderson’s wife Marie, son Andrew, daughter Magdalene, and sister-in-law Olava Hansen were to meet him at the train station in Tacoma.  For three days Anderson waited.  Frustrated and worried, he wandered down to the boat dock and to his surprise found his family unloading off a ship.  They had taken the wrong train in New York.  While in New York at Ellis Island, Marie was so afraid the children might get separated, she tied ropes around the youngest.  After riding in a cattle car for part of the journey through Canada, the family caught a boat in Vancouver, BC heading to Tacoma.  Though exhausted, they still had three day’s travel to the Ohop Valley, staying the second night with the Fianders at Swan Lake.
To get the family and wagons to the valley, the men began the work of clearing a road for easier access. They were able to get a lot of the logs and brush out of the way but still had to descend Ohop Hill.  With the help of Robert Fiander, they made it down safely.  Peterson documented the episode:
In order to get the wagons down Ohop Hill, I bought about three hundred feet of the inch thick 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.

Peterson wrapped the other end of the rope around tree trunks and eased the wagons down the valley hill.  It was told that for many years, the scars left from the rope burns could still be seen on old tree stumps.
Torger Peterson’s wife Aase with children Peter and Anna joined him in April 1888.  During that spring and summer and the following year, a good group of settlers established themselves in the Ohop Valley.  As Peterson puts it:

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 Kjelstad settled in the lower part of the Valley.  Finally, John Larson bought Mr. Simonsen’s place and Louis Grundell bought the place of Peter Dabroe, and Salve Jensen got half a section of railroad land that Emil Jacobson claimed.

Within a few years, Peterson marveled that the entire valley, ranging from the Nisqually River to Ohop Lake, was occupied.
When Erick Anderson teamed up with Peterson, he too had plans to send for his family in Sweden.  Tragically, his wife died before she could make the journey; however, his 19-year-old daughter Matilda came out and joined him that same year in 1888.
John and Tora Larson
John and Tora Larson quickly became involved with the other settlers.  Tora was a strong force and was the co-founder of the Ohop Ladies’ Aid.  Sadly, Tora died unexpectedly.  Her husband took it very hard and could not stand to be around anything that reminded him of Tora.  He left the children John Jr. and Ann with Olava Kjelstad and disappeared.  The Larson farm was sold off, but a few years later, John returned with gold coins and bought his farm back.  He rounded up his children and told them he would never leave them again.
             The land and opportunities it provided drew even more families; however, there were economic hardships and the land not ready to yield any crops.  This caused many of the men to travel to Tacoma to earn money.  Just when Mrs. Anderson thought she had been through enough, she had a startling experience her first morning alone with the children while Herman was away working in Tacoma.
Henry Kjelstad, wife Olava with Matt and Martha.
            Early one morning, “three Indians strode in through the door, sat down at the table, and ate everything.  When they left, they took the loaf of bread and emptied the sugar bowl in their sack.”  She was in shock and did not know what to make of it.  The next morning, the Indians returned with a huge, fresh salmon. 
            The settlers’ supplies were much desired by the Indian women, so they went to another home.  Just after Olava Hansen married Henry Kjelstad, three Indian women came into her cabin unannounced (possibly the same three as with Mrs. Anderson).  They casually walked over and took flour, sugar, coffee, and a few other items and promptly left without one word being said.  Mrs. Kjelstad and children stayed huddled in the corner the whole time.  A few weeks later, the Indian women were back carrying a quarter of venison.  They dropped it on the table and again left without saying a word.
            This became a normal reoccurrence.  The Indian women came in without any announcement, took what they needed such as sugar, flour, or coffee, and left.  Days later, they came back with fresh salmon or venison. 
            Even though many of the Ohop women only spoke Norwegian and the Indian women spoke Chinook, they learned to communicate in their own way and all became good friends.  After that, it was common for nine or ten Indian women to ride in on their ponies for a visit while having coffee. 
Olava and Anna Sutterlict (Indian Henry's 3rd wife)
As with Mrs. Anderson and other Ohop women, Mrs. Kjelstad became close friends with Indian families.  She even taught them how to make fish nets just like the ones she made when she was younger in Norway.
Olava Kjelstad was the sister of Maria Anderson and came over with her from Norway.  She remembered staying at the Fiander’s house eating dinner with onions hanging over head.  She had never seen an onion. 
Wanting to make her own income, Olava went to Tacoma about a year after arriving to the Ohop Valley.  She got a job as a housemaid and stayed in Tacoma for a few years.  Back in the valley, she met Henry Kjelstad.  Soon after, they married in 1894. Kjelstad had bought some railroad land and built a house from hand-sawed lumber. 
Jens and Christine Henricksen
Though they settled on the edge of the valley, the Henricksen family also joined this growing community of Ohop Scandinavians.  Though many original Ohop families have left, the descendants of Jens and Christine Henricksen are with us today.  Jens lost seven of ten siblings from tuberculosis.  With so much illness and poverty, he left for America.
            With the death of their father, Christine’s brothers also started anew in America.  She followed and met up with them in Wisconsin.  After they traveled to Iowa, Christine met Jens.  The group headed to Washington, and in Tacoma on September 6, 1890, the couple wed.  They had four children:  Henry, Annie, Jack, and Fred.  Tragically, Christine died at an early age and left Jens to raise the children. 
            Their son Fred Henricksen met Ann Larson, daughter to John Larson, while she was staying with the Petersons.  Years later, Ann Larson and Fred Henricksen became close.  They married and had three children: Rahma, Harley, and Gary.  Gary moved and took a home in Eatonville.  Ann never forgot Olava’s kindness and her son Gary remembers her as his loving “Grandma Kjelstad.” 
Meanwhile, Henry Henricksen worked on the family farm and in logging when he met Pearl Ethridge.  They were married in 1918.  His father Jens lived out his days in a little house built for him in the orchard next to the main house. 
When Henry worked in the logging camps, he could only come home for the weekends.  When he and Pearl found the work of keeping up a farm too much for them, they also lived out their days with son Ray.  Their many descendents still live in the area working in logging and road construction.
 With many of the men still away for work, the women were able to trade goods by taking butter and eggs all the way into Eatonville.  Later on, many would take hogs and potatoes into Tacoma for sale.  Olava Kjelstad's butter was in such demand; she started wrapping it in special packaging so that her brand could be recognized.  She and her husband Henry also took carrots and potatoes to sell in nearby Parkland.  Some of the other men found work close to home graveling and building the Mountain Highway for $2.00 a day.  
The Ohop families planned to create prime farmland from the swampy, vegetative floor of the valley.  At first not much land could be used and the few crops grown were found dug up by beavers.  Heavy brush had to be cleared.  Flooding, whether by beaver, rain, or run-off from Ohop Lake, had to be resolved.  Clearing the land took getting down and completing hours of strenuous work.  The solution to the flooding was not so clear cut.  That is until Aase suggested diverting the Ohop Creek into Lake Kapowsin.  After obtaining permission from Judge James Wickersham and the St. Paul Company, every-able bodied Ohop settler turned out to get the task done.
Torger Peterson wrote:

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 in to my head, and I then proceed to find the head of Ohop Creek.  I found that on the divide between Lake Ohop and Lake Kapowsin that it was just as easy for the water to run into Lake Kapowsin and down the Puyallup as it was to run down the Valley.

With the fields drained, the Ohop settlers went to work creating their farms.  To start their crops, they bought seed oat and oat hay from Indian Henry.  Later, they grew wheat, legumes, potatoes, carrots, and grains.  Cows were purchased in Tacoma from other settlers and soon chickens were running around the farm.  Some expanded by raising hogs as well.
Jonas Asplund lived in the Ohop Valley when he was a young boy.  His parents were Nels, and Severine Asplund who had immigrated from Sweden.  Mrs. Asplund was the niece of Marie Anderson and Olava Kjelstad.  Though they arrived much later around 1910-11 and later moved by Silver Lake, Jonas recalled his days in Ohop Valley.  He remembers as a boy that he and other children had to “shimmy on hands and feet” atop a fence rail to get back home after school because every winter the valley flooded from one end to the other. 
His father, undaunted by the flooding, took a shotgun, potato hook, and “boat” (which was really a hog trough), went to the submerged potato patch, and took aim.  After a few shots, potatoes rose to the surface of the water and Jonas hooked them into the “boat.”  As they gathered the potatoes, ducks flew over and Nels lifted his gun and got two ducks for supper.   
Asplund’s mother took every opportunity to get food as well.  “I can still remember my mother seeing salmon going up the field and she put on her boots and ran out there with a gaff hook and gaffed a salmon for supper.  Oh, that was something,” Asplund reminisced.  Salmon were plenty in those days.
Even with success in raising crops and abundant wildlife, the settlers were still too remote to have their needs met in case of accident or illness. Without a doctor, families had to rely on the skills of one another.  Herman Anderson had medical experience aboard ship and owned a “doctor’s book.”  He would sew up wounds, set bones, and even deliver babies.  Others used flannel soaked in coal oil and lard and placed it over the chest to cure a cold.  An extreme remedy was to use a warm flat iron to “iron out the pain in the chest.”  When someone did die, Henry Kjelstad often built the caskets, and someone would read from the Bible during the funeral.  The first ones who passed away were buried on the mission house grounds but were later moved to a cemetery.
James (George’s son)                            Mabel Barr
The children of Ohop Valley attended school regularly, as education was very important to the settlers.  The parents wanted their children to be taught and have them learn English as well. Mabel and James Barr as well as other Indian children from Mashel Prairie attended school and functions as well.  Children attended Rainier School but distance and bad roads made them attend classes in the old mission house.  Built in 1895, this log structure was used for church services, religious instruction, and gatherings.
Edgerton School
            In 1910, they moved into a new building called the Edgerton School #66.  The named it Edgerton because the county school superintendent promised to buy them a flag if they named it after him.  Before, a flag had been painted on a wall in the old school.
Life for the settlers was much better by 1906.  All were living in two-story farmhouses with a barn.  They also built milk houses, smoke houses, and chicken coops.  The settlers worshiped and socialized together in the little mission house.  Many walked winding trails by canteen light while the younger ones would be on the lookout for cougars. 
The pioneers and the Barr Family looked out for each other as well.  The Barr family, who were half Nisqually and half Snohomish Indians, grew very close to those living in the Ohop Valley, and socialized with one another. 
One event the Indians and settlers enjoyed together were salmon bakes.  Late in June, as the Chinook salmon was starting their run, the Barrs would invite many from all around to partake in a salmon bake.  On the banks of the Nisqually, near the mouth of the Ohop Creek, was a beach perfect for picnicking.  The Indians provided the salmon and the settlers brought the rest. 

Matteus Kjelstad described the first one he remembers:

Barr Salmon Bake
On the early morning of the day set, three young Indians took their canoes upstream about two miles with a hundred yard net.  They string the net across the river in places where there were no obstructions and let it drift downstream until it had to be pulled because of river obstructions.  It was then unloaded of fish and the same process repeated at the next open place in the river. When they arrived at the picnic site, they had about 15 shiny Chinook salmon in the canoe.  By this time Jim Barr had prepared a bed of hot coals made by burning alder wood.  The Indian women cleaned the salmon and prepared them for barbecuing.
In 1908, the Kjelstad family would repay the kindness of the Barrs during a bout with smallpox.  Other families were affected but it seemed to strike the Barrs very hard.  The doctor of the time, named Martiny, had the family quarantined.  Since they could not leave and many were sick, Olava, Henry, or one of the children would leave food and supplies on a stump in the lower field where the Barrs later picked it up. 
None of the Barr family died from the smallpox.  There was much to be thankful for, and Katie Barr felt this fully.  In 1909, the Barrs invited the Kjelstad family to their home for a grand Thanksgiving dinner.  In a large room in the cabin warmed by a fireplace on one end, there was a large table spread out with roasted venison, pheasant, grouse, and baked salmon all provided from the forest and rivers.  Thirteen families, the Barrs, and the Kjelstad all sat together joined in prayer led by Katie Barr with the other Indian people chanting in unison. 
Though Barrs did not lose any children from the epidemic, records do show that in 1911, Willie Barr only 2 ½ years old died from unknown causes.  At the time, he was the youngest son of Matilda and George Barr. 
According a 1910 Census of the Silver Lake  Precinct, the Barr family consisted of James, 56; “Mrs. James,” 70;  George, 30; his wife Matilda, 30; daughter Mabel, 4; son James, 3; son Willie, 1 ½; and Silas, 31.  In an earlier census in 1887, it lists James Barr, 34; Katie, 34; Silas, 10; and George, 8. 
Martha’s son, Martha, Henry, Matt Kjelstad, Jim, James, Mabel, Matilda Barr, “Mrs. James,” with friends from the Mashel Prairie
One theory is that Katie’s husband and James’ brother William died and then, James took “Katie,” her sons George and Silas in.  This was consistent with the Indian culture of the time.  In addition, Earnest Barr, a son born to George and Matilda, stated that “Katie” was the sister-in-law to Jim Barr. 
However, another theory is that “Katie” could have died by 1910 and “Mrs. James” could be another relative.  The 1910 census does not list a “Katie” but a “Mrs. James” who was 70.  She seems much older and would have had her sons in her forties.  The same census was scribbled and “NH” was placed in Gorge’s column meaning new head as in new head of the family showing no direct relationship with “Mrs. James.” 
While in Ohop Valley, Jim Barr lived separately from the rest of the family in a small cabin.  After the small pox, they burned the larger cabin down and built a cedar shack.  For a while George, Matilda and his family lived in a lean-to.
Ohop Ladies Aide
All those living in the Ohop Valley had to go through hard times and longed for each other’s support, so the women formed the Ohop Ladies Aid in 1895.  They wanted better religious instruction for their children and more socialization among the womenfolk.  After coming up with the idea one day, Olava Kjelstad and Tora Larson decided to turn the talk into action.  The very next day, they set off down the rough trail to meet with the five other of the earliest women of the Valley.  Besides co-founders Olava Kjelstad and Tora Larson, the original members of the Ohop Ladies Aide were Marie Anderson, Anna Jacobsen, Aase Peterson, Helsine Anderson, and Ingeborg Halvorsen.  Olava Kjelstad was elected the first president with Tora Larson as first secretary.  They were young, married, and none spoke English except for Mrs. Jacobson. Their meetings consisted of hymns and readings from the Bible closing each gathering by reciting the Lord’s Prayer.  The dues were five cents a month and by year’s end the treasury totaled $7.10 minus $3.00 for songbooks.
The Ohop Ladies Aid set out to address two big concerns.  The first order of business was to construct a mission house for religious education.  The second was accomplished by the very formation of the group.  Lonely for the social life in the old country, the women bonded together through sharing and song.  That created a solidarity that gave them support and strength during the hard times.  The first goal took longer, but by the second year, the mission house was built.  Inspired by their wives, the men used what resources they had to get the job done.  Torger Peterson set aside some of his land, and John Larson, along with Henry Kjelstad, cut the logs.  The other husbands worked towards the completion of the building.  As Kjelstad finished up the door and window frames, the ladies supplied the glass for the windows. 
For many years, the mission house was used for church services, social gatherings, and Sunday school.  They did not have a local minister, so Rev. Harstad came by buggy from Parkland, then later by train.  The ladies gave to the fund to pay a teacher for church summer school.  Eventually, the mission house was used for school until the Edgerton school was completed. 
Rev. Svinth
The group grew to include several other ladies from in and around the Ohop Valley extending their aid to help Rev. Reynolds of the Community Church and Rev. Svinth of the Lutheran Church plus many others.  The ladies ran fundraisers and were regular contributors to the Red Cross, Senior Party, Girl’s State, Ohop Grange, Washington Children’s Home, and Martha Mary Children’s Home in Parkland
Not only did the women bond together but many Ohop families were related either by blood or marriage.  The Oldens were related to the Larsons, Henricksons, and Petersons.  Ole Olden’s wife was Hannah Larson and her brother John Larson married Tora.  The Larson daughter Annie married Fred Henricksen.  Peter Peterson’s wife was an Olden.  Also, Herman Anderson, Kjelstad, and Malm were related.  Lena Malm was an Anderson.  Olava Kjelstad and Maria (Herman) Anderson were sisters. 
Another link to the Ohop families exists between other families close to the Ohop Valley.  The Kings and Asplunds were related to Andersons, Grundells, Jensens, and Kjelstads.
            By 1910, the fields were thriving and productive.  A detailed Auditor’s Annual Report, published the same year, stated that the Ohop Valley settlers had improved the road and was “devoted to the raising of thoroughbred cattle, horses, hogs, and other stock and the best breeds of poultry.”  They even estimated that 200,000 gallons of milk alone was produced as a result.  The report went on to say that the farmers had “astonishing results” from their crop production in the black, muck, loam soil.
Ohop Valley
By the 1911, some settlers left while other families came to the Ohop Valley.  In 1888, Emil and Anna Jacobson as well as Edwin and Helsine Anderson came in.  Then, in 1895, Ole Ingeborg with his wife and Salve Jensen arrived as well.  John and Lena Malm came in with Ole and Hannah Olden arriving later that year in 1906.  Finally in 1911 Einer and Hannah Hedborg made the community complete. 
Some of those Ohop Valley pioneers left their mark in the roadways.  Driving down the Mountain Highway that Torger Peterson brought about, one can see Kjelstad Road and nearby Peterson and Anderson Roads.
Torger Peterson supervising road construction
Though Torger Peterson had a road named after him, he made it his mission that there should a road through the Ohop Valley all the way to Mt. Rainier.  Peterson was so impacted from the sight of Indian Henry’s Hunting Grounds that he advocated for 20 years for the county to build a road.  This would make life easier for the settlers and draw more sightseers in on their way to Mt. Rainier.  Tired of his voice falling on deaf ears, he ran for and was elected County Commissioner in 1906.  After getting re-elected to a second term, the highly motivated Peterson got the first concrete paving in Washington State laid down using the new Bagley Scraper.  The Mountain Highway was born.
Looking back on his life, Torger Peterson made this statement in 1925 honoring the women and the times:

And in my opinion, the women who stayed with 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 a round trip to Tacoma, while now we make it in three hours.

            Torger Peterson and the other Ohop pioneers had built solid productive ground.  That prosperity was connected to Eatonville’s founding and impacted the whole community.