A Newsletter of the White River Valley Museum

January 1999

One Family's Journey to Settle the White River Valley

By Stan Flewelling

One of the better-known names in White River Valley pioneer history is that of Johnny King. Sooner or later, just about everyone who spends time at the WRV Museum gets acquainted, at least to some extent, with his story. We know that he was a young child during his entire, short sojourn in the valley, that his life was changed dramatically in the course of a single excruciating day, and that he faced great peril with remarkable presence of mind and courage. His story is a saga of the deadly clash of cultures, of mercy in the midst of war, of the kindness of strangers-the stuff of legend.

Upper inset: Mrs. Eliza J. (king) Jones and her son, Johnny King. Taken in late 1853 or early 1854 before their travels west. Lower inset: Eliza Olive Jones (5), Harvey Percival Hones (3), and John Icilius King (7), taken in San Franscisco in July 1856, several months after they were orphaned in the King County Treaty Wars.



In 1847, 20 year-old John King married Eliza Jane Smail. Her home was in a neighboring town, though separated from his home by the Pennsylvania state line. Within a year, the young couple followed the lead of several other Jones and King family relatives and moved to Southwestern Wisconsin. Apparently at least three of Eliza Jane's Smail kinfolk-her mother, a brother, and a sister-accompanied or followed them there. John and Eliza's son, John I. ("Johnny") King, was born on November 13, 1848.

Six months later the elder John King, still restless, joined thousands of other "49ers" and trekked to the California gold mines. But on January 1, 1850, just weeks after his arrival, leaving his wife and son behind, John King was killed in a tragic mine accident along the American River, leaving Eliza Jane a widow and young Johnny fatherless. About a year later, Eliza Jane King married her deceased husband's first cousin, Harvey H. Jones.

Within the next three years, that couple had two more children-a girl and a boy. They also decided, probably in late 1853, to move to the Pacific Coast. Eliza Jane Jones' brother, John Smail, would accompany them. The party left their farm near Platteville, Wisconsin on Wednesday, March 29, 1854 with two wagons, 25 head of cattle, a horse, and thousands of fruit seeds and saplings. The Joneses were prepared to start both a tree nursery and dairy operation at their destination.

Free Land Attracts Settlers
In the early 1850s, government promises of free land encouraged many American families to brave the long trail to the west coast. No doubt, this lavish give-away was a motivation for Harvey and Eliza Jane Jones. But apparently there were other incentives-Eliza Jane and her mother-in-law, Ursula Jones, did not get along. This, in fact, was probably the major factor in the Jones family's decision to move. More often than not it was men who led the resolve to travel the Overland Trail-they tended to see the trip as an adventure and a challenge. Some of Harvey's family members were opposed to the move. His mother and sister, Clarissa, even wrote to him at the family's first major stopping point and begged him not to go on. "I would have been glad to have stayed where I was," Harvey responded, "but I have started to seek a home on the Pacific Coast & I do not intend to stop until I get there." [letter, April 30, 1854]

Spirited and outspoken, Eliza Jane's correspondence shows a considerable contrast to the more level tone of her husband's. "The old woman & Clarissa wrote to Harvey," she complained in her first letter to her mother from the trail [May 8, 1854]. "Clarissa said, 'Harvey you wrong your friends in saying they don't care for you, you have left your best friends & gone with one that don't love you, & if you don't realize it now, I am afraid you will.' They could not set him against me enough when I was there, but [now] they have to write to him." In the same letter, she mentioned a squabble with her brother, John Smail. "John thought he had to do more than his share & he left," she told her Wisconsin family. "I did not care, for he was so cross he scarcely spoke a pleasant word. He & I had some cross words." Smail decided to "hire on" with another family in the same train of wagons. One of two other men who worked with the Jones family, Enos Cooper, stayed with them for the duration of the trip, became one of their neighbors in the White River Valley, and was even beside them in death.

"Crossing the muddy Missouri."

By now, the travelers had spent just under a month crossing the state of Iowa, camped for a week at the Missouri River "jumping off" point near Council Bluffs, and gotten the rest of their "outfit" purchased and readied. The night before their scheduled river crossing, the cattle "ran off," as Harvey put it. Rounding them up delayed the trip a day. Once across, they were in Nebraska-"Indian Country." They had left the United States behind. They joined with two other families in order to boost security and maintain familiar company along the trail. There were five wagons between them.

Harvey Jones' journal began to reveal a tedious monotony. Days on end were rarely much different from previous ones. They traveled as many miles as they could, generally 12-16, camped if possible near a stream, rested as well as they could, and trudged on. Weather was usually "bad"-windy, dusty, stormy-and the road usually "poor." Eliza Jane and "the children"-meaning the two younger ones-slept in one of the wagons while Harvey and the hired men slept in a tent. Johnny King, barely 5 1/2, was probably elated to be counted among the "men" until May 16, when the "tent blew down, the rain fell in torrents, and wind blew always." The men and their bedding were drenched. It was terrifying in the wagon, too. Eliza wrote later that she "gave up that night for the first time."

Actually, the Jones family was quite well-prepared for the rigors of their journey. In 1854 several "Emigrants' Guide Books" were available for Overland Trail pioneers. One Harvey and Eliza Jane Jones clearly used was the Latter-day Saints' Emigrants' Guide by William Clayton, published in 1848. It steered them to the north side "Mormon Trail" along the Platte River (instead of the customary south side trail) and told them in considerable detail not only how to proceed on their journey, but also what to prepare for in advance. On May 30, as the party camped near the fork of the North and South Platte Rivers, Harvey wrote that they "lay by [i.e. kept camp] to gather wood, there being none for 200 miles ahead." He knew, because the guide book told them so. But it also told him that there was good water and plenty of trout in Spring Creek. "A clear cold stream but no trout that I could find," moaned the disappointed angler to his journal.

The Hardships of Travel
Harvey's tendency for understatement sometimes masked the real traumas of the journey. On July 4, Independence Day, the party camped just east of the Continental Divide crossing known as South Pass. The next day, Harvey's cryptic journal entry read: 

Traveled 12 miles crossed the summit, passed the Pacific Springs. They are poor, miry springs. Nooned on Pacific Creek. Team ran off with my wife. Camped on a hill without water.

Years later, Johnny King remembered the runaway incident as a terrifying threat to the lives of his mother and half-siblings. Fortunately, the only damage was to the wagon, which sprung an axle. The next day they came to a road junction-the left hand road led to California, the right hand road to the Pacific Northwest. The Jones family went right. John Smail, Eliza Jane's brother, went toward California, where he hoped to find gold.

Undoubtedly the most harrowing experience of the family's trip was a hostile encounter with Indians near what is Caldwell, Idaho today. On August 19, wrote Harvey, some Indians stole one of his cows. The next day several of the men in the party (including David Neely, a future White River settler) rode back to try to retrieve the cow. They found the animal's remains, but also stumbled onto the terrible siege of another wagon group that had lagged behind. When the men joined the exchange of gunfire, Harvey Jones was nearly shot. A young man crouching next to him took a bullet in the head and died soon afterward. The party soon had to beat a careful retreat to their camp several miles away, but were able to rescue the injured 13 year-old Newton Ward in the process. One of the boy's brothers also survived, but the remaining 18 members of the party, including women and children, most of them from the Ward family, were killed.

The horrifying incident made an indelible impression on the entire Jones family. Eliza Jane would not let Harvey return to the battle scene with a "posse" organized to bury the dead and rescue any other survivors. He did not object-the whole episode had literally sickened him. Months later, Eliza Jane wrote disdainfully about Indian neighbors in the White River Valley. Her attitude probably did not endear her to them.

On September 8 after camping at the Umatilla River in northeastern Oregon, the train faced another "fork" in the road. Those heading for Oregon bore left; the Jones family and others heading for Washington Territory bore right. In a few days they crossed the great Columbia River, and "camped . . . in Washington Territory for the first time." From there they followed the Yakima and Naches Rivers through the Cascade Mountains to Naches Pass. While camping one evening, the party met Ezra Meeker, who had come west in 1852 and was now traveling east to meet his emigrating parents. Already well established on a Puyallup River Valley claim, Meeker recommended that the newcomers place their own land claims in the White River Valley. Several families, including the Joneses, followed his advice.

The group was following a new, more direct route to the Puget Sound area that had first been tested by wagon trains just a year earlier. Despite an enormous government investment in developing the Naches Pass road, the pioneers found it to be the most difficult part of their entire route-"a very bad road," as the Joneses put it. The family nearly lost most of their gear as it was lowered gingerly down a steep hill at the pass.
On October 4, 1854, the Jones family finally "reached the settlement in White River Valley." Harvey put his journal aside, but not before penning this summary:

After traveling six months & five days, I at last reached the place of my present abode alive & well, but much fatigued. The cattle were nearer worn out than the people.


"Pioneers on the march."

Fortunately for us, the Jones family correspondence did not cease with their arrival. Their letters to Wisconsin kinfolk include the earliest known descriptions of life in the valley written by settlers. Harvey and Eliza Jane claimed a 320-acre plot of land in the valley that bordered the west edge of the White River. It was a part of the river that is actually now extinct-a second channel opposite the Auburn Golf Course that flowed northwest from the main channel, then turned east to rejoin it. The two channels created a mid-river island approximately where the "River Mobile Estates" now stand. The geographic center of the claim would have been about where the White River Buddhist Temple stands. Much to their delight, a tiny unfinished frame home had already been built on it, perhaps by an earlier fur trader. They finished the dwelling off and moved right in. On October 29, 1854, Harvey was pleased to make this report to his Wisconsin family:

I am in my own house on my own land this day of our Lord, writing this letter. My farm is good enough for me. . . . The morning sun strikes it beautifully. My farm is as rich & handsome as . . . any body else's. I have never seen a stone on its surface yet. Part of it is prairie, part brush land & part timber. There are about 20 or 30 acres of heavy fir timber at the northern end of my farm. I can cut plenty of hewing sticks one hundred feet long and I presume that some trees would rise one hundred and fifty-they are very straight. The bulk of my small timber is maple. I have a few large cedars which are very valuable for shingles & posts. The river affords abundance of fine salmon. Deer, bear & partridges are plenty. We have no stove yet but I am in hopes to get one soon. We are all very fat & heavy. I weigh more now than I ever did before in my life. . . . There is but little or no stagnant water in the country that I have seen or heard of. I think it is a healthy country.

Harvey and Eliza Jane struggled to maintain their optimism during the next few months. They were delighted with the mild winter weather (especially by Wisconsin standards), but that also caused the river to swell threateningly. "I have had the blues some," admitted Eliza Jane to her mother [letter, July 22, 1855]. "The snow melted on the mountains in January & flooded our valley & it made me homesick. I have not been contented since." The flood waters had surrounded the house, so they made plans to move it to higher ground. When they attempted the move in the spring, the structure collapsed entirely.

They proceeded to build a new frame house. Harvey described it in some detail to his parents as "17 X 22 ft. with three rooms, a bed room & buttery & a large room to live in. I shall build it in a tolerable decent style & it will have to do us for several years." They bought their processed lumber for the project at Henry Yesler's Mill in Seattle, paying for it mostly in butter. The lumber cost them an average of less than 11/2 cents per board foot. But they were credited between 35 and 50 cents a pound wholesale for their butter-a very precious commodity in these parts at that time. The family dairy operation was serving them well, and they had a growing number of cows to tend. "I milk eight cows now & Eliza makes about 5 lbs. of butter a day from the milk besides what I feed the calves," said Harvey in April. In July it was 10 cows and 50 pounds a month, providing a comfortable income. By then the nursery was planted and growing.

Harvey and Eliza were pleased with the growth and health of their children. On their daughter's 3rd birthday [Dec. 11, 1854], Harvey wrote to his parents. "We call ciss Olive, she is fat and healthy, she grows very fast. Our babe is just beginning to walk." It was the first the Wisconsin relatives had heard of a given name for their granddaughter. The "babe," just a year old, was yet unnamed. (Four months later he wrote: "Eliza calls the baby Percival, he is tall & slim, he runs all around out doors & plays with John and Olive.") Johnny, now 6, occasionally played with Georgie King, son of George and Mary King, whose home was about a mile east of the Jones'. He was also being given more mature responsibilities, as his stepfather explained to his grandparents: "John is staying with [Mrs. Elizabeth] Brannan this evening. Mr. [William] Brannan has gone to Seattle." The Brannans lived a mile to the south and had recently given birth to an infant girl, their first child.

Cabins like this were built by early settlers.

But the family, especially Eliza, felt its isolation. "We have had no school or [church] meeting yet," she wrote, though there were plans to build a schoolhouse in the fall. Nancy Thomas taught a six-week school session at her home in the late summer. Johnny walked nearly two miles through the forest each way to attend. At home, the children no doubt helped some with chores, but at their age were more inclined to play. "We have had as many as three hired men since we broke our house down, but we have none now," Eliza remarked. "There are no girls to hire here so I have to do all my work alone." One of their regular hired hands was fellow White River settler Enos Cooper, who had worked for them on the Overland Trail.

From time to time White River neighbors got together, sometimes for official purposes. On July 11 they met at the Thomas home for a precinct election. "Harvey was voted in as Post Master so it will be in our house," Eliza wrote. But there was another hot topic besides the election. "We are some afraid of the Indians now. Perhaps there is no danger, we do not know." Allen Porter came to the meeting from his Muckleshoot Prairie land claim and said he believed that there was going to be trouble. "The men laughed at him, but it set me to thinking and watching," wrote Nancy Thomas years later. For Eliza Jane Jones as well, it was an omen of terrible things to come. The settlers probably realized that the land they claimed as their own had not yet been adequately acquired by the government from Native American residents.

On October 28, 1855, the tensions erupted in a terrible clash, and young Johnny King became a hero. The story is told in museum exhibits, and will be recounted in our April newsletter...

J. A. Phillips, III

Illustrations are from Ezra Meeker's historic book, Ox Team Days on the Oregon Trail.