A Newsletter of the White River Valley Museum

July 2003

Auburn-Area Church Life

by Stan Flewelling

Last July in a White River Journal article, I wrote about how Auburn-area churches got organized and built places of worship. This follow-up article focuses on religious life and its impact on the community. There's an old (and true) saying that churches are characterized more by the lives of their people than by their buildings and organizational structures.

Rites and Rituals
The Pacific Northwest, in recent decades, has been home to the highest percent of people in the nation unaffiliated with some kind of church or faith. Compared to most of the world around us (excepting Western Europe), and seen within the larger scope of history, the current secular bent in this region is notable.

It wasn't always so. Native Americans maintained a deep sense of spiritual guidance. The famous Chief Seattle was known as a religious man. Forsaking weapons in his war against the repression of Native peoples and cultures, Seattle's words revealed a remarkable spirituality and vision.

Religions in most any culture represent stability, continuity, and tradition. Ideally, they honor life and support every effort to enhance it. They celebrate births, nurture children, encourage responsibility in youth, sanction marriages, strengthen families, comfort and counsel the distressed, and commemorate those who have died. Religious inflexibility has also incited horrible conflicts between people of differing faiths and perspectives, as in our own Treaty Wars.

Funeral of an Iseri family child at the Auburn Pioneer Cemetery, 1913.
Funeral of an Iseri family child at the Auburn Pioneer Cemetery, 1913.
Rev. Kozen Morita (center, with sash) presides.  WRVM #462

Anyone interested in American history knows that many early European colonists came here hoping to find religious freedom. Concepts used to build American democracy and bind the nation together were based on religious principles. Following Independence, most migration from east to west was probably more motivated by opportunity than by spiritual matters, but many pioneers carried their beliefs with them.

Years after it was already in progress, westward expansion was spiritualized by a famous New York journalist. "The American claim," said John O'Sullivan in 1845, "is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us." This philosophy, and the prospect of striking it rich--in animal pelts, gold, or simply a new start in a more agreeable climate--encouraged plenty of reluctant pioneers to make the long and arduous cross-country trek without concern for the impact on the already present 
Native communities.

Then in 1850, the U.S. Federal government launched a massive giveaway of land in the Pacific Northwest that it had no valid claim to. A huge migration followed. Practically all of the early Puget Sound pioneers took advantage of the Donation Land Act. Over the years, western migrants earned the reputation of being pretty rough, tough, and independent. But wherever a number of families and clergy settled in, a growing sense of order and stability prevailed.

Bringing a family to the western territories was no light consideration. Samuel and Jane Russell carried provisions for nine when they started from Indiana in 1852. Years later, Nancy Russell Thomas recalled the difficulties of their trip, but could still joke about the sendoff an old preacher gave them en route to their own "destiny." Riding along with the Russells for a few miles, he tried to encourage them with the words of an old gospel song: "I'll shout salvation till I die."

Nancy Russell's marriage to John Thomas on February 5, 1854 was the first wedding performed by Seattle's first resident minister, Rev. David E. Blaine. A few months later, the Thomases became the first pioneer couple to settle in the White River Valley. Nancy Thomas became White River's first schoolteacher.

Once they got organized, church gatherings provided some welcomed fellowship on the White River frontier. "A person living a mile away was called a near neighbor," claimed Charles Ballard. This was especially lonesome for women, whose work often bound them to their homes, seldom allowing them to get around and socialize.

Before Levi and Mary Ballard (Charles' parents) came, the arrival of another family prompted the area's first Christmas feast. In December 1864, three bachelors (Thomas Christopher, Andrew Lund, and a Mr. Nelson) encouraged newcomers John and Rachel Ann Faucett and their family to join them for dinner. The group represented the entire Auburn-area pioneer population. Mr. Christopher hosted the gathering, but according to the Auburn Argus (December 16, 1911), it was the "presence of a white woman that suggested the idea." Rachel Faucett and her daughter, Nancy, did all the cooking.

Ever since this early occasion, countless socials have been organized by church groups in Auburn, providing important opportunities for people to get to know each other better. This was equally true for Auburn-area Buddhists from Japan. Within weeks of its founding in 1912, the White River Buddhist Church began a Women's Association (Fujinkai) and a Japanese School for children (Nihongo Gakko), and later, Youth Associations (Seinenkai). All this helped establish the church as the Valley's major Japanese American community center.

White River Presbyterian youth group campout at Stone's Landing.
White River Presbyterian youth group campout at Stone's Landing (Redondo), 1893.
Ernest Van Winkle reclines at the far left. Amy Johns [Ryan], author of the anecdote,
sits at the far right in front of the horse (held by Ernest Meade, owner).
The dashing young minister, Rev. John McMillan, stands in the back row, 4th from the left.
WRVM #1416

Before governments began to dominate such efforts in relatively recent decades, clerics were at the forefront of educational and humanitarian endeavors around the world.

This was certainly true of Auburn churches. Sermons delivered during worship services were meant to instruct and inspire. Adults conformed to the solemnity of these meetings, but kids often could not. Like Tom Sawyer, their attention was easily drawn to anything more interesting. When the first local church meetings were occasionally held nearby, Levi and Mary Ballard attended with their family. Charles Ballard later confessed what captured his attention the most:

{The log schoolhouse} building was used for church services, when we had any, and for all kinds of public meetings as well. Some hogs had taken up their home under the floor, with the result that the place was infested with fleas and I have seen them jumping all over a girl's white dress during church services. One time while church was being held, the hogs had some trouble among themselves under the floor. Every little while one would let out a squeal and bump up against the floor and shake one of the puncheons {split cedar floor boards}, which entertained us boys more than the words of the preacher did.

Almost every early congregation in the Auburn area (including Buddhists) sponsored a Sunday School (Saturday School for Seventh Day Adventists), offering informal instruction geared to different age groups. Even more casual and fun were Sunday School picnics and campouts. These wholesome outings took eager young people to favorite local recreation areas like Star Lake and Stone's Landing (now known as Redondo).

Young, popular, and energetic, Rev. John McMillan was pastor of the White River Presbyterian Church from 1891-97. Mrs. Amy Johns Ryan explained his impact on the lives of her teenage peers:

Mr. McMillan was full of fun when out with the young people. He went camping with us to Stone's Landing and Ernest Van Winkle and I had a good time reminiscing about some of the pranks he helped the boys play. He did not show any partiality for any of the attractive young women, though he could have had his choice if he had so chosen. His one interest was in the people and the church.

One of McMillan's predecessors at White River Presbyterian was Rev. George F. Whitworth, who became involved in another kind of church-related educational venture. Whitworth College began in nearby Sumner in 1890, moved to Tacoma after ten years, then moved to Spokane, where the school still resides.

Comfort and Encouragement
No role in church life is more meaningful than the help they offer people in times of trouble. Religious groups all over the Pacific Northwest started the first hospitals, orphanages, homes for the aged, and facilities for the homeless in their communities. Church leaders organized statewide benevolent societies like those featured in the Museum's recent "It Takes a Village" exhibit (e.g. the Washington Children's Home Society; Childhaven). Service clubs and associations for needy kids and families, like the YMCA, YWCA, Scouts, and Boys (and Girls) Clubs, were begun by people of faith and eventually wielded a nationwide impact.

Ethnic minority groups in the Auburn area often formed their own church-based service organizations. In some cases, established church people mentored within these groups, fulfilling a cross-cultural mission to welcome the newcomers and help ease their transition into American life. Around Auburn, this was truer for Japanese immigrants than for any other group. Japanese-speaking clergy, like Seattle's U. G. Murphy, met regularly with White River Valley residents and relentlessly advocated for them. In 1924 near Auburn, the Seattle Japanese Salvation Army Corps opened the first-ever Fresh Air Camp for Japanese American children. When war with Japan threatened the rights of Japanese Americans, no one spoke more fervently on their behalf than church associations in the region.

Rachel Ann Faucett in her late years.
Rachel Ann Faucett in her late years.  WRVM #775

Rachel Ann Faucett
If anyone in Auburn history ever personified the spirit of church life around here, it was Rachel Ann Faucett. Ironically, "Grandma" Faucett never became a church member anywhere.

Born in Kentucky, raised in Tennessee, Mrs. Faucett moved west with her husband, John, and their three young children in 1854, settling in Pierce County. Ten years later they moved to the Slaughter Precinct area of the White River Valley. She bore 14 children, and survived all but four of them. The couple hosted the Auburn area's first church congregation (and first school sessions) in their log home. A portion of their land became the community "Pioneer Cemetery." John Faucett died in 1887, Rachel in 1913.

1905 view of the old Faucett log home, built in 1864.
1905 view of the old Faucett log home, built in 1864.
Rachel Ann Faucett stands in front.
The Auburn area's first church congregation and
earliest school sessions met here.  WRVM #150

When she passed away, venerable pioneer Ezra Meeker wrote a touching eulogy that was published in the Auburn Argus. Rachel Faucett, he said, was known to be rough-hewn--plain, unrefined, and illiterate (though remarkably well informed). She smoked, and sometimes went barefooted--common habits in her Appalachian homeland. Rachel Faucett was also "the Good Samaritan, known as such far and wide by the pioneers." Day or 
night, and without invitation, she often walked miles through the wilderness to come to the aid of those who were ill. Her informal doctoring was available to everyone alike--including Native Americans, Japanese immigrants, and even those pioneers who mocked and disdained her coarse ways. A few years before she died, Buichiro and Kuni Itabashi leased part of the Faucett family land; Rachel Ann treated them like family.

Rachel's last request was to have her husband's grave opened for her own burial, so they could rest eternally together in the same plot on their own land. Their memorial stone stands at the heart of the tiny historical cemetery, where the Faucetts are surrounded by the remains of several of their children, Auburn's other earliest pioneers, Angeline Seattle (a relative of the famous chief by marriage), and dozens of Japanese Americans. Their presence is felt today.

Stan Flewelling