Auburn, Washington, started its life as a non-Indian under the name of Slaughter, named for Lt. William A. Slaughter. In 1893, the community changed its name to Auburn as a salute to Auburn, New York. In 1912, the Northern Pacific Railroad selected Auburn as its western freight terminus, creating an economic book for the town. The White River Valley Museum celebrates the Indian and immigrant history of the community.
Lt. William Slaughter and his wife (whose name is not indicated in the museum material) are shown above. A graduate of the U.S. Military, Lt. Slaughter was killed during the 1855 Treaty Wars.
The earliest non-Indian settlers moved into the White River Valley in 1854-1855 coming into Washington Territory along the Overland Trail (shown above). The journey across North America took six months and people were drawn to the because of promises of free land. According to the museum display:
“The U.S. government would provide at least 160 acres to a qualified person. Settlers could potentially become wealthy land owners farming rich, unspoiled land. However, no prior provisions were made for the native people who had lived on these lands for generations.”
Indians could not, of course, become homesteaders as they were not citizens nor could they become citizens. The term “settler” in reference to the non-Indian immigrants is a bit misleading because it seems to imply that the Indians were not settled. Contrary to popular stereotypes, the Indians were not nomadic wanderers, but lived in settled villages.
The immigrants came across North America in slow, ox-drawn wagons (a model is shown above).
The immigrants brought with them many things from their old lives.
The White River Valley, like most of North America, was not an untamed wilderness, but an ecology which had been modified and maintained by American Indians over thousands of years. The American government simply ignored that fact that the land was already occupied when they offered the “free” land to the immigrants. In 1855, the government attempted to impose a series of treaties on the Indian nations of Western Washington. The treaties were intended to get the Indians out of the way of Manifest Destiny and transfer their wealth to non-Indians.
The newcomers often established their farms in wild strawberry patches, camas fields, and other resource areas which had traditionally been used by the Salish-speaker Indians.
Shown above is a portrait of Wiletchtid, commonly known as Indian Tom, a member of the St’Kamish people. Wiletchtid welcomed the newcomers and hence is remembered by them. Unlike many of the Salish-speaking Indians of the mid-nineteenth century, Wiletchtid became a Christian. During the Treaty Wars of 1855, Wiletchtid rescued some American children and thus he is considered a hero by non-Indians.
In 1874, the United States established the Muckleshoot Reservation for the Salish Indian groups in the valley.
As non-Indian farms became more prosperous, Indian families, such as the ones shown above, worker for wages picking hops.
Farmer’s Log Cabin:
Ezra Meeker brought the first hop vine cuttings into the region. Before long, hops became a major cash crop. The hops were harvested, dried, baled, and then shipped off to be used in brewing beer. From 1860 to 1890, much of the crop was shipped to Britain.
Hops grew up poles as tall as 15 feet and produced flowers, known as cones. In the fall, the hop cones were harvested by the hop pickers. Most of the hard work involved in picking hops was done by American Indians who came from throughout the Puget Sound area as well as from east of the Cascade Mountains.
Truck farming—raising vegetables and fruits to sell at market—was an important part of Auburn’s history. “Truck,” was used as a verb, means to barter or trade. The farmers sold their produce through growers associations, at roadside stands, at the Seattle Public Market, and to industrial canneries.
The display indicates that in the 1920 census, there were 590 residents of European heritage and 332 residents of Japanese heritage; 56 farms operated by Euro-American farmers and 52 farms operated by Japanese farmers. While 50 of the Euro-American farms were owned by Euro-Americans, none of the Japanese farms were owned by Japanese as the law prohibited it.
The lssei were the first generation of Japanese immigrants. According to the display:
“Japanese immigrant women farmed our Valley’s soil and often raised large families. They set strong examples of hard work, personal honor and family devotion.”
The sculpture of the Japanese woman outside of her house was done by Reynaldo Rivera in 2000.
The Japanese in the area were arrested following the Japanese military attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Some were imprisoned at Fort Missoula, Montana and others at Camp Harmony in Puyallup, Washington and the Tule Lake Internment Camp in California.
The One Room School:
The school house was often the first public building which the American immigrants would put up. Labor and materials were usually donated.