acknowledges the bravery and endurance of the
men and women who came to Washington as
immigrants and who did without necessities to
make history. They dared dangers and
endured hardships to save this area for the
United States. This is a tribute to one
of those who laid the foundation of our
society and made possible the prosperity and
advantages we enjoy today. This is to honor
Jesse Ferguson, pioneer of Tumwater,
subject of this sketch shall hereafter
be referred to as Jesse. Jesse was
born in Sandusky, Ohio, May 6, 1824, to
Samuel and Jane (Bauser) Ferguson (1).
The family soon after moved to Quincy,
Illinois, at the edge of civilization in
1824. Jesse moved again with his
family to Savannah, Missouri when he was
After three years in Missouri, Jesse
decided to immigrate to the Oregon
Country, even before it was a territory
of the United States. In May 1844,
he started with Michael T. Simmons,
George Washington Bush and James
McAllister for the Pacific Coast (2)
along with over three hundred other
people in the train (3).
There were over eighty wagons and over
eight hundred horses, oxen, mules and
cattle at the start of the journey (4).
After leaving St. Joseph, the trip was
uneventful in the first two months
except that Indians stole eight oxen in
the first few days (5)(6). The
weather was extremely rainy and many
rivers were flooding. Only 200
miles were traveled in the first 61 days
under the poor leadership of General
Cornelius Gilliam (7).
They arrived at Fort Hall near Pocatello, Idaho
(Southeast Idaho) in October 1844 by following
the trail created by the immigration of
1843. Prior to 1843 few wagons had
traveled west of this point along the Oregon
Trail since Fort Hall was owned by the British
Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). The Company
discouraged homesteaders from traveling to
Oregon since the Canadian-American border was
not established until 1846 (8)(9).
After Fort Hall, the way was more difficult and
in order to survive, the pioneers were required
to eat birds and anything else that moved to
make their way to The Dalles, Oregon, and the
next settlement along the Trail (10).
Wagons were the only means of transportation
across the treeless prairies. Most of the
party arrived at The Dalles, Oregon, in December
1844 and then pressed onward with a HBC
flatboat. The party soon arrived at
Washougal, Washington, where for nine months,
the group engaged in making shingles for the HBC
at Fort Vancouver.(11)(12).
The party decided to move further north in
September 1845 into what is now Washington State
There was hardly enough room for an ox to walk
on the path that was known as the Cowlitz Trail
and the pioneers had brought their wagons. It
took 15 days to cut the 58 mile road from
Toledo, Washington, to Puget Sound (15).
to pay HBC for food at Fort Nisqually. The only
tools they had for making shingles were an ax
and a draw-knife, and they worked in the dense
forest where Olympia now stands. It was
possible to make from five to fifteen dollars
per day. Dr. Tolmie, Chief Trader at Fort
Nisqually was especially generous to the newly
arrived Americans. Incidentally low prices were
charged to the settlers for supplies at the HBC
In 1846 Jesse was 22 years old when he claimed
320 acres on Bush Prairie stretching one-half
mile wide and one mile long between the Israel
and Trosper Roads (17).
The corners of his property were near where
today you would find Albertson's, Tumwater High
School, Littlerock Foodmart Grocery Store and
Alderbrook Mobile Estate on the Trosper Road.
His log cabin home was built exactly where the
Tumwater Middle School now stands (18). In
August 1847, he became a partner in the first
sawmill on Puget Sound located at the lower
Deschutes Falls in Tumwater
Jesse joined Tony Rabbeson in the summer of 1848
to work in the wheat fields of the Cowlitz Farm,
formerly a part of the HBC (20)(21)(22).
George B. Roberts was the manager of the
nearly 4,000 acre Farm, but old Simon Plemondon
was very involved (23).
They taught the few remaining Frenchmen on the
Farm to save grain by cradling, after which
Jesse and his cradle (24)
were high in favor (25)(26)(27).
The Farm remained in operation until 1853-54
when armed American settlers took possession (28).
Tony Rabbeson and Jesse became involved in a
land dispute with the British who tried to
commandeer property just south of the Nisqually
River after the Oregon Treaty of 1846 (29).
The HBC drove a large herd of cattle on to the
land in the fall of 1848. A meeting was
held by the settlers in Olympia and Rabbeson and
Ferguson were appointed to speak with Dr.
William Tolmie at Fort Nisqually. The
cattle were peacefully removed to the north side
of the river, now Pierce County, and no
hostilities resulted (30).
In April 1849, Jesse went by wagon with four
yokes of oxen with Edmund Sylvester, Tony
Rabbeson, and Joseph Borst to be a part of the
California Gold Rush. They arrived in
Sacramento in July. Due to sickness and
heavy rains, Jesse did not do any mining and
returned without gold (31).
In 1850 Jesse began making square timbers in the
new settlement of Olympia for shipment to
California. He returned to his claim to
live, however he was still affected by gold
fever. In October 1851, the Australian
sloop Georgiana sailed into the harbor at
Olympia. On her departure on November 3rd,
Jesse and 26 other men, including James
McAllister, Sidney Ford, and three Sarjent
Brothers, went aboard for passage to the Queen
Charlotte Islands in search of gold (32).
The voyage went well until they reached the east
coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands and the
sailing ship was blown ashore by a strong
gale. The fierce, cannibalistic Haida
Indians took their clothes, robbed them of
everything, held them as prisoner and burned the
during rituals and were especially savage in the
mid-nineteenth century (35)(36)(37)(38).
By good luck communications were made with
Americans as far south as Olympia (39).
A ransom of about $1,800 was prepared by Simpson
P. Moses of the U.S. Customs Office in Olympia
and dispatched with about 25 American troops
from Fort Steilacoom aboard the schooner
under Captain John W. Balch. The rescue
party purchased blankets and trinkets at Fort
Victoria from the HBC for the Indians (41) and
the exchange was made on about December
27th after 54 days of captivity. A welcoming
party was held in Olympia on December 31st and
Collector of Customs Moses was honored (42)(43).
Mr. Moses was later reprimanded for his handling
a military matter which was outside his
jurisdiction as a Customs official in
Olympia. The matter later required an act
of Congress (44)(45)(46).
Moses returned to practicing law. He was
unpopular with most people who were engaged in
shipping on the waters of Puget Sound,
especially the HBC (47).
This experience cured Jesse of the gold
fever. Jesse (now 29-years-old) married
Margaret Jane Rutledge (known as Jane) (48) on
May 29, 1853 from an adjacent homestead.
She had come over the Oregon Trail in 1852 with
her parents William and Margaret Rutledge and a
brother named Thomas who co-founded Littlerock,
Washington in 1853. The actual little rock
still remains on the family farm eight miles
south of the Ferguson homestead at a farm now
owned by Cody and Beth Rutledge Miller, (49)
great-granddaughter of Thomas Rutledge (50).
Jesse replaced his log cabin with a boarded two
story structure held together with pegs instead
of nails (51). It was located on the
present site of the Tumwater Middle
School. In the backyard was a grove of
Oregon White Oaks, Quercus garryanna, with edible
acorns. The Oak also provided strong
sticks for the natives (52)(53) to dig Camas, Camassia quamash
which grew on this part of Bush Prairie.
There also was a large patch of Kinnikinnick, Arctostaphylos
pipes by the Nisqually, Squaxin Island and
Chehalis Tribes. It was smoked
during tribal councils mixed with other leaves
and was believed to be calming and mentally
Jesse and his
daughter Sarah on the homestead ca.
1880 where Tumwater Middle School now
Photo courtesy of Henderson House.
Also, just west of the house was a spring that
ran throughout the year with pure, clean water.
This spot, near the shade of the Oaks, was a
favorite stop of travelers. The remains of
the spring now might be found in the Trosper
spring is shown in this 1854
cadastral map by noted Contract 33
surveyors George Hyde and Josiah
Taken from Bureau of Land Management
George Warren Hyde (59)(60)
and Josiah Walker Preston came to Jesse's
homestead in 1853 and 1854 to establish township
and section corners that were a part the land
survey system starting in Oregon (61).
President Milllard Fillmore appointed John Bower
as Surveyor General of Oregon Territory to
create the Public Land Survey System in 1851
that is used throughout Oregon and Washington
John and Josiah Preston were brothers from
The massive survey began with John Preston
setting the point of beginning. It was
called the Willamette Stone and is found in a
park in East Portland, about 3 miles east of the
Willamette River (65).
John Preston was married to George Hyde's sister
- Lucy Ann Hyde. The Willamette
Meridian that extends exactly north from the
Stone is located about nine miles east of the
Ferguson land claim. Josiah Preston later
moved back to Illinois where he became President
of the Chicago Board of Trade 1871-72 (66).
A barn was constructed just north of where the
Middle School parking lot is now located and was
in use until at least 1943 (67). It was
fastened together with wooden pegs (68).
Jesse's barn ca.
1940 near where Tumwater Middle School
Photo courtesy of Jayne Redman Bade.
During the Indian War of 1855-56, Jesse and the
Rutledges built a blockhouse near the boundary
between their claims now marked by a memorial (69)(70) just
one-quarter mile south of the Middle School (71).
(72). Jesse was able to remain near his
home with his wife and family during this
troublesome time. Jesse attended the
Thurston County Democratic Convention in the
blockhouse in Olympia in June 1856 representing
the Black Lake Precinct (73).
built the renovated old house just north of
the stone marker in 1853 (74).
This makes it the oldest structure in Thurston County.
Rutledge house ca. 1922
Built at about the same time daughter Jane
married Jesse in 1853
Oldest structure in Thurston County
Photo courtesy of Dale Rutledge
Jane suddenly died in childbirth at the age of
31 in January 1861 (75)(76) leaving Jesse
with five children:
Henry Cleveland (1852--1894)
David S. (1855-
Sarah Jane (1857-1921)
Anna (1859- )
(Henry was the son of Jane, perhaps by an
earlier marriage. He was born just before Jane
traversed the Oregon Trail in 1852.)
(77) Unrelated to this matter, a man named
Winfield Scott Cleveland was married to Rachel
Rutledge, Jane's sister. He built the Rutledge
barn in Littlerock (78).
Jane Ferguson and her daughter were buried on
the Ferguson claim in an area that had been used
for burials previously, including those who died
during the Indian War (79)(80).
Jesse sold about two acres of land for a
cemetery in December 1867 for ten dollars (81)
It was named the Union Cemetery and is
about one-quarter mile north of the Middle
School on the Littlerock Road where the graves
of many pioneers are found including Charles
Mason first Secretary of Washington Territory
who died in 1859 (83)(84)
and for whom Mason County is named (85)(86)(87).
Jesse sold another 2.3 acres of adjoining land
to the Roman Catholic Church in 1873 and it
became the Pioneer Calvary Cemetery. (88)
Representing the Church was Bishop Augustin
Blanchet who had been forced from Walla Walla
not long before the Cayuse War (89).
of Jesse Ferguson.
Photo ca. 2010.
of Jesse Ferguson.
Photo ca. 2015
In May 1861 Jesse attended the Thurston County
Democratic Convention held in the Council
Chamber of the Capitol (90).
He represented the Black Lake Precinct as
Ada Sprague reminiscing in 1911...
After 1869 "Jesse Ferguson's farm was another
place I loved to go. At threshing time my mother
always helped the Ferguson girls cook for the
threshers. Work was traded in these days and at
log rolling time on our place the neighbors
helped my mother. One of the sorrows of youth,
that is still a regret, was a
wonderful dinner I could not eat because of
sickness, when there was a log rolling bee at
our place (91).
The Ferguson farm not only produced cattle, but
sheep were also a favorite on Jesse's homestead
(92). The children remained at home through 1870
In the fall of 1885 a scheme to develop
Ferguson's lake as a municipal water source for
the City of Olympia was considered. (94)
A Metsker map for Thurston County in 1924 showed
Trosper Lake as Ferguson Lake. It is not
clear when the name was changed (95).
Jesse was a kind, retiring old man in his later
years. Although he signed his name with an
X and could not read or write, he managed
well. His friends and
neighbors always held him with high regard.
Only good things were said about "Uncle" Jesse
In August 1890 Jesse sold a strip of land 100
feet wide and over three quarters of a mile long
to The Portland and Puget Sound Railroad Company
(97). The Union
Pacific Railroad may have chosen this name
in the beginning to reduce land
Although the complete route from Seattle to
Portland was surveyed, much of the right of way
purchased, and 25% graded, no rails were ever
laid. Construction began in May 1890, but came
to a halt about six months later. This was
due to a cash flow problem, bad surveys, and the
Depression of 1893 (99). Part of the right
of way was still passable near Tumwater in 1939
(100). The strip of land Jesse sold to the
railroad would have intersected the Interstate 5
Freeway near the Israel Road overpass. It
would also have crossed the property now
occupied by the Costco parking lot (101).
Pacific Railroad as considered in
Section 3 in 1890.
The original map was made for
a mortgage company in 1900, but was
not accurate (102).
The added dashed line above shows
surveyed line for railroad right of
way in 1963 (103).
The Union Pacific Railroad showed the new
railroad line on their 1890 system map and it
was called The Portland and Puget Sound Railroad
The railroads in Tumwater began to decline after
In 1898 a young lady appealed to Jesse for
assistance to prevent a marriage that she
thought would fail immediately. Miss Ida
Robinson did not want to be taken to the gold
camps in Alaska. Jesse was referred to as
the "chief patriarch of the community" (106).
remarried, but continued living with his
married daughter, Sarah Jane Lee, on the old
homestead until his death on December 16, 1900
at the age of 76 (107).
He was the last remaining adult of the famous
pioneer party, founders of the first American
settlement in Western Washington (108).
Part of the homestead was later sold to
William L. Bishop who died at he age of 91 in
July 1954 (109).
land were sold to Clarence Redman in 1932,
which included where the Tumwater Middle
School now stands (110) which opened in
1967. Eighth grade students at the
School learn about Tumwater pioneers such as
Jesse Ferguson via the hands-on Homesteader
In 1982 Jim Whisler and Ralph Swanson asked
Jim Brown, City Public Works Director, to name
a street after Jesse. It is called
Ferguson Street and is located in northwest
Tumwater in an area known as the Mottman
Two famous old trees remain as a part of Jesse's
legacy. They are located in the Mills and Mills
Memorial Park and are documented as two of the
largest healthy American Chestnut trees in the
United States (114).
The trees were immediately behind the
former large house of David Ferguson, Jesse's
son, until about 1950, when the house burned
(115). The trees were memorialized February 20,
2015, with the placement of a monument at the
base of the trees.
Photo February 2015 by
Also, there is at least one remaining Northern
Spy Apple tree planted by Jesse that is being
perpetuated by Michael Dolan, orchardist and
tree historian (116).
Two fruit tree nurseries were first established
at Grand Mound in 1852 and later others at
Steilacoom, Tumwater, and Cowlitz Landing (117)(118)(119)(120)(121)(122). Jesse
planted Northern Spy Apple trees near his house
as well as near the Trosper Road on the north
edge of his property (124). He was
fortunate to find his favorite apple at Durgin's
Grand Mound Nursery (125).