Dorothea Nordstrand Remembers Her Family's Move From Tiger to Seattle in 1919

  • By Dorothea Nordstrand
  • Posted 12/12/2002
  • Essay 4046

In this People's History essay, Dorothea Nordstrand (1916-2011) remembers her family's move in 1919 to Seattle from the family homestead in Tiger, Washington. Tiger is in the northeastern part of the state, in Pend Oreille County not far from the Pend Oreille River. Mentioned in Dorothea's essay are (Dad) Joseph A. Pfister (1883-1947), (Mom) Mary Annie (Gierhofer) Pfister (1888-1962), (Bro) (Jack) John Joseph Pfister (1907-1973), (Sis) Florence Mary (Pfister) Burke (1909-1998), and the author Dorothea Mary (Pfister) Nordstrand (b. 1916). In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues in our community, including's People's History library.

The Move To Seattle

We moved from a homestead near Tiger, in northeastern Washington state, to Seattle, in l9l9. My parents were Joseph and Mary Pfister, both in their early 30s. My brother, Jack, was almost 13, my sister, Florence, was 10, and I was almost 3.

There were several reasons for the move. Mother and Dad had come to realize that they were never going to be able to make their entire living from the rocky land, and they had finally earned title to the property, so they could sell it. We were cut off from the rest of the family ... a real hardship for Mother, whose family had always been so close-knit. Also, the year before, when Mother had made the trip to Seattle to be with Grandma when Grandpa died, Seattle was booming and jobs were plentiful ... there should be ready employment for Daddy.

The severe weather in Tiger had brought healing to Mother, who had been recovering from a near-fatal bout with diphtheria. She was well and strong again, so they felt safe in coming back to the damp climate of Puget Sound. Another strong argument was that my brother, Jack, would soon be ready for high school and there wasn't one in Tiger. My parents had limited educations and they were determined that their children would have better. All of these made compelling reasons for the move.

Once the decision was made, Daddy left Tiger to find a place in Seattle for his family, leaving Mom to sell the homestead and livestock and follow him later with the children.

The place was purchased by a family named "Schlister," which, because it rhymed with our name, "Pfister," was a source of amusement to our easily amused family. Daddy said it was hardly fair to charge us for making up the new deed, when the name change was so slight.

My Uncle John Gierhofer, Mother's brother, was going to stay on his homestead, so he and other neighbors took the horses, cows, and chickens. Mother found it hard to say goodbye to her Jersey and Guernsey cows that had made it possible for her to earn a little income from the sale of her homemade butter. Daddy was very sad to leave his beloved "Dandy" horse. It was difficult to leave the animals they had grown to love, but they were, above all, practical people.

2114 North 75th Street

In Seattle, Daddy found a little house just a block from Green Lake and within walking distance of Mother's family, the Gierhofers. Their home was just off what is now Roosevelt Way NE, at 1013 E 69th Street. Grandpa Francis (Frank) Gierhofer died in 1918 at the young age of 59, leaving Grandma Frances, Mother's sisters, Rose and Anne, and her younger brother, Eddie, living at home. Another sister, Ida, had married James Nolan and was living in the Fremont area. Hopes were high that things would be easier and better for the Pfister family in Seattle.

Mom, Jack, Florence, and I came to Seattle by train, bringing nothing except the bit of money from the sale of the farm and our clothing. To bring the furniture would have cost more than it was worth.

The Seattle General Strike

Unfortunately, 1918s boom had turned into 1919's bust. Early in that year, the nation's very first general strike was called in Seattle, involving more than 60,000 of the city's labor force. The general strike was originally called to show solidarity with the already striking West Coast shipyard workers. The city was paralyzed and the National Guard was called in. ROTC cadets from the University of Washington and police reserves were armed and ready to put down riots, which, thankfully, did not happen.

However, the whole thing led to a distrust of unions among employers, and Daddy's affiliation with the Woodmen of the World sounded too much like Industrial Workers of the World. The IWW had been the cause of much ferment in the town and its members were considered to be very radical. Daddy had hoped for work in the shipyards, which had been going full bore in 1918, but they were closed by the strike and slow to pick up after it was settled. Unemployment was rampant. We couldn't have come at a worse time.

Making Things Stretch

Life in Seattle was much harder than the work-filled time on the land had been. There, at least, there had always been something to eat. Even the first year at Tiger, Daddy and Uncle John had planted a garden while they were building the log cabins in the springtime, so that when Mother and the kids joined them in August, there were vegetables to go with the game from the forest. In Seattle, money was a necessity and they had little.

Fortunately, Mom was used to making things stretch. She made use of the cheap fare on the street car that ran only a block from the house to take a weekly trip to the Pike Place Market, downtown, for vegetables and fruit from the farmer's stalls there.

Grandma shared from her garden, but she really hadn't enough to feed both families. Grandpa's recent death had left her with no income except for the small amounts Rose and Anne could contribute from their jobs with the telephone company and a bit from 16-year-old Uncle Eddie's job as a Western Union messenger boy. Our own garden, of necessity planted late, helped some. Times were lean.

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