Statement of Alonzo Russell, Seattle pioneer, on early Seattle days and the Indian War of 1856

  • By Alonzo Russell
  • Posted 9/21/2003
  • Essay 4243

This file presents the statement of Alonzo Russell (1839-1926), Seattle pioneer, on his arrival to the region in 1852 as a boy of 14, and on the Indian War of 1856. His statement, provided by Liz Russell, was found in the papers of her aunt Mary Ellen Russell (1909-1985) after she passed away. Liz Russell believes that it may have been her great aunt Ellen Alice "Nellie" Russell, an officer in the historical society Daughters of the Pioneers, who did the interview with Alonzo Russell. Alonzo Russell appears in the 1857 census as an 18 year old single laborer, along with two younger sisters and his parents. His sister Mary Jane Russell married Charles Terry (1829-1867), founder of King County's first store, in 1856. His older brother Thomas was in 1870 the chief engineer of Seattle's first Hook and Ladder volunteer fire company. Note: Spelling and punctuation appear as in the original.

Statement of Alonzo Russell

When a boy of fourteen, my parents, Samuel and Jane Russell, hearing the wonderful tales of the great Oregon Territory, decided to make the trip across the continent.

After the gold discoveries in California all through the middle west the people were restless to be up an off for the land where the possibilities of picking up golden nuggets every time you moved seemed not at all improbable.

We were all in poor health at the time, and a change of climate my parents judged would be beneficial to us. Our home was in Auburn, Indiana, although we had come from Ohio where we children were all born.

My father's family were all pretty well grown, as I was almost fourteen and the next to the youngest of the family, having one sister of eleven years of age. My married sister, Mrs. Tanner, remained with her family, at the old home, so our party when we left consisted of, in addition to our parents, my two brothers Thomas and Robert Russell, both well known and prominent in the early history of Seattle, my sisters Mary, who afterwards married C. [Charles] C. Terry of Seattle, Nancy, who married John Thomas, King County, Emma who married J.J. Crow of Kent, Martha who died young and is buried on the family farm near Kent, and myself Alonzo Russell.

We left Auburn May 18th, 1852. We journeyed in the company of about one hundred people under Capt. Nichols, who died on the road.

We traveled in the regulation prairie schooner leisurely through Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, crossing the Missouri and Daingerfield, not far from where Council Bluffs now is. Our trip through the other states to the Dalles, Oregon, was very uneventful.

From the Dalles, we went to Portland where my father met a man who convinced him that he should go to New York, as he called it, and settle down, which he did, landing at Alki in the fall of 1852.

Like any boy of fourteen my first impressions of Seattle where of the Thousands of Indians standing by, although I believe there were only about fifteen hundred on the beach, and the great expanse of woods and water.

The following spring my father moved his family to a place he took up near Kent. My father and two older brothers were mechanics, good carpenters, and readily found work in the new town when not working on the farm.

During this time I can tell you that food was scarce, and the fear of Indians attacking the settlement was always before us.

In the year 1854 and 1855, when the Indians began to attack the whites in the White River Valley, we were in town as my father had repair work on the U.S.S. Decatur then in the bay. We were at the home on First Avenue near Cherry where my brother Thomas lived after his marriage, the present site of the Sullivan Block.

Danger does impress the young, they are carried away by the excitement of something happening all the time. I well remember when the news of the murder of the settlers at Porter's Prairie early in the fall of 1855, and Joe Lake, as we called him, came to warn the settlers many thought it a false alarm and returned to their homes after having come to Seattle.

The boys I was with and I did not seem to be frightened by the Indians. We were shocked to hear of the massacre of Sunday, Oct. 28, when friendly Indians brought the word to Seattle.

I was a member of the volunteer party that went to the scene of the murder, a day or two following to bury the dead.

I remember we found the body of Mr. William Brannon cruelly slashed with knives, his wife had been shot but managed to reach her infant child and jump into the well.

When we brought her body to the surface of the water her lifeless arms still held the babe closely pressed to her breast, and almost to the moment, we tenderly laid the poor mother on the ground.

I also recall that the body of Mrs. King was slashed with knives. An old Indian who was present, afterwards told me that Mrs. King was a brave, courageous woman and a fine shot, and put up a brave fight for her life and killed two Indians before they rushed in upon her and slashed her to death. When Mrs. King first heard the Indians she told her oldest son, John King, eight years old, to run out the back way, and take the younger children and hide them in the underbrush until the trouble was over.

All children in these troublesome days were taught what to do if attacked by Indians. The boy crept out with the other children to the edge of the river where they were hidden all day, too frightened to move. The other child was burned, it is supposed when the Indians burned the house. In the night when old Tom came down the river he heard the children crying and picked them up and hiding them under a bear skin brought them safely to Seattle.

The bodies were buried on their farms. In the town we could do nothing but prepare to defend ourselves.

A block house was built at the foot of Cherry Street, about a block from where brother's house stood.

The warship Decatur was in the bay all winter. Food was very scarce. If I remember right flour was $40.00 a barrel and we had to receive rations from the government all winter.

Early in January, 1856, I enlisted in Company A under Capt. Edw. Lander. I was then seventeen years old and I am told that I am the last survivor of the Indian War of 1856. I am now eighty years old having been born in 1839. The morning of the battle of Seattle, January 25, 1856, now having been brought early the evening before, that an attack was to be made, we were ordered to make a rush on the hill where the Indians were supposed to be concealed in the underbrush.

When a shell from the warship struck the hill, the Indians began shooting, another boy and I became so frightened that we turned and ran back to the block house. This does not sound like brave soldiers but afterwards during the whole day we were scarcely under cover.

Fighting Indians meant dodging bullets behind trees rather than fighting in the open. I remember a boy friend of mine, Milton Holgate, was struck by a stray bullet on the bridge of the nose, causing death, while standing in the open door of the block house.

What an exciting day we put in, bullet whizzing around, we dodging behind trees and stumps. Captain Gansevoort aimed rather low from the ship, we thought and as I recall, one shot went through the leanto that Mr. Dexter Horton had built for a dwelling place along side of his store.

Many thought the damage from the shells of the warship worse than the bullets of the Indians. However, without the ship we would have lost the day. The shells from the ship frightened the Indians away and by nightfall the battle was over.

For weeks we feared their return but they never again made a concerted attack on Seattle. In a few weeks we were ordered to help to make a rude barracks at or near Kent and until we were disbanded after a few months we worked at road making and were ready at all times for defense.

I was employed in packing to eastern Washington mines, having gone over the Snoqualmie Pass in 1860, on the old trail used by the Hudson Bay Company, and made many trips back and forth after the road was opened. Having been asked "If Gen. McClellan ever crossed the Naches Pass" I will say that I thought he did, having heard so from the Indians and early settlers.

In the early sixties I was employed on steamboats on the Sound, with Captain Libby and others and getting a taste of the water, in 1870 I left for South America, where I remained for many years. From there I wandered all over the world, but like a Puget Sounders I wandered back again to scenes of my youth and early manhood, to what seems to me the fairest spot on earth.




Submitted by Liz Russell, September 21, 2003

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