Everybody knows… or do they?

Sep 24, 2011 | 1 comment

At The Village Entrance

     As a writer of local history, one of my primary sources of information is our very own Pacific County Historical Society.  Established in 1966, it is (according to its official website) a private, not-for-profit, charitable organization devoted to preserving and presenting the history of Pacific County, Washington, USA.  I am proud to say that I have periodically volunteered my services to them by writing/editing issues of their magazine The Sou’wester.
     So, I was truly amazed, to say nothing of being a bit embarrassed on their behalf, to learn that they have a sign posted at their museum in South Bend crediting the founding of Oysterville to early settler John Douglas in the year 1841.  No mention of my great-grandfather R.H. Espy who, with I.A. Clark, actually did found the town in 1854.  I don’t have a copy of that signage, but if memory serves, I think it does accurately credit Clark for platting the town the following year.  Hooray for that bit of accuracy, anyway!
     This information was conveyed to me and to a number of other people last night at our usual Friday evening gathering.  One of our Oysterville residents (whose roots here go back to 1863) had visited the museum with his cousin from Santa Fe.  They were confused about the information conveyed on the sign, took a photo of it, and through the magic of digital cameras and their screens, read it to the six or seven Oystervillians gathered in our library.  Quite a hubbub ensued.
     All eyes looked to me for clarification and I guess I could have felt very much “on the spot” but, fortunately, John Douglas is a well-known historic character to me.  He was, according to his daughter Mary Garretson’s 1939 account, the first settler on Shoalwater Bay.  His donation land claim was about a mile south of Oysterville; my house on the bay was built on what was originally the John Douglas Claim.
     Whether or not Douglas was still in the area when Oysterville was founded, I don’t know.  I’ve never seen his name mentioned in connection with Oysterville’s first pioneers.  In her book, Coast Country, Lucile Mac Donald says only that “the family lived alone except for the Indians.”
     There are several interesting stories about Douglas, one being that he literally died with his boots on.  Somehow, one of his feet got infected and swelled up.  The only way to deal with the injury was to cut the boot off which Douglas would not allow.  They were brand new boots and a good pair of boots was hard to come by!  As far as is known, those boots went to the grave with him.
     Well, it didn’t surprise me that the Friday night crowd didn’t know anything about John Douglas.  He is a rather obscure character.  But it does indeed surprise me that the Historical Society doesn’t know about the founding of Oysterville.  After all, it is the oldest extant town in Pacific County and it’s not like there hasn’t been a lot written about it.  In fact numerous books sold in the PCHS’s own bookstore are about Oysterville.  You’d think they would know…

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    I love the story about the boots. I hope they put that on his tombstone, but I doubt it. If anyone ever writes a book about Douglas it would make a great title. You had better set them straight in S. Bend.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *