IN HER LATER years, Lillie Christiansen wrote a letter to Ida Bailey in Brinnon describing some of the homesteaders living along the Dosewallips River whom she had known in the 1890s, writing as if through the eyes of the 9- or 10-year-old girl she had been at that time.
About her family’s nearest neighbors, the Wilsons with their eight children, she wrote: “Mrs. Wilson is so nice and she is a quiet woman and she is busy. Mr. Wilson works in the [logging] camp.
“Henry has a big garden. They have to raise a lot of potatoes.
“But they have milk and butter like everybody else on the homesteads. They have chickens too and Mr. Wilson has bees.
“Mr. Wilson was God’s chosen leader for us all those years.
“He was a father to all of us kids Upriver and loved by us all.
“Nothing was too hard for Mr. Wilson when it came to anything for the betterment of the school, Sunday school and neighborhood.”
Allie Wilson wrote of her mother: “My lovely mother. How great she was. Baked 50 pounds of flour every week, 100 pounds of spuds devoured. Done all sewing. All those suits, underwear, dresses. Three meals a day.”
Other neighbors on the Dosewallips were Peter and Anna Olson.
Of Anna, Christiansen wrote: “Mrs. Olson is so nice to us.
“Mrs. Olson has plants in the house and a carpet in the sitting room …
“Mrs. Olson makes the nicest cucumber sweet pickles and every Sunday she makes a Swedish dish of custard with little pieces of ham in it, puts cinnamon and sugar on top and bakes it in the oven.
“The lace curtains at the windows [make] their home awful nice. They have a clock that strikes and pictures on the wall.”
Peter Olson arrived in Brinnon from Sweden in 1890 or 1891 and homesteaded 1½ miles upriver.
He met a former classmate, Anna Anderson, in Tacoma at a church, and after putting the final touches on his log cabin, he returned to Tacoma and married her.
The Olsons had two daughters, Emma and Ella, and lost two other children in early childhood.
Pete and Anna were valuable assets to the community.
Pete was a Bible teacher and a carpenter.
When there was a death in the community, he would build a coffin, help with the body and conduct the funeral service when necessary.
He was known for his honesty and kindness.
He also served as a road commissioner for the district.
The Roselle siblings
Christiansen also wrote about the Roselle siblings — John, Andrew, Hannah and Nellie — who came from Sweden.
“They changed their name from Peterson to Rosell[e].
“[Mrs. Johnnie] is a nice woman … she looked like the pictures I’ve seen of a princess …
“They have a little boy named Victor.
“Mrs. Rosell[e] has a myrtle plant in her front room … Her two rooms are nice.
“Mrs. Johnnie’s sister came over from Sweden and she and Andrew got married.
“Children love her, she is so happy and kind … They have a new baby Anst [Ernest].
“And Mrs. [Andrew] Rosell[e] is learning to talk our language pretty good.”
Logging first attracted Andrew and John Roselle to Hood Canal.
Land near the mouth of the Dosewallips was level and suitable for farming.
The Roselles decided to try farming and leased one of these ranches from Ewell Brinnon.
They were successful at first, selling produce to customers in the larger mill towns and Seattle, as well as operating a small store.
During the 1890s depression, farming became less profitable and the brothers each took up adjoining 160-acre homesteads 2 miles up the Dosewallips, again relying on logging for a better income.
Temporary living quarters shared by Andrew were built on John’s property because John had a wife, Thilda, and young son, Victor.
Thilda’s sister arrives
When Thilda’s sister, Vendla, arrived from Sweden in 1891, she lived in a second cabin on John’s property.
Hannah Roselle Halberg and her husband, Gus, lived on a small claim east of Andrew’s.
Gus was a carpenter who helped build permanent homes for John and Andrew before he and Hannah decided that they would rather live in Seattle.
The other Roselle sister, Nellie Story, and her husband ran a store near Seal Rock.
Mr. Story later participated in the Alaskan gold rush, after which Nellie and their two daughters divided their time between Seattle and Alaska.
Andrew and Vendla were married in 1893 and soon had three children: Ernest, Elof, and Eleanor.
Andrew owned an ox team used for their logging operations.
The families also had gardens, planted fruit trees and owned cattle, sheep and chickens for their own use.
Andrew taught Sunday school at Mount Constance Congregation Church (in the Upriver School building).
He had decided to retire from logging, but a group of loggers who needed a head faller begged him for help in 1899.
While helping them, Andrew was gravely injured by a falling limb and survived for only three days before dying.
Vendla was left a widow with three children younger than 5.
She had only the money she could earn by selling eggs, milk, butter and bread she baked, and doing laundry for other families. She also sold knit stockings.
A daughter’s memories
Vendla’s daughter Mary Martinsen Williams wrote: “My mother and her sister, Thilda, used the wool from their sheep to spin yarn…
“They knit sox for men that they sold for 25 cents a pair.
“It took them two evenings of knitting to produce a pair of sox … when the only light in their homes was from kerosene lamps.”
In his memoir, Elof Roselle wrote: “The next neighbors joining our place on the north, up river, [were] the Dave Smith family, life long friends.
“Fortunate are the people who are blessed by having such neighbors as they were.
“When my mother was widowed … there was no welfare, no insurance, just NEIGHBORS.
“But what neighbors they were …
“Venison was plentiful in those days but the people only took what they needed and Dave Smith saw to it that Mother and we children had what we needed.”
Vendla remarried in 1902 to Otto Martinsen, a sailor from Norway who had grown tired of piloting ships in New York harbor and came west to Port Townsend on the revenue cutter Grant.
He later went to work for the Puget Sound Tug Company and participated in transporting people and supplies between Seattle and Skagway during the Alaskan Gold Rush.
While he was on a brief vacation in Brinnon at the home of a fellow crew member, Vendla delivered milk to the home and met Otto.
When they married, Otto decided to try farming.
The Martinsens had three children while living on the homestead: Andrew, Harry and Mary.
In 1909, the Martinsens moved to Seattle, where Otto again worked as a tugboat captain, but they retained the home in Brinnon.
After moving to Seattle, their youngest child, Walter, was born.
In 1913, the family returned to the homestead where they lived until after World War I, though Otto continued to captain tugs on Puget Sound.
Elof wrote of the new neighbors on the former Smith place, the Neyharts.
“We were lucky again to have such good neighbors … Ida Bailey’s Grand Parents on her mother’s side.
“I will never forget how Mr. Neyhart helped us during the Flu epidemic while World War I was in progress.
“We were all down with the ailment to more or less degrees.
“Mr. Neyhart very wisely avoided the chance of catching the Flu but every day came around to take care of our needs, especially plenty of wood to keep warm and cook with.”
Survived the flu
The Martinsens all recovered from the flu.
They moved to Seattle again after the war, then eventually sold the Brinnon farm when they purchased a farm in Toledo, where Vendla and Otto lived for the rest of their lives.
John Roselle also sold his farm and moved to Seattle before 1913.
More stories of the Dosewallips neighbors will appear in the May 21 Back When column.
Special thanks are due to Ida and Vern Bailey for their work in gathering and compiling memoirs and photographs of early Brinnon-area residents in their book “Brinnon: A Scrapbook of History.”
Without this book, the history of their portion of Jefferson County would have been much more difficult to trace.
And thanks also to the Brinnon families who donated family materials to the Jefferson County Historical Society. Please note that Brinnon’s founder’s name was Ewell Brinnon, not Elwell, as misspelled in the March 19 Back When column.
Linnea Patrick is a historian and retired Port Townsend Public Library director.
Her Jefferson County history column, Back When, appears on the third Sunday of each month, alternating with Alice Alexander’s Clallam County history column on the first Sunday of the month.
Patrick can be reached at [email protected]. Her next column will appear May 21.