Document 6: Ezra Meeker Forecasts a Bright Future for the Puget Sound Lumber Business, 1870

Ezra Meeker, Washington Territory West of the Cascade Mountains: Containing a Description of Puget Sound, and Rivers Emptying into It, the Lower Columbia, Shoalwater Bay, Gray's Harbor; Timber, Lands, Climate, Fisheries, Ship Building, Coal Mines, Market Reports, Trade, Labor, Population, Wealth and Resources (Olympia: Washington State Transcript Office, 1870), p. 18-19.

Return to Document Concordance

The value of any commodity lies in its demand as well as in its availability, yet it is often the case that the facility for obtaining it cheaply increases the consumption far beyond what it would be were the article scarce and costly. Such is the case with our lumber products. Although the imperative demand is great, yet we find increased sale in consequence of being able to furnish [timber] at so low a price. Already the lumber product of the [Puget] Sound region alone amounts to fully one hundred and eighty million feet per annum [year], which can be increased from year to year as the wants of the commerce demand. We have seen by actual measurement that the shore line of the Sound is nearly sixteen hundred nautical miles, and although much of this is not available for logging in consequence of heavy fires having burned the more valuable timber in some places, and in others the growth being not suitable for lumber, yet loggers scarcely ever haul more than a half a mile. [This fact originally confined logging to areas within one-half mile of the shores of Puget Sound.] . . . There are cases where two hundred thousand [feet of lumber] have been taken from an acre, and trees three hundred feet long are not uncommon.

The logs are hauled upon skidded roads. By stripping the bark from the logs and oiling the skids, a team [of oxen] will take to the roll-way several logs fastened together. Oftentimes, after the logs are fairly on the road, one driver will take three or four yoke [pair] of oxen to the landing, each yoke with a separate load.

The consequence is that logs are furnished to the mills at $4.50 per M. feet [M is the Roman numeral for 1,000], and at a profit to the loggers, employing but few hands comparatively for the amount of timber supplied. With a constantly increasing demand and a continued searching out of the most available bodies of timber, the time is not far distant when the price will advance and the [stands of trees that are] better and more remote from the water will be drawn upon to supply the deficiency. This change will not enhance the price of lumber so much as to materially check the consumption, but it will be an era of increased prosperity among the farmers and laboring men. Then our rivers emptying into the Sound, and coursing for a great part of their length through vast bodies of timber, will be called upon to float the growth of centuries through their channels down to the level of the salt waters, adding near one thousand miles more to already extended shore line upon which timber can be delivered to the water.

The timber on the foot-hills adjacent to these rivers is superior to much that is found near the Sound, and in quantities far more extensive, so that we need have no fear that it will ever be exhausted, as there is a continued growth in localities not disturbed by fire or otherwise, [and these localities] will assist eventually to keep up the supply. Yet, aside from this, there are many unexplored ravines and gently sloping hill-sides where chutes will be constructed and the force of gravitation made to propel the logs to the waters connected with the Sound. . . . [These technologies will bring many more] logs within the reach of the manufacturer.

Already the foreign trade is great, supplying all quarters of this coast, the islands of the Pacific, Japan and China, and even European countries. Ships now come to us principally in ballast [empty of cargo], but with the North Pacific Railroad completed, this will not continue long [because] they will bear the freight of commerce for the great interior [of the U.S.], as well as that [cargo] in transit to the Atlantic sea board and to Europe.

The yellow fir [now called the Douglas fir] is the most abundant and that which is most used for lumber and spars. It is both strong and durable, and much used for ship building. It is a tree peculiar to the North-west coast, and is not found East of the Cascade Mountains, north of the 49th parallel, and no further south than the 42d parallel of latitude. [This assertion is not true: the range of the Douglas fir extended farther than Meeker thought.]

Besides the fir, we have the cedar, hemlock, spruce, maple, balm, ash and alder, in estimated quantity and value in the order named. The maple, balm, ash and alder are confined almost exclusively to the river bottoms. Upon the lower Columbia and in isolated districts of the Sound, there bodies of the white fir, and in rare cases, of pine. There is also quite extensive oak openings near the head of the Sound, and extending far South toward the Columbia, but the timber is scrubby and only second-rate in quality.

Although water power is abundant, yet steam is the power commonly used . . . [because finding] a site suitable for shipping lumber is of more consequence than the cost of the machinery used [to generate power for the sawmills]. Hence, nine-tenths of the lumber is manufactured by steam power, and many vacant harbors await the action of capitalists and the demands of trade upon which to found large manufacturing establishments and thriving villages; and many such [lumber mills] are yearly being added to the number already here. . . .

The export of lumber, foreign and coastwise [up and down the West Coast], for the year ending June 30th, 1870, has been fully one hundred and eight million [feet]. The capacity of these mills during the same period, if run on full time, is three hundred and twelve million feet.

In addition to those mentioned, there are numerous smaller mills run by water power that supply the local demands of each settlement. There are about twenty of these now running, with numerous water privileges [potential water-power sites] not even yet occupied, that can be improved as the wants of the settlers demand it.

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest