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Fort Steilacoom (1849-1868) - Established 28 Aug 1856 by Capt. Bennett Hill's Company M of the 1st U.S. Artillery and erected under the supervision of quartermaster 2nd Lt. Grier Tallmadge, 4th U.S. Artillery. Abandoned 22 Apr 1868.
History of Fort Steilacoom
Captain Hill arrived at the Hudson Bay Company's trading post at Fort Nisqually in August of 1849 and negotiated a lease with the Hudson Bay Company for an abandoned farm 6 miles to the north for $50 a month. Fort Steilacoom was the first United States military fort north of the Columbia River.
Fort Steilacoom and other forts that followed strengthened the U.S. claims to the Pacific Northwest by providing settlers with a support system of government, law, security and cash. Soldiers at the fort provided settlers with a flow of consumers for their locally produced goods and a steady stream of cash. The fort doctor provided medical aid to the civilians. Fort Steilacoom itself provided a significant level of security, it was one of the better defended forts with 30 wood frame buildings erected in 1857 and 1858 to replace the original log buildings.
On 29 Oct 1855, Indians attacked several white settlers in response to the treaty of Medicine Creek signed the previous year and the "Indian War" of 1855-56 began. The Indian War was not confined to the area around Fort Steilacoom but part of a general Indian uprising in the northwest. About 80 settlers moved to the fort for safety.
During the "Indian War" the fort served as headquarters for the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment and the influx of troops brought many army lieutenants and captains who would make names for themselves during the U.S. Civil War - General George B. McClellan, Confederate General George E. Pickett, Union General Philip H. Sheridan and Union General Ulysses S. Grant who later became President.
The war was relatively quiet for the fort. Col. Silas Casey arrived with 200 soldiers on 30 Jan 1856 and took charge. Casey clashed with Isaac Stevens, the Territorial Governor, on how to prosecute the war. Casey wanted to wait out the winter and Stevens wanted to strike before the Indians could organize. The Indian War wound down in late 1856.
Fort Steilacoom continued to grow after the Indian War. Lt. August V. Kautz supervised construction of new buildings during 1857 and 1858. In 1861 the federal troops left to fight in the Civil War, leaving the Territorial Militia in charge of the fort. The post was then transferred to Fort Nisqually and Fort Steilacoom was abandoned as a military post in 1868.
The Washington Territory received the 640-acre fort and farm, this time for use as an insane asylum, which opened in 1871. The military barracks housed mental patients and hospital staff. The hospital is the second oldest set of governmental facilities in the state and predates statehood by almost a generation.
The Historic Fort Steilacoom Association formed in the 1970s to save the remaining buildings from the wrecker as the hospital sought ways to expand. Four renovated officer quarters buildings survive as an interpretative center and museum.
Location: On the grounds of Western State Hospital, , 9601 Steilacoom Blvd S. W., in Lakewood, Pierce County, Washington.
Maps & Images Lat: 47.17722 Long: -122.56611
- Hart, Herbert M., Tour Guide to Old Western Forts, Pruett Publishing Co., Boulder CO, 1980, ISBN 0-87108-568-2, page 188
- Frazer, Robert W., Forts of the West, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK, 1965, ISBN 0-8061-1250-6, page 174-175
Visited: Sep 2005
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