Time for new laws, and new fire engine too

Following are events that were news in the Olympia area 150 years ago, including excerpts from the Pioneer & Democrat newspaper.

Legislature in December: The Territorial Legislature introduced several bills this week. Among them were House Bill 18, “an act to dissolve the bonds of matrimony existing between Wm. Donnelly and Bridget Donnelly,” which was taken up and passed. House Bill 22 – an act to prevent black people and other minorities from giving evidence against white people – was referred to the Judicial Committee for further study.

House Bill 25 authorized Wm. Packwood to construct a wagon road on and near the Nisqually River; 91 Thurston County residents had signed a petition pushing for the passage of such a bill. Packwood, an early resident in the Nisqually area, held several offices in local politics. Earlier, he served in the Indian wars with a company on the Nisqually River at several fording places where Indians might cross. With him were members of the McAllister family, who lived nearby.

More fire trouble: Four fires in Olympia brought another plea from the Pioneer & Democrat for Olympia to purchase a fire engine for the town. “An alarm aroused the citizens of Olympia last night about 12 o’clock when a fire in Dr. Willard’s stable in the rear of Messrs. Sear’s & Dunlevy’s Saloon. But for its early discovery, we should have witnessed an extensive and sad ruinous conflagration.” Another fire struck in the old building formerly occupied by Messrs. Weed & Hurd on First Street (Thurston Avenue). “Timely application of a few buckets of water saved a worthless building. Cause – carelessness of Indians, who had for some time taken up quarters therein, who built up a fire in a tin pan.”

“Still another (fire) set everyone on the ‘keen jump’ for the residence of Lewis Ensign, situated on Third Street (State Avenue), near the Swan-town bridge, from the roof of which a blaze 2 feet high was found to issue. Considerable delay was occasioned from a want of ladders. Had it occurred in the summer season, it would have consigned it to destruction.”

“Just as we were getting our paper ready for the press, a fourth alarm calls everyone to the rescue of the old block house, opposite the Catholic church. The rickety establishment was soon reduced to ashes. It is more than probable that is attributable to carelessness on the part of its degraded inmate, who is addicted to taking a wee drop too much. This is the first house destroyed by fire in Olympia.

“Who believes now we need a fire engine in Olympia? Four fires within 24 hours, three of which were subdued by water applied by buckets. A severe lesson will yet have to learn citizens wisdom ere they repent their neglect.”

South Sound historian Roger Easton can be reached at