The Fort Steilacoom-Walla Walla Road: A Forgotten Passage To Puget Sound
Today, Puget Sound represents one of the most important and prized harbors in the United States and the world. Yet its development has taken place rather recently. In 1850, when ports like San Francisco and New York were thriving, Seattle was a small Indian village, and its potential as a great harbor was barely realized. Of course, the Northwest was also one of the last geographical areas in the continental United States to be developed. Puget Sound was not considered the sole possession of the United States until 1846, when Great Britain and the United States settled the so-called Oregon boundary dispute. In fact, possession of Puget Sound was the major issue in settling this boundary dispute. (A lesser concern had to do with control of the Columbia River.) It was not only the lure of a great harbor, however, that attracted pioneers to Puget Sound. Farmers, traders, and various entrepreneurs gradually came to reside there. As the population grew, the need for inland transportation links grew likewise. Goods needed to he transported, settlers needed to travel, and the military needed to protect and patrol the region. Most importantly, inland transportation links were needed to bring settlers to the area. A struggling, growing community settling around Puget Sound in 1850 needed people--people to give a settlement validity. Mail service, merchants, medical personnel, a justice of the peace, and such were needed. Those who originated settlements around Puget Sound had a hearty interest in keeping their settlement alive. Recruiters for settlements near Puget Sound spoke of coal, timber, and farmland, but not of the Sound, a harbor whose potential was not yet realized. That is, Puget Sound was not a forerunner to population drifts to the Pacific Northwest and it did not draw the first settlers to the Northwest. It became, instead, a welcome discovery and was used as a means of convenience. Only gradually was its potential realized.