Luther Byles, Elma Pioneer, Recalls 80 Years on Harbor

by Karl Davidson
(Centralia, Washington)

The following article is transcribed from an article in the Aberdeen Daily World as written by my aunt, Margaret Swisher in 1943. Karl Davidson:

ELMA, MAR. 27 - (Special) Grays Harbor has done a "heap of growing" since that day in 1863 when Luther Byles, one of the oldest living pioneers in this area, landed on the thickly-wooded banks of the Chehalis with his parents and brothers and sisters in a large dugout canoe.

Byles, who will be 83 in September, has resided in the Elma area a full 80 years.

His parents were Mr. and Mrs. D. F. Byles, who travelled to Grand Mound from Kentucky in a covered wagon in the middle eighties, making the journey in six months. (NOTE: I think the author intended to say "middle fifties" rather than "middle eighties". Elizabeth Brown's 'A History of Elma' notes that David F. Byles, his parents, and his future wife came to Grand Mound in 1853.)

When Luther was two, his parents stowed him, his seven brothers and sisters and a few necessities in a roomy dugout for the trip down the Chehalis river. The family landed first at Cosmopolis, and later homesteaded at what is now Greenwood.


Life was hard in those days, compared to modern standards, but people were hardier than they are now, and happy, too, Byles days.

At Greenwood, the family lived for a time in a log stable with a bark floor while their cabin was being built. Their food was wild game and bread from whole wheat flour, the latter ground at the old Fletcher mill on the Chehalis. Clothes for the parents and children were of homespuns, made by Mrs. Byles.

Any other supplies the family needed were brought from Olympia by wagon, over a part puncheon road. It took three days to make the round trip.

"The road was so narrow," Byles recalls, "that if two wagons happened to meet, one of them had to be taken apart so the other could pass. there were few horses on the Harbor in the early days, so oxen were used for transportation and logging."


Among the early settlers in the area were Harrison Taylor and Sidney Beckwith of Elma, James Gleeson (sp?) of Satsop, Merritt Woods and John Brady of Brady.

Gleeson operated a scow ferry at the Satsop river, which he guided along a cable with all the air of a steamboat skipper.

At Montesano, there were the Arland family, Jonas Garrison, Edward and John Medcalf, Charles Byles, who was the father of F. W. Byles of Montesano. The latter is a cousin of Luther Byles.

He also recalls early settlers on the Harbor, among them, Sam Benn, Ed Campbell, father
of Superior Court Judge William E. Campbell of Hoquiam, Sam William of Williams point, and "a man by the name of Peterson" of Peterson's point (Westport). (He probably refers to either Glenn Peterson or his son, the late Frank Peterson).


In the early days there were sawmills near and on the present townsite of Elma, and timber closely hedged the little settlement. Byles recalls that J. E. Calder of Montesano was one of the first loggers of that area, operating along the Chehalis river. He also established the first newspaper at Montesano.

Byles' education started at 14, when he would hike daily from Greenwood to Elma to attend the first school there. The log building stood on the site of the present high school gymnasium. At the time, the preacher of the community resided in the school, and later, when a school was built at Greenwood, he took up his residence there. Byles went to school until he was 21, and then turned to the timber for a livelihood, working for White Star Lumber company.


Elma, by that time, had become a properous logging town. Once a week the lumberjacks of White Star hit towns, and saloons mushroomed to meet the demands of their tremendous thirst. Most historical among them were the Wakefield, Billy Maize's and John Shelby's.

One of Elma's first business enterprises was a general store on the site of the present variety store. It was owned by a pioneer named Wolding. Soon Ennison Combes built a competitive mercantile store just across the street.

The town's first postoffice stood at the present site of Oakhurst sanatorium, Byles said, the first postmaster being P. M. Parmetier. Mail came once a week from Olympia by pony express, until a wagon road was cut through and a stage coach line established.

Travel to the harbor was easier by boat down the Chehalis river than by oxcart overland. Settlers made dugouts, Indian-wise, from cedar logs. They were sometimes 50 feet in length and could hold a large cargo. Byles recalls the river scows with stern sweeps used to transport livestock up river from the Harbor. They were operated with the tide, or towed by oxen.


Byles cast his first vote when Grays Harbor was still Chehalis county, voting for Governor Stevenson at the new state's first general election in 1882. (NOTE: Washington became a state in 1889.) Elections were more than a patriotic duty in those days, since they ranked next to Fourth of July picnics in social importance, and every eligible voter and his family turned out for the occasion.

Since that time, Byles has voted at every election, and he is looking forward with alert interest to the 1944 campaign."

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Jun 06, 2012
James Gleason?
by: David Walters

I recognized the name James Gleason (spelled Gleeson) from a family history passed down on my maternal side. My Murray ancestors made the trip from New York City in 1874, arriving in Tenino in 1877 and tried to get to Gray's Harbor from there. "They were in Tenino for 3 weeks, trying to make arrangements to get to Grays Harbor, and met Mrs. Cornelius Newton of Oakville, who told them James Gleason was due to pick up a wagon he had ordered form the east. Gleason offered them transportation, and the trip took 3 days with overnight stops at Grand Mound and at "Blockhouse" Smith's near Oakville. The third night they reached the Gleason homestead on the Satsop. Patrick Murray located a homestead on what is now the John Olsen ranch at Saginaw. He farmed the land until he retired in 1902."
We have many relatives buried at the Elma Catholic Cemetery; Murrays and Glanceys and our mother, Mary Anne Pearson Walters as well. If I'm not mistaken, many Gleason's and Gleeson's are buried there too.

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