How would you like to live in a town called Slaughter? For a brief time the city of Auburn had that name.
Lieutenant William A. Slaughter was stationed at the army post at Fort Steilacoom in 1855.
There was an Indian uprising in the Puget Sound Treaty Wars and Slaughter, along with 100 regular soldiers, had been ordered to patrol the area of the White River Valley. There had been some skirmishes, but a report came that the Indians had retreated. While at a strategy meeting with his captain, Indians rushed them in an ambush, killing Slaughter and two other soldiers.
Lt. Slaughter was highly regarded by the inhabitants of the area for his integrity and superb marksmanship. To honor him, they named the town Slaughter when it was incorporated in 1891. Two years later, though, the town’s name was changed to Auburn to attract settlers with a more scenic and business-friendly name.
David Neely and his family settled in the White River Valley in 1857. Their home, known as the Neely Mansion, can be seen standing below SR 18, east of town at the start of Green Valley. Dr. Levi Ward Ballard and family arrived in 1865, and rented a log cabin from the Neely’s. The Faucetts, another pioneer family, wanting to keep a medical doctor in the area, traded Ballard 40 acres of good land for 40 acres of swampland. Ballard’s better 40 acres eventually were platted to become the town of Slaughter (later Auburn) in 1886.
Before the whites came to settle due to the Donation Land Act of 1850, Native Americans of the Southern Coast Salish peoples lived in their village called Ilalko, on the south end of the current city where the White and Green Rivers converged. (Vine, Josephine Emmons. “Auburn: A Look Down main Street”)
Three rivers in the area, the White, the Green, and the Stuck provided plenty of fresh water, fish, and transportation. Wild game was abundant in the forests. Fish and shellfish were just a short distance away in the Sound.
The natives resented the coming of the whites. Their arrival disrupted their freedom of movement, wreaked havoc with their fishing and hunting grounds, and dishonored their sacred sites.
They rose up in anger to fight in the Puget Sound Wars of 1855-1856. The Indians lost, and had to give up their semi-nomadic ways, being confined to a reservation. All the various groups were called Muckleshoots meaning “prairie” by the whites, although not all the Native American groups identified with each other. (Pittenger, Hilary. “Images of America: Auburn”)
In the 1890s, many farmers made their money growing hops, but the Depression of 1893-1897 wiped out many of them. Many lost their land and farms. Eventually, dairy farming replaced hops. These new agricultural jobs brought in immigrants, especially Japanese, to work the fields. The Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 brought in needed cash to the entire Puget Sound region, lowering unemployment.
In 1913, the Northern Pacific Railroad opened the Auburn Yard—a roundhouse to turn the locomotives. Repair shops to maintain the trains brought in more jobs and people to Auburn. (As a child in the 1960s, I got to tour the roundhouse.) World War I brought prosperity and better railroad efficiency, and better wages, due to the nationalization of the railroads by the Federal government. The railroad also allowed a greater market for Auburn’s milk, lettuce, and berries.
The 1920s saw labor strikes, which improved wages and security for workers, making Auburn a prosperous city. The Great Depression wiped out most of these jobs. Eventually, World War II increased the need for workers, soldiers, and regional products, ending the Great Depression in Auburn, as well as the nation.
In post-World War II Auburn, auto dealerships popped up on the north side of town in what became known as “the Little Detroit of the West” in newspaper and radio advertisements.
In the 1960s through the 1980s, Auburn shifted again from a commercial center to the aerospace industry. Boeing built an enormous commercial aircraft factory in town, creating airplane parts and jobs for hundreds of workers. The Federal Aviation Administration also built its Air Traffic Control Center across from what is now the Muckleshoot Casino.
The building of new roads, such as SR 18, brought more people and traffic through the heart of Auburn. It was completed in 1964. The Auburn Municipal Airport opened in 1969.
The building of the Howard Hanson Dam in 1962 gave flood security to residents, encouraging new building in the Auburn Valley. Although its construction was advertized as something to help farmers, what it really did was increase business and commerce, as fertile farm fields gave way to urbanization. (Pittenger)
The opening of Green River Community College occurred in 1965. Today 9,000-10,000 students attend, some in Auburn at the Main Campus on Lea Hill, some in Kent and Enumclaw, and others at the newly constructed Auburn Center south of the Auburn Airport. This facility provides aviation training, continuing education classes, and ESOL (English For Speakers of Other Languages) classes to refugees and immigrants who want to learn English.
Auburn has come a long way since the Southern Coastal Salish settlement of Llalko on the banks for the White River. It has also come a long way from being named Slaughter by early pioneers.
This pioneer history article was written in coordination with the Enumclaw Plateau Historical Society and Museum located at 1837 Marion Street in Enumclaw.