Highlighting Lewis County: In 1875, the Salzer Family Settled in the Valley Now Bearing Their Name


Fifty years after his birth in 1825 in Germany, Joseph Salzer settled nearly 5,300 miles away in a valley 3 miles southeast of Centralia that now bears his name.

He and his wife, Anna Marie, along with their eight sons, filed the first homestead in the valley in 1875.

Fortunately for us, Centralia High School teacher Herndon Smith directed more than 150 students from her six English classes in compiling over a period of four years a phenomenal history published as “Centralia: The First Fifty Years 1845-1900,” and it’s within those pages that the Salzer family history has been captured.

An article by Agnes Edwards and Al Middlesworth describes the history of Joseph and Anna Marie Salzer, who are buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in the back of Mountain View Cemetery. And a 1976 interview Carol Ponder conducted with longtime Salzer Valley resident Ella (Lammers) Lewis provided a few more details to their story.

Although initially referred to as McAtee Creek after the family that arrived in the valley in 1874, the waterway meandering through the valley and the valley itself soon bore the name Salzer after Joseph and Anna Marie Salzer arrived in 1875 with their eight sons.

“Then the Salzers all come in,” Ella Lewis said during the 1976 interview. “There were so many of them they just took over.”

They didn’t come directly from Germany, though. “Centralia: The First Fifty Years” says Joseph Salzer immigrated to America in 1845 (although Anna Salzer’s obituary states she immigrated in 1850). The Salzers settled first in Burlington, Iowa, and then in Illinois before moving to Buffalo, Wisconsin, where they were listed as living in the 1870 census. The household consisted of Joseph and Anna Marie Salzer, both 45, with their eight surviving children: Jacob, 18; John, 16; Joseph, 13; Frederick, 10; Gottlob, nine; Daniel, seven; Paul, five; and Gustav, three. By the time they moved west, they had already buried four children: Their eldest and only daughter, Marie; their third child, George, who died at 22; another son, Albert, and their fourth child, Joseph, who died at birth.

According to “Centralia: The First Fifty Years,” upon the birth of his fifth child, a boy, the patriarch of the family decided he would also be named Joseph. People warned him that doing so could mark him for death as his brother bearing that name had perished, but he said, “I want one named for me. I’ll keep on naming them Joe until one lives.”

Fortunately, the second Joseph lived.

While living in Wisconsin, the elder Joseph was listed as a farmer with real estate worth $3,500 and personal property of $1,600 at a time when land sold for five dollars an acre and a home could be purchased for $700.

But four years later, the family had traveled west to Portland, Oregon, where Joseph Salzer worked for a time. In 1875, they moved north to Washington Territory, camping at the edge of what was then called Centerville (later Centralia) until they found a place to settle southeast of town. They homesteaded in Section 14, Township 14, Range 2 West in the valley later named after them.

The Salzer family traveled on packhorses over Seminary Hill near Centralia along a trail and carried their larger goods and equipment, piece by piece.

“They had brought her stove in, and she rode the horse in on a packhorse and she lost her shoe,” Ella Lewis said. “I can remember her telling about that. She lost her shoe on the trail and they had to go back the next day and find her shoe.”

To reach town, they rode horseback, and her sons teased their mother about her riding, especially after the rather plump woman’s mount tossed her off along the muddy trail, where she left a large, smudged spot in the mud.

“Boys,” Joseph Salzer said, according to “The First Fifty Years.” “Here is where your mother sat down in the mud.”

Later, a road was built through the valley, but mud often made it impassable, a problem remedied in part by placing puncheon — or wood planks — across the road.

The Salzers built a home of hewed logs with a sitting room, kitchen, and two downstairs bedrooms and a two-room attic. Siding covers the log walls of the home, which still stands today. They built most of their furniture themselves from wooden barrels and logs cleared from their forested land. They planted a large vegetable garden and grew wheat and other crops in their fields.

According to the book “Centralia: The First Fifty Years,” Mrs. Ezra McAtee was the only woman Anna Salzer met besides her relatives for several years until other families settled in the area. Anna McAtee, who was born in Prussia in the mid-1840s, had six children. One son, George McAtee, recalled visiting the Salzers as a boy and Anna Salzer, the motherly German woman, nicknamed him “Sneeklefreetzie.”

“And to this day, I’ve always been called ‘Snick’ by my friends,” he told the students compiling the history.

By 1883, the seven sons had settled near their parents in the valley, but several decided to rent their farms and move to town, where John had the largest holdings.

Fred and Jacob rented part of their land to sawmill operators and sold them timber. In 1887, David Platt built a shingle mill at the upper end of Salzer Valley, which the Eastern Railway and Lumber Co. later moved to Centralia. Clenrick Crosby built a small sawmill on Salzer Creek near the Chehalis River in 1888, and it later was operated by James Sewell. The Barnaby Shingle Mill established on Salzer Creek in 1889 or 1890 operated for a time on land later home to a turkey farm. The Salzer Valley Lumber Co. at the west end of the valley was built in 1890 by Joe Robinson, Ingram Smith and a Mr. Gilchrist.

Jacob’s wife, Emma Salzer, who lived on Gold Street in Centralia, kept a scrapbook and notes from it are in a file at the Lewis County Historical Museum. She described entertainment at the home of Fred Salzer.

“The shooting match at Fred Salzer on Tuesday, the 19th of Dec, was a grand success, only about 18 participate, but they made it lively. Hugh Nelson and Frank McNitt, combination rifle, carried off first honors, seven geese, and two ducks; Gottlob Salzer, second, two geese, two ducks; sharpshooter Shultz, third, one goose, one duck; the combination was too strong for Shultz, he could not get thar.”

The scrapbook also contained a letter to the editor of the newspaper from the senior Joseph Salzer complaining about road conditions in the wake of elections of road supervisors.

“O, Mister Edittor, our Roads is so baed and our Rod Boss is awed in Cheahlis, pulling stums for all winter. You please tell him to come and fix our rods that we can tak som potatos to Centralia to be seno for mi children.

“Wen I come in this Valli Friz Saltzer was rod boss, he fiz rods gut and gits no pai ten Jacob Salzer is rod bass, he fix rod gut, he gits lots monni from Schinckenlmills, ten Schuylz is rod boss he fix rods gut he gits no pai, then Apturich War is rod boss he gits lots monni from county, he fix no rods thed Mister Thompson and his Ponnies ... is ro-boss, hm gest $3 from County and fix rods gut to his ranch. O Deer mi, I will end no mor, gud bei.”

The family’s patriarch, Joseph Salzer, was 68 when he passed away at 7 a.m. May 31, 1892, with his wife and eight sons and their families at his bedside, according to Emma Salzer’s scrapbook.

“Father Salzer leaves an aged wife and a large number of relatives to mourn his loss,” the notation says. “He was born in Diegenben, Wittenberg, Germany, in 1825, and since about 1845 has lived with his family in America. Since 1875, he has made his home in Centralia and Salzer Valley.”

Another scrapbook notation described the funeral at the First Baptist Church where “all that was mortal of the venerable Joseph Salzer, the first settler of Salzer Valley, was laid away in the grave last week.”

The note goes on to say that “the floral decorations were numerous and costly” and “the remains were followed to their last resting place by his eight sons and their families.”

Anna Marie Salzer survived her husband by 16 years. She moved in with her oldest son, Jacob, and his wife, Emma (Roundtree) Salzer. Jacob wanted his mother to exercise, so he built a walk near the house and paved it with bark.

“But Mother Salzer did only what she ‘had a mind to,’” according to “Centralia: The First Fifty Years.” “She found it much more pleasant to sit in her chair, and when coaxed to go outdoors for her exercise, she would merely sit and move her feet up and down and insist, ‘Oh, this is exercise enough!’”

The book also recounts a time when her severe illness brought her son Fred home from Canada to see her. He had always been smooth-shaven, he stood beside her bed with a full beard, and he asked, “Why, Mother, don’t you know your Fritz?”

“‘Oh, my Freetzie, my dear, dear Freetzie,’ she cried as she kissed his hand and clung to it.”

Ella Lewis remembered how Anna Salzer, known in the community as Grandma Salzer, used to sit in a rocking chair on the front porch of the large yellow-and-white, two-story home, which also had a side porch. Sometimes, she’d visit the neighbors.

“She had one of these little, light-made chairs with — they call it muck skin straps woven on for the seat and for the back — and she carried that on her arm,” Lewis recalled during the interview. “And it was all trestle from in front of the schoolhouse and across the creek almost to Peterson’s gate. And she would sit on that plank road and knit—and rest when she got ripped. She’d look around the country like you do and she’d pick up her arms and she probably knit three or four times.”

She was living with Jacob when she died at 8 o’clock at night on March 23, 1909. She was 84.

“She passed away and they had the coffin in there and set up and all these schoolkids got to go up there,” Lewis said. “They always set up with them. They never left the body alone. I think they always figured they might come to … might run away.”

“Grandma Salzer was one of the most widely known old settlers in the county,” stated the obituary published March 26, 1909, in the “Chehalis Bee-Nugget.” 

According to her obituary in the “Centralia Examiner,” she was born Feb. 3, 1825, in Wurttemberg, Germany. She immigrated to America in 1850, landing in New Orleans where she lived for a few years. Another obituary said she married Joseph Salzer in 1858 and moved to Iowa and then Illinois and Wisconsin before traveling to Washington in 1875. She gave birth to a dozen children, but only seven sons survived her: Jacob in Salzer Valley, John and Gottlob at Newaukum, Daniel and Gustave in Centralia, Paul in Grand Mound and Frederick in Alberta, Canada.

“Mrs. Salzer was one of the oldest pioneer settlers in this part of the state, and she enjoyed the respect and esteem of all who knew her,” according to the obituary. “To a wide circle of friends, she was always ‘Grandma’ Salzer.”

Next week I’ll address more of the lives of the Salzer boys and the McAtee family.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at chaptersoflife1999@gmail.com.