Julie McDonald Commentary: Salzer Sons Left Mark in Lewis County


The sons of Joseph and Anna Marine Salzer helped shape Lewis County and their progeny scattered throughout the Pacific Northwest, although tragedy struck one son’s family and three of their boys killed themselves.

“Centralia: The First Fifty Years,” a book published in the 1950s after Centralia High School English students in Herndon Smith’s class gathered the history, briefly recounts the lives of the Salzer children. Obituaries fill in the blanks.

Although Jacob married Emma Roundtree of Boistfort in 1883, most of his brothers ended up marrying sisters. John, Gottlob, and Dan married Mary, Caroline, and Nettie Krieger while Gustave and Fred married Emma and Donnie Shimek. I’ll address the boys in age order.

Jacob (1851-1919)

Jacob was born in Burlington, Iowa, Sept. 17, 1851, and as a small boy moved with his family to Illinois and later Wisconsin. His obituary says he moved to what was then the small village of Centralia in 1874 (although other records list the year as 1875).

He died of pneumonia March 15, 1919, at the age of 67. He was survived by his wife and four brothers — Dan, Gus, Gottlob and Paul.

“Mr. Salzer was a man of unassuming nature; with a gentle, kind heart that won for him a lasting friendship of all those who knew him best,” according to his obituary kept in Emma Salzer’s scrapbook, a scrap of which remains in a file at the Lewis County Historical Museum.

“His integrity was beyond question — a man whose word was as good as his bond. He was liberal in his religious opinion and lenient in judgment. A kind, loving husband and, as a citizen, a friend and neighbor, he was greatly loved and respected.”

John (1853-1913)

John Salzer was described in “Centralia: The First Fifty Years” as having the most assets. But in September 1888, he sold his farm and farming implements, horses and wagons to a Tacoma man for $7,500 in cash. The newspaper reported that “we hope Mr. Salzer will continue to be one of Lewis County’s favorites.” In 1879, he married Anna Mary Krieger, but he was described as single when he died at 60, even though she outlived him by 17 years. They didn’t appear to have any children.

In the summer of 1913, he was arrested for intoxication. Despair overcame him and he leaped from the Chehalis River Bridge. An Aug. 3, 1913, article described what happened after his Saturday night arrest in Centralia and release the following morning.

“Soon after his release, it is said, he threatened to end his troubles by jumping from the bridge,” the newspaper reported. “He arrived on Lincoln creek soon after noon and was seen for a time in a pool hall. Soon after 3 o’clock his remains were found in the river, below the bridge. Examination showed that the shock of the 40-foot leap had killed him instantly as there was no water in the lungs.”

Joseph (1857-1894)

Joseph Salzer, the one who lived, was born April 23, 1857, in Illinois and moved west with his family. He decided to settle in Portland, where he operated a saloon and hotel business. He married Ida Graf in 1882 in Multnomah County, Oregon, and they had a son, Arthur Joseph, born on the day President Chester Arthur took office.

His son was only 10 when he grew despondent and shot himself in the head. According to an April 22, 1894, article in the Statesman-Journal in Salem, he “committed suicide in Charles Berthram’s saloon by shooting himself three times in the right temple.” Twenty-five minutes later, he died. He was 36.

He had settled in Portland in 1875.

“Joseph had been troubled greatly with rheumatism for the past four years, and his right side was partly paralyzed from hip disease,” the newspaper reported. “He had visited different springs and medical institutions without securing relief, and during that time his expenses, coupled with inability to attend to business, had placed him in a cramped financial condition.”

He had gone to Seattle the previous year but had returned to Portland six weeks before taking his life. He had purchased a saloon at the corner of First and Jefferson only a week earlier, but he couldn’t make payments or secure a license, “which, with his ill health, has made him despondent,” according to the newspaper.

It’s unclear what happened to his widow and their son.

Frederick (1860-1926)

Fred, who was born in 1860 in Illinois, married 18-year-old Donnie “Dovie” Shimek in March 1884, according to Ancestry.com (although another record lists the year as 1880 and her obituary states the year as 1886). She was the daughter of Joseph and Anna Shimek, born May 23, 1865, in Bohemia, Austria. Her family immigrated to the United States when she was 7 and settled in the Hanaford Valley in 1872. One of her half-brothers, Austin Zenkner, served as a state representative.

Fred and Donnie had four sons — Willie, Eddie, Fred or “Fritz” and Roland, but they suffered horrendous tragedy as parents.

On Dec. 2, 1889, their 2-year-old son, Eddie, fell into the well at their place on Salzer Creek and drowned. According to the “Centralia (Weekly) Chronicle,” he had been out of their sight only 15 minutes, but when they searched for him, they found his body in the well. He was born Oct. 2, 1887, and he’s buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in the back of Mountain View Cemetery in Centralia.

In April 1903, while hunting about 8 miles from Centralia, 18-year-old Will accidentally shot himself with a rifle. According to a scrapbook kept by Emma Salzer, the bullet tore away his upper lip and nose. The disfiguring accident prompted him to leave Lewis County and move north to Alberta, Canada, where he worked in the coal mines. His father and brother Fritz later joined him in Canada to work in the mines.

His mother, Donnie Salzer, visited there for a few months in 1904, but she returned to Centralia and stayed with her sister, Mrs. Caleb Berry, where she died April 26, 1905. She had suffered from cancer of the bowels. Her obituary in the “Centralia News-Examiner” said her son, Will, was in Alberta, but Fritz and Roland were with her when she died.

Her husband, Fred, later returned to Southwest Washington and settled at Grand Mound, which is where he lived in December 1920 when he learned that his namesake, Fritz, was killed while working for the Rosedeer Coal Mining Company in Alberta, Canada. His remains were shipped to Centralia for burial, which took place in the Pioneer Cemetery at Mountain View Cemetery in January 1921. He was only 29. At the time, Willie Salzer was living in Wisconsin while the youngest son, R.G. Salzer, was living with his father in Grand Mound.

Six years later, Fred Salzer died in a Centralia hospital in August 1926. Both surviving sons, Will and Roland, lived in Grand Mound.

A decade later, Roland, the youngest son of Fred and Donnie, died Jan. 31, 1936, during a toolshed fire at a National Guard camp in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he was employed by the Works Progress Administration as a night watchman. He had moved from Grand Mound to South Dakota only a year earlier. He was survived by his wife, Bertha.

Gottlob (1861-1942)

The Salzer son who lived the longest was Gottlob, who was born June 2, 1861, in Illinois, and settled with his family in Salzer Valley in 1875. In 1883, he married 18-year-old Caroline Krieger, the daughter of German-born parents. She was born in 1865 or 1866 in Oregon.

Gottlob proved up on his homestead April 23, 1894, but eight years later, he sold his holdings in Salzer Valley. In 1902, he bought 100 acres on the North Fork of the Newaukum River, where he raised only Holsteins in his dairy herd, which he described as the best cattle in a Dec. 14, 1911, newspaper article. He built up a purebred herd and milked as many as 50 dairy cows, sending the milk to the condensing plant in Chehalis. The article described the removal of stumps from the land, his use of a riding plow and his “comfortable house,” and desire to save enough money to “lay aside the hack and buy an auto to use in its place.”

He remained involved in Salzer Valley as clerk of the school district and accepted bids for construction of a new one-room schoolhouse in May 1908.

Gottlob and Caroline had nine children, the first of them born in Portland: Mary, Joseph (Salkum), Edna, Ludwig (Chehalis, named for Caroline’s father), Freda Lashbrook (Centralia), Esther Miles (Portland), Helen Snider (Ryderwood), Raymond (Elma), and Enola Sullinger (Seattle). They lived on the North Fork Road in the Parcuvia precinct along the North Fork of the Newaukum River. Edna married Austin Zenkner, the half-brother of her aunts by marriage, Emma and Donnie Shimek, and lived at Silver Creek.

Gottlob and Caroline suffered financial hardship and filed for bankruptcy in November 1923, according to a legal notice in the “Chehalis Bee-Nugget.”

The couple celebrated their golden anniversary in March 1933 with 50 people in the Oddfellows Hall. They sang songs from a half a century earlier and enjoyed slices from a large wedding cake trimmed with love birds.

In their later years, the couple lived with their daughter Freda Lashbrook on South Silver Street, where Gottlob died at the age of 80 on March 5, 1942. He was survived by eight of his nine children (only Mary had died earlier), 16 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. His wife died seven years later, Dec. 14, 1949, in Centralia at about the age of 84.

Dan (1864-1923)

Dan was born in Wisconsin in 1864. He married Nettie Krieger and operated a business in Centralia in the south half of a brick bank block that bore the name Salzer at the top, perhaps a tavern or bar as he applied for renewal of a saloon license.

He and Nettie built a home at 401 West Locust in Centralia. They had two sons, Walter and Elmer. They also suffered the tragic death of a young child. In May 1906, their 2-year-old son, Elmer, accidentally ingested a dose of morphine and died within a few minutes.

According to the “Centralia News-Examiner,” Nettie Salzer had suffered from a very painful hand, so the doctor had given her morphine tablets to help her sleep at night. He also gave her similar tablets to quiet the baby’s fever.

“Wednesday evening, about six o’clock, Mrs. Salzer decided to give the baby a tablet, but in some manner gave him one of the morphine tablets,” the newspaper reported. “As soon as she discovered her mistake, Mrs. Salzer immediately summoned every doctor she could find, but of no avail.”

The newspaper stated, “The mother is prostrated. Mr. Mead decided that the death was accidental and did not hold an inquest.”

Elmer, who was born in 1903, is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Centralia.

Dan Salzer died Jan. 5, 1923, at the age of 59. He was survived by his son, Walter, a student at the North Pacific Dental College in Portland, and four brothers — Gottlob on the North Fork of the Newaukum, Gus in the Hanaford Valley, and Fred and Paul at Grand Mound. His wife, Nettie, passed away in 1950 when she was about 80. Her son, Walter, died in 1969 at the age of 71.

Paul (1865-1932)

Paul, who was born March 4,1865, in Wisconsin. He grew up in the Salzer Valley, but in October 1890, a dispute over money landed him before a judge, where he pleaded guilty to a charge of assault and battery on the person of Sam Goodfellow. Sam called him a liar, and Paul struck him on the shoulder. After paying a $12.50 fine for the public good, he departed well satisfied, according to a newspaper account.

Paul married Alice M. Watson Sept. 29, 1897, in Salzer Valley. They rented a place in Centralia before moving to a dairy farm at Grand Mound in southern Thurston County, where they raised their daughter, Maude Thompson (Tenino), and two sons, John and Harvey.

Alice Salzer was only 44 when she died in July 1925 after a surgical procedure in Seattle. Her husband, Paul, died Aug. 17, 1932. Both are buried at Mountain View.

One of Paul’s great-grandsons, John’s son George Salzer, and his wife, Trixie, were featured in a 2003 “Chronicle” article about making sauerkraut and other German fare passed down through the generations from the original settlers of Salzer Valley. Every fall, his family fermented grated cabbage with salt in two 20-gallon crocks and stored them in the root cellar before refrigeration. Both George and Trixie have since passed away.

Gustave (1866-1926)

The youngest of the eight Salzer sons who settled the valley that bears their name was Gustave, born Dec. 3, 1866, in Wisconsin.

Like his brother Fred, he married one of the Shimek sisters, Emma.

They farmed in the Hanaford Valley, where they raised their son, Adolph, who was born July 13, 1892, in Centralia.

According to the “Chehalis Bee-Nugget,” Gus put a gun in his mouth and blew off his head at his ranch on Feb. 13, 1926. “A long siege of ill health is held responsible for the suicide,” the newspaper reported.

He was 60 and survived by two brothers, Paul in Grand Mound and Gottlob on the North Fork of the Newaukum River. Gus is also buried in the Pioneer Cemetery at Mountain View.

His son, Adolph, lived most of his life farming in the Centralia area. He moved to Toledo in 1961 and died the following year at the age of 69. He and his wife, Hattie (Huston) Salzer, are buried at Claquato Cemetery.

They had two sons, Archie of Centralia and later Bucoda and Carl of Castle Rock, and a daughter, Alice Forester of Arcata, California.

Emma Salzer died Feb. 6, 1962, in Centralia. She was 87.

The list of Salzer descendants goes on, with generations born and others dying, but their legacy lives on in their rich German heritage and the valley southeast of Centralia that bears their name.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.