Tualco Valley Pioneer 1879 – 1908
By Nellie Robertson
WLP Story Number 13
Amelia Wellman Austin fought the battles of life undaunted by the significant challenges she faced. From the time of her birth in Joliet, Ill. in 1849 until her 1908 death in Monroe, the intrepid Amelia refused to concede defeat. Her life encompassed the roles of pioneer wife, mother, nurse, churchwoman, widow and community activist.
Her odyssey from Illinois to Tualco Valley south of Monroe began while Amelia was still an infant. Her father had crossed the American plains by ox team to discover California riches, returned to get his family and with several others headed again for the Pacific Coast, this time choosing a route through the Isthmus of Panama. The men slogged their way through the steamy jungle while the women and children rode on the backs of native bearers.
Amelia met Grannis Austin in California, married him in 1865, and bore three children in the Golden State. Grannis yearned to move on. The family booked passage on the Prince Albert, an old blockade runner, and on June 10, 1873 at last reached Snohomish County. The Austins took a pre-emption claim on the land still occupied by their descendants.
The first white woman to travel the trail from Snohomish to Tualco Valley made the journey just five months before she gave birth to the first white child born in the valley. She bore four more children in Washington Territory. In her precise handwriting, she listed her children in the family Bible. The first, Benjamin Grannis Austin, she wrote, was born in “Calafornia” in 1866. Of her nine children, only three sons and one daughter grew to maturity. Amelia met challenges of motherhood, including the death of her firstborn at the age of four, with the stoicism of a pioneer woman. Three more died in childhood, and her last child died when he was six months old.
Her children, who were happy to have Indian youngsters as playmates in the sparsely-settled valley, inherited Amelia’s bold nature. Once, when the elder Austins were on a day-long trip to Snohomish, two of their sons took advantage of parental absence to slake their hunger for brown sugar, which was sold in large wooden boxes. Amelia had carefully stowed the box under her bed specifically to keep it from her rambunctious sons. Undeterred, the boys wrestled the box out from its hiding place and gorged on the confection to the point that by the time their parents returned, both boys were thoroughly sick. Although a few swats were probably applied to the boys’ backsides at some point, Amelia lovingly applied her nursing skills to restore them to health.
Amelia nursed anyone who needed her. Not only did she care for those who came to her for help, but time and time again, traveled far and wide on foot or horseback or by team and wagon to tend her fellow pioneers. Tending the sick meant measuring medicinal doses, child care, laundry and wood chopping. Her granddaughter, Doris Reiner, said, “Being a Good Samaritan in those days was much harder than staying home and doing your own thing in your own surroundings.”
Used to traveling over difficult terrain, audacious Amelia added another “first” to her list. She was the first woman to take a pleasure trip to Sultan, an occurrence unheard of in 1891. She and a friend visiting from Colorado rode mules for their miles-long journey.
A highly respected woman in the Monroe community, Amelia found outlets for her boundless energy in the Ladies of the Maccabees and the Rebekah Lodge. Her moral strength led her to start a Sunday school in the Austin livery stable, and after two years of hard work, the first Monroe church stood on the present site of the Monroe United Methodist Church, known then as the Methodist Episcopal (ME) Church. Not only did Amelia provide a place for the church, but also for the post office that had been moved from the neighboring Smallman place to the Austin homestead. A boat delivered the mail to the Snoqualmie River landing, and then a rider carried it on horseback for the final few miles.
Grannis Austin’s obituary in 1906 said that his wife had helped him turn a wilderness into a ranch valued at $20,000. Amelia spent little time in her widow’s weeds feeling sorry for herself. In mid-summer that same year, she erected a two-story building on Monroe’s So. Lewis Street that still stands. With its lodge room upstairs and a couple of business spaces downstairs, it became a popular site for community meetings. When schools overflowed with students, classes met there, and at one time the Austin building housed a skating rink.
Her business acumen was legendary among men and women alike. Her estate had doubled in value since her husband’s death. Amelia Austin lost her battle with breast cancer in 1908. She left behind a moral fiber that remains enshrined in the church she helped start. Her community spirit blazed a path women are still following today.
Sources. Monroe Monitor newsclippings & Austin family documents and Austin family interviews
© 2002 Nellie Robertson All Rights Reserved