Merrill Whittier: West End Pioneer
In 1900, according to the census, 139 people lived on the Forks Prairie. One of those families was the Whittiers. Merrill, Martha and their eight children called this place home.
Merrill had been born in 1838 in Nova Scotia and came to the U.S. in 1861. He later settled in the Dungeness area and married Martha Weir. The Weirs had homesteaded on the lower Dungeness River and had come from Texas in 1858.
In 1870, Whittier heard from local Indians, of a large prairie over the mountains from Pysht. The prairie, was they claimed, in heavy timber near a second fork of a large river. It did not have an Indian settlement but was used by them as a hunting ground.
So that same year he and his father-in-law, via canoe, came to Pysht where they met a man named Babcock. Babcock had a trained ox that could pack through timber and offered to loan himself and the ox to go in search of this fabulous prairie over the mountains.
There was no trail. The natives used the water route to get from Cape Flattery to LaPush.
The ox carried most of the supplies which consisted of flour, salt pork, coffee, salt, sour dough seed, one blanket each, musket balls, matches, black powder and axes.
They started up the Pysht River crossing back and forth and camping that first night. The next morning they started up the mountain. They came down into a great country with a brand new river, which was the Sol Duc. A few days later they discovered barefoot tracks.
Whittier was a good tracker and in a short while the tracks led the party over a faint Indian trail to a wonderful prairie edged with timber, which they called the prairie of the forks, as it lay in the forks of the great river.
That night they camped there and timber wolves killed their dogs.
Whittier liked the country as there was plentiful beaver, fish and game. He made a plan to someday move to this fertile and unsurveyed land. Later in 1880 he did just that and other settlers were coming, too.
There was no rush in those days for land here on the Forks Prairie and the few settlers that were here respected the rights and intentions of the others. The land where Whittier eventually built his cabin was in the middle of his 160 acres, which is now the business section of downtown Forks.
He lived on the property for 20 years raising his family and crops.
His main crop was hops. Hops were bailed and were canoed to a schooner at Mora from an Indian named Clockobuckets’ fish station on the Bogachiel. Shelalips was the later name.
The hops business was a difficult one in this damp climate and eventually it was abandoned because the hops would tend to mold. The Whittiers would later leave Forks and in 1901 Martha Whittier died in Seattle from pneumonia. Her youngest child was only 1-year-old. Merrill died in February 1924, in Stanwood.