[Guest Post by Kaitlyn Murray, Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum staff member]
On a day in 1862, a traveler passing through the Snoqualmie Valley saw a remarkable mountain and thought it would be the perfect place to call home. That man was named Josiah Merritt, and he decided to build a small wooden cabin at the base of the mountain. He began growing vegetables, planted an orchard, and raised pigs. In his free time, he played the fiddle for his friends. People in town described him as “a rugged, rough-spoken old fellow.” Josiah Merritt was known in the town of North Bend as Uncle Si.
Uncle Si’s cabin was built on the bank of a small creek near where it emptied into the Middle Fork River beneath the mountain. After the cabin was built, people in town began calling the mountain Uncle Si’s Mountain. Over time, the name was shortened, and people began calling the mountain Mount Si.
Uncle Si arrived in North Bend after a long journey in hopes of finding gold. During the gold rush, he left Ohio and traveled to California. After a few years in California with little success, he decided to venture elsewhere in hopes of better opportunities. When gold had been discovered in British Colombia, he decided to head north from California.
During his travels, he left Seattle on a pack trail going east to Snoqualmie Pass before heading north to Canada. While passing through the Snoqualmie Prairie, he met another early European-American settler, Jeremiah Borst. Mr. Borst was known for generously helping people start a new life there. Uncle Si enjoyed North Bend and the company of Mr. Borst, so he decided to stay and build a homestead cabin. Jeremiah Borst grew vegetables, raised pigs, and had an orchard. When Uncle Si moved to the area, he began cultivating the same produce and meat as Mr. Borst.
Uncle Si raised pigs and sold his bacon in Seattle. His long and difficult journey from North Bend to Seattle included traveling by oxen and sled, carrying the meat across the river on his back, and then by oxen and sled again to Jeremiah Borst’s house. From there, he canoed down the river to Snoqualmie Falls, where he was required to stop and carry the meat on his back down the cliff of the falls to the mouth of Tokul Creek. He then continued canoeing down the Snoqualmie and Snohomish rivers to Everett and around Puget Sound to Seattle. In Seattle, he sold his bacon to a large wholesale mercantile store located in present-day Pioneer Square called Schwabacher Brothers & Company.
After living in North Bend for some time, Uncle Si sold $400 worth of bacon in Seattle. He used the money to take a trip back to Ohio. When Uncle Si left Ohio for gold twenty-three years prior, he left behind his wife and three young children. His wife, Sally Merritt, accompanied him to Washington with her youngest son. Uncle Si’s cabin had burnt down twice, so he built a third larger cabin when his wife and son moved to North Bend. Uncle Si’s wife was known in the town as Aunt Sally. Uncle Si lived out the rest of his days in the Snoqualmie Valley and was buried at the Fall City Cemetery in 1882.
People of the Snoqualmie Tribe refer to the mountain as q̓əlbc̓ in the Lushootseed language. The Snoqualmie People are recognized as the original stewards of the land, and the mountain is culturally significant to the Snoqualmie Tribe. The mountain is sacred land and part of the Snoqualmie People’s origin story. The Snoqualmie Tribe Ancestral Lands Movement urges
people to respect, protect, and restore sacred land. (Snoqualmie Tribe Mindfulness, Not Conquest)
Today, Mount Si is a Snoqualmie Valley landmark and a popular hiking destination for visitors and locals. In 1977, North Bend City Council Member Francis North helped establish the mountain as a public recreation area and natural preserve. She sponsored a bill in the United States House of Representatives, prompting the Department of Natural Resources to recognize an area of Mount Si as a conservation area. This protected the area from being negatively impacted by logging and housing developments. (Matthew Craft Legislator North Pushed Protection for Area Around Mount Si)
In 1987, the land area was redesignated as the Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area. This legislation expanded the preserved land to protect five hundred and two acres of important natural resources. It protects numerous plants, including old-growth Douglas fir, western hemlock, and Sitka spruce trees. It also protects animals that live on the mountain, including mountain goats, black bears, elk, deer, cougars, and coyotes.
Each year, Mount Si is hiked by more than 100,000 people. In 2005, work needed to be done to maintain the trail after heavy erosion due to decades of large amounts of hikers. The Washington Department of Natural Resources partnered with Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust to renovate the popular trail, creating a safer experience for hikers. The preservation of this natural landmark allows people to experience the stunning nature of Mount Si, as it was experienced many years ago by early people living in the Snoqualmie Valley. (Washington State Department of Natural Resources Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area)
Snoqualmie Tribe Governmental Affairs Staff. “Mindfulness, Not Conquest.” Snoqualmie Tribe, 23 May 2022, snoqualmietribe.us/mindfulness-not-conquest/.
Craft, Matthew. “Legislator North Pushed Protection for Area Around Mount Si.” News Times, 8 Mar. 2003, www.seattlepi.com/news/article/legislator-north-pushed-protection-for-area-1109231.php.
“Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area.” Washington State Department of Natural Resources, www.dnr.wa.gov/MountSi#:~:text=The%20Mount%20Si%20Natural%20Resources,and%20other%20species%20of%20wildlife. Accessed 13 Nov. 2023.