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Page 1 of 39 of the Thurston County Area of Interest.
Thurston County was home only to the Coastal Salish people before the arrival of England's Lt. Peter Puget in 1792. Groups from the tribes now known as Nisqually, Squaxin and Chehalis tribes gathered shellfish and frequented the inlets and prairies of Puget Sound. The Deschutes River at Tumwater was one of the long-established sites for salmon harvesting and the prairies of Lacey and the surrounding area were popular hunting and plant harvesting sites.

Both Peter Puget and Captain George Vancouver explored the southernmost tip of Puget Sound in 1792. They returned to the mother ship "The Discovery" disappointed that they had not found the Northwest Passage. In 1824, another British expedition left Fort Astoria to explore the territory between the Columbia and the Fraser River. James McMillan lead the party up the Chehalis River to the Black River. From there they followed the Indian portage routes through Black Lake to Tumwater and then to Eld Inlet. It wasn't until 1833 that the British Hudson's Bay Company made a permanent settlement at Fort Nisqually to take advantage of the fur bearing animal trade.

In 1841, American exploration of Puget Sound was undertaken by Lt. Commander Charles Wilkes who mapped and named landmarks throughout the region.  Four years later in 1845, Michael T. Simmons and George Bush, a man of mixed race led the first group of permanent American settlers to Tumwater Falls. Simmons settled in the area that would become Tumwater while others, including George Bush, settled in the rich prairies to the south. The decision to settle north of the Columbia River was made in part because because of the harsh Black Exclusion laws of the Oregon Provisional government. The thirty-one members of the Simmons party laboriously cut a wagon trail that became the northern branch of the Oregon Trail. Others followed with the establishment of Olympia in 1850 and settlement of the natural prairies and river bottom lands in the 1850's.

The arrival of the early settlers established an American foothold in the area, and by 1846 helped to determine that the area would be part of the United State through the boundary settlement with Great Britain that year. Thurston County, originally to be called Simmons County, was named for Samuel Thurston. He was the first delegate from the territory and an anti-Hudson's Bay Company activist who died while on his way home from the nation's capital. By the end of 1853 the area north of the Columbia had become a separate territory named Washington. The first governor, Isaac Stevens, chose Olympia was the site of the first territorial legislature. Thurston County was the most populous area in the new Washington in 1853 and it would continue to be so until the mid 1870's, when the Northern Pacific Railroad bypassed Olympia and made its westernmost terminus in Tacoma.

The history of Thurston County contains its shares of struggles. The problems between the settlers and Native Americans resulted in the 1855 Indian uprising, and the declaration of statehood on November 11, 1889, prompted a 30 year struggle by the locals to maintain Olympia as the seat of state government.

Historically, Thurston County has been home to the logging industry as well as farming and coal mining. Sandstone cutting flourished in Tenino around the turn of the century, and the shellfish industry continues to prosper. Lumber processing and logging created towns at Rainier, established in the 1890's, Bucoda (originally "Seatco") in the 1880's, Gate in the 1890's. Farming spurred settlement of Rochester and Littlerock from the early 1850's, Yelm from Hudson's Bay Company days in the 1830's and Lacey in the 1890's. The history of Thurston County has historically been shaped and continues to be shaped by state government and its role as the seat of government for Washington.
Information courtesy of (1) Thurston County Historic Commission.