Phoebe and Holden Judson, Pioneers of Washington


Phoebe Goodell grew up in Vermillion, Ohio on Lake Erie. She married Holden Allen Judson in 1850. They went west to start their own homestead with cheap land promised by the government. They left Ohio on March 1, 1853, with their two year old daughter Annie.

The first portion of the journey was easy. They rode a wagon to Sandusky, where they caught a train to Cincinnati. From there they rode a steamer down the Ohio, upper the Mississippi a short way, then up the Missouri. They disembarked at Kansas City to begin their overland route. They stayed there five weeks getting their wagon ready and finding draft animals. They joined Gustavus Hines, a Methodist missionary, who had written a book on Oregon history. He and his brother Harvey, another brother Jedidiah, and their families were headed back west.

They left around the first of May. They were lucky to have Gustavus to lead them as he had been on the route before and could find the best camping areas for water and grass for the animals. He also insisted on observance of the Sabbath Day. Phoebe was impatient at the delay but admitted the rest was much needed, especially for the animals.

They were delayed several days at the Big Blue River, in which several wagon trains waited to be ferried across. Another delay of half a day was caused by a wagon that lost a wheel. Throughout this area they were not bothered by the Delaware, Shawnee, and Potawotami Indians, who were friendly. But they had to be vigilant in Pawnee territory. The Pawnee did manage to stampede the stock once, but the pioneers caught them in the act of trying it again and chased them away.

When they reached the Platte River valley, there were long stretches with no wood. If they had not gathered enough from other camps this would have meant no hot food. The area was also very muddy and boggy, which was very difficult for the animals to drag the wagons. They were able to bag some buffalo to supplement their monotonous diet. Eventually they crossed the Platte. On the other side, she noticed the large number of graves they encountered, most dying of cholera.

Shortly afterward, they reached Chimney Rock, which they all knew was a famous landmark. They also passed by several Sioux villages. The Indians did not bother them at all. On June 26, Phoebe gave birth to a son the named Charles La Bonta, after the place he was born. A few days later, they followed the Sweetwater River and camped near Independence Rock. Since it was July 4, they stayed an extra day and had a picnic. From there, they journeyed through the Wind River Mountains, the highest point in their trip. It was cold and snowy. The landscape on the other side was quite barren and the animals had a difficult time finding adequate forage. There was more grass in the Bear River valley though there were still few trees but willow to use for fuel.

They followed the Snake River across Idaho, the most barren terrain they had yet seen. They kept a keen eye out for the treacherous Snake Indians, but fortunately were not bothered by them. This area was very hard on the oxen as they frequently had little to eat. They lost a lot of weight. The Judsons abandoned a heavy table, a rocking chair, and a trunk to try to lighten the load for the oxen. They were also low on foodstuffs and had very little variation in diet. Finally, they reached Fort Boise where they could buy supplies. It was while crossing the Boise River, that they suffered their only casualty, when a man fell and drowned in the river.

They continued northwest through the future state of Oregon, crossing the Malheur River, the Powder River, and the Grande Ronde River. They met some friendly Nez Perce Indians in this area who helped guide them and gave them food. When they reached the Umatilla River, they met some more friendly Indians with whom they traded. They were on the homestretch, but it was some of the roughest country they had traveled. It was rocky, dry, and dusty with many narrow canyons and steep cliffs. When they reached The Dalles, the wagons were floated down the Columbia River. The men drove the livestock to a meeting place on the west side of the Cascade Mountains. Up to this point, their trip had taken seven months.

The Judsons then left the wagon train so that they may visit Phoebe’s sister in the Willamette Valley. They stayed a few days before going on to Portland. From there they rode a ferry across the Columbia River. They hired Indians to ferry them up the Cowlitz River where they met Phoebe’s brother. He lead them the rest of the way. From there, the Judsons headed north to her mother’s house north of Chehalis. Here they set up their own homestead. Mr. Judson built a 16 x 18 foot log cabin.

They had now arrived in the Pacific Northwest, but their hardships were not over. They soon discovered the soil was too gravelly to produce crops. Fortunately, there was a good deal of wild game and berries to fill their larder. There were few other people nearby with which to even have a conversation. And there were Indians living nearby.

Phoebe was afraid of the Indians who were always begging for bread. At the same time, she thought it was deplorable that white men sold them liquor, for which they had no tolerance. A small band of Indians set up their wigwams on her property. At first she was wary, but then realized they really had a prior claim on the land. The Indians lived on a small portion of her 320 acres and were generally no trouble. At one point, she took in a young Indian boy who had been orphaned. He lived with the Judsons until an adult.

In the fall, her in-laws and friends arrived from the east. The Judsons built an extension so that his parents could live with them for awhile. Shortly afterward, the family moved to new property near modern day Chehalis at Claquato. They traded their property with another man who was interested in stock raising. The gravelly soil would not matter for that undertaking. The new property was much more suitable to crops and they soon had some fine crops of hay, oats, and alfalfa. But the work was labor intensive and it was still so remote that they had difficulty transporting the surplus.

The Indian wars interrupted the tranquility. The families had to temporarily abandon their homes and live at nearby Fort Claquato. They lived there for sixteen months. During this time Phoebe learned how to shoot a rifle. Shortly after their return home, Mr. Judson was elected to the legislature. They sold their farm for $4,000 in cash and goods. They lived in a rented frame home in Olympia. They lived there for several years. They were tough ones as the economy was bad. The Civil War made this worse, plus increased the isolation was transportation was interrupted. The Judsons were looking for a change.

In 1871, they moved one more time to Whatcom County near the Canadian border. Their home was on the Nooksack River, upriver from Ferndale. The previous owner had left a small cabin, to which they added, and an orchard. They also had a beautiful view of Mt. Baker and other peaks. Two orphans, Nellie and Dollie, stayed with the Judsons for awhile. Phoebe did much better with her vegetable garden and was able to harvest cabbage, beets, turnips, and tomatoes. The Indians in the area were very friendly and industrious. When the settlers wanted to remove a large log jam on the river, the Indians pitched in to help.

In 1874, she moved her ailing mother to live with them, where she stayed until her death 10 years later. When a neighbor died he left four young children that came to live with Phoebe. That year, their settlement received a post office and Phoebe was given the honor of naming the town, which became Lynden.

In 1875, there was an outbreak of typhoid fever across the country. Several residents of Lynden caught the fever and one was La Bonta. In her caring of him and others, Phoebe was overcome by exhaustion and was bedridden for days. They also lost several head of stock that drowned in a flood. But Phoebe did find a new hobby to keep her busy, which was spinning wool. She enjoyed spinning socks for the bachelors.

One year, she and her husband, accompanied by several Indians, climbed Mt. Baker. Over several days they canoed and hiked to the area’s highest peak. They were all amazed at the view. They could see across Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula. She also spent much time visiting her friend Elizabeth Roeder, who came with her from Ohio. The Roeders lived on Bellingham Bay, just a day’s journey away.

And the town was changing too. A mission school was built for the Indian children. They proved themselves eager students. The first industry in the community was a cooper shop. In the early 1880s, a sawmill was erected. Soon all kinds of buildings appeared, including a new church. Phoebe’s son George became county surveyor in 1882 and began plotting the new town. The Judsons donated much land for the business area. They built a store and an opera house that they owned. They built a new and larger home. It was a good thing they did for they found themselves parents once again of four orphan children. Soon the city was incorporated and Judson was elected its first mayor.

Now that civilization had come to this western corner of the world, it seemed their work was done. Mr. Judson died on October 26, 1899, a few months after their 50th wedding anniversary. Phoebe visited relatives in California for a few months while she grieved. But she returned to Lynden to live out the remainder of her life caring for her town, her Indian friends, and her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, natural and adopted. She finally died in 1926 at age 94.