For centuries, Native Americans of the Chinook, Coast Salish, Nisqually, Puyallup, and Steilacoom tribes have inhabited the Puget Sound area. Their cultures flourished in the pristine Northwest as they fished the waterways and hunted and gathered food in the evergreen forests. They lived in peace and harmony and were virtually isolated from the outside world.
In 1774 and 1775 the Spanish conquistadors Bruno Heceta and Juan de Bodega y Quadra followed the same path as the reputed exploration of Juan de Fuca of 1592. These explorers sailed through the straits of Juan de Fuca into what is now called Puget Sound and formally claimed the entire area as part of the Kingdom of New Spain. Other explorers followed, claiming territory for Russia, England, and the United States.
American Capt. Robert Gray and British Capt. George Vancouver undertook what were perhaps the most significant explorations. These great navigators met at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1792. Captain Gray sailed south along the Pacific coastline and Captain Vancouver sailed southeast in the Sound. Vancouver is reported to be the first white man to see the towering 14,411-ft. snow-capped mountain, which he named Mount Rainier after his friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier. He also sighted and named Mount Saint Helens in honor of the British diplomat Lord St. Helens. Captain Gray's voyage led to the discovery of the beautiful Grays Harbor and the mouth of the Columbia River, which he named after his ship, The Columbia.
For many years explorers from France, Britain, and the United States searched for the Northwest Passage, a fabled waterway that supposedly connected the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean. In 1806 Lewis and Clark completed their exploration of the Columbia River and the surrounding area and determined that the fabled passage did not exist. However, their reports of the beautiful mountains and the lush forests and waterways lured traders and trappers into the area. Catholic missionaries and others who came by way of the Oregon Trail followed the mountain men. During this time, treaties were signed that allowed joint British and American occupation of the land until 1846, when the boundary between the United States and Canada was officially settled.
Serious settlement of the area by Europeans began to alter the landscape in 1852. A Swedish immigrant named Nicholas De Lin built a log cabin and sawmill in what is now downtown Tacoma. Other sawmills soon opened up in Seattle and on supplying much-needed lumber for the California and Alaska gold rushes.
The original name given to Tacoma by General M. M. McCarver was Commencement City. He dreamed of making the new city the terminus for Northern Pacific Railroad. Feeling that the name Commencement City was too long, Job Carr (the city's first mayor), and the General McCarver changed the name to Tacoma in 1869. In 1873 the railroad was completed, with the Union Station (which is still standing) as its headquarters. Later, in the 1880's, rails were completed that allowed travel and commerce between Tacoma and major cities in the East.
Washington achieved statehood in 1889. This name was given in honor of George Washington, who was elected President of the United States in 1792-the same year that Capt. Gray and Capt. Vancouver first sailed the beautiful waters of the Northwest.
The name Tacoma is elegant and beautiful to hear. It is as unusual as it is unique and has been the topic of much discussion over the years. It is believed that Tacoma was derived from the Indian word Tahoma. In the language of the Puyallup tribe, ta is a prefix placed before an adjective. The word co means water, and the word ma means frozen. The Puyallups call each snow-capped mountain homa, pronouncing the h with a deep guttural sound. Most people cannot pronounce it in this manner, so they say coma. The natives often pointed to the highest snow covered peak (Mt. Rainier), which was considered the home of the deity, and reverently said "Tahoma."
The Chinooks, who have long inhabited this area, tell an intriguing legend concerning the name Tacoma. Long ago, a great prophet visited the people and was called Tia-acomah, meaning Lord Miracle Worker. His symbol was the T-shaped mark on his hands. The great prophet performed many miracles and healings. He prophesied the rise of a city named after the great White Mountain, which also bore his name Tia-acomah. Many people have speculated that this prophet may have been Jesus Christ, who visited the inhabitants of this continent.
Faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have resided in the forests of the Northwest from the time that it was first settled, the Latter-day Saint missionaries were first sent into the Oregon Territory in the early 1850's. They came from the Mormon settlement at San Bernadino, California, at the direction of Apostle Charles C. Rich. Although persecution and mob violence resulted in initial setbacks, the first missionaries reached Washington in 1855.
Church growth during the ensuing years was sporadic and not very well documented. In 1890 the Church organized the Oregon Lumber Company to obtain vital building supplies, and in 1893 the Latter-day Saints in the company were organized into a branch as part of the Oneida Stake of Zion. When Stake President George C. Parkinson visited the branch and learned that members of the Church were scattered all throughout the Northwest, he reported to the First Presidency that successful missionary labors could be performed there. As a result, Elder Edward Stevenson of the First Council of the Seventy organized the Northwestern States Mission on July 26, 1897 with George C. Parkinson as the first president. Elders Lewis S. Pond, Denmark Jensen, Thomas Preston, George Z. Lamb, Gaston L. Braley, and James R. Smurthwaite were called as the first missionaries to labor in the new mission. The mission included the states of Oregon, Washington, Montana, the northern part of Idaho, the Province of British Columbia in Canada, and Alaska, and was headquartered in Spokane. The mission boundaries were the same as those of the present-day North American Northwest Area, which now consists of nine missions. The Northwestern States Mission experienced phenomenal success and, on June 9, 1901, a new stake was formed among the saints in eastern Oregon and northern Idaho.
As far as we know, the first meetings regularly held in Seattle began in 1902, when three families began holding Sunday School classes in one of their homes. From these modest beginnings, the congregation began to grow until 1905, when Nephi Pratt, the president of the Northwestern States Mission, organized the first Seattle branch. After several moves to more spacious meeting locations, the first LDS chapel was built by the mission and dedicated in 1912. President Joseph F. Smith and Presiding Bishop Charles W. Nibley attended the dedication services. The building and property cost $7,117 and was located at Terrance and Newton Street on the east side of the Queen Anne hill. This chapel, with a seating capacity of 350, served Seattle's LDS population until 1906.
The first Latter-day Saint branch in Tacoma began as a small Sunday School in 1903. Four families met in the home of Martina Hansen Christensen, located at South 15th and Market. Attendance in the early years averaged about fourteen people. In 1917, the first Tacoma Branch was organized, with William Thompson as president.
The region's first stake was created on July 13, 1938. Under the direction of President Heber J. Grant, the Seattle Stake was formed, which stretched from Vancouver B.C. to Chehalis. The first stake president, Alexander Brown, presided over three wards in Seattle, two in Tacoma, and one in Bremerton, with numerous branches in the less populated areas. Fourteen years later, the Seattle Stake was divided. On September 28, 1952, Spencer W. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve set apart Elvin E. Evans as the first president of the new Tacoma Stake. With a membership of 3,200 the stake was composed of eleven wards and branches. The Tacoma Stake was divided for the first time on June 6, 1960, with Herbert s. Anderson as the president of the new Puget Sound Stake, the Church's 299th.
On January 1, 1968, the Pacific Northwest Mission split from the Northwestern States mission, with Joe E. Whitesides as president. The new mission covered all of Washington and extended east to the Idaho-Montana border, with the northern and eastern boundaries remaining the same. A total of 170 elders were assigned to labor in the new mission. In June of 1970, the Pacific Northwestern Mission was renamed the Washington Mission with Raymond Price as its president and in June of 1974 the mission was renamed again-in compliance with the Church's news naming system-as the Washington Seattle Mission.
On July 1, 1990, the Washington Seattle mission was divided, resulting in the formation of the Washington Tacoma Mission, with Sidney R. Henderson as its first president. The new mission was created from the southern part of the Washington Seattle Mission, raging from Kent in the north to Winlock in the south, and from the Cascade Mountains in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west.