It turns out I wasn’t the only one who had a secret fishing hole in the Olympic Mountains. My own secret fishing hole was formed when a landslide blocked the Elwha River above Hume’s Ranch, making a small trout filled lake. The sharp-eyed readers of the Peninsula Daily News have reminded me of other slides on streams like Boulder Creek, the Sitkum River and secret locations I am not at liberty to discuss due to the sensitive nature of the information in regards to the monster trout that inhabit them.
Whether these disasters were naturally caused by an act of geology or the legendary evil Giant Seatco, the fact is landslides have been happening here even back before there were any loggers to blame. The most famous landslide on the Olympic Peninsula happened somewhere up Valley Creek in 1863. That summer Valley Creek went dry. No one bothered to investigate.
A lake must have formed. On the night of December 16th the dam must have burst. A flood came down Valley Creek and washed the Customs House out into the Port Angeles harbor, killing two deputies in a massive mud flow that piled stumps and logs thirty feet high on the beach. The flood also destroyed a trading post, doctor’s office and the home of Victor and Caroline Smith.
Victor Smith came to Port Angeles in 1861 when the population was about ten as the Customs Agent for Puget Sound. Smith had Port Angeles declared a “Second National City” so that if something happened to Washington D.C. our Nation’s Capitol could simply move 3,000 miles west to Port Angeles where coincidentally Mr. Smith and his cronies owned waterfront property.
Port Townsend was the official Port of Entry for all vessels entering Puget Sound until August 1, 1862 when Victor Smith parked the cutter Shubrick in front of the Customs House, loaded the cannon with grape shot and threatened to open fire if the Customs Records were not surrendered in fifteen minutes.
Smith moved the Port of Entry to Port Angeles and built a two story Customs House along Valley Creek. The local Klallam had advised Smith that this was a bad place to put a building but they didn’t say why. These warnings were dismissed as just another silly native superstition.
Meanwhile a Grand Jury of do-gooders in Olympia indicted Smith on a laundry list of charges that included embezzling $15,000 from the Port Townsend Custom House, fraud, resisting arrest and assault on the entire population of Port Townsend. For these and other outrages against the populace, President Lincoln fired Smith as a Customs Collector. Then as now old bureaucrats never die, they get reappointed. Smith became a Federal Treasury Agent where he was accused of removing a large amount of currency from a safe during a shipwreck.
In Port Townsend Smith was described as a “Federal-fed parasite who has been foisted upon us.” In Port Angeles a town that to this day is still recognized as America’s “Second National City” Smith was applauded as the City Father. Victor’s wife Caroline should be considered the Mother of Port Angeles. Pregnant and alone with four children after Victor died in yet another shipwreck, Caroline gave birth to a son only to have her house burn down. She later moved to Ediz Hook next to the light house her husband built. Among her few possessions was an organ that Victor had ordered before his death. Caroline played the organ for her husband lost at sea and the lonely sailors on passing sailing ships to hear. Some say on a calm night on Ediz Hook you can still hear Caroline Smiths organ but it’s probably just a silly native superstition.