Death came here yesterday [April 1, 1937] at noon to Abe Wheeler, seventy-three, whose 66 years of residence in the Kittitas Valley covered almost the entire period of white men’s settlements in this vicinity. The last of six children who came to the Kittitas with their pioneer parents in 1871, he died at the Ellensburg General Hospital after an illness of three weeks and following an operation performed on Tuesday.
His death not only took another from the ranks of the valley’s pioneers, but separated that community’s oldest living married couple, as well. Surviving him is the widow, Mrs. Laura McEwen Wheeler, herself the daughter of pioneers who also came here in 1871. Having grown up together, Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler were married more than 53 years ago. Not far behind the earliest settlers, Mr. Wheeler’s parents brought their children to the Kittitas Valley in 1871 at a time when the first great influx of pioneers was underway. Two years earlier, Charles Wheeler and his son, George, an elder brother of Abe, had come here looking for range for their stock, as had most of the first settlers.
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wheeler had crossed the plains from Iowa, in 1850, going to Yelm Prairie, near Steilacoom, where they lived for 17 years and where Abe was born on April 6, 1863. In the fall of 1870 they crossed the Cascade Mountains by ox team and in the spring of 1871 settled at what become known as the Wheeler place and built a small log cabin. The Tillman Housers, and the Charles Splawns, who came in 1868, and Charles P. Cooke, Mode Cooke, Charles B. Reed, W. A. Bull, Thomas Haley, Patrick Lynch, Matthias Becker, John Vaughn, Jeff Smith and other early settlers were already homesteaded here, but the settlers were comparatively few and widely scattered.
The valley was still much used by the Indians and the great war of the fifties was not so remote that the settlers felt entirely safe. And the Indian scare of 1878, when the Bannock War and the Perkins murders and the movements of Chief Moses were to cause considerable anxiety, was still to come. So it happened that the log cabin which was built upon the Wheeler homestead and which was the boyhood home of Abe Wheeler, eventually became the center of the small community and a blockhouse for its protection, though as it happened the settlers were never called upon to use it to resist an Indian attack.
In a history of the Yakima Valley, Miss Clareta Smith described the cabin: This cabin was built of hewn cottonwood logs; the ends of the logs were dovetailed together and pinned with wooden pins. The windows and door frames were also pinned in with wooden pins. The roof and floor were of dirt and a huge fireplace filled the east end of the cabin. The fireplace was built of rock filled in with mud and the chimney was made of sticks and mud. The cabin was built but a few feet from the west bank of Cherry Creek, facing the south. There was one small window and a door in the front, a window in the west end and door in the north. The doors were fastened with wooden thumb latches lifting with a buckskin string from the outside.
The Wheeler family and their few neighbors used this cabin for many social affairs, dancing being the favorite amusement. Grandfather Wheeler furnished the music, for he was a famous “fiddler;” and I am told that at several of the dances the dust was so thick it was impossible to see one’s partner. A few years later an addition was built into the west end of the cabin. New floors were put down and new roof added to the old part. The roof and floors were of rough boards sawed with a whipsaw at Jordan’s mill in the Naneum Canyon. Yet, with this addition, by the time their own small children and the small children of their neighbors were put to bed there was very little room left for dancing. It was customary at these pioneer parties for the guests to remain all night, returning home the next morning.
It was during the Indian trouble of 1878 that the second story of the cabin was built, making a blockhouse. This part was of logs, built in the same manner as the first part and projected over the lower story. There were eight portholes on each side and two, one on each end—Grandfather Wheeler died in February, 1882, in this cabin. Grandmother Wheeler continued to live on the homestead until her death in May, 1917. Later the upper part of the old cabin was moved to Abe Wheeler’s home place, where it was used for a barn.
Fittingly, one of the last public appearances of “Uncle Abe,” who had had a part in this valley’s pioneering, was as a guest at the presentation in Ellensburg by the Washington State Theatre of the play, “No More Frontier,” which deals with the life of a pioneer Northwest family. He and Mrs. Wheeler were honored there as representatives of the early settlers of this vicinity.
In addition to the widow, he is survived by three children, Nell E. Wheeler, Mrs. P. B. Moran and Wes Wheeler, all of Ellensburg, and by two grandchildren, Gerald Wheeler and Lorna Moran Hornbeak. He was a member of the Woodmen of the World. Funeral services will be held at the Honeycutt Chapel Saturday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock, with the Rev. Myron Campbell, former pastor of the Kittitas Baptist Church, officiating. He had been a member of that congregation for 27 years. [IOOF Cemetery]
Contributed by: Shelli Steedman