The debate over the Fort Lewis golf course — which we wrote about in today’s editorial — is turning up some fascinating history about how the base came to be.
Pierce County lawyers trying to sort through the Nisqually Tribe’s bid to acquire the golf course lands are having to dig through volumes of 90-year-old records, some of them hand-written. Everyone is trying to figure out exactly what happened back in 1917, when the county condemned thousands of acres — including the golf course lands — to help establish Fort Lewis.
One of the historical sources, the Yelm History Project, provides some interesting insights into the mood of the times.
The Washington legislature facilitated the county purchase of the land by passing a bill, which made it compulsory for Pierce County to sell bonds to raise not more than two million dollars for the purchase of the 70,000 acres. After a vote in which the pro-base side recorded a 5 to 1 margin of victory, the county began condemnation hearings. …
The county had a value attached to each parcel of land, usually based on property tax evaluations. …(J)uries usually awarded valuations equal to or below the county’s figure. Getting a fair market value for one’s land in 1917 was very difficult. One writer summarized it this way: “All kinds of pressure was used and many who tried to get a fair value were accused of being pro-German; and this and the war-time necessity had great influence, and one had to be very courageous to fight against war-time spirit.”
Indeed, that war-time spirit probably had many people thinking twice about opposing the base project. This 1917 editorial from an Olympia newspaper had some harsh words for such “slander mongers:”
In a stirring address before a Tacoma audience, General J. Franklin Bell, commander of the western district of the United States Army, took occasion to scorn the ignorant opponents of the army project (Ft. Lewis) who placarded Tacoma with scurrilous posters libeling and defaming the army and the American soldiers. General Bell referred to the men who spread the posters about as “red anarchists.” He might have applied still stronger terms and have fallen far short of expressing the extreme disgust and contempt with which law abiding, respectable citizens regard the slander mongers who are vilifying the United States Army.
As a matter of fact, the army post will be no more of a benefit to Tacoma than it will to the soldiers. The American Lake location is one of the most desirable in the country. The close proximity of Seattle and Tacoma to the post adds to the advantages. But there are still other reasons why the soldiers quartered at the post will derive great benefits. The American soldiers are a sober, law abiding lot of men. Most of them, as General Bell has said, come from farms. They take their service seriously. They are seeking to improve themselves.
The blatant, lying agitators who have been seeking to defeat the army post project by defaming the United States Army cannot be prosecuted, but it is a shame that such an element of undesirables should be permitted to associate with decent people.