Many of the first settlers were from Scandinavia. The Indian name was given by Frank Stevenson, a resident of the town. The Indians used the word for a mountain in the hills about six miles north, variously translated as meaning “Place of the Evil Spirits” or “thunder and lightning.” The local Indians believed that the Thunder Bird lived in a cave on this mountain, and had changed tribesmen into thunder for all time. The name, Enumclaw Plateau, has come into general use for the region west to nearly Bonney Lake.
On a plateau between the White and Green Rivers in the Cascade foothills, is the gateway to Chinook and Naches passes and to the skiing and recreation areas of Mount Rainier and the Snoqualmie National Forest. Lumbering, dairy and poultry farming, and trade connected with recreation provided the bulk of Enumclaw’s business. During the 1940s many residents once found employment in the lumber mill and in the logging operations east of the town, and a few still worked in the coal mines at Black Diamond, Carbonado, and Durham.
The natural timber resources of the area first drew settlers to the site, which was platted on October 3, 1885, and named by Frank Stevenson and his wife for the mountain about six miles to the north. According to a legend, a band of Native Americans encamped one night at the base of the mountain ridge; they were caught in a terrific thunder storm and became so frightened that they fled, calling the mountain “Enumclaw” (place of the evil spirits).
The settlement was relatively isolated at first. For a while a small rowboat was used as a ferry to cross the torrential White River; a cow’s horn, hidden in a stump known to all the settlers, was blown to summon the boat whenever a passenger desired to cross. In 1884–5 the main line of the Northern Pacific Railroad, building through from Cascade Junction, connected the settlement with Tacoma and lent impetus to logging, commerce, and other enterprises.
The store of Arthur Griffin and John Blake prospered; and skins and hides, often used as tender in trade at the store, gave way to real money. The first school was opened in 1887; the first church services were held in Union Sunday School by David Jones; and by the 1890s, a weekly—The Enumclaw Evergreen—was started by A. C. Rogers, son of Governor John Rogers. Improved marketing facilities drew many lumbering concerns to the White River, where Nelson Bennett (later to build the Cascade Tunnel) had established the first mill.
Among the factors that contributed most to Enumclaw’s growth were its co-operative organizations. The settlers, mostly Norwegians and Danes, brought the principles of the co-operative with them from their homelands and quickly put them into effect here.