A Frontier of Timber and Sea

The frontier in the Pacific Northwest was, in physical terms, a frontier of tall timber and water: the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound, the many rivers and streams. These physical aspects profoundly affected the shape of the society that immigrants created.

Timber was both an obstacle to agricultural settlement and a natural resource that established an industry. Since so many immigrants came West with the intention of farming, they viewed the trees as something to be removed. They also, mistakenly, viewed the huge size and robust strength of the trees as indicators of the fertility of the region's soil.

As a result, in the Puget Sound country, extractive industry soon supported more immigrants than did farming. Mills supplied masts for sailing ships, and timber to build houses in booming California. Fish canneries provided another industrial base. Near Puget Sound, coal was discovered, another extractive product that attracted emigrants who were not farmers, and so helped to build a society that was more urban and industrial than rural and agricultural.