One family’s history of the Hoh River Valley and changes from yesterday to today

from Marilyn Lewis, Hoh River Valley


Lewis Ranch on the Upper Hoh River is homesteaded land that goes back to the arrival of three Hulesdank brothers, who came to the Hoh Valley in 1890, climbing tall trees to find their way through old growth forest into the Hoh River Valley.

And Fred Fisher, who arrived at a later date. He started the We’ll Go Fer Farm out in this great wilderness.

Charley Lewis arrived in the Valley in 1918 as a Forest Service Ranger. In 1925, he bought in with Fred Fisher and they raised not only mink, but added otter, Martin and Fisher. They shipped live animals and fir all over the world over forest trail.

In 1927, Charley married Marie Hulesdank, the youngest daughter of John and Dora Hulesdank. Fred Fisher, in failing health, sold the Fer Farm and remaining land to Charley. He added cattle to the farm, as well as acted as a guide, horse packer and Forest Ranger in the summer months. It is said he walked home after work to help Marie feed up to 300 mink, nineteen miles. In the winter and all, he also served as a government hunter, the wilderness was teeming with predators, but little wildlife, deer, and elk.

He did whatever it took to earn a wage.

John Hulesdank sent all four of his daughters off to college from his wilderness farm.

For nearly 50 years, these homesteaders either packed supplies in and out on their backs, or off the backs of horses, in dug-out Indian canoes down the river or packed it up river by canoe before a road was built into the Hoh Valley.

Cattle, sheep, turkeys, horses – who knows what else – were driven over the Hoh Trail to Forks, 20-plus miles to the nearest market.

Even elk calves captured and raised for the great elk and mountain goat exchange in the Olympic Mountains in the 1920s were herded over the Hoh Trails to Forks, where they were trucked off to Alaska, etc.

John Hulesdank earned himself the name of “Iron Man of the Hoh” by carrying double loads on his back for double wages.

Lewis’ daughter Marilyn arrived on their homestead in 1942. By this time, Charley had bought it all up and they decided baby fingers and mink did not mix! The mink were sold off.

Charley grew tired of pulling dairy type cattle out of swamps and cold, wet winters, some winters raining between 140 to 160 inches of rain a year.

By 1948, the last team of horses was too old to plow and hay 90 acres of hay field. Charley went shopping for a new tractor, and the first cows of the beginning of a pure Aberdeen Angus herd, which at times grew up to 200 head with calves which he ran on open range.

Charley was very good at keeping both Mother Nature and over-bearing mankind at bay. And he taught his little family well how to survive both problems. He left them in 1977 at the age of 87; he never gave up on anything. Marie passed away in 1993 at 91, taking with her a lifetime of Hoh River wisdom. She didn’t have time to teach us it all.

So now we look back and see very plainly how hard our people worked to make our lives good. But we also see very clearly changing times that don’t fit the area.

Olympic National Park took over thousands of acres of Peninsula land for the sake of the elk, that by this time, because of the efforts of the homesteaders to kill predators, was coming back. But not only that, they wanted the other efforts of the homesteaders as well – so they took and took.

Today, they cannot afford to care for what they already have – yet they are still acquiring – and studying the elk herds to death.

The Hoh River, like all rivers, now has more rules, regulations and restrictions, and more people with ideas how to save the fish while the protect the biggest predators of the river: bull trout and Dolly Varden.

The tribe is involved in both state and park fisheries, and most other things as well; they seem to think that should include the private property owners, too. They are complaining that they are being washed away by the river – rip rap with rock would stop that, but the fisheries doesn’t believe in rip rap even though they have it themselves. They don’t want any of the rest of us on the river to use it either, to save ou land from the river.

One would think rock is more natural to a riverbed than manmade logjams.

Marilyn still runs the homestead with help, but time has changed many things.

The Park’s vestars (?) have made using open range impossible. Elk breaking down fences makes it impossible not to have open range. Game Department doesn’t seem to think they should be held responsible for game or predators’ acts of crime against the landowner. Fisheries are hard raised about what the land owners do to protect their land against flood.

Now another “outfit” has come in by backdoor to help save the mighty Hoh River from its people. They call themselves Western Rivers (note the “s”) Conservancy, and the Trust, Hoh River Project.

Oh yes, they claim they want to be good neighbors – but they have the whole river blacked in as theirs (that means no neighbors) had in fact gone to our county commissioners and told them we were all willing sellers without talking to most of us.

The Conservancy only wants ½ mile on each side of the river, and the Trust gets the rest…

Guess where we go from here, and does this sound like anything else going on all over the United States???

Instead of making good neighbors of themselves, they have made a large problem for themselves.

Funny, we hear the Hoh Tribe is losing land to the river – never mind what the rest of us has lost! – and that they need more room and land. That would be a problem with a cure if they were all Hoh born tribe… but they are not.

We heard the Conservancy is working with the tribe – that’s not a hard guess, problems are already showing up.

Marilyn plans for the homestead are those of her father’s. With help, she will raise little black cows – this time Australian Lawline Aberdeen Angus halfbloods – they are little and don’t take up much room. She feels sad that an outsider thinks they need to take the Hoh out of the hands of the children of the river who have done nothing in 100 years to destroy it.

This is clearly a land-grabbing control issue.

The Western Rivers Conservancy will not be here to see 11 inches of rain fall out of the ski in a night – or hear 3-foot logs break in pieces with the farce of the river, hear the roar, see the damage the river does, hear the wind howl at 100 miles an hour or wade through 4 feet of snow.

Yet they think they are going to make us believe they are here to protect it from us.

Our land belongs to our children. We have earned the right through the elements and efforts of our families throughout the years. We made the Hoh Valley our homes because we choose to live with the hardships of nature rather than the hardship mankind brings down on itself.

Already, the Conservancy has made it clear that they will be closing down land that in the past has been used for camping, etc. Gates will remain locked that would get opened often before their take-over.

Wke up, the public, you are getting closed out!

It’s not just the Hoh as they first led us to believe; it’s rivers all over the Peninsula.

We are being sold down the river by small timber companies and


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