William Harvey “Uncle Joe” Surber

Death 1 Jul 1923 (aged 88)
Burial Seattle, King County, Washington, USA
Memorial ID 36090661 View Source
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William Harvey Surber of Seattle was born on a farm in Madison county, Indiana,
some eight miles from Andersontown, November 7, 1834, son of John and Betsy Surber.
His father was of German descent and was a native of Virginia, removing to Indiana in
1822 ; and his mother also came from German stock. The son received a country school
education and lived on the home farm until the age of twenty-two, assisting his father in
clearing out timber and in other laborious work incidental to rural life. During his early
period he acquired a reputation as a skilful marksman and hunter. In the winter of 1856,
while on one of his hunting excursions, he shot a deer with a flint-lock rifle, and twenty
years later, upon returning for a visit to the scenes of his boyhood, learned that it was the
last deer killed in Madison county.

In the early part of 1857, having heard that an expedition, headed by Gallant Raines,
was in process of organization at St. Joseph on the Missouri river, with the intention of
crossing the plains to California, young Surber left home, accompanied by a neighbor. Jack
Foster, proceeded to that place and joined the party, which, as finally made up, consisted
of sixty-two persons, sixteen of whom were young women. There were forty wagons,
twenty-two being loaded with provisions, thirty-eight yoke of oxen, and five hundred head
of loose cattle. The start was made from St. Joseph on the 7th of March. Throughout
the journey, which was made without untoward incident, Surber acted as official hunter for
the company. He and Foster left the train at Grizzly Flat, California, and went to Hang-
town (later known as Placerville), and then to Sacramento, where they arrived in October.
For some nine months he was employed on a ranch twelve miles from that place. In
July, 1858, deciding to seek his fortune in the Eraser river gold diggings, he sailed from
San Francisco to Victoria, British Columbia, and there took the steamer Beaver for his
destination. Arriving at the diggings he took a claim on Emery's Bar between Fort Yale
and Fort Hope, and after working industriously with a rocker all winter found himself
in possession of six hundred dollars. This did not seem to him a sufficient reward for such
labor, and in the spring he returned to Victoria and went by schooner to Port Gamble,
Washington, and thence by trail to Port Madison. Being unable to obtain employment at
the latter place, he hired two Siwash Indians, who took him in a canoe to Seattle, landing
him on Yesler's slab pile at the foot of what was then Mill street, now Yesler avenue, on
the I2th of May, 1859. The same day he was employed at the carpenter's trade by Tom
Russell and George Barker (at that time the only carpenters in Seattle), and he continued
to work for them until April of the following year. His employers, not thinking it neces-
sary to learn his name, called him Joe, and he has ever since been familiarly known to
Seattle people as Joe Surber. Afterward he worked for Captain Libby in driving piles, and
at the same occupation for J. M. Colman, having charge of the driver at Utsalady ; and
for some time he also served as second engineer on the steamer J. B. Libby. In the fall
of 1863 he bored the logs used for conveying water to the old university, a distance of
about seven blocks.

In 1861, after the McGilvra road was built from Seattle to Lake Washington, Mr.
Surber took up a homestead of one hundred and si.xty acres on the north side of Union
Bay, but he abandoned the homestead and bought the same acreage, with five acres more,
from the government at a dollar and a quarter an acre. He still retains about forty acres.

Becoming a well known and popular citizen of Seattle, he was chosen the first chief of
police of the city in 1866 when Henry Vesler was mayor and W. R. Maddo.x, Charles
Burnett, Charles Terry, and Frank Matthias were members of the council. Although he
has not since been active to any extent in politics or identified with official affairs, he has at
all times enjoyed a high personal reputation and is today known and esteemed throughout
the community as one of the representative old citizens.

Much interest attaches to the career of Mr. Surber in connection with his reminiscences,
or more properly the historical records, of the early and later conditions of wild game in
the Puget Sound country. We have already alluded to his youthful expertness as a marks-
man and hunter, and after coming to Washington he fully maintained his reputation in
those respects. It is asserted by competent authorities that he has killed at least twice
as many deer, cougars and wildcats as any man who has ever lived in the state. Cougars
he invariably slew whenever opportunity offered as a matter of protection to the deer. He
has a three inch scar on the top of his head as a result of a cougar hunt. In a single
winter he disposed of five of these animals. It was by his hand that the last cougar slain
in the vicinity of Seattle met its death. This event happened on his place on Union Bay
in 1895. The dogs forced the beast to mount a fence, and Mr. Surber, wishing not to mar
its pelt with a ball, killed it witli a picket.

At the time of his coming to Seattle (May, 1859) game abounded, and deer were
especially numerous. The meat of that animal was in much request in the market, as
beef was then costly and often difficult to get at any price. He accordingly devoted much
of his leisure to hunting and with very substantial advantage in those days of narrow finan-
cial means. On many of his hunting trips he shot from three to five deer but never more
than enough to satisfy a reasonable demand ; no old-timer ever regarded Mr. Surber as
a pothunter or other than a sportsman of the highest type. He made his first hunt about
four days after his arrival. Borrowing from Tommy Mercer a Yager rifle he went into the
woods after dinner and at what is now Fourth and Marion streets killed a three-pronged
buck, which he dragged single handed through the brush to Yesler's Mill. By hunting
evenings he was able to pay his board and lay by a comfortable sum. In 1867 he devoted
four months exclusively to hunting, and in that period secured one hundred and fourteen
deer, seven bears and one elk — this elk being the last killed in King county (September 12,
1867). He shot it in Frost's meadow at Smith's Cove. He had previously killed five elk,
all between Lake Union and Green Lake. His first elk (shot September I, 1859, just north
of the Latona bridge) he sold to Arthur Denny, who was then running a meat market on
Commercial street, and the two hind quarters and one fore quarter brought forty-seven
dollars. Aside from the six elk bagged by Surber, only two are known to have been
killed in King county — one by David Denny a little north of Oak Lake, and the other by
Indians on the old McGilvra road at what is now Thirty-ninth and Madison streets. As
late as June 12, 1906, Mr. Surber saw three deer, one in front of his house on Union
Bay and the other just north of the Golf Club, and one of these (a buck) he killed. The
experiences of Mr. Surber as a hunter have been the subject of various publications in
the press, and by special request from T. S. Palmer, the official in charge of game preserva-
tion for the federal department of agriculture, he has recently furnished some exact
particulars for the historical records of the department

This fabulous information was sent to me by his Great Great Niece. She said I could edit it but it is too good to not save it all!!!


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