One of the more historic happenings on South Hill took place in 1853.
It was on Oct. 8, 1853, when a major emigrant wagon train made its way across the hill, and it carried several groups of colonizers. This particular wagon train is usually called the Longmire-Biles party.
The Longmire and Biles groups, as two separate wagon trains, left the Council Bluffs, Iowa, area in May that year. They traveled separately on the well-established Oregon Trail and reached the Umatilla River near Walla Walla in August.
Their mutual destination was the Puget Sound area, so the groups decided to combine and deviate from traditional practice and take a new route. Instead of using the Columbia River to the Portland, Ore., area and then traveling north on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, they tried a route across what was then Washington Territory. They traversed the Cascades through Naches Pass on a trail that Native Americans had used for centuries.
In the past, that ancient trail had been little more than a footpath, but the immigrants had received word it had been improved to accommodate wagons.
The route across what is now central Washington was difficult, but the transit was made without serious incident. The 4,800-foot elevation of Naches Pass was achieved by mid-September. Descending the west side of the Cascades was very difficult; they found the trail had not been prepared for wagons as they expected. However, the party made the Puyallup River near Alderton in about a week.
It was on Oct. 8 that the party crossed the Puyallup River and started to climb South Hill. They reached the top at about where present-day Shaw Road and Military Road intersect. Pierce County has erected a marker to show the place.
They proceeded westward. There is a sign on present-day 94th Avenue that shows a crossing point. Next, they advanced through what is now the campus of Rogers High School. Signposts on both sides of the campus show the path.
The immigrants then followed the old Military Road westward, crossed Starvation Valley and onto what is now Woodland Avenue. A placard near the intersection of Woodland and 160th Street shows the spot.
Then they proceeded to the established homestead of Christopher Mahan, at the current Brookdale Golf Course, where the train disbanded.
In 2001 and 2003, both Pierce County and the City of Puyallup recognized the accomplishments of the first group to use the Naches Pass route. The Pierce County Council designated the path across the hill as a Heritage Corridor and assigned Oct. 11, 2001, as South Hill Heritage Appreciation Day to honor the event.
The City of Puyallup also took note of the occasion by proclamation. On Oct. 7, 2003, Mayor Kathy Turner designated the day as Settlers’ Day in honor of the journey across South Hill.
It’s an anniversary worth celebrating each year.Carl Vest, Ph.D., is the research director and founding member for the South Hill Historical Society. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.