Survey report of 1864: Watershed Was Valley Of Snakes


The following story, reprinted from an article in the Tacoma News Tribune issue of April 4, 1954 was loaned by Andy Wold. Ed Fish, while doing research for his book, came across Richardson’s notes on Snake Valley. Richardson was a government surveyor working in the valley about the same time as L.B. Andrews, who laid first claim to land here in 1862, after finding an outcropping of coal at the base of Squak Mountain. The area referred to by Richardson is the present Issaquah watershed.

On Sept. 22,1864 government land surveyors, busy running section lines in what then was an uncharted wilderness about 10 miles east of Lake Washington, found themselves near Tradition Lake.

It was one of those warm, bright September days enjoyed by all living species. What they discovered suprised them and they made mention of it in their field notes which still remain a part of the official records.

The notes contain this entry:

“Enter Snake Valley. Land level and gravelly.Timber straight and scattered without undergrowth. At a point about five chains north of the northwest shore of Tradition Lake, area about 12 acres, the ground in this vicinity is almost entirely covered with various species of snakes. They were also knotted in heaps upon the fallen timber and hung dangling from the lower limbs of small trees. Many were observed devouring or disgorging other snakes of lesser size. Those necessarily crushed beneath our feet filled the air with nauseous stench.”

The enormous snake population was probably due to natural conditions which then existed along the swampy shores of that secluded mountain lake.

Oldtimers in Squak Valley, where the lake is located, remember when its shores were boggy and covered with sphagnum moss, Labrador tea and other plants which cluster around peat bogs and swamps, an ideal breeding ground for frogs, salamanders and other amphibious creatures, snakes might feed on.

There is nothing that snakes relish more than young frogs and Andrew Wold, who is an outstanding pioneer of the Squak Valley, remembers sporadic migrations of armies of those creatures in early days. According to Wold they traveled in such fantastic numbers that roads and trails became almost impassable at times.

Robert Fraser, who lives one mile northeast of the lake, formally owned 130 acres bordering Tradition Lake and built his home on its east shore.

He recalls that snakes were plentiful around the lake some years ago and that one species grew to a large size.

Mrs. Fraser is more emphatic,”there were so many of them around the house in the summer,” she declares, “that I’d have to go out and sweep them off the porch with a broom.

The presence of king-sized snakes around Tradition Lake in early days is confirmed by an elderly resident of Issaquah who used to fish the lake in his boyhood days.

“If we landed a smell fish on the shore”, he declared, “we’d have to get hold of it pretty quick or a big snake would have it.”

Richard C. Snyder, professor of zoology at the University of Washington and an expert on snakes, expressed no doubt that there could have been an infestation of reptiles such as surveyor Richardson described.

“They probably would have been our common garter snakes and possibly some of the small greenish-brown species called ‘rubber Boa'”, he explained. “Tropical boas are very large, but the one that lives in Western Washington is smaller than the garter snake and very timid.”

Snyder is some what skeptical about the “swallowing” mentioned in the survey notes. He agreed however, that there could have been garter snakes around Tradition lake of a species which grows to four or five feet in length, still found in marshy areas west of the Cascades.

Tradition Lake nestles in a glacier-created basin on a hillside bench, a mile and one half east of Issaquah and a half mile south of U.S. Highway 10.

It’s fed by several small streams which drain the hillside to the south, but has no stream outlet. Its waters seep out slowly through the underlying glacial formations, creating springs to the westward from which Issaquah draws its water supply.

There is reason to believe that the lack of a stream outlet, combined with increased flow from springs and year-round streams has enlarged the lake considerably during past years, and changed its nature.

A quarter section corner, which the original surveyors established at five chains or 330 feet from the shore, is now not more than fifty feet from the waters edge. Also the lake is much larger than the 12 acre estimate made by Richardson in 1864.

Ninety years ago (106 years ago, now) there had been no logging and subsequent slash burning to upset natural conditions around the lake. There were no settlers near by and neither road nor trail led to that swampy isolated spot.

Tradition Lake is seldom visited today. The signs of human activity are the power lines along its northern border and the landscaping of the east shore where Robert Fraser built artistic rock monuments, lined curving roadsides with smooth granite boulders and planted flower beds when the lake bordered his home.

The reason for naming the lake”Tradition” remains obscure, but Richardson’s reason for naming its basin “Snake Valley” is clearly established in permanent government records.