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All Over the Map: Washington mountains named for forgotten giants of journalism

At the end of their expedition in May 1890, the "Press Party" had their photo taken at a studio in Aberdeen; from left to right, Christopher O'Connell Hayes, James H. Christie, Charles Barnes, John William Sims, John Henry Crumback and Daisy the dog. (Olympic National Park)

Why are series of mountains on the Olympic Peninsula named for forgotten giants of 19th century journalism?

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It was 129 years ago this weekend that a local newspaper called the Seattle Press published a very special 24-page edition, which had to be partially produced in San Francisco because Seattle lacked the facilities to prepare the kinds of illustrations the special edition included.

This publication was all about how a group of five men, four dogs, and two mules had spent six months on a trek across the then mostly-unexplored Olympic Mountains.

The effort was suggested by remarks made by incoming Governor Elisha P. Ferry in an interview with the Seattle Press in October 1889, just a few weeks before Washington became a state.

In the interview, Governor Ferry said that the Olympic Mountains were the largest part of the United States that remained unexplored, and that somebody should accept the challenge of finding out what’s really there.

And Ferry was not alone with his interest in the Olympic Mountains. His predecessor, final Washington Territory Governor Eugene Semple, had been almost obsessed with the snowy and jagged peaks, which were often visible from the governor’s office in Olympia.

The interview with Governor Ferry – and the challenge – went as “viral” as a story could go in 1889. Within several days, it had been reprinted in newspapers all over Washington Territory as well as the rest of the country.

A number of men were inspired by the story and got in touch with the newspaper to offer their services if an expedition were to come together. Ultimately, a 35-year old man named James H. Christie – who was born in Scotland and who had spent several years exploring and adventuring around North America –  emerged as most qualified to lead the effort. Within a few weeks, Christie convinced Seattle Press publisher William E. Bailey to underwrite the cost.

The initiative was, in short order, dubbed the “Press Exploring Expedition,” or the “Press Party” after the name of the newspaper.

Stepping back a bit, the Olympic Peninsula gets its name from Mount Olympus. Mount Olympus was named by British explorer John Meares on July 4, 1778 after the mythical home of the Greek gods.

Before that, in 1774, the Spanish explorer Juan Perez had called the peak “El Cerro de la Santa Rosalia.” When Britain’s Captain Vancouver mapped and documented the area in 1792 (and when his journals were published a decade later), he went with the name chosen by fellow countryman Meares.

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In addition to Christie, the “Press Party” included Charles Barnes, 30, an American who was historian and photographer for the group; John Henry Crumback, 33, an Ontario-born cook; John William Sims, 38, born in Essex, England; Christopher O’Connell Hayes, 22, who was from the Yakima Valley; and Dr. Harris Boyle Runnalls, 35, who was born in Penzance, England, but who dropped out of the expedition not long after it began.

The group left Seattle on December 8 by steamer for Port Angeles, just shy of seven weeks from when Governor Ferry’s challenge had been published. From Port Angeles, the men went up the Elwha Valley and into the wilderness to explore, to map and to name the geographic features they saw.

It’s not clear whose idea it was to name mountains for editors and publishers, but it seems like the most likely suspect is Seattle Press publisher William E. Bailey, who perhaps wanted to honor friends and colleagues or perhaps curry favor with potential business partners.

Bailey had recently moved to the Northwest after working for years in journalism back east, and had only just bought the Seattle Press that summer of 1889. Bailey would also eventually buy the Seattle Times in 1891, and Colonel Blethen would buy what had become the Press-Times from Bailey in 1896 and drop the “Press” part of the name. The Blethen family still owns a majority stake in the paper.

Whoever’s idea it was, the “Press Party” put the names of several 19th century journalism giants – most of whom are now forgotten – on many geographic features during their six-month journey.

Bailey Range

Considered the “backbone” of the Olympic Mountains, named for expedition underwriter and Seattle Press publisher William E. Bailey.

Godkin River

Godkin River, now known as Godkin Creek, was named for Edwin Lawrence Godkin, founding editor of The Nation magazine, and editor-in-chief of the New York Evening Post.

Mount Dana

Named for Charles Anderson Dana, editor and owner of the New York Sun, who was previously a top aide to Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, and who served Assistant Secretary of War and liaison to General Grant during the Civil War.

Mount Lawson

Named for Victor Fremont Lawson, editor of the Chicago Daily News.

Mount Noyes

Named for Crosby Stuart Noyes, publisher of the Washington Evening Star.

Mount Scott

Named for James Wilmot Scott, publisher of the Chicago Herald.

Some of the names applied by the “Press Party” didn’t stick or, for whatever reason, are no longer (or were never) recognized by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

These “lost names” include Mount Pulitzer, for Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World and namesake of the great journalism award; Mount Medill, after Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune and one-time mayor of Chicago; and Mount De Young, for Michael Henry De Young, editor and owner of the San Francisco Chronicle.

A few other names did stick, including Press Valley — essentially the Upper Elwha Valley, named for the Press Expedition and for the newspaper; Mount Ferry, named for Governor Ferry; and Mount Barnes, named for Charles Barnes of the expedition team.

Also honored with a peak in his name was a young Edmond S. Meany, who was on the staff of the Seattle Press in 1889, but who would become better known as a prolific Pacific Northwest writer and historian, and as a professor at the University of Washington.

After more than six months in the woods, the members of the Press Party —  all of whom had much more facial hair when they left, and who, with their beards and flannel shirts could easily have been mistaken for Seattle band Fleet Foxes — arrived at Aberdeen at 2:00 a.m. on May 21, 1890. They had their photo taken in an Aberdeen studio, and then made it back to Seattle via steamer by May 23, 1890.

It’s unclear how the journalism giants felt about the Press Party’s commemorative efforts, or even if any of them even knew of the honors that the explorers had bestowed.

For more about the Press Expedition, the definitive book is Robert L. Wood’s Across the Olympic Mountains: THE PRESS EXPEDITION, 1889-90, originally published in 1966 by The Mountaineers and UW Press. It’s currently out-of-print, but widely available from libraries and via used booksellers.

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