An Itinerant's Career
The forgotten memoir of a Northwest pioneer and UPS visionary, the Rev. David G. LeSourd
He was born October 4, 1841, and grew up in a log cabin on a frontier farm in Howard County, Indiana, the 10th of 12 children in his family. His grandfather, John Peter LeSourd, had arrived in the colonies as a French soldier during the American Revolution and was at Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered.
Along with every other young man he knew, he enlisted for the Union during the Civil War. He fought in Sherman’s army during its long and terrible March to the Sea, the path of which years later could be traced by chimney stacks posting the landscape where once grand plantation houses stood. He watched Atlanta burn, bivouacked in Savannah and Columbia, and at war’s end paraded in review past the White House.
He had only 20 months’ schooling before attending college, but excelled there and emerged in 1870 a licensed Methodist minister.
He came to the Northwest with his young family in 1881 and soon made a reputation as a clear thinker and an assiduous worker. As a pastor he was beloved. A member of his congregation wrote of him, “Just to look into his face was a benediction.” Another said he “seemed the very embodiment of modesty, kindness, and sacrificial spirit.”
During the course of his life he lost his wife, a son, and a daughter.
In Tacoma he built the second Epworth Church building—on the site of the current structure at Anderson and South 7th—and a house at the corner of Warner and North 8th. Starting in 1884, he helped plan what would become the University of Puget Sound, guiding it from the brink of financial ruin several times, finally to stability and renown. He retired from the university Board of Trustees in 1913. In 1908, the year his son Gilbert graduated from UPS, the board conferred upon him an honorary doctor of theology.
He died at home in Tacoma on Tuesday morning, February 25, 1925.
From Sketches of an Itinerant’s Career, the autobiography of the Rev. D.G. LeSourd:
At the battle of Richmond, Kentucky, August 30, 1862
It was known that General Manson, our immediate commander, had only 6,500 men, most of them just from home, and that a rebel army had invaded eastern Kentucky and was marching down on us. But instead of falling back to Lexington, where General Nelson, our department commander, held a larger portion of his troops, Manson let us remain in Richmond, 27 miles from support, till the enemy, 15,000 strong under General Kirby Smith, attacked us.
Manson began the battle early in the day with one little brigade. This was forced back and took position with another little brigade four miles in front of Richmond. These were attacked fiercely and soon driven to the rear. Then the semi-brigade to which our regiment belonged joined on the right of the new line. Here the rebels assaulted our left, while we on the extreme right advanced through a woods on a left wheel till we came within 100 yards of the enemy, taking position behind a fence in our front.
These were old troops, many of whom had seen service at Shiloh. They opened on us through the fence with a volley that fairly shivered our line. Of course we replied with our clumsy Belgian muskets as fast as we could, and as the rebels lost as many killed and wounded as we did our fire must have been severer. But every minute our men were falling. On my right hand a man, John C. Johnson, sank at the root of a tree, shot through the left shoulder, the blood splashing his face and clothes. I heard the groans and cries of others who were wounded and some of whom were dying, but was so agitated and so busy awkwardly trying to load and shoot that I knew but little of what was going on.
The contest had lasted half an hour or more when I glanced to my left and to my surprise saw that, with one exception, only a line of dead or wounded remained. Captain Bowman was standing about a rod to my left and rear and said, “Fall back, boys, there’s no use staying there longer.” Looking to my right I saw just four or five men leaving the firing line.
The facts are that the enemy had crushed in the left of our line first, then the center, and we were the very last of the extreme right to retire. In a little field a quarter of a mile to the rear I found our regiment in a state of utter disorganization. There, too, I found Frank Eldridge and George Hay. Will Sleeth was sick and in the hospital. [Boys from his Indiana hometown.]
We were glad to find that all three of us were unhurt. Frank said, “Well, we got what we wanted—a battle, but we did not want to get licked.”
At that, George, who was only 18, burst into a flood of tears indicative of the deep chagrin we all felt. Our losses had been fearful, about 17 having been killed and wounded in our company of not more than 75 present. Our noble Colonel Link straightened out the regiment and marched us back to our old camp in front of Richmond. He seemed to have foreseen the disaster we had suffered, realizing that our little force was utterly unprepared for battle. That afternoon while trying to rally the men, he received a mortal wound.
The remnant of our force formed a line of battle in front of the town with its wings refused. The enemy came on in great force, sent a heavy column of cavalry to our left rear, within plain view, to cut off our retreat. He then attacked our right, left, and front, crushing our weak line and sending it in dire confusion back through the town. In retreating I was one of the last to scale a high fence just in our rear and tried to go through under the rider, but this caught my cartridge box and held me as in a vice.
By the time I extricated myself I was at least 150 yards behind our retreating men. I dared not look back to see how near the enemy was but ran with all my might for some 300 yards, when I turned and beheld a line of “Johnnies” advancing in the field we were in and about even with the place where I had stuck in the fence. I have often wondered that they let me escape.
The decision to attend college
On returning to the home farm I was soon at work in the fields. Father had poor help and was needing mine. Nor did I ever enjoy farm work so well. The atmosphere seemed so quiet and peaceful, the plough so light, and the furrows so soft as contrasted with the noise and commotion and burdens of army life that I rejoiced that I was a free man in a free country where I hoped there would never be another war!
As I trod the furrows the question would come to me, “What is to be your calling in life? If you continue to labor on the farm you will be a failure.”
Why I should have such impressions I know not, for I dearly loved farm work. But from my youth I had a vague impression that I would be a preacher someday. Indeed I do not remember the time when I did not want to be a preacher.
The desire was still upon me, if duty called in that direction, but there were what seemed to me insurmountable difficulties in the way. In the first place there were father and mother and four sisters more or less dependent on us three brothers who were just getting home from the war. As I saw it I was as much under obligation in this matter as either of them. How could I get an education and do my bit at home? In the second place I knew I must have something like a college education to succeed in the ministry, and how to command the means to pay my expenses was a problem I could not solve.
I studied over this question till I became discouraged and for about one day I gave up my cherished desire to attend college. I told my sisters I thought I would give up the idea of going to school. But—God bless them—they entered a protest and insisted that I should not cease to plan to attend college, telling me how they could help me.
I believe they thought I was called to preach, though I had said nothing to them. Thus encouraged I promised the Lord that if he would open the way for me to go to school I would take that as evidence of my call to preach.
The Battleground Collegiate Institute, though nothing more than a good academy while claiming to do college work, was the nearest Christian school to our home and seemed to me to be amply prepared to give me all the education I could ever hope for. Accordingly, while working with my brothers till late in the fall, putting in a big crop of winter wheat, I planned to enter this school at the beginning of the winter term.
Conducting a wedding in Williamsport, Indiana, about 1874
One evening a man came to the parsonage and said his brother-in-law wanted to get married shortly but did not have money to pay a fee. He had come to assure me that he would offer security for payment of the money, and I need have no fear. Then he insisted on my promising to be present at the appointed time for the wedding. Well, I was there at the time set, in a ramshackle room where sat a few men, one of whom I knew as a big, lazy hunter. He was the man to be married. He actually had on a white shirt, possibly for the first time in his life, but no collar. When it was suggested that it was time—“Well,” he said, “if it is time we’d as well be at it,” and he stood up, while one of three big girls from the farthest corner came and stood by him and they were pronounced man and wife together.
The next day I took the certificate over to the courthouse to deliver it for filing. When I handed it to the clerk he looked up at me with a smile and said, “How much did you get out of that?” inferring I had got nothing—and I never did. The big fellow, not having the money to pay for his license, had offered to give me a lien on his dog.
First impressions in the Northwest
Boarding a steamboat at Portland, we ran down to the Columbia and on that majestic river to Kalama, where we landed to take a train bound for Tacoma.
It will be remembered that at that time the Northern Pacific Railroad had not been complete over the Cascades to Puget Sound, but in order to secure a great land grant the directors of this road had built a line from Kalama to the new terminus, Tacoma. Our train out from the former place consisted of engine, tender, one mail car, one combined baggage and smoking car, and one small day coach. At no time do I think there were more than a dozen passengers besides my family on the car. Yet it was the only passenger train going north within 24 hours, while a similar train went south in the same period of time. In like manner a freight train of five or six cars would go each way daily.
The little stations, such as Kelso, Chehalis, Centralia, consisted in each case of a small red station house with two to five shacks clustering about it. On reaching Tenino, we transferred to a car on a narrow gauge road that carried us to Olympia. The novelty of the scenery impressed us with a feeling that nature here had done her best. The majestic firs, the tall ferns which brushed our faces as we looked out of the car windows, filled us with strange sensations.
Then we were surprised as we came out suddenly into Bush Prairie and saw improvements that looked old. Moss-covered shingles and orchards were in a state of decay. We afterward learned that Bush and others had settled there 35 years or more before. Going on past Tumwater and down to the Olympia station over the bay, we left the car and walked up Fourth Street into the town which we liked from the start. For while some things looked quaint, the place seemed home-like and was nearly our ideal of a New England village of 12,000 people.
One of the things attracting my attention at once was the fine fruit to be seen on the trees about every home and the large potatoes and other vegetables that grew in the orchards between and under the trees.
Customs and usages were entirely new to us. If I asked a boy on the street the price of a daily paper he would say, “A bit.” If I handed him 10 cents for the paper he accepted that. It was a “short bit.” But if I gave him a quarter he would hand me back 10 cents in change and take 15 cents for his paper, or a “long bit.” It was the same way in stores. The merchant who made the change got the long bit nearly every time. Pennies and nickels were absolutely refused. If you asked the price of a spool of thread the answer would be “two for a bit.” Nothing under a dime’s worth could be bought. There were almost no modern wagons or buggies in the territory. Those who purchased them had to pay from three to four times as much as they would “in the States.” We saw a few prairie schooners that had done service in crossing the plains, but homemade wagons with great wooden wheels, each pulled along the streets by two or three yoke of oxen, were novel sights which soon became common.
Only a few houses in the town were plastered and none in the country. Even the parlor chairs in the parsonage had seats made of untanned strips of deer hide.
But we soon got used to these things, save the way traffickers had of juggling with the short and the long bit, which I despised and denounced till the nickel and one cent piece came into use.
On trying to reach one of the parishes he oversaw to participate in Sunday services
As I had never been there, I started from Port Angeles to go round to Port Discovery and out to Brother Laubach’s, but reaching the little burg after dark and not knowing the way to his ranch I put up at a lodging house for the night. Early next morning I secured the promise of passage on an Indian schooner, which was soon to sail for Cape Flatter, passing Dungeness on the way. But it was 10 a.m. before the tug towed the schooner out to the mouth of the harbor, and when it had cast us off there was no wind to fill the sails and the tide began to carry us the wrong way. I finally told the Indians to put me off on the shore, for I must make Dungeness that day.
Landing on the beach, valise in hand, I hastened forward along the rocky shore for five miles or more till I came to Sequim Bay, a large body of water extending five miles inland. A spit ran out nearly across the inlet, but going out on it a mile I found a deep channel between me and the land for 300 yards off on the other side.
Now I was in a dilemma. I called for a boat as there were Indian huts on the other side, but there was no one at home. I could see smoke curling over a house some three miles up the bay on the opposite side from where I was. I decided to try to compass the bay before night so as to reach that house. Going back a mile, I hurried along the east shore of the bay with an almost perpendicular bluff on my left. When I had gone probably two miles in this way, the rising tide had stolen to this bluff, here about 30 feet high. I climbed to the top of it and tried to push my way though the thick underbrush, but made such slow headway that I again resorted to the bluff and slid down to where there was a little margin I could walk on. I hurried along the edge of the water till I could go no farther without wading. Again I ascended the bluff by clinging to a fir tree whose roots held where it had grown, leaving the top hanging downward. I would place an arm round this, throw my valise as high as I could, and, digging my toes into the bank, climbed foot by foot till I reached the top.
Soon I found my way hedged up by the thickets as before. I even got down on my hands and knees and tried to crawl through the tangle, but failing in this I again slid down the cliff into the water. Climbing over stumps and old logs I waded along the wall of clay on my left, my coattails floating on the water.
After going two or more miles in this way I found a dry and wider margin on which to walk. But night was coming on and it was beginning to rain. I could not possibly compass the head of the bay that night. What I should do I knew not for I was wet, physically exhausted, and had no matches to kindle a fire. To remain all night in that chill November atmosphere was to risk perishing. Happily for me I had just arrived opposite the house on the other side [of the bay]. I called loudly for help and as the evening was very still the family living there heard and answered me, and sent a boy in a boat to my relief. When I asked him how far it was to Dungeness, supposing it was not more than three miles, he replied that he did not know but he guessed it was 14 or 15 miles.
After sheltering under the roof of this kind family for the night, sleeping on the floor, I hired two boys Sunday morning to row me down to the mouth of the bay, giving them two dollars. From there I walked 12 miles to Dungeness, entering the place of worship about noon to find Brother Lougheed, the pastor, on his feet looking for a text of scripture. He had prolonged the love feast hoping every moment I would arrive.
Death of eldest daughter
Chastened home to find our darling Ella suffering from a very sore throat. A physician had been called but said she simply had a bad cold and that her mother could treat her as well as he could. She continued to grow worse however, and we called the doctor again, when he told us she had pneumonia. From that time on, though seeming to be better at times, she pined away, having gone into hasty consumption. From the middle of September to the last of January, wife and I watched over her night and day, I taking the hours of the night till 1 a.m. and wife the rest. I was finally released from the duties of my pulpit and Rev. Dillon was employed as temporary supply.
All this time Ella was hopeful and cheerful. A great reader herself, she never tired having stories read to her and even when the blood had ceased to circulate in her limbs she held the Pacific Christian Advocate in her hands and indicated pieces she wanted to read. She told us what a blessing her sickness had been to her and talked calmly of death saying she did not fear to die.
Thus our first-born, our precious Ella, passed away on the afternoon of January 29, 1890, in her 15th year. Her death was a staggering blow to her parents and her sister Mary. Our nerves had been on a tension so long that when we knew our loved one could not hear our sobs, we gave way to unutterable grief. For weeks, even in our dreams we fancied that Ella was with us still. Then we would awake to the fact that she had gone forever from our home.
Early financial trials for Puget Sound University and the plan to merge with Portland University
As I had been a trustee of the Puget Sound University from its beginning, I should refer here to a few things that led to the initiation of this scheme. Our original building, now the Logan public school, Tacoma, costing at least $75,000, with a campus, that, at the time the building was begun, was worth easily $50,000, was lost to us in the panic of 1892-93, when it was sold to the Tacoma School Board on condition that said board pay all claims against the building.
If it is asked why the school thus failed financially, my answer is that it failed from the same cause that led to the failure of 90 percent of the best businessmen in Tacoma, namely the terrible financial panic that struck us like a tornado and swept all values, especially real estate values. After this disaster, the trustees, not willing to gibe [sic] up the cause of Christian education, reopened the school in a small way in rented buildings.
Two years later Crawford R. Thoburn was induced to become chancellor. Popular and optimistic, he carried the laity and preachers with him in his plans to found and support a large school at once. While the faculty, greatly enlarged, was doing good work, the problem of supporting these faithful teachers and defraying other expenses became more and more a source of embarrassment to the trustees. With plenty of money I believe the chancellor would have succeeded with his plans. But we did not have the money, and in time a majority of the trustees came to think retrenchment was absolutely necessary. Accordingly the board appointed Chancellor Thoburn, Calvin Barlow, and myself a committee on retrenchment, to report at the next meeting.
Barlow and I favored cutting down the faculty one third, assured that the teachers retained would do the teaching that had been done by those who should be retired in addition to their ordinary work if they could be paid in full. But when we, a majority of the committee reported our plan, Thoburn brought forward a report of his own, saying that the way to build up a school was to extend and not retrench and that he was opposed to any reduction of the faculty.
Strange as it may seem he carried a majority of the board with him, when they should have foreseen financial disaster. From that time on matters grew worse till the faculty threatened to sue for their pay. It was under these circumstances that the chancellor went to Portland and proposed a plan of consolidation, to the trustees of Portland University. As they had suspended school and had little but a building they readily agreed to the plan to leave the location of the consolidated school to a commission consisting of Secretary Payne, Bishop McCabe, and a third person.
The place that secured the school was to pay the debts of the institution that had lost out in the consolidation, while such school was to turn over all its property to the consolidation institution. Thoburn was quite sure said school would come to Tacoma. But Dr. Payne came to the session of our conference practically committed to Portland as the place for the school before he came to Tacoma. He came before the board of the university (Tacoma) and agreed for the union of the two institutions, but insisted that we should make the terms as easy as possible for or against consolidation, my vote was the only one cast against it.
To my mind the plan was crude, immature, and if carried out would neither benefit the school or any place. The outcome was the school was located in Portland and ours was, for the time, suspended.
The chancellor and most of his faculty went over to Portland and opened a school there that was dead inside of a year. The trustees of the so-called consolidated university sent over, demanding our school furniture. But we, in turn, demanded they first send us the money according to an agreement to pay our debts.
Indeed we were threatened with an injunction if we undertook to move a single piece of furniture (and equipment) out of the state before the claims against our board were settled.
The Portland trustees had no money to pay our debts, hence the whole ill-conceived scheme proved abortive, and before the year was out we had reopened our school in Tacoma under the presidency of Wilmot Whitfield, and through sunshine and shadow, prosperity and adversity, it has continued to do invaluable work to this day.
Among the treasures of the Collins Memorial Library special collections section are two bound copies of David LeSourd’s 347-page autobiography. LeSourd originally dictated his memoir to his wife, Margaret, who wrote it down in longhand. It was later typed from the original by Charlotte Riemer, secretary to Puget Sound President E.H. Todd. The UPS copies are of the typed version.
The editors wish to thank Richard Seiber ’58 for his assistance in preparing this article.