The community of Tenino has been thriving in southern Thurston County for more than a century. And, during that time, the residents have created traditions that brought the community together to celebrate their town, neighbors and country. Many of these celebrations still continue today.
Oregon Trail Days
In 1968 this proclamation was published in the Tenino Independent:
“I, Kenneth E. Hedden, Mayor of Tenino, do hereby proclaim the period of August 3rd through 25th as a time to honor our pioneer past in both word and deed;
THEREFORE, it is hereby ordered that all male residents over the age of 18 must refrain from shaving during said period. Failure to abide by the above order will result in appropriate action by the local “Vigilante” committee and may well cause the offender to be incarcerated in the “hoosegow.”
HOWEVER, recognizing the need to promote domestic tranquility, all those male citizens with ticklish spouses may purchase a “Beardless Permit” from Oregon Trail Days representatives for $2 which will release them from the terms of this order.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, that “old-time” dress will be considered the only appropriate attire for said period for local business proprietors and their employees. Failure to comply will also result in “Vigilante” action.
THEREFORE, let all good citizens of Tenino take heed of this proclamation and abide by its provisions in the interest of showing the world that we truly have “the pioneer spirit.”
This proclamation set the mood for the first Oregon Trail Days when apparently everyone dressed up. Events and attractions the first year included both a Kids’ and a Main Parade, midway booths, a muzzle-loading rifle shoot, slo-pitch baseball, Indian dances, square dancing, a teen dance and an old-time fiddlers’ contest. Store owners dressed up and historic window displays were placed in all the shops on Sussex Street.
Oregon Trail Days is still going strong today. It is now held on the fourth weekend in July each year. Festivities happen throughout town, including the Farmer’s Market on Saturday and the Rock and Gem show near Parkside Elementary. Main stage entertainment happens throughout the weekend, and the Quarry Pool will be open. The South Thurston County Historical Society will be dressed up and teaching old-time skills by the Tenino Depot Museum. And do not forget the Oregon Trail Days Parade begins at 11:00 a.m. on July 22.
Fourth of July Parade
One morning in 1906 birds began to sing, heralding the rising sun at the top of Lemon Hill in Tenino. While still cloaked in darkness men hauled a cannon to the top, and as sun broke the horizon, the Fourth of July cannon was fired, opening the day of festivities which included a parade and a picnic in the park. In the early 1900s this was the Tenino tradition.
Fourth of July Celebrations are chronicled by Scott McArthur, whose father used to tell him stories. The parade was the main feature of the day and included floats from prominent businesses, the Tenino Cornet Band and the Battle of Split Pea Soup. The Battle featured members of the Tenino Home Guard, a comically disorganized group of fellows.
According to McArthur in his book, Tenino, Washington; Decades of Boom and Bust, “Dad said short men carried long rifles and tall men carried short rifles. Some were clad in remnants of cast-off military uniforms. One photo taken after the parade about 1906 showed a participant clad in the skirted coat and cocked hat of a naval officer of the Mexican-American War.”
The battle waged throughout the parade route with the cannon firing blanks and lots of smoke. A soldier would drop dead with each blast, then be removed to the mobile hospital tent that followed the battle. Doc Wichman then performed a “field amputation,” and a fake appendage would fly out the back of the tent. After a pull on the communal whiskey bottle, the wounded soldier would then sneak back out to rejoin his regiment. The cannon from the Battle of Split Pea Soup is still on display at the Tenino Depot Museum.
It is hard to say what years the Fourth of July Parade began or ended, but the best guess is 1892 – 1913. In the Jun 19, 1913 edition of the Tenino Independent, it was announced that: “July Fourth Tenino will entertain its friends from everywhere at an old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration and FREE CLAM BAKE. The following program of events indicated that there will be something doing all the time . . . EVERYONE IS CORDIALLY INVITED.”
In 1914 the available newspapers became overwhelmingly concerned with the First World War in Europe until the Welcome Home Celebration in June of 1919 that signaled the return of “Our Boys.” There was a “Salute at Sunrise”, a grand parade and a barbeque that included potato sack-, bicycle-, fat men-, fat women-, men’s 3-legged- and free-for-all races. This was followed by a Banquet to the Boys in Uniform, and a 21-piece band concert.
The Labor Day Parade
In August of 1923 the Tenino Independent announced that, “Tenino is going to experience the greatest celebration in its history on Labor Day.” The event was sponsored by the Tenino Eagles, and a contest was initiated to generate funds for the Labor Day festivities in which the girl who sold the most tickets became Labor Day Queen. The program for the First Annual Eagles Labor Day Celebration on September 3, 1923, included a parade, speeches in the park, sports, a baseball game of Kent vs. Bucoda, a concert by the 36-piece military band of Camp Lewis, an open-air smoker (outdoor boxing ) and a street dance.
My father, Roger Reeves, grew up in Tenino and remembers the Labor Day Parade of the 1940s and 50s. “It was a reunion weekend,” he explained. People did not have school reunions in those days, but everyone came to town on Labor Day weekend.
Those I talked to about the Labor Day parade, including my Reeves and Don Montgomery, all said that the parade was something special. Floats came from all the surrounding festivals and many professional bands marched, including the bag pipers, Clan Gordon. The parade ran from east to west, the opposite of today’s parade, because it ended at the Tenino Fair Grounds, former site of the Thurston County Fair, located where Tenino Elementary and Middle schools are today.
What folks remember about the weekend’s events depends largely on their interests. My father has strong memories of the carnival and the clam bake that took place at the fair grounds. Montgomery remembers the baseball games and the shows, like the daredevil motorcyclists and the loggers’ contests.
The 1965 program included Friday’s coronation, a horse show and a teenage dance, while Saturday’s program was the kid parade, the main parade, sky divers, a logging show, motorcycle races, the dance at Dreamland and the Labor Day Queen ticket drawing that included big prizes. Montgomery remembers his brother winning a freezer one year, which was a big deal in those days.
In 1967 the Eagles decided they did not want to host the Labor Day festivities anymore. The Lions club picked up the reins that year, but the efforts were last minute, and there was no parade.