As a native-born Washingtonian, I have known about the Nisqually Indian Tribe and the river that bears their name from the time I was an adolescent.
In 1957, my 7th-grade class made a field trip to Point Defiance Park and Fort Nisqually. I have taken friends from other states to visit there over the years. Then in 2020, my spouse and I moved to Olympia. Within days, I was making my first visit to the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge where the Nisqually River enters Puget Sound. It was there that I first learned about the Braget Farm.
Then, I read Timothy Ransom's new book. I am embarrassed at how little I knew (or remembered) about the early history of Western Washington and pleased with how much more I know now. The story Ransom tells begins in the 1830s; the intriguing cast of characters, whose names, stories and deeds weave an amazing fabric, a small historical quilt, which replicates much of what was transpiring in places in Washington State west of the Cascades. This includes the early dominance of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the arrival in the 1850s of large numbers of mostly German immigrants and the invitation to and then exclusion of Chinese workers.
In the prologue, one learns the author’s interpretation of what Ken Braget frequently referred to as “the good of the order.” He states, “I believe ‘the order’ meant that rightness and balance were worth pursuing in the face of terrible obstacles and odds.” Most of the obstacles were external, i.e. the fickle ravages of Mother Nature; the growing influence of and Braget’s disagreements with government institutions; world wars; macro-economic ebbs and flows. Internally, rifts that developed among Braget’s grandfather’s siblings had a lingering influence for years and the drowning death of Ken’s brother had a devastating and permanent effect on the Bragets.
For Ken, born in 1932 and his brother, Ward (1936), the Braget Farm and the Nisqually Delta were magical places. Growing up there in the time between WWI and WWII “…instilled in him an expectation of how life should be lived and an intense need to prevent others from depriving him of that life, both of which fueled his passion in the battles against those who would try to do so in his adult years,” according to Ransom.
Holding on to the farm was a struggle. Conserving the land and nature presented a range of challenges as well. The stories or these battles with the Army, the Washington State Dept. of Land Conservation and Development and the Navy, Port Authorities, etc., all of whom had designs on procuring the land for military or some other development purpose, are the stuff of this real-life David and Goliath story.
Ransom chronicles the efforts of many women who were crucial to securing the natural legacy we know today. First among these is Marce Braget, who, through her relentless focus and prolific writing campaigns, helped organize local efforts to save the farm. She also sought and received the support of U.S. Senators and Congressmen, importantly of Governor Dan Evans. The Bragets, who were very well informed about similar efforts across the state, developed grassroots advocacy into a science. She was also key to fending off the attempts by extended family members, who, ignoring the natural essence of the farm, and, perhaps, looking for possible financial gain, took the side of aggrandizers and developers.
The legendary Margaret McKenny added her indefatigable persona to the cause of conserving the farm and the delta. She joined forces with Flo Brodie, the Co-Founder of the Nisqually Delta Association. They were supported by Helen Engle a well-known environmental activist. Without these women with their dedication to the environment, their determination and their capacity to inform and gather local and state level support, Ken Braget’s sometimes elusive ‘good of the order’, would not have prevailed. None of us would be able to enjoy the precious Nisqually Delta and the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. This book connects with the reader in a number of ways. People interested in storytelling, in history, in conserving the natural environment, in the maneuverings of local and state politics, in advocacy and community organization and more will find this book a literary treasure trove.
Denny Hamilton is a writer and photographer -- and majored in history as an undergraduate.
Note: For the Good of the Order is available at Orca Books, Browser's Bookstore, direct from Gorham Printing and from Timberland Regional Library.