Burke Archaelology Collections shares a look at C. M. Sheafe’s flat-top maul

February 2, 2010

By Contributor

In planning the exhibit In This Valley, Issaquah History Museums’ staff members aimed to interpret the history of American Indians in the Issaquah area. Unfortunately, they had very few authentic American Indian artifacts in their collection. Museum Director Erica Maniez contacted the Burke Museum in Seattle to inquire about borrowing artifacts for the exhibit.

In a review of archaeological artifacts found in the Issaquah area, Burke Archaeology Collections Manager Laura Phillips located a hand maul. Hand mauls look like large pestles. They were carved from stone, and used like hammers.

As an archaeological artifact, the maul was not impressive. It had a large chunk chipped from the bottom, and remnants of very old glue on the surface. In one area, there were remnants of inked paper, suggesting that a collector had created a homemade label for the maul.However, the fact that the maul had a clear link to Issaquah made it an interesting item to include in the upcoming exhibit. It also led Maniez to wonder about the person who collected the maul, and under what circumstances he or she had done so.

The Burke’s records showed that the maul was donated to the Washington State Museum (the Burke’s forerunner) in 1910 by Charles M. Sheafe. Census records, Seattle directories and old publications (among them An Illustrated History of the State of Washington and state legal documents) revealed a great deal of information about the maul’s donor.

Charles Minot Sheafe was a well-known, well-connected and well-to-do member of Seattle society in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Born in New Hampshire, Sheafe started working for railroads at a young age. By the time he came to Seattle in 1886, he had worked as an engineer, conductor, brakeman and fireman. He had also spent a few years working in the mining industry in Colorado.

After Sheafe came to Seattle, he became a trustee and manager of the Puget Sound Construction Co., the company that built the first 40 miles of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway. In 1887, Sheafe was also one of the incorporators of the Seattle Coal & Iron Co., an affiliate of the SLS&E. In 1888, Seattle Coal & Iron began mining coal in Issaquah and shipping it by rail. There also exists in the Issaquah Train Depot a photo of Sheafe, among other officials, standing next to the railroad tracks near town.

No one knows in what capacity Sheafe might have found the hand maul — was it during the construction phase of the railroad? Or perhaps on an official visit to the mines? But you can picture this turn-of-the-century businessman either finding or (more likely) receiving the hand maul as a curiosity from one of his workers. He then carefully labeled it and saved it for 20 years before donating it to the Washington State Museum. Nearly 100 years later, the hand maul is displayed in its “hometown.”

Visit the Gilman Town Hall Museum, 165 S.E. Andrews St., from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and by appointment. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children. Call 392-3500.

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