Julie McDonald: Rayton patriarch emigrated from Germany and settled at Claquato


Many farmers lacked enough land to earn a living. Political upheaval brewed throughout Europe. And a failed 1848 revolution in Germany prompted more than a million people between 1845 and 1855 to leave their homeland and seek a better life in the United States.

One of those mid-19th century immigrants was a young man named John Reichten, whose name was anglicized to Rayton, a man who settled in Lewis County and raised 11 children with his wife, Angeline (Smith) Rayton.

According to family lore, John was a teenager plowing a field one day when he simply tied up his horse and left without telling anyone, likely to escape mandatory conscription into the military. In Hamburg, Germany, he stowed away on a boat headed to New York, perhaps with an older brother who was caught and arrested but more likely alone, according to “The Rayton Family: Then to Now” compiled by June Stovas and given to me by Lois Keene, of Centralia. Other family members say he came to America as an indentured servant, but no records exist to that effect.

Either way, John didn’t share much about his early life, perhaps worried about being deported back to Germany. Family records and findagrave.com list his birth date as April 4, 1831, although his death certificate posted on findagrave and census records list his birth year as 1834. He was 17 when he crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the United States, according to his September 1917 obituary. He lived in the Midwest for a time before crossing the plains to California, where prospectors had flocked in search of gold. For six years, he traveled up and down the West Coast buying and selling cattle.

In 1865, he moved north to Washington Territory, where he settled in Lewis County, first working on the Cowlitz Prairie near Toledo for a pioneer named Jackson Barton. He saved his money to buy land at Claquato in the Chehalis Valley, where he cleared land, planted grain and built a new house with the help of a hired hand and local Native Americans. He planted wheat, oats, vegetables and fruit trees. He also trained teams of horses.

Altogether, he purchased more than 780 acres, according to Stovas’ history. His holdings included land at Claquato, Boistfort Valley and even the Cowlitz Prairie near St. Francis Mission outside present-day Toledo. Then he purchased the Glen Roundtree farm at Boistfort where he grew hops and grains and raised dairy herds.

A decade later, on Feb. 21, 1875, when he was in his 40s, John married 16-year-old Angeline Smith at the Claquato Church. Angeline was born July 15, 1858, at Lone Rock, Wisconsin, to John Parshall Smith, a New York native, and his wife, Lucy Rachel (Cline) Smith, of Massachusetts. She was the youngest of 13 children and traveled to Oregon Territory as a child in the early 1860s. In 1868, the Smiths moved to Claquato and bought 20 acres from John D. Clinger for $50, according to Stovas’ book.

The couple lived at Claquato until 1884 and then on Cowlitz Prairie until 1897 before settling at Boistfort in 1897. They farmed all three properties.

“Angeline loved flowers and named her girls after flowers,” Stovas wrote. “She named her sons after famous men in history.”

The couple had 11 children altogether:

• Albert Hayes, born March 21, 1877, at Claquato, who married Rhoda Rice on Nov. 10, 1897, and, after her death, May J. Swaze Holland on Aug. 31, 1915;

• John Henry, born May 19, 1878, at Claquato, who married Mary Gray on Aug. 11, 1895, and, after her death, Ora McLaughlin on Feb. 15, 1959;

• Nellie May, born April 23, 1880, at Claquato, who married Herman C. Detering on May 5, 1897;

• Leonard Franklin, born Sept. 19, 1882, at Claquato, who married Anna Caroline  Black on Oct. 26, 1904, in Boistfort;

• Rosy Rachel, born April 23, 1884, at Chehalis, who married John Dossen Moon on Aug. 4, 1901, in Boistfort;

• Andrew Otis, born Oct. 1, 1885, at Cowlitz Prairie, who married Elizabeth Detering on Dec. 6, 1908;

• Daisy Dezire, born March 10, 1887, at Cowlitz Prairie, who married Oscar Edward White on Oct. 16, 1901;

• Leroy Harrison, born April 16, 1890, at Cowlitz Prairie, who married Sylvia Skeen on Oct. 14, 1914;

• Lillie Myranda, born April 10, 1892, at Cowlitz Prairie, who married William Watt on March 4, 1909;

• Violet Viola, born March 26, 1894, at Cowlitz Prairie, who married George W. Koeber on April 21, 1914;

• And Margaret Angeline, born on July 20, 1898, at Boistfort, who died on Dec. 6, 1910, at the age of 12 from infantile paralysis, better known as polio.

According to Stovas, John worked hard and wanted his meals at precise times — 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. He milked at 5 a.m., ate breakfast, finished milking and did chores until noon, ate lunch, worked until 6 p.m., and milked again before retiring at 8 p.m. When his teeth became infected, he pulled them.

In 1895, the Rayton property at Curtis became the site of a school.

The large age difference between John and Angeline may have contributed to their divorce. They filed for divorce twice, first in July 1896, but it was dismissed at John’s request after the couple reconciled briefly. They filed again, and their 25-year marriage ended on Jan. 3, 1900. According to Stovas, in the divorce paperwork, Angeline accused her husband of having a temper and being abusive while he accused her of infidelity and abuse.

Angeline stayed on the Boistfort property, where she raised her younger children while her teenage son Leonard helped farm the land with the promise she would deed him 40 acres when he turned 21. He received the land but discovered it had an outstanding second mortgage, so he made payments to obtain the land.

Stovas wrote that Angeline was engaged briefly but her fiancé drowned before they could marry. Then, on Nov. 14, 1906, she married Lyman B. Adams, who had two children from a previous marriage. After living at Boistfort for a time, they sold that property, moved to Chehalis and bought a boarding house called Wisconsin Boarding and Lodging. They also operated a livery stable, the Mammoth Barn. The couple later moved to the Meskill and Ceres area. She died on Aug. 6, 1940, at the age of 81, only six months after her husband’s death. She is buried at Claquato.

On Dec. 13, 1901, in Olympia, John married Angeline’s older sister, Hanna Smith Barton, of Olympia, but their union lasted only four years, ending in divorce on Nov. 13, 1905. A Lewis County Advocate story on July 18, 1905, noted that she chased her husband from the house and threatened him with violence if he returned.

Three years later, on Oct. 18, 1908, he married Anna Louise Wuestney, a widow from the South Fork of the Newaukum River. They lived in a large Chehalis house on Coal Creek Road with a barn on the hill above Sunbirds, now Chehalis Outfitters. They were still married when John died on Sept. 11, 1917, at the age of 83. He is also buried at Claquato.

Next week, I’ll share a bit about some of the Rayton children and their families.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.