James Biles was a native of Virginia, but he had reached Kentucky by 1853 when he embarked on the Oregon Trail with his family. They were members of the wagon train, called the "Longmire Party," that blazed a trail over the Natches Pass in the Cascade Mountains. It was the first wagon train to come directly into Western Washington without first going to Oregon.
When the group encountered a seemingly impenetrable 30 foot bluff about 25 miles north of Mount Rainier, Biles came up with the idea to make ropes from oxen hides, tie them to the wagons and lower the wagons over the cliff, thus allowing the party to avoid being stuck in the late fall snows of the mountains. He settled first on Grand Mound Prairie where he built a tannery.
He moved to Tumwater and in 1859 built the Biles Tannery on the site of the old Olympia Brewery. Though running a successful business, he found time to serve in the Territorial Legislature. Lamenting his death in 1888, the Washington Standard remarked, "Truly may it be said, a good man has fallen."
With James Biles is his wife, Nancy, who died in 1895. Together they had 7 children. This family was not unmarked by tragedy. Their daughter, Sarah Marjorie, who lies here beside them, was the victim of a terrible industrial accident. In 1865 when she was just 15, she was visiting the soon to be opened Crosby Lincoln Flour Mill in Tumwater when her legs became caught in the machinery. She died that evening.
The Biles' 6 other children lived to adulthood. Their 3 daughters married and moved to other areas in Washington. Their son, James, who also lies near them, moved to Elma, but returned to Olympia just before his death in 1903. Son, George, married Phoebe Crosby, the daughter of Clanrick and Phoebe Crosby, who are not far away. George opened a mercantile store in Tumwater. He, too, moved away, but returned to become a building contractor in Olympia.
Son, Clark, remained in Tumwater; he even served as mayor of Tumwater. He was the foreman of the Biles Tannery and in 1880 became the owner. It was said of him, "That he is one of the few who are engaged in manufacturing enterprises in this the valuable resources of the country, is sufficient alone to give his name prominence."
For decades the name, Biles, was prominent in this area.