By Chuck Woodbury
I would like to tell you the tale of pickled Willie. I learned about Willie while passing through Raymond, Washington.
Willie’s claim to fame is that back in the mid-1800s, he came west as a pickle. Yes, that’s right, a pickle.
His name was Willie Kiel. He died in 1855 in Bethel, Missouri. His father, Doctor Kiel, was the leader of a communal religious colony that would soon head west to Washington Territory. Dr. Kiel promised Willie that he could lead the wagon train, which undoubtedly made young Willie very happy.
Sadly, Willie then did something not in the plan: He died, which was a crummy deal because how could he then lead the wagon train?
But his father was a man who kept his word. He placed his son into a lead-lined coffin then filled it to the top with 100-proof Golden Rule whiskey. Then he closed the lid. Shortly afterwards, he loaded Willie onto the lead wagon where he rode in his pickled state for six months all the way west to the settlement site in the Willapa Valley.
Today, you can visit his grave about 5 miles east of Raymond in a small, private cemetery. Visitors can view the gravesite from the Willapa Hills State Park pullout 100 yards away.
Alas, the Washington Territory settlement was not to be. Dr. Keil found the climate too cold and damp and the evergreen forests too rugged to convert to farmland. He soon moved the colony south and founded the town of Aurora in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. A few members of his group stayed behind and became some of the region’s first European-American settlers. Willie stayed behind, too, perhaps becoming the only pickle to ever be buried in the Pacific Northwest.