Esther Short’s name is now synonymous with the heart of downtown Vancouver, and the park named in her honor is said to be the oldest public park in the state of Washington, and one of the oldest public parks in the West. But the land on which this gem of Vancouver now stands has a history fraught with land disputes, a family feud, and even violence.
Esther and Amos Short hailed from Tioga County, Pennsylvania and had two children when, like many 19th century families, they decided to head west in search of wealth. They relocated to Kentucky, then Illinois, and then Missouri. They didn’t find what they wanted, and so they continued west as they continued to grow their family. With their now 10 offspring they arrived in the Southwest Washington area around Christmas, 1845. The treaty officially making this area American would not be signed for another year.
The Short family may or may not have been aware that the land on which they chose to settle was under hot dispute in these early American days. The British-controlled Hudson’s Bay Company discouraged U.S. settlement of the territory and was adamant that the Columbia River constituted the border between British and American interests. The company had already ousted all American interlopers except for Henry Williamson, a young man who had claimed the land west of the fort. His claim ran from the place where Main Street would meet the river, up Main Street to Fourth Plain, then west to near where the railroad tracks now lay. From there, his plot ran south back to the river, near where the railroad bridge now stands. Williamson had even planned a small town, four blocks by four blocks that he named “Vancouver City.” Henry went to California and left the land under the care of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The American Short family was not welcome.