Native Americans were the first to overcome its challenges, seeking out low passes to create a network of trails and travel routes over the range and link seasonal and regional sources of trade and food. The earliest European settlers in the area – the explorers and fur traders who would open the West – followed many of the same routes. By the mid-nineteenth century, in the wake of Lewis and Clark, the fur trade, and the westward push of Manifest Destiny, an increasing number of immigrants flowed into the Pacific Northwest, many of whom would make their way to Puget Sound. Early commercial routes over the Cascades also followed the old routes, but travel was slow and often dangerous. Continued settlement in the Puget Sound area prompted the first surveys for a route over the Cascades in the mid-1850s. Conducted by
George McClellan, these first surveys failed to identify a clear and reasonable route over the mountains, and the first rough wagon road was not completed until the 1860s. The Snoqualmie Wagon Road, through what is today Snoqualmie Pass, was the major linkage between eastern and western Washington until the 1880s, when railroads became the primary means of transport in the region. In addition to the access provided by the Snoqualmie wagon road, the discovery of gold in the Swauk watershed also intensified interest and settlement throughout the Kittitas valley.
Exactly who discovered coal in the Roslyn area, and when they did so, is a mystery. Many stories suggest that settlers were aware of the region’s coal resources as early as the 1860s, but commercial interest began only with the rumored arrival of railroads in the area in the 1880s. Although a survey team from the Union Pacific Railroad failed to find any significant coal deposits in 1883, local production began around that time with small shipments to blacksmiths and others in Ellensburg. The Northern Pacific Railroad sent a survey team to Cle Elum in 1886 that discovered what is today known as the Roslyn-Cle Elum coalfield. The company almost immediately began to develop its newly discovered coal resource, including surveying and building a new branch line to the field from Cle Elum, where the company was working to complete a rail link over Stampede Pass.
The arrival of the railroad is where the real story of coal in the eastern Cascades begins. Construction of the railroad spur to the Roslyn-Cle Elum field and ever-increasing numbers of settlers led directly to the settlement and growth of the upper Kittitas Valley. Cle Elum, Roslyn, Ronald, and Jonesville all owe their existence to the activities of the coal companies and the railways with which they were associated. Cle Elum was founded in 1886 and was the temporary headquarters for railroad construction in the area. Roslyn was officially founded several months later. Roslyn was built on land owned by the Northern Pacific and its subsidiary, the Northwest Improvement Company. With the general store, housing, and services all owned and controlled by the railroad, Roslyn was a classic company town, and would quickly become the leading community in the area. Ronald was founded when the Northern Pacific opened its
Number 3 mine, and was also a typical company town, built on railroad-owned land and run by the railroad itself. Jonesville (also known as Beekman) was founded by the Roslyn Fuel Company and during its short existence was a smaller version of the company towns of Roslyn and Ronald.