Skagit River Journal
of History & Folklore
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In the excerpt below, Sunnie warmed my heart by introducing an 1891 New York Times article about the riches of the Skagit Valley, which was written by the famous columnist and Man of the West, Col. Frank Wilkeson, who is also the subject of a book on which I am collaborating, Old Soldier Goes Fishing.
Journey Toward Home
I pause to reflect on how courageous and adventuresome my grandmother was. She traveled to North America from halfway around the world in an era when there were no cars, no airplanes, and the steamship was just coming into its own. Today, it is less than a day's travel by commercial airline from the West Coast of North America to the West Coast of Finland where my grandparents lived in the late 1800s. To contrast that period slightly over 100 years ago with the second and third generation born in America, one of my daughters has chosen to live in Switzerland. Our connection at first was a telephone call; Today I see her I smiling face and the faces of my grandchildren on Skype!
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We recently visited our newest sponsor, Plumeria Bay, which is based in Birdsview, just a short walk away from the Royal family's famous Stumpranch, and is your source for the finest down comforters, pillows, featherbeds & duvet covers and bed linens. Order directly from their website and learn more about this intriguing local business.
Ida Maria was a renaissance woman, resilient, strong, and assertive with a goal in mind and a "mind of her own," as she was described in her daughter Esther's University of Washington thesis. I ponder her determination to emigrate, as well as my grandfathers. Did either of them contemplate the consequences of that decision that effects generations hence and also affects those left behind, those who chose not to leave their country? Or was there an immediacy to rise above economic . conditions that precluded the luxury of contemplation?
Was there, or is there, any lingering resentment by people in their homeland toward people who left their country to find a new life in another place? Certainly, not among today's young people in America and in Finland who see the world as a global community. Certainly, not among many of Finland's people who experienced emigration from the West Coast of Finland to Sweden in the 1950s and 1960s. Certainly not Ida Maria's mother-in-law Greta who knew the poverty of her own existence and was supportive of her daughter-in-law's decision to return to America after her visit in 1901.
Many came to America; some returned. ]ohn Sundquist brother Henrik traveled to America three times to work in the logging camps in the Pacific Northwest. On his last trip, he returned home to see only a photograph of his newborn daughter wrapped in her baptismal blanket. The baby girl had died shortly after birth. Henrik remained in Finland, and with the money he had earned in America, he purchased Gertruds-Olin nr 19, the farm where he was born, and there, he lived out his life with his wife Sophia, children, and many grandchildren.
Were there others who longed to return "home" but could not afford to, or could not afford to do so for myriad reasons? Thoughts race through my head. I have a strong sense of place and perhaps a characteristic Nordic heritage that I sometimes brood about matters. Were they captured by circumstances? Do those who remain at home think about the road not taken? In any case, is there regret somewhere inside? In any case, is there regret somewhere inside. Somewhere inside the emigrants must have felt pangs of regret, of missing, yearning, longing for home — hemlangtan.
The connection to homeland carries on in our blood memory; otherwise why would we second- and third-generation American-born descendents have tears in our eyes when we hear played on the accordion the plaintive strains of the song Halsa dem dar hemma? Greet the folks at home. Listeners hardly dare breathe, as soul thoughts consume the body.
Certainly migration is important to the history of the people of Finland — emigration and immigration. And in the United States, everyone except the First Peoples of North America came from another continent. America is a country of nomads, where today people still continue to move West.
I ponder also if there is something within our genes that causes restlessness? Do we humans have a migratory impulse? Bruce Chatwin, British novelist and author of The Power of Travel wrote:
From the very beginning of our creation, we are continuously moving, traveling . . . I like to think that our brains have an information system giving us our orders for the road, and that here lie the mainsprings of our restlessness?Were the young emigrants the restless ones? Was it a journey that had been programmed in their DNA? Is it plausible to think that we might carry some of the characteristics of migratory animals? I contemplate others' migrations in the spring of the year. Whales migrate northward. Monarch butterflies Danaus plexippus (Linnaeus) descend from thousands of feet to rest and feed, as these wanderers make their way from the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico, to their summer place in the northern territories. The Monarch is the only butterfly that annually migrates north and south as birds do. When I lived in the arid southwestern part of the United States, away from my birthplace in the Pacific Northwest, there were times of the year when I sensed a strong, almost magnetic pull to go northward. There was a yearning, a mysterious disturbance that permeated my physical being. A wedge of geese that passed overhead tugged at my mind and heart with a strange intensity. I called to them. "I will see you up north in Washington?
Is it the animal and bird migrations or is it the season that stirs this restlessness encoded in our brains and cells? Is migration an ancestral or blood memory? Sometimes, when experiencing a place for the first time. I am brought to tears when the sensation comes over me that I have been et that piace before. What does that mean? And why should we think that migration is unique to animal and bird species? We are part of this great universal kingdom. But migratory species don't just go one way: their return, unless captured or killed. Does "captured by circumstances fall into that same category?
Ida Maria may have not read about Samuel Langhorne Clemens aka Mark Twain (1835-1910), but it is not unreasonable to suppose there were others reiterating the same message at the end of the 19th century, including my grandmother, as his words continue to echo into the 21St century:
"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do, than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream.My family and I had found the girl my grandmother once was, in the old church books, in old photos, in the trees along the banks of the Kronoby River at her homeplace Lillbroanda, at her church, Kronobykyrka, and finally, on the ship to America. Bit by bit, piece by piece, with the help of friends and family, we had fit together the pieces of the puzzle.
Her life in Finland as a young girl was finalized when the pastor wrote the few words in the church book that she had been permitted to leave Finland: Betyg till Amerika, 5. 5. 1893. Ida Maria's life in America was just beginning.
As her publisher, Boulder House, describes, The Legacy of Ida Lillbrošnda is a compelling story about a young girl's trek across North America from her grim arrival and quarantine in Quebec 1893, to Telluride, Colorado where she runs a boarding house, finally to realize her "American Dream" on a farm in the fertile Skagit Valley of Washington State. It includes historical information: Economic and social issues in 1890s Finland, Swedish-speaking Finns, mid-19th century Finnish nationalistic movement. Old letters and excerpts from unpublished manuscript add factual period accounts of life and times in early 20th century America. This is truly a collaborative work of a family, especially Sunnie's aunts, Esther and Leona Marie Sundquist. Leona is Professor Emeritus at Western Washington University, my alma mater, and we are all proud of her work. To order the book, and we suggest that you do so soon, see the publisher's website or order the book at your local store, ISBN#978-1-931025-05-8.
Settling in SkagitJohn Sundquist assembled his gear at a Seattle outfitter, including a small pick hammer and a circular heavy metal pan with a portion of the rim folded inward to allow for a better grip. He sailed out of Seattle to reach the Alaskan coast when the ice melted in the Bering Sea and broke loose from the shore. The Hand Book of Seward Peninsula 1903 reported that year that the ice did not start to move out until June 8. It covered the sea for miles and not a vessel was in sight.
Once disembarked in Council, The Council City & Solomon River Railroad ran from tidewater at Solomon City to Council City. This railroad made accessible and opened up the richest mining section known in the world. He panned for gold until the latest sailing date in November for his return to Seattle before the ice came back in. The days were long and arduous. There was no darkness; the sun goes down in the far north an hour or two before midnight and rises three or four hours later. The miners had to "make hay while the sun shine" and that they did. John brought home a few shiny nuggets in his overalls and tall tales of men, places and activities.
John returned home from Alaska with enough money to go north of Seattle to look at land. John Sundquist and his friend and fellow carpenter Victor Lillquist had worked together building houses around Salmon Bay and on Queen Anne Hill. Later, Lillquist worked as a carpenter for Great Northern Railroad and became interested in Skagit County when he was repairing railroad bridges there, He told John that Leander Palm, a Finland Swede from Terjarv who had settled in Cedardale in the mid 1890s, knew of available land for sale. ]ohn's Younger brother Henrik had also learned firsthand of land opportunities in the rich alluvial flood plain near the town of Mt. Vernon in Skagit County. Henrik had joined the Sundquist family on their return trip to America in 1902 and found employment only a few miles from Skagit Valley at English Logging Camp amid heavily forested land in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains south and east of Conway.
Conversations among the Finland Swedes would gravitate toward the opportunity of purchasing rich farmland in Skagit County sixty miles north of Seattle, They talked about the geophysical characteristics of the area as if they were describing the fertile floodplains of Ostrobothnia, the land where they were born. The flat Skagit Delta stretched toward saltwater Puget Sound. The Skagit River meandered through the coastal plain created by alluvial deposits, and forests of evergreen trees stood where land was still uncleared. This area resembled their homeland, but rather than having to face harsh, cold winters, Western Washington was in a temperate climate zone. On a crisp autumn day in October 1903, the two emigrants from Ostrobothnia boarded the Great Northern Railroad in Seattle and headed north to look for land. Their destination: Mount Vernon, the county seat of Skagit County They passed through Everett where steam and smoke rose from sawmills and lumber mills that stood at the edge of Puget Sound.
At Conway station, some Norwegian-speaking immigrants disembarked. The foothills that arose from the valley's eastern edge were blanketed with dense deep green forests that melded into the backdrop of dramatic peaks and crags of the North Cascade Mountains. In the clear air, the magical presence of snow-covered Mount Baker in the Cascade Mountain Range loomed large over the valley from its height of 10,778 feet elevation. More than a hundred years earlier in April 1792 when the English explorer Captain George Vancouver entered the inland waters of the Pacific Northwest in his exploratory voyage, he was overcome by the beauty of a distant mountain peak as he sailed through the Strait of ]uan de Fuca. He described Mount Baker as "masses of glowing opal, a detached island separated by a line of mist, floating above the dark forest.
Indeed the secret was out. There was rich alluvial land available for farming in the flood plain of the Skagit River. Decades before Skagit County's resources were on display at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle, the region's first world's fair that highlighted the Northwest's growing prosperity and importance as a trade and shipping portal to Alaska and Pacific Rim countries, people had become aware of the rich delta land, Frank Wilkeson, a columnist for the New York Times, traveled West and put Skagit County on the map when he wrote an article in 1891 that brought national attention to the region that split from Whatcom County in  and became Skagit County. He extolled the area's rich resources and in part described its terrain:
Skagit River area is the most resourceful in the United States, if not on earth. In this valley sufficient food to feed a million persons can be produced. No need for commercial manure here! In my opinion it is the most productive agricultural land in the temperate zone. East of Swinomish slough are the delta lands of the Skagit, lands that have been made of silt gouged by glaciers out of the Cascades' rugged flanks and carried by annually-recurring floods to Puget Sound and there deposited. This filling-in process is still in progress, Reeds and aquatic plants took root until there were extensive grassy flats, which were never water-covered save at exceptionally high tides. To the east a towering line of dark-green fir trees marked the boundary of the delta land.
Today this delta is reclaimed from the sea by dikes. On its alluvial lands stand sufficient Douglas fir and red cedar to replace the wooden ships that compose the merchant marine fleet, if met by disaster. Forests so dense, the sun couldn't pierce, and trunks of trees that are from four to eight feet in diameter. The alluvial lands of the Skagit are enormously productive, and they fetch more money after they have been thoroughly logged than they will with the timber standing on them.
The good news is that Howard and his wife Jackie have organized Mabel's and Howard's memories into a mini-book about the family's experiences and the history of Birdsview and the upriver area. You may order it by inquiring of Dan Royal, www.stumpranchonline.com . . . you may email him here.
A model stump farm and a mother's detailed notes offer a
rare glimpse of Skagit County in the early 1900s
Linda Bryant, Everett Herald, Jan. 24, 1995
After spending several hours with Howard Royal's mother, I knew her as surely as if I'd sat at the kitchen table in the three-room home she and her children built in the upper Skagit Valley 70 years ago. . I met Mabel Royal through her words. Decades ago, she filled 75 typewritten pages with the stories of her family's early years.
Married in 1907 at the age of 16 to a logger, she took her children and followed him from job to job until the day in 1925 when she got tired of the "everlasting moving around." She decided to let him ramble while she and the children built a real home. Howard, now 78, was Mabel's second son and the third of her five children. Like his father, he went into the woods at 15 to work and was a logger until his mid-50s. He and his wife live a few blocks from the Boeing Co.'s Everett plant in a modest rambler with a small shed out back.
A story and photo in The Herald about an old steam donkey unearthed on a steep Skagit County hillside last summer prompted a letter from Howard. He and his brother Tom worked for Lyman Timber in 1937 bucking windfalls and rode up the 1,000-foot incline each day pulled by a cable hooked to that same steam donkey or "snubber" as he calls it. Sitting at his dining room table we talked about logging in that era and how dangerous it was to life and limb.
He shared a few memories of his childhood, then asked if I'd like to see something of which he was very proud. Out back, in that small shed, was a handmade replica of Mabel's homestead, long since gone. The two-holer, a chicken house, woodshed, pig shed, main barn and the three-room house. Each built by that mother and her children who spent the first winter living in a tent on their land with no well for water, no electricity and very little money. They did however, a 1922 Mode- T Ford, dreams of a real home and love.
"I had to build it while the memories were still with me," he said as we walked back to the house. Howard told me he still had the stories his mother, who died in 1970, had written for her family. He offered to share them. That's how I met Mabel Royal, a courageous woman and natural storyteller.
She bought her 80 acres at an auction on the courthouse steps in Mount Vernon in 1925. It was school land, logged for the valuable timer and left covered with slash and logging debris. Mabel and her brood, ages 2 to 16, spent their first night on the land sleeping under the stars. They next day they put up the old round Army tent that was their home until a real one could be built. The boys set out to find a neighbor who'd let them have water for drinking and cooking.
It had been a dry fall. Dried grass, dead ferns, old stumps still smoldering down in rotten wood made those 80 acres one big fire hazard.
"Whenever the wind came up, these old stumps came to life. Sparks from them sailed off, setting grass fires which had to put out," she writes setting the scene for a terrible day.
"It was just about time for the children to come from school. The wind started hitting with heavy gusts . . . old rotten snags were falling all around. Cinders from flying sparks set the grass ablaze," she writes.
[After one particular forest fire], their ordeal continued for two days and nights. On the beginning of the third day they saw clouds, and that afternoon, rain.
"Oh welcome heavenly rain. Just to know that we wouldn't be chasing sparks day and night was too good to be true," she wrote. The rain came. The tent leaked. When she jumped out of bed the next morning, her feet hit a puddle of water in the center of the tent and she sank up to her knees. Still, she managed to cook breakfast while the children stayed in bed.
Then they dressed and crawled out the tent sides to walk three miles to school in Birdsview while she cared for the baby and prepared to move the tent.
The forces of nature rarely let up on Mabel and her brood. windstorms, freezing temperatures, snow, fire, floods — she got them through it all.
"There were no sassy brats among them. They were not allowed to fight among themselves, either," she wrote of her children. As for herself, she could whistle through her fingers as well as the boys and hike anywhere they could, she wrote.
Howard says she was also the chief builder as the house and buildings were erected. Only the flat boards that formed the sides of the house came from a mill, all the rest — shingles, beams, poles — came from their land and their labor. At 10, Howard split shingles for siding on the woodshed, barns and two-holer.
After reading her words, I found something Howard told me particularly sad. Only one grandson has shown any interest in this rich family history. He insisted Howard record his own memories on tape. His mother's stories, his tapes and the ranch he's recreated may be the greatest legacy Howard Royal leaves to future generations of his family.
Mabel and her brood's adventures in the Skagit woods are as exciting as anything a Hollywood scriptwriter's imagination could produce — and they're the Royal truth.
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