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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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The Duke of Duke's Hill
revisited and updated a decade later

Part three of three-part series

(Panorama of Bottomless Lake)
      This panoramic photo is of Bottomless Lake, which is invisible unless you know where to look, shows how it is framed by trees, hills and clouds. The 7 1/2-acre volcanic lake is fed by several glacial springs that originate in the glacial field at Mount Baker. A biologist, using electrical gear, determined the average depth of the lake at 350 feet. This 1958 Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times article said that it was stocked with fighting fish.

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal ©2001
      The legendary Duke was strangely of little interest to me when I was growing up here. I heard about that "crazy German" and that he was eccentric, but paid him little attention other than that. I am a baby boomer, now 66, so contrast that with men who grew up here a generation before me and you get a different story. They remember him well, often as well as they remember their sports or military heroes from the time. They may not have known him in flesh — he died more than 25 years before their frolics at the lake in the late 1930s and the '40s — but his legend blended with their imagination. The legends and myths that grew up around the Duke and Bottomless Lake, his sylvan glade . . . in the middle of a dark wood . . . with crazy antics day and night . . . why, such a tale was a built-in escape hatch for a teenage boy.
      When I returned to live in Sedro-Woolley, in 1992, 30 years after graduating from high school here, I realized very soon that the Duke occupied the highest rank of local "characters," and that he and his life were rich ore to be mined, especially if actual sources could be found to back up the legends. Our quest for newspaper mention of his Dukeness in newspapers from those days a century ago has largely been a bust so far. But with the help of author Ray Jordan, a handful of newspaper stories and a few small hints along the way, we have put together what we think is the most accurate profile possible, and if our portrayal is accurate, the details we know show why he fascinated so many folks hereabouts, both while still alive and after his death in 1907.
      The most important thing for you to keep in mind: the Duke was a foreigner and an eccentric and that lifestyle was almost always suspect and condemned by the citizens here. Even when such an unusual person was not feared or suspect, he was sometimes ridiculed, as in that "crazy German." When his contemporaries combined eccentricity with foreigner and possible royalty, well, they were off to the races in legend-land, and many variations of tall tales and conjecture and apocryphal, imagined scenarios could well have resulted.

What we know about the Duke
(The Duke's gravestone in Sedro-Woolley)
The Duke's grave stone is prominent in the Sedro-Woolley cemetery, with considerable growth of trees around it since this 1958 photo.

      Ask any old-timer who grew up here (over 75) where he or she learned how to swim and half will tell you Bottomless Lake. Ask people who live on Duke's Hill (north of town) who the Duke was and you will hear half dozen stories. A man calling himself Duke Fredrick George arrived in Sedro-Woolley in April 1905 and bought the 40-acre quarter section around Bottomless Lake. He only lived here less than two years until his death, but he left such a mark and became the subject of so many local legends that the whole area south of Hoogdal and Thornwood became known as Duke's Hill. The spelling of his first name is disputed. Historian Ray Jordan spelled it Friederich, but his burial record from 1907 spells it Fredrick, which we hesitantly accept, and his obituary spelled it Freterich.
      The Duke's home was on the eastern side of the lake and situated on land that was first contracted by Mortimer Cook when he set up his settlement at old Sedro in 1884. The lake's source is in the Mount Baker glacial fields and a 1950s electronic reading showed a possible 350-foot depth. We unfortunately cannot find it, but Earl K. Everett compiled a list during the time he owned the property that included names of 150 boys who swam there. Although we do not have any contemporary photos of the Duke, we are fortunate to have a reader like Bob Garland who has saved old newspapers with wonderful history stories. The photos from this article were scanned by Bob from an August 1958 special "Tella Pix" edition of the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times. They include photos of Mr. and Mrs. Earl Everett, who owned the property around Bottomless Lake on Duke's Hill. Their property was roughly the same as the Duke's original estate.
      A descendant of a pioneer family, William E. McCarty, wrote to local historian Ray Jordan in the late 1950s and cleared up the mystery somewhat. The complete story is in Jordan's wonderful book, Yarns of the Skagit Country. Like a lot of people who moved here to get away from their former life, the Duke fashioned his own biography. McCarty recalled that when he was a youth, he stayed with the Duke, who claimed that he was banished from his family home in Bavaria, Germany, after he assaulted one of his father's guests:

      He was a wonderful violinist and the reason he got kicked out of Bavaria was that his uncle, the ruler of Bavaria at the time, had a party and it seems he disliked one of the guests at the banquet — evidently this guest insulted the Duke, so he took his fiddle and busted it over the guy's head and knocked him cuckoo, causing his uncle to banish him on a pension." We suspect that the story was either apocryphal or at least embellished, since we have not been able to establish any such lineage in Bavaria.
      [He] was a very attractive man, about 6 foot one, and as straight as a ramrod. He had a perfect military bearing. We stayed in the little [log] cabin and [my friend Harry White] fed him. The Duke stayed in bed and drank whiskey and milk only. In order to get the whiskey we had to drive the Duke to town with his horse and buckboard," McCarty recalled.
      He talked to us about India and Africa, his hunting trips there and he had on the floors, tiger, leopard and other skins that were trophies, and many mounted heads on the walls. He had several of the finest guns that I ever hope to see, inlaid with silver, gold and ivory and handsomely carved." McCarty went on to explain that he and his friend moved away when the Duke hired a Japanese houseboy who cared for and fed him, and made all the buckboard whiskey runs.

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      We know that the Duke's cabin burned to the ground while he lay in the St. Elizabeth's Hospital in old Sedro on Jan. 2, 1907. McCarty insists that it was a result of arson by burglars who had ransacked the cabin of its valuable silver and artifacts. The Duke died on Feb. 5 of that year at the age of 33 and is buried in the Union Cemetery. His obituary in the Feb. 7, 1907, Skagit County Times gave the cause of death as dropsy. It goes on to say that he was born in Breslau, Germany in 1875, the son of Herman George, a retired general of the German Army. His brother was the secretary of the German legation in Madrid, Spain, at that time. The obituary notes: "Contrary to general understanding, the dead man was not of title in his native land, although of influential family in social standing, intelligence and wealth."
      The Duke's will includes a still unsolved mystery. He willed his home and property to a Paul Werner. We cannot find any information about him. Sometime afterward Werner sold it and a whole chain of owners followed: Paul Pawlaski, George Fellows, Jr., I.H. Jennings, the Wickers of Skagit Realty, and Paul Lang. Finally, on April 25, 1951, , Earl and Mary Ann Everett bought the property, which was in the heart of Mortimer Cook's vast timber holdings, now on the west side of Hwy. 9, two miles north of the city. When they began bulldozing for the basement of their new home, they discovered that they had accidentally chosen the exact site of the Duke's cabin. They found a pile of bricks along with an old iron stove, a glass candlewick and other household articles. They also found a single shot pistol, bearing a German proof mark, in a stump and carefully wrapped in plastic. Another tree nearby in an area of constant shade had a huge knothole that the Duke used as a refrigerator for his milk.
      Jordan noted that the property was always a sylvan glade. Squawberry, wild cherry trees, dogwood, maidenhair ferns and wild violets twined everywhere, along with what kids called the best blackberry patch in the county, growing from the part of the property that was clear-cut around the turn of the century. According to Jordan, the name for the lake in Chinook Jargon was: tenas chuck hiyu kloshe, or "little water, much good."
      To sum up, the Duke was not royalty. He was from the kind of family I can remember from when I lived in Germany in the 1960s, descendants a few generations down the ladder of time from when the family was "noble," which meant landed and politically connected, with an estate and/or business and product that was profitable. Baronial might be the best word for such a family. Maybe he did bash someone's head with a violin or maybe he was just trying to impress a young boy with a wry joke, or maybe he was pulling the boy's leg when he explained why he moved here. But he surely left a lesson on young Master McCarty and we are indebted for McCarty's memory, via Jordan.
      Imagine how Gothic and exciting it must have been for kids, especially, to hear the story of frenzied rides by the Duke, in his buggy, driven by an Asian houseboy cracking the whip over the horse's heads. Images like that do not need explanation. Such images appeal to the senses and those images of the Duke are pretty indelible.

The Duke's obituary
The count dead — the passing of a very eccentric gentleman from this life
Skagit County Times, Feb. 7, 1907
      Freterich George died from dropsy in St. Elizabeth Hospital in this city on Tuesday, February 5th [1907]. Mr. George was in the 32d year of his life [possibly age 33]. He was born in Breslau, Germany, in 1875, and is the son of Herman George, a retired general from the German army, who is yet living. Deceased also leaves a brother, who is secretary of the German legation at Madrid, Spain. Contrary to general understanding, the dead man was not of title in his native land, although of influential family in social standing, intelligence and wealth.
      The occasion of his presence here; because of his apparent indifference to his surroundings and the customs of our people, has always been a mystery and had as well remain so. His habits not less than his indifference contributed greatly to his death. During his confinement in the hospital, friends here have been in communication with his father, and at his request the remains were given Christian burial in Union Cemetery on Thursday, February 7th, 1907.

Summing up
      How we wish we could see the communication by mail from the Duke's family that was apparently supplied to that reporter. When one studies this man and his short but very visible time amongst our pioneers, from 1905-07, the main element missing is a summation of the man's personal qualities or faults, or what we often summarize as "character." Not as in an amusing character, but the Duke's personal makeup and character. Was he merely a spoiled aristocrat who was exiled from his home? Was he intelligent, well-read, cultured? We really do not know. Was he indolent, a drunk, merely trying to live off the fat of the land? Was his diet really dominated by "whiskey and milk," as McCarty wrote in the letter quoted in Ray Jordan's linked story? Note the somewhat sympathetic treatment in the obituary. That does not sound like a reporter patronizing the Duke. We wish we knew what "habits" concerned the reporter the most. Of all the details that can be confirmed, we are grateful for McCarty's memory of the Duke's skill at playing the violin. What perfect surroundings for a musician to perform Beethoven, Brahms and maybe Wagner under the towering trees.
      Finally, we wonder about the cause of his death. The only factual reason supplied by any source is that he succumbed to edema. That was presumably the conclusion of a doctor or a coroner or someone with some level of medical knowledge. But edema afflicts people in many different ways. In my case, my cancer contributed to the edema, or extreme swelling in my legs, when I was diagnosed and that still has not dissipated, but it is a minor irritation compared to the cancer itself. If death resulted from the dropsy condition, then we infer that the edema in this case was much more serious, such as the kind that signals and sometimes leads to cardiac arrest, failure and death. Or the determination of dropsy could have been based on cerebral edema, where fluid accumulates on the brain and eventually causes death or conditions such as systemic lupus. Or it could have been pulmonary edema affecting blood pressure in the lungs because of failure of a ventricle of the heart. Why do I wonder and spend time on such details? Because, dear reader, that is what we historians do. Oftentimes, even when we find a historic answer, it just leads to more questions. The book is still open on the Duke. Maybe a reader has a document or a clipping that will add to the details about this most mysterious early pioneer.
      Finally, I want to share a personal memory from one of my favorite correspondents, Quentin Belles, who graduated from Sedro-Woolley High School more than five decades ago and had a quite special personal connection with Bottomless Lake, Duke's home for two years:

      Every kid in the 1930s knew about Bottomless Lake. All you had to do was climb over a rickety fence near Duke's hill road and follow the trail. Good swimming but it was dark and mysterious in there. It was, what I now know, a tarn or cranberry bog. The bottomless part was good and spooky for kids to talk about. Deer and bear used to come there to drink. Western Washington is well known for its bogs. My friend Roger Westerman (Class of '45) and I used to fish for cat in there also.
      I plan to go up there soon and stroll through the shady glens of Bottomless Lake again. I haven't visited there for almost ten years. Back then, the old Everett lots were run-down and overgrown and their old house was an abandoned derelict. I hope that has changed with newer owners. I will let you know.

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Story posted on Dec. 23, 2001, last updated & moved to this domain March 30, 2011
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This article originally appeared in Issue 53 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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