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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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John "Cap" Warner and family
of Warner's Prairie

(Cap Warner)
John Madden "Cap" Warner

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2002
This site is under construction, awaiting updates from the Warner family

      John Warner, the namesake of Warner's Prairie north of Woolley, was a practical man after wandering as a youth. His travels sometimes dovetailed with those of Mortimer Cook, who was also attracted west by 49er gold. Warner wound up being the backbone of the prairie areas north of the town of Woolley, and in that way, he gathered people together as Cook did when he founded Sedro ten miles south by the Skagit river.
      John Madden Warner said he was born in East Port Maine while two of his daughters said that he was born in England. His great-granddaughter, Mary Ellen Langridge, who has been an integral source for family lore, wrote to East Port, which is near St. John's, New Brunswick, but could find no records of Warners there. His birth year is also mysterious, but we have all settled on 1926. When he was about three years old, his parents moved the family to Michigan, where mother and father were naturalized as citizens, having both been born in Ireland. This article is just a brief capsule of this amazing settler's biography, so we will not get into great detail. We are still investigating his complex life and we hope that you readers can help fill in gaps or add more details.
      He must have left home after only a basic common school education because he working on boats on the Great Lakes by 1840. After the Mexican-American War broke out, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in Shelbyville, Indiana in 1847. After mustering out, he was bitten by the gold bug and lit out for California in 1849 with his cousin John B. Connell and a friend, Garry Van Vraukin. Once again the family record takes a fork. Some family members say that he boarded a sailing schooner in New York and sailed around the horn; however, he told a biographer that he crossed the plains in a prairie schooner, a popular term then for a covered wagon.

(Warner family 1892)
Above left:Warner family, July 1892. Back row (l. to r.): Mary, Lottie, Adele, Eva. Seated: Minnie, Della, Charles.
Above right:Charles and Louise Yates Warner and possibly their daughter.

(Charles Warner family)
Photos courtesy of Mary Ellen Langridge

Teams up with Mortimer Cook
      We think that may be where he met Mortimer Cook for the first time. Cook also emigrated to California gold country after war duty and a stint as a storekeeper in Texas. Cook did not seem to be the miner type, and if he tried it at first, he soon went back to storekeeping in the boom digs of Rabbit Creek (now the town of LaPorte), north of Sutter's discovery. He had a general store there in 1853 and we found a John Warner on the census roll nearby who seems a likely prospect. Five years later they show up 800 miles north at the wee town of Whatcom when the next major gold rush attracted argonauts from all over, this time because of gold found at the Fraser river in the British colony north of Washington.
      Cook ran a pack train north to supply the miners, then settled in Lytton, up the river, and later formed his first town, Cook's Ferry, on the Thompson river in 1861. Warner was already there, having married Ellen Thompson on Feb. 4, 1878. Many profiles claim that she was the daughter of the chief of the local Indian band, and Candace Wellman, a researcher with the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies confirms that "She was the daughter of "Cunamista," chief of the Cook's Ferry, or Spence's Bridge Band." Cook moved back to his home state of Ohio three years later and left a considerable mark on the area around his town; the band changed their confederation name to Cook's Ferry Indian Band. The Warners stayed on in what would become British Columbia, and 20 years later they would meet again at Sedro.
      John and Ellen moved to Whatcom in 1867 with their first two children and John worked there for six years, both in the woods and the Sehome coal mine until it closed in 1873. Three more children were born there and the sixth child came along in March 1873 when they moved south to Edison, one of three little towns clustered around Samish Island. The Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties [hereafter the 1906 book] first includes him in their 1973 notes:

      Among the notable early settlers of the Samish was Capt. J.M. Warner, who was also more than a decade later the earliest settler of the upper Samish, on what is now known as Warner's prairie, a region of great fertility but so difficult of approach by reason of the dense timber and swamps as not to be inviting to settlers.
      He must have made quite an impression because he was quickly a key member of the delta pioneers. For the rest of his life, he was called Cap Warner as a distinction, even though he had not sailed boats in years. Family members say that he originally earned the nickname because he was an assistant to a steamer captain on the Great Lakes. Also in the 1906 Book, we find a recollection of pioneer William Wood. He came to Edison at the same time in 1867 and marveled at the herd of 27 deer that he found munching one day around his claim:
      Mr. Wood left Whatcom direct for that county where Edison now is, accompanied by Ben Samson, Captain John Warner and Watson Hodge, none of whom is now living. The four squatted on land near each other, and there Mr. Wood has since resided. He had to wait four years for a surveyor.
      A year later, Warner applied for a homestead patent of a quarter section (160 acres) just north of Edison, according to Floyd Allen of Burlington, grandson of Cap's daughter Flora.. Mrs. Langridge discovered that he proved up on the patent in 1876. He sold 42 acres of the property to Melbourn Watkinson soon after that, but continued living nearby. [see this story from our separate Subscribers Edition about Euphroneous Watkinson and his brother Melbourn.] The 1906 Book notes that when Watkinson bought the land, it was in its raw state, neither diked nor cleared. He eventually bought the entire piece.

Warner's Prairie
      We recently discovered a story in P.R. Jeffcott's book, Blanket Bill Jarman, that pinpoints when Warner decided to start moving east up the Samish valley. [Subscribers can read Jarman's biography in Issue Number 9 of the separate Journal online magazine.] Jeffcott found records that Warner succeeded Jarman after "several months" when Blanket Bill was appointed supervisor for "Road District No. 15 or East Samish" in 1875. Jeffcott notes that in 1877, the 12-mile road was "viewed out" and that Warner was Jarman's only neighbor at the time. Jarman's homestead was roughly at the juncture of the old F&S Grade road and present Prairie road. The property that Warner would become famous for and the namesake of was about four miles east on Prairie road. We do not know if the present road follows the exact original route of that early road from Edison to Warner's Prairie.
      Family records show that the Warner family actually lived at the Edison homestead for about 12 years, which would have them still there until at least 1879, so maybe he tramped the wilderness with his sons until he found just the right spot. We do know that his daughter Charlotte "Lottie" was born on Aug. 17, 1880, so Ellen and the children still at home may have moved to the prairie after that. Eva Warner Tyler's grandson Don Sorenson and Flora Warner Allen Miller's grandchildren, Mrs. Eileen Hazel Allen Beitler and Floyd Allen, still live in Skagit county. Mrs. Langridge, whose grandmother Mary was one of the Warner girls and whose grandfather Arthur Silas Landon was from the neighboring family, has found several land titles for the family but the exact time for their final move is still up in the air. Family members generally agree that Cap's family was living in a proverbial little house on the prairie by 1882. Ellen and the girls must have been overjoyed the next year when Amariah Kalloch claimed property nearby to the north and then summoned his family out from Kansas. The family members arrived at the Atlanta Home Hotel on Samish island just after Christmastime of 1883, along with their famous uncle, Isaac S. Kalloch, former mayor of San Francisco. John Warner's cousin John Connell also took up a claim near them. Connell is in the Whatcom county census for both 1870 and 1880, so he may have stayed around Cap all that time since 1849. The eleventh and last Warner child, Della, was born at the Prairie house in 1883. Five years later, another settler named Smith O. Allen filed a claim nearby and he married daughter Flora Warner in 1889, the year before her mother died at age 45.
      John's son George Warner, who was born while the family lived near the Thompson river in 1863, returned to the Spuzzum area of the Fraser river and married there. He apparently married a second time to Ella Carver of Sterling in 1888. Son Charles seems to be the one who was most interested in the property on what would soon be called Warner's Prairie. A family story says that it was he who found the original property, but asked his father to come farm it because Charles was not cut out for farming. But that does not quite fit the timeline. Charles was born in 1867 in Whatcom, so he would have been only ten when Warner was cutting the road through the valley. Or the family story could have been correct and Cap could have just been squatting on some other land until Charles found the final property in 1880, when he was 14. Still another story, from the book, Skagit Settlers, says that:

      Cap always maintained that he spotted the prairie where he made his home and to which he gave his name when he was on top of Mount Baker, looking back across the forests. At that time it was deep in the wilderness four or five miles farther up the Samish Valley than Jarman Prairie.
Regardless, we know that Charles paid $1.25 per acre for it on August 1889 upon "proving up," even though he was logging in Aberdeen at the time. The patent is dated Aug. 24, 1891 and bears the signature of President Benjamin Harrison. From 1885 on, he also headed up crews that logged Mortimer Cook's timber claims for the Cook shingle mill at old Sedro by the Skagit river. In August 1890, Charles started one of the first saloons in new Sedro with partner Billy Todd, who was also an early pioneer, settling in Mount Vernon in 1881. Todd married Cap's daughter, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Warner on Feb. 15, 1888. Like his brother George, Charles went back to British Columbia to marry Louise Yates, the daughter of a Scotsman who worked for the Hudson's Bay Co. in Hope when the Warners originally lived near there. Although he was generally known for being ambitious, energetic and popular, Charles committed suicide on January 4, 1907. Family members have marveled that so many of the children in the family have such an Asian cast to their faces in family photos.

Cap Warner, postmaster, road builder and rural leader
(Warner sisters 1947)
Click for full size. The Territorial Daughters of Sedro-Woolley went by bus on Aug. 22, 1947, to Belfair, Washington to spend the day with "The Warner Girls." Seated left to right: Mary Warner Landon, Eva Warner Tyler, Flora Warner Allen Miller. Standing: Adele Warner Urfer, Lottie Warner McGinnis.

      The family memory is that when Charles started logging away from home he deeded the homestead over to his mother. But that seems to counter the record above. Back in the mid-1880s, Cap had become pretty much the lord of his proverbial domain. No one has a definitive answer for why these prairies were formed in the heavily forested Skagit Valley, but we hope that a reader might be able to explain them. Some say that Indians a few generations back burned the patches purposely for agricultural purposes. Cap soon cultivated grain and peas and raised cattle for the market in Sedro and Woolley, especially after construction started on the three railroad lines in 1888. Ellen was noted for her hospitality; their doors were thrown open to those living up the Skagit river or Samish river watersheds who traveled to LaConner or Edison for supplies and could not get home the same day. For the first few years, neighbors were scarce, no matter how much Cap praised his forest haven. He took his team and wagon to Edison and LaConner for supplies for the other families who settled nearby, and brought their mail back with him. In 1884, a post office was established and he was the first postmaster, bringing the mail up from Edison on the road he had originally cut through with Jarman. When the settlers arrived in bunches, starting in 1885, he also helped organize the first school district. They were quite self-sufficient on the farm, leaving it only on holidays and special occasions. Ethel Van Fleet Harris and Nina Cook both noted that the Warner family with their flock of kids trekked down to the river for the first full fledged 4th of July picnic in 1886. Nina, Mortimer's younger daughter, was very taken with the family, and her sister was probably introduced to the site of her own timber claim by Charles, when he logged for her father.
      After Ellen died in 1890, Cap grieved and then set about making a reputation as a road supervisor in north and west Skagit county. We have found records of his road work going back to 1875-77 with Jarman and again in 1883 for Road District #36 in what was then still Whatcom county. By 1891 he had been named road inspector for Skagit county, the south half of Whatcom, which split off in November 1883. The smaller children were cared for by their elder siblings who still lived at the farm, except for Eva, 15, who went to live with her sister, Lizzie Warner Todd, and her husband. In 1898, when he was 72, Cap married a widow, Jennie Cooper Arnold. We do not know her relation to Skiyou pioneer George Arnold, if there was any. Cap had one last bit of excitement in his life when he ran for coroner in the fall of 1902, but he ran as a Democrat and got snowed under in the Republican blizzard. He died on Dec. 4, 1902, at the Sedro-Woolley home of daughter Lizzie. He is buried at Union Cemetery in Sedro-Woolley, beside Ellen and Charles. After his father died, Charles sold the Warner's Prairie property. Fifty years later, all that remained of those early days was a group of four hickory trees that Cap had planted. Dave and Helen Manier, who live across the road a ways, tell us that two of the trees are still standing.

      As we explained above, this is a work in progress and will be updated soon. We have much more information about the Warner family and their beloved prairie, which we will share in an upcoming chapter. We want to thank the many Warner family members who researched and shared wonderful information, especially Mary Ellen Langridge. Meanwhile, we are hoping that other relatives can contribute details and that readers who are familiar with the area around the three prairies of northern and western Skagit county will also email us. And we welcome additions or corrections from those familiar with Indian history in the Northwest.


Warner Descendants
      Candace Wellman, a volunteer researcher for the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies in Bellingham, has communicated with descendants of the Indian family of Warner's wife, Ellen. As she notes, "Ellen's facial features continue to repeat today and remind family members of their Nlaka'pamux heritage."[Return]

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Story posted on Aug. 2, 2002, last corrected on April 15, 2008
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