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Skagit River Journal

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"Cap" Warner and his Prairie

(Aerial view Warner Prairie)
      This aerial view of the old Warner homestead and part of his orchard is from the collection of Mary Ellen Langridge, a Warner descendant. We believe we are looking south towards Prairie Road in this photo.

By Ray Jordan, Skagit Valley Herald, undated 1962 column
(Warner Family)
Ellen and John Warner and their daughter Minnie, pre-1890. Courtesy of Mary Ellen Langridge

      Turn east off old highway 99 onto the Prairie Road (just south of the Samish State Fish Hatchery), drive approximately five and one-half miles up the winding Samish Valley to a large opening marked by four stately hickory trees standing on the left side of the road and you will be on land once occupied by the Warner family. North of the hickory trees at the base of the low hill can be seen what is left of the old orchard which still bears fruit. Near the orchard sat the Warner pioneer home.
      Warner Prairie is a peaceful place of broad fields encircled by low hills dressed in luxuriant second growth timber. During the summer days deer are often seen feeding in the oat fields, or by moonlight munching apples under the scattered fruit trees. Bear still raid the old Warner orchard. At times, coyotes prowl the fields in full view. Here too, a pre-white Indian village once stood.
      John Madden ("Cap") Warner was a colorful individual who had led an adventurous life. Born in England in 1826, he came to the United States at the age of three with his parents who settled on a homestead in Michigan and raised a large family.
      After being employed for a time on boats plying the Great Lakes young Warner and two companions were lured to California in 1857 by the gold strike. According to family testimony they arrived a little late and found the best diggings already taken, but they had a gay time and gained a lot of experience. Then in 1858 came the gold rush to the Fraser and Thompson Rivers in British Columbia. "Cap" Warner was swept north with it and is said to have made a stake near Spence's Bridge on the Thompson River.

Cap found a future wife in B.C.
then moved to Whatcom, Edison, Prairie
      While here he met and married Ellen Thompson, daughter of Chief Thompson of the Thompson Indian Reservation [they actually married much later]. Eleven children were born to the couple, the last one after moving to Warner Prairie. After an undetermined time in British Columbia, the family moved to Whatcom where "Cap" worked in the coalmines for six years before moving to the vicinity of Edison where he homesteaded.
      After residing here for twelve years he moved to the prairie which bears his name, according to the biography of Charles Warner. We have never been able to ascertain the exact year in which the move to the Prairie was made. Vague records indicate dates ranging from 1872 to 1882.

(Charles Warner Homestead)
Charles Warner's Homestead. Mary Ellen writes: "John Warner standing in doorway, Charles standing next to him, George sitting down, third male unknown. Left to right, Minnie, Mary holding something, Adele holding a doll, Eva, Della holding a doll, and Charlotte. Picture is about 1888."

      One daughter of 87, still living (in 1962), says she thinks that she was seven or eight years old when they moved from Edison. She remembers that the family possessions were dragged on a sled through the green hell to the Prairie after her father had improved the Indian trail and prepared a rude home. She seemed quite clear though, that her sister Charlotte, born in 1880 at Edison. was a "babe in arms" when the trek was made to Warner Prairie.
      Since this child was the last born at Edison, according to family records, it seems that either 1880 or 1881 could have been the correct date for the move. Another living daughter of 86 (in 1962) thinks it was about 1878.
      However, Bureau of Land Management records reveal that several applications for the Warner quarter section were filed by various members of the family beginning as early as 1874 and continuing until 1888 when Charles Warner (son of John), filed for a pre-emption claim. This filing was successful since he received a patent dated August 24, 1891.
      Be as it may, it is well-known that the family squatted there long before this and that John M. ("Cap") Warner was the first white man to settle permanently on the Prairie. For a time the family was entirely alone with the nearest available post office at Edison. A bachelor by the name of Gary Van Rankin was the first neighbor followed by a Jack Connel [John Connell]. After a time, "Cap" secured a post office for the Prairie. His daughter, Mary (Warner) Landon says:

      Father was the first postmaster at Prairie and served many years. On mail days all the neighbors gathered at our house for mail and had dinner with us — sometimes 20, but all were welcome at the Warner home.

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos
(Charles Warner family)
(Flora Warner Allen Miller)
(Minnie Warner.s family)
Far left: Charles Warner Family: Charles, wife Louise (Yates) and Nellie. Taken before Charles death in 1907, one of the sad chapters of the family. After success as a homesteader, owners of a bar in Sedro with his brother-in-law Billie Todd, and head of the crew that cleared off Mortimer Cook's land, he committed suicide in 1907. He had returned to B.C. to seek his wife and after his death his family returned there.. Center: Flora Warner Allen Miller. Right: Minnie Warner Bishop's family, from l to r — top, Bertha, Ellen, Nellie, John; bottom, Minnie, Frank, George, Lottie, husband??. Minnie was the eldest daughter, born on the Thompson river. She filed on her own homestead in 1887 and proved up on it in 1891, after her mother's death.

      In the [1906 book] Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties, page 139, under the date of 1886, may be found the following brief entry: "Mail route 43, 109, Edison to (Warner) Prairie, fourteen miles and back once a week, granted to J.M. Estes $129."
      According to old-timers who knew him well "Cap" Warner was a jovial man who liked company who loved to entertain with tall tales of his adventures. One of his favorites was triggered when anyone asked him how he happened to locate this jewel of a prairie. He always gleefully maintained that while on a trip to Mount Baker, after reaching the top head, gazed down from this lofty perch and saw the sun shining and there that he must have it for his home.
      By now you're wondering how he came by his title of "Cap". We've mentioned before that he had experience on the Great Lakes ships. One daughter says that while making the trip from New York to San Francisco by sailing schooner on route to the told fields he was so busily engaged in trying to aid the ship's captain that he was nicknamed "Captain" and it clung to him for life.
      Ellen Warner, his wife, was a deeply religious woman and a wonderful mother. No better monument to her sterling character could be erected than the legacy handed down by people who knew her, certifying her self-sacrificing nature where her family and friends were concerned. She gave them her all. She passed away in 1891 [June 1890] and was followed by the "Captain" in 1902. At this writing (1962), three daughters are still living.
      We never pass by the four giant hickory trees, stark against the sky in winter, or crowned with green in the summer, without thinking of the Warners and their early years there. Panted by loving hands long before the turn of the century, these silent sentinels stand guard over "Cap" Warner.s prairie paradise.
      (Note — Since this was written in 1962, the old orchard has been removed, but the four hickory trees are still standing as of 1970, and all of Warner girls alive in 1962 are now gone.)


1. Spence's Bridge
      Spence's Bridge is the modern name for the original town, Cook's Ferry, which was founded in 1861 by Mortimer Cook, founder of Sedro. Cook and Warner met in the gold fields of California and census records seem to indicate that they lived near each other in the town of Rabbit Creek, now LaPorte, in the mid-1850s. Cook came north in 1858 for the Fraser River Gold Rush and Warner may have come with him. Cook and Henry Roeder, founder of Whatcom, were partners in a pack team that transported miners from Bellingham Bay north to the Fraser. We are unsure whether Warner was first to locate on the Thompson River, or if Cook was. erhaps they teamed up together many times and places in B.C. from 1858-1864. We are always a little hesitant to accept at face value the description "daughter of the Thompson River chief" because there are so many such descriptions of young ladies. Perhaps Ellen was a daughter of one of the leaders of the tribal band. We are still seeking substantiation. [Return]

2. Ellen, daughter of . . .
      As we have noted elsewhere, there are many claims of Indian wives being the daughter of Chief (insert name here), especially the chief of this particular tribe. Candace Wellman, a volunteer researcher at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies in Bellingham, has researched this matter and set us straight on the Jordan claim. "[Ellen] was the daughter of "Cunamista," chief of the Cook's Ferry, or Spence's Bridge Band, an area of many villages along the Thompson River up from the confluence with the Fraser. He is well-documented." [Return]

3. Marriage John and Ellen
      As descendant Mary Ellen Langridge explains, from her extensive genealogical research, John and Ellen did not marry until long after they moved to Washington Territory, and after the birth of their ninth child of 11. They married during the time they were shuttling back and forth to the Prairie district from Edison, getting ready for their final move. Langridge has their marriage certificate, which clearly shows that the marriage was certified by a Justice of Peace in Washington Territory, County of Whatcom, Town of Samish, Feb. 4, 1878. [Return]

4. The old Warner Homestead
(Warner hickory trees)
The Warner hickory trees on Ed Hoyt's property.

      Harold "Ed" Hoyt, grandson of Warner.s neighbor, Joseph Hoyt, bought the old Warner homestead. Ed has a keen sense of history and has kept much of the old land pristine. Although the Hoyts took out the old orchard, he has maintained some of the original hickory trees. Please look in the phone book and give him a call before entering the property. [Return]

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Story posted on Dec. 15, 2007, last updated Dec. 29, 2007
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This article originally appeared in Issue 41 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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