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Skagit River Journal

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Steamboat Dan Benson, Jeremiah and Steven
Julia Benson and Henry Yesler of Seattle
F.E. Wyman of Hamilton/Thomas McCormick family

      The moral of this story is: sign the guestbook at the next museum you visit and list your ancestors and your current address. You may be rewarded, just as Yvonne Hauan was this year when she visited the Sedro-Woolley Museum and noted her relationship to Dan Benson. By December of 2001 she now has a much more complete file on her family and she has found a cousin she did not know she had.
      Steamboat Dan Benson was one of the earliest settlers in the Skiyou area. In fact, Hansen creek was originally named Benson creek after Dan's family. Dan's father, Stephen Benson, moved here with Dan and another son, Jeremiah, sometime in 1878. Pioneer Eliza Van Fleet noted in her diary that when she and husband Emmett moved to their Skiyou homestead in 1880, Jerry and Stephen were their nearest white neighbors [1906 Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish counties, p. 458]. Later in the diary, Eliza recalls when she shot a mountain lion on their farm and scooped up her baby Eva and ran over to the Benson homestead, "a half a mile away." That would place them about where the property of Stan and Anne and Pam Nelson is today, to the east of the creek. She also noted that Dan's wife was named Mary and that they had a young son named George, age 12.

Benson family dates here from 1861
      We know very little about Stephen. He was born in New York state in 1796 and died in 1889, and is buried in the Mount Vernon cemetery between the graves of his son Jeremiah (usually called Jerry) and granddaughter Hannah, Jerry's daughter. Hannah married Adolph Behrens, the first government mail carrier upriver and also a relative of the Wulff and Leggett families of Utopia.
      Jeremiah was the first family member to emigrate to Washington territory. According to Marjorie Rhodes in the book, Notes on Pioneers of Puget Sound, Jeremiah crossed the plains from Michigan in 1859. Seattle Historian Clarence Bagley noted that he lived first in Butte County, California, from October 1859 to 1861, when he came to Seattle. His obituary lists him as a native of Saginaw, Michigan, born there on May 11, 1836. He moved to the Skagit river in 1878 and then returned to Seattle in 1878. He died in 1907 in Brownsville, the logging village that once stood near Silverdale. In the meantime, he more or less adopted the half-breed daughter of Seattle pioneer Henry Yesler, but that will come up later in the story.

(F.E. Wyman store, Birdsview)
      F.E. Wyman, Dan Benson's nephew, built this general store near the Skagit river in Birdsview in 1890. He went on to build a dry goods store in Hamilton, was mayor there, and later edited the Everett Daily Herald.

Steamboat Dan navigates the Skagit, then the gold bug bites
      Daniel was born in Saginaw in 1845 and followed Jeremiah to the territory in 1871. He was a civil war veteran who enlisted in 1862 in Co. H of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Yvonne Hauan has found records that he mustered out as a corporal at Galveston, Texas, on 22 Jul 1865. His obituary notes that he distinguished himself for bravery but never became a member of the G.A.R., Grand Army of the Republic. After the war he married Mary Ellen Kile in Kankanee, Illinois, in 1866.
      His 1900 obituary states that for eighteen years Capt. Benson ran as master of Puget sound steamers, notably the Chehalis, City of Quincy, George E. Starr, Josephine and the Eliza Anderson. Unfortunately, we do not know which years those encompassed. Another obituary says: "The dead man is an old time Puget Sound Steamboat master, having been employed an nearly all the old time craft. He was master of the old Merwin, Lilly, Louise and various other stern wheelers that plied out of Seattle to the upriver towns. We also do not know when the family moved to the Skagit river but we suspect that Daniel moved first, maybe after discovering the upper river when he was on one of the sternwheelers. One obituary notes that he planted an orchard on the family property sometime before 1880. That same story states that his wife Mary and son George came to the Skagit in August 1880 and that "about 1882 they had another son named Orville." We know from Eliza Van Fleet's diary that George donated labor to the county highway section between the Batey ranch near Sterling to Skiyou in 1884.

This is a "place-holder story." It was originally posted back in 2002 on our original domain, and since then we have discovered many more details about the families whose stories are interwoven. We plan to completely update and extend the story by 2010. For now, we leave it in its original state. We hope that readers and descendants of the family will suggest ideas and provide copies of photos and documents that will illuminate the story when we update it.

      We do know for sure that Daniel was bit by the Klondike gold bug in 1898. It was there that he was killed in a freak mining accident in 1900 when he was just 55 years old. The most complete story about the family is in the Seattle Post Intelligencer of Feb. 25, 1900, page 6. The story says that Daniel met his death on Feb. 15 in the Treadwell mine on Douglas island. He was blasting in a shaft or tunnel when an explosion jarred loosed a hanging rock that crashed down about 25 feet onto his head. He died instantly. He had been employed in the mine since September 1899 and the story marks his original departure from Seattle as July 1898. His body was brought down on one of the supply steamers, the Dirigo, which also brought miners and their families home from the gold district. The story notes that he was to be buried in the Lakeview cemetery, in a section we now know to have been devoted to G.A.R. veterans. The story lists his family's address as 912 Lenora street, so he may have moved them down to Seattle near or at the same time that brother Jeremiah returned in 1892. When the Financial Panic hit the west coast in 1893, many homesteaders gave up their farms in the river districts and headed towards the cities.

Julie Benson and Henry Yesler
      The Bensons were related to several frontier families in both King and Skagit counties. Probably the most famous is the most controversial and the hardest to pin down. Julia Benson was born in 1855, but did not originally have that last name. She was born to the daughter of Chief Curley or Curly of the Duwamish tribe. According to her obituary in 1907, her father was Henry Yesler, who built the first sawmill in Seattle in 1853. Some histories profile him as the grand old pioneer; other writers such as William Speidel point his foibles. Regardless of who is right, we do know from all those books that he was affiliated with Chief Curly, whose name was also translated as Su-quardle.
      David "Doc" Maynard was promoting Seattle as a future port when Yesler arrived in town in October 1852. Seattle was then a quiet village on Elliott Bay. Maynard knew that the town needed a mill if it was to grow. Yesler had little experience in the field, but he did have a financial angel back in Massillon, Ohio. So Maynard and another Seattle pioneer, Carson Boren, gave him a couple dozen lots of choice waterfront property. Within three years Maynard and Yesler were feuding. Maynard had chosen Chief Sealth of the Suquamish tribe as his native American friend. Yesler chose Chief Curly. The two chiefs were also feuding.
      Meanwhile, Yesler's wife, Sarah, was still back home at Massillon and would not join him in Seattle until July 1858. And on June 12, 1855, a daughter was born out of wedlock to the daughter of Chief Curly. As the 1907 obituary notes, Julia Yesler Intermela was commonly known as Yesler's daughter. There was no registration of birth back in the 1850s; in fact, Seattle was not incorporated as a city until 1869. Although her death certificate has a blank for the father's name, Ohio is given as his birthplace. Although Yesler was actually born in Maryland, he had lived much of his early life in Ohio and came from there to the west coast.
      The 1870 Federal census lists a daughter of Chief Curly in his household who was 30. That same census has a household headed by Jeremiah S. Benson 34, age 34, with girls, Julia Benson, age 15, female, and Hannah Benson, age 5. Hannah is listed in the 1907 obituary as Julia's half sister, so Jeremiah and his wife apparently adopted Julia, at least informally. The 1871 Territorial census includes a H.L. Yesler with Julia Benson age 15, female, race half-breed, house servant, born in Washington territory. The 1907 obituary states that Julia's mother died in 1872 and that Julia went to California with Charles B. Pierce, a business associate of Yesler's.
      David Wilma of has conducted much of the research on Julia along with her great-granddaughter Kathie Zetterberg, who now lives in the Seattle area. In a story on that website, we find:

Not much is known of Julia's life after 1872. Julia married Charles L. Intermela in 1880 (or perhaps 1890, the records are not consistent). Her daughter (Kathie Zetterberg's grandmother) Elsie was born on January 14, 1892, in Mount Vernon. In the 1900 census, Julia (44 years old) is enumerated in the household of Charles (51 years) along with Elsie (8 years) [Kathie's grandmother] and Charles Jr. (6 years), in Port Townsend, Washington. [Ed. note: Read the whole Benson-Yesler story at the link above. Type in "Julia Benson" in the search box.]
      Finally, there is some irony in the Yesler-Benson story. Speidel explained in his book, Sons of the Profits, why he changed his mind and decided that Yesler was not the grand old man of Seattle. In a chapter called The Bastard, he notes that Yesler, just as Julia, was born out of wedlock.
      Jeremiah died in the same year that Julia did, on July 9. His obituary is rather slim, but it notes that he moved to Brownsville in 1892 and lived there until his death. This is where we learned that his father Stephen was born in New York and his mother Mary was born in Holland. It also notes that he was survived by his daughter, Hannah Behrens, a brother, John, of Avon, Washington, and a sister, Mary McCormick (misspelled McCormach), of Saginaw, Michigan. We know very little about John except that the community of Baker [later Concrete] built a schoolhouse on his property near the Baker river in 1891. The obituary does not mention his brother, George, who moved from the Skagit area to Spokane sometime in the 1890s. We will share more about Mary's family below.

Family connection with Hamilton and Avon
      Stephen Benson's only daughter, Mary Ann Benson, lived in Saginaw, Michigan, and never moved here, but her sons did and they made a significant impact on the Skagit Valley. The oldest son was F.E. Wyman, from her first marriage. He apparently moved here sometime in the late 1880s. His first business was a general store at Birdsview that was two stories in height and a very sophisticated building for those early days. The 1889 federal census for Skagit county lists Jeremiah Benson and F.E. Wyman living together. He later had a dry goods store on Maple street in Hamilton, which he eventually sold to the Russell family. He was elected mayor of Hamilton for a term of 1902-03.
      The next record of him shows that he was editor for a short time of the Everett Daily Herald in 1903 and then was editor again in 1906 when the Illustrated History book was written. By 1914 he was back in Hamilton, where he was a shareholder of the new Hamilton State Bank, along with the Slipper brothers.
      Mary Ann had two sons by her second husband, John McCormick. Namesake John almost made it here but his wife's family moved to Newberg, Oregon, and she did not want to leave them for the unknown Washington Territory.
      Tom McCormick did come to Hamilton, in 1890 at age 23. His biography in the 1906 Illustrated History book says that his father John was sailor who was born in Dublin, Ireland, and was living with his son at the time while the mother was back in Saginaw. After working in the woods for six months at Hamilton, he took pre-empted a claim on Grandy creek along with a timber claim near Hamilton in 1892. He suffered an unexplained injury three years later and was hobbled enough that he looked for a less strenuous business.
      He began a stage route from North Avon to Mount Vernon. The original town of Avon, just west of the grand band of the Skagit river, was a temperance village. When the Seattle & Northern rail route skirted the town a mile north in 1890, enterprising merchants started a decidedly non-temperate town called North Avon, which was connected to the old one by a board sidewalk. Tom McCormick understood that a drayage business was needed to transfer goods from the train to the growing village of Mount Vernon, four miles south. He quickly prospered and bought a livery barn in the latter town.
      After two years in the livery business, he sold his Hamilton timber claim and bought five acres near Avon, where he built a "neat and commodious house," hoping that he could encourage his brother and family to move up from Oregon. An inscription on the photo of the house that Yvonne Hauan loaned us reads: "For Brother Johnnie. Taken September 11, 1899. North Avon, Washington." Tracing the provenance of the photo, Yvonne explains that it was passed down to John's daughter, Erma McCormick Stewart, Yvonne's grandmother. Tom kept his drayage business and added ten acres of timberland that adjoined his farm, and lived permanently on the farm from December 1903 onwards. The biography notes that he had about an acre of fruit trees and raised oats on most of the remaining land. It also says that he owned a number of driving horses, several head of Jersey cattle and Poland China hogs.
      Tom married Elnora Noble in 1900, just a few months before his uncle Daniel was killed in the mine accident. An interesting item in the biography notes that her father was captain of a government steamboat back in Iowa and was living in Rampart, Alaska, in 1906, while her mother was an English immigrant who was then living in Marysville. The McCormicks had two sons, George Fremont, born on Oct. 15, 1901, and Arthur William, born on May 30, 1904. They were not related to the David L. McCormick family, who were farmers in the Harmony and LaConner area.
      One Benson that we have not been able to connect is a Ben Benson who was mentioned in local newspaper in the 1890s as having worked on the Quick ranch upriver. Does that ring bells for anyone? The final Benson connection that Yvonne supplied is the obituary of Oliver Benson, who died in Concrete on Jan. 28, 1997. We know little about him other than that he was born on Dec. 22, 1917. Yvonne assumes that he was the son of Dan's youngest boy, Orville. We hope that a reader will have information about Orville, Ben or any other members of this fascinating extended family. Or maybe you will be the one to enlighten us about whom Hansen creek is named for? Please email if you do.

(F.E. Wyman store, Birdsview)
      Thomas McCormick built this house near North Avon in the late 1890s. After moving to Hamilton to join his cousins, the Bensons, he had an accident in the woods and moved to North Avon, where he established a drayage business for transporting goods from the Seattle & Northern train to the county seat in Mount Vernon. Photo courtesy of Yvonne Hauan.

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Story posted on May 5, 2002, last updated Feb. 15, 2009
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