Site founded Sept. 1, 2000. We passed 1.5 million page views on March 3, 2007
These home pages remain free of any charge. We need donations or subscriptions to continue.
Please pass on this website link to your family, relatives, friends and clients.

(2 girls and logger)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Free Home Page Stories & Photos
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

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

(Click to send email)

Ethel Van Fleet Harris remembers
her family's early days

Excerpted from John Conrad's 1968 Pioneer Picnic memorialist notes,
and an address by Ethel Van Fleet Harris to the Sedro-Woolley Rotary club
(Ethel Van Fleet)
Ethel Van Fleet, 1931

      Poppa and Momma [Emmett and Eliza Van Fleet] were very young when they came here. They came across country from Pennsylvania to San Francisco by train, then to Portland on the little steamer Oregon. They had to take another small boat to Kalama, then they went north by logging train to Tacoma. A boat took them to Seattle, where they caught another steamer to the Skagit river where a gold rush was on because of the Ruby Creek discovery. When Poppa and Momma came up the Skagit river, Momma was 23 years old and was the only woman among the 40 men aboard.
      Since there was no development of farms along the river, the boat stopped at the Sterling dock, where there was a J.B. Ball Logging Camp. Poppa left Momma there for four days while went upriver [about four miles] to what was then Benson creek [now Hansen creek], just above the present site of Steelhead Club Park. He then went up the creek about a mile to make a claim on 160 acres of tall timberland. Poppa always said that 160 acres was all that he would ever want. He had only his two hands to work with, no oxen or animals because first you had to grow feed for forage to keep them.
      Poppa picked an area of higher ground and built a cabin of split cedar. He had to pick higher ground because the Indians had told him that an early flood of the area had gone from mountain to mountain. From marks on the trees, that flood must been a good four feet higher than even the later famous 1909 flood [in an area called Skiyou, east of future Sedro-Woolley].

Learning to live around Indians
      Just after the cabin was built, two Indians came to visit Poppa and they were MAD. One was a chief who talked real deep in his voice and guttural. He said what he thought, then the other Indian, [who we called] Injun Johnny, told Poppa what the first one said.
      According to Injun Johnny, the chief wanted my parents to go away. He claimed that the land belonged to him, that it had belonged to his foregathers and that it was Indian land. Poppa told them that he would raise potatoes and trade them to the Indians for fish. They went away and didn't bother us again but Momma was scared. Even though the Indians seemed to like my parents there were times when we had real scares from them. One time Poppa went to Mount Vernon to get some cows and he was gone longer — driving them on the trail alongside of the [Skagit] river — than he had expected to be. Momma got sick. She was in the house, in bed, when an Indian came in the door. He asked if she was sick and asked where her husband was. She told him. He later came back with his wife and daughter.

(Eliza Van Fleet, 1931)
Eliza Van Fleet, 1931. Both photos courtesy of LaRayne Van Fleet

      You know, those Indians tried to help her. While the daughter got down by the stove and blew all the ashes out of it, the [father] went out in the yard and cut down a tree, cut it up into firewood and stacked it behind the stove for Momma. The thing that helped her the most was that the Indian found out that Poppa was only two more days down the trail; he'd been away a week. When Poppa knew that the Indians really liked him was when they took him through the woods, around the cabin, and showed him the deadfall traps they had for animals so he wouldn't get hurt by them. The traps were built so that a log came slamming down to trap the animal when stepped on.
      The Indians used to cook in their tightly woven baskets. They would heat rocks in fire, then put them in a basket with meat and water. when the water stopped boiling they added another hot rock and in this way they cooked their meat. They used to trap fish on the river with pickets set into a "V" so fish would swim in but could not get back out. When they wanted fish they'd just wade in and throw them back on the bank. Oh! they seemed to have a good time doing it.
      Another Indian used to trap the most beautiful beaver around the area that Momma had ever seen. Although he couldn't speak English and Momma couldn't speak Indian, he would shove open the door of the cabin and come in with a beaver strapped over his shoulder. She would feel the pelt and pet the beaver carcass and explain how pretty she thought it was. Finally the Indian would go away.
      Another time Momma was scared was when Indians came to visit with their dogs along and they were stamping in the flowers and she did not like it. She told them to keep their dogs out of the flowers, please. You know, those Indians went out and beat all those dogs to death and threw their carcasses on the logs.
      The Indians, before the white men came and stopped them, were in separate tribes up and down the river and they were continually at war with each other. It seemed that when one man killed a man of another tribe, someone would know who did it and would want to get even. They would not kill the Indian who was guilty; they thought that was too easy on him. They would want to catch and kill someone in his family who was close to him. The Indians didn't like it either when white man's laws made them punish the guilty person.
      There seemed to be a lot of cougars around in those days. I remember Poppa saying that he hardly ever shot a deer that didn't have long cougar scratches down its back. And one winter he shot seven deer for us. The worst thing about life in those days, according to Momma, was the loneliness of living in the wilderness. Neither she nor Poppa were used to it, and although neighbors were within a couple of miles it was really an occasion when someone visited. We made a big thing out if it.
      Early day farming was very profitable in that a person could sell anything they raised to the logging camps. They wanted fresh food.
      Another practice in those days was that anyone might bring you the mail. Mail was sent up river with anyone who might be coming up this way from Mount Vernon or Sterling. Another type person, or traveler, who was also much appreciated was the itinerant minister. They would travel afoot or horseback everywhere and would preach in farmhouses, logging camp bunkhouses, schools or anywhere. The ministers said that in preaching to the loggers they always got a silver dollar from each man.

First school
      The first school in our area was in a logging camp bunkhouse [at Sterling]. The second year was the old Batey place. The first school started with a budget of $50. Using $40 for the teacher's salary, the other $9.75 was spent on slates, equipment and supplies. They needed 14 students to start the first school and since there weren't that many children, the first class had a young married woman, Mrs. George Wicker, enrolled as one of the pupils.
      This first school was a trifle rustic with bench board along the walls for desks and benches along them for the students to sit upon. Facilities for the children amounted only to a trail to the woods, one for boys, another trail for girls. There were no out buildings at first. and for water they simply sent one of the older boys down the hill with a basket and they gave the children a drink from the long handled dipper. When they needed more room, they built a room upstairs and the first teacher — a wonderful old gentleman named William Bell, used to run up and down stairs teaching both groups.

(Ethel Van Fleet and Maggie Moore)
This photo of Ethel is with a woman named Maggie Moore. We have no record of her and we hope that a reader will know about her.

      About 1890 the people started settling in Sedro. Boats were docking near the southern end of Township street, and there was a nice hotel with a dance hall and a billiard room, located where the city library was later built (1968 location of the new high school gym).

      [Journal ed. note: that was the Hotel Sedro, which burned in several fires, finally to the ground in 1897.]Unfortunately, many of Ethel Van Fleet Harris's writings have been lost. Her parents came here in 1880 during the Ruby Creek gold rush and they were the first actual family in the area of future Sedro. We urge anyone with old clippings of her stories, or scans of photos, to share copies with us. We do not need nor do we ask for your originals.

Links, background reading and sources
      See the Table of Contents of Issue 39 for the links to these stories in the Van Fleet family saga about their settlement in the Skiyou district east of Sedro in 1880 and their family back in Pennsylvania.

Story posted on July 20, 2002, last updated May 20, 2007 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 39 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

Return to the new-domain home page
Links for portals to subjects and towns
Newest photo features
Search entire site
(bullet) See this Journal website for a timeline of local, state, national, international events for years of the pioneer period.
(bullet) Did you enjoy this story? Remember, as with all our features, this story is a draft and will evolve as we discover more information and photos. This process continues until we eventually compile a book about Northwest history. Can you help?
(bullet) Remember; we welcome correction & criticism.
(bullet) Please report any broken links or files that do not open and we will send you the correct link. With more than 550 features, we depend on your report. Thank you.
(bullet) Read about how you can order CDs that include our photo features from the first five years of our Subscribers Edition. Perfect for gifts.

You can click the donation button to contribute to the rising costs of this site. You can also subscribe to our optional Subscribers-Paid Journal magazine online, which has entered its seventh year with exclusive stories, in-depth research and photos that are shared with our subscribers first. You can go here to read the preview edition to see examples of our in-depth research or read how and why to subscribe.

You can read the history websites about our prime sponsors
Would you like information about how to join them?

(bullet) Jones and Solveig Atterberry, NorthWest Properties Aiken & Associates: . . . See our website
Please let us show you residential and commercial property in Sedro-Woolley and Skagit County 2204 Riverside Drive, Mount Vernon, Washington . . . 360 708-8935 . . . 360 708-1729
(bullet) Schooner Tavern/Cocktails at 621 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, across from Hammer Square: web page . . . History of bar and building
(bullet) Oliver Hammer Clothes Shop at 817 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 82 years.
(bullet) Joy's Sedro-Woolley Bakery-Cafe at 823 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 82 years.
(bullet) Check out Sedro-Woolley First section for links to all stories and reasons to shop here first
or make this your destination on your visit or vacation.
(bullet) Are you looking to buy or sell a historic property, business or residence?
We may be able to assist. Email us for details.
(bullet) Peace and quiet at the Alpine RV Park, just north of Marblemount on Hwy 20
Park your RV or pitch a tent by the Skagit River, just a short drive from Winthrop or Sedro-Woolley

Looking for something special on our site? Enter name, town or subject, then press "Find" Search this site powered by FreeFind
    Did you find what you were seeking? We have helped many people find individual names or places, so email if you have any difficulty.
    Tip: Put quotation marks around a specific name or item of two words or more, and then experiment with different combinations of the words without quote marks. We are currently researching some of the names most recently searched for — check the list here. Maybe you have searched for one of them?
Please sign our guestbook so our readers will know where you found out about us, or share something you know about the Skagit River or your memories or those of your family. Share your reactions or suggestions or comment on our Journal. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to visit our site.

View My Guestbook
Sign My Guestbook
Email us at:
(Click to send email)
Mail copies/documents to Street address: Skagit River Journal, 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, WA, 98284.