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Skagit River Journal

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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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Van Fleets write letter home to the folks
back in Fleetville, Pennsylvania, 1890s

      This is the earliest known photo of the completed Van Fleet house. It was possibly taken at the turn of 20th century. Some have asked if the portion to the right was the original cabin, with the two-story portion to the left being an addition. We are still researching to find out.

By Ray Jordan, undated column, Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times
      Sometime in the 1890s in a cabin in the Skagit Valley this letter was written to a Pennsylvania paper to let the folk back home know how things were in the State of Washington:
Sedro, Wash., Aug. 1, to the Republican newspaper [Scranton, Pennsylvania]
      Am afraid our kind editor has been thinking for some time past that it was about time he received a communication from his faraway western correspondent. If I only possessed the natural talent to write that Uncle Byron has, would not mind writing, and then we all know Uncle Byron, so his letters are interesting and do not have to be "shorn and shaven." We are having an unusually dry summer. Pastures look like they had been scorched, and late planted potatoes are sadly in need of rain which means a great deal as all the lower river, and nearly all the ditched land was still inundated by the overflow of the Skagit River as late as June 4, and vegetables had to be replanted.
      However, the farmers are having fine hay weather, minus the thunder showers which the eastern farmer has to contend with. Sedro celebrated the glorious Fourth this year with rather more patriotic zest than usual, caused perhaps by the lower sister towns not being in condition to entertain visitors an ac-count of damage done by the overflow.
      The Foresters gave the celebration which consisted of an eloquent speech by a leading Forester and singing by fifty little girls in a large bowery tent. The afternoon was taken up by horse racing, ball playing, etc., and ended with a grand ball in the evening. The running or climbing blackberries are very plentiful in all the old logging works and every day one sees men, women and children plodding homeward with their dusky laden pails and occasionally one has a pail of scarlet huckleberries, which grow on high bushes like the marsh huckleberries in Pennsylvania, but these are sourer.
      White people, Indians and bears are quite friendly in the berry patch, Bruin, however, is very wise about his work and does the most of his picking in early morning or evening. These black bears are as harmless as porkers and always run when they hear one approaching unless they have a cub to protect and then only ask for room.

(Aerial view of Fleetville)
This aerial view of Fleetville, Pennsylvania, from shows that it is now a crossing in the road. It was once a market center for Benton Township.

      Ten loads of Indians recently drove up from the reservation near LaConner, camped out and picked berries in this vicinity. They were an independent-looking crowd, evidently untouched by hard times. Local papers report fruit nearly a failure in this (Skagit) county. We will not have many apples but will have loads of prunes and plums, and such plums, surely they rival the eastern peach in quality and excellence. This is also the home for cherries, but peaches and grapes with us are not worthy of cultivation, I close with kind regards for my faraway friends who may chance to read this and best wishes for the Republican.
      —Eliza Van Fleet.
      [Another item, apparently from the same paper follows:]
      "Emmett Van Fleet, formerly of Benton [Township, Pennsylvania], but for some time a resident of Sedna (Sedro) near Puget Sound and within three miles of a mountain deposit of coal, one layer of which is known to be over forty feet thick has just written to friends here that he has killed the third bear of the season. A dog he recently purchased surprised bruin in the cavity of a hollow tree and then returned and insisted that his master should go with him where he found and killed the bear while yet in the cavity. "Its weight was 700 pounds and produced nine gallons of oil. Mrs. Van Fleet occasionally shoots and kills a cougar for pastime, if one ventures to approach her dwelling."

      Journal ed. note: Eliza Van Fleet was one of three Sedro-area pioneer women whose marksmanship with a rifle was noted in pioneer stories. Faerie Cook, the eldest daughter of Mortimer and Nan Cook, old-Sedro pioneers, shot what was described as a cougar in the late 1880s at a spot described as near where the old Bingham-Holland building stands today in downtown Sedro-Woolley, the southwest corner of Woodworth and Metcalf streets.


1. Byron
(Van Fleet gravestone)
Van Fleet Gravestone from Fleetville, Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Sharon Van Fleet Boynton

      Sharon Boynton, a cousin of the Skiyou Van Fleet family who descends from one of Emmett's uncles, explained to us who the mysterious Byron is. "One of Emmett's sisters, Hannah Van Fleet, born Sept. 19, 1830, married Lord Byron Green of Benton [Township, where most of the Van Fleets settled]. They had four children. He served in the Civil War and then settled in Fleetville. He first conducted a general store there, later farmed and was for many years a well known correspondent for the Scranton Republican Newspaper. He was very well known around the country as "By Green." He was active in the G.A.R. [Grand Old Army] post at Factoryville and in the Universalist Church at Fleetville. [Return]

2. Flood
      From Larry Kunzler's Skagit River History website, we learn: "According to COE [Army Corps of Engineers] reports there were 3 floods in 1896. January, June & November. The COE Taylor Report 12/11/1897 stated that "River reportedly was 24 ft on Great Northern Railroad Bridge 6 miles above Mt. Vernon," which was 2 ft and 4 ft above the January and June floods respectively."
      But after combining all the details of the letters above, especially the detail about the lower-river cities being inundated, we conclude that this was a reference to the disastrous floods of May and June 1894, which occurred during the hardest of hard Depression times, as also noted. From a Memorial to Congress, dated Oct. 21, 1895:

      . . . but the overflow in May 1894 and June of that year entailed a direct loss on the people of the Skagit Valley as shown by estimates attached hereto, approximately one-half million of dollars. The town of Mount Vernon was entirely flooded, small boats and rafts navigated the streets, and the people were driven from their homes for safety to the hills. The damage to public and private property was great, and the suffering from exposure and sickness was distressing. All of these overflows have been caused by the ponding of the water in the river, resulting from the obstruction and closing the channels of the North and South Forks, above mentioned. There is comparatively little danger of loss from the overflow in the Winter, but in May and June, when the crops are most promising, the genial weather and hot suns melt the snow in the Skagit which sweeps down with terrible fury completing its destructive mission.

3. Bowery tent
      The Bowery was located in the area of the far southern end of the long block between Metcalf Street and Murdock Street. That is where the Opera House was erected in about 1898, replacing an open-air Bowery tent. In New York City the Bowery gave the English language a synonym for down-and-out. The Bowery in Sedro-Woolley faced State Street, which was then known affectionately or derisively as "Saloon Row." [Return]

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 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

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