(Girl Undercut)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition, where 450 of 700 stories originate
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)
Site founded Sept. 1, 2000. We passed 5 million page views on June 6, 2011
The 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.

George and Dwight Brosseau of Sterling

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2007
(The Brosseaus)
George A. and Edna Brosseau

      Dwight Brosseau was the son of one of the earliest families of Sterling and he is one of the most important Sedro pioneers to me, personally. When I started this project in 1992, the diary of Nina Cook, daughter of Sedro-founder Mortimer Cook, soon led me to her daughter, Barbara Budlong Taggart, one of the most intriguing nonagenarians I have ever met. When I visited her in Rockford, Illinois, she shared with me both stories and photos of Sedro that no one outside her family knew about. She introduced me to author and columnist Frank Wilkeson, but most importantly, she assumed that I was related to Dwight Brosseau. And a decade later, I would discover in a strange way that was I was.
      The whole time I visited her, she called me Brosseau and she kept referring to me that way as we corresponded the next few years until her death. When I returned home, I discovered why. One of the documents she gave me was a letter that Dwight wrote to Nina in 1932, not long before Nina's death. He was her friend when they grew up on the north bank of the Skagit River. Nina lived where Riverfront Park now stands and Dwight lived with his parents near Jesse B. Ball's original logging camp at the village of Sterling, two miles west. They met in 1890 when she was 21 and Dwight was 19, five years after Nina came north with her mother and sister in 1885 to join her father. His letter included some of the most personal and illuminating details about the Cook family that I found. Little did I know that when he wrote the letter, he had qualified as the oldest aviator in the state.
      That same summer I attended the annual picnic hosted by Pete and Anita Smith at my old childhood home in the Utopia district near Minkler Lake. They told me that the daughter of the original builder of the house, James Matthews, had just visited the Smiths two years before, to see her own childhood home for the first time in more than 65 years. She was nearing 80, herself, when she visited and I regretted not meeting her; I was afraid she would pass away before I found her.
      A decade later I received an email from a woman named Lorna Marks, who told me that her mother lived in Utopia as a child and had some photos to share with me. She emailed the photos and when I opened the first one, there was my home. Her mother is Helen Mathews Burns. So Helen and Lorna and I began corresponding. One of the first questions I asked her was how and why her father, a civil war veteran, migrated to Skagit County. The answer: because Dwight's father, George A. Brosseau, and James Mathew had mothers who were sisters, and because George Brosseau urged James to move to the Skagit Valley and buy the farm in Utopia. We had come full circle. So let's see how the Brosseaus became key Sedro pioneers.

Luke and George Brosseau
    Any time, any amount, please help build our travel and research fund for what promises to be a very busy 2011, traveling to mine resources from California to Washington and maybe beyond. Depth of research determined by the level of aid from readers. Because of our recent illness, our research fund is completely bare. See many examples of how you can aid our project and help us continue for another ten years. And subscriptions to our optional Subscribers Online Magazine (launched 2000) by donation too. Thank you.

We recently visited our newest sponsor, Plumeria Bay, which is based in Birdsview, just a short walk away from the Royal family's famous Stumpranch, and is your source for the finest down bedding. See our Journal feature on this local business and learn more details and how to order items at their website.

      George's father, Luke Brosseau, was born in Quebec, Canada, Feb. 29, 1820, and moved at age 18 to New York state, where he became a blacksmith in a livery stable in Chittenango, east of Syracuse and the Finger Lakes. Luke married Jane Hood (she and her sisters were English immigrants) in 1843, a month before Jane's sister, Mary Ann, married Joseph L. Mathews, whose family owned a sawmill and grist mill near Chittenango. George was born there on Dec. 22, 1847; James Hood Mathews was born there three years earlier.
      In 1869, the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railroad hired George as a car inspector, a position he held for 18 years. George married Edna A. Parsons on March 21, 1870, in Adrian, Michigan. Dwight Mahlon Brosseau was born on Jan. 9, 1871, when they lived in Charlotte, Michigan. Mahlon is a name that is repeated in each generation of the family, derived from a family friend who was childless. They named their second son, Frank, (in favor of George's brother), born Jan. 12, 1873, and died in 1879 when the family lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
      For unknown reasons, George moved his family to Seattle in August 1888 (a year after his father died in Michigan), but they soon moved to Tacoma where the Northern Pacific railroad hired him. He had had his fill with the railroads, however, and they soon moved to Coupeville on Whidbey Island, where they rented a farm for a year before they moved to a farm they bought between Sterling and Mortimer Cook's town of Sedro. He bought ten acres of farmland and then added 17 additional acres of timberland, where he planted an orchard, built a six-room house, a barn and a fruit dryer. George's brother Frank soon joined them.
      After selling his shingle mill in Sedro, Mortimer Cook bought the old Sterling store on the west side of Hart's Island in 1889-90 and he hired Dwight Brosseau as his clerk. Edna Brosseau became a historical figure in her own right in 1890 when the twin towns of Sedro gathered to celebrate the Fourth of July in competition with the town of Woolley, which had grown as an upstart a half mile north. The brawny loggers of Sedro stripped all the branches off a 226-foot cedar tree near where the high school stands today. Meanwhile, Edna hosted the ladies of the town and they sewed a U.S. flag 16x40 feet to fly from the tree.
      George became one of the key figures of new Sedro when it was incorporated as a city of the Fourth Class on March 4, 1891. About 250 residents elected George Hopp, editor of the Sedro Press, as the first mayor and elected George Brosseau to the first council along with druggist Albert E. Holland (Cook's former clerk), Albert G. Mosier, Gus Pidde (a saloon owner) and A.A. Tozer, Holland's partner. George was already a member of the school board, elected in 1890 in time for the Sedro Graded School to open on July 28, 1890, on Township Road.
      Down in old Sedro, the original town near Cook's general store consisted primarily of saloons and dance halls that catered to loggers and railroad construction teams. George and Edna were charter members who helped organize the first Presbyterian Church in town and the services were originally held in a building which housed a saloon and bar. George and other men then erected a church building with board walls and the ladies of the congregation sewed a roof out of canvas. We can see how much turnover there was in population locally, after the railroads were completed and the nationwide Depression of the 1890s destroyed the economy, because of an interview with George Brosseau by the editors of the Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties in 1906. Brosseau noted that he and Edna were the only members of the congregation who still lived here. Frank Brosseau died in 1897, a year after the big flood of November 1896 tore through his and George's farms.

Dwight Brosseau's many jobs and eventual career
(Dwight Brosseau)
Dwight Mahlon Brosseau

      The family luckily preserved Dwight Brosseau's resume and it a fascinating collection of tasks and positions that prepared him for his longtime career. He began working at age 14 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a newspaper delivery route and then branched out into street lighting, railroad-car repair and cleaning, steam laundry and a wholesale paper store.
      When George took the NP railroad job in Tacoma in 1888, Dwight briefly worked in a stationery store there, but soon turned to farming in both Coupeville and Sterling. He soon moved to Fairhaven, however, the Bellingham Bay terminus of the new Fairhaven & Southern railroad, where he engaged in longshoring and work for Cooper's Sash & Door Factory. At the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies in Bellingham, you can see a photo of him that year standing in front of Dan Harris's Northern Hotel.
      After a year there, he returned to Sterling where he clerked for Mortimer Cook and ran the Sterling post office, and also worked driving logs down the Skagit River, logged in the nearby woods and cut shingle bolts. Then he tried on a white collar as he went to the county seat in Mount Vernon and clerked for the First National Bank and for the county government in both the Treasurer and Clerk's office. While there he met Mabel Priest, a Wisconsin native, who lived with her widowed mother, Ida. Her late father, William Priest had been a superintendent of schools in Oregon. They married in Mount Vernon on Jan. 6, 1894, and their first child, Olive Mabel, was born in Mount Vernon in 1897.
      The county jobs had sustained them as the country and region slid into a deep Depression starting in 1892-93, but Dwight soon found better pay as a Deep Sea Cook on a 47-ton schooner that sailed between Alaska and Seattle. Then he heard about the gold strike in the Klondike and worked for a mining camp store at Sunrise City in the Kenai district of south-central Alaska, and also worked with a pack train into the area. He apparently failed to strike it rich because by the time that Ollie was born, he was back working from Sterling to Hamilton, selling life insurance, clerking at a dry goods store and working at a shingle mill from late 1897 to 1899.
      In 1900 he moved his young family to New Whatcom, the renamed town of Sehome on Bellingham Bay, where he worked for the Geo. E. Brand Flour, Feed and Grain store. But within a year, he was hired by the Pacific American Fisheries Co., based in Fairhaven and on Eliza Island, which had been formed by consolidation of older, smaller companies the year before. Dwight finally found his calling. Soon he was elevated to become auditor and he worked for the company for the next 37 years. Dwight and Mabel lived in Bellingham for the rest of their lives after 1900 and raised two children there; their second child, George, was born in Bellingham in 1900.

(Mathews and Brosseau family)
      This 1924 photo, presumably taken at Dwight Brosseau's Bellingham home shows these people who we have identified: James Mathews, far left; Dwight M. Brosseau holding a grandchild; Mabel Brosseau, his wife; James's daughters, Josephine and Helen, with Edna and George Brosseau behind them.

George Brosseau and James H. Mathews
      Back in Chittenango, after his service in the Civil War, George's cousin James H. Mathews had owned several successful businesses, including his father's livery stable, a haberdashery, a photography and art business and a grocery. After 23 years of marriage to Mary (Peck) Mathews, during which they had three children, they divorced in 1896. Five years later, James and his brother Fred moved to Handley, West Virginia, where they ran the commissary for George Handley's large coal mine. He stayed there until 1905 and then got itchy feet. George Brosseau advised his cousin about the fertile farmland available in Skagit County and he urged James to move out and settle near the Brosseaus.
      Like many others who moved to the Northwest primarily to get away from someone or something back East, Mathews came out in 1906 and scouted for land with George, who by then knew the upper Skagit County like the back of his hand, as settlers then often said. They soon found the 20 acres where my family lived 40 years later. George helped him obtain the acreage for $4 per acre under a section of the homesteading law that favored veterans. Mathews found a very primitive structure there and soon built a house around that core. Two years later, he returned to West Virginia, determined to bring back a wife to help make the rainy months more palatable.
      When Mathews worked for the coal mine, Dr. George Summers was the company physician. He had an unmarried daughter, Allie Summers. After Mathews returned to Skagit County, Miss Summers soon followed and they married on Aug. 23, 1908, in Sedro-Woolley; he was 64 and she was 29. They were well suited to each other and the Brosseaus helped make her feel welcome in the community. The couple worked hard to clear stumps and make the rich soil tillable and planted an extensive flower garden, and a large varied orchard, the remnants of which was still there when I was a child. In 1911, they had a daughter, Josephine, who died in West Virginia in 1994, after visiting the Utopia farm twice, before her sister did. Our correspondent, Helen Matthews Burns, was born in 1915. Both girls were born on the farm and they treasured the regular visits from the
      Unfortunately, Helen has no memories of her mother. After nearly eight blissful years of marriage, Allie slipped on some ice on the farm in January 1916 and broke her leg. She died a few days later of an embolism, when Helen was just eight months old and Josephine was four. Dr. Summers urged James to send the girls back East to live with him and his wife, who was a nurse, but James declined. Helen says that she and her sister were always happy that he kept them with him. The Brosseaus helped James with the girls, as did the neighbors such as the Atwells in the tight-knit rural community, even after George and Edna Brosseau moved to Bellingham to live near Dwight and Mabel.
      The family lived together on the Utopia farm for ten more years, but in September 1926, the girls' world was turned upside down. Helen attended Utopia School, a mile away, and Jo attended the high school in town, and one day they returned home to find James unresponsive in his Morris chair near the stove. He died four days later and the neighbor Atwell family called Dwight, who came and picked up the girls. Dwight and George settled the estate as guardians for the girls and both Jo and Helen continued on in Bellingham schools while living with Dwight and Mabel at their Baker Street home.
      Life with the Brosseaus was radically different than at home in Utopia. The main difference was that there were no children living nearby and Dwight's children were grown and moved away from home. The biggest difference was that Dwight and Mabel were devout Pentecostals and they viewed James's upbringing as being too "worldly." James was a Presbyterian while living in the East but later became a Unitarian. Regardless, the girls loved their guardians very much and soon felt right at home. They especially enjoyed having a grandmotherly figure at home there; Mabel's widowed mother, Ida Priest, lived with them. Less than two years later, however, Dr. Summers convinced the Brosseaus to put the girls on the train and send them back to West Virginia, which would be their home from thereon out. They left in June 1928, as soon as school was out, and three months after George Brosseau died.

Dwight the oldest aviator in Washington
(Dwight in cockpit)
Dwight Brosseau in cockpit, 1932

      Two years after the Mathews girls left, Dwight became an aviator at age 60, taught by pilot R.C. Graham. In an undated 1936 newspaper article, he explained what lay behind his decision:
      "I clearly remember the first electric light in my home city [probably Grand Rapids, Michigan], the first telephone, the transition from course [?] lines to cable, the development of the railroad equipment from hand brakes to air and from candle lamps to lard oil lamps in the coaches, in the days when the 17- and 18-foot boxcars were common. It was probably those things that aroused in me a great interest in all new inventions and created in me a desire to try anything, at least once. I remember when old men were taking their first ride on a railroad train and were not quite sure that the device was safe."
      Brosseau explained that this same feeling occurred when he took his first airplane ride but now he feels like a veteran and never has the least fear of climbing into the atmosphere. "Because I have always had a desire to be abreast of the changing times, it was perfectly natural that the sight of Mr. Graham's plane passing to and from the city soon had my blood on fire to try it once, especially after making a book and magazine study of the mechanics and the laws involved. The first ride taken just before dark on July 1, 1928, was one of the most thrilling in my experience because the city lights were visible, making a beautiful sight as we passed over. I still recall that I saw but two Neon signs, another invention that was broadcast almost in a day.
      "For a few years I flew some, first as a passenger and then, after a test on the controls I secured a student license and took a real interest in flying and handling the ship for the definite good I received mentally. As a hobby it is the best ever, always settling my nerves and nearly every flight brings with it interesting problems that occupy my mind for days and often weeks. I found the ground school course, as given to a class of young men and women, almost as interesting as flying.
      "It seems inevitable that in time . . . [some type clipped off] posed, in 1932, that Mr. Graham give me some lessons in landing. Then the game became still more fascinating and I was fully convinced that it was for the old man as well as the younger. Many things, however, interfered with regular practice which finally resulted in my accumulating a total of about 35 hours of flying experience before making a solo flight. I now know that the taking off of the plane into the air and bringing it back safely to earth is one of the most wonderful experiences a person could have. It is 'pep' for the tired business man and more should indulge. Looking down from above, that little game of golf appears sordid."
      Brosseau believes it is quite a transition in one generation from plowing 40-acre fields, milking a dozen cows on Whidby [Whidbey] Island in 1888, working in camps, mills and country stores on the Skagit River in the early '90s, a couple of pioneer years in Alaska in the gold rush of '96 and '97 and then 35 years of continuous service in Bellingham with the Pacific American Fisheries to have the pleasure of piloting a modern air eagle, to look down upon the scenes of youth and the early struggles and hardships — that is life.

(Flying Brosseau family)

(from a following article, referring to family members taking flight)
      The Brosseaus constitute the only family of six members representing four generations to have flown over Bellingham, their hometown. Not only have they been up, but all are aviation enthusiasts, from Virginia and Dwight Gilfilen (grandchildren through his daughter) to their great-grandmother, who came West in 1864 when General U.S. Grant, now fading into the historic limbo of the past, was the hero of the hour. She is Mrs. Ida Priest, 76, of 610 Baker Street, and recalls vividly coming to the West in that romantic way now glorified on the talking screen, the covered wagon.
      She is very much air-minded. In fact, she said if she had to make the trip again, she would prefer the airplane to the mule team. Although 76, this active and well read old lady does not live in her yesterdays. This up-to-date great-grandmother is so much a part of the twentieth century that she doesn't even get a thrill going up in the air. Most women of her age, if they are fortunate to enjoy good health for that long, would throw up their hands and "Alack a day" at the suggestion, but her perish the thought. When she was up, the ship seemed to be barely moving to her, and she wondered why they "didn't step on it," she said. She enjoyed the hop immensely. . . .
      R.C. Graham, proprietor of Graham Field, commenting on the rarity said that to his knowledge no man in the state is learning to fly at that age. To begin with, he explained, it is quite an honor to be able to pass the strict physical examination required of a student pilot. Brosseau renewed his student pilot license the other day after passing another test. He could pass for 40 any day and appears younger than some men half his age.
      Brosseau has no ambition to become a commercial pilot. Perhaps he might have, if he were a younger man, he explained, but not now. Just doing it as a hobby and for recreation, he adds. He loves to fly and has been zooming among the clouds now for eight or nine hours. Graham paid Brosseau a compliment when he said the student is a very consistent flyer, very steady, makes no sideslips nor dips and does turns, banks and figures-eight perfectly. "A very apt pupil is this member of the business world at 60."
      Brosseau reads and lives aviation. It is his hobby. Also he is proud that five of his family, all living in Bellingham, have had the pleasure of flying above their hometown. It was a week ago that he took the air with his wife's mother and Graham, as pilot. She was the last of the Brosseaus to go flying. . . . She said that if she had to cross the plains again she would prefer the airplane to the mule team. For one thing, it would be a lot safer, and the vast saving in time would be another item in favor of the aerial route. At least no Indians could get at one and she, as a girl of 9, remembers the terror of the Sioux Indian attack on their little wagon train. From Wisconsin to Whidbey Island she went with her parents, suffering all the hardships with the grownups on that exhaustive covered wagon prairie schooner pilgrimage

      Dwight became such a flying enthusiast that he convinced four generations of his family to take to the air, including his mother-in-law, Ida Priest. Meanwhile, his daughter, Olive Mabel, married Arnold M. Gilfilen in 1918 and his son, George Dwight, married Florence E. Wheeler in 1919. In 1974, the family was visited by ironic tragedy. Dwight's namesake great-grandson, Dwight M. Brosseau, was killed near Kingston, Washington, when an Alpine Helicopter Service helicopter crashed into a back yard during heavy fog. He was the son of Dwight's grandson, Mahlon Brosseau, who was a cameraman for KOMO-TV at the time. The young man's wife was expecting a child at the time. Mahlon married a Chinese immigrant, Mai Tak, who came to the U.S. to complete her studies towards a career in which she became an RN. In a play on the family name that was repeated through the generations, they named their daughter, Mai Lon, which translated from Chinese, means "Beautiful Orchid."
      Dwight M. Brosseau died in Bellingham on June 18, 1939, at age 68. Nearly every week, I recall and thank Barbara Budlong Taggart and Lorna Marks and Helen (Mathews) Burns for helping me so much about my hometown and my childhood home. We are also very grateful to Mahlon Brosseau, of Freeland, who kindly shared information, documents and photos. They have all helped me come full circle in so many ways.

Links, background reading and sources

Story posted on Dec. 6, 2007, moved to this domain Nov. 3, 2011
Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 41 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

Getting lost trying to navigate
or find stories on our site?
Read how to sort through our 700-plus stories.

See this Journal Timeline website of local, state, national, international events for years of the pioneer period.
Return to the new-domain home page
Links for portals to subjects and towns
Newest photo features
Search entire site
Our monthly column, Puget Sound Mail (but don't call it a blog)
debuted on Aug. 9, 2009. Check it out.
(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 700 features, we depend on your report. Thank you. And do not give up if you find a link that seems to be closed. Just put the subject in the search box below. The story may have been moved to our new domain. Or just ask us and we will guide you to it.
(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 with copies or scans of documents or photos? We never ask for your originals.
(bullet) Read about how you can order CDs that include our photo features from the first ten years of our Subscribers-paid online magazine. Perfect for gifts. Although it was delayed by our illness, it is due for completion in 2012.

You can click the donation button to contribute to the rising costs of this site. See many examples of how you can aid our project and help us continue for another ten years. You can also subscribe to our optional Subscribers-Paid Journal magazine online, which celebrated its tenth anniversary in September 2010, 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 in advertising?

(bullet) Our newest sponsor, Plumeria Bay, is based in Birdsview, just a short walk away from the Royal family's famous Stumpranch, and is your source for the finest down comforters, pillows, featherbeds andduvet covers and bed linens. Order directly from their website and learn more about this intriguing local business.
(bullet) Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop at 817 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 90 years continually in business.
(bullet) Peace and quiet at the Alpine RV Park, just north of Marblemount on Hwy 20, day, week or month, perfect for hunting or fishing. Park your RV or pitch a tent — for as little as $5 per night — by the Skagit River, just a short drive from Winthrop or Sedro-Woolley. Alpine is doubling in capacity for RVs and camping in 2011.
(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.

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: skagitriverjournal@gmail.com
(Click to send email)
Mail copies/documents to Street address: Skagit River Journal, 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, WA, 98284.