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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
600 of 700 total Free Home Page Stories & Photos
(Also see our Subscribers Magazine Sample)
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

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Who we are at the Journal

Congratulations Noel from all of us at Boom Towns & Relic Hunters of Northeastern Washington State. We recently had the pleasure of viewing your site Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore for "Rare Find Award." You have a unique web site which is well presented, highly informative, and with good design.
Visit today to learn about ghost towns all over Washington and the U.S.A.

(Rare find award)
Awarded Five Stars, the highest rating from WashingtonSuite,
the premier links referral agency for Washington history.
      This webpage is dedicated to my children, Jennifer Willow Johnston and Maxwell James Bourasaw. And to the memory of my late mother and father, Hazel Nadine Kirks Bourasaw (1908-1996) and Victor Andrew Bourasaw (1901-1982), who moved here in 1948. And to my late brother, Jerry Roger Bourasaw (1935-2000), who graduated from Lyman Grade School in 1949 and Sedro-Woolley High School in 1955. He knew in his soul that it don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing.

      Go to this Journal site to see a map of the Skagit area and many others.

      We especially want to thank Berniece Leaf, Pat Hegg Brown and Loren, Paula Thomas, Tom Robinson, Donna Sand, Dr. Jesse Kennedy and Dan Royal for everything they have contributed to this research project. And I thank Cookie Beecher, the former editor of the Courier-Times, back in its old independent days, while it was still on Metcalf Street. She welcomed me home to Sedro-Woolley, just after New Year's Day 1992, and quickly became my dearest new friend, as well as mother's. She has been the common thread in my experience back in town, now for almost 20 years. My grammatical mentor, she who must be obeyed, and the sister I never had.
  • Editor: Noel V. Bourasaw
  • Webmaster: Raoul Dangerfield
  • Patron saints: Guy LePetomane and Dexter Gordon
  • Band director: Prof. Harold Hill
  • Spring Chicken & Patron/longest supporter: Berniece Leaf
  • Friend and road-trip companion for many decades: Val Hanchett, our own Prince Valiant
  • Partner in historical crime: Dan Royal
  • Ace researchers who share background material: Roger Peterson about Sedro-Woolley and Tom Robinson about the western section of Skagit county; Larry Spurling, who has transcribed more than three dozen stories (including many of Ray Jordan's) plus many of his own family stories; plus dozens of descendants of pioneer families. And the sweetest girl/researcher of them all, Donna Sand, who has forgotten more about Whatcom County from her research than we will ever know. She could write several books.

(Noel Bourasaw)
Brevet Corporal Bourasaw; Regular Army 1963-66; Vietnam-era veteran; 4th Armored Division; Known By Their Deeds Alone

(4th Armored Division patch)
      Noel Bourasaw is a native of Missouri and moved with his family at age 4 to a farm near Sedro-Woolley in the old Utopia area near the Skagit. After graduating from high school here, he studied at Western Washington State College. After writing for several magazines and newspapers and wine publications, and serving as the first executive director of the Washington Wine Institute, he returned to Sedro-Woolley. For the last nineteen years he has been researching about Skagit county in libraries and museums all over the country and interviewing descendants of county pioneers, both in person and over the internet. He is working on a book: Humbug, the biography of Mortimer Cook, founder of Sedro. And he is revising the manuscript for a once-delayed book, The Old Soldier Goes Fishing, about Frank Wilkeson, the New York Times columnist of the 1890s who lived in Skagit, Whatcom and Cheland counties.

Statement of Purpose and Plans, updated 2011

From your publisher and ink-stained wretch, Noel V. Bourasaw
      Every once in a while, a fellow publisher or a friend in the field showers us with compliments, which are sometimes surprising in their effusive nature. We are naturally proud of our own work, but we realize our shortcomings and how far we have yet to go. Why don't you get recognized in your genre for what you provide, they ask? Actually, that has been the least of our concerns, but they insist that it should be, especially as we prepare a book that will be costly, even in our budget format. "You don't brag enough," they conclude, and you don't play the game well enough. Not that we will not do so when we get closer to book publication; we are not above such a thing, and we used to boost other's recognition quotient when we were with the Seattle Network. But bragging has not been a priority in our first ten years on the Web, which we celebrated last August 26. So, please bear with us for a few paragraphs as we try to polish our bragging skills in preparation for the eventual press junket.
      First, we go the extra mile and take extra, expensive steps to make the Journal unique and to offer the reader, historian and researcher something extra: Context, Endnotes and Annotations to our transcriptions of newspapers, rare documents and publications and especially history books. We feel this is vitally important for the reader since so many have written with questions about the more obscure names and businesses in the historical texts they have written. We have just completed our 36th transcription of chapters of Ray Jordan's fine book that informs us all: Yarns of the Skagit Country. Issue 54 of the optional Subscribers Magazine includes transcriptions of all five of his introductory chapters, which are chock-full of names that most now cannot recall, but which we annotate carefully with our research and mini-biographies. Why are such annotated transcripts important to the reader? For identification first, but that is what makes our Journal. In almost every case we provide you context you need to full understand the story, the pioneer or the business.
      We dig until we find the oldest, most authoritative source, hoping each time to find the "first source," or the mother lode. We carefully point out the nature of the source, we note if there is controversy about the subject and most important, we advise you if the story is possibly apocryphal.
      Most important, our ideas that we share are not chiseled into stone. There are many better history writers in the Northwest right now. And the giants who have preceded us, including Murray Morgan, Emmett Watson and June Burn, inspired us as well as informed us. Our advantage is that we did not put our words into ink, which was unchangeable once that ink dried until a future edition, which might not ever come. From Day One, we designed the Journal eleven years ago with the stated mission that every story we write will be a draft, and if updated information and research warrants the time, we completely update that draft. Another goal stated the first day was that we encourage corrections, additions and criticism. So we update a few more dozen stories every year with the reader notes.
      Accuracy is the keyword, and consistency. So we take up to 20 percent of our time re-checking sources and research when a reader and/or descendant writes to us. And then, over time, we check every link to the original story and every other draft on the same subject, to find inconsistencies with the original story we updated. It is a complex, time-intensive process and readers who notice it write in effusive praise. Close friends over the decades, however, laugh and almost spit up their beverage when they read about my minute orientation to details in this latest incarnation since 1992 of being mainly an author of history. "You?" they roar! Because, mea culpa, when your humble editor was a young man (and that includes at least 'til age 50), he was accurately described with the pejoratives of: can't or won't pay attention to details; flaky; easily distracted, and those were the less nasty ones. We hope our work on these 700 story pages will convince you when we say that the hammer came down in 1992, when we returned to Sedro-Woolley after 30 years. It was time to put childish things behind — well maybe keep one or two, but as the Al Green song goes, "Take me to the river, with my feet on the ground" — to the Skagit, of course, which flowed west very nearby my childhood bucolic home in the Utopia District, and I learned our local history for the first time.
      The late Fred Slipper provided me the diary of Mortimer Cook's daughter, Nina, which she wrote while sitting in their home, which was located where the Rotary Club's fine donation to the community stands now — Rock Theater, which we hope and advocate will someday be named for Mortimer, since he is the reason we are all here now. He is the subject of my sole-authored book, which I hope to present to a publisher in 2012. As I was reading that diary, this future website and its framework developed in my mind, just a year after the launch of the World Wide Web, and I did not even own a computer, although I operated them. So, in the beginning I tried to discover and then share all the needed information either by snail mail or by print. I discovered once again that printing a very-small print-run publication, without an institutional backer or a large group of very generous people, means you will soon go broke, and I surely did. In fact, I still owe some issues to the original subscribers and I repeat to them now: contact me and you will get a free subscription to the Journal online.
      But I felt the potential was there and the readers, if there were a more accessible way to publish the information and which did not cost much in set-up. That initial market assessment surprisingly turned out accurate, but I would not discover why for another ten years. The first hints at the potential readership came after I went back to my birth-state of Missouri in 1993 (a trip partially underwritten by the Rotary Club), rented a car and drove through Iowa and Illinois and the tip of Wisconsin in search of Mortimer Cook's family and the families of our other pioneers. I found many of both, and found the first photos and documents of old Sedro/Bug. After I returned I worked with Kerry and Carolyn Cook at our fine Sedro-Woolley Museum, which was then just two years old, and we formulated a plan for Founders Days, which we slated for Loggerodeo of 1994. After the museum helped plan and promote it with hundreds of hours of volunteer time, the Cook descendants from Illinois, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and California arrived for the grand parade on July 4 and rode a special float that we provided them. It was a magical day and I was flabbergasted at the people who came out to see the descendants of our founding father, Mortimer Cook, whom I know after 19 years of research, as I do my own relatives.
      My wisest move for the future and the project came in 1995 when I bought my first computer and in the first months with it, I devoted hundreds of hours to logging every fact, date, name and details of our history to a fully searchable file, with careful annotations of source and date. That folder is now more than a hundred megabytes in size, all in text, and it is a goldmine, the Sedro-Woolley portion of which we are donating in toto to the museum in 2011, along with scans of nearly 1,000 local photos. My un-wisest move in those early years was a good/bad/good idea. My initial plan was to focus the book on Mortimer Cook, his family and the five towns all over the U.S. and in B.C. that benefited from Mortimer's settling there — in addition to Bug/Sedro. But then that track went off the rails and I put the Cook book aside and spent the next 12 years trying to wrap my arms around a gigantic book, focused mostly on the Sedro-Woolley area, but wrapped in an extensive shell about the settlement of the whole Northwest. I will still do that book someday, but when I was getting ill and went to the hospital in 2008-09, I realized that the first book had to be my first choice. Thus, Humbug! is now in progress and literally writes itself, built on the foundation of 1993-94.
      Humbug! will be a most unique regional/local biography because of its subject and subject matter. You will read about how, long before he settled at future Sedro in 1884, he was a key figure in Texas, Mexico, '49er gold fields of California, Whatcom County, Fraser and Thompson river districts of Canada, Ohio (his birth-state), Topeka, Kansas, and finally, Santa Barbara, California. In the latter town, he established the first gold bank in the state outside of San Francisco, and served as mayor for two terms before his losing the fortune he had originally amassed in Topeka. He lost in the late 1870s when successive droughts and dried-up creeks and wells killed off tens of thousands of sheep, of which Mortimer and his bank were the primary investors. He managed to squirrel away just enough before personal bankruptcy and losing the bank, that he had enough of a nest-egg for the Skagit River project, supplemented by a few who still had faith in him.
      But how will it be unique for a local history? Because it will provide national context and context of the times. It will be the story of many people and towns in the West after the discovery of gold in California in 1848 and that will be told through Mortimer's eyes and his experiences in that period, all over the country. And it will also show the impact he had on each of the areas we listed above, again providing context of time, although at a different latitude and longitude. Ironically, Humbug! will probably be published at nearly the same time as the book that we feared was a lost cause, Old Soldier Goes Fishing, the book about the life of Col. Frank Wilkeson, which was originally planned in 2003, but then was placed on the back burner because of the weak economy. It is showing signs of rising again and I am rewriting my part while the publisher and collaborator, Patricia McAndrew, prepares the book for printing. Wilkeson was the New York Times columnist who lived from 1888 to 1900 in a combination of Chelan, Hamilton and Fairhaven, while also hanging out with Mortimer at old Sedro.
      We will only close with the distinction of now having communicated in some depth with the descendants of 200 of our pioneer families who settled in Skagit County. It is one of the most rewarding forms of feedback to have a reader offer memories or copies of documents and photos to be a part of the project. From the first day, we have never asked for originals; facsimile copies will work just fine or scans, as high definition as possible with your system. But enough of the bragging. That is our statement of purpose and our update to our original statement below, which we updated in 2006. That was just a few months before we moved the whole project over to the present domain. We will soon pass five million page views, a staggering number we never dreamed of initially. Nearly three million have occurred since October 2006 since we shifted to this domain. We are now up to 900,000 page views a year with our 700th story, as we just this month posted, twice our 2006 total. All we need is a ton more subscribers, so you know what to do. We are not bashful about asking for donations, so if something especially impresses you in what you read here, please consider clicking the donation button. Your one page view is just as important and as vital to us as the other 899,999. Thank you for taking the time to give us a tryout for your web-surfing time. And don't forget:

      "That was why I had got into my car and headed west, because when you don't like it where you are you always go west. We have always gone west." — Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men, 1949, Pulitzer Prize.

Statement of Purpose and Plans, last updated 2006

From your publisher and ink-stained wretch, Noel V. Bourasaw
      I started researching Skagit county and Sedro-Woolley history fourteen years ago when I moved back home to be closer to my mother, who was facing long-term confinement in a rest home. Many people communicated disappointment that the story of dozens of key pioneers in the area was left untold in available books about the history of the region. Initially, I thought I could produce a book quickly by 1995. That was a major mistake. After traveling around the country and communicating with descendants of the pioneers, I discovered that there were major stories that needed intense, in-depth research.
      By 1999, after writing several drafts for the book, I realized that my efforts were still in many cases just skimming the surface. I soon realized that the key to writing a truly comprehensive book was to spend even more time consulting original sources and family members who had unique material about their pioneer ancestors. In the summer of 2000 I realized that the best way to do that was to post an Internet website and invite readers to share their memories and information. After starting a full fledged site in September 2000, we had a tremendous response that frankly shocked us. Hundreds of readers who have either moved away from the area or who grew up far away flooded the site with memories, stories, documents and photos. This was a mixed blessing. Their responses pointed us in different directions that were truly rewarding but their input also created an overload of information that has taken us two years to get a handle on it.
      So we went back to square one and now in the winter of 2006 we are getting back to the big picture and formulating concrete plans. After more than 1.25 million page views on this website, we have the nucleus of a truly comprehensive book that will update a century later what was so brilliantly presented in the 1906 book, An Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties. What we plan will also be similar in tone and feel to Ray Jordan's wonderful book from the 1970s, Yarns of Skagit County and Bob Jenkins's Last Frontier in the North Cascades. [See Library: Recommended reading, bibliography, our books to read section. The major difference will be that we will carefully document information and provide an exhaustive bibliography and references to source material, just as if we were writing a doctoral dissertation. Foremost in our mind is that we will make the whole process fun so that readers will not confuse our work with the dull, dry, boring history that sends students shrieking from most history tomes.
      Our planned book has a working title of Utopia on the Skagit. The first 50 years of settlement in Skagit county, Sedro-Woolley and the upper Skagit river. The book will begin with the opening of the Northwest corner of the United States after the Lewis & Clark expedition. It will then continue through the exploration of the Puget sound and the river valleys, fur traders, the gold rushes, the railroads, the steamboats, the loggers and the settlers of the region. The reader will then be guided through the settlement of Washington's four northwest counties, focusing on the rural areas and villages — some long gone — from the sound to the Cascades. In order to provide context, we will study the very early years of each town in Skagit county. Finally, we will concentrate on the area north, south and east from Sterling, the lakes and Sedro-Woolley through the upper Skagit valley, where people originally settled in the 1870s to get away from it all.
      We will avoid that poison pill that assigns so many similar books to the trash heap and remainder bins: provincialism and too narrow of a focus. We realize that a costly publishing venture will not succeed if it only preaches to the choir. All along the way, we will show the connection between what transpired here and the region, state, country and the world. This area was a magnet for people from all over the U.S. and Europe and our challenge is to explain to you what the attraction was. We will help you feel the steam from the mighty locomotives, smell the fog of the river valleys, taste the fish of the Skagit watershed, imbibe from the stills of the moonshiners and experience what the pioneers did when they took a chance on the Northwest. All along, you will be introduced to the experience of frontier women — which was sadly glossed over in most prior local histories, and we will try to explain the melting pot, both good and bad, for Indians and Asians.
      The Internet website will continue to be a key part of our mix. During the research period, the web stories are a wonderful way to give the reader an in-depth portrait of families, events, business concerns and towns. Some of those will have to be summarized in the final book, for space reasons. The reader of the book will be directed to the Internet site to learn more about a subject and to add to our stories or correct any mistakes we make. We want the website to continue to be a vital tool for genealogists, students at all levels and for people who just want to find a "sense of place" in this wonderful area.
      All of this will be costly. We are not affiliated with any government unit or any one museum, although we do contribute to all of those and link to them for those who are exploring a specific area. In January 2001 we started a separate Subscribers Edition to provide a modest income. We have incurred a lot of expense traveling all over the Northwest and the U.S. to trace stories and contact descendants. We have now visited more than 50 museums and libraries alone and have traveled more than 5,000 miles in more than ten states and Canada. The initial travel was partially underwritten by the Sedro-Woolley Rotary Club, a tremendous boon in the early days. So far, the proceeds from the subscribers magazine have just barely paid for the most basic costs of the website. Businesses and families have also contracted with us to help research their history, and we hope to expand that in the near future to generate income for future printing of the book. We want to emphasize that we will always provide a vast assortment of stories and photos on the free homepages so that we can share the information with the largest number of readers possible. And although the stories that require the most time and investment to research are often shared with the subscribers first, we eventually share those costly stories with readers of the free site. Please note that we do not ask for originals of your precious family keepsakes. We will refer you to the museum that would be most appropriate if you want to donate or loan material. We have already worked with several families to organize and catalog material after the death of a relative.
      Finally, there is one thing we are definitely not: the National Enquirer. While researching families and towns, we have often found material that would embarrass descendants. We have kept dozens of secrets so far; we do not want to purposely embarrass living descendants. To that end, we have also dispelled a number of myths that proved to be built on foundations of sand and we have corrected many tales that proved to be unfounded or just plain made up. Along the way, we have discovered the kernel of truth in the myths that shows they were more legends or embellishments of something that really happened.
      We plan to complete our research by 2006 and spend the next year polishing the book so that we can publish it in the 2007-08 time period to celebrate the centennial of the 1906 work. To that end, we ask only that you be patient when we stumble and that you share information by email, or mail copies of documents and scans of photos that will help us illustrate the struggle and accomplishment of the pioneers. We also hope that you will pass on the links to the website far and wide so that we can find through the web those descendants of the most elusive and mysterious pioneers. As we have stated from the beginning, we are completely open to addition, correction and criticism. We need your input. Please email us any suggestions you have. And if we have not answered any of your questions, please contact us. Thank you for your patience.

Story posted on Aug. 26, 2000; last updated March 11, 2011 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them

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(bullet) Our newest 2011 sponsor: Plumeria Bay, based in Birdsview, your source for the finest down comforters, pillows, featherbeds & duvet covers and bed linens. Order directly from their website and learn more.
(bullet) Our newest sponsor: Gallery Cygnus, 109 Commercial St., half-block uphill from Main Street, LaConner. Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am to 5 p.m., featuring new monthly shows with many artists, many local. Across the street from Maple Hall, 1886 Bank Building and Marcus Anderson's 1969 historic cabin. Their new website.
(bullet) Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop at 817 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 89 years.
(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 by the Skagit River, just a short drive from Winthrop or Sedro-Woolley
(bullet) Joy's Sedro-Woolley Bakery-Cafe at 823 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley.
(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.
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We may be able to assist. Email us for details.

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