Skagit River Journal
(1900 S-W Fire)
July 1911 photo of 700 block of Metcalf street after the downtown Sedro-Woolley fire. The view is to the southwest. At the top is the location of the present U.S. Post Office. That location was then the site of the original Sedro-Woolley city hall.
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History of Loggerodeo
and 4th of July in Sedro-Woolley and
Skagit Country celebrations from 1876 on

(Huge fir logs on parade)
Do you remember those really huge fir and cedar logs that old logging trucks used to pull in parades to show how huge trees really were here in the Northwest?

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal, ©2000

For a full schedule of Loggerodeo events
in 2013, go to
The grand parade begins at
11 a.m., July 4.

      Loggerodeo is that one special event of the year when old timers all over the country return to Sedro-Woolley to celebrate the Fourth of July as the pioneers did, with revelry and good fellowship. The Loggerodeo has always been the thread that ties together the historic merged towns and the present community, which has changed so much since the days when the grand parade was the social event of the year. The 2013 celebration from June 28 to July 4 marks the 66th time that the events have been staged under that name and the grand parade still draws up to 10,000 visitors.
      Wilfred and Betty Dow, of Clear Lake, are being honored as grand marshals of the Grand Parade on the Fourth, due to their long-time involvement in civic events, both historical and otherwise. Also featured in the parade will be Joe Nemo, who is celebrating his 100th birthday this year. Don Ostrom, long-time Sedro-Woolley retailer, is driving Joe in his 1927 Model-T Coupe, sponsored by North Cascade Ford, of Sedro-Woolley. Joe is the grandson of Joe Debay, who came to Sedro to work on the railroads locally and became a significant historical character for his farm on DeBay island.
      Both the Loggerodeo magazine and continue the minor mistake that this is the 79th Loggerodeo. Someone back in the mist of time based that number on the beginning of Hillbilly Days and a major rodeo here in 1934. The name Loggerodeo, however, actually dates from 1948 when John Conrad coined it to win a city-wide contest that was sponsored by the returning World War II vets of the American Legion. So this is actually the 64th Loggerodeo. Only two Sedro-Woolley residents survived from that original committee until recent years and now there is only one who can remember how Loggerodeo was dreamed up because they are the only two officers still alive from the original Loggerodeo committee.

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      "John Conrad won $25 in 1948 for coining the name and that was back when $25 lasted a while," recalled Fred Slipper before he passed away three years ago. Fred remembered well. He was a World War II veteran and was commander of the American Legion that year. The only surviving member of the original Loggerodeo is Fred Vochatzer, who is very much still with us and now spends some of his retirement time at his Alaska fishing resort. Slipper was the first Loggerodeo secretary and the late Joe Fisher was the first president. Fred Vochatzer and his wife, Juanita, still live in Sedro-Woolley and they own a fishing resort in Alaska.
      My family moved to a farm in the Utopia district east of town just in time for the first Loggerodeo. The year 1948 also marked the 50th anniversary of the merger of Sedro and Woolley towns so it added another marker that made the 4th of July a perfect fit for Sedro-Woolley. The Fourth is always the time for American chests to swell with pride about our accomplishment as a nation in declaring our independence from England and Europe. When the vets returned from the long second World War and joined the American Legion George Baldridge Post #43 on Murdock Street, they were full of energy so they became natural leaders for the week of events.
      My father, Victor Bourasaw, had served on ships in the U.S. Navy for 26 years, so the Legion and the Loggerodeo were great means of becoming a part of our new hometown. He and my mother, Hazel, threw themselves into volunteering and eventually he became president of the Loggerodeo in 1961, 1962 and 1965. Other presidents from the first 40 years who still regularly attend the festivities include: Fred Nelson, 1965-66; Bob Cockburn, 1975; and Bill McCann from 1978-80. Doug Wood, our new police chief, served the longest in the post from 1994-2003. This year's president is Jeanne L. McLennan. They all deserve our thanks for hundreds of hours of volunteer work, as do the dozens of volunteers who help the celebration continue like clockwork.
      The 1948 affair was a merger of two events that had often been conducted separately during the week of the 4th: logging contests and a rodeo. Even though logging had changed radically in the fifty years before that, rugged men competed to prove who was best at exhibiting skills from the original logging days of the 1880s and '90s. And a rodeo was staged for cowboys and cowgirls who recalled the days in 1889 when pioneer Frank Hoehn brought the first herd of horses through a pass in the Cascades from eastern Washington. Hoehn was a member of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and he would have loved the hurrahs. Kids in the 1950s shivered with delight as they watched tree toppers race up spars carrying 50 or more pounds of gear or a topping handsaw.

How the Loggerodeo was born, 1948 . . . rodeo began 1914
with a visit by Buffalo Bill

(1914 Rodeo)
      This photo is from an old postcard of 1914, showing the first "RoundUp" or full-scale rodeo that was staged here. In between that time and now, the rodeo grounds were used as Sedro-Woolley's airport. The Rodeo clubhouse was moved in from the McRae District.

      The late 1940s marked the third era of Sedro-Woolley's growth. Our present city started in the 1889 era as twin towns a mile part and both Sedro and Woolley boomed in the 1889-91 when three railroad lines crossed here daily. The second era was in the roaring '20s, when investors rediscovered the potential of the area. Then, in the late 1940s, the town was reborn when World War II vets dug in their heels and Skagit Steel produced machinery that made Sedro-Woolley famous around the world. Veterans and loggers decided that Sedro-Woolley should brag about the virtues of our valley and the Fourth of July was the logical time to display their pride and patriotism.
      The actual birth of Sedro-Woolley's rodeo extravaganza occurred in 1914 and the celebration got a boost when Buffalo Bill Cody visited that spring to help promote the new affair. Frank Hoehn of Sedro-Woolley rode with Cody in the impresario's first Wild West show in Nebraska back in 1883. Another prime mover of that first 1914 rodeo was Dr. George A. Jones Sr., who arrived in town in 1912 from Wyoming, where he had been a veterinarian and a rodeo rider. His son, Dr. George "Bud" Jones, continued his father's vet business and is now retired and living in Sedro-Woolley. That rodeo continued on an irregular schedule until 1934, when local promoters expanded the celebration to become one of the most famous rodeos of the Northwest along with those in Sumas and Pendleton, Oregon.
      The main instigator back then in the 1930s was Charles S. Bingham He was the son of C.E. Bingham, the banker who started his private bank in July 1890 in the old town of Sedro, on the site of present-day Riverfront Park. The banker's middle son, Bingham developed a love for horses and the Wild West and invested in ranches in the U.S. and British Columbia in that decade when he was in his 30s. He loved the Sumas Rodeo and the Pendleton Roundup and he dreamed up an idea with Frank Evans, the editor of the Courier-Times, and other town boosters to stage an annual event that would perk up the spirits of townsfolk in the depth of the Great Depression. In 1934 they decided to restore the rodeo that was first staged in 1914 at the grounds on Polte Road.
      The original 1914 show consisted of riding, racing and roping exhibitions and it attracted thousands of people from all parts of the Northwest. One of Charlie's main stars in 1934 was the most famous Northwest woman rider, Tillie Baldwin, who reigned over rodeos far and wide. One of Charlie's cohorts was Porter LaPlant, whose father and uncle moved here from Iowa in the 1890s. Porter coined the term, The only Sedro-Woolley on Earth, to promote real estate here. The American Legion that year continued its longtime leadership in 4th of July events with its official inauguration of a carnival. In 1935 the 4th Celebration was officially named Hillbilly Days and most businessmen celebrated by growing beards or goatees and wearing hillbilly or cowboy duds. Back in the 1950s and '60s, when I was growing up here, men often competed in growing beards for the event and a "jail" was set up to incarcerate the bald-face holdouts.

(1910 Carnival Bike Jump)
      The famous bike slide at the 1910 4th of July celebration, looking northeast from the intersection of Metcalf and Woodworth. The Red Front store is where the Small Planet Foods headquarters stands today. —Photo courtesy of Joyce Bergman

Earlier 4th celebrations
      The first 4th of July shindig in the merged towns was in 1900. By 1906 the Commercial Club, forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce, organized the celebration and in 1907 they staged the first grand parade. For many years, the parade was conducted between grand arches, which were constructed near the Wixson Hotel and on State Street. A favorite entrant in those early days was a horse-drawn steam calliope that cranked out patriotic tunes full blast. The parade has always drawn the largest crowds, as many as 10,000 at times, especially in 1994 when Sunset featured the event on its cover. The parades of the early '50s featured 80-foot, first-growth log sections and Ford Model-T's that were still running.
      A 1910 carnival photo at the Sedro-Woolley museum shows a contraption like a roller coaster where young men roared down on their bicycles and made spectacular jumps just like bike riders do on sidewalks today. Many such 4th photos are on display at the museum at the corner of Murdock and Woodworth, which is in the original Emil Jech Universal Motors Ford garage, built in 1924.
      Back then, before a commercial carnival was contracted, each side lot had an attraction. Cauliflower-eared pugs and wrestlers took on all comers and occasionally got pinned by brawny loggers. Elsewhere, hootchy-klootchy dancers titillated the partyers who could still see straight and a trained-flea act amused the kids. A highlight at the corner of Northern and Metcalf was the Mexican knife thrower and his seņorita. The climax was when she was covered by paper and he was blindfolded before he threw his final daggers. The grand finale of the celebration was a hot-air balloon ascent by a Mr. Brooks. By the time the balloon went up, the most exhausted revelers were fast asleep in the shade of fir trees that stood in the triangle of train tracks across the street from "Saloon Row" on Northern Avenue.

How 4th celebrations all began around the Skagit River
      The first recorded community celebration of the 4th of July was conducted by the small group of early settlers on Fidalgo Island and March's Point in 1876. They had no real village, just a steamboat stop at William Munks's wharf, down the slope from where the oil refineries stand today. Theresa Trebon researched that first festival when preparing for her book, First Views, the second in the Skagit Valley Herald historical series. We strongly advise readers to seek out the book. In it, she wrote:
      On July 4, 1876, one hundred people gathered on William Munks' farm to celebrate the nation's birthday with a full twenty-four hours of festivities and fireworks. The event was captured in full by Samuel Best, who sent a twenty-five-point report to the Bellingham Bay Mail (newspaper of Whatcom, which would move to LaConner in 1979 and become the Puget Sound Mail. The day began with an opening salute (followed by three cheers), followed by music, marching, and the singing of "America," led by Carrie White. Hiram March [March's Point] then read the Declaration of Independence, followed by three cheers for the "ladies of Fidalgo." It was reported that the cheers were "no doubt because of their job in getting up a good dinner and spreading it before an appreciative audience." Next came an oration, more singing, and then numerous toasts. Orlando Graham led off with one to Puget Sound, "the Garden of the World." Hiram March gave the response, stating, "Puget Sound can beat the world for healthy and beautiful women, big babies, and the extraordinary growth and luxuriance of its fruit and vegetables." More toasts and responses, more singing, and, finally, the "grand march to the table." There, islanders gave thanks for "past blessings, present peace and prosperity, and the many kind and good ladies." And that was just the beginning.
      After the meal came more music and singing, a much-needed respite to allow the food to settle before the games began. A variety of races commenced: one each for boys, ladies and girls, a sack race, a three-legged race, and finally a race for all. Next came the "strap game," more commonly known as tightrope walking. It was a favorite pastime of William Munks, who was well-known for his abilities. But this day, Samuel Best reported, "the planets were standing with their backs to each other." Munks fell and the result "gave the crowd more joy than if he'd stayed on." Following a boat race on Fidalgo Bay and more music and song, a "Grand Ball" began in the recently constructed Munks Hall. Best concluded, "We had a glorious time, dancing all night till the broad day light and going home with the girls in the morning, as one poet so beautifully remarked on a similar occasion." The event was long remembered by islanders, who later were grateful the day went unmarred by news of an event that had happened nine days earlier — but had yet to be reported in the newspaper. The details came in the next edition of the weekly Mail: On July 8, next to reports of Whatcom County's various Fourth of July celebrations, was the first account of George Armstrong Custer's fall at Little Big Horn in eastern Montana. After years of white encroachment on their lands, the battle --was a decided victory for Plains Indians, one that soon "brought the wrath of the nation" upon them.

      Other settlements in the valley were clustered along the Skagit itself, small groups on the north and south forks of the river. Only a few brave souls had sunk down roots above the log jams, the Rev. B.N.L. Davis on the south shore where the future Great Northern Railroad trestle would cross, Otto Klement a little further up, Lafayette Stevens where Sterling would form in 1878, and Alvin Williamson at the future site of Lyman. That was just before the von Pressentins, Minklers, Kemmerichs, John Grandy and Amasa Peg-Leg Everett staked claims in the foothills of the Cascades.

(Loggerodeo Parade 1948-Dino)
      The late Bert Webber took this photo in the first Loggerodeo parade of 1948 while standing at the corner of Murdock and Ferry, looking east. The Junior Chamber of Commerce was one of the most active fraternal groups in town at the time and the famous "Dino the Dinosaur" graced their float. Do any of you remember when Dino would magically appear on the last day of high school, abducted by graduates and placed on various lawns all over town? When did that tradition fade away? Webber, also a vet who settled here, went on to establish a major publishing business with his family in Oregon.

      In 1877, settlers and traders gathered beside the log jams at the new village of Mount Vernon — carved out of Jasper Gates's homestead, just a few months after town founders Harrison Clothier and Ed English set up their store near the present east end of the bridge across the Skagit. Wives of early settlers sewed a spectacular flag and John Lorenzy is said to have shinnied up a dominant cedar tree on the waterfront to unfurl it at the top. You can read details of the 1877 Mount Vernon celebration at this Journal website about Harrison Clothier.
      The first 4th of July celebration in the upriver area was held at Ruby Creek in 1880. More than 4,000 miners met there during the brief Ruby Creek gold rush and organized their claims before celebrating.
      We know that the first Independence Day celebration in Sedro was held in 1886, because Nina Cook recorded it in her 1886-87 diary, which is now housed in the Sedro-Woolley Museum, located downtown across from city hall. Nina was the youngest daughter of Mortimer Cook, the man who founded Sedro. He built the first shingle mill of its kind on Puget Sound in 1885. The celebration was calmer back then. She notes a picnic and a rowboat ride upriver.
      Another account of that first festival was recorded by Ray Jordan in his wonderful 1974 book, Yarns of Skagit County, in which he quoted Ethel Van Fleet Harris, daughter of Skiyou pioneers, Emmett and Eliza Van Fleet. "The little town of Sedro staged its first 4th of July celebration in 1886. A spot near the mouth of Benson Creek [now called Hansen Creek, 1 1/2 miles east of town on the Hoehn road] was [where]... after dinner . . . David Batey [the area's first settler] read the Declaration of Independence. This caused much merriment as Mr. Batey was a full-blooded Englishman — a true American, nevertheless." Cook had just coined the name Sedro in 1885. Women of the settlement demanded that he replace his original name of Bug, which he originally named the swampy townsite in honor of mosquitoes the size of bats.
      Five years later a new town sprang up a mile northwest, named after P. A. Woolley, a railroad developer who moved his family here from Elgin, Illinois, in 1889. He also built a sawmill to supply fir ties for the railroads. His company town of Woolley was roaring by Independence Day 1890. The 1906 Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties notes: "On that day, in the presence of probably 40 people, a fir flag pole 104 feet was raised [and]...a new flag, presented by Mr. Woolley, soon floated [from the top]. At Sedro, that same day, pioneers in the older town celebrated the Fourth by trimming a gigantic cedar tree as a flag pole at a height of 226 feet. That accomplished, Old Glory, 40 by 16 feet in size, manufactured by the ladies of the Sedro community, was flung to the breeze amid the acclamations of the patriotic spectators."
      By the time of the 1914 rodeo, competition between the two towns still raged annually, even though Old Sedro, down on the Skagit River, had given up the ghost by the turn of the century. Old Sedro's last gasp was in December 1898, when residents of the two towns merged the names of the towns, but gave Sedro top billing. Several elections had occurred in the '90s, all of which opted for Sedro as the merged town's name, but P. A. Woolley was the 800-pound gorilla back then and he used his economic clout to simply call for a new election each time.
      At that time, Sedro-Woolley was still home to veterans of the Civil War. One of them, Arthur C. Seidell, was a member of the military party that captured Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. His contemporaries had a keen sense of place and living in Sedro or Woolley, respectively, was like living in the North or South. When I was growing up here in the 1950s and '60s, there were still old timers who insisted on writing either Sedro or Woolley alone as their return addresses on letters.

Hijinks on the 4th of July
      In 1942, Sedro-Woolley — like every other small town in America, was trying to lift spirits that had been deflated by the Day of Infamy at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The Fourth of July was much more than a holiday long-weekend back then. A story from the July 9, 1942 Courier-Times, illustrates just how wild and woolly the town was:

Police enjoy Interesting Weekend Over the Fourth
      In the excitement over the Fourth of July celebration, the police in Sedro-Woolley and vicinity enjoyed an interesting weekend. They recovered more than $400 for celebrators who lost their money to various concessions at the carnival; cared for quite a few drunks, sopped family rows, hunted up missing children, and generally enjoyed a break in the usual routine.
      With the cooperation of the state highway patrol and sheriff's office, Police Chief Neil McLeod closed down most of the concessions early Sunday evening. One man had his fortune told by one of the gypsies who were here with the carnival. When he paid, he displayed a wallet with a $5 and a $50 bill. The gypsy asked to "bless" the billfold for him and he gave it to her to bless. When he opened it later, the $50 bill was gone. The police got $25 of the money back for him, but the gypsy refused to return all of her "blessing."
      One woman in Sedro-Woolley was disturbed about 4 a.m. When she went to the door of her house, she was amazed to find a naked Indian standing there. He ran off and she began to think that her two children might be in trouble, she told local police, who at 4:30 a.m. found her 11- and 13- year-old daughters on the street. The naked Indian made good his escape.
      Charley Roetker, state highway patrolman, who lives here, was chasing a speeder down a dusty road. The speeder slowed down to permit some turkeys to cross the road, and Roetker, in the dust, did not see that the car he was chasing at high speed had slowed down, and consequently he smashed in the front end of his patrol car in a rear-end collision. He got another car, in which he picked up a Northern State Hospital parolee, who had been bothering people near the Goodyear-Nelson mill. The parolee proceeded to kick out the back end of the car.
      When a man was hurt at the rodeo, an ambulance was needed, so the patrol car was pressed into service. The police happened to have a drunk parked in the car for delivery to the jail at the time. He was removed from the "paddy wagon" and placed with his arms around a telephone pole, with handcuffs on his wrists and told to "stay put" until called for.
      One local man, who walks on crutches, hit his wife on the head with one of the crutches, so the police were called in to help calm affairs. Another man drew a knife to attack his wife, and later attacked the police when they arrived. They managed to get him into his yard and disarmed him without shooting or being stabbed.

Continue to part two, more history of the Loggerodeo and the Fourth; part three, 14 photos from historic 4th of July events; and part four, photos from the first Loggerodeo parade in 1948.

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Story posted on June 1, 2000, last updated on June 28, 2013, moved to this domain April 24, 2011

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