Site founded Sept. 1, 2000. We pass 4 million page views in September 2009
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.

(S and N Railroad)

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)

R.I.P. Howard Miller, a eulogy

Born Nov. 23, 1915 . . . Died Nov. 11, 2000
By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal, ©2000

(Howard's boat)
Howard fishing on the Skagit River

      One of the last presents that Howard Miller received was the mounted Bass who comes alive and sings woefully: "Take me to the river, put me in the water." When he showed it to me the first time, he grinned and said: "That's my anthem, buddy."
      Oh say can you all see, Howard sitting patiently, his fly-fishing pole at the ready on the shore of the Skagit River, one finger on the line, feeling the current and each bite and tug, his eyes and ears full of everything in God's creation, but focused on the fly that he had tied himself, waiting for that next bite. I can. I walked down to Howard's beloved Skagit last night in the moonlight and I knew he was still there with me. He was sitting there, patiently tying his thousandth tie.
      Howard's old friend and fishing mentor, Bud Meyers, explained to me one time what made the steelhead guides great. "When we were young and frisky," Bud explained, "the other guys ran around and drank moonshine and started fights and bet on horses. Howard and I bet on fishes — when they would start to spawn, how heavy the run would be, how many pounds of roe would make momma salmon's belly fat."
      When he was guiding on a regular basis in the 1950s and '60s, he took out everyone from friends to the famous, from Egil Krogh Jr. — who was a key Watergate figure — to Krogh's father, who was a Marshall-Field Department Store executive in Chicago, to Ted Williams. Howard told me that Williams was fascinated with the Skagit steelhead, which spawn once, compared to the Atlantic steelhead he was more familiar with, that spawn multiple times.
      One of the stories that he couldn't make it through without laughing involved Williams's visit. Howard met his clients for breakfast at the Liberty Cafe before they set out. Howard had a running, good-natured jibe-session going with the cook there named Tex. When Tex learned the name of Howard's baseball-star client, he was incredulous. So when Howard showed up, Tex began razzing him: "you've done it this time, Miller, trying to fool us about the greatest baseball player ever." And then he went slack-jawed, when he saw Williams walk in the front door of the restaurant.
      His second most-recalled story was about being one of the instigators of the famous Loggerodeo log-drive every Fourth of July. He liked to drive up to the steel bridge at Marblemount, where they set the log in the river. That is how my dad, Vic, met Howard when dad was heading up the Loggerodeo, and they became great friends. Howard became sort of a mentor when I returned to Sedro-Woolley after Dad's death.

(Howard at Rockport)
      Howard and I had a tradition now and then in the late afternoon. Frances would fix us a scotch and soda and that was a signal to take out my pad and start scribbling notes fast and furiously. We called them my history lessons. On one of my favorite days, Howard told how he belly-flopped onto a Great Northern flatcar in 1942 and rode it to its terminus in Rockport.
      Then he told me how, back in 1932, he hopped aboard the Toonerville Trolley from Rockport to Marblemount. He hopped off near the bridge where he would later spend 30 years dropping the Loggerodeo log in the Skagit for the log drive. Back then in 1932 he hiked from the Marblemount bridge to the mountains of Cascade Pass, ate a meal at Gilbert Landre's famous old cabin and followed the trail that Charles von Pressentin took to Chelan in 1878 when the early settlers were searching for gold. He told me the story Otto Pressentin shared about how the prospectors were panning for gold in Ruby and Granite creeks in the winter of 1879-80 when Indians warned them frantically that a big, big snow was on the way. The team packed out just in time because the biggest snow in the history of the valley fell that winter.
      On the last day when he felt agile enough, we went to Rockport and hiked around where the turnaround track sloped down to the river at the edge of Howard Miller Steelhead Park. As always, he wanted to put his hand in the river and feel the temperature and current of the water. Good fishing weather, he noted. Think for a moment what an honor it was back in 1982 when Howard joined Harry Osborne as one of the few people who had a natural-resource park named after him.
      The next morning after our history lesson, Howard stopped by my house and we took his other buddy, Wendy the Poodle Dog, down to the river and he showed me where the original cable ferry landed near where the Third Street Bridge was later built. I'll never forget those Wendy Days, as he called them. Howard's brother Marlin often accompanied him too, to Wendy's delight. They were all three thick as fleas, as Howard used to say.

(Wedding Day)
Howard and Frances on their wedding day.

      One day, as were driving upriver on the side-roads that followed the route of the original "county highway" of 1895, he showed me the place where his tires lost their grip on black ice when he was returning from another guide trip with fishing clients. The car rolled and Howard was in traction for awhile in the hospital. That was during the time that he served on the longest continuous stretch as a Skagit County commissioner, 16 years, representing the Third District from 1966-82. He especially enjoyed taking me around to all the bridges around the county, for which he oversaw construction. The original bridges were built of wood by pioneers like Russell and Thompson. During Howard's tenure those old bridges from Conway through upriver were replaced with concrete and steel structures. One of the real treats occurred when he showed me the escape routes for Prohibition rum-runners, the True-Love Bandit and various bank robbers.
      The last thing he told me when he was in the hospital was that he was starting to feel exactly 84 years and 11 months old. I joked with him that he had to get well soon so we could barbecue the salmon I had brought him just before he went to United General Hospital. He confided that he didn't think we would have a chance to barbecue it together up at his lovely little cabin nestled amongst the cedars and firs near the old Faber Ferry Landing and in between two of his favorite fishing holes for steelhead and salmon. He asked me to remember our great times together there whenever I tasted the first morsel of the week of barbecued or smoked salmon. I promised Howard I would, especially every time I see the planks in his favorite cedar near the cabin, the ones that mark the river height for every major flood since the last century. I always marvel at how a couple of them are nailed above the very high bank on the north side of the river, showing the massive floods of 1909, 1921 and 1990, among others. I also remember how, after he finagled me into chopping the wood for the barbecue, we used to walk down to the ferry landing and he would look at how far the water advanced up the concrete boat ramp. By observation, he knew how much water the dams had released and he often cursed them for their misguided policies throughout the years.
      We talked about our drives all over the county to see historic sites. How we drove up Bacus Hill to see where the nuke plant was proposed and how he helped negotiate a deal when he was dean of the county commissioners that satisfied both sides, even though he knew the plant would not happen and he was secretly glad for that. Although he usually had an answer for my history questions, when he did not know, he admitted that and referred me brother Marlin Miller, who is also a walking history book. Their father, George Miller, arrived from North Carolina in 1909. George and Mae Elliott Miller raised the boys first at the Butler Mill camp and then in a house on the F&S Grade Road. Both Howard and Miller remember the day in 1922 when men finally cornered Tusko the elephant in the gravel pit about a mile away near the old Delvan Logging Camp.
      After I put down the phone that last time I talked with Howard, I remembered how many times he shared tales with me about his service as a mechanic with the Army Air Corps in North Africa in 1942. One day the homesick soldiers were watching movies outdoors in the evening with the thermometer showing 110 degrees in the shade. In the middle of a travelogue there was his friend Cecil Jordan fly-fishing with others for steelhead from a little boat in the Skagit River. Howard leapt up and screamed: "That's my Skagit, fellers! That's what I do every day there."
      But in amongst his memories of fishing back home and the day when he shot three bear in 24 hours, the young soldier Howard was thinking of his most prized catch, a little girl named Frances Miller, who grew up near Lyman within walking distance of the river. They got married just before he went overseas and he joked that the only reason she picked him was because "she wouldn't have to go through the trouble of changing her name."
      "As I flew over to Cairo in B-17s or strolled through the museums there that they kept open for us GI's, all I could think of was getting home to Frances and spending every day of the rest of our lives together."
      Well, they made it 58 years and their common bond and influence cut a wide swath in the town where he was born.

Obituary, Howard A. Miller
Skagit Valley Herald, Nov. 13, 2000
(Miller obit photo)
      Howard A. Miller, a lifetime resident of Sedro-Woolley, passed away Saturday, November 11, 2000, at the Life Care Center in Sedro-Woolley, WA at .the age of 84 years.
      He was born November 23, 1915, in Sedro-Woolley, the son of George and Mae Elliott Miller. Howard grew up in Sedro-Woolley, graduating from Sedro-Woolley High School with the class of 1932.
      He was married to Frances Miller on April 4, 1942, in Tacoma, and he entered the U.S. Army Air Force in May of 1942, serving till August of 1945 during WWII. Howard sold life insurance for Equitable Life Insurance Co. for many years and was a former Skagit County Commissioner serving for consecutive terms from 1967 to 1983. He also was well known as a steelhead guide on the Skagit River. The Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport was established for his many efforts and accomplishments.
      Howard was a member of Trinity United Presbyterian Church, Sedro-Wool1ey Rotary Club since 1947, a member of United Lodge 93 F&AM, Scottish Rite, Shrine, and past President of the Skagit County Shrine Club, Elks, Wildcat Steelhead Club, Skagit Valley Grange, Skagit County Historical Society, former Board Member of Skagit County [Historical] Museum in LaConner, and the Republican Party. Survivors include: wife, Frances Miller, of the family home n Sedro-Woolley; two daughters and sons-in-law, Candy and Fred LaMont of Woodinville, WA, and Tami and Frank Ensley of Sedro-Woolley; four grandchildren: Scott LaMont of Bellingham, Lindsey LaMont of Woodinville, Tahnee Crawford of Sedro-Woolley and Tyanna Ensley of Mt. Vernon; three great-grandsons: Daniel, Alden, and J'Den; brother and sister-in-law, Marlin and Jessie Miller of Sedro-Woolley; Graveside services will be Thursday, November 16, 2000, at 11:30 a.m. at the Sedro-Woolley Union Cemetery with memorial services to follow at 1:00 p.m. at the Trinity United Presbyterian Church on Collins Rd. with Pastor Wendy Tingley officiating. Memorials are suggested to the Sedro-Woolley Community Church on Township St. Arrangements and services under the care of Lemley Chapel.

(Howard Wendy Cabin 1)

Howard Miller, with his constant companion, Wendy the Poodle Dog, at his family's cabin in the woods near the old Faber Ferry Landing and boat launch, two years before his death.
(Howard Wendy Cabin 2)

'He loved his river and that countryside'
Former County Commissioner Howard Miller dead at 84

Skagit Valley Herald, Nov. 13, 2000
      People living in the area in the 1970s saw one of the hottest political debates of the time as friends and neighbors were consumed with whether to build a nuclear power plant in Skagit County.
      Though the plant was never built, county commissioners found themselves embroiled in daily disputes. Times were so intense that instead of starting each day with a cup of a coffee and a roll, former Commissioner Jerry Mansfield recalled, stopping off at the Health Department every morning with fellow Commissioner Howard Miller so the two could have their blood pressure tested.
      Those were difficult times," Mans-field remembered. "And Howard and me, we didn't have knock-down, drag-out battles. While we disagreed, Howard remained calm, outwardly calm at least. And we remained close friends."
      Mansfield and other family and friends will gather at 11:30 a.m., Thursday, at the Sedro-Woolley Union Cemetery to commemorate Miller, a 16-year county commissioner who died at the age of 84 Saturday in Sedro-Woolley. Memorial services will follow at 1 p.m. in the Trinity United Presbyterian Church on Collins Road.
      Miller was born in Sedro-Woolley on Nov. 23, 1915, and lived in the city all is life, graduating with the Class of 1932. And Miller spent most of his life fishing the Skagit River.
      "He loved his river and that countryside to him was so important. It was just part of him and Howard was a part of it," Mansfield said. "He was born and raised on that river and that was a great part of his life," Mansfield continued. "He was a great champion of it."
      And though arthritis slowed him after 15 years as a fishing guide rowing a flat-bottomed scow, Miller said in a October a year ago, "I'll fish as long as I can raise a rod."
      And he did. After a tour of Africa during World War II, Miller returned to Sedro-Woolley and worked for the Equitable Life Insurance Co. In 1951, Miller combined his sales job with fishing when he bought his 18-foot boat and became a steelhead guide.
      Miller's reputation as a guide drew a celebrated roster of clients, from actor Lee Marvin to Seahawk Steve Largent to baseball legend Ted Williams. "Fishing with him, he put everything into it," said Mansfield, who often fished with his friend. "He didn't just take you out and say 'maybe we'll get a fish.' There was no skimping for Howard. He never seemed to be like that."
      In 1967 [actually 1966], Miller was elected to the Skagit County Commission and served four consecutive terms until leaving office in 1983. During that time Miller watched as his beloved Skagit River suffered from an increasing population, which took away riparian cover and brought with it certain kinds of pollution that inevitably stressed the steelhead
      "I remember the salmon in this river, so many you could see them chasing each other up and down the river bank," Miller said last year. Miller spent years fighting to protect the river. The Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport was established for his many efforts and accomplishments.
      "Howard, like a lot of us old-timers, we almost resent the increase in populations, the change taking place," Mansfield said. "Howard was staunch in his beliefs, in his caring. There certainly hasn't been anyone in business or politics that I trusted more."
      Also during his time on the commission, Miller was faced with the raging debate over Puget Sound Power and Light Co.'s proposal to build a $3.1 billion nuclear power plant.
      Miller and his fellow commissioners found themselves in the eye of the storm. Commissioners finally decided in 1974 to rezone a swath of tree-covered land at Bacus Hill near Sedro-Woolley so plant could be built. But that rezone came with a five-year deadline. Meetings at the state and federal level ate up those years. So when Puget officials came back to ask Miller and his colleagues for an extension, commissioners said no.
      From those difficult times, Mansfield remembered Miller as being "honest to a fault." 'Whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, as we frequently did, we respected Howard," Mansfield said. "When you disagree and there's no rancor, I believe that occurs because the person is honest in his belief and Howard certainly was.

Story posted on Dec. 1, 2000, last updated Nov. 12, 2007, Sept. 15, 2009
Please report any broken links so we can update them

Getting lost trying to navigate or find stories on our site?
Read how to sort through our 680-plus stories.
Return to the new-domain home page
Links for portals to subjects and towns
Newest photo features
Search entire site
Our new weekly column, Puget Sound Mail (but don't call it a blog)
debuted on Aug. 9, 2009. Check it out.
(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 ninth 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) Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop at 817 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 88 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.
(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:
(Click to send email)
Mail copies/documents to Street address: Skagit River Journal, 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, WA, 98284.