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Diary by Nina Cook,
Part 1, Beginning May 29, 1886,
Sedro, Washington Territory

Transcribed and annotated by Noel V. Bourasaw,
Publisher of the Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore ©2002, updated 2010

Family information:
(Nina Cook)
Nina Cook Budlong, in 1902 while she was pregnant with her son, Mortimer Cook Budlong, in Oak Park, Illinois, the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway. "Papa" was a toddler of three at the time, just a few blocks away.


      This diary begins in 1886, about two years after Mortimer Cook first bought timber rights on land from the northern shore of the Skagit river clear on up to Duke's Hill and the prairies. David Batey, the original 1878 settler along with Joseph Hart, built Cook's general store right on the shore just south of where the Rotary barbecue pits now stand. He also built the Cook home, which stood a little bit north and west about 50 yards. The beautiful rock and wood amphitheater that the Rotary Club spearheaded stands on nearly the same spot 125 years later.
      The old town of Sedro was due north of the store and a short pier jutted out into the river. Cook apparently chose the location because it was the crook of the river and a small slough that was named for Batey because it flowed on the diagonal to the northwest, below Batey's farm near Sterling. It was at the northern edge of an ancient channel of the river, now defined by the bluff that rises just north of old Sedro and continues west.
      Nina's diary is written in a notebook that Mortimer originally stamped with the name of his bridge company in Topeka, Kansas, the business that originally made him wealthy. Paper and ink were both scarce on the frontier so Nina used whatever was available for her diary. Some of it is written in pencil and some is nearly illegible. Except for the dates, italics note when she gave words special emphasis. Material in brackets, [ ] includes our research and explanatory notes.

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      Back in 1992, the late Fred Slipper gave me a photocopy of this diary when we both worked for the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, which was then called the Skagit River Post. He obtained it from a Cook descendant, but he could not remember her full name or how to contact her. I was immediately enthralled and the diary convinced me that we could find more material like it if we searched for original sources and interviewed descendants of pioneers, who had family memories and memorabilia.
      Within a month I began this research project, which eight and a half years later led to this website. I am still indebted to Fred for sharing this diary and his nearly 15 years worth of columns have provided much valuable information as we track down pioneers and learn from the people he interviewed, some of whom are long gone. I became obsessed about finding the source of the diary. Luckily I found her in 1993 — Paula Budlong Cronin, Mortimer's great granddaughter, who was then director of news and information at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was certainly aware of Cook's many adventures, but even she and the rest of the family continue to be amazed at the revelations about him.
      In April 1993, the late Bob Wilcox and Win McLean convinced the Sedro-Woolley Rotary Club to help underwrite a research trip that took me to several states where I interviewed descendants of our pioneers. This was a natural continuation of the Rotary's interest in the original townsite; they led a community effort to rescue it from underneath the town dump back in the early 1980s.
      The clincher for continuing this project was when I met Nina's daughter, Barbara Budlong Taggart, who was 87 years old and wheelchair-bound when I met her later that month. When I walked through her front door in Rockford, Illinois, I saw one of Nina's paintings for the first time, hanging in Barbara's foyer. A tiny woman, Barbara was the former designer of circus costumes and composer of songs for circuses. She saved trunks full of clothes and one trunk also held a scrapbook that Nina maintained from the turn of the century on. It held newspaper clippings, letters and photos of old Sedro that we had never seen. Barbara passed away a couple of years ago after we corresponded nearly every month. These excerpts are shared in her memory. The diary itself was presented to the new Sedro-Woolley Museum in 1994 by Paula, who is the daughter of Barbara's brother, Mortimer Cook Budlong. Paula and her family represented the Cooks at our first Founders Day during the 1994 Loggerodeo. Thank you, again, Paula, for your kindness in sharing what is probably the most important historical document in the museum.


Nina Cook's Diary
May 29, 1886
The beginning
      Well, I am going to commence a diary. I was looking over the one I wrote in 1884 and it seemed so nice to have it to read afterwards that I decided to commence one this year.
      I should like to commence on my birthday or the beginning of the year or some important time or other but I never would do it if I waited. I know I am going to commence writing in pencil for I am positive I should not keep to writing in it however good my resolve would be now., and it will not look so well part one and part the other as all pencil. I think I have grown more sensible since my last journal was kept, if I am not different in any other way. But I am, for I think a change, such as we have made, will change anyone.
      On the last page of my 1884 journal I said: we were soon going north. We have gone north, and to Washington Territory, Sedro, Skagit County.[Journal Ed. note: we hold out hope that somewhere, sometime, someone will find that 1884 journal. Be still, my foolish heart.]


(Cook's store and house)
      In this photo of Mortimer Cook's general store, Mortimer is the fourth man standing from the left. Their home is to the left. That is probably Nina riding her horse in front, so the photo must have been taken after the summer of 1885. This photo was in Nina's scrapbook that Barbara Taggart kept and is now in the library of her son, Bob Chanson. I will never forget the shivers that went up and down my spine when I saw this photo for the first time. It is the only photo we have of Mortimer's general store. Note the fašade, which was de rigeur for frontier buildings. Always the showman, Mortimer went one step further than most retailers with a facade. He put a store-bought glass window in the faux second story to impress the investors when they stepped off a sternwheeler onto his pier.

Arrived at Sedro June 20
      We left Santa Barbara on June 9, 1885, coming up on the steamer Queen of the Pacific, [and then after connections in Seattle] arrived in Sedro on the steamer Glide, June 20. We found a cute, dear, pretty little white house all waiting for us and the loveliest trees and ferns and flowers. The most beautiful place altogether that I ever, ever saw. A little boat on the river bank to go rowing on the Skagit in and a near prospect of a horse to go on horseback.
      We lived all last summer quite quietly, getting acquainted with our neighbors gradually and having a "good time" generally. There is one girl about my age (one year older) named Leota Jacques, who lives about a half a mile from here up the river [a relative of the Wicker family who lived with them and generally served as a nanny]. At first I did not like her at all and I thought she was, as mama said — pert. Since then I have liked her sometimes quite well — even tried to think real well, and then again disliked her just as much. I think my feelings toward her have taken the direction of [a cyclical line drawn on the page].
      Louise Hart is yet my best friend and she writes lovely letters to me from New York City where she is now having her foot treated, going to school and having a splendid time with her relatives [not related to Sedro settler Joseph Hart]. I write to Grace about every one or two weeks. When I say L.H. is my best friend I do not preclude Grace, but somehow she is different. You see, [Grace Hale Pringle] is my cousin also. Just (in some proportion) as I never think of excluding Fairie.
      Well, we had a lovely time in the winter. The second real winter I have ever had. We slid down hill and made snowballs and did all those nice wintery things. Had ice cream too. [Journal Ed. note: very interesting since ice cream did not become a "fad" on the western frontier until around the turn of the century.]

'Papa has started a shingle mill'
      Now it is spring and it is not the quiet place in Sedro that it was when we came. Some of the trees are cut down but not many near the house. Papa has started a shingle mill and I can hear the buzz and screech of the saws now. It is an immense affair and will be a great thing "if it pays," [as papa often says]. It will!! It has got to!!. First shingle made May 24. Mama and I went out to pick salmonberries yesterday, which are just commencing to ripen. We only got a very few and those I ate up before we got home. I had a fearful headache last night, a thing which I don't often have since I have come here.
      Claudie Cleaves just now smashed his toe somehow. Poor little fellow it must hurt him. Mr. Cleaves brought his family up here about two months ago and they live in the cabin which William Henry had when he came here. I tell everything about [the neighbors] so I won't have to explain all through this book.
      Shoemaker's little girl, Susan (papa named her) just brought a bowl of salmonberries. We gave her a pound of [crackling?] at the store.
      This must be cupit [Chinook Jargon for "the end"] for now. you see I talk in Chinook instead of Spanish now [Journal Ed. note: they lived in Santa Barbara, California, with a large Mexican population since she was age one in 1871 until she was nearly 15]. This journal is begun by your sincere friend, Nina [also Hannah] Cook.


June 1, 1886
      I had just written the date when the mail came and I had to go down and help sort it. [Journal Ed. note: her father had started the Sedro post office in the store, next to their house, on Dec. 7, 1885.] I got a letter from Grace and my copy of Youth Companion [a very popular magazine of the day]. This is the last day of school at the Sterling schoolhouse and they had a reading exercise. I wanted to go [down? — hard to read] but then we decided that it was too hot.
      Mama's sweet peas are in bloom now and they are so sweet. Mine will not bloom for a long time. Fairie received [the book] A Girton Girl in the mail and we are going to read it together. It is by Mrs. Anne Edwards.
      Mr. and Mrs. McKay were here yesterday to see us and the mill [the partners McEwan and McKay bought the mill in 1988, just months before it burned]. She is the littlest person, and he so very tall and big. She has brought the little horse Nellie that papa thought of buying. I do wish I had it for it is so sweet. I like Mrs. McKay really well. She invited us cordially to come down to their camp and visit them.
      [Journal Ed. note: she and her older sister Fairie had been the toast of society life down south while her father was mayor of Santa Barbara in the 1870s.]


June 2, 1886
      We are washing today. We got up early and were all dressed by half past five. We had to carry our own water from the river in pails. Arthur Cleaves, the old camp cook, is in [his house] now. The shingle mill is going this morning real well. It can cut about 10,000 shingles an hour.
      7 p.m. I went out picking salmonberries this afternoon. I went out on the township line road [now Township street] as far as the bench and got about two good saucers full, not very much but enough for mama and me. Papa and Fairie don't like them.
      The birds sing so sweetly now. [The little puppy] is barking dreadfully now. Don't know what he sees.
      I am so tired tonight. I am not going up to Leota Jacques's tomorrow evening to practice the songs for the 4th [of July] if I can possibly help it. I am going to read King Arthur now. It is by Miss Mulock in the Harper's [Monthly magazine].


Sternwheeler steamboats
June 3, 1886
      9:30 a.m. The steamer Glide is just now passing down the river past the house with the first carload of shingles on board which we have sent. This is the commencement and if the end is only as good we will be happy. Papa is on board going to Seattle. I am ironing this morning.

(Nina's drawing of the Cook mill)
      We do not have a photo of Cook's mill, but this is a drawing of it by Nina, apparently about the time that the drying kiln was being built. This would be looking east. Photos and drawings courtesy of the late Barbara Budlong Taggart, Nina's daughter.

      [Journal Ed. note: Mortimer Cook rode a sternwheeler downriver and out on the sound to Seattle. There was no railroad connection yet in Seattle, so he negotiated rates with Northern Pacific Railway in Tacoma. He established a good working relationship with I.A. Nadeau, general agent for Northern Pacific, who had his office at First Avenue and Yesler Way. Nadeau would become director-general for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909.]

June 4, 1886
      Well we did have the most dolefully dreadful time last night at the Mackie house. Leota Jacques wanted me to meet to make arrangements for the Fourth of July and to sing. I can't describe it but Fairie said she wanted to laugh outright all the time, but I thought it was entirely too serious and dismal an affair. It was so hard to sing without an instrument and Mr. [Charles J.] Wicker and Mr. Mackie would not sing. Well, you know how horrid that is, although I don't blame them exactly for they certainly did not want to sing.
      It is so dreadful, too, when we don't want the detestable old picnic anyway. It would be better if we did not have any singing at all, I think, and I longed to propose that but that would have shocked them. I dare say so much that I would have felt disgraced for the rest of the evening. If I had some money of my own, I would tell them that I would furnish the lemonade for the whole picnic if they would not say picnic to me again until the Fourth and let me stay away then unless I wanted to come.

'I do wish I did have some money for that would be a capital plan'
      I do wish I did have some money for that would be a capital plan, and one which I should think they would be glad to accept, by you see I haven't a cent, and don't know where I could get any. People (with whom I am always disgusted) ask us if we don't miss society here. I tell you it's easy enough to miss people's society that you like, but to have to go with people you don't like is bad. Why, I am losing all my independence in having to say that things I think are ugly are pretty, and pretending that I like people and am glad to see them when I ain't.
      I do wish I could say once in a while what I feel. Yesterday Mrs. Batey was here and she is so conceited that I was disgusted. I was determined not to be an Uriah Heep before her and Mama said that in consequence I looked as cross as a bear. By the way, Mr. Van Fleet saw three bears yesterday. [She apparently added this postscript sometime later:] P.S. Mama says that was very foolish about the lemonade and I see now it was.


June 12, 1886
      I see I have not written for a long time. I was getting quite anxious with thinking that my book wouldn't hold out if I wrote so much every day and I was afraid I would never forget a day, so as to make up —
      Fairie and Claudie Cleaves and I went out salmonberrying yesterday afternoon. It had rained all morning and in the afternoon when it cleared up a little we started and had gone about as far as the Wicker's [in the Fruitdale road area] when it commenced to thunder and rain. We did not go back and went across the foot-log on up the trail to Joe _ _ [?? illegible]. We got about six quarts in all of delicious big salmonberries. Mama made some of them into pies and they were splendid!
      I have been out this afternoon in the little place I fixed at the edge of the woods right by the side of the house under the maple trees. It is such a dear little shady place and we have a little hammock there which is so comfortable to lie in — and what is a very important part — very secure. Eva Van Fleet [then age nine] and I made it the day she was down visiting me this week [from the Van Fleet homestead in Skiyou, about two miles away]. She stayed all night and we had a real nice time. I like her so much.
      Mrs. Wicker [presumably Anna Wicker, widowed mother of Charles J. and Cushman Wicker] fell down the store steps a few days ago and I am afraid it will be very troublesome for she can hardly walk now. I got a letter from Grace last mail [her cousin from Santa Barbara]. Tomorrow is Sunday and I hope we are going to have a nice time reading and no one [whom we don't want] will come to see us.


June 16, 1886
      This is Wednesday and we are going down to Mrs. Batey's to pick gooseberries [on shores?] all day, that is if it does not rain. One of our rosebushes blossomed yesterday and we picked the beautiful red, rose, the prettiest kind this morning. Our sweet peas are also in bloom. It does seem so queer though to have things die down in winter, for they never did in Santa Barbara.
      The mail came yesterday and I got my Youth's Companion, Mama got [illegible] and Fairie the NY Tribune, the Santa Barbara papers and some business letters. In the Santa Barbara papers there was an article upon the examination that Gracie's class had, to enter high school. You know I had it before I came up here and passed. Her class is really beyond the entering of the high school but it is taken afterwards somehow. Grace stood third in rank. That, I think, is real nice.
      The mill is not going today on account of other things being done.


June 25, 1886
      It is just a year ago today since we came here. So much has happened in this year but there will be more in the next, I expect. We got word last Sunday of Cousin Louie Anderson's death. It did not see m possible that she could die, for she was so strong and daring and brave. She was bathing in the Sacramento river and was drowned. We have had no word since. Her body was not found until quite a while afterwards. I believe she got in sort of a whirlpool. This is the ending to her book, An American Girl and her Four Years in a Boy's College," which itself had no end. [Journal Ed. note: The book, An American Girl, and Her Four Years in a Boys' College, by Olive San Louie Anderson is still considered one of the best texts on the early coeducational movement.]
      I have just finished reading A Girton Girl. I don't like the way it ended. I wish she could have gone to Girton. Evidently the author don't believe in higher education for girls. Don't think it is womanly and thinks it destroys their "sweet dependence" and "girlish innocence," etc. I wish some of it could be destroyed. Although I think I should be too lazy to ever take a college course. I think it would be just the thing one ought to have; and expect I shall repent [illegible] not going if I have a chance.

Shoemaker Jim from Lyman
      Shoemaker Jim (an Indian worker at the mill whose wife acted as a midwife upriver) cut his finger off above the end joint in one of the saws at the mill. Poor fellow, but I guess it was carelessness. I saw the piece.
      I have been trying to shoot at something (we are most sure it is a wild cat) that has been taking the chickens, but it is so sly that I can never get to see it. It took our best white leghorn first and now we think it has taken the old Brama [? illegible]. I should feel awfully proud if I could kill it.
      Papa is down at Seattle yet but I guess will be back next Sunday. Claudie Cleaves has come over now and is talking to me so I positively can't write any more. A good excuse to stop, ain't it? Cupit.


Monday, June 28, 1886
      Yesterday was the Sunday for the church service Mr. Dobbs, preacher. I like him real well but he does preach such long sermons. Maybe he will not come back any more.
      Leota came home from La Conner yesterday [she uses the form of two separate words for the town]. She went down Friday and borrowed my riding habit skirt. Papa got home. Walked up from Sterling. The Glide won't be up any more, I think, for July. It commences to carry the mail en route from Seattle to Mount Vernon thrice a week.
      It rained this morning. We are going to fix the scrap bags this morning. It is an endless jog and I expect will take us all day. The potato jasmine is in bloom, the one, you will remember, which grew so high, clear up on the roof even, of our house on Chapala street in Santa Barbara.

Nina learns of why her father originally named the town, Bug
      The mosquitoes are terrible now!!!!! I thought they were bad last year but there is no comparison. We have to keep a terrible smoke all the time to keep from devouration (??). I am getting sick and tired of keeping a journal. [The rest of page has drawings of faces, a pastime Nina especially enjoyed.]


Endnotes

Grace Hale Pringle
      Grace Hale Pringle was the daughter of George Hale, a key figure in Mortimer Cook's various businesses. George Hale's obituary from the (Topeka Kansas) Daily Capital on Nov. 1, 1903, noted that he was a Boston native who sailed around the Horn to become a '49er in the California gold fields and met Mortimer there when Mortimer owned a general store at Rabbit Creek, now Laporte, California. George then joined Mortimer again in Cook's Ferry sometime in the early to mid-1860s. When Mortimer returned to Ohio, George joined him there and then met Mortimer's cousin. They married and moved to Topeka (thence Grace Hale Pringle was born). George discovered that the Kaw River there was in need of a ferry or bridge and enticed Mortimer to join him sometime between 1865-68. [Return]


Cleaves family
      The Cleaves family eventually moved to LaConner and Mount Vernon. One member became the county clerk and platted the prospective town of West Mount Vernon. They descended from Joseph Henry Cleaves, who is most important early Puget Sound pioneer. Back in Stockbridge, Wisconsin, in February 1870 he talked Joseph Dwelley into taking an emigrant train out to the West Coast. They wound up on Whidbey Island. Joseph Dwelley became a key LaConner pioneer, but Joseph Cleaves returned to Wisconsin, where he and his wife, Lucy, eventually divorced. Lucy Cleaves then went on in 1883 to marry Orrin Kincaid, an important Mount Vernon pioneer. [Return]


Shoemaker
      Jim Shoemaker was an Indian who worked at Cook's mill and later a slough above Lyman was named for him. [Return]


A Girton Girl
      That paragraph gives us an idea about how Mortimer and Nan Cook provided educational materials for their daughters. A Girton Girl by Annie Edwards was published just the year before in New York, and it is also sometimes used today as a historical text in colleges. It takes place on the island of Guernsey. [Return]


Continue to part 2 of the diary

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Story posted on April 24, 2002, last updated Jan. 4, 2011
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