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Skagit River Journal

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Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
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Frank Hoehn, Sedro's
original cowboy — performed with Buffalo Bill
Part One of Two

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal ©2011
(Frank Hoehn)
This is unfortunately the only photo we have of Frank. It accompanied a 1935 profile of him by Courier-Times columnist Catherine McClintock.

      Sedro only boasted one genuine cowboy in the first two decades and he left his stamp on several different businesses. Frank J. Hoehn wound up the owner of the town's most notable livery stable. Hoehn claimed that he performed with Buffalo Bill (William F. Cody), a story that was considered apocryphal by some, but when we researched we found it is very likely true. In fact Cody came to visit him in Sedro-Woolley 25 years after Frank appeared here in 1889. We just wish we could tie him in with the other Hoehns in western Skagit County. The only physical legacy he left is his namesake road that now extends from east of town to Highway 20 in the Utopia district.
      The most detailed source of information about Frank appears in a profile by Catherine McClintock in the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times on Dec. 12, 1935. Frank told her that he arrived in Sedro in 1889, but in an interview for his paid biography in the Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties (1906, hereafter The 1906 History) he gave his actual arrival date: Feb. 28, 1890. We infer that the date was correct, but we question the year, as we will explain.
      What he brought with him, however, was the key to why he was welcomed with open arms. According to the source, he brought 14 or 16 horses. And as several sources note, the crews building the tracks into Sedro for the Fairhaven &SSouthern Railway needed those horses for packing. They had completed construction of the entire route from Fairhaven, on Bellingham Bay, southeast to the Skagit River, by Christmas 1889. So he must have arrived in 1889, not 1890.
      He brought the horses across the North Cascades from Ellensburg, where the 1906 History notes that he arrived in the spring of 1888, with his brother-in-law Saul Hendrickson and family and John Anderson and family. The relationship with Hendrickson is important because it indicates that all sources were incorrect about Frank's marital status. Anderson's name could be very important, if that were the same Anderson who launched Sedro-Woolley Iron Works 15 years later; but we are sure now that it was not. Hoehn told McClintock that they were encouraged by a Bill Ferrill to head for Sedro with the horses. We checked the voters list of Sedro in 1898 and we found a W.F. Farrell, so that may have been him. Frank drove the herd of horses over the mountains while the families rode in a covered wagon to the new town near Mortimer's Sedro General Store and sternwheeler wharf.


Cowboy days
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      By that time, Frank had literally ridden over most of the Midwest and West on horseback for almost 25 years. He was born to a farming family in Posey County, Indiana, on Aug. 18, 1864. He recalled that he had learned to ride at age four after his father tied him onto a saddle, and he was a fully fledged jockey at age ten. His father, Blasius Hoehn, was born to an old New England family of French descent, according to one source. Another source and Frank's 1941 funeral card states that the father was of German descent. He died while Frank was "young." His mother, Josephine (Phister) Hoehn, was an Ohio native. Frank was the youngest of nine children.
      Two sources indicate that Frank rode off on his pet pony at age 12, but disagree about whether he stopped for awhile in Illinois or rode straight to Texas. He arrived there in 1877 and spending the next three years learning the art of cowpunching on the vast grasslands of the cattle range. He told McClintock that when he was hired, he was paid room and board and $75 cash per month. He recalled the Meeker Massacre, a famous Texas incident, from when he was 15. In October 1879, Nathanial C. Meeker, a Federal Indian agent for the White River agency in western Colorado, was kidnapped along with his family by a band of Ute Indians. After three weeks, they killed Meeker, and soon began the "Ute War."
      In 1880 Frank was lured away briefly to be a jockey, in Nebraska ranging all the way to Wyoming. Frank stayed in Nebraska, where he was hired on by the Chicago &SNorthwestern Railroad, out of Gordon, Neb., for a year and a half. By 1883 he was back in Texas, a cowboy again, this time for the Quarter V-Bar ranch, in a large crew that rounded up and tended 24,000 cattle. He distinctly remembered the lightning storms that stampeded the herd and the hours and days required to fetch them back. He had something to brag about upon return, regaling his fellow cowboys about how he rode with a former Indian scout named Buffalo Bill.
      This was one of the problem claims for us 15 years or so ago when we first started researching Frank. In interviews with really old timers then still living here, especially one with the nonagenarian former Sedro mailman, Harold Renfro, we were told that Hoehn was known for exaggerating. But they never differentiated between our Frank, and his nephew, Frank J. Hoehn, who was a major bootlegging middleman during Prohibition. We did not really confirm Frank's claim about Mr. Cody until this last year.
      First, Jaime Brown, the daughter of old friend and 1962 Sedro-Woolley classmate Lynn Torset, happened to find a display book at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Golden, Colorado, that recorded the exact day that Cody paid a visit to Sedro-Woolley. The date was providential: May 23, 1914. As Frank told McClintock 21 years later, Bill visited with Frank just weeks before the first full-scale rodeo planned for Sedro-Woolley. That was the earliest such event and one that would eventually lead to the famous annual Loggerodeo and it was organized by Frank J. Hoehn. As the ad men used to say, "You can't buy advertising (or a pitchman) like that." The second near-proof we discovered concerned when Frank met Bill. He said he met and rode with him in Colorado in that 1883 period and that Bill called him "the Kid." We discovered more recently that Cody presented his first wild west show as Buffalo Bill in North Platte, Neb., May 19, 1883, a time when Frank lived and rode in that state. We found other contradictions and probable apocryphal claims, most of which we dismissed, but in this case we are confident that he was actually a mate of the most famous showman of the west.


(Cody Ranch)
      This was Scouts Rest Ranch, which Cody started near North Platte, Nebraska, before his first Wild West Show in 1883.

      In 1886 he was lured back to Wyoming where he bought a second-hand brokerage in Douglas and then rode for a copper-mine camp near Hartville before buying a grocery store in that town. He may have stayed there, everything considered, were it not for an intervening event: a fire leveled the store sometime in 1886-87. By July 1887, 23-year-old Frank was eager to move farther westward, so he rode overland with a horse team from Laramie, Wyoming, to Boise, Idaho, where he stayed and worked over the winter. Somewhere along that westerly route, he met Saul Hendrickson, who was born in Illinois in 1854 and by 1880 was working as a miner in Colorado. Hendrickson was recorded in a Bureau of Land Management document in what is now Jackson County, Colorado, in 1888, which is about when Frank headed westwards from Boise. Did they meet up at the latter town?
(The Cody Journal)
The journal at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Golden, Colorado, that shows when Cody visited Sedro-Woolley and heard of plans for the rodeo that Frank Hoehn planned for that summer. Cody's nephew, the late Cody Boal, lived in Bellingham.

      By the spring of 1888, his biography in the 1906 Illustrated History notes, Frank was in Ellensburg, Washington, just east of the Columbia River. If the group we described above had not yet already joined, they assembled in about that year and then arrived in Sedro-Woolley in February 1889 via covered wagon, according to our confirmed timeline.

Frank rides, drives team, packs and logs
      We try to imagine Sedro when they drove that team in. Keep in mind that in that year the Skagit River was still un-bridged. Small scow ferries crossed, mainly on the lower river, but two or three crossed upriver from Lyman eastwards. In those days before railroads criss-crossed the county, transportation was still almost exclusively by canoe and sternwheelers, which drew shallow enough draft to navigate even the shallow creeks and then backed right up onto sandbanks without a wharf being necessary. Puget Sound was the newcomers' first sight of the ocean.
      Mount Vernon was still less than a thousand in population. Skagit City, two miles downriver from there, at the fork of the river delta, was starting to decline. Burlington was still three years away. Continuing east two miles from the future Burlington site, Sterling included a large logging camp and a company store that formed into a small village after 1878. Sedro was two miles east after a double-horseshoe bend.
      When they drove up, or arrived on a boat, they found Sedro was populated by less than a hundred people who mainly lived in crude cabins along the northern shore. The business district was about two blocks long, on what was soon platted McDonald Avenue, now the parking lot for the barbecue pavilion at Waterfront park. Saloons and crude hotels outnumbered the retailers but enough stores were congregating to supply most of the community from day to day. The town grew steadily, drawing most of the pay from loggers, railroad construction crews and a rising number of flimflammers and assorted amusers roamed in the night.
      The newcomers probably checked in very early with Mortimer Cook, whose general store and wharf was just south of the main street, on Water Avenue, at the crook of Batey Slough, which diverted water northwest on a diagonal along the edge of the ancient river channel. Mortimer was still the major domo, having arrived back in June 1884 and he soon contracted with 1878 Sedro pioneer David Batey to build his store soon after arrival and then his house, on Cook Avenue upslope from the store, in 1885 in preparation for his family joining him. He launched operation of a shingle mill east of the store on May 24, 1886, with a unique goal. He erected a drying kiln, in which he could draw off the excess water in western red cedar (or redcedar), thus reducing the weight for railroad-freight cost by 30-40 percent.
      When Frank et al showed up, Mortimer was ready to sell the mill and pay off old loans and become a hog farmer west of town, on the future Cook Road. His time in the store was spent bedeviling customers with his odd retailing philosophy, fun only broken up when someone notable arrived, usually by sternwheeler. As you see in the photo of his store, he not only had the ubiquitous Western fašade that implied a second story, but he actually installed a window to make the prosperous false impression that would attract the eyes of investors with real cash.
      Frank would have cut through Mortimer's screen within minutes most likely, as soon as he discovered that Cook clerked for a store at Eagle Pass, Texas, in the late 1840s after service in the Mexican War. We close our eyes and imagine them, with their boots propped up on Mort's pot-bellied stove, swapping spit and yarns and the hearty laughs that erupted from the older man in his 60s and the younger one of 25. Frank soon learned about the train crews and their desperate need of horses for both freight and packing through the dense woods covering most of the F&S route northwest to Bellingham Bay. Hendrickson apparently chose mining upriver. Anderson dropped out of sight.
      Soon Frank's days were as full as they were back in the "loops & sand-hills" district of Nebraska. One week he would pack supplies up the slope north to the prairies where train crews were hacking away at stands of old-growth timber. Another week he would pack supplies from the original Batey home on the bench near Sterling to Warner's Prairie, north of Sedro across Duke's Hill, where men were starting to clear and grade a crude road that would many years later form parts of the north-south roads, Highway 9 and Fruitdale Road.
      When the F&S terminated just east of Cook's store on the northern shore of the river, and began running through trains on Christmas Eve, 1889, Frank immediately hired on to do the same packing and freight (teamster) work for the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern Railway, which was building northerly from the Snohomish River. The boom was on and Hoehn was on top of the world, trading horses and bringing them over the mountains whenever he had spare time. By the early 1890s he was a go-to man and might have become relatively wealthy in the area if the 1893 Nationwide Depression had not felled the economy from ocean to ocean. He had packed for three railroad lines by then, the ones that crossed a mile north at the new town of Woolley, which was already a magnet for a few of the original Sedro businesses that began at the riverside.


New century changes the cowboy's life and leads down a road
      The economy began reviving in 1897 and picked up considerable strength when gold dust began arriving from Alaska. Soon after he first arrived, Hoehn bunked with the Ira Brown family in Skiyou. Brown came here in 1886 from Chillicothe, Iowa, following Charles J. Wicker's family and he would soon be the first postmaster of merged Sedro-Woolley and a stage driver. Frank bought land a half mile west of the Skiyou slough and lying just north of the Emmett Van Fleet, Brown and Plin McFadden homesteads (all neighbors from Iowa), and stretching north almost to F&S tracks and Cokedale Junction. Following the contracts with the rail lines, he began packing for the logging camps of George Green at the Junction, Andrew Young at the Slough and many others.
      He also started branching out. When farmers grew frustrated with the mud bog called a road, from the Van Fleet farm out to Skiyou and beyond, they called for it to be planked. Frank was a natural because his farm was nearby. As old timers from the shingle industry explained, cedar was so glutted on the market during the Depression due to a near halt in homebuilding, that there was plenty left over to be donated or sold at cost. As a 1935 McClintock profile of banker C.E. Bingham noted, his wife, Julia, recalled "how the drivers of the big logging wagons used to help her pass them on the one-way corduroy."
      Corduroy denoted the most primitive of roads, merely adaptations of the original skid roads. A team from the Young & Roe lumber camp at Skiyou did most of the work. They originally sank cedar puncheons in the ground and spread rocks and gravel over them. Puncheons were logs cut to uniform length, then halved lengthwise and embedded in the soil or sand. Horses or oxen then would drag logs over the corduroy in a perpendicular direction after application of slippery dogfish oil. We know that the next stage was to plank the road. We assume the wood was cedar again but it could have been fir.
      We do not know exactly when the planking took place other than the earliest report of the Plank Road, recorded in that exact name in a September 1901 Skagit County Times article. The planking was sound enough that Julia recalled driving a horse and buggy on it out to Skiyou and back. On this page you will see a hand-drawn "county road" that parallels the F&S rail bed a few hundred feet to the south. It continued on a diagonal up the plank road. James Young's mill teamsters crossed the route daily, terminating at their loading shed in the Sedro part of town. Planks continued all the way to Jameson Avenue in Sedro. The old road followed the edge of bottom land like a cow trail, avoiding big trees, but after three serious floods of 1894, 1896 and 1897 they may have altered the route to follow the higher bench. Frank told McClintock that he remembered driving "wagons 16 feet long by 8 feet wide, so high you couldn't see over them, drawn by 4 horses."
      Lloyd Seabury, whose family bought part of pioneer Charles J. Wicker's Skiyou homestead at the turn of the century, recalled in his wonderful 1975 book, A Pioneer Family, that the road was about seven miles long, continuing through Sedro to Sterling, mainly along the river and the bottomland. Mrs. Daun Ringer reported in the Courier-Times in 1950 that she found remains of the puncheons on the Van Fleet property. Other settlers remembered that the old road was really just a crude trail between the giant trees. Because cash was scarce, the crews often just built around the trees and other obstructions. We have not yet discovered when the road was first paved.
      We note here the whereabouts of Frank's brother-in-law Saul Hendrickson. As his family descendant Ken Beckman explains, "I next find him in 1900 in Washington. His home is Woolley precinct (in the federal census), but he is also listed in the census in Whatcom County, in the Slate Creek Mining District, and by 1910 he is in Sedro Woolley city." That is the last confirmed record of Saul.


(Hoehn Livery)
      Hoehn's original livery stable, south across from Ferry from what is now the Gateway Hotel.

Transition to business owner again — livery stable
      After finishing the road construction Frank started dealing in horses, and then J.T. Hightower hired him as logging foreman for Hightower Lumber Co.'s mill near the old McFadden place, working through 1903. About that time Hightower and fellow mill man Wyman Kirby proposed to Hoehn that they would invest in the William J. Thompson livery stable on Ferry Street if Frank would be the manager and partner. Thompson had owned the stable, located in the vacant lot to the south across the street from the Gateway Hotel, since 1892. He was preparing for a run at the third district county commissioner office, which he won in 1906, and he later served as city mayor, erected the building on Metcalf Street where the Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop moved in 2010, and built the first wagon bridge over the Skagit River to Clear Lake in 1912, all before his accidental death in 1914.
      That was apparently a business marriage made in heaven. Hightower and Kirby were about to be heavily engaged in the major Skagit Mill, just north of Lyman, which they would launch in 1906. They realized the profits to be made in the livery, buggy and stage business and needed someone with extensive experience and the gift of gab. Frank saw a good thing, and he was 40 that year, possibly a time to settle down instead of riding in the saddle all day. As he described to McClintock, the partners invested in the finest horses Hoehn could find, fancy surreys, smart rubber-tired rigs and a spacious tallyho buggy for special occasions. Frank's fast-stepping team, "Rats and Rabbits," buckskin ponies, were in greatest demand. A wedding in Sedro-Woolley was not complete until the bride and groom rode off in a surrey with a fringe on top.
      McClintock knew Frank well in those early days because she was the daughter of David G. McIntyre, who came to Woolley at the turn of the century and eventually owned the largest industry in the area, Skagit Steel Iron Works. She remembered especially a ride home from Hamilton as a schoolgirl, and she recalled sadly that Tallyho was much later sold to be used as school bus. Hoehn also established a business relationship with McIntyre after the latter invested in Sedro-Woolley Iron Works in the aught years. By the teen years, McIntyre was expanding as the market required and SWIW capitalized on the needs of farmers — specifically for pulling stumps left over from logging in order to get to the rich topsoil underneath. The company first announced a capstan stump-puller machine, powered by circling horses, in 1909, but by 1914 he had modified and improved it with steel castings. Other improvements followed and the cost dropped below $75, so it sold very well to farmers all over the county. Frank provided many of the teams of horses.
      Frank also joined in marketing with blacksmith George Ratchford, who opened his smithy shop in 1899 next door to the stable to the east. Ratchford (see our Journal website, http://www.stumpranchonline.com/skagitjournal/S-W/Pioneer/RatchfordvsRitchford.html) originally had a partner named James McCabe, but the partner moved on and Ratchford worked more with Hoehn. In that first decade of business, Frank apparently only had two hired men by the time of the 1910 federal census: Earl Henderson and Walter Jones.


Fire presents a challenge and leads east
      The stable was a thriving business and Hoehn eventual bought controlling interest, but all that came crashing down on July 24, 1911, after the Great Woolley Fire erupted in a shed behind the Fritsch Bros. Hardware, two blocks southwest. A Keystone Kops fire response resulted in hoses being burned through and flames swept rapidly through three blocks, blown by a southwestern wind. The fire quickly leveled Hoehn's woodframe building full of hay after gobbling up the two-story, barnlike Donnelly Building, to the west of the stable. Hoehn's and Ratchford's buildings were ironically the last burnt by the fire. The Gray home and Ewestern Reno's bicycle shop were left standing in an arc to the east and south. Frank hardly skipped a beat, however, finding a new location and erecting a new barn/stable within five months. As we read,
      The new livery barn constructed by Frank J. Hoehn at the [northeast] corner of Ferry and Murdock streets is, perhaps, the largest, most commodious and conveniently appointed institution of the kind in the county. Its equipment is first class and covers a ground space of 90 by 114 feet. [Skagit County Times, Sedro-Woolley), Dec. 27, 1911]
      Why did Frank leave behind the lots where the original livery stood and why have they remained empty for the last 100 years? We have never answered those questions. Instead, Frank bought the lots a block east at the northeast corner of Murdock and Ferry streets (Skagit State Bank in 2011) and relocated there. We know that the business kept rolling right along because by the time of the 1913 R.G. Dun rating, the company's credit rating was excellent, and in that year's Polk Directory, the stable was named the F.J. Hoehn & Co. livery, transfer, storage and fuel. Kirby and Hightower both were still officers, in a minor position. The staff was extensive. The teamsters were George E. Foster, J. Edward Kisler and Adam O. Palmateer; foreman: William E. Ropes; barnman: Carl L. Moore; hostlers (Brit. ostler): Robert K. Sutton and William H. Thomas; Drivers: Carl Christopherson, Frank O'Conner, John E. Palmateer; Harry L. Riggs and Ed A. Scarlett. Hoehn had branched out a bit into the heating fuel business; by 1914 he advertised "Newcastle coal, $5 nut coal, $7 lump coal." In 1913 the new veterinary, Dr. G.A. Jones, who had arrived the year before, began renting space in the new barn.

The infernal internal combustion machine leads Frank to sell the stable
      What a difference two years made. The difference was the automobile, which was rapidly becoming the preferred transportation — the Model T sold by the rail car full through the Livermore Agency, which would soon invest the profits to erect the building in the 800 block of Metcalf Street that the Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop occupied in 1958-2010. Frank J. Hoehn was only 52 but he saw the writing on the wall about the auto. Even his old friend and fellow 1890 pioneer, Ad W. Davison Sr. had bought out his son's interest in the Ferry Street Garage, three blocks to the west. Frank had a great decade back in harness but it was time to move on. The opportunity presented itself in 1916 when Frank's foreman, William E. Ropes, joined with Charley White and made Frank an offer for the business.
      Once more, Frank scarcely missed a beat and he did not retire. On Sept. 28, 1916, Skagit County Times noted that the LaPlant Bros. and Hoehn contractors were paving Third and Township streets and they predicted that it would be an extra fine summer for concrete work. How appropriate that he completed the circle and came back to roads, which he had began constructing 20 years before and one of which would be his namesake. Ropes also became a town fixture as he organized fire fighters. In 1921 Chief William Ropes organized an official volunteer fire department. This was quite a rise in responsibility for a fellow who moved to Sedro-Woolley in 1907 after gaining fames as a champion hose coupler in the Midwest. In Woolley Ropes trained three local teams here that won the Washington championship. Up until the 1921 organization, most fires were fought with the handcarts.


Continue to Part Two of the Hoehn biography

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Story posted on March 7, 2011
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This article originally appeared in Issue 53 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine



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