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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition 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, founder (bullet) Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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One version of the meaning of Skagit

      Ed. note: We recently received this letter from Susan W.: "My husband and I are expecting our fourth child, and are considering giving him or her the middle name 'Skagit.' My husband wants to name his child after the 'Fisherman's Mecca,' but I'm afraid the name means something like 'Grizzly Breath', which would be a horrible thing to do to a baby. Can you help us out by letting us know what the word 'Skagit' means?" Bellow is an answer that dates from World War II. Update 2004: Susan says that they did not name the baby, Skagit, but her husband may use that nickname when the baby is old enough to don a life jacket and go fishing with dad.
Skagit Steel & Iron Worker magazine
Oct. 21, 1944 issue, p. 16
      Ed. note: The quoted story displays how whites in the World War II era patronized Indians, just as many do today, but it also shows the grudging respect for Indians and their connection with the river that linked all the pioneers of the Skagit.
Leapin' Cats and Jumpin' Fishes or What's in a Name?
      Indians in the Northwest regions pronounced Skagit with an "uh" in front, starting well below the belt with rising inflection, to put emphasis on the hard "G." This sounded uncouth to early settlers, so the initial grunt was omitted and the "G" softened. As a result, with a soft "A" and "G," we now have a pleasant sounding Skagit.
      In the Siwash dialect of the Chinook jargon language, "uh" or "uh uh" [before] Skagit was a superlative adjective often used as an exclamation and as a noun. When the Indian saw something that excited his admiration or wonderment, which wasn't often, out would come "uh" Skagit, much in the same fashion as his white cousin would say: "my goodness gracious." "Uh" Skagit, when used as a noun, denoted the most powerful, the swiftest, the largest, or the most beautiful and a combination of these qualities.
      Before the great white brothers sent them scurrying, the Siwash universe comprised a very beautiful portion of the Puget sound region. In this country were numerous rivers, streams, mountain lakes and the many islands of the San Juan group. The forests abounded with game of all kinds and the sea and streams were alive with many varieties of fish.
      The largest, the longest and swiftest river in this Indian universe was named the Skagit and the tribe of Indians [that] fought and held fishing and hunting rights on this stream called themselves Skagit to proclaim to the world their superiority.
      Fish were so abundant that no particular skill was required to catch all of the ordinary varieties, but there was one specie that was very choice and hard to catch by the usual means. This fish was called "uh uh" Skagit and the sportsmanlike method of catching it was with a spear as the fish jumped over obstructions or jumped and swam up the falls of the river.
      During the summer months the Indians would lave their homes on the tide water and venture far up stream to choice fishing and hunting grounds. During daylight hours the forest and streams were safe places, but at nightfall evil spirits descended from their abode in the mountains to infest the surrounding forests.
      At night the safest place for little Indians to be was right next to papa beside a campfire. The occasional sight of the bones of freshly killed deer gave mute evidence of what would happen at night to the venturesome. Oftentimes at night the shrill screech of a mountain lion would strike terror in the hearts of the young braves and they would awaken their wives to add more fuel to the campfire. Naturally the Indians called the mountain lion, or cougar "uh uh uh" Skagit and did most of their hunting for this powerful beast during the winter months around campfires on the tide flats.
      All this happened long ago and although some might now contend that the river was named Skagit for its resemblance to the mountain lions or that a steelhead was called Skagit on account of its resemblance to a leaping cat or that the cats, the fish and river were all named after the fierce and warlike Skagit Indians, but who are we to doubt the Indians own story. The river, some mountain lions, the steelhead and a few Indians still remain to verify this story, but in any event, leapin' cats and jumpin' fishes make fitting trade marks for the types of equipment [that] the Skagit Steel & Iron Works produce.

      Read a three part history of Skagit Steel & Iron Works (originally Sedro-Woolley Iron Works) and the David G. McIntyre family at this Journal website.

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