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Recollections of a Skagit County Pioneer

Mrs. Kate Maloy of LaConner, daughter of an early-day merchant and justice of the peace, recalls life on a homestead in 1880s
By Lucile McDonald, Seattle Times, Oct. 25, 1959, Sunday Rotogravure
(Kate Maloy)
Kate Maloy, from the article

      Mrs. Kate Maloy of LaConner will be 87 November 22. She was the second white girl born in Skagit County [1872] and she can remember when her home town had only a dozen buildings.
      The pioneer woman's first two years were spent on a land claim in the midst of a forest spreading over the south half of Mount Vernon (see our Jacob Gates story), where her father, Joseph F. Dwelley, settled in 1871. He moved to LaConner in 1874 [or 1875] and the daughter since has resided almost continuously in the town or on the Maloy farm, three miles northeast.
      Mrs. Maloy frequently is called on for information or to find the sites of vanished landmarks. To refresh her memory she turns to scrapbooks, photograph albums and a tin box of her father's papers.
      Mrs. Maloy, mother of 19 children, nearly grew up an only child. When she was three a typhoid epidemic caused by polluted well water took the lives of two sisters and an infant brother. Her only brother, C. L. Dwelley, is seven years younger than Mrs. Maloy.
      The hilltop house where Mrs. Maloy resides is next door to one her father erected in 1885. He had to clear dense woods from his three lots so he could build.

Joseph Dwelley's court cases
      After her father's death in 1933 Mrs. Maloy removed an accumulation of papers from the attic and discovered a black tin box containing a black tin box containing records of the justice court for the community when it was part of Whatcom County. Her father was justice of the peace more than 45 years. He was mayor of LaConner three times and for some years was postmaster and a school director.
      "Father was a self-taught judge," Mrs. Maloy said. "He was a great reader, sitting up every night with his books. He often wrote his legal papers at home, but he heard cases in town."
      The documents from the box are couched in quaintly dignified court terminology. A long complaint charges certain boys with pelting a boathouse with stones and "putting the plaintiff in great fear." Others allege that strayed cattle damaged premises, a man committed assault with a bookjack, offenders stoned the house of LaConner's only Chinese laundryman and a farer attacked another with a spade during dike operations.
      A plaintiff requested a search warrant for a stolen coat. Another obtained a search warrant to find a stolen boat, valued at $5. A lawyer was sued for retaining "a large sum of the client's money," namely $7.50.
      The greatest number of complaints related to sale of liquor to Indians. Mrs. Maloy, reading an 1879 charge against a resident at the north end of Fidalgo island, recalled that wild black-currant bushes flourished there and the berries wre a favorite source of wine sold to Indians.

Joseph's autobiography, from Maine through Civil War to Puget sound
(Joseph F. Dwelley)
Joseph F. Dwelley, circa 1920

      Among other papers of Joseph Dwelley is an account of his early life and military service. He was born in 1839 in Kittery, Maine, where his father, a Boston ship carpenter, was working in a shipyard.
      Joseph moved from New England to Wisconsin as a young man. In 1861, after learning of the fall of Fort Sumter, he enlisted in the Union army and served in some of the famous battles of the civil War. He was at Yorktown, Richmond, Antietam, Chancellorsville and the Wilderness. He watched Pickett's charge from Round Top Hill [at Gettysburg].
      After the war Dwelley married in Wisconsin [to Angeline Wells, Feb. 11, 1865]. Having decided to seek a home in the West, he left his bride to wait until he could send for her. At San Francisco he arranged to work as ship's carpenter on the Isaac Jenner for his passage to Whidby [Whidbey] island. The captain set him ashore March 10, 1870, with a $5 gold piece as a bonus, to begin his career in the new country.
      The young man had inherited his father's carpentry skill, so he built barns and houses on the island in the summer. On a trip up the Skagit river he located a land claim above the great log jam which blocked the stream near the present Mount Vernon. He sent for his wife in 1871 and they spent the winters on their wild homestead. Each summer they migrated to Whidby Island, where Dwelley worked at his trade.

From Coupeville to future Mount Vernon by canoe, as a babe
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      One of my first conscious memories," said Mrs. Maloy, "is of going back and forth to Coupeville in a large canoe. Mother put a feather bed in it and we children slept while our parents rowed. We lived in a log cabin on the island two summers.
      After four seasons on his Mount Vernon homestead Dwelley moved to LaConner. The country above the jam was too lonely for a man with a family.
      LaConner was the trading center for all that part of the country, so Dwelley opened a furniture store. When Skagit County was separated from Whatcom in 1884 the town on Swinomish slough became the first county seat. An election Nov. 4, 1885, moved it to Mount Vernon. LaConner residents thought unfair that loggers had swung the election.
      "All you had to do was take a stick and hit the bushes and men came running out of them," was a pioneer merchant's description of the voting.
      "Father was active in trying to keep the government here," Mrs. Maloy said. "He was out night after night attending meetings before the election. In 1883 the District Court held a session in LaConner and Mrs. Maloy recalls that her mother boarded some of the lawyers and witnesses in a murder case. Judge Thomas Burke of Seattle was one of those who stayed at the house.
      "The murder resulted from a quarrel over a boundary line," Mrs. Maloy said. "A man shot the husband of an old woman who lived near Lynden. "When the trial was over the widow invited us to visit her next year. We took the boat to Whatcom and went from there by lumber wagon, stopping at a farmhouse for lunch on the way. It seemed like the longest journey of my life."

Kate married at age 16
      Kate Dwelley was married at 16 to Patrick Maloy, a farmer who moved to the Skagit in 1882. Their first three years of married life were passed on the Michael Sullivan farm, the first one diked at LaConner. it is two miles from town. The Maloys moved to a place of their own on the McLean road, where Patrick made a specialty of raising horses.
      Indians on the Swinomish had a tradition that in the time of their forefathers all of the fertile delta were islands.
      "I believe it could have been true," Mrs. Maloy said. "At times the slough spread all over creation and there was a bay near its southwest end on the reservation said, which later filled and became grass-grown.
      "Our farm was on a slight elevation near White slough and an old Indian told us that in his boyhood he had gone past it by canoe clear to the Skagit. Until then we wondered why we found so many clamshells on our place. The old man said Indians camped there while through to the Skagit. It was a short cut for them."


1. C.L. Dwelley
      Kate's surviving brother, Charles, was born in 1878. He settled in Anacortes with his wife and children in 1910, where he soon became an employee for the new Anacortes Pulp Mill until retirement. He also served as president of the Skagit County Historical Society. One of his children was Charles M. "Chuck" Dwelley, who was placed in charge of the failing Concrete Herald in 1929 and over the next 41 years was the voice of the upper Valley. See the new portal section with all the Dwelley and stories and Chuck's biography, book and Herald experience, all of which are now moved over to this domain. More Dwelley stories will obviously follow. You can also read abstracts and transcripts of the Herald at Larry and Josef Kunzler's Skagit River History website, along with a ton of facts about the river and its many floods. [Return]

The Isaac Jenner
      We have struck out completely while trying to trace either this steamboat or the person for which it was named. It does not even show up on http://www.cimorelli.com/cgi-bin/magellanscripts/, which is the bible for boats and ships and records thereof. We hope a reader may know something about it. [Return]

      Whidby/WhidbeyAlthough Capt. George Vancouver originally named the island in favor of his sailing master, Joseph Whidbey, many people spelled the name Whidby from the 1860s to the 1950s. Many people attributed that spelling to the maps drawn by U.S. Navy Commander Charles Wilkes in the 1840s. In his book, Charles Wilkes and the Exploration of Inland Washington Waters, a well-researched basic text on Wilkes, Richard W. Blumenthal quotes Wilkes' papers, "Whidby's Island extends from Deception Passage on the north to Scatchet's Head on the south." Scatchet was his phonetic spelling for the Indian tribe of the area, which we now call Skagit.
      Researcher Theresa Trebon, who has taken the time to study original sources of island history, notes that the "spelling was used by both the first white settlers [Ebeys] in their letters and diaries, and it was also the spelling of choice by many newspapers including Olympia's Pioneer and Democrat and the Port Townsend papers as well." Many other newspapers and some island residents also preferred that spelling and Whidbey did not gain acceptance until the 1950s and '60s. Jenner1 [Return]

Dwelley claim at future Mount Vernon
      Dwelley claim at future Mount VernonAlthough we have not yet determined the boundaries of Dwelley's brief home-claim, we infer so far, especially from John Conrad's memorial notes, that it was south of present downtown Mount Vernon, perhaps partially curled around Jasper Gates' central homestead, which you can read about in detail here: http://www.stumpranchonline.com/skagitjournal/WestCounty/MV-SW/PioneerMV/GatesJasper1.html (This story will soon be changed to this address. If neither file connects, please email us.). [Return]

Rowing with the baby on the Skagit
      The careful reader may want to close his or her eyes and imagine the idyllic scene (if the weather cooperated) that such a day on the river provided. Father rowed mother and baby up through the tricky sloughs of the lower South fork of the Skagit. And they would have passed by few houses and other settlers. The main ones then would be the William Sartwell place on the east side of the South fork, later Edward McAlpin(e)'s place at future Skagit City and Edward Kimble's place, originally on the island formed by a slough, north across the North Fork from Skagit City. But his claim extended to south Mount Vernon, perhaps side-by-side with Dwelley's claim. [Return]

Keeping the county seat in LaConner
      Keeping the county seat in LaConnerNote the irony here. Joseph Dwelley decided to move from the log jam to LaConner in 1875 because he saw a better market there for his carpentry skills and soon for his furniture store. But when Mount Vernon won the county-seat vote, that town that he had abandoned quickly grew, partly because of the county seat located there and the increased visitation for official reasons by settlers, loggers and miners all over the Skagit river itself. [Return]

Pat Maloy
      We know very little about Pat Maloy other than his marriage to Kate Dwelley and his volunteer work with LaConner Hook & Ladder Co. 1. We hope a reader or family member can help us flesh out his profile in the future. [Return]

White slough, early Dwelley home
      White slough, early Dwelley homeLaConner author Tom Robinson brought us up to speed about White slough, its location and its importance to the farmers at the turn of the 20th century.
      "White's Slough, which flowed into the Swinomish Slough and which must have begun just at Robert White's western property line, at the center of the present La Conner-Whitney Road, I suppose. White was a British sailor who had jumped ship at Victoria, later brought his bride to his claim just about a week before John and Louisa Conner reached Swinomish Station [late 1869-early 1870], and then died about ten years later. Incidentally, his widow married J. Lyle Wallace, whose diaries are at the historical museum.
      "The original survey map does not show a connection between White's Slough and what I had thought was the slough of that name — the slough, once known as the Little Sullivan Slough, which runs north from Sullivan Slough near the LaConner-Whitney road and then turns east, moving back and forth under the McLean Road and possibly once running all the way to the river at Avon. I would not be surprised, however, if once upon a time -- well before the 1866 survey -- White's was a branch of the Little Sullivan Slough. It was one of those sloughs which steamboats went up to the granaries and then backed down from. Joshua Green, who had some important things to say about his dealings with Isaac Jennings (who lived on that slough), went up it from the Swinomish Slough in order to make his deals."
      The Pacific Reporter, Volume 65, dated 1901, details a suit that Jennings brought against his neighbor Andrew Osberg re: overflow of water on their land "at times of extreme freshets." Jennings constructed a dike across White's slough near its mouth. Osberg and another neighbor, D.L. McCormick, solicited Jennings in June 1891 to contribute to the cost of erecting a dam across the slough. Jennings paid $200, with the proviso that the dike not be cut, leveled or damaged. But McCormick in 1897 destroyed a part of the dike, over the protest of Jennings. [Return]

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Story posted on Dec. 13, 2011
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This article originally appeared in Issue 58 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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