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Skagit River Journal

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First settlers in Mount Vernon and
Skagit river forks area in 1870,
from old newspapers and books

(Logging village)
John Kamb Jr., descendant of several pioneer families, loaned us this marvelous scan of a family in their small settlement somewhere on the South fork. This will give you an idea of what these earliest settlers along the river saw as a high priority: logging first to create living and garden space and second to provide steady income and third to build trade on the route between Victoria and Seattle.

In which the editor shares two 1884 letters, tidbits from descendants and researchers,
and shares obscure references to our earliest western Skagit county settlers
      Clear Lake historian and ace-researcher Deanna Ammons has discovered another two more gems that answer many questions about the first settlers of Mount Vernon and the Skagit river fork along with nailing down the identity of the first "white" or settler child born in what is now Skagit county. While researching the first volume of the Mount Vernon Skagit News of 1884, she found a letter written to editor William C. Ewing by Mrs. S.C. Washburn. References to the family are few and far between, as they used to say in those days.
      But we recently received an email from a family descendant named Judy, who is a great-granddaughter of Sylvester Charles Washburn, who married Kart Hartson, the daughter of another Skagit River pioneer, Augustus Hartson. She was a sister of George Hartson, who was once publisher of the Skagit News and superintendent of county schools. Judy's grandparents were Clyde and Mary F. (Washburn) Anable.
      Unfortunately, Judy's family did not retain many genealogical records, so we are still curious about Ella and Mahala Washburn, who are often mentioned in various historical accounts, as well as S.C. Washburn's brother, Charles. And we have a small amount of information about the Anable brothers and their families, but we hope that an Anable or a Washburn relative will email us and share whatever material and family memories that they have. Here is a list of the stories you will find below:

(Skagit City)
      Skagit City was located on the South fork side of the Skagit river, about a mile south of where the river forks north and south. Tom Robinson drove me to the very spot a couple of years ago and the bank is never covered with ferns and brambles where these buildings stood circa 1890-1900. The town began near where Barker's Trading Post opened in 1869. Within ten years, most of these buildings cropped up as Skagit City became the major crossroads for trading in the area that became Skagit county in 1883. During the 1870s, hotels, stores, saloons, a school, church, the Good Templars and Masonic lodges and other businesses were built to accommodate those who were claiming land above the river's log jams located where Mount Vernon is today. When those jams were cleared in the late 1870s and early '80s, the town declined as other villages formed along the upper stretches of the river. By 1906, only one building remained — the general store of D.E. Gage, possibly the building at the far left or the one in the center.

Mrs. S.C. Washburn recalls the earliest Skagit river settlers
From the Nov. 18, 1884, Skagit News of Mount Vernon, which began publication on March 1, 1884
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Skagit City, Nov. 12, 1884
      Thirteen years ago the 18th of this December, Messrs. [Augustus] Hartson, [Isaac] Lanning, S.C. Washburn and [Charles] H. Washburn, with their families, moved upon the Skagit. Messrs. [Jasper ] Gates, [William] Brice, [Joseph F.] Dwelley and Xavier [also spelled Xavar] Bartl had moved up the previous spring.
      Washburn Bros., Mr. Thos Moores and Mr. Gage Sr. were the only settlers on the South Fork for three or four years; Messrs. [Thomas R.] Jones and [Samuel S.] Tingley on the North fork, and Messrs. Hartson, Gates, Brice, Bartl and Dwelley near the Jam.
      First service was held at [John] Wilbur's. Sunday school meetings were organized in Mrs. Wells's house, (Mr. Moss's). A union hall was then built and church removed there. Now the river boats of several fine church edifices, good schools, and all of the advantages of civilization, including a county seat.
      There were a number of bachelors on the river at the time of actual settlement. Mrs. Lanning and Mrs. A. Hartson were the first white ladies up as far as the jam. Then we received mail by the way of Utsalady and Laconner, now we have mail four times a week. Truly, upward strides have been made.
      Signed, Mrs. S.C. Washburn.

David Kimble: the first settlers
Skagit News, Dec. 30, 1884
      It may be interesting to the readers of the News to know something of the first settling of the Skagit. The first white woman came to the river in 1854. Two ladies from Whidbey Island came to live on the river. They spent one night under a spruce tree near about where E. McAlpine's house now stands, near Skagit City. They Indian war broke out in 1855 and they did not again visit this land.
      The next ladies that came to the Skagit were Mrs. A. Hartson, Mrs. Laning [actually Lanning] and Mrs. Washburn, all remaining here. The first family that came was Mrs. Gage and her two daughters, now Mrs. Keen and Mrs. Narl. Mrs. Bartl, Mrs. Jasper Gates and Mrs. M.J. Kimble all came at one time. We chartered the steamer Linny [actually the Linnie] to bring us up. This was the first steamer that ever came to the jam near Mount Vernon. Mrs. Sam Tingley and Mrs. [Thomas P.] Jones soon followed the above-named and Mrs. Thomas Moore was next. It is too tedious to mention all that came after.
      The first religious service was held in the house where Mr. Tinkham now lives, and the parties who held it were Charles Washburn and the writer of this letter. this was a very lonely place at that time. Some sources have claimed that the first white child born on the future site of Mount Vernon was Mary Flossie Washburn, who Judy explains was born to Sylvester Charles and Kate (Hartson) Washburn on May 11, 1876. That birth information is correct, but the "first" claim is incorrect, as you will read about below. The first baptism took place in a little slough near Peter Kuyl's [Vanderkuyl] house on the North fork, and the subjects were Mrs. Mahala Washburn, now Mrs. C.C. Hansen, and Mrs. Summers, now Mrs. Gaches, Rev. B.N.L. Davis administering the rite in the presence of a large crowd. your humble writer with his family landed on the Skagit, Feb. 5, 1871. The ladies first mentioned were Mrs. [Urban] Bozarth and Mrs. Almira Hearn, now Mrs. Ranous of San Francisco. — David E. Kimble

Kimble's follow-up letter, Skagit News, July 14, 1885
      The items of the early history of the Skagit are interesting and those informed should make notes of the facts and write up the history. Some of these have been communicated and are given without order. The first sloop to come up the river, at least after there was any settlement to recollect the fact, was the True Blue, chartered by T.R. Jones to take himself and family from Port Madison [on Bainbridge island, the original county seat of Kitsap county] to the Skagit [north fork of the Skagit river below Mount Vernon]. The first steamer to come up the river came up the south fork was the steamer Wanette [Ed. note: he could have meant the Wenat], bringing D.E. Gage and family. Mrs. T.R. Jones, as some time ago stated, was the first white woman on the Skagit, coming to the north fork, Mrs. D.E. Gage being the first on the south fork. The first white child born on the Skagit was Oliver Tingley, son of Samuel and Mary Tingley. He was born on the sixth of June, 1869 [Ed. note: this incorrect date could have been a typo because the year should have been 1870 — you can read more details in Issue 35 of our optional Subscribers-Paid Journal magazine online].
      The first white girl born on a farm near the Skagit River itself was Annie Jones, born Oct. 20, 1872. Kate Dwelley, daughter of Joseph and Angeline Dwelley, was the second, born Nov. 20, 1872. We know that from an item in Joseph Dwelley's memoir, which you can read at the Skagit Valley College library (and in 2012 in serialized form in our subscribers magazine, transcribed from the original copy). Dwelley explains that daughter Kate Dwelley Maloy was born in the cabin that he built at an undetermined location on the future townsite. (You can read a whole profile of Kate in our subscribers magazine.)

Journal research: First child born to Skagit river settlers
      The major discovery in Mrs. Washburn's letter is that it pretty well settles the controversy over the first settler child born near the Skagit river. This debate has raged for years because of a comment in the 1906 book, Illustrated Book of Skagit and Snohomish Counties: "We find also some conflicting statements as to who is entitled to the honor of being the first white child born on the Skagit. Some claim it for the child of Charles Washburn, while others claim that Oliver C. Tingley, son of [Samuel] S. Tingley, born June 6, 1870, is entitled to that distinction." Researcher Tom Robinson adds another note to this controversy. He says he has read that the Washburn child in question, only known as Obie, was actually born in 1869, probably when the Washburns were still living on Whidbey island. As Tom wisely notes, the controversy and arguments over "firsts" are hard to resolve because of the lack of public records from those very early times on the Skagit frontier.

Where the Washburns lived
      Joseph F. Dwelley, a Union Army Civil War veteran, arrived at Whidbey island in March 1870 after a trip from Kittery, Maine, via Minnesota, San Francisco and several points in between. Years later, he wrote his autobiography, which you can read in its original version at the Skagit Valley College library in Mount Vernon. He gave details about where both he and Charles Washburn lived:
      Earlier in the spring I had made a trip up the Skagit and located a claim, and then went bck to Terry's to finish his work. In October a bunch of us who had located claims went up the river and helped each other roll up the bodies of our log cabins. I had earned and sent home enough to bring my wife out with the help of what she could get from the sale of our home, and in November in company with Charlie Washburn, I went back for the winter and for the sake of company we exchanged work. In that way I got the roof on and a door in and then went down to Washburn's claim, got a little shack built and some clearing done. His place was a half mile back in the woods opposite Skagit City. One Sunday we went up to my place. We had to cross the river and then the North fork, walk up two miles and cross back on the log jams.
We are going to assume for now that Charlie's brother, S.C. Washburn, took a claim near his.

Two other versions of the arrival by the first settlers
Chechacos All book
      The Skagit River was blocked by log jams above and below the present site of Mount Vernon. A party scouted the river in 1869: D.E. Kimble, Jasper Gates, Augustus Hartson, Charles Washburn, Isaac Lanning and William Gage selected a spot just below the lower jam. In 1870 they chartered the little sternwheeler Linnie for $50 to bring them, their families and their household goods from Whidbey island to their new homes. Joseph Dwelley and Jasper Gates took up claims where Mount Vernon now stands. This group is credited with making the first white settlement so far up the river, though Mr. Kimble reported that when he came there were 16 men with Indian wives already in the valley below them along the north and south forks, some of whom had come as early as 1863.

1906 Book, Illustrated Book of Skagit and Snohomish Counties
      The first white women to reach the region lying back of the flats were Mrs. William Gage and her two daughters, now Mrs. Keen and Mrs. Narl; Mrs. Jasper Gates, Mrs. Brice [see following footnote], Mrs. D.E. Kimble and Mrs. M.J. Kimble, soon followed by Mrs. Charles Washburn, Mrs. August Hartson and Mrs. Isaac Lanning. It is interesting to recall that these ladies were the first to come to that portion of what is now Skagit county on a steamboat. The little steamer Linnie, on which they came, was the first to reach the big jam near Mount Vernon, arriving late in 1870.
      [Ed. note: Mrs. Brice will soon be featured in the complicated story we are now preparing on David E. Kimble, who is just as important as Jasper Gates for settling the Mount Vernon area. Indeed, as you will see below, he actually settled near the Skagit river before Gates, a fact not generally reflected in previous profiles. Researcher Tom Robinson has provided many details of Mrs. Brice's life as has Judith Oldham, David's great-great-granddaughter. Nancy Kimble Brice was David's mother and she was widowed after only three years of marriage. In 1865, she married William Brice, who may or may not have been a doctor. They came along with the Whidbey settlers to Mount Vernon on February 23, 1870, according to her obituary, which Robinson found in the June 15, 1886, Skagit News. Judith notes that she was 63, yet she dove right into work as a settler's wife. The 1906 Book notes that William Brice built the first structure on the site of present Mount Vernon. The Brices soon settled on the west side of the river near settlers Dennis Storrs and Augustus Hartson. They cleared land on what later became known as the Ball and Ledger addition and Nancy acted as a midwife for young mothers in the settler group. William died in 1878 and Nancy died eight years later.
      We also want to note that in the 1944 obituary of Edward Kimble, we read that he "came west with this parents, the David E. Kimbles of Illinois, and settled on a homestead on the Skagit river Jan. 9, 1869. This differs from Mrs. Washburn's memory as well as other sources, but David's great-great-granddaughter Judith Oldham also supports the year of 1869 as marking David's arrival. We thereby conclude that he must have come at that time before the other Whidbey island settlers and staked the homestead that stretched south from what was later Pine street in Mount Vernon to a point south along the east bank of the main or south fork of the Skagit river.]

Kate Washburn
      Since we assume for now that the letter writer was Kate Washburn, we should acquaint you with the references to her in various histories. In the book, Chechacos All, we find that Kate N. Washburn and Ella Washburn were signers of the guestbook at the famous June 6, 1891, Skagit City picnic that launched the Skagit County Pioneers Association. In the same book, we learn that Kate Washburn helped sew the famous flag that was flown on the Fourth of July, 1877, in Mount Vernon for its founding. In the 1906 Book, we find that Mrs. Kate Washburn was a teacher in the old Wilbur school on the South fork of the Skagit, along with George Edmund Hartson, Augustus Hartson's son.

Skagit City
      For those not familiar with Skagit City, it was a small village at the fork of the Skagit river, about two miles south of future Mount Vernon. The South fork was the main channel of the river for transportation and the North fork flowed west-southwest into a series of sloughs on the delta. Tom Robinson has researched the village very well in preparing for his two volumes that he will soon publish about western Skagit county. He recently shared this tidbit from his studies that tells us much more about the little town.
      The tiny hamlet at the point of the Forks was indeed called "Skagit Forks." I have seen a letter stamped by the postmaster with a stamp that says "Skagit Forks" and not "Skagit City." I've seen a letter (in the paper) from 1876 which calls it that. In fact, the letter writer puts on his letter, "Skagit Forks," as its point of origin and proceeds to report the platting of a new town nearby — obviously, what we would call "Skagit City." But now I have come across a reference to "Skagit City" from 1874. William H. Sartwell was appointed to fill a vacancy on the county board of commissioners. He was stated to be from Skagit City. A little confusing. Perhaps in relation to the school — who knows? — a concept of a Skagit City was emerging even before there was any platting. Or maybe the two names were used interchangeably.
That is why we enjoy Tom's research so much. He and I approach history in similar ways, like a dog chewing a bone, as the settlers might have said.

      You can also read our extensive profile about David E. Kimble, one of the first homesteaders in the Mount Vernon area, dating from Feb. 3, 1969, and it can be argued that he was the first permanent settler there.

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