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Skagit River Journal

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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, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Introduction to Ray Jordan transcriptions
and Chapter Two, Part Two of Yarns

(Ray Jordan)
Find below: Introduction to all our
Ray Jordan transcriptions

Chapter 2, Part 2 . . . Endnotes/Annotations
And at links . . . Chapter 1, Part 1 . . . Chapter 1, Part 2
Chapter 2, Part 1 . . . Chapter 3
Chapter 4 . . . Chapter 5

Introduction to Ray Jordan transcriptions
By Noel V. Bourasaw, re: Ray Jordan, Yarns, 1974
      Many readers have asked questions about the more obscure references and relatively unknown pioneer names in the first five chapters of Ray Jordan's book, Yarns of the Skagit Country, written from the 1960s onwards, self-published in 1974 and very rare. Back in the period of 1960-75 when he wrote these chapters, at least the old-timers in town knew who most of the people were whom he referenced. But now, 35 years later, the names and businesses from pioneer Sedro and Woolley are largely obscure and unknown.
      We are enthused to learn this week that the Skagit County Historical Museum in LaConner is still planning to reprint the book in the near future. After talking to Jordan's widow a decade ago, we decided to honor her request to publicize widely his stories and columns. So we have built over the last ten years a special Jordan Portal section and these transcriptions mark 36 of his chapters from the book and his columns in the Skagit Valley Herald. As a boy Jordan arrived in old Woolley in 1901, by train from Kansas, with his father Lafe Jordan; we have never read about his mother. Among his first-hand experiences with pioneers were the times as a boy when he slept on top of dynamite boxes at the ranch at the western end of modern Cook Road, where David Donnelly, the butcher and Mortimer Cook's successor at the ranch, was paying to have it cleared, drained and tiled to control the water table, with the help of Jordan's father, and they were also addressing the fires underground in the ancient peat bog.
      We wanted to completely annotate these first five chapters because so many readers have written asking questions about the more obscure names and businesses that are not familiar to many of us. So we share more than a hundred annotations and links. As you will notice, the annotations are about ten to one in pages so you will find considerable annotation to peruse. We will soon also publish some of Jordan's unpublished manuscripts, courtesy of the late Fred Slipper. These first five chapters are unedited for grammar or spelling, with only a few punctuation marks inserted. Ray's notes in the actual transcription portions are in parentheses ( ) and our annotations are indicated in brackets [ ] with short notes and links to endnotes and Journal profiles. Endnotes will be indicated at the end of each chapter, and will often include complete mini-biographies of pioneers and their businesses. We hope that readers may be able to add definitions of some items and background on families of pioneers. Again we thank the ace researcher of Sedro-Woolley, Roger Peterson, who supplemented our search and pointed out discrepancies as well as other documents and photos. Please note: the source most often posted, Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties, published 1906 and still the bible for local historians, is often referred to as 1906 History.

Chapter Two, Part Two, transcription
Ray Jordan, Yarns, 1974

(Log Wagon)
      Ray Jordan came here as a child, when horses and wagons were the basis for transportation and when the really gigantic trees were still being brought out of the upriver forests, sometimes still by teams of oxen. This photo was circa turn of the 20th century, near Lyman.

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      C. E. Bingham, who opened the first bank in town and was a wheel-horse in building the city and other developments. Bill West, a gentleman and a cashier's cashier, a whiz at figures and diplomacy. Q. P. Reno, pleasant and courteous, who knew banking forward and backward. Bill Odlin, banker and scholar, who had the best command of the King's English I ever heard.
      Two huge dogs that lived at the old Wixson Hotel, one a St. Bernard and the other a mastiff, I think. When they barked you could hear them all over town. Henry Batey's vinegar works near the N.P. tracks. When a boy had to swim in Bottomless Lake and make at least one trip across the old swinging, overhead water supply main that crossed the Skagit River to have any rating with the gang.
      The Duke, from Duke's Hill, a true disciple of John Barleycorn, who passed away in 1907. Shorty Davis, woods-push for Hightower Logging Company. He knew how to tell jokes and get logs. Dad coming home on Saturday nights from the old Cokedale mine where he was employed for awhile before it shut down. This mine is located east of the Northern State Hospital at the edge of Cokedale Mountain. Jasper Sanders and Dad leaving for camp at Fox's Spur, located four miles southwest of Burlington on the G.N., on bicycles with a third-wheel attachment that enabled them to ride on the railroad tracks, the two usual wheels following one rail, the third wheel following the other. [See the Sanders profile in Chapter One.]
      A Mr. Gerdon , principal of the grammar school, followed by Miss Mary Purcell, who deserves a crown for her labors in the Sedro-Woolley schools. "Doughnuts" Roberts on the school ground. The large fleet of bicycles parked every day at the back of the school building. The disastrous fire that burned several business buildings on Metcalf Street and the ammunition explosions when the fire reached the Fritsch Hardware store. Remember the panic of 1906-07 and the scrip money? Nobody went hungry though, due in a large part to the blue chip businessmen then in the saddle who kept things rolling somehow. The deep snow and zero weather during the winter of 1915-16 [actually March 1916].
      George Warner, either a captain or mate of a sternwheeler that used to ply the Skagit River. The old river ferry, located just above the old highway bridge south of town. Walking the railroad bridge (while holding your breath) on the way to Clear Lake where you could watch the loggers working at the edge of town and see those catty line horses hauling the main line back to the woods. The donkey whistles that could be heard for years from the streets of Sedro-Woolley. Picking wild blackberries and selling them for two bits a gallon.
      The grocer giving the kids a sack of candy when Dad paid the bill. When the butcher often gave away for free, the heart, tongue and liver. Renfro, the bear hunter, passing out bear meat around the neighborhood. Indian women sitting quietly on the board sidewalks, silently offering their beautifully woven baskets and hand-knitted socks for sale. Dressed to kill in knee pants and starched white shirt, being herded to Darius Kinsey's studio to have my picture taken. Bill Donnelly and his pretty black-eyed daughters. Dad LaPlant, a sturdy pioneer. Lawrence LaPlant, one-time dog-team freighter in Alaska and later a big-time highway contractor, and his brother, affectionately known as "Baldy."And a certain elephant called Tusko, who went on a rampage here in 1922 and drew nationwide attention to our fair city.

Chapter Two, Part Two

(Bingham Bank)
      Bill West was just one of the employees of the Bingham Bank who became leaders in the community and county. We infer that West is photographed here with Quinby Reno and Laurence Ringer, circa 1903 in front of the wooden building that preceded the 1905 brick Bingham Bank building that survives.

William T. "Bill" West
      Bill West was a Wisconsin native who came to Sedro as a child with his parents in 1889. He quit high school in 1900 to become an errand boy for the C.E. Bingham bank and rose through the ranks to become cashier, working there 52 years until his death. See his profile and obituary. [Return]

Q.P. Reno
      Reno came from Marengo, Iowa, along with the Binghams, Ted Alverson and others. Arriving just after the turn of the 20th century, he became a key member of the C.E. Bingham bank as cashier. He married Lena Soule, another early Bingham employee and the daughter of Thomas W. Soule, who platted the town of Burlington for founder William McKay in 1891. Read more about Q.P.. [Return]

William T. "Bill" Odlin
      Odlin was an Ohio native who left formal school at 13 to be a laborer but educated himself well over the following years. After giving California a try in 1887, he came to Seattle, where he was hired by the Skagit Railroad & Lumber Co. to clerk for them at the village of Sterling on the Skagit River. He continued on with Mortimer Cook when the Sedro founder bought the Sterling business and expanded it into a general store, which also sold Conestoga wagons. He also became the bookkeeper for the Davison and Millett mill in Woolley, and then in March 1893 he became a bookkeeper/cashier for the Bingham & Holbrook bank in new Sedro. He married Jesse Reno and moved his young family to Anacortes in 1899, where he became the cashier and a stockholder in the ill-fated Citizens Bank. He sold out his interest in 1912 and worked again with C.E. Bingham's Sedro-Woolley bank from 1914-21, but he was enticed to return to Citizen's Bank in that latter year. In 1924 William and his son, Reno Odlin, were robbed and pistol-whipped at the bank. In 1939, after the bank had closed, William and Jesse moved to Tacoma to join Reno and his family. Read about the Odlin family in this special Bingham section: and here. [Return]

(Wixson Hotel)
      The Wixson Hotel, 1915. Now the Gateway.

Wixson Hotel
      Now the Gateway Hotel, the Wixson Hotel and the enclosed First National Bank was built on the northeast corner of Metcalf and Ferry streets in 1910. It replaced the original St. Clair/Osterman House hotels. The Osterman burned to the ground in September 1909. Named for owner John Wixson, mill owner from Big Lake, the hotel was renamed The Gateway in 1939, in conjunction with the upriver tours to the gateway of the Cascades. [Return]

Henry Batey Vinegar Works
      John Henry Batey was a son of the original pioneer of Sedro, David Batey. As Henry's July 21, 1938, Courier-Times obituary noted, he was born July 1, 1871, in Iowa to his mother, Georgiana, and her first husband, [first name unknown] Ferron. After attending schools in Hamilton and Sedro, he attended the state Normal school in Lynden (before it was reopened in Bellingham) and the College at Valparaiso, Ind.
      After the mill belonging to David Batey and Joseph Hart (another of the original four British bachelors who settled here) burned in the 1890s, the elder Batey built a vinegar works in an orchard at the eastern edge of what later became the Goodyear-Nelson mill. Henry married Minnie Lederle of the pioneer family on the Burmaster Road. Their marriage on June 28, 1910, was a noted social occasion and he built her a substantial home on very-fashionable Talcott Street that still stands (2011). He was also noted for being the tender of the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern/Northern Pacific railroad trestle when it was a swing-span draw bridge, and he was the Equitable Life Insurance agent for this district.
      We also note here that even though Ray called the company Henry's Works, it was actually originally set up by his father, who suffered from rheumatism and did not stay in the mill business after his and Hart's planning mill burned in 1895. David was still active with the vinegar and cider business when the first cannery opened here in 1910 right next to Batey's operation. [Return]

Mr. Gerdon
      According to researcher Roger Peterson, William J. Gerdon and family arrived in Sedro-Woolley, from Harrison County, Indiana, in 1902-03. One son, Frank Gerdon, became a partner with David Donnelly in the Standard Grocery in 1905, which was located on Third Street near where the Lemley Mortuary stands today. Another son, Ira O. Gerdon was the teacher in question and in 1902 he was hired as "head teacher," the post that evolved into principal. He succeeded J.C. Roe in 1906, and was named principal after Roe transferred to Lyman.
      Ira had a very unusual story to tell about his own experience with tuberculosis, which was a real killer in those days. He contracted the disease in 1908, resigned his position and went to Seattle for a cure, three years before Firland Sanatorium opened. Back then patients were housed in open-air cottages. Whatever he was prescribed worked spectacularly because he lived to be 88, dying in Sedro-Woolley in 1968. He was replaced as principal by Mary Purcell, who remained in a head-teacher and principal position until she retired in 1947. [Return]

Mary Purcell
(Mary Purcell)
Mary Purcell

      Now her name is only known because of her namesake school, but for much of the first half of the 20th century, Mary Purcell embodied education here. Her first cousin twice removed, Mary (Purcell) Greene helped us research Purcell's childhood. Born in St. Alfonse, Quebec, on June 27, 1873, she was an only child and came with her parents as a school-age child to Custer, Michigan, where she received her early education. In May 1893, as the nationwide financial Depression set in, she graduated from an Industrial School of Business in Big Rapids, Michigan, and returned to teach in the Custer and Stewart public schools. She moved to Skagit County in 1901, apparently to join relatives here, and temporarily took a teaching position at Rexville, which later was consolidated with LaConner schools.
      In the spring of 1902 she moved to Sedro-Woolley to live with her relatives, the Paul Neilan family, and replaced Miss Winnie McGrath for the next school year at Sedro Graded School. At that time there were only nine teachers in the Sedro-Woolley district, including a kindergarten teacher and one for the first classes of the planned high school. She was a classroom teacher until 1909, when she was promoted to teaching-principal of the graded school.
      Two schools stood on the site by then. We found in a 1937 history of schools that the new high school building was constructed in 1902 where the tennis courts now stand north of Central School. When the new term started in August (there was no Labor Day holiday then), students in both schools were allowed to hold an election to name their schools. The students in grades 1-5 at Sedro Graded School named theirs for their favorite U.S. pioneer, Benjamin Franklin. Students in grades 6-8 and the high school classes chose to name theirs for the famed writer, Washington Irving, who was very popular at the time. Irving died in 1859 and was most popular for his book, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
      In July 1918 Purcell earned her "Life Certificate" after additional training at the state Normal School in Bellingham. In 1925 she was appointed principal of both schools until they were razed the next year and replaced by the new Central School. Whe remained as principal until 1947, when she resigned and retired. She was lauded in a special ceremony in the spring that year. Two years later School District 101 broke ground on the new Mary Purcell Primary School on Bennett Street and it opened for students in September 1951. Your editor was a second-grade student that year, with Miss Denton as teacher. Miss Purcell died Sept. 20, 1957, at age 86. [Return]

Scrip money
      According to researcher Roger Peterson, in 1907 there was a shortage of currency either nationally or regionally during a brief financial recession that fall. In Sedro-Woolley, Banker Charles E. Bingham printed and issued "scrip" paper money that local folk could use for trading at local stores and redeemed it, with a discount, until currency was replenished. This scrip money, like warrants that were occasionally issued by government agencies in lieu of cash and wages, was always suspect to some residents, especially those who remembered how the Confederate scrip money that was issued during the Civil War turned out not to be worth the paper and ink it was printed with. In fact, when the First National Bank was robbed here in October 1914, the robbers dropped the paper currency upon their exit and it flew all over town. They focused on the gold and silver specie.
      As explained well on the online site, (site accessed March 2011), that recession, called the Financial panic of 1907, began when depositors lost confidence in banks after the Knickerbocker Trust Co. failed and that failure affected banks that traded in that system. Depositors started a "run" on other banks down the line, sometimes a death knell for banks that were not adequately capitalized. Such runs occurred until the FDIC was set up two decades later to guarantee deposits. Bingham issued the scrip with his guarantee that the scrip would be honored and redeemed. [Return]

The railroad trestle and drawbridge
      The first ferry across the Skagit to old Sedro was started by 21-year-old Albert E. Holland in about 1889, three years after he arrived in town and became Mortimer Cook's clerk at the general store. He sold it to the county for a profit in 1891 and the ferry continued as the principal crossing method until 1912 when a wagon bridge was built from the southern dead end of Third Street. The original ferry was actually a simple scow affair that was propelled by gravity, while suspended from as wire rope that was stretched overhead between two large trees, one on each side of the river. You can read more about the railroad trestle bridge in the Journal's exclusive two-part story of the Fairhaven & Southern Railway and the other two competing railroads that eventually crossed in a unique triangle just north of the town of Woolley. The trestle was built across the Skagit River as part of the original north-south branch of the . Here are the initial details.
      Capitalized at a million dollars, The S&WC (Seattle & West Coast Railway) let five contracts, mainly to Sinclair & Co. of New York, former builders for CPR (Canadian Pacific Railroad), and the Earle & McLeod Co., and they soon had several hundred men in the field. They reached Fiddler's Bluff, south of Snohomish, in March 1888. Later that month, the SLS&E absorbed the S&WC and the San Francisco Bridge Company began building a bridge over the Snohomish River in early May, just as the Bennett brothers finished the Stampede Pass Tunnel down south. The bridge was completed in September that year and regular passenger trains ran between Snohomish and Seattle by October. At that point, construction slowed for the West Coast Branch, as the line was then called, partly because the bridge washed downstream after the log boom at Pilchuck gave way upstream during a flood . . .
      A week after that report, the San Francisco Bridge Co. announced that it was building a trestle over the Stillaguamish, and when they finished, they moved north and built a similar trestle with a draw span over the Skagit River, a half mile west of Cook's Sedro village. That trestle still stands today (2010), the last legacy of the SLS&E. Secrecy ruled in all the railroad operations and the jockeying for position and investments, but rumors already started in 1890 that, whoever the real owner was, Northern Pacific investors pulled the strings.
      The trestle was originally erected as a swing-span bridge that allowed sternwheelers and other tall-masted boats to cross underneath. John Henry Batey, a son of the original Sedro pioneer David Batey, acted as bridge-tender for several years. After the Northern Pacific tracks south of downtown Sedro-Woolley were removed sometime in the late 1970s, the entrance and exit to the bridge were also removed. We hope that a reader has access to a news story that provides more exact dates about the removal or has photos of the removal. [Return]

Renfro the Bear Hunter

(Renfro Bear)
      The Renfro family and friends show off the bear they shot.

      That was the family of James, William and Robert Renfro, who moved to Woolley in 1899-1900 from Henry County, Missouri. Harold Renfro, a descendant of this family and longtime Sedro mailman, died on Jan. 30, 2003. You can read the profile of the family and Harold's obituary here. [Return]

Darius Kinsey, Photographer
      You can read several Journal profiles of Kinsey, the most famous Sedro-Woolley photographer by checking the links at our Kinsey Portal section. Kinsey lived on Talcott Street in new Sedro and built developing addition onto his hosue, and he had a studio in Woolley from 1896-1906. At Christmastime 1906 he moved his family and business to Seattle, where he continued his studio and died in 1945. The Journal will feature more Kinsey stories in 2011 and the near future, including profiles of other members of this extraordinary family, including photographers and principals of one of the earliest airline companies. [Return]

LaPlant family
      The LaPlants are responsible for originally paving most of the roads and streets in town. John Clarence "Baldy" LaPlant (1865-1938) moved here in 1890 from his home in Marietta, Iowa, and hired on at David Batey and Joe Hart's Sedro sawmill that year. His family originally emigrated to Iowa from Montreal where his father Joseph Louis "Uncle Joe" LaPlant was born in 1841; he and his wife joined their sons in Sedro-Woolley in 1905.
      When Baldy and his brother Clarence Laurence (often misspelled Lawrence) LaPlant came west in 1888 by rail, they stopped briefly in Oregon where Baldy logged for the Oregon Short Line Railroad near Portland and then worked for the Clatsop Mill at Astoria. In 1890 the brothers were directed to the boom occurring in Anacortes, but after arriving there, they hiked east over Bow Hill and then followed the Fairhaven & Southern Railway tracks through the thick woods to old Sedro. Baldy recalled years later that his first meal here was served by pioneer Ad Davison in his cook tent near the bench north of Sedro.
      Around the time that Baldy worked for Batey & Hart, he also packed up to the Monte Cristo claim, which was heating up in gold circles down south of Darrington in Snohomish County, and worked as "walking boss" for the Smith Brothers, who had constructed much of new Sedro. At the turn of the century he and Laurence managed mill camps together in the Padilla area and then at Prairie, for banker Charles E. Bingham. They established a ranch there in the next few years while they also managed the 600-acre Cook Ranch for Merritt B. Holbrook, who had repossessed it.
      On Jan 1, 1899, Baldy married Mary Theodora Reno, Bingham's sister-in-law, at St. Mark's in Seattle. Sometime that year, they made their home at what has long been known as the honeymoon cottage at the northwest corner of 5th street at Talcott, which was originally built by Sedro capitalist Junius B. Alexander for his wife in 1892. They bought the house from William and Jessie Odlin. Baldy was on top of his career, having recently been appointed Western representative and then Pacific Coast manager of Nicola Bros. Lumber Co. of Pittsburgh. He obtained a contract for Douglas Fir timbers for the Long Island Bridge in New York state and then supplied horses for contract work.
      Then he was felled by an unnamed illness that caused partial paralysis and he was hobbled up for the next 12 years. Laurence continued with the family business, laying out roads and later paving them with a concrete mixture. Meanwhile Baldy's health improved and after he renovated carriages for a few years he began clearing their 18 acres of land on Duke's Hill and ranching on it. Eventually he served as deputy county assessor for 26 years, headed up drainage projects for the district and helped other farmers clear 800 acres of farmland with 90 tons of dynamite powder.
      Others in his family, besides Laurence, who left a mark here included his wife, Marie, who acted as city librarian for 14 years. His other brother, Harley LaPlant, became a principal with Wyman Kirby and John T. Hightower at the Skagit Mill in Lyman, starting in 1906. His son, Porter LaPlant, became a key real estate salesman and coined the promotional slogan for his company and the city, "The only Sedro-Woolley on Earth." [Return]

Tusko, the elephant
      Later in 2011, we will share a series of stories about Tusko, the largest elephant in captivity when he left an obvious mark on Sedro-Woolley in May 1922 after breaking free from chains in the Al Barnes Circus. Read a summary about him here. [Return]

See the links at the top to read other chapters, with annotations

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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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