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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 Three Yarns

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

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

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.

(Hoyt Mill)
      Joe Hoyt's original shingle mill in the Prairie district, where he located his mills along the rail line of the Northern Pacific Railroad. He was the grandfather of two of the finest teachers in the Sedro-Woolley School District, the late Alcina Harwood and our faithful reader and patron, Berniece Hoyt Leaf, who lives on Camano Island. Darius Kinsey photo.

Chapter Five, transcription
Ray Jordan, Yarns, 1974
    Any time, any amount, please help build our travel and research fund for what promises to be a very busy 2010-11, traveling to mine resources from California to Washington and maybe beyond. Depth of research determined by the level of aid from readers. Because of our recent illness, our research fund is completely bare. See many examples of how you can aid our project and help us continue for another ten years. And subscriptions to our optional Subscribers Online Magazine (launched 2000) by donation too. Thank you.
      James F. Fahey, a lovable Irishman who liked his fun in the early days, for a long time trainman on the Sedro Woolley to Rockport run (around 1905-1906). I think. Bill Thompson, one-time county commissioner, killed in an auto accident up the Skagit River. Harry Devin, a man of distinguished bearing who was a partner of Charlie Wicker's in the real estate business for a long time. To him we are indebted for writing considerable early-day Sedro Woolley history.
      B.R. Lewis, the dominating figure in the three corporations that comprised the logging and mill operations at Clear Lake when it was a booming town. Joe McCabe, a sturdy Irishman who had a blacksmith shop on Third Street. Joe Hoyt, who operated a shingle mill at Prairie, a rugged individual who could lift himself by his boot tops when the times got tough. A large hunk of local color was lost with his passing. E. C. Jones, real estate man, a quiet studious person, who with Norman McDonald promoted the Garden of Eden subdivision. Levi Jones, who had a ranch in the Garden of Eden vicinity. He liked the neighborhood kids and they were always welcome to all the fruit they wanted from his orchard.
      Neil McLeod, long-time chief of police who never got nervous when the curly wolves howled on Saturday night, a man who used his head as well as his feet. Indians poling their dug-out canoes slowly up the Skagit River. Charlie (C.E.) Bingham conversing in Chinook Jargon with Martha Washington in the bank one day. My first business transaction of any note — sale of a pair of Bantam chickens to "Ba1dy" LaPlant for four bits, for which I received the first check I ever saw. I later cashed this check at the C.E. Bingham & Co. Bank, and Q.P. Reno had to poke his head out through the wicket to see whose grubby little fist held this important piece of paper.
      The first hard street surfacing l remember around Sedro-Woolley was of brick construction up by the G. N. station Metcalf Street. Some of the bricks are still visible (as of 1955). The first paving was the "Dollar Way" leading out of town toward Burlington, portions of which can still be seen. When crowds of men filled the streets at night coming home from the big Clear Lake Mill, smelling of sawdust and pitch (an attractive odor). Sedro-Woolley was hard hit for awhile after this plant went into bankruptcy and shut down. Paulson's store and the old St. Elizabeth Hospital and pest-house in Sedro.
      Leg-o-mutton sleeves for women, fascinators, shawls, hair done up in biscuits on top or back of the head anchored with a handful of hairpins, knee-length cotton stockings (the boys were continually getting theirs chewed up in bicycle sprockets), kindling boxes and wood boxes. And the henhouse had to be cleaned out every Saturday.
      When smoke from peat fires could be smelled the year-round on the Skagit Flats. The peat in the ground caught fire when stump piles were burned, and smoldered for years. It was so muddy on the Flats in early days that farmers sometimes used "tule" shoes (they looked something like bear-paw snowshoes) on their horses to get crops in during late, wet springs. Those big ranches were not won easily. The first hay balers were powered by horses. You hooked old dobbin to a sweep and he plodded around in a circle. The hay was shovelled in and the bales came out. Nothing to it but work.
      Thousands of acres of stump land were cleared by blasting, horse teams and much backbreaking hand work. Then that modern miracle, the mechanical stump puller, came out and more thousands of acres were cleared with this rig. These improvements were made by a breed of men and women who never knew when they were whipped. They worked day and night. They lived in shake or board shanties. The women washed those blackened garments by hand and carried water from a hand pump to do it, while the men cleared land and ditched it. The last duty of the day usually was to go out and punch up the clearing fires before falling wearily into bed. Storing boxes of dynamite under the beds was common.

(St. Elizabeth's Hospital)
      St. Elizabeth's Hospital, the first county hospital in Skagit

      A delayed news dispatch: Sedro-Woolley, Wash. Aug. 15, 1908. Nearly all the boys of this city were observed eating watermelons and cantaloupes simultaneously. Authorities who investigated this unusual activity revealed that it was caused by a leaky boxcar door, which they found by back-tracking a trail of melon rinds to a railroad siding.
      According to my calculations, George Hammer is the oldest business man in continuous service on Main Street (as of 1955), or maybe the whole town.
      When scratch hooks were used everywhere for loading logs, some of which were so big that they had to be bridled with two chokers before they could be towed to the landings. Often, they had to be bucked with a long falling saw because a 7-foot bucking saw was too short on one end. Rolling splices, eye splices, Oregon splices, marine splices, and one other one, used to repair breaks in steel cable.
      Molly Hogans, jilpokes, schoolmarms, Dutchman used in undercuts and on the rigging, and Siwash trees. P.F. men. Broadax men, gone with the wind. A respectful bow to the departed men and women who shoveled their share in building a town.

Chapter Five
Michael James Fahey
      James Fahey was a Minnesota native who found a great, long life in Sedro-Woolley, where he worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad and then Skagit Steel & Iron Works during the early days. He was born Sept. 4, 1884, in Cloquet, Minn., and died in December 1963, in Sedro-Woolley. He married into quite a family. He wed Olive Davison, a daughter of Ad Davison, one of the most colorful, really early pioneers of old Sedro; Davison arrived here in 1890. Olive Cecilia Davison was born Oct. 8, 1891, the first white child born in Sedro-Woolley, according to family records.
      We do not yet know what year James arrived here, but a descendant suggests that he likely moved within a year or two after his father's death back in Minnesota in 1886. Because we have not found any record of Fahey before the Fairhaven & Southern railroad boom of 1889, we infer that he arrived here about the same time that Davison did. Olive's mother was Betsy (Firth) Davison, whose father, Robert Firth, sailed around the Cape Horn in 1850 to Vancouver Island, where worked on Fern Hill for a year, then went back to Edinburgh to marry his childhood sweetheart. In September 1857 they returned together around the Cape and Robert when to work for the Belle Vue Sheep Farm at the American Camp on San Juan Island. He is one of the most documented of the Territorial pioneers. James and Olive celebrated 50 years together and she gave birth to seven daughters — some of whom married Sedro-Woolley boys —and one boy, also named James Fahey, who married a Hamilton girl.
      Fahey deserves a special place in history because he helped preserve one of the buildings from our earliest days. In 1890 the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern interests from Seattle built a depot and coal bunkers at the present western end of the high school football field. They had grand hopes, but such were dashed within months as P.A. Woolley established his town just a half mile north. Woolley's depot at the triangle formed by three lines became the center of the combined communities within a year. We found a tiny newspaper note nearly 20 years ago that announced on April 6, 1899, that the SLS&E depot was unused and was being moved east on Jameson Street to become a dwelling. Sometime in the next decade, the building was moved again, this time to a spot about a mile east, on the south side of Railroad Street. That street followed the original right-hand "wye" of the old Fairhaven & Southern railroad back in 1889-1903 when the rails continued northeast and then north to the Cokedale Junction and Mines. After the mine faded into mostly inactivity, those rails northeast of old Sedro were dug up and Railroad Street was laid out.
      Fahey sold the property, but his grandson, Kris Doorn (son of Al and the late Dorothy Doorn) bought the property a decade ago. The original depot forms what is now the living room, after considerable remodeling over the decades. This is the only railroad depot that remains in any form; the "depot" building that now stands on Highway 20 was originally the depot for the Interurban trolley, not one of the original three rail lines here. We thank the Doorns for their efforts; this extended Davison-Firth-Davison-Fahey family has maintained their historical awareness. [Return]

161 350
William Thompson, Henry Thompson and Richard Thompson (truncated)
(3rd Street Bridge)
This is the Third Street Bridge, which extended across the Skagit River from the south end of Third Street in old Sedro. William Thompson dedicated the bridge in 1912 when he was mayor of Sedro-Woolley. He died two years later in an upriver auto accident. Photo from a postcard courtesy of Mike Aiken.

      We think it is possible that Ray actually conflated two Thompsons: Henry Thompson (1852-1918), the county commissioner from Birdsview; and William Thompson, of Sedro-Woolley, also famous for a wreck, but not both in autos, and famous for two bridge. Henry was an Englishman who moved his family to Birdsview and set up a general store in March 1891, after originally moving to the Concrete area in 1889. Originally a cabinet-maker by trade in England, Henry built houses here and small bridge projects. Henry was elected as a county commissioner in 1912 as a Republican and was very popular with his Third District upriver constituents, who often called him "Uncle Henry." He was reelected in 1914. He advocated a new concrete bridge over the Baker River between old Cement City and the new town of Concrete and the contract was signed in 1916.
      As 1918 rolled around, Henry Thompson looked forward to dedicating the new bridge that summer. Down in Sedro-Woolley, Frank Evans, the new publisher of the Skagit County Courier, arrived in town in the week of January 26 to take over the newspaper. He was preparing his first editorial on the evening of January 31 when he felt the building rumble and heard a loud crash nearby the office. Deep fog enveloped the town and the engineer of a southbound Northern Pacific freight train plowed through the rear passenger coach of the westbound Great Northern Rockport train that was standing on the crossing at the famous railroad triangle just a block north of downtown. The collision was so violent that parts of the trains were driven into the depot on Eastern avenue and it was soon evident that six people had been killed, including Henry Thompson. He was identified as a "Birdsview farmer and capable, popular county commissioner." His son Richard Thompson, then 41 and a blacksmith in Grassmere, was soon appointed to fill his father's un-expired term. See.
      William: William Thompson (1862-1914) was a Canadian who built bridges for the Canadian Pacific Railroad crews in Saskatchewan and British Colmbia in the 1880s. He moved south of the border, where he married Louise Graham in Whatcom County in 1892. He had dabbled in investment in old Sedro, apparently as president of a very short-lived bank in 1890, but the Bingham and Holbrook private bank supplanted it by that summer. He began logging near Sterling next, in 1891, possibly in connection with Jesse B. Ball. He also set up a livery stable in Woolley in 1892 next to blacksmiths George Ratchford and James "Joe" McCabe, on the south side of Ferry Street, across the street from the Osterman House Hotel. He sold out the livery to the Frank Hoehn partnership in 1904. 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 and erected the building on Metcalf Street where the Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop moved in 2010. He is best known, however, for the Thompson Bridge over to Clear Lake from Sedro-Woolley. (See the rest of this biography at our new collection of mini-profiles) [Return]

Harry Lincoln Devin
      See our exclusive journal profile of Devin, indeed one of our finest recorders of history and weather, as well as being a master real estate promoter, and search for our other stories by and about him. [Return]

B.R. Lewis, Clear Lake Lumber Co. [truncated]
(B.R. Lewis)
Art, B.R. and Sid Lewis, in 1923, courtesy of Dick Fallis' ATimber and Sawmill Travelog.

      Byron Ruthven Lewis, who was always called B.R., was born in New York State, Cattaraugus County, Sept. 28, 1864, and was a babe in arms when his parents moved to Michigan. His father, a Union Army surgeon in the Civil War, set up practice in the logging country, and when B.R. was in his teens, he had so little education that he could not hire on as a clerk, so he labored in sawmills, planing mills and the woods in the Saginaw and Ausable districts until he was 17. At that time he began clerking for a hardware and farm implement store where he handled hardware and agricultural tools.
      Three decades later, after owning mill companies in Minnesota and Idaho, Lewis surfaced on the south shore of the Skagit River, where he bought a large tract of virgin timber in 1909 and he founded Skagit Logging Co. In 1911-12, he built a new common carrier, the Puget Sound & Cascade Railway (PS&C) and began associating with the Clear Lake Lumber Co. [CLLC]. Many people assume that Lewis was involved from the beginning in the CLLC operation at Clear Lake but he came along a decade later.
      The Day Brothers built the first shingle mill on the northwest shore of the lake in 1892 and that evolved over the next decade into Bratnober & Waite, whose sawmill was destroyed by fire in November 1902, although the shingle mill was saved. John Bratnober stayed on for a short while as secretary but soon moved on greener pastures in King County. In 1903 the company was reorganized and renamed the Clear Lake Lumber Company, with F.H. Jackson as president. Jackson stayed on through the Lewis years all the way to the end, the only one of the original officers to do so. For the next nine years, they basically treaded water as they built a rail extension westward nine miles from the Northern Pacific [NP] tracks to Mount Vernon.
      Local competition from J.E. Potts and the Day Creek Lumber Co., along with an interim owner who seemed snake bit, led to an opening for B.R. Lewis. He attracted some heavyweights to invest in his rail line, including Thomas Smith, the Mount Vernon attorney [B.R.'s son Sid married Smith's daughter]; T.J. Meagher; F.H. Jackson and J.C. Wixson, the Big Lake timber man. Jackson may have been retained so long because he was a cousin of the Hortons, of Winona, Minnesota, who became the largest block of CLLC investors. The new rail line first shipped logs over the ten miles of track back to the Skagit Junction NP interchange in December 1912 and it became a roaring success.
      Read our complete extended profile of B.R. Lewis and the Clear Lake Lumber Co. here in a separate story in Issue 53. The CLLC passed into receivership in 1927 and in April 1929 the plant was reborn as a subsidiary of the new Puget Sound Pulp & Timber Co. [Return]

Norman McDonald
      All we know about him is from the 1913 Polk Directory, which lists him as the owner of Puget Sound Realty, with partner Ellis C. Jones, Metcalf near Northern. [Return]

Neil McLeod (1888-1966)
      Sedro-Woolley Chief of Police Neil Mcleod is not to be confused with the Neil McLeod of the Rockport Hotel. Chief McLeod was born on April 25, 1888, in Alberta, Canada. We do not know when he came to Sedro-Woolley or what year he married Elizabeth "Bessie" McLeod. Researcher Roger Peterson thinks he was possible a logging contractor when he first came to the county. Mayor Gust Gilbertson appointed him chief on June 14, 1939; they were next door neighbors. He served the longest of the chiefs, at 15 years. Peterson recalled that he did not like the scratchy-sounding radios in the patrol cars, so he took them out. He also did not like riding in patrol cars. He believed in walking the beat as officers originally did, on some nights 12 hours until the bars closed.
      He retired on June 1, 1954, age 66, and was replaced by Norman E. Lisherness. He also worked as a truant officer. Bessie died in 1955. Their daughter Mona was born in 1910 and died at age 95 in Centralia. She was a legal secretary for 63 years, originally for Arthur H. Ward of Sedro-Woolley from 1930-44, and then retired at age 82 in 1993 in Okanogan. Neil died in Walla Walla on May 16, 1966. [Return]

St. Elizabeth's Hospital
      St. Elizabeth's was the first Skagit County Hospital, located at the southwestern corner of Fidalgo and Township streets (1504 Township Road). Originally opened in 1889 as the Sedro Hotel for Fairhaven & Southern railroad construction crews, the hotel soon went bust when the crews moved on. The local Methodist Episcopal followers did not have their own church at the time, so they initially held services at the old hotel as early as 1890, calling their mission St. David.
      Sedro capitalist Junius B. Alexander contributed funding for a primitive hospital there that was more like a clinic. He named it for his mother. His wife, Effie, was effectively the administrator for the first few years until she died in 1899. They married in New York in June 1890 just after he graduated from Harvard and they quickly moved out to old Sedro when it was still a small village, but accidents in the woods called for at least a crude hospital. We know that when Sterling pioneer Joseph DeBay nearly blew off his hand with blasting powder in 1892, he walked all the way to St. Elizabeth's to try in vain to save his hand. The hospital was also described as a "pest house" for people with communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera, or smallpox.
      According to the St. James Centennial history, compiled by the late Mae Parker in 1990, the building soon gave way to demands for an expanded hospital, so the worshippers moved their services to the Hotel Sedro on Third Street in new Sedro (where the high school gymnasium stands today), which had also failed within a year of its inception. After a fire there, they moved to Odd Fellows building on Murdock Street, where the American Legion club lounge stands today. In 1908 the St. James Methodist Episcopal Church finally had a building of its own, which still stands at the northwest corner of Fourth and State streets.
      Meanwhile, the hospital grew until Dr. Menzo B. Mattice was in charge by the time of the 1901 High School Annual book, with a Duncan Ferguson as nurse and Mrs. Huntley, Matron. In 1904 a private association took responsibility for the building and hospital, about the time that Dr. William Dorsey became the St. Elizabeth's physician and administrator. On Dec. 18, 1912, he was killed in a freak accident by riding his bike over a fallen power line. The old Sedro Hotel/St. Elizabeth's County Hospital/church/pest house was incorporated into a new company in 1913 and ceased operation sometime between then and 1916, after which the new Valley Hospital opened on Ferry Street. [Return]

Tule Shoes
(Tule Shoes)
      The tule shoes used especially in the western county resemble the photo except that some were wooden or sat on a wooden platform. Most of them had webbing too. Farmers apparently copied and modified somewhat the horseshoes they had seen in California on soil that was fertile, although unstable and fissured. A major challenge for early farmers was how to prevent heavy animals and equipment from sinking in the soil or getting caught in cracks. The combination of webbing and the structure distributed the weight of each foot over a wide area, minimized the possibility of injury, and enabled farmers to harness and concentrate the power of a large domesticated animal. The adapted shoe worked well for farmers contending with the bogs of the Olympia Marsh or the swampy ground on Fri Island. [Return]

George Hammer
      George Hammer is known to most as the partner in Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop, Sedro-Woolley's most venerable store. We are pleased to have had an opportunity to learn about one of our genuine pioneers, from two expert observers of him. He was truly here from birth, born in Clear Lake on June 9, 1889, not long after his parents arrived via steamboat on the Skagit River. They were part of the amazing migration of more than 75 people from the tiny town of Lincoln Center to Sedro and the Skagit County, in the 1890s, as they followed George Green, Lincoln's founder, and his son-in-law, Emerson Hammer. We will profile that migration in a story this summer.
      But in order to understand George's real importance to the town, you need to realize that he was growing up in the shadow of State Senator Emerson Hammer (from 1898 onwards), partner in the Union Mercantile. Think of the McIntyre family and Skagit Steel, or think of the Janicki family and their 21st century technology. It is a challenge to grow up and develop your own identity in such a shadow. In all three of those families one or more did. George Hammer went to work in the woods, and rose to lead the crew at his father's Finney Creek shingle mill, by his own brawn and leadership, not nepotism. You can see in his photo back in 1918 when he posed astride a horse in front of the Hammer Mansion that he was an outdoors guy. His, son the late Wyman Hammer, told us about how the whole Finney Creek crew slept and lived in tents, even during the winter rains.
      Three years after he returned from the Army, George stepped tentatively out from his father's shadow and formed a partnership with tailor Joe Oliver in the Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop. (See the full profile). [Return]

(George Hammer)
      George Hammer astride his favorite horse, in front of the Hammer Mansion on State Street, in 1918 as he wears his Army uniform.

      Siwash was the settlers' favorite word for Indian, usually attached in a derogatory manner, a word that survived until the years I grew up here in the 1950s and '60s. It was apparently derived from the trading language, Chinook Jargon, this time based on the French word, sauvage, which really old timers might have heard from French fur trappers who roamed the North Cascades.[Return]

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Story posted on March 7, 2011
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