(Girl Undercut)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition, where 450 of 700 stories originate
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, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

(Click to send email)
Site founded Sept. 1, 2000. We passed 5 million page views on June 6, 2011
The home pages remain free of any charge. We need donations or subscriptions to continue.
Please pass on this website link to your family, relatives, friends and clients.

"See Mud on Tree — Build Higher" —
Joseph Hart observations about floods and Indian advice

(Hamilton flood 1896)
      This photo has been published before but the caption written by hand on the front of it on the copy we originally saw did not make sense. It seemed to suggest that this damage was from a flood in 1898. We have since determined that this was the result of the 1896 or 1897 flood. We explain more about the photo at this Journal feature about the mothers of all floodson the Skagit river in the 19th-century. .

Skagit County Times, Nov. 19, 1896
      In the year 1878 Joseph Hart, our well known fellow citizen, came to Puget Sound and two years later came to the Skagit valley, just prior to great flood of 1880. Since the flood of that year there have been, three freshets [floods] that have equaled it in height, and the one we chronicle this week surpassed it by 18 inches. In speaking of the floods and their causes, Mr. Hart said:

Joseph Hart recalls the Indian legends:
(Stack of stumps)
This photo from an unknown year shows the force of the flood water — how it lifted stumps and stacked them on top of each other.

      At the time of my coming to this valley there had been no freshets of note for many years, and the one that came in 1880 was a damper to the enthusiasm of the dwellers on the marsh lands; but, as several years rolled by without a repetition of the catastrophe and a system of dikes was inaugurated, contentment banished fear.
      Shortly after the memorable high water of that year, I had a talk with an old Indian and his squaw, who used to live on Skiou [sic, now known as Skiyou] island but have since died of the smallpox [smallpox was rampant in the Indian population in 1890]. These worthies took me to a tree near by and directed my attention to a watermark at least six feet higher than the highest point reached by the recent freshet and said that when they were children the great flood swept down the valley carrying death and destruction everywhere.
      He said: 'the lodges of my people were carried with their canoes and winter's food out to the great waters, and they were left to suffer the horrors of starvation and death from exposure to the inclement elements. The snows of winter fell to an unusual depth and the animals upon which we were wont to subsist, greatly reduced in numbers by drowning and driven into the mountain fastnesses by the raging torrent, were hard to get and very poor. The fish we had prepared for winter use were destroyed by the angry waters and we were made to suffer the wrath of the Great Spirit.'

    Any time, any amount, please help build our travel and research fund for what promises to be a very busy 2011, 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.

We recently visited our newest sponsor, Plumeria Bay, which is based in Birdsview, just a short walk away from the Royal family's famous Stumpranch, and is your source for the finest down bedding. See our Journal feature on this local business and learn more details and how to order items at their website.

      Judging from the apparent age of the Indians at this time I should place the time of that greatest of the great freshets at about the beginning of the present century, and was caused according to the story of these Indians by heavy snows coming early in the fall, which were immediately succeeded by a very warm chinook wind which blew for many days. As to this being the only and real cause of the unprecedented high water, however, I have my doubts.
      Our fellow townsman, Mr. H.L. Devin, was some years ago engaged in surveying in the upper valley in the vicinity of Baker lake. Being detained over night in an Indian camp, he was told the history of a great flood. They said that about 60 years ago a great slide had choked up the narrow outlet of the Baker valley and that the water accumulated in the basin thus formed until the whole valley was an immense lake, full 80 feet deep. By this time the imprisoned waters had burst through the dam and in a few hours this great volume of water was precipitated into the Skagit flooding the whole valley. The water marks still plainly visible high up the sides of the Baker valley and the great variation in those upon the trees as you come down the Skagit would indicate that this was the real cause of that terrible disaster.

"See mud on tree, build higher"
A present-day perspective by Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal
      Joseph Hart, along with David Batey, were the first two whites to settle the area of present Sedro-Woolley. [Read their profiles on the web page about the four British bachelors who were the first to settle permanently on the future-Sedro area.] They arrived in August 1878 and explored the upper reaches of the valley first but the narrow corridor seemed to preclude a railroad link so they chose to come back down the river in the flatter part of the valley. Hart recounted later that early on, he heard a settler ask an Indian where he should build his cabin. The Indian answered: "See mud on tree, build higher."
      The great flood to which the Indian couple referred was probably that of 1815, what is often called the mother of all floods of the Skagit. Explorer Alexander Ross crossed the Cascade Pass the year before, but there is no record of any whites living along the Skagit at that time. White fur trappers followed Ross over the next two decades.
      Larry Kunzler, a flood expert who once lived in the flood plain of the Nookachamps, now lives north of Sedro-Woolley. He has amassed thousands of pages of documents regarding floods as a result of investigating for property owners who sued the government regarding losses due to the floods of 1990. He asserts that the most massive flood of the Skagit "occurred, according to historical records, around 1815." He classes that flood as "well above" a 500-year flood, or one that would only occur once in any 500-year span.
      The flood of 1909 was the most significant flood since records have been kept. Kunzler explains that flood damage begins when the river flow at the Concrete gauge exceeds 60,000 cubic feet per second (c.f.s.). The estimate for 1815 is 400,000 c.f.s. In 1909 it was possible to row a boat all the way from Mt. Vernon to LaConner across the fields. So we can imagine the terror that the flood of 1815 must have struck in the hearts of those Indian children.
      The 1909 flood marked 220,000 c.f.s. at Concrete; 1917, 195,000 c.f.s.; 1921, 210,000; 1951, 150,000. Records are not available for river flow at Mount Vernon for the same floods but in 1951 the flow was 144,000 c.f.s. there. Using that as a comparison, the famous 1975 flood measured 130,000 c.f.s. and in 1990, that level was surpassed twice. If you lived here then, you might recall that a second flood followed the first one of Nov. 11, 1990 by just 13 days, the famous Thanksgiving day flood. The first one measured 142,000 c.f.s. and the second, 152,000 c.f.s.
      Experts estimate that the flood crest of 1815 was at least 15 feet above the flood mark of the 1917 flood, which is classified as a 75-80-year flood. 1990, as terrible as it was, is a mere 25-year flood in comparison. Experts also estimate that at Sedro-Woolley the 1815 flood exceeded the 1909 flood by 7 feet, covered the highest ground in the town with 1.5 feet of water, and water would have covered the present downtown business district by about 10 feet.

(Train trestle)
This photo from an unknown year shows the damage that deadwood from the flood damaged many railroad trestles.

      The next significant flood was in 1856, the second highest in the last 200 years, which had an estimated flow of 300,000 c.f.s. The next significant flood was in 1880, the one Hart mentioned in the interview above. Mortimer Cook apparently did not heed the Indian warnings because he built his general store right on the north shore of the river in 1884. Hart's farm was also very near the river. Settlers of the 1880s apparently assumed that the river had calmed down because they established villages at Hamilton, Sauk and old Sedro in lowland areas. Then, in the 1890s, the river went on a rampage nearly every year or two. We know that 1894 registered a severe flood because noted Skagit valley historian John Conrad was born that year and his middle name is Flood because of the havoc wreaked on his father's farm near LaConner at Pleasant Ridge. The village of Sauk was nearly completely swept away in the flood of 1897, which was the equal of the one described in the newspaper report above. The two back-to-back floods of 1896 and 1897 pretty well spelled the end of old-Sedro by the river. But Hamilton lived through them all. It took the ravages of 1917 and 1921 to convince town fathers there to move the rest of the town buildings up the slope where the present town of Hamilton lies.
      [Ed. note: newspapers like these are worth their weight in gold for historians. If you have any old issues from this area or know some one who does, please do not hesitate to copy them and send the copies to us. Thank you. We owe a debt of gratitude to Roger Peterson once again for finding this particular issue, which is packed in two pages with scads of pioneer names and locations. We will quote more of it in a later chapter. Come back and visit this section again.]

Links, background reading and sources

Story posted on Dec. 16, 2011
Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 58 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

Getting lost trying to navigate
or find stories on our site?
Read how to sort through our 700-plus stories.

See this Journal Timeline website of local, state, national, international events for years of the pioneer period.
Return to the new-domain home page
Links for portals to subjects and towns
Newest photo features
Search entire site
Our monthly column, Puget Sound Mail (but don't call it a blog)
debuted on Aug. 9, 2009. Check it out.
(bullet) Remember; we welcome correction & criticism.
(bullet) Please report any broken links or files that do not open and we will send you the correct link. With more than 700 features, we depend on your report. Thank you. And do not give up if you find a link that seems to be closed. Just put the subject in the search box below. The story may have been moved to our new domain. Or just ask us and we will guide you to it.
(bullet) Did you enjoy this story? Remember, as with all our features, this story is a draft and will evolve as we discover more information and photos. This process continues until we eventually compile a book about Northwest history. Can you help with copies or scans of documents or photos? We never ask for your originals.
(bullet) Read about how you can order CDs that include our photo features from the first ten years of our Subscribers-paid online magazine. Perfect for gifts. Although it was delayed by our illness, it is due for completion in 2012.

You can click the donation button to contribute to the rising costs of this site. See many examples of how you can aid our project and help us continue for another ten years. You can also subscribe to our optional Subscribers-Paid Journal magazine online, which celebrated its tenth anniversary in September 2010, with exclusive stories, in-depth research and photos that are shared with our subscribers first. You can go here to read the preview edition to see examples of our in-depth research or read how and why to subscribe.

You can read the history websites about our prime sponsors
Would you like information about how to join them in advertising?

(bullet) Our newest sponsor, Plumeria Bay, is based in Birdsview, just a short walk away from the Royal family's famous Stumpranch, and is your source for the finest down comforters, pillows, featherbeds andduvet covers and bed linens. Order directly from their website and learn more about this intriguing local business.
(bullet) Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop at 817 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 90 years continually in business.
(bullet) Peace and quiet at the Alpine RV Park, just north of Marblemount on Hwy 20, day, week or month, perfect for hunting or fishing. Park your RV or pitch a tent — for as little as $5 per night — by the Skagit River, just a short drive from Winthrop or Sedro-Woolley. Alpine is doubling in capacity for RVs and camping in 2011.
(bullet) Check out Sedro-Woolley First section for links to all stories and reasons to shop here first
or make this your destination on your visit or vacation.
(bullet) Are you looking to buy or sell a historic property, business or residence?
We may be able to assist. Email us for details.

Looking for something special on our site? Enter name, town or subject, then press "Find" Search this site powered by FreeFind
    Did you find what you were seeking? We have helped many people find individual names or places, so email if you have any difficulty.
    Tip: Put quotation marks around a specific name or item of two words or more, and then experiment with different combinations of the words without quote marks. We are currently researching some of the names most recently searched for — check the list here. Maybe you have searched for one of them?
Please sign our guestbook so our readers will know where you found out about us, or share something you know about the Skagit River or your memories or those of your family. Share your reactions or suggestions or comment on our Journal. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to visit our site.

View My Guestbook
Sign My Guestbook
Email us at: skagitriverjournal@gmail.com
(Click to send email)
Mail copies/documents to Street address: Skagit River Journal, 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, WA, 98284.