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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

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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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The Legend of Big Rock — Ray Jordan
And Calamity Jane's rifle

(History Open House Big Lake School Aug. 9-10, 2008, next in 2010)
From Yarns of the Skagit Country, by Ray Jordan, 1974, transcribed by Larry Spurling
(Big Rock)
Big Rock, located about halfway between Clearlake and Biglake, was the reason for the fork in the road that is seen today on Hwy 9 and Hwy 538 from College Way and Mount Vernon. These two photos are from our friends at Skagit Land Trust.

      To you, perhaps, Big Rock is just another rock, but to the Noo-quah-chamish this bold pinnacle guarding the forks of the road opposite the Big Rock Service Station was a sacred spot looming large in their legends. [This anglicized version of the Indian band's name was the source of the name for Nookachamps Creek or River.]
      It was called "Yud-was-ta," which means, "heart" or "of the heart," since it stands in the heart of the onetime Noo-quah-chamish homeland. Their story of how the rock was formed reveals the reason for their reverence of it, for this was the place where Start Child alighted upon her return from a sojourn in that illahee (land) in the sky.
      The Star Child, to escape an unhappy marriage to a man who lived in the sky, returned to earth by means of a long rope woven from cedar saplings. When she reached earth, her sister, who remained in the sky, cut the rope to conceal the method of escape.
      The rope fell, coil upon coil, and formed the present Big Rock. If you are doubtful, drive a short distance on a side road to the east some clear morning; and the strong rays of the rising sun will accentuate the unusual formation of the rock, giving the impression that the legend is true.
      Not far from Yud-was-ta was a prominent Noo-quah-chamish winter village (also important in legend) in pre-Caucasian days, according to two of the oldest Indian informants I ever knew. Both had spent some time here during their youth; but of course by then, the village had lost most of its pre-white glory due to the white invasion of their land and the ensuing loss of population by paleface diseases, ending their way of life. Today, the place is a cultivated field.
      Some other large rocks in the Big Lake vicinity are said to be the souls of thieves ready to emerge from their stoney lairs and rob the luckless Indian of his soul. When this happened, the best medicine man available was summoned to retrieve the lost soul. This required a practitioner of the highest skill, since the rocks tossed the missing soul back and forth between them to thwart recovery. But a doctor with a strong Tamanowas could accomplish the feat.

(Forest at Big Rock)
Forest at Big Rock

      Sometimes, long detours around these rocks were made by travelers to avoid risk.
      Legends and fables play a large part in scholarly studies of Europe, Asia, and Africa. By now, much is made of Indian legends in our own older eastern states to preserve Indian history and to interest tourists; but so far, little has been done to perpetuate the interesting local Indian lore that surrounds us. Perhaps it is too new. Maybe a hundred years from now, scholars will be diligently searching here for lost clues to a lost civilization.

      Ed. note: We post this story from Ray Jordan's book, Ray's Writin's in hope that a reader will have family memories or articles or documents that will add to the story of the Big Rock area. We also hope that a reader will have scanned photos of the rock itself and the area around it. We also plan to profile this whole area in the near future, including the nearby Baker Heights School which is sadly now just a memory. A home has been built on the surviving foundation. The Big Rock service station and grocery is still a landmark for the area and a terrific place to meet and greet. Randy Audette bought the business from Floyd and Georgia Schopf 20 years ago. He has several photos of the old service station and the early days of the store. He pointed out that the service station was originally located nearer the bridge over Nookachamps Creek and that a tavern was located where the store is today. Can you help with family memories, or copies of photos, documents or articles?

Historic rifle on display in Skagit
Skagit Valley Herald, Jan. 8, 1939
      A rifle that is believed to have been used in Custer's last stand and by the famous Calamity Jane has been placed on exhibition in the county courthouse here.
      Arthur Gustavson of Baker Heights donated the gun for exhibition. It was given to him by his brother, Oscar, now dead, who obtained it from a Sioux Indian, along with a wild cayuse, in trade for a buckskin pony in 1900.
      [Oscar] told his brother that the gun was used by an Indian in the historical battle that killed off Custer's entire army. Later it was used by the original Calamity Jane. The deal was consummated at the Cannonball River near the campsite of Sitting Bull
      The gun is a .56-.50-bore rifle, and is believed to be one of the first used by the Indians in this country. The Baker Heights man was employed by Calamity Jane in 1901 at her ranch in Pierre, South Dakota.

      Ed. note: We have not yet found anyone from the Baker Heights area who recalls this gun or what happened to it after it was displayed. Can you help?

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Story posted Jan. 1, 2005, last updated Dec. 7, 2006
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This article originally appeared in Issue xx of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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