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Gilbert Landre's cabin and mines
Cascade river mining district

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal, ©2004
(Gilbert and his horse)
This photo has been reputed in the past to be of Gilbert Landre and his horse at his cabin, sometime before the turn of the 20th century. This copy is from the North Cascades National Park Service Complex photo collection, and Dr. Jesse Kennedy, the curator at the Marblemount NPS facility, doubts this is Landre, as does your editor. We hope a reader can provide a scan or a copy of actual photo of Landre; extra points will be awarded if he is at the cabin.

      During one of our many trips upriver to find landmarks that had disappeared or been overgrown or altered, the late Howard Miller described for me the first time he packed across the Cascade Pass from Marblemount to Lake Chelan and Stehekin. He explained how he hitched a ride on the Great Northern work train to Rockport, then hitched a ride on the Toonerville Trolley to Marblemount and the junction of the Cascade and Skagit rivers. From there he began a trek up the Cascade River toward the Pass. The major landmark he looked for on the way up towards the pass was the cabin of Gilbert Landre and he said that on the way back, that same cabin was the welcome sign that he was close to being back home.
      A National Park Service [hereafter NPS] website and the book, Skagit Settlers, provide the first record of Landre's first appearance in the Cascade river mining district:

      The only early settler along the Cascade drainage whose property falls within today's park boundaries was not a homesteader in the true sense of the word. Gilbert Landre (also incorrectly spelled Landry, Landrum, and Lander) was a French-Canadian miner who came up the Cascade River in search of minerals about 1888. Never filing a homestead claim, he cleared a small area of land along the North Fork of the Cascade River, and erected a small log cabin with a fireplace.
      The next record is from the 1897 book, Mining in the Pacific Northwest, by Lawrence K. Hodges [you can read the Cascade river excerpt by going to the contents page of Issue 20 of our separate Subscribers Edition]. Back in 1889, prospectors zeroed in on granite cliffs that rose along the north fork of the Cascade, west of the Cascade Peak, the divide in the North Cascades range. Eight miles west of the Pass were two basins, Horseshoe and Doubtful. In September that year, the first two discoveries of promising ore in that area were made by the team if George L. Rowse, John C. "Jack" Rouse and Landre. Digging around the Boston Glacier, they discovered the Boston ledge where the Rowse-Rouse group located the Boston claim and Landre the Chicago on its west extension. In November of that year, Landre and a man named John Russner also located the Buffalo claim on the ledge. Investors grubstaked the men and ore was extracted, which looked promising to assayers, but development of the mines was cut short by the nationwide Depression that began in 1893.
(Gilbert's cabin)
This photo of Gilbert's cabin was taken in 1943 when hikers and U.S. forestry service employees stayed overnight when they traveled back and forth over Cascade Pass between Skagit and Chelan counties. Photo courtesy of the fine book, Chechacos All, which is still for sale at the LaConner historical museum. A snowstorm that decade caved in the roof, but volunteers replaced it, only to see the replacement roof cave in by the early 1950s. The cabin still does not have a roof, but the National Park Service would dearly like to replace it. Do you know any corporation(s) or architects that would help underwrite such a project?

      In the Skagit Settlers book, Frank E. Davis recalls when he first met Landre:
      There was much activity on Cascade river at that time as the Great Northern Railway was surveying and it was generally thought that this would be the route through the mountains. Many prospectors were travelling the trail and a large pack train operated by Alex Adkins and Bob Vorhies [maybe Vorhees] was making regular trips to Gilbert's Cabin. . . . I first saw him there in 1893 while I was packing for a small survey party, conducted by J.C. Parsons, who was making a map of the mining district. Gilbert was then hewing the logs for the new house. He had the walls about half-way up in the spring of '93 when a snow slide came across from the opposite side and wrecked it. The present cabin was completed the following year, and I have stayed there many times during the next ten years. Gilbert was a great prospector, but I know of no mines that he located. He used to say, "Not much "minera-al," but good indications (he pronounced it: inda-ca-shons)."
      Undaunted by the avalanche, Landre began again and had his new home in order the following year, 1894. The NPS site describes his second cabin, which has survived in ruins until today:
      Gilbert's second cabin, originally one and a half stories in height, two bays wide, and capped with a wood-shingled or shaked gable roof, measures 18" x 25' and was constructed with materials available on-site. Landre cut enormous trees for the cabin — many of the planked wall logs are more than 20" wide — and stumps are still visible nearby. The unique quality of the cabin lies in its construction: Landre used dove-tail notches in laying the logs, and it is the only log cabin of that type within the park complex. The interior consisted of one large room with a full space above, reached by stairs at the rear of the cabin. Bunk beds were built in, a large cache box was kept downstairs, and Landre had even devised a flume system which carried refuse from the cabin out to a nearby creek.
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Also in the book, Skagit Settlers, Iola Barratt Bazinet, who was born at her parents' Cascade river homestead, shares memories of Landre. She recalled that Landre built his two-story second cabin large enough so that it could be a roadhouse and a headquarters building for the expected mining companies. She remembered Landre as a "husky Frenchman and handy with a broad axe. He felled the big trees, hewed the logs square for the walls, skidded them to the building site, then notched the ends for perfect fit. The windows and door sills and the stairs to the second floor were perfect.
      Prospectors packing into the area in the 1890s could buy staples and needed goods at a small miners' supply store at Eldorado creek. Col. Frank Wilkeson and his son Bayard ran a similar miners' store at Bridge creek in Chelan county, east of the divide. When Landre built his cabin in the dense woods near the confluence of Boston Creek and the north fork of the Cascade River, below Mt Johannesburg, it provided primitive lodging for miners and travelers, a roof over their heads in the rainy season. They also depended on Landre for supplies, food and just plain companionship when they got cabin and tent fever at their claims. Landre even had a branch post office at one time.
      One of major limitations on mining in the Cascade area was lack of transportation for the ore. Miners were faced with mountains, rivers, creeks, gorges and forests before they could ever load their ore onto a steamboat down the Skagit or the Seattle & Northern railroad, which was laying track from Hamilton to the future town of Rockport. Mining companies in the area successfully lobbied the Washington state legislature in 1895 to appropriate money for a wagon road that would solve the problem. [You can read the full story of the road plans at our website about Bert Huntoon.] The Washington Board of State Road Commissioners was appointed under an Act of the State Legislature on March 22, 1895, to survey four different routes through the North Cascades. One of them was east from Marblemount via the north shore of the Cascade river and then up the north fork to Cascade pass. In 1896, a road on the west side of the pass was built twelve miles up the Cascade River but it was never completed to the divide. Ironically, the road that would eventually cross the mountains [Highway 20, completed in 1972] followed a route that the commissioners had determined to be the longest and "the most expensive part of the Slate Creek route." Up until the initial money ran out, a crude wagon road was dug out halfway to the north fork, terminating at what was then called Mineral Park. You can follow somewhat the same route today if you drive a SUV, although the last section of the present mountain road was built on a slightly higher grade. From Mineral Park, a trail was hacked along the original Indian trail as far as Landre's cabin and Boston creek. Although the wagon road never went any farther, it was shown on maps as State Highway #1 or the Cascade Wagon Road.
      The NPS site notes that Landre's cabin "was used as early as 1895 by the Washington State Road Commissioners who 'stored with Gilbert Landre, at head of Cascade River Skagit County: 2 Cross-cut saws, 2 Bake Pans, 1 Brush Scythe, 1 Cook Stove, 6 Steel Crow Bars, 1 Logging Jack, 1 Portable B.S. Forge, 27 Steel Drills, 1 Wash Tub and Board.'"
      In her book, North Cascades Highway, JoAnn Roe writes that only a pack trail extended east from Landre's cabin over the pass to what was called the "Stairway," the extremely steep southeastern face of Cascade pass. She notes that "no wagon ever went over the trail," even though the Chelan Leader called it a road in an 1897 article. Complicating matters even further, the floods of 1894, 1896 and 1897, some of the worst ever, tore out gaping holes all along the trail. although miner George L. Rowse managed to ride the whole way along the rugged trail on horseback in the late 1890s, later state surveys in 1905 and 1911 recommended that the road be abandoned.
      Of the six mining claims where Landre had an interest, none of them proved to be profitable, or at least the original partners, including C.H. Landers, could not exploit them with their limited capital. The most promising of the claims were bought by various companies, such as Cascade Consolidated Mining Co., after the Depression subsided in the late 1890s.
      The deteriorated log home stands today despite the loss of its roof. Hidden in the forest near the old trail, the cabin is passed by many making their way up to Cascade Pass via the Cascade River Road. USFS Ranger Tommy Thompson mentioned his use of the cabin numerous times between 1916 and the 1930s. The NPS provides further record of the cabin itself:

      After Landre's death, years of neglect caused the cabin to deteriorate. Not until the 1940s were repair efforts attempted, when a group of interested local citizens rallied to restore the cabin. With assistance from the USFS, they sought to preserve the cabin as a historic site. USFS employee [Blackey] Burns helped get work underway; John Dayo, another USFS employee, recalled the roof being replaced at this time, only to be destroyed the following year by a snow slide. Apparently in the 1950s foundation logs and floor joists were replaced, but this work marked the last effort to revive Gilbert's cabin. In 1984, a field-check of the site revealed that four walls of the cabin are standing, pierced with door and window openings; the roof beams lie alongside the structure's north wall and remnants of a wood-framed outbuilding are extant nearby. Nearly hidden from view by the forest vegetation, this cabin, once called a "woodsman's work of art," stands as a quiet reminder of early efforts to inhabit and tame this unknown region.
      At one point in the 1960s, upriver outdoorsmen feared that the cabin had crumbled and disappeared. In Ray Jordan's book, Yarns of the Skagit Country, he writes that he hiked up the Cascade trail in 1964 with pioneer Otto K. Pressentin] and they were shocked to find an empty space where Pressentin remembered last seeing the cabin in 1956. Four years later, while exploring the route for the future North Cross-State Highway, NPS employee Harry Wills discovered that the cabin was still standing after all, but nearly enveloped by blackberries and brush and the roof was gone.

Otto K. Pressentin provides Landre's final record
(Cabin ruins)
This photo of the ruins of Gilbert's cabin was taken in the early 1950s, so you can imagine what it looks like today. From the North Cascades National Park Service Complex photo collection.

      While hiking in 1964, Pressentin shared his memory of Landre, whom Otto got to know while teaching in Marblemount in the 1890s. He recalled that Landre often asked him to write letters because the French Canadian could not read or write English. Otto said that Landre died intestate at Marblemount on Feb. 14, 1905, and his only living relative was a brother, George Landre, who lived at Glendive, Montana. An inventory was taken by the administrator, Otto's brother Paul v. Pressentin, in May that year and it consisted of mining claims of unknown value, $204 deposited at the C.E. Bingham bank in Woolley, and a watch valued at $15. By the time that debts were paid, Landre's total net estate was about $100.
      We asked Jesse Kennedy, director of the North Cascades National Park Marblemount curation facility what the condition is in the spring 2004. He answered that even in May, park personnel cannot reach it because of snowpack. The last parks person he knows of who saw the cabin was Dana Barton, who in 2001 visited the site and reported that the roof is completely gone and that the remaining wall boards are crumbling. Dr. Kennedy also explained that there is actually a combination of paved and gravel segments leading up towards Cascade pass; some paving has been done at points where there is pressure on turns in the road. The pass is 21 miles from Marblemount and he says that the gravel road ends about a mile short of the cabin. He also noted that the reason why the cabin has sustained such damage during winter blizzards is that a slide chute is located right across the creek.
      Regardless of what Landre's estate totaled, his legend and the shell of his cabin, is much more valuable to us. The question remains if any part of the cabin should and can be restored in any way or if a marker of some kind can inform hikers about who lived there and his importance.

Click on these thumbnail photos to see the full-sized photos
(Cabin savers)

This is a photo of what became jokingly called "Gilbert's Groupies," people who exerted themselves back in the '40s and '50s to follow a dirt and gravel road more than 20 miles, tote tools and parts and food down a forest path to the cabin and repair it time after time. Some of these fellers are pretty young. Might some of them still be around? Can you recognize any of them? We have blown up the photo.
(Cabin setting)

Click on either of these photos to see a larger-format version. Photo on the left courtesy of the collection of North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Above photo from the Hazel Tracy Photograph Collection, copy courtesy of Dr. Albert Merritt.
Far left. This is a photo taken in 1951 when people in the Cascade river area used to gather there for picnics. From the North Cascades National Park Service Complex photo collection.
Center: This photo was taken decades ago, looking east towards Cascade pass. Gilbert Landre's cabin is in the left center near the creek and Johannesberg Mountain is out of the frame to the right. Photo courtesy of Dr. Albert Merritt and the Hazel Tracy collection. Hazel was a niece of Sadie Silverling, the legendary hotel owner in Marblemount. Hazel passed away in 2003.

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Story posted on May 19, 2004, moved to this domain Oct. 10, 2011
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