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Gold brought many
to the North Cascades

By Martin Lind, Bellingham Herald, May 26, 1971
(Glee and gold pan)
      The discovery of "color" lured thousands of men into the North Cascades in 1880 and again in the '90s when gold fever reached nearly epidemic proportions, but the promise of unmapped riches never panned out.
      Mother Lode — the big nugget that drew an amalgam of "rock rats" and opportunistic dudes to the high, rugged wilderness — lies buried still: an ironic monument to a breed of characters whose stories, for the most part, lie socked away in a creek bed of time as surely as fine fragments of precious metal.
      Glenn [Glee] Davis is one of few men alive who was part of the early days of what has become the North Cascades National Park.

Glee came with family
      Now 85 and retired at Sedro-Woolley, Davis was 5 when he, his brother Frank, 13, and sister Idessa, 8, moved from Colorado to Marblemount with their 38-year-old mother, Lucinda. They took up a 160-acre claim on the Cascade River that had belonged to her brother, George Leach, who drowned in 1890.
      In 1891, she and Idessa accompanied a Mrs. Billington who wanted to paint the Sawtooth Ridge at Horseshoe Basin. The three became the first white women to cross Cascade Pass.
      In 1893 the Davis brothers made their first walk into Cedar Bar, now Diablo, traveling with their uncle, Will Leach, and Reece Jones, owner of a roadhouse at Newhalem, called Goodell's Landing at the time.

More than Gold
      Between sessions of school at Mount Vernon, the trip was repeated again in 1895 with Jones' successor, Harry Dennis. Like the first, it was also made to prospect for gold but Davis Admits "we had kind of fallen in love with the mountains and wanted to go up there anyway.
      "It was the freedom, I guess. We had the run of the mountains. There was nobody much to bother you." In November 1897, a record-high flood of the Cascade River washed out everything on the Davis' six-acre clearing except a small barn.
      The family wintered at Sedro-Woolley and the next summer, attracted by a full-scale mining operation at Ruby Creek, Frank built a cabin at Cedar Bar near Stetattle Creek and the family moved in.

The Only One Left
    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.

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      "I guess I'm the last of the Mohicans," Davis said, leafing the pages of the hotel register his mother kept from 1898 until 1929. "Because of my age then I guess I'm the only left who was living and working up there in the '90s."
      Lonesome mountain men swapped hundreds of stories when they stopped there on their way in and out of the wilderness. Supper, bed and breakfast came to a dollar during the early years.
      "It wasn't a luxury, but a man would eat twice as much when he was tramping the mountains," Davis said. "I remember mother always kept clean sheets on the beds. It was quite a thing. Everybody up there always slept in blankets otherwise.

Too late now
      "Mining, rocks, gold — as a conversation, it's endless. I should have asked more questions. [And we historians all repeat that "shoulda."] What irks me so is that some of those old fellows knew something I didn't get interested in until they were gone."
      While that may be true, he has provided much of what is known about the mining boom. Though he never worked in the hard-rock mines that flourished in the 1890s, Davis ran pack trains "for different mines all over the country" and worked a stint at the ore-crushing mill at the Anacortes mine on Cascade Creek.
      He began panning for gold in the early years and still makes an annual fall excursion to do that.

He kept going
      "Jack Rowley. He was an old rock rat. He kept going in until he was so old he couldn't walk. He had to be taken in by packhorse at the last."
      Rowley is supposed to have had a dream while camped in 1884 at Hidden Hand Creek, a mile and a half from the mouth from Ruby Creek.
      In the dream, a spirit came and laid out a course to take to Old Discovery Mine. He went up there. The claim produced more gold than any other one on the stream," according to Davis.
      George Holmes, the only black man to prospect in the area, discovered the biggest nugget. He found it about a half-mile downstream from Panther Creek where it enters Ruby Creek. It weighed "Close to three ounces and was about the size of a walnut," Davis aid.
      "George would tamp around there for a long time and never find anything. Then he'd come up with a big nugget."

Mother Lode near?
      It was thought maybe the mother lode was there around Panther Creek. The story was that he dug them out from behind a big boulder in the stream. After he died a woman from Seattle wanted to go up and see the boulder
      "Don't you understand." I told her. "If there was something up there the rest of us would have got it by now."
      "I didn't know there was a boulder there that big anyway," he said. Some misconceptions surround Holmes' disappearance from the area, according to Davis. One account has it that he headed down river in 1924 with $7,00 in gold and was never heard from again.

'It isn't true'
      Davis said it isn't true.
      "He was getting old and was carried out from Brown's Hotel at Ruby Creek on 18 June 1925. They took him to Mount Vernon. He died about a week later and is buried in the cemetery there." [See another Journal story with the details about Holmes' final days]
      James Cady and J.D. Williams also did well and once took our five gold bricks valued at about $4,000.
      "This Cady had a mine of his own on Mill Creek. He worked up a deal to sell it and asked some men from the East to come out at a certain time to look at it. As soon as they got behind this kidney of ore they got nothing. Foot after foot they blasted. They knew the men were coming. [See the Journal feature on Holmes]

'Same old thing'
(Park Creek cabin)
This early-century photo at Park Creek in the North Cascades illustrates why painters were drawn here.

      "Finally the men shot the tunnel out and came in at noon and told Cady 'Same old thing.' When the Easterners heard that, they went out and saw a streak of gold and wanted to cinch the claim before Cady changed his mind. I guess it never amounted to anything after they bought it.
      "George Neil, "a squeaky little fellow," and Andy Searight, a big Scandinavian, also took a lot of gold from a claim at the mouth of Sourdough Canyon where Davis had a claim for four years.
      Davis remembers that the two had a cable across the river to haul ore to the north side. As the story goes, Neil announced he wanted to be pulled across in a basket by Searight. He then proceeded to bind himself tightly in ropes and come across.
      "When he got over, Andy asked him why he was all tied up and Neil said, 'If that cable broke and I went down that river, I wasn't going to do any struggling.'"

Under water now
      That was a piece of rich ground but it's under about 200 feet of water now."
      Good strikes were also made at the mouth of Mill Creek on Canyon Creek and five miles downstream at the mouth of Granite, Davis said, [misplaced type: because name for Ruby Creek above Granite.] Davis sold, because the law allowed a prospector only one claim on one creek.
      Davis also got some pretty good showings in 1905-6 in the canyon just below Ross Dam. 'I had to pick away at the canvasses, break loose the shale concentrations, he recalled."

Few made it
      "Very few men every really made anything. There was no gold on the Skagit above Ruby or then at Thunder Creek down. thunder brought too much rubbish out."
      That doesn't rule out a mother lode, though, or the thrill of prospecting. In Davis' opinion, "There must be," he said. "You don't find any placer gold once you get up to the mouth of the Slate [Creek], yet when you get down on Canyon Creek, you begin to find it.
      "It's a great thrill to take a pan and get gold," he said. "There might not be much there but you will get color. Maybe you won't make anything but it's still a great thrill."


First white women to cross the pass
      Yes, "but . . . ", there is a challenger for first place. Another example of what author Tom Robinson once described as the "bane of Firsts!" He hates them as he researches his book, because they are so endemic in early histories of the county, yet are so often proved to be mistaken or especially because they were not aware of other families even ten to fifteen miles away, depending largely on canoes for travel. We post below the most-accepted version of the "first woman" story, an alternative to the Davis claim. So far, we have not been able to prove the exact dates of the two stories. But we know, from newspaper articles that another woman was claimed to be the first woman to cross the Cascade Pass in 1891, and with a baby on her back, to boot. We know because she was the daughter-in-law of Frank Wilkeson, the subject of the book on which we are collaborating. The only question, as you will see, is one no one seemed to ask: "what date and year did you cross?" Evelyn Wilkeson, wife of Frank's son, Bayard, was the woman claimant:
      In 1891 Frank opened a store for miners on Bridge Creek near Stehekin, which his son Bayard later operated until it closed during the 1890s Depression. In that period after the Ruby Creek gold rush, miners were pressing into the foothills on both sides of the Cascades, mainly looking for placer gold, but also using hydraulic methods in some places. We know from records in the Military Order of the Loyal Legion that he listed his residence as Hamilton. He was a signatory on the incorporation papers for Hamilton in 1891. When the Stehekin mining store failed, Frank's son Bayard and his wife Evelyn walked back to Hamilton over the Cascade Pass — Evelyn being the first white woman to do so, and carrying her three-year-old daughter, to boot.
      So, we are searching further, even though wise Tom might exhort, "wild goose chase." We suspect that Glee's memory is the winner, and that the Wilkeson claim falls later, as late as 1895. We historians amuse ourselves so many odd ways and on odd tangent and we hope that some of you enjoy those interludes. [Return]

Jack Rowley
      If you want to read about characters of the old gold rush days, you might want to take the time to put "Jack Rowley" into our search box below. He is quite a legend from the upper Skagit river, known as a bit of a mystic for his famous dream and for having named Sourdough Mountain, near the Ross Dam. When the Argonauts were first scouting around for gold in 1878, they were on that mountain when Jack was making sourdough bread (the name comes from the fermenting dough which substitutes for yeast) and had put some of the flat loaves out on a rock to rise. The bread rose too rapidly in the warm sun, and the dough ran out of the pans and down the side of the rock and thus the name was born. You can read more of his adventures at this site [Return]

Speaking of interludes, musical:
      You might want to listen to Chopin, Nocturne No. 2 in E Flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2, which dates from the 1830s. It suggests to me the stroll, maybe the rugged hike, over one of the hills on the way to Cedar Bar, musically explaining that the prospects at the summit are a glory yet to behold. This nocturne may have germinated in the era of 1835, before Chopin met the delicious George Sand in 1836 and a newer Chopin evolved. I have it on CD and vinyl, but here is a wonderful online version, with a modest pianist by the name of Arthur Rubinstein performing in 1965.

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Story posted Sept. 15, 2011
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This article originally appeared in Issue 57 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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