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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
600 of 700 total Free Home Page Stories & Photos
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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

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The upper Skagit River opens up in 1878

(Jesse Ball oxen logging team)
Jesse Ball's 8-oxen team drags logs near future Sterling, circa 1878.

      Journal Ed. note: Mike Aiken, great grandson of Birdsview namesake and Lyman pioneer Birdsey Minkler, found a spectacular newspaper in his mother's collection. This 1878 issue of the weekly Puget Sound Courier newspaper in Olympia, was edited by famed C.B. "Clarence" Bagley, who later wrote the two-volume History of Seattle. Bagley (1843-1934) was also the founder of the Washington Historical Society, but at this point, he was having more fun ragging on the Daily Olympian. This is the earliest record we have found about the upper Skagit River in that year when the log jams at Mount Vernon were opened wide enough for boats to carefully steam or paddle through, when the four British bachelors settled future Sedro, and when Birdsey, August Kemmerich, John Grandy, William Hamilton, Charles von Pressentin, George Savage and others staked their claims on the upper river. Here is just one article from this four-page broadsheet issue; other stories from it will be shared first with subscribers to our separate online magaine. Thank you, Mike. This is a rare find and a fun treat.

Puget Sound Courier, Dec. 27, 1878, page 1
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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.

      The following in regard to matters and things in the Skagit country is gleaned from a recent number of the Snohomish Star [newspaper].
      For several months past, settlers have been settling very fast on Upper Skagit and the mouth of the Sauk [river], 60 and 70 miles from the Sound, a number of families having recently settled on the river, a long distance above the jam.
      Three loggers at present at work at the jam. Whenever the jam becomes clogged up, they stop and open it. When the jam is wholly closed, as was the case a few weeks ago, all the loggers on the river make a common cause, and all work at it until it is again navigable.
      There are four camps above the jam, as follows:

      The timber along the bank of this river is very fine, and no one is cutting logs more than half a mile back. The timber is very clear, soft, easy to work and excellent for flooring, etc.; but on account of its softness hard to haul.
Birdsey Minkler's early water-powered sawmill, first on the river
      Minkler and Ross are successfully running their saw mill situated some three or four miles above the coal mines [which were opposite future Hamilton on the south side of the Skagit], and nearly 30 miles above the jam. They have a splendid water privilege, but are situated so that they can use only a small part of its power [Mill creek]. Back of their mill is a high bluff covered with excellent fir timber. [Journal Ed. note: Does anyone know who this Ross might be? We are reasonably sure it was not either Alexander or John Ross, who settled more than a decade later at Utopia. Please email if you do know.]
      They use no cattle [oxen] to get their logs to mill, but have a long and strong wire cable. When they want more logs to saw, one of them goes up on the hill and fells a suitable tree, this is swamped out, cut in saw logs and sniped ready for hauling. This being done, the logs are hauled to the mill by attaching this wire cable to the log, so that when they start up the mill the log is hauled in and sawed without any more ado. Capt. Green, at present on the Josephine, holds a claim near this mill. McCue's saw mill on Nooka Samish [Nookachamps?] is in process of construction. It will probably be completed and running by the spring.
      About six weeks ago Sanger & Armstrong brought down from the headwaters of the Skagit River an ounce of coarse gold, one of the pieces weighing enough to be of the value of three dollars. They returned again to go to work up there within a few weeks thereafter. It is expected that a large number will go in the spring to test these newly discovered placer mines.
      One of the most interesting things about this article is the information about the Argonauts at the end. The common story has been that news of the placer gold discoveries upriver did not break until 1879, when the lucky ones brought their gold to Seattle to be assayed. The nuggets of 1879 may have been more impressive, but Bagley's story makes it obvious that people in the newspaper circles knew of the diggings in 1878. Here is one story of those days, from Otto Klement's diary.

(Minkler Mill)
This beautiful painting by John Savage, son of Birdsey Minkler's neighbor, George Savage, shows the mill with what is apparently a flume extending to it. He could have painted it after his father took over the mill and Minkler moved to Lyman.

Links, background reading and sources

Story posted on June 13, 2003, and last updated on March 30, 2006, moved to this domain Nov. 13, 2011
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(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.
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