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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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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
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Henry A. Martin
upriver pioneer of Illabot creek

      Henry A. Martin emigrated from Minnesota to Seattle and arrived on June 7, 1889, the day after the big fire that burned down most of the town. He learned about the Skagit river and took a steamboat up to Mount Vernon later that year, where he learned that most of the best government land had already been appropriated. Looking at a map, he found the Illabot creek about 75 miles upriver and he walked overland to get there. Back in New Brunswick, Canada, where he grew up, the woods were disappearing, but here, there was a forest ready to logged. A year later, he sent for his wife and four children and when they arrived, he put them in a canoe and poled up the Skagit to their new home. The family, including four children age four down to an infant, stayed with a neighbor while Henry completed a crude shake cabin on their homestead. As his wife often pointed out, she was less than thrilled about their little clearing in the forest. But she helped him raise five more children and worked with him to start a Catholic mission downriver near Concrete. This family's story is one of the most inspiring ones we have ever read and in this issue we share four vignettes that will help you learn about the terrific challenges that families such of theirs faced. We especially want to thank the sisters, Lea and Denise von Pressentin, and the combined members of the von Pressentin and Martin families who were kind enough to invite us to their wonderful reunions in August 2000. There are photos of the family with each of the stories below.

Profile of Henry Martin and family:
By Mrs. Susanna Kinney, a school teacher of Rockport, Washington
[Mrs. McKinney apparently wrote this in 1945 and then updated it in 1951.
This is a consolidation of the various versions that exist]

(Henry Martin)
Henry Martin

      From the recollections of Henry A. Martin, through a personal interview, I write the following. Henry A. Martin, born in Sussex, King's county, New Brunswick, Canada, August 25, 1860, of Irish parentage. He came from his later home in Graceville, Minnesota, to Seattle via Northern Pacific railroad in 1889 arriving there June 7, the after the big fire.
      He filed on a homestead that year on Illabot creek, five miles east of the present town of Rockport, in the upper Skagit valley. Leaving Seattle in late July 1889, he traveled on the steamer Cascade to Mount Vernon, walking the balance of the way to Illabot creek and what was to be his new home, a distance of some fifty miles, for this was twelve years before steel was laid in the upper valley.
      Mr. Martin learned to speak the language of the Indians of the locality. They helped him make his first canoe from a cedar log. All provisions and mail were brought in by canoe up the Skagit river, which was not often.
      In November 1889 his wife, Katharine, and their four children arrived from Minnesota. He poled his canoe with the family and supplies from Mount Vernon to the homestead, camping out nights under poles covered with a piece of tarp. They spent one night at what is now the town of Hamilton, in the pioneer home of Otto Pressentin, uncle of "Skagit Bill" Pressentin, and Bill's brothers Ed and Bert, all now residing in Rockport. The last night out they stayed with Amasa Peg-leg Everett (everyone called him that) in his log cabin on Baker creek — now near the town of Concrete — and enjoyed a supper of bacon and potatoes cooked over an open fireplace.

(Original Martin homestead cabin)
Original Martin homestead cabin. These photos are from the Concrete Herald

      The family stayed with a neighbor in his log cabin until Mr. Martin completed his own log house on his densely timbered 160 acres. It has long since tumbled down and passed out of sight. He built a ten-room house on the place in 1903 procuring the lumber from a saw mill which occupied the spot where Rockport now stands. More than 44,000 feet of lumber was used in the construction of the home, which has been modernized.
      Mr. Martin cleared a plot of ground which he spaded for a garden. It was slow work and during some of those early years he operated a boat on the river, carrying shingle bolts to Mount Vernon. He received $1.25 a cord for them, payment being made in the form of provisions. Those were carried on his back two and a half miles to his home for his family. He bought a couple of calves and raised his own ox team.
      He would kick into the deep earth and exclaim with satisfaction: "Look at that fine, rich, black soil!" But his wife's heart was broken when she saw where she was to dwell and what she was facing. As they came into the wilderness, the farther they traveled the more lonely and terrible she felt and the more disgusted she became. The trees were so tall and so close to the cabin the family occupied that she could not see even the highest mountains and very little of the sky. It was months before she saw a white woman; some neighbors had married Indian maidens.
      Alex Stafford was located two miles east of the Martin home when Mr. Martin came to the country. Bill O'Brien lived thee miles east and John Sutter lived to the northeast at Portage, where river navigation ended, one and a half miles downriver from Bacon creek. None of those men are now living. Martin recalls that the sternwheelers, Indiana and Monte Cristo last made their run to Portage in 1894.
      Mrs. Maggie Barrett [often spelled Barratt], midwife of the Marblemount area, was an angel to the pioneer women in the lonely days. In spite of all her efforts the Martins lost two infant sons and, in one instance, almost the mother's life. Mrs. Barrett's daughter, Mrs. Barbara Simmington, now makes her home in Blaine, Washington. Katharine was taken to Mount Vernon in the canoe, with all that entailed. When Mr. Martin brought her home, he had to turn around again and take Jerome, the oldest son, to the doctor, because he had accidentally chopped off his toe. Doctors Harbaugh and Mattice in the old St. Elizabeth's hospital at Sedro rendered the family unforgettable service.
      At one time Katharine almost despaired for the life of their infant daughter Bessie, now Mrs. Ed Pressentin. She kept Bessie alive for several weeks on catnip tea. She stated that one of the happiest moments of her life was when she saw her husband come into the clearing, leading a cow. That meant milk for the baby.
      Mr. Martin tells of a Douglas fir tree on his place that was down when he came. It was ten feet across at the base and was 325 feet long. In 1897, a big flood occurred in the valley that worst in the valley seen by white men. When all the surrounding country was under water, a tree washed onto the Martin place that measured 22 feet in diameter. The Skagit river raised 23 inches in eight hours. Martin built onto a bench and was safe. [Ed. note: that diameter seems very unlikely for one tree but the late pioneer Joe Jacobin Sr. explained that sometimes the first-growth cedars he logged grew together and formed a combined trunk.]
      The children attended a little log schoolhouse built by the pioneers. It was two miles distant from the cabin and on the opposite bank of Illabot creek, which they crossed on an old log. The pioneers made the seats, desks and blackboards. Each family bought their own books. The school term lasted three months each year. Edith Whitney of Mount Vernon was the first teacher.
      As soon as they were able, the four older children carried eggs six miles to a little store at what is now Marblemount and traded them for groceries, which they carried back with them. Mrs. Martin was a godly woman and had the family altar erected in their home from the first, and church services were held there as often as possible. In this way, she kept faith in God alive through the trying years in the Upper Skagit
      On October 9, 1933, Henry and his wife celebrated their golden wedding in their home, the first ever celebrated in the upper valley. Mrs. Martin passed away on July 18, 1937.
      There were nine children born in the home. Their son, Fred Sr., was director of agriculture for four years at Olympia and also served in the state senate. there are at present 21 living grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

(Martin schoolhouse)
The schoolhouse that Henry Martin helped build near Illabot creek

      Mr. Martin has the distinction of having had 17 grandsons serving overseas in World War II. At present, his youngest grandson, Douglas Martin, is serving in the Army in Japan. Major Vernon F. Pressentin, another grandson, is now with the U.S. Army in Austria. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Pressentin of Marblemount.
      Mr. Martin is still living and will be 91 on August 25 [1951]. He makes his home at present with his son and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Martin Sr., in Vancouver, Washington, where Fred has a government position.

Martin genealogical information:
      presented to the Charles Carroll of Carrollton chapter of Daughters of American Revolution [DAR], Sedro-Woolley, Washington, with the help of Mrs. Susanna Kinney, a school teacher of Rockport, Washington
Henry Martin born Aug. 25, 1860 in [Mechanic], Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada. Son of Michael Martin,who was born in Cork, Ireland, and Bridget Hayden, born in England Henry married Catherine O'Connor on Aug. 12, 1883, in Graceville, Minnesota [That town in a 1945 Atlas had a population of 1,000. It was very near the far western end of Minnesota, just south of the border of North and South Dakota. Family tree says Oct. 9, 1883, in Graceville, New Brunswick] She was born in New Brusnswick and died July 18, 1936 in Sedro-Woolley She was the daughter of Roderick O'Connor, who was born in Ireland Henry did not know her mother's name

Their children [from family tree, can you correct any of the data?]:

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Story posted on Jan. 8, 2003, transferred to this domain June 30, 2009
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This article originally appeared in Issue 12 of our Subscribers-paid Journal

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