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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Free Home Page Stories & Photos
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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Profiles of Fred Jerome Martin, son of the
Henry A. Martin family, upriver pioneers of Illabot creek

Born April 4, 1897, at Martin ranch; died May 22, 1995, in Mount Vernon

(The Martin family in 1933)
      The Martin family celebrates Henry and Katherine's 50th wedding anniversary in 1933. They are standing by a grape arbor at the south side of the house. Seven children stand behind their parents: (from l. to r.) Fred, Dolly, Bessie, Mabel, May, Evelyn, Roddy. Kathryn had died in 1924 and Jerome was absent. This is a Hartvig photo from Sedro-Woolley. The pictures on this page from the collection of Lea and Denise von Pressentin.

      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, where he had built a primitive shake cabin. 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. This is one of four stories about the family. Please return to the introductory page for the other links

1979 interview with Fred Martin
By Helen O. Warinsky, Concrete Herald, undated 1979 article
(Martin ranch in winter)
      "You can take the man out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the man." Those are the words one thinks of when meeting dungaree-clad Fred J. Martin, 82. After more than a quarter century of public service as state representative and senator, State Director of Agriculture, State Director of General Administration and various federal posts, he came home in 1972 to the 400-acre Rockport ranch he and his son, Doug, 42, own and on which they raise cattle..
      Friend of presidents and governors, one would never know it from talking with this quiet, unassuming Irishman with the twinkle in his eye. Martin's father, Henry A. Martin, emigrated from New Brunswick, Canada, to Minnesota. He noticed the forestland there was dwindling and "back in eighteen-and-eighty-nine," Martin said, his father and mother came west to Mount Vernon. They hiked and canoed up the Skagit river 50 miles to homestead at Rockport. While others chose good farmland, his father chose woodland.
      "The hardest thing in the world," Martin said, "is to make a ranch out of timber country." First his parents cleared a piece of land for a garden. The larger fir trees were felled for a home and hewed with a broad ax. "But the homesteaders expected hardship," he said, "They got along. The river was full of fish and the woods full of game.".
      "There was always a depression," when he was growing up, Martin said, "I recall my mother telling us there was a great money panic on the West Coast in '93 and that year, one fifty-cent piece was all the money they saw.".
      Martin and his eight brothers and sisters were assisted into the world by Mrs. Maggie Barrett [also spelled Barratt], Marblemount midwife. There were complications with one of Mrs. Martin's pregnancies and his father took her by canoe to a Mount Vernon doctor. While they were gone, [Fred's] brother Jerome accidentally cut off a toe and his father turned around and headed downstream to the doctor..
      His father and L.A. Stafford built a log school which the nine Martin children attended by walking three miles daily and crossing a log over Illabot creek. They all received eighth grade diplomas. In those days that was the only requirement to teach school, Martin said..
      When possible, his father "worked out" to earn the cash to buy salt, sugar and flour at the Sauk general store. Martin's sisters wore dresses his mother made out of "Everett's Flour" sacks which she dyed a nice golden color with hemlock bark. They were teased by their schoolmates when letters came through as the dye faded..
      Another time his father built four ox yokes for the Seattle Hardware Company. They weighed 80 pounds each and he ran them in a canoe to Mount Vernon, alongside the sternwheeler "Henry Bailey" for reshipment to Seattle. Martin was paid $20 for them. That would be worth more than $200 today, his son estimates..
      Martin says the Irish love potatoes and to raise cash, his father hauled ten of his surplus 100-pound sacks a mile to his canoe, paddled downstream to the Sauk store and received $1 a sack for them..
      "Today's kids won't believe this," he said, but I was fourteen and one-half years old before I saw Rockport. My father took me five miles downstream in his canoe." [This is the only page we have; the story was to be continued on page 5. Does any reader have that page?]

(The Martin home)
The Martin home near Illabot creek on the south side of the Skagit river..

1959 address by Fred Martin
presented at the annual 55th annual meeting of the Skagit county Pioneer Association
on Aug. 6, 1959, at Pioneer Park, LaConner, reported in the
Puget Sound Mail
(Fred Martin)
      The speaker of the day, Senator Fred Martin of Rockport, was introduced by A. Jack Davis. Mr. Davis reported that the Martins came up the Skagit by canoe and that Fred Martin's dad often said of their early home in the big timber — "You had to haul in the sunshine or borrow it from the Indians." Mr. Davis noted that speaker Fred Martin had done much for the state of Washington, serving six terms in the state House of Representatives, four years in the Department of Agriculture on Columbia Basin matters, a term as State director of Agriculture, and now a state senator.
      Martin paid tribute to the early upper Skagit settlers by telling of his boyhood days in the upper Skagit valley, of how his folks came in 1899 by canoe up the river where they built a cabin and raised a garden to comply with the homestead laws. Four children were born to the martins and everyone learned what it meant to work and struggle.
      "There was no crime or juvenile delinquency in those days — everyone was too busy working, living and having a good time at it in those days," said Martin.
      Martin pointed out that he did not consider himself "an original pioneer," that the original pioneers were in a class by themselves, a breed of their own, when they are gone there will never be another breed like them. Many had no resources but bare hands and courage. They asked for help from no one, only the privilege of hewing out a home out of the wilderness. He felt it was fitting to set aside one week of the year to honor the memory of those pioneers and the things they had done to make this Skagit county of the of the finest places to live anywhere, and to remind later arrivals of the good works of those pioneers. "Make Pioneer Week the biggest week of the year," Martin said.
      He recalled that the pioneers worried about the problems of their neighbors and helped each other in many ways. Travel was not easy and when neighbors came to visit, they often stayed for a week.
      Mention was made of the money panic of 1893 when people really knew what hard times are like. For instance, during that year the only cash the Martin family possessed was one 50-cent piece. Fred said his father just laughed as such tough problems and took them in stride, but his mother long remembered that "50 cent year." They managed with the help of their garden, game from the woods, fish from the streams, trading and bartering. His father would work out with pay in the form of such things as salt, flour, etc. Until he was ten years old, Fred wore only the clothes handed down from his father and older brothers, while his sister wore dresses made of flour sacks, which her mother first bleached with the home-made bleaches and then dyed with hemlock juices to erase the flour sack printing. Once though, the letters, "Everett's Best" showed through to the great embarrassment of his sister
      During this money depression, many of the upper valley settlers in the Martin area became discouraged and sold out to big eastern timber interest, with Tom Porter and Fred Martin's father two of the few who toughed it out and remained.
      School lasted only three months at first, then seven and finally nine months. The school Martin attended served only two families at one time. He recalled to school in a log cabin on the east side of Illabot Creek, the little school serving the few families of the area. In those days an eight grade graduate could get a permit to teach. In 1903 several families moved away and the Ed O'Brien and martin families were all that were left to provide students. Near the end of his grade school course, Martin and his two younger sisters were the only students in the little school, he said. He recalled that he had to go to Hamilton in 1911 to take his eighth grade examination and that Herman Anderson of LaConner — with [only] one year of study at the University of Washington — was the principal and faculty of Hamilton high school.
      After the railroad reached Rockport, things were easier for the upper Skagit area, said the speaker. In 1879 the ruby Creek gold strike of John Allen and Mr. [Leonard] Bacon brought crowds of gold-seekers from all over the world and some of them stayed on. Four thousand men came by canoe, trails and river boats, with snow 30 feet deep that year. By 1880 the rush was over. Logging became and still is the leading industry there.
      During the gold rush three sternwheelers made it to within a few miles below Newhalem. The gold taken out never matched the tremendous effort in bringing in the equipment and supplies through the rugged country of those times. On the other hand, a colored man named George Holmes lived all his life there and always made enough from gold mining for his needs although his diggings were never found by others. After the turn of the century, galena was found on upper Thunder Creek and Cascade pass and a stamp mill was packed in over the trail at Marblemount. The operations continued until World War I. The many kinds of minerals are still there in the upper Skagit area and will be developed some day, said the speaker.
      [Martin] reported that many early settlers made their living selling cedar from their homesteads. Later they developed dairy farms. In the early days the nearest hospital was at Sedro-Woolley, reached only by canoe. Few went to the hospital in those days. Mrs. Maggie Barrett was midwife for the entire upper Skagit and helped bring Fred Martin into the world..
      Gus Stone build a roadhouse and homesteaded at Newhalem. The Davis family homesteaded just below where Diablo dam in now located and Fred Martin's dad helped pull them up river by canoe in 1890. In closing, the speaker predicted that by 1970 the Puget sound area will become one of the great industrial sections of this country, and Skagit county must expect a huge population due to its many favorable conditions. With such crowds one will long for the "good old days" but they will have gone forever.

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Story posted on Jan. 8, 2003, last updated Feb. 14, 2009
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This article originally appeared in Issue 12 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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