Site founded Sept. 1, 2000. We passed 3 million page views on Feb. 10, 2009
The home pages remain free of any charge. We need donations or subscriptions to continue.
Please pass on this website link to your family, relatives, friends and clients.

(S and N Railroad)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition
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

(Click to send email)

Bessie Porter recalls Sauk City, Rockport,
Pressentins, Martins and the Great Northern

Manuscript written by Bessie Porter, daughter of Tom Porter, date unknown
(Bessie Porter)
Bessie Porter

      About 1884, white settlers began to homestead around the area of Rockport, Sauk and Marblemount. Sauk was a small town some tie before Rockport was. The Great Northern extended its line to Rockport in 1899 and they were the ones that named Rockport..
      When the pioneers first settled in the area, many of them could have built on higher ground. But probably because their only means of getting to any store was by dugout canoe, they built their homes near the river.
      In the fall of 1897 there was a big flood. It was the first time the white men knew the river could come so high, and some of them were caught with no way to get out.
      Both Hank Stafford and his hrother Alex had homesteads up above Illabot Creek. It was the Alex Stafford farm that your family lived on when they first came from Minneapolis and that is where you were born. Their mother homesteaded on an island across the river from Sauk with the intention of leaving it to Hank and Alex. She died and was buried there on the island about 1890 and by that time Hank Stafford and his family were living there and they stayed there until they moved to Rockport many years later.
      Right after the flood, or shortly later, gold was discovered in Alaska and some of the bachelors sold to the Puget Sound Timber Company and went to Alaska.
      At the time of the flood, Hank Stafford had gone down river on business and couldn't get back to help his family, so Mrs. Stafford was left alone with the children. Their log house was smaller than ours and it was close to the river, and when the river got really high and full of logs she and Ray decided to go to the chicken house, which was back a ways, and stay in an upstairs part of the building. In the morning help came and got her out of there. Mrs. Stafford said they had bought 2 sacks of sugar (200 pounds) and two barrels of flour to last thorn over the winter. She had canned a lot of fruit and before going to the chicken house she put the fruit on the kitchen table. When she got back the sugar was gone, dissolved, and so was most of the flour. The kitchen table had tipped over and all the jars were broken.
      A. Von Pressentin was already at Rockport, but he hadn't yet started the store or the hotel. They were living in a small house down in the field near the riverbank, and when things began to look had, A. went to get help. He couldn't get back so Mrs. Pressentin was in a bad way, too. However, they got out of it all right.
      We were better off than the others. Dad was home and he had a canoe, but the water came up three feet in the house. We spent three days upstairs. Mabel and Jerome Martin stayed at our home at least one winter so they could go to school at Sauk, and Mabel says she was with us during the flood.
      In the Spring, because the had lost so much in cattle, food, and other things, that Dad and Hank Stafford decided to move to Lyman, where they could work for wages, so Dad built a barge and the two families put everything they owned on the barge and went down river to Lyman. Although neither of us had much, they say the barge was heaped high. Also, there were four adults and seven children on that barge. I don't know how they got down, but the Ed O'Brien family came to Lyman shortly after we got there. Staffords stayed two years, we stayed three years, and O'Briens stayed four years.
      Wen we went to Lyman, Ray Stafford didn't travel with us. He was twelve years old and, all alone, he drove four head of cattle to Lyman, about thirty miles. He says he would stop occasionally when he found grass and let the cattle graze. He spent two nights with friends on the way.

Great Northern extends the old Seattle & Northern line to Rockport
Karl von Pressentin gives land for school
      In 1899 the Great Northern extended their line to Rockport, and they gave it its name.
      When we came back to the farm, there was no school at Rockport. The older Pressentin children and train men's children had been walking to Sauk and going to school there. Early in 1902, Mr. Pressentin, a Mr. McAllister, and Dad went to Mount Vernon and showed the need for a school. The county set aside District 75 and named the three men as directors. Pressentin gave the land and Dad built the little school
      When the school was started, the only way of getting across the river was by canoe, so the boys would walk to the river and call and Bill Pressentin would come across and get them. Ed told me once that sometimes they would he late, but that didn't stop Pill. He would get up from his desk and go and put thorn across.
      In the summer of 1905 the boys found a canoe in the jam near your place. It had a big split in the end of it and Dad showed the boys how to fix the split. After they got it fixed, an Indian friend, Pig-mouthed Jack, spent two days teaching the boys how to run it. From that time on they put themselves across the river.
      There were a number of men up there who had Indian wives. Dad said they bought the women and didn't consider themselves married. He said it was not unusual for a man proving up on land to answer: Are you married or single? Single. Any children? Six.
      When I remember how big and swift the Skagit River is, and the risks they took, it seems surprising how few people were drowned up there. I can remember only four: John O'Brien, Mrs. Johnny Jones, and two others that I didn't know. Dad said that at one time they brought cattle to the riverbank, blindfolded them, and then jumped in a canoe and led them across the river. He said if they didn't blindfold the cattle, they would turn back,
      About 1915, Bill was helping dig out a new ferry landing on our side of the river and they uncovered a human skeleton. No one knew who it might be, but there were fillings in the teeth so they knew it had been a white man.
      Somewhere in the 1880s, or maybe before, the Indians were having trouble with smallpox. When an Indian got smallpox they would put him in a sweat-pit to try to cure the smallpox. From Dad's description, a sweat-pit was a sort of cave dug into the ground. They would put the patient in the sweat-pit and build a fire in there with until he was perspiring freely, and then take him to the river and plunge him in for a minute. Naturally that wasn't the best treatment for smallpox, so they gave up that idea. There was, when I first remember, an abandoned sweat-pit in our field, just above the lower barn.
      The Indians also had a ritual that they called "beating Tamanimus." It also was for a sick person. I think the idea was to drive out the evil spirit. About 1918, Bill and Irene got a glimpse at that ceremony. Frank Tom was the ferryman at the time, and when they came down to the ferry landing after the train, the crowd was there under the big tree. Irene said there was a. man lying on a cot with the chief standing at his heed. She said the cot was lined by Indians on either side. There was a board along the cot on either side, and while the Chief harangued, the men on the sides heat on hoards that were along the sides of the cot. I think each man had two sticks to beat on the boards. She said it was a very monotonous beat and they could hear it for a long time.
      At one time there were quite a lot of cattails on our place between the house and the higher ground. The Indian women used to gather the cattails and use the leaves to make baskets and mats. I can remember just once when a. group of them came to our place to get cattails. I think they got quite a lot of them.
      Note to "John": My father came to Seattle about 1880. He came from Pennsylvania, spent a year or two in Wisconsin, and then came west. He traveled by emigrant train by way of San Francisco. That way the fare was some cheaper. He was in Seattle at the time of the "big snow," when it snowed three feet on the level. He said it was very bad and some buildings collapsed. There is a hook, Pigtail Days in Old Seattle, that is written about that time. I don't remember the name of the author, but I have glanced through the hook and I think you would enjoy reading it.

Note at top of manuscript: "Written by Bessie Porter, 1948 or 1978 (date unclear)

Links, background reading and sources

Story posted on Nov. 1, 2001, last updated Feb. 13, 2009
Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 5 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

Return to the new-domain home page
Links for portals to subjects and towns
Newest photo features
Search entire site
(bullet) See this Journal website for a timeline of local, state, national, international events for years of the pioneer period.
(bullet) Did you enjoy this story? Remember, as with all our features, this story is a draft and will evolve as we discover more information and photos. This process continues until we eventually compile a book about Northwest history. Can you help?
(bullet) Remember; we welcome correction & criticism.
(bullet) Please report any broken links or files that do not open and we will send you the correct link. With more than 550 features, we depend on your report. Thank you.
(bullet) Read about how you can order CDs that include our photo features from the first five years of our Subscribers Edition. Perfect for gifts.

You can click the donation button to contribute to the rising costs of this site. You can also subscribe to our optional Subscribers-Paid Journal magazine online, which has entered its seventh year with exclusive stories, in-depth research and photos that are shared with our subscribers first. You can go here to read the preview edition to see examples of our in-depth research or read how and why to subscribe.

You can read the history websites about our prime sponsors
Would you like information about how to join them?

(bullet) Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop at 817 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 86 years.
(bullet) Peace and quiet at the Alpine RV Park, just north of Marblemount on Hwy 20, day, week or month, perfect for hunting or fishing
Park your RV or pitch a tent by the Skagit River, just a short drive from Winthrop or Sedro-Woolley

(bullet) Joy's Sedro-Woolley Bakery-Cafe at 823 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley.
(bullet) Check out Sedro-Woolley First section for links to all stories and reasons to shop here first
or make this your destination on your visit or vacation.
(bullet) Are you looking to buy or sell a historic property, business or residence?
We may be able to assist. Email us for details.
Looking for something special on our site? Enter name, town or subject, then press "Find" Search this site powered by FreeFind
    Did you find what you were seeking? We have helped many people find individual names or places, so email if you have any difficulty.
    Tip: Put quotation marks around a specific name or item of two words or more, and then experiment with different combinations of the words without quote marks. We are currently researching some of the names most recently searched for — check the list here. Maybe you have searched for one of them?
Please sign our guestbook so our readers will know where you found out about us, or share something you know about the Skagit River or your memories or those of your family. Share your reactions or suggestions or comment on our Journal. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to visit our site.

View My Guestbook
Sign My Guestbook
Email us at:
(Click to send email)
Mail copies/documents to Street address: Skagit River Journal, 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, WA, 98284.