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Skagit River Journal

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Sauk City, Sauk Depot & Monte Cristo, page 3 of 3

Pioneers who settled here first
(John Sutter)
John Sutter, Sauk pioneer and gold miner

      Several famous pioneers got their start in Sauk before becoming famous elsewhere. German immigrant Otto Fritsch brought his family from Texas to Sauk sometime in the late 1880s and they farmed and had a small store there until they were flooded out a few years later. They moved to Woolley where sons Joe and Frank Jr. bought out the old Herman Waltz hardware store and became the first merchants who were really independent of P.A. Woolley's company town. They later became key investors in the Sedro-Woolley Iron Works, which started as a blacksmith shop in the back of their Metcalf street store. After moving to Puget street in 1902, that company eventually became the genesis for Skagit Steel. Their parents moved to Burlington and built a house at the foot of Burlington Hill.
      F.A. Hegg, whose family became prominent grocers in Sedro-Woolley, had a grocery store near Sauk City in 1891. He was one of the few college-educated pioneers on the river, having graduated from St. Olaf's College in Northfield, Minnesota. His Norwegian-immigrant family wanted him to be a minister but he was too adventurous. He came west to Oregon in the late 1880s and sheared sheep until he earned enough to buy a laundry business in Mt. Vernon. He may well have been affiliated with Frank Bradsberry and the Green Shingle Co. George Green and his sons-in-law, Emerson Hammer and Dave Parker, moved out to Clear Lake from Lincoln, Kansas, from 1889-92. Green was an accomplished retailer in Kansas and he invested in the booming shingle industry in Skagit county, including a mill at Sauk. Besides their mill on the north shore by Sauk Depot, they may have invested in the earlier mill at old Sauk City along with Bradsberry and Hegg, but we need clarification about this. We know from records that Bradsberry incorporated a logging company in Sedro-Woolley in 1902 but we know that he logged near Sauk on the south shore before the turn of the century. We also know from Hegg family records that F.A. Hegg was a partner in the sawmill on the north shore after the turn of the century. Do you have information that can help us put those pieces of the puzzle together? We know from Emerson Hammer's obituary that he became a partner of Bradsberry after he clerked for Mortimer Cook at Sterling in 1889 and F.A. Hegg became a partner of Hammer and Green in the Union Mercantile store in Sedro-Woolley, starting in 1902. Hopefully, a reader can provide more information about this mill and business in the Sauk area.
      Peter W. Trueman, whose family later left its mark on Lyman, homesteaded near future Sauk City in 1889 and moved away in 1901 after several disastrous floods. Mrs. "Kitty" McDonald, who would become known for 30 years in Concrete as "Mrs. Telephone" was born to the Moran family in Sauk City. Frank Olson, who later moved to Rockport in 1906 and owned much of the townsite, originally settled near future-Sauk City in 1883. Mrs. Sadie Silverling Cudworth, of Marblemount hotel fame, was one of many pioneers who came upriver at the turn of the century in Frank's stagecoach. Frank's son, Carl, died in 1966 in Rockport.
      For a first-hand account of the rigors of frontier life on the Sauk and how a woman made do, we recommend that you read Kirstena's Memories in the book, Skagit Memories, which is by far the best book in the fine series by the Skagit County Historical Society and is still available at the LaConner Museum. Kirstena and her husband Peter Larsen emigrated from Denmark to Antwerp, Belgium, to the U.S. right after the civil war. After four years of baking-sunshine and swarming locusts in the Midwest, they moved to Tacoma. Eventually they moved to Hamilton and Sauk City by steamboat and horse and wagon. The flood of 1897 wiped them out and Kirstena spent most of the rest of her life near Everett, where she began writing her memoirs in Danish at age 68.
      Finally, we should include pioneer Henry Martin, who walked overland from Mount Vernon to Illabot Creek, southeast of future Sauk City, in the summer of 1889 while Washington was still a territory. His wife Katherine joined him in the Cascade wilderness within a year, with Indians rowing her and the children upriver in canoes. They had married in 1883 in Minnesota and Katherine was shocked by their isolation as well as the lack of civilization. Like many pioneer wives, she had to create her own civilized milieu. The Martins held Catholic church service in their own parlor and the Martin children were taught in a creekside school, which Harry built for both his own progeny and the O'Brien children who lived on the nearest homestead. Their homestead became the community center of their district and a house of worship and their lovely daughters were like honey bees attracting suitors to their hive. They had nine children, including Fred Martin, who became a famous state representative and senator from this district. Katherine died in 1937 and Henry in 1951 and Fred died at the age of 98 in 1995. Fred's son, Fredrick, lives on part of the home property with his charming wife, Alice. The family's second home, which Henry built on a slope nearby, is crumbling, but an island nearby, which formed after a flood in the 1920s, is still attracting bald eagles, just as Fred intended when he sold it to the state for a pittance, 25 years ago.

(The Martins in their parlor) Henry and Katherine Martin in their parlor. Almost everything came by horse and wagon or on their backs. Their second house still stands, silent and empty on a slope from which the family could see the back side of Sauk mountain when they looked west and Illabot Mountain when they looked east. —Photo courtesy of descendant Lea Von Pressentin

Ghosts of Sauk City
      We almost forgot the definitive Sauk story, told by Will D. "Bob" Jenkins in his wonderful book, Last frontiers in the North Cascades, which was published by the Skagit County Historical Society in 1984 as number eight in their series. Editors Margaret Willis and Helen Barrett described it as being "keenly and humorously observed by a teenage boy from Seattle, who had just moved with his mother and brother to an isolated timber claim and was eager to learn all about this new world and to take a full share in the life around him." Bob started hanging out on the Skagit and Sauk rivers around the time of World War I and his words ring true with a real sense of place:
      If you followed the mountain road from Rockport to Sauk, you wound down a series of steep switchbacks. They had been cut into an almost vertical slope. Or you could go by canoe. Down there, clinging to the bank of the big river, the Great Northern's tracks passed through the town. W.W. Caskey, Garnet Thompson and Emerson Hammer ran the Sauk Shingle Company's mill, hotel and general store, and you could barely hear the chime of the big nickel-plated cash register above the whine of the upright saws and the pulse of the steam engine that ran the mill.
      I bought my first pair of caulked shoes from Old Man Caskey when I was sixteen. They cost me $9.90. When I gave him a crisp new ten-dollar bill he tossed onto the counter a ten-cent can of Copenhagen to make the sale an even ten dollars. But I told Caskey I didn't chew snoose and he had to give me the dime.
      Where the long steel cable of the Sauk ferry sagged across the Skagit to the south bank, the dirt road to Darrington passed through a brush-grown flat that was once the site of an earlier town known by the prophetic name of Sauk City. This was the trail head in the early 1880s of the historic route that wound south through virgin wilderness to the Monte Cristo mines and on through Buck Pass beyond the headwaters of the Sauk to Eastern Washington. There was another trail that began at Sauk City to follow more easterly through the wild gorges of the Upper Skagit. This one led to the Ruby Creek country, where a gold rush followed Albert Bacon's discovery of pay dirt in 1879.
      Sure in their eager minds that the railroad would come to the south bank of the Skagit by way of the Darrington country, the creators of Sauk City in 1884 built a new town from scratch. They put up a post office, school, hotel, saloons and a big general store, all from lumber fresh off the circular saws of a new mill. . . .
      Boom town fever in Sauk City had come to such a pitch by 1891 that there was urgent talk favoring its selection as the county seat of newly created Skagit county. In 1899, fire — which seemed to have a way of visiting sudden violence on early settlements surrounded by dense timber — came back to Sauk City. The town was again obliterated. And as if water had suddenly formed an alliance with fire, floods in the Sauk and Skagit rivers carried away the charred ruins, cleansing the townsite of all but mineral earth. The last visible remnants of Sauk City were swept seaward.
      The future of the settlement seemed destined to the north bank of the river and what later became known as Sauk, or Old Sauk, grew from an accumulation of river cabins hard under the steep slope of the north bank. This village survived through subsequent years, its own future more permanently assured when the railroad was extended upriver from Hamilton. the Seattle & Northern finally laid its north bank rails to a turnaround two miles above Sauk in 1900-01, and gave the dead end of the tracks the name of Rockport. The line was a forerunner of the Great Northern. The new town of Sauk enjoyed a more or less quiet existence during the next twenty-odd years. It was a shingle mill village again when I knew it, a place dependent upon the rise and fall of the market for red cedar shingles and the flow of bolts driven down Sauk river, Bacon creek, the Cascade river, and into the Skagit. Indian crews working hip deep in the bone-chilling waters herded the bolts to the mill. . . .
      The early 1920s were of more than average prosperity for Sauk City. May 14, 1924, was a warm day and the soft breezes coming upriver rustled the leaves of the big cottonwoods along the Skagit. It was a day to be remembered. The noon-hour whistle had sent the mill hands to their mid-day meal, the saws were silent, fire under the steam boilers stoked for an hour of rest.
      It was said, later that day, the watchman had reported hearing what sounded like a muffled explosion; however, such an incident was never clearly established. But fire — the demon that had stalked Sauk City since the 1880s — suddenly curled under the eaves of the mill roof, leaping skyward. In a thin minute the Sauk mill was a mass of roaring flames.
      As if inspired, the wind picked up a new turbulence; a mass of hot gas exploded in the roofs of the adjoining dry kilns; the hotel, store and post office erupted in flames. The fire quickly spread to include several homes, three garages, a blacksmith shop, two Great Northern boxcars and 30,000 bundled shingles. In two hours Sauk was wiped out and a community of approximately 100 [men] made homeless and jobless. Soon the shinglebolt camps on Bacon Creek would shut down, canceling a river drive.
      The fire of 1924, followed by repeated stages of high water, wrote the final chapter in the story of Old Sauk. Eventually even the ghost town disappeared.
      Ed McGovern, who was born in these parts and was perhaps more understandably river-wise, later opened a store a little distance downriver. Ed's place is on high ground, well above any foreseeable flood level. Nowadays Ed's neighborhood is called Sauk. Ed's store is a little old-fashioned place, its shelves display a mixture of staples, canned goods and antiques, some of the items dating back to the years of his pioneer boyhood on the Skagit. He spends a lot of his time reminiscing with friends. There is an atmosphere here that reminds you of early times on the river. You might call Ed's place and the one or two nearby homes, the ghost of Sauk City.

      We hope you read Bob Jenkins's book, Last Frontier in the North Cascades, especially the story of his accidental swim in the Skagit with his friend and mentor, homesteader George Allenger. You can purchase new copies at the Skagit County Historical Society Museum in LaConner.

Continue to Part 3 of 3: The pioneers who got their start at Sauk.
Return to introduction, Part 1

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Story posted on Oct.4, 2001, transferred to this domain June 29, 2009
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