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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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Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Sauk City and a big load for Monte Cristo
(and the Monte Cristo mining boom)

(Baker Lake Pack Team)
Unfortunately, no photos have surfaced from the original Sauk City, but we hope a reader has one. If you go to our exclusive three-part Sauk series above, you will find a number of photos of the area, including those provided by Diane Marie Wainright McMurdie. This is a Darius Kinsey photo of a typical pack team of the era

By Ray Jordan, Yarns of the Skagit country, self-published 1962
      The year is 1892. Sauk City, on the south side of the Skagit River, just west of where the Sauk River enters the Skagit, is a bustling little town.
      A copy of the Sauk City Star, H.C. Parliament & Company, Publishers, dated September 15, 1892, from the files of Glee G. Davis gives forth with the ads and news of the day:
      Filson and Howard, Hardware and Tin, Miners' and Loggers' Supplies, 15 lbs. sugar 1, 18 lbs oatmeal $1, Green Crown flour $7, chop feed $40 ton.
      Pioneer Store, A. von Pressentin, a general store: also A.V. Pressentin [he finally settled on the initials A.V.; some other family descendants dropped the "von" altogether], Notary Public, Sauk City Hotel, Mrs. Sarah Wainright.
      M. Hopkins, M.D., Physician and Surgeon; Blacksmith, S.T. Clark; Sauk City Land Company; and Monte Cristo Saloon, W.L. Lysle, Porp.
      Steamer Indian, John Hamilton, Capt., regular trips from Hamilton (then the end of the railroad) to Sauk City.
      Ads cost $1 an inch; subscriptions were $2 a year.
      On the news side much space is given to the mining activities of the Upper Skagit and the booming Monte Cristo district in Snohomish County.
      Election time was just around the corner and the Star is firmly listed in the Republican ranks. Among the candidates running were Benjamin Harrison for president; John McGraw for Washington State governor; John W. Meehan, for county surveyor; and John Sutter for commissioner of District 3.
      While the virtues of local mining and timber resources receive full treatment, the marvelous prospects of valley agriculture was not neglected.
      With a straight face, or perhaps we should say with straight type, the editor tells of a near-by farmer who came in with a head of barley which contained 900, yep, 900 grains.
      The stalks from which this paltry yield came were forty (40) feet high. Doubters were invited to visit the field. They just don't grow grain now like they did in the good old days.

Mining supplies and machinery
      For some time Sauk City was the distributing point for mining supplies and machinery destined for both the Upper Skagit and Monte Cristo fields.
      For a period after the first claims were staked around Monte Cristo in the 1880s, due to a scant knowledge of the terrain, it was thought that the course of the Sauk River provided the best access to these mines and the first supplies in substantial amounts were taken in the ways of Sauk City, after being brought up the Skagit by sternwheelers.
      (Previous to this, a limited amount of supplies had been brought in from Stevens Pass to way of Poodle Dog Pass by pack trains during the claim-staking period.)
      Later, it was learned that the route through Barlow Pass and down the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River to civilization was more feasible, but in the meantime Sauk City thrived on the freighting business.
      Max Stafford, and his uncle, Henry Stafford, talks of one memorable freighting trip to Monte Cristo. Ed V. Pressentin of Rockport, who was born on the Upper Skagit, and whose father, A.V. Pressentin ran a large store at Sauk City from 1890 to 1892, tells of the Stafford's trip in one of his reminiscences:
      "One particular piece of machinery was a steam boiler; a contract to transport this boiler was let to Stafford Brothers, Hank and Alex.
      "They built a special ox wagon with big wooden wheels and used eight yoke of oxen to haul this to its destination. The contract for this job was $1,500 which at that time was a lot of money."
      It is recorded that mining interest built a wagon road of sorts from Sauk City to Monte Cristo during 1890, but the date it was finished is not given (History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties, page 409).

42-mile trek to Monte Cristo
In a recent letter, Mr. Pressentin kindly supplies more details of the Stafford freight haul.
      The year was 1890, and it took six grueling weeks to make the 42-mile trek, which figures out to one mile a day for total time elapsed, or a little better daily average if the rested the oxen one day a week which they no doubt did.
      The road, such as it was, had been completed by this time, but was in such a raw state that the Staffords had much improvement to make in moving their exceptionally heavy load. Many times they had to put lines on it to prevent its tipping into the Sauk River.
      The usual method, however, of freighting from Sauk City to Monte Cristo was by six-horse teams. The man who handled the ordinary freighting business was a Tom Merryweather who employed thirty head of horses in his outfit.
      Mr. Pressentin further reveals that at this time (while the mining boom was on) Sauk City had a population of about 800 and boasted five saloons, two butcher shops, a real estate office, three hotels, his father's general merchandise store, and a clothing and work gear store owned by C.C. Filson, some of the names of which appear in the above ads of 1892.
      C.C. Filson was later to head the Seattle firm of the same name, famous in the Northwest for its brand of outdoor clothing.
      With the construction of the Everett-Monte Cristo railroad branch line in 1893. Sauk City lost its lucrative Monte Cristo freight business.
      In 1897, a disastrous flood wiped out most of the town. Jake Stafford, whose family lived near-by, remembers being evacuated to escape the rising waters. He says that one day the town was there, the next day it was gone.
      After the G.N.R.R. extended its line from Hamilton to Rockport on the north side of the Sakgit in 1900-01, a small settlement, often called Sauk Station, sprang up around a shingle mill, Post Office and store opposite old Sauk City, but the pioneer town of the south bank never recovered.
      Today the place is a cultivated field with no visible indication that a town ever flourished there.

Sauk City-Monte Cristo road
      Sam Strom, in his memoirs, throws considerable light on the early development of the Monte Cristo mining district and the struggle for adequate transportation.
      According to Strom, gold was discovered in the area in 1889, and for a time there was a feverish staking of claims. Transportation of supplies was the major obstacle facing the miners.
      While Strom did not arrive until 1893, thus missing the initial activities, he gained an intimate knowledge of all that had transpired before and of subsequent events by close contact with the original claim stakers and others with whom he worked for the next fourteen years.
      Relative in trails to the southwestward down a creek since named Silver Creek (by way of Poodle Dog Pass) to Index (in Stevens Pass, the nearest post office) about twenty miles in length. This trail was built by prospectors on their own time and money. And from then on supplies and mail were taken in by pony pack train over this trail.

Early stages of a booming mining camp
      "Monte Cristo was in the early stages of becoming a booming mining camp. The trail to Index served well as a pack trail, but due to a high divide (Poodle Dog Pass) was not practical as a rail outlet. That was need for heavy duty transportation and the Industrious prospectors . . . began during the summer of 1890 to explore Sauk River for a feasible route for a railroad to connect with salt water about 50 miles over this route . . .
      "The men that explored the Sauk River Valley reported it grand and feasible for railroad and wagon road. This point having been satisfactorily settled there seemed to be no trouble to obtain capital to finance the enterprise. . . .
      "Work was first started on a wagon road to Sauk City on Skagit River, up Sauk River to Monte Cristo, about 45 miles away through mountains and forest all the way. The system of construction was a winding dirt road following least resistance by avoiding the larger trees as far as possible.
      "No gravel was hauled at any place. In swamps and soft places puncheon split from trees on right of way was used and this winding, narrow road was pushed to Monte Cristo or nearly so in the late fall of 1891.
      "Machinery for a sawmill was hauled in along with the progress of construction of the road. That is, the machinery for the mill weighed many tons and was moved by horses, oxen and mules by relays as building of the road progressed.
      "This moving of the machinery and supplies to the established road building crews along the route was done entirely by the (men) known as "freight crew", (by) 4 and 6 horse teams, and some ox teams. Also some pack trains to carry supplies to the front crews.
      "The timber fallers and swampers cutting out the right of way and building bridges. Thus it can be seen that the mass of machinery, men, horses, mules and oxen moved like a large caravan up Sauk River chopping and blasting their way through and taking all machinery for a sawmill along at the same time.
      "Thus it will be seen that the trail from Sauk City to Monte Cristo arrived there nearly all together, crew, bag and baggage. Thus was established the Sauk River-Monte Cristo Pioneer Trail in 1891.
      "Thus it came about men and supplies poured into Monte Cristo both through Poodle Dog Pass and via Sauk River route. During this time the railroad project was not over looked. It was first intended and considered that that Sauk River Valley was the only logical outlet for a RR as far as known at the time. Railroad engineers were at work looking for the most feasible place to build it, in fact a party surveyed up Sauk River.

Barlow discovers the Stillaguamish and another route to Monte Cristo
      "Among the railroad engineers there was a man whose name was Barlow. One day while surveying or reconnoitering about four miles downstream from Monte Cristo, Barlow found a spring on a hillside a few hundred feet from Sauk River on the West Side.
      "This spring was no different than many other springs in these mountains. It is at the foot of a high cliff and at first glance would naturally be considered to belong to Sauk River, but the little trickling stream of water, so small as not to be noticed ordinarily, did not flow into Sauk River.
      "Where did it go? Barlow became interested. On examination he found that the small stream of water had an outlet on the west side of a promontory just high enough to turn water into a narrow valley to the west of a low ridge.
      "It proved to be the very beginning of the divide between South Fork of the Sauk River and the South Fork of the Stillaguamish. Barlow Pass was discovered and examined and named for the man that found it.
      "Man proposes, God disposes. It so happened this little spring of water changed the whole plan. The Sauk River project was abandoned though the pioneer trail was built at great cost.
      "Attention became centered on Barlow Pass as the best route for a RR from Hartford to Monte Cristo, RR branch of the Northern Pacific system (actually the Everett & Monte Cristo RR). This railroad was completed in the late fall of 1893. Amen!"
      That was Sam's story as he remembered it. I think he was referring to the proposed [railroad] up the Sauk when he said that the Sauk River project was abandoned. While the original builders of the wagon road no doubt did abandon it after the coming of the railroad to Monte Cristo from the west, segments of it saw considerable service for some time, provided you did your own upkeep.
      Thank you, Larry Spurling, for transcribing these two Ray Jordan stories.

(Map of Sauk and Monte Cristo Area)
      This map of the Sauk and Monte Cristo area was drawn during the survey by D.C. Linsley and Frank Wilkeson and others in 1870, who were exploring the area for the Northern Pacific railroad and looking for a transcontinental route over the Cascades.

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Story posted on March 17, 2003, last updated on Jan. 21, 2005, transferred to this domain June 30, 2009
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This article originally appeared in Issue 13 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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