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Introduction to the L.A. Boyd family of Birdsview

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal ©2011
      Lewis Alexander Boyd may well have been the most worldly, cosmopolitan, well-educated of any sod-pounder you would expect to find in Nebraska. And then he came to Birdsview and started teaching the little soon-to-be loggers who lived nearby on both sides of the Skagit River.
      I was destined to meet L.A. Boyd, at least virtually, because I was introduced to his descendants, soon after launching this history project 19 years ago, and they have become key sources of upriver history. I met Boyd's grandson Howard Royal first and Howard's blind preacher son, Phil Royal, when they showed us at the Courier-Times the diorama that Howard had painstakingly created with balsa wood and popsickle sticks and ingenuity. It was a scaled-down miniature of the stump ranch that his mother, Mabel Boyd Steen had carved out for her brood — I remembered often seeing the stumps along the old upriver highway when I was a boy.
      Then the always-aware Berniece Leaf introduced me to Howard's grandson Dan Royal. And since then we have been collaborating and researching and producing material together for more than a decade. Dan's Stump Ranch Online has turned into just one of his many history projects, along with volunteer work with both the Skagit County Historical Society Museum in LaConner and the Pioneer Association. And he is not even retired yet.
      You will find links at the bottom to all the stories about L.A. Boyd. Meanwhile, here is our overview of the man and his impact on Skagit County.

Lewis Alexander Boyd and his family
(L.A. Boyd)
Capt. L.A. Boyd, courtesy of

      L.A. Boyd was born to humble parents but everything else about his childhood is a mystery. That is due both to a paucity of records and to L.A. telling different record-keepers, and even different family members, different details. His daughter Annie Laurie told her descendants that her father was born in Scotland in the mid-1830s and his parents moved the family to New York state in about 1836-38. Others insist that Boyd was born in the mid-1840s.
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      Some of his children recall that his family lived on Staten Island in New York, but Dan Royal, Boyd's great-great-grandson, found records that place them in Buffalo. Dan's great-grandmother, Mabel Boyd Royal Steen (Howard's mother), compiled an impressive family history with the aid of her brothers Norman and Archie and her cousin, Katy Savage Pulsipher. We provide here a brief summary to show how he wound up in Skagit county. We will refer to him as L.A. Boyd, the name he used on documents.
      His exact birth year is unknown, with even members of his family placing it from 1835, which seems far too early, to an educated guess by Dan Royal of Jan. 9, 1845-46; that is also close to the birth certificate. The story that L.A. wove for his descendants places him near a harbor sometime in the 1850s, a young boy who was completely fascinated with sailing ships. His head filled with adventures, he stowed away on one of the sailing ships.
      By the time young L.A. was discovered on a windjammer far out at sea the captain decided to make him his cabin boy as the ship sailed to Shanghai. The captain was wealthy and when the ship circumnavigated the globe, he enrolled Boyd in a prestigious Paris school — possibly the Sorbonne, where the young man studied the violin, learned French and the classic subjects and also took up carpentry. After he graduated, Boyd again joined the captain, but this time as a full-fledged sailor and later a captain, himself, according to his tale. He later said that he circled the globe at least twice. According to Norman Boyd, his father told him that, while sailing from Tarapico, Mexico, and bound for Calcutta, India, the crew was shipwrecked off the coast of Brazil. There were nine of them in an open boat for 14 days, with neither food nor drinking water. Two of them died, and the rest of them were nearly dead when a French ship sighted them and took them on board and to France with them.
      When Boyd recovered, he sailed to England and then sailed from Liverpool to New York City. At this point, we have another conflict of family memories. Some recall stories that he intended to visit his father and mother, but he discovered that they had died in some sort of widespread epidemic and his siblings had scattered. They cite a story that L.A. told of a striking premonition of his mother's death — down to the date, which he had on board ship. Others remember that he visited his father, who would not forgive him for stowing away on a ship and not letting them know where he went. Memories generally agree that, whatever the case, he sailed for the West Coast and spent the Civil War years on merchant ships and may have sailed around the world again.
      By the end of the war, he decided in 1865 to end his years on the sea and he left the last ship at Baltimore, where he bought a saddle horse and decided to ride across the country to homestead in the prairies of the Midwest. He settled first in Iowa, where he worked as the bookkeeper at a mill owned by a New York-native named James Torrey and met another mill worker who would become one of the key people in his life, George Savage.
      By the time that Boyd decided to move on to Nebraska, Torrey's daughter Clarissa, age 14 or 15, had fallen in love with him. Different members of the family called her different names and nicknames but we use Clarissa to be consistent. Although she was very young, family members surmise that Clarissa's mother, Clara Torrey, wanted her to marry someone who was educated and had a promising future. The couple married in late 1868, according to Dan Boyd, then climbed on a wagon and followed their team of horses west on a frontier honeymoon. They wound up homesteading near the Elkhorn river in what is now Antelope county in Nebraska, near the little town of Neligh. Archie was their first child, born March 17, 1870, and another baby came along nearly every year until they had nine children by 1881, including Joe Hoyt's future bride, Annie Laurie, who was born on May 16, 1873. Boyd's education and experience in leading men aboard ship led to his election as a county commissioner from 1871, when Neligh was incorporated, and he also taught French and other subjects at the University of Nebraska.

The Boyds join the Savages in Birdsview
      After more than eleven years of fighting locusts and prairie fires, the embers from the last fire were cooling when L.A. decided they had experienced enough of the Prairie. Back in Iowa, Georgetta, Clarissa's older sister by eight years, married George Savage in 1865. They moved out to Skagit river area in 1873 and Georgetta wrote long letters to her sister, extolling the land along the river and the game and fish that were so plentiful. Norman Boyd wrote about the family's journey to join his cousins in the fall of 1882:
      The Union Pacific Railroad was running immigrant trains from Omaha to San Francisco at cheap rates. The Boyd family traveled via covered wagon to Omaha, and from Omaha, Nebraska they took the train to San Francisco. This train was made up of regular boxcars with windows in them and bunks and a stove to cook on. They would load as many families in a car as they could, and each took their turn cooking on the stove. Each family had their wash day.
(Annie Laurie Boyd Hoyt)
Annie Laurie Boyd Hoyt, courtesy of

      Annie Laurie — who at nine years old was the third eldest and the oldest girl, was responsible for helping her mother with the six younger siblings, including baby Lillian, born that January. The 12-day trip must have been maddening for the 11 family members, as they watched the growing Western part of the nation flash by from the train windows. They finally reached San Francisco on September 30 and spent the next two days moving all their household goods from the train depot to the docks, where they boarded an old side-wheel steamer, the Dakota, on Oct. 2 for a rough seven-day trip up the coast. The family was seasick all the way except for L.A., who was on the seas again for the first time in 17 years.
      He was thrilled with the new land around Seattle and after a three-day layover, the family boarded the sternwheeler Josephine for their trip up north to the Skagit river. The family arrived in Mount Vernon on Oct. 15 and Boyd put them up at the Ruby Hotel while he and his son Archie and his brother-in-law George Savage ferried their belongings upriver. Judy Hoyt Allen, Annie's granddaughter, recalls that when she was a young girl on her grandmother's knee, Annie told her that her mother placed her and the eight other children in canoes in Mount Vernon with Indians in charge of the travel.
      "Her mother bent over and whispered in her ear, 'If you move, they will kill you!'", Judy recalls, and that shut them up for awhile. "Obviously this was her way of controlling her children." Alcina Harwood remembers stories that her grandmother, Eva Jane Boyd, told about the chaos that ensued when the nine children broke free and explored the wild outdoors around Birdsview.
      "Grandmother was a year younger than Annie and the adults warned them of all the perils of the wilderness, about getting lost and the river and so on," Alcina recalls. "Of course they ignored most of the warnings and one time they climbed out onto a log boom and one or the other slipped off the log and immediately fell in over her head. The other one saved her only by grabbing for her sister's braid and screaming bloody murder. Finally some of the men from the saloon came running out and saved her from drowning." Annie and Archie and Eva Jane and the children were like kids in a candy store as they roamed the woods with the pioneers, fished in the streams and helped their family form a home in the foothills of the Cascades, so different than the prairies where they were born.
      L.A.'s skills at carpentry came in handy at the mill that Birdsey Minkler built on the south side of the river across from Birdsview, but his other skill was especially welcome. Minkler wanted to build a real school for the children of his own family, the Boyds, Savages and other pioneer upriver families such as the von Pressentins and Kemmerichs. Boyd helped build the school and then became the first schoolmaster upriver.

The Hoyts and Boyds converge near the Nookachamps
(L.A. Boyd older)
Two photos of L.A. Boyd as an older man.

      Dan Royal has found a chain of paperwork that outlines Boyd's land claim on the south side of the Skagit river. In December 1882, he preempted 142 acres for which he paid $178.12 after proving up in 1884. Mabel Boyd Royal noted in her family narrative that since L.A. had already exercised his homestead right in Nebraska for farmland, he filed at Birdsview for a mineral claim. He slashed four acres of timber and brush, cleared two acres and planted crops of potatoes and various types of produce. The next few years were ones when L.A. Boyd looked for greener pastures. One was in a mine that resulted from one of George Savage's surveying trips. Called the Blue Jay, the mine petered out, as did many mines in the areas upriver that were nearly inaccessible and cost as much to transport the ore as the assayers paid. The claim proved more valuable for timber than for minerals.
      The second pasture was a very promising one, a piece of land on the south side of Skagit river between Nookachamps creek and Blarney Lake in Section 10, Township 34 north, Range 4 east. In one family record, he traded his mine rights for it. But Dan Royal discovered a warranty deed showing that he paid the Skagit Railway and Lumber Co. for it, $800 in gold coin on Nov. 12, 1887. By the way, the place name truly was Blarney Lake on the early maps and we still have not determined why someone changed such a lovely name to Barney; maybe it was for a later settler. Mabel Boyd Royal has supplied the only explanation so far for the original name: "This lake was full of water in winter, but completely dry in summer, so that was the reason for its name Blarney. " If you drive or bicycle through the Nookachamps watershed today, you can see why settlers would love it there. Starting in the late 1870s, it began filling up with homesteaders. The views of the hills to the east around Clear Lake and Day creek are beautiful, dense forests awaited the axe and misery-whip saw, potable water was everywhere around them, crops grew abundantly and the summers are heavenly. The valley there seems idyllic, until ole man river starts bucking and snorting, that is. When that occurs, the image resembles the biblical flood, but the Boyds would not witness that until the three monster floods started in 1894.
      They did not move to Nookachamps immediately, however; they spent at least a year north of the Skagit. Annie Boyd Hoyt told her descendants that when the family moved downriver, they first lived in Sterling, which was two miles west of Mortimer Cook's new store in Sedro. She recalled that they moved in 1885, but there is a conflict with that date, as you will see. Sterling was the first town that rose upriver after the log jams opened near Mount Vernon in 1878. L.A. worked at the mill there as a millwright and the children attended the Sterling school, taught by R.O. Welts, who was later Skagit county school superintendent. We think that the year may have been off by one, however, since we have records of the changes that the town of Sterling was going through in 1885. The conflict is that records show that the Sterling school outgrew Ball's original bunkhouse and in 1885 the school was moved to the Van Fleet homestead for one year, returning to a new building in Sterling in 1886. From then on, there were two different school districts for Sterling and Sedro. In 1886, Skagit Railway and Timber Co. [SR&T] bought the Sterling store and lumber camp from the Barlow and Ball Co. Jesse Ball moved with his Indian wife down to Fir to where she still held land from her first husband, Joseph Lisk [see our exclusive Ball-Sterling story at website]. We are not sure about when the Boyd family moved across the river to the Nookachamps area, but we know from the records that Boyd bought the Nookachamps land in 1887 from SR&T.
      Whenever they moved, L.A. set about building a comfortable log home. "There was no house on the place until Pa built one, so the family lived in a deserted house on an adjoining homestead," Mabel and Norman wrote. "This was known as the old Elkins Place." As soon as the house was ready, L.A. moved the family in and then he and the boys built sheds, barns, fences and other outbuildings. The family ranged in age from Norman, age one, to Archie, age 15. The three oldest girls, Annie, 12, Eva Jane, 11, and Grace, 10, had their hands full, taking care of the five younger siblings. Clarissa planted cherry trees that were her pride and joy and Mabel noted that they were still flourishing in the 1950s when she wrote her fine family stories. The eleventh child of 14 was born there in December 1886 — Thomas, and we can imagine the girls' groans when even more chores were distributed amongst them. He was followed by Mabel, born November 1891 in Birdsview while L.A. tried his hand at the old Minkler/Savage Mill], John, born January 1893 in Clear Lake and Nellie [born Feb. 1896 Mt. Vernon], all born while the family lived near the Nookachamps. Disgusted with her husband mortgaging their property, Clarissa bought, two and a half acres in Clear Lake for $100.00 from Xavar and Maryetta Bartl at the time of John's birth.
      Mabel shared another story that illustrated the hardships and humor of frontier life. L.A. raised and broke a couple of steers to the yoke and plowed and hauled with them. The children named them Dick and Dave and L.A. built a rickety wooden cart that also had wooden wheels. One day he hooked up the oxen to the cart and drove it to Mount Vernon, starting early in the morning so he could arrive by noon and get home before dark. While the team was hitched in front of the Clothier & English store, something spooked them and off they stormed through the thick timber on the hill above town, "their tails sticking straight out behind and the cart bouncing from one side of the road to the other." Boyd had walk home the whole eight miles and rain soon started falling. No one dared to speak to him that night.
      Another story illustrates both Clarissa's inventive mind and how the sisters got each other's goat. The Boyd and Savage kids loved to get together and raise hell in the woods and on the river and one day, George and Georgetta Savage rowed downriver with their whole brood. While the kids frolicked, Clarissa and Georgetta set about washing the dozens of pieces of clothes for the Boyd family. Clarissa decided to save time, so instead of carrying water back and forth from the [Nookachamps] river to the house, she lit a fire by the river and she and her sister set about scrubbing the clothes with lye soap on their wooden washboards. Clarissa got the bright idea of putting the soapy clothes in a canoe and rowing out into the river to rinse the clothes where the water was clear and deep. But during the process the temperamental canoe flipped over, dumping both women into the water as their paddles and clothes floated down towards the juncture with the Skagit. Neither woman could swim, so they had to hang onto the canoe and dog paddle their way to the shore.
      The sight of their mothers amused the children greatly but they soon ran pell-mell up to the house to seek help from their fathers. L.A. and George, however, were deep into a political conversation, so they ignored the children, who then went out to play. By the time that the women climbed out of the water and walked up to the house, there was surely hell to pay but Georgetta, known for her good humor, broke out into laughter and exclaimed: "Oh Doll [the family's pet name for Clarissa], you look so funny, just like a drowned rate, with your hair all wet over your face and your eyes bugged out." That was a favorite family story until the sisters died. According to Dan Royal, Georgetta was known for great humor and laughter which saw her through the hardest of times, and they were just around the corner.
      By 1888 the Boyd children attended school at Orilla (near Baker Heights) schoolhouse, which was built new that year on the old O.N. Babcock homestead near his namesake road southwest of what would soon become the town of Clear Lake. That was less than a half-mile walk away from the Boyd home along the western shore of Nookachamps creek, which was then called a river. Back in those days on the frontier, children were educated when and where their parents could afford the time and the subscription fee. For Annie Laurie and Eva Jane, the oldest sisters, most of their education was probably what we would now call home-schooling, whenever L.A. had the time and was not seeking greener pastures. In an old family oral story, Annie Laurie — then in her teens, was walking along the Nookachamps one day when she spotted a handsome young logger out on the water, probably riding a small boom of logs. Back in those days the first-growth timber was still being felled close to the water and then the logs were rolled to the creek or drug there by oxen. Each camp burned a brand onto the butt of the log, dumped it in the nearest stream, where it floated to the Skagit and then downstream to a log dump at what was called Riverside or North Mount Vernon. Her mother had warned her about those loggers and their conniving ways with teenage girls and, that first time, she ran away. At a subsequent time, apparently she did not. See Annie's story in the Hoyt link below.

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