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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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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
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Lewis Alexander Boyd:

sailed around the world pre-Civil War, broke sod in the Midwest,
first schoolmaster upriver, Skagit county clerk

(Capt. L.A. Boyd)
Lewis Alexander Boyd may have been the most worldly and sophisticated early settler on the Skagit River. After stowing away on a sailing ship around the world before he was a teenager, he was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris. Years later, on the prairies in the Midwest, he was hired as a teacher, a profession he continued as the first schoolmaster on the upper Skagit river for his children and those of the Minklers, Pressentins and the Savages in 1881. This photo was probably taken when he ran successfully on the People's Party ticket for Skagit county clerk in 1896.

Introduction to Lewis Alexander Boyd
      Lewis Alexander Boyd was the first schoolteacher in Birdsview and a man who truly saw the world from end to the other. In ways, he reminds me of my favorite boxer, Jake LaMotta. Although he was continually humbled — by cruel sea captains, a shipwreck that left him on the open sea for two weeks, prairie fires and locusts in Nebraska, and the depression of 1893 — he would not go down.
      He left quite a mark on Skagit county and the river. His gene pool was strong and his intellectual curiosity was passed on from generation to generation. Among his many descendants, three have left their own mark on our local history: Annie Boyd Hoyt, the grand matriarch of Prairie; Bernie Hoyt Leaf, one of the finest friends that the Sedro-Woolley museum and this website has ever had; and Alcina Hoyt Harwood, a teacher like her cousin, Bernie.
      Born on Staten Island, New York, in about 1841-42, L.A. ran away from home not long after the age of ten to cast away on one of the four-masted ships he loved to watch sail in and out of New York harbor. The ship's captain made him a cabin boy en route to Shanghai and then to Australia while it was still a penal colony. Years later they returned, the captain retired and, admiring the boy's native intellect, he placed L.A. in school at the 600-year-old Sorbonne, where he learned fluent French.
      After he completed school, he sailed many times around the world including a trip to Calcutta when his ship wrecked off Brazil. After two weeks in an open boat with scant food or drinking water, he was rescued by a French ship. When he finally returned to New York he discovered that his parents were dead and he set sail for San Francisco in the early 1850s, not long after gold was discovered near Sacramento.
      His adventures continued on various ships during the Civil War but sometime soon after the war ended in 1865 he left a ship at Baltimore, bought a saddle horse and rode pell mell to the prairies. In Minnesota in 1868 he met his lifelong friend George Savage who was leading an ox team with a load of logs to the Judge Torrey sawmill. There he met and fell in love with Clarissa(Mary Olive "Doll"; she had many names) Torrey, aged 13. In 1869 they married; Savage had married her older sister Etta soon after they first arrived. By all reports, they were a very handsome couple. We will also be sharing the Torreys' story. In the photo to the right, Dan is led to believe that we see Savage's wife Etta on the left; Boyd's wife Clarissa is next to her.
      We will cover the two couples' early years together in greater detail in a future story. For now it is enough for you to know that they broke the sod to eke out a farm living while staving off bands of Indians who were not happy to be their neighbors. Fire and drought plagued them in the summers and blizzards bedeviled them in winter. Finally, in 1882, a prairie wildfire in Nebraska nearly killed them all and L.A. had enough.

We interviewed three of Boyd's descendants, starting in 1996: his grandson, Howard Royal; Howard's son, Phil Royal, and Phil's son Dan Royal. They have both spent years compiling the records of Capt. Boyd's family. They are descendants of Lewis's daughter Mabel, who left behind five volumes of memories. In addition, we have interviewed other Boyd descendants, including our dear friends, Alcina Harwood and Berniece Leaf. Over the next few months, we will be sharing research from these documents and Mabel's memories, which will illustrate the life of this amazing man and his family. We will also share other photos covering an 80-year span of the family. This photo and the one below are both from the collection of Howard's son, Dan Royal, courtesy of Gladys Pape Miller. He encourages you to contact him if you have information about the Boyd, Hoyt, Royal or Savage families. You can email him at and please copy to us: Dan is also looking for information about these upriver families: John Johnson, Jackman, Steen and Markham. You can read much more about the Boyds on Dan's website, the Stump Ranch.

      You will read his son Archie's tale below about their trip to Skagit county, where George had moved a few years before. The Skagit river was a haven for L.A.'s family, as it was to so many farmers from the Midwest. Initially, L.A. and his brother-in-law, George Savage, leased Birdsey Minkler's sawmill near Birdsview and he taught school in the winters as the first schoolmaster in the area.
      He moved downriver to Sterling in 1885 and spent years working for others when his own mills went belly up. Like his brother-in-law, George Savage, he was often a peripatetic wanderer and could be a very hard man to get along with. Neither one of them suffered fools gladly. By the turn of the 1890s, L.A.'s fortunes seemed to be taking an upward turn. In 1892 he mortgaged his farm on the Nookachamps creek to Mount Vernon pioneer Harry Clothier to buy cattle for the grand farm he hoped to build. Within a year a severe nationwide financial panic set in and he lost the house he built near the creek.

(Archie Boyd)
Archie Boyd

      A lesser man might have been broken by such misfortune. But L.A. persevered and by 1896 he had met many unemployed railroad and logging men who were preaching socialist politics. He decided to run for election that year to be county clerk. As outlined in the 1956 book, County Government in Washington State, that position demanded close attention to detail and was the perfect place for someone who had a populist nature. The county clerk oversaw compilation of jury lists and records of the county; kept records of all courts above the local justice courts; maintained criminal and civil papers; administered probate filings, adoption cases and mental illness proceedings; filed bonds and was responsible for the security of large sums of money. John Rogers from Spokane was running for governor as a people's candidate and the Equality Colony was clearing land near Edison for a commune. He was swept into office on Rogers' coattails and reveled in the government paycheck of $100 a month, which enabled him to buy a house and acre of land near the new town of Burlington. By all accounts, he was an honest and capable officeholder, although his politics made him susceptible to the rapidly changing national and regional financial picture. Back then, the office was for two years and by the end of his term, the Klondike gold rush had helped lift Washington completely out of the Depression. Investment money was pouring back in and newcomers to the county were not as depressed and angry as the electorate who originally put him into office.
      Clarissa died in 1897 and her passing took some of the wind out of his sails. After losing in the election of 1898, he put his children out with others and took a factory job in Seattle, where he married a spinster. He stayed there with her the rest of his life and died in 1917 at the age of 82.
      Read below the story told by his eldest son, Archie, about the family's move to Skagit county in 1882 and the wonderful frontier characters he met here.

(The Torrey girls, Georgetta and Clarissa)

Archie Boyd shares a short profile of his upriver pioneer family and their Skagit home

      My father, L.A. Boyd, came to Birdsview in Washington Territory from Antelope County, Nebraska, in October 1882. He had farmed a section of land there, taught school and been county commissioner. He left because he was burned out by a prairie fire, also owing to the blizzards, grasshoppers and droughts. His wife and nine children accompanied him west. The children were: Archie [the oldest], James, Annie, Eva Jane, Margaret, Grace, Mary, Gertrude and Georgie, who was nine months old. Three more children were born in Washington Territory, namely Mabel, John and Nell.
      From Omaha we took the Union Pacific to Ogden, Utah, thence to San Francisco on an emigrant train. This consisted of about 30 freight cars and nine old yellow emigrant cars. [The trains were then called emigrant trains.] My mother had to wash out the babies' clothes and hang them by an open train window to dry. There was a small stove in each car where passengers could do light cooking. It took 12 days from Omaha to Frisco.
      We arrived in Frisco on Sept. 30, 1882, and on Oct. 2 we took passage on the old side-wheel steamer Dakota, reaching Seattle on Oct. 9. We left there the next morning at 8 a.m. on the sternwheeler Josephine with Capt. W.K. Merwin, master. We reached Mann's Landing [a point now near Fir], near the mouth of the Skagit river, at dark. The river was low so Capt. Merwin tied up for the night. As soon as my father set foot on Washington soil, he said: "This is God's country; no drought, no prairie fires, no grasshoppers. He loved it to the end of his days.
      We reached Mount Vernon on Oct. 11 and stopped at the Ruby Hotel, owned and operated by Mr. McNamara. The downstairs was a saloon, kitchen and dining room, and all the rooms and beds were upstairs. When the logging camps closed in the fall and the loggers came to town, there was not much sleep to be had in the hotels.

Mailman Adolph Behrens leads the way to Birdsview
      Adolph Behrens carried the mail from Mann's Landing to Birdsview on his back. He walked over such trails as there were. The windfalls had notches cut in them to use as steps, as some of them were too far through to get over otherwise. Behrens left Mount Vernon on Oct. 12 at 2:30 p.m. and my dad and my brother Jim and I went with him, headed for Birdsview. We made it to Sterling that night. The store at Sterling was run by Mr. Hess, a German — will have more to say about him later.
      On Oct. 13 we left Sterling for Birdsview. It was raining a pour. We reached Lyman for lunch and Behrens stopped over there, so we went on. We got as far as the Grandy place by dark, went into the woodshed and built a fire and got sort of dry. Jim and I had some candy in our pockets for our cousins, the Savage boys, and it got soaked and was a pretty mess. We reached Savage place at Birdsview the next morning.
      Now, regarding Hess. He had two daughters, one of them about 13 years old. He moved his family onto his ranch, ear the mouth of Skiyou slough, above Charlie Wicker's place. The older girl, Flora, died and was buried on the farm in a homemade cedar coffin, as was the custom in the early days. A few years late he sold the farm and dug her body up to take it with them. When they got it to the surface it was petrified, turned to solid stone.

(L.A. Boyd and second wife)
L.A. Boyd and his second wife,
Lew, and son, John, circa 1910

Some frontier Skagit characters
      Between where Hamilton is now, and Lyman, a man by the name of John Wilbert had a store. He also served meals and plenty of whiskey. It is said that he once sold some Indians some booze. They had a fight and an Indian by the name of Jimmy Jones killed another Indian. The law caught up with him and they took him to LaConner for trial. The territorial judge was Rogers Green, and they could not make him change his story. The trial proved to be a regular farce.
      A man by the name of McEwan was editor of the Pubet Sound Mail, the same being published at LaConner. In 1888 he went to Paris. He could not speak a word of French and he said he "damned near starved" to death for two weeks because he couldn't tell them what he wanted to eat. One day he was standing on the street, hating hemself, when a man came up and slapped him on the back and said "Klahowya Tillicum" (Hello Freind). He turned around and it was a man from LaConner whom he knew. He said he was "so damned tickled" that he kissed the man's hand. When he was telling us about it he said: "I'll tell you, Chinook Hi-as-klosh wa-wa," and promised as long as he lived he would take off his hat whenever he heard Chinook spoken.
      Oliver Brown Tingley, son of S.S. Tingley and his first wife, was the first white child born on the Skagit river. He was born in 1870 at Mann's Landing.
      In 1889 there was a man from Boston who clerked in Clothier and English's store in Mount Vernon. He thought he was better than us Westeners and he hated to wait on Indians. One day I was in the store and an Indian said to me: "Ok ok, hi-as Cultus Boston Man." [Not having any idea what the Indian said,] the fellow said: "Even those lowly savages know I am a highly cultured Boston man." I have since met a few people just like him and I haven't liked them any bettr than I did him.

Early life upriver with the Boyds
      There had been no school at Birdsview before we went there, so B.D. Minkler and L.A. Boyd built one out of boards sawed in the Minkler mill on the south side of the river where the pioneers settled. There were six Boyd children, three Minkler, five Savage and four Pressentin children in this first school and L.A. Boyd taught this first school.
(Boyd family 1933 reunion)
Boyd Reunion 1933 from left: Norman Boyd, Annie Boyd Hoyt, John Boyd, Archie Boyd, Mabel Boyd Royal, Maud Boyd Johnson, Maggie Boyd Conlin, probably at Olympia

      We moved to Sterling about 1885, where we children went to school under R.O. Welts. Susie Batey Taylor [daugher of Sedro pioneer David Batey and first white child born in the area] still has the record of this school.
      Father soon built a log house on the Nookachamps, where we lived for many years. He was county clerk for a time.
      I visited at Birdsview in April 1945. They had a party for me the first night I was there and it was 12:30 a.m. before we knew it. Every one of the Savage boys, along with Otto Pressentin are bald-headed. The old Skagit has changed so much that no place looked natural. The first day I was at Birdsview, my cousin Ira Savage and his wife and I went out to the river. An Indian came along with two big trout. I said: "Klahowya Tillicum," and he said: "Howdo you do, sir?" I said: "Hias cold ok-ok sun," and he said: "Yes, rather cold." I said "Cunsie chic-a-mon mika ticky copa ok-ok ke pish?" and he asnwered: "I do not care to dispose of them (pish is fish in the Chinook language). I then said: "Will you go jump in the river?" He answered: "Nah-wit-ka," and I thought Ira and Mary would die laughing.

      Archie Boyd was often cited by the Territorial Daughters of Washington for his outstanding work in compiling and preserving the history of his family and the other pioneer families of the upper Skagit river. His writing and style stand witness to his father's intellect and role as the first schoolmaster of Birdsview.

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Story posted on July 20, 2002, last updated on Feb. 14, 2009
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