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

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June Burn and Mountain Katy Her Skagit pal

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2005 (updated 2008)
(June Burn 1930s)
June in the Mountain Katy era

      After one trip around America by donkey cart, with their young son North in tow, and then another trip with toddler South joining them, June Burn and her husband Farrar returned to the Northwest in 1929. Instead of settling in at their homestead island near San Juan that they lovingly called Gumdrop, they settled the family in at Bellingham, where they had arranged with a friend to buy them two acres on Sehome Hill while they were still on the road.
      Back when I was an undergrad at Western Washington State College in the early 1960s, I used to hike up to the cabin for beer/poker sessions at their cabin, and later, after the Army, my future bride and I camped out there. Those cabins still stand and are now called the Outdoor Experiential Learning Site for Fairhaven College. Burn devotees are conducting a fund-raising campaign in 2005 to restore the cabins, which have fallen into disrepair.
      As June noted in her most famous book, Living High, Farrar set about building the cabins as the happy family lived out of their car, and when the cabin was built, June feathered their nest, but soon looked for an actual job with a paycheck:

      The Bellingham Daily Herald finally agreed to let me try it. They could pay only thirty dollars a week, but if the column was successful, I would get more, they said. As a matter of fact, the crash came two months later [stock market crash of October 1929] and I never got more; instead, three years later, when the depression was badly felt out our way, I was cut to twenty dollars, which precipitated a crisis and another way of life, whereby hangs another tale.
      Unlike many of her male columnist counterparts, she did not hang out at the blind-pig gin joints and depend on the kindness of strangers and cronies for her tips. Nor did she write for the "Women's section." She soon set out on the road again, traveling up and down the Sunset Highway as Old 99 was then called, covering logging contests and writing them up with sawdust in her hair , hiking the Olympic mountain range and then she discovered the Skagit. Her interviews with pioneers here are quoted at length in other Journal stories and sometimes are the only record we have of those families and their first-generation descendants. Early on at the Herald, she met another free spirit who knew the North Cascades like the back of her hand — Catherine Savage Pulsipher, the baby of the George and Georgetta Savage family, the last of their 11 children together. Soon she was regaling her readers with tales, some tall, of the mountain folk of the upper Skagit river. She opens Chapter 19 of Living High with this one:
      Before long, people began to tell me of stories I could get for my column — stories of the men and women of Puget Sound. A young banker said he had been up in the mountains, evaluating some property [maybe A. Bingham of Sedro?]. He was climbing an obscure trail in the snow when he saw tracks coming from and returning into the hills where he knew there was no house. The tracks were extraordinarily far apart, such long strides that he thought at first they must have been made by a very tall man. Then he realized that the man had been running. Someone must be in trouble.
      The banker turned off the trail and followed the tracks up and up, on the chance that help was needed. Further and further into the forest he went until he came to a ravine. Down below he heard someone working. He went to the edge of the ravine, looked over, and shouted to the lone workman splitting out shake bolts. A little old woman looked up.
      "Whaddayawant?" she shrilled up at him, not very hospitably.
      "I saw tracks of somebody running," the young man called back to her, "and I thought there might be trouble. I followed the tacks to find out."
      "Naw," she said, "I just went out to get me a box of snuff.

      The excerpt from "Living High" continues:
(Catherine fishing 1970)
Catherine fishing 1970.
From the original
Herald article.

The Quackenbush sisters and Mountain Katy
      There was a big woman, fully of bosomy laughter, who owned a rural telephone company, managed her business, made her own repairs, climbed the poles herself, and, with her sister, ran a freight boat on a lake behind a waterpower dam. She conducted an orchestra, too, playing for dances or just for fun. Highly cultured, strong, interesting, and brimful of fun. [Ed. note: that of course was Nell Quackenbush Wheelock, who started the Concrete-Lyman-and-points-between telephone company with her sister Kate Quackenbush Gruver. The orchestra was at various times called The Three Blind Mice and we learned a lot about it from Howard Royal, the grandfather of our upriver sidekick Dan Royal and a man who truly grew up on a stumpranch. The Quackenbush sisters will be profiled at length in Issues 30 and 31.]

Riding the Galloping Goose to visit Mountain Katy
      One of the people that June dedicated the book to was "Katy of the Mountains." To visit Katy, she boarded the Galloping Goose gasoline-powered rail car in Bellingham and rode about 25 miles south on the Northern Pacific tracks through rural villages, the Prairie district and over Duke's Hill to the old Woolley depot in Sedro-Woolley:
      When my column threatened to go stale, I had two favorite things to do — take a boat to the islands, or the "galloping goose" to Sedro-Woolley and thence to Mountain Katy's. She was a wild free one from whom I got many of my tales, and she and I were forever setting off together after new adventures.
      There was a government fish hatchery at Birdsview where I once watched men in hip boots catching the weary, heavy salmon, collecting eggs and sperm, tending the miniature sockeye, returning them to the stream to find their perilous way back to sea. [That was the hatchery on Grandy creek on the north shore of the Skagit river where August Kemmerich's family originally homesteaded, now part of Rasar State Park.]
      There was a soapstone mine in the steep side of a hill above the river. We reached it in a truck driven across the upper Skagit on a railroad bridge. Our wheels straddled the trails and there were no side walls on the bridge, which was covered with snow and ice the day I went. There were not six inches to spare between our port wheels and the rocky river bed far below, but the driver hardly slowed down. "you'll go when your time comes," he said.
      The Skagit is Puget Sound's most interesting river. It rises on a glacier on a mountain in Canada, cuts down through wild country, drains a vast mountain wilderness, gathers more and more white glacier water as it runs, stops at Seattle [City Light's] Diablo Dam to fill an immense lake, turn a few big turbines, and roars down, snatching bits of soil wherever it can, depositing them on the rich level acres of the famous LaConner Seed Flats down where the Skagit flows into the sea. That land is so rich and valuable that the taxes alone are sometimes as high as $15 an acre. [For comparison, she notes elsewhere in the book that their taxes on Sentinel island in the San Juans were $1 per year.]
      A pioneer who had come to Skagit county and had helped to reclaim the tide flats from the sea and build the dikes, gave me his diary in which the whole storey of the river was told [who was it?]. It filled my column for days. He was one of the last of the old-timers and he died shortly afterwards, but not before he had seen his story in print and had the rare satisfaction of knowing his job had been completed from the dream to the recording of the accomplishment. Today they are still growing cabbage, turnip, radish, beet, flower and cauliflower seed on his flats, and the Skagit still drains his acres, but it is controlled now and no longer brings down quite as much silt as it used to do.
      Most of the rivers of Puget sound come down through National Forests because there are National Forests on most of the mountain crests. The Nooksack and the Skagit both flow through Mt. Baker National Forest. Mountain Katy and I often went into that forest for stories, wading the wet underbrush, pulling ourselves across the mountain streams on go-devils], eating huckleberries and blueberries until our tongues were black, stopping to swim in icy water or to lunch on some river's white beach.

June and Katy go climbing
      Once I decided to go up to a lookout station and find out how foresters locate fires and set up the machinery to fight them. Katy and I checked in at the head ranger station and got permission to climb the thirteen miles to the lookout station. Then Katy went off in another direction to visit her husband and I tackled the climb alone, always a richer adventure than with even the best of companions.
      ut the forest is so threaded with fire-fighting telephones that the ranger soon discovered Katy wasn't with me and he sent a man on horseback in pursuit. All day long I walked. Up and up, through burned-over desolation where some careless camper had left a spark to flare and burn a thousand trees whose snags now commemorate his passing. 'Through cool dells where water ran fast. Over curious marshes on the mountainside, weaving in and out of the forest up to the timberline.
      Just as I approached the open flowery meadow which marked the end of the forest proper and the beginning of the almost treeless mountaintop, the man on horseback overtook me, leading his tired beat. And down from the lookout station came another man. From here on I was to be well guided. Since one of the lookout boys had come, the man with the horse decided to remain in the meadow overnight where his horse could nip the grass. He would take me down the mountain next day.
      At the foot of the mountain I had been hot, but I was cold now. We entered the snow and in no time my feet were soaking wet. Huckleberry bushes emptied bucketsful of water in my boots. We followed the telephone line up and down, until at long last e came to a little tent on the very peak of a pointed knoll at the top of the world.
      Inside the tent two boys were preparing a feast. The supplies had come not long before. They cooked everything and we ate it all. I wondered how they would solve the problem of putting up a woman guest but it didn't bother them for a second. They hung a tarpaulin down from the ridgepole of the tent, unrolled their sleeping bags on one side of it, and mine on the other. We lay there, talking across it, for hours. One of the boys could sing, another told stories and the third remembered all the poetry he had ever read.
      Just as we were falling asleep, the fiercest thunderstorm I have ever experienced broke over the mountain. The lightning kept up such a steady flash it was like daylight for minutes at a time. It cracked inside, along the telephone line. And how it thundered! During all that racket the telephone rang and had to be answered. The wind blew a gale. Thunder spattered against the mountain like a giant repeater. I love thunderstorms but that one was enough to last me a long time — until now, in fact, for I have never seen another as spectacular.
      Next morning, when the boys went out to the sundial-looking contraption set level on a hemlock stump atop the point of the mountain to look for fires, there wasn't a fire in all the forest [EN-Poets]. If there had been one, they would have taken an azimuth reading, other lookout would have taken readings, the fire would have been precisely located and men sent to put it out.
      A crown fire, started by lightning, may leap from treetop to treetop, and set up a roaring inferno that will destroy great sections of forest before it can be controlled. Ground fires, caused by cigarettes or campfires or careless logging operations, are more easily controlled if they are caught in time. But because there are so many more of these, they are the most frequent cause of burning down the forests. Sometimes fires are set by the unemployed so that they may get work fighting them. Sometimes they are set by farmers who want to clear more grazing land for their animals. Greed in some form or other is at the root of many fires. But wanton carelessness in logging operations has burned down too much of our forests and sent up in smoke enough timber to employ thousands of men for many years, to build tens of thousands of homes to say nothing of water conservation, flood control and beauty.

Below we share a letter from Mountain Katy, herself, Catherine Savage Pulsipher , who corresponded with her old friend from Hamilton, Hazel Parker, on a regular basis while Katy lived in Portland.

(Montain Katy)
      Thanks to Dan Royal, we have a montage of Mountain Katy. He is the publisher of our sister publication, the Stump Ranch Online/Upriver edition, and he is related to the Savages through his great-grandmother, who was a sister George Savage's wife. These are photos of Catherine as a young girl growing up in Hamilton, and the cover of a dime novel that Dan has collected.

Catherine Savage Pulsipher letter to
Hazel Parker, April 2, 1977

Dear Hazel:
      I just ran into a little nugget of information. Thought you might like to know about. It is the goat on the Great Northern [logo]. I once knew the man who made the drawing. It was a contest at the time. As they were looking for a suitable symbol. He entered the Goat [drawing] and won the contest. It has greeted us all ever since.
      Do you remember Bob Burn of the old entertainment days? The one who made his Aunt Fud and Uncle so-and-so a big deal? [Actually Uncle Fud and Aunt Doody] It was his brother who drew the goat. He was an artist and musician of sorts. Never made the grade as Bob did. But Bob was just lucky in getting some real good contacts in the movie world. They sponsored him and he came out on top. Including Bing Crosby and the big shot comedian who died in a plane crash — Will Rogers. They were both close buddies of Bob's. In fact Bob went on Bing's second honeymoon to Hawaii [wife Dixie]. He sang "Sweet Alice" on the radio in their honor. I still recall it. I never met Bob in person but I did know his brother quite well. I have heard their personal story many times. They started out together as lads to make a name for themselves. Farrar [brother] sang and played the guitar. Bob just sang and fooled around. But he hit on the idea of the stove pipe rig and it made him great (bazooka).
      Farrar fell out of entertainment and started a small magazine called the Puget Sounder. That is how I met him and June, his wife. I was working for the Bellingham Sunday Journal of the Herald at the time and she had a column in the daily [newspaper]. We met and liked each other and later she asked me to write for the journal she and Farrar had started. I did, while it still was published. They didn't have the money to keep it in print long.
      She also wrote several books on Puget sound country. It was during this time that [Bob] sent in the goat to the contest. I went on several mountain trail trips with both Farrar and June. They had two half grown sons [who] they wanted to see more of the high country. So we went together, as I knew all the trails nearby and so on. Harry also worked for the Forest Service, as did Hap ["Happy" Pulsipher (Catherine's husband) ]at the time, so we had them to fall back on. We did well exploring the great outdoors of Puget sound.
      June did mention me in one book as a big help to them. She called me Mountain Katy. This was called Living High (on nothing a month). They really did devote themselves to living off the land, as much as possible. I recall they had an idea that coarse ground meal was best to make bread out of, so bought sacks of horse feed to make their bread and enjoyed it, until the Pure Food Law caught up with them. They were not allowed to buy any more for human consumption. They finally moved to a small island they homesteaded. I didn't see much of them after that. In her book she calls it the Gumdrop.

Journal Background on the Pulsipher letter
      This letter was sent to us by Edna Parker, whose mother-in-law, Hazel Parker, grew up in Hamilton at the same time that Catherine Savage Pulsipher was growing up on the south side of the Skagit river. Edna is married to William Parker, Hazel's son. Edna says that once both women married, they only saw each other infrequently but kept up a steady stream of communication by mail through the early 1980s. When both were ailing, Edna says that the "kids" of their families arranged for Hazel and Catherine to meet one last time in Portland in the mid-'80s. Hazel died in 1985 and Catherine died in 1986. We are very grateful that Edna decided to share the letters, especially this one, because it confirms a hunch we have had for many years.
      There is one detail from the letter, however, that we cannot confirm. There is no record of Robin Burn/Bob Burns drawing the goat symbol for Great Northern Railway. We have an extensive history of GN that was written in the early 1990s by the historical staff of Burlington Northern. The artist is not mentioned but this document indicates that the symbol was drawn and accepted in 1921. The accepted artist of the symbol is Joe Scheuerle (1873-1948), an Austrian immigrant who first gained attention for his commercial art with Cincinnati's famous Strobridge Lithographing Company. When Scheuerle moved to Chicago to work for another firm he became good friends with William F. Cody — Buffalo Bill, and met and drew portraits of many of the members of Cody's Wild West Show. In 1910, when Glacier National Park was chartered by Congress in 1910, Scheuerle visiting the Blackfeet Indian tribe, and met Charles M. Russell and Louis W. Hill. Louis W. Hill was the son of James J. Hill, the founder of Great Northern, and Louis is also considered the godfather of the Glacier Park. Scheuerle produced some of the commercial art for Louis W. Hill's "See America First" campaign for GN, during which time he apparently drew the Mountain Goat logo for the GN company. We are checking with Skye Burn, June's granddaughter, for other details about the Burn family, to see if she knows anything further about the log. Skye lived on Waldron island with her husband and family until the 1990s when they moved to Whatcom county. She has helped preserve June and Farrar's records as well as those of her father, Bob Burn, and his brother, North Burn, for the Center of Pacific Northwest Studies and Fairhaven College in Bellingham.
      After connecting Catherine and June and the character of Mountain Katy, I found something ironic in the postscript that June wrote in 1958 for the other copy I have of Living High, the 1992 paperback edition published by Griffin Bay Bookstore of Friday Harbor. Recalling that cabin in Maryland where she Farrar met in 1919, she wrote about her eldest son North and his wife, who were living near the property in 1958: "They live near the 100 acres where Farrar and I met. The Cabin in the Woods is gone and a golf course spreads its manicured way over those sweet hills, across Minnehaha, up the laurel slope and on." That set me to wondering about the many conversations that Catherine and June must have had in front of the fireplace about the local folklore and whimsey they must have shared. I wonder if Catherine ever told June that the area that is now Concrete was once marked Minehaha on maps. Hazel was a close friend of Kate Pulsipher. I have several letters that Kate wrote to Hazel in years shortly before she died in 1986. Interestingly they died just a few months apart.

Update 2008: more Katy clues in a 1943 postcard
(Katy post card)
      Just when we thought we had found the only proof of Catherine's "Katy-ness," we received a most fascinating package from Barb Thompson, our upriver correspondent. Barb descends from the George Savage family of "South" Birdsview, the land on the south side of the river across from the town proper, where Birdsey Minkler and the Savages made history with their mill back in the late 1870s and 1880s. Barb lives on the land where Catherine and Happy lived for years, next to where George and Etta Savage raised their brood after moving to Washington Territory from Nebraska.
      One lovely summer day several years ago, Barb and Dan Royal, also a Savage — and Boyd — descendant, and I strolled down the lane past the cedar trees that are the only remnant of the Savage farm, as we imagined what point on the shoreline marked the Splash! that Etta made climbing off the Indian canoe and falling into the cold river one day in about 1878. We sighed over the memory that burglars ransacked Katy's old abode and took many priceless keepsakes, including her research and writing. Barb assured us, however, that she would keep rummaging through the remainders, full of hope that she would find something from the days when the mountain girl and the Bellingham author climbed the nearby hills like nimble mountain goats.
      I pulled from the envelope a copy of a postcard that was postmarked New York City, Feb. 15, 1943. It was a note to Pulsipher from June when she and husband Farrar were camped out in Gotham, meeting with her publisher. It read::

      Katy dear, I could just spank you for burning those letters so full of woods lore! If I hadn't thought you'd have more respect for and appreciation of them than that, I'd have hung onto them even if I never did anything with them! Yes, if you can do a real consecutive story in ballads — or even separate ballads of all the phases of life on the Skagit in the old times and now, I am sure my publisher would be interested. Write a half dozen or so and send them to him as samples. Use the one in the Sounder, if you like — books often take from magazine-published things, you know. You can find name on my book. It's Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 270 Madison Avenue, NYC. Love to my Mountain Katy and bes to all hers — the BD Savages, Bert, your husband, Zola and Mrs. Pressentine and her family. My NY address will be: c/o P.H. Lovering, 523 W. 121st, NYC. June.
      That was an important piece of the puzzle to mull over. For the next few months I played detective and finally connected a few pieces. As you will read in our accompanying biography of June and Farrar, they traveled back to New York now and then to check in with her publisher and renew old friendships. P.H. Lovering was a science fiction writer of short stories, including When The Earth Grew Cold, The Color Out of Space and Inevitable Conflict (in Italy called The Horror that Comes from the East), mainly in magazines such as Amazing Stories Quarterly. But then a reader sent us information that challenged our assumption. According to a Seattle Times obituary of Nov. 2, 1943, a Times editor named Paul H. Lovering died in Seattle on that day. Born in Philadelphia, he grew up in the South and moved out to Seattle in 1909 after attending the Alaska-Yukon Exposition. We will have to research more to determine which Lovering they visited in New York. Whoever it was, he either left a key under the mat for when they visited, or loaned them his couch.
      Duell, Sloan and Pearce was a trade-and-paperback publishing house, founded in New York City in 1939 by Charles Halliwell Duell, Samuel Sloan and Charles A. Pearce. Duell, the Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, in 1899, is probably best known for his quixotic quote: "Everything that can be invented has been invented." The partners initially published general fiction and non-fiction, and June was certainly in good company. Anais Nin, confidante and lover with Henry Miller, brought the publishers her quarter-million words in assorted diaries from Paris and exotic locales. She is remembered for observing, "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are," and only later did her biographers discover that she made a lot of stuff up, not surprising for a woman who shared two husbands for several years without either knowing of the other.
      I wonder if June ever bumped into Wallace Stegner in the Duell hallway, while he was writing about Mormons and John Wesley Powell, before he became an icon of Western writers. Other fellow authors of note there included Archibald MacLeish, John O'Hara, Erskine Caldwell, Conrad Aiken, Howard Fast, Dr. Benjamin Spock and E. E. Cummings (now they would have conducted most fascinating conversations at the Algonquin Round Table, with Harpo Marx squeezing his horn).
      The Duell firm entered into a little naughtiness about that time that June was visiting, publishing photographic essays in the U.S. Camera annuals, which were literally banned in Boston in 1941 because they contained photographs of nudes. Also during the war, the firm provided everything from advertising to distribution of Eagle Books titles and then added the Essential Books and Bloodhound Mysteries divisions. After the war they introduced the New American Naturalist series, comprehensive surveys of flora and fauna for the general American reader.
      One can't help but think of Katy appearing in a clip from the Ma and Pa Kettle/The Egg and I movies or sitting in the ramshackle kitchen of Betty Bard Heskett or Marjorie Main in the Chimacum Valley, circa the same years as the postcard, without electricity or running water, when the mailman brings a letter that has come all the way from New York City. It doesn't take much of an imagination to conjure up the reaction of Birdsview folk, and the heat rising from the party line every time that their favorite neighbor, Katy, received another post card from those literary folk.

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Story posted on July 15, 2005, last updated Feb. 28, 2008
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