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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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George Savage, Birdsview settler 1878
First Skagit county surveyor 1884, peripatetic wanderer

(George Savage)
George in his 60s

      Journal Ed. note: George Savage had a significant impact on both the upriver area, where he settled in 1878, and Skagit County in general, in his role as the first surveyor of the new county and when he bought out Birdsey Minkler's original water-powered sawmill on the south shore of the Skagit River across from Birdsview. Below, we present his autobiography that he wrote longhand in a journal in 1916.
      In today's vernacular, we might say that he "lets it all hang out," and we are grateful. You will find that he rambles and digresses a lot, but he was 72 and he explains that he went through a period of melancholy that affected both his memory and his outlook. We have retained his unique writing style and have corrected his misspelling when it is confusing to the reader. In some cases, we have also added explanations with brackets. We especially want to thank two of his relatives: Dan Royal, whose great-grandmother, Mabel Boyd Royal, was George's niece, and Barbara Thompson, who is George's great-granddaughter. Both of them still live upriver in the Birdsview and deserve many thanks for spending hundreds of hours, maintaining their family history.
      This is a "place-holder story." It was originally posted back in 2002 on our original domain, and since then we have discovered many more details about the families whose stories are interwoven, and family members have provided correction and clarification. We have also discovered that George's father was an important early official in the Mormon church. We plan to completely update and extend the story by 2010. For now, we leave it in its original state. We hope that readers and descendants of the family will suggest more ideas and provide copies of photos and documents that will illuminate the story when we update it.

Life and Adventures of George Savage
An autobiography

      I was born in Lapier Co. Michigan in the year 1844 and now in my 72 year. This being the year 1916.
      My present occupation is merchandise or country soberban [suburban] store. I have occupied the position of common laborer, farmer, saw and shingle mill owner, hotel proprietor, store keeper and logger. I came to this coast 39 years ago in 1877 [he actually must have come no later than 1873 according to his narrative below].
      My father, Jehiel Savage, was born and raised in Canada. He was a Methodist preacher. My mother, Catharine Cooper. Born in Cooperstown, New York. [Ed. note: we have not been able to establish Jehiel's Methodist credentials, but we do know that as a young man he was one of the Select Twelve of the Mormon church. In an upcoming feature, we will profile Jehiel and other pioneers whose ancestors played a critical role in the great Western exodus of the LDS. ]
      About the first thing I can remember was my mother crying her eyes out because she had no home of her own. A few years later we had a beautiful home on the banks of Lake Michigan and it seems to me now as if the waves were mountain high as they rolled on the sandy beach. This was the most beautiful place according to my youthful ideas I have ever seen. The land was covered with spruce, tamarack, and etc.
      My father hearing wonderful stories of the western prairies all cleared and wild hay only to be cut. Running water, plenty of timber, wild game, milk and honey, etc. So we went to Illinois. Chicago then was about like Bellingham is now, 30 or 40 thousand I think. Before reaching the unoccupied prairies my father went to work on a farm for one year. The next summer they made up a wagon train for Iowa.
      He went along 550 miles as I remember it. It took all summer, but when we got there, there was wild land sure enough miles and miles of it, with Indians, elk, deer, and wolves roam-ing at will. This was in Monona County I think, and some forty miles east of the Missouri River. Here father took a claim with water, timber, and prairie, but lost it in some way. He then went to the River (the Missouri). This as I remember it was a western para-dise, abundant with game deer, turkeys, prairie chickens and fish in abundance. The steamers running up the river would exchange anything you needed for cord-wood. It was a free wild life while it lasted. I was married at 20 years of age by which time all the vacant land was gone, so I then became a common laborer.
      My father took, improved and lost four farms in Iowa, all going I think for debts. My education was such as I would get in three months a year in a log school-house. My hobby was geometry which proved of much value in after years.

George strikes out on his own
      After my father's death [1870], my mother having died two years before, the farm was deposed of and I went to work in a saw-mill. I soon conceived the idea of a mill of my own, and here I will say I have always been what is known as lucky in whatever I have tried to do. I have had to struggle hard but so far have always won my point, and so it was with the mill. My mill was a shingle mill and on it I made and sold many shingles.
      This was a great time and place for friend-ship, community, and neighborly good will, alas this was the only place where this was the case.
      By this time I had two lusty boys. My wife Miss G. A. (Georgetta Adelia) Torrey, was the daughter of Judge Torrey (farmer and mill-man) also a pioneer to the then far West. [George and Georgetta (Etta) were married July 25, 1865 at Omaha Mission, Nebraska. "Etta's" sister Jane was working there as a school teacher and signed the wedding certificate as Eva Jane Torrey, witness.]

California beckons
      About this time there appeared in our neighborhood a man by the name of Jamison, who told wonderful stories of California. He said that near Santa Barbra [Santa Barbara] there were large tracks of vacant land to be had as homesteads. Fine grazing both for sheep and cattle, also fine for bee-culture. His tales were so alluring that I and a farmer named Van Order determined to have some of that land, so we sold out what we had for what we could get and started west for the Pacific Coast.
(George and Georgetta Savage)
George and Georgetta Savage, sometime in Washington

      The Union Pacific R.R. was just completed and they were running mixed trains. I think it took about a week from Omaha to San Francisco. Thence we went to Santa Barbra on the steamer Venture. A wall-sided steamer that rolled worse than any boat I ever saw. This made us sick in body. Santa Barbra made us sick in both soul and spirit. A more dried up desolated God-forsaken region we had never dreamed of. There were no home-steads and lands were selling for from $100 to $150 per acre. [Interesting coincidence: Mortimer Cook, founder of Sedro in 1884, was then mayor of Santa Barbara. Did they meet Cook and did he tell them about his experience in Whatcom county in 1858?]
      We stayed there a week, we had to for the next boat then went back to Frisco (as they called it then). What shall we do now? The farm and mill was gone, and how they would laugh at us, no, we would not go back. We went down to the docks. There was a steamer for Coos Bay, Oregon, to sail in 3 days. Good, we would go to Coos Bay but soon we ran across the Prince Albert to sail on the morrow for Victoria, B.C. Well one was as good as another, and all alike to us, so we took the Prince Albert for Victoria. She was old, slow, and rotten, she went to pieces on the very next trip. The weather proved fine, it was in July, and we arrived safe and well in Victoria in five days time.
      The town looked shabby enough then, 39 years ago. There was no work or anything else for us, so we went to the mainland to look for vacant land. With no roads, no markets, no society, but miles and miles of vacant land, yes. Plenty of isolation and starvation too it seemed to us. We concluded to log for the mills at Bar-rows Inlet. We got a claim near Boundry [Boundary] Bay, bought a team of oxen, a logging outfit, hired some men and went to work. We worked very hard, rain and shine, early and late all winter and spring.
      Then the tug came to get our logs. They hitched the booms together (as they were called) and gaily went away, and that is the last we ever heard or saw of them. They told us at the mill that a storm came up and blew all the logs to sea. By this time we were broke, our money gone, so we lost our team, outfit, work and all and know of no redress. Stranded and broke but not disheartened we determined to go to the then young city of Seattle. We made a bargain with a squaw-man to take us in his sail-boat for $25. Leaving what stuff we had, for the boat was too small to carry our goods, we started up the Sound. We were loaded so deep as it was, we could not run if the waves were over a foot high.

Utsalady, a beautiful port in the storm
      We were about a week getting to Camano Island, about half way to Seattle, we landed at Utsiadia [Utsalady]. [This must have been the fall of 1873, maybe the spring of 1874.] There was a saw-mill there then and I concluded to stay there and let my old friend go on. The boss showed me a little old house up in the woods, beyond the squaw end of the town. I found out later that he thought I was a squaw-man too but when the mill men saw the children (four boys) they went to the boss and demanded that we be placed in the white end of the town. I worked here for three years. The work was not so hard but the isolation and the hope-lessness of the whole thing was very depressing.
      Indeed you got your board, rent and rude clothing and that was all I ever did get. I worked from the boom to the lumber-yard and back again until the company went broke in the middle of the winter leaving about 150 men streamed?? and desperate. The cause of this situation was the sinking of the Steamship Pacific near Cape Flattery, with the loss of all on board but one man, a miner named Jelly. One of the owners of the mill named Christholm [actually Colin Chisholm on Nov. 4, 1874] was drowned. This caused the company to suspend. Bye the way the owner of the other mill in Birds Inlet who beat us out of all our logs and money, was drowned on this boat. His name was Moodey, an American, and today the mill is known as Moodey's Mill . The steamship was rammed by a sailing-ship and sank.
      At Camano Island there was threats of burning the mill and I was added to the police- force. It took a month before all the rough ele-ments were gone. When a boat would land the mill-crew would take possession and compel the boat to take away as many as it could safely carry. As the boats were small and few it took sometime to get them all away.
      It was during this time that 3 robbers visited the town. They were Shipley, Brown, and Wallace, all squaw-men with families. They were honest loggers when the company they were working for failed. There was pro-visions in the cook-house and all though the company owed them for their work, they could get no provisions. So they broke into the cook-house and took them, and went to another camp.
      The sheriff and a posse followed them and they took to the woods, and while the posse were at dinner they stole all their guns and became outlaws for sure. They came to our town one night, loaded a boat with provisions and went away, but when they came again we stopped them and I never heard of them again. This gave me provisions while acting as a guard, but I did not get my pay for about two years.
      During this time, a man by the name of Dale, (that I had got acquainted with) had started a logging-camp some twenty miles down the Sound. As there was no more work or other means of making a living at Utsiadia I con-cluded to go to this camp. There was no roads or boat-route so I picked up some boards and got some nails out of an old tumble down house and made a boat using wooden pins for row-locks and oars formed from two by sixes. There was snow on the ground and much wind from the north which was the way I must go. (I might mention here that my old friend Van Order went to Seattle, thence to Portland and I never heard of him again.)
      At this time we were occupying one of the best houses in Utsladia, and should of stayed there until spring but my restless spirit would not let me rest. I hauled our belongings to the beach on a little hand sled on the frost that would accumulate on the steaming saw-dust over night. I think some of the older boys may remember something of this trip. I had never had time to get acquainted with any of my children up to this time.
      The first day we traveled 6 miles I got my family into a house but I slept in the boat to watch my things, and nearly froze.
      My wife (who was a devoted mother and help-mate) done everything possible to eliminate our suffering and trials. The second day there was a cold hard wind and we had to go to an Indian hut to keep from freezing to death.
      Finally we found a vacant house and camp-ed there for the night. The third day we approached the logging camp and I got a job of a farmer, who owned a little store. His name was Munks [William Munks, the original Fidalgo pioneer]. He has been dead for several years. I worked for Munks until his crops were all in, and having heard that there was fine vacant farm land in. Skagit county (then What-com County) I got a sack of flour (50 lbs.) and with two dollars and fifty cents in money we were away to try and find a home of our very own.

Fir island logging camp
      Three days of pulling, sailing, and poling brought us to the delta at the mouth of the Skagit River. Here finding an old deserted claim shanty surrounded with swamps and eternal solitude broken only by the cougars dismal yells, we camped because we could get no farther up-stream against the strong current of the river. We found out later that the river was higher than usual just then. This was bad indeed but we would never go back as long as we had a bite to eat or a place to stay. I think sometimes it would of been better if we had went back then and there. Leaving my family here in this lonesome wilderness I followed an old trail out to the main river, there I found several houses. A man by the name of Moore hired me to help him log off his claim. I worked for him until the job was done, which was about mid-summer.
      During our stay in the shack my wife got sick and delirious. The very loneliness and hopelessness of the whole place was enough to drive one mad. Nothing but the care of the children saved her. The river having fallen we loaded our boat and started up the river a few miles to a small logging camp, run by a man by the name of Gage. When we started the boat began to sink and we barely got to shore before it filled. The cause was a sun crack we had not noticed. It was a very narrow escape. My next house was a more pleasant being on the main river and a road.
      The camp was so far away I could come home only on Sundays and then I must go the store in a canoe for the things the family must have. So I saw but little of my family. It was here while going home one dark stormy night I was followed by a cougar. Until then I never knew any beast could make so many different noises. It could yell, scream, whine and cry as it raced round and round me and I expected it to jump at me at any minute. I had nothing whatever to fight it with and only a small flickering lantern for a light so I leave it to you to imagine how I felt. At last I had to cross a slough on a foot log. Here the cougar gave a few frightful screams and went back. This was about the only cougar that ever bothered me.
      About this time I built a cabin of split cedar boards and moved my family to the log-ging camp. I worked at this camp for 6 years. Took two claims and starved off of both of them. After working some four years in this camp and never having received any money, only store trade and very little of that, finding my-self considerable in debt I think I would have gone crazy then and there only for my fine family of boys and girls. They were all coming on fine.
      The solitude and work and worry were even then beginning to show on both my wife and myself. Here I wish to say, that more than half of the families I knew then either went crazy, died, or broke up. Even the boss Mr. Gage (a perfect gentle-man in every respect) and his lovely wife were broken up by the continual strain and solitude. I witnessed this breaking up with real tears in my eyes, as did the whole camp. The only solution I could see was crazy from over strain and solitude, they had never quarreled. My health now failed me and I quit work-ing in the logging camps. By this time there was a few miles of mud roads, and few settlers began to come in, so a logging-camp much larger then the one I had been working in started some miles up the river. Here was an opportunity to boat freight for the camp and for the settlers too. I got an old canoe, patched it up, took my oldest son ([then] about twelve years old) and went to freighting. The hard work and exposure were about equally mixed with the real danger of being drowned, as many subsequently were, work as we would we could never make more than a bare living.

Settled down finally in Birdsview, 1877
      Finally [1877], a man of indomitable will and energy by the name of Minkler, started a little saw-mill about 30 miles up the river and landing there one day while freighting he showed me a claim which looked good to me. He offered me steady work so I took it.
      Then began the job of moving. It took us three days to get moved as we could only make 10 miles a day. Finally we arrived wet and tired for it rained every day. That night the river raised and I lost my boat. It was fall now and we had our first snow that next night. Now began a life of solitude and suffering that was to last for 7 long and weary years.
(George Savage)
George, probably 1884 campaign

      We were thirty miles from town with no roads or trails, only the silent maddening solitude of the unbroken forest. Its very silence seemed to scare one, and fill one with unspeakable dread and terror. About the second year we were here [1880] there came a snow 6 feet deep. I had managed to get a pair of steers and a cow. The stock I turned on the brush to make their own living, as I had no hay or barn. The high water in the spring drowned one steer and the cow. Also came within an ace of taking our log house away which would probably have ended the whole thing then and there.
      At the end of five years I had managed to get a pony team and another cow. In 7 years the wife and boys had cleared quite a space. I managed to get time to plant an orchard and make some fence and that was about all. This 7 years was all hardships, toil, and privation. It seems it would take forever for me to develop a farm and earn a living at the same time.
      Then I bought the saw-mill of Minkler for $3,000, he going to Lyman in the mercantile business [1884 or 1885]. The mill [at the mouth of what we now call Mill Creek] was a success from the start. We had no trouble in running it, but it being run by water power we could only run 4 or 5 months in the year. I began surveying and cruising. Surveying, I and my son Leslie could earn 8 dollars a day, but the work was very unsteady.
      The second year I had the mill I sold one half interest to a man named John Carr for $2,000, and with what I had earned I paid Mr. Minkler for the mill in full. Now my troubles began. Carr and I could not agree on running the mill, so I left the farm and mill and moved to LaConner. [Ed. note: about this time, in 1884, George was elected as the first Skagit county surveyor; see page 96, Skagit Settlers
      There I bought another mill for $2,500. I ran this mill about a year and sold it for $6,000 and then went to Mt. Vernon. This was a bad move. I should have gone back to the farm but as the mill on the farm was still in litigation I did not go.
      My boys went to logging cedar. They put in many logs but being inexperienced they allowed a man by the name of Everetts [not to be confused with Amasa Everett, founder of Baker] to beat them out of all their logs. Leaving the store and stumpage debts to pay. Being a repetition of my Boundry Bay experience. By the way this Everetts although he did not get drowned like our swindler did he lost his wife and all his property and became a wanderer upon the face of the earth.
      I now bought a small portable mill with a planer from Frank Holeton for $2,000. This added to the other experiences about evened up things and I had a small mill instead of a big one. I had a nice bunch of timber which lasted about 2 years and as I could get no more some-thing must be done. My boys were now a great help to me, there were 5, all fine young men, able and willing to push whatever they had to do.

Marital strain
      The continual work and strain began to tell plainly on my wife and me. We began (so to speak) to see things. In other words we were both going crazy from over mental strain.
      About this time a man by the name of Davis rented the mill and moved it to Pleasant Ridge about 3 miles east of LaConner. Then I bought a shingle mill of a man by the name of Hall of Avon. I moved it to Big Lake and ran it for about one year and sold it to Fred Pape of Mt. Vernon.
      I took some lots in Mt. Vernon as payment for the mill which I later turned over to my son William. Here my mind is dim as to my next move but I think I went back to the farm. Times were getting very hard and people were getting away from the farms, that could get away and some of the farms are vacant to this day. This was in Pres. Cleaveland's [actually Grover Cleveland] second ad-ministration.
      Hearing of a peculiar colony in the north end of the county, I went out of curiosity to investigate and in the end made a bargain to run the portable mill (which Mr. Davis had given up after 6 month) for this colony. So we moved to the colony, taking the mill and ran it for 6 months and 3 weeks. It was a good job and I liked it fine. While we were at the Colony my son Bert married the President's daughter (the school-teacher Kate Halladay) so we were all pleased and benefited by this adventure.
      Here again my mind fails me. The mental strain was beginning to tell on both my wife and my-self. The next I remember, I moved the Colony-mill to Bay View. I ran it there for about 3 years and then sold it to a man by the name of Culp of Lopes [Lopez] Island. From here on the melancholy or hallucinations of both myself and my wife increased rapidly. We both became misanthropic to such an extent that I was seized with the wander lust. I could not sleep or eat, I think my mind be-came almost a total wreck. Then I determined to go to Vancouver Island, where a friend of mine had taken a timber claim. His name was Benson.

Divorce and a new wife
      When my wife found I was bound to go she asked me to set her free which I did. Then building a row-boat I went to Mt. Vernon. Then thinking better of the matter I returned to Hamilton. Here I stayed about three years. I got married again during the time I was there. [The widow Loretta (Retta) S. Cary Todd, was left fairly well off by her late husband.]
      While in Hamilton I made money fast. All I touched seemed to prosper. I made about $2,500 in the three years there. Then I sold out and moved to Bellingham. Starting a small country store. I have been here now 2 years. I like the place well. I have a good location, a fair trade, a beautiful view of the city and bay and as happy as my nervous uneasy roving disposition will allow me to be.
      [Ed. note: George Savage and Loretta S. can be found in the 1914 Bellingham City Directory: notions 1818 33rd; Retta passed away June 11, 1918; grandson Warren Savage's name is found directly following them, student, 900 Elk]
      My present wife has at least one virtue in my eyes. She can manage somehow to put up with my uneasy, nervous, peculiar disposition. I very much doubt if many women of any spirit could so far. This store business is a peculiar proposition. There is so much to it over which you have no control. If you don't credit, there is nothing to it, and if you do you open the flood-gates of uncertainty. I think from what I have seen so far it is a very uncertain business.
      The question with me just now seems to be, what can a man of 72 years do success-fully? I try to take everything as I find it, and make the best of it I can under the circum-stances.
      With good-will to all and ill-will to none I hope to be forgiven as I forgive all.

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Story posted on May 28, 2002, and Feb. 13, 2009
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