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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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History of the
Qualls and Cary families of Hamilton

(Qualls ranch picnic 1916)
Qualls ranch 1916 reunion picnic. Click on this thumbnail to see the full photo. See story below. Can anyone identify people in the photo? Scan courtesy of Dan Royal.

      An upriver family name that has almost been forgotten except by real old-timers is that of the Qualls who moved here in the 1870s from Tennessee. I have always been curious about the family and had just about given up on finding traces of them until Lois Pinelli Theodoratus reminded me last year that the old family graveyard near Alder Creek has been grown over by weeds and brush again. I went back and re-read Mollie Dowdle's lovely story about the family in her book, My Best Loved Stories, and then found some new information on the web and from other original sources.

Pioneer cemetery
By Mollie Dowdle, from her 1985 book, My Best Loved Stories
      In a neglected, forsaken cemetery, not far from the Skagit River above Hamilton, lie the remains of Nancy Adeline Qualls, one of the earliest pioneers in the upper valley. Nature has claimed the spot for its own again and I can't plow through the tangles to visit Nancy anymore. Standing like a silent sentinel over the burying spot is a huge cedar tree with sweeping low branches reaching out like gentle arms to caress the earth. Snow berries have pushed their persistent sturdy growth and then consecrated it with white berries. Many years ago, someone planted an old-fashioned rambling rose in the grave yard, and its prickly long branches have dropped to the soil and sprouted to new life in a mad riot over Nancy and her silent neighbors.
      I remember when Nancy's grave had been protected from the elements with a steep roof of long hand split cedar shakes, but time claimed its own and now these lay scattered over the sunken spot. Nancy is one with the wind, rain and snow along the Skagit. The remains of a low ornate picket fence has withstood time, separated this pioneer woman from other graves. Someone cared. Someone cared very much. Was it a husband or a child? We will never know.
      I can't reach the grave marker, but it is there, a four inch slab of straight grained cedar, curved into a half circle at the top. Faintly seen is Nancy's simple epitaph, printed in black letters — Nancy Adeline Qualls — age 58 years, died 1883. Nancy and her young husband, Jasper, and their children left Arkansas over a century ago [probably late 1870s] and traveled west with a wagon train.
      It took a long time, and we can only imagine the hardships they endured. Our valley was a land of promise, one of fertile soil, fish, wild life and opportunities. They reached LaConner from their long journey and loaded their scant belongings into a canoe and continued on up the Skagit River. Just above Hamilton they staked out homestead rights on 160 acres of virgin timber and hurried to erect a log cabin because winter was drawing near.
      Nancy bore more children until there were four sons and three daughters. A larger house replaced the one room log cabin and Jasper finally cleared away enough timber from his door-step for adequate soil to feed his family. There is no remembrance of how long the Qualls lived [here] before the death of Nancy. But we know she was laid to a corner of their homestead. As others of the family died, they were laid alongside of her. The Carys were relatives and some of them were put there. It became known, until this day, as Cary Cemetery. There are memories of loggers killed in the woods and buried there. An old timer handed down a pathetic story of death in the wilderness, far up the Skagit River, on the Sauk. A young homesteader lost his wife and first baby in childbirth. There was no available material for a coffin, so he chipped one from the trunk. of a tree. Placing the baby in the mother's arms, he brought them by canoe to the Cary Cemetery for a Christian burial. From such. pioneers have come the roots of civilization along the Skagit. There was no church, so we can only imagine how these services were carried out. We only know the pioneers managed.
      The cemetery expanded with open arms to all without a price. Ten? Twenty? Thirty? No one knows. Those who would are gone. The information I have is from a woman whose ancestor was an early Qualls woman who had kept a journal of remembrances. The bodies in the pioneer cemetery had been buried near Alder Creek at a time when the water didn't wash and cut dangerously. But the time came when the water changed its course and caskets began to float down stream into the river. Once, I picked up the bleached arm and leg bones of an adult, and called the sheriff, who took care of them.
      Nancy Adeline Qualls is the only grave with a marker; the others are known only to God. Feeble attempts were made a time or two to grasp the spot from the elements but none were successful. The nettles, snow berries and all manner of sturdy brush gained a foothold over the seven graves and I gave up trying to visit Nancy. Recently I went up to the cemetery and this is what I found. Someone had dumped a pile of liquor bottles over what could be graves. Alder Creek has been rocked, so there will be no more washing graves away. Huge alder trees grow along the creek bank and lean heavily over the cemetery. One day the State Fishery Department stopped, looked over the site and decided it would be an ideal spot for some phase of their work, but were soon told it was a burying spot of old pioneers. Few people know it is there. But those of us who do all feel alike: wouldn't it be great to see it restored so future generations can visit Nancy and others who lie in peace along the Skagit?

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Story posted on March 8, 2002 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them

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