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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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George Bacon and Eastern capital
Booming and Panicking on Puget Sound

(Clear Lake Ferry)
This photo, circa 1906, shows the kind of gravity-powered ferry that Bacon and friends rode across the Skagit river at various points. This ferry connected residents on the south shore with Sedro on the north. See the cables to the right that kept the ferry at the proper angle as the current pushed it to the opposite shore. Since the current is moving the ferry to the left, or west, we infer that the structure on the opposite shore is either one of the buildings on Joseph Hart's homestead on the north shore or one of the buildings of John Munro's Grand Rapids mill, which located in that region. See the map below that shows the original crossing of the private ferry that Albert E. Holland opened sometime soon after 1886 at a spot almost due south from the Rotary BBQ Pits at Riverfront Park

(Holland Sedro ferry)
      We recommend a fine, rare reprinted memoir of one of the people who helped settlers finance their homesteads and farms, George H. Bacon's Booming and Panicking on Puget Sound, [Bellingham, Washington: Pioneer Press, 1970.] As his daughter notes in the introduction, Bacon arrived at the town of Whatcom at the age of 22 in 1889.
      He was both clever and delighted with the spirit and elan of the rough-and-ready residents of the Northwest. After engaging in creative tideland claims on Bellingham bay with his hearty friends, he showed immense fortitude in enabling farms to emerge from the wilderness and raising money for roads to replace the crude logging trails. In between his real estate investments, he wrote to eastern clients of the Illinois loan firm he had worked for while attending college.
      His letter prompted a visit by the company president who knew his family. The executive was both amused and convinced enough in the area's grand future to give Bacon a new agency and an order for $100,000 in loans. He chose the Nooksack Valley and delta land of the Skagit to be his initial market for agricultural loans. There was still no wagon road to Skagit, and the Puget Sound was the only highway, so he took a sternwheeler to LaConner.
      He hired an Indian pony and to the old road along the farmers' dikes to Mount Vernon — which was by then the county seat — via pleasant Ridge. When he arrived in Mount Vernon, a June freshet had just started with the river filled with logs floating loose.
      He noted that Mount Vernon was actually just a small fringe of shack hotels on the river bank with scattered houses on the hillside above and a wooden Odd Fellows' Hall used as a court house. There he met the county auditor, Dr. Horace P. Downs, an old timer who came here from Boston in 1877, twelve years after earning his medical degree from Bowdoin college. Downs took a fancy to the young man, opening many doors for him and outlining the rough settlements and surveys to that time.
      At the Washington Hotel he was a curiosity. Although he had considerable experience, he looked 16, and the salty pioneers considered him to be a freak and maybe crazy. Opportunity soon came knocking, however, when the steamer Henry Bailey arrived that night with two ranchers on way to their holdings. Each requested a $3,000 loan. One rancher was Amasa Peg-Leg Everett, our favorite one-legged pioneer, who settled the Baker River area after discovered coal near Hamilton in 1874-75. Bacon was immediately taken with him and started a business relationship that continued many years.
      He was less impressed with Lafayette Stevens, who bent the law a bit more than Bacon thought necessary. Stevens discovered the coal vein that resulted in Nelson Bennett's Cokedale mines near Woolley. Regardless of how he felt about Stevens, he saddled up with him the next morning and rode upriver with him. Bacon noted that they ferried across the Skagit river and then rode through the most wonderful fir and cedar timber he had ever seen. He also noted that the only wagon road ran 30 miles upriver, and then a crude trail started. They then forded the Baker river and stayed at Everett's ranch, which was already completely cleared of stumps.
      He was only halfway to his destination. The next morning they rode 40 miles further to Stevens' ranch on Sauk prairie, and along the way they had to swim their horses across the Skagit at the mouth of the Sauk river. After riding all around the upriver area Bacon returned to Mount Vernon and met with Downs again who opened up the county files for his new young friend. He made a $3,000 loan to Everett only. Meanwhile he made careful notes about the available timberland. He noted that only fir had real value at the time; even the finest cedar was overlooked and smashed up, slashed and burned. He observed that the cedar later proved to be the salvation of the Northwest timber country during the 1893 panic.

"To trust is to bust/ To bust is hell/ No trust no bust/ No bust no hell."
      The Washington Hotel was a wonder to him. He noticed that everyone seemed to drink a lot at the hotel bar, over which hung this motto: "To trust is to bust/ To bust is hell/ No trust no bust/ No bust no hell." Adam [Adelbert] Ford and Billy Murdock owned the lodging. Ford would open a tavern in old Woolley the next year in partnership with a man named Henry Hosch. Murdock was one of the first developers in old Woolley, starting in 1890, and was one of the town's first mayors in the early 1890s.
      The most beloved boarder of the hotel was Bill Hayton, a candidate for representative, who "ginned up" the house and passed out cabbage-leaf cigars. Bacon initially refused the proffered cigar, explaining that he couldn't vote for Hayton back in Whatcom. After being derided as one who didn't understand local rituals, Bacon gladly accepted the cabbage cigars on future trips.

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We recently visited our newest sponsor, Plumeria Bay, which is based in Birdsview, just a short walk away from the Royal family's famous Stumpranch, and is your source for the finest down bedding. See our Journal feature on this local business and learn more details and how to order items at their website.

      Ford . . . ambled over to my table one night to explain to me the cause and amount of all this social drinking around there. Adam was himself well mellowed, as usual, and possessed furthermore a very loose set of false teeth that interfered greatly with his pronunciation.
      "Bacon," he said, "I want you to know that I used to be jus' as nice a man and jus' as respec'able a man as you are. But we started this place an' I had to get out with the boys an' carouse around an' raise hell. An' I ruin my health. An' I ruin my reppitation. An' I had to do it, — (long thoughtful pause) — because we needed the money."

      Bacon wanted customers who needed the money. He also admired the long-timers of five years residence or more, who shared both great optimism in the territory and displayed ruddy good health, which Bacon attributed to the climate's health-preserving qualities. There is no malaria here, he noted, and every stream of the state has fresh water. He especially loved the story of 85-year-old Erastus Bartlett who fell off the steamer State of Washington and swam all the way ashore, without even losing his favorite umbrella. Bacon became a conduit for eastern capital in the Skagit Valley, going out of his way to seek mortgage capital for farmers who were honest and hard workers.
      His own stamina was severely challenged in the next few years as he loaned to farmers all over the Skagit Valley. He worked both counties both on horse and foot, spending two thirds of his time in Skagit. His favorite Indian pony became very expert at keeping his footing over the corduroy roads where the embedded logs floated in mud for at least six months of the year. His small stock of capital at the beginning meant that he had to work very quickly. Every 6 months he packed up his mortgages and traveled back to New York and New England to peddle them to financial houses, pay up his prior loans, and then get new orders and customers for mortgages. By 1893 his business was booming when the bottom fell out of the market as a financial panic equal to the 1930s Depression set in and his Eastern money completely stopped. Bacon noted that nearly every bank in the Puget Sound failed or was considerably weakened during that Depression, including all the banks of Whatcom, which failed rapidly over just a few months. One bank that held on and stayed open, however, and even came out even stronger by 1896 was C.E. Bingham and Co. in new Sedro. A year later, Bingham moved his bank to downtown Woolley that year in league with his sidekick, druggist A.E. Holland. Bacon's cousin Henry Bacon designed the Lincoln Memorial and designed George and Mabel Bacon's home at 2001 Eldridge as a wedding gift. It still stands in Bellingham.

Links, background reading and sources
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Story posted on Dec. 29, 2003, moved to this domain Jan. 15, 2012
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This article originally appeared in Issue 17 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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