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Skagit River Journal

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Frank Wilkeson & his 1890s New York columns
about his Washington and Skagit experiences,
and Patricia McAndrew's new book

(Frank middle-age)
Frank in middle age, circa 1883, about the time he first began touring mining camps in the Rockies and the Northwest states for newspaper columns.

      We are proud that one of our goals that we set five years for this website has been accomplished: connecting descendants of our pioneers and discovering material, events and people that has never been recorded before or that have fallen through the cracks of history. But in 2006, one of our special goals was reached: finding photos of Frank Wilkeson; we have been searching for 12 years. Elizabeth Edwards, his great-great-great-granddaughter who lives in Utah, saw our site and was excited that her own search for the roots of her family has been rewarded. Her father is Stephen M. Wheeler, son of Evelyn Smith Wheeler, daughter of Mary Wilkeson Smith, daughter of Bayard Wilkeson, son of Frank Wilkeson. Bayard's wife, Evelyn Miller Wilkeson, was the first white woman to cross the North Cascades on foot, carrying her three-year-old daughter, Mary, papoose-style, on her back. We will share more information shortly.
(Frank Civil war)
Frank as a young Union Army captain in the Civil war, photographed by Matthew Brady, as his father was; see below.

Biography of Frank and his famous family
      Frank Wilkeson was among the first white men to explore and map the Cascade Pass and the mountains that now surround Hwy. 20 in the Cascades. An observer of the Indian tribes such as the Blackfeet and the Nez Perce, he first explored the Okanogan and Yakima Valleys in the 1870s, not long after his father wrote of the North Cascades as a possible route for the Northern Pacific Railroad (NP hereafter) in 1869. Frank was very comfortable riding horseback all over the Rocky Mountains area, Kansas and the Pacific Northwest. He rode the Okanogan plains alone and met with Chief Moses on the Columbia River. Samuel's report, Notes on Puget Sound Being extracts from notes by Samuel Wilkeson, became one of the most famous early pieces of Western promotional literature. In May 1870, Wilkeson accompanied NP field engineer D.C. Linsley as they explored the North Cascades and the Skagit, Sauk and Cascade Rivers.
      Frank was born in Buffalo, New York, on March 8, 1848. He was the youngest son of the journalist, Samuel Wilkeson, and Catharine Cady, who was the sister of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, America's most famous suffragette. He was educated at New London, Connecticut, and in New Hampshire.
      His grandfather, "Judge" Samuel Wilkeson, Sr., was a developer, booster and promoter of Buffalo, New York, and later mayor and was most famous for talking DeWitt Clinton into locating the terminus of the Erie Canal there. He built considerable wealth in shipping, iron foundries, etc., and his next-door neighbor was president Millard Fillmore. The Judge served for several years as General Agent of the American Colonization Society, which had been founded in 1817. He had eight grandsons who served the Union Army in the Civil War.

Civil War author
      Frank was the youngest of the Wilkeson war-cousins and was determined to not miss the action in the war. He ran away from home and joined the Union Army on March 26, 1864, after lying about his real age. Claiming he was an eighteen year old farmer, Wilkeson enlisted in the 11th Battery of New York Light Artillery. He was sent to Northern Virginia where he took part in the military campaign led by General Ulysses S. Grant. He experienced some of the bloodiest battles in the Overland Campaign of 1864. He was later commissioned a second lieutenant in the 4th U. S. Artillery, and eventually breveted captain.
      Frank's oldest brother Bayard was a celebrated hero of the Civil War and was fatally wounded during the battle of Gettysburg in 1863. In command of Battery G, 4th US Artillery, 1st Lt Bayard Wilkeson took his battery's Napoleon guns to Gettysburg on the morning of July 1. He reported to General Francis C. Barlow whose XI Corps division was engaged north of town. Having noted Confederate activity on his right, Barlow dispatched Wilkeson to an elevation that would later be dubbed "Barlow's Knoll." Wilkeson initially deployed along a ridge on which the county poorhouse stood, ahead of federal infantry. Leapfrogging to the knoll's summit, Wilkeson's battery quickly drew fire from Confederate artillery battalions under Lt Col Hilary P. Jones and Lt Col Thomas H Carter. Wilkeson went down "almost at first fire," wounded in his right leg. Witnesses claimed after the war that Bayard continued calling in fire as he lay propped against a tree, in shock. Eleventh Corps artillery chief Major Thomas W. Osborn met Bayard as he was being carried to the rear. "One leg had been cut off at the knee by a cannon shot," he recalled, "I knew at a glance that the wound was fatal." When the XI Corps fled their field, Wilkeson was left behind at the poorhouse, where he died.
      Meanwhile Samuel Wilkeson, father of the Wilkeson brothers, was a battlefield correspondent for the New York Times and reached General Meade's headquarters on the night of July 2, leaning only that his son had been wounded and captured. He found out about his son Bayard's death and recovered his body after federal forces regained the battlefield. Before returning to Buffalo with the remains, he wrote a stirring account of the battle while sitting near his son's open grave. That report, Samuel Wilkeson's Thrilling Word Picture Of Gettysburgh, was printed in the Times. Frank was commissioned June 21, 1864, in the 4th US Artillery after his father used his influence to have his son's orders delivered in the field. He was sent to Washington and later he later served with a unit guarding prisoners in Elmira. Frank left the army in March, 1866.
      While living in New York in the mid-1880s, Frank Wilkeson completed a book about his own service that has become one of the most quoted accounts of the Civil Wars, and has been reprinted at least three times: Turned Inside Out: Recollections of a Private Soldier in the Army of the Potomac, first published in 1887. A copy is available in the Sedro-Woolley library. Some question the factual narrative of the book, but we realize that he created composites of characters to illustrate his broad points about the war and his own anti-authoritarian streak. McAndrew notes that when William Dean Howells reviewed the book, he praised it highly and saw certain aspects of Tolstoi in the work. Considering that Frank had very little education in the liberal arts after secondary school, he seems to have had a natural ability to write, as did his father.
      Running against the grain of glorious accounts of battle, his book was in the Stephen Crane mold. In the introduction to a recent edition, editor James McPherson wrote: "[The memoir is] unlike most others by Civil War Veterans who tended to romanticize and sometimes glorify the experiences they went through .  .  .  . His emphasis on the seamy, unheroic, horrific side of war is a healthy corrective to romanticism."
      After the war his father continued as a correspondent but also branched out in publishing. He was what we would now call a networker in business, introducing people behind the scenes and setting up business relationships from which he would profit. He began his association with railroads in 1869-1870 and was later secretary to the board of the Northern Pacific Railway in their drive to extend a transcontinental line to West Coast. During that same period, Frank Wilkeson worked as a mining engineer in Pennsylvania. Frank married Mary Cecilia (nee Crouse) in 1869, and she remained in Johnstown, Pennsylvania while he rode through the mountains and the range, exploring for minerals. In 1871 the couple moved to Gypsum, Kansas, where they operated a large cattle ranch and wheat farm. The farm was already in family hands and Frank bought it outright in 1872. His wife and family lived there off and on for at least the next 50 years.

Northwest exploration

Patricia's collection of Wilkeson columns, The Old Soldier Goes Fishing, will be published in the 2012-13 period. For more details about ordering the book, please see this site

      Frank's father helped promote the Pacific Northwest for NP in 1869, but Frank did not travel here until a year later, when he assisted NP surveyor D.C. Linsley in exploring the Skagit River, North Cascades and Lake Chelan for a possible route for the planned Northern Pacific transcontinental train. In 2001, Patricia McAndrew found an especially interesting detail about Frank's ability as an explorer and prognosticator when she researched his life:
      I have found that the year after Frank was an assistant on the Linsley expedition, he, as Mining Engineer for the Northern Pacific, led his own expedition into the Rocky Mountains to report on the coal and iron resources and farming lands along a proposed route. I was delighted to find that his writing style was already emerging at age 23. I love one sentence in his conclusion: "The routes have been surveyed by this time, and I have no doubt the best line is settled in your mind now. But here are my ideas of it: If a Missouri Line is desirable, go up the Marias River, cross the range via Marias Pass, come down the Flathead River, along the shore of Flathead Lake, down the Clarke's Fork of the Columbia, and cross the Columbia Plains. . . ."
      That, of course, was the general route that James J. Hill chose for his Great Northern transcontinental line two decades later. Not a bad suggestion for a young man. Back in Kansas in the 1870s, Frank became known for his writing in regional and national newspapers and the Harper's New Monthly Magazine, which was the leading periodical at the time. He, along with others, warned in 1886 that ranchers were overgrazing and that "they [cowboys] are passing away. Farms will soon cover the regions where their cattle wander at will, and they and all pertaining to them will become things of the past."
      A frontier newspaper called The Record filled nearly the entire front page with a long, bleak warning by Frank in 1887, whom they called "A well-known correspondent from Colorado." We know that he was engaged in placer and quartz mining in the Rocky Mountains during that time. Sometime in the late 1870s or mid-'80s he began writing columns for Charles Dana and the New York Sun.

Town of Wilkeson, Washington
      In his 1869 report of the Cascades mountain range, Frank's father, Samuel, wrote: "these forests of trees — so enchain the senses of the grand and so enchant the sense of the beautiful that I linger on the theme and am loathe to depart — surpassing the woods of all the rest of the globe . . . ." Like many writers of that time, Samuel indulged in hyperbole, but his love of the Cascades seems very genuine. Sometime in the period of 1876-78, four large coal veins were discovered and mined near a region known as Carbonado in the Cascade foothills. A small village formed and was named for Samuel after NP extended a rail line there from Tacoma in 1877. He was appointed secretary of the NP board in March 1869. The area became well known for its coal coking ovens as well as the natural sandstone formations that were the source of material for facing the new capitol in Olympia. At one time the town of Wilkeson had a population of about 3,000, but today it hovers around 400. Many of the same principals of the Wilkeson operation built the coking ovens at Cokedale, about 80 miles north in Skagit County, which led to the creation of the town of Sedro, now Sedro-Woolley. As far as we can determine, neither Frank nor any member of his family actually ever lived in the namesake town, but his brother, Samuel G. Wilkeson, invested substantially in coal companies that operated there.
      Frank gravitated to Skagit County himself in the mid-to-late 1880s. By that time he had written many columns for the New York Sun, and the New York Times, which was then a serious competitor with the Sun. Thanks to Patricia McAndrew, we have dozens of his columns, many of which describe his experiences in the Skagit Valley and the North Cascades and his extensive hunting and fishing trips, often with his son Samuel. His detailed descriptions of fly fishing, riding horses through the wilderness and appraising mine ventures are breathtaking in their scope as well as sometimes funny as can be. As was the custom back in those post-civil war days, he was addressed as Colonel. In fact his obituary calls him that. He refers to that form of address humorously in some of this sketches.
      Frank's father died in 1889 but by then another Wilkeson was investing financially in the Puget Sound: Samuel Gansevoort Wilkeson, Frank's older brother. Samuel G. first came to Tacoma in 1873, the year that town was chosen as the terminus for the Northern Pacific. He was a contemporary of Tacoma boomer Leonard Howarth and became wealthy in his activities with the same companies as Howarth — the St. Paul & Tacoma Lumber Co. and the Wilkeson Coal & Coke Co. That company mined coking coal in the town of Wilkeson, the town near Enumclaw that was named to honor Frank's and Sam's father.
      In 1891 Frank opened a store for miners on Bridge Creek near Stehekin, which his son Bayard later operated until it closed during the 1890s Depression. In that period after the Ruby Creek gold rush, miners were pressing into the foothills on both sides of the Cascades, mainly looking for placer gold, but also using hydraulic methods in some places. We know from records in the Military Order of the Loyal Legion that he listed his residence as Hamilton. He was a signatory on the incorporation papers for Hamilton in 1891. When the Stehekin mining store failed, Frank's son Bayard and his wife Evelyn walked back to Hamilton over the Cascade Pass — Evelyn being the first white woman to do so, and carrying her three-year-old daughter, to boot. They joined Frank at the ranch that he bought east of Hamilton. Frank's wife and his son Sam occasionally lived with him at the Hamilton ranch, but we know from newspaper articles that the family most often lived at the Fairhaven Hotel in old Fairhaven on Bellingham Bay from 1892 to at least 1898. Although the family traveled back and forth between Kansas and Washington before 1892, he used Fairhaven as the base from which he launched his short-lived career as a representative to the state legislature. While there, he generally raised hell and tweaked the railroad concerns, but he lost in his attempt at reelection in 1898.
      By the turn of the century, Frank's interests seem to have turned back to the Midwest, where he invested in wheat acreage. From then until his death, he traveled less often to the Pacific Northwest, but vacationed at Lake Chelan. We know from a 1906 Bellingham Herald article that he visited Sedro again, and the article described how he was on hand in the boom years of Sedro in 1889-92, when Norman P. Kelley, Albert G. Mosier and Junius Brutus Alexander platted and developed the town of new-Sedro for the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern Railway. That article, in fact, was how we first learned of Colonel Frank, when Mortimer Cook's granddaughter, the late Barbara Budlong Taggart, gave us a copy of the 1906 column when we visited her in Rockford, Illinois, in 1993, the second year of our research project. Seven years later the Internet connected us with Patricia McAndrew, an author who lives in Pennsylvania who was also researching Wilkeson and since then we have collaborated..
      Frank died in April 22, 1913 while visiting Chelan. Mary died on Feb. 5, 1918, in Gypsum, Kansas. We will have much more to say about Frank Wilkeson and his family in the future.

Col. Frank Wilkeson Dies at Chelan Hotel
Veteran engineer, who first saw Lake Chelan thirty years ago, ends his days on its shores
Chelan newspaper, week of April 22, 1913
      Col. Frank Wilkeson died at Hotel Chelan on Tuesday evening, April 22, at 10:30 o'clock, the cause of death being diabetes and a complication of diseases. He came here several weeks ago expecting to spend the summer here for his health, but the disease had too firm a hold on his system and he grew steadily worse until the end.
      With him at the time of his death were his wife and two sons, Sam Wilkeson of Gypsum, Kansas, and Bayard Wilkeson of St. Paul, Minnesota. The sorrowing family left this morning with the remains for Gypsum, the family home, where his body will be interred.
      Col. Wilkeson has long been a familiar figure about Lake Chelan. He came here first about thirty years ago at the head of a Northern Pacific surveying crew when that road was looking for a route through the Cascades. Having been impressed with the beauty of the lake country he returned here eight or ten years later, when the mining industry had its first boom in the Stehekin Cascades and conducted a miners' supply store at Bridge creek. Since then he has frequently visited the lake and spent a portion of the summer season there. He was sixty-five years of age.

Mathew Brady
(Samuel Wilkeson, Frank's father, pre-Civil War)
This is a photo of Frank Wilkeson's father, Samuel Wilkeson Jr., taken in 1859 by Alexander Gardner, assistant to famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.

      After learning the daguerreotype process from Samuel F. B. Morse and John William Draper, Mathew Brady (1823--1896) opened a daguerreotype studio in New York City, and was soon one of the city's leading portrait photographers. Brady employed a number of camera operators, including Alexander Gardner who is attributed with making this portrait. The Brady Studio made and exhibited pictures of the nation's most prominent figures, including the president, military leaders, businessmen, artists, and writers. Brady usually took credit for the photos, but in fact executed few of the portraits himself
      Among the photos was one of Samuel Wilkeson (1817-1889), a journalist who worked for Horace Greeley's New York Tribune at the time he was photographed. Later, Wilkeson, like Brady, followed the events of the Civil War, traveling with the Army of the Potomac as a reporter for the New York Times. He arrived at Gettysburg late on July 2, 1863, only to discover his oldest son among the fallen. His dispatch was written on July 4, fashioned as a eulogy over his son's grave: "My pen is heavy. Oh! You dead at Gettysburg have baptized with your blood the second birth of freedom in this country."
      We refer you to the wonderful Smithsonian collection of images and those of Brady specifically. We learn the following from the Brady exhibit:
      Brady photographed and collected portraits of well-known Americans to create a "National Gallery of Representative Americans." Being photographed in the style that Brady might have used for President Lincoln ensured the subject of membership in a larger historical enterprise. This photograph is a salted paper print, 47 x 36.2 cm (18 1/2 x 14 1/4 in.). It is from the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; the museum purchase was made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment.

Frank Wilkeson columns
      Now, let's read Frank's columns. We also hope that you will share scans of hunting and fishing photos with us, especially if they are from before World War II. The late Howard Miller, Bud Meyer and Cecil Jordan would have been in heaven on earth tying flies with them and "swapping spit" on overcast fall days. We can just imagine Frank's reaction if he had lived here nearly a century later when Washington state almost chose Grandy Lake and Minkler Lake as sites for a nuclear plant. If you like his writing as much as we do, you may find yourself thinking that he and his son, Samuel, are still alive, telling you about the joy they felt. You may hear the swoop of the eagle's wings and see the dolly varden trout gulping as they break the surface of creeks. Bet you can't read just one column.
      See a list of links to all of Frank Wilkeson's columns on our site.

Links, background reading and sources

Story posted on Jan. 1, 2001, last updated March 1, 2006, transferred to this domain July 13, 2009
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