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|Dan Harris alone in his canoe, with the old town of Bellingham/Unionville behind him on the flank of Sehome Hill in this Galen Biery photo. Most of the photos on this page can be seen in Biery's book, Looking Back, The Collector's Edition, or at the Whatcom Museum of History and Art; that website link will direct you to information about how you can see the entire collection by appointment and purchase copies. See information below about Ralph Thacker's new website and booklets about Harris and how to obtain them.|
Dan Harris was a product of the days he lived in, and we will never see one like him again. His story should have been written by Bret Harte, and his character and habits remind one very strongly of the picturesque and whimsical people which Harte has preserved for us between the covers of his books.Frank Teck, the Fairhaven Herald editor who wrote a definitive collection of Dan legends and facts in 1903, underscored that point by noting:
There have been several picturesque characters among the pioneers of Bellingham Bay, but by unanimous report the picturesquest of them all was Daniel J. Harris, the original Fairhaven man. There were robust and solitary frontiersmen of singular habits, but singularest among them was Dan Harris of Harris Bay. There were men who affected outlandish dress and who clad themselves in whatever chanced at sun-up, and the outlandishest of these was Dirty Dan of Harris Creek.For this introduction to the Dan Harris section, we tried to boil down the facts into the timeline that we present below. But in this preface we will touch on his character and the elements of his personality that made him into the legend that is annually celebrated in Fairhaven with the Dirty Dan Dan days — April 30 and May 1 in 2011.
Dirty Dan Harris days are scheduled for April 30 and May 1, 2011, in Fairhaven. See our link with details and more links to the full schedule of this festival celebrating the founding of Fairhaven.
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One whole summer [of 1878, not 1872] he worked for Edward Eldridge, and spent the long summer evenings on the beach relating wonderful adventures and sea stories to the fascinated boy, Hugh. In those days his costume, always a conspicuous part of the man, consisted of three items — heavy trousers, a red flannel shirt, always open to expose his hairy chest and heavy "brogans" [heavy, ankle-high work boots]. He wore a grizzly beard and his hair was always long and unkempt. The little girls of the settlement were somewhat afraid of him on account of his rough appearance, but he had always the fascination of mystery for the boys, who used to frequent the haunts he preferred just to hear his tales of travel and adventure, which usually put himself in some ridiculous plight, at which he would laugh more heartily than his hearers.We emphasize strongly here that the modifier, Dirty Dan, was not applied to Harris until just before or certainly after his death. Some assume from all the legends and myths that he was commonly called such during his lifetime, but author Ralph Thacker has researched the extant print record thoroughly and found the first references as to Dan's lack of sanitary concern to a nickname in Los Angeles as "Grease Pot Dan" and an article in Teck's newspaper as "Dirty Dan" in an article of Oct. 25, 1890, after his death.
Harris, with his growing prosperity, began to assume the dress and manners beseeming the owner of a growing town, and his costume was most unique. A fine black broadcloth frock coat and trousers liberally besprinkled with spots and stains, to be sure, heavy brogans with no socks and invariably on the red flannel shirt open in the front. This quaint combination was topped off by a high silk hat, and when a boat was seen approaching a white vest was always added Here at every boat landing would stand Dan Harris, his high silk hat tipped well back on his shaggy gray hair, importantly meeting strangers and standing by to give a hand with the hawser [cable or rope used for mooring or towing a boat], despite his semi-clerical garb.That will help you understand the caricature of Dan that you see in publications, or during the annual festival or in promotional literature. Did Dan understand that he made a caricature of himself? No, Teck explains; Dan was also singularly unaware of such things: "There wasn't anything really funny about Dan Harris that wasn't regarded in dead earnest by Dan himself. One of his familiars tells me that Dan was one of those serio-comic characters who consider that everybody is against them and never recognize any proof to the contrary." In fact, we wonder if Dan may have been singularly shy about being around people when he arrived on Bellingham Bay in 1853 and for the first decade or so afterwards. His friends told Haight:
For many years he lived alone in his little cabin quite far removed from the other settlers on the bay, and he supplied his needs mainly with a little garden, and the game he shot, and the fish he caught . . . Harris was rarely invited to a meal with the early settlers, and for the most part he lived all alone and apart from the rest for many years.There is no sign that he ever socialized with the original families of the Squalicum area, or even with his friend, Charles Donovan and bride, Sarah Crockett, after 1876. The only social activities mentioned in the papers were those at Dan's hotel after 1884. Teck wrote: "Dan was liberal and good-hearted; consequently he was often imposed upon and not at any time unpopular. . . . he was no simple-minded individual, but had some very good ideas about a number of estimable things." Teck also observed that Dan could be selfless:
Another incident of Harris, like the real hero, being on deck in the nick of time, mentioned in the preceding article, was his effort to induce Captain Roeder's young Northern Indian to accompany him to the Cariboo country. A few hours later the young Indian was murdered at the Roeder homestead by Chief Telliskanim of the vengeful Nooksacks . . . .It was Dan Harris, who, in 1859, conveyed the news of the Nooksack Indians' exploit at the old brick house in Whatcom, to Major [Granville O.] Haller at Fort Townsend, and the unexpected suddenness of Major Haller's arrival upon the scene of hostilities was no small compliment to Sailor Harris and his speedy sloop.Finally, we note that Dan also knew to have fun, sometimes at his own expense and pride. Teck wrote:
Besides being a record-breaker as an eccentric character, whose big heart, however, seems nearly always to have been in the right place, Dan Harris was particularly proud of his prowess as a jig dancer and some of the ways of the good old days tell strenuous yarns of the keen rivalry alleged to have existed between Edward Connelly [Dan's father-in-law] and Dan Harris over the disputed championship of the Bay country — but, aside, these wags admit that Connelly, who is still genial and hearty at the age of 86, outclassed good old Dan in the more intricate points of the jigging business, Dan Harris required a considerable amount of judicious nagging before he would consent to go through the motions, but when he did get started he danced all over like a house afire.As you will read in another Teck story, Dan hosted the first prizefight on his claim in 1860. He also hosted the nation's growing favorite sport; baseball had captured the nation's imagination during the Civil War. Harris heard about the new game someplace on one of his many sailing trips and he decided to host the first baseball game on Bellingham Bay. He invited all his manly friends to his beach in the summer of 1875. "Nobody knew a thing about baseball," Mary B. Haight wrote, "but that did not deter the miners from forming themselves into the Black Diamond Baseball club. The hearty laborers from the Sehome Coal Mine fielded a team called the Black Diamonds and the softer, paler clerks and business owners fielded the Wide-awakes. James A. Power, the editor of the first Bay newspaper, the Bellingham Bay Mail (later the Puget Sound Mail in LaConner) volunteered as umpire and soon regretted it because a dispute arose on nearly every play. Just when the players were almost at each other's throats, Dan rolled out a barrel of spirits and soon the game and the arguments were a thing of the past.
|This detailed 1890 drawing of the Fairhaven docks by an artist named Braunhold shows many details that we do not get elsewhere. You can see the docks that supplemented Dan's small one; the spurs of the Fairhaven & Southern Railway; Dan's Northern Hotel in the center right, with Harris Street running alongside up the hill to the brand new Fairhaven Hotel; the railroad trestle across Harris Bay to the little town of old Bellingham, and the many homes on Sehome Hill that had been erected in the year or so before. From the 1891 Fairhaven Illustrated magazine; click on the photo to see a full-sized version.|
"Harris made a trip to Olympia and a friend of his there presented him with two pigs. He did not know what to do with them, but taking them back home with him, he turned them out to rustle for themselves. They grew fat and Harris was at a loss to know how the trick was done until he found them on the tide flats digging clams. This gave him an idea and he followed the pigs as they followed the receding tide. They would dig out two clams and Harris at once appropriate one for his own use, treating the pigs fairly, he explained, by never taking more than he could use between tides . . . . [Dan] located at what afterwards became Fairhaven many years before the coming of [Nelson] Bennett and his Fairhaven Land Company, and in reply to a question from Bennett, [Dan] said that 'at first he did not know how he was going to find stuff enough to live on, but that when the tide went out the table was set.' "When the Fraser River Gold Rush of 1858 attracted thousands of gold-seekers who camped out on Squalicum Beach while awaiting passage to British Columbia, Dan began his smuggling career. He ferried passengers over to Victoria and on the way back, he hauled contraband whiskey, clothes and any other items that could be sold on the Whatcom black market. During the Civil War the economy lagged again and Dan went back to his little farm and garden, and occasionally led pack trains to the miners in the Cariboo district of B.C. In the 1870s, smuggling once again become profitable and Dan once again launched his sloop. Mary B. Haight wrote that during the War, whiskey sold for 50 cents a gallon, but by the '70s the price ranged from $3-6 per gallon.
"Whatcom? Do you know what Whatcom is? It's an ignus fat you-wus-wus (Chinook Jargon), that's what it is. Do you what that means? It means, 'now you've got your hand on it and now you haven't.' It means, 'it's always comin' and never comes!' " [Journal Ed. note: either Haight or Harris was creative with the Jargon or that phrase is a typo because it does not appear in any Jargon dictionary.]One final note about fun in early Fairhaven: no matter how much fun the legend is, no one ever rolled Dan's hotel piano into the Bay. When last seen in the late 1890s, the old music box was slowly rotting away alongside the road to Whatcom, where Dan dumped it after Nelson Bennett refused to pay extra for it during his purchase of the townsite in 1888. You can read about the details of the piano and the hotel in one of Frank Teck's accompanying stories.
|1826 or 1831 or 1832||Dan born Southampton, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York by consensus. Other claimed towns: Bridgehampton, Patchogue, Sag Harbor, all nearby, conflict between land affidavits, census and memory of Harris friend, James H. Taylor. We prefer 1832, as does Thacker.|
|@1841-52 sometime||Various sources, with wildly varying timeline, claim Harris shipped out as early as age 15 as sailor at Sag Harbor, New York, sails on whaling ship. China and Japan by 1850, then Hawaii, Alaska and Victoria, B.C. The early years of this range seem exaggerated.|
|1848||William "Blanket Bill" Jarman camps out at Whatcom Falls and Squalicum Creek with Indian band, quickly moves on to Olympic Peninsula and future Port Townsend|
|@1850-1851||According to his brother, George Harris, Dan deserted the ship, Levant, Master Mercator Cooper, while in Hawaii, eventual passage back to Victoria, B.C.|
|1852 @Oct||William R. Pattle, James Morrison, John Thomas stake claims north to from present Boulevard to about Padden Creek. Union Coal Co. buys northern part, starts village of Unionville|
|1852 Dec 15||Henry Roeder and Russell V. Peabody arrive at Whatcom Falls and decide to build mill there|
|1853 May 23||Hugh and Teresa Eldridge arrive on the Bay from San Francisco|
|1853||Dan settles on what will become Harris Bay, made friends with John Thomas who took donation claim in January 1853 at later-Fairhaven. They built log cabin at future 7th and Harris near Padden Creek|
|1854 April||Alonzo M. Poe surveys early Whatcom plat containing Eldridge, Roeder and Peabody claims|
|1854 May||John Thomas dies on claim. First Whatcom settler funeral. Dan finished cabin, lived there|
|1855 Feb||Maurice O'Connor claims land on the hill east of Thomas/Harris claim. Same year, Dan files for donation land claim on land originally settled by John Thomas; granted in 1868 & 1871.|
|1855||Marks the beginning of Dan's legal problems, as sells "spirituous liquor" to Indians, an official no-no in Washington Territory, which is widely practiced. Scrapes continue through 1867 for this offense and smuggling. (See Thacker for details)|
|Mid-late 1850s||Rigged large sloop, traded all inland waterways, unmolested by Indians from Puyallup to Nootka Sound during 55-56 Indian wars.|
|1858 May||Peak of influx of @10,000 argonauts to what is now Squalicum Flats, camping out on way to Fraser River gold rush in British Columbia|
|1858||During Fraser River gold rush he sold whiskey to miners, ferried them on his scow to Victoria|
|1859||Indians intercepted, tapped barrel, set him adrift naked, then he spiked barrel, made the same Semiahmoos sick|
|1859||When Nooksack Indians launched a raid on the old brick Courthouse in Whatcom in order to release an Indian jailed in connection with a white settler, Dan sailed his sloop to alert Major Granville O. Haller at Fort Townsend, and Major Haller quickly responded with troops on the S.S. Massachusetts gunship|
|1860||Dan hosts first area prizefight on the sand spit on his claim. Tom Sheldon, knocked out by unknown|
|1860||Dan packs supplies to Cariboo Gold Rush in B.C.|
|1861||After 7 years in court, Thomas property sold to Harris "without publication in order to save expenses to the heirs."|
|1861||Bought 43 acres from Americus N. Poe from west boundary of Harris at 7th Street out to waterfront (Poe's Point, later known as Deadman's Point)|
|1861||Dan made enough to sail to San Francisco, went to Salt Lake City, bought 700 sheep, many died on way to CA, more died on freighter to Sehome, more drown upon arrival here; he traded surviving 22 sheep for cayuses for new pack team|
|1862||Sold four acres at Poe's Point to Whatcom County for cemetery, 1888 discovered wrong lots sold|
|1867||Whatcom County Sheriff James Kavanaugh notes in diary that Dan, "a hardened thief," was bailed out of prison by John Davis and Capt. Roeder. And that Sam Brown gave Dan "a beating." (Thacker)
This beautiful early photo of the street called Park Drive, which led into Fairhaven in a quieter, more peaceful time, was featured in the 1891 Fairhaven Illustrated magazine. Click on the photo above to see the full-sized beautiful photograph by an unnamed artist. Magazine from the Bourasaw collection.
|1870||Title finally cleared for Poe acreage, which had been included by original owner Alonzo M. Poe in sale in 1858 of 310 acres to Arthur A. Denny|
|1870 to 1873||Dan Harris and Harry McCue partners in logging camp at mouth of Padden Creek|
|1871||Patent for Thomas land issued to Harris|
|1871 May 16||Seattle interests plat Unionville north of Fairhaven|
|1873||Michael Padden claims land east of hill in Happy Valley, east to Lake Padden. His land borders O'Connor claim and Padden's future father-in-law, Edward Connelly|
|1874, Jan. 10||James Powers's new Bellingham Bay Mail newspaper reported that Dan is preparing to lay out a new town at Harris Bay, mile below Bellingham Bay Coal Co. wharf. If successful, he will build a $50,000 sawmill. (Thacker)|
|1874 July 4||Dan's fashion statement; buys stiff white vest to wear over his red undershirt. Seller: Charles Donovan, telegrapher at Bellingham Coal Company store in Sehome who becomes one of his champions. Thacker cites this year as when Dan first envisioned townsite on his claim. And it was also the year his cabin, a "short distance from Sehome," burned to the ground.|
|1875||Dan cleared trail alone from Sehome to Lake Whatcom for new Blue Canyon coal mine. (Conflict: Teck on April 25, 1903, cited 1877; Thacker cites 1875 from the actual newspaper citation)|
|1878 March||Dan pack train with oxen to Cariboo Mining District BC|
|1878||Dan Clears Edward Eldridge farm north of Squalicum Creek, paid in cattle|
|1880 March 6||Happy Valley neighbor Michael Padden killed by neighbor's child|
|1880||Dan drove cattle to Ruby Creek gold rush camp via old Fraser River trail and down Skagit River, returned 100 miles with all but one because miners broke|
|1882 March||Peak of new settlers on Bellingham Bay, including Kansas Colony|
|1883 Jan 2||Dan platted Fair Haven on Harris Bay|
|1883 April 24||Eldridge and Bartlett plat Unionville as Bellingham, north of Fairhaven|
|1883 June 29||Dan painted new Fairhaven Hotel (later the Northern) erected at northeast corner of 4th & Harris, leased building to James Weed for 3 years. Weed broke the lease later that year after Dan accused Weed of stealing|
|1883||Dan sold $32,000 worth of lots, spent $16,000 on Fairhaven wharf north of his hotel|
|1883||Dan sets aside his shipyard reserve as two blocks, between 3rd and 4th streets from McKenzie Avenue to deep water, but aside from his dock, nothing else done|
|1883 March 4||On President Cleveland's Inauguration Day, James H. Taylor and local Democrats install largest flag and flagpole in U.S. in stop at east end of Dan's hotel|
|1884 June 4||Grand opening for Dan's hotel. Mr. & Mrs. Charles Miller resident managers|
|1884||This year marks end of Dan's promotion of lot sales until 1889 (Thacker)|
|1885||First Fairhaven boom collapses, Dan loans money for interest income|
|1885 Jan. 23||Dan wrote letter to nephew Benjamin Franklin Harris, told him that there are 134 acres in his town site, which were being platted into town lots for sale. He still owned his hotel.|
(Journal Ed. note: this letter and the one below from 1889 were discovered by author Thacker, when he conducted extensive research in court records for his Harris publications, the first of which was published in 2007. Thacker then transcribed the letters and waded through Harris's unique grammar and syntax, quite a chore. Dean Kahn, columnist for the Bellingham Herald, published both letters on Dec. 22, 2007, but due to the redesign of the Herald website, the articles are no longer available. Therefore we have scanned Thacker's translation-transcript of each. For this letter, see. We will provide links to the Kahn columns when they are again available.)
|1885 March 4||Dan and James H. Taylor and Democrat friends hoist the biggest flagpole and flag in the U.S. at his hotel|
|1885 Oct 16||Daniel Jefferson Harris marries Bertha Wasmer at his Fairhaven Hotel|
|1886||Thacker discovered in his research that Mrs. Harris filed for divorce, citing verbal abuse and physical threats|
|1886-87 Winter||The Harrises winter in Los Angeles for health reasons, buys house on Girard Street|
|1887 June||Dan comes back to Fairhaven for the summer, returns to Los Angeles in the fall|
|1888 Spring||Dan returns to Fairhaven for the last time|
|1888 Summer||Dan sells his land to Nelson Bennett, et al, and the Fairhaven Land Co., 1 piece to Nelson Bennett for $50,000 and another to Charles X. Larrabee for $25,000. When Bennett won't pay for Dan's hotel piano, he abandons it on road to Whatcom|
|1888 Nov 18||Bertha died in Los Angeles|
|1888 Nov 26||FLC incorporated in Fairhaven|
|1889 May 11||Nelson Bennett and FLC files amended plat of Fairhaven; within year adds part of old Morrison and Pattle plats north of town except for old Bellingham property sold in early 1890|
|1889 May 16||Dan wrote letter from Los Angeles to nephew Benjamin Franklin Harris, saying that he was ill. He said he owned property in San Bernardino County, in Clearwater, and on Adams Street, near where Dr. Andrew W. Shorb lived. He said he still owned 25 acres in Fairhaven, which we have not yet verified. (Journal Ed. note: For this letter, see.)|
|1889 July||Dan returns to Fairhaven to collect balance of his townsite sale proceeds. Leaves in August or September to Los Angeles for last time. Lives in apartment on 413 S. Spring St.|
|1889 Dec 24||Bennett and Larrabee's Fairhaven & Southern RR opens between Fairhaven and Old Sedro, two years after Dan subscribed $3,000 to Bellingham Bay Railway and Navigation Co.'s competing rail line. (See this Journal website.)|
|1889-90||More than two dozen hotels and boarding houses open in Fairhaven to house the exploding influx of boomers|
|1890 May-July||Dr. Andrew S. Shorb and wife Martha mysteriously transfer Dan's funds to their name|
|1890 July||Court later determines that Dan "was not of sound mind" that summer|
|1890 Aug 18||Dan dies in Los Angeles "dropsy of the heart" One claim of Aug. 17|
|1890 Sep 15||New Fairhaven Hotel opens at northeast corner of Harris and 12th Street|
|1890 Fall||Dan's old hotel renamed "Great Northern," apparently because of the Great Northern tracks running a half block away. The lot in 2007 is the site of present Amtrak depot.|
|1890 Dec 26||James Wardner's First National Bank opens in new Fairhaven Hotel|
|1891 Oct||Dan descendants win suit against Dr. Shorb and wife in Los Angeles for bilking Dan of his fortune|
|1891-2||Dan's old hotel renamed "Old Fairhaven"|
|1892 Dec 10||Nephew Benjamin F. Harris, redeems Harris lots sold at tax sale in 1891|
|1893||Dan's old hotel renamed again to "Northern Hotel", possibly because of the proprietary name of the railroad. Name painted on front of 3rd story, Rates $1.25 day|
|1893 Summer||Appeal by Dr. Shorb in Los Angeles decided in his favor, reversing funds to be repaid|
|1894 Feb 10||Owner of nearby St. Louis Hotel buys the Northern, reopens as boarding house for Chinese laborers|
|1895 Oct 25||5 of Dan's Fairhaven lots valued in 1892 at $23,500 clear probate court, auctioned for $900 cash, result of nationwide Depression|
|1904||Dan's old Fairhaven Hotel "fast falling into decay" moved to 5th & Larrabee, demolished in 1910|
|1906||Pacific American Fisheries plants flower garden on old hotel site, "the first factory to inaugurate civic improvement work," according to Rosamonde Van Miert in Settlers, Structures & Ships of Bellingham Bay.|
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