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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

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
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The Calhoun brothers of LaConner
Farmer Sam, the first Swinomish settler,
Farmer Tom and Doctor George, and Michael
Sullivan, who settled on the Flats the same time as Sam

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2004
(Dr. Calhoun)
Dr. George V. Calhoun

      Sam Calhoun was one of four brothers who emigrated to the Northwest after a childhood in Albert county, New Brunswick, Canada, which was a cradle for many Washington territory pioneers. Sam made quite a mark on the Swinomish flats as one — maybe the first — of the permanent settlers on what became mainland Skagit county. At least he was in a handful of the first farmers there, and his brother, George V. Calhoun, later made an impact as a doctor in LaConner and in other areas around the state.
      You can read about Sam's adventure in tilling and diking the flats in our companion website that transcribes the settlement chapter from the 1906 Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties [hereafter referred to as the 1906 Book]. Basically we know that in 1863 he was 33 and worked as a ship carpenter for the Thomas Cranney and Lawrence Grennan mill and shipbuilding yards at Utsalady. One day that spring he decided to paddle in a canoe over to the Swinomish slough with an Indian to guide him. He then "ascended Sullivan slough following the right-hand branch," until he reached Pleasant Ridge, on the north side of the north fork of the Skagit river. Sometime later he wrote: "1 was fairly delighted with the prospect. I thought it the most beautiful sight that I had ever beheld. 'Here,' I said to myself, 'is a country within range of my vision that will support a million people. Here is my home where I shall spend the remainder of my life.' " After planting a garden on his squatter's claim, he returned to Utsalady to work three or four weeks, but he was determined to settle near the slough permanently, so he returned to the mainland.

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      Sam was familiar with diking marshland from his childhood days in at Hopewell Cape in New Brunswick and he decided to settle on an open area he spotted from the treetops. The slough was later named for another worker at the mill complex, Michael Sullivan, age 35, who was making similar trips over to the mainland. Although he and Sullivan may have known each other mill, Sam recalled for the 1906 Book that he did not realize that Sullivan was also exploring the marshland of the Skagit river delta until he encountered him on another slough sometime that year. Sam explained that it was not surprising that they had not crossed paths because the many sloughs in the area formed a maze that was so complex that it was favored by smugglers who evaded the authorities. Sullivan's biography pre-Swinomish is a bit of a puzzle. The 1906 Book profile indicates that he was born in Massachusetts but in the 1860 census at Utsalady he is 28 and a native of Nova Scotia, the same birthplace he gave in the 1870 census. According to the 1906 Book he was orphaned when very young and sailed to California as a cabin boy. Sometime in the late 1850s he wound up at the Utsalady mill and worked as a barrel cooper. When John Conrad was a young boy, Sullivan told the future historian that he spent a harrowing 112 days in a schooner around Cape Horn on his trip to California as a boy. Considering their impact on the area, we really know very little about how these two men interacted over their 20-plus years as neighbors. Their only common threads that we know of are that they were both of Irish descent, both worked at the same mill and both saw the same light at the end of the same tunnel.

Who was first on the flats?
      No one has established which of the two men was the first to plant a crop at Swinomish. Sam did not claim to be the first and by 1906, Sullivan's memory was failing at age 78. Researcher Tom Robinson explains that the slough where the two mill-workers met was what settlers later named Little Sullivan slough. The stream was then barely navigable and it fed into the larger Sullivan slough. Today it is now just a ditch on the east side of the LaConner-Whitney road. Although the 1906 Book suggests that two other immigrants from New Brunswick may have tried to plant crops earlier in the same area around the north fork of the Skagit river, Robinson discounts that hypothesis. He has studied all the available documents for several years in preparation for his own upcoming book about western Skagit county and he finds that the 1906 Book theory was based solely on the memory of South fork settler Thomas P. Hastie Jr. Robinson is inclined to think that the other visitors to the Delta in the early-to-mid-1860s were probably just visitors, maybe just exploring or picnicking as recreation. We know that during the brief Fraser river gold rush of 1858, Major J.J. Van Bokkelen led a small expedition up the Skagit to look for placer gold. But like many others, they encountered the two century-old logjams near future Mount Vernon that blocked any settlement beyond that for the next two decades. The tentative exploration by Calhoun and Sullivan was apparently the first serious step towards settlement since Indian hostilities halted a 1855 attempt by Winfield S. Ebey from Whidbey island. You can read about that attempt in Theresa Trebon's book, First Views, which is still for sale.
      Robinson's conclusion makes sense because the 1906 Book also points out that early settlers faced constant ridicule from farmers who were based on other islands of the San Juan archipelago. The Skagit river delta posed the same problem for farmers as did the Benelux countries of Europe. Saltwater from Skagit bay often leached onto the soil of the delta that we now call Fir island and the Swinomish flats and made it inhospitable to crops. But apparently Sam Calhoun and Mike Sullivan did not listen to the scoffers and they experimented, building dikes to protect their small plots of cropland where they squatted and preempted land, waiting for an official government survey to legalize their claims. On page 101 of the 1906 Book, Miss Linda Jennings later wrote:

      Before anyone located here, the settlers of Fidalgo island used to visit the Swinomish in summer and cut the wild grass for hay. The first settlers were the objects of much ridicule from their friends in the neighboring settlements. When we consider the great dikes that must be built around their claims we can understand why it seemed an almost impossible task.

Mainland settlement begins

This story was totally updated in 2006, with photographs and documents, courtesy of Calhoun/Shields descendants Dave and (the late) Margaret Henley. You may ask why we have not posted photos of Sam Calhoun brothers and Michael Sullivan. We are embarrassed to admit that we have none. We strongly urge any family member or descendant of an old-timer family who have such photos to either mail us a copy or send us a scan so we can make this article more complete.

      In that first summer and fall of 1863, Sam Calhoun overcame both the initial hostility of Indians who claimed the land where he grew his vegetables, and a near shipwreck of his canoe when he transported lumber for a primitive lean-to on his claim. In the spring of 1864, the two men returned again and this time they diked sixty acres on Sullivan's claim. We must remember that this is before there was a community on either the area that would become the mainland of Skagit county or even Fidalgo island, northwest of where the two men were working. Alonzo Low established the first trading post in the area — probably on the west shore of the Swinomish slough, in the spring of 1867. Up until then, Utsalady was the source of both goods and mail and it was a few-hours row away to the southwest on Camano island.
      The first influx of settlers peaked in 1870, when John S. Conner and his wife set up a store at what is now the town of LaConner, the town on Swinomish slough that he soon named for his wife, Louisa Ann. Sam Calhoun's younger brother Tom staked a claim north of Sam on the Swinomish flats in 1870, close to what is now the McLean road. He and his wife, Mary, moved up to LaConner from California in July 1870, after a short stay with brothers George and Rufus in Port Townsend. They lost their first four children as infants and it was a sad time all around. February 1876, by scow, landing at Snakelum Point, a couple miles from Coupeville. For the first five years on the mainland, they toughed it out, farming on the flats and two boys soon joined their surviving girl. Historian John Conrad wrote in 1953 that the McLean road was preceded by a crude trail that was blazed in 1877 by Hiram E. Wells, the pioneer settler of the Ridgeway district who was also from New Brunswick. Conrad recalled stories from his childhood at the turn of the century that the original trail closely followed the slough banks for much of the way and stretched for 4 1/2 miles from the Isaac Jennings farm to the bend of the Skagit river at Mount Vernon. Tom Robinson noted that the last part of the road was constructed in 1898-99 and soon extended as a gravel road all the way to what is now Peth's Corner. The road's namesake was Mount Vernon capitalist George McLean.

You needed a strong back and iron will to be a settler back then

(LaConner waterfront 1873)
      This is the LaConner waterfront in 1872 or 1873; we are looking east. The photo was loaned by Mr. and Mrs. Francis Tillinghast for the fine book, Chechacos All, which is still for sale in reprint at the LaConner Historical Museum. From the caption: "Note the two-masted schooner at the dock. Sailing vessels found the narrow channel difficult to navigate, so most ships which came were sternwheelers."

      Work was backbreaking in those early days. Sam used his skills learned as a young man in New Brunswick to build a flat-bottom schooner named the Shoo-Fly that the new settlers used to transport goods and lumber over from the mill. The boat was a main source of income for Sam, as Tom Robinson explains. "He was in the transport business, going around the north Sound, getting business wherever it could be found." Blanket Bill Jarman, the original settler of both Whatcom and Edison also derived most of his initial income from such a boat, as did Henry Roeder of Whatcom, who turned out to be a master boat-builder.
      Sam's boat trips probably seemed like respites from the scything of grain crops by hand. They harvested their crops that way until 1876 when Sam finally brought a steam thresher to the flats. In 1869, for instance, Sam went to Whidbey island and brought back men, horses and a primitive machine to thresh their crops. Sullivan's crop was threshed first, then Calhoun's, then Dodge's. Calhoun got 1,200 bushels of barley from 21 acres, and the others had similar returns, so the delta began showing just what could be produced. There was a steady market for grain for the horses and oxen that were used for power in the logging camps all around the sound.
      Since the early delta settlers had neither oxen nor horses yet, they used shovels and wheelbarrows to dig ditches and canals at low tide when saltwater wasn't pushing up the slough. John Conrad, who grew up in that area a generation later, recalled that early settlers built dikes that way that were eight feet wide at the base and four feet high. Behind the dike, the settlers dug a trench and fashioned sluice boxes under the levee to help drain water from the fields. In that first decade, Calhoun and Sullivan helped each newcomer dike around his claim. By the early 1870s, Sam filed papers for a 160-acre claim that Robinson thinks was down what is now called Ring lane, about a mile east of the LaConner-Whitney road and just north of Sullivan slough. Ring lane was originally designated Calhoun road by Whatcom county in 1878. Sam wrote in 1906 that he chose for his homesite an old Indian encampment that was close to Sullivan slough but above the tides, a "garden spot" of 3/4 acre, where he grew potatoes and garden seeds from Utsalady. Sullivan produced more bumper crops in 1870-71 that attracted more emigrants — from as far away as Pennsylvania, who arrived and settled in the marshland around Padilla bay.
      Although crops were steady every year and the climate favored their efforts, the early settlers soon learned that the river itself and the bay could be their enemies. Tom Calhoun was quoted in the Bellingham Bay Mail of Oct. 25, 1873, about the results of his work and his predictions for the future. But a disastrous flood followed that winter and then on Jan. 18, 1874, a famous high tide destroyed dikes and dams from Padilla down to the delta. Pioneer Joe Sharfenberg told historian John Conrad that when he came to LaConner in 1875 with just $7 in his pocket, only five farms had working dikes and they were small ones. The settlers had to regroup and repeat their original efforts, this time planning their dikes to protect longer stretches of acreage. Tom and Mary Calhoun had enough of their battle with the river by 1875, however, so in February 1876 the family of five loaded their possessions on an old scow and headed across Skagit bay to a new farm near Snakelum Point, two miles from Coupeville. The move turned out to be propitious and the couple soon became fixtures on Whidbey island. She became known as Aunt Mary and they added three more children, all of whom survived.
      The sorely vexed farmers on the mainland spent a lot of 1874 repairing their dikes and did not produce their normally prodigious crop until 1875. By 1875, Sam amassed 270 acres of farmland and his brother, Dr. George V. Calhoun, 160 acres, according to the 1906 Book, which also noted that both farms were "well diked and cultivated." The year 1876 again brought a tremendous crop. Eldridge Morse visited the flats from Snohomish City that winter and reported in his Northern Star newspaper on Dec. 16, 1876: "Robert Kennady, foreman of Samuel Calhoun's ranch, made an affidavit that 160 acres of land yielded over 1,000 bushels of oats, and another field of 23 acres yielded over 2300 bushels." From 1876-78, a young Swedish immigrant named J.O. Rudene helped build substantial dikes for Sam's property; he would later go on to own most of the northern end of Pleasant Ridge.
      In 1878, Whatcom county formed the first official school district in LaConner. The first public school was established in 1873 in a house on the Isaac Jennings farm northeast of town. The new district also conducted school on the Jennings place but it was initially called the Calhoun school for a short time. It soon became known as the Jennings school and stayed by that name even after Skagit county was organized in November 1883 and the new county changed the official name to the Grovedale district. Tom Robinson notes that the school was located "a little way down the Peter Downey Road, probably on McCormick Slough, but in a few years was moved to the Peth's Corner site [corner of the present McLean road], where it remained until 1923. That's where the Puget Power transformer is now."

The Calhouns of New Brunswick
(George Calhoun house)
Drawing of George Calhoun's house at Port Townsend, where they lived circa 1866-76. You can read more details about it at this fine website

      Dr. George V. Calhoun moved his family up to LaConner from Seattle sometime in 1879-80. If Samuel Calhoun was one of the key figures in Skagit valley history, Dr. George was one of the most important figures in Washington territory and state medical circles, as well as having an impact on LaConner. The first reference to him in the 1906 Book after the 1876 acreage is an attempt by J.J. Conner, John's cousin, to interest George in the ore he discovered on Iron Mountain while mining coal on nearby Coal Mountain, across the Skagit from Hamilton, in the 1870s. J.J. showed him steel that was manufactured from the iron ore and the doctor may have been impressed, but Conner's battles over title to his mineral claims forestalled any development of the iron.
      Sam, George and Tom, the brothers who wound up in LaConner, were all born in Hopewell Cape, Albert county, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1830, 1837 and 1839 respectively. George was given the middle name, Villiers, for a town in Wales. The oldest child of the family, brother Rufus, was born in 1828 and followed his father to the sea early on. He sailed to California on a fishing schooner in 1853 and then sailing to Puget sound and other ports. In Elwood Evans's 1889 book, The History of the Pacific Northwest, we find that George [Villiers Calhoun] "was born October 19, 1837, his parents being John and Mary (Brewster) Calhoun. When he was but a small boy, he moved with his parents to the sunny South, locating in Maryland. His father, being a shipowner and seafaring man, was stricken, while on a voyage to the Bermudas, with yellow fever, from which he died [on Aug. 22, 1843]. Our subject, with his widowed mother, then moved to East Boston, and a few years alter was placed in the excellent Horton Academy, Nova Scotia, where he remained until 1857."
      Robert Calhoun Ed of Livingston, Texas, [hereafter Bob Ed] is a seventh generation descendant of family patriarch Thomas Calhoun and has been a tremendous resource for family specifics ever since we found him almost by accident on the Web. He has compiled the genealogy of the family back in New Brunswick and has collected family documents along with corresponding with other descendants. In his book, The Descendants and Ancestors of Thomas Calhoun of Albert County, Bob Ed says that the family descended from John Cohoon, who immigrated from County Donegal, Ireland, about 1714 and wound up in Chester county, Pennsylvania. He had a son named Thomas Calhoun who was born there in 1735. Thomas became a licensed Indian trader at a "trading post near Tuscarawas in present-day Ohio. He was closely associated with Fort Pitt and the British Army officers who served in that region. In 1765, Thomas went to Cumberland County, Nova Scotia (New Brunswick) to manage a large land grant along the south bank of the Petitcodiac River in what is now Albert County, New Brunswick. The land was granted to British officers in lieu of unpaid wages and was intended for emigrants from the American colonies down south. He married Rachael Peck, daughter of Abel Peck there in 1768." The tie between the Calhouns and Pecks of LaConner goes back many generations. We mentioned early on that New Brunswick and Albert county was a cradle for Skagit valley pioneers, including: Harris and Susan Peck, Hiram Wells and Newton Turner from Albert county. [You can read the complete list of settlers from that area at our Journal website.]
      The Cape is on the Bay of Fundy, which Bob Ed notes has the strongest tide current in the world. The Calhouns naturally took to the sea for four generations. Capt. John Calhoun was a third-generation descendant of Thomas. He married his second wife, Mary, Nov. 23, 1827, and they had eight children altogether, all born at Hopewell Cape. Capt. John Calhoun was a third-generation descendant of Thomas. He married his second wife, Mary, on Nov. 23, 1827, and they had eight children altogether, all born at Hopewell Cape. Bob Ed disputes that John owned ships and he adds to the story of John's death by noting that Rufus was sailing with his father when John died at sea in Bermuda. Rufus afterwards took over as captain while a teenager. Tom Calhoun also sailed as a young man, from St. John's to Liverpool.
      After the academy, he entered the University at Glasgow, Scotland, and graduated with a medical degree in 1862, standing near the head of his class. Evans writes that George then traveled two years for pleasure, but he interrupted his journey. While at the university, he met Ellen Mein, who was born in Alnwick, England, but was raised in Glasgow. She later followed him after he returned to Nova Scotia and they married in Halifax on June 9, 1863. Brother Sam had already married in Boston in 1851, but his wife abandoned him.

The Calhoun brothers head west
      Tom Robinson found a note at the LaConner Historical Museum from Calhoun Shields, a grandson of Dr. Calhoun, who wrote that he was told when younger that Rufus first sailed to Puget Sound in the 1850's and wrote to family about how great it was. Sam, Tom and George all followed over the next decade. Bob Ed found family records that Rufus married Sarah Fillmore of Lowell, Massachusetts on Oct 12, 1850. He sailed around Cape Horn in a fishing schooner to California in 1853 and sailed around the world at least once. Their first child, Priscilla, was born sometime before 1855 and he took his wife and baby to California that year. Their second child was born in Calaveras county, California, on Dec. 28, 1855. She was the first white child born along the Tuolumne river, so she was given the river's name, but she was always called Toby. They then lived in La Grange, California, for about ten years. Four more children were born there but one died as an infant. Rufus apparently moved the family to Port Townsend permanently in 1865 because his son, Rufus Choate Jr., was born there that year on May 26; he became a lumberman of note in Everett.
      Brother Sam was the first brother to follow, probably sometime before 1860, and by 1866 he was just a few miles northeast across Puget sound at Utsalady. Just a few miles away was Pope & Talbot's Puget Mill Co. at Port Gamble, the home port for brother Rufus. Back in the 1860s, Rufus was captain for the Puget Mill Co. ships, transporting lumber to Australia, Hawaii from and the orient. His wife, Sarah, and family may have joined him there that year.
      Tom was the next brother to sail west. He married Mary V. Smith, who was three years younger, in Hammond Vale, New Brunswick, on Feb. 5, 1863. Their first child was Mary Emma, born on Nov. 29, 1863, and died within months, and then twin boys born prematurely in 1864, and died at the family home in St. John's, New Brunswick. Tom decided by then that he was weary of the sea and he responded to letters from Rufus about the 49er gold county of California. They could sail around Cape Horn, as Rufus did originally, but that would be a grueling trip for Mary. They could also head cross-country by covered wagon but that also looked like a daunting physical challenge. Tom told his son Herbert that he chose instead to cross the Isthmus of Panama. Back in 1855, a railroad was hacked through the jungles and swamped, partly to speed up delivery of U.S. mail to the west coast and other points. They sailed on a Pacific Mail Steamship Company (PMSS Co.) ship from New York to Chagres, then departed their ship on the Atlantic side, hiked and rode in canoes into the interior and then boarded a railroad for a tedious 30-mile trip across the isthmus. When they reached the Pacific Ocean they boarded another PMSS Co. ship to San Francisco with a stopover at Acapulco. From the Bay area they took a stage to Stockton and then 100 miles by wagon to Sonora and China Town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Every place at their destination was swampy, undiked and undrained with no roads, no home, no horses or stock and little money. Tom said that Sunny California never shone on them while there. Daughter Edith was born there on Dec. 28, 1866, and Tom tried his best to make a living at farming.
      During the Civil war, George was commissioned with the U.S. Union forces in 1864 as an assistant surgeon with the Army of the Potomac until June 1865. He trained under the famous Dr. Joseph Lister and they operated in dreadful, unsanitary conditions in the field. We say famous because on Aug. 12, 1865, Lister became the first doctor to use antiseptic disinfectant in surgery, and he became eternally famous on those bottles of Listerine that we still buy. He then joined the Marine Hospital service and was living with his wife in Portland, Maine, when he was assigned to a post in Washington territory. He also chose the route through the Isthmus of Panama to reach the West Coast, traveling with a group of scientists and surveyors. He continued from there up the West Coast by schooner to Port Angeles on the Olympia Peninsula. He reported to the Marine Hospital there and in June 1866, he took charge of the post. At that point, his wife joined him. Soon thereafter, Congress designated Port Townsend as the port of entry and Doctor George was transferred to establish the new Marine Hospital there in Jefferson county on the northeast tip of the peninsula.

The brothers in Washington
      Meanwhile, up at Port Townsend on the northeast corner of the Olympia Peninsula, George quickly gained responsibility at the hospital as he trained other young physicians, including the young Dr. D.I. Minor, who would make his own mark in Seattle. In 1870, the Republican party tapped George as a candidate to represent Jefferson and Clallam counties in the territory legislature, and he won the election. By 1870, Tom wrote him that Edith was sick all the time, suffering from the swampy conditions. George suggested that they move north, so Tom and Mary packed up the two girls — Elizabeth was born in 1869, and the family sailed to Washington territory on an old brig. They landed in Port Townsend in late May and the Edith died there on June 1, 1870, probably of fever that hung on from California. On the Fourth of July, they took a boat across Puget sound to Ebey's Landing on nearby Whidbey Island, then crossed to Crescent Harbor, where they stayed all night with the Izett family. The next day they took another boat to LaConner, which then consisted of the store that John S. and Louisa Ann Conner owned and a few houses. Brother Rufus also lost a child, his sixth-born son, Fillmore, who accompanied father on a sailing journey to Melbourne Harbor, Australia, in 1873 and was knocked overboard from his father's ship.
      According to Clarence B. Bagley in his 1929 book, History of King County, after a few years in Port Townsend, George left the military and formed his own private practice, which he maintained until 1876. Sometime in 1875-76, George moved his family to Seattle, where he established another practice and he invested in a farm on the Swinomish flats. He made several longtime friends among the Seattle city fathers, including Bailey Gatzert, the general manager of Schwabacher Bros. Hardware, which erected the first brick business-building in old, pre-1889-fire Seattle. He was also elected mayor of Seattle in 1875, the only Jewish mayor on record, and he was a key benefactor of future sternwheeler promoter Joshua Green. The late Carroll Anderson, son of LaConner pioneers, recalled in 1958 the stories he heard from George's daughter Laura, who told of living in a house on what was then Third street between James and Jefferson street. She remembered the orchard that grew up around Henry Yesler's mill at today's pioneer square and how Yesler helped her pick apples. She said that her father practiced at Providence Hospital at Fifth avenue and Madison street then, the only hospital. He had his first office in Pioneer Square near Yesler and he made house calls on horseback, on foot and by canoe. The doctor's political star continued rising. After George moved the family to Seattle, Republican Governor Elisha P. Ferry appointed George as one of the regents of the Territorial University, and for four years until 1880 he was the president of the board. By that time, George and Ellen had nine children and they decided that the Skagit valley was the best place for the younger ones to grow up. Tom Robinson discovered that George announced his resignation in late 1879 from the Board of Regents and then moved his family north. By 1880, George established his medical practice in LaConner, where he would stay for 16 years.

Doctor George moves his family to LaConner
      In late 1879, the family moved to LaConner, where they lived until 1896. George's daughter Mrs. Nellie Hall recalled in 1946 that once they moved to LaConner, her father made many of his calls by boat and that he had a reputation for knowing nearly every man, woman and child from Olympia to Victoria. He also invested in real estate and sold homes and acreage in that area. As part of that business, George soon platted the north end of the town of LaConner. Tom Robinson notes that Calhoun soon became a business leader with big-city marketing ideas for a village that had been primarily a place for peddlers and general stores. He was the impetus for a board of trade, which promoted the advantages of moving to LaConner to work and invest, just as similar boards sprouted up in the boomtowns of Anacortes and Sedro. When the Seattle & Northern railroad showed serious intentions of building from Ship Harbor (Anacortes) east through Sedro and the upper Skagit valley and across Cascade pass, George saw the threat to LaConner's steamboat trade.
      At first, the large family lived on the farm north of town. Robinson explains that it was just east of Sullivan Slough, where Jim Hulbert now lives and the site is now the headquarters of Hulbert Farms. When that got too crowded, they moved to a house that George had built on the hill above the LaConner waterfront and Charles Elde moved his family into the farmhouse and farmed that piece of land as a tenant for the next ten years. The grand house for the family stood across Douglas street from the LaConner Bank building (now the Town Hall) and fronted on Second Street.
      Ellen Calhoun may have played matchmaker when they moved to LaConner. Robinson discovered in records of the LaConner district court sitting back in 1879 that Sam successfully divorced his first wife, Ulvida, whom he had married in 1851 in Boston. The decision to wed may have been impetuous for both of them. Within months, she proved to be very flirtatious, from her husband's testimony, and soon "abandoned" him. He was apparently willing to overlook her actions, but she did not want to return. That conflict apparently led to his decision to ship out for California, where older brother Rufus sailed on a fishing schooner. Perhaps he even shipped out with Rufus. Sometime soon after he obtained the divorce, he married Ellen Mein Calhoun's sister Jane in LaConner, but we have not yet found the date. The two original crusty bachelor settlers — Calhoun and Sullivan — lived alone on their neighboring claims for about 17 years until Sam married. Wedding bells were still at least 12 years away for Sullivan.
      Mother Nature interfered with the bumper crops on the Calhoun farms from 1879 through 1882. After one of the worst recorded winter storms in 1879-80, summer followed with a blast of heat. Floods that year also tested the dikes that were rebuilt in 1874-75. In 1882, the 1880 cycle was repeated, with disastrous losses resulting from the great flood of 1882. In his diary, pioneer farmer E.A. Sisson of Padilla wrote that the flood of 1882 was actually worse: in the vicinity of Sullivan's slough, the agricultural district was entirely under water and crops were totally destroyed. The Calhoun farms, along with those of their neighbors were hit severely and at Beaver Marsh, 5 miles east of LaConner, water was higher than ever before known. Dikes were breached in several places and the Northwest Enterprise in Anacortes reported on June 17 that the river was at least 2 1/2 feet higher than in 1879 and 1880.
      Two years later, the river again posed problems for farmers on the delta and the flats, but that time it was because of rafts of trees that broke free from the log jams that were being cleared at Mount Vernon and then choked the many sloughs in the area. Eldridge Morse's 1884 report for the federal Department of Agriculture that the snags and jams work was too much for individual farmers to tackle by themselves. A public meeting was called at Skagit City in June 1884 and George Calhoun was elected chairman. They organized a collection of subscription and in a few weeks, $2,000 was raised and pledged.
      Back in 1883, George made his first political move locally at the same time that the territory legislature created Skagit county from the southern half of Whatcom county. The legislature also incorporated the city of LaConner by an act on Nov. 20, 1883, and George Calhoun was appointed to the temporary city council, with Laurin L. Andrews as mayor. On May 24, 1884, George Calhoun was elected mayor for the first full term. Sam Calhoun replaced him, elected in December 1885. Sam entered politics seven years before. Bob Ed found in a March 1878 article in the Bellingham Bay Mail that Sam was elected as a delegate to the territorial "Constitutional Convention" to represent the Connel District representing the counties of Whatcom, Snohomish and Kitsap. He was then elected to the territorial legislature for a term beginning in 1881
      Another Calhoun relative also rose in politics at that time, one of brother Rufus's sons. Rufus had gained fame of his own as he built several ships, including the schooner, Alaska, and salvaged and bought and sold others. Rufus apparently did not ever live in the Skagit valley, but his son John J. Calhoun settled here sometime in the early 1880s. He ran on the Democrat ticket for the office of prosecuting attorney in 1884 in the new county of Skagit and defeated his Republican opponent. He was reelected in 1886 and was then replaced in 1888 by Republican Mount Vernon attorney Henry McBride, who later became governor of the state. Meanwhile, in 1887, Sam's wife took ill and he decided to move to California in hopes that the climate would aid her health. Sam had sold part of his acreage to Isaac Dunlap in 1882 and sold the rest to him before they left. At that point, we lose track of Sam and his wife. We have not found any records of them having children. Over near Coupeville, Tom and Mary Calhoun sold their first farm on Crockett Lake in 1888 and bought another farm on the northeast portion of Ebey's Prairie, where they lived until 1898.

George becomes a state Republican star
      When serious plans were assembled to gain statehood, the Republican party again called on George Calhoun. His counsel was sought before the vote that called for statehood and afterwards. Washington became the 42nd state on Nov. 11, 1889, and the Republicans asked him to chair the first statewide party convention in 1890. We can imagine that he took a lot of steamboat trips back and forth between LaConner, Seattle and Olympia in 1889-90. His eldest son married Maggie Chambers on Dec. 26, 1889, in Chambers Prairie, very close to Olympia on one of the territory's most historic spots. George's stature as one of the state's leading physicians led to his appointment to the first medical examining board of Washington, the committee that lobbied for and secured the enactment of laws relative to the practice of medicine, and another committee that assessed facilities for the mentally ill. In addition, he actively worked for passage of the medical practice act in 1890.
      His political prominence was underscored by his selection as an elector from Washington in the first presidential election after statehood. A loyal Republican, he cast his state's vote in the electoral college for the ticket of incumbent president Benjamin Harrison and Whitelaw Reid for vice president. The sitting president was thoroughly trounced in the electoral college, however, by 145 votes to 277 for Democrats Grover Cleveland as president and Adlai E. Stevenson as vice president, even though the popular vote was less than four-percent difference. Also elected that November was Elisha P. Ferry as the state's first governor. A former two-term governor for the territory and a friend of George, Ferry again called on the doctor in 1893 to serve as one of the executive commissioners of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
      The expo position was a distinct honor for George and the highlight of his political career, but soon after returning from Chicago he faced the bitter reality of the nationwide financial panic that began that spring and drug the Northwest and national economy down with it by June. George returned home to LaConner and spent a lot of his time during the next four years trying to keep his substantial acreage while many of his neighbors who had mortgaged theirs lost it when their capital dried up. With the help of George and other capitalists, the Skagit County Bank that William E. Schricker started in LaConner in 1886 managed to stay open during the four-year Depression, while all the banks in Whatcom failed.
      The three youngest Calhoun sons all became professional men. On Oct. 1, 1891, the Calhouns' oldest son, Scott, was admitted to the first class of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, on the site of the home and stock farm of Leland Stanford, the state's former governor and a partner in the Central Pacific Railroad. One of his schoolmates at Stanford was Herbert Hoover, future U.S. President. Tom Robinson notes that Scott "was the editor of what must have been the predecessor of the campus newspaper, the Stanford Daily, back before it was a daily, and years later a daughter was editor of the Daily. Scott was a member of Sigma Nu fraternity and later initiated its chapter at the University of Washington. Grant was in the first graduation class of 1895 and he later earned his law degree, maybe at the University of Washington. In 1892, his brother Grant joined him at Stanford. Because there was no accredited high school yet in Skagit county, families who could afford it, boarded their children at accredited schools. Grant graduated from Washington college, a preparatory school in Tacoma. After Grant graduated from Stanford in 1896, he entered Cooper Medical College, graduating with the class of 1898. After winning the M.D. degree he practiced in Seattle for a short time and then located in Renton, where he spent five years.
      Robinson also discovered that brother Arthur, the youngest Calhoun child, at one time served as the official city physician, evidently something like head of a health department, but we do not know if he also attended Stanford. Tom Robinson notes that William, the firstborn Calhoun child, was successful in Seattle real estate in the firm of Calhoun, Denny & Ewing. At least two of the Calhouns' daughters married and stayed in Skagit county. Maggie married J.M. Shields, an early LaConner teacher, Skagit County Superintendent of Schools and county auditor. Sometime after 1929, Nellie married D.B. Hall, pioneer druggist in LaConner and Mount Vernon, when both were in their 50s. In 1929, daughter Annie was an assistant librarian of the Seattle public library, Alice was unmarried and living in Seattle, and Laura was married, to John Wotherspoon of Seattle.

George and Ellen return to Seattle
(Horse and buggy)
      Horse and buggy on First street in LaConner, circa 1890. Courtesy of the Carroll Anderson collection.
      As the economic storm clouds started to lift in 1896, and with just two children out of nine still living with them, George and Ellen moved back to Seattle and he re-established his medical practice there as one of the grand old physician-teachers at the age of 59. They only had two happy years there together when Ellen passed away on May 10, 1898. Clarence Bagley wrote in his 1929 History that he remembered "Doctor Calhoun as a man of distinguished appearance, with an abundant supply of gray hair and a flowing white beard in his later years. Doctor Calhoun was a man of distinguished appearance, with an abundant supply of gray hair and a flowing white beard in his later years."
      Bagley noted that George was a member of the Seattle school board for several terms, was again appointed as trustee of the Territorial University, and was an ardent champion of the cause of education. Soon after the Washington Chamber of Commerce was organized, he became very active in the businessmen's promotional group, especially after he retired from his practice in 1904. He was identified with the Masonic order and the King county and Washington state medical societies and the American Medical Association. He was one of the organizers of the state Historical Society and the state Board of Trade. George passed away on Sept. 16, 1916, after 18 years as a widower. Trebon notes that, as a widower, George lived in a cottage near Coupeville northwest of Prairie Center and near his brother Tom's old farm. The cottage was just north of the noted "Rock of Ages," a glacial-erratic boulder.

(Laura Calhoun)
Laura Calhoun, Dr. George Calhoun's daughter. Carroll Anderson photo.

      He had lived to see son Scott make an impact on Seattle as George had made on LaConner. His 1952 obituary, headlined "Father of the Port," notes that as a city corporation counsel in 1907, Mr. Calhoun drafted laws that first formed the Port of Seattle district. He carried the laws to the state legislature that year, but they were rejected. He tried again in 1909, but it was not until 1911 that the laws were passed. A port history states that by the early 1900s Seattle's waterfront was a maze of piers, canneries, sawmills, warehouses and railroad tracks, but the economic benefits of all that activity were not generating prosperity for the community at-large. In 1911 the voters of Seattle turned out in record numbers to establish the Port of Seattle and approve a bond measure for waterfront development that would stimulate economic growth that continues today. By 1916 Seattle was the West Coast's leading port in terms of dollar value of goods shipped. Within two years it was the second largest port in the country. In addition to handling cargo moving to and from Asia and Alaska, the Port became a major player in the North Pacific fishing industry, taking on ownership and management of Fishermen's Terminal in 1913. Scott lived to see the Port District grow to where it operates more than 50 percent of the harbor's facilities, and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and in September 1949, he was a special guest at the dedication of the Port's new foreign trade zone.
      Bagley's 1929 History followed up Grant's profile by nothing that after he established his medical practice in Renton, he went abroad and attended clinics in the leading medical centers of Europe, "in order to perfect himself in his chosen vocation." On returning to the United States, "he opened an office in Seattle and the ensuring years have recorded a steady increase in his practice, which is now of large proportions. He is thorough and painstaking in diagnosis and accurately applies his scientific knowledge to the needs of his patients, utilizing the most effective remedial agents." Both Grant and his brother Philip were noted for their medical work in conjunction with Northern State Hospital, Western State Hospital, and the King County Medical Society. Bagley also wrote that brother Arthur P. Calhoun had passed away before 1929.

LaConner and family epilogue
(Michael Sullivan house)
Michael Sullivan's house on a slope above the head of Sullivan slough in Sullivan's Grove. Photo from a 1909 brochure-magazine, Skagit county, the industrial triumph of Washington.

      Sam Calhoun died in 1924 in San Diego, probably aged about 90, but we know nothing of his life in California, nor do we know when he moved there. He lived back in Hopewell Cape, maybe just temporarily, when the 1906 Book writers corresponded with him.
      Tom Calhoun died on June 12, 1932, at age 92 and the oldest pioneer of the Puget Sound region, according to his obituary. He died at the North Seattle home of his son, Herbert S. Calhoun, who recorded some of his father's life post-LaConner. While growing up on Whidbey island, Herbert was known by his middle name, Spurgeon, but as an adult he appears to have gone by Herbert or H.S. In about 1897, Tom and his son Elmer E. Calhoun, were lured by gold to the Klondike, just as Tom was lured by gold to California in 1865. Trebon notes that this was actually Tom's second trip to Alaska. He originally went to the Cook Inlet in 1896. When he returned from the second trip in the summer of 1898, Tom and Mary moved from Coupeville to Ballard. Elmer stayed in Alaska for another ten years. While Herbert still owned a mill in Blaine, he bought the Ballard Pharmacy on Oct. 1, 1898, and Tom managed it for a short time. On Christmas Eve, 1899, Herbert married a widow, Phoebe Staats, in Ballard and on March 1, 1900, Herbert sold the mill and moved to Ballard permanently. Herbert enrolled at the University of Washington Pharmacy School, got his pharmacist certificate in 1901 and owned the Ballard Pharmacy until 1923
      Tom's wife, Mary, died on Jan. 1, 1937, at age 95. Both are buried at Sunnyside Cemetery on Whidbey island. Thanks to the marvelous Sunnyside burial-list website, which is maintained by Ralph Seefeld, we were surprised to learn that the mother of all the Calhoun brothers is also buried there. Mary Calhoun Newcombe died on June 29, 1887, at age 73. Newcombe was the name of her second husband, Barnaby Newcombe, whom she married in New Brunswick in 1862. She moved to Whidbey Island sometime after his death back there on Oct 4, 1884. Her death year of 1887 may also signal when Sam left Skagit county for good.
      We recently found a short obituary for brother Rufus in the San Francisco Examiner of Dec. 11, 1903. He died two days before in San Francisco at age 75. He was apparently down south for business because his survivors include his wife, Sarah, in Port Townsend. They had eight children altogether, including seven who survived infancy.
      Sam's old friend and fellow pioneer, Michael Sullivan, died up in LaConner in Nov. 18, 1912, after being kicked by a horse in a buggy accident. He married very late in life. One of his friends was Patrick "Paddy" O'Hara, the genial old LaConner butcher who in 1891 sponsored his niece and nephew, Mary Josephine and Tom Smith, as immigrants from his home sod of Ireland. Mary was 16 and Tom was 23. Tom was apparently brought over specifically to manage Sullivan's ranch. Tom soon discovered that there was another Tom Smith hereabouts, the attorney who was gaining fame in Sedro and Mount Vernon. Their mail was repeatedly delivered to the wrong person, so he changed his name to Smyth, as did Mary.
      Some historians thought that Mary soon married Michael Sullivan, but his biography in the 1906 Book clearly states they actually married in Seattle in 1903 when he was about 75 and she was 28, an age that then marked a woman as a spinster. We have not yet been able to clarify which version is correct. Muddying the waters further is a story that Robinson found in a November 1903 issue of the Puget Sound Mail newspaper. The story notes that Michael Sullivan, his wife, Mary, and Thomas Smyth returned from their visit in Ireland and that they had left LaConner for Ireland just over a year before. So, did Michael and Mary marry in 1902 or earlier and did he or she just remember the year wrong when interviewed for the book? We do now that Thomas Smyth married Katherine Foy of County Down in 1903. We hope that a family member will appear to clear this up. By the time the Smith/Smyths arrived, Sullivan had accumulated 315 acres at the head of Sullivan slough. The house was in a large stand of juniper trees on high ground, called Sullivan's Grove, which he told John Conrad was once an Indian campground. Both Sullivan and his wife are buried at Pleasant Ridge cemetery, just a stone's throw from where Sam Calhoun climbed that tree in 1863.
      [Ed. note: For those who want to learn more about the Calhoun family, Robert Calhoun Ed welcomes your inquiry if you email him.

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Story posted July 22, 2004, last updated April 17, 2006, moved to this domain Jan. 16, 2010
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