Skagit River Journal
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July 1911 photo of 700 block of Metcalf street after the downtown Sedro-Woolley fire. The view is to the southwest. At the top is the location of the present U.S. Post Office. That location was then the site of the original Sedro-Woolley city hall.
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"How log jams swerved Skagit destiny"
and Mame Hammack's memories of Magnus Anderson

(Anderson cabin)
    This famous photo has now been established as having been taken in May 1891, according to Mame Hammack in this article. The original 1946 caption was: "Cabin built in 1863, first one erected on the Skagit river by a white man. Photo taken in [May] 1891 shows Magnus Anderson (second from left), with his daughter Mabel, three unidentified farmhands and some of the Anderson family pigs. The Andersons lived in this cabin for a time, on a farm at Fir purchased from W.H. Sartwell."
    Click on the photo to see a much larger version. Part of this 1891 photo was cropped, without the handwritten note to the right, and posted with a story by Skagit pioneer Ralph Hartson in the December 1908 issue of Honore Wilhelm's
The Coast magazine and that cropped version has been published several times since. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the cabin was still being used for farm purposes 28 years later, although it showed considerable deterioration, and we can see in the background the more substantial house that Magnus originally built for his family after moving to the South Fork in the spring of 1878. The latter date is just one of many facts from Mrs. Hammack that helps add to the record of this most important pioneer. If you find other articles like this, especially from the old Seattle Times series, please let us know. They are invaluable.

By Leona Pike Hammond, Seattle Times, Nov. 17, 1946
      Strange are the quirks that sometimes dictate the destinies of a town or a region. Consider the Skagit Valley, where the removal of old log jams from the Skagit river hastened the death of one town and undoubtedly contributed much to growth of the thriving modern community of Mount Vernon
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      The huge log barriers from time immemorial had blocked the river and affected early fortunes of the valley after the white man's arrival. Had it not been for the initiative and perseverance of pioneer settlers, who bent to the almost-insurmountable task of eliminating the jams, the demise of Skagit City, then the area's principal town, would have been postponed and Mount Vernon might not have become the sizable city it is today.
      Skagit City now is just a name on the map. You can it on Fir island between the North and South forks of the Skagit. The old townsite is divided into farms, the school is a community clubhouse and little else remains to show that here once was a thriving community.
      The perilous and heartbreaking slow removal of two giant log jams in the river marked the turning point of the town's fortunes, as well as those of the entire region. One jam lay a mile north of Mount Vernon and the other about a half mile below, presenting an obstacle to further settlement upstream.
      According to Mrs. W.A. "Mame" Hammack, Mount Vernon pioneer, in 1879 there were four trading posts on the lower Skagit: Skagit City; Mann's Landing (later called Fir), about four miles south; Mount Vernon and Ball's Landing, now called Sterling, near Sedro-Woolley.
      Mrs. Hammack's father, Magnus Anderson, a ship's carpenter, came to the Pacific Coast by way of Cape Horn in 1869. Her mother, who came from Sweden a year earlier, married Anderson in Seattle in 1873. The young couple, the first Scandinavians to settle in the Skagit area, journeyed by boat up the Swinomish to LaConner and homesteaded 160 acres, building what now is the only remaining log cabin on the North fork of the Skagit river. Two of Hammack's sisters were born in the cabin, which later was owned by Matt Bessner and now is the Miller property.
      The desire for closer neighbors and access to trading posts caused the Andersons to move in the spring of 1878 to the Fir district five mile below the site of Mount Vernon. Their belongings were transported by rowboat and barge.

This story adds substantial information to several sections (see links): the log jams at Mount Vernon; pioneer Magnus Anderson and the Pierce expedition down the Skagit River in 1882.

      The farm they moved to had been owned by W.H. Sartwell, who with two other men established the Sartwell, Todd & Kincaid trading post.
      Mrs. Hammack recalls that her father had the first team of horses in the Sakgit area and drove the first team across Pleasant ridge from LaConner. Her parents were the first couple, too, to drive with horse and wagon from Fir to Mount Vernon. This was no pleasure trip, but hard work. They made their way along a river trail cutting undergrowth.

The original 1946 newspaper article included three drawings by Albert Downing, a young draftsman assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 1882 expedition to map the Skagit river. The exploration was led by 1st Lt. Henry H. Pierce and we will soon feature the expedition. Meanwhile, in this story about Downing, you will see his 1882 drawings of the wild, upper Skagit river, Sterling and Mount Vernon, plus other pieces of his work. The drawing above is his sketch of Sterling; a larger photo of this drawing can be seen at that link. The drawings were loaned to the author by Inez Downing, granddaughter of the artist. We are trying to track down her or her descendants.

      "There was always too much going on for anyone to be lonesome in those days," Mrs. Hammack says.
      "Indians were always underfoot. Even at that time they lived on reservations. We used to give them clothing and fruits. They would sell us clams; we paid 'two bits' for a bucketful. We had good friends among the Indian. I remember especially Old Lame Annie. And I have watched the Indian medicine man performing his ritual.
      "As for the salmon, you never seen them as we did in the early days. My aunt, Mrs. John Swanson, who lived two miles south of us on the river, used to come to visit us by rowboat, arriving 'on the tide.' She would tell of seeing such schools of salmon that she was afraid they would jump into the boat, and of being afraid to row for fear of hitting them with the oars.
      "There were frequent public gatherings at Skagit City in the 1870s, people coming in canoes and rowboats, as the trails had not yet become passable for conveyances of any kind."
      There was no regular steamboat serving on the Skagit river until 1874. It was then that the Fanny Lake, with Capt. John S. Hill, began regular monthly trips between Seattle and Skagit City. Other early boats were the Josephine in 1879, the sidewheeler, Alki and the Chehalis.
      Mrs. Hammack recalls that the arrival of the steamboat from Seattle was the main event of each month, with the inhabitants, down to the smallest child, gathering to see it land at Skagit City.

Mame Hammack recalls her Magnus Anderson family

      "The boats whistled at Fir going north, and at the bend of the river going south — this was a half mile north of our farm."
      Perhaps it was the mutterings of their fathers, when the floodwaters of the Skagit so frequently threatened crops and homes that caused the youngsters to chant in mimicry: "Damn the Skagit, damn the Skagit, damn the Skagit!" to the tune of the chugging river boats as they raced the vessels along the trails lining the river banks.
      The epic of the great log jams in the river is remembered now by only a few. Indians said the big jams had been in existence as long as their forefathers could remember. The logs were packed so solidly the river could be crossed in their vicinity at almost any points. Upon this mass of rotten debris grew moss, undergrowth and groves of trees reaching two and three feet in diameter. The torrents of the Skagit force their way through in some places in furious cascades. In other spots black pools would be found filled with fish.
      "In 1874 a petition was presented to Congress asking for an appropriation of $35,000 for the purpose of improving the river. But nothing ever was done about it," Mrs. Hammack relates.
      In 1876, with money subscribed by the settlers, loggers undertook the task of removing the jams. The loggers found that they must cut through five to eight tiers in cutting out a space of about 30 feet. It ws risky work; the men had narrow escapes from being crushed or drowned, and they suffered constant loss of tools.
      Nature both assisted and hindered the work. Floods at times wedged the loosened logs tighter and undid the work of many days.
      A flood in 1877 suddenly dislodged a section of the jam which was estimated at about five acres and carried it out to sea. By 1879 sufficient logs had been removed to allow navigation. It took about ten years, though, to clear the river of the vast accumulation of debris.
      The way was now open for setting the upper valley. Mount Vernon soon became the principal trading center, the Great Northern Railway and later the Pacific Highway passing through there.

Links, background reading and sources
Magnus Anderson and James Sartwell
Mame Hammack

Draft posted July 8, 2013, final story posted Sept. 19, 2013
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This article originally appeared in Issue 60 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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