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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition
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
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

(Click to send email)

William Robert "Blanket Bill" Jarman,
1820-1912, lord of Jarman Prairie and first permanent
Whatcom/Skagit settler — Part One

(Jarman and Doris)
William R. Jarman and his grandniece, Doris Manning, circa 1900. Doris was the daughter of Bill's niece, Minnie Vine, who he brought back from England, and William Manning, a Ferndale farmer. His countenance and dress mark this as his "Buffalo Bill" period, when he affected the look of the famous cowboy showman. Jeffcott credits this photo to the Whatcom Old Settlers Association, of which Jarman was an honored elder member after 1900.

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal, ©2002 & 2007
      William "Blanket Bill" Jarman was one of those frontier characters who became famous by inventing and reinventing themselves several times over. That reinvention and redemption has become almost a cliche about the famous Western historical figures, but Bill made an art of it. His nickname is derived from one of the tall tales he loved to spin, a legacy from being a sailor in both the Atlantic and Pacific who deserted from the British Navy at least once and covered his tracks with more than one conflicting scenario. Born an Englishmen at Grave's End on the Thames River near London, probably in 1820, he would make his mark by being one of the very first European settlers in northwestern Washington Territory and the first to live among Indians for a sustained period.
      His lasting physical legacy is Jarman Prairie, about four miles north of Burlington and east of Old Hwy 99, Bow Hill and the Friday Creek Fish Hatchery. It is still named for him but for many decades it was misspelled as German Prairie. For a few decades, the phonetic German Prairie replaced the original name on the map, but Skagit County restored Jarman's surname because of demands by old-timer neighbors. As charming and convincing as the man could be, researchers are forewarned that the record on Jarman up through the 1950s was based more on folklore than well-researched history.
      Lelah Jackson Edson pretty much accepted the details of Jarman's life that he claimed in an 1897 interview when she published her The Fourth Corner book about Whatcom history in 1951. But Percival R. Jeffcott actually sought out original sources as he researched Jarman's claims on at least three continents and found that many events either could not have happened or at least not in the time frame that Jarman presented. Jeffcott's 1958 book, Blanket Bill Jarman, is generally considered the most complete picture of the man. Jarman is a most difficult pioneer to measure because he left comparatively little public record, much of which is contradictory.
      We still do not know when Jarman began telling the most famous and fantastic of his tall tales; we wish the earliest pioneers had kept track of how the tales evolved. Did he tell the earliest settlers the story of his ransom for blankets or was the story a defensive explanation for his lifestyle that seemed strange and unorthodox to traditional settlers? After all, newcomers were already wary of Indians and apprehensive about their families' security. At least one aspect of his oral memoir makes sense. Jarman came to Puget Sound because the captain of the English ship sought valuable furs for the fashion conscious upper classes of the British Isles. We also know that the stocks of beaver and other fur-bearing animals had been thinned almost to extinction after several decades of unrestricted trapping on ponds, streams and rivers.
      Whatcom editor Frank Teck interviewed Jarman at age 77 in 1897 at his niece's ranch in Ferndale, a half century after his arrival in what soon became Washington Territory. After I read Teck's handwritten notes, I had to agree with Jeffcott that Teck appeared to have accepted many of Jarman's tallest tales with an uncritical eye. Unfortunately for the researcher, in Lottie Roeder Roth's History of Whatcom County (1929), she merely accepted Teck's conclusions and the tales that had been passed along and even spelled Jarman's name wrong in her profile of him. We especially regret that she did not share with her readers her father, Capt. Henry Roeder's, memories of young Jarman, since Roeder was one of the two first permanent settlers at Whatcom, starting in December 1852.

(East Ferndale)
This photo of East Ferndale from Jeffcott's Nooksack Tales & Trails book was taken about the time that Jarman lived near there in 1897 when Frank Teck interviewed him. John Tennant's store is to the left, and continuing right, we see William Sisson's store, Jerome Robinson's saloon and Alex Charles's St. Francis Hotel and Saloon.

      Jarman is noted as a first visitor or settler in at least three different places. He told an interviewer in 1897 that he "hunted around Whatcom in 1848," but he certainly did not settle there, even by his own account. In the timeline of Jarman's most famous — but least documented tale, 1848 would have been just after the 1846-47 period during which he claims he was kidnapped by Indians on Vancouver Island and kept as a white slave until British colonial governor James Douglas ransomed him for 32 blankets, which equaled his height. There are several holes in the story, which he told in several different ways to several people, the biggest problem being that Douglas was still assigned at the time to the Hudson's Bay post in Vancouver, Washington, more than 300 miles away. Although he oversaw functions up north, he was not appointed as governor at Victoria until 1851, by which time Jarman had been living on the Olympic Peninsula for up to three years.
      The 1848 claim for Bill's exploration in future Washington Territory could be accurate, however, for another reason. Jarman admitted that he was a deserter more than once from British ships. In 1844 he deserted at Tasmania and later crossed to Australia where he was hired on a ship that he called the Platypus, which eventually brought him to the Northwest sometime around 1846. His kidnapping could be possible as he claimed and the Douglas part could be puffery, or else he just deserted again and used a tall tale to cover the time he was missing and to cover up for what the British considered a crime. We note that his contemporary and early Whatcom pioneer, Englishman George Hall Richardson, also deserted and hid his former identity on documents by dropping his surname. We have read in other deserter accounts that the British sometimes pursued deserters doggedly in Washington Territory. To complicate matters even more, Jeffcott's research resulted in an answer from the Lloyd's Register historian in England that he could not find a ship by the name of Platypus for that time. [Update: Author Fred Miller suggests that the Platypus could have sailed under the Australian flag and thus might not have been included in the Lloyd's Register. We are researching that possibility.]

One version of the Blankets legend from the horse's mouth
For his 1958 book, Blanket Bill Jarman, Percival R. Jeffcott found this 1827 engraving of Gravesend, Count of Kent, England, on the Thames River, east of England. By consensus, we think he was born there in 1820 and he returned there in the early 1890s, where he picked up a $500 legacy.

      In two accompanying stories in Issue 40, we quote Jeffcott's extensive research that shows the holes in the Blankets legend, plus details of the many conflicting claims in various biographies: We quote here the version of Jarman's "ransom" verbatim from Frank Teck's handwritten notes:
      In brig Platipus tried Columbia river but couldn't find it. Went to Nootka Sound for sea otter. Crew 9 men, exclusive of Jarman, who had $1,000 worth in China [illegible, maybe "of fur?"] seals, platypus or duck bill and otter. Got number otter and beaver at Nootka. Ship anchored at island. Captain and Jarman ashore watching Indians fill barrels of water. Brig equipped with boarding net. Indians tried to board but brig got away. Captain went aboard at noon. Then Indians attacked. Never heard of afterwards. Brother of chief from further up Sound responsible for attempt. Had spears and bows and arrows and two or three Hudson Bay flintlocks. Some of brother's men were killed and wounded and he wanted to [illegible] Jarman and when refused made several attempts to kill him. Good chief later bought brother off with blue beads and other trinkets, after which safety. In summer of [1848] Governor Douglas at Fort Victoria negotiated for him. Indians put him in canoe and landed him in Victoria. Douglas ransomed him then with 32 blankets. Stayed with Douglas a month or so as messenger from his office to fort. Mrs. Douglas, an Indian from Red River, educated in England, spoke several languages. Late in '48 Bill took canoe and came to Point Wilson, where King George and his Clallams lived.
      We are going to set his Blanket legend aside for now, except to point to the alternative theories for Jarman's exit from his ship's crew. One is the simple answer that he deserted as he did in Tasmania years before. We suggest that you read Jeffcott's Jarman for his extensive description of Jarman's extensive sailing experience before he ever arrived in the Northwest; we do not repeat that here. Another answer is that imminent Indian attack convinced the captain to shove off without Jarman or alternately that he did not rendezvous at the correct time and place and the captain decided not to wait for him. We provide below many sources where you can read about the legend.
      In addition, Jeffcott found some personal details from those days that may offer another reason for his nickname. In the mid- to late-1850s, Bill was most often engaged in hunting, fishing and trapping. According to the another Teck interview with Whatcom native William Utter, Alice (Bill's longtime Indian wife) sewed Bill's clothes from Hudson's Bay blankets, and sometimes he reverted to Indian fashion and wrapped himself only in blankets. That affectation from his early days with Indian tribes may have been the basis for his name and the kidnapping tale may have been spun from it. Imagine if you will, Bill sitting near Whatcom Falls in 1854, wrapped in his blankets and conversing with the recently settled pioneer Capt. Henry Roeder or Edward Eldridge, when his companion asked, "Bill, why do you dress in blankets rather than traditional settler garb?"

Was Jarman first settler in Port Townsend area?
(Indian Camp)
This photo from an Indian camp on the Olympia Peninsula is from Samish Island, a History: From the Beginning to the 1970s the new book by Susan and Fred Miller. They explained that the photo was taken by Samuel G. Morse and shows how Indians dried their fish as a winter food source. Click on the thumbnail for the full photo.

      After telling Teck the Blankets tale, Jarman continued his narrative as follows: "Late in '48, Bill took canoe and came to Point Wilson, where King George and his Clallams lived, where Port Townsend is now." When we originally wrote this chapter, we explained Jarman's period with the Indians, from 1848 to early 1852, within this piece but the subject became so complicated that we spent a year researching it and spun off the separate chapter that you will find in the contents of Issue 40 of the Subscribers Journal. As you can see from our excerpted remarks from the Teck interview above, he, like many other historians, spelled the tribal name, Clallam, but the tribal remnant's name is officially spelled S'Klallam, the spelling we will use in our own writing for consistency. Except for a break in California and when he shipped out on various voyages, he based his operations in the camp of the S'Klallam Indian chief, who was either named for the generic word that Indians had long used — "King George ships" for any ship that docked near them, or else the settlers mocked him as royalty.
      Regardless of whether he was ransomed or not, the Teck 1897 notes and those who quote them generally agree that Jarman was bitten by the '49er bug when he briefly took leave of his S'Klallam home in 1849. By that summer, Jarman panned for gold at Long Bar on the north fork of the Yuba river, 20 miles northwest of Marysville, California. After contracting malaria, however, he returned to the Olympic Peninsula that fall or winter. Another legend rose in Port Townsend that he was the first white settler at the future townsite, based largely on an Aug. 27, 1904, Leader newspaper article from Port Townsend when Bill came back for a picnic:

Townsend's first white settler; Wm. Jarman came here in year 1848
      Among the arrivals yesterday in the city to attend the picnic and clambake was William Jarman, who enjoys the distinction of being the first white settler in Port Townsend . . . [Another version of the ransom/blankets] At that time, 1848, where Port Townsend now stands was a barren wilderness save Indian villages which covered the lower end of the present business portion of the city. He was received by King George and the Duke of York, the two leading chiefs of the tribe and taken to their homes where he was well treated. He remained with them for several years, not seeing a white man until Hastings, Ross, Bachellor [sic, actually Bachelder] and Plummer arrived and located here. These men commenced hewing down the forest and soon erected several log cabins. Later he left his Indian home and lived with Mr. Hastings. Thus was Port Townsend founded.
      Wm. Jarman while living with Mr. Hastings married an Indian maiden who has long since crossed the great divide, Mr. Hastings performing the ceremony. He is now residing near Ferndale with his niece, Mrs. Manning, and with whom he expects to spend his remaining days.

(Point Wilson)
Jeffcott explained in his book that this photo was taken by P.M. Richardson, circa 1948, at Point Wilson, where Jarman apparently landed in 1848.

Thomas W. Camfield, author of Port Townsend, An Illustrated History of Shanghaiing, Shipwrecks, Soiled Doves and Sundry Souls (2000), initially concluded that Jarman was indeed the first white man to come ashore at future Port Townsend but that he only lived in the area temporarily with the S'Klallam Indians and that Henry C. Wilson was the first to stake an actual claim, in 1850.
      In running this Jarman story down over the past few years, we have researched the settlement of Port Townsend extensively. You will find the results of our research in another separate story in Issue 40. Bill only became the grand old men of the early Territorial pioneers because he outlived all the original town settlers. After he left in 1852, Port Townsend became one of the most important cities in the new Territory for its U.S. Customs office.

Bill's travels and trade, 1848-52
      We link to separate stories about the initial settlement of Port Townsend and the overview of the Peninsula tribes because Bill's life was so intertwined with the Peninsula in 1848-52 and with the S'Klallam and their Samish brethren for the next three or four decades. Instead of merely summarizing the details, we chose instead to devote entire chapters.
      When we re-read Teck's interview notes recently, we discovered we had overlooked a series of sea voyages that Bill took during the Port Townsend period and those details made us realize that historians in general have missed important facts that help us understand settlement here when Washington was still part of Oregon Territory. In 1850 he sailed to California — San Francisco and San Pedro, and to Chile and the Sandwich Islands — Hawaii, with details like, "Sailed with a load of piles to Frisco from Tacoma in '50 in 150-ton brig North Bend." Then he threw in a ringer that makes us wonder again about what brought Henry C. Wilson to Point Hudson, a few hundred yards east of present downtown Port Townsend. Camfield suggested, "Jarman may have been asleep in the Indian camp or off hunting at the time . . ." that Wilson staked his claim in August 1850, but consider this. Jarman next told Teck that one of the ships he sailed on that year was the brig, George Emery. As you will read in the Port Townsend chapter, Wilson also came here in 1850 on the George Emery with Capt. Lafayette Balch. Does that mean Jarman could have been aboard the same time as Wilson? And if so, was Jarman the one who lured Wilson to the Peninsula?
      He told Teck that he used beads and blankets from the Indian camp to buy white Irish, rough-skin potatoes from the Hudson Bay Co., presumably at the stores at Victoria, and that they cost ten cents a bushel. He also listed cranberries for six cents per bushel and he mentioned feathers for four or five cents a pound, which we presume he sold from the Indian stock. When he sailed to San Francisco (Teck wrote Frisco), he sold the potatoes for $7.50 per bushel, cranberries for $1.50 per gallon and the feathers for $1 per pound. "Indians would give anything for red blanket or red shirt. Bill's express crew gambled so, that sometimes some would, coming from Steilacoom, gamble themselves bare naked by time reached [port?]."

Cupid's arrow strikes Bill on Olympic Peninsula
(Frank Teck)
Bellingham editor Frank Teck was Jarman's first biographer after he interviewed him at length at Bill's niece's home in Ferndale in 1897.

      Jeffcott is the only writer who has detailed Jarman's romantic dalliances in any depth and he interviewed several people who mentioned Bill's romances at Bellingham Bay, at Samish Island and at Port Townsend. In addition, according to the fractured story that Bill told Teck in 1897, he married two Indian girls during the time he was "captured" on Vancouver Island. Jeffcott also concluded, however, that even though Bill philandered, he met his longest-term love while living with the S'Klallam on the Olympic Peninsula, even though he told Teck that he married another Indian girl for a brief time before he met "the one." At King George's Indian camp he met a S'Klallam girl named Alice, who was considered his klootchman — in this sense his mistress, starting in 1852. We describe her lineage in a our separate article about the Indian tribes of the Olympic Peninsula, but briefly, Alice was a niece of King George, who was chief of the S'Klallam until he either drowned or abandoned his family sometime in 1854-55. Her mother was one of the sisters of the seven brothers from the House of Ste-tee-thlum, the legendary 18th-century S'Klallam chief. Jeffcott described Jarman during his prime:
(Jarman Prairie)
This Jeffcott photo was taken, circa 1948, from the eastern flank of Bow Hill. We are looking east past Old Hwy 99 at Prairie Road, with Jarman Prairie in the background.

      William Robert Jarman was a man on whom the cares and responsibilities of life burdened but lightly. Physically, he was of average stature, with a stocky, well-rounded torso, surmounted on somewhat a foreshortened muscular and slightly bowed legs, that gave the impression of great strength and endurance; his hands and arms were muscular, but graceful, not being inured to continuous hard labor; for Jarman in all his long life, was never accused of overindulgence in hard work. His well-shaped head, decked with massive, slightly curled locks, and blond ruddy features, well enhanced by spreading mustachios and a neat-trimmed beard of medium length, needed only his brilliant deep blue eyes to sum him up, a very handsome specimen of masculine attractiveness.
      [Journal ed. note: actually, a few photographs show Jarman to have been slim and trim at age 30-40. The curls and moustache may remind readers who have read about how Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett (Pickett's Charge, July 3, 1863, Gettysburg) was often the butt of Civil War Confederate companions' jokes for his elaborate curls. Jarman knew Pickett while the captain was assigned to Fort Bellingham in the 1850s and then the Jarman family lived in his Bellingham house in the 1860s. Did Bill affect Pickett's appearance? In the appendix of his book, Jeffcott quotes Jarman's laziness and his propensity to order others around to do chores in his place. That coincides with those people who observed Alice rowing their canoe on the mail route, with Jarman sometimes propped up in the stern on pillows.]
      His manner was friendly, slow to spurts of anger, yet quick to resent intrusions of his rights as he saw them. His moral fiber was average; while not a stickler for perfect decorum, he conducted his habits and ways to a tone that held the friendship and respect of his fellow men [except, of course, for the ones who pegged him for a tall-tale spinner]. He had one redeeming and outstanding characteristic — his ever-present love for children, be they red or white — a trait he carried to his end. He was fond of the sea, and never happy far from its ever boisterous, changing freedom; he loved the solitude and vastness of the wilderness; hence he was ever more at ease in the squalid camps of the Indians, than on the avenues of crowded civilized communities. . . . The old grind that a sailor "has a girl in every port," aptly fitted Blanket Bill Jarman. Beginning with his captivity on the Northwest Coast, and continuing until near the close of his days, his reputation as an amoroso in the Indian camps never flagged

We warn the squeamish ahead of time that they will have to wade through some of Jeffcott's antiquated racist, patronizing terms when they read his book: "Dusky Clallam maiden" for Alice; and "half-tamed Clallams" and "savage natives" for King George and his tribe, terms that were throwbacks to a century earlier.

The Bremerton myth
(Bremerton Billboard)
Caption from the Jeffcott book: "A signboard near Bremerton proclaims Jarman's fame. Courtesy of Mrs. C.H. Virtue." This photo is evidence of a Jarman myth that we discuss and debunk below. This photo proves that some Kitsap historian helped propagate the myth that Jarman was an early settlers there. We especially hope that Mrs. Virtue's descendants read this story and provide more information about her and the sign.
      A tire dealer erected a billboard near Bremerton in the 1920s era that honored Jarman's supposed settlement nearby:
Bremerton, 5 miles from here
      William Jarman, an Englishman in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Co., was the first to settle in this district. He came in 1852. The first permanent settler was Christian Tutts.
      Of the two claims there, the first was over the top and the second is just plain confused. Whenever Jarman actually lived in the area that is now called Kitsap County and Bremerton (originally named Slaughter County when formed in 1857), that period appears to have been a very brief one in 1852. Regarding Mr. Tutts, that claim seems to be just a sloppy mistake, as we will discuss below.
      Jeffcott inferred from the thin historical record that Alice accompanied Bill when he ranged down south on Puget Sound to the area that would be officially named Slaughter County in January 1857 and soon changed to Kitsap County on July 13 that year. Our skepticism about the Bremerton claim was only reinforced when we consulted our old friend Fredi Perry Pargeter, the author who is the acknowledged expert on Kitsap County history. She disagrees vociferously with the quote from the billboard and when we showed her a photo of the billboard, she told us that:

      I had never heard the story about the billboard nor Jarman having any connection to the community. At the time stated, as you know, there was no Bremerton. The area was covered with thick underbrush and trees to the shorelines. There was a band of natives who lived on what is now Dye's Inlet and they "supposedly" had a fort in what is now the Manette area. Over the years there has been some confusion about a Hudson's Bay outpost in the Bremerton area between Oyster Bay and Mud Bay. The actual Hudson Bay outpost was between Oyster Bay and Mud Bay in the Olympia area.
      Gerald Elfendahl, another Kitsap County historian, also doubts the story altogether. Both he and Fredi thought at first that the 1922 billboard must have referred to Bellingham, not Bremerton. Both pointed out the many times that various historians have confused the two towns, but the text of the billboard clearly referred to "Bremerton, five miles from here."
      After considerable research, we have concluded that whoever created the text for the billboard clearly did create a modern myth or possibly quoted someone else who read their history wrong. As often happens, we were led to at least a partial answer by Donna Sand, an excellent researcher from Bellingham. She discovered that the pioneer settler was Christian Tuttle, not Tutts. The incorrect spelling can be attributed to the famous California historian Hubert Howe Bancroft wrote in his 1890 book, History of Washington, Idaho and Montana, that "Christian Tutts was the first permanent settler on Lummi." Tuttle certainly was the first white settler to stake a claim at Lummi Island, northwest of present Bellingham. Tuttle settled there in Whatcom County in 1871 and, as you will read, Jarman settled at the delta of the Samish River in 1852. That latter area was also part of Whatcom County until 1883, when Skagit County was split off from the mother county.
      After all the research and comparison of various historians, we have concluded that the billboard author simply made a mistake and posted information about Bellingham history, not Bremerton. Now all we have to do is determine who did so and why, and a number of Kitsap researchers are helping in that quest. We still wonder why Kitsap County historians ignored the mistake on the billboard from 1922 to the World War II period, when it was apparently taken down. Luckily for people in that area, there are many excellent historians in the county now, who are much more careful about their research and claims.

The whole Whatcom County becomes Bill's new base
(Jarman and Sehome friends)
Jeffcott found this old print from circa 1900 that showed Bill and his friends from the Sehome Coal Mine days, after Bill had returned from England. L. to r.: Back row — Charles C. Finkbonner, John Fravel, Barney Heyward, George Slater; Front row — Sutcliffe Baxter, Thomas Wynn, Williarm R. Jarman, John R. Jenkins; and an unnamed dog.

      One of Bill's and Alice's first adventures together in 1852 was a move northerly on the Sound by canoe across Admiralty Inlet, then up Guemes Channel to Padilla Bay and finally to Samish Island. Several people noted that one of Alice's strengths was her ability to paddle a canoe, sometimes with Bill napping at the stern, maybe with feather pillows propping him up so he could see to issue her orders and directions. They liked a little bay at the mouth of the Samish River, which Jarman soon named Alice Bay in her honor. The bay gained fame in food circles in the fall of 1985 when Julie Wilkinson Rousseau published the Alice Bay Cookbook with a chapter on the Jarmans. When they arrived, they lived in the camp of the Samish chief who was born an S'Klallam on the Olympic Peninsula and was now living in a cluster of longhouses near the slough that once separated the island from the mainland. The chief's unpronounceable name was initially spelled S'yah-whom by the white settlers, but they soon changed it to Sehome. The chief was Alice's second-cousin; he descended from the same House of Ste-tee-thlum — the son of Whe-yux, and he was a cousin of King George and Duke of York. Edson wrote that Sehome died in 1860.
      The bounty of their new home was a godsend for Bill, because nature had set their table without a lot of back-breaking work required. Besides the fish, which seemed without limit, the coastal regions of Puget Sound were covered with acres of berries and the bays and marshes were full of ducks, geese and brant and the woods were full of mowich (deer) and moolok (elk). Bill wanted to have a place of his own, so they soon paddled their canoe a couple miles upstream to a spot near where, two decades later, Ben Samson and Edward McTaggart and others staked claims and founded the town of Edison, after Dan Dingwall set up a sawmill on Samish Island.
      Bill told Teck that he staked out a donation claim for 640 acres but did not prove up on it; he never said when. We can only assume that he did so after he married Alice so that he could eventually claim 320 acres in each of their names. Jeffcott never established their wedding, but Camfield determined that they married in Port Townsend in January 1854. Mark Welch, the present mayor of Port Townsend wrote in a profile in Peter Simmons's book, City of Dreams, that Jarman lived with Loren Hastings's family for a time, presumably in 1853, so maybe they returned to visit her S'Klallam relatives. Then Donna Sand of Bellingham found a copy of their wedding certificate, dated Jan. 1, 1854, which certified that Wm German and "an Indian woman known as Alice" were married in Port Townsend by L.B. Hastings, Justice of the Peace, with Alfred A. Plummer signing as auditor. That would not be the last time they visited Port Townsend, for both positive and negative reasons, and another early Peninsula settler would soon play a big part in Bill's life.
      In the meantime, other white settlers discovered Bellingham Bay, about 20 miles north of Samish Island. In December 1852, Capt. Henry Roeder was based in Olympia temporarily while seeking a suitable site for building a sawmill with his partner, Russell V. Peabody. Roeder met Chief Cha-wit-zit (also spelled Tsawitsoot and Chow-its-hoot) of the Lummi tribe, and Edson wrote that he asked the Indian if he knew of "any water falling down from a high hill." The chief replied that there was such a place near his home: "Whatcom, noise all the time." Roeder soon named that place Whatcom Falls, where What-coom Creek emptied into the Bay. The partners hired Indian guides and a canoe and they arrived on the Bay on December 15 and discovered the Falls, which they soon sized up as having sufficient drop and volume to turn a mill wheel, in sight of nearby Mount Baker and a dense forest of fir and cedar trees waiting for their axes.

More tall tales re: the Indian Wars
(Whatcom Creek Falls)
Photographer Henry P. Jukes loaned Jeffcott this photo of Whatcom Creek Falls to Jeffcott. It shows the Salt Chuck Canoes that Indians fashioned from cedar trees and used to maneuver between the islands (chuck) of Puget Sound. One of those canoes could have been the one that Bill and Alice used for the mail contract.

      Before long, Bill and Alice paddled back and forth to the growing little village of Whatcom and then Bill built a small sloop and began a fledgling business, trading goods to settlements all along the eastern shore of Puget Sound and ranging between Steilacoom, Port Townsend and Whatcom. By 1855, settlers all over Washington became apprehensive about rumors of possible Indian attacks on the small settlements. Hostile Indians both from the Sound and from the Yakama (now Yakima) area east of the Cascades attacked sporadically and members of the Muckleshoot and Klickitat tribes murdered settlers living along the White River near modern-day Auburn on Oct. 28, 1855.
      Roeder apparently valued Jarman's experience with Indian tribes and his ability to communicate with them so Bill became accepted in the Bay community. Peabody formed Company H of the Washington Volunteers, but Bill was noticeably absent from its ranks. At the same time, James Taylor led a team of men who built a blockade at what is now D Street, between Bancroft and Clinton Streets. Captain Pickett arrived on Aug. 26, 1856, with 68 soldiers from Company D of the Ninth Infantry, who helped finish the fort. Although Bill's claim to Teck — that he "split rails etc. at Fort Bellingham at $75 month" and "carried" them, earning "$240, of which paid $200 to Indians," — may have been legit, a couple more of his tales are of questionable value. First, he claimed that Pickett assigned him to shinny up a pole to clear the first flag from where its halyards became entangled in a tree, because "he was the only person present with sufficient sailor skill to accomplish the deed. Jeffcott conceded that the claim could be true, but did so with a prominent question mark.
      The next tale by Jarman to Teck re: the Indian Wars, however, does not pass muster. "Bill was interpreter in 1856 on Corvette Decatur, Captain Webster, pilot, noted as strongest man on Sound, could lift timber that took six men with hand-spikes to handle. Decatur stationed at Seattle '55. Was interpreter 2 mos. Spoke Clallam and a little Snohomish, got no pay." There are holes in the story everywhere. The first absurd claim was that wife Alice was with him on board, along with their baby, Alice. But Baby Alice was not born until Feb. 8, 1856, as Bill confirmed elsewhere in that 1897 interview, and she was born at Samish "when Bill was post mail messenger." The Decatur's famous shelling of Indian attackers at Seattle, by ship's batteries and landed artillery, occurred on Jan. 26, 1856. Second, there was no Captain Webster on the Decatur. When the ship anchored on Elliott Bay in the fall of 1855, Capt. Isaac L. Sterret was in command, and just before the shelling, Capt. Guert Gansevoort replaced him. We will address Bill's actual employment during that period — including the identification of a mystery employer/scoundrel in Part Two of our Biography. We also note here the difficulty in constructing a reliable family tree for Jarman and family. Although Jeffcott concluded that Alice was their first child, he notes later in the book that Bill and Alice also had two sons, Johnnie and Jimmie, and that at least Johnnie was older. He also told Teck in 1897 that his daughter, Alice, was 47, which would mean she born in about 1850, so you can imagine our frustration.

Liquor, mail and the telegraph, and the Cooper mail affair
(Blockhouse Fort Bellingham)
This photo is of the blockhouse at Fort Bellingham, for which Jarman help split rails. It dates from 1858, after Capt. George Pickett brought U.S. troops to protect the settlers and build the fort.

      After they marry and especially after a baby comes along, even those sailors who formerly looked for a girl in every port often haul down the sails and spend more time at hearth and home. That was not the case with William R. Jarman. Over the next two decades until the death of his wife, Alice, he intermittently spent a month or two or a year or two at their home in the Samish River area, but peripatetic wandering and dalliances with other Indian girls took up most of his time, along with an arrest for homicide.
      At the time that Alice gave birth to their daughter, Alice, at Samish on Feb. 8, 1856, Bill was beginning what he hoped would be lucrative employment, carrying the mail by canoe between Steilacoom, Port Townsend and Whatcom — and small settlements between as a sub-contractor for a man named Cooper. The relationship between the men soon turned sour, however, and Jarman spared no invective in his interview with editor Frank Teck in 1897, and as quoted in the books with the most extensive Jarman biographies: The Fourth Corner, by Lelah Jackson Edson in 1951, and Blanket Bill Jarman, by Percival R. Jeffcott in 1851. But it was Thomas Camfield who explained who Cooper actually was and who took us back to 1848, Bill's original year of living with the S'Klallam tribe near what would soon be Port Townsend.
      In the accompanying story in Issue 40 where we explored in depth the real story of the first settlers of Port Townsend, we quote from Camfield's excellent 2002 book, Port Townsend, An Illustrated History of Shanghaiing, Shipwrecks, Soiled Doves and Sundry Souls, where he discovered an obscure April 26, 1899, Seattle P-I obituary of one John Cooper of Port Ludlow. Perhaps the three Jarman biographers we mentioned above did not have access to that article, but we know that was Bill's employer because the lowest of the triple-decker headline read, "When Seattle Was a Village of But Six Houses This Pathfinder Carried Mail So That Isolate Citizens Might Hear News of the World." Camfield was even more convinced when he read an account of a 1972 interview that told the story of the three sailors who sailed 'Round the Horn in 1848 and jumped ship on the Olympic Peninsula near future-Port Ludlow. Cooper was one of them and the interview was with the grandson of one of his fellow deserters. Hanford Hawkins recalled the family story that "Mail was picked up at Victoria, delivered to Port Townsend, Seattle and Fort Steilacoom. It was carried in a small (18- or 20-foot) open sloop. The second man aboard (Cooper) was the 'boat puller,' who pulled on the oars in the absence of a breeze. An occasional passenger also was carried."
      The Cooper affair was an important early event because sometime in 1856 he obtained a contract from the U.S. Government, which Edson noted was worth several thousand dollars, to carry messages, mail and express on the route we detailed above. According to Teck's interview ntoes, mail before then had only been carried north from Port Townsend to Penn's Cove, where Charles Phillips of Whidbey picked it up an, using canoe and Indian paddlers, brought it to Whatcom once a week. Cooper displayed his incompetence, however, on his first trip. Jeffcott wrote:

      Due to the fact that he must deliver at Fort Townsend, of necessity, he had to take the outside route by way of Admiralty Inlet. That treacherous passage of winds, cross-currents and tiderips, especially in winter, was very dangerous even to larger craft; and to canoes at times, completely impossible. . . . On his first trip, Cooper in trying to traverse the inside route on the east side of Whidbey Island and the Swinomish, got himself hopelessly lost in the unfamiliar channels. Fortunately, Blanket Bill and his wife, to whom those waters were well known, from this oft repeated trips to Port Townsend by that route, luckily happened along and piloted the befuddled Cooper with mail to Bellingham Bay
(Jarman homesite)
Author Ray Jordan, who lived as a child a few miles west in the old town of Belfast, shows Jeffcott the original Jarman homesite on the hill north of present Prairie Road and Jarman Prairie. Click on the thumbnail for the full-sized photo.

      Teck wrote that Cooper received $12,000 for the first year of 1856-57, but he must have meant $1,200. That was Bill's version and Cooper's side was never recorded, but contemporaries testified to Jarman's actual work on the route during the period. One of those witnesses was Col. Isaac N. Ebey, the very early settler on Whidbey Island. He and his second wife, Emily, kept a diary. As Jarman ranted to Teck in 1897, "Cooper absconded. Bill supposed to get $120 a month worked a year but got only $200," and claimed that Lt. Col. Silas Casey of Steilacoom (who arrived on the Sound in 1856), Major Granville O. Haller and Capt. Pickett backed him up on the claim. The Ebeys' dairies of 1856-57 documented that Jarman and a crew of nine Indians paddled the Sound route in a salt chuck canoe and often stayed overnight. They also noted that they soon tired of their boarders and that they were much more occupied with gambling, sometimes until they literally lost their clothes, than they were devoted to timely delivery.
      Jeffcott noted: "It would appear that Jarman and his crew of Indians did not take seriously the need for dispatch on the delivery of their mail and express." He also recorded one incident on Whidbey when Jarman and crew became suspicious that marauding Northern Indians (from upper Vancouver Island) were about to attack, so they beached their canoe and hid; Jarman also described this incident to Teck. The attackers soon appeared and searched unsuccessfully but smashed Bill's canoe and then continued onwards. He was then forced to portage his cargo across the Island to Penn's Cove, "where he succeeded in bartering for another canoe with old Chief Charley Snekellum of the Skagits [near Coupeville], whose illihee was at that place, and well known to Jarman." Jeffcott insisted that the incident was not the only one where Jarman "possessed somewhat of a charmed existence; or possibly it was just plain luck." Not long after the attack on Whidbey, Jarman and his paddlers crossed paths with the Northern Indians near Burrows Island. The only reason they escaped was because Bill's canoe was lighter and faster.
      We have to take Jarman's word for his claim that he was also on Whidbey the day of Aug. 11, 1857, and that he warned Ebey that Northerns were camped on a nearby beach and that they were looking for a white man of authority to murder in revenge for the death of one of their chiefs at Port Gamble at the hands of U.S. sailors on Nov. 25, 1856, when the warship Massachusetts fired on hostile Indians, killing 26 of them. Bill told Teck that after Cooper absconded, mail was carried on a schooner named the Mary Dunn and then in a sloop and then in a little sternwheeler steamboat called the Mary Woodruff by a captain named Panama Jack Cosgrove. "Had to stop engine to blow whistle," Teck wrote. A trip was completed once a week from Whatcom to Seattle in 1858, the first regular scheduled service.

Continue to Part Two


1. Slaughter County, Kitsap County, Lt. William A. Slaughter
      The Washington Territorial Legislature named a new county on Jan. 16, 1857, when they formed Slaughter County out of parts of Jefferson and King counties. The eastern shore of the new county would front on Puget Sound and included Port Gamble, which was rapidly growing to where it would be home to the most important sawmill in the territory, Pope & Talbot. At a general election of July 13, 1857, however, voters in the sparsely settled new county, chose instead the name of Kitsap, for the local Indian chief, whose name has been translated as "good" or "brave." The first name honored Lt. William A. Slaughter, a West Point-trained Army officer who was killed in a battle with Indians at the confluence of the Green and White rivers, east of Seattle, in December 1855. The rumor that the name was changed in July because the owner of a Slaughter House hotel is apocryphal. See the full story of the county's naming and Lt. Slaughter's death in our full article on the subject in Issue 40. [Return]

2. Hubert Howe Bancroft (1832-1918)
      Hubert Howe Bancroft moved to California from Buffalo, New York, in 1852. He briefly joined the '49ers in gold mining, but he soon returned to his profession of publishing. He initially set up shop in Crescent City and then in 1856, he moved to San Francisco, where he founded H.H. Bancroft & Co. From 1871 to 1889, Bancroft began to specialize in the history of the West Coast. He studied both Indian tribes and the history of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, western Canada and Alaska. He hiring local historians and writers for his history series that grew to more than 30 volumes, and sent out field workers who recorded interviews and memoirs from surviving pioneers. His book, History of Washington, Idaho and Montana, Volume 31 (San Francisco: The History Company, 1890) is the book that compiled the most comprehensive history of the Territory to that point. His business tactics were not above reproach, however. He was heavily criticized for his historical take on the missionary, Marcus Whitman, as well as depending on more than 3,000 pages of original material by Eldridge Morse of Snohomish, and the work of Amos Bowman of Anacortes, but giving them short-shrift in the final books. [Return]

3. Christian Tuttle, not Tutts
(Tuttle family)
This photo of Christian Tuttle's family on Lummi Island, northwest of Bellingham, is from Jeffcott's earlier 1949 book, Nooksack Tales and Trails.

      Hubert H. Bancroft misspelled this pioneer's name, but the historians of Lummi have not. Tuttle was born in Michigan, but ran away from home as a youth and wound up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he shipped out on a whaling vessel bound for Alaska. After a round trip via Cape Horn, Tuttle returned to his home in Michigan, but the 1849 Gold Rush lured him west again, where he prospected for gold at many of the rush locations of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and British Columbia. In 1871 he was headed for Alaska again but he paddled around Bellingham Bay in a canoe and was taken with the beauty and prospects of Lummi Island, which was then home to Indians an no white settlers. (Information from the Rootsweb website administered by Susan Nahas.)
      Tuttle homesteaded on the island and traded at Port Gamble and Utsalady until retailers set up shop on the mainland at the original villages of Whatcom and Sehome. In the mid-1870s he became the ward of teenager Clara Shrewsbury (or Shrewsberry), who was born in Crescent Bay, California, in 1858. The book, Shared Heritage, A History of Lummi Island, by Hutchings, Clark and Hudson (2004 Lummi Island Heritage Trust), states that he homestead 320 acres and increased that to 640 acres after marrying 18-year-old Clara in 1876. That is very confusing, however, since those sizes of homesteads were only granted by the U.S. government to settlers who resided in the territory sometime through 1853. Christian died on Jan. 4, 1902; Clara preceded him on Aug. 17, 1901. They had seven children together, with only sons Marcus and Christian remaining in Whatcom County. [Return]

4. Chief Snakelum of the Skagit Indians
      Teck probably spelled phonetically in this case. The chief's name was spelled many ways by white observers, from Snecklum to Snetlum to Netlam to Snakelum, the accepted spelling for Snakelum Point, just east of Coupeville on the wide point of the lower part of Whidbey Island. Dorothy Neil and Lee Brainerd chose Netlam in their 1989 book, By Canoe and Sailing Ship They Came: A History of Whidbey Island. Catholic missionary Father Francis N. Blanchet came to the island in 1840 to save souls and a spent a year there, encountering several bands of Indians, including the Kik-i-allus. Snakelum was the last leader of the Penn Cove Skagits and lived with his wife, Katie Barlow Snakelum, where Bill found him. Like other Indians in the Skagit area, they feasted on salmon and berries and welcomed Blanchet into their midst. George Gibbs, the trained ethnologist who was the acknowledged Indian expert in Oregon and Washington in the 1850s, noted that the Indians on the island were already cultivating potatoes, the crop that would replace the Camas bulb as their starch staple. See the accompanying chapter on Jarman and the S'Klallam for a full profile of Gibbs. [Return]

5. Illahee
      The accepted spelling of this Suquamish word is Illahee, which the tribe explains has several meanings including "a place of rest." [Return]

Continue to Part Two

(Samish Island book cover)
Links, background reading and sources
      We are pleased to announce the publication of a complete history of the island where the Samish Indians were based. Samish Island, a History: From the Beginning to the 1970s by Susan and Fred Miller is a terrific new book and a loving story of the hook of land just west of Edison in Skagit County. Look for it at your favorite bookstore or online. There is no ISBN number, but the publishing information is: Mount Vernon, WA: Copy & Print Store, 2007. Gail Hopley laid out the book, which also includes poems and stories by and from one of our favorite writers, Berniece Hoyt Leaf, of Sedro-Woolley and Juniper Beach. When we finish reading the book, we will review it in depth in the free home pages of the Journal. If you want to purchase the self-published Miller book in your area, Fred shared a current list of retail locations: "WD Foods in Allen; Skagit County Museum at LaConner and Anacortes Museums; Stowe's Clothing Store and Horen's Drugstore, both in Burlington; Rosabella's Gift and Apple Store on Allen-West and Farm to Market Road; Rhododendron Cafe on Chuckanut Drive; and Blau's Oysters, here on Samish Island. Books can also be ordered thru our e-mail ( and at Hopley's e-mail at (ghopley@wavecable,com). Or people can phone me at 360-766-6548 or Gail Hopley at 766-6823. We will go on line to such outlets as Amazon at some point. We arranged the publication ourselves, so there is no publisher sales outlet." If you live outside the area, look for it at your favorite bookstore or better yet, ask them to stock it. There is no ISBN number, but the publishing information is: Mount Vernon, WA: Copy & Print Store, 2007.
Attention: We are pleased that the descendants from Jarman's sister — the Vine family in England &mdash read our stories and emailed us in the fall of 2008. After some discussion, Art Blakemore and his wife, Lyn, have decided to visit the Northwest in June and July, 2009. We have arranged for host families to take them on tours and we are planning for a special seminar on the importance of Blanket Bill, from 2-5 p.m., Saturday, June 27, at the new Burlington Library. Details will be shared as they are firmed up. No reservations will be required and there will be no admission charge, but if you would like to attend, please send us a quick email and let us know what most interests you.

Story posted on Oct. 12, 2002, last updated Jan. 23, 2009
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