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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
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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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Catherine "Cricket" Savage recalls
her childhood at Equality Colony

(Catherine Savage)
Catherine Savage as a young woman

      Catherine Savage Pulsipher, one of the most important writers of the upper Skagit river, had a unique experience at age six when her parents moved in 1898 to the Equality Colony in Skagit County, Washington, two miles south of Edison, to mill lumber for the socialist experimental colony. In the period of 1885-1915, Washington state was the site for many such colonies, which grew out of the Financial Panic of 1893. Below you will find her recollections, along with notes from two other works that cover the Colony in some depth. I'm indebted to Barbara Thompson and Dan Royal, descendants of George Savage and Lewis Alexander Boyd, for their contributions to our research and the photos below.

Personal Notes On The Equality Colony
From Recollections of Catherine Savage Pulsipher
      Our association with the Equality Colony began (quoting from my father's diary) when "hearing of a peculiar colony in the north end of the country, I went out of curiosity to investigate and in the end made a bargin to run the Portable Mill for the colony." The aim of the colony was to prove people could live well without money and they worked for a payment known as "scrip" which was used as cash and for dealings with the supply department. They wished also to prove that people could live together in a harmonious group by their own labor and cooperation. Father was not a member of the Colony but he did move there with the intention of becoming one. He desired to see how well the theory would work out before he became a true member. Because he did not join the group, he was known as one of the "hatchery Folk," or one who was being processed for membership or "hatched out," as it were. The Colony began breaking up before he formally joined and we moved to Bay View.
      I have been told that my memory of the Colonists living in large apartment houses is not in accordance with the literature of the Colony which states that families had homes of their own. My memories are of big apartment houses. Some were for families and others for the bachelor working men. The aim of the Equality group was for people to own individual homes and small tracts of land as payment for putting all their possessions into the project. However, at the time we withdrew from the Colony, few, if any, had the homes they had been promised. It is possible that some members did when the Colony dissolved. Mr. Henry Halladay, the president, and father-in-law of Bert Deyo Savage (my brother), did own his home and lived and died there. If a person was given property and did not continue to live in the Colony, he lost it as it could not be sold.
      Members were assigned to whatever task they could do best. Father, a surveyor and millwright, brought his mill to the tract. His diary states: "We ran the Portable Mill for 6 mo. and 3 wks. It was a good job and I liked it fine." He and my older brothers cut the timber for the buildings. The stump land was turned into a productive farm center by hard labor.

Mill Buildings
      Colonists who arrived in wagons turned their teams over to the community effort. Farm work was done by these teams and the community owned equipment. Much grain was raised and made into a dry cereal similar to today's "Wheaties" and "Corn Flakes," but without added sweetening. An expert from a large New York State factory headed this enterprise. Members objected to eating this "dry fodder" and were permitted to use sugar on it. A group of Swiss tended the dairy herd and made the cheese and butter. A fishing fleet to which my younger brother Harry was assigned brought in food from the Puget Sound. All surplus food was sold outside. Garden seeds and flower bulbs were also raised and sold outside. There was a tailor shop where garment workers kept busy and a dress shop where the ladies did sewing of all kinds. A central laundry and ironing room was operated by women who liked that type of work. My mother, Georgetta Adelia Savage, worked in the assembly kitchen and dining room while I was put into a community school and nursery.
(Savage mill, Birdsview)
Savage mill on the south shore of the Skagit across from Birdsview, originally built by Birdsey Minkler — painting by John Savage, George's son, who later became a noted artist and barn ainter. Courtesy of Ted and Betty Savage

      School was taught by those best qualified. One of the teachers was Miss Kate Halladay, the daughter of the Colony leader. She became the bride of my brother Bert and our families celebrated the first wedding held in the Colony on November 24, 1898. Quoting from my father's diary about this marriage: "We were all pleased and benefited by this adventure." Miss Kate was my first teacher. My last school teacher was a well-educated young man from Europe. He had been lamed in a sword duel and could not do heavy labor. I became part of the school group he taught and my memories of him are most pleasant. He was kindly, devoted to his pupils and took us on many interesting trips (known today as "field trips") to break the monotony of study.
      Any grownup or child with talent was urged to appear at entertainments and because of my long, black curls and precocious manner I was often asked to recite. The president of the Colony, Mr. Halladay, was fond of me and called me "Cricket." He said back in western Kansas, his home state, there were many crickets and they all had the same energetic bounce I had.
      The Colony had its own doctors and medical care but no hospital at the time. Instead they had what was known as a "pest camp" for infectious diseases. When a diphtheria epidemic swept the Colony, all infected were taken to the "camp" and many luckless guests never survived. They were confined in tents and had little actual medical care. Many of the children died and Colony members aroused by this loss sought improvements and better care of the ill.
      The Equality people were not Anarchists, but that was the type of people who invaded the Colony and led to the downfall of the project. Leader Halladay had the Colonists' interests at heart and fought to keep them together but discord and fear were spread by the late joiners and in the end this caused the dissolvement of the Colonists' attempts at self-support. Many rumors came to us after we left the Colony, of the vicious means used to break up the group by the "Reds" or "Bomski Boys," as they were known. They were hoodlums who came into the Colony for the purpose of driving off the original settlers and claiming their land by right of settlement. The young teacher mentioned prior was beaten to death by these hoodlums when he attempted to persuade the original colonists to vote this element out of the group. My father was not a member of the Socialist Party, but he did affiliate with a left-wing group known as the People's Party. One group came to the colony who were known as "Free Lovers." Nudism was practiced by this organization but they agreed not to indulge while Colony members. But as "Free Love" was frowned upon by the Equality members these folks were voted out, and in a short while they moved to a Puget Sound Island."

Our background research on the
Savage family and Equality Colony
      From a memoir by Catherine's father, we learned that the period when George Savage and family were at the Colony was indeed a restless period in the family's life. Often a melancholic figure, George explains those Depression years this way:
      Here my mind is dim as to my next move but I think I went back to the farm. Times were getting very hard and people were getting away from the farms, that could get away and some of the farms are vacant to this day. This was in Pres. Cleaveland's [Grover Cleveland] second administration [about 1898].
      Hearing of a pecular colony in the north end of the county, I went out of curiosity to investigate and in the end made a bargain to run the portable mill (which Mr. Davis had given up after 6 month) for this colony. So we moved to the colony, taking the mill and ran it for 6 months and 3 weeks. It was a good job and I liked it fine.
      While we were at the Colony my son Bert married the President's daughter (the school teacher) so we were all pleased and benifited by this adventure. Here again my mind fails me. The mental strain was beginning to tell on both my wife and my-self. The next I remember, I moved the Colony-mill to Bay View.

      Soon George would divorce his wife, Georgetta, and would marry a widow who owned a boarding house in Hamilton. But meanwhile, Catherine had started school and was filing away impressions that would lead to her extensive writing later in her life.
(Georgetta and George Savage, 1890s)
Georgetta and George Savage, 1890s

      Reading Charles Pierce LeWarne's well-researched book, Utopias on Puget Sound, we learned that George moved his portable mill to the Equality Colony in February 1898 to provide finished lumber for the growing collection of families. There his family met the family of Equality President Henry W. Halladay, a Socialist from Kansas who remained on the Colony site until his death in 1931, 25 years after most of the land was auctioned off at the Skagit County courthouse. Several wives were growing disillusioned with the project by 1898, including the wife of Colony founder Ed Pelton. They temporarily left the property at the same time that George did, in the fall of 1898. We do not know how Georgetta felt about the politics of the Colony, but we know from her contemporaries that she soon grew weary of the crowded conditions there. George believed in some of the concepts of socialism but insisted on keeping his business separate rather than folding it into the commune. His independence was shared by a minority of other early residents and the argument continued unresolved for years between those who believed in individualism versus practical socialism.
      George was much too independent, anyway, to follow orders by the Colony Assembly. The president merely presided at meetings; the assembly ran the commune, often in meetings that lasted for hours. But while he was there, his independent spirit was tolerated because milled lumber was such a high priority. LeWarne explains that Savage headed a crew of about ten people. In just ten weeks his crew produced 80,000 feet of lumber and 50,000 shingles from the abundant fire, cedar and spruce in the area between Blanchard and Edison. Although the Colony hoped George would stay as a member or donate his portable mill, he eventually moved on and took the equipment with him. Much of the lumber he milled was used for the two apartment houses that Catherine mentioned above.
(Bert and Kate's wedding 1898)
Bert and Kate's wedding 1898

      While the Savage family lived at the Colony, Catherine turned six and Kate Halladay, 18, was her first teacher. According to the book, Equality Colony (by Frederick E. Smith and edited by his sister, Florence Smith Lowe), Kate taught kindergarten while the older children went to a one-room school on Colony Creek in Blanchard. Smith recalled that the school was high on the hill. "The climb quickened first the breath and then the mind with a sense of rising into a sphere where science and nature, art and learning shaped days filled with exercises worth remembering."
      Kate soon caught the eye of Bert Savage, who was 30 at the time. When his father moved the mill away, Bert stayed on to help the colonists build their own mill. Export of the shingles cut at the mill became the largest source of income for the Colony. At least one of Kate's brothers worked for Bert and another became the Colony blacksmith. LeWarne reports that girls at the Colony complained about the dreary sameness of their clothes. Kate was determined to wear a gown of beautiful fabric, so she held out money from her salary as teacher and sent away for silk and lace for her wedding trousseau.
      A wedding was a welcome social event at their fairly remote location, so the Colony went all out to celebrate their marriage on Nov. 28, 1898. LeWarne describes the setting:

      Ferns, fir boughs and wild grape tied with white ribbons adorned the schoolhouse and an organ was borrowed for the occasion. In the best society column tradition the colony paper reported the bride's ensemble as "cream Henrietta silk, lace and watered silk sash, moss roses and buds in her hair, carrying in her hand a bouquet of maiden hair ferns tied with cream ribbon."
      By the time of the wedding, George had moved his mill to Bay View. According to his memoir, he stayed there for three years, then sold it to a man named Culp from Lopez Island.
      From here on the meloncholey or halucination of both myself and my wife increased rapidly. We both became misanthropic to such an extenet that I was seized with the wander lust. I could not sleep or eat, I think my mind became almost a total wreck.
      Then I determined to go to Vancouver Island where a friend of mine had taken a timber claim. His name was Benson. When my wife found I was bound to go she asked me to set her free which I did.

(Original Savage home, Birdsview)
This may be the original Savage home where Catherine grew up, from the Zola Pulsipher scrapbook via Barbara Thompson

      We learned from a Dec. 2, 1948, article in the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times about their golden wedding anniversary that Bert and Kate moved from the colony to Birdsview on March 1, 1899. On March 17 that year they moved to the old family home on his father's homestead. That house burned in 1908 and Bert built a new home from lumber he milled at a water-driven sawmill on their property. They moved into their new home on Christmas Eve that year. They sold that homestead in 1944 and moved elsewhere in Birdsview. They had six children together and eleven grandchildren.
      George's reference above to the man called Benson was about Steamboat Dan Benson, who first settled at Skiyou in the late 1870s. He lived on his namesake Benson Creek, which is now named Hansen Creek. Throughout the 1880s he was master of several Puget Sound sternwheelers, including the Chehalis, Josephine and the Eliza Anderson. In 1888 he moved his family to Seattle and during the Klondike gold excitement he both mastered steamers and prospected. He died on Treadway Island on Feb. 15, 1900, when a boulder rolled over him.
      Catherine Savage married Henry "Happy" Pulsipher in 1912 and went on to become the grand writer of the upper Skagit river area besides being a phenomenal fisherman, hunter and trapper. They had a daughter, Zola Catherine, and a boy who was stillborn. We are still seeking an obituary for all members of the family and other details about Happy, Zola and other members of the family.

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