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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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Samish Island, a History
a new book by Sue and Fred Miller

(Miller book cover)
      We have had the pleasure this fall to read a regional history book that joins Yarns of the Skagit Country by Ray Jordan, and Samishgold Memories by Lawrence E. Hansen as the very best examples of what self-taught historians in Skagit County can produce. Fred and Sue Miller, longtime residents of Samish Island have produced a fine history called Samish Island, a History from the Beginning to the 1970s. Hansen also provided information for the book. And the Millers provided more information to supplement this special Issue 40 about William R. "Blanket Bill" Jarman.
      Many of us have hoped for a couple of decades that someone who knew and appreciated the island would comb back through original sources and present a book that would explain the geology, the geography, the Indian tribes who lived there for centuries, the original white settlers, the businesses they formed and the towns that once stood there but are now long gone. The Millers have done that and much more. The book is a collaborative effort. As Fred explained to me in a recent interview, he wrote chapters 1-6 and 11 and his wife authored the rest. We are all especially grateful that they have provided an extensive index with the book, something that many regional historians overlook or decide not to include for cost reasons. Besides what the readers learn from the narrative, they can also learn many details of the Island in the extensive footnotes, which lead to sources that supplement the basic information.
      The Millers carefully studied the published books, stories and narratives of the Island. Just as with the rest of us, they, they wound up having as many questions as they found answers. So they began making treks to the museums, galleries and libraries all over the region and state. They also ranged far afield with queries, as far away as the Spanish Naval Museum to see what they could find about the exploration of Puget Sound by the Spanish from 1774-on. They found some wonderful material from the time that the Spanish Captains Francisco Eliza and Salvador Fidalgo recorded the Sound waters and islands. Among other highlights in the book, they share a breathtaking sketch drawn by 24-year-old artist, pilot and cartographer Jose Cardero. This exploration was the first known European contact with the Samish Indians and after seeing the west point of Samish Island, the Spanish named it Punta de Solano or Point Solano, a name that did not survive renaming.

Samish Indian tribe
      They also profile the Samish Indian tribe, which has been based on various islands for centuries, but after wars and raids by Northern Indians and decimated numbers due to diseases brought by Caucasian explorers they wound up establishing their base and building extensive longhouses on Samish Island by the 18th and 19th centuries. The Millers then describe the idyllic days of the tribe in the early 19th century and progress on to the time of the Indian Wars and Treaties of 1855-56 and especially to the time from 1867-on when white settlers began encroaching on tribal land. The second half of the 19th century was a time of sadness as the Indians were dispersed to Guemes and other islands and reservations.
      Especially interesting is their study of Chief Harry Tet (or Harry Samish, among several other names), who worked hard to maintain the dignity of his people and wound up being honored as a friend of the settlers who sympathized with the tribe's plight. One of their many marvelous discoveries is a 1947 term paper written by Doris Green, which includes interview with pioneer descendants, description of tribal history and a map. Indeed, the maps are another highlight to the book, drawn by various individuals in both in the 19th and 20th centuries and plat maps from various sources.
      As in all good books that we read for the project, we learned many new details that are important for understanding settlement of the Northwest. For instance, we learned about the wappato plant that was a staple of the Indians' diet. Wappato, or Arrowhead (also known as tule potato), is an aquatic plant (Saggitaria sagittifolia), which was apparently indigenous to the island. Both leaves and root are used in Chinese cooking. For those who swear at dandelions' annual appearance, we also discovered how the Samish prepared boiled dandelion root. In careful footnotes, the Millers attribute those facts to Dr. Wayne Suttles and Terry Slotemaker (Anacortes Museum volunteer), respectively. But most important, the Millers explained that the Iroquois Indians may have been even more important than priests for the early introduction of the Catholic religion to Northwest Indians — a fact we had overlooked before. We explain below what we discovered in further research on that subject.
      I also very much appreciated their descriptions of the geography and geology of the Island. They went so far as to track down the dozens of earthquakes that resulted from tectonic plates colliding and they show the fault lines that extend vertically on both sides of the island. They also the question of how the Island was originally formed, how it was altered during periods of glaciation and the formation of the waterway between the Island the mainland, which eventually became a slough and was filled in by settlers at different times.

Where and how to find the book

Our mea culpa
      We want to sincerely apologize to the Millers for prematurely posting a mini-review of their book in Issue 40, which included excerpts of their book, along with photos that were proprietary. We received a copy of the book just before they left for vacation. We should have waited until they returned and discussed such a story with them and we should have asked for their approval. We did not and that was a mistake that we regret.
      As Fred explained, some of the photos of the book were obtained after considerable effort and promises that they would not be reprinted without permission of the agencies and those who donated them. In addition, some of our excerpts from the book were based on memories of sources who also asked that they not be reprinted without permission. In our zeal and excitement over reading this fine work, we erred and we apologize not only to the Millers but the original contributors. We want to assure the contributors that the Millers did not authorize the reprint and did not violate their original promises. We pulled down the story immediately after Fred explained the situation to us. Further, we will not post any Miller excerpts or photo reproductions until we are specifically authorized. In addition, we are providing space for the Millers to explain why they are concerned and the assurances that they gave to sources.

      Another question they answer for all of us is why and how the two towns of Samish and Atlanta were platted in the same month of June 1883, to the west and east of the narrow neck of the middle of the Island, by William Dean and G.W.L. (George Washington Lafayette Allen), respectively. Their description of the docks, hotels, saloons and buildings, along with the follow-up of each and the post offices, is very valuable to the historian.
      With Chapter 8, they begin describing the early settlers, starting with Daniel Dingwall, who settled on the land around what is now called Scott Point in 1867 and soon built a sawmill there and started other businesses before losing the property to Major Granville O. Haller. Especially valuable in that section is the information from Gladys Squires. James Squires Sr. and his extended family were very important settlers on the south shore of the Island and her essays are vital in understanding the early settlement. You will learn a great deal about the early logging and fishing, on through the years when Japanese immigrants recognized the great potential for oyster propagation, one of the very most important resources there in modern days.
      In Chapter 10 you will learn about "The Middle Years" in the first half of the 20th Century, when Rum Runners sought refuge in the bays and coves and brought important dollars during national Prohibition and the nationwide Depression. In this and other chapters, you will learn about the roads that were built, the process of stringing wires for electricity and telephone and establishing water companies and fire departments. In the following chapter, Fred reviews the many attempts by developers to radically change the nature of the island for real estate and for industry. As he says, "I was there, I was involved, but I learned even more from finding the official records.
      In the last five chapters, Sue Miller lists and describes all the families who formed social units on the Island. She starts with the farmers and homesteaders, then progresses on to the different distinct parts of the Island: North Beach, Middle Island, Neck of the Island and West End. In order to this, she drew on her own memories and the stories she has heard from old-timers over the years and she also interviewed those old-timers and their descendants in order to profile the families who formed strong social bonds, helped each other during the challenging times and hung on even when times were tough and when developers wanted to change the nature of the communities.
      She profiles wonderful character such as Elizabeth Eckenberger, who settled on the south and east portion of the island with her husband, George, and was definitely not the doormat or "little woman" in his shadow. Stories about her have always tickled my funny bone and Sue takes us under the surface for even more. She also profiles Judge Elmon Scott, the Chief Justice of the Washington Supreme Court just before the turn of the 20th Century, who later raised his family in Bellingham and who bought much of the old Dingwall/Haller property. His grandson, Scottie Elmon, is still a beloved member of the community. She also features stories and poems by Berniece Hoyt Leaf, one of our dearest friends, and by Catherine McIntyre McClintock — memories of when Sedro-Woolley's McIntyre family of Skagit Steel fame summered on the Island. I especially enjoyed Bernie's memories of when she was a very young girl and witnessed the fire that burned Allen's Atlanta Home Hotel — then known as Lummi Lodge, to the ground on Jan. 5, 1933.

Where and how to find the book
      We could go on and on, but instead, we urge you to seek out the book and read it for yourself. As Fred explains, they are not traditional publishers. The couple self-published this book and have not set up an organized marketing chain yet. They also emphasize that it is most decidedly a non-profit project, just as many of us embark on in the dedicated quest towards uncovering and sharing history: "Any funds generated after expenses will be donated and earmarked for college scholarships, either thru the Abby Memorial Fund or the Samish Island Community Group, which is non profit and sponsor of the book.." So, you will have to jump through a hoop or two to obtain the book. But trust us . . . it is worth the effort. Fred also emphasized the important part that Gail Hopley and her mother played in constructing the book and preparing it for publication.
      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. Below, we provide a capsule biography of the authors that they provided:

By and about Fred and Sue Miller
      Fred grew up on a small farm in the Sterling area and then lived his youth as a town kid in Burlington, graduating from BEHS in 1957. Susan, four years younger, was born in Aberdeen, Washington, and graduated from Centralia High School in 1961. Both have four-plus years of college education and BA Degrees. Fred worked about 24 years in various jobs in Criminal Justice positions. Susan taught High School English and French for several years and then Head Start for two years, all in the Burlington district. While raising three daughters, Susan also operated the Samish Island Pre-School, and in the next 25 years, more than 200 Island children began their learning process inside those school doors. She is active in the Samish Arts and Crafts Committee, doing stained glass and quilting.
      They each rented small homes on North Beach of Samish Island in the mid 1960's. Then they moved to the narrow neck of Samish, beginning their married life, renting part of a duplex from Mabel Hickson in 1967. In the spring of 1968 they purchased an older small beach home directly adjacent the beach, down at the bottom of the bluff about a quarter-mile from Camp Kirby at the southwest end of the Island. They added to and remodeled that home and have lived there for nearly 40 years. Their home life has thus been part of many of the Island areas and among the many neighbors they value.
      Fred has a lifelong interest in hiking and canoeing and a background in Geology and Mining. He also has a library of paleohistory books and many works from the study of genealogy. He has traveled the western states further developing those interests. He researched all aspects of Part I of this Samish History book. He wrote the Dedication, Introduction, Chapters 1 through 6, and Chapter 11 in Part II, as well as the Afterward section and the Appendix. Susan coordinated, interviewed Islanders, collected data, wrote, and organized the thousands of items of information and island family histories. She did virtually all of Part II, The Settler History, as well as the Acknowledgements for Part II and the Information Page regarding the Abby Memorial Fund, which recognizes the contributions of our deceased youngest daughter. The Abby Fund fully covered all the preparation costs of this book. It also funds college scholarships and other causes.
      Finally, the book benefited from thousands of hours of paid and unpaid work by dedicated Island volunteers who formatted photos, did page design and indexing, wrote family memories, and proof read this work. It is therefore not only the work of Susan and Fred Miller; this history book is a Samish Island Community effort. The result is a book which will enlighten, amuse, and also educate as it documents the history of this special Island called Samish.
      Journal ed. note: the book is dedicated to Abby, the Millers' daughter, who died tragically on Jan. 31, 2000 when Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crashed into the ocean northwest of Los Angeles and all 88 passengers aboard died. Abigail and her husband were returning from a vacation in Mexico as was a dear old friend of mine, Tom Stockley, the wine editor of the Seattle Times, and his wife. We share their grief with them.]

1. Iroquois brought the Catholic symbols to the Northwest Indians
      This is a fascinating fact that we had not encountered before. The North West Co. [NWC] began in Montreal in 1779. After the turn of the 19th century, the United States allowed this group, and others composed of and owned by foreigners, to conduct business and trading in the new, western part of the county as long as they obeyed U.S. laws.
      David Thompson led an NWC contingent to the Oregon country in about 1811. An astronomer and map maker, he teamed with a party of five voyageurs and two Iroquois Indians down the Columbia River that year and on July 9, they erected a monument at the confluence of the Snake River and set up a trading post base. They competed with John J. Astor's Pacific Fur Co. until the War of 1812 broke out and a British warship sailed up the Columbia. At that point, the Americans backed off and Donald McKenzie eventually went to work for the NWC, setting up Fort George near the mouth of the Columbia River in honor of the English King. That became the center of NWC activities.
      In 1821, the British parliament amended the charter of the older Hudson's Bay Co. to allow it to absorb NWC, which led the new expanded company to set up camp in Oregon country in a large force. Chief factor John McLoughlin oversaw a huge geographic area stretching to the Rockies and he soon set up Fort Vancouver as his base of operations in 1824-25. Although McLoughlin was instructed by his government to discourage Americans from settling in the Oregon Territory, by the early 1830s he had his hands full with mountain men such as Jim Bridger and Jedediah Smith. McLoughlin eventually failed his British masters and the land he had accumulated privately was appropriated by Indians.
      According to Catholic Church records, in 1838, Catholic priests Francois Norbert Blanchet and Modeste Demers, arrived in Oregon territory with a fervor for saving souls of the natives. During their census, they recorded the names of many Iroquois Indian boatmen and trappers who were brought to the Northwest by the Hudson's Bay Co. and attached the Iroquois surnames to them. The Iroquois trappers who were already converts to Catholicism first introduced the rituals and trappings and prayers to the Northwest tribes, which had already been decimted by disease, and when the Catholic "black robes" arrived at Indian camps, the Flatheads and Nez Perce especially saw the wisdom of converting, too. They became especially aware of the power that the robe represented and went so far as to purchase the robes from caravans that traded back forth between St. Louis and the Northwest. They made that discovery roughly a decade or two before the Whitman and Spaulding protestant missionaries began competing for souls at their mission near Walla Walla. [Return]

(Samish Island book cover)
Links, background reading and sources
      Blanket Bill Jarman and the stories associated with him are the entire contents of Issue 40. Go back to the Table of Contents for that issue to find the links to all the stories. If you are not yet a subscriber to the Subscribers Journal magazine online, please see the complete story list and details of how to subscribe. 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.
Thanks to all the history lovers who attended our Burlington Library show on October 18. So many people wrote in about conflicts about this date that we have scheduled a follow-up show on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 19, from 2:45-5 p.m. in the same room. Both the Millers and Hansen have been invited, as well as other authors and prospective authors. We also hope to present three or four future shows in various locations over the next year. Read more details here and please email us if you are interested in attending or have suggestions for the show.

Story posted on Oct. 1, 2007 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 40 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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