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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
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

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Otto Klement: his first 20 years
on the Skagit River

Diary excerpted by the Mount Vernon Daily Herald beginning Oct. 19, 1926
Otto Klement

      The settlement in the Skagit River Valley at the time of my arrival (1873) consisted of approximately sixty whites and around 2,000 Indians A majority of the white settlers had arrived during the two preceding years. A dozen white men having Indian wives came at an earlier date. Mrs. Thomas R. Jones was the first white woman to settle in the valley. One of her children was [the second] white child born here.
      J.J. Conner and D.E. Gage maintained a small store at the place called "The Forks," being located in the fork of the north and south branches of the river. A little later a post office was added, the mail coming by way of LaConner.
      Log huts, along the river banks in the midst of an acre or two of cleared land, housed the inhabitants and, owing to the [national Financial] Panic of 1873, more or less hardship prevailed. Insect pests not yet having been introduced, crops yielded abundantly and were of excellent quality. Sloops sailing out of the mill ports with stocks of goods, carried on a profitable trade among the ranchers, logging camps and the home ports, exchanging their merchandise for the farmers' produce, which they later sold to the loggers and mill companies. Selling whiskey to the Indians was a profitable feature of their traffic.

Journal Ed. note: Otto Klement was one of the first Skagit River settlers, arriving here in the fall of 1873 after paddling alone across Puget Sound. He eventually chose Lyman as his home on the north bank of the river, when Skagit was still part of Whatcom county and Washington was still a territory.

      What constituted the first school in Skagit County was in progress in 1873 in a log stable on the homestead of the late David E. Kimble, a short distance below the present site of Mount Vernon. A half-dozen pupils were in attendance. Miss Ida Lanning, a popular little lass of sixteen, presided over this educational institution.
      Marks on cedar trees showed that water in the valley at one time, before the advent of the whites, was three feet higher than it has been since. But that may have been due to a jam of ice or driftwood in the river. Just above where Mount Vernon now stands, at this point] the river came to a sudden end, at least so it would have appeared to a person not familiar with the situation. A jam of driftwood here spanned the river for a distance of a mile and a half up stream. This jam had existed so long that it had become water-logged and had sunken to varying depths. Its surface was in an advanced state of decay and overspread by a heavy coat of river marl and supported a forest growth scarcely distinguishable from that prevailing on the river's banks.

(Ida Lanning)
Ida Lanning. This photo and the one below of the Kimble school building are courtesy of Chechacos All, one of the series of books published by the Skagit County Historical Society. Reprints are for sale at the Society's Museum in LaConner.

      This forest rose and fell with the rise and fall of the river. In times of flood, owing to the settling and shifting of the mass in the upper regions of the jam, a weird note of groaning was produced not unlike that of a monster in pain, while sharp reports of breaking timber could be heard for miles around. A crude skid road around the jam built by the Indians, over which they hauled their canoes, was the only road in the valley worthy of the name. A crude skid road around the jam built by the Indians, over which they hauled their canoes, was the only road in the valley worthy of the name.
      Jasper Gates, living in a shake house with his family, was holding down a homestead covering the area now occupied by the main business district of Mount Vernon. Mary, Mr. Gates's daughter, was born the day the writer arrived in the valley, October 12, 1873.
      A.W. Williamson [also recorded as Alvin R.], a hop-grower near the present site of Lyman, was the only permanent white settler above the jam, and the writer was the second, having settled on a claim on the east bank of the river at the point where the Great Northern bridge now spans the stream. Rev. B.N.L. Davis had previously made a location on the west bank at this point, but did not occupy it until later in the season.
      Working in the harvest fields on the Swinomish for Samuel Calhoun in 1876, the writer made the acquaintance of the late Harrison Clothier and E.G. English. Finding that they were in quest of a location for a store, he prevailed upon them to accompany him to the Skagit. The jam had been removed to the point where Mount Vernon now stands. A number of logging camps had moved into the district, and pleased with the business outlook, they purchased five acres of land from Jasper Gates and erected thereon a two-story frame building and occupied the lower story with a small stock of merchandise. A small hotel, owned and operated by the late Mrs. Shott, and a saloon operated by John Bieble soon followed, and these constituted the first steps in the building of the pretty little city of Mount Vernon. These occurrences happened just 50 years ago almost to the day. A post office followed immediately with Harrison Clothier as postmaster.

(Hop pickers)
This photo shows hop harvesting methods on the Dennis Storrs ranch, west of Mount Vernon, circa 1880s.

      In 1852 Oregon still made shift under a territorial form of government and included within its boundaries the entire state of Washington. In the following year, however, Oregon, received a state government and Washington was given a territorial organization [actually, Oregon became a state in 1859].
      In 1853 [actually 1859] the government let a contract for the construction of a military road from Fort Steilacoom north to the international boundary. The contract price was $75,000, and requirements were that the road should be so built as to permit of a wagon passing over it. This provision was complied by a wagon being passed over the route on the backs of Indians. The latter could not understand why the wagon was not sent north in a canoe, and they looked upon the performance as an instance of the white men's stupidity. The road crossed the river a little above Sterling and in 1873 the route could still be traced by the blazes on the trees.


1. Earliest river settlers
      The Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties, published in 1906, (hereafter the 1906 History) has a section (p. 681) that lists those settlers living on the main Skagit River and its various forks as of 1873, when Klement arrived.
      Further up the river [from Fir and Conway] were Joe Lisk, William Caton, James Abbott and John Wilber, in regular order toward Mount Vernon, all squaw men. Next came Thomas and John Moore with their white wives, and Robert Gage and McAlpin [McAlpine] came next after them, all on the west side of the river. To the south was Tom Jones, who came shortly after the Villeneuves. There were no roads, and travel was wholly by boat. Mrs. Villeneuve had preceded Mrs. Tom [Moore] and Mrs. John Moore, and was thus the first white woman in that section of the county. At that time on the site of Mount Vernon were Mrs. Jasper Gates, Mrs. [Augustus or George?] Hartson and her mother; Mrs. Kimball [Kimble] and Mrs. [Levi] Ford, the Washburn family not coming till later.
      [P. 104, interview with Thomas P. Hastie Jr.] [Neighbors from 1870 on] Franklyn Buck, DeWitt Clinton Dennison, Bus Lill, Samuel S. Tingley, Magnus Anderson, William Brown, Joseph L. Maddox, Thomas R. Jones, Peter Vander Kuyl, Moses Kane, John Guinea, Quinby Clark, [unknown first] Fay, T.J. Rawlins and Charles Henry.
      South fork: Orrin Kincaid, living on the present Wilson ranch; William Sartwell, who came with Kincaid, on an adjoining ranch; Joseph Wilson; Wiliam Johnson; William Smith; Alonzo Sweet, opposite the site of Skagit City; Joseph Lisk; William Kayton; George "Long" Wilson, William McAlpin [McAlpine, at the site of Skagit City; and William Alexander, who later sold out to Robert and W.L. Kelly. William Brown had settled in 1865 at the mouth of the slough to which his name was applied, and Maddox about that year also settled on the north fork just above Brown's slough....


2. Thomas P. Jones
      Jones was an 1869 immigrant from Conway, Wales. He platted the town on the south fork of that name and the Jones Road east of Conway is named after him. The Skagit News of July 14, 1885, reported that. "The first sloop to come up the river, at least after there was any settlement to recollect the fact, was the True Blue, chartered by T.R. Jones to take himself and family from Port Madison [on Bainbridge island, the original county seat of Kitsap county] to the Skagit [north fork of the Skagit river below Mount Vernon] . . . Mrs. T.R. Jones, as some time ago stated, was the first white woman on the Skagit, coming to the north fork."
      Tom Robinson recently observed while researching his upcoming book on the history of western Skagit County: "Yes, Tom Jones was there too. He had settled on the north side of the North Fork not far from the forks of the river in 1869, not moving to the Conway area until 1876. He was in Harmony, which I would guess that he named as well as Conway. Since he was a socialist, it would not have been surprising for him to have come up with a name that had a (non-Marxist) socialist history." [Return]

First white child
      We are surprised that Klement repeated this old tale since he was a neighbor across the river from Samuel S. Tingley, the father of the actual first white child born to a river settler. His first wife, Maria Tingley, gave birth to their first child, Ida Sophia Tingley, in February 1869. Just over a year later, their first son, Oliver Brown Tingley, was born on May 16, 1870. Read more about the Tingleys at this Journal site
      We do not know the birth date of the Jones child, but the 1906 History noted: "We find also some conflicting statements as to who is entitled to the honor of being the first white child born on the Skagit. Some claim it for the child of Charles Washburn, while others claim that Oliver C. Tingley, son of [Samuel] S. Tingley, born June 6, 1870, is entitled to that distinction. The first man already a pater familias is said to have been Thomas R. Jones, whose claim was near that of Mr. Tingley on the north fork of the river." The first white girl born on the Skagit was Annie Jones, born Oct. 20, 1872. Katie Dwelley, daughter of Joseph and Angeline Dwelley, was the second, born Nov. 20, 1872. [Return]

4. "The Forks" and Skagit City
      The fork of the Skagit River, about two miles below the future town of Mount Vernon was a natural trading point for early river settlers because the log jams above that point stopped any navigation by boat. A natural island formed just above the fork, with a slough forming the west and north boundaries. We know from the 1906 History that John Barker established a trading post on the island in 1869, maybe at the same place that John Campbell, an Indian, had a similar post a year earlier. See this Journal site for the full story of Skagit City and The Forks. [Return]

5. Mill ports
      The mill ports at that time were those at Utsalady on Camano Island and at Port Gamble on the Olympic Peninsula. The Utsalady mill was built by Thomas Cranney and Lawrence Grennan in 1857-58 and that was the nearest supply point for milled and planed lumber for Skagit River settlers. The Pope & Talbot mill at Port Gamble began in 1853 and became the largest mill in Washington Territory, evolving into the Puget Mill Co., with substantial land investment in Whatcom and Skagit counties. By 1880 they took over the Utsalady mill. For early memories of that mill, see this Journal site about the Hastie family. [Return]

(Kimble School)
      This is the Kimble outbuilding used for a school from 1872-80. Ida Lanning was the first schoolteacher there and later Mount Vernon founder Harrison Clothier taught a winter session there. The Kimble farm was located alongside the lower log jam south of Mount Vernon, near Britt Slough.

6. First school?
      Klement once again presents only one example of a "first," and his claim is debatable. The first actual school in the area that became Skagit County in 1883 is profiled elsewhere in Issue 42 in a transcription of the diary of early Anacortes resident and historian Carrie White. Briefly, Whatcom County formed School District 2 in 1868 or 69, for children of families living on Fidalgo and Guemes Islands. In 1870, settlers built a small roughly built school house on ground donated by settler William Munks. Previous to the erection of that building; school was conducted in the private home across the road, where the first teacher was Almira Richard Griffin who was also the first white woman on Fidalgo island, coming from Sehome with her husband, John T. Griffin, in 1866, where she had earlier taught the children of Bellingham Bay pioneers. See the accompanying story for details of all early schools from 1869-1879. [Return]

7. Marks on trees
      Joseph Hart one of the four British bachelors who settled the future Sedro-Woolley acreage in 1878, told the story of how his fellow settlers would ask river Indians the best spot to build their homes and businesses. The response was: "See mud on tree; build higher." Sedro founder Mortimer Cook apparently did not listen, nor did William Hamilton, upriver, nor did the founders of Sauk City, and their towns were literally swept away in the three disastrous floods of 1894-97. Klement's conjecture about the floods being more severe while the log jams choked the river makes sense. We have also read from newspapers of the 1890s that settlers organized to ban log booms from the lower stretches of the north and south forks because those booms caused driftwood to gather behind them and contributed to lowland flooding more than once every year. [Return]

8. "Just above where Mount Vernon now stands, at this point . . . "
      Here, Klement refers to the upper of two log jams on the main channel of the Skagit. This larger jam choked the river between what we now call the Riverside district of Mount Vernon, on the east shore, and Avon, a mile or so upriver on the west shore. This jam was so thick and so resistant to loggers with hand axes and misery-whip saws that those who wanted to travel upriver had to portage two or three miles in a loop through the mud and brambles on the western bank, just north of the present bridge. [Return]

9. Gates girl birth
      At this point, the only family tree we have for the Jasper Gates family shows that Mary Gates was born on Sept. 11, 1873, but it is far from complete or confirmed, so Klement could be correct about her birth date. She died on Dec. 18, 1960; married. Julius Beeson, who was born Sept. 22, 1862, and died in June 1934. We hope that a Gates descendant can help us with details about all the children and their genealogy. Readers should be careful not to confuse this Mary Gates with the very colorful Mary Gates Thompson Eck, who was a daughter of Jasper's brother, John Gates. [Return]

10. Five acres
      Other sources indicate that Gates transferred ten acres over to Clothier and English for the Mount Vernon townsite in 1877. Author Tom Robinson infers from several sources that Jasper Gates had already platted or at least laid out a townsite before Klement introduced the town partners to him. That land had not been officially surveyed at that time. Read our exclusive Journal full story of the town founding at this site. Although Klement records Bieble as owning the first saloon in Mount Vernon, we found Whatcom County Auditor's Records 1873-83 showing that Klement himself was granted the second liquor license in the area that became Skagit County in 1883. Whatcom County Auditor's Records 1873-83. James J. Conner et al was granted the first license for their LaConner saloon on Dec. 7, 1876. The next license was granted on May 14, 1877, to Otto Klement and the location is noted only as the "precinct of Mount Vernon." Other names on the license were Ed. G. English and Harrison Clothier and the bond was for $500. See this Journal site for more details. [Return]

11. Oregon and Washington territories
      Most readers do not realize how huge the original Oregon Territory originally was. We consulted the terrific resource book, Historical Atlas of Washington, by James W. Scott and Roland L. DeLorme (1988), with maps by Ted R. Brandt and Patrick S. Grant. When Congress established the Territory of Oregon in August 1848, the land mass included the three present states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho. The northern border of the 49th parallel followed the 1846 border agreement between the U.S. and Great Britain. Missouri Territory extended from the eastern border; California formed the southern border; and the Ocean formed the western border.
      When Congress authorized the formation of the Washington Territory on March 2, 1853. The southern border of the new territory was the Columbia River and the 46th parallel, which extended east so that the new territory included roughly the northern half of the present state of Idaho. When Oregon became a state in 1859, Washington Territory was expanded to include all of modern Idaho and a slice of northwestern Wyoming.
      Congressmen soon panicked, however, when gold discoveries within the present Idaho state boundaries seduced hundreds of argonauts and — Heavens to Betsy — too many of them were Democrats. So in March 1863, Congress formed Idaho Territory and left the Palouse and the rich agricultural districts around Walla Walla and Snake River in Washington Territory, the same overall layout as would become Washington state in 1889. [Return]

12. Military Road
      See the accompanying article in Issue 42 about Walter Washington DeLacy for the story of the Military Road. [Return]

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Story posted on March 15, 2008 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 42 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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