Site founded September 1, 2000, we passed 3/4 million page views in December 2005
These home pages remain free of any charge. We need donations or subscriptions/gifts for students, military and family. Please pass on this website link to your family, relatives, friends and clients.

(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
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)

Mining and miners in the North
Cascades, late-19th century

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal, ©2004
(Peg-Leg Everett)
Amassa Everett, wearing the peg-leg that he fashioned himself as a result of having part of his right leg amputated after a prospecting accident

      When studying the Western frontier, you will often find that settlement in different areas was predicated by discovery of minerals, primarily gold. A minor gold rush took place on Ruby Creek in the North Cascades mountain range in the late 1870s. In 1877 a party of prospectors, which included Otto Klement and upriver-pioneer Charles von Pressentin, set off on the Skagit river from Mount Vernon in canoes rowed by Indians. At the mouth of the river that the Indians called the Nahcullum [1906 Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties, page 118], they debarked and followed an Indian trail to the head of the Skagit. In Klement's memoirs, he notes that he renamed it the Baker river. There they crossed the Cascades to Stehekin and Lake Chelan, but they decided to return to the Skagit. Back where they originally portaged, their boats capsized and they lost all their provisions.
      They nearly starved for two days, but they had entrusted reserve provisions with an Indian named Skagit Charlie, who kept his word and replenished their stock. They built a log hut and wooden sluice boxes at a point then called Goodell's Landing (near present-day Newhalem), but the site didn't pan out. Soon thereafter they discovered their first gold at Ruby Creek. Even though they were excited about their prospects, winter had descended on the mountains and they were forced to return to Mount Vernon.
      Ruby Creek exploration in 1878 was largely uneventful. Then in 1879, a second party headed by Albert Bacon struck first with $1,500 of gold dust washed out from a wing dam they constructed at a claim they named the Nip and Tuck. Bacon was from Maine and homesteaded above Marblemount in about 1884. His son Leonard farmed the claim afterwards. Ten miles up Ruby Creek, members of the 1877 party took out $1,000 of gold dust. Stories about those claims sparked '49er-type excitement. By the time that the Van Fleets traveled upriver by sternwheeler to their new home the next summer, around 4,000 argonauts had launched a minor flotilla of canoes, skiffs and scows; others just hoofed it. Snow in the Cascade foothills that spring reached record depths, ranging from 12 to 30 feet at times. Later homesteaders discovered stumps 30-40 feet high that were cut years before by miners as they stood on top of the snow pack. The diggings that year soon played out, but Clothier and English, a general store based in Mount Vernon, definitely profited from the excitement. They reaped $2,500 in gold dust for goods bought at their branch store at Goodall's Landing.
      As the Ruby Creek excitement waned, disappointed miners turned their attention northwards across the border to Fort Hope, the center of the Fraser River gold rush of 1858. Others who were more observant of the natural riches up the Skagit River turned their attention to timber and agriculture. Even though the depression that started in 1873 was still clouding over the rest of the country, the Skagit Valley presented a shiny countenance. Some newcomers sought gold in our immediate area, including Fred and John Kiens, German immigrants who homesteaded the Brickyard Creek area in 1884, north of the acreage that became Woolley. They tried for 20 years to mine gold by pan and by hydraulic sluicing, but their efforts never really panned out financially. Other distinctive businesses on the Kiens' homesteads included the area's only legal whiskey distillery, a blasting-powder factory, logging camps. There were also two different brickyards that helped build the town of Woolley and then rebuild it after the great fire of 1911.
      For a brief moment, prospectors thought iron was going to be the hottest mineral discovery in this area. Iron ore was discovered in the mid-'70s by J. J. Conner, a hotel owner and brother of the man who named LaConner. The site was south of the Skagit on Iron Mountain, opposite from Hamilton. After very positive initial tests, Conner successfully sought financially backing and the Tacoma Steel & Iron Co. was soon organized. Two tons of ore that were shipped to Philadelphia were so well received that the company convinced C. B. Wright, a principal in the development of Northern Pacific Railroad and Tacoma, to finance expansion of the enterprise. Unfortunately the registration of claims in the area was very messy and the company spent more time in court than in the field over the next decade. The company languished [you can read about it in the book, Washington, West of the Cascades, by Hunt and Kaylor, published 1918]. Although this may cause shudders, one of the most successful minerals mined in a 12-mile radius from Sedro was the dreaded asbestos.

Coal becomes the hottest ore in the Northwest
      Although gold was the sexiest mineral discovered in the region, the longest-lived mining camps were mainly built for coal. You may recall Amassa Peg-Leg Everett from our website (from our old domain so the links from there do not work). Everett was the first prospector to discover the upriver coal deposits, in 1875. After finding the first coal deposits on a high hill south of the Skagit called Coal Mountain, he carried the samples out in his hat. As we all eventually discover, the sweet bluebird of happiness sometimes turns around and drops a calling card on your head. Everett was unfortunately the target on that initial expedition: "He was drinking from a creek when a landslide occurred and a large boulder struck and broke the bones of [his] limb." In considerable pain, Everett dispatched an Indian companion to find Lafayette Stevens and Orlando Graham, his fellow prospectors. His friends returned and splinted Everett's shattered leg with a shirt, but the Seattle surgeons they summoned insisted on amputating it. Pegleg solicited J. J. Conner's financial help in developing his claim and the coal they sent to San Francisco proved excellent for blacksmithing. After selling half of his share, Everett rowed up the Skagit on another prospecting tour. About ten years later, Stevens found a coal vein in the foothills northeast of future Woolley and staked a claim that he called the Crystal Mine. Railroad promoter Nelson Bennett bought the mine and then sold it to James J. Hill of the Great Northern Railroad, who developed the Cokedale mines in the early 1890s.
      Ending his wanderlust for good, Everett settled down and built a cabin at the mouth of the Baker river. He planted a garden and worked as a carpenter to develop his farm into a ranch over the next five years. When hordes of gold miners ascended on Ruby Creek in the late '70s, Everett grubstaked many of them and thereby lost most of the profits from his ranch. A few years later, Everett discovered a ledge of marble on his place that he judged to be valuable for lime manufacture. He also found a deposit of clay nearby, which he used to build two brick fireplaces. There were no takers for his discoveries for years, but finally in 1904 he traveled to New York City and attracted an expert who told him that the clay was more valuable for cement than for brick. Two years later, a representative of the Washington Portland Cement Co. bought 45 acres of Everett's land and the company erected a large cement plant there by the end of the year. Meanwhile, Everett platted a town that he called Cement City, and immediately began selling lots [1906 Illustrated History, page 705-6].
      Skagit County coal became very valuable for blacksmiths' forges as loggers and farmers imported hundreds of horses and oxen in the 1870s. The Bellingham Bay Coal Co. made the first shipments from a mine in the Marblemount area in 1875 [see the Amasa Everett website]. Marblemount lies east of Rockport where the present Hwy. 20 turns north and east into the Cascade foothills. Log jams still blocked the river at Mount Vernon, so the coal had to be hauled downriver in canoes, portaged around the log jams for nearly two miles and then loaded on the sternwheeler Chehalis for further shipment. The company eventually decided that the shipping cost of $10 per ton was prohibitive. Once river transportation opened up, three coal claims were worked south of Hamilton across the Skagit River, including the Skagit, the Cascade and the New Cumberland. They were concentrated on Iron Mountain on the east, 2,500 feet high, and Coal Mountain on the west, 2,800 feet high, which were separated by Cumberland Creek. That was where Peg-Leg Everett staked his original claim. According to historian JoAnn Roe, geologists early in this century speculated that the coal veins at Bellingham, Blue Canyon, Hamilton and Cokedale were:

      all part of the same veins that extended northwesterly under the Georgia Strait to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The Northwest Mining Journal [in 1906-10] reported that the Skagit coal fields were newer than the carboniferous age but older than the Cascade mountain range. Imprints of fossilized leaves and other materials indicate the creation of the seams in the Eocene period. However, the turbulent geologic forces that formed the North Cascades fractured the deposits and dashed any hopes for neat, accessible coal seams to mine.
      You can read more about those ventures in Ghost Camps and Boomtowns by JoAnn Roe, pages 155-59 and the 1906 Illustrated History, pages 117-18. Cokedale was by far the largest and longest running mine in this area from about 1891-1923.

See a list of more mining stories

You can click the donation button to contribute to the upkeep of this site at a time when we may be forced to cut it back for lack of funds. You can also subscribe to our optional Subscribers-Paid Journal magazine online, which is about to enter its sixth year with exclusive stories, in-depth research and photos that are shared with our subscribers first. If you like what you read, t hank you in advance for whatever support you can provide.

Story posted on May 24, 2004, and last updated on Feb. 21, 2006
Did you enjoy this story? Please consider subscribing to the optional Subscribers Edition.
That is how we fund this grand project.
Please report any broken links or files that do not open and we will send you the correct link. Thank you.

Return to our home page anytime

You can read the history websites about our prime sponsors:
(bullet) Allelujah Business Systems/Copies/Mailbox, 133-B State St., Sedro-Woolley, 360 855-1157
Preserve your family keepsakes . . . allcopiersystems web page
(bullet) Schooner Tavern/Cocktails at 621 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, across from Hammer Square: web page . . . History of bar and building
(bullet) Oliver Hammer Clothes Shop at 817 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 82 years.
(bullet) Joy's Sedro-Woolley Bakery-Cafe at 823 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 82 years.
(bullet) Check out Sedro-Woolley First for links to all stories and reasons to shop here first
or make this your destination on your visit or vacation.

(bullet) DelNagro Masonry Brick, block, stone — See our work at the new Hammer Heritage Square
See our website

(bullet) Would you like to buy a country church, pews, belfry, pastor's quarters and all? Email us for details.
(bullet) Are you looking to buy or sell a historic property, business or residence? We may be able to assist. Email us for details.
Looking for something special on our site? Enter name, town or subject, then press "Find"
Search this site powered by FreeFind
Did you find what you were looking for? If not, please email us and tell us what you seek and we will put it on our list to research. The more details, the better. Tip: Put quotation marks around a specific name or item of two words or more, and then experiment with different combinations of the words without quote marks.
Please sign our guestbook so our readers will know where you found out about us, or share something you know about the Skagit River or your memories or those of your family. Share your reactions or suggestions or comment on our Journal. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to visit our site.
Sign Our Guestbook Get your own FREE Guestbook from htmlGEAR
View Our Guestbook
Remember, we welcome correction and criticism. Please click on the email slot at the right to report any problems with these pages or to suggest ideas for future stories. This is a completely free site. We fund it by providing an online magazine for paid subscribers. If you are not already a subscriber and you would like to help support our considerable research costs, you can subscribe for just $20.00 per year. As a paid subscriber, you will receive eight yearly issues plus many rare treats between times, including scans of photos and documents that illustrate local history, before they are shared with anyone else. You can go here for Subscription details and you can read the preview edition to see examples of our in-depth research. You may also order gift subscriptions for friends, family or clients who are interested in local history or students or military people who are away from home. Or you can email us for more details. Do you have scanned photos to share? Or you can mail us copies. See addresses to the right.
Email us at:
(Click to send email)
Mail copies/documents to Street address: Skagit River Journal, 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, WA, 98284.