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(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. An evolving history dedicated to the principle of 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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Pioneers from Hamilton

(Luton family)
Ed and Bessie Luton and son Don, photo courtesy of Don Kelly

      Over the next few years, we will add capsule biographies of key families from the Hamilton area. Do you have profiles of your own family or another family from any region of Skagit County? If you do or you have newspaper stories or family research, please mail us a copy or if you have already logged it your computer, email us with the story as an attachment. These capsule biographies will be featured for every area of the county.

Theo Ladue and Norton Ladue of Hamilton
and George Ladue, founder of Dawson City

Journal editor research:
      We do not know who the mysterious "Dan" is in Frank Wilkeson's fishing stories, but we do know who his friend "Theo" was. Luckily, we have a number of resources with hundreds of names from the boomtown of Hamilton in the 1880s and 1890s, before the original town flooded out and businesses moved north to Maple Street. Carol Bates's book, Hamilton, 100 Years, for one, is still available new in a limited number of copies, if you go to the Hamilton Post Office.
      Theo was Theo P. Ladue When you look at the Incorporation papers for the townsite, written in longhand in the spring of 1891, you find Theo's signature directly under Frank's. They were both "boomers," as in the group of men who boomed the town when the Seattle & Northern railroad could be heard just over the horizon, and coal and iron beckoned from the mountains across the Skagit River.
      Frank's and Theo's signatures grace a number of official papers from that time. As does the signature of Norton Ladue, whom we assume was Theo's brother. Norton was the secretary of the townsite. He is featured in the earliest upriver newspaper we have ever found, the June 5, 1890, issue of the Skagit River Logger, which was in its second year of publication in Hamilton. The boom began in town the year before, the same year that the two Sedros merged downriver. In that issue, we found, "Norton Ladue, secretary of the town company, returned to Fairhaven the first of the week." The Ladues and Wilkeson either rode horses back and forth from Fairhaven in Whatcom County, to Hamilton in Skagit County, or they took a sternwheeler down Puget Sound and then up the Skagit River. Frank often stayed at the old Fairhaven Hotel, the jewel of that town, which also boomed in 1889, and the Ladues lived in separate boarding houses on Mackenzie Street in Fairhaven. As you will read in various Journal stories, 1889 was the key year for the whole northwest Washington area — because of the three railroads that were under construction.
      Wilkeson and the Ladues were joined by fellow boomers Isaac D. and John Huntoon, N.F. McNaught, H.C. Pettit, among others, and they all had their fingers in the pie of the Hamilton Townsite Co., which was housed in offices in the Trement Building in Seattle, and the nearby Huntoon Land and Investment Co., at the corner of First and Columbia streets. The Ladues were also deeply involved in booming Fairhaven with their LaDue Land & Investment Co., with George N. Ladue, president of the Samish Lake Milling & Lumber Co.
      There is one delicious connection that we have not yet established for sure — that being, the legendary Joseph LaDue, father of Dawson City in the Klondike (or Klondyke, as it was often spelled in those heady Gold Rush days of 1898). As we read in the National Parks Service website, The City of Gold,

      Dawson City was named for George H. Dawson, a government geologist, by Joseph Ladue the founder. When whispers of the gold rush began, Ladue knew that wealth was found more readily by supplying the stampeders. Instead of rushing to stake a claim in the goldfields, he planned a townsite on the swamp below the tapering mountain at the Klondike's mouth. Ladue returned to his sawmill and loaded his raft with enough timber to move it to the new town site. The sawmill and cabin Ladue built were the first buildings in the new mining camp.
We hope that a reader can confirm a familial relationship for us. By the way, George H. Dawson, the city's namesake, was sadly not around to celebrate, as this fine website explained:
      A member of the British North American Boundary Survey, 1873-1874, which traveled only a short distance into the mountains beyond Waterton Lakes, Alberta, he was appointed to the Geological Survey of Canada staff in 1875. His photographs and report on the Haida peoples of the Queen Charlotte Islands (1878 report published 1880) continue to be invaluable to ethnographers. Dawson became director of the Geological Survey in 1895, but his career was cut short by his sudden death.
We urge and welcome any input from readers about any of these gentlemen, and especially Theo P. Ladue, Frank's longtime fishing buddy.

Ike and Sam Morrell
Journal editor research:
      Morrell is one of those surnames that has slipped through the cracks of history as old-timers pass away and their descendants move away. Two Morrells lived here: Isaac N. "Ike," was born in Tennessee in 1855 or 1856 and died in 1938, at age 82. His younger brother Sam was born in 1861 and died on Jan. 21, 1951, at age 89. Ike was born in Virginia, as was their mother. Sam was born in Tennessee, his father's native state. They appear to have moved to Hamilton from Tennessee in the mid-1880s and there is no record of any other family members living here. Both appear to have been bachelors.
      We could find only sporadic mentions of the brothers in Carol Bates's book, Hamilton, 100 years. The only description of them, besides business dealings, is that one or both owned a farm or ranch outside of Hamilton. But when we consulted the federal census of 1900, 1910 and 1920, we found a different picture. In all three enumerations, they boarded with other people while working in the area. Ike boarded as far away as the Prairie district, north of Sedro-Woolley, while working as a log skaler. The first record of a ranch is on the Metsker map recorded in December 1925. Ike owned about sixty acres that stretched from the railroad tracks on the north to the Skagit River on the south. Sam apparently lived with him. The Hamilton Farm & Equipment Co. owned the land to the west and members of the Cary family lived to the east and northeast.
      The only personal information we found about either of them was from the fishing stories that New York Times columnist and Hamilton-boomer Frank Wilkeson wrote in the early 1890s while living in Fairhaven. Wilkeson soon bought a ranch outside of town. Frank and Ike were obviously close friends and Frank enjoyed arguing with his friend about the fine points of fishing. In a column from 1892, Frank writes: "To-morrow morning early we will get Ike — one of my neighbors when I am in the Skagit Valley and a most expert fisherman, but prone to make uncalled-for, if not unwise, experiments in matters relating to bait." Frank never mentions Sam Morrell, which is ironic since Hamilton old-timer Fred Slipper remembers Sam most for his fishing. Fred grew up in Hamilton in the 1920s and '30s and can remember Sam living in the old Hamilton (family) Hotel by the river and selling fresh-caught fish to Fred's mother at their back door.
      We know, from an unpublished manuscript about Skagit County banking that John Higgins wrote in 1962, that Ike Morrell had established himself by that time as a leading businessman in the second town of Hamilton that established itself along Maple Street. The original town hugged the shoreline of the river back in the steamboat days of the mid to late-1880s, but a series of disastrous floods in 1894, 1896 and 1897 destroyed many of the original buildings and some of that townsite is now in the changed channel of the Skagit. By 1909, Ike had become a retailer. The 1909 Skagit County Polk Directory lists him as a partner in a grocery and general store with George Cockreham, whose family also moved here from Tennessee. This gives us a hint that maybe the families knew each other back home. When the Bank of Hamilton reorganized in December 1913 after a shaky start, Ike became a member of the corporate board, along with Fred Slipper Sr.
      We wish we knew more about the brothers after the 1920s. After years of floods — especially the "worst in the century" in 1921, they apparently sold the farm by World War II. A Metsker map from the early 1940s shows that Claude Wilson bought their property plus part of the Cary farm to the east. Fred recalls that Ike lived in one of the deserted buildings on the Skagit shore, as a hermit, and was well known for his humor and generosity. We hope that a reader will remember more about the family and share their memories and photos with us.

Gordon family and J.J. Conner
and the early coal mines near Hamilton

By John Conrad, historian for the annual Pioneer Picnics, 1949-73
      William J.S. Gordon, 99 [died in 1969], of Mount Vernon, was the oldest deceased member on our rolls. He was born on a sugar plantation down in British Guiana, South America, on July 14, 1870, and was just a few weeks shy of being 100. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. John S. Gordon; his father was a descendant of Scotland's Gordon clan. His mother died shortly after his birth and when Bill was age ten his father took him to Scotland by schooner via New York. The father died soon after reaching his homeland. One brother returned to Guiana, while an older sister went to Canada, but Bill remained eight years more until 1888 when he traveled to Montreal, Canada, at age 18 after his graduation from St. Andrew's College. The ambitious young Scotsman participated in the Alaska Gold Rush, which started near the Klondike River in Canada in 1897. Excitement soon spread to Alaska and by 1899 most good strikes were staked out. Leaving Nome, Alaska, in 1900, he traveled by boat to Everett, Washington, still seeking to better himself in a new country. Arriving first in Skagit County in 1902, Gordon was employed by an English Logging Co. camp at Hamilton headquarters where he was bookkeeper, a trade he learned in Scotland. Hamilton was still an important upriver trading town after undergoing various booms spurred on by development of rich coal mines across the river since their discovery in 1873.
      Leader in the long struggle to develop coal mining was one of the county's first settlers, James J. Conner, who came in 1870 to where LaConner now stands, following his brother [actually his cousin] John S. Conner, who had taken over the trading post there a few months earlier. James took up a preemption on 160 acres and then two years later laid out the town site as LaConner, using the initials of his sister-in-law, Louisa Ann, as he suggested to John for the name of the new post office. The new name in her honor was adopted exactly 100 years ago. Selling out his LaConner interests, James Conner moved in 1879 up to Hamilton to be closer to his mine interests and remained there more than 25 years. In 1887, Conner married Annie Kinnith in Coupeville. Her grandparents, the Carter family, in early days owned a large of downtown Portland, Oregon [which was then just a small village]. Mr. Conner first became interested in local coal when he homesteaded on mineral claims on Coal Mountain in 1875. Although the bituminous coal on Conner's claim compared in high quality with the best in the U.S., shipping costs and other handicaps — including legal entanglements, kept delayed development. But Conner never lost faith in the industry's future here. Conner carried on as a good citizen as he served on school boards for many years and was postmaster of Hamilton from 1898-1903.
      The Conners raised a family of six children — three boys and three girls, and daughter Mabel fits very well into our Gordon story as she was to become belle of the town and eventually the bride of our subject, Bill Gordon. [Like her parents,] she married in Coupeville. The Gordon couple's first home was Van Horn where Bill was bookkeeper for the Tower Mill Co. sawmill, which was owned by [Wyman] Kirby and [J.T.] Hightower. He moved on to the Concrete State Bank, then established an insurance agency there from 1911-17. After that he moved the business to Mount Vernon where the firm has continued since. Mr. Gordon was a very active citizen, serving many years as Mount Vernon city treasurer; he was a charter member of the Mount Vernon Kiwanis club, and a member of the Presbyterian church and Elk's Lodge.
      Ed. note: This brief story is from the 1970 obituary notes that John Conrad prepared for the annual Skagit County Historical Society August picnic. Conrad prepared the profiles from 1949-73 and we have transcribed them from his handwritten notes. The entire collection is being shared first with the subscribers to our separate online magazine and later on our free homepages. We plan to prepare a profile of the Gordon and Conner families in the near future. Can you help us with memories or scans of photos of these families or any other historic family in Skagit County? Please email if you can. Thank you.

Bessie Luton, Marshal Edward Luton
and Bessie's sister Olive, who married William Munks

By John Conrad, historian for the annual Pioneer Picnics, 1949-73
      Bessie Daphne Luton, 84, of Hamilton, was born as Bessie Benston in a little farm cabin near Conway, Iowa, while a snow storm was sweeping over the countryside of the wide open Midwest corn country on Jan. 11, 1886. Her folks were humble farm people and had no inducement to offer their children. The oldest daughter, Olive, left home at an early age for the West and Bessie yearned to follow her. When she was 20 years old she married Edward Luton and a year later, in 1907, they were able to come to Seattle, then on to Sedro-Woolley and soon to Hamilton where she has lived since. Mr. Luton was shot and killed in 1929 while on duty as Hamilton Marshal, six months before their youngest child was born. Mrs. Luton was a charter member of Hamilton Methodist church. For 40 years she was one of a vanishing tribe of rural weekly newspaper reporters, faithfully recording for the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times. She always prefaced her columns with a snappy quotation, a recipe or a verse from Scriptures, ending at times with a poem. Her last news reports were shortly before her death. Three years ago, in May 1967, she visited the veterans section of the Yakima cemetery and inspired to write a poem which explained her deep sense of patriotism:
They sleep their last long dreamless sleep
      Each in his narrow bed;
The neat rows mark their places there
      With a white cross at their head.
They gave their lives that we might live
      That we might free men be.
God grant that we not break the faith
      But keep our country free.

      In early 2006, we plan to feature a series of stories, including a collection from descendant Don Kelley, about Marshal Luton and Bessie. We hope that others will share copies of documents and photos that will help profile this fascinating family

William and Olive (Benston) Munks family
      Olive Benston, Bessie Luton's sister, married widower William Munks in Skagit County in the 1880s and [Hamilton] was a frequent visiting place for her and family. William Munks was credited as being Skagit County's first permanent settler, having squatted at March's Point in 1856, then went away for nearly four years and returned to find William Bonner there on his claim. He paid Bonner $60 and a gold watch for his rights. On the coming of the [Seattle & Northern] railroad in 1890 he gave right of way across his place, a site for a depot and forty acres of land in the heart of Anacortes as inducement to locate there. He ran a large trading post and dock at the place he named Fidalgo and had a post office there. In 1890, at the height of the land boom, he built a three-story, 50-room hotel but before it opened the boom broke and the hotel stayed closed.
      Munks died in 1897 and at the time he owned 800 acres where the Shell refinery now stands. Otto Pressentin, an old upriver pioneer, was a 21-year-old schoolteacher at Fidalgo school and boarded with the Munks. Otto often recalled the night that Munks died unexpectedly before everyone retired. He had seven sons from two wives; Olive was his second wife. A boy, Chester Arthur Munks (named after the 21st president, a Republican), was called Pat and died in the 1918 flu epidemic while serving in World War I.
      Ed. note: This brief story is from the 1970 obituary notes that John Conrad prepared for the annual Skagit County Historical Society August picnic. Conrad prepared the profiles from 1949-73 and we have transcribed them from his handwritten notes. The entire collection is being shared first with the subscribers to our separate online magazine and later on our free homepages. We plan to prepare a profile of the Luton and Munks families in the near future. Can you help us with memories or scans of photos of these families or any other historic family in Skagit County? Please email if you can. Thank you.

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Story posted on Sept. 1, 2002, and last updated on Nov. 20, 2004
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