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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Skagit Bill and Rona Pressentin, salt of the earth

      We were privileged to attend the annual reunion of the von Pressentin family in the summer of 2001. The stories below are part of a series on this German-immigrant family who migrated here via Manistee, Michigan, starting in 1877. We have always been fascinated by Skagit Bill, who was a favorite of hunters and mountain men of the Skagit, and his wife Rona, who lived to be 100.

      [Ed. note: The story is verbatim from the article except for corrections of typos and spelling and update notes enclosed in [ ]. We try not to interfere with the grammar or sentence structure unless it is really difficult to understand. We do not post sic by the misspellings because readers complain that it makes the article harder to read. If you are a member of the family or a researcher and you notice a factual error on the part of the original writer or a misspelling, please email and we will correct it.]

Skagit Bill dies at Rockport
      William Mark [actually Max] Pressentin, known to his many friends in the upper Skagit valley as "Skagit Bill," died in his sleep at his Rockport home Tuesday morning. Skagit Bill was one of the true native son pioneers of this district, having been born at Hamilton on August 8, 1887, and having been a resident of Rockport for 66 years.
      Funeral services will be held at the Lemley Chapel in Sedro-Woolley on Saturday, Nov. 8, at 2 p.m. Burial will be made in the cemetery there.
      Mr. Pressentin was married to Rona Clark in Mount Vernon on Dec. 11, 1912. To them was born one daughter, Myra. He was a charter member of the Concrete Eagles lodge
      Surviving are his wife, Rona, his daughter, Mrs. Myra Benson; two brothers, Ed and Bert Pressentin of Rockport; two sisters, Mrs. Agnes Fountain and Olga Marie Pressentin of Seattle. There are two grandchildren, Tommy and Abb Benton of Rockport.

Rockport resident celebrates 98th year
By Anne Bussiere
      Her eyes alive with memories of several decades in the upper Skagit Valley, Rona Pressentin reached her 98th birthday last week at her home in Rockport.
      Arriving in Rockport as a young teenager in April 1904, she was the daughter of Abb and Hannah Clark. The family left North Carolina when Rona was a baby, moving to Colorado where her father held several mining claims.
      Explaining that the high altitude was hard on her mother's health, the family followed other relatives who had journeyed to the Upper Skagit area, including grandparents and aunt and uncle Dolph and Annie Clark (parents of Roy, Rudy and Jim Clark).
      Rockport was a young and booming town with a railroad depot surrounded by several businesses. Rona's father soon purchased a restaurant which kept Rona, her mother and two sisters busy.
      She recalls the fun times young people of the town shared.
      "We had lots of parties, dances," she remembers. "There was a lot going on. We couldn't just sit around."
      The trains provided an easy transportation to bigger cities where they enjoyed shopping or dining out while the trains also brought in lots of new faces.
      Rockport served as the depot for Seattle City Light construction workers as well as the stop off for tourists to the electrical projects in Newhalem. While her parents were operating a restaurant, another family, the pioneer von Pressentin family, operated a boarding house in Rockport. In a912 Rona was married to their son William, known locally as "Skagit Bill."
      The young couple lived in a rented house while Bill worked for Great Northern Railroad. White their daughter, Myra, was a baby, they arranged to have a log house built in Rockport.
      Because Bill worked out of Everett and only returned home on weekends, he contracted builders to construct the house.
      Rona, soft-spoken yet with strong opinions, remembers going into the house as it was being built and seeing shelves being built in the living room.
      "I asked them what those shelves were for and they said 'Bill told us to put in shelves,' I said, 'Get them out of there! I don't want cupboards in here,'" Rona states. "The builders listened to me and took them down," she said, almost marveling at the incident.
      Her memories of Rockport in the early days include flowers planted around many homes and the depot. Although the outlying areas were still rugged and wild, with cougars and bears, the town was busy.
      "People don't visit as much anymore," she said. "Seems like something was always going on like club meetings or card parties. People were more social."
      Although her husband was almost a legendary outdoorsman, Rona claims her "bad heart" kept her from taking trips such as up Sauk Mountain. However, as a girl she used to take off on adventures with her sister Abbie, once climbing up into the hills behind the Johnson farm without telling anyone.
      "We really got into trouble that day," she recalls.
      In 1958 her husband died of heart failure at the age of 71. He had been born in Hamilton in 1887.
      Her family now consists of her daughter and son-in-law, Myra and Mel Benton, grandsons Tom and Abb Benton, and four great-grandchildren.
      She still enjoys simple living and distrusts electricity, unplugging everything each night. About a year ago a trip to Texas in a motor home with her daughter and son-in-law nearly resulted in disaster when a portable television fell on her head. The accident did little damage but gives the family one more story to remember when tales are exchanged.
      Feeding little birds outside and taking care of houseplants, she also does housework and sometimes enjoys crocheting.
      After some reflection, Rona notes that she is probably the oldest person in Rockport. But if age were not measured in years, she is still young.

Genealogy information, Bill and Rona
      William Max Pressentin, born Aug. 8, 1887, in Hamilton. Died Nov. 4, 1958, in Rockport. Age 71. Son of A.V. Albert and Christine (Kohler) Pressentin. Buried Sedro-Woolley Union Cemetery, Burial Card Lemley Mortuary LE-18-266.
      Rona Clark Pressentin, born Feb. 18, 1889 in North Carolina. Died Oct. 23, 1889 in Rockport. Age 100. Daughter of Abb and Hannie (Wright) Clark. Burial Card Lemley Mortuary LE-44-158.

Bill's profiles in Last Frontier in the North Cascades
      As usual, when we want the unvarnished, real story of pioneer life in the North Cascades, we turn to Will D. "Bob" Jenkins's wonderful book, Last Frontier in the North Cascades. Bob was another centenarian who learned how to survive freezing winters in the North Cascades in a tiny cabin with his mother just after the turn of the century. It was in those hills that he met Skagit Bill and Rona Pressentin and they became lifetime friends. Here are two excerpts. We strongly urge you to read the Jenkins book. It is available at the Skagit County Historical Society Museum in LaConner.

Page 4
      I had three special friends in my boyhood, all grown men and two of them on the long side of their years. One was William "Skagit Bill" Pressentin, who taught me the important things to watch for when closing on bear or bobcat behind a pack of redbone hounds. [Skagit Bill] was born on the river of the early pioneer, A. von Pressentins, but you'd never guess his ancestry was of blue-blooded heraldic origin. He had dropped the von from his signature. Growing up among the canoe Indians of the Upper Skagit, he spoke their jargon with an easy fluency. He had been married to Rona, a soft-spoken Tarheel beauty, and lived among her kin for so many years that to hear him earning around the big winter stove in Old Man Currie's store, you'd swear he was a native of North Carolina with an inherited Southern drawl.
      Six-foot-two in his sox, lean, red-whiskered and wide-shouldered, Skagit Bill was a rare ideal for a boy who wanted to be a man. And I can still see him sitting on Currie's counter, slapping his thigh and letting out a laughing yell you could hear to the summit of the Cascades, to wind up one of his yarns. There seemed to be no end to the stories Bill could tell and it was always easy to listen.

Page 145
      I can see my lanky friend, Skagit Bill Pressentin, houndsman and cougar hunter unequaled on the river, sitting straight as a rod on the hardware counter, head thrown back and arms waving as he yarned and laughed and kept us happily listening to his stories, which he had spun from the lives of people we all knew.
      I think Skagit Bill was the happiest man I ever knew and I don't believe he ever had an enemy. He never had anything mean to say about a human and the way Rockport's little kids flocked after the big hunter was something to see, especially when he was in a story telling mood — and that was almost anytime. When he died at the age of seventy-one in 1958, the Upper Skagit's mourning for its native son drew what was described as the largest funeral ever held in these parts and there were nearly as many Indians as whites at the service. The City of Seattle shut down its mammoth hydroelectric building operation at Ross Dam on the day Skagit Bill Pressentin was laid away.
      Ed. note: We hope that a reader will have a photo of Skagit Bill and Rona and/or their daughters, the store or early Rockport. Please email us if you do. Thank you.

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Story posted on Nov. 1, 2001, and last updated August 6, 2005
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