Site founded September 1, 2000, passing 300,000 page views in January 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. 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

(Click to send email)

A brief profile of Otto K. von Pressentin

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal
      Otto Karl von Pressentin was eighteen months old in 1877 when he and his mother, Wilhelmina, and two brothers arrived by steamship in Seattle at Christmas time in 1877. His father, Karl, and uncle Bernhard had preceded them the year before and built a cabin on a homestead claim on the south shore of the Skagit river near Birdsview. His mother carried him in her arms as the family portaged around the logjam by Mount Vernon and Indian guides carried their possessions and a sewing machine that Minnie bought from Skagit logger William Gage.
      As a child, Otto learned wilderness survival skills early on and attended the Birdsview school that his family helped build and the teacher was their neighbor, Lewis A. Boyd. Otto may have also attended some school after high school because at age 20 he was qualified to teach the primary grades at Marblemount for two years. In his 1965 obituary in the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, the family noted that Otto later taught at the Fidalgo School on March's Point. While teaching there, he boarded at the home of William Munks, who died on the evening of Nov. 19, 1898, while Otto boarded there.
      After that school term, Otto helped his brother Paul open a general store in Marblemount and made a living in the down months by serving as the U.S. forest ranger for the whole Mount Baker-Cascades district. He sold out his interest in the store in 1902 and became a timber cruiser for Great Northern railroad for a year before he left for extended travel through the Eastern states. When he returned, after a year or so, he worked in the Fritsch Brothers hardware store in old Woolley. After a short while, he bought the hardware store of a Mr. R. Lamont in Sedro-Woolley. His brother Charles joined him in the business after he left the Birdsview fish hatchery sometime after 1906.
      When we first started this research project in the early 1990s, the late Howard Miller told us in an interview that Otto was his mentor in the outdoors life. Otto was a Republican in his politics and a Lutheran in religion in his early years, but his church was the wilderness. Once Charles was firmly in charge of the store by 1910, Otto lit out for British Columbia, where he had trekked a decade before as a forest ranger. Miller remembered how Otto described two different times when he hiked from the U.S.-Canadian border or from Montana to Alaska and back twice. Although many thought of him as gruff, Miller recalled that Otto played the violin and loved to entertain with it. We can imagine his mother demanding that he learn it to help entertain the family on cold, drizzly evenings along the Skagit.
      Quentin Belles, one of our readers who graduated from Sedro-Woolley High School and now lives in Hawaii, recalled a colorful incident from Otto's life that illustrates his brute strength:

      [Back during World War II] I became the crew truck driver and assistant foreman for the state forestry until at Grassmere. . . . when the crew truck came to the Pressentin Landing...there would be big gruff Otto Von who said nothing at all, just an impatient motion with his big hams to get the truck to heck onto the ferry. Then while all the crew watched in amazement he would crank that big cable-drum with one hand, normally it was a good hefty two hand job and then some. In any event no matter how many times we crossed the Skagit at that place it was always a show for the crew to watch him. I have no idea how much he weighed but we all would remember, I am sure, that he was one big feller, and strong!
      One day when Howard and I were on one of our weekly treks upriver, he pointed out a spot on the north shore of the Skagit, just west of Marblemount. Back in 1932, when Howard was setting off for a pack trip across the Cascades, he was shocked to see a man climbing out of the water, having just swum across. It was Otto Pressentin, at age 56, and he explained to Howard that he was sometimes impatient to wait for the ferry that crossed the river further down at what was called Pressentin's Landing. They went on into Marblemount where they downed a drink or two and Otto told Howard the best routes that he remembered and what to watch for and beware of along the way.
      Otto stayed up in British Columbia for ten years at one point from 1911-21. His main income was from timber cruising for the Canadian government but he also trapped and fished along many of the B.C. rivers. [See our transcripts of Ray Jordan's stories, which relate some of his tales from there.] By 1925, Charles had taken over most of the daily duties at the Sedro-Woolley store and Otto lived with his mother at the Birdsview ranch after his father died. Some think that it was after his father's death that he dropped the "von" from his name. Although he respected his family's heritage, dating back to the 12th century in Germany, Otto preferred the company of the common man and he felt that the "von" part of his name sometimes got in the way. Others point out that Otto's pioneer father, Karl — who Americanized his own first name to Charles, may have allowed his children to make their own choice about whether to leave the "von" in their name. Pressentin descendant Barbara Halliday notes that "Karl did not let his children speak German at home — so apparently he was ardently a naturalized American. He may have dropped the von to emphasize his new life and role in a 'classless' America." Another factor in Otto's choice may have been the leftover attitudes after World War I when Americans thought of Germans as the stereotyped Hun from the war propaganda. Some of the other members of the family abbreviated the "von" to "v." or dropped it altogether.
      In 1945, after his mother's death, Otto moved into Sedro-Woolley. He was 69 and had never married, but he had 18 nieces and nephews to amuse. Howard Miller remembered visiting Otto often to learn details about parts of the county that no one else could remember. When Howard was a county commissioner in the 1970s and was in charge of replacing the rickety old wooden bridges over creeks with new concrete ones, he used his notes from conversations with Otto. Having tramped across most of the county on foot, Otto remembered the original channels of the river and how creeks flowed in the early days before they were dammed up or diverted to new channels.
      In a historical issue of the Puget Sound Mail newspaper of Aug. 10, 1961, Otto's nephew, Chuck Pressentin, recalled an incident from Otto's childhood that illustrates his stamina. Chuck said that his uncle "always claims the freshet of Christmas Day, 1895, was hard to beat. When the river rose 20 feet overnight, he had to move the canoe to higher ground three times near the Birdsview homestead and on the last move thought he would have to move the house next. Christmas Day activities were forgotten with old man river lapping at the door."
      Otto Pressentin died on July 28, 1965, just a few days before his 90th birthday, and had been living at a Burlington rest home for a few weeks.

Otto's profile in the 1906 book
Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties

      Otto K. von Pressentin and his father are pioneers of Skagit county, the latter as a farmer and the son as a teacher, and in more recent years, a hardware merchant. Charles von Pressentin, the father, is a native of Germany, descended from one of the old families of that country, which dates back to the thirteenth century without a lapse in the family record.
      Mr. von Pressentin [the father] came to America, landing first at Quebec; but in 1867 he moved across the border into Wisconsin and remained there a short time before going to Michigan. In the peninsula state he worked in a logging camp and afterwards became bookkeeper for Louis Sands, with he continued for two years; he was also town clerk in his hometown.
      In 1877 Mr. von Pressentin crossed the plains and came to Washington via San Francisco, settling at Birdsview and taking up a homestead. Mrs. Wilhelmina (May) von Pressentin was also born in Germany of an ancient family, but as a girl accompanied her parents to Michigan in 1869, marrying in that state. She is the mother of seven children, six of whom are living, Otto being the third.
      Otto von Pressentin was born in Manistee, Michigan, June 4, 1876. After his parents came to Washington he attended school in Birdsview and prepared himself for teaching, in which vocation he engaged when twenty years old, in a school at Marblemount. Two years later, in 1898, he and his brother Paul opened a general merchandise store in Marblemount and continued to run it for four years, at the end of which time he sold out to his brother Paul and engaged with the Great Northern railway as timber cruiser.
      During his business partnership with his brother in the general store, he had been forest reserve ranger. In 1903 Mr. von Pressentin took a two-months trip through the eastern states, and on his return, went to work in Fritsch Brothers hardware store. Six months later he bought the hardware store of R. Lamont at Sedro-Woolley, which business he is conducting with marked success at the present time.
      Mr. von Pressentin has five brothers: Bernhard, now in the Klondike; Paul, in the general mercantile business at Marblemount; Frank, in the hotel business at Marblemount; and Hans and Charles in the employ of the government at the Birdsview fish hatchery. In politics Mr. von Pressentin is a Republican and in church relations a Lutheran. He is one of those whose qualities are such that he attracts men to him, and is very popular with all classes. He is a successful businessman, full of energy and enterprise, and whatever he undertakes, he throws his whole soul into its accomplishment.

More stories Otto and the von Pressentins

Story posted on Feb. 5, 2004
Please report any broken links or files that do not open and we will send you the correct link. Thank you.

You can read about our prime sponsors:
Read the history websites of our sponsors and supporters, who help fund research of local history:
Heirloom Gardens Natural Foods at 805B Metcalf street, the original home of Oliver Hammer.
Oliver Hammer Clothes Shop at 817 Metcalf street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 82 years.
Bus Jungquist Furniture at 829 Metcalf street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 36 years.
Schooner Tavern/Cocktails at 621 Metcalf street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, across from Hammer Square.
Peace and quiet at the Alpine RV Park, just north of Marblemount on Hwy 20
Park your RV or pitch a tent by the Skagit river, just a short driver from Winthrop or Sedro-Woolley.
DelNagro Masonry Brick, block, stone — See our work at the new Hammer Heritage Square
See our website

Would you like to buy a country church, pews, belfry, bell, pastor's quarters and all? 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.
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 right.
Email us at:
(Click to send email)
Mail copies/documents to street address: Skagit River Journal, 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, WA, 98284.