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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
(Seattle & Northern 1890)
Covers from British Columbia to Puget sound. Counties covered:
Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan. An evolving history dedicated
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Noel V. Bourasaw, editor 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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All should help preserve pioneer history and
yarns, says Grandson of upriver von Pressentins

Tells of old Sedro-Woolley home with marks and dates of all floods
Grandfather lost all in California flood; sought high and dry spot

Undated Puget Sound Mail newspaper article, probably August 1961
(Chuck Pressentin homestead)
Chuck Pressentin 1948, after returning from World War II service in the South Seas. Photo courtesy of Pressentin and Kemmerich descendant Barbara Halliday.

      A Puget Sound Mail museum visitor on Sunday was Charles Pressentin [Jr.] from upriver to purchase several copies of the Mail Pioneer Edition containing the fine tribute to the Pressentin family by Pioneer Historian John Conrad.
      He noted that something which should be preserved and is in danger of being lost is the Emma Hart house under the old river bridge at Sedro-Woolley. Emma Hart lived in this house for 82 or 83 years of her life and the high water mark and date of every flood is marked on the back of the house, a record which has settled many an old timer's argument. Many claim the 1906 flood was the worst to hit that area; others say the 1909 flood was a hum-dinger.
      Charles Pressentin's uncle, Otto Pressentin, 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.
      Told that the Mail was always looking for pioneer yarns of early day life in all parts of the county so that it could place in print such a record of local history before such things are forgotten, Charles agreed to see what he could do about getting old-timers or their descendants of his area to send in such items from time to time.

Karl von Pressentin's days in California, pre-Washington, circa 1876-77
(Pressentin homestead)
Karl von Pressentin family homestead on the south shore of the Skagit. This may have been the cabin that Charles built at Birdsview in 1884 (see below). Photo courtesy of Pressentin and Kemmerich descendant Barbara Halliday.

      He reported his grandfather Charles von Pressentin [Americanized name, originally Karl] was out digging for gold when a cloudburst hit the Sacramento river and upon his return to his river place, found that the flood had wiped out his house, horse and everything.
      He worked his way north to Port Angeles on a windjammer, secured a cottonwood canoe and started up the Skagit river. He admired the fine stands of timber and the good soil of the bottom lands of the Skagit delta but was determined that he wasn't going to be wiped out again by a flood. He made up his mind he as going to keep heading upriver until he could no longer see signs of drift in the trees and brush back from the river. At Birdsview he found the spot he was looking for and grandson Charles says the Birdsview bench property has never been hurt by a flood, a testimonial to his granddad's good judgment.
      Coming west, his granddad, a well-educated man, had picked up the jargon of many of the tribes and was quick to become familiar with the language of the Skagit river Indians. His word and authority was respected by the river Indians and his word settled many arguments between them. In the early days it was a common sight to see at least eight canoes at a time passing the Pressentin homestead. If grandfather Charles needed a barrel of flour from Utsalady, all he had to do was "holler" at the Indians in one of the canoes and they would immediately head downriver and get the flour. No money or written order involved, the Pressentin word was sufficient.
      The second year after he settled near Birdsview, grandfather Charles fixed up a pack of necessities and was gone for a full year, living off the land, going over one of the passes later proposed for a North Cross-state Highway route [what would become Hwy. 20 in 1972] to the Stehekin, Lake Chelan and other places in his thorough exploration. Grandson Charles wonders how many people today, with the clothes they wore on their backs and one pack full of necessities, could live off the land for a year.
      Young Charles also recalled that his uncle, Frank Pressentin, who was postmaster at Marblemount for many years, was asked by the Forest Service to install a swinging bridge across the gorge just below the present Diablo Dam. Using his hand tools and with the assistance of just one Indian boy he did the job. He drove in pinions in the rock, strung smaller, then larger lengths of rope across the chasm, and finally a cable, and built a swinging bridge that was used for 20 years.
      Charles's dad, a few years ago, was willing to bet that the anchor rod pinions in the rock were still there. This was a tremendous chore for one man and a helper and makes grandson Charles reach the conclusion that today, when people say something can't be done, it is because they haven't given it a good try.

      Ed. note: this is an amazing story and many of the family descendants were not aware of the details until we discovered this clipping in among some old newspaper articles supplied by Berniece Leaf, a descendant of the Boyds, Hoyts and McIntyres, and a teacher for many years in the Sedro-Woolley school district. The von Pressentin family records show that Karl and his brother Bernhard arrived on the Skagit river in May 1877. We have very few details of that arrival and we are searching old newspapers carefully for any evidence from the family's first few decades on the river. We have researched the floods of the Sacramento river area from the 1870s and we have not found one that stands out from 1877 but we did one in an unrecorded month of 1876 that caused considerable damage in the delta district of Rio Vista; we will continue looking. We recently found this fascinating brief detail from the April 1, 1884, Skagit News newspaper of Mount Vernon in its first month of publication: "Charles von Pressentin has built new quarters for himself at Birdsview." That may be evidence of when he built the first substantial cabin for his rambunctious family on the south side of the Skagit river near the claims of the Boyds, Savages and Minklers.
      Please note that Charles Pressentin Jr. dropped the aristocratic "von" from the family name, as did his father, Charles Sr., and his uncle, Otto. We think that this article dates from August 1961 and the week of the Pioneer Picnic because we have records of John Conrad writing a eulogy of Charles Pressentin Sr. who died that year. Charles Jr. died six years later, in 1967. We have a dozen stories about the von Pressentins on the web, the largest total for any pioneer family on our website. Here are some portal sites you may want to visit. When you go to the site that has the entire list, please note that some of the sites are from our old domain and the links there often do not work. Please return here or to the Introduction List site to follow links:

Story posted on Sept. 22, 2004
Please report any broken links or files that do not open and we will send you the correct link. Thank you.

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