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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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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
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Mrs. Pressentin, Skagit pioneer,
Dies at age of 92

Sedro-Woolley Courier Times, Thursday, April 5, 1945
(Karl and Minnie wedding)
Karl and Minnie's wedding photo in Manistee, Michigan, in May 1921

      Mrs. Wilhelmina [family records spelled Wilhelmine] von Pressentin, the oldest and one of the first pioneer women to settle in the upper Skagit valley, passed away Monday morning, April 2, 1945, three days after suffering a paralytic stroke. She was born near Guben, Germany, on September 18, 1852. [Ed. note: we could not find Guben in any atlas but we found it on the Internet. It is a town of about 30,000, on the Neisse river in the county of Spree-Neisse county in the Brandenburg district, which has gone by other names since it was partitioned in 1945.]
      In 1867 she came to America with her parents, who settled at Manistee, Michigan, where Wilhelmina May was united in marriage to Charles J. [originally spelled Karl] von Pressentin in May, 1871 [her family emigrated to the U.S. a year before Karl did]. She arrived at Mount Vernon on the 12th of January, 1877, a few months after Mr. Pressentin had settled at Birdsview, and traveled by canoe from Mount Vernon to Birdsview, where she resided until her death [Harrison Clothier and Edward English were in the process of forming the town when she arrived].
      She was the mother of six sons, five of whom survive and are now living in Skagit county. The eldest son having been drowned about eight years ago. [Actually, the eldest son, Bernhard Karl von Pressentin drowned while fishing at age 62 on Sept. 5, 1933, and he is buried in the von Pressentin family plot in Union Cemetery, Sedro-Woolley, WA.] The sons living are Paul of Mount Vernon, Otto and Hans of Birdsview, Frank of Marblemount and Charles of Sedro-Woolley, eighteen grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. Services will be held at the Lemley funeral chapel at 2 p.m., Saturday, April 7, with interment in the Sedro-Woolley cemetery. Mr. Charles von Pressentin passed away, March 7, 1924, preceding Mrs. Pressentin by 21 years. The following is a story of the few of this interesting pioneer woman and her family, most of whom now reside in the upper Skagit valley. [The rest of the article, inside the same issue of the newspaper, is apparently derived from an interview before Minnie's death. That interview is followed by Minnie's obituary, from page one of the that same issue]

Charles von Pressentin arrives in spring of 1877
      Charles Julius Otto von Pressentin came to the United States from Germany when he was 18 years old and settled in Wisconsin, where he lived three years. Then he moved to Manistee county, Michigan, where he married Wilhelmina May on May 15, 1871, who had come to America from Germany when she was 15 years old.
      They lived there until March of 1877 when Mr. von Pressentin came to the Skagit valley via San Francisco and took up a preemption claim a mile above Birdsview, where Mrs. von Pressentin [lived as a widow] with her son, Otto K. Pressentin.
      Mr. von Pressentin's brother, Bernhard [sometimes called Ben], came with him, as did Valentine Adam, Fred Ross, and another young man [probably John Rowley]. Fred Rosa had lived on the Chehalis river and the other young man had lived in the Sacramento valley, so both had had experience with rivers, and urged the others to pick places for their homes where the river banks were high, so that floods would not down them out. They kept watch along the river banks to see if there was driftwood in the trees and when they came to the high bank one mile above Birdsview, Mr. von Pressentin decided to locate there. [Birdsview was then on the south side of the Skagit, where Birdsey Minkler had built a water-powered sawmill just weeks before.]
      Two other brothers came later. Albert von Pressentin [usually known as A.V.] came in 1884 and Otto, Sr., in 1887. Mr. Charles von Pressentin built a small log house and proceeded to clear up a little land. He had no stove at first but cooked over a fire built in the center of the floor in some sand and left the door open for the smoke to escape.

Wilhelmina and three sons arrive
(Ferry landing)
This photo was taken by Kemmerich and von Pressentin descendant Barbara Halliday in 2000 as she looked south across the Skagit. Karen Halliday is standing where the old Pressentin ferry once landed and looking toward the old Karl von Pressentin ranch on the south side. You can see the bridge over Pressentin Creek on the south bank.

      Mrs. von Pressentin came to the Territory of Washington in 1877, arriving in Seattle in December of that year. She brought the three children, Bernard, Paul and Otto; three other children were born on the farm near Birdsview: Frank, Hans and Karl. She spent New Years Eve and Day in Seattle. They came via Union Pacific [railroad] to San Francisco and sailing vessel to Seattle, by boat from Seattle to Mann's Landing (Skagit City) at the mouth of the Skagit river. [Actually, Mann's Landing was upriver a few miles from the mouth and was later named Fir.]
      Harry Clothier was running a store in Mount Vernon at the time and Mr. von Pressentin had made arrangements with him to meet her and the children and bring them up to Mount Vernon, which he did with the help of two Indians to paddle the canoe. There they stayed for a week. Mrs. von Pressentin bought a sewing machine for $55 from Mr. Gage, who was running a logging camp in Mount Vernon. She realized that she would need a sewing machine to make clothes for her family.
      Ben von Pressentin, with the help of the two Indians, took them from Mount Vernon to Birdsview in a big salt chuck canoe and it took three days to make the trip. First there was the big jam in the river, where everything, including the canoe, had to be carried for a distance of a mile and a half or more around it. The Indians told Mrs. von Pressentin that she could not take her sewing machine in the canoe, but she told them she wouldn't go without it, so they finally relented.
      She carried her baby, Otto, a large bundle of clothing and the head of the sewing machine around the jam. The other two children were able to walk, but Paul clung to his mother's dress and this was no easy trail, with the many windfalls to climb over. The first night they stayed at old Sterling, where a Mr. [Lafayette] Stevens lived in a one-room, shake house and he said they could stay there, so the men climbed up overhead and slept in the attic while Mrs. von Pressentin and the children occupied the only bed.
      The next night they stayed at the Valentine Adam place near Hamilton, and the following morning as the two Indians and Ben slowly poled the canoe up the river, Mrs. von Pressentin kept looking for signs of human habitation. Near Hamilton she espied what looked to her like clothes hanging on a line, but Ben told her, no, that this was an Indian cemetery. They had wrapped their dead and placed them in canoes or platforms up in the branches of the trees. The third night they spent at the Birdsey D. Minkler home at Birdsview (Mrs. Minkler had arrived two or three months before, which was only a mile from their destination.

The family settles at Birdsview
(First ranchhouse)
The first von Pressentin ranchhouse, built in 1880, the year after Minnie lost one of her twin babies. This photo was taken in 1921 at the time of Karl and Minnie's 50th wedding anniversary.

      Mrs. von Pressentin says, "We expected a few hardships and in this we were not disappointed. We had to go to Sterling, Mount Vernon, Skagit City or LaConner for our supplies. Sterling was the closest, 30 miles away, and the only way to go was by canoe.
      "We ground wheat in our coffee mill. We made our own cornmeal and fed the coarse part to the chickens. My husband brought a dozen chickens in February 1878. We did not have a clock at first so Mr. von Pressentin made a mark on the window where the sun's shadow would fall at noon. My sewing machine came in handy. We bought tanned deer hides from the Indians and I made buckskin moccasins for the children.
      "We had to send to Portland for a stove. There were none nearer. B.D. Minkler had to send to San Francisco for a saw for his water power sawmill. This was an up-and-down saw called a jig saw. Everything came addressed to Skagit River, care of Captain [Dan] Benson of the Steamer Queen. We never knew when things would arrive, this year or next.
      "Everyone going up and down the river stopped at our place. I remember one night when 16 men slept in our barn. Our dealings with the Indians were always cordial, but Mr. Pressentin often had to be firm with them. Harry Clothier, who ran a store in Mount Vernon, would give our mail to anyone who was coming up river. For bringing our mail up from Mount Vernon they always wanted sitcum dollar (half a dollar). I used to give it to them, but my husband usually gave them tobacco. They always wanted sitcum dollar for everything — sitcum dollar to put you across the river, etc. There was a small newspaper in Seattle called the Post-Intelli-gencer, and the Indians wanted sit-cum dollar for bringing us one.
      "When Frank Hamilton and his wife took up their place across the Skagit river from the mouth of the Baker River, in 1880, Mr. Hamilton made the Indians remove their dead from his place. There were many of-them in their canoes, etc., in the branches of the trees.
      "Many and varied were Mr. von Pressentin's occupations. He used to run rafts of lumber from B.D. Minkler's mill at Birdsview to Sterling, Mount Vernon, Avon and LaConner. He sold cord-wood to steamers plying up and down the river. During the years 1881-82 he scaled timber for Papin & Jacobs, loggers. He made ox yokes and branding irons at home and sold them to loggers. That was when they used oxen to log with. The branding irons were used to brand logs. For a time he was Jus-tice of the Peace, filing home-steads, proofs of claims, deeds and trying petty offenders. Then he was probate judge of Skagit coun-ty and finally county commission-er [serving for two years, when the third district was formed, from 1890-92].
      "For many years we ran thc ferry by our place. At first it was just a canoe that we paddled across, then a larger ferry that ran on a cable. Now the county owns and operates the ferry. After the logging camps start-ed up we used to sell butter, beef and eggs to them. And when the Slippers opened the store in Hamilton we traded with them [after 1900]. We used to ship 150 to 200 pounds of butter to Seattle at a time and trade it for groceries. The Indians used to take deer hides to Utsalady and -sell them to the Puget Mill company for 35 cents and 40 cents per pound."

Minnie loses one of her twin babies
      "In 1880-81 we built a large log house in which we lived for many years. This burned and we now have a modern frame dwelling. My son Franz was born Febru-ary 18, 1879. My husband attended me as there was no doctor in this part of the country. After Franz was born my husband told me I was going to have another one. For some unknown reason this second could not be born in spite of all my husband's efforts, so he sent for Mrs. Minkler, who lived a mile down river. Mrs. Minkler came but she was a young woman and didn't know anything about it, so she was unable to help me either. Then my husband sent for an old Indian woman, Lizzie, who lived a few miles up-river at Sauk. She came down and worked over me a long time but could do nothing. By this time I was very weak.
      "My husband told me that if I was still alive by morning he would take me to Mount Vernon. Well, I was still alive, so he got two Indians to handle the canoe. They built a crude shelter over part of the canoe of vine maple branches covered with blankets. It was a had day, sleeting and cold. Then the Indians carried me head-first down that steep bank and laid me in the canoe and we started. It was about 40 miles to Mount Vernon xx. My baby was born dead in the canoe about the time we passed old Sterling, nearly three-fourths of the way down. A lady in Mount Vernon took me in and made me comfortable and the next day my husband started back up-river to get my baby, which had been left with Mrs. Minkler.

1878 brings gold fever
(Karl and Minnie 50th anniversary)
Karl and Minnie on the homestead at the time of their golden anniversary in 1921

      "In the spring of 1878, Jack Rowley was helping Mr. von Pressein-tin around the place. One day a canoe containing Indians stopped at the place to buy a 12-quart pail of potatoes. The price was 25 cents for a deer skin or a woven willow bushel basket. In the party was a blind Indian and his squaw, their son who was poling the canoe, and -his wife, who was steering.
      "The blind Indian decided to pay for the potatoes, so he took from his pocket a small beaded bag and began laying the contents opt on his knee, looking f or the quarter ~ As he did so he laid out six or eight gold nuggets as large as a lima bean.
      "When Jack Rowley saw these he got very excited and told Mr. von Pressentin to ask the old man in Chinook where he got them. The Indian said, 'a way up Skagit River from a creek that comes into the Skagit from the side on which the sun rises.'
      "That same summer the men made up a party consisting of Mr. Pressentin, Jack Rowley, Otto Klement, Frank Scott, John Duncan and John Sutter to go to look for the source of this river gold. They took along four young Indian bucks and their squaws and it took four canoes to carry the party and all their provisions.
      "They went up the Skagit as far as New Halem (the Indians called it Nah-Whalem) prospecting in all the rivers and creeks as they went along. The water was so high in New Halem creek they were unable to prospect there, so they decided to go farther up, but the Indians rebelled. They said they were afraid to go farther into the mountains, afraid of the Big Stick Indian, but finally the bucks consented to go if their squaws were allowed to return to their homes in two canoes. The other two canoes were beached and the journey resumed on foot. The stream was too rapid and steep by now to allow of ascent by canoe.
      "When the men came to a large creek coming in from the right they threw off their packs and proceeded to pan for gold. In the first pan they found rubies, so they called it Ruby Creek. [The "rubies" actually turned out to be garnet stones.] At another creek father up they saw a panther, so called it Panther Creek. At the head of Ruby Creek they came to two creeks about the same size. One was full of giant granite boulders and the other flowed out of a deep canyon so they called them Granite and Boulder creeks. All these creeks still carry these names. They prospected Granite Creek to its source, over the [Cascade] pass and down to the Columbia [via Lake Chelan], still tracking down traces of gold, but found none, so they back-tracked, and went up Canyon creek a little way. On a high bench Jack Rowley, who had dug gold in California, took off his hat and threw it on the ground and said, 'If there is gold anywhere, there is gold here.' They filled their kettles with gravel and carried them down to the creek. There was $8.50 worth in the first pan. They kept this up until snow flurries came, but had lots of troubles with the Indians, who wanted to go back. One white man always watched with a loaded rifle while the others worked for fear of treachery. The Indians hunted, fished and picked berries and the men lived on this. They left when snow flew, and none too soon.
      "The next summer they and others went back up in there and succeeded in getting more gold. Albert Bacon and his party took out $1,500 from their Nip and Tuck mine near the head of Ruby creek. Others succeeded in taking out sizable stakes. They all agreed they would not tell of their discoveries but would come back the following spring. But someone told and some of the largest nuggets were put in a drugstore window in Seattle. Soon the Post-Intelligencer (a small newspaper) ran a big story about it. Then it was published in Portland and San Francisco papers and in many different places in the world, with the result that people flocked into Seattle from everywhere during the winter. In the spring of 1880, thousands of men rushed into Ruby Creek, coming in every imaginable kind of boat. It is claimed that later, $70,000 worth of gold was taken out of New Halem Creek, so that is probably where the old Indian got his gold."
      Ed. note: for a more detailed story of that trek in search of gold, read this story from Otto Klement's memoirs and this story told by Paul Pressentin on our old domain (the links there may not work):

Obituary for Wilhelmine von Pressentin
Sedro-Woolley Courier Times, Thursday, April 5, 1945, transcribed by Barbara Halliday
      Mrs. Wilhelmina von Pressentin, the oldest and one of the first pioneer women to settle in the upper Skagit valley, passed away Monday morning, April 2, three days after suffering a paralytic stroke.
      She was born near Guben, Germany, on September 13, 1852. And in 1867 came to America with her parents, who settled at Manistee, Mich., where Wilhelmina was united in marriage to Charles J. von Pressentin in May, 1871.
      She arrived at Mount Vernon on the 12th of January, 1877, a few months after Mr. Pressentin had settled at Birdsview, and traveled by canoe from Mount Vernon to Birdsview, where she resided until her death. She was the mother of six sons, five of whom survive and are now living in Skagit County. The eldest son having been drowned about eight years ago.
      The sons living are Paul of Mount Vernon, Otto and Hans of Birdsview, Frank of Marblemount and Charles of Sedro-Woolley. Eighteen grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.
      Services will be held at the Lemley funeral chapel at 2 p.m., Saturday, April 7, with interment in the Sedro-Woolley cemetery. Mr. Chas. J. von Pressentin passed away in March 1924, preceding Mrs. Pressentin by 21 years.

Links, background reading and sources
      The von Pressentin is the most extensive family section we have on the website as of 2006. Out of roughly 500 story files, 14 are now about various members of this family and many more will follow, with cross-links between them. Here are some links we particularly suggest:

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Story posted on Jan. 14, 2006
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