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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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Cyrus A. Mosier, Iowa pioneer, administrator of
Washington lands, homesteader at Skykomish

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal, 2004
(Cyrus A. Mosier)
Cyrus A. Mosier, circa 1890

      While researching the lives of two of Sedro-Woolley's most important early pioneers — Albert G. Mosier and Harry L. Devin, we finally found the thread that made our biographies complete and filled in many gaps in the former record of the two men. They were brothers-in-law and the thread is Cyrus A. "Cy" Mosier, father of Albert and Devin's wife, Lenore. He was famous in Iowa, that cradle of early Sedro pioneers, and even more famous when he moved to Washington territory in 1889 and accepted President Benjamin Harrison's assignment to be the administrator of public lands in the West.
      Cyrus, Albert and Harry homesteaded three patches of land on the Skykomish river, 17 miles upriver from Snohomish City, in early 1889. Harry's young wife and child lived there along with Albert's younger brother Charles, then nine years old. Apparently Cyrus's wife, Rachel, did not move out to the frontier at that time. After about a year, the three men "proved up," according to their homestead filing, and had the necessary structure built on their land. After purchasing the land from the U.S. government at $1.25 per acre sometime in the next seven years, they sold their parcels at a profit to the future Washington timber baron, Fredrick Weyerhaeuser. Meanwhile, by the winter of 1889, Lenore and the baby went back to Iowa, and Rachel Mosier took Charles back home to attend school in Des Moines. Harry went to Seattle to scout out a permanent place for his family to live. Albert went to a little village called Sedro on the Skagit river to plat it as the location for a major depot on the rail line of his employer, the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern [SLS&E] railroad. And Cyrus moved to Snohomish City, which was the oldest town in Snohomish county. We are not certain how often Rachel returned to live him as he served in Washington over the next 11 years.

Cyrus as a youth, when the U.S. frontier was Kansas and Iowa
      Cyrus A. Mosier's paternal ancestors emigrated from Germany to Chesapeake Bay in the very early 1700s. His maternal ancestors, the Swan family, were a mix of people from the various British Isles. His grandfather, Giles H. Swan, graduated from Yale College in 1815 and moved with his young bride to Richland county, Ohio, a few years later. That was also the home of the ancestors of Mortimer Cook, the founder of Sedro. At the same time, Cy's father, Eli Mosier, was five years old when his family moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio. Eli married Maria Swan, a schoolteacher, at the town of Paris, Richland county, in January 1837 and on Oct. 13 that year, Cy was born in Mansfield, Ohio, Cook's home town.
      When Cy was still a baby, his parents moved from the near wilderness of Ohio to the unbroken wilderness of Platte county, Missouri, just 17 miles from Fort Leavenworth, a United States garrison. He went to a very small country subscription school where goose-quill pens were still used and where recitation of lessons had not yet been initiated. The education he valued most, however, was his immersion in wild nature. He learned to ride a horse at four, tended his father's cattle at six and fell in love with the sounds of the birds and creatures of the forest.
      In Missouri, the slaveholder families often sent their children to his school with a black body servant in tow. His father's abolitionist beliefs eventually made Missouri seem disagreeable and Eli moved his family a few hundred miles north on the military road when Cy was ten. In 1848 they settled west of Fort Des Moines, Iowa, near the Raccoon river on Mexican Grant land that Eli bought at the rate of 62 to 87 1/2 cents an acre. The town of Des Moines consisted of two rows of double log houses and a few scattered cabins, of poor construction. Eli immediately built a log cabin in what is now the northwestern section of Des Moines and then built the first frame house in the area. He worked with sawmills as the city grew and eventually started one of his own.
      The city was just forming around the fort and the Des Moines river. The first thing that Cy wanted to see at his new home was a steamboat on the river, but it was too shallow for such traffic. Instead, he marveled at the burial mounds that Indians left all along the valley. Streets were platted at the time the Mosiers arrived in 1847 and it was an exciting time for a young man to grow up there, leading up to the time that the city would be named the state capital in 1857. The city took the name from the Fort, which in turn took it from the river, which the Trappist Monks called La Riviere des Moines — for the mounds.
      Eli was perhaps best known for the first apple tree and peach orchard in Polk County. The orchard matured and in 1856 and 1857, he raised an immense crop of peaches, "the most luscious and beautiful I ever saw," according to the old timers in a biography written later in the century. They remembered them well because the winter of 1857 killed all the peach trees and no one in that region attempted growing peaches again. That was also the time that Eli made a killing by selling his land for $30 per acre and he moved a ways north to the town of New Corydon.
      Although Cyrus grew up as a farm boy, he tired of it as a teen. His mind was blooming and his curiosity about everything around him led him to self-education and learning from his mother. In their first years at Des Moines, there was little money for a subscription school, but by the early 1850s he attended the district school in a log cabin three to five months each year. Although he was growing less interested in farming, he showed real skill at it and he once even broke ground where the city hall would later stand. He also showed a talent for music and in 1854 he lived out a scene from The Music Man as counterpoint from the plow. As the 1908 book, Pioneers of Polk county Iowa, Volume 1 [website], explained:

      In September 1854, he organized the first brass band. The town had become enthused with 'Manifest Destiny,' visions of the Seat of Government coming this way filled the air. Political enthusiasm also ran high, and a brass band was deemed necessary to give eclat to the times and occasions. . . . Ed Clapp drove his express into town, at sunset, one beautiful September day, in 1854, freighted with bacon and United States mail, some three or four weeks old--judging from the skippers, the bacon was the oldest--he brought a box of horns, brass horns, mind you, some few copper, not many, else the horns might not all have arrived, though Ed. was always, as to-day 'safe and sound' on the horn question, and strictly reliable. But those old wagons often caused the breakage of cooperage, especially while standing in the tall grass on the eastern side of Skunk, waiting for the water and mud to go down. The news of the arrival of the box soon spread; the members of the band-to-be quickly gathered and opened the box, and, after some discussion as to the fitness of things, an assignment of the instruments was made.
Cyrus A. Mosier was listed as playing the B-flat bugle.
            Then in 1855, he caught another lucky break when he was sent to a select school at Des Moines where his teacher was John H. Gray, who was later elected Judge of the District Court in 1858. Cy studied algebra, surveying, Latin, German and botany. Starting in the summer of 1857, he prepared himself, with his mother's help, for the profession of teaching. For the next five years, in the fair weather months, he worked on his father's farm and various others with an ox team, and during the winters he taught. In 1856 Eli sold out his Des Moines farm for $30 an acre, and moved to New Corydon, sixteen miles above Des Moines. Cy stayed in town and worked a farm in East Des Moines.

Indian mounds, court reporting marriage and war
(Des Moines bridge)
The earliest Des Moines river bridge, taken near the turn of the 20th century

      His next lucky break came as a result of his self-education in 1858-59 as preparation for studying law. He was described as being "of extremely nervous, sanguine temperament, and always busy," so the law study waned but he showed great ability as a stenographer. When Gray became a judge, he shoved some work Cy's way. Cy qualified himself for what was called "verbatim reporting" by making himself proficient in phonographic short-hand, attaining ultimately a speed of 225 words to the minute, which was considered top notch. He also hitched his star to the new Republican party early on and worked for James W. Grimes's reelection as governor in 1856.
      Since there was no railroad yet, lawyers riding to circuit courts had the custom to hire someone to be their manservant and stenographer. The district court at that time covered nearly all the northwestern part of the state and Cy was often hired to go with them and report the proceedings in their cases, for which he was paid five and ten dollars per day, a handsome fee compared to the results of farming. He was thus employed at intervals for several years, and he became so proficient and reliable that, in 1862, his former teacher, now Judge Gray, appointed Cy as official reporter for his court. One biographer even supposed that Cy might have been the first court reporter in Iowa to employ stenography.
      Amidst with his reporting and his avid reading, he became curious about the Indians mounds that had fascinated him since moving to the area ten years before. The 1908 Polk book reviews his study about the subject:

      He early began to investigate the subject of Indian mounds, so many of which existed in the Des Moines Valley, and that of the Mississippi. There were fifteen of them on the plateau abutting the two rivers here, one near the corner of Fourth and Walnut, on which "Billy" Moore built his dwelling-house; another where the Court House now stands (the Sacs and Foxes had a war dance there in 1854); another at the corner of Fourth and Court Avenue, opposite the The Register and Leader building. The others were scattered in various localities. His research, investigation, and travel convinced him beyond a doubt that the Mississippi Valley was once a populous empire, millions of whose subject repose in mound sepultures scattered over our valleys and prairies; that we to-day tread on the ruins of a civilization older than that of the Aztecs, of a people divided into stationary communities, who, centuries in the past, possessed the arts of semi-civilized life, who worshipped the elements, whose form of government subordinated the masses to hereditary power, as revealed in marks they have left. To what race they belonged has not been revealed, but, reading from archaeological investigations made, the conclusion is that, after centuries of warfare, they were driven southward into Mexico by the ancestors of Indians.
Always keeping himself busy, during the year school year 1860-1 he taught the highest-grade public school in East Des Moines. Cupid also entered his life on Nov. 14, 1861, as Cy married Miss Rachel A. Bell, the daughter of Samuel and Rachel Bell, who were Irish and German and were also originally from Pennsylvania. They moved to Bloomfield Township and Cy kept on farming and reporting when he was not teaching.
Immediately after his marriage Mr. Mosier built his residence,-16 x 24 and a story and a half high,-with his own hands, cutting the logs, sawing them, framing the whole structure and finishing it, building the chimney and plastering one room. No American excepting a frontiersman would have the ambition to do this; and this was all done during the hard times of the war period. After all, that was the happiest period of Mr. Mosier's life.
      After the Civil War broke out in 1861, a local battalion of volunteers was organized and Cy enlisted as a private. In 1864, the Des Moines battalion was ordered to repel an invasion by the Rebel General Sterling Price from Missouri. Price was the former Missouri governor and had formed a rebel Missouri guard of 5,000 men before being commissioned as a Confederate major general in 1862. Cy was commissioned as captain to be adjutant of the battalion and for the rest of the war, he saw quite a bit of action, as outlined in the 1896 book, A Memorial And Biographical Record Of Iowa [website]:
      He commanded the company five months . . . was twice offered promotion, but preferred to stay with his company, which he did until after the war was over, being discharged in January, 1866, at San Antonio, Texas. During its service his company traveled 10,750 miles, participated in fifteen battles and many skirmishes, losing in killed and wounded sixty-five per cent of its number. Some of the battles in which he was engaged were Chickamauga, Mission Ridge, Kenesaw mountain, Peachtree creek, Atlanta, Jonesboro, Lovejoy, Franklin, and Nashville. He always commanded his company on every march and in every engagement.
      Cy's older brother Oliver served as a Union lieutenant and was killed in action. Younger brother Cross was a Union private and saw action in many engagements before being taken prisoner. He experienced the agony of being confined for nine months at Andersonville and then six months in other rebel prisons.
      When Cy returned to Des Moines at age 29, he discovered that his father, Eli, had remarried in 1863 after the death of Cy's mother, Maria. He married Bertha Clarkie Crum, who was either the widow or the daughter of his partner in a sawmill business at New Corydon. They already had three children together by the time that Cy came home. In that summer of 1866, Cy was elected to be the County Superintendent of Schools of Polk county, which then included also the superintendence of the city schools. He resigned that position two years later so that he could form a company with a partner that would provide reporting for two districts in central Iowa. For the next 20 years, the firm of Mosier & Dahlberg provided reporters for courts throughout Iowa and it grew and changed over the years, reflecting the changes in technology. By the early 1880s, the partners had a system of sixteen phonographers and typewriters.

Benjamin Harrison points Cyrus A. Mosier towards Washington territory
(Mount Rainier)
1903 postcard photo of Mount Rainier, taken from Puget sound

      In 1888, Benjamin Harrison ended what Republicans saw as the four-year national nightmare under Democrat president Grover Cleveland. Unlike his grandfather, the Whig president, William Henry "Old Tippecanoe" Harrison, Harrison was solidly Republican. He won the election partially on his strength in the south and the West, following his work in the U.S. Senate in the 1880s, where he championed Indians. homesteaders, and Civil War veterans. His election was inauspicious, since he lost the popular vote by 100,000 but won in the electoral college by 233 to 168. By then, Cyrus A. Mosier was semi-retired for two years, but there was only so much satisfaction in attending meetings of the Old Settlers Association and the Masonic order, whose chapters he had helped charter in Des Moines. He called in his chits and lobbied for a patronage position with the new president. The result was that Harrison appointed him as a special agent of the General Land Office of the Interior Department in Washington territory, which must have seemed to be the edge of the world on Cy's map, but held the promise of a new forest and wilderness, an extension of his childhood on the Midwestern frontier.
      In April 1889, he left by train for the Pacific Northwest with a letter of assignment that instructed him to supervise "Government land in Washington and other territories, to prevent the sequestration of timber b the lumber hog, or minerals, and other encroachments upon the public domain." His sons Albert and Charles were already in the territory, Albert engaged with the SLS&E railroad and Charles was thrilled to play and fish and hunt on the streams around the three homesteads that Albert found on the south side of the Skykomish river in Snohomish county, thirty miles from Gardner bay and Puget sound. After arriving in Seattle by train, Cy and Rachel either took a steamboat from Seattle to Gardner bay or caught an SLS&E work train to Snohomish City. The 1896 Iowa Biographies book describes the last leg of the trip and the hardest:

      In April, 1889, Mr. Mosier moved with his family to Washington Territory, and on the day before he left, he was surprised with the present of a fine gold watch, "suitably and most beautifully engraved," from the bench and bar of Polk county. Soon after his arrival he took his family in Indian canoes, manned by Indians, and ascended the Snohomish river for three days. After disembarking they had to walk on a mountain trail for sixteen miles, making six miles of the trail themselves, and camping without tent. On the second day (fifth day out) they reached a small cabin. They spent the summer in the Cascade mountains, and early in December descended the river to the town of Snohomish on tide water.
By that time, all three homesteads were "proved up" and busy Cyrus immersed himself fully into his new job.
      He was assigned to administer 2,600 cases of suspended land entries all over the Pacific coast, so he soon left for California and would be gone a year. During that time he traveled back and forth between old Mexico and Vancouver Island by rail and sea. In his travels he filled journals with his observations, sketched scenes, climbed ledges and waded streams and gathered testimony about land purchases and disputes. During that year, Washington was admitted to the Union as the 42nd state on November 11. After returning home for Christmas 1889, he left again in early 1890 for New Mexico, which was still a territory, and spent eight more months touring the coast before he returned to Washington and set up a headquarters at Seattle.
      He took out the first corps of surveyors to Olympic mountain range, on the Washington peninsula of the same name, to survey suspended land entries. Subsequently he received orders from Hon. T. H. Carter, then Commissioner of the General Land Office later a Senator from Montana, to explore the Mount Rainier region for the possibility of making a timber reservation there. He was more than likely advised in these efforts by William C. Ewing — the publisher of the Skagit News in Mount Vernon (on the Skagit river) and one of the team that first ascended Rainier to the summit in 1869; and by Norman Kelley, Albert's partner in the Sedro Land & Improvement Co. and a member of the first team to scale the highest peaks of the Olympics. Cy was worried that stalled efforts to create a Rainier National Park would allow "organized bands of timber and land thieves" to denude the mountain's timber and beauty. The 1896 Iowa Biorgrahpies book explains the challenges of climbing the mountain peaks at that time:

      Loading a mule with a dog tent, blankets, bacon, flour, coffee, and a few other necessaries, a 5x7 Kodak, an aneroid barometer, thermometer, field-glass, level, forty-four six-shooter, repeating rifle, etc., he walked behind the faithful little animal from the settlements at sea-level to the timber line on the mountain, which was generally about 8,ooo feet above the sea, and camped alone at night, proceeding to points fifty to a hundred miles from civilization. In the daytime he had to cross swollen glacial rivers alone, which are always dangerous even when help is at hand. But he could not retreat; all his work lay before and above him. When the shades of night draped the earth with their mysterious pall and the stars shone out like electric lamps from the black depth of space, the ominous silence being broken only by an occasional scream of the mountain lion and the mysterious notes of night birds and other animals, also the sound of grinding rocks forced by an avalanche sweeping the timber and everything before it down the mountain side, reverential awe which language cannot express, rather than fear, took possession of Mr. Mosier's mind.
We can imagine how thrilled Cy was to once again be immersed in the dark forests and to hear the sounds of wilderness that he loved so much as a boy in Missouri nearly 50 years before.
      Like his son-in-law Harry Devin, Cy reveled in the chances to ride horseback and to hunt and fish. When they sat around a campfire, Cy patiently listened to Harry's story of shooting a grizzly near the Columbia river and then told the younger man about shooting antelope on the plains of Texas and Mexico, climbing the Rockies in quest of mountain sheep, goats, bears and black-tail deer, and shooting water-fowl and grouse on the lakes and fields of the Dakotas, [Read about the adventures of Cy and Harry and their practical jokes on each other by returning to the link at the Issue 20 contents page.] Cy's last tortuous trip was on the eastern side of the Cascades, beginning from North Yakima, which was already becoming a rail junction. During that time he camped in deep snow for three days, "his horse pawing down through the snow to the earth to obtain his provender, which consisted of the nutritious grasses buried so deeply."

Cleveland enacts revenge on Harrison and Cy returns to Iowa
      Then in the fall of 1892, his nightmare began again: President Harrison was floundering as the voters washed their hands of both major parties and many began to flirt with the People's Party (Populists) and the Free Silverites, both of which promised pie in the sky, bye and bye. In the re-run of their 1888 election, Cleveland beat Harrison this time by 400,000 votes and drubbed him in the Electoral College, 277 to 145, with the Populist candidate winning 22 votes. Harrison left a mess for his successor and it would turn into a nationwide Depression in less than a year, and patronage positions such as Mosier's were up for grabs. [See Mosier's parting report to the Department of the Interior by returning to the link at the Issue 20 contents page.] Cy and Rachel and Charles left for their old home in Iowa at the end of 1892, taking with them stories that would shock and amaze their prairie-flatland neighbors, a vast collection of curios and the consolation satisfaction that Cy's work at Rainier led Harrison to create a Pacific Reserve. before he left office.
      We assume with some confidence that Cy and family stayed in the Des Moines area for at least the next four years. Cy was only 55 but he had punished his body for the past four years. We know that at the time his 1896 Iowa Biograpies profile was written, "Charles R., now sixteen years old, is a student at Drake University. Lucy R. is attending the high school in Des Moines; and Mac Henry, the youngest, is also at school," all in Iowa. In 1896, Cy led the campaign in Iowa to elect Republican William McKinley as president, and McKinley rewarded his successful efforts by appointing him once again to the same assignment out in Washington state, which was rapidly recovering from the Depression. The family again moved out to Snohomish City and Cy launched into his efforts again to save the mountain areas from the new onslaught of companies that gobbled up trees to build new homes and buildings in the rapidly growing cities of the West Coast. But Cy was then in his 60s and the years of physical challenge finally caught up with him. Just before the turn of the 20th century, he resigned his position due to his failing health and he and Rachel moved back to Des Moines in 1900. We do not know about the younger children, but Charles stayed in Washington this time, joining his brother Albert in projects in the newly merged town of Sedro-Woolley and in the Klondike, along with canals and building projects in Seattle. Charles was a master carpenter and over the next 50 years he would build many homes in Skagit county, including the log cabin at the corner of 8th and Fidalgo streets in Sedro where my wife Alice and I lived in 1971 when our daughter Jennifer was born.
      We do not have any record of Eli's death, but we know that he and his second wife had five children, most named for presidents or Civil War heroes, and that some of them moved to Colorado. The last newspaper record we have of Cy is his obituary in the Everett Daily Herald of Nov. 20, 1905:

      Cyrus A. Mosier, a former resident of Snohomish who will be remembered by all the old timers, died November 10 in Des Moines, Iowa, after predicting his own death. Mosier was a man of unusual ability, and the later years of his life were spent in research and travel. He had the unique distinction of being the first short hand man west of the Mississippi river, and practiced it in the courts of that region while it was almost unknown in the east. He was a great student and investigator. He left here a number of years ago to return to his old home in Des Moines, of which city he was a pioneer.
      He is buried in the Woodlawn cemetery of Des Moines, along with his wife.

Mosier and Devin stories on the web
Shared from Issue 20 of the optional Subscribers Edition.


Story posted on May 12, 2004
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