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

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Before and after — two documents by
Amos Bowman, 1879 and 1890

A brief profile of the Bowmans, part 1 through 1879
By Noel V. Bourasaw, publisher, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2006
Amos Bowman. The Bowman photos were discovered by Bill Mitchell in the estate of his ancestors, the Nick Beezner family

      Here we present two views of Fidalgo Island by Amos Bowman, an imaginary prediction written in 1879 and a reflection he wrote later in 1890. Bowman was both the father of Anacortes and probably the most accomplished geologist in Washington Territory. Born in Blair, Waterloo County, Ontario, Canada, on Sept. 15, 1839, he was educated at Universities in Oberlin, Ohio, and New York. County, Ontario, Canada, on Sept. 15, 1839, he was educated at Universities in Oberlin, Ohio, and New York.
      We will only briefly capsulize Amos's life in this article to show you how he got to Anacortes. While in New York, he was hired on for his shorthand ability by the Horace Greeley's New York Tribune newspaper and he became a journalist under publisher Greeley's tutelage. That work apparently interrupted his studies and he was distracted again by the lure of California in the late 1850s. He wound up working for the Sacramento Union newspaper and his interest in the nearby gold fields convinced him that he should study geology. The best schools were at Freiberg and Munich, so he sailed to Germany. After three years of intense study, he received a degree in civil engineering and mining and then toured Europe on assignments from Greeley. He returned to California with his degree sometime in about 1865. He was initially hired on by Professor Josiah D. Whitney's Geological survey before funding was cut off and he continued with various survey teams there and in Nevada for six years. He married Anne (or Annie) Curtis in April 1871 and they started their family while living in San Francisco.

(Annie Bowman)
Annie Bowman

      They moved to Seattle sometime in 1875-1876 and he was employed to conduct a geological survey for the Canadian Pacific Railroad, which was constructing a line west to British Columbia and the Pacific Ocean. That survey segued into one of the gravels of the B.C. mainland, coming right on the heels of the early 1860s Cariboo gold strike, where Bowman conducted surveys off and on until his death in 1894. While north of the border, the Hudson's Bay Company alerted Amos to the great resources at Fidalgo Island, then part of Whatcom County, Washington Territory. Then, while living in Seattle, he was given the opportunity to view the original Northern Pacific Railroad research conducted in 1872-73, in which he discovered that Fidalgo Island was selected as the possible western terminus of their transcontinental line when it was eventually completed. Those papers were stowed away and forgotten after the Financial Panic of 1873, which NP and Jay Cooke, the railroad's bond promoter, precipitated. Acting on a hunch, Amos moved his young family up to Ship Harbor on the north shore of the island, a tiny settlement part way between the present International Ferry Terminal and present Anacortes and Cap Sante, which his wife named for the point at her relatives' home in Canada.
      If Amos seriously expected either CPR or NP to build a rail line to the Guemes Channel, that certainly did not occur in the first two years that the Bowmans lived there in a cabin and store on a clearing near today's 3rd street and Q Avenue, which they carved out of the wilderness. A few others joined them but some may have been only temporary squatters who decided that Cap Sante was not yet ready to be a townsite. By New Year's Day1879, Amos, always the promoter, wrote the letter below. He addressed the letter to his friend, Fred, pretending that that he wrote it in 1890, chiding Fred for giving up on Fidalgo too soon. Although he did not know it then, he really would write another important overview of Fidalgo's progress in 1890, the very year when the town and island boomed louder and faster than any other in the new Washington state. Here is his 1879 dream, followed by our further narrative, and then followed by his 1890 assessment..
      Please note: this section is a modest beginning down the road towards the goal of providing background on the people and events surrounding the Anacortes boom of 1889-91. You may recognize the names but the people are rarely fleshed out and given context. Underscored links will lead you to background materials on the cited subjects or will lead you to endnotes that clarify the subjects or to capsule profiles of Anacortes and Fidalgo pioneers, businesses and place names. You will be led to a portal page, where you can find the subject on an alphabetized list. Unlike the cited external websites, our capsule-profile links will have a click-link that will lead you back to the point where you were reading this main article.

Eleven years hence
(Farm wagon)
Agriculture was a key component of the Fidalgo-Anacortes economy from the beginning, judging from early federal censuses. This photograph could have been taken on William Munks's farm at March's Point. He was the first to incorporate a threshing machine in the late 1880s.

By Amos Bowman
Bellingham Bay Mail, February 1, 1879
(later that year moved to LaConner and became the Puget Sound Mail)
      [The following is appeared in the form of a letter dated "1890"]
Fidalgo, W.T., Jan. 1, 1890
My Dear Friend Fred:
      In answering your letter, you wished me to tell you of the improvements, if any, that have taken place around Puget Sound in general, and on this island in particular, since you left here eleven years ago to return to the East.
      You have imposed an arduous task upon me, if I should tell you of all the changes that have occurred within that time, I can only tell you, to the best of my poor ability, of how it is now. You left us at the height of the hard times of 1878-9. Soon after, the times changed. Lumber and other trades began to look up. Two transcontinental railroads began to creep west to their termini on Puget Sound; immigration began to pour in; and to-day the Puget Sound Basin is covered with farms, dotted here and there with cities and towns; numerous railroads traverse the land, bringing the products of the soil, forests and mines to the stately ships that crowd our waters and carry them to all parts of the world.
      So much for the Sound in general, but as you wanted to hear more, particularly of your old home on the island, I will tell you without further waiting. And you left here at just the wrong time, old fellow. If you should return now you would think yourself a second Rip Van Winkle, just waking from his long sleep. You would hardly recognize an old landmark. If you could take a walk with me along the broad streets, lined with stately business blocks that cover the ground where we used to hunt partridges and drive deer around the Portage and down Ship Harbor; if you could see the line of wharves and warehouses, stretching from Tide Point down the channel as far as the eye can reach and the channel itself, a forest of masts; if you could see the palatial residences that crown the hills further back and the fanciful cottages (for this is getting to have the reputation of being a fashionable watering place as well as the greatest business place on the Sound); if you could see the magnificent observatory on Point Capsauntee and the five-story Chuckanut stone Seminary on Panther Hill, that had such a struggle for existence during the hard times of '78-9, but which now bids fair to fulfill its founder's anticipations and be to this Coast what Yale is to the Atlantic — I repeat, if you could see all this, you would have some idea of our city of Anacortes as it is at present, with a population of thirty thousand.
      And why should it not be a flourishing city with the Nooksack, Samish and Skagit valleys and all the islands tributary to it, with the branch line of the Northern Pacific Railroad, pouring the products of the vast country, east of the Cascade Range into its tap, with the rich mines constantly developing near it and its being the headquarters of the whole northern fisheries. It is the natural consequence of its superior situation as a seaport.
      You ask after old land-marks and familiar faces. The old original wharf, the foundation on which Anacortes was started, that was built before you left, still stands solid and firm, defying with its heavy timbers the war of the elements and the encroachments of time.
      As I was passing along the docks this morning I met two men. One a large, portly, hearty-voiced man; the other a dapper little man, but chock full of biz. You would recognize them instantly as Hoyt and Biddle. The one is superintendent of the northern fisheries, the other proprietor of a large furniture store. O.G. & Sons have worked into a large dairy farm; the boys still fiddle, but not for a living now. Well, old boy! This must do for this time, for I am going to hear the celebtated [sic] Mademoiselle D____, just from New York, at the Fidalgo Opera House to-night.
Yours truly, [unsigned]

A brief profile of the Bowmans, Part 2 through 1890
Skagit River Journal research

and we discover the elusive "Fred"
(Early townsite)
This photo of the very early townsite was taken from about 10th Street, looking north toward Guemes Channel. The new Anacortes Hotel and McNaught Building are at the far-upper-left horizon.

      Most researchers until now have assumed that "Fred" was a fictional construct by Amos, but I have concluded, after reading the Anacortes Illustrated magazine of Spring 1891 that he was likely very real, with just a slight change of name. He was probably Edward L. Shannon, one of the first settlers on Fidalgo Island — five years before Amos Bowman — who did indeed leave the island in 1878-79 to seek his fortune with the Northern Pacific Railroad and other companies, as you will see below in the text and the endnotes.
      Amos's 1879 letter was just the beginning of his putting his money where his mouth was. He used his store as a base for his civil engineering firm, but customers in future Skagit County were a still a long ways off. He continued with his geology assignments in British Columbia but he also hired out for other railroads. Back in 1877 he was hired by the Olympia-Tenino Railroad Co. but by 1879, the Olympia councilmen squabbled so much about the plan that funding finally dried up. In the book, First Views, Theresa Trebon notes that in "April 1879 he began building a small store, post office, and wharf on Guemes Channel. His businesses opened that November and when it came time for officially naming the post office, he turned to his wife for inspiration. He combined her first name of Anna and maiden name of Curtis, and then tweaked the spelling somewhat so it "reflected the Spanish sounds of neighboring place names." The April 26, 1879, Bellingham Bay Mail reported that partners Bowman and Johnson put up a wharf on the Guemes Channel between what was later the Ocean dock and G street. The steamers Phantom and Tacoma towed booms of logs to mills in Tacoma.
      When I finally looked at the 1880 federal census, there were a number of surprises. First, the federal government still spelled Skagit as Skadget, and Anacortes was still listed as Ship Harbor. Second, there were many more dwellings and families than we imagined, 81 in the Ship Harbor Precinct, with a surprising total population of 157, and 35 dwellings in the Fidalgo Precinct, with 133 total population. That combined population of 290 was much higher than alluded to by various histories. Keep in mind that those precincts were part of Whatcom County, since Skagit County was three years away from formation. Second was the lack of the notation, "at school" for the Bowman children, but Annie could have home-schooled them, as we now say. And Amos's partner Johnson was not enumerated.
      Another surprise was that in the Fidalgo precinct, which encompassed March's Point and the head of Fidalgo Bay, there were no students enumerated, thus no sign of a school. That is odd because the first school in the future Skagit County portion was opened in that precinct and was taught by Mrs. Almina Griffin, but in this census she was listed merely as "keeping home." Nine white men had taken Indian wives; one Indian woman was a single mother, one Indian woman was a widow of a white settler, two Indian men had their own separate dwellings and there were 28 Indian children. There were 13 students listed, most of whom were presumably enrolled at the Alden Academy, established by Rev. Ewing O. Tade and his wife, Amanda, in 1879 in a cabin located near the present intersection of 29th Street and Commercial Avenue. Three teachers were listed, including one "professor." The only businesses indicated were Amos's store/wharf combination, a tinsmith and Thomas Benn's sawmill, on the south side of the island at future Gibralter/Dewey. Almost all the men, and nearly two dozen teenage boys, were listed as farmers, with a handful of fishermen coming in next. The only exceptions were a portrait painter, a book agent (code for a ticket agent for steamboats at the wharf?), and a telegraph operator.
      On March 1882, Amos took the next step towards forming a city by backing a newspaper, the Northwest Enterprise, fronted by Alf. D. Bowen and F.M. Welsh. We recently found an interview with Bowen from 1939 when he returned to Anacortes to open a paper products plant. He explained that "I was setting type on the old P-I [Post-Intelligencer in Seattle] in 1882 when Amos Bowman, who had just established the townsite of Anacortes, came to Seattle looking for a printer to start a paper in the new metropolis which nobody had heard of." They soon found the island to be tough sledding, as the saying went back then, and Bowen and Welsh turned the newspaper back over to Bowman in 1883.
      By 1882, as Anacortes American publisher Douglass Allmond later wrote, Amos had added to his other businesses, pile driving and scow building, real estate and loans. E. Hammond built ships at Amos's wharf, Eldridge Sibley had a wagon shop and wheelbarrow factory, Olaf Haroldson had a boots and shoes factory and his wife, Pernella (Anstenson) recycled rags to make rugs by hand, and William Allard was a blacksmith and tinsmith in the still tiny village of Anacortes. Allmond explained that, up until then, the only means of communication between Anacortes and the Skagit mainland and the outside world was by water or by rough and tedious slogging through a dense forest and over fords of streams and a slough.
      Amos supplied details of the various railroad boomlets on the island in his article below. He noted that Henry Villard, the German immigrant based in Portland who took over Ben Holladay's old Oregon railroad schemes and consolidated them with shipping and rail portage lines, took over control of Northern Pacific in 1882 and invested in Anacortes property as a possible terminus when the cross-country rail line was completed. Unfortunately, Villard overextended NP drastically and his empire crumbled in 1883, quashing Fidalgo hopes once again. In 1889, a townsite company employed H.B. Gates and G. Gerhard to survey a plat opposite Kelley's Point that stretched two miles along the Guemes channel and 3/4 of a mile inland. Avenues were platted 100 feet wide and the cross streets were 80 feet, with a planned grand avenue 200 feet wide across the whole length of the island. At the same time, John C. Sullivan built a wharf 100 feet out into the channel, supplying a welcome payroll for carpenters who received $5 per day. Seven years later, when the boom came, a competing consortium led by James McNaught, an attorney for NP and George F. Kyle, a contractor with Canadian Pacific tried to set up a competing downtown at the "West End," centered on I Avenue. McNaught erected his flagship building at 8th street and I Avenue. But the original downtown area prevailed and McNaught's flagship building was moved on log rollers to P Avenue (today's Commercial Avenue) and 4th Street, where it became the landmark Anacortes Mercantile and is now the Majestic Hotel after extensive renovation in 2003-05.
      Amos also explained in the article below that, back in Tacoma in 1878, he procured the discarded NP map pf 1873 that proposed a route for its transcontinental line that followed the Wenatchee River and crossed the North Cascades at Skagit Pass — also called Cascade Pass and Ward's Pass, and followed the north shore of the Skagit River to a possible terminus at Fidalgo Island. For the next four years until the newspaper folded on Feb. 20, 1887, he reprinted the map and promotional stories many times in the Northwest Enterprise and mailed the papers far and wide to businesses and railroad people and potential settlers. That is how Villard was alerted to the advantages of the Ship Harbor as the closest Washington port to the ocean and for its possibility as a shipping hub for vessels trading with California and the Orient.

Amos looks northward
      Eunice Darvill, of Mount Vernon, has been researching original Bowman family papers for the past decade, following her stints as curator of the Anacortes Museum and director of the LaConner Historical Museum. She supplied many sources that show that Amos hedged his bet about the future of Anacortes by branching out to the beautiful Sumas Prairie that stretches just north of the Canadian border into the southern mainland of British Columbia.
      My favorite book from that area is One Foot on the Border, edited by Daphne Sleigh. From her research, she learned that in 1885 Amos took up a large tract of land in the southern part of the Prairie at what was called Muddy Slough. As the doldrums of the 1880s drug on at Anacortes, he planned a country home at Sumas Prairie for Annie and the children. He built a house at a spot where four preemption claims bordered so that he could prove up on all of them at the same time and so that he could see the farm operations on all of them from his house. From 1885-88, his family spent much of their time on the Sumas farm and in between survey jobs for the Canadian government, Amos immersed himself in the local area as an advocate for dyking and the reclamation of the Sumas Prairie marginal lands.
      Members of his family sunk their roots in the Sumas Prairie area, most notably his son Wendell and daughter Clytie, who married a local farmer. Residents there still consider the Bowmans as some of their most important pioneers. We are working on two other stories about the Bowmans, one that will focus on Annie, who survived Amos and was his true partner and helpmeet and whose Curtis family also joined them in Anacortes and became important business owners. The other story will explore in detail Amos's extensive surveying work in Canada from 1876 until his death in 1894, which apparently resulted to his exposure to the elements while returning from a B.C. assignment. That story will include a section on Amos's nephew, Orion Bowman, who was one of the most famous Sumas Prairie pioneers because of his sawmill and creamery near Amos's ranch.
      While Amos may have considered relocating to British Columbia permanently at one time, he was beckoned back to Anacortes in 1888 because a lot of flush railroad men were arriving, almost daily, to request land grants and to take out options on property all over Fidalgo Island, Padilla Bay and the surrounding islands. That was a serious boom, not just a dream, and Amos knew in his heart that his ship had come in, and that his dream, outlined in the 1879 letter above, was about to come true. So we turn you over to Amos's article, "Eleven years hence" in real time, was published in the Anacortes Progress, which was launched on Aug. 3, 1889, and ended publication on Jan. 22, 1892, according to historian Edmond S. Meany. By the way, during the boom year, the competing Anacortes American, was launched on May 15, 1890, by Douglass Allmond and Fred H. Boynton, the newspaper that has survived until today.

Anacortes in the boom year 1890
By Amos Bowman, Anacortes Progress, August 14, 1890
(Huntoon Building)
The Huntoon Building at the corner of 6th Avenue and I Street was one of the anchors of the "West End" alternative city center proposed by the McNaught interests.

      Tacoma came into view as a terminus, as everyone knows, from purest accident. The great undertaking of building the Northern Pacific railroad encountered the financial storms of 1872 and got shipwrecked; and Tacoma was the port which saved enterprise.
      It is also well known by all the older citizens that the Northern Pacific railway graders had already passed Tacoma some six or seven miles across Puyallup and into the valley of the Stuck river, when Skookum (Elijah) Smith and General [John. W.] Sprague were delegated to buy up lands at the nearest available point on Puget Sound, at which to make the terminal improvements which were required by the act, in order to hold the land grant.
      At the time, Skookum Smith, General Sprague, General Hazard Stevens, Captain George D. Hill, B.B. Tuttle and Victor Tull, with some others, had already secured the entire waterfront of Ship Harbor, (Anacortes), and so far arranged matters that, but for the panic, the Northern Pacific would undoubtedly have built their line and located their terminal works at Anacortes.
      Other cliques, however, of the Northern Pacific Company had bought up lands all along the route with terminal pretensions. Among these were Holmes Harbor, Coveland, Coupeville, all on the inner side of Whidbey Island, and the northern end of Whidbey Island fronting on Deception Pass. Other persons outside the Northern Pacific Company had bought up Mukilteo.

      This photo from Dan Wollam's 1965 booklet, The Anacortes Story, shows one of the planked streets that were common early in the boom year of 1890, built from the abundant fir on the island. The view is probably looking south on Commercial Street. The crowd includes the crew and staff of the Anacortes Electric Railway line, which only ran once before folding, and officials and businessmen from Fidalgo City, the southern terminus of the line.

      It was in 1876 that the Canadian Pacific explorations first solved the problem of the Canadian route. I was engaged in geological exploration in connection with the government railway exploration and was then, for a short time, a resident of Seattle. My knowledge of the Northern Pacific approaches to Fuca straits, along with the knowledge of the Victoria Hudson's Bay men, of the agricultural importance of this country around the outlet of the Skagit, attracted my attention to this place.
      On examining the harbor for terminal purposes, which was the first work I did here, I was agreeably surprised to find every condition around Anacortes place nearly perfect, and in the spring of 1877 I purchased it from Miss Maud Stevens, of Boston, a sister of General Hazard Stevens, for the sum of one thousand dollars.
      I immediately began making .improvements in earnest, looking to its final development for railway purposes. My own education and experience as a civil and mining engineer enabled me to work straight to the mark.
      Everybody knows how the publication of the Northwest Enterprise and its circulation of the "map of Fuca's sea or Puget Sound" accomplished the work of spreading information of the sound. The Enterprise, now the Progress newspaper, placed that map in the hands of every western railway engineer and railway company and director between New York and San Francisco, including everybody else, who had eyes to see, in Oregon and Washington.
      Among these people, James McNaught and Henry Villard were interested parties, being in a position to know all about the earlier steps taken at this place regarding terminal matters. Perhaps I have not done full justice to myself, however, in stating that Ship harbor, had at the time of my settlement here, gone completely out of sight and out of memory almost as a terminal proposition. Bringing it to the notice of Villard and the McNaughts appeared to most people to be entirely "de nove" — except for the assertions of the Enterprise rather magnifying the connections of the Jay Cooke regime with Ship Harbor in 1870-72.
      In truth, no official connection nor action of any kind was ever had, going further than the initiatory steps. These were unofficial, but they were genuine, and to this day it is very confidently asserted by the participants from the spoken words of leading officials that they would surely have landed the terminus on these shores had not Jay Cooke failed.
      It is my belief that neither the McNaughts nor Villard would have given a thought to Ship Harbor in 1882-88 had its claims not been definitely and prominently brought into notice by the Northwest Enterprise with its map. It did its work of advertising effectually and economically. The "newspaper in the woods" had a history that will bear telling.
      I myself procured, about 1878, the original Northern Pacific map and profile from Fidalgo Island by way of Skagit pass and Wenatchee river to the big bend of the Columbia, made about 1872. I found them buried among other Northern Pacific records in the old Tacoma terminal building, now the freight house, on the dock at Tacoma. They were considered of so little consequence that they were given to me, a stranger, without hesitation.
      Among the numerous parties that visited Anacortes in the first few years after the publication of the Enterprise and its map (from 1882 to 1886) were M.V.B. Stacy, Henry Villard, James and Joseph McNaught and John L. Howard.
      Nearly all of the prominent people who are now identified with Anacortes first appeared upon the scene at that time. About 1885 Villard sent agents here to procure terminal facilities, and who did actually procure, quietly and silently, under Mr. Stacey's [Stacy's] management, about three thousand acres by purchase. The work was done chiefly by Frank Seidell, of Seattle, with the assistance of Orlando Graham. [Ed. note: We believe that Seidell was a brother or other relative of Sedro-Woolley pioneer Arthur C. Seidell.]
      Stacy first came to me and I recommended Graham as a valuable coadjutor for acquiring properties in the interest of a railway enterprise. While I distinctly remember this fact along with the proposition to buy me out for ten thousand dollars (now entertained), I had no further knowledge of the enterprise and was not a confidant of the projectors.
      The McNaughts figured in it a little, I think, but subordinately. A large number of the most prominent men of Puget Sound were brought into connection with it by Mr. Stacy. Nearly all the older Northern Pacific landholders had sold out except Captain George D. Hill and Edward L. Shannon.
      About that time Villard's financial difficulties intervened and again nullified this second land scheme of the Northern Pacific people at Ship Harbor. In 1888 the present railway building was begun, originally by W. H. Holcomb of the Oregon Improvement Company, of Seattle. I had, for half a dozen years, ceased expenditures at Anacortes, though not entirely the circulation of the Enterprise map, leaving it and time to do the work — that of populating the back country before doing anything further.
      I was engaged on [Hubert Howe] Bancroft's History at San Francisco and afterward was tracing the coal measures in British Columbia when word came to me that these men were in search of me and would initiate railroad works on condition of receiving a certain land grant.
      This required a grant of about two thousand acres was raised chiefly by myself and wife, assisted by the Rev. Albert Taylor, Orlando Graham and [Humphrey] P. O'Bryant], tramping over Fidalgo and Guemes islands for about three weeks, with Messrs. Calhoun and Hopkins as notaries.
      The non-resident waterfront owners at Seattle had been previously trained in line by the McNaught Brothers and E.L. Shannon. The entire subsidy of about twenty-five hundred acres of land will have been earned by the Oregon Improvement Company August 15th.
      Almost immediately after the signing of the subsidy contract a revolution took place in the company. Milner and Holcomb were both shelved, and the Oregon Improvement Company with Elijah Smith at the head, came to the front.
      After January 1, 1889, to date, Elijah Smith and the Oregon Improvement Company have carried out the work and brought us out of the woods to our present flattering status, as the terminus of at least one, and probably two or three transcontinental railroads.
      The business was initiated by Holcomb and Milner as a Union Pacific enterprise. Milner and Harry Tibbals, Jr., represented that they were instructed by their superiors as managers controlled by the Northern Pacific. The engineers who laid out the road were Messrs. Williams and Temple, they came here from Denver and Omaha, as Northern Pacific engineers and are now engaged on the Union Pacific near Olympia. Milner is now superintendent of the Great Northern. They are all personally interested in the success of Anacortes, and, although referred to last in this connection; ought to have been mentioned at first.
      [Journal Ed. note: here are a few names mentioned in the text, about whom we have failed to uncover any details. Can you help? Fidalgo settlers: E. Hammond,, H.B. Gates, G. Gerhard, John L. Howard, and Victor Tull; Mr. Milner, Union Pacific; Harry Tibbals Jr., Union Pacific and later Great Northern; Williams and Temple, Northern Pacific.]

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