Celebrating 3 years on the web and passing 100,000 page views in January 2004

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Free Resources Stories & Photos
(Seattle & Northern 1890)
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, founder Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

(Click to send email)

Silas Moore Butler
and his logging and dairy family

Silas Butler moved to Washington territory in 1884
By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal, ©2003
(Silas Butler)
Silas Butler, 1884, upon arrival in Seattle

      Famed Sedro-Woolley historian Ray Jordan grew up near the towns of Belleville and Belfast, which were on the old Great Northern line a few miles north of Burlington. One of the few people who remembered those thriving small towns was the late Gertrude Butler — the daughter of Silas Moore Butler. Silas cut a wide swath in Skagit county; first in the timber business and next with his dairy, on 1,000 acres east of the old rail bed. Gertrude turned 95 in November 2002 and passed away on Dec. 16. In a 2002 interview, she fondly remembered walking across the fields from her family home on Butler Hill to Belleville Grade School.
      If you are old enough to remember dancing at the old Holiday Ballroom north of the Samish river bridge on old Highway 99, then you were on the townsite of Belfast. About three miles south was Belleville, which was platted in the 1890s at the northern end of the old highway overpass north of Cook road. Silas Butler carved out his homestead on the rolling hills just north of Kelleher road, which meets old Highway 99 halfway between the old towns. Gertrude was the second child born to the family and was the last surviving member of her generation. The old farm is now the home of Frederick Butler (the family calls him Si), who is the son of her younger brother Fred. You would never know it now, but that home once overlooked a lumber mill, a dairy operation and a community that included nearly 40 houses for more than 100 workers, plus bunkhouses, a company store and tracks from a logging railroad six miles long. The Great Northern ripped up the old tracks in 1901-02, after building their route around Chuckanut mountain — called the Chuckanut Cut-Off. The tracks through Belfast were completely ripped out and the two trackless "B" towns eventually faded away, but the Butler ranch was born at that time and grew stronger for decades.
      Howard Miller — the former county commissioner, took me to the Butler property just before he died in 2000, and we walked through where he lived with his family when he and his brother were young. His father — fresh off the train from North Carolina in 1909, worked for the Butlers and raised his young family in the area west of the present gravel pit that was then a "cabin city." Howard's brother, Marlin, former partner in the Valley Dairy in Sedro-Woolley, is very much alive and also remembers the days when that little collection of cabins was home.
      Frederick recalls that his father, Fred, sold part of the family property in 1969 to a Seattle company that had visions of developing it in five or twenty-acre parcels. Fred thought the property might be ideal for a golf course and put an attractive alternative clause in the sales contract. That didn't work out, but in 1991 the Avalon Golf Course rose from the old timberlands. Fred died in 2000 and he never got a chance at a round of golf but he did like riding around in a cart in his 80s on land that once yielded some of the finest timber in the state. Fred's oldest daughter, Sara Butler, found our website two years ago and introduced us to the rich history of her family. You will find links for two articles from 1949 and 1950 — the latter an obituary for Silas, which will give many details of Silas Butler's business. In this introductory section, we will share family memories of grandpa Silas, who validates the old clich??: the mold was broken when this pioneer was created.

Silas moves west via rail
"But the climax arrived and every girl in the room turned fairly green with envy, when Silas Butler as George Waterman and J.T. Squires as Philip Bradley, the Spy, bade poor Maud [Bradley, the spy's sister] a tearful farewell and kissed her and she fell to the floor in a swoon."

      As I walked up the hill to the Butler home in the spring of 2002, I turned around and saw the grand vista of Western Skagit county and the outline of the islands out in Puget sound. A century ago, much of that view would have been blocked by fir and cedar soaring 200 feet high. Silas and two of his brothers began clearing the land on this hill 20 years after Silas arrived in Washington territory after a long cross-country train ride. In a brief diary, he noted several details about the route of the Northern Pacific across the Rockies. At age 21 he decided to leave his home in Pennsylvania, where he worked in the woods with his father, and strike out for new territory clear across the country. He left Pennsylvania on March 4, 1884, and arrived at Friday Harbor on St. Patrick's Day. Frederick and Sara opened their family scrapbook and showed me a collection of photos and documents that trace his move and his early days in the new county of Skagit. We do not know what specifically drew him out here from Brookville in Jefferson county, Pennsylvania, but we do know that he began working at the lime kilns on San Juan island soon after his arrival in 1884. One of the men he met there — Lewis Kirkby, would greatly influence Silas's life after Lewis later became a pioneer of old Sedro.
      A mere seven weeks later, Silas tired of the lime dust and weaved his way around the islands in a canoe to cross the bay to the booming town of Edison on the Samish flats. In the few remaining records of the day, he appears to quickly take the town by storm as a very popular bachelor. In the only surviving copy of Edison's newspaper — Puget Sound Phonograph, volume 2, number 52, Dec. 29, 1892, we find a large advertisement for the Howard & Butler mill. The partners specialized in rough and dressed lumber from clear cedar and spruce. They were proud of their "vertical grain finishing lumber" for flooring, shingles, pulley stiles, window sills, door jams and other uses. They noted that they logged their own timber. Since we originally published this story, we have found the story behind the Howard & Butler mill. In the book, Skagit Settlers, we discovered that Albert S. Howard came to the Edison area in 1884 at age 23 from North Carolina via Portland after seeing an ad for a contract to cut shingle bolts. That was the same year that Butler arrived, so they may have worked in the woods together for eight years before starting their own mill. In the 1906 Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties book, we found more information, which also explains the birth of the town of Bow:

      However, before the building of the railroad there had been a small settlement near Bow, known locally as Brownsville. It resulted from the building of a saw-mill on the Brown place in 1892 by the Howard-Butler Company, and the erection the same year of a school-house nearby. Several logging camps in the surrounding region contributed to the stability of the settlement, and gradually the number of ranch men in the district increased. The post office did not come until July, 1901, or until after the railroad had been assured, and the service did not commence until just one year later, when. The post office and station were named Bow, at the suggestion of Mr. Brown, after the great Bow railroad station of London, England. The same year the post office was opened Ben Gardner built the Bow hotel, first known as the Gardner house. The next spring, McDougall & Brown built a saloon and that summer W. Nelson Crenshaw established the Bow department store in a shake house. At that time, also, the Winner Shingle Company built a shingle mill on the Brown farm, thus giving the town proper its first industry.
      Ray Jordan, in his book Ray's Writin's, provides more background, including Butler's first contribution to local schools:
      During 1892, Howard and Butler built a sawmill on the Brown homestead. A small settlement naturally called Brownsville?? mushroomed around the new operation. A substantial new school was erected the same year. Previous to this, the Brownsville children had attended a school of sorts in Howard and Butler's old mill office, in the Jake Harding home?? and in a small school building, taught for some time by Woodman (Granny) Matthews, located on Edison Slough between the present Chuckanut Highway and Edison.
      In another story in the 1892 Phonograph, issue, , we find that the main entertainment in town that Christmas was a play at the Odd Fellow hall called The Confederate Spy. Edward Howard played a Johnny Reb officer. But the showstopper piece featured our young hero:
      . . . Miss Emma Ewing as Norah McLeggin and Peter Kling as Officer Mulberry joked and badgered each other and Mulgarry went strutting off the stage with Norah on his arm, every man jack of the big crowd of fellows present looked lonesome and wistful and wondered why it couldn't have been them. But the climax arrived and every girl in the room turned fairly green with envy, when Silas Butler as George Waterman and J.T. Squires as Philip Bradley, the Spy, bade poor Maud [Bradley, the spy's sister] a tearful farewell and kissed her and she fell to the floor in a swoon. Six of the Tillacums from Malsberger's camp shivered all over and one of them said "cheeses," and the general sentiment among the loggers was that the reputation of Silas and J.T. as extremely innocent and altogether proper bachelors, was entirely gone, that both of them had kissed somebody's sister before. The discovery made such a sensation among the boys as to cause The Phonograph to distrust its own judgment and seek that of others.
      Back in those days a play reviewer had the liberty to interview members of the audience about their reactions to the play and we find in those comments that Silas was rubbing shoulders with many pioneers who would leave a mark on the county: Dave Donnelly, the pioneer butcher and Republican politician of Woolley and the Who's Who of Edison: a judge, Hon. F.E. Gilkey; Thomas Cain, owner of Edison's first saloon; Fletcher Conn, Patrick McCoy and the smashing Miss Lizzie Quickenden, "beautifully draped and crowned, made a picture which will be long remembered by the Edisonites. McCoy would later marry one of Silas's sisters, Gertrude. Another sister, Minerva, also joined them and she married another friend of Silas, Will Gilmore of Edison.

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos
(Howard-Butler Crew 1892-1)
(Howard-Butler Crew 1892-2)
(Howard Shingle Mill, Bow 1880s)
Far left: This photo was supplied by Lawrence Harnden Jr., our friend and avid reader of the website. It was taken on July 12, 1892, by an unknown photographer and is the finest photo we have seen of a team of oxen that were used to drag raw logs out of the woods to a log dump, probably the one at Riverside, a site located in 2003 near Blade Chevrolet. Silas may be the man in the front center with the moustache. We hope a reader can identify the others. Photos of that year are often identified as being taken by Darius Kinsey, but he was not yet photographing loggers at that time. He was just started as a photographer for the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern railroad line..
Center: This photo was taken at the same time as the other one and supplied by Frank Howard for the book, Skagit Settlers. He explained it as a turn of logs, all from the same tree, hauled by oxen over a skid road from the woods to the log dump on July 12, 1892, the year that the Howard & Butler mill began. Note the logger in the middle who is exhibiting a valuable skill, "dancing" on a log, which was even more dangerous once the log was dumped in a mill pond and bobbing about, making his perch bob like a cork in the water. He holds a long, slim pole, which helps him keep his balance, just as a high-wire performer holds one..
Right: This photo from the book, Skagit Settlers, indicates that Albert S. Howard may have had a mill of his own before joining with Silas Butler in 1892. Frank Howard's photo has a caption that says that the Howard shingle mill near Bow was one of the first to turn out sawed shingles in Washington territory, in 1885-87. We should note here that Mortimer Cook's shingle mill also started in 1885 at old Sedro and his combination with a dry kiln is often credited as the first such operation..

Butler family grows on Butler Hill
(Butler kids 1911)
Stanley, Verne and, Gertrude Butler, 1911, at Mrs. Annie Pilcher's studio in Sedro Woolley, where the post office is now located

      Sometime in those years Butler's younger brothers Curtis and Raymond also joined Silas in the new state of Washington. By the turn of the century they bought the timber rights to 1,000 acres of first-growth timber that lay between the Fairhaven & Southern railroad grade on the north and Olympia Marsh on the south. By 1902, the sounds of giant saw echoed from the hills around as the Butler Brothers Mill grew rapidly. The only missing piece of the puzzle was a wife for Silas and his old friend Lewis Kirkby took care of that. By that time Lewis was a fixture around Sedro-Woolley and was a major benefactor of the Free Methodist church. His youngest son, Adam, died back in Ottawa, Kansas, and Lewis urged Adam's widow, Ida, to move to Washington with her infant son, Thomas Verne. Si and Ida soon met and his lonely days were over. Silas, age 41, and Ida, 32, married on Sept. 21, 1904. Son Stanley was born in 1905, followed by Gertrude in 1907, Fred in 1910, Maurice in 1911 and Hugh in 1914. Gertrude could not recall what happened to Silas's original partner, Edward Howard, but she did remember that Howard's daughter Mildred was one of her great friends as a girl.
      Our first source of Butler family information was Adam Kirkby's great grandson Charles Kirkby, who also shared the amazing Kansas stories of the Kirkby family, which we will feature later in 2003. Charles explained that his grandfather, Verne, retained his Kirkby last name, but was always treated as a Butler boy. In fact, when he was needed around the Butler lumber camp, someone yelled "Boy" and Verne appeared. Verne married Ellen Johnson and one of their children was Roland Kirkby, whose name you will remember if you are a Burlington High School alumnus. Several years after Roland's spectacular football career at Burlington and the University of Washington, the school football stadium was named for him. Charles Kirkby was the last male of his line and the Kirkby name almost ended until Charles and his wife, Kristin, had two boys.
      Sarah Butler recalls family stories that Ida soon became the driving force of the Butler camp in her own right: "she raised a big family, fed the crews, preserved the food and ran the company mill store." Like Silas, she soon urged more of her relatives to join her in Washington. Her older sister Florence and husband Daniel Ansell moved out from Ottawa in 1907. One of the most fascinating documents in the family scrapbook is Ida's postcard to her sister Florence in Everett, apparently written in January 1916 because a photo of Hugh at three months was on the other side. This note is the only hint we have of when the mill faded as the family source of income and the dairy farm was born:

      Silas has gone to Bellingham. Raymond is having 12 acres of hill land just above the barn picked off of small stuff and is going to fence it in for a hog pasture. One of our work horses died last week. Didn't make anything last year, Silas's share of the dividends was $103.73 while our expenses family were over $2,500, so you see the mill business was not a paying proposition last year. I think I'll go into the chicken business and see if I can make a living that way.
      Many families who depended on logging soon went downhill as timber in accessible locations played out or when a glut on the market drove down prices. As you will see from the accompanying stories, the Butlers showed how successful pioneer families learned to adapt. By the 1920s, Silas was already becoming famous as a dairyman and he would soon be a leading administrator for the dairymen's association of the county. Gertrude recalled that the mill business was cut short by 1917. The mill burned in a fire in 1929.

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos
(Belleville school 1922)
(Butler children and pet)
(Butler farm, 1920s)
Far left: Belleville School, November 1922, Fred Butler, top row, 4th from left, in the 8th grade.. Center: Fred, Mose (Maurice) and Queenie the St. Bernard, 1916. The photo is captioned "Preparedness.". Right: The Butler farm forms over the stump ranch, looking southwest, circa 1920s.

The Butler children
      Gertrude Butler had a wonderful memory for details of her life on the farm. Here are some of the things that stand out the most. Playing with Tarheel kids at school and coming home to her mother who admonished her to "talk right, not Tarheel." She remembers fondly the days when Ida and four of her kids climbed the hill above their ranch, carrying pails for wild blackberries, and canning a hundred quarts per year. Hide and seek at the mill on Sundays, and setting the table at the large mill cookhouse, where 30 people at a time. Salmon in the creek that ran beside the house from the millpond. The two-mile walk daily to Belleville school and her excitement at riding in a covered wagon when the snow was too deep. The chapel built for the cabin community and camp women drinking tea on their porches. Another precious memory that she has is for her late brother, Fred, who had curls as a boy that a girl would kill for. She recalls the kindness and sincerity he exhibited when a camp woman remarked about his beautiful curls and how she wished she had them. Then minutes later, Fred returned and held out his hand to the woman, saying: "here you are," and handing her a clump of curls that he had just cut from his head. Gertrude recalled that when she was a child, Sedro-Woolley seemed very far away, a place only rarely visited by buggy or wagon; Burlington was a city to the Butler kids. News came to the Butler farm mainly on that piece of "talking furniture" called radio.
(Gertrude and Overland car)
Caption from the scrapbook of this photo of a young Gertrude beside the family car
— "The Overland 1927" Fred turned a corner too fast and turned it over. Mel Hines's head went through the roof. 3 Sedro boys came by and helped them turn it over. Silas, when he found out, said "well, now we'll all walk," but bought another Overland instead. Burlington graduate Mel Hines went on to have an even greater football career than that of Roland Kirkby, starring in the National Football League.

      After graduating from Burlington High School in 1924 and attending the University of Washington, Gertrude showed a marked aptitude as a teacher. She started teaching in the fall of 1929 as the stock market crashed. Her first position was at Sedro-Woolley High School and she lived across the street in a boarding house that still stands as a residence. She taught through the Depression, later became a school librarian in Puyallup and Bremerton, and retired in 1969 as head librarian of Mountlake Terrace High School. She often returned home to be with her family. She never married but loved children and was responsible for caring for her baby brother, Hugh, when her mother was so busy with the ranch. As her siblings had children, Gertrude became a favorite aunt and later a great aunt for the next generation. In the early days, the Butler family lived in a smaller house down the hill near the Kelleher road. By 1920 Silas built the house near the top of the hill where grandson Frederick lives now with his family. I was pleasantly surprised to see when I visited that Silas preserved one of the lovely old light standards that once stood in front of the Memorial Hospital in Sedro-Woolley. As the family grew, Silas added a summer kitchen, about 20 feet by 20 in back of the house. Gertrude recalled that Silas had some beach lots on Samish island where the family had picnics when she was young. Many years later, Hugh bought the property but then needed cash for a car and Gertrude bought it from him. She remembers that one year her brothers went down to pick her up for a family reunion and she was surprised that they wanted to go to Samish first before they went to the ranch. When they arrived at her property, she discovered that her brothers had converted the old summer kitchen into a cabin. After she retired from teaching, she moved to the Samish cabin and lived there until she moved to Mount Vernon in the 1990s.
      Stan Butler continued logging even after the mill declined and lived east towards Sedro-Woolley. He died in 1982. Fred Butler attended college but left after a couple of years to return to the family ranch and farm it with his dad and brother Hugh. Even though the dairy buildings built down across the Kelleher road became the focus of the family business, Fred helped start a tree farm on the property to replace part of the original logged-off areas. Fred was the last of the Butler boys; he died in 2000. Hugh Butler farmed until World War II, when he joined the U.S. Army. After returning, he farmed the ranch again and eventually managed the gravel pit operations. He died very young in 1960 at age 45.
      Maurice Butler was the only sibling to move far away. After graduating from Burlington High School, he attended the University of Washington for a year. At age 24, he moved to Alaska in 1936 and attended the University of Alaska, where he graduated with a degree in mining engineering in 1940. He then worked as a mining engineer and helped build the Al-Can highway around his Army service in World War II. During the International Geophysical Year of 1958-59, he moved to the opposite end of the planet, working in Antarctica. While there, he received an honorary "doctorate degree" from his fellow Ph.D's. He explained it as meaning "post hole digger." He returned to Alaska and was self-employed as a well driller and mining engineer in the Fairbanks area. He died in 1995.
      Sara and Frederick Butler, our main sources of information about the family, both have wonderful memories of their childhood on the ranch. Sara was old enough to remember grandpa Silas better, about how "he liked olive oil on his oatmeal and always put a can of olives in my Easter basket." She also treasures her grandmother's quilts, made by hand on the hill, maybe during the drizzly winter months. Some of Frederick's fondest memories are of his time sitting on the lap of whoever was manning the new bulldozer that was used to grade the gravel pit. He and his family surely have one of the finest views of the valley, a view he has seen since he was old enough to stare over the windowsill in the living room.

An old camp song from Butler loggers
      The person who contributed this song anonymously to the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times in 1942 suggested the following to aid a person in singing this camp ballad from Butler land:
      "Tarheel music for the following song, written by William A.L. McGillivray of Rockport, is the old favorite, Down the road, down the road, cain't get a letter from down the road. The song tells its own story and many old timers of this city and vicinity will recall the men mentioned and the early-day activities at Butler's camp." To update this, we would humbly suggest that you might recall the melody of the great Texas- swing song, Ida Red, sung and played by the band, "Asleep at the Wheel" and others.

Joe Flynn's gang with Snap and Vim,
Kept the pond filled to the brim.

Down the road, then down the road,
Logs came hiking down the road.

Into clear he'd chase and steer,
Logs to Hank the engineer.

Water nigh, and bark piled high,
John the fireman cocked his eye.

Hatfield then to none would yield,
Dogging up to beat the field.

He dogged the turn up the road,
Hooked the pig then a la mode.

Archie's roader whooped ahoy,
To the pond then boy, O, boy.

Down the road, then down the road,
Logs came hiking down the road.

Crossing skids then fore and aft,
Hancock's snipe would hold the craft.

Butch the Skidder lined them true,
Skookum skids of fir and yew.

Billy Flinn, knew how to skin,
Big blue butts to ride them in.

Captain Jack, slinging rigging,
Cussing 'neath windfall digging.

Shorty Mac, then head Swamper,
Knots and Culch sure would champer.

Horse on Benny, "Whoa" hoke Bess,
Crosshaul line, and yard this mess.

Down the road, then down the road,
Logs came hiking down the road.

Line horse Ben was signal punk,
Siwash line, to him was bunk.

Jim the faller yelled a lot,
Timber down, and yard them hot.

Johnnie Lloyd himself enjoyed,
Failing Second when employed.

Duckett, bucked up trees with care,
Nary split log yarded there.

Ground lead logging days express,
Skids, the pig, the dogs and Bess.

Shorty Butler oft would stress,
Joe Flinn's crew is my success.

Chorus: Down the road, then down the road,
Logs came hiking down the road.

Good stout laborers, friendly neighbors,
In Butler then, they were bejabers.

      We hope that someone can help us interpret the loggers' terms in the song. We know that "bejabers" was a variant of the oath "By Jesus."

Story posted on Aug. 8, 2002, and updated on Dec. 25, 2003
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 two newest sponsors and supporters:
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

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

College Way Antique Mall, 1601 E. College Way, Mount Vernon, WA 98273, (360) 848-0807
Where you will find wonderful examples of Skagit county's past, seven days a week

North Cascade Ford, formerly Vern Sims Ford Ranch,
West Ferry street and Crossroads/Highway 20
either on the Sedro-Woolley page or directly at www.northcascadeford.com
DelNagro Masonry Brick, block, stone — See our work at the new Hammer Heritage Square
See our website www.4bricklayers.com
33 years experience — 15 years as a bonded, licensed contractor in the valley
Free estimates, reference, member of Sedro-Woolley Chamber (360) 856-0101

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.
Email us at: skagitriverjournal@gmai.com
(Click to send email)
Use this email for scans and large files
Mail copies/documents to street address: Skagit River Journal c/o Skagit County Historical Society, PO Box 818, 501 S. 4th St., La Conner, WA 98257

Skagit River Journal free resources home page