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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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(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

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Part 2: Silas Butler
Logging, dairying, tree farming,
all in 65 years in Skagit county

(Silas Butler circa 1940)
Silas Butler circa 1940

      Ed. note: If you will tolerate a brief rant from the editor, we want to criticize journalists and editors from the the time of these articles below, about fifty years ago. Nowhere, in either article, is the first name of Silas's wife mentioned. Even in his obituary she is merely addressed as "his wife." First, any family that built up 1,000 acres of timber and ranchland out of the wilderness while six children were born and raised had to have a strong mother with a life and strengths of her own. Second, although overlooking her name may be explained as a convention of the time, it shows laziness by the writer and lack of attention to detail by the editor. Of all the important "W's" of journalism, "who" is first. Her name was Ida Evelyn Bayly Kirkby Butler and she lived to the ripe old age of 91. She was born in Kansas in 1872 and died in 1964. She and Silas are both interred in the Burlington cemetery.

From Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, Aug. 18, 1949

      From a "shoestring to a log chain," that's what Silas Butler, 86, has seen Skagit county do in the 65 years he has lived here. And spry, white-haired Si, who still has a goatee, has played a leading role in building this lumbering and farming district. He served on the board of directors of the Skagit County Dairymen's Association for 21 years, 18 of them as secretary.

Click on these thumbnail photos to see the full-sized photos
(Butler Mill circa 1915)
Butler mill crew, circa 1915.
(Butler Mill circa 1910)
Butler Mill, circa 1910. From the collection of Betty Jean Hittson, daughter of famed forester, Harry Osborne
Far left. Jacque Lopez's great grandfather was James Davenport and her great-great-grandfather was Thomas Jefferson Davenport, who both worked for Butler.
Center: Harry Osborne grew up east of the Butler mill on a homestead that was adjacent to the F&S Grade road, west of Collins Road. Betty Jean Hittson is his daughter and supplied this photo. Her husband, Cecil, describes the scene: "[Harry was standing] about where the [Avalon] golf course is now. In fact, it you pause on the road to the club house and look to the south east, this would be the view."

      The Butlers of route 1, Burlington, live on a 1,000 acre dairy and beef cattle ranch five miles west of Sedro-Woolley on the Old Grade Road and five miles north of Burlington. Today the Butlers raise a fine garden and take it easy while two of their sons run the place. The ranch now has 175 head of cattle, including 45 purebred whiteface Herefords, foremost beef cattle of Western Washington.
      Fred and Hugh operate the farm. Another son, Stanley, is a logger; Maurice, a University of Alaska graduate, is a mining engineer in Alaska, and Gertrude is librarian at Bremerton. Mrs. Butler is grandmother of Roland Kirkby, Burlington-Edison high school star athlete a few years ago, and now an outstanding backfield man on Howie Odell's University of Washington Huskies.
      The elder Butlers have watched this country develop from a "timber and brush" area to a busy logging district, and then to an agricultural community. Now they are even seeing it return to the growing of trees, as on their ranch they are raising a small tree farm of their own. A man who for many years made his living from lumbering, Butler knows that trees grow well in this district.
      "Look at that hill," Butler said, pointing to the hill which blocks his view of Burlington. "In 42 years it has burned over three times, and look at it now, covered with trees. I don't know how it does it." The Butlers enjoy looking out across the rolling land and recalling some of the days long ago.

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos. From here on down, the photos are from the Butler family scrapbook.
(Steam donkey and Butler logging railroad)
(Huge fir log)
(Root snarl of a giant stump)
Far left: A Heisler locomotive brought these logs down from the woods above the Butler ranch past a steam donkey and yarder that were used to move the logs around.. Center: Curtis Butler's widow (unnamed) recalled for an undated newspaper article that this log, felled in 1907, provided 12, 632 board feet of lumber, enough to build a four-room bungalow. The tree was 11 feet, 9 inches in dimater and it was yarded by R.E. Hulson with 10X12 Washington road engine, with a 1 1/4" steel cable.. Right: A root snarl of one of the upended stumps. Note how dense the root mass was and then imagine how hard it was to yank this out of the ground in the days before stump pullers were invented.

Silas comes to Edison in 1884, greasing the skids
      It was 65 years ago on the morning of St. Patrick's Day, 1884, when young Si, then an energetic youth of 20 years, landed at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. In seven weeks he came to Edison, where he got a job with a logging outfit. His father had been a lumberman in Jefferson county, Pennsylvania, where Si had completed school, so the boy followed in his father's work. He started at the lowly job of greasing the skid for the oxen that pulled out the logs.
      In time, Silas and his two younger brothers, Curtis and Raymond, set up a sawmill, cut and sawed heir own timber, and had a herd of cows to supply milk. By 1901, Si had become one of the district's leading lumbermen and he had 1,000 acres of virgin timber lying on both sides of the Old Grade Road. In 1902 he built the mill that for many years was famous as Butler's Mill.
      Butler built a real sawmill town and employed 75 to 100 men in his mills and camps and built some 30 houses as well as bunkhouses, a dining hall and other headquarter buildings. He had a six-mile railroad . . . [some words missing].

As the timber played out, dairy cattle start grazing
      Butler was one of the first members of the Skagit County Dairymen's Association and in 1922 he was elected to the board of directors and in 1925 he became secretary, a position he held until 1943.
      Despite what some dairymen thought of the prices they received, Mrs. Butler, who came from Kansas, thought the prices were "mighty good." Her family received three cents for a dozen eggs, five cents a pound for butter . . . .
      Butler signed his name to checks for more than $50 million during his 18 years as secretary-treasurer of the co-op association, and he estimates that he personally signed more than 300,000 checks during the last twelve[?] years he held office.
      A former Skagit county commissioner and school board director, Butler is a staunch believer in the individual initiative system, and sharply critical of government expanding its range of activities and doing things for people which they can do for themselves.
      "I may be a bit radical," Butler cautioned, "but I think Initiative 172 has put the state of Washington in bad financial shape." Butler also thinks the country is drifting towards communism, and he does not look with favor upon either consolidation of schools or public power.
      A representative of the U.S. Engineers didn't improve Butler's opinion of the federal government either on a recent visit the man made to the Butler ranch. He offered Butler $10 an acre for [300?] acres of land butler owns in Grant county, near the Coulee Dam at the atomic energy projects. Butler refused, asserting he paid $10 an acre for the land 25 years ago. The government spokesman said the land could be condemned and taken from Butler.
      "That really made me mad, commented the 86-year-old pioneer. "After paying taxes on that land for 25 years, and having it increase in value, and they want to buy it for $10 an acre. I haven't sold it to them yet, anyhow. They'll have some trouble to get that land from me for that price," declared Silas Moore Butler. Yes, the federal government won't get Si Butler's land without a struggle.

Click on these thumbnail photos to see the full-sized photos
(Silas and Ida near a felled log)
(Butler family near a felled tree)
Far left. Silas and Ida beside a felled log near their mill.
Center: The extended Butler family in front of a giant tree on the property in the 1890s. Back (l. to r.): Minerva Butler Gilmore and Gertrude Butler McCoy. Front: Curtis Butler, Silas Butler, Raymond Butler. Note the notches in the tree for the springboards on which men stood to fell it.

      Continue on to part three, an obituary of Silas Butler and profile of his family from the from the Skagit Co-op Dairyman, October 1950; or return to: Silas Butler, pioneer logger and dairyman north of Burlington. Mill and family photos.

Story posted on Aug. 8, 2002, and updated on Dec. 25, 2003
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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
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