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of History & Folklore
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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 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug
The birth of Brownsville and Bow, Skagit County
By Ray Jordan, Yarns of the Skagit Country, 1976
Transcribed by Larry Spurling, special correspondent to the Skagit River Journal
Bow is a quiet place now, but it was not always so. And it has been inhabited a lot longer than some people think. The oldest Indians tell stories, handed down for generations, of a thriving Noo-wha-ah village in the long ago that stood on or near the present site of Bow, but sadly reduced in population by white man's diseases before the first paleface settlers appeared in this area.
Here lived Old Friday, the oldest living, aboriginal link with the past, until his death in 1923. The place could be reached by canoe from the old salt chuck by the winding "Du-wha-chub-ob", the stream that the first whites called the north fork of the Samish river, now known as Edison Slough. [Ed. note: If you look at A.G. Mosier's original 1891 surveyor's map of Skagit County, you will see that the Samish River had several parallel channels, most of which were diverted into one that served as a water-transportation route for loggers.]
Howard and Butler Log Camp, somewhere between Edison and Bow. This photo was taken on July 12, 1892. It was not taken by Darius Kinsey, as some have attributed.
Probably the greatest disturbance raised by white men in the vicinity before the coming of the pioneer settlers had been the construction of the international telegraph line by John H. Fravel, which passed through Bow during 1864-65. This early line was abandoned for a time, then placed in service again and operated up to well within the memory of living Bow residents.
The chain of events leading to the white man's era of a formal town [here] really started in the Bow district of London, England, on October 15, 1850, with the birth of William J. Brown. At the age of 14, he entered the Queen's Navy and saw service in many parts of the world. At the end of a cruise from Yokohama, Japanž to Victoria, B.C., (exact date unknown) he severed his connections with the man-of-war upon which he had been serving and worked his way to Utsalady [also spelled Utsaladdy] where he secured a job tallying lumber.
After about two years of this employment, he purchased land at Similk Bay on Fidalgo Island. After a period there he sold his holding in the fall of 1871. His next move was to Samish Island, on the way to his future home. We don't know exactly what route he took inland, but he could have crossed the narrow body of salt water by canoe and traversed the meandering course of the north fork of the Samish River to the remnants of the Indian Village of Bow.
What he saw must have appealed to the hardy Briton, for here he put down his roots for keeps. By homestead, timber claim, and purchase of government land he gained possession of some 400 acres of real estate, part of which is now occupied by present day Bow.
There are conflicting records as to the date of his arrival at Bow, and his homesteading venture, but from his autobiography it appears that he set foot in the vicinity during 1871, though government records indicate that he did not come into possession of his first land holding there, by government purchase until 1876. The homestead application for his Bow property was filed during 1879 and patented in 1882. However, it was not unusual in those days for a settler to squat on the land for some time before filing homestead or pre-emption rights.
As interest in timber and logging developed, Mr. Brown spent much of his time cruising and locating timber claims. A large part of the timber holdings between Samish Island and Prairie were located by his efforts. Among his timber clients were W.H. Miller, Clothier and English, and the well-known Patrick McCoy.
During 1892, Howard and Butler built a sawmill on the Brown homestead. A small settlement, naturally called Brownsvillež 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 homež 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.
Bow Department Store, photographed in 1915 when deliveries were still made by horse and wagon. Photo courtesy of the fine book, Skagit Settlers, which you can still purchase at the Historical Museum in LaConner. Paul Shadle loaned the photo and he identified from left to right: owner W. Nelson Crenshaw (look for him in the story), Flosie Shadle Rains, the clerk; and Claude Des Noyer with the wagon.
Great Northern forms the Chuckanut Cut-off
The year of 1901 saw the Great Northern Railroad building the Chuckanut Cut-off from Belleville through Brownsville to Bellingham. The new cut-off was completed in 1902, and Henry Christianson was appointed resident agent. A post office was opened with E.E. Heusted as first postmaster.
This promising settlement with a brand-new railroad and post office, a good school, and situated in a rich farming and timber belt needed a more impressive name. William J. Brown bethought himself of the great Bow Station in the Bow District of London, his birthplace, and at his suggestion this name was accepted.
In 1902, Ben Gardner built the Bow Hotel, first known as the Gardner House. The following year McDougall and Brown built a saloon, and W. Nelson Crenshaw established the Bow Department Store in a shake house. Also, the Winner Shingle Company raised a mill on the Brown farm giving the new town proper its first industry.
(Clant Umbarger of Burlington told me on the day of Joy Busha's funeral, that a J.B. Koch had the very first store in Bow. He should know for he worked there.)
[Ed. note: Jordan quotes here the history of Bow from the 1906 book, History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties. See that article on our website.]
Proof that the town continued to grow is revealed by a verbatim extract from W.J. Brown's diary:
"June 7, 1909 — Mr. A.G. Mosier and his crew came today to Survey Town site — Addition in Town Bow.
"June 8, 1909 — Completed it and left on evening train for Sedro Woolley.
"June 11, 1909 — Paid A.G. Mosier for Survey Platt ($) 36.25 in full. (It appears that surveying charged have changed somewhat since then.)
The A.G. Mosier referred to is the same engineer who surveyed the first plat in Sedro in 1889, and many years later served as city engineer for Sedro Woolley until his retirement about 1951. [Actually, Mosier worked almost until the time of his death at age 89 in 1955. He served as part-time engineer and surveyor for Skagit County from 1889 until about 1898 when he left for the Klondike gold rush. You can read our exclusive biography about him.]
For the next few years logging and milling brought prosperity to Bow. In 1910, the Browns, now a family of nine, purchased and moved into the fine, large home built by Alexander McGaskill situated on part of the original homestead. In the ensuing years, the Cleary Brothers — W., Ben, and Grover, ran a mercantile business in Bow until about 1917 or 1918, when Walter Hayes, who already had a store there, bought out the Cleary Brothers stock and later moved to the Cleary location where he remained in business for years.
In 1926, the indomitable W.J. Brown, after leaving his mark in a large hand on Bow and vicinity, passed on, followed in 1937 by his faithful and well-beloved wife, Jennie.
By 1930, the last of the virgin Timber, except perhaps for a few shingle bolts, had hit the salt chuck and whining saws. The mill whistles ceased to mark the time of day; the toot of donkey signals was heard no more. The school is gone, and the post office has been moved to the intersection of Chuckanut Drive and the old road to Edison. But this was not the end. As the acres of timber decreased, prosperous lowland farms expanded to fill the breach. To the north, south, and west a panorama of comfortable homes dotting rich fields greets the eye, a far cry from the day when persevering William J. Brown first saw it.
Bow can afford to take a bit of relaxation after all that labor.
Links, background reading and sources
- Our portal site to the town of Bow, Washington, with links to all our photo features and other background sources for further reading.
- Part Two, the Northwest Skagit Advocate, Oct. 10, 1908: early days of town of Bow and environs. This complete four-part transcription was initially shared with paid subscribers in Issue 34 of our optional Subscribers-Paid Journal magazine online
- This site about Samish Island History is a veritable feast of well researched information about the whole Samish River watershed as well as the island itself. It features a history timeline, Indian points of view, wonderful photos and a full bibliography.
- We hope that a reader will have more photos of Bow and its early settlers and the folks who stayed on to settle the area. We are also adding profiles of other towns in the area, so please send us information and scans of photos of your family's town. We especially want to find descendants of William J. Brown and Ben Gardner and other early pioneers. We especially want to see copies of early newspapers. We do not need your originals; photocopies will work just fine.
- A list of all the stories about Blanchard, Fravel, Oyster Creek and Edward R. Murrow.
Story posted on Dec. 25, 2003
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