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Skagit River Journal

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Introduction to Judge
James Madison Shields

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal, ©2006
(James and Maggie)
James Madison Shields and his bride, Maggie, circa 1890s

      When we started the Skagit River Journal website in 2000, we hoped that our humble effort would elicit response from the descendants of northwest Washington pioneers who retained details and secrets about their ancestors who helped settle and build what became Skagit County and the counties that surround it The results have astounded us, as descendants from nearly 200 families responded. One such response in September 2005 pleased us especially, because it led to a much fuller picture of a schoolteacher and jurist, James Madison Shields, who came to LaConner in 1888 and whose life influenced several generations. The email began:
      My name is Dave Henley. I was born and raised in Mount Vernon and currently live at Lake Samish. The reason that I am writing is that I think you might be interested in talking to my mother who currently lives in Mount Vernon (and has since just after WWII). She and my father owned Dale's B&H Grocery at 4th and Highland for almost 40 years. They bought it from my grandfather and sold it to one of my brothers (Douglas Lester Henley) when they retired. She was born Margaret Rose Shields in East Stanwood on February 8, 1920. She remembers riding the Interurban from Bellingham and watched the building of the Deception Pass Bridge on Sunday outings. She graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1937. If I remember correctly, her great-grandfather was Dr. George V. Calhoun, grandfather was J.M. Shields.
      The Henleys proceeded to share memories with us, along with articles and other items from the family collection. The three documents below will give many details of what Judge Shields did with his life before and after he arrived in LaConner in 1888, so we will not repeat that information in the introduction. Instead, we will tell you more about his descendants, who have maintained their family history and given us quite a gift.
      Shields married well, as they said back then, catching the eye of Maggie D. Calhoun, whose pedigree was bona fide. Her father was Dr. George V. Calhoun, a native of New Brunswick who directed and then owned the famed Marine Hospital at Port Angeles after arriving in the Northwest in 1865, and later joined his brother Sam in LaConner for several years before returning to Seattle. We recognize Samuel Calhoun as one of the first two permanent settlers of the Skagit Valley in the mid-1860s, along with Michael Sullivan. (See the Journal website about those two pioneers.).
      James and Maggie Shields had one son, George Calhoun Shields — always known as Cal Shields, who was born in Mount Vernon on March 13, 1895. After teaching three years in Seattle, James moved his family back to Skagit County in 1902 and became a farmer on land he owned three miles west of Mount Vernon. Margaret Rose Shields Henley explained how the family descended from there:

      We do not have any of the original property. My grandfather willed his land to my father, who eventually sold it to the Roozen family, who has the big tulip farm. [James died in 1948; Maggie died in 1955. Dave notes that the judge's original farm was on Beaver Marsh. His home was later owned by the Koetje family and still stands on the McLean Road, across from Hollyhurst; it has been extensively remodeled.] My father, Cal, married Ida Lillian Nielson (father was Gus Nielson) in Stanwood in 1918. I was born in East Stanwood in 1920. I had one adopted brother named Gordon Shields. We moved to Mount Vernon in 1923 when my dad opened a gas station. I entered Roosevelt School in the first grade in 1926 and stayed there through the fifth grade, then we were sent over to the old Lincoln School for the sixth grade, then back to the Roosevelt School for the 7th and 8th grades. The lower floor in Roosevelt was for grades five and under; the top floor was for the 6th through 8th grades. I remember the name of every one of my grade school teachers.
      I graduated from high school here in 1937 and spent a year at Bellingham Normal School, then went to secretarial school in Seattle. I married Dale L. Henley on Dec. 8, 1939. His parents were Lester and Vera Henley. He was raised in Coupeville until he graduated from Lynden High School after his father was transferred by the Union Oil Co.
      Dale was a production engineer at Boeing during World War II. After the war, we moved to Mount Vernon and took over my dad's business, a gas station and grocery store. We wanted to raise our three boys — Dale Jr., Doug and Dave, in a small town. [Dale is now CEO of the Haggen Grocery Co.]

(Cal Shields's Service Station)
      Cal Shields's Service Station and Grocery at 4th and Highland streets in Mount Vernon, near the high school, circa late 1920s or 1930s. All photos on the page are courtesy of Shields descendants Dave and Margaret Henley.

      We had to chuckle when Margaret and Dave shared a memory of how Dr. George V. Calhoun was originally apprehensive about his son-in-law — "just a schoolteacher, not good enough for the Calhouns," but Dave Henley explained, "As far as G.V. looking down on J.M, every man knows that no man is good enough for his daughter." Dave recalls another family story: "When Cal got a pony for his fourth birthday he cried when they placed him on it . . . his grandfather Calhoun wanted to know if "all the Shieldses were cowards." Dave recalls another family story about how James M. Shields was considered a maverick of sorts while teaching in the early days. "Sometimes he would get caught on the railroad trestle when a train was coming and would stand between the truss girders while holding his bike out over the river." Cal and Ida (also went by Elsie), left Mount Vernon in 1968 or 1969 and moved to Desert Hot Springs, California, for his health. Cal died in Escondido in 1971 and Ida moved back to Mount Vernon shortly thereafter, where she passed away in 2001 at the age of 99 1/2. Tom Robinson, who is finishing his book on western Skagit County, first alerted us to Cal Shields when he found Cal's brief note at the LaConner Museum about how Dr. George's brother, Captain Rufus Calhoun's first trip to Puget Sound in the 1850s, and his praise of the Puget Sound area to the rest of the family back East. That led to brother Samuel Calhoun arriving on the Sound in about 1860 and the doctor's arrival five years later.
      We will have plenty more stories to share in future issues from the Henleys about their famous ancestors. For instance, Margaret retained a spectacular history of the Calhoun family that we plan to transcribe and share in spring 2006. But now we will introduce you to three documents that will illustrate Judge James Madison Shield's impact on Skagit Valley and Skagit County: a speech he gave in 1942; a 1906 biography and a 1937 newspaper article on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Material in brackets [ ] represents light editing for clarification or background material. Underlined links will take you to end notes or other sites in the Journal and elsewhere.

James Shields's Speech
Pioneer Association picnic, Pioneer Park, LaConner, Aug. 6, 1942
      "The groves were God's first temple, ere man learned to new the shaft and lay the architrave." We are met in this beautiful park this afternoon to help commemorate the deeds of those early pioneers of Skagit County of whom it has been said that "their stomachs rose and fell with the tide, when the tide was out their stomachs wer4e empty; when the tide was in their stomachs were full." Or as someone else has said, "When the tide was out the table was set, when the tide was in he dinner was on the table."
      I wish to speak to you for a short time about some of the sons and daughters of the early pioneers of LaConner but in order to do so it will be necessary to tell you something about my own early life. I was born on a farm about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the third in a family of nine children. My wife was born in Port Townsend, Washington Territory, also the third in a family of nine children. We have one. That is a ration of nine to one, probably not far from the ration of children of pioneer parents to that of the children of more modern times.
      As a boy I attended school in a one-room country schoolhouse. In the same school there was a lad of about my own age with flaming red hair named Archie Dickey. When we had outgrown this school we went away together to college. After a few terms in [that] school, he took Horace Greeley's advice and went West to grow up with the country while I stayed to graduate in the class of 1883, 59 years ago. [Horace Greeley (1811-72) was the famous American publisher and Whig politician who founded the New York Tribune in 1841 and popularized the saying, "Go West, young man."]
      I did not hear from him again for perhaps [five] years. One day I unexpectedly received a letter post marked LaConner, Washington Territory. On opening it I was surprised to find it was from my old friend S.A. Dickey. He stated that he was teaching school in LaConner and that he had to go to Kitsap County to prove up on a homestead. He platted the town of Silverdale and later was elected as a member of the constitutional convention and helped to frame the constitution for this state. [EN1: this was actually Sylvanus Archibald Dickey] His letter to me was rather brief. He wanted me to come to LaConner and take the school off his hands. He gave no description of the place as to its population or principal industries but as I was looking for adventure I wrote to him that I would come at once.
      When I went to the depot at Newcastle to buy a ticket to Tacoma, I found that I lacked a little over two dollars having enough money to pay for it. Seattle at that time had no railroad connection with the outside world. I then hunted up a ticket scalper and was able to buy a ticket at reduced rate, leaving me with a small amount of change in my pocket. I took passage from Tacoma to Seattle on the steamer T.J. Potter. This was my first steamboat ride and I greatly enjoyed it. At Seattle I learned that the old sidewheeler with the beam, the George E. Starr, would leave late that evening, getting into LaConner the following morning on the tide. I remember it as though it were yesterday that, as the boat was about to enter the "Hole in the Wall," with towering rocks on either side, I had the feeling that "he who enters here leaves hope behind." Little did I then realize the vast wealth of farm and timberlands and beautiful scenery lying just beyond. Soon after this the boat was tied up at the wharf and I had landed in LaConner with fifteen cents still left in my purse.
      That afternoon, like the bear went over the mountain, I took a stroll about town to see what I could see. About that I had seen so far was the solid rock on which most of LaConner at the time was built. As I arrived at the summit of the hill now known as "Auto View," what a panorama of beauty was suddenly thrown upon the vision. There, off to the south in the dim distance, Mount Rainier stood forth in all of its beauty. To the north the Three Sisters kept watch above the clouds. To the east the rugged peaks of the Cascade range of mountains clothed in snowy whiteness glistened in the afternoon sun, standing there tip-toe above the others, Mount Baker looked down upon the virgin forests and beautiful valleys of the Skagit while far below, like a vast green carpet stretching away into the distance lay the rich farmlands of the Swinomish.
      As I stood there all alone, entranced by the beauty of nature all around me, I felt then as I do now that I had not only been allowed to see the promised land but that I had been allowed to enter it to later gather a small portion of its fruits.
      Soon after this school opened in the old schoolhouse now famed as having once been Skagit County's first courthouse and in a room at one time its first courtroom. [The building still stands on the hill above downtown LaConner.] If the walls could speak there could speak, there might be echoed the voices of Sam Calhoun, the first settler on the Swinomish Flats; James Power, the founder of the Puget Sound Mail, the oldest weekly newspaper now in the state; Henry McBride, governor of the state; James Hamilton Lewis, representative in Congress from this state and later United States Senator from Illinois; Orange Jacobs, jurist, and many other well known pioneers of state and county.

LaConner band of brothers
      On the morning of the first day of school, at any early hour, the bairns [old Scottish word for children] began traipsing in one by one and two by two until there were more than 60 of them of all ages and grades. I felt like the woman that lived in a shoe. I had so many children that I did not know what to do. Some of them are here to-day. They are no longer schoolboys and schoolgirls but men and women in various walks of life. Some of them are grandfathers and some of them are grandmothers. Upon the heads of some of the snows of winter have gently fallen. Some of them live in other parts of this state. Some of them live in other states or foreign countries and cannot be with us to-day. Some of them are no longer in the land of the living. Three of them who were with us last year, Sam Ball, Joe Otis and George Andrews have but recently answered the final roll call. Peter Miller, pioneer jeweler of Anacortes and LaConner — now living in Anacortes, I believe, is the only living parent of these children.
(Dr. Calhoun)
Dr. George V. Calhoun

      In the school at that time were four sets of three brothers. Naming them alphabetically, the first were Grant, Scott and Arthur Calhoun, [the latter] now deceased. Grant Calhoun was quite a sprinter in his day. Following in the footsteps of his father [Dr. George V. Calhoun, Shields's father-in-law], he studied medicine and is now a successful practitioner with an office in Seattle where he will no doubt be glad to meet his Skagit County friends. Scott Calhoun graduated in the first class at Stanford University, 50 years ago. Herbert Hoover was one of his classmates. Scot is now one of the well known lawyers in Seattle where he was at one time corporation counsel. He has spoken from this platform at other times and a few years ago was the principal speaker at its annual meeting.
      The second trio consisted of Frank, Guy and Martin Conner, now deceased. They are sons of John S. and Louise Conner [she was the namesake for the town of LaConner]. It was the Conner family that donated this beautiful park to the Skagit County Pioneers Association for which I am sure that we are all grateful
      The third trio consisted of Sam, George and Charley Gaches. The Gaches boys always came to school looking as if they had just come out of the bandbox with their faces shining as if they had just come off the scrubbing-board. Sam as a young man went to Manila where he won fame and fortune. Sam was generally regarded as one of the big men of that faraway country. No word has been received from him since the fall of Manila and just what has been his fate is still unknown to his brothers here but let's all wish for the best.
      George Gaches, as a young man, enlisted as a soldier in the Spanish-American War and saw service in the Philippines On returning from the Army he opened a grocery store in West Seattle where he remained until two or three years ago when he became a farmer on the Beaver Marsh in this county, where he farms 140 acres of land and raises a little of nearly everything.
      Charley Gaches is a graduate of Washington State University. He now farms 232 acres on the Swinomish Flats, sometimes called the LaConner Flats. Charley has the distinction of having broken the world's record in the production of oats — 104 (?) bushels per acre. Besides being a farmer he is secretary of the Skagit Valley Seed Growers Association.
      The fourth trio consisted of Thad, Leo (now deceased) and Garfield McGlinn. Thad McGlinn is a well known businessman in Bellingham, being prominently connected with the Pacific American Fisheries. The last time I saw him he related a little incident when he was waiting on the table at his father's hotel at LaConner more than 50 years ago. Thad named the different kinds of pies for desert. Among others he mentioned apricot, giving the short sound of "A." He says that I said to him, "If you have any apricot pies, please bring me a piece." Thad says he has not forgotten how to pronounce apricot. That was a nice boy and is till a gentleman on all occasions. Garfield McGlinn, now living in Whatcom County, as a young man enlisted in the Army as a soldier in the Spanish-American War and saw service in the Philippines. Garfield has held a number of prominent positions and is one of the best known citizens in this section of the country. Garfield was a bright boy in school. He was fond of U.S. history. His father once told me about Garfield coming home from school, one day enthused over . . . [Ed. note: alas, that is the end of the manuscript. The final page(s) is missing.]

Biography of James Madison Shields
Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties, page 562
(Judge and baby Cal)
Judge Shields and his famous bicycle and baby Cal.

      James Madison Shield is one of Skagit County's leading citizens, whether as educator or as agriculturist. [Ed. note: the correct spelling is Shields. His name was consistently misspelled throughout this piece, which is odd, considering that it was in the last half of the book, the paid biography section, for which he paid up to $100.] Turning in recent years from the profession of teaching, in which he was eminently successful, he has proved himself a man of equal ability as husbandman.
      Mr. Shield was born in Butler County, Pennsylvania, June 7, 1857, of Scotch-Irish ancestry. His father, James Shield, was a native of Pennsylvania and is still living in the Keystone State. Mr. Shield’s mother, whose maiden name was Amanda Smith, is also a Pennsylvanian by birth. Of her nine children Professor Shield, of this article, is the third.
      He early developed the characteristics of a student and after preparatory courses in the graded and higher schools entered Grove City College in his native state, graduating with the degree of bachelor of science in 1883. One year of teaching in Pennsylvania followed, when he came to the Pacific Coast, taking up his profession of teaching in eastern Oregon. At the close of his first year he decided to return to his Pennsylvania home and to resume teaching there. He remained, however, but a single year.
      In 1888 he came to the Puget Sound country, obtaining a position as principal of the La Conner schools. Three years later the people of Skagit county chose him as superintendent of their school system, though he continued to devote a part of his time to teaching in La Conner. He was reelected county superintendent and at the close of his term of office, being ineligible by law for a third term, he moved to Mount Vernon and became principal of the schools of that city, which position he filled with eminent satisfaction for five years. In the fall of 1899 Professor Shield was elected to the principalship of one of the public schools of Seattle and removed to that city. After a successful career of three years in Seattle, though reelected for another year, Professor Shield decided to return to Mount Vernon and take up agriculture. Following this determination he tendered his resignation in 1902, and moved to his present farm of eighty acres three miles west of Mount Vernon, which he had purchased in 1899. At that time the land was covered with a heavy forest. It was not until 1902 that sixty acres had been cleared and the old house reconstructed into a modern residence.
      In 1892, while serving as county superintendent of schools, Professor Shield married Miss Maggie D. Calhoun, daughter of Dr. George V. Calhoun of Seattle. Dr. Calhoun is a native of New Brunswick. He selected the profession of medicine and obtained his degree at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. For a time he practiced his profession in New Brunswick and then entered the service of the United States during the Civil War as army surgeon. In 1865, Dr. Calhoun was placed in charge of the marine hospital at Port Angeles, a year later recommending the removal of the institution to Port Townsend. Dr. Calhoun practiced his profession for three years in Seattle and in 1875 came to La Conner where he remained, a successful practitioner until 1896 when he returned to Seattle, where he still lives.
      Mrs. [George] Calhoun was Miss Ellen Mein, born in England. She was married in Halifax, Nova Scotia, became a resident of the United States after 1863 and of Washington when her husband located in this state. Her death came in 1898. Mrs. Shields was born during the residence of her parents in Port Townsend. She attended the schools of Seattle and finished her education at the Annie Wright Seminary in Tacoma. Following her graduation from that institution of learning, she became a schoolteacher. Her marriage took place in 1892. Of this marriage there is one son, George Calhoun Shield, born at Mount Vernon on March 13, 1895.
      Professor Shield is a Republican in politics. The retirement of Professor Shield to his farm by no means completed his interest in matters educational or placed him out of touch with all that pertains to the highest culture. He has carried to his farm all that was best in his scholastic attainments and his varied experiences, whether on the Atlantic or the Pacific coast. With his cultured wife he is pursuing the avocation of a farmer because he finds it congenial as well as remunerative, the days of outdoor life mingling in excellent proportion with the hours devoted to study and the betterment of the intellectual man. The home is one of the best culture and refinement.

Judge James M. Shields reaches 80 mark
Skagit Valley Herald, June 9, 1937
      Those who called at the offices of Judge J. M. Shields in the county courthouse and failed to find him were told the judge was celebrating an occasion in his life, that he was 80 years old Monday. Four score years ago, James Madison Shields was born in Butler County, Pennsylvania, living these until he was graduated from the Grave City College with the degree of bachelor of science in 1883. After a year spent in teaching in the schools of his native state, Mr. Shields came to eastern Oregon, where he continued to teach.
      In 1888 he came to the Puget Sound country, obtaining a position as principal of the LaConner schools. Three years later he was made county superintendent of schools, serving two terms. He then served as principal of the Mount Vernon schools, which position he held for five years. Resigning, he accepted a position in the Seattle schools and three years later, in 1902, returned to a farm three miles west of Mount Vernon, which he had purchased in 1890.
      He was united in marriage in 1892 to Miss Maggie D. Calhoun, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. George V. Calhoun of Seattle, who lived for many years in LaConner. To this union was born one son, Calhoun Shields, well-known Mount Vernon merchant, who, with his family, resides near the judge’s home.
      or the last twenty years Judge and Mrs. Shields have lived in Mount Vernon. Judge Shields drives his own car, keeps regular office hours, with as keen a mind as ever. His health is surprisingly good and to all appearances Judge 8hields will continue in harness many more years.
      With the passing of the years he has met hundreds of Skagit residents and is without doubt one of the county’s best known men. His hobbies are fishing and checkers. Fact is, the judge keeps h his checker board right in his office and when he meets up with an oldtimer, who is also “checker-minded,” down comes the treasured board and a game is in progress in the inner sanctum of the justice-of-the-peace's office.

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