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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
(Seattle & Northern 1890)
Covers from British Columbia to Puget sound. Counties covered:
Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan. An evolving history dedicated
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Noel V. Bourasaw, editor 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Introduction to the Kimble/Kimball family
and Clara Ford Kimble Thornton Drown

      In 2001, we launched our introduction section on the David E. Kimble family with this story by Clara Ford Kimble Thornton Drown. Kimble descendants who claim that he was the first settler in the Mount Vernon area certainly make a legitimate claim, as you will see when you read these Journal features. Jasper Gates and Joseph Dwelley have generally been given the credit as being "first" because they staked claims on the site that became the nucleus of Mount Vernon, the county seat, and Kimble's story took a back seat. That is a shame because Kimble's life story is classic in the frontier sense. He had a very mixed record as a young man and as a soldier, abandoned at least one wife and their children, and displayed considerable wanderlust before moving to Washington territory. Like many other pioneers who came here in the years after the civil war, he was leaving something behind and that makes his story especially compelling. We chose this story below by his daughter-in-law to launch the section because it introduces us to the confusing nature of the Kimble name, which was often interchanged with Kimball. We have finally discovered the reason for that confusion and we explain it in the Charles Kimball story that is linked below.. Over three years, we have added a number of features to this section and within a month or two we will add our own complete profile of Kimble and his family.
Kimbles and Kimballs, Mount Vernon-area pioneers

(Mount Vernon Waterfront 1884
      The Mount Vernon waterfront in 1884. Photo courtesy of Larry Harnden.

By Clara Ford Kimble Thornton Drown, 1863-1943
from the files of the Territorial Daughters of Washington
      I was born on Whidby Island, June 14, 1863, and came to what is now Skagit county on April 14, 1870, on the steamer Libby, the first steamboat to come up the Skagit river. There were so many snags in the river that the boat anchored near the mouth of the river and spent the night and came up on the next morning.
      [Ed. note: Originally named in 1792 for a member of Captain George Vancouver's crew of the ship Discovery — Joseph Whidbey, the island was named Whidby on a map drawn by Captain Charles Wilkes in 1841 and that became the dominant spelling for more than a century. The original spelling took hold, starting in the 1960s. Clara used the spelling in vogue at the time she wrote her memoir in longhand. She also confused the name of the sternwheeler. Every other pioneer who wrote about the boat noted that it was the Linnie.]
      About a mile and half below Mount Vernon the boat stopped and Dad said: "Jump off and stick your heels deep into the sand for you have come to stay." Dad took up a homestead there.
      I went to school [with] the first teacher in Skagit county, Miss Ida Lanning, and I still have a "reward of merit" that she gave me. At first, the school was held in our kitchen, Levi Morrison Ford's home, until a school was built. This was a small one-room log building, the logs being hewed on two sides. There were a few homemade desks and benches served as seats. This was on what is now the Joe Blattman place.
      I was the first bride on the river. We had to send [to] get it. We were married, Aug. 30, 1876. I was 13 years, 2 months old. Girls were scarce. There were only three of us of [marriageable] age. I was also the first mother. My son Charlie Kimble was born, June 1, 1877. I have raised six children, three boys and three girls. My father owned the upper part of Mount Vernon, all down to Molstead's store. My mother crossed the plains in a covered wagon from Michigan in 1852. Her husband, Mr. Maddox, died crossing the plains. Her maiden name was Rebecca Powers. She met my father on Whidby. He was from New York state. Mother had nine children by the first marriage (there was a whole wagon box full) and there were four of us by the second marriage. Samuel Morrison Ford, my brother, was the second white child born on Whidby Island. He died when he was 81. Dady Alexander was the first white child born on Whidby Island. [Again, Clara's memory is disputed. The part of Mount Vernon she refers to was claimed in 1970 by Jasper Gates, not Mr. Ford. When we look at surveyor's maps of the time, her father's claim clearly shows up south of Kimble's claim, specifically in the east half of Section 25, Township 34, Range 3 East.]
      The house still stands near Coupeville where Col. Ebey lived. The Indians came to his house one night, called him out and scalped him. He died. His daughter, seven years old, jumped out the window and hid in a brush pile. She later wrote the History of Whidby Island.
      About 1878, we heard that 500 Indians were gathered at Goodell's Landing (many miles up river) and were preparing to come down to kill us all. All the women were gathered into one place for protection while most of the men went up river to quiet the Indians. Our men had guns and the Indians didn't and this scared them out.
      Once we had a fight with Indians on our place. My husband Henry Kimball had killed some pheasants and two of my sons (Charlie and Ide) were taking them to town to sell. They met some Indians and one of the Indians jerked a pheasant away from Charlie. He cried, and his father came running to see what was the matter. There was a good fight but Mr. Kimball succeeded in getting the bird and gave it back to Charlie. That evening about dusk eight Indians came to our place and hollered "Come out, white man, you want to fight, come out." Dad had shot all his shells away and was loading more. A neighbor, George Lester, heard the Indians shooting, so came with his rifle. Dad shot one Indian in the arm. Mr. Lester shot one in the hip. They thought he was dead. The Indians left but came back in the night and removed their wounded companion. The Indians had Mr. Kimble arrested and he stood trial. After hearing the evidence the judge said "Kimble, I blame you for this trouble, next time you shoot to kill." That settled our troubles with the Indians. [This last remark has the sound of anecdotal hyperbole, but we hope that a reader will have access to Whatcom county court transcripts of that time.]
      In those early days our canoe was our only means of transportation. There were two huge jams in the river, one below Mount Vernon nearly a mile long. It took ten years to cut it out. There was one above Mount Vernon that took years to cut out. Before there any dikes along the river the flood waters came up slowly and when the water started to fall it would run off in 24 hours.
      There were about 30 white people on the river when I came here. We went to church at Skagit City at the mouth of the river. The church was a box house, boarded up and down and battered. The lumber came from Utsilada [Utsalady].
      I am 77 years old and still able to enjoy life. We had many hardships in the early days but many enjoyments too. When we first came here, if I could have run away, you couldn't have seen me for dust, but after I had lived here a few years, you couldn't get me away.
      Now I have lived here longer than any other woman and my brother-in-law Ed Kimble has lived here longer than any other man. Oct. 16, 1940.
      I have been married three times and I have never left my own kitchen to get a husband.

      Ed. note: Clara may have confused some early information, but most of her recollections match with early history. We suspect that her account of the upriver uprising may been a bit fanciful, as you will see from an upcoming article by Otto Klement who helped settle the fracas with the Indians. Some settlers had a grudge against Indians in general; others realized that settlers were encroaching on long-held Indian land.
      Clara's recollection of the sternwheeler her family arrived on is disputed by several other accounts that noted it was the Linnie, not the Libby. And that boat was not the first up the river, but it was the first that ventured that far up the river, as far as the lower jam, opposite the Kimble claim. The earlier ones stopped at Mann's Landing, which became Fir, and Skagit City, near the crook of the north and south forks of the Skagit. She also confused the location of Skagit City, which was not at the mouth of the river.
      As to the teacher she mentions being the first in what became Skagit county, that is also wrong because she forgot the Fidalgo school district, which was formed in 1869. That story is also linked below.
      The Blattman place that she refers to is in the 1941 Metsker's map. It was located on the east side of the Skagit river in the lower part of the northeast quarter of section 25. We believe the store name she mentions should be Moldstad. Can anyone tell us where on First street that store was located?
      You may note that she changes the name of her husband's family throughout the story. In some places she says Kimble and in others, Kimball. This was confusing for all of us who conduct research until researcher Deanna Ammons solved the mystery [you can read the answer at this Journal website]. Clara's obituary follows. Her husband was born Charles Henry Kimble in Missouri, the third child of David Kimble and his second wife, Rebecca Wortman, and was disowned by his father in David's will of 1905, three years before the father's death. He was an older stepbrother of Edward D. Kimble and you can read Edward's story here. Many of the Kimble sons and grandsons emigrated to the Skagit County area when grown.

Clara Kimble Drown, Skagit Pioneer Dies
Obituary from an undated 1943 Mount Vernon Herald, probably Oct. 30 or 31
      Funeral services for Clara Kimble Drown, pioneer Skagit county resident, will be held from the Aaron Light funeral home here Friday at 2:30 o'clock
      Mrs. Drown, a resident of Skagit county, more than seventy years, passed away at her home in Oak Harbor Wednesday after an illness of more than a year.
      She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Levi M. Ford, early settlers on Whidby island. She was united in marriage to Charles Henry Kimble in 1875 [actually 1876, see above] and spent the major portion of her life on a farm southwest of this city.
      To this union were born six children, four of whom survive. These include Charles W. Kimble and Nide Kimble [Clara noted his name as Ide], both of Mount Vernon; William A. Kimble, of Burlington, and one daughter, Mrs. Haley Hutchinson, of Seattle. Four grandchildren and two great grandchildren also survive, as does her husband, George C. Drown, whom she married in Everett in 1934.
      Burial will be made in the I.O.O.F. cemetery in Mount Vernon.

Story posted on May 14, 2002 and updated on Sept. 8, 2004
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