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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
to the principle of 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

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The story of Alonzo Low and his family
His name was Lowe

By Ray Jordan, Yarns of the Skagit Country, 1974
      It seems to be generally accepted that Alonzo Lowe started the first store, or trading post at LaConner, or Swinomish, whichever the case might be, in May of 1867. He wasn't successful and after fourteen months pulled out.
      There are conflicting accounts as to whether his post was on the site of present day LaConner or across the channel on the reservation at a place then known as Swinomish. The names of LaConner and Swinomish have been used interchangeable in reports which makes it rather confusing. The best evidence we have points to the reservation side.
      Lowe seems to have dropped out of history, but recently we picked up some of his tracks. Forty years after his appearance at LaConner, on May 22, 1907, to be exact, a slender, wiry man with whitening hair who appeared to be in his middle or late sixties, stopped at the well-known Davis Ranch on Cedar Bar just below Diablo on the Skagit and requested lodging.
      His name appears on the old Davis Ranch register, in what is thought to be his own handwriting, as "Alonzo Lowe," and a notation: "Started the first store in LaConner." His home address is not given, but the Davises seemed to remember that he was from Snohomish.
      Mr. Glee G. Davis of Sedro Woolley, the senior living member of the up river settlers having moved up the Skagit in 1893 after living for a time on the Cascade river, who kindly gave us the story, was twenty-two years of age at the time.
      And since travelers of this sort were rather commonplace then, he says that he did not give this customer any particular attention, but he does remember some of the things the man told him about his trip upriver into the mountains.
      He must have been a rather rugged individual for his age for he said he had been up on Ruby Creek, which in those days meant back packing over trails all the way from Marblemount. He said that he had taken part in the gold rush up the Skagit and wanted to look over the old scenes again to see what he could recognize and was on his way out when he stopped at the Davises.
      What time he was there during the gold excitement is not known, but Mr. Davis hazard a guess that it might have been any time between 1880 and 1884. [Ed. note: "the gold excitement" usually refers to 1880 when as many as 5,000 men combed the hills and valley and creeks east of present-day Newhalem, seeking placer gold.]
      Lowe had supper, a bed and breakfast (the bill amounting to about $1.25), then departed down river. Mr. Davis, having some business to attend to in Marblemount, accompanied him that far. He remembers that they stopped at Bacon creek and had lunch on their way down. At Marblemount, Lowe could take a horse stage to Rockport, the end of steel, and catch a train for the rest of his trip. The Davises have had no definite news of him since.
      According to the last word we have, on March 30, 1970, the LaConner Post Office will celebrate its centennial under the name of "LaConner Post Office." Previous to 1870 it had been known as "Swinomish."
      The town is planning to let down its hair in commemorating the event reminding that 100 years ago the post office was housed in a small trading post surrounded by marshes and forest through which many patrons had to blister their hands pulling a rowboat or canoe to collect their mail.
      We wonder what Alonzo Lowe would think if he could be there.

Skagit River Journal research
about Alonzo Low and his family

      This is one of the stories of early pioneers that most make us want to hold a sťance with the individuals involved. The first question we have is why Alonzo would have signed his last name, "Lowe." Perhaps his handwriting just appeared that way. In all other records, Alonzo and his large family were known by the name, Low.
      When we read this fine story by Jordan, we were most amazed that, in 1907, Alonzo had been largely forgotten. But then again, historian Dick Fallis profiles him as "The Luckless Alonzo Low" and it was just his luck that he was forgotten while so many of his contemporaries were both chronicled and established historically by appending their names to roads, towns and city streets.
      We find the first clue as to why he was long forgotten on the Swinomish flats because of the failure of the only store under his name. First, we consult one of our favorite, reliable sources: Herbert Hunt and Floyd C. Kaylor, Washington West of the Cascades, S.J. Clarke Publishing Co.: Seattle, 1917, page 420:

      One of Snohomish City's early day mercantile institutions was the store of Low & Sinclair. In May 1867, Alonzo Low established a branch at what later became LaConner. It was not a success and after fourteen months Low gave his store building to a negro as payment for transporting the stock of goods back to Snohomish. The negro moved the property in canoes, including a pair of oxen which Low had been forced to accept in payment of a bill.
Thomas Hayes took over the trading post business at Swinomish within a few weeks, then sold out to Pennsylvania newcomer John S. Conner, and Low slowly disappeared from history.
      The Sinclair in the store name was for Woodbury B. Sinclair, who married Alonzo's sister Mary in 1862 when Sinclair was a merchant at Port Gamble. The Sinclairs were early settlers of Snohomish county and Mary is recorded as the first permanent white woman settler of the valley. His parents had also moved to Snohomish county. Alonzo was 23 when he moved back to be near his family and he rarely strayed too far from Snohomish for the rest of his life. His father, John, died in 1888, and his mother, Lydia, died in 1901. After Lydia's death, Alonzo then lived with his sister, Mary, who was a widow after Woodbury died in 1872 at age 46. Alonzo did not marry and his only journeys from Snohomish county before his death in April 1921 at age 75 seem to have been for brief forays in mining in the Cascades, Idaho and British Columbia and brief stints at logging and on sternwheeler boats.
      The Low story is way too complex to be dealt with here, but we will give you a brief history of the family's role in the region's history even before Washington became a territory. According to Edmond S. Meany's profile in the 1916 series, Living Pioneers of Washington, Alonzo was born in 1845 in McLean county, Illinois, to John N. Low, a native of Maryland, and Lydia Colborn, a native of Pennsylvania. In 1851, John Low and his family organized a small wagon train headed for Oregon territory. John wanted to take dairy stock along, since he heard there was a definite need for dairy products and meat out West. Lydia was one of the legendary pioneer women, who cared for her own five children, all under ten and including a baby, while providing care and comfort to others. Alonzo was six years old, the oldest boy in the family. Their path crossed with another wagon train led by Arthur A. Denny. When the respective trains reached Fort Hall on the Snake river in the summer of 1851, the Dennys were already discouraged and weary, and Low's determination and natural leadership ability helped them all through the challenges of crossing mountains and avoiding marauding Indian bands. Although Denny is most often listed as the leader of this group, he was stricken with mountain fever and acute fatigue in that last part of the trip and was often in bed.
      After they reached Portland on Aug. 22, 1851, Arthur Denny and his family stayed there to recuperate. But John Low was eager to press on and he headed north on a primitive trail, taking Arthur's brother, 19-year-old David Denny with him. After crossing the Columbia, they walked to the new town of Olympia, where they met Lee Terry, a young man from New York who had tried his hand in the California gold fields, and Captain Robert C. Fay. Fay was about to leave in an open boat to buy salmon from coastal Indians. After stopping at many inlets and bays, they found Alki point on September 28, which is now West Seattle. Low and Terry explored other streams and rivers, including the Duwamish, but staked adjoining claims at Alki. Low hired Terry and Denny to build a cabin and he returned overland to Portland to file his claim and bring his family and the Denny family up to Alki point.
      By the time Low arrived back in Portland, Arthur Denny was rested up and ready for the trip north. Arthur Denny, John Low, eight other adults, and 12 children contracted passage on the schooner Exact and sailed up the Columbia and along the coast in early November. Anyone who lives here in November knows about those rainy days and when the ship arrived at Alki on Nov. 13, 1851, the rain was falling in buckets. The families were horrified to find a cabin without a roof and David Denny recuperating from an infection that resulted from an ax wound. Within a few weeks, cabins had been built and Low returned to Ford Prairie near Olympia to fetch the dairy cattle he left there on the trip north.
      Three of the families who arrived on the Exact crossed Elliott Bay in the spring of 1852 and staked claims at the site that became Seattle. In October that year, Lydia had the first settler baby in what became King county. That fall, John was one of the delegates to the Monticello Convention, a somewhat comical affair where settlers signed a petition for the creation of a new territory north of the Columbia. Lee Terry had returned to New York by then, replaced by his brother Charles, who was an aspiring merchant. John and Lydia sold out their interests to Terry and moved their family down to Chamber's Prairie near Olympia, where John could start his dairy. While living there, they had four more children, and in 1862, the year when the last — Sarah F. "Fannie" arrived, eldest sister Mary married Woodbury Sinclair.
      Three years later, Woodbury and Mary Sinclair moved up to a point where the military Road crossed the Snohomish river at a settlment known as Cadyville. C.F. Cady was an engineer who traded on the river from a small steam scow. Sinclair bought Cady's scow and property and laid out what became the eastern part of Snohomish county. Sinclair went on to become a successful merchant as well as probate judge, county tresurer and a representative to the Washington territorial legislature. In about 1865, Sinclair hired Alonzo Low at his Snohomish store and then gave him a chance to start a branch at Swinomish in 1867. In a 1916 letter to Meany, Alonzo recalled: "I went [to Swinomish] Spring 1867, only 8 white men in what is now Skagit county. Most had squaws for wives."
      Instead of homesteading when he returned to Snohomish county, Alonzo chose instead to try his hand at mining and his only relative success in that area was to become one of the owners of the Bonita mine at the head of navigation on the Skagit river near present Marblemount. He is nearly forgotten for his role in Swinomish and his father is usually only mentioned as an aside, most recently on Nov. 13, 2001, the 150th anniversary of arrival of the schooner Exact at Alki point. John S. Conner and Arthur A. Denny had a better sense of public relations and self promotion and they are the principals remembered at each place. Ray Jordan, however, was a pioneer himself and he knew a good yarn when he heard one from fellow pioneer Glee Davis.

Story posted on July 1, 2004
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