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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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Issac Wellington Behan "W.B." Davis

(W.B. Davis after moving to Stanwood)
W.B. Davis after moving to Stanwood

      Sometime in the late 1880s, a hardware store began in the little village of Mount Vernon as a partnership between E.D. "Eli" Davis and Otto Klement. In the Dec. 16, 1889, Skagit News, they advertise together at a store on Second street. In the March 4, 1892, edition of the Mount Vernon Chronicle, they advertise a hardware store on First street. Klement, who paddled across Puget sound to the Skagit valley in 1873, was most known for his trading post in Lyman, but he was involved with the founding of Mount Vernon in 1877 and claimed that he was the go-between for Clothier and English making a deal with Jasper Gates for the ten acres that became a nucleus of the town. Klement moved back upriver sometime in the late 1890s. [See the Klement section with three stories at our website: http://www.stumpranchonline.com/skagitjournal/Upriver/Uto-Conc/Pioneer/Klement01-Bio.html]
      Meanwhile, Eli Davis retained the hardware store and in 1902 took on as a partner, his cousin, W.B. Davis. We are working with a Davis descendant, Theron Davis, on a story about this interesting family of brothers and cousins. Eli was elected county sheriff in 1890 for a term. W.B. was a teacher, first in Bay View and later in Mount Vernon, before being elected as a Republican to be county superintendent of schools in 1894, beating a member of the rising People's Party that year. When Republicans came back into power after the turn of the century, he was elected as county clerk in 1902. W.B. became enamored with the Klondike miners in 1898 and had assembled the necessary ton of supplies, a sled and dogs to join the miners up north in 1902. But Eli went down to Seattle and talked W.B. out of going and offered him a partnership instead. Eli married Margaret "Maggie" Hastie, daughter of the famed early Whidbey island pioneer, Thomas Hastie [see our Hastie family story at website: http://www.stumpranchonline.com/skagitjournal/WestCounty/MV-SW/Pioneer/Hastie1-Profile.html]. In 1905, Eli and W.B. bought out the Stanwood Hardware store and W.B. moved there to manage it. He was later joined there by his younger brother, Augustus. This summer we will feature the whole family in another story. We begin this Davis family series with letters by and about W.B. Davis.

Letters by and about W.B. Davis
      Theron Davis note: The first letter (to me) is from Q.R. "Bob" Davis. Bob is 94 years old and living in Spokane, WA. His father, who wrote the second letter, was Issac Wellington Behan (known as "W.B." or "Will") Davis. At some point, the Stanwood store was taken over by W.B. and his brother Augustus Spencer Davis came out from the mid-west to help him. The following letter (about W.B. Davis) was written by Q.R. "Bob" Davis to Theron Davis on January 3, 1984. That is followed by two letters that W.B. wrote home to Illinois in 1891 and 1892.

Q.R. "Bob" Davis to Theron Davis, Jan. 3, 1984
      Thank you so much for your telephone call last night. I had been thinking a bit about our branch of the family. Dad was the youngest of the three brothers, Uncle Doc, Uncle Gus, and, oh yes, his half brother and Uncle by marriage, Uncle Roderick. He was one of the more fortunate of the boys, and was sent to Chaddock college in the 1880s where he graduated. His father died in about 1888 or 1889, and dad returned to the farm to run it for six months to a year as a hog ranch. He taught for a bit in Bowen, but after selling the farm, he took Horace Greeley's advice, and went west in 1891. I enclose a couple of copies of letters that he write to the Bowen Chronicle in his home town in 1891 and 1892. His first teaching experience was in Bay View in Skagit County, you know where it is. At the time it had a population of about 500. His students ranged in age from about 6 to 21 or 22. With 50 or so students in the classroom, he had no teacher's aide as we know them today.
      Dad taught in Bay View a couple of years, then moved to Mt. Vernon where he taught a couple of years. He was then elected to the county superintendents job [in 1894 as a Republican], which he held for [two] years. He covered the county schools by bicycle, Hamilton, Concrete, Marblemount, etc. At the museum in La Conner, I have found a number of pictures of Dad at the various schools. After one term as County Superintendent, he became interested in politics, and was elected as county clerk [in 1902 as a Republican] where he served one term. Meanwhile the gold rush of 1898 to Alaska held his attention, and in 1901 or 1902 he went to Seattle where he purchased a complete outfit, including his one ton of food, sledge and dogs. Before he could take off, E.D. "Eli" Davis, his cousin, whom you knew, went to Seattle and talked dad out of going north. E.D. offered Dad a partnership in the hardware store, so Dad grubstaked some character with his outfit, and about 1910 or 1912, he returned and gave Dad three or four nuggets, his stake, which dad had made into a case for his Waltham watch. We still have it.
      At some teacher's meeting or convention, he met my mother, who was a high school teacher in Bellingham. They were married in Bellingham in July of 1905 at a garden wedding at which Dad's boyhood chum, Charlie Todd, presided. Charlie had a church in Mt. Vernon. In late 1905 or early 1906, E.D. and Dad acquired the Stanwood Hardware Company in Stanwood, and he and mother moved down there. Meanwhile in Mt. Vernon, my sister, Hellon, was born. I was born at the Stanwood hospital on December 14, 1907. Originally I was dubbed "Quentin Lothian Davis", but Dad persisted in calling me "Bobbie", and the "Lothian" was dropped as soon as I could tell the difference. Lothian is an old Scottish name, and was the name of the nurse who attended Mother when I was born.
      1912. An eventful year. My sister was taken from an acute attack of peritonitis, and there after I was raised as an only child. Later the same year, Uncle Gus came to live with us, having been divorced from his wife, Em, in Missouri. He influenced my life quite a bit. Dad operated the Stanwood store from 1905 to 1926, when he had a major heart attack. The doctors at the time gave him less than two months to live. Where he had been working 16 to 18 hours a day, he quit overnight and had mother wind up the whole business. She had been keeping the books over the years and had exercised a great influence on the business. So, he died in 1958 at the age of 92.
      The period from 1905 to 1926 was interesting for a youngster and teen-ager. In those days, transportation was not what it is today. There were no trucking lines, and Dad's freight came either on the Great Northern railroad, a mile away at East Stanwood, or by the sternwheeler Harvester, which came to the city dock three times a week. One of my jobs was to pick up the freight at the dock. In those days within a radius of 15 miles there were at least 10 logging camps, plus three or four sawmills and shingle mills. If a breakdown occurred it would require three to four days to get supplies in from Seattle, if it did not have them in stock. As a result, he carried a very large stock of mill and logging supplies. At one time he had the largest stock of hardware, including mill and logging supplies between Seattle and Bellingham. In those days, the loggers were paid in gold. Many times loggers coming in from the job on Saturday night would come to , and say to dad, "W.B.., I am going to Oscar Ruth's saloon, and I want you to take care of this until Sunday". With that they would leave $40 to $80 in gold with him.
      Until his heart attack, did always smoked 18 to 20 cigars a day, and if he did not have a cigar in his mouth, he had a pipe. With his heart attack, he quit overnight, and didn't smoke until years later. It can be done. Dad's recovery was gradual, but by the 1930's he was in full swing again. His most notable achievement during this period was to become secretary of the local School Board, a position he held for many years. He was a character, but one who was adored by both of my kids, Hon and Kirk. He was feisty. One fine morning, a drunk burst into the back door, asking for Oscar Ruth, whose home was a block away. Dad, all five feet six inches of him, had the character, six feet two, by the seat of the pants and the collar and threw him out of the house before we knew what was going on.
      Theron, I do not know whether I have written not enough for your purpose, or too much. At least it will give you a bit of a run-down on "Uncle" W.B. If you want more, I certainly can provide it. The older one becomes, the more that they tend to reminisce. I could write stories about the early days of Stanwood, "Trombone Pete," "Morphine Murphy," "Doc O'Conner," Charley's barbershop where members of the KOISS club met in the afternoons and sang barbershop harmonies. The early days when I used to hurry up with my dinner to run down town to watch the loggers who came to town, got liquored up, and started to fight. I have seen some bloody ones. Let me know if you wish me to expound on the early days of Stanwood. I have plenty of stories.

W.B. Davis to Bowen Daily Chronicle
in Illinois, April 19, 1891

(W.B. Davis in 1890)
W.B. Davis in 1890

      Dear Readers of the Bowen Daily Chronicle in Illinois. Now that I am located and situated so I can, I'll give my friends to whom I promised as much, a description of Washington, such as I have seen and country through which I traveled on my road here. I left Canton, Illinois, March 23 and arrived at St. Paul, Tuesday morning, the 24th. At St. Paul the weather was extremely cold, at least to me, and everybody seemed to be well buttoned in overcoats and cloaks. The train from St. Paul to Tacoma, Washington, was made up of 19 coaches in two sections, one running 20 minutes ahead of the other. We stopped at Minneapolis which is a very beautiful city. Tuesday afternoon and night we were in a very cold country, but by Wednesday noon the climate had changed to a much warmer one -- the snow was gone and it was very comfortable.
      To one who has never seen them before, the great wheat fields of Minnesota and Dakota are a grand sight. True, there is nothing to be seen at this season of the year, except the stubble, yet it looks like a farm. They are not fenced and it is only open field as far as the eye can reach. There are very few houses except sod or dugouts. All of Wednesday forenoon we were passing these great fields but toward eve they began to give way to raw prairie land. We crossed the Mo. river where it is not more than four rods wide. Thursday morning we had reached the Yellowstone country of Montana. There is some of the prettiest lying land in Montana I ever saw but it is all prairie. About noon we were in the bad lands of Montana. These lie just at the base of the Rocky Mountains and are the wildest looking places I ever saw. By Thursday night we were right in the Rocky Mountains. These, where the Northern Pacific crosses, are said not to present many points of interest, but to one who never saw mountains, there are plenty of sights to keep him awake. Helena, Montana is a beautiful and at the same time a strange looking city. It is built in a small valley between two mountains and in order to get to the city one has to pass through a sort of gateway or trail up between the mountains. There it is with the walls of earth and stone rising up hundreds of feet on nearly all sides of it. We passed through a great many places of interest which I'll not take time to speak about in this. We passed through a good portion of the mountain scenery at night.
      Spokane Falls is the nicest looking city I saw. It is so new and everything looked so clean and nice. It has very few buildings now where it was burned. Has electric light and street cars. Lots I was told, out near suburbs sell for $1000 and $2000 per lot. After leaving Spokane we traveled through a wild sandy looking country. Most of it is very stony as well and covered with sage brush from one to five feet high. We saw thousands of acres in Washington, covered thus. A great part of it is fenced and pastured.
      After leaving the sage brush country we came to the forests of pine, cedar, spruce and fir which cover the cascades and most of the mountain slopes of the west. We arrived at Puyallup at 12 p.m. having been delayed about two hours in the Cascades by a stone slide. At Puyallup, I changed and got to Seattle at 2 o'clock Sat. morning. Seattle is a fine city but on account of so much being built out over the water it is strange looking. A great many of the ruins from the fire there, are not yet cleaned. From Seattle for miles the railroad is built on trestle work out in the (Puget) sound so we got a ride on the water in the train. From Seattle as far north as I come (100 miles) it is nothing but dense forest of the trees above named. Some grow over 300 feet high and 10 to 12 feet in diameter. The undergrowth too, is so dense that a man can hardly get through, yet towns are built in through these dense woods. How people support themselves I do not know.
      All this land is taken up and sells for from $50 to $150 per acre. Mt. Vernon, the county seat of Skagit county, is a river town of 1209 population. It has dense timber on three sides of it and the river forms the fourth. Town lots there sell for from $100 to $700 without improvements, some being covered with stumps. Bay View is a town of 450 population and is built on an arm of the sound. Ocean steamers stop at Anacortes just across the bay, but cannot come in here as the water is too shallow. We can look out to the ocean from here. Very little farming is done in this portion of the state, as the farms, except flats which is land reclaimed from the ocean by means of dikes, something like Holland. This flat land is nothing but decayed logs, leaves etc. washed in by the tides and here deposited. This land produces wonderfully. Oats and hay are the principal productions — hay yielding from 3 to 5 tons per acre and oats 75 to 150 bushels per acre. All this flat land sells at from $150 to $300 per acre. Outside of this, lumbering is the principal occupation. Every town has its lumber and shingle mills.
      The climate is very pleasant but is much damper than Illinois. Everything soon covered with moss, and the towns are even bothered with a few moss back loafers. Very few houses are plastered as it never gets very cold here, the dampness being the most disagreeable feature. Vegetation grows in great profusion but anything that requires warm nights will not grow here, as it is cool of nights, all summer, so I am told. I have or am teaching the Bay View school. We have a nice school building of two rooms, and well supplied with apparatus. I have two Indian children coming to me who can barley speak English. There are a great many Indians through here. [The price of] Everything is very high here and it is no place for a man when he has not plenty of money to spend. Wages are good but not high when compared to living and cost of clothing, etc. [The letter ends here]

W.B. Davis to Bowen Daily Chronicle
in Illinois, Dec. 15, 1892

      The sound is completely covered with islands of from 2 rods to 20 miles in diameter or width according to shape. The islands are mostly very mountainous and covered, as the mainland, with dense timber. On one island of about 6 miles in diameter we were told there had been killed during the past year over 100 deer. We got 3 of the wild creatures. 'Tis a great sport. a party of 8 persons left town today for a couple day's hunt on the islands.
      And ducks! I won't say any thing about them for fear you may say I am stretching the truth, but listen to this: I can stand in my window and look out on the water which literally looks black with them out for three or four miles. Fact.
      The climate here is in some respects very pleasant, and in others exceedingly disagreeable. During the past summer the climate in this immediate country was as pleasant as one could desire. The thermometer never registered over 90 degrees in the shade and was more often 70 to 80 degrees, while the nights, were cool, so much so that a person could sleep comfortable under two blankets, all summer. It is the finest sleeping country I ever saw. We have never had any cold weather up to date to speak of. The thermometer has been down to freezing once or twice.
      But rain! It can drizzle rain 23 hours out of every 24 for a week at a stretch, and then to make up for the 24th hour do the same trick two or three weeks longer. Can you guess how often it rains? The ground, which even in dry weather is soft, becomes a perfect quagmire, and it is quite impossible to get from place to place. The mud has one good quality, it is not sticky. The wagon roads are out through the forest and are seldom over 20 feet wide. Wagons going over the roots and stumps soon wear great chuck-holes and thus make the roads, in the rainy season, utterly impassable. There are few railroads through this portion of the state as yet, and therefore when a traveler gets laid up at one of the out-of-the-way places, he knows not when he can get away.
      The country has three great nuisances, perhaps necessary nuisances, but they are so plentiful they become wonderfully tiresome. I speak of insurance agents, book agents, and real-estate men. Scarcely a day passes that the town is not worked by a representative of one of the two former and as for the latter, the town (400 inhabitants counting the bachelors) is blessed with 5 or 6 shingled real-estate men, who watch for button-hole dolts on every corner. I think the census of 1890 gives Washington the largest percent of increase in the past ten years, of any state in the Union from which one can guess that she has had a mushroom growth. And on account of a slight collapse in growth she is suffering a hard year. Money matters are quite close this season, but business is gradually increasing as evidenced by the increase of logging business throughout he state. Logging and milling is the chief industry west of the Cascades.
      The mines of iron, coal, lead, etc., in the Cascades are being rapidly developed. The ore is quite valuable in silver also. Specimens of this ore sent to the tests in Seattle prove it to be worth from $25 to over $2000 per ton in various metals. Quite a number of men from this immediate vicinity spent the summer up in the Cascades prospecting, locating claims, etc. A large steel barge works is to be located at Anacortes or Port Gardner on the Sound. Port Gardner is a new town of 8 or 10 shacks yet lots there are selling for from $100 to $1000 and over -- a real estate agent boom. People seem to become wonderfully easily excited over a boom, a great many of them to the sorrow. A hole in their pocket.
      If he who reads this is not tired of it he must be a little more than a man. I want to tell my fellow school teachers around Bowen, that I've plenty of work here, for I've 64 pupils enrolled and still they come. I graduated one pupil not many weeks ago and the county furnished him money to complete his 'edification' in the Wash. school of Correction. He was an Indian or half breed and had the Indian trait of pocketing things belonging to other people. I had three Indian children in school but the tribe has gone.
      The Indian West of the Cascades, is of a low, heavy build, very rough featured, extremely fond of liquor, and very peaceable except when drunk. It is a penitentiary offense to sell an Indian liquor, yet they get it all the same, and the "deuce" is to pay. Quite a good many (white men) can be found with "clotchmen" (Indian women) for wives. — Raining again. W.B.D.

Theron Davis: The following is included for background information:
Written by Davis descendant Dorothy Thatcher, circa 1985
      Uncle Will, for as long as I knew him since 1944, he lived in Stanwood, Washington. At one time he served as Skagit County Superintendent of Schools and one term as County Clerk. He had joint ownership with Eli Daniel Davis (a cousin) of the Davis Hardware Store in Mt. Vernon, Washington, one of the first such stores in the county.
      I remember of his telling Lewis and I about coming to Seattle and he promised my Grandma Sally Davis that he'd always have enough money saved back if he ever got homesick enough to go back to the Midwest again. He told us about riding a bike over the Cascades before there was not much more than a trail over them and how he "staked" some Alaska gold-miners but they never made the big strike. And all the time he was talking he was holding an UNLIT cigarette in his hands, his way of giving up the habit, I guess.
      Aunt Mollie said when she went to live with Uncle Will after her husband died, he always got up first and prepared the breakfast, must run in the family as Uncle Doc did the same. Too bad they didn't give lessons to future husbands.
      I doubt Uncle Will ever threw out a magazine; I still have copies of the "Cosmopolitan," November 1898, and "Scribner's Magazine," December 1895 that he gave to us so when I'm back in Russell Cemetery and Dave is cleaning out the attic and saying, "Why the Hell did she keep this for?" Then I want you grandchildren to say, "She was a DAVIS!"
      And the one thing Uncle Will always preached to us: "KEEP YOUR CREDIT GOOD!"

Theron Davis memories, Feb. 22, 2000
      I cannot resist 'having my say' about Uncle Will. He was such a wonderful kindly and thoughtful person; however, I did detect a bit of that legendary "Davis Stubborn Streak" in him. I recall when I was a teen and Uncle Will was coming up to visit and, with several others, were going have a family gathering at Bowman's Bay State Park, near Deception Pass (between Skagit and Island counties) in Washington. As I recall, about 20 Davis relatives were already waiting in the parking lot when Uncle Will arrived. We all began to walk toward the beach with our picnic baskets, etc. and noticed a large crowd assembled. There was a large sign, and red, white and blue bunting, and it was clearly a political event. The sign read, "Welcome Skagit County Democratics". Do you know what Uncle Will insisted on? Yes, we all got in our cars and went to the Cranberry Lake campground three miles distant. I knew he was a "devout" Republican; and seemed almost insulted that we would even think of having a picnic in the same campground with "Democrats." Perhaps he was afraid someone would see him there and think that "he" was one of "Them."
      The other story I have to tell on Uncle Will is one that my Dad experienced. In about 1951, Uncle was having difficulty getting water to flow with any force into his Stanwood house. My Dad packed up his plumbing tools and went down to see what he could find, and perhaps fix. Dad isolated the piping from the city supply and dug down to the piping running to the house, only to find a lot of rust build-up in the pipe, and almost all of the pipe metal 'crumbling rust'. Dad tried to dig out a section, and the pipe crumbled in his hands. In fact, Dad said, there was such a thickness of rust inside the pipe that the passage for water was about the size of a pencil. He brought Uncle Will out to look at it. Dad said that Uncle looked at it for the longest time with a puzzled look and finally said, "I don't know what's wrong, that was top quality pipe when we installed it in 1916."

Story posted on July 1, 2004
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