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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Free Resources 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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Fir Community in Territorial Days

(Threshing crew)
Don Moa, a descendant of the Cornelius family of Pleasant Ridge, loaned us this copy of a photo of threshing crew on Fir island near the turn of the twentieth century. We hope that a reader will have photos or documents about the families mentioned in this story.

      [Ed. note: Mrs. Moen was born in the Fir area in 1883 or 1884 and died in 1973. We were given a copy many years ago of her handwritten history of the Fir area, which was composed sometime before 1950. We determined that time period because we researched the burial records for everyone named in her story. One died in 1950. We edited the manuscript lightly for spelling errors. We also added first names and birth and death information when we found it. We have provided more information or definitions within [ ]. For longer comments, we have emphasized a name with an underscored link; when you click on it, you will be taken to endnotes and you can then return to the paragraph you were reading. We hope that family descendants will provide more information about people mentioned or correct any errors. We have not yet found more information about Mrs. Moen herself.

Memories of Fir island
By Mamie Johnson Moen
      Many years ago, Mrs. Caroline Ball, an Indian woman, called on a new neighbor. In talking about pioneer days, Mrs. Ball said, "Many years ago there were no white people around here, just Indians and Norwegians." She may have been partly right at the turn of the century when the Norwegians began coming direct from Norway.
      Many of the very first settlers, however, were Americans born in America, who came across the continent in covered wagons or who had come to California by covered wagon or stage coach and from there to Seattle to boat. Among the names of the first homesteaders we have Greenleaf Stackpole [arrived 1874], Downs, Hayton, Garret, Cobb, [Jasper and John] Gates, Dougold Good [arrived 1872], Charles H. Mann, [Thomas P. Hastie Jr., Russell, Abbot, Henry and Sarah Summers [immigrated from England 1874], Lisk and Ben Loveland [Whidbey pioneer 1874, Brown's slough of Skagit 1883]. There are also many Scandinavian names in the 1870s and '80s, such as John and Magnus Anderson [brothers-in-law], Peter Olson, Christ Olson, Branstad, Enen, Louis Johnson, Ole Johnson [arrived 1878], Lars and Nels Danielson [Milltown island 1884], Lanke, Andrew and Wilhelmina Crogstad [Brown's slough 1877], Tolber [also in records as Charles Tollber, a Finn], Olaf Polson, Ollie Wollan [a partner with Charles H. Mann's nephew, George H. Mann in a Fir hotel in 1898] and Swanson [family arrived 1879].
      These first settlers came to this locality to establish homes. They therefor settled on the riverbanks where the land was high, so the river seldom overflowed, or near the bay, where the land was so located that it could be dyked in [hereafter, dike]. They also had to have in mind the shipping of their produce to market. This had to be done by water. It took time to build roads through the dense woods and over sloughs. Trails through the woods for walking and horseback riding were, however, one of the first undertakings of those first settlers.
      One way to change your butter, eggs, hams, bacon, lard, etc., into money or groceries was to get into your boat and row to Utsalady where there was a ready market Utsalady was at that time a thriving town with sawmills, logging camps, stores and hotels. This trip took all day, a distance of several miles, going on the morning tide and coming back on the evening tide.

Original Indian inhabitants of Fir island
      One diversion was to stand on the riverbank and listen to the singing and talking of the Indians as they paddled their canoes to and from clam digging, trips and celebrations with Tulalip Indians and later when they returned from hop fields in Snohomish county.
      The Indians were friendly and, as far I know, didn't cause the white people any trouble. There is said to have been an old burial place at the Fir locality. The Indian bodies were placed in canoes that were put into the trees. If that is true, they were quietly disposed of when found. About 1888, such an Indian canoe was found in a tree not far from [Charles] Mann's store. This was left standing around until all who wished to had seen it.
      There had been an Indian camp on the Cobb place, now owned by John Tronsdal [1884-1957, born Norway]. It is on a slough bank where the land is high. A skull or two and other human bones have been plowed up at that place, also some stone implements for various uses. I have not heard of any arrowheads or other war implements having been found there. According tot he large accumulation of crushed and decayed clam shells, Indians must have camped there a long time. The Indian tents first formed here were made of matting wrapped around poles and fastened down with sticks. This matting was made from long grasses formed near the bay. This grass was also dried and used for beds and some of it was woven into baskets.
      The Indians in this community were called "flat heads." Their foreheads were flattened almost to a peak above the hairline. This was done by placing a board on the forehead of a small baby and leaving it there until the head was deformed.

The challenge of the Skagit river
      Skagit river was the only means of transportation, but at times it would fill with logs and driftwood from the logging camps. At one time, because the river was jammed, the mail was brought from LaConner to Skagit City by canoe and from there, it was carried to Mount Vernon and Fir on foot. Regular mail service was established between Seattle and Fir in 1874, when the Fanny Lake made regular monthly trips up the river. It also carried passengers and freight. In 1883, weekly trips were made between Seattle and Mount Vernon, stopping at Mukilteo, Tulalip, Utsalady, Fir and Skagit City. Two or three years later, a three-times-a-week mail and passenger service was established between Seattle and Mount Vernon. This mail service continued until the early 1890s when the Great Northern Railway came through and a daily mail service was established.
      A steamboat named Josephine, which made trips between Seattle and Mount Vernon, blew up on Jan. 16, 1883, at the mouth of the Skagit river. This happened while passengers were eating dinner. Someone had failed to take the proper care of the boiler and the result was the loss of many lives.

Mann's Landing formed as a steamboat town
      Charles H. Mann [born 1843 in Maine, died Dec. 15, 1899] built a store on the riverbank on his homestead in 1876. A post office known as Mann's Landing was established [that same year]. The name was soon changed to Fir [in about 1880]. Mr. Mann is said to have had a special liking for the large fir trees that grew on his homestead, thus the name. The store burned down some time later [1885], but was immediately rebuilt.
      Mr. and Mrs. John Anderson built a two-story hotel just south of Mann's store. Magnus Anderson [John's brother-in-law] built a hotel north of the store. Mr. and Mrs. Magnus Anderson operated their hotel themselves at times and at other times leased out the hotel and farmed their homestead just north of Fir on the east side of the river. Mr. Prichard had a blacksmith shop on the river bank just north of Magnus Anderson's hotel. Jack Hayton built and ran a general store in the middle 1880s. This store was built just inside of the dike a little north of the other buildings. He later sold this store to Ole Borseth. Mr. Faulkner also had a grocery store near Magnus Anderson's hotel.
      Later, Mrs. Knight and her daughter May had a store-like building built just south of John Anderson's hotel. Part of that building was used as their home and the other part was used for the post office and a stationery store. The hall upstairs was used for many purposes such as amateur plays, dances, religious services, political meetings, etc.
      Fir at one time had [three] hotels, saloons, three stores, post office, stationery store, blacksmith shop and a warehouse. Those buildings were built up over the high-water mark and connected by three- or four-foot wide sidewalks, also built up from the ground.
      The Knight building still stands and is being used as a home. [In fact, that is just one of] three of the very first homes near Fir that are still standing. I do not know who first lived [in the second one] but a man named John Bruseth lived there with his family in the early 1880s. Later, John Vike and family lived there but moved away when their little boy was drowned while paddling around in a canoe. The other home was built on the Lisk homestead just north of Fir and was Mrs. Ball's home until her death in 1938 [after she was widowed again when Jesse Ball died in 1889]. Her son [by her first husband], Bill Lisk, still makes his home there. The house on the Mann land hasn't been used for many years but still has its original shape.
      There are two other houses near Fir from the early territorial days but they have been rebuilt and modernized into comfortable homes. One is the Louise Wollan home south of fir, now Carl Lorenzen's [1901-75, born Germany] home. The other home near Fir is owned by Peter Hanseth [1879-1964, born Norway] and is at present the home of the Otto Hanseth [1910-57, born Washington] family.

Frontier medicine
      The health of the community rated high, as the early pioneers were young, strong and healthy. However there were times when Dr. Balcom [also spelled Balcomb in some records] or Dr. Calhoun [born 1837, Scotland] had to be called from LaConner. Later we were fortunate in having Dr. William Thompson, who lived at Skagit City. If you had a toothache, however, it wasn't so good. Dr. Thompson had tooth-pulling forceps and got the aching tooth out but needless to say it was painful. Grandpa Prichard, the blacksmith's father, also had a tooth pulling device but his services were less efficient than Dr. Thompson.
      In 1887, the year that Fir island was being diked in, Fir experienced a small pox scare. The disease broke out in the Indian — or rather half-breed homes. The men who worked on the dikes and boarded at the Fir hotels were so badly frightened that they sought board and room at the farm homes. Fir was not a popular place that spring. No white people got the disease but the little graveyard near Mrs. Ball's home and Andy Ball's blinded eye and scarred face were mute evidence of the suffering of those unfortunate people.
      There were some cold winters in those early days. It is told that in March 1887, Mrs. John Anderson walked the river on the ice from Fir to the Lars Danielson place, about one and a half miles south, where she went to assist when a baby girl was born to Mrs. Ole Stanwick. It must have been that year that Mr. Mann got the idea of storing ice until summer, as it was done in the eastern states at that time. A small house was built on the river bank near his warehouse. The double walls were filled with sawdust. The houses were then filled with large blocks of ice. The venture was a failure and was never tried again.

(Dikes crew)
      This photo of a dikes crew on Fir island is from the book, Skagit Settlers, which is still for sale at the LaConner museum. All the family members listed in this story witnessed the back-breaking work needed to keep sea water out and to keep the river from flooding towns like Fir and Conway.

School and churches
      A school was started in a small house owned by one of the Hayton sons on land now part of the Crogstad farm. A one-room schoolhouse was built in 1882 near the road on the corner of Crogstad's farm [south and west of town]. The lumber for the building was brought on a scow from Utsalady. The older boys and men who could spare the time carried the lumber on their backs from the scow to the school lot. No one seems to remember who was the first teacher but John Hayton, one of the older Hayton sons, was one of the school's first teachers. School kept only three or four months during the summer during those first few years. This school was locally known as the Hayton school, but in school records was known as Fir School District No. 16. We came to school with a New Franklin first reader, a slate and a pencil. We were told to open our books and read. Before the summer we had committed most of our first readers to memory. The first little school was later replaced by a more modern two-room building. This now was used until the district consolidated with Conway and other local districts.
      The Swedish Lutheran church congregation was organized in 1881 and a church built at Pleasant Ridge soon after that. The Norwegian congregation of the same faith was organized in 1888. The Scandinavian languages were used exclusively in these churches. LaConner was the nearest church for English-speaking pioneers.

Frontier women
      Those of us who remember many of the early pioneer women and have listened to our mothers talk about them lack words to describe these kind, industrious, thrifty, helpful wives and mothers. Aside from a neighborhood visit and an occasional neighborhood picnic, their social activities were meager. They all had their flower gardens that they enjoyed very much, sharing their plants, shrubs and seeds with each other. These women, besides being busy with their housekeeping, caring for children, poultry, butter making, sewing — no ready made clothes for women and children in those days, and canning, and usually caring for the garden. If the children were old enough to do garden work, it was usually mother who supervised the planting and hoeing.
      I will mention only one of these pioneer women. All of our pioneer mothers helped each other in sickness and need but Mrs. John Anderson was perhaps more able and capable than most women. She was the midwife for their locality and was very kind and helpful, especially in times of illness. She was loved and respected by all who knew her. Mrs. Minnie Anderson Pearce [1876-1951, born Washington] was our organization's first president [organization unnamed], with her daughter. We all know what an efficient, nice person she was.

      I cannot refrain from mentioning two outstanding homesteaders of this community. They were no different than their honest, industrious neighbors, but because of education and other abilities, were of public service in the neighborhood and county. They are Dr. Horace P. Downs and Thomas Hayton [both will be profiled in the next month]. They were both veterans of the Civil War and members of the Grand Army of the Republic.
      Dr. Downs came to Skagit Valley in 1878 and settled on the tide flats not far from the Hayton homestead. He was especially fortunate in that he had a good education, which he was able to put into good use. Soon after he arrived from Maine with his wife and their son, he was appointed tide-land appraiser by the legislature. He was also county commissioner of Whatcom county before the division of the two counties [in late 1883].
      He was chosen the first auditor of Skagit county at a special election. He filled that position so well that he was elected auditor four our county for three consecutive terms. He also served three terms as deputy county assessor. His last public office was that of mayor of Mount Vernon. His son John took over the farm when Dr. Downs moved to Mount Vernon. Mrs. John Downs still lives at the old downs home in Mount Vernon. Dr. Downs's homestead is now owned and farmed by the Wileys.
      Another daughter of this community, Mrs. E.D. Davis, or Maggie Hastie [1870-1955, born Washington] as she was remembered here, also lives in her Mount Vernon home.

Skagit River Journal research
Thomas Hayton family
(Conway-Fir ferry)
This ferry across the south fork of the Skagit river between Fir and Conway was started by Charles Villeneuve, who built the first store on the east side and moved it down to Thomas P. Jones's homestead when Jones platted the town of Conway. We do not know if we are looking at stores on the east side or the west or which year this photo was taken. Photo courtesy of reader Larry Harnden.

      According to the 1906 book, Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties [hereafter the 1906 Book], I find that Thomas Hayton arrived with his wife and family in what was then Whatcom county in 1876 [moving from Kentucky]. They immediately homesteaded the present Hayton home and later bought more land. This was known as tide land and had to be diked before crops could be raised.
      Although the big trees are not as numerous here as on some of the farms of Fir island, you can readily picture the work that had to be done those first years. But with the cooperation of his family and with some hired help, a comfortable home was established. The steamboats soon began coming up the Dry slough to the Hayton home in the fall of the year to bring to market, hay and oats that the Haytons raised there.
      Mr. Hayton was a Republican and was active in political matters, serving his party as delegate to county and state conventions. His greatest service was when he was chosen as one of three representatives from Skagit county to attend the constitutional convention for the new state of Washington in 1889. As time went on, some of the Hayton boys established homes of their own, going into business or buying farms of their own. At this time in the 1890s and early 1900s, the Hayton home became a haven of refuge for the many Scandinavian boys who flocked into their country at that time. They were eager to work but ignorant of the language as well as how the work was to be done. It is said that the Hayton boys learned enough of the Norwegian language so that they could themselves understood in that language when the newcomers didn't understand the English. Because of the patient understanding, instructions and treatment by the Haytons, these young men were soon putting up good hay and oat shocks, driving teams, milking cows and doing the various tasks required on a large farm. It may be that the kindly home atmosphere and understanding treatment, as well as the training to do their work well did more good for these young men than we realize. They all praise Mr. Hayton and the kindness shown them during their stay at the home.
      There are only a few of the descendants of the early pioneers who are farming their father's or grandfather's first farms in this community. James Blaine Hayton [1878-1950, born Washington] and sons are doing justice to the Hayton homestead. The Good farms nearby are also the homes of sons and grandchildren. The Crogstad home is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Crogstad's children. Mrs. Mary Mann [1877-1962, born Fir] and Bill Lisk are making their home on the Lisk homestead but most of the land has been sold [the house was razed in 1964]. Mrs. Nora Hastie [1877-1969, born Texas] is making her home on the Hastie homestead. Leslie Johnson [1898-1940, born California] owns and farms his grandfather Ole Johnson's home near Fir. It seems wonderful that most of these early pioneers could live to see and enjoy these homes that they worked so hard to establish. May they be long remembered.

Mrs. Caroline Ball: she is referring to Caroline Lisk Ball, who married early South fork pioneer Joe Lisk in 1875 when he settled there and had two children by him. After Lisk died in an unknown year, in 1878 she married Jesse B. Ball, who established a logging camp and steamboat landing two miles west of Sedro. See this website for our exclusive Ball story.
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Chris Olson: Olson's name appears in the 1906 book, The Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties: "In September 1889, shortly after coming to the sound, Mr. Woolley purchased from Ole [Borseth] and George Nelson a timber claim, which they in turn had purchased from Chris Olson, the tract consisting of forty-four acres."
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Fanny Lake 1874 was the year that the sternwheeler Fanny Lake was launched and in 1883 it sank at Dead Man's riffle, just east of future Sedro. Six years later, Joshua Green and his partners resuscitated the boat and started Green's amazing career. Read more about it in our exclusive story at this website.
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Josephine Actually the Josephine was rebuilt and a court suit over the explosion revealed that the original owner installed a defective boiler. Read more about it in our exclusive story at this website for the story.] Later that same year the Fanny Lake stemwheeler ran into a rock and sank, but was later raised and resumed its regular trips. Other boats plying the river in those early days were the Alki, a sidewheeler, Daisy, Henry Bailey, Clan McDonald and the Gleaner.
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Dr. William Thompson Dr. Thompson met a tragic death in 1902 when he accidentally drank poison when he woke up ill one night and reached for cough medicine.
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Small Pox and Indians In the book, Skagit Settlers, we learn: "In 1890 there was a smallpox epidemic among them [Indians] which spread havoc. The Skagit County Commissioners hired men to go to the camps and settlements to bury the dead and burn the infected houses, in the process wiping out much of what remained of the old Indian culture. Increasingly the remnants of the tribes were gathered on the Swinomish Reservation where poverty was extreme and tuberculosis was rampant."
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Dry Slough Dry slough was originally an actual slough — Deer slough, of the river that stretched from the North fork to Skagit bay where it emptied through many tentacles. Over the years, it was diverted and dammed and now exists as little finger streams without egress to the bay. The Haytons were on a small island created by the fingers of the slough and the Downs property was to the east and the south. Much of the Hayton land is now a beautiful bird preserve.
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Thomas Peers Hastie Jr. Read more about his family in our exclusive story at this website for the Hastie story. Thomas P. Hastie Jr.'s parents and family emigrated from England to the U.S. in 1845 and joined a wagon train to Oregon Territory in 1850. After living with his family for several years on Camano Island and Whidbey Island, Thomas Jr. settled on Fir Island in 1870. Maggie Hastie, daughter of Thomas Jr., married Eli Daniel [always known as E.D.] Davis, who was a partner in a Mount Vernon hardware store with fellow pioneer Otto Klement from 1888-1895. Davis bought out Klement and took on his cousin W.B. Davis as a partner. In 1905, the Davis cousins bought the Stanwood Hardware store, which W.B. Davis then managed.]
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      [Ed. note: You can read more about the history of Fir at this Journal website.

Story posted on March 7, 2004, and last updated on July 5, 2004
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