Christmas at the Savages

by Paul Pressentin

The six sons of Charlie and Wilhelmina von Pressentin at their homestead cabin on the Skagit River at Birdsview. Left to right: Frank, Bernhard, Paul, Charlie (in the chair), Mother, Otto (standing), and Hans (on step). Father Charles (Karl), a probate judge, was away at the time. photo from Laura Duncanson in "Skagit Memories"

      ..."Virtually every white person on the Upper Skagit was invited to the George Savage cabin near Birdsview for Christmas Day of 1884. Savage had reason to celebrate. Not long after his election as Skagit County's first surveyor-an event, which gave a life -saving boost to his meager income- he let it be known among all the neighbors that they were invited to a real holiday gala at his home.
      When Christmas Day came there were us Pressentins, of course, the Minklers, the Frank Hamilton's, Gust Kemmerich, Grandy, Ed Finney, the Qualls, as well as Mrs. Boyd, a sister of Mrs. Savage who was living with the Savage family. The children, too, had a rare chance for a reunion. In addition to five Savages, there were four Pressentins, two Minklers, and the Boyd children.
      While the young women busied themselves in the lean-to kitchen at the rear for the primitive cabin occupied by the Savages, the men were outside swapping stories of hunting and fishing prowess, probably taking an occasional nip on the sly. The men, I remember, were all heavily bearded except two young blades who sported mustaches.
      Although the children were to eat at the second table (the young Savage had their meal in the kitchen) I couldn't help edge through the crowd after dinner call to size up the feast. Two pans of canned peaches, one at either end of the long plank table, caught my eye and also, of Kemmerich who, living the life of a bachelor, was used to nothing but the most basic fare.
      Spying the strange fruit, Kemmerich, who had seated himself astride the bench before the others had overcome the usual reluctance to appear to eager, commented loudly: "What's them? Turnips?" and proceeded to spear a sample with his fork. "They're good enough for me", was his lip-smacking comment, and he went on to appropriate the pan and down it's contents with dispatch. Canned peaches were an unheard of luxury in those days.
      Standing for a moment in shocked silence the kitchen committee held a whispered consultation in one corner, and then retrieved the other pan as unobtrusively as possible to keep it in a safe place until later in the meal.
      I don't remember too much else about the meal, but I believe there were potatoes, corned beef (Mr. Savage had scraped together enough money to buy some at the same time he acquired the peaches) and ham.
      The women baked cakes to add to the festive air of the meal. They also came bearing whatever dishes they had to add to the host's meager facilities for cooking. The Savages had not long before come from Nebraska [I believe he is referring to the Boyd family who came here in Oct. 1882; Dan] and had only begun to hew a home out of the wilderness…their cabin was built of rough alder logs…There was one room in he cabin, except for a lean-to kitchen and the dark loft, reached by a ladder, where the children slept. [The Savages had been here since 1878]
      The dinner was the big event for the celebration and the crowd broke up soon after, since it was necessary for the guests to leave in time to reach home before dark and some had come by canoe from as far away as the vicinity of present day Concrete.
      But to commemorate the meaning of the day, the Quall girls, Mary and Kate, sang a few duets. I was too young to be impressed either by the music or the charms of the young ladies, so I don't know what they sang, except that the music was appropriate to the occasion. This was the first Christmas party I had ever attended."

      Paul Karl von Pressentin was born at Manistee, Mich., February 11, 1874. He was the son of Charles von Pressentin and Wilhelmina (may) von Pressentin, although he dropped the "von" and used only the initial "V" later in life. Both his parents came to the United States from Germany. The von Pressentins moved to Skagit County in 1877, homesteading at Birdsview. Paul was the second oldest of six boys. He received his education in the Birdsview school [taught by Capt. Lewis A. Boyd while the Boyd family lived in the area- Dan] and lived at family home until he was 24. He was married to Miss Berthe Kunde in Seattle, Oct. 17, 1898, and started business for himself by buying the store of Charles Simpson at Marblemount, where he served as postmaster and justice of the peace. He later sold the store at Marblemount and went into business in Bellingham as an auto distributor with good success. He moved back to Mt. Vernon in 1934 to operate a small store at Allen, which he ran until his retirement in 1940. He died at Mt. Vernon March 18, 1964.
This excert part of an extended story by Paul v. Pressentin; published in "Skagit Memories" from the Skagit County Historical Society series #6, copyrighted 1979.

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