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"The Land of Silent Shadows" Part I
Written by Catherine Savage Pulsipher; originally typed & arranged by Mabel Boyd Royal-Steen; typed & transcribed by Larry Spurling; arranged & compiled on the Stump Ranch, Dan Royal ©

Tussle With Old Puss Puss

      During the late seventy's the upper Skagit Valley was a land of silent shadows. All along the banks of the Skagit River grew the dense forest of Evergreen Trees, standing tall and somber, and beneath them, the thick carpet of moss and ferns, and the soft dampness of old fallen leaves and rotting logs.
      The silent shadows fell over the forest, excluding the sunlight that tried to pierce its way through the dense branches above. In the stillness of these surrounding often wandered the dark skinned natives who were seldom seen by the animals of the forest, and not an echo, awakened the forest except frequently a long mournful cry of the cougar resounding against the hills. A great stillness reigned over all, awaiting the call of civilization to break the peaceful quietness of nature.
      The call was answered at last, by many men seeking homes, and with their families they paddled up the river in their native canoes, and came to settle here and there along the river, building cabins and clearing land thus, driving the Shadows farther and farther back, but the river flowed on unchanged, lureing its adventurers into seeking its farther reaches. Among these, was a young fellow by the name of Sidney Metcalf, who set out along to stake his claim and determined to wrest a home out of the wilderness of the forest. Altho but nineteen years of age, he was husky and looked older, and like all young fellows, had his plans in mind. His parents had settled on the lower Skagit, some years before so he was from long practice, a skilled canoe man. Taking his Tent, Food, blankets and other necessary equipment, he loaded his canoe and started out, paddling against the swiftness of the stream. At night he camped on the river bars, sometimes with a few natives for company and sometime not. In any case, he built his fire, cooked his meals and lay down to sleep, wherever he was. Sometimes he had a mess of trout for supper caught on a trolling line behind his canoe.
      At last, he reached a place where he decided he'd like to settle. This was not too far from the river, and some bottomland, which was rich black loam. The Indians laughed at him saying: "White man go way up there, and make man soup for us. "Meaning that his canoe would be swamped, and his body carried down to the bars below."
      Sidney paid little attention to them, for this place appealed to him having a nice creek of cold water. He thought this was an ideal spot and at once started falling trees, and splitting cedar for his cabin one by one, so they fell, and the shadows fell farther and farther back, giving away to the axe and saw, letting the sunlight through.
      His worst enemy proved to be the loneliness and solitude, and utter lack of human voices, and his ears ached for the sound of a cheery "Hello" from down the trail, the sound of the wind on the trees and often the cry of a cougar far away was about the only sound he heard for days at a time fairly sickened him, but time must go on in spite of the loneliness, but he did not deprive himself of a holiday now and then, to fish or hunt as he pleased. One day he decided that he would like to take a little jaunt up in the hills and try for a buck, as his meat supply was gone. He molded a batch of Bullets from a strip of lead, using an old ladle kept for that purpose, then loading them in the cartridge shells which were always saved, after being shot, to be used again. He finally pulled down on a young buck, and shot it. The hardest part, was carrying it out, for there was no trail. Daylight vanishes quickly in the forest among the foothills, and he managed to make it halfway home before dark, he still had a good way to go yet. He traveled down a creek bottom, which led into a dense thicket and as he entered this, a piercing cry of a cougar not far off, made the cold chills creep down his back. He quickened his pace, but the pack and the gun, hampered him. First, in front of him, and then behind him, old "Puss Puss, (as the Indians called him) came the cry of the big cat, this was the method used by the prowler, to confuse and frighten it's victim, and it did frighten the boy too, and with good cause, for the smell of the fresh killed deer, was tempting old Puss Puss, beyond the fear of man smell. However, Sidney kept up being brave, by trying to sing in a frightened voice, and shooting his gun, now and then to frighten the cat away, and mustering up the bravery that he didn't feel. At last, he reached his own clearing feeling sure, that the cougar would not follow him there. For in spite of his cruel ways, he is naturally a cowardly fellow, and only a very hungry one would ever dare approach the habitation of man. So, dropping the venison on the steps of the porch to rest his tired shoulders, Sidney unlatched the door, and set about making a fire. He then cut some steaks to fry, leaving the rest outside until he ate. When just about to set down to eat, he heard a noise outside, which caused him to dash to the door. There, by the light of the lamplight, which shone out, he saw the big tawny cat making off with his venison. His gun was useless to him, for he had shot away all of his shells before he got home, to frighten the cougar away, so he leaped at the brute, thinking to make it drop the meat and run, but old Puss Puss was hungry, so wasn't going to give up a good meal without a fight. So baring his teeth, and growling while standing over the meat to protect it, he didn't care at all. Sidney was just as determined as the cat, so it seemed, and was good and mad, to think he was about to be deprived of the meat that he struggled so hard to get, and seeing it in the possession of the rascal was too much. Grabbing up an axe, that was sticking in a chopping block near by, he let old Puss Puss have it in the head with the sharp side of the bit. With a mad scream, the cat leaped upon him, and the very weight of the cat knocked him down, and the sharp claws of one hind foot raking his arm open as he fell. Altho the arm was laid open, he felt that he was lucky to not be torn to pieces. Finding himself alive, and the cat laying there in its death struggle, Sidney picked himself up badly frightened and went at once to the cabin, where he washed and bandaged the arm as best he could, and in spite of the pain of his arm, he finished his meal. He suffered through the night, but next morning, he got up and with his almost useless arm, he skinned the big cat, and stretched and nailed it's hide to the outer wall of his cabin, this exertion, caused his arm to throb and pain badly, so he decided that he'd better go down river, and stay with his family until his arm healed so he got in his canoe, and started out, but his arm started to swell and turn red which caused him to get sick and dizzy and the canoe seemed to be whirling around and around in the river, and it was only with great effort that he could not possibly make it on down river, he managed to land at the first place he could, which happened to be at the Savages. He was very sick and weak, and struggled to get up the riverbank, over the steep rocky trail. As he approached the dwelling, a couple of dogs ran out barking at him viciously, at his cry for help.

Fourth of July with the Savage Family

      A young girl came to the door, and shouted at the dogs to be quiet, then, seeing that the new comer was injured or sick, she ran down the path to help him, saying; "What seems to be the matter? Did you get knifed by an Indian?" "No," said Sidney, "I had a tussle with a Wildcat. He nearly got the best of me too."
      This was the Savage home, where Etta who was a jolly good natured soul, and also plump, and shook her sides as she laughed, lived with her husband George, who was a tall sandy complected man, and had a nasal sort of speech, he was a wonderful Violinist, and played for the community dances held around the settlement. They had several children ranging from all ages, Fanny, helped around the cookhouse, when the mill was running, and it was she, who came out to help Sidney into the house.
      She was a graceful girl, and about fifteen years old with dark hair, which was tied behind with a ribbon.
      As she helped the fainting youth up the steps, Mrs. Savage came bussling to the door saying; "My land, What in the worlds happened to you Sidney? You look as if a bear had chewed your up." "I sort of feel that way too, Mrs. Savage", then he told her in a trembling voice of the battle he had. "My land, Etta said again, "what became of the cougar?" "Well, I nailed his hide to the wall," he said, with a sickly grin.
      "Sit right here," said Etta, "and we'll try to fix you up," then turning to Fanny, said; "Get some hot water quick, and the Carbolic acid bottle," and when Fanny brought these she said; "Now get the white rugs that are in the Ragbag hanging on the back porch." She soaked the sore swollen arm in the hot Carbolic acid water (carbolic acid, was a poison disinfectant which was used very much as we use Lysol today). Then, she brought out a jar of salve, made of Deer tallow and balsam pitch melted together. After this treatment, Sidney rested much better, and was soon asleep when George and his sons came in from work. When he awoke, they made him welcome, and after hearing his story, they insisted he stay, till he fully recovered, and being in this weak condition, he was glad to accept. The company of the young folks about, seemed a real treat, after the lonely days on his homestead, and in a short time he was thoroughly enjoying himself. So time passed pleasantly, while the sweet faced Fanny sat and talked to him while doing the family mending. The time passed so swiftly, that he lost track of the time and was surprised when the 4th of July was mentioned. "I must get back to my claim," he said, "for I've imposed upon you folks too long, and I'm mightily beholding to you for all that you've done." "My land," said Etta, "don't go now, for the 4th is only two days off, and you may as well stay over," and the rest of the family agreed. Alto he mildly expressed his need for going he inwardly was hoping that they'd ask him to stay.
      Few and scattering, were the river settlers at this time, and none forgot the Holidays, as they came along. Already, a gathering had been planned for the 4th, and the Savage place was the one decided on for the occasion. It was a good place to congregate for Etta was a good hostess, and a jolly soul, and George was a friendly man.
      Etta's sister and husband and family lived near. Their name was Alex and Clara Boyd, and also had a large family of children. Alex was also a good violinist, and between he and George, they made good music.
      The day before the 4th, the men went out to try their luck at getting a Buck, and others hunted grouse and caught fish. The girls went picking wild Blackberry and huckleberries for pies and cobblers, of which Etta was famous for. Indoor, Etta and family, and a young girl whose name was "Maggie", who often helped at the cookhouse, were all busily at work preparing for the big event. Maggie's family lived near the mill, and her father worked in the woods, getting out logs for the mill. Her mother was very much like her in looks, both having red hair and freckles, but far different in dispositions. Maggie was a good natured sensible girl, nice to everyone, and well liked, while her mother was always whining, and finding fault with everything, and complaining of her hard lot, altho it wasn't any harder to bear than the rest of the wives of the settlement. Her father, was a good worker, and tried to make the best of things, altho he was a little on the strict side with his children.
      Everyone was hoping for good weather for the 4th, as a picnic had been planned in the grove, but to their disappointment, the clouds still hung low, and the rain still kept falling. "Well," said Etta, "we can always eat indoors, anyway, so we'll just plan on that. So tying a big clean apron around her plump middle, she set about other preparations for tomorrow's feast. "Hello everyone!" said Sidney, as he held up the long string of shining fish that he had caught, then whitting up his jackknife, he proceeded to clan them.
      Ett's sister Doll came over (her real name was Clara) and between the two of them, worked all day, to clean the house of every spec of dust, and every spider web swept down. Altho no guest would likely look in these unknown places, yet they took no chance.
      The day of the 4th was still wet. The clouds hung low over the hills and the rain softly fell. No one seemed to care, for they were prepared for it. The men brought a couple of saw horses from the shed, and then laying boards atop of them, then a white table cloth on top of that, no one could tell but what the food was sitting on a mahogany table. All of the dishes gleamed and the best dishes sparkled.
      Each guest brought a special dish of food that they had made, and the table fairly groaned with food, after the canoes arrived.
      A number of young girls about Fannies age were there, helping with the task of setting the food on and waiting the table. Often one of the young fellows would wink at them, and back to the kitchen she'd go giggling at his boldness.
      Everyone lingered at the table after their meal was finished, talking politics, and who should be our next president, and then George gave a speech on the settling of our county, and better things to come.
      By this time, the fiddlers were tuning up their Fiddles, for it was late afternoon, and a dance was coming up. In late evening, lanterns were lit and hung from the rafters shedding their reddish glow and dark shadows around the room. Finally the old Square Dance tunes were floating forth from the Violins, and the caller singing off the calls. Thus the merry party went on till far into the night. Then, gathering up their sleeping wailing children who resented being pulled out of bed, and hustled out into the rainy night, they made their way down to the riverbank, with lighted lanterns¸ which made flashing shadows with each step, till they reached their canoes.
      The tired Savages, closed their door to the rainy night, and retired feeling that this was a long awaited day and a good one, happily ended. It would be a long time before the settlers would get together again, but the pleasant memories would linger.
      Sidney's arm was quite well enough to go back to his homestead now. To stay at the Savages longer, would be imposing upon their kindness, so in spite of the dread of the loneliness, and the lack of companionship, he bid them all goodbye, and with thanks for their kindness, he paddled up river again. He found his empty cabin dreary enough, but set to work with a will, trying to overcome the silence. Fanny seemed to remain in his mind, and he dreamed of her sitting beside his fireplace at night.


      When fall came, his dreams were rudely shattered in a cruel fashion for when the fall rains set in, it poured for two weeks steady, along the lowlands, while it snowed in the mountains. Then, the rain turned warm and the snow melted in the Mountains with a chinook wind. This brought the Skagit up in a hurry, but that was nothing unusual. Sidney had his canoe tied where he thought it was safe and above high water, so felt no concern about it. As the downpour increased, an Indian who was riding the flood called out to him "Heap bit water, you clattawa now, you go." This awoke the first uneasy fear of danger, so looking around, he found that the back part of his place where the creek flowed was deep with roily water and he was cut off from any escape whatever.
      The warm wind was whipping through the cottonwoods, tearing off old leaves and branches, and whirling them into the boiling current of the stream which was a milstrom carrying everything with it and sweeping by, bearing uprooted trees, jams of logs and everything within its path.
      When night came, Sidney went down to where he had beached his canoe but there was no sight of it, so he decided that it had either sunk, or slipped it's mooring, for it was not in sight. He knew then, that he must face the flood along, for there was nothing else to do. When darkness fell, he heard the slapping of water against the side of his house, and creeping little rivulets were running under the door making their way across the room. Looking through the widow, all that he could see was the stretch of muddy water reaching far out through the dim light of lamp. The logs that he had piled for firewood were caught in the flood and were hurled against the house with terrific force, and to his terror he felt the house leaving it's foundation. It slowly swung into the current, shoved on by the jam of logs. The boy gave himself up for lost, as his cabin went rolling and tossing with the waters, and all he could do was to try and keep his head above water clinging to anything that he could.
      After what seemed like an eternity, the house suddenly paused, as if jammed into a bank. It was so dark that he couldn't see what it was until morning, when he knocked a shake off the roof and looked out. He saw that the cabin had lodged into a jam of trash and logs where the current swept into a cove. A fallen tree which had been uprooted with the flood, was holding the cabin from farther travel, so Sidney escaped the house through the roof, then climbing down the side made his way from there to the bank, by the aid of the tree, which extended out from the bank. The rain was letting up some, but there was misty fog hanging over the river, chilling him to the bone, he was sopping wet, and hungry and weak from shock, and lack of food. He had no matches to light a fire and nothing to cook, if he had. He finally made his way to a neighboring settlers, where they gave him food and rest, and dry clothes. He stayed here, until the river began to fall, then seeing a farmer who was paddling his canoe along the shore looking for some of his household belongings and stock, which had been washed away. He was hunting along as he paddled down stream. Sidney asked to ride along with him. There was destruction on both sides of the river, and dead stock everywhere, which pleased the Indians as they collected what they could find. The cattle, they promptly skinned, making dried meat and jerky. One day a quarrel resulted between a rancher and an old squaw. The rancher, who had lost his possessions in the flood, discovered an old squaw with one of his blankets. She had reached this blanket from the flood, but he insists she give it up to him. This she refused to do saying; "We find, We keep." The dispute ended however, when he told her that he would give her a dollar to clean it and give it back to him, which she did.
      Sidney went to his parents, and stayed there, until one day he met George Savage in Mount Vernon who was looking for men to go upriver and work for him getting out logs for his water powered mill that he operated up there, so Sidney was glad to be employed.
"The Land of Silent Shadows"
Continue to Part II

Written by Catherine Savage Pulsipher; originally typed & arranged by Mabel Boyd Royal-Steen; typed & transcribed by Larry Spurling; arranged & compiled on the Stump Ranch, Dan Royal

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