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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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An in-depth look at
Sauk City, Sauk depot & Monte Cristo
Page 1 of 3


By Noel V. Bourasaw, ©2001

(Sauk on the north shore)
      This photo is of a 4th of July celebration in 1911 with the extended Wainright family in Sauk on the north shore of the Skagit. Samuel Henry Wainright, who was also a hotelkeeper in old Sauk City on the south shore, is at the far right, with the beard. His son, Harry Henry Wainright, who once rowed the canoe ferry across the Skagit to Sauk, is in the center, with the watermelon. Photo courtesy of Harry's granddaughter, Diane Marie Wainright McMurdie. Do you have photos or documents you would like to share about your family or the old days here? Please consider emailing the scans as attachments or use regular mail for copies.

      In the first months of the website, so many readers asked about Sauk and Sauk City that I decided to put it at the top of the list to research. The records are very thin, but I'll provide a framework and I hope readers will fill in the gaps. Our desire to cut through the confusion about Sauk has produced an entire chapter for our book in progress, From Bug to the Bughouse. This comprehensive story was originally published in our online subscriber magazine in 2001 and we are still in the process of updating it as more readers provide more information.
      The original village of Sauk City on the south shore of the Skagit grew in the early 1890s because of the Monte Cristo Mines, located in northeast Snohomish county and connected by the Sauk river. Before the discovery of gold down there, the village was very small, clustered around a trading post and hotel that served North Cascades miners and people who stuck around after the 1880 Ruby creek gold boom to trap, log or farm in the area. The town may not have grown at all if the whole Stillaguamish river basin had been explored and surveyed before the Monte Cristo gold excitement started. Sauk history is very confusing because there were two villages of that name, but we will attempt to clarify that below. To understand how important old Sauk City was in that isolated area, keep in mind that a move was afoot in 1891 to break off the North Cascades portions of Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties in order to form a new Cascade county with Sauk City as the county seat.
      There are now six parts to this story, with bits and pieces from official records, from books and newspaper stories and from the attics and scrapbooks of many descendants of pioneer families. In our Subscribers Edition archives, we also feature two pioneer diaries, written by Bessie Porter and Ed von Pressentin, that provide more information about the area from Rockport through Sauk City. You will also find links in our list below that will give you more background about pioneers and homesteaders of the area.


(Mouth of Sauk River)
Larry Kunzler took this photo of the mouth of the Sauk, where it meets the Skagit; we are looking south.

Part One: Sauk City, gateway to Monte Cristo, Sauk and Suiattle rivers from 1870s on


The old Sauk City post office
      Pioneer descendant Greg Perrault provided the following information about the two Sauk post offices from NARA microfilm publications M1126: Post Office Reports of Site Locations, Roll 634, Washington, San Juan-Snohomish Counties and M841: Record of Appointment of Postmasters 1832-September 30, 1971, Roll 137, Lincoln-Yakima Counties:
  • 1885?: Undated proposal (Post Office date stamp may be September 1, 1885) by William Yates (certified by Birdsey Minkler, Postmaster at Birdsview) to site a post office to be called Sauk to serve a population of 100 stating that it will be an extension of the land route for the Birdsview office twenty-two miles west. The proposed site location is the SW Section 25 Township 35N Range 9E. [Ed. note: this is the start of the post office for the old town of Sauk City, located on the south shore of the Skagit river, just west of the junction of the Sauk river.]
  • 20 July 1886: Stanley Lockerman appointed postmaster for Sauk.
  • 8 February 1888: A proposal by John George Perrault (my great grandfather) to site a post office to be called Sauk to serve a population of 220 inhabitants. He further states that there is currently no mail being carried to Sauk and that the nearest post office from the proposed site is 18 miles west at Birdsview. The proposal is certified by Stanley Lockerman, Postmaster, but the name of the post office he serves is blank. The proposed site location is the NW Section 34 Township 35N Range 9E.
  • 29 February 1888: John G. Perrault is appointed postmaster at Sauk.
  • Undated: Map proposing to move the office from the location in J.G. Perrault's proposal to NW Section 35 Township 35N Range 9E.
  • 20 June 1891: A proposal by A Von Pressentin to site a post office to be called Sutter Sauk located on lot 11 of Section 34 Township 35N Range 9E. The nearest post office is mile NE from the proposed office and the proposed office will be 2 miles south of the Skagit River.
  • 25 February 1892: Adelbert von Pressentin appointed
  • 22 July 1897: Patrick Ferry is appointed
  • 12 February 1898: Andrew Braun is appointed
  • 4 August 1899: m.o. [moved office?]
  • 18 October 1899: Annie M. Thompson
  • 15 June 1901: Adelbert von Pressentin
  • 3 August 1901: transferred to Rockport
  • 11 November 1901: order rescinded
  • 11 December 1901: Harry E. Hutchison appointed [Ed. note: we infer that, at this point, instead of transferring the old Sauk City post office to Rockport, the Postal Department decided to transfer it instead to the new town of Sauk on the north shore of the Skagit where the Sauk store and the Sauk shingle mill was located.]
  • 12 October 1904: John L Bowen appointed
  • 2 December 1905: Henry W. Sullivan appointed
  • 5 October 1906: Jennie Swain appointed
  • 22 April 1908: Edmond W. Warren
  • 3 December 1908: Fred A. Scarlett appointed
  • 7 February 1910: Chas. B. Gains appointed
  • 1 August 1912: Wm. W. Caskey appointed
  • 30 September 1925: Garnet Thompson appointed

      In 1889, at the same time as the two towns of Sedro were born, Joseph Pearsall and Frank Peabody discovered promising galena deposits near Silver Creek in Snohomish county. Then they discovered gold and silver ore, but they did not have funds to pursue a claim so Peabody went to Seattle to assay the ore and find someone to grubstake them. By accident, he found John MacDonald Wilmans, known as Jack or Mac, and Wilmans put up $150. Wilmans had already made and lost small fortunes in mining ventures. Over the next year, Wilmans and his brother Fred decided to stake claims at the headwaters of the Sauk river near the Skagit-Snohomish county border. Unaware of the Stillaguamish river route, they chose to ship machinery by boat up the Skagit river and then the Sauk. We will not cover the whole history of Monte Cristo here, but if you want to read the whole boisterous saga, we suggest that you read Monte Cristo by Philip R. Woodhouse, our source for some of this story.
      Starting in the late 1880s, there was a canoe ferry across the Skagit from the north shore to a small village called Sauk City on the south shore, which formed about two miles west of the mouth of the Sauk river. The new village was about 30 miles upriver from the new town of Sedro and about 100 miles northeast from Seattle as the crow flies. In the 1890s that ferry was tended by Harry Wainright, Sr., the son of Sarah and Samuel Wainright, who had the boarding house in old Sauk City. The Skagit was hard enough to navigate with freight and goods; the Sauk was even rougher. The Wilmans decided to build a tote road or a rough wagon trail from Sauk City to their claim, about sixty miles, according to the book, Chechacos All. They were unable to get any aid from either Snohomish or Skagit county, so they funded it themselves. When a crude road was cut through, brothers Henry and Alex Stafford hauled heavy boilers and iron machinery on sledges drawn by oxen, criss-crossing streams and navigating steep slopes. Although miners would eventually discover the Stillaguamish river route through Snohomish county, Sauk city was now on the map.


Here a Sauk, there a Sauk, everywhere a Sauk Sauk
      It is important to note that there were eventually two towns of Sauk. The Wilmans had tried to interest one of the railroads building up the Skagit valley to extend their line up to the northern shore of the Skagit across from Sauk City, but that would not happen until 1900. By then, Sauk City had been burned and flooded out from 1893-97, leaving hardly a trace, and the nationwide financial panic that started in 1893 dried up capital. The second town of Sauk (without City affixed) was located at the eventual railroad depot of the same name. Later generations placed it at the area a mile north, around the Sauk Store, which is now a private home. From now on, we will call the new village on the north shore, Sauk Depot instead of just Sauk, to lessen confusion between the two.
      According to the Washington Place Names Database at the Tacoma Public Library Northwest Room [hereafter Washington Place Names], the Sauk River "rises in two forks, one at Indian Pass on crest of the Cascades, the other at Monte Cristo in eastern Snohomish County. The forks join at Bedal Camp and flow north and northwest through Darrington and Skagit County to the Skagit River near Rockport." The same source explains that the name, Sauk, derives from "an Indian band who lived along the river, the Sah-kee-me-hue." The first scientific exploration of this river basin was conducted by D.C. Linsley for the Northern Pacific railroad from May 31-July 4, 1870. He and assistants, including future New York Times columnist Frank Wilkeson, explored hills and watershed near the Skagit for a proposed pass for the transcontinental railroad (map of their trip on page 2 of this story).
      Linsley reported back to the Northern Pacific Railroad that three different rail routes could cross at this point of the North Cascades. The NP planners were following up transcontinental feasibility studies that were first launched by Washington territorial governor Isaac Stevens in 1955 and a brash young U.S. Army captain named George McClellan. He estimated that one route could proceed west from the Spokane river via Lake Chelan and down the Skagit river for $50,000 per mile; another could proceed along the Wenatchee, Sawk (Sauk) and Skagit rivers for $38,000 per mile; or another line could proceed west from Sawk river and down the Steilagwamish (Stillaguamish) to the sound for the same price. The latter route is most ironic since the Wilmans and early prospectors apparently missed Linsley's report and did not know the exact route of the Stillaguamish.
      Two other notable place names on the north side include the name, Sauk. Sauk Mountain, elevation of 5,510 feet, is two and a half miles northwest of Rockport in central Skagit County. The peak has been used as a fire lookout by the U.S. Forest Service and is a virtual Mecca for hikers who want a gentle climb to a magnificent vista. Sauk Lake is ten acres in size, with an average depth of thirty feet, on the east side of Sauk Mountain, seven miles east of Concrete in central Skagit County. It has also been called Sauk Mountain Lake and Baldy Lake and it is drained by Bark Creek into the Skagit River.
      Finally, there is Sauk Prairie, which lies directly east of the Sauk River and south of Mansford on the boundary between south central Skagit County and north central Snohomish County. Edith Bedal, daughter of pioneer homesteader James Bedal and granddaughter of Chief John Wawetkin of the Sauk Indians, explained that this was a "free use area" for tribes in the North Cascades area. They practiced a primitive agriculture, burning ferns and grasses each year to prevent trees from growing and interfering with the buries and wild rhubarb that grew with a vengeance. It is still today one of the most pretty prairies among the dense forests of Skagit valley. On March 30, 1911, one of the most famous multiple murders of northwest Washington occurred there, what became known as the Sauk Prairie Massacre. The best source for this is the historian that uncovered so many Skagit country tales, Ray Jordan, in his Yarns of Skagit County. That book was unfortunately printed in such a small run that very few have access to it, so one of our readers, Larry Spurling, has transcribed Jordan's Massacre story from his original Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times columns. The massacre refers to Otis N. Weeden's murder of four of his neighbors, with whom he had been arguing about disposition of water from a small creek used in irrigation. Afterwards he committed suicide. The incidents that day stayed in the press for years because an Indian woman named Sally Sauk came forward with Weeden's will, which bequeathed his property to her. It was signed by Weeden on the day of the murder and witnessed by two of the boys he shot.
      Whenever I study this area, I always fall back on author Elizabeth S. Poehlman for "all things Darrington," and some excellent background on the birth of the Monte Cristo mines. Her wonderful slim 1979 volume, Darrington Mining Town/Timber Town, includes the results of her research into the interaction between Indians and the land and mountains, as well as her study of the very earliest pioneers, miners and homesteaders. One of her sources was Norwegian Sam Strom who mined at Monte Cristo after arriving in 1893 and then wrote down a personal history of his experiences for his friend, the late Alice Elinor Lambert, who made her home in Darrington in her later years and wrote novels well into her 80s and 90s. Sam noted the Linsley exploration, another railroad group who explored two years later and left few records, and a trip up the North fork of the Stillaguamish river by a group of white men and their Indian guides. The guides again new the terrain better than the whites did and they showed the explorers a portage across the hills to the Sauk river, where they floated downriver to the Skagit and then out to the sound. Strom wrote about the wagon road along the Sauk river to Sauk City:

      Work was first started on a wagon road at Sauk City on Skagit river up Sauk river to Monte Cristo about 45 miles away through mountains and forest all the way. The system of construction was a winding dirt road following the least resistance by avoiding the larger trees as far as possible. No gravel was hauled at any place. In swamps and soft places, puncheon split from trees on right of way was used, and this winding narrow road was pushed through to Monte Cristo or nearly so in the late fall of 1891.
      Machinery for a sawmill was hauled in along with the progress of the construction of the road, that is. The machinery for the mill weighted many tons and was moved by horses, oxen and mules by relays as building the road progressed. This moving of the machinery and supplies to the established roadbuilding crews along the route wsa done entirely by the [word left out] known as freight crew, four and six horse teams and some oxen teams. Also some pack trains to carry supplies to the front crews, the timber fallers and swampers cutting out the right of way and building bridges.
      Thus it can be see that the mass of machinery and men, horses, mules and oxen moved like a large caravan up the Sauk river chopping and blasting their way through and taking all machinery for a sawmill along at the same time. Thus it will be seen that the trail from Sauk City to Monte Cristo arrived there nearly all together, crew, bag and baggage and thus established the Sauk River Monte Cristo Pioneer Train in 1891.

      At the edge of Darrington you can see an obelisk-type monument to that trail, which forester Nels Bruseth arranged in 1938. An amazing mountain man, known for running up and down hills rather than merely walking — and then also known for his calm, collected study of the environment and flora and faun, Bruseth learned the ways of Indians and their respect for and explanation of the mountains and rivers all around them. For instance, Indians recalled about the 1881 explorers only that they "shook dirt and water in pans." One can imagine their quizzical looks as they saw teams of men and beasts lugging huge pieces of iron along the trails that their Indian ancestors had blazed centuries before. In his little 1926 book, Indian Stories and Legends of the Stillaguamish and Allied Tribes, Bruseth recorded this explanation for some of the landmarks of the Sauk area:
      So-bahli-ahli (Whitehorse Mountain) was once a woman. She had come from east of the mountains. Near where she settled lived a man, Quay-hae-eths. She liked him very much, and he became her man, and they lived happily together, but this was not to last. Up from the whulge (Puget sound) came another woman, Ska-dulvas (Mt. Higgins above Darrington) a young maiden of many charms.
      She looked at Quay-hae-eths, envied So-bahli-ahli and decided to steal him. She dressed herself in beautiful colors, mostly red; smiled at and talked nice to the man. He made a move toward her! She suddenly grabbed him and placed him behind her. Then a battle began. The noise was terrific; hair flew all over the sky; rocks whizzed through the air, hit their mark, rolled down and made big rock piles down below. The battle ended in victory for Ska-dulvas, but she was disfigured for life by So-bahli-ahli who reached over and with her fingernails scratched those deep gashes across the face of her enemy. The man did not interfere the least in the battle. He just stood still and looked on. He stands there yet, the highest bald nob on the north eat of Mt. Higgins.

      In the Lushootseed Indian dialect, So-bahli-ahli meant "the lofty lady from the east." Whitehorse was apparently named by Fred Olds, a Michigan native who settled nearby in 1895 and went in search of his white horse, which had wandered away. A neighbor pointed to the mountain and declared, "Doesn't that patch of snow on the mountain look just like your old white horse?" So the mountain was named, according to Bruseth. Mt. Higgins is named for Walter B. Higgins, who pioneered a homestead near Hazel as early as 1887, according to Poehlman. Poehlman also spent hours learning the ways of Indians in preparation for her book and interviewed elderly tribe members. She discovered the legend that Indians did not live permanently at the spot that became Darrington. They came up from their camps closer to the Puget sound and picked the wild berries and dug for edible roots, or hunted for wild game, all to prepare for winter. They then congregated at Sauk Prairie.
      A series of natural disasters brought the downfall of Sauk City and the approach of the Seattle & Northern railroad on the north shore of the Skagit attracted many of the pioneer settlers to the north shore. Thus the new town of Sauk was born and you can follow the timeline somewhat by reading the timeline of the two post offices above. You can continue on to the stories below to read about the area in more depth. We also welcome readers to supply more material as this section grows. We are especially seeking information from pioneer families of the area south of the Skagit around Illabot creek: O'Brien, O'Connor, etc., as well as descendants of the pioneers of the north shore-area families such as Thompson, McGovern, Crozier, Buhler, Clark, etc.


      Continue to Part 2. Keep in mind that these stories have not been extensively updated and corrected since they were posted in 2002. A full update is planned in the next year. Part Two includes stories from Charles Dwelley, Ray Jordan, Sam Strom, the Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties, Diane Marie Wainright McMurdie, and our research into several of the original Sauk-area pioneers. Also see the links below for more information on the Sauk City area.

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Story posted on Oct.4, 2001, last updated March 30, 2006, and transferred to this domain June 30, 2009
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