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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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Marblemount and the Buller and Clark families

      Over the next month we plan to update this story about early Marblemount and Bullerville history after we receive some updates from Tootsie Clark, descendant of Matilda Buller. We will also split off the story about Joshua Green and the sternwheeler steamboats of the Skagit. We hope that readers will contribute family memories and photo scans that will make the story even more complete.
  1. Why we especially love Marblemount and Bullerville
  2. First Days of Marblemount and Bullerville
  3. Henry Bailey, sternwheelers and Joshua Green
  4. Skagit River Resort and the Clark/Buller family
  5. Links to the area, including Skagit River Resort

(Clark Eatery)
Tootsie Clark's Eatery serves an amazing line of food that attracts diners from far away as well as locals who love her breakfast, lunch and dinner year-round.

      Marblemount holds a special place in my heart for many reasons. First, it was the home of Matilda Clark Buller, one of the most dynamic and interesting women of the Western frontier. The present Skagit River Resort and Clark's Cabins are the result of her tireless efforts to bring civilization and civility to the mining area upriver. Granddaughter Tootsie Clark and her son Don and her daughter Judi have continued that spirit and share the joy of a job well done.
      Second, it is the home of the Peterson family, who kept travelers' cars full of gas and out of ditches besides sharing tales and history with anyone who listened. State Senator Lowell Peterson was one of my father's best friends and one of the key backers of the present Highway 20 to Winthrop. And his brother Marv has been a mainstay in town for decades. You will find below a link to the unique perspective of their father, Otto Peterson, on how moonshine was marketed in the days when revenuers combed the hills for stills.
      Just across the steel bridge over the Skagit, William and Maggie Barratt fought the elements and the river for years and established a home away from home for miners and travelers and the first makeshift hospital for homesteaders and pioneers.
      And the memory of Sadie's Marblemount Hotel still lingers on. We will eventually bring you stories about all these great folks and many more. We just need your help to supply us scans of photos and copies of documents, along with your family memories, to help paint a picture of this unique village that has defied time. We will also soon be sharing photos and a story about the amazing evolution of the "hippie farm" that Gene Kahn and partners began near Marblemount in 1972, which developed into Cascadian Farm, one of the world leaders in organic food and its production and marketing. The present incarnation, Small Planet Foods, has its headquarters in downtown Sedro-Woolley.
      We will also soon share some nuts and bolts about the settlement here and profiles of many pioneer families, but we thought the best introduction would be to share a story that Matilda's son, Richard, wrote 50 years ago to explain how his family arrived in Marblemount, named the town and sunk in their original roots. I remember reading this story as a child and when my family visited Bullerville and the little wayside chapel built for early pioneers, this became one of my vivid images of what heaven must be like.


The First Days of Marblemount

By Dick Buller (reprinted from 50th Anniversary Edition, Concrete Herald, June 21, 1951)
(Clark Woods)
Above: Don Clark strolls through the beautiful woods of the original Bullerville. Photo courtesy of Frank Varga, Skagit Valley Herald, 1988. See May 6, 1998 story

      Marblemount is a small town a half-mile upriver from the mouth of the Cascade river [where it meets the Skagit]. A couple of hotels, two stores and three beer parlors scattered over a mile of state highway comprises Marblemount today but, in 1890, 1500 miners made it, in the words of several astute boosters - "The Coming Leadville of the Pacific."
      For in the Cascade valley near Gilbert's cabin hundreds of prospectors hacked at outcroppings of Galena ore and silver and lead. The Boston mine was sold for a half-million dollars in cash, others for hundreds of thousands as everybody was going to strike it rich and retire. But alas, silver was devalued overnight and the boom broke. Overnight, also, the town of Marblemount was a deserted village.
      People with homesteads, who could not leave until they proved up on them and sold them to the timber companies, stayed on hoping soon to return to God's country, as they called the downriver land.
      My brother, Carl Buller, had left Sedro-Woolley in the spring of 1890 and in a two-day hike over Indian trails, reached the claim of George Engles, on which the town of Marblemount now stands. He asked George where he could live to get a government claim.
      George said: "There is a Norwegian squatting near my claim, but he can't hold it, so go up the river a mile and locate there. So Carl did and his was the last claim located at the time. Everything else had been taken as far up as Goodell Creek.
      [Later from] Sedro-Woolley, Carl, Mother and I took the "Indiana," a sternwheeler, upriver but it only went to Rockport, leaving us on the riverbank. Next week the "Henry Brady [actually Bailey, see below]," another boat, picked us up and went as far as Rocky Riffle and again we were put ashore just two miles from what later on was Marblemount.
      Following an old Indian trail with what belongings we could carry, we came out on the river bank where a large pile of groceries were covered with a tarpaulin. A man with a pair of scales set up under a canvas fly was already doing land office business in supplying the miners. About fifty feet downriver a shake building with walls and roof, but no floor, had a plank laid across two whiskey barrels and was in operation as a saloon.
      My mother asked Frank Stewart, the "storekeeper," what was going on. He told her that someday this would be a large city.
      "What we need most need now is a hotel," he said. Mother replied: "I am a hotel operator."
      Stewart called over George Engles, introduced mother, whose first question was "Where can I build?" A small clear spot fifty feet from the saloon on the river bank looked like a good spot. Engles told her: "There is 16 acres here, take your choice, but I would suggest that little opening in the timber."
      Morgan Davis and Alex Adkins came across the river in a canoe shortly afterward with a lot of marble samples and said they had found a mountain of it. Mother suggested that if this was so, we should call the new town, "Marblemount." All agreed the name was perfect.
      The next step was to send to the postal department for the necessary stamps and so forth, plus the appointment as postmaster. These came through in time but no mail carrier was appointed to bring the mail up from Sedro-Woolley. As there was only the trail and the riverboats part way, you would see a man in a big sombrero or a tall stove pipe hat walk into the hotel, take off the hat and remove a packet of letters. This was the latest mail from the outside.
      Later, mail began to arrive by canoe and that fall a man on horseback got the mail contract for the regular service.


The Henry Bailey, sternwheelers and Joshua Green

(Black Prince sternewheeler)
Black Prince sternewheeler towing a raft of logs on the Skagit river at the turn of the 20th century

      This photo was taken before the turn of the turn of the century and was identified as the sternwheeler, Glide, by Mortimer Cook's daughter, Nina, in her memoirs. Some old-timers disagree and say it is the Black Prince. Whichever it is, it shows the kind of steamboat that brought the Bullers upriver.
      Richard Buller wrote "Henry Brady" as the steamboat that first transported his family upriver but it was actually the Henry Bailey. This venerable old sternwheeler was owned by four partners, including one of the most amazing entrepreneurs of the Northwest, Joshua Green, who lived to be 105.The Henry Bailey transported many pioneer families here. P.A. Woolley's wife Catherine's diary noted that they arrived in Seattle on the Nov. 24, 1889, and then had to board the Henry Bailey sternwheeler for the trip north because northbound trains were still months away. She noted the incessant rain and her dread of the ride north. After boarding the Bailey on the 25th, they traveled overnight and arrived in Mount Vernon at noon on the 26th. If she thought the boat ride was tedious, nothing prepared her for the stagecoach ride upriver: "my first ride on a stage in my life and I never could imagine such roads." The stage trip took four hours and they reached a boarding house in Sedro at noon.
      Skiyou pioneer James M. Harrison and his family arrived at Sterling on the Henry Bailey in 1889 after a long journey from Harrison County, Ohio. His son John Harrison recalled in 1939 that his dad unloaded their possessions on the bank and asked the purser if someone would steal them. "I don't know who in hell would steal them," replied the purser Joshua Green. "There is no place to take them."
      Green (1869-1975) moved with his family to Seattle in 1886 and in October 1888 he signed on as purser with the Henry Bailey, which was launched that year in Tacoma. sternwheelers were preferred in river systems like the Skagit where the river level would get very shallow during dry months. Sidewheelers required deeper draft, but sternwheelers could operate in very shallow waters and they were designed to slide right up onto a bank instead of needing a full wharf, and then simply reverse engines to pull away.
      Helen Barrett's delightful book: Sternwheelers and the Skagit River, published by the Skagit County Historical Society in 1971, gives wonderful details of these wonderful early boats that were an outgrowth of the Mosquito fleet on Elliott Bay in Seattle. The Bailey was 108 feet, six inches long, had a beam of 25 feet, four inches, and a hold that was four feet, seven inches deep. On Trip One the Bailey supplied "boom chains, a cow and calf, flannel, tobacco, whiskey, mill supplies, candy, sewing machines, boots and shoes" to the Skagit villages and took back shingles, hides, produce and, later on, ore samples. The company made $190.50 from the freight it carried and an equal amount from passengers. The Bailey steamed on a route from Seattle to the upper Skagit, including stops at Utsaladdy on Camano Island, Skagit City, Holyoke Landing, McKay's Landing, Mount Vernon, Sterling, Johnson's Landing and Six Mile Point. [Ed. note: Can anyone identify some of these place names or the spot, Rocky Riffle, that Richard Buller notes?]
      Green was so enthused about the prospects for shipping in the area that, in 1889, he talked other Bailey officers into borrowing $5,000 to raise the Fanny Lake, which was launched in 1874 and sank in 1883, and bring it back to the Seattle-Skagit run. When raised and refitted, it was said to be "built to float on a honey dew," an ideal configuration for delivering goods to isolated locations on the upper Skagit and the LaConner Flats.
      The Fanny Lake was so successful that the partners paid off the loan within a year. But in 1893, after loading 25 tons of hay at the Samuel Calhoun ranch on Sullivan slough, the hay caught fire from a spark from the boilers and both boat and cargo were completely destroyed. The Bailey sank the next year. Green and his partners, however, expanded their fleet, and created a side business of selling and delivering wholesale goods to customers in outlying towns. The firm was eventually named La Conner Trading and Transportation Co., with Joshua Green as president. Green began building his fortune when he established a shipping company to the Klondike gold areas in 1897. Years later, Green purchased Peoples Savings Bank, which had fallen on hard times, for $200,000 in 1925. He changed the name to Peoples Bank and Trust Co., which became one of the most important banks in the Northwest. After his death, U.S. Bancorp of Portland acquired Peoples Bank in 1988 and renamed it U.S. Bank of Washington. Green's family bought the original Stimson mansion at 1204 Minor on First Hill in Seattle and you can now tour this beautiful old home to catch some of the flavor of this pioneer steamboat operator's life.


Skagit River Resort and Clark's Cabins
      Now we are going to refer you to the website of Skagit River Resort, which is chock-full of maps of the area, more history and how you can make reservations to stay a day, a week or longer.
      In those pages you will learn more about Matilda Clark Buller, who moved to Seattle from Pennsylvania in 1888 with her husband Henry, a Civil War veteran. She was a milliner by trade, designer of special hats for ladies. But her resume would have delighted Buckminster Fuller. She was of German descent, Pennsylvania Dutch in the parlance of those days. Her roots in America went back to the Mayflower and passenger Thomas Clark. Her hus-band was related to Sir Redford Buller of South African fame.
      Most important to early settlers, she was an educator and had the most impressive set of credentials in the county as she taught her own children, those of other settlers and upriver Indians. Up until her marriage she taught for five years in Pennsylvania and earned the title, professor. Like Alex Boyd of Birdsview, she brought intellectual weight to the river settlements. A free-thinker and theosophist, she argued the merits of socialism.
      In the late 1890s Matilda and sons Carl and Richard went to the Klondike and established a roadhouse while staking a gold claim. After a squatter tried to steal her property and possessions here, she even started packing a sidearm. After a few years in Seattle (where her husband died in 1903) she returned to Marblemount where she started another roadhouse near Corkindale Creek and eventually established the Glacier View Cheese Factory, which Richard's wife Ethel carried on. Although her husband, Henry, was often an invalid, he and his sons became early entrepreneurs with two sawmills, a veal ranch, a bulb farm with narcissus, daffodils and tulips, a lilac nursery, and a truck farm where he grew garden fresh vegetables that he sold as far away as Seattle's Pike Place Market.
      During the Great Depression, the Bullers lost their home place but Richard Buller bought the land around the present Skagit River Resort and he and his sons rebuilt the sawmills here, added a new dance hall and even had a railroad spur put in right to the mill site, which became known as Bullerville. His daughter, Madrene, who we know as Tootsie, was the bookkeeper and she rubbed shoulders with all the pioneers still living and their descendants. In 1953 the last mill burned, and the Skagit River Resort was born with what Tootsie calls the "tarpaper shacks" from the original lumber camp. Clark's Cabins evolved slowly and gained momentum with the opening of the North Cascades Highway in 1972. After an expansion in 1982 and later addition of beautiful American-History theme cabins and the Brookhaven Bed and Breakfast, Skagit River Resort eventually became a touch of heaven for North Cascades travelers.
      While visiting Skagit River Resort and Bullerville, please stop and admire the murals at Clark's Eatery that were painted by noted valley artist Don Smith. They chronicle this marvelous pioneer family. You will also see Matilda Buller's flag, which granddaughter Tootsie has preserved.
      Finally, don't be surprised if you encounter more bunnies than you can shake a stick at. But you better not be caught shaking any sticks at them. They are the mascots of the place, along with the deer that frequently feed nearby. Tootsie and her late husband, Rudy, went to Friday Harbor years ago to help relieve San Juan Island of its over-population of bunnies and formed their own refuge at Clark's Cabins.


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