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Skagit River Journal

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Skykomish homesteads of Cyrus Mosier
and Harry L. Devin in 1889, and the bear,
cougar, polecat and fish that amused them

(Skykomish river)
These two scenic photos are courtesy of the Sultan city website, which is a goldmine of photos about the Skykomish river and the North Cascades mountains. Sultan is a great place for a weekend or vacation. This is the north fork of the Skykomish river near the location of the cabins in the journal

      Ed. note: This is a journal entry recorded by Harry Devin, one of Sedro's founding fathers and the first real estate specialist here, settling in the townsite by the Skagit river in 1890. Devin descendants, the late Harry Duncan and Heather Glassburner, shared material with us that has survived from Harry Lincoln Devin's extensive writing while he was Sedro-Woolley's historian for 50 years and later when he was apparently writing his memoirs. Until we received this collection, we thought that Devin had arrived in Washington in 1890, the year after Washington territory became the 42nd state and that he lived in Seattle first. But instead, we learned from his diary that he rode to the Skagit county on horseback in 1885 and lived for a season or two in 1889 in a cabin near the Skykomish river. We also learned that the cabin was on a homestead next to similar homesteads claimed by his father-in-law, Cyrus A. Mosier, and his brother-in-law, Albert G. Mosier.
      Cy Mosier was the court reporter for the first and second district courts in Des Moines, Iowa. He and his wife, Rachel, came out to Washington territory to live near their son, A.G. Mosier, who was a real estate engineer for Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern and was helping boom the town we now call new Sedro, and for Mosier to take an appointment by President Harrison to be the federal administrator of public lands in the West. Cy Mosier was also the father of Harry's wife, Lenore, and they all paddled up to the claims together in canoes. As you will see in the story, Cy and Harry loved teasing each other. They were both widely traveled hunters and fishermen and they derived joy both from sharing tales around the campfire and from outdoing or fooling the other one. Our able outdoors writer, Cecil Hittson, would have been right at home with them. The three homestead claims were filed were just 20 miles downriver from the famous Monte Cristo gold strike. That would all occur about 3-5 years later. We will soon feature a number of similar journal entries that he wrote circa 1940, three years before his death. See a list below this story for other websites about Devin and the Mosier family.

Devin's journal entry from circa 1940
(North Cascades)
Peaks of the North Cascades from the Skykomish

      In the spring of 1889, I was at Mr. Mosier's cabin on the south side of the Skykomish river in the foothills of the Cascade range [mid-Snohomish county in Washington territory]. As it was getting dark in the evening, a cougar began to scream in the woods above the cabin. Mrs. Mosier was convinced that it was a woman, lost in the woods and screaming for help and wanted me to hunt her up. I told her that, that "woman" knew the woods a great deal better than I did, that it was a cougar screaming for the mate, but she would not believe it and accused me of being afraid to go out and find her.
      Luckily, Mr. Mosier got home about then and succeeded in convincing her that it was a cougar. In the morning, we saw its tracks and with a steep tape, we measured 27 feet between tracks, where it had jumped over a small slough below the cabin. It hung around all summer and was a great nuisance as no one was willing to take the time and trouble to outwit its keen senses of smell and hearing and native cunning.
      I took up a claim about a mile from Mr. Mosier's and built a cabin, with a stone fireplace in one end, with a shake chimney above it. The could would come when we were away, tear off some shakes on the back side of the chimney, jump down into the fireplace and carry off any meat or bacon it could find. As it was 17 miles to the nearest grocery, it was quite irritating. I tried tying a rope to a slab of bacon, running the rope over the ridgepole and hauling it tight against the roof 14 feet above the floor. We could see by the tracks where it had squatted on the floor and jumped straight up and tore the bacon down. So I nailed the shakes back as I always did, turned the table upside down and lashed my rifle to the table legs, aimed at the center of the fireplace about 18 inches high, tied a silk fish line to the trigger and stretched it across the fireplace. When I came home at night, the cougar had torn the shakes off as usual, but evidently saw the fish line and was too foxy to jump down.
      The only time I saw it, I had no gun and was fishing one day with Mr. Mosier in the river opposite his cabin. He was fishing from the shore and I had waded out at the foot of the rapid to a boulder, with a deep eddy below it. So I stood on the boulder, a large Tyee salmon came swimming up and stopped in the eddy, five or six feet from the boulder. Drawing colt, I put a bullet through it and it started thrashing crazily up the rapid in water so shallow that its back was out of the water. Laying my rod on the rock, I started after it, and overtaking it, I knelt with a knee on each side of it and holding it down with one hand while I got my knife out with the other and started to open it with my teeth. When the salmon gave an extra vigorous flop and I fell on my nose in the water, while the salmon went threshing down to deep water.
      Mr. Mosier shouted with glee and told the story of Harry wrestling with a salmon and getting thrown in a fair match, until I determined to get even. So the next time I went after supplies I got a steer's foot where it had been slaughtered and when I got to the ford where we crossed the river to his cabin, I waded up along the edge, carefully making tracks up the sand for a couple of hundred feet and then turned them into the water. Wading back down to the ford, I crossed and followed up along the top of the bank until I was opposite the end of the tracks, then made tracks from the water to the top of the bank and I lid the steer's foot there.
      Going back to the trail, I went up to Mr. Mosier's cabin and told him I had seen elk tracks on the other side of the river at the ford, going upstream, and they were very fresh. He grabbed his rifle and struck out. In half an hour or so, he came back and, hanging up his rifle, said, "You think you're smart, don't you." But I did not hear much more about the salmon.

Background for your reading pleasure
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      Journal Ed. note: Here we insert a section from our profile of Harry Devin so you can understand the last part of this journal entry. [You can read that two-part profile at: our web page.] Our Devin profile is part of a whole group of stories from Issue 20 of our separate Subscribers Edition. We hope that you will decide to subscribe and read stories like this first. Stories there are the result of considerable research. They include our exclusive features and transcripts of rare old books and magazines.
      Harry's firstborn, daughter Frances, was born at Indianola, Iowa, on Oct. 14, 1887. In the spring of 1889, Lenore and baby Frances joined him at the Skykomish homestead and they lived in a crude cabin that Harry built. Harry Duncan shared a story his mother told about the harrowing trip the young family took to their new homestead. Two-year-old Frances was tied to the gunnel of an Indian canoe by buckskin thongs and Harry and his Indian guide paddled up the Skykomish and a mountain stream to their land. Charles and Albert G. Mosier accompanied them. In 1896, a biographer wrote this story about Cyrus and his family's similar trip:

      In April, 1889, Mr. Mosier moved with his family to Washington Territory, where he had many adventures in the deep, wild forests. Soon after his arrival he took his family in Indian canoes, manned by Indians, and ascended the Snohomish river for three days. After disembarking they had to walk on a mountain trail for sixteen miles, making six miles of the trail themselves, and camping without tent. On the second day (fifth day out) they reached a small cabin. They spent the summer in the Cascade mountains, and early in December descended the river to the town of Snohomish on tide water.

Journal continues:
      Getting tired of the food, we went a little above my cabin and felled a five-foot fir [diameter or circumference?] across the stream, which made a good foot bridge, and after supper, grandmother and I would take Aunty Frances over to the wide and sand gravel bar where she could play in the long summer evenings, as the river ran east and west and the bar was exposed to the full heat of the sun all day. It was nice and warm one evening. Charlie McChesney, an old friend [from Oberlin, Ohio], was visiting us and was sitting on the log over the deep water in the center of the stream, fishing. We had Frances on the bank. McChesney had a long-barreled .22 cal. revolver which he carried to shoot, or shoot at, birds. An ordinary black bear climbed up on the log and started across. I had just time to call grandmother's attention to the bear, which had stopped to size up the situation, when McChesney saw the bear and, jerking out his revolver, partly turned and fired at the bear. Slipping off the log, he dropped eight or ten feet with a splash into the ice water, while the bear turned back into the woods.
      One day, while walking along the trail up the hill, I overtook a pole cat that was jauntily strutting up the hill with his tail up, as if he owned the trail, which I decided he did. So I lowed up and followed him until he should leave the trail. Quite a large bear came around a bend in the trail ahead of us and i stopped against a tree to see who owned the trail. The bear stopped but the pole cat kept up his jaunty gait and when he got within 30 or 40 feet, the bear, who was a hundred times as large, decided the same way as I had and turned off into the woods.

(First House in Sedro)
      This photo by an unknown photographer is so intriguing. Scrawled on the right lower corner are the words: "Sedro-First House Built in Sedro, Skaget Co. Wa." We hope that a reader will eventually tell us if they know the origin of it. This cabin shows an example of what the cabin in this journal entry would have looked like

Links, background reading and sources

Story posted on May 12, 2004, moved to this domain Nov. 3, 2011
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