by Hiram Ellsworth Pearsall
In 1893, the Great Northern Railroad had come to the coast. Trains were running regularly through Monroe, which had become quite a thriving village. That spring, Griffiths Brothers came to Monroe looking for a location for a shingle mill. At Monroe they were directed to my place up Woods Creek as I had a bunch of cedar. Going with them to interview the rest of the settlers who had cedar, we all became very pleased at the prospects, and he made a proposition that if we would clear out the creek to run the shingle bolts down, they would build a shingle mill at Monroe.
Eight of us got busy and in about two weeks had cleared the brush and logs, and in many places rocks were rolled out of the channel–then the creek was ready to run shingle bolts. Soon we were ready to cut and furnish the bolts to the mill, which was fast nearing completion. Jule Walters and Will Ingram were boys then. They are the only ones left of that crew besides myself, as George Walters passed away since I started to write this article.
Well, it was looking pretty good now, as there had been very little to do to make a living, as very little logging was being done at that time. Now the bolts were going down the creek, the shingle mill was running steady, and everybody was happy, as we could receive something for our labor. Griffiths brothers paid $2.25 a cord, always in cash, which was considered good pay.
In a few months, S.A. Buck landed in Monroe, and bought the shingle mill, and soon things were a little different, as he said shingles had dropped in price and he cut the price to us of 10 cents per cord. But cedar was still floating down the creek. Soon they said shingles had dropped again and bolts were only worth $2.10 per cord, and we would have to wait 30 days for our pay, or until such time as the shingles were manufactured and shipped.
All this didn’t look good to me. Could there be any way to do better?
There had been no logging on Woods Creek at that time at all. Dave McGee had been cutting bolts for me. We decided to try logging. Well, we could try it. There had to be a skid road built for nearly three-quarters of a mile. We built the road, then felled and prepared about 190 thousand feet of logs. Trouble had just begun for us. The only way to get the logs to market was by ox team. Down the skid road to the creek, float them out of the creek down to the mouth of the river at Everett. When they were there we could get $3.50 per thousand feet for them. Well, George Walters, who was my brother-in-law, was a young man then but he said he could “punch bulls” or in other words, drive an ox team.
George got a three yoke of oxen together and we started hauling logs. But again trouble soon started. Mr. S.A. Buck forbid putting the logs in the creek unless we paid him sixty cents per thousand. But why? By what right had he, after the settlers had opened up the creek? Why should we pay him? Well, there had been a law passed in the state legislature the winter before which said that you could file a claim on any stream for logging purposes and charge not to exceed sixty cents per thousand feet of logs. Mr. Buck had filed that claim in Olympia and claimed the right to charge the sixty cents. Well, this looked bad. I couldn’t afford to pay that much.
I made a trip to the county seat, then in Snohomish, to get a little legal advice. I found out that Mr. Buck would have to make Woods Creek navigable for all kinds of merchantable timber at any time of the year, which he had not done, and I knew he could not do so. So we rolled the logs in the creek, and told Mr. Buck if he had any legal right he could start it.
Well, George got along fine with the oxen. There is a little story on him concerning “punching bulls” that he said I could tell. One day there were a number of neighbor women visiting my wife and as the skid road for hauling the logs down was close by, they decided to go out and see George go by with a big log. The ladies all lined up along the road where there was a little rise in the road, and he was talking to the oxen and urging them on with his goad stick, knowing that if he let them stop on the little hill, he would have trouble. When he struck the little hill, sure enough, they stopped. George looked at me but said nothing. He swung the oxen to one side and pulled the front end of the log over to the side.
He started up, but the log only swung straight. Then he pulled the oxen to the other side and pulled the log to that side. Well, George was getting a bit excited now. He talked to the oxen and used the goad stick again, but it was no go; they only straightened up the big log. George looked at me and said, “Well, what do you know about that, I am stuck and the country is full of women and I daren’t swear.”
The ladies were all sympathizing with him, and I said, “George, go to it.” Well George pulled the oxen to the side of the road again, pulled and jackknifed the log over to the side, then tightened the oxen in their yokes, looked at me and grinned, took off his hat, began to use the goad stick, struck his knee with his hat, and let out a bellow with as nice a line of cuss words as an ox would wish to hear–and away they went down the road, pulling the log. It was then that I learned that to be a successful “bull puncher” you had to know how to swear.
The logs were finally rolled into the creek. There had been a considerable amount of rain and the water was up to a driving stage, so we drove them to the mouth of the creek. There the mill company had a boom across the creek. The logs were all there, many of them pulled to the bank, and mixed with shingle bolts against the boom. It didn’t look any too pleasing.
There are two or three still living in Monroe that saw what happened at that time–Al Buck, Andrew Olson, John Brown, Dan Wolf. The man that helped us drive those logs down and a couple of others were standing on the bank watching the procedure, and are still living hereabouts. Knowing that they can vouch for this, I will tell what happened.
When we arrived at the mill, the senior member of the mill company came rushing down to the creek bank from the mill. He wanted to know what we were going to do. I told him we were getting ready to take the logs out of the creek. Well, he said, if we wanted them through the boom he would put them through and we would have to pay him sixty cents per thousand. I had no sixty cents per thousand which I could pay. I told him I believed that he was obstructing navigation, and if the water stayed up until morning, I would take them out myself. Then he was wrathy!
He said that the first man that got on his boom would be a dead man, as he would shoot him. “I do not think there is any danger of you putting your neck into a rope for what you claim is in those logs, so if there is still water to drive I will be here in the morning to put them through myself.”
The water was still up the following morning. Dave McGee, George Walters and myself were on the job. We went down to the creek and started to roll a log in the water. Well, here came the junior member of the mill company on the run down the bank, waving a gun and hollering. He jumped on the log we were working on and said the senior member told him not to let us move the logs unless we paid the toll, and then he would put the logs through their boom.
There was a considerable amount of argument. He said, “If you want the logs through, say so and I’ll do it.” I said, “Well, boys, I want these logs through–come on!” We put our peavies into the log the junior member was standing on, and started to roll it into the water. He quickly quit waving his gun, jumped off the log, and climbed the bank and joined the mill crew, who had lined up to see the fun. Pretty soon they started up to the mill and we saw nothing further of them again that day. We put the logs through their boom into a boom of our own at the mouth of the creek, and called it a day and went home.
We engaged Jim Libby, an Indian, who lived up the Skykomish River about three miles, to come with his big canoe. When we got down to the boom, Jim was there. The water was up and we were ready to go. The boom that held the logs was attached to a cedar log that was made fast to the bank. Dave went out on the log to loosen the toggle that held the boom. He had taken his peavy with him and stuck it up in the log behind him and was stooping down to loosen the boom, when I saw that war was on. The senior member of the mill company was coming on the run looking pretty wrathy. He ran out on the log after Dave and I ran after him. He had said he would kill the first man on the boom. I didn’t want to see him commit murder so I followed him.
Dave had stuck his peavy in the log, he (the senior mill man) grabbed it and swung it over his head as if he was going to strike Dave. I grabbed the peavy away from him and turned and stuck it up in the log behind me. As I turned, back he came at me like an old buck sheep and away I went off the log into the water up to my neck. He ran for shore and I was wading out of the water. He met me and tied into me again. Well, he was quite an old man so there wasn’t much trouble in taking him down and holding him until Dave had the logs loose. Then he got up and climbed up the bank to the mill. The only thing he ever said about it again was years later when we became good friends again and occasionally would have a beer together, then he would tell how he had befriended me in Woods Creek.
We followed the logs to the mouth of the river and when I sold them in the spring, I found out that I had done about as well as the rest that were cutting cedar, as I had lived through the winter. That was the first logging on Woods Creek. That was the start of the harvesting of one of the greatest virgin forests in the state, the Woods Creek country.
After that trouble, everyone was cutting shingle bolts but me. But as I had a team and many of them did not, I was kept busy hauling, which was better than cutting. The Ingram boys were cutting their cedar and I hauled it out for them. Soon this cedar was all cut and they wanted to cut some of my cedar– well, they could try it. We put in several measurements without any trouble, but were only paid $2 per cord, which we considered pretty low for good shingle bolts. We heard that after the first of the month, shingles having dropped in price, we would have to stand another 10 cent cut, which would be $1.90 per cord; pretty cheap, we thought.
So a few of us that had cedar got together and decided we wouldn’t stand for the cut in price. The first of the month the Ingram boys had cut and piled about 30 cords, as had many more cutters up above on the creek. Well, the boss mill man came up, he measured our bolts first. He started picking out of the piles many bolts that he said were bad. This looked strange, as he had not been in the habit of doing that.
He had cut the measurement on 30 cords, a little more than a cord, and then said bolts were now only $1.90 per cord. Well, Mr. Mill Man, you have cut the price 10 cents per cord, docked the measurement one cord out of thirty, and we have to wait 30 days for our money, so you cannot have them. All right, let them stay there and rot, I don’t want them. And away he went up the creek.
The next cutters he saw, as I was told afterward, he told them, “I will have nothing to do with Pearsall. His bolts can rot. Shingles are down and I can only pay $1.90 per cord.” Well, now what could I do? I couldn’t afford to let the shingle bolts rot. The Ingram boys must have their pay for cutting as we had all had to live. Now was the time, if a man had any guts, to use them.
So war was declared again. J.E. Dolloff was running a general store in Monroe. If he would agree to a proposition to furnish supplies until the last of August, the Ingram boys would keep on cutting and I would keep on hauling and piling them on the creek bank. Well, Dolloff said he would take a chance. The Ingram boys agreed to it. They were sure of their supplies. We got cutting and hauling.
The latter part of August, the water in the creek would be pretty low and 125 cords of nice bolts so close would be pretty tempting. But the bolts were going down the creek every day and nothing said about my bolts. Dolloff went to the mill company about it and he was told they were in no hurry. Well, this didn’t look good. I knew the mill boss was quite a bluffer. Why couldn’t I run his bluff?
Jim Regan was running a blacksmith shop in Monroe. He was a good friend of mine. In a talk with Regan, I asked if the mill boss came in his place much. Yes, he came in nearly every day. Jim, would you do something for me and do as I tell you and say nothing until it is all over?
Jim knew about my bolts and said he would do what he could. I want a branding iron. You must be working on it when the mill man comes in and if he says anything about it, tell him you are making it for me, that I am going to brand some shingle bolts and take them out of the creek to the 10 block mill in Snohomish.
The next day Jim saw the mill man coming; Jim was very busy on the branding iron. He came and watched Jim awhile and then said, “What are you doing?” Regan said, “I am making a branding iron for Pearsall.” The mill man said, “What is he going to do with it?” Regan replied, “He is going to brand some shingle bolts and take them out of the creek to Snohomish.”
Jim said he turned and rushed out of the shop and hurried up the street. Jim never finished the branding iron as that afternoon Dolloff came up the creek and said the mill company would pay $2.15 per cord if we would dump them in the creek. I told Dolloff nothing doing. Nothing less than $2.25 per cord and they could put them in themselves. Dolloff said he would tell them, but he didn’t think they would do it.
The next day they sent a man up again who said they would pay $2.25 per cord if I would put them in the creek in time for the drive that was coming down tomorrow. Well, we can measure up the bolts now and if they pay $2.25 and J.E. Dolloff will guarantee the money and they throw them in, all right. But if I have to throw them in I will brand them and throw them out of the creek to Snohomish.
The next day they came by with their drive, threw the bolts in, and away they went down the creek. And I went to Dolloff and got the pay in full, and the war was over.
About that time, August Holmquist came to Monroe. He built a shingle mill at Monroe and was ready to help gather the great wealth that was floating down the creek. But the price of $2.25 was paid for bolts; the price never went back to $1.90 per cord.
About that time, Stephens Brothers came on the scene looking for a mill location. They came to my place and after being shown around in the woods awhile, they decided to take the balance of my timber. They built a dam across a small creek, built a shingle mill, and were soon cutting shingles. But shingle prices were low, and like other pioneers, they had a hard time to make ends meet. But with perseverance and stick-to-it-tiveness, they made it win. In a short time they added a small sawmill and cut lumber. The next year they built the big mill back on the lake. Soon they were rapidly gathering the wealth that was hidden in the great forest of Woods Creek.
The ox had retired from his labor as the horse had taken his place. But not for long, as soon the steam donkey was on the job.
This was the start of the finish of the great forest of Woods Creek forest. A little later, Wagner and Wilson bought the Stephens Brothers plant, then with modern logging equipment, log roads, in every direction, the hidden wealth of that great forest was gathered and that great forest was no more. As we look again, we see many homes where that forest used to be. We see thousands of acres covered with a new growth of young timber that time will mature into a great forest. As we view the many good roads that criss-cross in every direction and see the homes of many happy families, we can realize another great harvest is yet to come. But such is progress.
–transcribed from the 1944 Monroe Monitor by Nellie Robertson