Table of Contents


General Introduction


Impressions of the North Cascades
Essays about a Northwest Landscape

Part I: Landscapes of Memory

My Place in the Mountains

From Across the River

My earliest memories, my reference to the rest of the world, were from across the Skagit River beyond the tiny town of Rockport, Washington. That place, framed by the Skagit and Sank Rivers and the mountains beyond, was the landscape I knew and loved. This bit of the Cascades was my home, a place of security and wonder, a place that fixed the vivid impressions of childhood.

Woodlands and meadows, interspersed with meandering water courses, ran from our log house to the Skagit and Sauk Rivers. I spent boyhood days in this setting, exploring glades and sloughs, reveling in the wildflowers and berries that flourished on loamy river bottoms. This was a time of trusted neighbors and childhood friends. We roamed the woods, swam our first strokes in cold backwaters, and knew the excitement and colors of changing seasons.

Family livelihoods came from logging, small ranches, river, and woods. With "woods savvy," a garden, a cow, and a few fruit trees, there was little need for steady cash incomes. Jars of salmon, venison ("vine maple beef"), and bear meat were hidden away for winter behind the fruit and vegetables. Fresh meat, whether from the pasture, woods, or river, was shared with neighbors. A full root cellar, stacks of firewood, and a barn stuffed with hay were measures of industriousness to ensure well being. I have more bitter memories of the sack of cascara bark put up for our spring tonics.

Our life was centered on the land around us. A walk in the woods or a picnic by the river was a special family event. I remember hunting with my father for a new mother and calf by lantern light on a cold, rainy night. I recall the first time I harnessed the team by myself, standing on the manger, pushing the collar up over Jerry's great head, trying not to pinch his ears. I remember well the feel of sun and showers, the rich, mingling odors of sweating horses, freshly worked soil, and the sweet scent of erupting cottonwood buds as I trudged behind team and harrow. Are these just bits of nostalgia, memories of a more innocent time? In reflection, those experiences were much, much more—they were the weaving of a fiber which still connects me to the land.

We sometimes shared berry patches and overgrown orchards with wild residents. One summer evening I watched from our yard as my older brother toted milk pails down the meadow to the barn. The fun began as a big black bear ambled from the woods toward a wild strawberry patch on a collision course with my brother. It was the best real-life cartoon I ever saw as boy met bear. There were two speed records set that night—my brother bolting for the barn, milk pails clanging, and the bear nearly somersaulting as it woofed and tore for the woods.

Neighbors often dropped by on weekends, and I was delighted when they would stay for the evening. Our log living room with open fireplace was an inviting setting for storytelling. On such special nights and without complaint, I would stack in a big pile of wood and curl up by the fire to hear the best stories a boy could imagine. These were stories of people and the land—stories of hidden gold mines high in the Cascades, beautiful mountain lakes and meadows, and isolated stream valleys where a person could live well with ax, traps, and gun. There were accounts of prospectors and trappers who never returned from the hills. Bear and cougar stories were riveting and led to hesitancy on my part about carrying the lantern to visit our outhouse at the edge of the woods.

To get to town, we walked or drove our old truck to the ferry landing. If the ferryman was in his cabin on the far side, we gonged the saw hanging from the maple which clung to the river's bank. I hoped that old Frank would not come too soon. There were flat rocks to skip, but often I would be quiet and listen to the murmur of the river and wonder at its origin and timelessness. In late summer, through the dusk and wafting mists, I could hear the slap of water as the great salmon made their way upstream. My Indian friends knew there were spirits in all things—I too could hear spirit voices in those gently swirling waters.

Frank would often stand on the ferry and look up the river, as if transfixed by its flow or perhaps by the high Cascades beyond. I wondered if he had returned to the past—a time and place on the river which I would have loved to have known. One morning, when our small school bus arrived at the ferry, an engine had been mounted, replacing the spoked hand wheels which had powered the ferry's winches. A stranger, a white man, was at the controls. As the engine roared and the ferry swung into the Skagit, I saw Frank's canoe a ways downriver, the old Indian watching, leaning on his pole against the current. I felt deeply for this old river man and wondered about his past and our future.

Sixteen years later, a steel bridge spanned the spot where the ferry and Frank Tom's weathered canoe shed had been, the same year I returned to the Upper Valley to teach school.

A Harder Reality

By the time I was an adolescent, days of playing were few—hard days in the fields and woods were reality. My father worked very hard toward his dream of an independent ranch life, but it was logging that kept our family in groceries and shoes. Ironically, my father, who loved the natural woods, spent much of his life cutting trees and clearing land.

I remember the stream tumbling down through the old forest on the hillside above our ranch, spreading through the maple and cedar flats on our place. There my father taught me how to maneuver through devil's-club thickets, find cascara trees, and look for the first spring blooms of trillium and bleeding heart. We worked on that flat selecting cedar poles and short logs, pulled out on narrow trails by our horses.

One day we heard a 'dozer pushing a road onto the mountainside above us and soon felt the crash of great old Douglas-fir and cedar. Heavy equipment moved in and stripped that virgin stand in a few weeks. This was being done by people we knew, men making a living in the woods. Their crew got across our line, supposedly by mistake, and cut much of our maple flat. My father declined the logger's offer to buy the timber from us. We rigged a small spar tree and skyline to yard the stuff with our horses. My dad, my brother, and our horses, old Jerry and Queeny, worked to get the maple out before it cracked in the summer heat. I was proud of our effort. I was becoming a logger. That winter the stream washed its load of dirt and logging debris off the mountain. By early the next summer the "creek" was a dry, barren gully.

Corked Boots and Copenhagen

We too began logging with power equipment. Our first chain saw was an outdated, heavy old Mall which my father gained on a trade for a heifer. In time we had more efficient saws, a "donkey," and a D7 Cat. I learned woods skills of that place and time. By the time I was out of high school, I was a logger. Working summers, and sometimes laying out of school to go back to work when the woods opened up, I alternated between an education on college campuses and an education of corked boots, "widowmakers," and "sling'n riggen." One fall, my employer raised my wages and offered a bonus if I would stay "till the snow flied."

I have often joked that I left the woods because I couldn't handle snoose and whiskey and cuss like a real man. But there were other factors. One of the most beautiful places I have ever experienced was the Baker Lake Basin. Groves of moss- and fern-draped forest covered the mountainsides and ravines running down to the natural lake. In the mid-1950s the Upper Baker Dam project was in progress to greatly enlarge the lake, and logs started pouring from the clearing. My outfit logged the shoreline on the east side of the basin. I remember standing in a beautiful, old cedar and Douglas-fir grove at the mouth of Anderson Creek. A few days later I hooked the last of the big trunks and followed it up the muddy skid road to the landing.

The summer of 1958 was hot and dry. Our logging crew was sent to fight fire in the Upper Skagit country. For years, a buddy and I had debated which part of the Cascades was the grandest. I championed the Mount Baker area. My friend, from an Upper Skagit family, said that I hadn't seen anything yet. That summer my views were expanded.

We rode the City Light tugboat up the clear, deep waters of Ross Lake. For my first time, I saw the rock-walled side canyons and Nohokomeen Glacier high on Jack Mountain. Glacier-fed streams fell from pristine hanging valleys. After we were dumped off at Little Beaver Landing, we headed up the trail, at first on an exposed ridge, and then into cool valley forests of great cedars. By dark we were working our way up a faint, moss-covered trace along Perry Creek.

After a cold dip and a few hours' rest, we began our climb up the ridge. Sunrise on that high ridge was unforgettable. I could not absorb the beauty fast enough. To the west, rising out of dark valleys through layers of sun-tinted fog and smoke, was an unbelievable array of icy, jagged peaks. To the east, across the reflecting waters of Ross Lake, were the spires of Hozomeen, and the meadowed dome of Desolation. Into the distance flowed the ridges and mountains of the Pasayten. My crew, men toughened by hard work and an often harder life, stood in silence, as moved as I was by that scene.

Country Teacher

I returned up valley to teach school in Marblemount in 1961. With a love for the outdoors and a brand-new degree in biology, I looked forward to teaching in that country setting. My students studied ecology in nearby natural surroundings. We read the stories of predator and prey printed in snowy woods. A fun project was observing and recording life in and around a pond throughout the seasons.

My class struck up a friendship with Lenora and Rocky Wilson, a couple who had prospected, hunted, and fished the Cascades for over forty years. We visited them in their cabin on the Upper Cascade, explored their mine, and heard wonderful stories of horse trips into the high country.

In late September 1968, Rocky brought a freshly taken bear hide to school to show the kids. He and Lenora had packed up to Fisher Basin, one of their favorite places, for the High Hunt. During twilight hours, a large bear came down to the creek close by camp. Rocky lifted his old rifle and got off a good shot. While he knew it was a big 'un, he didn't see that it had a shoulder hump and frosted coat until he got to the kill. This was the last-known grizzly bear to be taken in the Cascades. Just days later the North Cascades National Park bill was signed, prohibiting hunting in that place and throughout the newly established Park.

This past summer I hiked from Highway 20 over Easy Pass into Fisher Basin, a much shorter trip now than it was for Rocky and Lenora when they visited that high, beautiful valley years ago. Mountain slopes were just coming into peak bloom, the weather was hot, and the melt ponds were cold—but a refreshing respite from a hungry hatch of bugs. My partner and I camped near Rocky's old camp and wondered if grizzlies would someday again be part of that place.

Forest Service Seasonal

In 1965, I began working seasonally for the United States Forest Service. Much of the Skagit District had recently been classified as Primary Recreation, and I was one of the first of a new breed—a recreational guard. I quickly learned that this meant taking care of toilets, tourists, and garbage, in whichever order they became a problem.

Some Forest Service hands were of the old school, possessing a philosophy of mountains, pack animals, and people born of long stints in the backcountry. From their point of view, horses and mules, although sometimes a mite cantankerous, were at least predictable. Now, people, especially flatlanders, were a different story.

Most visitors of that time were from nearby areas and accustomed to doing their own thing with little restriction. The code of the woods had to do with taking care of oneself and being careful with fire. Enforcement of the newly adopted, and more restrictive, Recreation Regulations had to be done with considerable diplomacy. In that role I met wonderful, usually independent, people and made numerous friends. My campground toilet and garbage runs were often interrupted by invitations for coffee and goodies.

One of the grand old Forest Service traditions was still in place. Each evening, fire lookouts would go on the air with open mikes. Talk ranged from recipes, views, and sightings of the day, to deep, and often far out, philosophical questions. Sometimes there was live entertainment. One denizen of lofty places could play a guitar and a mouth organ at the same time. "Lookout Hour" was sacred. No matter how provocative the discussion, we lowlanders did not intrude.

I came to understand that working those mountaintop stations was more than a summer job—it was a place and time to come to know oneself and one's place in the universe. A lookout friend related, "Those summers on Sourdough and Copper Ridge have changed my life forever." I visited a young woman lookout on Desolation, a Native American graduate student in biology who was seeking to communicate with cougars. There were those who were not ready for such encounters. One young man pleaded to be assigned to Lookout Mountain late one dry summer. Within days he was concocting stories to come down. We laughed off his story of a bear trying to get into the lookout with him. His next call, in a very faint voice, was that he had fallen from the tower and was badly injured. An hour later, I watched him run from the rescue helicopter when it landed at Marblemount—a miraculous recovery.

Forest Service programs were centered around fire. Pre-suppression money was allocated to build and maintain trails, phone lines, lookouts, and guard stations. With fire suppression money, fires were fought and caches resupplied. The joke was if there were no fires there wouldn't be surplus coffee to supply the ranger station for the winter. In the 1960s, fire was still an icon of the USFS.

The original Forest Reserves were established to exempt some public forest land from the great land grabs of the nineteenth century. By the 1940s private timberlands had been mostly stripped and public forests stood as ripe plums. In my memory, each landowner was "entitled" to an amount of free public timber, usually cedar fence posts and shake bolts. Then came the small, unbid, local "Ranger Sales" of commercial timber. These sales were soon found to be illegal. That set the stage for competitive bidding, favoring large timber companies. Sales were now laid out in huge blocks. The Forest Service and the United States Treasury reaped new money from this "harvest."

When I shifted to the Baker River District, my jobs were timber related. In the fall of 1970 we surveyed a road into the Lucky Burn, up Kindy Creek near the boundary of the recently established Glacier Peak Wilderness. I was relieved when it was determined that road building costs would outweigh revenue from salvaged timber. Logging in upper Kindy was put on hold. Creeping into such decisions was the idea that there was inherent value in wilderness. There were forest managers and loggers who didn't understand "letting those trees rot and go to waste."

Another dilemma for the Forest Service was how to meet harvest quotas set by Congress while staying out of legislated Roadless Study Areas. Consequently, roaded areas were horribly overcut. The Finney drainage became a scalped land of large clearcuts, ribbon-thin leave strips, and a maze of logging roads. Most managers still espoused the concept that clearcutting and burning were the means to rid the land of "decadent" old stands and to get young, high-value trees growing. I was to work in Finney, laying out roads, doing controlled burns, fighting escaped fires, planting trees, and doing road-cut stabilization.

I worked on reforesting a number of clearcuts in the Baker Lake area near where I had logged a few years earlier. Planting midelevation slopes to Douglas-fir made sense. But we were directed to grub out naturally returning mixed stands of true fir, hemlock, cedar, and hardwoods in an attempt to replace them with Douglas-fir—a futile effort to create a monoculture crop with no consideration for natural processes.

While torching a slash burn one fall on Finney, we saw fire running up a logging unit on an adjacent slope. I have never experienced hotter fires in the Western Cascades than in those heavy, dry-slash areas. We pulled back onto a logging road that night as the fire screamed up the mountain, crowning through leave strips. I covered my face with my hard hat for protection from intense heat and rocks being swirled up in the draft. What was meant to be sound timber-management strategy, replicating nature with fire-treated seedbeds for Douglas-fir culture, was out of control, well beyond the inherent balancing processes and mediation of nature.

The debate about establishing a national park in the North Cascades was a difficult issue for me. Changes had been made in Forest Service management in proposed park areas that I liked. The North Cascades Primitive Area, an administrative classification, had provided some protection for the high country. With the Wilderness Act of 1964, the heart of the mountains was to be legally protected. A moratorium had been placed on logging in the high mountain hemlock zone, and management for recreational values was in place.

While I supported the national park idea of preserving special features and places for future generations, I also knew that park status would bring many visitors and related pressures to our little-known North Cascades. My father, who loved the mountains, often said, "Someday people will come from all over the world to see these mountains." This was soon to be, and my career would be intertwined with those visitors and the mountains.

Falls above Holden Lake

National Park Ranger

The North Cascades National Park bill was signed on my birthday: October 2, 1968. I became a seasonal park ranger in the spring of 1969 and permanently left the classroom soon after. For the next several years I worked summer in the Park and fall and spring with the Forest Service. These were exciting times in the North Cascades, times of environmental awakening and many questions. Federal legislation to protect air, water, wildlife, and wilderness spawned many differences in philosophy and tactics on how the laws should be applied. North Cascades National Park was a testing ground for wilderness management. Fires were not always fought, camping was eliminated from subalpine meadows, campfires were limited to forested areas, backcountry permits were required for overnight stays, road and trail camping were restricted to designated sites. Throughout this time we had to respond to the often-asked question, "Are national parks for people or for bears?"

One hot September afternoon I hiked up Little Jack Mountain on High Hunt patrol. (That area, within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, remained open for hunting.) The next morning I was on the highest point waiting for daylight and watching for hunting activity. I checked in with Sourdough Lookout and compared views of the sunrise just coloring the high peaks. I was joined by a hunter, he, too, evidently waiting the legal opening hour and enjoying the incredible scenery. He displayed buck and bear tags and carried a powerful rifle with a long-range scope. As daylight entered the headwaters of Crater Creek below us, three bears—probably a mother and yearling cubs—made their way into an open area and began browsing. We watched, and as the sun warmed the slope the youngsters began wrestling and rolling toward us. I expected the hunter to take aim, but he sat quietly on a rock scoping the bears and whispered, "What a treat. Who could spoil such a sight?"

The summer after the North Cascades Highway opened, I led nature walks along Ruby Creek, a place rich with natural beauty and mining history. A family from California who seemed to be delighted with the experience joined me on one hike. The father asked several questions concerning ownership of mining claims. As we were returning to the trailhead, I became more aware of his interests. He identified himself as a real estate person and exclaimed, "With this new highway, with no developments or services in miles, do you realize that we are standing on a potential gold mine?" My interpretive expectations and his mind set were far apart.

A very worried man contacted me one night after my campfire program at Colonial Amphitheater. He and a woman friend and his two children had hiked to Fourth of July Pass that day. The woman and boy wanted to go on and come out at Panther Creek trailhead on Highway 20. It was decided that the father and daughter would return to Colonial and pick up the woman and boy at the trailhead late in the day. The hikers had not made it out by dark. They had no flashlight or extra gear and were very lightly dressed.

I headed up the long ridge from Panther trailhead. I knew of a place where the creek often washed out and could be confusing to follow, especially at night. I dropped down the steep switchbacks and followed the creek up valley. Crossing the log bridge, I hoped to find the couple at Panther Camp. They weren't there. I worked up Panther through brushy avalanche tracks. As I approached a timbered area I heard the woman's shout. I was a welcome figure in their long, scary, cold night. They had become confused along the creek and decided to return through Fourth of July Pass. It was getting late. As they hurried along they were startled to find a cougar standing in the trail. The woman had extensive hiking experience and had taught hiking/survival skills in the Sierras. They made loud noises, and the cougar moved into the woods. A ways further there was the cougar again, this time coming toward them. The woman led the boy into the creek where they perched on a rock. The cougar reappeared several times above and below them. It was getting dark and they were cold and wet. The woman decided hypothermia was a greater threat than the cat. She made a bough bed in the cradle of tree roots and huddled in with the boy. The boy fell asleep—she watched for shadowy movements.

I gave them my extra food and clothes, and we started up the trail toward the pass. As the couple warmed they became quite animated in telling their story. The woman was very concerned we might destroy the cat. I assured her that was not our intent. It was a beautiful night—a full moon slid over Snowfield Peak and Neve Glacier as we descended into Thunder Valley.

A few days later, I received a thank you note from the woman. She pleaded again for us not to take action against the cat and said, that after the scare was gone, she remembered vividly the beauty of the "panther" that would make their night on its namesake creek so memorable.

As the North Cascades National Park Complex matured, my job evolved. I became a permanent park ranger in 1974. With my background in natural history and my connection with local human history, I fell easily into interpretation. Along with interpretive activities, I worked with bears, fires, emergency medicine, law enforcement, campground maintenance, trail projects, and evaluating and cutting hazard trees. One park manager described me as a "logging naturalist." I trust my range of duties and experiences gave me a broader insight into the North Cascades than could be acquired in a more specialized role.

Many park visitors are from far away, with limited time or abilities to experience the greater park. Interpreters often use vicarious methods to bring park experiences to visitors. Through interpreters' eyes, visitors can see the beauty and wonder of a glacial basin or a cougar stalking its prey. Through stories they can know some of the trials and adventures of those who came here before. I often call upon my personal experiences and recall stories from old-timers to bring people-mountain connections alive.

Connections from the Past

One spring day, while exploring the pools on upper Ruby Creek, I found a rusted gold pan protruding from the gravel. I later asked my long-time friend and Upper Skagit pioneer son, Glee Davis, who it might have belonged to. He laughed and said, "Well, you know, that could have belonged to any number of those old-timers, including me." (The gold pan is now on display in the North Cascades Visitor Center near Newhalem.) Glee used that occasion and many others to pass on delightfully vivid stories of the characters and events of the Upper Skagit. Through Glee and other storytellers, I have come to know those "spirits of the past" and their special haunts. When I walk where they walked, I share their excitement, their loneliness, the beauty of a meadow or stream, my experiences connecting with theirs.

Custer's Pen

The Northwest Boundary Commission began a survey across the North Cascades in 1857. Cartographer Henry Custer was hired to explore that formidable route. In Custer's journals, along with notes and maps, were scribed eloquent verses. On a late summer day in 1859, Custer sat on a high divide and wrote:

No mortal pen could be found to describe this grand and glorious scenery properly and justly. This endless variety of shapes and forms, these thousands of different shades and colors—here the green and blacks of the endless forest, and the lovely mountain meadow, here the gray in all its endless nuances, the blue, the red, the dazzling white of the snow and ice masses, reflecting and breaking the steady rays of the midday sun, and the whole landscape covered by a light mist, which chastens down the color and gives the whole matchless view an almost fairy like aspect.

Custer's impressions were recorded a short distance from where I experienced the sunrise with my logging crew ninety-nine years later. As I remember that scene, as striking as it was, our view had been altered by a reservoir covering a once-meandering, broad river valley. I wonder what that scene might be in another hundred years. Will there be forest cuts and waterfront developments? Will vegetation be paled from acid fallout? Will glaciers have succumbed to global warming? Custer went on to say, "Whoever wishes to see Nature in all its primitive glory and grandeur, in its almost feroci[o]us wildness, must go and visit these Mountain regions."

Upriver Lure

In 1872 Jack Rowley and his partners, from the Lower Skagit, took up Custer's invitation and challenge—they set out to prospect the Skagit to its headwaters. Panning each river bar, they found scattered flecks of gold, enough to keep them going. At the head of canoe navigation, now Newhalem, they were still seeking that elusive mother lode. Native guides were hired to lead them high above and around the river's narrow canyon. It was tough going and very hot. Sourdough starter began to work in a prospector's pack, messing up his gear. The place was christened Sourdough Mountain. The Indian guides would not descend into the widening river basin below, a place of unfriendly spirits, probably those of their ancient enemies from the north. A side canyon entering from a far drainage to the east lured the prospectors into the gorge. There, in waters containing ruby-red rocks, they found fine streaks of placer gold flushing from that impassable chasm.

Rowley returned five years later. He had dreamed of a hand pointing the way around the steep rock walls. Rowley followed his vision through Hidden Hand Pass, at the base of towering Jack Mountain, and traversed into the creek dubbed Ruby. Enough color was found to keep his dream alive.

In 1879, about 10 miles upstream in a narrow side canyon, Rowley struck rich placer and staked his Original Discovery claim. A few days later Albert Bacon and partners, working the stream below, were about to starve out. It was nip and tuck if they could hold on another day. In a final effort they rolled over a rock, and there, as sediments cleared, were golden nuggets shimmering through the clear waters of Ruby Creek. Rowley's Original Discovery and Bacon's Nip and Tuck claims kicked off the first Ruby Rush.

McMillan's Place

John McMillan responded to the Ruby excitement in 1883. He brought in pack animals and ran a pack line from Fort Hope, Canada. For years John was a partner of Tommy Roland. They built a cabin on the river and cleared a horse pasture above Big Beaver Creek Falls. After Tommy became a bit strange (he thought he was a religious prophet), John split, settling on the Big Beaver homestead.

On a trip north to Fort Hope, John came upon an ugly scene, a trapper beating a young Indian woman with a club. When John jumped off his horse to intercede, the trapper stuck a rifle in John's face. This made John mad. He knocked the gun away and "beat the living hell out of the man." According to hearsay, John was awakened that night in his camp by the woman moving in with her meager possessions. Being a kind man, John took her home.

John and his common-law wife had one child. They named her May. One story reports that, several years later, John became unhappy with his in-laws, who kept moving in on him, and sent the whole family packing. A kinder account said that when May was of school age, John sent mother and child north to be near family and school. May is remembered by her namesake, May Creek, a merry little stream which drops into the valley near Roland Point on Ross Lake.

In time, John journeyed to Seattle to seek citizenship. While there, he fell in love with a young woman named Emma Love. Part of John's proposal was that Emma return with him to Big Beaver. Emma agreed to marry John and go to the Upper Skagit for the summer. They stayed a lifetime. John and Emma were to live a hard but wonderful life in that remote land. John prospected, trapped, and packed supplies for gold miners along Ruby and Canyon Creeks. In later years the couple ran a small hotel, the Ruby Inn, in the mining village of Ruby City.

As mining activity waned, John and Emma settled in on their Beaver homestead. In 1922 John became very ill. Emma packed him out to the doctor in Concrete. Old Doc Mertz gave John little chance of recovery. John's final request was to return to Big Beaver. Emma led John's horse over the long, rough trail up the Skagit.

Friends from far mountain reaches gathered to bid John farewell. One man made a quick trip to Marblemount to acquire some of that most potent Scottish medicine. The story is told of how John's grave was dug behind the cabin and his coffin made from hand-split planks as he passed his last hours in the company of Emma and friends. Undoubtedly, some sipped from that bottle of pure mountain spirits, and some passed it by. George Holmes led prayers as the coffin was covered by the soil of Big Beaver Valley.

Emma spent winters in a little cabin near friends at the present site of Diablo. Each spring she returned to Big Beaver. Early-day trail men told stories of the kindly "Old Bread Lady" who for many years invited them into her aging cabin above Big Beaver Falls to share baked goodies and wild berry jams.

It was a beautiful October day when I found the McMillan Place. The cabin and outbuildings were tumbled down and overgrown. Huge old stumps marked the place where John's horses once pastured. Behind the cabin, I found John's grave. The wooden head marker was nearly rotted away, but the great rock face of McMillan Mountain stood watch over that peaceful place.

I carved John a new marker and every few years return to clear growth from his grave and visit awhile. I have never learned of Emma's final resting place, but I sense that both John and Emma are at home in their beloved Big Beaver Valley.

The Black Prospector of Ruby Creek

George Holmes arrived on Ruby Creek in 1895 after much of the excitement had died down. A quiet man, George revealed very little of his past. He had reportedly been born in Virginia to slave parents and had traveled the country looking for freedom and a home. George was devoutly religious and possessed exceptional strengths in body, character, and patience.

Holmes first came to the Upper Skagit as a stable hand for the Skagit Queen Mining Company. It was rumored that after a pay day and a trip to Seattle's Skid Road, he became infected with a venereal disease. In his penitence, he made a pledge that if he were cured he would return to the Upper Skagit and be a Christian example to the sinful miners of that wild country. George was that example for the next thirty years.

Holmes worked up and down Ruby Creek, but eventually settled in and built his cabin in an isolated place between a steep mountainside and a deep, swift section of that beautiful stream. Although a loner, George was known to be a kindly person, always ready to lend a hand when anyone needed help.

I had heard many stories about the "Old Black Miner of Ruby Creek," but never knew where his diggings were. One night on a late patrol, I saw a fire down the mountainside on Ruby Creek and went to investigate. A noisy party was under way in the remains of an old cabin. I calmed the participants and cooled the fire. The next day I went to check out the site and found a remarkable collection of rusting, cobbled-together mining paraphernalia. Mining records showed that it was the Himlock II, filed by George Holmes.

George built crude hydraulic systems to wash stream sediments through sluices. He also dug deep holes along the creek and washed ancient deposits. It was hard and lonely work, but George Holmes had found his place. George traveled to Seattle every couple of years to peddle his gold to jewelers who paid top dollar for the precious Ruby Creek metal, but he was quick to return to Ruby.

George was very upset when he heard of a railroad being built up the Skagit. He didn't want to see the changes in his mountain wilderness that he knew a railroad would bring. A friend wrote, "Holmes preferred the solitude, the contentment of his lonely existence, to anything else the world had to offer."

In 1925, friends carefully carried the dying old prospector in a litter, made from a dugout canoe, on his final trip down the Skagit Trail. Holmes passed away two days later in Mount Vernon. A few years ago, I led a drive to place a monument on his unmarked grave. The epitaph reads, "George Holmes found a freedom in the wilds of the North Cascades which few attain."

A Pioneer in Petticoats

Lucinda Davis was born in Boston in 1848 and reared with considerable refinement. She dreamed of going West. In 1884 her two brothers came to Washington Territory to take up homestead claims. Lucinda, now married with three children, managed to get her husband to Denver, Colorado, but no further.

In 1890, Will Leach wrote to his sister that their brother had drowned and pleaded with her to come and take up his claim. Lucinda left her husband and set out with her children—Frank, thirteen; Glee, nine; and Dessa, five—for the Cascade River near Marblemount. Glee told me of their exciting trip by train, riverboat, and stagecoach, climaxing in an Indian dugout canoe ride up the Skagit. Glee said his mother, at that time, was deathly afraid of Indians and water.

Lucinda and children settled into homestead life. In the summers of 1893 and 1895, she ran a small trading post at Goodell's Landing, where she heard stories of the wild and wonderful lands beyond the Skagit Gorge. Lucinda was intrigued. She took her family over rough miners' trails to explore the upper river, and they became enthralled with that wild country.

In the fall of 1897, after early snows and heavy rains, a great flood washed away most of Lucinda's land and possessions. She reclaimed what she could and moved her family to Sedro Woolley for the winter. Twelve-year-old Glee herded the family cows 45 miles down valley over muddy trails. Lucinda worked very hard to provide for her family and keep their spirits bright. Frank, now twenty years old, returned up river to hold claim to a creek bar they had found deep in the Skagit Gorge.

The next summer Lucinda moved her family over the developing Goat Trail to Cedar Bar where she was to establish a home, a roadhouse, and a legend. Many years later Glee told me, "It wasn't an easy life, but we worked hard and made a go of it. It was a good life."

The Davises hand-built a large house from the forest, cleared land, raised gardens, and gathered precious wild hay. In time, the Davis Ranch was to become a place of food and rest for an array of mountain travelers, from miners and trappers to recreationists and foreign mining investors. The boys also trapped, packed, prospected, and worked for the miners and the newly created Forest Service. Lucinda loved to explore and fish. They climbed mountains, found the best berry and fishing spots, and guided guests on mountain trips.

A party arrived at Davis Ranch late one evening, requesting board and room. Lucinda asked if they preferred fish or pork for dinner. They decided on fish. Lucinda picked up her fishing pole and headed for the river. This impressed the young boy in the party and years later, when he told me this story, he wondered what might have happened had they chosen pork.

Lucinda believed in hard work, social graces, education, and a "clean" life. Not only was there no drinking at her place, but she soundly scolded men who were known to imbibe. She saw that each of her children spent time in the lower valley attending school. Glee laughingly recalled that no excuses of floods, snow slides, or wild animals kept them from going to school.

While at school Glee met Hazel Campbell. They were married and, in time, added two daughters to the close-knit family at Cedar Bar. Glee filed for homestead rights and, after a legal battle with the Forest Service, was awarded part of their claim.

Others were interested in Cedar Bar. Seattle City Light had gained a permit to build a large dam in the canyon above the Davis Ranch. They needed Cedar Bar as a gravel source and campsite for the project. The City of Seattle forced the Davis family to vacate and sell their home.

Lucinda, by then in her seventies, saw the tremendous change coming to her wilderness canyon. She stayed as long as she could, renting rooms and makeshift cabins to the men who were building Diablo Dam. When the dam was completed in 1930, Lucinda packed her belongings, said goodbye to her home and life on the Upper Skagit, and rode the train down the mountain canyon she had ventured up many years before.

We Belong to the Land

Since the last great ice flows were melting from valley bottoms, people have inhabited this land—some for many thousands of years, some for decades, and some very briefly. Today, in remote valleys, I find hints of human presence—a healed-over tree blaze, signs of a marten trap, a moss-covered stump, a flattened place with humps of rotted sills and blackened rocks. High on beautiful ridges, I find rock flakes of ancient times. In other places I find artifacts of bold intrusion—caved-in adits and rusting equipment.

I have found wonderful settings where I would have loved to have lived, and places where I wonder how a person could have survived a short while. In historic times many came to seek their "El Dorado"—few survived long. These mountains, as stunningly beautiful as they can be, were a horrible barrier to those who sought easy rewards. Those who came to know this land in all its moods and seasons found rewards in lifestyle and place which far overshadowed riches to be taken from the land.

Place names in the North Cascades often speak to human interaction with the land. Names such as Terror, Nightmare, Eldorado, Formidable, and Challenger reflect strong human feelings. Never could the Cascades be taken lightly. Native place names often speak to a spiritual connection. The name Sahale—"high, heavenly" from the Native Trade Jargon—suits well that high setting above Cascade Pass. Native people went there to hunt and gather roots and berries, and to speak with the powerful spirits of that place. Anyone who goes there today surely, too, must feel a special communion with that grand alpine scape, still molding in natures hands.

People of our century have recognized special places of natural wonder and national treasure by establishing park and wilderness areas to be enjoyed in their natural state and, in the language of the 1964 Wilderness Act, "untrammeled by man." While this is a grand idea, is it truly possible? We know that there can be no protected islands. Outfall from our human-impacted world knows no such bounds.

Recently I spent a day along the Skagit River with people who shared concerns for the health of the valley. We looked at threats to the land and water. We also talked of possibilities. What would it take to care for this land in the best possible way? Could the resources again be whole and healthy? At the close of the day, an Upper Skagit person, a leader in overseeing natural resources under tribal treaties, gave us these words: "We must remember that the land does not belong to us—we belong to the land." This profound understanding comes from generations of people who know that human beings must respect the spirits of the land if they expect to receive gifts from it. This wisdom was passed on to us by the great-granddaughter of the old river man, Frank Tom.

There is no question in my mind that we must hold dearly to our remaining wild lands. Wilderness and park lands can give us inspiration and hope, and provide an ongoing working laboratory for our understanding of natural processes. But we must look to a much bigger picture. Until we allow healthy ecosystems to occur in nonprotected lands near and far, the treasures of the North Cascades and our world's resources will disappear.

I also know there must be places highly managed for human beings. I believe that the key to survival for us, and our fellow earthly beings, is in the way we interact in everyday life with our total environment. We must come to understand and respect all parts of our world. As trees alone are not a forest, we certainly are not able to stand alone on this planet.

The people whom I knew as a boy, and those who were here long before us, did not always respect and treat the land well. But they knew intimately a very important reality—that they were dependent upon the land for their survival. Do we, today, make that connection? It is scary when political and economic leaders show little regard for that most basic truth. We must remind them and ourselves that the land does not belong to us—we belong to the land.

Sometimes, in a moment of optimism, I look up the Skagit to the forests and high mountains beyond. I envision people of the past and the future receiving gifts from the river. I see forests growing and healing. I see soils fertile and productive under nurturing human hands, a model for others to follow. But too often I see and am saddened by decimated hillsides and gutted-out spawning streams. Sometimes I listen to the river and see an old Native leaning against the current and I wonder, what will our future be?

In a brief ceremony at the close of each North Cascade Institute's Mountain School Camp, each participant places a twig of cedar on the campfire and makes a personal wish. Around the dying fire, as each twig sparkles and ignites, I have heard wonderful words of hope, which are often phrased, "May this place, with its trees, animals, and river be here for others to enjoy forever." These words and these children give me hope. I sense that on that river's shore, under those great old cedars, dwell spirits of many children and elders from the past who smile and share those wishes.

A lifetime resident of the Skagit Valley, JIM HARRIS has been a logger, teacher, and National Park Service interpreter. He specializes in historical interpretation in his work with the park.

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North Cascades Conservation Council
P.O. Box 95980
Seattle, WA 98145-2980