Early History of California Creek


Ed Holtzheimer

The spirit of restlessness, engendered in the minds of the veterans of the Civil war, in the field and in camp, caused many, after the conclusion of peace, to drift to the Pacific coast and to become pioneers in this and other settlements. Inured to hardships required during campaign life, they were particularly fitted to endure privations, cultivate those social virtues that build up society and practice self-denials necessary and incidental to life on the frontier and to conquer the wilderness.

The names of the veterans who located in this vicinity in 1871-1872, I append herewith, viz:
Sylvester CLARK, Mason CLARK, William PINCKNEY, J. H. McCAULEY, S. P. HUGHES, Philip HOSINGTON, Elijah ADAMS, Frank HANS, your humble servant, and John WAGNER of the Confederate Army, John CAIN, his wife, sons and daughter, Marion CAIN and family, Louis HOLTZHEIMER and S. MARTIN. The families of Jasper LINDSAY [LINDSEY], S. MARTIN and the RUCKERs arrived later on.

I may mention that John CAIN and James RUCKER were typical frontiersmen and pathfinders, and as such deserve to be ranked with Jim BRIDGER, Kit CARSON and Jim BUCKWITH.

Exulting in youthful vigor and not over burdened with worldly goods we abandoned the blizzard swept plains of South Dakota, and like the proverbial THOMPSON's colt that swam a wide river to quench his thirst at a well, we traversed an empire of prairie and wood in quest of a home in this corner of Uncle Sam's domain.

We arrived in the town of Whatcom sometime in the month of June, 1871. It being flood time we were fortunate to effect a landing on the sandy beach in the vicinity of the ancient brick court house.

The town of Whatcom then consisted of the court house and a few dilapidated frame buildings, some of whose inmates were basking in the sunlight on the beach, and Micawber like, were patiently waiting for something to turn up.

Whilst awaiting the arrival of the other members of our party I undertook an excursion over the old telegraph road to the Nooksack River. The whole region with the exception of Sheriff COUTTS ranch was at that time a howling wilderness. On the river I was hospitably entertained by Mr. HAMPTON, who had just commenced to carve out a home in the woods.

Returning the next day I was agreeably surprised to find my old friend and neighbor, Jasper LINDSEY, in company with Elijah ADAMS, in town, and we forthwith prepared to proceed to our destination, which was Semiahmoo where several Dakota friends had already located. That same evening we proceeded and caped at Dan HARRIS' cove, where at present the shipping of Fairhaven is conducted.

The following morning, favored by a fair breeze, we set sail, doubled Point Francis and arrived at Semiahmoo, the home of the CLARK brothers, in the afternoon. As the tide was already ebbing we lost no time and started for the home of Mr. DEXTER, an old acquaintance of Jasper LINDSEY, whose house was in plain view. We pulled with a will and were half way across the bay when all of a sudden to our dismay the boat grounded and refused to go any farther. Being ignorant of the action of the tides, we exhorted to the expedient related in Mark TWAIN's story of "Roughing It," wherein the maxim that "turn about is fair play" is illustrated and exemplified.

But in the meantime, the tide receding, our attempt at pushing and pulling the boat was of no avail and we were soon left high and dry in the midst of a desolate extent named by geologist "alluvial deposits."

Here was an unforeseen predicament to contend with, so consulting our prudence, we decided to abandon the skiff and cautiously waded knee-deep in plastic sediment towards shore, and at last reached the "sun-kissed" beach of Drayton Harbor in an exhausted and besattered condition.

We were kindly received and curiously eyed by Mr. DEXTER, who also told us that soon, with the incoming tide, our boat would drift ashore.

With the flood tide we recovered our boat near the mouth of California Creek, and in the crimson twilight of a lovely June evening, in the gloomy shades cast by the mighty virgin forest, the vanguard of a party of immigrants, destined to form the nucleus of future permanent settlements, silently drifted onward with the swiftly flowing tidal current to the head of navigation -- a short distance above the present graveyard -- where our cam was established. The next few days were occupied in preparing the camp for the reception of the remainder of our party, who shortly arrived and located in the vicinity. Only a little way from the first camp ground on the creek some of them are now peacefully slumbering till time shall be no more.

Elijah ADAMS took up a homestead adjoining mine and in a few years sold out and is at present happily domiciled in California.

At the time I speak of, the lands on the bank of the creek were not covered with the dense jungle of second growth fir as at present. The country was fairly open and intersected by numberless deer trails. Game, being abundant, offered sport and supplied our wants, and the upper creek was the home of the beaver and mink.

The years following witnessed quite an accession of new arrivals to our settlement on California Creek, who nobly did their share in subduing the wilderness. Of these I may mention the RUCKERs, UPSONs, TARTEs, STEWARTs, WHITEs, RAYs, WELLS, H. STOLTENBERG, T. BICE, George FAIRHURST, I. McBEE, J. H. McCAULEY, and others, all men and women of sterling qualities and of whom any community might be proud. Of course the land excitement brought a number of other settlers to this settlement whose good intentions evaporated without effect and whose precious time was consumed in strenuous idleness. The vestiges of their habitations may still be found in the primeval forest, a species of genus homo long since extinct.

In the first years of this settlement we were entirely indebted for our mail delivery to the kindness of CLARK brothers of the Spit, or to accommodating neighbors who in skiffs and canoes traveled to and from Whatcom, our nearest postoffice. When at last, through numberless petitions, we succeeded in the establishment of an office at Semiahmoo with the genial James MOURNE as postmaster, the little steamer, Phantom, made weekly trips from Port Townsend by way of the islands, and the day on which the mail steamer was due - or failed to arrive - soon became a regular holiday to old settlers. Every business and work was dismissed and postponed; from every creek, nook and corner, in rain or in sunshine, boats laden with produce and shingles - that constituted legal tender - could be seen approaching the spit.

Great was the joy of meeting our friends, and between discussing the news and merrymaking the tide receded sufficiently to permit all to dig the delicious bivalves for which the Spit was then celebrated far and near. In the midst of these vital exercises some wag would yell out "steamboat." A stampede ensued and although dissapointed the crowd dispersed good naturedly and found consolation for long patience in a feast of savory clam bake, which everybody seemed to enjoy.

But time and tide wait for no man. It frequently happened that we were compelled to return to our homes empty handed on account of ebbing tide, for experience had taught us to avoid the treacherous flats. Already at that period the course of the creek channels were diligently studied and ever since my first dilemma on the mud flats, in all the subsequent years of my seafaring life, I have had no occasion to come in contact with the alluva of our harbor.

In the summer of 1873, shortly after the arrival of the STEWARTs, a Congregational Society was organized and the first church in Whatcom County was built on California Creek, with the venerable William STEWART as pastor.

The Rev. STEWART, familiarly called "father," took an active part in antebellum days in the formation of the republican party, was an ardent admirer of our great LINCOLN, and by the assistance of his efforts the homestead law was enacted. In the long years of his useful life he labored incessantly for the betterment of society. His numerous progeny adorns the pages of history of Puget Sound.

But when in the time of general depression the STEWARTs and other members removed to the upper sound region the society soon thereafter dissolved, the fixtures and the bell were transferred to the church in Blaine. The sound of that far bell ringing ever awakens memories of the most pleasant associations of former days.

A school district was already formed comprising the whole territory from the boundary line to Lummis' Reservation, and the first school house erected upon the site of the present graveyard in the spring of 1872. A Methodist church was built in close proximity in the winter of 1872-1873. Since that, which is, so soon no more shall be, the singers now are silent, the praises still resound. Of the buildings no vestige now remains; both have succumbed to the ravages of time.

To Henry STOLTENBERG belongs the credit of first receiving the idea of connecting our settlements with that of the Nooksack River. Hearing on calm days in the distance toward the river the sound of an axe, he set out through the brush and found the owner there in the person of Michael GORMAN, a pioneer of the river settlement about four miles away.

In the year 1873, his idea was put in practice, a trail was blazed and Ed BOBLETT, CAIN brothers and others camped in this locality for a number of days, voluntarily built a sled road connecting both settlements and thus communication was opened up to the county seat for all time to come.

With joy and sadness I recall the early days of pioneer life; good will prevailed everywhere; hospitality and good fellowship were the ruling virtues of the early settlers, and the latch string always hung outside the door. Logging Bees were in vogue during the summer, and in social gatherings or religious revivals the long winter evenings were pleasantly spent.

My pioneer friends will be pleased to  know that I'm still on deck and that in the enjoyment of grubbing stumps and slashing second growth fir, I find solace and repose, justly entitled to, in my declining years.

From The Blaine Journal, March 2, 1906

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