Early Days in the South Fork Valley

by Mrs. Mary F. Stephens

The first settlers found a wilderness of brush, logs and large timbers. A few Indian shacks and canoes along the river. Plenty of fish and a few wild animals in the woods. It presented nothing but hard work to hew out a home and farm in this fine, healthy climate. Stout hearts and strong arms and a forward vision was necessary to undertake the clearing of land. Yet forty years ago white men cut trails and came in from the south and north end of the valley. Three sides of the valley are bounded by the foothills of Mt. Baker, making it free from cold north winds in winter, and a pleasant place to live in cold weather.

J. M. GALBRAITH,  John BRUNS and Julius ULRICH came by Lake Whatcom and settled near where Saxon is now. Wilmer VANZANDT, Jack MANION and Charles PARK took claims in the northern part of the valley between Clipper and VanZandt. These men carried supplies, blankets and tools on their backs, built cabins on their claims and roughed it generally.

Not many months after Morris MCCARTY, Thomas STEPHENS and John HUTCHINSON settled in the middle of the valley, near where Acme is now located. A little later Mrs. MCCARTY and baby, Ethel, arrived. Then A. A. GALBRAITH, Miss Mary MCDANIEL and niece, Maud MCDANIEL, Thomas CATO wife and baby, all taking claims in the central part. Indians brought the women and children eleven miles up the river in canoes, also provisions to last six months. Very little land was cleared to plant vegetables the first summer, and only potatoes and a few other things were raised. Venison and a few native fruits helped out sourdough flap jacks and bacon grease butter. The next year John HUTCHINSON brough out a bride to cheer his lonely cabin home on the large creek where his claim was located. Mrs. HUTCHINSON lived only a few months, passing away April 15, 1885. Her body was taken down the river by the Indians in a canoe and buried in the Nooksack cemetery. Hutchinson creek was named in her honor.

A little later Samuel PARK and Mrs. Lizzie R. PARK and three children came out from Bellingham. They built a nice hewed log house on their claim. All the other settlers lived in little log cabins then. Two women, Mrs. A. A. GALBRAITH and her sister, Miss Sallie COX, and their aged father came by way of Lake Whatcom. Mrs. GALBRAITH's four children came with them.

Almost all the other settlers were bachelors up to this time. Went out to work in summer for a grub-stake and hibernate in bad weather, and extend their clearings in good weather. No one could prove upon their claims for three years, because the survey of the two townships was not accepted by the government. Many left their claims or relinquished them to others who were hunting homes in a new country. Two women disposed of their claims and married old bachelors to cheer up their lonely lives. So that ended in two weddings, at which Rev. B. K. MCELMON officiated at the homes of A. A. GALBRAITH and Morris MCCARTY. Both grooms and brides were between 30 and 40 years old. One bridegroom blistered his face rowing a boat over Lake Whatcom to procure a license. A cloudy, rainy day greeted the first wedding and a warm, bright, sunny day the second. But when the hour set arrived no minister was in evidence. No one knew if he would ever come, so all hands ate the fine wedding dinner at 12 o'clock. At 3 p. m. the parson hove in sight almost on the run, and "all went merry as a marriage bell."  So endeth the first chapter.

Opening up roads and cutting trails was the order of the day from 1890 to 1900. Quite a number of clearings were  made and seeds planted to raise food for pack ponies, oxen, cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. The river and creeks were alive with trout and salmon. After proving up on their claims many of the bachelors mortgaged or sold out and left for good. Shingle mills were built, and logging camps bought timber and logs and left stumps and brush to be cleared up for farming land. Speculators in land bought up mortgaged land at nominal sums and are holding much of it today at a high figure, so high no one wants it when taxes are sky-high. The settlement of the Valley is hindered very much by these speculators right now. Snohomish valley land is offered for sale at $60 an acre, while this valley land is held for $100 an acre. No one can afford to buy such land when farm produce is worth so little.

The people organized four school districts out of two townships, which was the first district. Miss May HARRISON was the first teacher. It was taught in an abandoned cabin on Hutchinson creek.

The first postoffice was established on T. H. STEPHENS' ranch, and Mary STEPHENS was the postmistress and Peter ZOBRIST was appointed mail carrier from Park to Acme. In three years the railroad was built and the post office moved to Acme station. It was a great surprise to many we should have the railroad so soon. Our roads were rough and bad, and all were rejoiced that we could travel to Seattle and the coast so easily and buy goods, as we only had one store located at Acme.

Acme was named by two bachelors, who were so hungry for music they answered an advertisement about 'The Acme Song Book.' When they examined it there was not a note of music in it, only poems. They were badly sold and said, "What's in a name?" and insisted on naming the postoffice Acme.

Now Acme is the metropolis of the Valley, with good businessmen, churches, school and extra good hotel, blacksmith shop, two garages, railroad, express and telegraph offices and three good stores. We sadly need a barber shop and a real estate agency.

About one-half of the people of the Valley are native Americans and a mixed lot of foreigners, who are very good, industrious people. Most all are in the dairy business, and quite a number have pure-bred cattle and chickens. Many single men and widows, all with good home. All are foremost in any good works, especially prohibition.
"Never had a saloon in Acme."

From The Deming Prospector, April 6, 1923; copied by Susan Nahas


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