“Old timers” are valued highly in Skagit County, particularly at the annual Skagit County Pioneer Association’s Pioneer Picnic.
This year will mark the 130th anniversary of Skagit County and the Pioneer Association will pay tribute to families who lived in the Skagit Valley some 13 decades ago.
The Savage and Boyd families of Birdsview will be honored as the Pioneer Family of the Year. The Rozema family of Bay View will be recognized for contributing to the Pioneer Spirit.
The picnic will begin at 11:15 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 2, at Pioneer Park, 1200 S. Fourth St., La Conner.
Dan Royal, historian of Skagit County Pioneer Association, is a descendant of the Boyd families that migrated to the Skagit Valley in the latter 1800s. He sent the following account of his early family history, gathered from letters and family stories. He wanted to emphasize the women’s role in the early history, as they often get “short-shrift.”
Among the early settlers in Birdsview were two sisters, Georgetta Savage and Olive Clara Boyd, from Nebraska. Georgetta, called Ettie, arrived first but quickly convinced her sister, called “Doll,” to join her in the upper Skagit Valley community.
The Boyds arrived by October 1882 and the sisters were ecstatic to be together again. The children now had cousins with whom they could romp in the woods.
The girls learned homemaking from their mothers. The older boys learned to log the old growth trees and work in the mill, run by both George Savage and brother in-law Alex Boyd either together or on their own.
Alex became the first teacher in this area, according to Archie Boyd, and he taught six Boyd, three Minkler, five Savage and four Pressentin children in a small wood schoolhouse built from lumber turned out at the mill.
The two families, with 25 children between them, cousins and descendants quickly made history. George Savage was involved in the formation of the Skagit area as a county in 1883 and became its first elected surveyor. Lewis A. Boyd, or Alex, as he was often referred to, was elected county clerk in 1896 on the Progressive ticket.
By 1885 the Boyd family had moved down river to the town of Sterling (near present-day Sedro-Woolley). Boyd worked in the Clear Lake area, doing any work he could get, including logging. Between him and George, they operated the Minkler mill several times, with varying success.
A story, part of a larger family history, written during this time period by Boyd daughter Mabel Royal was an amusing episode for Grandma Ettie Savage and remembered by all the Savage and Boyd children throughout their lives.
“That summer, (1885) Aunt Ettie and George Savage came to our place for a visit, bringing their family. The two families always enjoyed visiting together whenever they could, which was seldom.
“One day, Ma and Aunt Ettie decided that they would put out the families’ wash, so instead of carrying all that wash water from the river to the house, they built a fire by the river, and heated their water there. After scrubbing on the washboard with lye soap, they thought it a good idea to put the clothes in the canoe, and take them out in the river to rinse them, where the water was clear and deep.
“So out they paddled, and both were busily engaged with squeezing and rinsing, when the temperamental canoe quickly flipped over, throwing both women into the river, and both paddles and the clothes went floating down the river. Neither one could swim, so, hanging onto the canoe, they did their best.
“Some of the children were playing on the bank of the river and saw the plight of their mothers. Hearing their calls for help, the children ran to the house, excitedly telling their fathers to come at once. The men, who were in a deep political conversation, ignored them and remained in their chairs peacefully smoking their pipes. The children gave up and went back to play.
“In the meantime, Aunt Ettie, who was a humorous soul, and could get a big kick out of any kind of situation, looked over across the canoe at Ma, and started to laugh. … ‘Oh Doll, you look so funny, just like a drowned rat with your hair all wet over your face and your eyes bugged out,’ she said. This made Ma madder than ever, so she said, ‘Well, I don’t see anything funny about it, and if we don’t get drowned it will be a wonder.’
“At last, they drifted down to a bar in the river and waded ashore …. Ma was still peeved as they came to the house, and when they found the men comfortably sitting and talking, she really lost her patience. The men said that the children didn’t tell them, and the children said they wouldn’t listen. Aunt Ettie told about that experience to the last of her days and heartily laughed each time.”
Heartbreak always seemed to follow the pioneer woman’s life. Ettie lost her beloved sister Doll in September of 1897 following an unknown illness. Olive Clara Boyd was only 43. She finally had the home and gardens she had always dreamed of in the town of Burlington because of the $200 monthly salary Alex earned as the county clerk. She was laid to rest in the Burlington Greenhills Cemetery.
Grandma Ettie Savage lived a long pioneer life and died in 1928.