"A Chapter Out of the Old Days"
Day #30 from 100 Days in the San Juans
Series first published in The Seattle Times, 1946
Text by June Burn, former resident of the San Juan Islands.
|Viereck family, early mariners|
in the San Juan Archipelago.
Top left, Bill Viereck.
Bottom image inscribed "John Viereck's boat, 1898."
click to enlarge.
Copies courtesy of the Viereck family descendents.
"It's getting along towards evening again. All day I've been sitting out in the boat writing, catching up. Farrar has been up to see the Carlsons again and returned with boxes of strawberries and a bottle of cream. We hate to leave this place! But if we are to get away tomorrow we must go up to see Mrs. Willis this afternoon. Everyone says she knows a lot about the old days on Orcas.
"That's mother's house up on the hill," Mr. Culver Willis says. He lives with his little family in a cottage on the waterfront. We traipse on up––and enter a house so full of old, old, things, beautiful things, utile things, that we could have stayed there a week without seeing them all. Things "Father Willis" brought around the Horn from England in the 1880s, when he came the second time with his family and homesteaded right here. Pictures, books, candlesticks, chairs, spectacles, a square piano, some of items dating from the 17th C. One handsome painting that might be a modern "primitive" done by Mrs. Willis' mother in Vermont 75-yrs ago, or nearly.
From Mrs. Willis and from others with whom we have talked we have learned that this eastern arm of Orcas was a rather self-contained unit in the old days. The Vierecks, Moores, and Grays were the first settlers here. They all came sometime in the 1860s.
In 1873, when San Juan County was cut off from Whatcom and began to keep its own school records, there was a school election in which 43 people seem to have cast ballots. Shattuck, Viereck, and Shotter were elected to the school board on that day and it was decided that school should henceforth be held in the church at Eastsound instead of in the school house which had theretofore been used.
Family names listed in that 1873 school record are Lyons, Dixon, Trueworthy, Gerard, Wright, Iotte, Laplant, Underwood, Kion, Dawsy, Shotter, Badine, Moore, Viereck, Kettles. Other families who had no children of school age were the Legbandts and Grays.
All of which means that Orcas Island was a going concern years earlier than history has recorded it. There were roads and school houses, churches, cleared farms, stores. Population before 1870, perhaps before 1860, some before 1850, no doubt.
Indeed, it becomes more and more clear that there were settlers here perhaps as early as the 1840s or even earlier. Hunters from the Astoria settlement, in 1812, may have come this far. Hudson's Bay men were both north and south of the islands in he early 1800s, why not here? In a history of British Columbia I ran across a casual mention of a San Juan Island settler who did something or other in 1843. If they were on San Juan, they are likely to have been on other islands as well. It is most unlikely that sailors, hunters, adventurers, deserters from cruel ship usages in those days would have passed the islands by.
We finally leave this interesting Willis house. Outside, in the yard, we come upon the Olga volunteer meteorological station where temperatures and rainfall have been observed by Willises since 1890. We see the first record book and the last one. The story is missing for just one week in those 56 years.
|Vintage postcard photos,|
Archives of the S. P. H. S.
And so off again, not on around Orcas to the north, as we had planned, but back down around Deer Point and up into Eastsound if wind and tide are right, for we have heard of so many people there whom we should see "for the recording of the old." But the wind and tide are far from right! It is blowing whitecaps out of Eastsound. We'll camp then, in Obstruction Pass on one of those sweet beaches between long rocky points––we find John Shephard and John Gray––of the pioneer family of Grays, on the longest, loveliest, of those beaches, mending boats for the purse seine season. They show us a fine spring in a deep, secret bay. How good it smells in the close, dark woods where the cold water lies in a shade pool!
See you tomorrow, June"