Thursday, April 24, 2008

The First Permanent Residents of Point Roberts

The series of posts on Point Roberts has stimulated more interest than I initially thought it would.

Over the last five days, I've had a number of visitors from Universities, libraries and public schools from across the nation. So, I would like to finish this series with a short, biographical sketch of some of the first residents of Point Roberts; and try to provide researchers with an additional list of reference materials to assist them in their efforts to document the unique history of this isolated region of the United States. *Please note that I do not have a list of authors for all of the material that I found in my mother's papers.

I am fairly certain that Professor Richard E. Clark from Western Washington State College (now Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington) is the author of some of the "unsourced" historical material, as he and my mother had much correspondence regarding Point Roberts during the 1970's and early 1980's.

In the fall of 1980, My mother, (Lillian) and Professor Clark were co-hosts on a Canadian Television series titled, "Where Salish Coast Indians Once Lived." The program was comprised of two parts, 1) the Whalen farm site during Indian times and now; and, 2) Lily Point from Indian times to the present.

Pat Whalen presented background data on midden sites, archaelogical information, and the early white settlement. My mother addressed the historical highlights at Lily Point and my great grandfather's role in settling Point Roberts. She also presented background information on the scope of the cannery's work, and the role the cannery played in the community.

Professor Clark presented background data regarding Indian fishing, the Wadham's cannery and John Waller's pioneer trap industry prior to Wadhams development. They used excerpts from a taped interview of Arni Myrdal in the program. (This was a program that was designed as a television course for college credit - Delta Ten produced the series).

Some of the early pioneer character sketches are derived from excerpts found in "The Bellingham Herald's Chronological and Biographical History of Northwest Washington, Illustrated." A supplement to the Bellingham Herald; Bellingham Washington, 1910).

John Harris: the First Settler at Point Roberts is John Harris.

Harris had a curious history. He was raised among a tribe of Indians in New Mexico, having been taken captive when a boy. He subsequently served as a scout with General Scott’s army in the Indian and Mexican wars, and had many adventures and hair breadth escapes. Leading a most romantic life, he drifted up north about twenty five years ago and settled at Semiahmoo, but soon after removed to Point Roberts, where he was engaged in stock raising. He had two daughters by an Indian wife, one of whom is married to James Atkinson, also of Point Roberts. He was best known as “Long-haired Harris.” (Lottie Roeder Roth, ed., "History of Whatcom County," Vol. I. pg. 242).

Among the boundary commission was John Harris who was cook for Lieut. Park, and who after the commission had finished its work here took up what is now known as the Elwood place, between California and Dakota Creeks. He settled there some time early in the 1860’s, and a few years ago was murdered on Point Roberts by a Greek brigand.” (“As They Found It” The Blaine Journal, December 12, 1889).

Indian Intimidation at Point Roberts – Mr. John Harris was in town last Friday, and complained of the threatening attitude of certain Indians from beyond the British line who came to the above named Point and ordered him off the fishing ground, stating that they were sent there by the agent and representing themselves as belonging to the United States Reservation. Mr. Harris was too sharp for them, however, and told them they had no rights there that he was bound to respect and refused to leave; that they didn’t belong to the reservation, and even if they did the place was outside the limits. This made the Indians very insolent, and nothing but the coolness of Mr. Harris, and the close proximity of his trusty rifles, prevented a collision with serious results. It is hoped that Mr. McGlynn, the agent, will guard against a repetition of these proceedings.” (The Bellingham Bay Mail, July 12, 1873).

(John Harris) has been located (at Point Roberts) for years, and owns a large heard of cattle…” (The Bellingham Bay Mail, July 12, 1873).

Harris and Waller were the only settlers at Point Roberts; Harris, who had been engaged in the cattle business for a number of years, and Waller, a newcomer, engaged in fishing.” (Lottie Roeder Roth, ed., "History of Whatcom County," Vol. I, pg. 215).

"As a rule the rural districts were well-behaved and orderly, and crime was very exceptional. The whole northern part of the county, therefore, was greatly stirred by the report that John Harris, the pioneer of Point Roberts, had been murdered. The account of his tragedy, given by The LaConner Mail, in February 1883, is as follows: “For some months past a feud had existed between John Harris and Charles Mitchell at Point Roberts. This culminated a few days ago in an altercation in which Harris lost his life. Harris, as the story goes, was out with a shotgun when he met Mitchell; hot words ensued, Harris attempted to shoot Mitchell, who was too active for the old man. The gun changed hands and Mitchell beat Harris almost to death with it. Harris’s daughter and son in law came on the scene, drove Mitchell off and took Harris home, but he died soon after. Mitchell was taken before a Justice of the Peace at Semiahmoo and was acquitted on the plea of self-defense.” (Lottie Roeder Roth, ed., "History of Whatcom County," Vol. 1, pg. 242).

John and Kate Waller

John Waller had a plan: "Mr. Waller, who is a very intelligent and enterprising citizen of advanced years and experience, informed us tha a dozen families could make comfortable homes and farms on the Point if the Government would throw open the land to settlement, and that he himself would build a wharf and make other extensive improvements there if the government would guarantee him from loss by patenting the land." (The Bellingham Bay Mail, April 6, 1878, pg. 3).

"An echo of the John Waller tragedy came when Gus Julian, while fishing off Chuckanut Bay, in June of 1886, found the body of John Waller, who was drowned there September 18, 1885. John Waller was the pioneer fisherman of Point Roberts and had the first fish trap at that Point, which for many years had been known as one of the best fishing points on Puget Sound. It is related that Captain Henry Roeder, who had had much experience in trap-fishing on Lake Erie and at Sacramento instructed Mr. Waller as to the construction of this trap. At first the trap was a failure as the leads were not properly set against the tide. Captain Roeder corrected this for Mr. Waller and the trap was filled almost to bursting. Later, this trap location was sold for $25,000, an enormous price for that time, but a most profitable investment for the purchasers, as fish to the value of many hundreds of thousands of dollars have been taken there." (Lottie Roeder Roth, ed., "History of Whatcom County," Vol. I, pg. 431).

"In 1890, by order of the Interior Department, the government reserve, with the exception of 264 acres set apart for lighthouse purposes, was vacated, and an order made that the land should be sold in 40 acre tracts, squatters being given the prior right of purchase. This order resulted in a stampede of adventurers from the British side who flocked to the point for the purpose of securing a forty on which to speculate. The order of vacation however, provided that the settlers who had located there prior to January 1, 1884, should be permitted to perfect title under the homestead laws. Mrs. Waller and Horace Brewster, having been actual settlers on the Point at and prior to the date mentioned. For good and sufficient reasons, as above suggested, the department refused to carry out the original plans of selling in forty acre tracts, which resulted in an abandonment of the point by the adventurers and speculators sent in for that purpose, and in their stead there are now at the point seventeen actual bona fide settlers, all but four of whom are heads of families. As an evidence of their honest intention to make permanent homes at that place, it may be cited that they have already organized a school district with an enrollment of 27, and one month's school has been maintained Mr. T.J. Foley, formerly of this city, now one of the actual settlers at the point, having conducted the school without remuneration in order that the district might regularly organize. The settlers, besides building a school house and public roads, are making improvements on their claims, putting out orchards, erecting buildings, etc., and are now anxiously awaiting an order from the land department at Washington permitting them to file homesteads upon their respective locations.

...There is no contest as among individuals -- all the settlers having recently met at Mr. Foley's place and agreed upon boundary lines and sub-divisions. The land in question is of excellent quality for fruit growing and agricultural purposes, and will make pleasant homes for the occupants. A petition has been forwarded to the department asking for the establishment of a mail route from Blaine to Point Roberts. At present, the settlers receive their mail by private carriers from Blaine. That there is opposition to the opening of the reservation to settlers under the homestead act has become apparent, and has given the settlers no small amount of anxiety." (The Bellingham Bay Evening Express, Vol. 5, No. 6, April 7, 1893, pg. 1).

E.A. Wadhams and A.E. Wadhams:

Edmund Abraham Wadhams, the father of Arthur E., was born at Wadhams Mills, New York, on March 28, 1833, and was decended from an old English family of Revolutionary fame. Crossing the plains to California in 1849, he thence went to Cariboo, British Columbia, following the stampede to the new gold fields.

In 1893, he went to Point Roberts, where he erected a cannery, but in the fall of that year, sold his interests to the Alaska Packers' Association and returned to British Columbia, there erecting a cannery at River's Inlet and conducting the same until his life's labors were ended in death on the 17th of January, 1885.

Arthur Edgar Wadhams received his education in the public schools of Victoria and New Westminister, and at Badgley College in Victoria. He then entered employment at his father's cannery at Point Roberts and remained as the manager after his father sold the cannery to the Alaska Packers Association.(A History of the Puget Sound Country, Vol. II, New York: Lewis Pub. Co., 1903, pg. 303-304).

Another ex-cariboo miner, whose name is stamped indelibly on the coast through canning was E.A. Wadhams. Once, while mushing out from the Cariboo along a winding trail in the Fraser Canyon, he was buried alive under an avalanche. For hours his friends worked in vain to find him and were at the point of giving up. Wadham, pinned below the surface with a small air pocket could hear them giving him up for lost, then his wife's pleading with them to continue digging, until at last he was hauled out of the snow stiff with cold and badly shaken but otherwise unharmed. (Hugh W. McKervill, "The Salmon People" Sidney, B.C., Canada: Gray's Publishing: Ltd., 1967, pg. 48).

"Wadham's on Trial: E.A. Wadham appeared before Judge Hardin this morning to answer the charge of using a pound trap for fishing without a license. The defense urged that the waters around Point Roberts were not a part of Puget Sound but of the Gulf of Georgia and the statute requires a license for the Columbia River and Puget Sound Waters only. Mr. Hardin has the case under consideration and will render his decision this evening. " Later, the judge acquitted Wadhams. ("The Bellingham Bay Express," July 17, 1893, pg. 1).

The Wadham's Case

"The Wadhams case was again argued in the superior court this morning. The rival cannery men wish to have the case brought before the supreme court, and, if there bond is acceptable to the judge, that is where it will be settled." (The Bellingham Bay Express," July 17, 1893, Pg. 1).

Fish Case Decided

"Judge Winn decided this noon that Wadhams had a right to set as many traps as he liked, so long as he did not go within 1,500 feet of the traps of the other cannery men. This is all that Wadhams asked. This gives the cannery men a chance to catch all the fish they want, and there is enough for all of them." (The Bellingham Bay Express, July 26, 1893, pg. 1).

Point Roberts Fish

"And still there is trouble among the cannery men at Blaine. Now comes Joseph Goodfellow and wants A.E. Wadhams to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court. He claims Wadhams is building or operating traps within 1,500 feet of those other canners. The case will be heard August 12." The Bellingham Bay Express, August 4, 1893, pg. 1).

Additional Information can be found in the publications listed below:

Richard E. Clark, "Social Change in an American Enclave Community." A 117 page socio-historical document kept in Wilson Library, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225.

Richard E. Clark, " An American Enclave Community and the Great Change." An M.A. Thesis in sociology, available at WWU.

R.C. Mayne, "Four Years in British Columbia and Vancouver Island." London: John Murray, Albermarle Street, 1862, pg. 52. 81.

Lottie Roeder Roth (ed.) "History of Whatcom County," Vol. I. (Chicago and Seattle: Pioneer Historical Pub. Co., 1926, pg. 995. 801, 242, 797, 348, 662, 663.

Hunter Miller, "San Juan Archipelago." Bellow Falls, Vermont: Windham Press, 1943, pg. 42, 43.

Arni S. Myrdal, "Recollections." This historical sketch appeared in a weekly Icelandic newspaper published in Winnipeg, Manitoba: Heimskringla, Vol. LXVIII, December 23, 30, 1953 and January 6, 1954.

Ed. C. Ellet, "Report To the U.S. Department of the Interior, General Land Office, December 28, 1904." This document is in the files of the Department and is available from Washington D.C., for a fee.

Frances Herring, "Among the People of British Columbia, Red, White, Yellow, and Brown." London: T. Fisher Unwin, Paternoster Square, 1903, pg. 231 and the whole chapter affilated with that page.

There are additional resources listed in Richard E Clark's paper, "Social Change in an American Enclave Community." Unfortunately, it will be difficult to get a look at this publication unless you are actually in the area.

The Whatcom County Courthouse has reams of documents that have not been adequately researched as does the Whatcom Museum. There is probably much undiscovered material in Seattle as well.

Thanks for your interest - I enjoyed putting this series together.

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