By Fred Owens
If you can't trust Margaret Lee, then who can you trust?
Affadavit of Margaret Lee. She lived next to Fishtown her whole life and here's why she thought it was a special place. She wrote this in 1988 in support of a civil action against the State of Washington and Chamberlain Farms concerning the logging of the Fishtown Woods.
I, Margaret Lee, on oath depose and state as follows:
I am of legal age, reside at 1180
E. Landing Road, Skagit County, Washington, and make this affidavit upon my own free will and voluntary act.
…. I am the granddaughter of Frederick Gage who purchased the homestead of DeWitt Dennison in 1885 which lies south of and adjacent to the present Chamberlain Farms property commonly known as the "Fishtown Woods" .... My grandfather Frederick Gage and my grandmother Elenore Gage lived on the property for the remainder of their lives. Their daughter Louisa, who was also my mother, and her husband Randolph Valentine lived on the property all of their lives. I was born in 1916 and lived on the property my entire life.....
I am familiar with the historic Indian occupation of our property (the “Lee Farm”) and the Chamberlain property in the area known as Fishtown and the larger area that forms the state historical district. I have both personal experience and the stories and information that I was told about by my parents and grandparents. My mother was quite good friends with an Indian woman named Mary. She and Mary spent many hours sharing tea, toast and jam and talking and sharing stories. Both of my parents would trade and talk with Indians that would bring clams and homespun socks. I remember my dad always wearing Indian-made socks.
Sometime around 1890, a partial dike was constructed along the Skagit River in front of Fishtown Bay which lies just north of Gage’s Point (named for my grandfather). A granary was built on the dike and a road was built in the valley that extends northward from Fishtown Bay connecting the granary to Dodge Valley.
At and before this time, Indians lived and used this area. Several Indian trails that predate the granary are still present and were used by my sister and I when were young to go to school and to walk through the woods.
The Indian valley trail connects the old village area with Dodge valley to the north. It followed the hillside on the southwest side of the valley and was several feet up the side of the hillside. I would often walk this trail as a young girl and I recall my mother warning me to “look but not to touch anything.” Mother said this was a “sacred place” to the Indians and they told her that a big chief was buried there. She said that the chief continued to watch over the Indian people and the Indian spirits guarded the place.
The lake trail connected the old village area to a lake to the east up on the bluff on my property. Indian watchmen used to sit on the tip of Gage’s Point looking west….When Indian raiding parties approached, the Indians moved camp and retreated to the lake up on my property to hide out until danger passed.
Roy Larsen Skull. Around 1911, Roy Larsen discovered a human skull near the old village area in Fishtown Bay. Roy was a fisherman that lived in a shack on pilings near the old granary by the river.
Spruce Tree Skull. I remember personally discovering a skeleton under a log on the north side of Gage’s Point a few feet up the hill when I was nine years old. It was very near the old village site, and I remember covering the skeleton up the best I could.
Indians Move to Swinomish Reservation. When I was nine years old, I went inside an Indian shack next to the river on the dike where the granary used to be. It was small and contained bunks at opposite ends. Around the walls were cattail mats about waist-high and there was a hole in the roof to let smoke out. My mother told me that Indians who had lived there moved to the Swinomish Indian Reservation…. in the early 1900s.
Burial Ceremonies. When my grandfather planted the orchard next to my house about 1890, several Indians came up to him and told that there were Indian burials there. They warned that the spirits would be disturbed if the graves were not removed before planting. My grandparent agreed to the reburial and told me of loud ceremonies and involved a lot of chanting and wailing. A number of artifacts were removed with the bodies including gold coins and a children’s China ring. The bodies were taken to Little Dead Man’s Island to be reburied….
Indian Spirits. I also remember Indian workers and stories that my grandfather and mother told me about Indians that worked on our farm who would not go through the woods because of the Indian spirits they called “Skalatutes” that lived there.
Gravel Pit Bones. The sand spit that the old village site in Fishtown Bay was located on was used to supply gravel for the granary road and by farmers whenever gravel was needed. A big pit was dug near the big Spruce in the middle of the spit. Human bones from the pit were discarded in a pile next to the pit which grew larger over time as more and more gravel was removed. Bones discovered in the gravel … were discarded all along the south side of the road in the valley behind the old village. There were all kinds of bones: leg bones, arms and skulls.
High Water. The winter high tides fill up the Bay where the old village is. Just last year, the tide covered the boardwalk that runs along the river next to Fishtown Bay and several planks floated off. During those tides, the entire bay is under a lot of water all the way back to the hillside. These high tides are a regular occurrence and something my mother was continually warning us about.
I swear on oath that the above statements are true and correct to the best of my knowledge. Dated this 19th day of April, 1988. _________________ [signed] Margaret Lee
Richard Gilkey Objects A letter to the Seattle Times, dated
January 28, 1988, after Gilkey was arrested at the Fishtown Woods protest.
I am obliged to respond to implications in some local press coverage of the
Fishtown clear-cut-logging issue.I take exception to references to those in dissent as ex-hippies, indigents who
pay no taxes, and radicals who put spikes in trees.Because my name was reported on television and in newspapers, with reluctance I make
the following statement in contradiction.As a fourth-generation Skagit Valley resident, a World War II Marine Corps veteran
who served in the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion in the invasion of Bouganville, Solomon Islands, I have painted landscapes in the area since 1946.I was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in painting for travel and study abroad in
1958. My work is in museums and public and private institutions, and has been shown in Europe and Japan. I own my own home, studio and truck free and clear.As a matter of conscience and social responsibility, and as an individual
concerned with aesthetic and environmental integrity, I stood in the path of logging trucks and was arrested for criminal protesting.I was pleased to be standing with fellow artists, mothers and fathers,
architects, a carpenter, writers, and university graduates, among others.My position was that the logging operation should be halted until the outcome of
the court hearing is known.The fate of eagles, eagles, herons, and 400-year-old trees deserves our careful study. Also, I feel that Fishtown woods should be a refuge for wildlife, plants, and other threatened species, such as artists.
Keith Brown’s Cadillac
Keith Brown was installed in a hospital for the criminally insane in 1986 after climbing to the roof of the Lighthouse Restaurant carrying a can of gasoline. The police stopped him before he could set the match.
Keith’s Fishtown cabin was empty two years later when the Fishtown Wood Massacre began, and his old car was growing weeds in the parking area out by the old quarry on Dodge Valley Road. It was a Sprite, one of those little English sports cars, only Kieth had removed the trunk cover and done some work with a hack saw to make room for a rotary gas-powered lawn mower. That way he could drive to his lawn-mowing appointments in town, to make enough money for Prince Albert in a can, and chunks of cheese, and bags of onions and coffee. Maybe some beer, but Keith didn’t drink much, he was crazy as a hoot, but not a drunk.
The Sprite sat on the gravel by the side of the road, where the other Fishtown residents parked their vehicles, by the old quarry, as I said, and just across the road from Ken Staffanson’s big old farmhouse. Staffanson leased the farm land from the Chamberlains and he grew strawberries, potatoes, cabbages, peas, the usual thing.
You parked your car, if you were a visitor like me, and set out to walk across the field -- there was no sign of course – “Fishtown straight ahead” – no sign, that was part of the magic. If you needed a map and a set of directions, then Fishtown was not for you.
Besides that it kept the traffic down. Farmers let people walk across their fields, but they didn’t want God and everybody doing it -- you kept foot traffic light and waved to the farmer out plowing. If it was across the field going to Fishtown you hoped the farmer had not plowed right up to the ditch because then you had to walk over the broken clods – hard work and muddy, but the farmer wanted every inch of the field. You might walk across, but you could scarcely ask him to leave you a pathway.
So we parked next to Keith Brown’s Cadillac – we called it that for fun – and walked out, very often, me and the wife and the two small kids, out to visit Keith Brown or some of the others, usually Ben and Meg and they lived in Bo Miller’s old place.
That was our habit until they started to cut the woods down, and then we organized a protest and blocked the logging road, linked arms in a circle and sat down to stop the trucks coming in, and then, just for fun, without really planning, Singin’ Dan and a few others walked over to the parking area and began to push Keith Brown’s Cadillac over to the protest zone – pushed it into the road, right behind the protestors.
I was there watching all this. It was a comic interlude, because this was serious business – all those people going to jail, but we had our laugh. “Keith can’t come, he sends his love from the looney bin, says we’re welcome to donate his car for the cause.”
I was sitting on a rocky knoll across the road, smoking a cigar, watching all this. I wanted to join the arrestees, but, being the chief litigant, having the dubious honor of my name on the writ – it said “Fred Owens vs. Chamberlain Farms” – the lawyer, our dedicated friend and companion, J.J. Bode, advised me to stay out of the criminal process. “You’re leading the civil case,” he said, “so don’t get arrested because that just confuses things.”
So I watched from the rocky knoll and smoked a cigar.
The Chamberlains did not own Fishtown
The Chamberlains did not own Fishtown because the cabins were outside the dike and on river tidelands. Nonetheless, they collected a nominal rent and obtained leases.
Here is one of the leases, dated Dec. 16, 1986, in a letter from Christopher Shaefe in Arizona -- he was an in-law of the Chamberlain family. The letter is addressed to Sande Howard, wife to Art Jorgensen, mother to Willow Jorgensen.
"The attached lease will allow your continued occupancy of that certain property owned by Chamberlain Farm for the calendar year 1987.
Please sign the lease, indicating your correct address where provided and return to me along with 1987 rent in the amount of $230.00."
I have a copy of the lease because it was submitted in the legal process that led to eviction. In the legal action, the Chamberlains could not prove title to the Fishtown cabins, but they could establish "superior possession" and the evidence for that were the leases, which the occupants had signed.
Willow, Art and Sande were evicted in 1989 and their cabin was torn down. None of this needed to happen, and I would spread the blame all around. The Chamberlains were not the bad actors in this drama -- but feelings were hot at the time.
Be it said, many years later, that nobody ever owned Fishtown.
And also be it said that the Chamberlains owned the woods and owned the fields that gave walking access to Fishtown. There was never any formal permission or denial of passage across Chamberlain property, but I, feel like they probably don't want me on the premises. I have not been there ever again, except one time in 1999 when I was working on the U.S. Census to correct the maps for use in the Census of 2000. I had a legal right, as a census worker, to access the property and confirm that the cabins were no longer there. Which I did confirm. The cabins were gone and left no trace, only the willows of eternal spring, and the river that flows forever.