Migration: From Southern Appalachia to Northern Cascades Part 2

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Skagit County Circa 1906, Darrington is just over the southern county line

Welcome back for part two of our series on the migration of people from Western North Carolina (WNC) to the Pacific Northwest (PNW). In the first blog we covered the national moment, laying historical context for what would become the westward migration of Southern Appalachian residents. (If you haven’t done so yet, please read part 1 of this series.) We left off with the story of the Siler family and the founding of Randle, in Lewis County Washington, by Rufus Siler. Rufus’s cousin Harry O. Siler was an early timber businessman in Everett (WA). The Silers have roots in North Carolina going all the way back to the late 1700’s with his great grandparents Plikard and Dillard Siler, the founders of Siler City, North Carolina. Now let’s head north and visit Skagit and Snohomish Counties in Washington, and see how the Tarheels of North Carolina come to shape the landscape and culture of the Northern Cascade region from the turn of the 20th century through today.

By the end of the 19th century the northern Pacific route of railroad tracks were laid, the Gold Rush was on, and the rise of the timber industry was in full swing. Washington State began seeing a major influx of migration from all over the country and the world. In his book the Pacific Slope, Earl Pomeroy cites some hard numbers. “The number of residents who had been born in other states or territories increased in the 1880’s from 27,955 to 165,104 in Washington.”(1)  The people of Southern Appalachia, particularly Tarheels, would continue to be a major part of this influx, with the next two migrations of the early 20th century and then during and after World War Two.

At the end of the 19th century into the early 20th century, Northwest Washington, especially the mountainous area, was only sparsely populated with  non-native settlements. The settlements that were established concentrated around the Puget Sound, due to open land and the ease of travel by waterway. The first area settled in the north (at this point Skagit and Whatcom Counties were one big county), was Fidalgo Island and the first major towns in Snohomish and Skagit Counties respectively were Everett and La Conner, all three port towns. One of the main issues delaying settlement to the mountainous region of Skagit County was the presence  of a massive log jam on the Skagit River.(2)

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Government Land survey from late 1800’s of the big bend log jam on the Skagit River

River image covers over two river miles

The “big bend jam”, covering nearly two river miles, was located just downiver from present-day Mount Vernon and was so solid that there were full-sized trees growing up and out of it. Volcanologists in Washington have determined that the lower section of the big bend jam was formed by debris originating from an eruption of Mt Baker in the 1600’s and that the soil, allowing for tree growth, was from volcanic sediment from a later eruption, creating one wicked log jam. Explorers had made their way upriver from the jam and saw the extreme potential for farming, mining, and logging in the upper Skagit River Valley . The removal of the jam, officially started in 1876, would take three years to complete and involve the loss of many tools. The following is a description of the magnitude of the big bend log jam and what it took to remove it, taken from the Northern Star newspaper in 1878 shortly before the project was complete;

When they began work in February 1876, the jam, or jams, for there were two of them, about three quarters of a mile in length, blocked up the river bank to bank for nearly two miles. The river was almost 1000 feet wide at the upper jam and narrowed down to about 500 feet at the head of the lower jam, and again expanded to 600 to 800 feet. In the lower jam the river averaged about 80 feet deep, places where no sounding could be made in the swift water at the narrowest part. In the upper jam the water averaged in depth about 20 feet, from bank to bank.

     [Unreadable] the lower jam, a channel had to be cut one-fourth of a mile long, through logs wedged in as tightly as possibly for water to wedge them, from the bottom of the river to the surface, and many 20 feet above the surface, and from bank to bank; with mud and sand in many places on the surface of the jam ten feet deep, and trees growing on it ten inches in diameter. They had to slash and [unreadable] the forest of young trees on the jam, before they could commence sawing and getting out he logs and rubbish of the jam proper.

     Then when all the logs on the surface were sawed off and rolled into the water some six successive layers would rise to the surface that had to be treated in a similar manner. In this way a channel one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet wide was cut through solid mass of logs averaging from 30 to 40 feet high for one-fourth of a mile long (3)

This work; done by eight men, using simple logging tools, and with nearly no financial aid, is unfathomable to my modern ears and really astonish one at the ingenuity and hard work of those early pioneers. All that they accomplished would have a massive impact on the economic future of the upper Skagit valley, though they would not be reimbursed for their nearly $1000 per person debt, and would create a path for Tarheels to come.

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Sedro-Woolley circa 1906

Now that the river was clear, settlement began in earnest. The two towns of Sedro and Woolley would eventually combine into one in 1898 creating Sedro-Woolley. By 1890 there would be three train lines operating in Sedro-Woolley, with up to eleven trains arriving daily. The main industries, as in most Northern Cascades communities, would be; farming, mining, mostly coal, and timber. Soon settlement would move upriver to towns like Lyman, Hamilton, Concrete, and Rockport. In the 1889 Washington Territorial Census, there were several North Carolina-born families residing in Skagit County, Some early migrants were W.A. Baker, J. Conely, William Osborne, and the Hayes family, totalling twenty-one people in all. That number would rise by 1910, when we see the names of Bryson and Queen added to the Skagit County rolls.. The majority of the very earliest Tarheels would be farmers, yet some would be involved in the timber industry, with many more to join the timber ranks during the third migration, during and after World War Two. Western North Carolinians were highly skilled in the harvesting of hardwoods of the Southeast and would bring that knowledge to the PNW, once the timber industry in the South crumbled.

Speaking of North Carolina, what was happening in Western North Carolina at this time? The late 1880’s saw the federal government pull out of Reconstruction and small trunk lines connecting the Western Mountains to the larger commercial centers of the South had finally been built. There was little good farmland left available in the hills of WNC, and those who lacked the land needed for farming began to make their way West, taking advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862 and the completion of the transcontinental railway.. The logging industry in Western North Carolina would be climbing to the top of the economic mountain by the end of the 19th century. Although logging had been a mainstay in the local region since the first pioneers, it wasn’t until the completion of the local railroads that logging would become a massive export.

     Migpt24            Sunburst Logging camp in Pigeon Valley NC

The timber town of Sunburst, completed in 1913 and operating until the 40’s, was considered a modern company town, complete with housing for up to 500 employees and indoor plumbing. Sunburst, originally Pigeon Valley, was homesteaded by Joshua Inman in 1823. James Anderson Inman, of Cold Mountain fame and Joshua’s relation, would also build the first Unitarian church in WNC at the base of Sunburst. A part of the Inman family would splinter and move to the towns of Darrington and Arlington at the start of the 20th century (more on this later). Eventually the accessible lumber in the area would be clear cut and the timber industry would move west, and the Tarheel lumbermen would follow right along. Barnett in At the Foot of Cold Mountain states, “Many men from local families left the Pigeon Valley for the more profitable jobs in the lumbering industry in Washington and Oregon during these years[1912]…Stories were told about the year that so many boys left the Pigeon Valley that they chartered a special train coach to travel in.” (4)

During the early 20th century, WNC would experience a couple of major natural disasters. The largest flood to date in 1916, had the area see 22 inches of rainfall in 24 hours. By 1920 a blight would reach Southern Appalachia from New York that would kill off nearly all of the chestnut trees. Then the final demise of Sunburst would come by way of fire and water; in 1925 fire ripped through the area followed by the floods of 1940. Then the icing on the cake was another round of fire in 1942, essentially wiping out whatever large trees were left in the Pigeon Valley area. (5) Southern Appalachia would also experience the drought of 1930-31. During the drought (not to be confused with the much larger climate event known as the Dust Bowl), subsistence farming would become even more difficult. With more people having to survive by farming due to the Depression nationally and the fall of the timber industry locally, many turned to the West, where lumbermen would be paid nearly double for the same work as in the east.

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Main Street Monte Cristo late 1800’s

Darrington, nicknamed little Carolina, has possibly the highest concentration of Tarheels in Washington and was founded during the North Cascades gold rush of 1889. Gold had been found in Monte Cristo, named after the book the Count of Monte Cristo, thirty miles south of the closest town, Sauk City. Darrington was a halfway point between the two places and began as a handful of tents and ramshackle shanties. (6) By 1891 the first Post office would open and Darrington was officially born, yet it would take until 1945 for the town to become incorporated. It would always be a rough  location both physically and mentally (named by adding darring and town together), naturally blocked off from the population centers of Everett or Seattle by mountain passes and river fiords. A school was built in 1893 and rail lines would soon follow in 1901. The United States Mill opened at the turn of the 20th century; timber had come to town, taking over low-producing mining as the main local industry.

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CCC camp Darrington Snoqualmie NF                By Fromme, R. L. (U.S. Forest Service)      

The Depression hit Darrington, but luckily not as hard as some areas in America. The Works Progress Administration or WPA brought Depression-era jobs to Darrington with the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the start of camp Darrington, where young men would build trails, buildings, and roadways. Eventually the federal government would designate lands around Darrington as National Forest or Park land, thereby preserving it for future generations but nearly killing the Timber industry and angering many local residents, some of whom would nevertheless end up taking jobs with the Forest Service. During the years of World War Two, the need for lumber to supply the war machine would create the largest boom time for Darrington as well as the largest migration from Western North Carolina. Currently the town is having a slight rebirth due to tourism that the open natural areas promote. Eventually 80% of the total population of Darrington would be native-born Tarheels or direct descendants from North Carolina natives. (7)

One of the early families in Darrington from WNC would be the Inmans, Lon, Mary Ann, and Minnie Inman would move to Snohomish County in the early 1900’s. Some of the family would land in Darrington and some in Arlington. Mary Ann Inman would become the matriarch of four consecutive generations, her daughter Hazel would marry a total of three different Bryson men connecting the Bryson and Inman families in Snohomish County. In fact the head librarian at the Darrington library is a Bryson, married in, Ashley and her husband Johnathan are now raising a fifth generation of Inmans in Washington. The original Inman children (Lon, Mary Ann, and Minnie) who made  the migration west  would be influenced by their mother and original postmaster in Pigeon Valley, Susan Inman, according to Ashley Bryson:

“Joseph Pingree Inman and Susan Inman operated a farm, a grain mill, and a post office in the Pigeon River Valley. Susan was post-mistress of the Lavinia post office until the town of Sunburst was built and a larger post office was established there… About 1900, their oldest son, Lon Inman, would walk twelve miles to Waynesville to take the outgoing mail and bring back the incoming mail.  He did this twice a week for several years. U.S. Government notices pertaining to the homestead act and available government lands in the western states were received from time to time at the Lavinia post office. Susan Inman encouraged her older children to take advantage of these opportunities.”  (8)

This is not an uncommon story for those young people migrating from the Southern Highlands to the Pacific Northwest at this time.

Joyce Jones, a name that we have seen here earlier, was an influential Tarheel in Darrington. She came to Darrington with her parents, Alvin and Frances Jones, from Sylva, NC in 1933 as a young girl. It was the height of the Depression and as we have seen the Southern Appalachians had just experienced one of the worst droughts ever on record for the area. She would grow up in Darrington, forever keeping her Tarheel heritage alive. Her good friend growing up was another Tarheel native, Frankie Nations-Bryson. Frankie remembers their childhood together and that strong Tarheel connection: “In elementary school, [Joyce] Jones traded lunches with her lifelong friend, Frankie Jones (now Frankie Nations-Bryson). Joyce wanted Frankie’s homemade Tarheel sausage and biscuit sandwiches and Frankie wanted Joyce’s store-bought white bread sandwiches.”  (9)  Joyce would eventually become one of the first female employees at the Darrington District of the Mt.Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Just a personal side note: my husband was also an employee of this National Forest, though he was stationed in the Glacier district to the north. Joyce would go on to work with Janet Cabe and the Darrington Memorial Dinner Committee, a tradition that the Tarheels brought with them. Joyce Jones lived a full life, one dedicated to the community and the people. She also served as mayor of Darrington for two terms, winning her seat initially by being a write-in candidate. That really goes to show how loved and respected she was. (10)

The Tarheels in Washington have made major impacts on the area both ecologically and culturally. The possum is North America’s only marsupial. Its ancestral range is throughout central America, parts of Mexico and up through the Southeastern United States, particularly the Southern Appalachian region. It is a mammal holdover from the era of dinosaurs, roaming this territory for 70 million years. The possum has been integral to Southern Appalachian life and culture for many, many generations, acting as both food and pet. To this day there are still possum drops held in the Western North Carolina mountains. Possums have had plenty of time to make their way west or north yet hadn’t until the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. The migration of Southern Appalachian people to the Cascade mountains would change all of that. According to The Opossum: It’s Amazing Story, “Before human intervention, the hostile environments associated with the mountain ranges and surrounding deserts kept the opossum from spreading to the West Coast.”  (11) The first locations that the [o]possum was found in Washington were Lewis County and Skagit County, which just so happen to be two main locations that Tarheels migrated to en masse. The Washington Fish and Wildlife website states, “Virginia opossums, also known as “possums,” first arrived in Washington in the early 1900s as pets and novelties. Some of these animals, or their offspring, later escaped from captivity or were intentionally released.” (12) Now none of the sources that I found give a direct link to the Tarheels as the initial introduction of the possum to the PNW, but it is a rather interesting coincidence, don’t you think?

Possums were not the only animals that the Tarheels would bring to the PNW. The Plott hound, originating in western Haywood/eastern Jackson County would find its way to the North Cascades via Homer Wright in the 1940’s. In the West at this time, both the government and private companies were hiring hunters and their dogs to rid the area of large predators, mostly bear, that had been wreaking havoc on farmland and local timber stock, and they were paying well. Homer Wright had worked for Von Plott in the 30’s back in Western North Carolina, and not long after Wright moved out West, Plott sent him a small pack of Plott Hounds that he bred. “…by 1946 Homer had a fine pack of Plott hounds. Wright and his son Hank were two of the first to use Plott hounds for cougar hunting in the Pilchuck River and Snohomish River basins. But they were the first individuals to bring Plott hounds to Washington state.” (13) Eventually there would become a fine subset of the Plott hound named the Cascade Plott.

Another cultural impact that Tarheels have had on the North Cascade communities takes place in Sedro-Woolley, the Loggerodeo. Started in the early 1930’s, it still runs to this day, complete with logging competitions, southern BBQ, a fourth of July parade, and a beard contest (possibly one of the longest running in the nation– hipsters,eat your hearts out). The Tarheels have brought with them the traditions of Southern food, the memorial dinner, and the love of parades. Clogging has even remained, with a new name being given to it, the Tarheel stomp. Religion was another area of impact.. Bringing the “Old Regular” churches west, this helped the Tarheel population not only maintain the familiar faith structure but the culture of Southern Appalachia. The first form of a Baptist church in Darrington began in the 20’s, Darrington shared pastors either with Arlington or Concrete until the right pastor came. Harve J Stanberry, originally a Tarheel, moved the people of Darrington and Sauk Valley with his evangelism in the spring of 1930,and from that the First Baptist Church of Darrington was born. Eventually they would bring the tradition of Fifth Sunday singing conventions to Darrington as well as religious leaders and choir leaders from Jackson County to teach the congregation. The people of Darrington would often keep the people back in Sylva informed of the happenings–social, religious,and economic —  by writing to the Sylva Herald and Ruralite. This is also how the Tarheel transplants would find religious teachers and singers. They in turn would keep posted on Sylva by having the Herald mailed out West to them. It was like the entirety of both towns were pen pals through the newspaper.

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The Darrington Bluegrass and Country Music Makers Association, 1985

Probably the most famous of Tarheel tradition in Darrington and throughout Washington is the mountain music tradition. The early loggers would sing their mountain music while toiling away in logging camps in the early 20th century.  Phil Williams writes about this Southern mountain influence,

Folks from North Carolina had been coming to Western Washington to work in the timber industry since the late 19th century, but had not put their musical stamp on the region before the migration after WWII. Some tarheels from Western North Carolina found work in the mill and timber industry in Darrington, Washington, and let that be known back home. Soon there was a large migration of folks from this part of North Carolina to Darrington, and Darrington became a “tarheel” community. These folks brought their traditions from North Carolina to Darrington and lived there substantially in the way they did back at “home,” which to them always was North Carolina” (14)   

The church brought religious music and the Sunday singing conventions. People would get together in Darrington and Sedro-Woolley just like they would back home in the hills of North Carolina, coming together as a loose knit group. Robert Ferguson writes in his thesis on the topic;

In Darrington in the 1950s and 1960s, the bluegrass jam sessions at Earl Jones’ house grew too large for his living room and moved to the community center and eventually to the larger high school auditorium. People began to joke that tarheels should start their own Grand Ole Opry, sentiments that led to the first annual Darrington Bluegrass Festival in 1977. What had started as a jam session among three neighbors grew into one of the most popular bluegrass festivals in the Pacific Northwest.” (15)

The Darrington Bluegrass festival, still in operation today after forty years, has become an economic driver of the area as well as bringing big name bluegrass acts to the shadow of Whitehorse Mountain. Started by five friends who just had a love for their small community of Darrington and for playing the mountain music of their roots, Bob Fisher, Grover Jones, Louie Ashe, O.C. Helton, Roy Morgan, from the band the Whitehorse Mountaineers. It grew out of Earl Jones’s home into the Darrington Bluegrass Association and into a thriving Festival. (16)

There is a inextricable link between Western North Carolina and the northwest corner of Washington State. I have felt this first hand along with thousands of others and have enjoyed learning about the extent of this link. My family has traveled in the opposite direction and at a different time than those that I have written about, but we have found our migration from the west to the east is not an isolated migration. There seems to be a reinvigoration of people moving into North Carolina, the state has seen double digit in-migration for the last five years or so, with positive in-migration to the state for the last twenty years. In the Winston-Salem Journal they touch on North Carolina’s in-migration; “From July 1, 2014 to July 1, 2015, North Carolina added 102,415 residents, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated. That works out to an average of 281 new residents each day.” (17) That represents the facts but what about the real life face of in-migration? When my husband starting looking for work here, he is a backcountry trail worker for National forest or park land, the Smoky Mtn Park trail manager that he spoke with asked him about himself and his past. My husband started telling him how he was married, in his thirties, originally form the east coast but had been working trail crew out west for a decade or so and was looking to get back closer to families. The manager said that he was just like all the rest, apparently in the last few years at the Park the majority of the new employees had a very similar story to ours. Though we do not think that we are special or in front of any curve, it was a surprising realization, we are not alone, we are the face of the new migration story.


1)Pomeroy, Earl. “A Broader Economic Basis.” The Pacific Slope: A History of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Nevada, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1965, p. 104.

2)http://www.historylink.org/File/5663

3)The Article from the Northern Star was retrieved from the following website http://www.stumpranchonline.com/skagitjournal/WestCounty/MV-SW/Pre-1900/JamsMV2-Articles1.html

4)Barnett, Phyllis Inman. At the Foot of Cold Mountain: a Narrative and Pictorial History of Sunburst and the Universalists at Inman’s Chapel. Pigeon River Press, 2008

5)Also from, At the Foot of Cold Mountain

6)http://www.discoverdarrington.com/darrington-history/looking-at-the-town-history

7)http://www.historylink.org/File/8798

8)This quote was taken from personal correspondence with Ashley Bryson, with special thanks that she was willing to take the time to share it with me.

9)http://www.heraldnet.com/news/darrington-remembers-a-mayor-who-spoke-her-mind/

10)http://www.heraldnet.com/news/darrington-mayor-is-a-tarheel-at-heart/

11)The Opossum: Its Amazing Story (PDF Download Available)

. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265347494_The_Opossum_Its_Amazing_Story [accessed Jan 19 2018].

12)Link, Russell. “Living with Wildlife.” Washington Fish and Wildlife, wdfw.wa.gov/living/opossums.html.

13)“The Golden Age.” The Story of the Plott Hound, by Bob Plott, History Press, 2007, pp. 108–136.

14)Retrieved from http://www.voyagerrecords.com/arNWBG.htm Voyager Records is a Washington based record studio dedicated to folk and bluegrass music

15)Ferguson, Robert Hunt. “CAROLINA MOUNTAIN HOME: PLACE, TRADITION, MIGRATION, AND AN APPALACHIAN MUSICAL FAMILY. ”Https://Libres.uncg.edu/Ir/Wcu/f/2004FergusonRobertHunt.Pdf, Western Carolina University.  [Rob Ferguson thesis on WNC music traditions.10/2017]

16)http://www.destinationdarrington.com/index.php/about-darrington/history

17)http://www.journalnow.com/business/business_news/local/north-carolina-remains-in-top-states-for-migration-within-u/article_7d2fdd17-5d0a-58c6-95c3-ac25ee9fbbfc.html

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