John Metcalf was not the earliest settler in Saratoga area but he is one of the most colorful. In 1928 he purchased a half-mile of medium bank waterfront along beautiful Saratoga Passage together with 104 acres of gently rolling back-land. He settled his wife and children in a cabin near the beach and christened his estate “Slollowas,” the Indian name for his beach where an Indian camp was once located.
As this is written in 1985, John, 88, is the author of a published book with two others in work. In 1984 he was awarded a certificate designating him “Honorable John R. Metcalf, Washington State Distinguished Citizen,” signed by John Cherberg, Lieutenant Governor, and bearing the state seal. He is the father of Washington State Senator Jack Metcalf, three daughters, and several grandchildren, several of whom live on South Whidbey.
John still resides on his original property, but in a smaller house, having turned the original family home over to his grandchildren. Senator Jack Metcalf and his wife Norma also live on a portion of the original property overlooking Saratoga Passage in a handsome house which they built of native logs and driftwood. It has become a showplace in the area.
John Metcalf wrote the story of his move to Saratoga and his life on South Whidbey in the early days especially for this book. It follows.
“I was born on March 30, 1897 in an old settler’s log house in Sheridan County, Nebraska. This house stood on the prairie south of the more broken land where there were deep canyons and trees of many kinds. My grandfather, William H. Read, Civil War veteran, lived there. The place was about 30 miles south of the Pine Ridge Indian Agency.
“My father was a professional musician, the greatest violinist I ever heard. He also made some 80 violins in his lifetime. He was the traveler of necessity in those long-ago days before schools began to hire music teachers. He had been all over Canada and all our states, hoping some time he could bring his family out to the great Green Pacific Northwest.
“In 1905, Dad went out to the Marysville area to build up a musical practice and a home for his family of three sons, Holace, John, and Leon, and two younger daughters, Uarda and Enid. Meanwhile, we went to live with our mother’s elder sister’s family, Dan and Sadie Mauke, members of the Saturday Adventist church. They lived on a farm outside the town of Broken Bow, Custer County, Nebraska.
“Dad’s plans matured on schedule. By early November 1907, we took the train from Broken Bow for Seattle—common ‘chair car’ nearly all five days of it. What an exciting trip it was! The railroad trains of those days were much more primitive than modem Pullman coaches. Roadbeds and grades would not permit modern speeds. The cars were mixed up from a hundred rail lines it seemed. There were many sizes, styles of cars, paint jobs, and rail line equipment. All the locomotives were coal-burners, huffing and puffing up the grades.
“I remember arriving and leaving Spokane just as darkness made a blur of the scenery, then landing in Seattle late that night. Dad met us at the old King Street Great Northern Depot. From there we trudged to a nearby hotel. Next morning, we traveled to Marysville via the coast branch Great Northern line.
“While northwest Nebraska tree leaves were dead and brown, here all was still lush and green. We were all eyes and ears as we walked the five or so blocks to the new house Dad had built for us on Seventh Street in old time ‘Squawville Belltown’ which was our kid-slang denoting whether one lived west or east of the North-South Great Northern tracks.
“We had a neighbor, Fred Fitch, who had a place out on Eiger Bay on Camano Island. At the outset, we knew about Camano, and also farther- away Whidbey Island. But it would not be until the summer of 1911 when I first set foot on Island County land. That summer five of us neighborhood boys hired a Marysville small gas-boat owner to tow our row-boats and canoe out to Camano for a week’s camping on the beach, at which time he would return for us.
“That trip was a distinct highlight of my boyhood. Each day was a new adventure, but what held my attention most was the profusion of sea life of every sort. There were several beach seine commercial outfits fishing for salmon near what they called Cox Spit, a half mile west of Camano Head, the southernmost point on the island.
“One of the most exciting activities for my brothers and me after we settled in our Marysville home was to watch seine fishermen. Early every morning when the water was calm and the tide not too strong, seine fishers would lay out their long nets some 600 feet long and 60 feet deep. They would use a large row-boat and a beach windlass to wind the net back in. It was of great interest to us kids from Nebraska to watch the struggling salmon and the other salt-water fish of every description as they were hauled to shore in the nets.
“One day they caught a wolf fish, a five-foot long spotted eel-like creature with a mouth full of wicked teeth. They are similar to the moray eel, and rare in these waters, but fresh out of Nebraska, the whole fishing operation fired my interest. I began dreaming of the time when I would some day operate such an outfit. Sometimes they would take fifty or a hundred salmon at a single haul, and there was a fish-buyer scow anchored near the beach where they sold their catches.
“Every day, the fish packer ‘Bonita’ would call in to pick up their contracted portion of the catch. For many years this vessel was a familiar sight. Built on ocean going lines, we could also identify her by the clip of her diesel motor; the whole ship reflected the boundless ocean. She would have been as much at home in Hong Kong, or Singapore, as in old-time Puget Sound, as a fish transport.
“We called them ‘blackfish’ in those days, when we saw schools of a hundred or more killer whales. Sometimes there would be many, cruising along Camano shore, while at the same time, far away toward Whidbey, we would see a large school surfacing and playing as they progressed toward Holmes Harbor. Almost every day we would see a few of these great sea mammals, and some of the fishermen believed their appearance or direction of travel had something to do with the weather we might expect, but most of us discounted such belief totally.
“In 1917 I bought a beachcomber’s cedar shakes and driftwood cabin for $10 in gold. Pete Jenson had gone to the Klondike in the Gold Rush days, but now was retired as a row-boat salmon troller who desired to move down to Possession Point below Glendale on Whidbey Island. At the age of 20, my boyhood dream to someday own a beach cabin had come true. After this, I spent many weekends out there in a 16-foot kicker boat I had built in 1915.
“In summer and at other times when the mill was not running, I spent a lot of time at my cabin on Camano forming plans in my head to one day owning and operating a beach seine outfit myself. World War I rudely interrupted such plans in the summer of 1918 and I joined the U. S. Merchant Marine for the duration. We were stationed at the old Seattle Yacht Club in West Seattle, right beside the ferry terminal. In those days, they ran a ferry from Colman Dock at the foot of Madison Street, and if we missed the ferry, there was also the Alki Point street car which would get us back to the training ship. I was stationed on the ‘Iroquois.’
“My future wife, Eunice Grannis, lived with her aunt and uncle in Seward Park while she and her girl friend held jobs in downtown Seattle. I acquired a large distaste for the Merchant Marine’s regulations which somewhat inhibited the time I preferred to spend courting rather than in ship’s training.
“In January, 1919, I was given a four-month assignment aboard the Alaska Coastal Steamship, City of Seattle. During its seven trips to southeast Alaska, I got to see all of the coastline along the Inside Passage from Seattle northward, and the ports of Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersberg, as well as many small bays, fish traps, and salmon canneries. I will never forget the nights when the northern lights shone in all their crackling, ghost-like colors, nor the thrill of the raging waters of Seymour Narrows when the tide was running.
“At the end of World War I, I quit steam boating and went back to attend to the affairs of the Mutual Shingle Mill in Marysville where I had a working share.”
On May 18, 1919, John Metcalf and Eunice Grannis were married and settled down in Marysville, where four children were born to their union—Louise, Evelyn, Kay, and Jack. In 1928, the year after Jack was born, John realized his long time dream of moving to Whidbey Island. His memoirs of his move to Saratoga and early days there continue.
“We had made our deal to buy the land through John Wallingford, brother of Mrs. Reynolds and the father of Mrs. Mabie Thomas, who owned our place and lived in Grand Junction, Colorado.
“Moving our enlarged beach cabin from Camano Island, to become land-owners and tax payers in August of 1928, we began this new venture in high hope and spirits. A month later I made a small raft of beach driftwood with a small cow pen on it and towed raft and Jersey milk cow (cow bell and all) across to her new home on Whidbey. A month later, the cow (named Redwing) gave birth to a fine heifer calf. This seemed a good omen.
“The weather remained fine all that fall, our fish prices holding up very well. We were able to meet all immediate obligations on our venture in buying the place, while already there were rumbles heard that our national economy was not doing very well.
“The beach at ‘Slollowas’ faces north by east, which strangely lends some protection when, at times, what we call a tidal west wind may kick up rather heavy weather for smaller craft. Yet, for a quarter mile offshore, the waves do not break badly, and my fishing boat always rode safely enough, for the 60-foot bluff to southward sets up a rolling, braking, air disturbance which the bald eagles like to ride easily and with almost no effort.
“The best old time camping spot was just back of the driftwood, under some huge maple trees where a small sweet-water spring-fed stream emerges from a deep dark canyon lined with alders that kept the water cool. There were clam shell heaps, and the Indian camping site for 150 yards along and back of the driftwood was evidence of camp fires, smoke-curing, clams, and salmon.
“The creek water, upon entering salt water, sinks quickly into the beach sand; yet both chum and pink salmon are attracted to this fresh water. In ancient times the people would take many salmon quite easily with their short beach seines of nettle fiber.
“During the first 13 years of our time on Whidbey Island, our cabin sat only 50 yards or so east of this creek mouth, which would have supplied ample water for a dozen cabins. We lived much of our time there, a quarter mile from the nearest neighbors.
“Our old friend, William Riley Engle, ‘Uncle’ of sorts to all of us, found a number of Indian arrow heads, scrapers, and a fine stone hammer or cedar bark shredder, but there was no effort to fully explore the site for artifacts. Finally, the present land owners in bulldozing a road to the beach and other improvements, have covered forever most of the traces of Indians, and it is just as well.
“The Reynolds family owned the creek where it entered salt water, and farmed a few acres of upland, keeping the usual creatures. Their daughter Olga taught school many years, her parents having passed on. Her uncle, John Wallingford, lived a quarter of a mile eastward, and his daughter Mabie Thomas owned the quarter mile frontage which we bought from her. This land lay between the Reynolds and Wallingford places. Olga had married Fred Frei, Swiss emigrant, and they had two sons of about the same age as our eldest daughters. When we moved here in 1928, their home was about a mile west from us.
“A mile south Bill Goldsmith had bought 40 acres of state-owned second growth timber land, which he cleared and farmed with the usual chicken flock and a few pigs and cows. Farther to the east and south were many five-acre ‘chicken farms’ where several families and a host of old bachelors had decided to spend their last days with a few chickens, a cow or a few goats, and a couple of acres in strawberries.
“The names Johnny Patterson, Frank Ostrom, Tom Grant, George Hein, and Louie Heistrand come readily to mind. All of these following-the- first pioneers occupied land which originally pro¬vided berries, venison, smoked fish, and clams for many allied mainland tribesmen who one time called the area ‘Slo-Wasid’ or ‘Slollowas.’
“We were busy as bees building a storage shed for fish nets and firewood. We had a kitchen range for cooking and a large air-tight drum heater for our main living room. We would be as comfortable as a family of skunks about to go into hibernation for the winter! We bought 50 fryer-size roosters and turned them loose on the beach, to feed on the abundant sand fleas.
“With a shepherd dog to guard them from the raccoons, they thrived amazingly and were delicious as jack-snipes to eat—the best-tasting chicken we’d ever eaten.
“We already knew most of the people dwelling along the waterfront. Phil Simon ran the Langley light plant with gas motor generation down by the dock with lines going to Sandy Point and around Langley for night lighting, and also two days per week part day-times so women could get their washing and ironing done. With us, we had kerosene lamps and lanterns.
“We had met Henry Weber years before. Walter Hunziker, the postmaster, we knew from the first, as well as E. E. Noble at the bank where I cashed my pay checks. Very early we met Bert and George Hunziker and their wives, as well as Peter and Margaret Camfferman, and her aunt, Miss Coe, who donated the building and land for the Langley library.
“We met the Frei family in the beginning of our operations as we cleared the space behind the driftwood where our cabin would be set up.
“With three daughters going to school in Langley from 1928 onward, and Jack in school as soon as he was old enough, we naturally had a strong interest in the local educational scene. In 1935 I was elected the first male PTA president. We had a most interesting time of it including going to the state convention. I became involved in time to see the old school building torn down and the new high school building erected in 1935.
“Looking back over the years, I really cannot say ‘how fast the time has gone!’ because there has been so much interest and activity in what I’ve been doing during the 57 years that I’ve been involved with Island County that I never imagined that one day I would be rated as one of the old- timers around here.”