Edward Oliver found that the job of logging Deer Lagoon was too big for one man so he started looking for a suitable partner soon after he arrived on South Whidbey. On a trip to Port Ludlow he found just the man he was looking for, Thomas John Johns, an adventurous young man from England.
An interesting account of Johns’ arrival at Port Ludlow was published in the Whidbey Record, June 10, 1976:
Thomas John Johns joined the English Navy at 17 and sailed two years later (1859) from England around the southern tip of South America to Esquimault, B.C., near Victoria. He and eight others in the crew were intrigued with the country and decided to stay.
This meant deserting ship.
All nine got into one of the ship’s small white hull boats in the dead of night. They rowed all night and the next day in the over-loaded craft, heading south. They landed near Dungeness not far from Port Townsend the next evening. They hid in an old chicken house for the rest of the night. In the morning they decided to separate so they wouldn’t be captured and returned home. Johns went to Port Ludlow and bought some denims and discarded his English uniform.
There he met Ed Oliver who suggested a logging partnership with him near Deer Lagoon on Whidbey Island. Thomas agreed and later fell in love with the Island. They built skid-roads and used oxen to haul the logs down to the lagoon. By sailing in and out with the tide they were able to get mail and groceries in Port Townsend or Port Ludlow.
Queen Victoria of England offered a pardon to all the young men who had deserted ships to settle the new country. On February 25, 1872, he filed his intention to buy land on the eastern side of Deer Lagoon (near Bayview) by pre-emption (right to purchase by qualifying).
He brought a bride, Mary Jane Coffelt of Port Townsend to his new home on the Lagoon following his marriage on April 12, 1874 on Lopez Island.
Cora Cook, who knew Johns personally, wrote an article which gives an insight into his character. It follows.
The logging operation was a challenge to Johns, a small man
but one with strong determination. He was born in Plymouth, England, on Dec. 31, 1840.
His father was a sea captain and he himself had come to America in the carpenter’s crew on a sailing “Man of war,” as he called it when this writer met him as a girl.
I used to watch him as he mowed the grass near the fence around his house. He was very strong and wiry, light-skinned with light blue eyes and blond hair but his hands were crippled with arthritis.
His hands were so crippled that he could not grip a scythe. But such was his character that he devised two leather straps looped in such a way about his hands that he could swing a scythe.
Johns, who bore the nickname “Tommy,” often told of an experience he had while at sea. One day his ship spotted a small sail boat adrift.
Upon boarding the craft, they found the crew in a starving condition. One member, in fact, was crawling around on his hands and knees, as he was so weak. It was this crewman’s father who had died earlier in the voyage.
A barrel in the galley contained salted parts- of a human being, apparently the crewman’s father. The rest of the crew had stayed alive by eating human flesh but the son refused to eat his father’s flesh.
Johns said they pulled an arm from the barrel and it made him and his shipmates sick just to think about it. They fed the starving men and took them and their ship back to England, Johns told.
Years later when Johns was living at Deer Lagoon he came home from his lumbering operation to find a skinned forearm of a young bear left by a neighbor. A note read, “Tom what does this make you think of?”
I just was not able to eat any of that bear meat,” Johns related.
Johns and his wife, Mary Jane, had three children, twin boys who are reported to have drowned when they were nineteen, and a daughter, Florence who was born in February, 1890 and who married Fred Tiemeyer, the son of another early settler.
Johns’ partnership with Oliver in the logging business proved successful although by modern standards the work was extremely hard. Cora Cook described their operation:
Logging at Deer Lagoon was done with the aid of yoked oxen and skid roads. Oliver and Johns made their skid roads from
the woods to the beach with notched logs eight feet apart.
The notch in the center of each log was about three inches deep and two feet wide. The loggers kept this notch well greased to slip large timber along under the pull from oxen.
The oxen, which were usually castrated bulls (sometimes even cows were used), were shod with two-piece iron shoes, covering each side of the hoof.
Yokes of strong curved wood held the oxen together. Chains were hooked to a ring on the yoke and looped back around the logs to be skidded to the beach. Maple or cottonwood were the most common material used in the bar or top of the yoke. The curved bow which fit over the ox’s neck was fastened to the bar with wooden pegs.
The bowed portions were usually made of hickory or other hardwood which would stand the strain of bending. Yew wood, which grew on Whidbey Island, was often used for the bows. After the oxen had worn the yoke only a short time, the neck of the oxen polished it until it shone like it had been waxed.
The early South Whidbey logging operation ended in the mills of Port Ludlow. Island logs were gathered in huge rafts of floating timber and pulled by tug to the distant mill.
Oliver and Sohns one day discovered a team of yoked oxen roaming in the grassy marshland of Deer Lagoon. This discovery remains a mystery for no whitemen were believed in that area before.
Thomas Sohns became one of the leading citizens of the Bayview area in the ensuing years as other settlers arrived and he is reported to have been a most valuable member of the Bayview school board in its beginning years.