The peak of the gold rush frenzy was past but Alaska-bound ships were still leaving Seattle every week. A steady stream of purse seiners chugged out of Elliot Bay and headed for Johnstone Strait.
The captain of the Fairhaven clamped his hand on the whistle cord and a spurt of steam from the gleaming brass whistle leaped up with a bellow that turned all eyes. Her orange-red paddles began to answer the thrust of the drive arms and slowly pulled her away from the dock. She made a smooth turn to starboard and then straightened out for the marker off Ten Mile Point.
Aboard was a family of seven, from the Midwest, who were bent on making a start in the paradise indicated by the land merchants, who declared that, “when the tide is out, the table’s set.”
This was the family of Allie Louella and William McGinnis, whose 1884 honeymoon in a covered wagon, from Illinois to a Moorefield, Nebraska homestead, had turned into a year by year disaster. They had been met by hail, drought, blizzard and hot winds. They had recuperated their fortunes by way of Bill’s steady work in a St. Paul power plant and figured now was the time to give the new west another chance.
Sea gulls circled after the boat and screamed over the scraps the cook tossed over. An occasional big fish jumped. Bill returned the captain’s nod through the open wheelhouse window. “Where you headin’?” asked the skipper. “Whidbey Island—Langley.” The skipper nodded. “Langley is gonna be a good town some day.” They pulled into Edmonds where mail, a little freight and a few passengers were put ashore. The younger members of the family; George, Ralph, Eva, Ruth and Grace had done the decks and cabins and watched the engine turn the heavy paddle wheel.
Over on the Whidbey shore blue wood smoke lazed upward. “They’ve got lots of firewood,” grinned Bill. Off on the opposite shore, steam and smoke smudged the sky. “Everett,” pointed out the captain. “Railroad terminal there, closest point from Whidbey. You see the low vessels in front of the river jetty?—Indian canoes—there, see the sun on the paddles? We’ll be in there in about twenty minutes for a short stop.” The Fairhaven unloaded freight and passengers and headed for Clinton. Allie Lou looked back longingly at the bustling little port and then turned her eyes toward the island in the west.
The Fairhaven coasted by the gravel beaches of Clinton and put her portside bow snugly against the dock piling. The mailbags, freight and four passengers departed up the plank wharf and cordwood was taken on for the boiler fires. A point of land far ahead thrust out into a white sand spit that was covered with bleached stumps. Some dark shacks squatted there. A few dugout canoes were pulled up on the beach. A green field wandered up the slope among the stumps where a horse grazed.
A blast from the whistle brought a scurrying among the cabins and people ran to the sandy beach. As the steamer slowed and lay off shore, a horse that had been loaded in Seattle was led to the bow deck. His ears pricked forward and he whinnied when he smelled the land. They led him up to stand on the freight plank as the deck hands lifted the other end. With some scrabbling for a foothold, he slid off the plank into the brine. He hit the water with a hefty splash and went under but was up with a snort and struck out for the open bay. He corrected his bearings and set sail for the beach. He hauled out and shook himself mightily, took a jump or two and started up the beach on the run. A man called and he turned and circled back with his head high. An Indian came up and patted his muzzle, fitted a rope around his neck and led him off up the hill. “That’s Langley dock ahead,” said the captain. “The town is just up the hill, an easy walk. Remember, Anthes is the man you want to see, Jake Anthes.”
The family clustered together on the dock as Bill questioned a tall man in bib-overalls with a round head and blond hair. “Oh, sure, sure, it’s Yake you vant, Hey Adam, feller vants Yake.” A short bowlegged man with overall pants dragging the dock planking looked up from scaling a squared timber and called, “Chake,” and pointed to Bill. “Anudder vun Chake.” An alert, well built man with an imposing mustache approached the group. “I’m Jacob Anthes,” he said with a wide smile, “and this is my building boss, Adam Voelker.” Adam, who had come up, squinted with very crossed eyes. He grinned through his stained teeth and nodded. “Ya, welcome to Whidbey Island.”
They walked up the dock-hill road, headed for the only hotel. Later, Allie Lou had a chance to explain their loss of three trunks in a baggage car fire. The hotel people knew of a pretty good house near the edge of town so, when the balance of their freight and belongings arrived the next day on the Fairhaven, they moved into their new Whidbey home.
Jake Anthes was as solid as the captain had claimed and Bill had work in helping build the dock buildings. The stream that cut through the meadow ran within a hundred yards of the rented house. Allie could watch the men at work. Ralph told her about them uncovering a huge cedar tree from the mud that had covered it for centuries. “It was a giant tree,” he said, “and it split like a ribbon and was sound as a nut.”
Bill made a deal for twelve acres, with six hundred feet of waterfront, on the Brown’s Point Road. The place overlooked blue water and Camano Island. A large pile of clam shells on the grounds indicated it had been a stopping place for travelling groups of Indians.
Cutting brush and burning took up all of their extra time. The plot for the house they had to build before the coming winter was the first order of business. George shot a half-grown bear he saw digging around the clamshells. The boys skinned it and stretched the hide on the shed door. People stopped by the new clearing and got acquainted. Nicodemus Schneider, with the laugh like escaping steam and Old Man Wilkinson, with the enormous goitre, that hung through his shirt front— both lived down the road to Clinton.
Allie Louella brought in her impending offspring, a baby boy, with the help of Mrs. Cushbahm, the local midwife. That was birth number nine for Allie Lou, without the help of a doctor or hospital care, and six still lived. The new boy was named Frankie.
Eventually Will McGinnis found a job with the Funk Mercantile company and after a time became store manager, working directly under the owner, Fred Funk. He took an active part in the business and political life of the village and was instrumental in bringing about the in-corporation of Langley, being a member of the first town council when Frank Furman was mayor in 1913. He died in 1931.
Bill McGinnis Jr., wrote the following description of his father in one of his South Whidbey Record columns in 1985.
Bill, my father, was classed as a hunter, especially by the relatives on my mother’s side. He had the black hair and startling blue eyes of the Irish and he did love to hunt—much better than farm. When the drudgery of homelife galled, he and Peter McGregor and Charlie McCarter and sometimes Doc Craig would pack a bedroll, a fly tent, a gallon of whiskey and their rifles and sneak off into the woods for a deer hunt.
They didn’t have far to go in those days of virgin timber—a couple miles and they were out of sight and sound of the town’s worries. It wasn’t much of a problem to find the venison so they waited until they were ready to pack on home before they killed it.
Bill was often in Canada, prospecting, either for gold or for new land. The prospecting was more of an excuse to get away and see new places. Bill had a need to roam and come hell or high water, he roamed. He would take maybe Kirk or Charlie or George, a bedroll, a heavy rifle, saddle and Stetson hat. He killed a large grizzly in Alberta one year and sold the hide at the border for twenty dollars.
Allie never complained about the rambling that Bill did. She said: “This is the most heartsome place we ever had, after the hard Nebraska winters in the sod house, burning buffalo chips and living on com, salt pork and turnips—the island is so nice and just look at this pretty view from our back porch.”
My dad, Bill’s, hospitality was nurtured in the middle west where the word was, “eat up and you can bed down in the bam.” If anybody was a long walk from home, you could be sure he would bring them to our house for supper and a bed and breakfast.
My mother never questioned it. She enjoyed company and would just set another place at the table. On this day Ralph was taking a long look down the road and said to George, “looks like you got a bed pardner for tonight. He’s takin two inch steps and has a long yellow beard.” “Oh, not old G. W.” George snorted, knowing well that with Ralph and me in the other bed, Old Daniels had to end up in his.
He zeroed in on the barely moving figure with the cane and little dog trotting along side. Grace giggled, “it’s Old Man Daniels alright, all five feet and eighty-five pounds of him.” “Well, at the rate he’s traveling, he won’t be here for another 20 minutes. He’s all of two hundred yards away,” figured Ralph.
My mother always set a full table and the bed, though hard and lumpy, was adequate. Under the bed there was a shiny five pound lard pail and if, during the black night, a crisis of greater proportion reared it’s ghastly head, the guest had a trip he’d never forget. He must go down the strange, steep stairs that had no hand rails, in the pitch dark, maneuver his way through three doorways to reach the more than likely rainy outdoors and, if he wasn’t sure of his bearings, the privy, which was a hundred feet from the house, might just as well have been downtown. We often wondered how they made it. They always did though and showed up for breakfast, bright eyed and bushy tailed.
We lived in the big warm kitchen. Everything centered on the kitchen. Outside was the wash bench, rain barrels and punching bag platform. Inside hung the outdoor coats and hats, opposite the dining table, which was near the pantry filled with the food stores. A couch and magazines were in the other comer.
Allie McGinnis was not only a hospitable “lady of the house” who set a good table and made family and strangers alike welcome, she also was a pianist. Prior to coming to Langley with her husband and children she had played for dances with her brother, Amelius K. Moore who played the violin. He followed her to Langley and lived in a cottage on the beach. Often Allie and Amelius would have musical sessions and they played for several local dances.
When the McGinnis family first arrived in Langley their oldest son, George, was 13 years old and his brother, Ralph a year and a half younger. To supplement the family income both boys started working at odd jobs such as ploughing, cutting wood, logging and hauling freight off boats and up from the dock. At one time the two boys had a logging job in the Glendale area and thought nothing of making the six mile trek from Langley to Glendale through a forest trail, working all day, then walking back home again.
Bill McGinnis Jr., wrote an account in the South Whidbey Record of how things were in 1916.
The value of gold
It had been a tough winter. There had been almost no work. If a job showed up, the men in town grabbed it. I knew we had a good sized bill at the store.
When Ralph came home from town with a huge grin, it shone like a sunny day. “Peg-leg Anderson is opening his camp on Camano next week. I got a job as a faller and filing saws after that.”
“How’ll you get there—oh sure, in the dugout,” says Allie Lou. “Say, that’s quite a long row, isn’t it?”
“Three miles, but that’s nothing in the canoe. Best part, it’s a steady job and we need it.”
“Yes we do,” she agreed.
On Saturday nights, Ralph rowed the dugout home across the dark passage. One black night, later than usual, he plowed into a large flock of sleeping sea gulls. They took off, squawking and flapping and hammering him with their wings. “They like to scared me to death,” said Ralph. “Messed up the canoe too.” The job worked out well. Only thing, the camp was alive with fleas.
Ralph gave the whole $300 he earned to help pay off the bill at the store. The pay was in gold. Twenty, ten and five dollar gold pieces. That was the most fun—counting the heavy yellow gold pieces over and over. There’s something about gold.
By the time George was 19 years old he had saved enough money to buy a handsome team of horses, which he loved, and a wagon. He set up a dray business, hauling goods to and from the boats and also moving household goods and other materials wherever needed. George McGinnis and his dray became well known in Langley and goods were not the only things he transported. According to the recollections of one of his neighbors, Amelia Melsen, he con-verted his wagon to a taxi in 1908 and transported eight or ten people over to Bush Point to watch the gala entrance of the U.S. Fleet into Puget Sound on its world tour.
In 1913, new neighbors, the Wylies, moved onto Edgecliff Drive across the road from the McGinnis’s. There were three children in the Wylie family but for George McGinnis there was only one, a pretty teen-age daughter, Ruby, and two years later he made her his wife. Their first home was on a farm on the Wilkinson Road near the Sandy Point Road intersection. Although their ardor as newlyweds was undoubtedly warm, everything else around them was icy cold due to record breaking “big snow’’ of 1916, when between three and four feet of snow covered the ground. The morning after the snowstorm the young bride looked out the window and screamed for her husband.
“What on earth is happening out there?’’ she gasped. He came running and to his amazement watched as the snow became riffled on top in a straight line from the barnyard to a trough in which the pigs were fed. Finally the riffling stopped at the trough and from underneath the snow a brown snout appeared and started rooting around in the feed trough. The pigs had tunneled under the snow from their bed in the bam to their feeding trough and were expecting breakfast.
The following spring George and Ruby mov-ed to a house on Decker, just off Edgecliff, and it was there their daughter, Enid, was bom. The house was still in use in 1986. George moved his young family to Seattle where he worked for the Fisher Flour Mills until the influenza epidemic of 1918 during which his wife became so ill that she nearly lost her life. George rushed Ruby home to her mother, Lillian Wylie, who was a nurse, and after a long, hard pull Ruby regained her health. Little Enid and her mother stayed with “Grandma” Wylie. George gave up his job is Seattle and moved back with his wife and daughter and mother-in-law.
At first he worked at odd jobs during harvest season and also for a time he worked for the ferry system. His daughter, Enid McGinnis (Mackie) who as an adult was Langley City Clerk for many years, recalls that during the time her father was working on the ferry one winter there was so much ice on Saratoga Passage that the ferries were prevented from running. Finally George McGinnis got a job as road grader for the County but during the Depression years the County funds were so low that the warrants which were his paycheck were discounted at the bank.
Eventually George and Ruby purchased five acres of woodland on the outskirts of Langley, clearing the land and building a house there. Their son, Arnold, was born there. Daughter Enid attended the Langley consolidated school and graduated from high school in 1933. She then attended business college in Everett and worked there for a real estate and insurance company coming home on weekends.
She often attended the high school basketball games on her weekends at home and at one of these games she noticed a certain young man repeatedly glancing her way. Several times their eyes met in an electric contact. She knew from her high school days that his name was Clayton Mackie but they had never met. On a certain Saturday when she was returning home on the ferry Clayton appeared and asked if he could sit beside her. Four years later in 1938 they were married.
They farmed in Maxwelton for several years, also lived for a time in Hope, B.C. In 1965 they established their permanent home in Clinton. Enid was Langley’s city clerk for 10 years, ser-ving under the mayorships of Leo Lee, Lloyd Smith and Don Manchester. Clayton died in 1982 but Enid still makes her home in Clinton. Their son, Terry, lives in Montana, and another son lives in Vancouver.
While George McGinnis was starting a family, brother Ralph sought employment out of Oak Harbor as a ship’s purser, working on the Clatawa, Atlanta and Calista and he became famous in 1922 when he helped save the lives of the passengers on the Calista when it was rammed and sunk by the freighter, Hawaiian Maru. He married Julia Izett, known affectionately locally as Beth. She is the daughter of one of the leading Whidbey Island pioneer families, whose father was the first white child bom in Oak Harbor. Beth’s parents, her brother Blandon Izett and she and Ralph all moved to Clinton where Beth still resides. Both of her children, Rolland and Marilyn, are deceased.
(Editor’s note: the above McGinnis history was provided by Enid McGinnis Mackie and the South Whidbey Record accounts published in the columns of William McGinnis, Jr., who now lives in California. Data on the remaining members of the McGinnis family has not been available to this author.)