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From Jackson to Skagit

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The Sylva Herald: Ruralite Cafe: Published 8/24/00

By Rose Hooper

From Jackson to Skagit

Amazing what you can learn between the pages of a newspaper. Like, why did so many people pull up stakes from Jackson County and head clear across the continent, ending up in Skagit County, Washington?

Since he started reading the obituaries in The Sylva Herald, Scott Philyaw has wondered about that. That's what he told us last week when he stopped by the Cafe to whet our appetites on the subject, too.

This Western Carolina University history professor said, "I'd read so many obituaries where the person died in Sedro-Woolley, Arlington, Concrete, Lyman, Burlington or Darrington, Wash., and had family in Jackson County. Then, when I started talking to people here about it, they were very much aware of that migration."

As the one who handles the obits here at The Herald, I know exactly what he's talking about. I am excited that someone is trying to piece this puzzle together.

Most of us natives can remember a friend or relative heading out to the State of Washington to try their luck in the timber industry... or giving up a farm of red clay mud here for richer soil in Skagit... or finishing work on the dams here and going to Washington to work on one there... or, not dropping names of course, but fleeing from the "High Sheriff of Jackson County."

The migration goes way past our memories and back to the turn of the century, Scott said.

In the early 1900s Jackson County folks ended up in Skagit as saloon keepers, single women running boarding houses, stenographers, salmon fishermen and a whole variety of professions. Early editions of the Jackson County Journal reported, "Some of our best people are leaving here for Skagit County."

"Why Skagit County? It's about as far away as you can get?" Scott asked himself. But after just returning from a visit there, he has some clues.

Skagit County, Wash., and Jackson County, N.C., are very similar, he discovered. They both provide the lure of the mountains and great fishing - here it's trout; there it's salmon. We have a national park; they have a national park. We have an Indian tribe; they have an Indian tribe. Jackson County has The Sylva Herald; Skagit County has The Skagit Valley Herald. We have Western Carolina University; they have Western Washington University.

"Most people who moved out West would write home a couple of times, then eventually lose contact," said Scott. "But not so with the Washington migration. They maintained close family connections. In Darrington, most families still celebrate their family reunions on the same day the family in Jackson County does. Throughout Skagit, they used to have events called 'Tar Heel Picnics' and they played bluegrass music."

When people from Jackson County moved to Skagit, they were welcomed with open arms as "fellow Tar Heels," Scott noted. "It was a warm, positive reception. But you take other migrations, like some families from Kentucky that moved to Detroit. Many of them were just considered 'hillbillies' and not welcomed at all.

"There's something to this migration, I'm sure," Scott said, piquing our interests in a good story. "You can get a lot out of the obituaries and from public records, but I want to tell the personal story... maybe even extend it into the Scotch-Irish Migration exhibit at WCU's Mountain Heritage Center. The migration to Washington could be the second chapter. I've talked to officials at Washington State University about this, and we might work on a collaborative effort about this westward movement."

So, Cafe readers, here's where Scott needs your help. If you live in, or near, Skagit County, he'd like to talk to you about how your family got there. If you live here and have family in, or near, Skagit County, he'd like to know about that connection, too.

"I don't want to be nosy, but I sure would appreciate it if folks would share their family connection stories with me," he said. You can contact him at WCU at 227-3907 or e-mail philyaw@wcu.edu.

And here at the Cafe, we're pretty curious ourselves about this Jackson-Skagit connection.

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