BACK WHEN: Dispatches from Olympic Peninsula’s past

A sketch of Cora that appeared in various 1899 newspaper articles around the country.

A sketch of Cora that appeared in various 1899 newspaper articles around the country.

SOMETIMES, THERE ARE interesting tidbits of history that are simply too small to write a column about. Here are a few:

E Pluribus MOOnum Sequim — September 1933

Nick Brace, owner of Brace Lumber Co. in Seattle, was overstocked with lumber. Nick instructed his agents to get rid of some of this overstocked lumber by “barter and trade,” if necessary. His Sequim agent, “Sammy,” took Nick at his word and did just that.

Nick was astonished when a freight truck unloaded a black cow in his Seattle lumber yard.

“This is a lumber yard, not a stock yard,” Nich said, thinking it was some kind of mistake.

But the cow had a bow around its neck with a note attached that read:

“This is for the load of lumber I bought some time ago.”

It was signed “Sammy.”

In the humor of it, Nick said he would have to chalk up a $10 loss.

The cow was only worth $7.50.

Talk of secession Sequim — November 1976

Talk of secession swept across eastern Clallam County. Promoters wanted to create Dungeness County out of everything east of Port Angeles to the Jefferson County line.

At that time, an estimated 16,000 people lived within this area while Clallam County could claim an estimated 40,000 in total.

One of the promoters, Ruby Mantle, a Sequim real estate agent, said that secession is “not a joke, and I’m convinced it will succeed.”

Ruby said the secessionists are unhappy with the unrealistic regulations “forced on us by the gang from Port Angeles.” According to her, the “gang” from Port Angeles was dedicated to stopping growth under the guise of environmental concern.

The movement to secede quieted down by 1979.

While we’re on the topic Diamond Point — circa 1854

Does it ever seem odd that the line between Clallam and Jeferson counties jogs east to Discovery Bay, then curves west around Destruction Island? Well, it seems a family living in the Diamond Point area had a very dark reputation. Some even thought they were murders.

In his book “By Juan de Fuca’s Strait,” James McCurdy wrote about this geopolitical peculiarity.

“The people of Jefferson said very emphatically: ‘We don’t want that family of killers in our county — let Clallam have them,’” McCurdy wrote. “So, the lines were run to eliminate the undesirables from the county in which they had so long been residents.”

Won the war but lost the bride Port Angeles — March 1899

During the Spanish-American War, a Russian navy ship was docked in an American port. A young lieutenant, named John Alphons Vasakevich, got into trouble with his superiors and jumped ship. He wandered the U.S. for a while. When he got to San Francisco, he decided to enlist in the United States Navy.

A sketch of John that appeared in various 1899 newspaper articles around the country.

A sketch of John that appeared in various 1899 newspaper articles around the country.

Vasakevich was serving aboard the USFS Philadelphia when the Pacific Fleet was gathered in our harbor. While in Port Angeles, he met a young lady named Cora Winder, and they fell in love. Vasakevich said Cora promised to marry him when he returned from the war, but she must have forgotten.

About this time, Vasakevich’s father, Count Vasakevich, died. John Alphons Vasakevich inherited the title of count, a sizable estate in Poland, which included four villages and $1,500,000 — a huge sum of money for 1899.

A sketch of Cora that appeared in various 1899 newspaper articles around the country.

A sketch of Cora that appeared in various 1899 newspaper articles around the country.

When Vasakevich returned to Port Angeles, he found Cora had married Roy Davis, a farmer on Lopez Island.

Vasakevich became a rich count, while Cora counted hens.

Return on investment Port Angeles — May 1949

In 1921, Andre Dechance bought four lots on the west side of Port Angeles as an investment, costing him a whopping $9.78, but he had never laid eyes on the property.

For 27 years, Dechance diligently had paid his taxes when he finally decided to see the land. To his surprise, he discovered his four lots were under the southwest portion of a runway built by the Clallam County Airport in 1936.

The county commissioners paid Dechance $250 for his lots. It was a 2,500 percent gain. I must wonder how the county could build the airport without owning all the land. Since he paid his taxes, the county had his address.

A good start New Dungeness – March 1880

Jesse and Jennie Blakeslee came to New Dungeness around 1879, which is now known simply as Dungeness. Jesse was a missionary to Native Americans and a schoolteacher at the New Dungeness School. Jennie had been a nurse in the Civil War.

On March 21, 1880, Jennie gave birth to their son and named him Howard Walter Blakeslee. A few years later, the Blakeslees left for Iowa.

Howard attended the University of Michigan and became a journalist, eventually becoming The Associated Press’ first science editor. In 1937, Howard was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Reporting. Not too bad for a local boy.

Calling Walt Kelly Lake Ozette — January 1956

Lake Ozette had a problem. A carnival family staying at lake Ozette in 1955 headed south, leaving their alligator, Albert, behind. According to Mrs. Marvin Thomas, the family “took off for the south with their snakes, monkeys, bears, dogs, ducks and kittens” in November 1955, leaving Albert behind.

No one local knew if the alligator was dead or simply hibernating. But Mrs. Thomas kept an eye on Albert, who remained close to the shores of Swan Bay in its box.

In early January 1956, Mrs. Thomas decided to take a swim, commenting, “It’s amazing how the water responds to a little sunshine.” She swam to Albert’s box but found only a broken box. Had a little sunshine brought Albert out of hibernation? Mrs. Thomas decided it was best to walk home rather than swim.

About the same time, the owner of a supermarket in Winslow (Bainbridge Island) discovered a 7-foot alligator on the steps of his store. Next to the alligator was an old straw suitcase marked with the words, “I Go Pogo. I Go IGA. Albert.”

It caused quite the scene, but Albert was quite dead. The supermarket’s owner didn’t appreciate the stinky carcass on his steps, so he hauled Albert to the dump.

It turns out that Ed McGifford, an Olympic Junior College student, had brought Albert to Winslow as a practical joke. Ed retrieved Albert from the dump hoping the college’s science department wanted it; they didn’t.

But at least it was safe to swim in Lake Ozette again.


John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and treasurer of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at

His Clallam history column appears the first Sunday of every month.

US Flag Ship Philadelphia in Port Angeles Harbor circa 1899. (Courtesy of the North Olympic History Center)

US Flag Ship Philadelphia in Port Angeles Harbor circa 1899. (Courtesy of the North Olympic History Center)

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