Sultan Memories: Shooting the Rapids

  • By Maurice Young
  • Posted 9/12/2022
  • Essay 22553

Sultan is an incorporated town in Snohomish County, about 23 miles east of Everett at the confluence of the Skykomish and Sultan rivers. Highway 2, the road to Steven's Pass, runs through it. Sultan was and remains a small town, with a 2020 population of 5,330. In this personal reminiscence of old Sultan, Maurice Young (1919-2009) writes about Prohibition moonshiners, thick salmon runs on nearby rivers, and some third-grade hijinks. His stories have been edited by his daughter, Roberta Young Jonnet.

Memories Shared

These stories — the lived experiences of my dad, Maurice Young, his parents, and his brother Bud — were first printed into a spiralbound publication called Shoot the Rapids, Sultan’s Storybook, in 2000. The idea for the booklet came from Lois French, who engaged Shirley Curtis to help her. "Let’s put together a book," Lois said one day, "of the stories of people along the way ... they had dreams just like me to build a village within the trees ... Dreams of peace in the valley sky; if not a success, at least they’d try." Many townspeople contributed to this effort. "People were happy to share their stories of days gone by," Shirley wrote. The following memories of Sultan were written by Maurice Young:

Family, the Store, the Town

My grandpa, Daniel Young, brought his wife, Sophia, and children from Newark, New Jersey, to Sultan, arriving in 1892, a year before the railroad arrived in Sultan. The grandparents were originally from Germany. When the Great Northern Railway began running mining trains in the early 1890s, my grandpa had just been in Sultan a short time. The last part of his journey was fording the Sultan River near where the bridge is now. Times were rough, but fishing was good, so every day or so, when the train stopped at Sultan, Grandpa met the cook on the train and sold him fish to serve the passengers.

My Dad, Fred, and my uncle William ran Young Brothers Grocery during the late 1920s. Some of their best customers were moonshiners, who made illegal booze. But one of the big headaches of the moonshiners was the Revenuers who raided their stills, when they could find them. One of the main ingredients of their liquor was sugar, which they bought in huge amounts. Dad started out one day in his Model T with a load of sugar for a local moonshiner up on Winters Lake Road. Dad suddenly noticed a strange car following, so instead of making the delivery, he drove all the way around Winters Lake and Kellogg’s Lake to Startup, then back to Sultan with the sugar still in the truck. When he arrived at the store, the Revenue men were furious and wanted to know what kind of stunt he was trying to pull. Dad gave them a fabricated story and they stormed away talking to themselves.

Dad used to tell some of the clever hiding place those moonshiners used to hide their business. One had a large chicken house full of birds, but with a trap door in the floor that was always covered with manure. Underneath was a huge room with his still. Another conducted his business inside a huge cedar stump, which he cleverly camouflaged.

Dad and my uncle lost their grocery business during the Great Depression (1929-1936). They owed about $4,000, but had over $8,000 on their books, as their store was known as a "cash and carry" store. Instead of filing for bankruptcy, they turned their assets, including the $8,000 in bills, over to their creditors, the wholesale house. They in turn set out to collect the bills in any way they could. They would accept eggs, chickens, vegetables, or whatever in exchange. Two customers begged to have bills withheld and some day they would pay personally. Both became successful loggers later and kept their word.

When logging was in full swing around Kellogg’s Lake, shingle bolts were collected there, and a flume was built from the lake’s outlet to the shingle mill in Startup. The creek furnished the water, and the bolts were literally shot down the flume.  Dad and several friends used to ride these bolts but would jump off just before they dropped into the holding pond at Startup Shingle Mill. According to Dad, shooting the rapids was a wild ride!

Fishing's Good

When I was a boy, I loved to fish. One of my first fishing holes was just across the railroad tracks from Sultan. I caught lots of trout there and proudly took them home for my mother to cook. One day Dad asked me where I caught the fish, and after telling him he pushed the plate of fish away, exclaiming, "That'/s where Sultan's sewer pipe dumps in the river." I never fished there again.

In those days, in the fall the salmon were so numerous in the riffles above the Skykomish Bridge you couldn’t wade across without being knocked down. From the bridge, looking down, the river bottom was literally black with salmon, and it was no trouble to snag one, although you seldom managed to get them up to the bridge where you stood.

Land was cheap in the early days of Sultan, so Grandpa bought a piece of land to cut wood on. It was on First Street near the then-new athletic field. He got a quit claim deed for his money and started cutting wood. A short time later the true owner showed up and demanded to know why Grandpa was cutting wood on his place. Grandpa learned just how good a quit claim deed was.

Grandpa Daniel Young’s original home in Sultan stood where the then Sportsman Café touched on Main Street. The railroad tracks were across what is now Highway 2. As kids we used to get lead for fish sinkers from the expansion plates of the railroad bridge. On hot days when the lead plates would expand, the lead would squeeze out a fraction of an inch. Just the thing!

A lot of hobos rode the rails in those days, and many a man down on his luck would come to the backdoor of the house asking for a handout. One fellow was given a bread and jelly sandwich by Grandma. He looked at it and said, "Where’s the meat?" Grandpa jumped to his feel and exclaimed, "I’ll give you meat right between the eyes!" The hobo made a hasty exit!

My Dad used to fish just across the railroad south of Sultan. One day a well-dressed man, carrying a large map, approached him there and asked him if he’d lived there long. Dad answered, "most of my life."  The man said, "well maybe you can tell me where this property is located. I just bought it at a delinquent tax auction." Dad looked at the map and said, "Yeah, I’m fishing in it." The man turned and left, shaking his head.


During the 1920s and early 1930s, Jennie Gilchrist was the grade school superintendent, principal, and eighth-grade teacher. She had playground duty and ruled with a stern, but fair hand.

When I was in the third grade, I got a carbide cannon for Christmas. I had to show it off at school. It had a small water tank in which you dumped a quarter teaspoon of carbide, closed the magazine, hit a lever that caused a spark, and BOOM! A flame would shoot out two feet and sound like a shotgun. I lit it in the school hallway. Jennie Gilchrist came "fogging" (expression Dad used to mean someone so mad they could not see straight) down the stairs, grabbed that cannon and informed me I could pick it up after school and never, ever bring it back!                      

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