Ferguson, Emory C. (1833-1911)

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 10/14/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8330

Likeable to practically everyone who knew him, Emory Canda Ferguson was an authentic pioneer whose life was centrally linked to the beginnings of Snohomish County. New York born and a carpenter by trade, E. C. set out in search of gold at the age of 21, arriving in San Francisco in 1854. By 1856 he was operating a general store a few miles from the original Sutter strike. He next ran a sawmill. But Ferguson wanted more. Joining gold seekers, he traveled north to the Fraser River in British Columbia in 1858. He returned to Washington Territory empty-handed, and found carpentry work at Steilacoom. Here he joined a syndicate planning to secure land along the Snohomish River for the purpose of establishing a ferry that would connect with the military road. Ferguson took a homestead claim at Cadyville, the future Snohomish. As the region grew from the 1860s into the early 1900s, Ferguson was in the forefront making deals, often informally. He was postmaster, mayor, realtor, saloon keeper, store proprietor, legislator, and even justice of the peace. Frequently referred to as "The Father of Snohomish," Emory C. Ferguson was courted by Henry Hewitt and East Coast investors when they came to build the city of Everett. Ferguson died on October 7, 1911 and is buried in Snohomish's G.A.R. Cemetery. His first home in Snohomish still stands and is currently in the Snohomish Historic District.

The Makings of a Pioneer

No history of Snohomish County can be written without significant mention of Emory Canda Ferguson. As historian David Dilgard has written, "He wasn’t the first settler in the county and during the early years he wasn’t as alone as he led later generations to believe, but "Old Ferg" was a powerful symbol of the past to those who later made their homes in the vicinity of the Snohomish River and his life was inextricably involved in the beginnings of the county he played a central role in creating."

If anyone could tell a good pioneer tale, it was Ferguson. His stories combined fact and fiction and were finely crafted for articles and after-dinner speeches. He embellished them over time. His large frame and stubbly beard added to his pioneer persona.

Emory Canda Ferguson was born on his parent’s farm in Westchester County, New York, on March 5, 1833, the fourth child of Samuel and Maria (Haight) Ferguson. Here Emory attended school. He apprenticed as a carpenter and spent five years working in the trade. When he was 21 he left for San Francisco, choosing the faster but more difficult route across the Isthmus of Panama. He arrived in 1854 to look for gold. Two years later he was operating a general store close to the site of the Sutter strike. He then embarked in the sawmill business in Greenwood Valley, El Dorado County.

Ferguson joined the gold rush to the Fraser River in 1858, exploring various spots along the way. Quickly convinced that this was a hopeless pursuit, he headed back to Puget Sound, first to Whatcom, next to Seattle, and then to Steilacoom. He had planned to establish in Olympia, but available carpentry work kept him in Steilacoom.

A Military Road and Ferry Crossing

In the spring of 1859, a syndicate that included Ferguson was formed in Steilacoom to settle land along the Snohomish River and establish a ferry at the point where the military road would cross the river. Edson Cady, Egbert H. Tucker, and Hiel Barnes were the first to arrive in the summer of 1859. Ferguson took a homestead claim on 160 acres of unsurveyed land that eventually became the Snohomish town site. He built a small home for himself in Steilacoom and had it shipped by boat to the site. In March of 1860, he arrived, bringing with him goods to start a store. At this time, the area was still part of Island County.

When gold was discovered in 1859 on the Similkaneen River in Okanogan County and on the Kettle River in British Columbia, the syndicate sent Cady to locate a route up the north fork of the Skykomish River to the headwaters of the Wenatchee. They hoped to make a pack trail that would be a direct overland route to the goldfields from Puget Sound, crossing at the new settlement on the Snohomish. Ferguson raised subscriptions for the trail. Construction began about May 1, 1860. But when the gold rush subsided, the trail was abandoned and Ferguson returned to Snohomish.

Snohomish County is Formed

Cadyville was remote and distant from its county seat on Whidbey Island. The Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, which was to settle conflict with Indians, actually heightened harassment along the Snohomish River. When settler T. P. Carter was found killed by local Indians, other settlers at the Snohomish site sought protection and petitioned the territorial legislature in Olympia to establish a separate county. Snohomish County was created in January 1861. However, rather than establishing the county seat in Ferguson’s territory, Mukilteo was chosen. A year later, Snohomish became the county seat, and Ferguson’s small home temporarily stored the county records.

Snohomish had growing to do and Ferguson was a catalyst in that growth. A post office was established and Ferg became postmaster. In 1864 Ferguson’s Blue Eagle Saloon was licensed to operate. He proved up on his homestead claim in 1871 and then filed an official town plat. "For a time he was head of the Snake River, Priest Rapids and Puget rail service for the county. Over the years Ferguson shouldered a succession of public responsibilities, not only as postmaster, a job he held for twelve years, but also as county commissioner, auditor, probate judge, justice of the peace, state legislator, Speaker of the State House of Representatives, Snohomish City Council President and Mayor" (Dilgard).

Ferg lived with an Indian woman who soon gave birth to a girl. While in Olympia, he met Lucetta Morgan and they married in 1868. Ferguson rejected his common-law wife and child but continued to give them some support. It was about this time that he also sold the Blue Eagle Saloon.

Respectable and Prosperous

With regional growth, Ferguson prospered. By the time of Washington statehood, "Old Ferg" was a congenial legend well known for his witty anecdotes. Some of these have survived in publication. His late years were devoted to private business.

Lucetta and Emory had four children: Sylvia, Ethel, Ivie, and Emory Cecil. Over the years, the family lived in four homes. It is ironic that of the four, the only one remaining is the small prefab house on Avenue A, the structure that witnessed the birth of Snohomish County.

Sources: “Snohomish Pioneer Dead: E. C. Ferguson, ‘Father of Snohomish,’ dies at age of 78 Years,” Everett Daily Herald, October 9, 1911; David Dilgard, “The Adventures of Old Ferg,” Parts 1 and 2, Journal of Everett and Snohomish County History, Vols. 2 and 3, (Everett: Everett Public Library, 1981 and 1982);  E. C. Ferguson, “Beginning of Snohomish County,” The Coast, November, 1908; Norman Clark, Mill Town (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1970), 14-16; History of the Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington, 2 volumes  (Portland: North Pacific History Co., 1889), 322; William Farrand Prosser, History of the Puget Sound Country, Vol. II (New York, Chicago:  The Lewis Publishing Co., 1903), 400-402; William Sidney Shiach, An Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties (Chicago: Interstate Publishing Co., 1906), 824-826. 

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