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August and Barbara Kemmerich, 1902
Birdsview, Washington Pioneers

August Kemmerich (14 February 1845 - 28 January 1926)
Barbara Hommerding Kemmerich (15 April 1859 - 01 August 1903)

[This article was originally written for publication in a Skagit Valley history; it has now been updated with new information.]


His Autobiographical Sketch, attached to his will, dated July 13, 1925

My great-grandfather, his given name unknown to me, was born about 1750. My grandfather was born in Frielingsdorf 1782, died 1865, his wife was Sibilla Berger. My father (John) born in 1817, my mother Christina Reinbold, born in 1816. My father died 1862. Mother died in 1883. Myself born Feb. 14, 1845. (Oldest of five children.) All of us born in Frielingsdorf. I had two sisters and two brothers. My oldest sister died at the age of 2 ½ years, my youngest sister is Mrs. Wm. Muller at Frielingsdorf, my brother Wilhelm born in 1851, died in 1914, my youngest brother died 1 ½ years old, 1858.

Movements in life of August Kemmerich

At the age of 16 worked out as a farm hand and at 19 years moved to Essen and there worked in the coal mines for 6 years. There he learned of advantages offered for work in the United States, and he determine to try his fortune here, coming in 1869 and locating at Braidwood, Illinois, in the coal mines of that vicinity where he worked for 1 ½ years.

In April 1871 Mr. Kemmerich went to Iowa, near Westphalia, Shelby County, and tried farming, but grasshoppers and hail took his crops and in 1876 he removed to Port Madison, Washington Territory, and engaged in lumbering.

Coming to Birdsview on February 14, 1878, he took up his homestead. The land was covered with large timber. No roads or trails led to it and supplies had to be brought in canoes from Mount Vernon, a distance of about 25 miles. It was 12 years after settling there that he could get down the river with wagons, and then the route could hardly be called a road.

Mr. Kemmerich's policy in the early days was not to work out for others but to put in all his time improving his own land. He had hard work and underwent many hardships, but he felt that work done on his own place, in the long run, would prove best.

His uncle and aunt, August Kemmerich and wife [Theresa], having come from Germany to Iowa sometime after 1871, followed their nephew to Washington in 1883 where they assisted him on his homestead. In the winter of 1883-1884, Mr. Kemmerich went to Iowa and Illinois visiting former friends and so met and married Miss Barbara Hommerding at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Chicago on April 1, 1884. Mrs. Kemmerich, who died in 1903, became the mother of nine children: Mary, Joseph, Anna, John, Kathryn, Julius, Clara, Mark and Alphonse.

On March 1, 1908, he, together with his family, with the exception of Joseph who was in Alaska, an employee of the U.S. Government [Fish & Wildlife Service], left the homestead in Birdsview, Washington and moved to Mt. Angel, Oregon, giving the children educational facilities not available in Birdsview. In 1917 he moved to St. Paul, Oregon, with his daughter, Mary. After residing there 5 ½ years he returned to Mt. Angel to pass the remainder of his days amid the surroundings he learned to love and held in high esteem.

He passed away on January 28, 1926 and is buried there [ Mt. Angel Calvary Cemetery] beside his wife whose remains were transferred from Hamilton, Washington at the time of his death.

In the year 1946 the old Kemmerich homestead was entirely disposed of by the heirs.


August Kemmerich was one of the earliest settlers in the upper Skagit River Valley of Washington Territory. He and a Mr. Grandy came up the Skagit River to the tiny hamlet of Birdsview in February, 1878, just a few months after B.D. "Birdsey" Minkler had claimed land in the area which he christened "Birdsview." The claims of Minkler, Grandy and August Kemmerich adjoined and for some time they were the only settlers in Birdsview.

And, why did August leave Germany for far-off America? Perhaps part of August's motivation to emigrate was to avoid the usual fate of young, poor German men of the time--to be "cannon fodder" for the Kaiser who had a penchant for going to war. In his will (above) August says that he learned of advantages in the USA and "determined to try his fortune" here. Descendants of August's brother, Wilhelm, have told me that since August had already joined the German army reserves, he could not legally leave Germany. In essence, August went "AWOL." When he did, it meant that August could never come back and his departure also "made problems for the family." August’s father appeared to be ashamed of him, and the family never spoke of him; apparently there was no correspondence between them.



August's birthplace in Frielingsdorf, Germany.

His daughters, Kathryn Stupfel and Mary Stupfel, visited his home in 1958. This house no longer exists.






In September, 1869, at the age of 24, he left Germany and settled first in Braidwood, Illinois, working in the coal mines of that state. A year and a half later, in 1871, he moved to Shelby County in Iowa. In 1872, a railroad company--the Rock Island and Pacific, developed a new community in this locale, specifically to attract German Catholics. Many of the first settlers were from Westphalen, Germany and the township was soon named "Westphalia." In January, 1875 August was elected Road Supervisor of the new community.

Sometime after 1871, August's uncle, Augustus and his wife, Theresa, came to the USA from Germany and joined August in Iowa. Uncle Augustus had been a "visiting minister"--a lay person in the Catholic Church in Germany. August farmed in Iowa for five years and during that period he received his United States citizenship. A series of natural disasters--crop-destroying hail and grasshoppers--convinced August to seek a more hospitable part of the country, and in 1876 he left for the Pacific Northwest, going first to Port Madison, Washington Territory where he was employed as a logger and in the lumber mills. His uncle and aunt stayed in Iowa, until 1883, then they, too, came to Birdsview, in Washington Territory.


Port Madison Mill, Bainbridge Island,WA, 1890
This was the world's largest sawmill in the late 1800's.







Ships loading lumber--bound for Scotland.
At Port Blakely, Bainbridge Island, WA 1905










In the winter months when the woods and mills were shut down, August and his friends, B.D. Minkler and Mr. Grandy would explore the areas around Seattle for possible homestead sites. Their travels took them to the present-day LaConner Flats, but August ruled out that area since it was subject to devastating flooding at that time. Only much later, were extensive dikes constructed to protect that rich riverbottom land. Perhaps he selected Birdsview on B.D. Minkler's recommendation, since Mr. Minkler settled there just a few months before Mr. Grandy and August.



August took up his homestead on his birthday, Feb. 14, 1878
This certificate, granting August ownership of his homestead ten years later, is dated May 3, 1888 and was signed by the Land Office Recorder, in the name of Grover Cleveland, then President of the United States.





The certificate reads:

Homestead Certificate No. 2378. Application 4607.

Whereas There has been deposited in the GENERAL LAND OFFICE of the United States a Certificate of the Register of the Land Office at Olympia, Washington Territoy, whereby it appears that, pursuant to the Act of Congress approved 20th May, 1862, "To secure Homesteads to Actual Settlers on the Public Domain," and the acts supplemental thereto, the claim of August Kemmerich has been established and duly consummated, in conformity to law, for the southwest quarter of the southwest quarter of Section fifteen; The southeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Section sixteen, the lots numbered one, two and three of Section twenty-one and the lot numbered four of Section twenty-two, in Township thirty-five north, of Range seven east, of Willamette Meridian in Washington Territory, containing one hundred and fifty-seven acres and sixty-five hundredths of an acre according to the OFFICIAL PLAT of the Survey of the said Land, returned to the GENERAL LAND OFFICE by the Surveryor General:

Now know ye, That there is, therefore, granted by the United States unto the said August Kemmerich the tract of Land above described: To have and to hold the said tract of Land, with the appurtenances thereof, unto the said August Kemmerich and to his heirs and assigns forever; subject to any vested and accrued water rights for mining, agricultural, manufacturing, or other purposes, and rights to ditches and reservoirs used in connection with such water rights, as may be recognized and acknowledged by the local customs, laws, and decisions of courts, and also subject to the right of the proprietor of a vein or lode to extract and remove his ore therefrom, should the same be found to penetrate or intersect the premises hereby granted, as provided by law.

In testimony whereof I, Grover Cleveland, President of the United States of America, have caused these letters to be made Patent, and the seal of the GENERAL LAND OFFICE to be hereunto affixed.

Given under my hand, at the CITY OF WASHINGTON the third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight, and of the Independence of the United States the one hundred and twelfth.

By the President, Grover Cleveland


On the reverse of the Certificate, is the recording of the document:

State of Washington, Skagit County

I hereby certify that the within instrument was filed for record in the office of the Auditor of Skagit County, WA, at request of August Kemmerich on the 3 day of March A.D. 1890, at 3 p.m.; and recorded in volume 9 Deeds page 131 of the records of said County.

Signed by W.P. Downs, Auditor of Skagit County, Washington


August's claim lay along the Skagit River, which could be an uncomfortable neighbor during floods, but while the river waters once lapped close to his farm home's front door, it never intruded further. His children recalled that the river did reach the barn floor sometimes, and the grain sacks had to be moved to the house.


August's barn, (circa 1890).
To realize the immense size of this structure, note the milk can just to the left of the barn door!

In the foreground is a wooden roller, used in road grading.






Carving a farm out of the dense forest that covered that part of the Skagit River Valley must have been a Herculean task! No roads or trails led to Birdsview, and all supplies had to be brought up the river in canoes, and later small boats, from Mt. Vernon, 25 miles down the river.




West end of homestead (now Rasar State Park)
Date of photo unknown






The biographical sketch of August in An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties (1906) provides some details of his life in Birdsview:

"August Kemmerich, a farmer and stock raiser five miles east of Hamilton, is one of the men who came into the up-river section of the Skagit valley when settlers were few and the forests high and deep......Coming to Birdsview in February, 1878, he took up his present farm. ....The land was covered with large timber. No roads or trails led to it and supplies had to be brought in canoes from Mount Vernon. ....During the period of the Indian scare following threats against the early settlers up the river, they crossed over [the Skagit River] and took refuge in Minkler's mill. It was eighteen years after they had settled there that these three men [Minkler, Grandy and August Kemmerich] could get down the river with wagons. .....For three years Mr. Kemmerich paid an annual tax of $20 for road building and also put in considerable work on them himself. Mr. Kemmerich's policy in the early days was not to work out for others but to put in all his time improving his own land. He had hard work and underwent many hardships, but he felt that work done on his own place, in the long run, would prove the best.....The family are Catholics, and in politics Mr. Kemmerich is a Democrat. He has served as road supervisor and as a member of the school board, being an advocate of good schools and willing to pay liberally for their support. His farm consists of one hundred fifty-seven acres, all well improved, with a good orchard thereon. His dairy herd consists of seven cows, whose milk is separated at home and the cream marketed at Burlington. Mr. Kemmerich is a prosperous farmer, wide-awake and a hard worker, a man who is highly esteemed by all with whom he comes in contact."


After their arrival from Iowa in 1883, Augustus and Theresa Kemmerich joined August on his homestead and helped him develop it and build the two-story ranch house that would serve as the Kemmerich family home for many years, until destroyed by fire in 1932 or 1933. August bought his lumber for his home from Mr. Minkler's sawmill and floated it down the Skagit to his homestead.

Ranch house and outbuildings, circa 1913


Front of ranch house--facing south, toward Skagit River                             Rear of ranch house, facing north



There is only one line in August's will about his marriage:

"In 1884 married your mother, Barbara Hommerding, who died on August 1, 1903." His children added: "In the winter of 1883-84, Mr. Kemmerich went to Iowa and Illinois visiting former friends and so met and married Miss Barbara Hommerding at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Chicago on April 1, 1884."

There must be much more to the story of August's decision to make the long trip to Chicago. Was it done with the deliberate intent to find a bride? The only clue I've found is a formal photographic portrait that August had taken in Seattle, in 1883. This would have been a significant expense for a young man trying to carve a farm out of the Skagit wilderness! My best guess is that the picture was sent back to Chicago ahead of August's arrival.

August Kemmerich, Seattle, 1883
(Photo by photographer, E.F. Dollarhide)

Whatever transpired in that winter of 1883-84, we DO know that after what must have been a brief courtship, August and Barbara were married on April 1, 1884 at St. Michael's Church in Chicago. August was 39 years old, Barbara was just two weeks shy of her 25th birthday. We can only speculate on August's powers of persuasion, to convince a city girl from Chicago that she would enjoy life in the deep woods of the Skagit River valley!

Like August, Barbara Hommerding was of German ancestry, but she was born in Chicago. She was the daughter of Jacob Hommerding and his second wife, Maria Anna Butzen. [
There are variations of Maria Anna's name: "Mary Ann," and "Marian"--but her grave stone shows her as "Maria Anna."] When Jacob came to America on the sailing ship "Oregon" in 1853 he was accompanied by his first wife, Anna Maria Dauven. Both were from the "Eifel" district of western Germany, almost on the border with Luxembourg. [For greater detail on the Hommerdings, see my web article "All About the Hommerdings."] They settled in Chicago where Jacob may have been employed as a tailor. Jacob and Anna Maria had a son, Anthony, and Anna Maria died sometime before 1856. About 1856 he married Maria Anna Butzen, who had come to the United States from Reil, in the Mosel River Valley of Germany, on the same sailing boat as the Hommerdings. Barbara was one of eleven children, but only five survived to adulthood. Until her marriage, Barbara worked as a seamstress.

August and Barbara set out for Washington Territory on the evening of their wedding, first by train to Seattle, then by a succession of sailing vessels, boats and canoes until they reached Birdsview.

Apparently August's uncle and aunt, Augustus and Theresa, left the Birdsview homestead sometime after 1887 (they are shown as living with August and Barbara in the Washington census of 1887). The only further mention of them comes from one of August's daughters, Clara. She wrote:

"Our father had an uncle, Gus, who came from Germany, but I don't know when. But he was in Washington and helped with building the old farm house at Birdsview before our mother and father were married. Great Uncle Gus settled in Mt. Vernon shortly after and according to the Catholic Church records in Mt. Vernon, the first Mass that was said in Mt. Vernon was said in [his] home. Great Uncle Gus and wife had no children. He is buried in Mt. Vernon cemetery."

My own research in Mt. Vernon revealed that Uncle Augustus did indeed live in Mt. Vernon until his death, August 8, 1898. His wife had died in 1892 and Augustus remarried a few months later. The account of August's death in the Mt. Vernon newspaper doesn't mention his second wife, Catherine.

Back in Birdsview, life on their homestead for August and Barbara was no doubt full of hardships and hard work, probably made even more difficult because of the remoteness of Birdsview from the rest of the Territory. In his will attachment August mentions that it was eighteen years before the settlers at Birdsview could travel down the Skagit Valley by wagon. Road building was an ongoing project for the settlers, and August often paid his county taxes by hauling gravel from his ranch for road construction.


The Kemmerichs were devout Catholics and as their children arrived, it was of great concern to them that they be baptized. Living in remote Birdsview, this was not easy to accomplish. Their first child, Mary, was born in February, 1885 and August and Barbara waited until April, then took her by boat and sailing vessel all the way to Seattle--the nearest Catholic parish--for baptism. Their next three children, Joseph, Anna and John were taken to Mt. Vernon for baptism, but it was not until their fifth child, Kathryn, was born in 1893 that a Catholic missionary priest was available and able to come to their home to perform the baptismal rites.


August and Barbara's Family in 1891
at their Birdsview Ranch
L-R: Anna, August, Mary, Barbara and Joe




August and Barbara ultimately had nine children--the last four, Julius, Clara, Mark and Alphonse, were born between 1896 and 1903. Tragically, Barbara lost her life with the birth of Alphonse on August 1, 1903 and August was left alone to care for nine children and run his farm.

August and Barbara's family in 1902
Taken at their Birdsview ranch, perhaps by Darius Kinsey

L-R: standing: Mary, Joe, John, Anna.
Seated: August, holding Mark, Julius, Barbara, Kathryn.
In front: Clara




Barbara's mother, Maria Anna Hommerding, by then a widow and the grandmother to 28 children, came out from Chicago a few months before her daughter passed away, and she remained with August and his children for the rest of her life.

"Grandma Hommerding" as she was known in the upper Skagit Valley, was greatly beloved by all the family and provided the mothering and housewife skills so needed by the younger Kemmerich children.

In early 2010, I received over one hundred pages of letters "Grandma Hommerding" had written to her youngest daughter, Anna Urbain, who lived in Chicago. Written in an archaic form of German script, they have been successfully translated by Karen Halliday. Also in the collection are letters written by August and Barbara and their children. These give a wonderful picture of what life was like for the Kemmerichs, both in Birdsview, Washington and in Mt. Angel, Oregon.

The letters can be read and/or printed out.



Marian Butzen Hommerding
at August Kemmerich's home, Mt. Angel, Oregon
1911 . She passed away on March 25, 1912 at the age of 78.

She was buried at Mt. Angel Cemetery on Marquam St., Mt. Angel, OR





In March, 1908, August decided to leave Birdsview and move with his younger children and "Grandma" Hommerding to Mt. Angel, Oregon in the Willamette Valley where his children could have better educational opportunities. Also, the big lumber companies were now throughout the Skagit Valley, logging the prime old growth timber. With them, a new, rough element came into the valley. Some family oral history suggests that August wanted a better environment for his children. A third reason might have been August's age--he was now 63 and probably no longer relished the demanding life of a full-time farmer.


Certainly, August must have felt very much at home in Mt. Angel, where many German Catholic immigrants had settled. His younger children attended the Catholic grade school and three of his sons, Julius, Mark and Alphonse, got their high school education at the Mount Angel College, run by the Benedictine Order.


Five Kemmerich Brothers at Mt. Angel home
L-R: Julius, Joe, Alphonse, John and Mark





August's older children, his sons John, Julius and Mark, and daughter, Anna, lived on the Birdsview ranch at various times in the next twenty years and continued to farm it. August and his youngest son, Alphonse, had to return to the ranch in 1918 when John, Julius and Mark were all serving in World War I. The 73-year old father and the 15-year old son kept the farm going until John was discharged in 1919.



Soldiers off to War, 1918
Birdsview, WA
L-R: Mark and Anna Kemmerich, & Mark's friend, Howard King.
(A King family descendant says another King son, Maurice, and Mark ran off and enlisted;
they needed their families' approval, which was reluctantly given)





August's oldest son, Joseph, also stayed in the area. He was employed at the Baker Lake U.S. Fish Hatchery in 1906 and subsequently spent his entire career in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, serving at various locations throughout the West, including the Birdsview hatchery.

Upon his return to Oregon, August lived with his oldest daughter, Mary, and her family in St. Paul, Oregon for three years, then he returned to Mt. Angel and remained there for the last years of his life. He became a prominent citizen of Mt. Angel, serving as a City Councilman from 1913 to 1915 and from 1923 until his death on January 28, 1926 at the age of 80. His first home in Mt. Angel is still in use.

On Feb. 14, 1925, August's children and their families gathered to celebrate his 80th birthday. They came together
at his oldest daughter's home, in St. Paul, Oregon. Not quite one year later, August passed away, on January 28, 1926.


August Kemmerich's 80th Birthday
at Mary and Basil Stupfel's home, St. Paul, Oregon
Feb. 14, 1925

Front, L-R: Delphine & George Stupfel, Joe K., Marcella Stupfel, August K.,Dudley K., Alphonse K., Carmel S., Margaret and Norbert S.
Rear: Joe Bartosz, Basil Stupfel, Clara B., John K., Mary S. (holding Anna May S.), Mark K., Anna K., Julius K., Eula K. (Joe's wife), Camille Stupfel, holding Carole S.) & Kathryn Stupfel



August was laid to rest at the Calvary cemetery in Mt. Angel. Barbara's remains were transferred from the Hamilton, WA cemetery and interred beside him. Today, the marker for their graves is an imposing sight in the cemetery.

August and Barbara Kemmerich's grave marker
Calvary Cemetery, Mt. Angel, OR


Several of his children now rest in the same cemetery and "Grandma" Hommerding's grave is in the older cemetery in Mt. Angel.





Calvary Cemetery, on Memorial Day, 2002
Mt. Angel, OR









Grave Marker of Mark Kemmerich
March 4, 1900 - March 28, 1932
Calvary Cemetery, Mt. Angel, OR
(The local Veterans organization always
places a flag on Mark's grave, acknowledging
his military service in World War I)







Grave Marker of Alphonse and Pauline Kemmerich
Alphonse August 1, 1903 - October 4, 1995
Pauline February 20, 1908 - September 18, 1998

Barbara Kemmerich Halliday at her parents' grave marker
May 26, 2002




August's Birdsview homestead was gradually sold off, starting in 1928 and the final parcel left the Kemmerich family in 1946. However, the Kemmerich family ties to the Skagit Valley continued for many years.


John and Mark Kemmerich farmed the property at various times. Anna Kemmerich Ackerman and her husband, Bill, purchased the western half of the ranch and lived there until Bill's death in 1944.

Julius Kemmerich had a farm in another area of Birdsview in the 1930's and his only son, Ross, was born there. August's eldest son, Joe Kemmerich, was superintendent of the Birdsview Fish Hatchery during his career and youngest son, Alphonse Kemmerich, worked at both the Birdsview and the Baker Lake U.S. Fish Hatcheries between 1919 and 1928. Both Joseph and John Kemmerich retired in Sedro-Woolley and lived there until their deaths (1962 and 1987 respectively).




Anna Kemmerich Ackerman
Birdsview, WA 1926



August and Barbara Kemmerich have 59 great-grandchildren, but only one with the surname of Kemmerich. Their progeny have now scattered, but the largest groups live in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and the Wenatchee--Yakima area of Washington.


In 1985, Daniel Rasar, who was the current owner of the western half of Augustís homestead, donated 128 acres to Washington State Parks. On July 12, 1997 Rasar State Park was dedicated and opened to the public. Mr. Rasar donated the land for this beautiful park to honor his Skagit county family pioneer heritage. To preserve the history of the early pioneers of the Skagit Valley, the river bottom portion of the park is being kept as a hay meadow with nature trails along the Skagit River.




                                                                                                                                                                          Entrance, Rasar State Park, Birdsview, WA


Augustís descendants are very grateful that this portion of his homestead still appears much as it must have when he was alive and farming the land.

In May, 2002, some of August's grandchildren and great-grandchildren came to Birdsview to tour Rasar Park and help the Park authorities identify where the homestead buildings once were located. To read more of their tour and what they found, go to: Rasar Park Tour, 2002.



August Kemmerich's Descendants at Rasar State Park
L-R: Joe & Pat Napier, Karen Halliday,
Guest Noel Bourasaw, Barbara Halliday,
Beatrice Peters, Mark Stupfel, Dorothy Duyck,
Mark Napier


Sunset at the hay meadow, Rasar State Park
August, 2001
123 years after August Kemmerich claimed this land for his homestead.

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To print August Kemmerich's biography, open the PDF file and click on printer icon in upper left corner.

--extracted from family records, and published history of Skagit County by August and Barbara Kemmerich's granddaughter, Barbara Kemmerich Halliday, October 30, 2002 at Salem, Oregon .

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Two other excellent websites for Skagit Valley history are:

The Skagit Journal, edited by Noel Bourasaw.
Noel is a longtime resident of Sedro-Woolley and his website encompasses the entire Skagit Valley area.

Dan Royal's Stump Ranch. Dan is a descendant of the Boyd family--early pioneers in Birdsview. Dan lives in Birdsview and is concentrating on the historical heritage of this section of the upper Skagit Valley.



Unless otherwise noted, text and photos are the property of Glenn and Barbara Halliday, © 2010