The First Year at the Homestead by Mike Barnhart

In the spring of 1918, my grandparents, Hugh and Mamie Courtney acquired the old William Mcomb homestead at the end of Company Creek road. Below is an excerpt from my forthcoming book  “At Home In The Woods – A Stehekin Family History – The Moores and Courtney’s”, along with a photo of the Cronk Cabin.   Article and photo “copyright” by Mike Barnhart. Reprinted from 2010 Guidebook.


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The Stanley Place
by Bucky Gans [originally printed in the Stehekin Choice newspaper; edition August/September 1993]
Where the name of McGregor Mountain originated
Approximately five miles upvalley from the head of the lake lies one of the more desirable homestead sites in the Stehekin Valley, with level, fertile land, not heavily timbered and abundant water available from the Stehekin River. The first man to cast eyes on this site as a possible abode built himself a cabin, dug about half a mile of irrigation ditch, and planted a garden. This would-be homesteader was named Billy McGregor, and although he disappeared from the scene in 1901, his name lives on in the mountain which dominates the view at the head of the lake and which mightily overshadowed his modest homesite.

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Early this summer, I received some very interesting photos from someone whose family had some historic ties to Stehekin. The photos capture a glimpse into a unique era. I know that some of the fire lookouts still stand in Washington, but in the almost 40 years since my first visit to Stehekin I have only seen the charred remains of what was once a fire lookout. These small spare cabins, often perched high atop tall mountains were the summer haunts of young men, and sometimes women, who were hearty hikers and looking for wilderness experiences, all the while serving the greater good.

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Imagine yourself on top of a mountain, your legs are tired but the breeze tousles your hair and sunshine warms your skin. Before your eyes is a spectacular scene of snow capped peaks, forested mountains dotted with alpine lakes and puffy clouds in a sapphire sky. The mountains of the North Cascades do not disappoint in their grandeur or beauty and with the horses of Stehekin Outfitters carrying your gear they are easier to access than ever. This Outfitting business has been passed through three generations of the Courtney family; each outfitter hosting trips displays an adventurous spirit mixed with a desire to share the high country.

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August 23, 2017

In 1921, Stehekin needed a new schoolhouse. Residents gathered up their tools, resources and community spirit and built the one room log structure which still stands close to Rainbow Falls. The logs were felled and peeled right on the site and all manpower was volunteered. In less than a week, the bulk of the building was in place. Gradually, a ceiling was added and a small back room where a teacher could live. Over the years, the original building has been transformed through general upkeep as need has merited. The deteriorating back room was replaced and enlarged and was used for educational purposes.

          For sixty-seven years the elementary-age children of Stehekin were educated in this rustic example of Stehekin heritage. With the coming of the 1988-89 school year and the completion of the new school building located 1/4 mile down valley from the old school, a new era began.


An Introduction to the “New” Stehekin School.

Past Stehekin School Superintendent, Roberta Pitts, wrote the following thoughts concerning the new Stehekin School to be

included in the 1998 Stehekin School graduation ceremony.


       Nineteen ninety-eight marks the tenth anniversary of the new Stehekin School.   Eighteen years ago I remember a feeling of being overwhelmed when teacher, Ron Scutt, approached me with the idea of building a new school. This overwhelmed feeling was to be followed by feelings of determination, frustration, irritation, disappointment, confusion, excitement, stimulation, enthusiasm and accomplishment as the task was undertaken over the following eight years.

 The concept of a new school building was brought to the Stehekin School District Board of Directors. This five-person board oversees all district operations and was the starting point for a new school. The board in turn opened the discussion to the community, giving birth to questions such as: Do we need a new school? Where would this school be built? Can the National Park Service sell the district some land? How will the building be financed? Stehekin proved no different from any other small community —divisions of thought were soon expressed and controversy within the community had a new focus.
        The issue of building a new school was settled by using a little known and rarely used Washington State law requiring a special vote of the electorate, held in the presence of the county auditor with the vote being binding on the school board. Such a meeting was held at the old school and was well attended by Stehekin’s registered voters. The school board presented its case for the building of a new school. Registered voters were signed in and ballots passed out.  Chelan County Auditor Ken Housden was present, making the vote official. From this vote, the Board was mandated by the registered voters to proceed with the new school building project.
          The site selected as most desirable was the 3+ acres known as Rainbow Lodge. In the summer of 1986, the school district was the successful bidder and purchased this property from the National Park Service with the caveat it would be used for school purposes only.
Planning then began for the building itself. During the 1986-87 school year, 24 school board meetings were held. Slowly, ideas began to jell and an architect was hired to draw the plans. Once these plans found acceptance with the board, a bid notice was put out and bids received.  The building was built by Duncan Construction of Leavenworth, Washington. The school district saved its funds over several years and was able to finance the building with monies on hand. The building coming in at just a bit over $300,000. Construction began in the late spring of 1988 with completion in time to begin school that fall.
          Perhaps the most appreciated space is the room we call “the motion room”. I was just recently asked, “Where did we get that name?” Like many places called by unique names, I don’t remember. It has always been “the motion room”. As this name indicates, it is a space for motion. It may be used before school for ping-pong, unique indoor basketball, four square, juggling, jump rope, swinging on the rope or any activity requiring the space for activity. During the school day, activities such as form drawing, rhythmic counting, watercolor painting, special unit projects, art, music, and physical education may take place there as well.  This space is also used for community gatherings to view Christmas Plays, The Trillium Festival, Eighth Grade Graduation, end of the year programs or visiting musicians, artists, as well as, large community meetings. This space has allowed many academic movement activities to be added to the school day that were just not possible in the smaller historic Stehekin School.

The “New” Stehekin School as of 2017 

The “new” Stehekin School is thirty years old this year. New this year is David Getchell as our teacher. The inclusion of the motion room in the new school enabled us to integrate the arts and physical activity throughout the curriculum. In an era when technological tools are often chosen to answer a host of educational challenges, keeping children physically and artistically active supports student growth and development. The Stehekin School curriculum is unique. It is the new Stehekin School and the motion room that make it possible to offer developmentally appropriate educational activity to children in grades K-8 on a daily basis.

at August 23, 2017

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Stehekin Courtney Homestead:Celebrating 100 Year Anniversary!

Stehekin Courtney Homestead:Celebrating 100 Year Anniversary!

Mamie and Hugh Courtney at the homestead, 1942

“….That winter, Hugh and Mamie put their name in for the old, abandoned William McComb homestead about a mile and a half up the road from the Lesh place. It was accepted, and on April 19, 1918 with Mamie seven months pregnant with my mother June, they moved up to the homestead.”
(From “At Home In The Woods” by Mike Barnhart, pg. 21)

 Hugh and Mamie’s rustic beginnings of life in Stehekin surrounded by tall Douglas firs, beside the rushing Stehekin River with a startling rise of McGregor Mountain looming over them, is a story to be revered. Their dream of making Stehekin a home has reached into the lives of many of their descendants, a century later. Each ax swing, shovel of dirt, and snowy winter endured was of benefit to more than their little family of six. Their legacy of hard, back breaking work to find a way to stay and survive on their mountain homestead is a gift that has enabled many generations to live on, in an outstanding homeland.
April 20, 2018 Courtney Homestead 100 year anniversary (Photo~Nancy Barnhart)
One hundred years after their move into a dirt floored cabin, Mamie and Hugh’s descendants gather on the grounds of the former homestead. The talk is of where the garden was, how water was channeled for produce, animals and home, from a nearby mountainside creek. How the water tower was built, where the barn was located, and the remarkable change of size of the original land due to the continual carving away by the river. The original log cabin has been moved to avoid being washed away.
Mike Barnhart, son of June Barnhart (Courtney) guides the families along the road, pointing to places that were once cleared and occupied by wooden buildings that couldn’t last the century. Rock hearths still stand as monuments to the lifestyle of chopping wood for survival heat,  daffodils still pop up near the old site, and a few relic vehicles grace the woods. The are long covered with leaves and ferns, meeting a destiny of “can’t fix it.” Laughter is shared about “granddad’s stories.” Memories of climbing the water tower as kids emerge. Much circling of the old log cabin, and talk of the cellar, and the cooling house for milk storage takes place. A rugged lifestyle that required attention every day unfolds and is given honor.
Cousins, second and third and fourth cousins, clear down to a 6th generation baby meet and look at the display Mike has carefully posted of diary entries, a map of the old homestead, and pictures of this very end of Company Creek road destination. Mike and Nancy live on a portion of the original homestead and are graciously making this day a family celebration. Some have traveled from San Antonio, Texas. Some from Arkansas.
Local Courtney families that are still living this dream of Stehekin life meet and share with cousins from far away about what it is like to live here.  Little ones play in the setting, oblivious to the historical import of the day, doing what comes natural..running, kicking a ball, and laughing. They enjoy being outside with a unique freedom and innocence that all eras have shared in this special place.   Stehekin has grown six generations of the Courtney family, as well as one more, reaching back to Moore point, with Robert and Mary Moore, parents of Mamie.
Sixth generation!
Present generations provide many services to the valley such as Stehekin Outfitters, the Stehekin Pastry Company, Stehekin Valley Ranch, Barnhart Photography, Rental Cabins, Mountain Barge Service, each with the heart of the original determination of Mamie and Hugh to make Stehekin their home. Due to their life long efforts, there are now ten families able to call Stehekin their home. Other family  members own property here, and visit whenever possible. Family ties to this homestead, and Stehekin, run deep and are not forgotten.
The hardship of making a way in Stehekin has obviously changed. There is something familiar, however, in Mamie and Hugh’s family stories of early life of making it through, making it work, and doing it with your own abilities as best you can, a spirit that has been passed down to the present generations. And, a spirit of hope and dreams still endures, just as it did originally when the valley was first being settled, as is evident in thirteen year old Dorothy Courtney’s letter to her brother from 100 years ago, describing their fist day in their “new” home:
“…We moved yesterday on your birthday and we had a great time. Laurence and I went down to get Mr. Inlow and caught him pretty nearly down to his place going to set bear traps way up on the mountain but he helped us anyway and we got one load up in the morning and then we had to take another load right after dinner. We took that load and the next about 5:30 in the evening. Papa had to go down after another load but Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell and John Merritt came up to drive the team back. It was about twelve o clock when we got to bed; we walked up so that made us tireder than ever. Mr. Inlow put up the stove and beds and we had to shovel the dirt out it was so deep. We couldn’t bring the chickens so we had to leave them until tonight but I went and let them out we couldn’t catch all of them so Elmer Pershall and his wife get four eggs. We get four eggs every day so we have eggs for breakfast every morning and that is a great help. There are lots of mosquitoes up here. I am nearly eaten up with them.
We think our team will be up today so that we can start farming in a little while and can get things started. Mr. Washburn gave me some flower seeds and I already have some and Mr. Inlow is going to give me some pansies they are in bloom. 
Well I must close,
Your very loving sister, Dorothy Courtney”
The original Courtney homestead is now partitioned into family tracts, and has also been sold to others. Life is still carried on by these tall firs, this rushing river, under unforgettable North Cascades peaks. A legacy of family, hardwork, love of place, good will and wonderful history live on.
(For a genuine and more in depth account of life on the Courtney homestead, read:
Mike Barnhart  l.c.
For more Stehekin information
stories and news,

A One of a Kind View: An era of Look Outs

Seasonal work is a large part of Stehekin history and present day life in our valley and community. Summers spent in Stehekin are never forgotten. Firefighting has been a necessary part of protecting the area. Lookouts on prominent peaks were a major phenomena in their day. Read here of one account of public service high on a mountain perch.

A famous destination at the head of Lake Chelan in it’s day, the Field Hotel played a significant role in visitor relaxation and recreation in the North Cascades. Innovation to match the surrounding beauty and make a way to enhance the area are traditions passed on to present day Stehekin. A favored destination, read more here from “The Stehekin We Remember.”

Subsistence living was the heart and beginning of Stehekin history. Hard work was a daily reality of survival. What motivated people to stay and make Stehekin their home? Read an account of the reality of mountain living written by resident Mike Barnhart:




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I once read an essay that a Stehekin School student had written about November. It was a short piece and it was not intended to be an amusing composition, but the depth of this young man’s negative sentiment about the gray, wet days of November are ultimately entertaining, capturing the feeling that is common in this in-between season.
By mid-November most of the colorful leaves have fallen, faded brown in piles on the ground. The crystal clear sun’s light is obscured by clouds and the daylight hours are short, while the mountains’ shadows get longer every day. The days start late and nights comes early. The rains that we hoped for during the dry, hot days of summer finally arrive, cold and unrelenting as we watch the snow line come ever closer to the valley floor. The baring of the trees and the lack of direct sunlight transforms the Stehekin valley to an almost monochromatic world. There is much beauty that remains, but it’s almost like a shadow of its former glory.

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