By Christi Baron
The West End of Clallam County has been home to many notable pioneer families. They are often remembered by street names and many times descendants who still reside here. For the most part, many pioneers just passed on into obscurity, this does not mean they didn’t have an impact on this area or that their life was not fascinating.
For many years an old black and white photo occupied space in our family album. One day I asked my Dad, “Who is this guy?” my Dad replied, “Old man Cone, he was my babysitter.” Old man Cone was so much more than my Dad’s babysitter he was one interesting guy, here is his story …
Charles Edward Cone was born in August 1862 in Kansas. At the age of twenty, he left home for the West. He maintained infrequent contact and only returned to the Midwest one time to visit his family. In 1886, he headed for the wilds of Alaska, twelve years before the Klondike gold rush.
For about forty years Cone prospected through the wilds of Alaska. Shortly before the Russian revolution he took a stake of $300,000 to Siberia and invested it in a mining operation. But the Bolsheviks got wind of the mine and robbed him of $23,000 in gold dust and $14,000 in currency, blew up his hydraulic mining equipment, and ordered him to leave Russia. With Alaska 173 miles away, Cone hiked across the frozen Bering Sea to an Eskimo village on the Alaskan coast. As this was in April, he had to remain there until he was able to board a US Coast Guard ice breaker in August and return to civilization. He was set off the ice-breaker without a dollar to his name.
Undaunted, he was again able to make a small fortune, about $40,000. This time he came to Seattle to “blow” his money. He spent a great portion of his wealth on a children’s home, which never materialized. One year later he returned to Alaska for the last time.
The loneliness of Alaska had brought out a literary talent as he expressed his thoughts in poetry over the years. Over 500 of his poems were published and in 1923 he published a book of poetry “Beyond the Skyline”.
Over the years he was the subject of several magazine articles, Forest and Stream in 1919, and in 1922 Sunset Magazine published an article in the April issue about interesting Westerners called “The Bard o’ the Kuskokwim”. He also was a popular storyteller in many of Anchorage’s roadhouses, hotels, and public gatherings.
In 1919 he played, Sandy Allen, an old prospector, in a silent movie called “The Girl Alaska”. Much to the dismay of the director he was also in charge of the town’s dog pound and the dogs adored Cone and kept running into the scene jumping on Cone and disrupting the set.
Around 1925 Cone returned to the “lower 48” and in 1932 built a cabin on remote Jackson Point near Mora, Washington. That is when he became friends with my grandparents who lived nearby.
Cone once told an interviewer “I look younger because I’ve always been happy,” he explained. “I was born a pioneer in Kansas and I’ve managed to keep just a little ahead of civilization all the time.”
Cone never married or had a family.
Cone died on October 27, 1938, in Mora, WA. He is buried in the Forks Cemetery.
C. Edward Cone more than just my Dad’s babysitter, he was a miner, a poet, a silent movie actor, subject of magazine articles, and one fascinating West End pioneer.
“Beyond the Skyline”
“As we yearned beyond the skyline,
With a wistful wish to know
What was hidden beyond the highline,
Glistening with eternal snow;
As we yearned and wished and wondered
Of the secrets there untold,
As the glaciers growled and thundered,
Came the whisper “red raw gold”.”