Pilchuck Julia Jack

Pilchuk Julia, ca. 1910; Rigby Studios; Courtesy Everett Public Library

~  Mystique and Myths
By Betty Lou Gaeng

What is the attraction that Julia’s face has had for photographers and for those viewing that famous image through the years. Certainly she was not beautiful by the standards set in Hollywood. Rather Julia’s image as captured by numerous photographers suggests character, determination, wisdom, and even royalty. Perhaps that look of royalty is why she has been mislabeled Princess and even Queen by many writers.

From the time of their marriage Julia and her husband Pilchuck Jack lived in a little house along the Pilchuck River in the town of Snohomish. They were both well known to the residents in the area. After Jack’s death in the early 1900s, Julia continued to live there until her own death in 1923. As noted above, she was often photographed and many stories were written about her. Julia was what we call today, a celebrity.Pilchuck Julia, ca. 1910. Rigby Studios. Courtesy Everett Public Library.

In 1993 an original portrait of Julia by western Washington’s photographer Darius Reynaud Kinsey (1869-1945) had the distinction and honor of being offered for auction in the United States at Sotheby’s, the international auction house. Her image has even appeared on post cards. By all standards, Julia’s countenance is the most well-known of all the women of Snohomish County. Possibly that is the reason her mystique has spawned myths.

The most wide-spread and much-quoted myth is Julia’s prediction of the Northwest’s unusual and well-documented winter snow fall which began January 31, 1916 and steadily grew worse during February. There is no doubt that both Julia and her husband Jack being native to the region were knowledgeable about the weather in Puget Sound country, but whether or not she was actually a special weather prognosticator is unknown.

Actually, newspaper articles regarding Julia’s prediction of a winter snow storm two-squaws deep were published early in 1917, the year following the Northwest’s 1916 severe winter snow storm. An example was an article in the Edmonds Tribune-Review, one of several newspapers that carried the story of Pilchuck Julia’s prediction. Published February 2, 1917 and enititled Pilchuck Julia’s Predictions May Come to Pass, the article went on to report as follows:

“Last Saturday evening the betting odds against Pilchuck Julia prophecy of snow this winter “two squaws deep,” was at least 100 to one against the prophetess, but presto, Sunday morning people in the Sound country began to realize that they were in the grip of a blizzard and Pilchuck Julia’s stock began to climb . . .”

Evidently the first of February of 1917 did see a snowfall in the region, but it was not noted as amounting to a major long-lasting snow storm such as the unprecedented one the year before. Through the years, as with many such stories, a mix-up regarding dates has spawned the often quoted myth regarding Julia.

Julia’s age is another unknown fact. Even her death certificate leaves us in a quandary. The facts as given state that Pilchuck Julia Jack, the widow of Pilchuck Jack, died of small-pox on April 24, 1923, and that she was 83 years old, born in 1843—a three-year discrepancy. One of her more famous photographs taken in her later years, proclaims 104 year-old Indian woman. This we can very clearly eliminate since if that were true, she couldn’t possibly have given birth to her son Peter Jack during 1871/1875.

Regarding her birth place, it has been mentioned she was born on the Tulalip Indian Reservation. However, if she was born before the treaty signing in 1855, that can’t be true. There was no reservation then. Julia herself stated she had been present at the signing of the treaty. If her memory was correct, 1840/1843 for her birth seems possible. She would have been old enough to remember the treaty signing, and her age would have been right for the birth of son Peter in the early 1870s.

While researching Julia, I came across an interesting article by Lucius Grant Folsom who had interviewed Julia just before Christmas of 1911. Mr. Folsom titled his article An Hour With a Queen. His opening paragraph states:

“Making blankets of dogs’ hair, birds’ down and mountain goats’ wool is a lost art to Pilchuck Julia, but she knows how to sell fish and sit for photographs. Moreover she takes money for both with equal grace and gratitude. She does not wear a crown of jewels, as has many a queen of less noble blood and less creditable lineage, nor is she a queen without a realm. I have lived by the Pilchuck River always, she says.”

Mr. Folsom described his first meeting with Julia. As she put out her hand to welcome him to her cabin, he noted it was leathery as if from toil and age. When asked about her husband Jack, Julia said he was eight years dead and then held up four fingers on each hand. When it was mentioned that she was queen of the Snohomish Indians, Julia said as if in correction “Pilchuck Jack’s wife.” Tears filled her eyes and she wiped them away using a corner of her plaid shawl as she spoke of her husband Jack.

At the time of this interview, Julia shared her cabin with her daughter-in-law Hattie and Hattie’s five children. Hattie’s husband had been Peter Jack, Julia’s only child. Peter was killed when he fell from a bridge near Snohomish on February 11, 1907 at the approximate age of 32. Julia explained each family member’s contribution to the household. Daughter-in-law Hattie cared for the cabin and for the younger children, two attending school. With much pride she stated that the eldest “Big Boy” Oscar Jack caught salmon, gathered wood, and cared for the garden, and she (Julia) then sold the surplus.

Julia also showed much pride in her other grandchildren: Ivy, Ray, Anna and Pete, and the fact that two were attending school and learning to read and write. She told of how one day they would be able to write letters and stories, farm, keep a store, make a lot of money, and live in a nice house. Clearly, the wish of grandmothers throughout the world—a better life for their grandchildren.

Mr. Folsom related an interesting story told to him of a happening at Christmas time the previous year. Julia’s grandchildren had listened to the tales of the white man’s Christmas and of the forthcoming gifts, and with hopeful expectations they were looking forward to Christmas. With but a few pennies she had hoarded for the occasion and a sack of fish to sell, Julia headed to town.

As Julia walked to town with her sack, she prayed as she had been taught by a missionary priest many years earlier. She prayed that what she had would be enough to buy the food they needed with enough left over for presents for her beloved grandchildren. After selling her fish, she looked over the items in the store and counted on her fingers the cost of each item and her own meager money. While Julia was busy making her few selections, the proprietor of the store chose many items and silently placed them in Julia’s now empty sack. While doing this he looked at the customers in the store, who then began adding to the collection of gifts. When Julia turned to pay for the few items she could afford, she found her sack heavy with toys, picture books, candies, food and clothing. No person could doubt Julia’s surprise and her emotional show of gratitude.

The bag was now so full it was too heavy for Julia to carry and a young man carried it to her cabin. As her wide-eyed grandchildren gathered around their little tree on Christmas Eve and saw the array of gifts, Julia uttered a prayer of thanks.

Even though Julia was a well-known figure in Snohomish, life must have been a day by day struggle for both Peter and Julia, and more so for Julia after the death of her husband. The loss of her son must have left her devastated. Those who knew Julia remembered a cheerful and friendly woman. Many myths surrounded Julia, but there can be no doubt that the love she felt for her family was not one of them.

Julia is buried next to her husband Jack and son Peter at the GAR Cemetery in Snohomish.

Certificate of Death for Pilchuck Julia Jack.

Certificate of Death for Peter Jack.

Federal Census Schedules for 1880 and 1910.

Register of Indian Families, Tulalip Indian Agency, 1901 – Tulalip Reservation.

The Tribune-Review, Edmonds, Washington, February 19, 1916 – “Worst Winter Ever Known on Puget Sound.” (Front page)

The Tribune-Review, Edmonds, Washington, February 2, 1917; Editorial by Oscar Grace – “Pilchuck Julia’s Predictions May Come to Pass.”

An Hour With A Queen by Lucius Grant Folsom published in The Overland Monthly, Vol. LX-Second Series, January-June 1913, San Francisco,
© 2010 Betty Lou Gaeng, All Rights Reserved