Anastasia Spithill

Anastasia and Alexander Spithill (Source: Jack Kidder collection)

~ She has her day in court
By Betty Lou Gaeng

Anastasia had freckles! Her skin color was light! As a young woman, she married a well-known and prosperous white man from Scotland—Alexander Spithill. Dr. Charles Buchanan, a representative of the United States Government, decided that Anastasia was foreign and did not belong on the Tulalip Indian Reservation. Nor, according to Dr. Buchanan, was she entitled to the land allotted to her and her children in 1886. Even though the family had built a road and homes, and planted gardens and orchards on the property, he informed Anastasia it was not her land.

Anastasia was born about 1853 at Skagit Head on Whidbey Island. When she was two years old her full-blood Indian mother died, and her white father was long gone. Anastasia lived with her maternal grandfather Sadkok, or Wonnapot, as the Indians called him. To the white people he was known as Chief Napoleon Bonaparte of the Snohomish. Chief Bonaparte became one of the last survivors of the signers of the 1855 Point Elliot Treaty. The widowed Bonaparte and little Anastasia went to live on the newly designated Tulalip Indian Reservation. There, and at places her grandfather traveled, Anastasia was at his side or playing with other Indian children close by.

Anastasia was noticed, not only because she was always in the company of Chief Bonaparte, but because her little white face was covered with freckles. People wondered why this white child was always with the Indian people. Other Indians did not question Anastasia’s identity—they had always known she was one of them. She even had a special name—they called her Popstead, meaning Little Boston. The well-known Tyee Peter was her uncle.

Indications are that Anastasia was a very precocious child, and grew to be a woman with the same tendency. Not hard to believe as her grandfather, an important man with the Snohomish, was noted for his dignified air of superiority, and the red coat he wore. His attitude and appearance did not always endear him to the white men who had to deal with him. No doubt, little Popstead being in the company of her grandfather much of the time, adopted this same air of superiority, and her appearance was noteworthy.

Anastasia stayed with her Grandfather Bonaparte until she was 13 years old. She was then sent to Mission Beach on the Tulalip Reservation to attend Our Lady of Seven Dolors Indian Mission School conducted by the Sisters of Charity of Providence at St. Anne’s Catholic Mission. She attended the school until she left to marry an older man, the widowed Alexander Spithill. She became stepmother to his two young sons, Neil, age seven, and Duncan, age four. Mary, their mother, had been a full-blood Stillaguamish woman. Alexander and Anastasia were married February 27, 1870 at St. Anne’s Mission by Father Eugene Casimir Chirouse, O.M.I. Writing in French, Father Chirouse recorded this information, noting that Anastasia’s mother was a Snohomish Indian.

Nine children were born to Anastasia and Alexander. Eight would survive: Matthew, May, Alexander Jr., John, Cecilia, Inez, Zella and David. Neil and Duncan grew up knowing only Anastasia as their mother. In fact, Duncan must have developed a personality much like his stepmother. Father Chirouse writing in his diary in the winter of 1875 made the unusual statement “Mrs. Spithill and Donkan come to confession and behave well.”

The family first lived on the reservation at Mission Beach where Father Chirouse employed Alexander as carpenter. They then moved to Mukilteo and later Marysville. When Anastasia received an allotment, the family maintained dual residences. The first requirement on the allotment land was to build a road to make the property accessible. When this was done, a home was built and furnished. Land was cleared and gardens and an orchard planted. As the children grew, more land was cleared and homes built for them.

There had been early controversy in the agency as to whether Anastasia and her children were entitled to allotments. In 1886, the Acting Commissioner of the Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, A. B. Upshaw, notified the then Indian Agent Patrick Buckley that even though Anastasia had a white husband, she and the children were entitled to allotments.

Years later, Dr. Buchanan chose to ignore this ruling. In 1901 when Dr. Buchanan was appointed Superintendent and agent of the Tulalip Indian Agency, he was not convinced that Indian women married to white men were entitled to allotment land. He also demonstrated hostility toward the Spithill family and began a crusade, including warning them to vacate the property. He then awarded a portion of Anastasia’s land to William McLean, a man of Skagit and white blood. This began a seven-year dispute, ending only when settled by the courts.

On May 26, 1904, Anastasia filed a complaint in the Ninth Circuit Court of the United States (in Equity) against William McLean and Dr. Buchanan in his capacity as a representative of the U.S. Government. Later the United States was also included as a defendant. On March 4, 1908, after a very lengthy and bitter hearing before Eben Smith, Master in Chancery, with testimony by many witnesses, the court issued its decree stating that William McLean’s allotment was cancelled and he was “perpetually restrained and enjoined from asserting any claim whatever.” The court also stated that “Charles M. Buchanan, as Superintendent and acting Agent of the Tulalip Indian Reservation and his successors in office be and they hereby are forever restrained and enjoined from interfering with the complainant’s occupation and possession of the lands herein described.”

Little Popstead had won her lawsuit. The Heirship Ledger of the Tulalip Indian Agency records the land patent dated September 24, 1909 on behalf of Anastasia and her children, with the exception of her youngest son David who died May 19, 1908 at the age of 20. No portion was awarded to Neil and Duncan since they were not of Anastasia’s blood.

Anastasia Spithill, became a widow in 1920 when Alexander died at the age of 95. Anastasia lived another 12 years—her death occurring in Portland, Oregon on January 14, 1932.

Photo of St. Anne’s Catholic Mission and Our Lady of Seven Dolors School, Mission Beach, Tulalip Indian Reservation, was published in 1891 by the Northwest Real Estate and Building Review and appeared in The Seattle Times, Sunday, June 15, 1958.

Anastasia Spithill, et al., Plaintiffs v. William McLean, Charles M. Buchanan, as Superintendent and acting agent of the Tulalip Indian Agency, and the United States, Defendants. Case File No. 1194, The Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Washington, Northern Division, Ninth Circuit (1904). Record located at NARA, Seattle Office, RG21, U.S. Circuit Court, Seattle; Civil and Criminal Case Files. Oregon Death Index, 1903-98 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc. 2000. Original data: State of Oregon, Oregon Death Index 1903-1998. Salem, OR, USA: Oregon State Archives and Records Center.

Diary of Rev. Father Eugene Casimir Chirouse, O.M.I., September 1875 – April 1876. St. Anne’s Catholic Mission, Tulalip Indian Reservation, Washington Territory, USA. Translated from the French language.

© 2008 Betty Lou Gaeng, All Rights Reserved; WLP Story # 57

Maria Sneatlum

~ Tulalip Tribal Member, An Inspiration to a New Generation

By Wendy Church

Maria Georgina “Wyatalute” Sneatlum, a 1950s opera star, died April 25, 2007 at her home in Seattle. She was born, September 29, 1928, at Tulalip Washington to George and Amelia (Snyder) Sneatlum. Maria spent her younger years in Tulalip and graduated from Marysville High School in 1949. She went to Boston Conservatory of Music for professional training as an opera singer and performed professionally in Everett and Seattle. In May of 1994, Wendy Church wrote the following article which was published in the “See-Yaht-Sub”.

It was the little girl belting out church hymnals at St. Anne’s Church on the Tulalip reservation over fifty years ago that caught the attention of one of the Catholic sisters at the church.

Like many children, Maria dutifully sang in church on Sundays. “I was a little moppet of seven or eight years old,” she recalls. The sisters had the children divided into two sections, one for the younger children and the other reserved for the seniors.

ST. ANNE’S ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, West of Marysville on Mission Beach Road , photograph courtesy Everett Public Library

One of the sisters “perceived that there was a voice there” said Maria, and sent her upstairs to the choir loft to join the senior choir. The sister upstairs soon began asking Maria to perform solos. Asked if she was in the least nervous, “I guess I wasn’t. I was later on, but at that time, I didn’t care. I was just a regular old ham,” she said with a laugh.

This sparked interest from one of the church attendees, Hubert Coy. He sponsored Maria for a short time with voice lessons with Verna Miler in Everett. “That’s where I got started with a concert career, you know.” From there, Mrs. Mailer took over. Maria was about sixteen at the time. Mrs. Mailer took her under her wing to live with her and study. “I was one of the family and she gave me free lessons. I used the studio to practice and she developed the voice. Then I got this scholarship to study at the conservatory in Boston,” said Maria. Mrs. Mailer was also an expert seamstress and made Maria’s gowns for performances.

To finance her trips to Boston, Maria gave concerts at the Everett Civic Auditorium. There she gained a lot of her experience singing. She coached with Bruno Mailer (Verna’s husband) who at the time was a violinist at the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. He would coach her on the different composers Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Handel, Haydn, Faure and Duaparc. She also had to learn French, Italian Spanish and German. “I was never fluent in it, but I could understand it and then I could read too. It got so I could understand it quite well, but you have to keep it up, working on it all the time,” said Maria.

Maria also spoke Tulalip’s native tongue, Whulshootseed (Commonly spelled and pronounced today as Lushootseed). A lot of it she has forgotten, but get her around old pals and the beautiful exchange of speaking the language was a sound to hear.

Felix Wolfes, a world renowned German composer, coached her in her repertoire. “I enjoyed studying with him for a couple of years” said Maria. She also studied under Frederick Jagle (pronounced Yagle), a German composer who was her main teacher in Boston. He too was a prominent figure in the opera world, often flying back and forth from Boston to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. “Sometimes the leading tenor at the opera would fall ill or couldn’t appear and they wound send a telegram for Mr. Yagle and he would be off to New York singing at some big opera. He had a vase repertoire,” Maria remembered. “He was so nice and such an inspiration to me. I enjoyed studying with him for my voice production”.

“The first time I heard her I was about twelve and this was at the Old Dining Hall, at a Christmas dinner. Maria sang Ave Maria and it was just so beautiful….it actually gave me goose bumps” says Bernia Brown, Tribal member. Maria sang mezzo-contralto, the lowest range of voice sung by female vocalists. The other end of the spectrum is soprano, the highest range of voice.

Maria worked and studied hard those years, often traveling back and forth from Everett to Boston. She would return to Everett to give concerts and raise money to go back to Boston and study. She did this for four years. She auditioned at a church forty miles on the outskirts of Boston. The director, impressed, immediately hired her. “I was the church soloist at this huge church in Worcester, Massachusetts. I would go there for rehearsals, then go there for the actual performance on Sunday morning. So that was quite draining. At the end of the day, I would be so tired from the pressure of classes. I would get on the bus and go way out to Worcester.”

After two years of this grinding schedule, Maria landed a job in Boston. “That was a glamour job. Everyone wanted that job because it paid relatively well. It was right there in Boston. I didn’t have to get on the bus and ride for a couple of hours like I always did. I always thought that might have been the beginning of my physical downfall,” said Maria quietly.

Maria fell ill with tubercular meningitis, a debilitating disease that left her in a coma for several months. She was admitted to a diagnostic hospital in Boston. There they had made an exception for her and let her stay longer than the usual four or five weeks. At the time, they were experimenting with a medicine that helped her recover somewhat from the disease. They had a nurse escort Maria back from Boston and flew her to Tacoma where she remained at Cushman Hospital for six months.

“My brother died of the same thing a couple of years earlier. They worked on me and they pulled me out of it,” said Maria. After that were the long years of convalescence. Sadly Maria lost her voice entirely and her equilibrium.
Despite the hardships she has endured, her faith remains strong. “I had a strong mind. Otherwise I think I would have collapsed entirely, like most people did at that time. Of course, I’m a believer in the faith. There were a lot of people that prayed for me.”

Today Maria resides in Seattle and has made a full recovery. Although she no longer sings, she has recently begun thinking about “shaking up the voice a little bit and maybe renting a studio and giving some lessons, because I certainly know what I went through to learn and develop my voice,” she says.

Maria looks back at the bittersweet memories but bears no regret for that time in her life. She offers some sound advice to the young for their dreams. “Don’t give up. Anything that’s worthwhile isn’t just going to drop into your lap. It will take sacrifice, hard work and lots of patience. Keep your dreams focused. Keep on Keeping on.”

© 1994 Wendy Church All Rights Reserved, used with permission from Tulalip Tribes.; WLP Story #38

Siastenu ~ Ruth Sehome Shelton

Ruth Shelton

~ Good Will Ambassador for her People

By Betty Gaeng

As a young woman Ruth Shelton was first a wife and a mother. Later with her third and final husband, Tulalip tribal chief and totem carver, William Shelton, she became a good will ambassador for the people of the Puget Sound Indian tribes. Following her husband’s death in 1938, she continued as a well-known and respected spokesperson working for the welfare of her people.

Siastenu Ruth Sehome’s birthplace was Guemes Island, Whatcom County, Washington Territory. The Indian Agency had no records regarding her birth.. The year of her birth was given by Ruth’s elder sister Julia. Julia had been present at the signing of the treaty in 1855 and told Ruth that she was born two years following the signing. Thus, 1857 is the date given as her birth date in all government records and on Ruth’s grave marker.

Ruth’s father was Chief Sehome one of the chiefs of the Clallam Tribe in the Port Angeles area. Her mother Emily Sehome was a member of the Samish tribe, owners of all of Samish, Guemes and Orcas Islands. Both parents were full-blood Indians. In the early days, a portion of what became Bellingham in Whatcom County was named Sehome in honor of Ruth’s father. Ruth Shelton had two sisters Julia (Sehome) Barkhausen, born between 1840-1841; and Sarah (Sehome) Oshan, born 1852.

Ruth and all the tribal members lived in a longhouse about 500 feet long and 70 feet wide. In order to manage this close living life-style, the people were expected to respect each other. Discipline and orderliness were necessary. Children enjoyed fun times, but were taught to obey their elders. During her young years, Ruth Shelton learned all the skills that Indian girls were expected to know before their marriage. She excelled in basket weaving, blanket making and cooking. As a mother she taught these same skills to her daughters.
Ruth married three times—first to a white man in Bellingham and then to William Coy, a full-blood Indian from the Tulalip Indian Reservation. In 1878 Ruth moved to Tulalip with her new husband. This became her home for 80 years. When the 1889 census for the Tulalip Reservation was taken on June 30th, Ruth was listed as a widow. She was left with three young children: Hubert, age 10; Daniel Martin, age 7; and Susan Ann, age 6. Hubert was the only one to survive childhood. He became a leader and successful in business. He built and operated the Mission Beach Resort at the head of Tulalip Bay. Hubert Coy died March 5, 1958 at the age of 79, his mother Ruth Shelton surviving.

Her third husband was William Shelton also a member of the Tulalip Indian Reservation. Together they established not only a stable and good marriage, but also a working relationship promoting interest in the rich history of the native people. Their home on William Shelton’s allotment land was a treasure trove of artifacts of museum quality. Many of the items in the family’s living-room collection were given to *Chief Shelton by admirers from various reservations, and even though the family experienced some tough times, they never sold any part of the collection.

Ruth and her husband William Shelton were a handsome couple and in her youth Ruth Shelton must have been a striking woman. Along with other family members the couple became well known. They appeared at many events in the region, including Seattle, usually dressed in native attire. Ruth and her family created a bridge between the two cultures.

Her daughter Harriet Dover commented that her mother was always patient and understanding with a philosophy that life should be calm and unhurried. She expected her children to live their own lives in this same fashion. She did not believe in moodiness, but rather friendliness toward everyone from the time of arising in the early morning until retiring at night. Ruth taught her children that “Good manners were important.”

Ruth and William Shelton had six children: Robert E., Mary, William Alphonsus, Thelma, Ruth, and Harriet. Harriet (Shelton) Williams Dover was the only child to survive her mother. Harriet was a well-known representative for her people in her own right. A beautiful painting of Harriet hangs in the Tulalip Tribal Council Chambers. She died February. 6, 1991 at the age of 86.

Even though Ruth’s husband William Shelton went back to the ancient Indian religion, Ruth Shelton remained a devout Catholic her entire life. She spoke of the time when as a child living on the Swinomish Reservation at LaConner she took singing lessons from Father Eugene Casimir Chirouse, the renowned early-day Catholic missionary and teacher to the Indians of Puget Sound.

On November 16, 1940, 83 year-old Ruth Shelton made a trip to Seattle to talk to the Ed Dalby, the marine editor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Speaking in the Chinook dialect, she gave a warning that the area would experience a long and hard winter. The following day the paper published an article regarding her visit under the caption “Klonas mika wasa Chinook?” A picture of Ruth Shelton accompanied the article which also stated “chief’s widow knows the answers.”

On Saturday, October. 4, 1958 death came to Siastenu Ruth Sehome Coy Shelton at Providence Hospital in Everett, Washington. She was 101 years old. Ruth Shelton lived to witness the coming of the white settlers throughout the Puget Sound area, skirmishes between the Indians and white settlers, and the ratification of the treaties. She witnessed the evolution of travel from the gliding of canoes on Puget Sound and along the river waterways to the arrival of steamboats, ferries, automobiles, railroads and airplanes (both prop and jet). Satellites circling the earth must have seemed a miracle to Ruth.

Ruth Shelton’s obituary stated that Requiem Mass was held at St. Anne’s Catholic Church on the Tulalip Reservation. A quartet of Indians, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Joe and Mr. and Mrs. Tommy Bobb of LaConner, sang two hymns in the Indian language which had been translated by Father Chirouse a hundred years before. In keeping with Ruth’s inherited native culture, graveside ancient Indian traditional services were conducted at Mission Beach Cemetery with speeches and the singing of Indian hymns until the casket was lowered to its final resting place next to the grave of her husband William. Indians came from Nooksack, Clallam, Lummi and LaConner reservations to pay their last respects to a long-time beloved friend.


Siastenu “Gram” Ruth Sehome Shelton; The Wisdom of a Tulalip Elder. Transcribed by Vi Hilbert and Jay Miller, recorded by Leon Metcalf. Lushootseed Press (2005).

Everett Daily Herald—Sept. 1, 1958; Sept. 5, 1958, p. 5; Sept. 14, 1958, pp. 46-47; Aug. 25, 1961, p. B20.

Affidavit by Julia (Sehome) Barkhausen dated April 13, 1918 requesting enrollment into the Clallam Tribe by virtue of her birth (1919 Roblin Rolls). National Archives and Records Administration, Pacific Alaska Region (Seattle).

Census schedule of the Tulalip Reservation of the Tulalip Agency, W.T., taken by W. H. Talbot, United States Indian Agent, June 30, 1889.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Nov. 17, 1940, p. 24.

Marysville Globe—Oct. 9, 1958, p. 1.

Washington State Digital Archives.

* Before the Indian Reorganization Act of 1936 there was no official tribal status as a chief. On the other hand, the tribe–and more so the white community–truly called William Sheldon and Chief Sehome that and certainly they deserved the status. In effect William Shelton was a Tulalip cultural leader though the other title is not totally wrong and he was Chief of Police. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1936 allowed the tribes self governence. Shelton died in 1934 so he just missed the chance to actually govern.

© 2009 Betty Lou Gaeng, All Rights Reserved

Lillie Hayes Radley

by Betty Lou Gaeng

There are many wonderful stories of Snohomish County women who have led lives that have made a difference and inspired us in many ways. However, there were others who were little noted. They were the women native to this area. They were born here before the white men came—before the treaties. Even though little is recorded about them, their fight for survival, their successes and failures led the way for the women who followed. One of these native women was Lillie Hayes Radley.

Lillie Hayes Radley

Lillie was born, as she would say, a long time ago. She was a full blood Indian woman living during a time when it was not easy being female or Indian. Lillie’s story is not a happy fairy tale. Her prince charming turned out to be neither princely, nor charming. She was a victim of the time, and her life ended much too soon.

Lillie never became famous. She never learned to read or write. She never had the chance to become active in a community. Most of the time, she was just known as Lillie or Lilly, and it was a battle just to survive. She had no rights, and no one to protect her. Circumstances forced her to eventually turn the care of her daughter over to others. She hardly knew her grandchildren, and never knew that she had great grandchildren. Lillie would be surprised to learn she has a great-great-granddaughter who respects her, and wanted to learn more about her great-great-grandmother. Because of this caring descendant, some of Lillie’s story has unfolded.

The young native women of today have many opportunities. They can go to school, and on to college. They can have careers—they have many choices. Lillie had none of these advantages. Even so, Lillie and many other native women influenced the early development of Snohomish County. They were often used, abandoned, and little is known of them. However, they are part of this county’s history.

James Hayes
There is no record of Lillie’s life before the 1860s. Census records indicate she may have been born about 1843. She had a sister, but what had become of their parents is unknown. Like so many of the young native woman in the Puget Sound area during the early 1860s, when the white men began arriving to work in the woods, Lillie met and married one of them. His name was James Hayes and he came from a culture foreign to Lillie. In fact, he came from the other side of the country—New York City.

Carrie Hayes Tilton

Many of these men coming to this primitive forested land took Indian wives, either by legal marriage, according to native ways, or by cohabiting. Most came from the well-settled areas of the East Coast and some from England and Scotland. They had no knowledge of survival in this wilderness land. Much of that survival was taught to them by their Indian wives. These ladies knew the ways of living off the land, and how harsh and unforgiving the damp and cold winters could be. They had been taught to be hard working, knowledgeable of the environment, and obedient. Some of these marriages survived and others did not. Some of the native women adjusted to the foreign ways, were respected by their husbands, and became active in the developing communities. They taught their children the ways of living in a different cultural environment, enabling the generations that followed to take part in the building of communities.
Lillie and James were legally married according to Washington Territory’s 1866 law. Lillie’s name appears as Caroline Lily on the marriage certificate. Lillie and James Hayes were married by a justice of the peace at James’ home in Monroe, Snohomish County, Washington Territory on May 14, 1867, with John Elwell and Charles Harriman as witnesses. At the same time, these two witnesses, friends of James, also married young Indian women. John Elwell married Sarah Smith and Charles Harriman married Elizabeth Pero. The Harrimans and Elwells had solid, long-lasting marriages. This was not to be for Lillie and James Hayes.
A daughter, Catherine Hayes who was known as Katie and sometimes Carrie, had been born to Lillie and James in 1863. Throughout most of the years of this marriage, James Hayes did not provide for the care of his wife and daughter. They lived near Monroe and then in Snohomish City near the homestead of John Harvey and his family.

In April of 1879, Lillie divorced James Hayes citing his abandonment of both her and their daughter, and also his addiction to drinking. In the divorce papers, Lillie stated “I have one child Katie Hays…she is at John Harvey’s across the river, she has been there for a long time.” Lillie asked the court to allow that John Harvey be the guardian of daughter Katie. The divorce was granted on April 22, 1879, and it was ordered and adjudged that Katie Hayes, the child of James and Lillie Hayes, be left in the custody of Mr. and Mrs. Harvey. Carrie Hayes Tilton

Lillie went to live near the Jimmicums/Chimicums south of Monroe, where she labored at field work. About 1881, Lillie married for a second time. This time she made a better choice. She married Englishman Joseph Radley.

Lillie and Joseph’s marriage was to be a short one. Lillie had a long illness and died Friday, October 9, 1885 at approximately 40 years of age. Joseph Radley cared for his wife with the help of friend and neighbor Mrs. George Allen. After Lillie’s death he wrote to daughter Katie. Katie (now called Carrie) was married to Oliver Tilton, and living in Clearbrook, Whatcom County.

Lillies Descendants

Lillie’s son-in-law Oliver Tilton surrounded by Lillie’s surviving grandchildren and great grandchildren. This photo was taken about 1912 or 1913, and shows Oliver Tilton with his and Catherine/Carrie’s children still living at the time. Betty Muzzall’s grandmother is the one in the back row on the right–Stella Tilton Swanson. Lillie Hayes Radley is buried at Priest Point Cemetery on the Tulalip Indian Reservation, near her sister who had died seven months before Lillie’s death. However, no grave markers have been found for them. Joseph Radley went back to living alone and died in 1889 at the age of 38. He is buried at Mukilteo Cemetery—a headstone marks his grave.
Lillie’s daughter Catherine/Carrie Hayes Tilton died from a bout of measles in May of 1898 at the age of 34. She is buried at Clearbrook Cemetery next to her husband Oliver. Through this daughter, Lillie has a long list of descendants.
James Hayes never married again. In spite of his admitted love for whiskey, James lived a long time, dying in Monroe in 1920 at the advanced age of 95. James Hayes is buried at the Monroe Memorial Cemetery.
If Lillie were around today, she would no doubt be proud of her large family, and especially the great-great-granddaughter who wanted to know more about Lillie and her life. Also, Lillie would assuredly be pleased at the advancements made by other native women. Lillie didn’t have the chance, but she helped in leading the way.

Family photos, letters, and documents provided by Betty Muzzal, gr-gr-granddaughter of Lillie Hayes Radley. These have been used with her permission.
Washington Territorial and State census records.
U. S. Federal Census Records.
Information from the Washington Digital Archives < >
Cemetery information from < >
Article from the Everett Daily Herald, March 1, 1913.
© 2010 Betty Lou Gaeng, All Rights Reserved; WLP Story # 65

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

Jean Bedal Fish

Jean Bedal, July 23, 1986 when Jean and Edith were teaching at David Cameron’s week-long class on the history of Monte Cristo, held at Monte Cristo. Photograph Courtesy Louise Lindgren, 1986.

~ Elder of the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe

By Louise Lindgren

Jean Bedal Fish, elder of the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, was dedicated to the preservation of her Native American culture. Her legacy included not only the recognition of her mother’s tribe, but its written history as well.
Jean was the daughter homesteader James Bedal and Susan Wa-wet-kin, only daughter of Sauk Chief John Wa-wet-kin. Born in 1907 in the cedar cabin Bedal built on his homestead, Fish entered a world dominated by towering trees, the Sauk river, and rain. The sounds of two languages entered her consciousness from the cradle. One language, English, could be written – the other, Lushootseed, remained only sounds, with no written record.
The Bedal children attended school on their own homestead southeast of Darrington and in Fish’s words, “eighteen miles from nowhere.” Learning to read and write in English was important, but after school she followed her mother’s instructions, given in the Sauk language and by example. Her father voiced no displeasure at the arrangement as long as his children kept up their English studies.
Jean Bedal’s first teacher was a lonely lady who found her surroundings highly disagreeable. She stayed only one term, but in that time made a lasting impression on the girl. When a sewing assignment, a doll’s dress, turned out badly, the angry teacher threw it in the fire. This prompted a strong parental protest and words that were a prophetic compliment, “Our Jeannie doesn’t need to be taught how to sew – she learns by observation!”

And observe she did – the changing of the seasons, the growth of forest plants and animals, the handling of her family’s horses, fishing, and the great shake bolt drives down the river. She observed her mother’s habits and housework, the cooking of fish on camping trips, and making fried bread. She observed her new and favorite teacher, a vibrant Dutch lass named Edith Froom, who taught by example and even instructed her students in the fine art of swimming in the river on the way home from school. And, she listened as the teacher read novels to her charges as a reward for work well done.
In 1916, life changed dramatically. James Bedal was stricken with a paralyzing stroke, ending his work as a shingle bolt producer. Survival was tough, and the family moved to the town of Darrington where the children enrolled in the much larger school there. Although their school had only “white” children, they at times had contact with Indian friends and relatives, staying overnight on special occasions.

One Christmas gathering was memorable for the drama that began at 3:00 a.m. A man rushed in shouting, “Pray, pray – the river is coming!” The Sauk river had become a raging torrent in full flood. For three days people listened to the deep earthshaking rumble of huge boulders under the water. Catholic prayers of her Sauk relatives were spoken in a language new to Jean – the Chelan dialect used by the traveling priests — more learning by observation for a young girl pacing the rain-sodden riverbank.

In a few years, another language was added to her mental storehouse. Her high school principal was a Catholic and tutored her in Latin, a language that Jean Bedal Fish could speak even in her elder years.

Jean and Edith with their packhorses at the Penn Mining Co. office at Monte Cristo, circa 1930

James Bedal’s illness eventually caused such hardship in the family that the young woman felt the need to stay and help on the original homestead two long hard winters. That put her behind one year for graduation and another year before she had the opportunity to go to college in Bellingham for a quarter of teacher training. Money for tuition came from her small savings earned doing work unusual for women of the time — working for the Forest Service, checking on hikers who passed the homestead on their way into a restricted logging area.
Even more unusual, both she and her sister Edith were excellent horse-packers and guides. Interviewed in her elder years, Jean Fish remembered, “I guess I was about six or seven years old. There was [my Dad’s] horse by the name of Pete, … a wonderful horse. So I used to sneak to the barn and had a hard time putting the saddle on – it was heavy. And then I tried to tighten the strap, and the horse would just blow his belly up every time. But I led him to a log to get on him and rode maybe a quarter mile and back again.”
At age 13, Jean led two attorneys into the mountains as a solo guide trip. A few years later she was lone packer on a 50 mile round trip to both White and Indian passes. That trip included dealing with a mean horse after spending the night at the pass and tracking down horses who had wandered off in the middle of the night. After delivering the family safely to the railway station in fading light, she returned to the homestead in the dark.

Jean Bedal on the right, circa 1930?

Another skill, also learned by observation and practice, was put to use for the rest of her life – cooking. She cooked for family, Forest Service workers, and beginning in 1929, guests at the hotel in Monte Cristo. In 1932, she married Russell Fish, son of the proprietor.
When the hotel closed in 1941 and her husband went off to war, she moved to Quinault and then Seattle, cooking for the Y.M.C.A., until an exploding gas range seriously injured her. After a slow recovery, she cooked for hundreds of war workers at Pier 90. When her husband returned from war they spent a number of years in Hoquiam, then returned to Monte Cristo to manage the lodge there before separating in 1956.
Two years of study at Edison Technical School in Seattle helped prepare Jean Fish for the important challenge that would follow. She had begun working with her sister, Edith, on the job of proving the enrollment and status of the Sauk Tribe, which never had been recognized by the U.S. government. For many years, they and others continued the work, and in 1972 Jean Fish finally stopped cooking in order to work even more on the tribe’s recognition. On September 17, 1975 the tribe received formal recognition as the “Sauk-Suiattle.” The dual name was not traditional, but was written in by a lawyer who connected the area of the nearby Suiattle River with the Sauk Indians. During the late ‘70s and ‘80s Fish worked for the tribe and served on the Tribal Council. From 1979 to 1983 she was Tribal Chairman, the equivalent position of being the President of the United States, and with a similar structure of government to administer.
Jean and her sister Edith then began the important work of writing their tribe’s un-written language and history. Jean finished Glimpses of the Past, which is now part of a larger work including the writings of both sisters, Two Voices: A History of the Sauk and Suiattle People and Sauk Country Experiences, edited by Astrida Blukis Onat.
From a dual-culture upbringing, through experiences of the wider world, to the homecoming of a tribe complete and recognized in a many-cultured country, Jean Bedal Fish saw and experienced it all.

1. Interview with Jean Fish by Louise Lindgren, February 20, 1990
2. Jean Bedal Fish and Edith Bedal, with editorial assistance by Astrida R. Blukis Onat, Two Voices: A History of the Sauk and Suiattle People and Sauk Country Experiences, privately published for the Memorial Pow-Wow of June 9, 2000
See also the biographical article about James Bedal and Jean’s sister Edith in the Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore.

Revised and edited from a Third Age News (now Senior Source) Article published April 1991

© 2007 Louise Lindgren All Rights Reserved

Louisa Fowler Sinclair ~ Memories of a Pioneer Childhood

By David Cameron

One of the most valuable contributions of the Depression-era Works Projects Administration (WPA) was a program of interviewing pioneers and their descendants throughout Washington State. With high unemployment among writers and the passing away of most of the “original” settlers, the idea was a natural and enlightened one. Out of it came several small books from the Secretary of State’s office entitled Told by the Pioneers*. Among several of the interviews concerning Snohomish County was one with Louisa Fowler Sinclair.

Louisa was the first settler child born in the county, followed shortly after by the second, Neil Spithill. Both were of mixed Native American/white ancestry. In 1860, Louisa’s father, Jacob D. Fowler, a native New Yorker, and her mother, Mary, moved to the site of Mukilteo to operate the county’s first store, saloon, hotel and post office. Only 24 at the time of the first county census in 1861, Fowler held office also as the county’s first auditor, and then treasurer when Mukilteo served as the first county seat before its backers were outvoted 17-10 by the supporters of Emory C. Ferguson and Snohomish on July 8, 1861.

Louisa was born the following year and retained vivid memories of her childhood. Those provide us with an invaluable glimpse of life in Snohomish County a century and a half ago. Here is her account:

“This early picture of J.D. Fowler and his team of oxen was found in one of the Fowler diaries. Fowler recorded many historical facts of early Mukilteo in the daily record he kept. The diaries have been handed down to his granddaughter, Frances Record…” From booklet entitled “History of Mukilteo”. “I was the first child born of a white parent in what is now Snohomish County. My father had operated a trading post and tavern at Ebey’s Landing on Whidby (sic) Island, and there had married my mother, who ran away from her parents of the Skagit tribe because she did not want to marry a brave they had chosen for her. She made her way across the Skagit prairie and somehow reached the northern end of Whidby (sic), and followed the shore line to Ebey’s Landing, where my father first employed her to help in the tavern.

“After they were married, my father joined with Mr. [Morris] H. Frost in establishing a trading post at Point Elliot (now known as Mukilteo). My first recollections of life are as a small girl playing along the beach, picking up bright pebbles there, and being entertained by Indians and now and then a white man at father’s store.
Mukilteo is mispronounced by almost everybody. It should be called ‘mew-kill-too’- meaning ‘good camping ground.’ Because it was a good camping ground, and because there was a trading post there, it became a popular place for many tribes to foregather, and very often there were Indians camped there from a dozen tribes. This led to frequent clashes among the tribesmen – and so many murders that the killing of one Indian by another became a commonplace. My father often used to say when he heard of another such killing, ‘Well, that’s fine – we’ll have Indian for breakfast, tomorrow!’ All the trouble, however, was between the Indians, they never attacked the white men, probably because all white men carried one or two big revolvers and a knife or two in their belts.

Sewing Class at the Tulalip School in 1914, several years after Louisa’s brief attendance. Photographer: J. A. Juleen Courtesy Everett Public Library Digital Collections

“When yet quite small, my parents decided I needed schooling and sent me to the Indian mission at Tulalip. But I did not like it there. I felt superior to the full-blooded Indians, and I did not like the service. We were fed good enough food, but it was served in tin plates and tin cups. These, after having been accustomed, in father’s house, to china, rough and heavy though it had been, was too primitive for me, and I rebelled. I went on a hunger strike, refusing to eat anything, and in desperation the mission returned me to my parents at Mukilteo. Later I went to school for a few terms at Snohomish, and there I worked for Mrs. Ferguson for my board.

“Perhaps I am incompetent to tell you much about the typical life of children in those days, for mine was not typical. I always boast that for years I was the most popular girl in Mukilteo – and I was, for there were no others. Therefore I was somewhat petted and spoiled, and as my associates were all adults, I was more than a little precocious.

“My mother early taught me the use of the needle, and I obtained patterns for shirts and other garments for men. From father’s store I got materials, and made shirts for sale. I was well paid for them. Too, I liked to pick up shells and colored pebbles, and make knickknacks and picture frames by embedding the bright-colored shells and pebbles in putty. These I sold for good prices. And when, somehow, I became possessed of a jig-saw, I spent a lot of time making seine needles, which were much in demand among the fishermen.

“I always had money, though I had little use for it. I suspect I was a bright youngster, for one day several men were sitting on the porch in front of father’s store watching the approach from the Sound of a sailing vessel which had appeared between the islands some miles away. They were betting as to which of the several vessels plying the Sound this might be. It seemed a good chance for me to make some more money. The vessel was too far away to be recognized, so I went into father’s store, got his binocular and slipped away to a place where I could watch it unseen. In a short time I saw the name. Then I replaced the binocular and very innocently joined the gamblers. They were still wondering. I said, ‘Can I bet?’ ‘Sure,’ they replied. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’ll bet it’s the “Walter Ellis”. I’ll bet five dollars.’

“Just for a joke, as they believed, they took the bet, and I produced my money. I won, of course. I didn’t tell how for years afterward.

Newspaper (unidentified) photograph (on right) of Louise Sinclair, circa 1946; article accompanying photograph is on file at Everett Public Library Northwest Room.

“I often took care of the store while father was away on a trading trip. He would load up a boat, a small schooner, with flour and bright-colored cloth, and many small articles for trade, sail up Port Gardner Bay to the mouth of the Snohomish River and then up river as far as he could navigate. He would exchange his cargo for hides and cranberries, which upon his return he would ship to Tacoma. Most of his trading was with Indians, there were few white men along the Snohomish at that time.”

“One day while I was running the store, an Indian was knocked into a campfire during a fight near the store. His back was badly burned and he was in great pain. I wanted to help him and ran into the store to return with a bottle of Pain Killer, a liniment presumed to be good for
“My father was the first postmaster at Mukilteo, and in the early days there was no other post office in Snohomish County. So all the mail for settlers up the river came to our office. There may have been a schedule, but if there were, it didn’t mean much; for the mail often was a week later than we hoped for. Sometimes letters addressed to settlers up river lay in our office for weeks before being called for. But when a vessel called the ‘Chehalis’ began making regular trips up the Snohomish river, its captain used to pick up mail for settlers he knew and carry it to the nearest point he could reach”.

Photo by David Dilgard, 1982

The Fowler Family is gone now, but the pear tree planted by them probably the year after Louisa was born in 1862 still remains at the foot of Park Avenue just above the railroad tracks cutting the street off from the waterfront. On a recent spring day it was blooming well, although the broken trunk is only a portion of the original tree. A Mukilteo maintenance worker from the shop across the street noted its pears are smaller than an orange and ripen slowly: “Probably a winter pear,” he observed. Crows and the public still harvest them, providing an ongoing continuity with our past. When it finally dies, the city plans on replacing the tree from cuttings taken six years ago and being raised by an arborist on Whidbey Island.

Mukilteo pioneer Jacob D. Fowler had some of his claim under cultivation as early as 1861 and it is believed his orchard was planted about 1863. Growing on the west side of his homestead, the Fowler pear tree remains as the sole survivor of that orchard.

©2006 David A. Cameron, All Rights Reserved

For more of the story including information on canning salmon, using dogfish oil lamps, trading feathers for pillows and bed ticks as well as hunting brant geese, see *Sinclair, Louise [Fowler] Told By the Pioneers: Tales of a Frontier Life As Told by Those Who Remember the Days of the Territory and Early Statehood of Washington , Volume II (Olympia, 1937-38), p. 179 – United States Works Progress Administration (Wash.)

Esther Ross

She Stopped the Bicentennial Wagon Train And Made Sure Her People Were Recognized

By Ann Duecy Norman

Esther Ross, Chairperson of the Stillaguamish Indian Tribe on the occasion of the Federal Recognition. © 1976 Jim Leo, Everett Herald; Photo provided courtesy of the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians.

“…people are not accustomed to thinking of Native women as feminists, leaders, and contributors to social change. Their songs are unsung” ~LaDonna Harris, President and Founder, Americans for Indian Opportunity

As a young child, Esther Ross often listened to family stories. Her father, Christian Johnson, liked to talk about his noble Norwegian ancestors, but her favorites were tales told by her mother, Angelina, about Esther’s great grand-father, Chief Chaddeus, and how Angelina’s people, the Stillaguamish, had been driven from their lands.

Esther was born in 1904 in Oakland, California, and spent her childhood there. She was intelligent and lively and had lots of friends. It was not until she was in high school that her classmates learned of her Indian heritage. Then, suddenly, to her surprise, she was taunted about her ancestry and, worse yet, people she thought were her friends shunned her. She turned to her native family for support and, to her dismay, learned the government had declared that the Stillaguamish people were no longer an official tribe.

After completing high school in California, she continued her education, supporting herself with jobs ranging from secretary to newspaper reporter. In 1926, she was contacted by relatives in Washington State who asked her to come to Washington to help organize the Stillaguamish in order to file claims against the federal government. Esther packed up her belongings and her new baby, and she and her husband headed north.

When she arrived in Arlington, she immediately began reading pertinent documents and interviewing tribal elders. She learned that for millennia, her people, like those of many Puget Sound tribes, had lived in small bands that came together seasonally or for mutual assistance in times of trouble. Their villages had been scattered along the many branches of a river that wends its way through what is now northern Snohomish County. Their primary mode of travel was canoe; their major source of protein was salmon; and the focal point of their culture was their river homeland, as reflected by the tribe’s anglicized name, “Stillaguamish” which translates as “people of the river”. [For more discussion of the complex Lushootseed language , see below]

In the mid 1800’s, to make land available for white settlers, the United States government had ordained that all Indians be removed from their lands, taken to reservations and turned into farmers. In 1855, having negotiated agreements with the various tribes of northern Puget Sound, the major concession being that the Indians be allowed to continue to fish in their “usual and accustomed grounds,” the governor of Washington Territory, Isaac Stevens, called together tribal representatives, among them the Stillaguamish. Their representative signed what came to be known as the Point Elliott treaty, a document written in a language he and his people did not understand and with implications that were not made clear to them.

According to oral tradition, the Stillaguamish had believed that as a result of their cooperation and assistance to white settlers, they would be given their own reservation. When they learned they had to leave their valley and go to the Tulalip reservation, most of them quietly disappeared into the forest. Perhaps, because of their small numbers, tribal members were not actively pursued by federal authorities. Some found work as loggers or fishermen. Some, like Esther’s grandmother and mother, married non-natives. Others cleared land for white farmers in places that had, for innumerable generations, been Stillaguamish ancestral homes.

Esther also learned that the federal government did not officially recognize landless tribes, and for that reason, the Stillaguamish and their descendants were unable to obtain the benefits promised by the Point Elliott treaty. In July 1926, she convened a tribal meeting at the Arlington City Hall. Officers were elected, and a representative of the Northwestern Federation of American Indians provided information about filing claims against the government. In less than a month, with Esther’s help, the tribe’s sixty-six officially enrolled members had filed claims, both for land losses and for failure to pay the treaty’s specified annual appropriation for the preceding twenty-five years.

For nearly fifty years, Esther volunteered her time with other Tribal members. They held meetings, kept minutes, conducted research; she read and interpreted legal communications for tribal members and communicated with government officials. During all those years, she heard a lot of promises which were never honored.

During this long discouraging process for the Tribe, she became so tenacious that elected officials were known to duck out of sight when they heard she was in the building, and she was renowned for embarrassing government officials with her keen knack for making her point. Despite her continued efforts, by 1975, the tribe and its members had yet to be recognized or recompensed.

That summer, an unusual opportunity presented itself. The Bicentennial wagon train was making a trip across the continent, and according to the Everett Herald, was scheduled to pass through Island Crossing located “just an arrow’s flight away from the combination office and souvenir store” that served as Stillaguamish headquarters.

Esther Ross with Chief John Silva and members of the Stillaguamish Tribe, June 29, 1963
Photograph provided by the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians.

Esther Ross with Chief John Silva and members of the Stillaguamish Tribe, June 29, 1963 Photograph provided by the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians.

When Esther got the news, she announced that the tribe would attack the convoy unless the Department of the Interior immediately granted them official recognition. She pointed out that her people had been petitioning the United States government for their rights for nearly 50 years. They had native membership and a formal tribal structure, and their representatives had signed the Point Elliot treaty. All they lacked was land, and that was hardly their fault. She was, she announced, seventy years old, and she was done waiting.
The train’s wagon master dithered. He recognized good theater when he saw it. On the one hand her threat had drummed up extensive media coverage, and he didn’t want to jeopardize an opportunity to spotlight the Bicentennial wagon train on national television. On the other hand, the Bicentennial Commission had orchestrated meetings with officials all along the route. If the tribe followed through on their threats and the train was delayed, it would generate a cascade of scheduling problems.

Government officials had more serious worries. The international press coverage was embarrassing. Worse yet, they weren’t sure whether the threatened “attack” was merely rhetoric or something more troublesome. At the beginning of the decade, the Kootenai tribe had closed down US Highway 2 for several days. Native groups blockaded Wounded Knee in South Dakota for 71 days, and they had taken over Alcatraz and Fort Lawton. The previous year, Judge George Boldt had ruled that treaty Indians in Washington State had the right to half of the local salmon harvest, a ruling that continued to generate angry protests from non-native fishermen. Might fishermen take this opportunity to organize another demonstration? Would Indian activists from other tribes become involved? Might things get out of hand, property be damaged, people get hurt?

Would Esther really stop the wagon train? And if she did, what would she do? They couldn’t be sure. They decided not to take a chance. On the day the wagon train was scheduled to arrive, a special assistant to the Secretary of the Department of the Interior was flown in to meet with Esther. “Why have you come?” she is reported to have snapped. “I did not send for you.”

He responded that the Department of the Interior was preparing a document granting the tribe official recognition, and that it would be ready in thirty days. Esther was unimpressed. He brought no documents with him, and she had heard such promises before. The show would go on.

Newspaper accounts say that when the wagon train arrived at Island Crossing, there were approximately 200 people, many of them Indians, standing in the road. As the wagon train passed in front of the little building, Esther’s son emerged. He walked in front of the TV cameras to the first wagon, grabbed the lead horse’s reins and informed the wagon master they weren’t moving until the Stillaguamish tribe received official government recognition. For several long moments, no one moved and nothing happened. Then, just as things got tense, Esther appeared. She wore native dress, walked slowly to the center of the road, and stood quietly until everyone was looking at her. Then she spoke.

For a tiny person, she had a big voice. She said that her ancestors had welcomed white men to this valley a century ago, and she was welcoming them now. She talked about the Bicentennial train and how it symbolized the strength and determination of the American people, but that for Indians it stood for a trail of tears, broken promises, ignored treaties, the loss of pride and dreams and the destruction of a way of life. “We stop this Bicentennial wagon train”, she said, “to bring to the attention of the nation that we have no other alternative, short of violence, to bring their plight to light and produce action.”

Then she did something surprising. She walked over to the wagon master, placed a good luck medallion around his neck, wished him a safe journey, and handed him a letter which she requested he deliver to the Secretary of the Interior. He promptly responded that the Stillaguamish tribe had the goodwill of the Bicentennial Commission, promised to deliver their message, got on his horse, and he and the wagons skedaddled down the road.

When 30 days, and then a year, had passed and the anticipated documents had still not arrived, Esther sent the Secretary of the Department of the Interior a frozen salmon. Attached was a cordial note saying she hoped he and his family would enjoy eating the delicious fish and reminding him that the Stillaguamish tribe had not forgotten his promises. It was said that the Secretary ignored the salmon, but that eventually the smell became so bad his staff had to dispose of it.

Maybe it was the salmon, maybe it was Bicentennial guilt, or maybe after 50 years, Esther had just worn them out, but finally in October 1976, the federal government granted recognition to the Stillaguamish. And in December of that year, at a dinner celebrating their victory, members of the now official American Indian tribe named her Chairman of the Stillaguamish.

Postscript: Esther Ross’ persistence helped obtain sovereign rights for one of the smallest tribes of Indians in America and brought it back from “near extinction”. Her efforts improved the quality of life for her people, and provided a precedent for other tribes.

How did she make it happen? Those who knew and worked with her say she did not hesitate to create her own rules, but at the same time she was not unjust or threatening. She had a great gift for creating dramatic moments. Perhaps her most effective weapon was her tenacity. In addition, she was born into a powerful family among the Coast Salish, a culture in which “rank and determination far outweigh gender in the course of life. Today, as in the past, both women and men routinely hold public responsibilities as equals.”

She did not choose an easy battle, and she and her family endured many hardships and stormy periods as a result of her all-consuming dedication. Like many others involved in the lawsuit, her intent was to affirm her Indian heritage and strengthen her native community. However, from the first, it was clear that some had other motives. Esther won many devoted supporters, but in the end, she also created some enemies.

When Esther died in 1988, David Getches, the attorney who worked closely with her on negotiations with the Department of the Interior and in the Boldt case, said in a letter to her son Frank, “When I think of Esther’s determination and strategy, I am not sure that the legal wrangling really made the difference in the successes finally earned by Esther and the tribe. From the poor people’s march on Washington, to stopping the Bicentennial wagon train, to the parades and news stories, to the prayers and friendships she fostered, it now seems clear to me that whatever happened right was because of Esther and not the lawyers and politicians and bureaucrats.”


Ruby, Robert and Brown, John (2001). Esther Ross Stillaguamish Champion. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.

Deloria, Vine (1977). Indians of the Pacific Northwest. Garden City, New York: Doubleday

Haeberlin, Hermann and Gunther, Erna (1930), The Indians of Puget Sound. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Bates, Dawn (1994) Lushootseed dictionary / Dawn Bates, Thom Hess, Vi Hilbert ; Seattle : University of Washington Press.

Cameron, David (2005) “The Native Americans,” Chapter 2 of Snohomish County / An Illustrated History, Index, WA: Kelcema Books
Thanks also to the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians for their review and fact checking

© 2006 Ann Duecy Norman, All Rights Reserved

Katrina Bagley

Bah – Hahtlh (Return to Good)

By Betty Lou Gaeng
Picture a sturdy little girl, her dusky skin glowing, her cheeks flushed from the fresh air. Her dark hair is held in place by a strip of leather. Her brown eyes are alert and sparkling. Her little bare feet flash as she joins the other little ones in the games the native children along the Snohomish River of Washington Territory play in the 1870s. She runs to keep up with her cousins William and Henry Shelton. Her family and playmates call her Bah-hahtlh (Return to Good). She grew up near what is now the town of Snohomish where the family lived in a longhouse with about 20 other family members, including her Shelton cousins.

Bah-hahtlh was given the English name Katrina and sometimes called Katherine or Katie. She grew from childhood to become a strong woman. In those early days it took strength to adapt to the foreign ways of the white invaders. She had that strength, and she also learned the ways of the foreigners. She became a savvy businesswoman and learned to hold what was hers—no one took it from her—especially her land. It wasn’t considered the best land—the Government didn’t allot the best to the Indians. However, it was hers and she wasn’t going to let go.

It is estimated that Bah-hahtlh was born during the early to mid-1870s. Her parents were Dan Ned Laclous-y-son and Katie Bod-lutz-za Simmons.

At the age of 15, Katie married a man from Skagit named Campbell. He was murdered and she became a 16 year-old widow. Her second husband was a man from LaConner by the name of Henry Tukius (Towheuse) Willup. Soon widowed once again, in 1894 Katie married Maurice Jim of the Tulalip Reservation. They were blessed with six children. She was widowed again in 1907 when Maurice died, and none of their children lived to survive Katie. About a year after Maurice’s death, she married for the fourth time, this husband a 20-year old Tulalip man, Francis (Frank) Sese. Once again, Katie became a widow when Francis died in 1912 at the age of 25. Two children from this marriage did not survive Katie. However, one of them, daughter Agnes lived long enough to give her mother grandchildren.

Katie’s final husband was Ambrose Bagley, from the Duwamish tribe. They married in 1921, and Katie and Ambrose worked her farmland together. A daughter named Katherine was born to them. Daughter Katherine was the first of Katie’s children to survive their mother. Katherine grew up on her mother’s land, as did David Spencer, son of Katie’s daughter Agnes. Daughter Katherine married William Campbell and gave Katie grandchildren

Katie’s large farm home was often filled with family and friends, many of them fellow church members from the old Shaker Church on the Tulalip Reservation. Katie had joined the church in 1910, where she and Ambrose in the 1920s donated the bell for the steeple.
When Katie died October 31, 1950, her age given as 74, she had survived four husbands. Her fifth husband Ambrose Bagley survived her by six years. Katrina and Ambrose Bagley are buried at Priest Point Cemetery on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.
Katie’s family still has the deed dated February 25, 1904, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, allotting land on the northeast corner of the Tulalip Indian Reservation to Katrina Jim. This is the land where Katie built her home, worked the land and survived loss after loss of her loved ones.
Katie left a wonderful legacy for her descendants. Through all the upheaval and adversities in her life, Katie retained her allotment land on the Tulalip Reservation, which is now considered to be one of the most valuable properties in Snohomish County. The front page of the September 22, 2008 edition of Everett’s Herald featured the story of Katrina Jim’s land.
Ancestors have a special place in the hearts of the First People. Katie’s descendants have not forgotten what her diligence and steadfastness have done for them. At 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning in September of 2008, 104 years after as Katrina Jim she was granted the land patent, Katie’s descendants gathered on 60 acres of what is now their land. With heartfelt love and appreciation of her legacy to them, they held a blessing for Katrina Bagley, a special woman they will always honor.

Elson James

In World War I, Katie’s son Elson James, at the age of 23, lost his life in France while serving in Company F, 30th Infantry, U.S Army. Pfc. James guided patrols in what was called No Man’s Land near Bois de la Cote, Lemont, France. It was early winter and the weather was extremely cold and damp, Elson contracted a fever, which eventually developed into pneumonia, and he died December 11, 1918 in the line of duty. Katie’s family recorded that even though she was a strong woman, Katie was heartbroken. She had just received a letter from her son telling her he would soon be home; she didn’t realize that by the time the letter arrived, she had already lost another child. Elson’s commanding officer considered Elson to be one of his best men and recommended a citation be issued citing Elson’s “exceptional skill, courage and coolness under fire in guiding patrols.” Elson James now rests at Priest Point Cemetery on the Tulalip Reservation.

Donald Campbell

Grandson Donald Campbell, son of her daughter Katherine and William Campbell, was less than a year old when Katrina died. As his uncle Elson James had done, Donald gave his life for this country. He was killed in action July 3, 1970, while serving as a corporal in the 588th Engineers Battalion in the U.S. Army in Tay Ninh, South Vietnam. Donald is buried at Mission Beach Cemetery on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.
Donald Campbell’s two older brothers, Walter and John and cousin David Spencer also served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era. David Spencer who had lived with his grandparents and provided information for Bah-hahtlh’s story said this about his Bagley grandparents, “they showed me how to walk my life.”


Sources: U.S. Indian Census Schedules, 1885-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2007. Original data: Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M595, 692 rolls); Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Record Group 75; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Washington State Digital Archive’s Death Records; Probate Records for Katherine Sese Bagley; information.

Interview with Katherine Campbell, and photos provided by Katrina’s grandsons—John Campbell, Walter Campbell and David Spencer on Nov. 15, 2008;

Donald Campbell’s photo from “Faces From the Wall” (permission to print granted); NARA, Vietnam War: U.S. Military Casualties.

Mason, William H. Snohomish County in the War; The Part Played in the Great War by the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Patriotic Civilians of Snohomish County, Washington, U.S.A. Everett, Wash: Mason Pub. Co, 1926.

“Tribal family’s land a treasure : Theme park, theater, shops: All are options for tribal family’s land.” 2008. The Herald, [Everett] September 22, 2008 (accessed December 3, 2008).

© 2008 Betty Lou Gaeng, All Rights Reserved;  WLP Story # 54 ~