We recently visited Suquamish Cemetery beside St. Peter’s Catholic Mission in Suquamish, Kitsap County, Washington on a cold and rainy day. The cemetery is well-known as the burial site of “Chief Seattle” [so-called by Midwestern settlers who founded the city of Seattle and named it in his honor in the 1850s, the title “Chief” was an American title, he was named si?al in Lushootseed]. It is also the burial site of numerous Catholic Suquamish tribe members and related families.
In the early 19th century, Catholic French Canadian trappers were working along the waters and forests of Puget Sound, and several took local Puget Salish or Lushootseed wives. In the 1830s, the Hudson Bay Company established the trading post Fort Nisqually on Puget Sound, and had enough Catholic workers within the company that in 1838, Catholic priests Francis Blanchet and Modeste Demers arrived to serve the Catholic community at Puget Sound. They also served as missionaries to the local Puget Salish tribes. In 1841, Lt. Charles Wilkes of the U.S. Navy remarked that a large white crucifix stood on the beach beside Ol’-Man-House of the Suquamish tribe (a 2,000 year old village site with a large cedar longhouse). Chief Seattle’s father belonged to the Suquamish tribe, and during the 1840s Chief Seattle began attending Masses held at the Ol’Man House and was baptized there, taking the name “Noah Sealth”. In 1861, a Catholic mission church was built above the Ol’Man House village. In 1870 (shortly after the death of Chief Seattle, who died in 1866), the U.S. government burned the Ol’Man House in an effort to have the Suquamish tribe take up farming and spread out into individual land plots rather than a centralized community. The efforts largely failed, as the tribe rebuilt the village and continued to reside at the Ol’Man House village. The federal government then condemned the Ol’Man House site in 1904 with the intentions of building a naval fortification which was never built, and at this time the mission church was destroyed. Portions of the church, such as the Gothic windows, were salvaged and included in the new St. Peter’s, which was rebuilt next to the Suquamish Cemetery in 1904. The government sold the Old Man House property in 1937 to private development and much of it became vacations homes. In 1950, the Washington Parks department purchased an acre of waterfront property near the site of the Ol’Man House which was donated to the Suquamish tribe in 2004. Several dedication ceremonies and memorials have been held in honor of Chief Seattle which in part have resulted in a number of historic photographs of his grave as well as the cemetery over time. Here is a view of Chief Seattle’s grave and the overgrown cemetery, overlooking St. Peter’s and Puget Sound, taken by famed photograph Asahel Curtis in 1910:
Here is the cemetery in 1938:
The overgrown tree stumps and brush evident in the 1910 and 1938 photographs are nowhere to be seen today, as the cemetery has expanded as a burial location to the present day, and as various grants over the past century have been obtained to help with landscaping, pathway development, and plaques and sign installation. In 1939 the graveyard was restored by funding from the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Suquamish Commercial Club. Using burial records from St. Peter’s Church, the groups made and placed 503 cement grave markers. Over 400 names were carved into the markers, and unidentified graves were noted a stone marked with an X.
Our view of the cemetery was the same as Asahel Curtis’ in 1910:
In 1890, a white marble gravestone was placed over Chief Seattle’s burial site by Seattle pioneers, including Arthur Denny, on which they inscribed the following: “”SEATTLE Chief of the Suqampsh and Allied Tribes, Died June 7, 1866. The Firm Friend of the Whites, and for Him the City of Seattle was Named by Its Founders” On the reverse is written: “Baptismal name, Noah Sealth, Age probably 80 years.” In the 1976, a Bicentennial grant funded the construction of cedar poles and two war canoes, carved by Jim and Ernest Chester of the Nitinat and George David of the Nootka, to place by Chief Seattle’s grave. As it deteriorated, recently two 12 foot cedar poles portraying the life of Chief Seattle, created by artist Andrea Wilbur-Sigo, replaced the canoe memorial.
A plaque marked the recent burial site of “Our Ancestors from Old Man House Village, Returned to Rest In Peace, September 21, 2007, With Others from Our Ancient Village Sites”. The Burke Museum in Seattle for many years had held the remains of almost a dozen historic Native Americans which had been discovered through construction activities near the site of the Old Man House Village during the past century. The museum had very little in the way of acquisition, provenance, or historical records pertaining to the remains. In 2007, following the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Burke Museum notified the Suquamish tribe and the remains were reburied on 21 September 2007.
There were several benches installed throughout the cemetery modeled after historic Suquamish canoes (the silhouette of which is also featured on the marker memorializing the Old Man House burials):
Many of the cemetery’s burial records from the Kitsap County Historical Society Museum are listed at the Suquamish Cemetery’s FindAGrave page.
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