Tombstone Tuesday: “Chief Seattle’s Grave” and Suquamish Cemetery, Suquamish, Wa.

Suquamish Cemetery and St. Peter's Catholic Mission, Suquamish, Washington

Suquamish Cemetery and St. Peter’s Catholic Mission, Suquamish, Washington

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.

Chief Seattle, 1864. Photo by E.M. Sammis. Courtesy of University of Washington Libraries Special Collections #NA1511.

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:

Chief Seattle’s Grave in Suquamish Cemetery overlooking St. Peter’s Catholic Mission Church and Puget Sound beyond. Taken by Asahel Curtis, c. 1910. Courtesy of University of Washington Libraries. Special Collections Division.

Mary Kitsap’s grave, St. Peter’s Catholic cemetery, Suquamish. Taken by Asahel Curtis, c. 1911. Courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division.

Here is the cemetery in 1938:

Chief Seattle’s grave. Taken by Lawrence Denny Lindsley, 1938. Courtesy of University of Washington Libraries. Special Collections Division

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:

View of Chief Seattle's grave, overlooking St. Peter's Catholic Mission Church and Puget Sound

View of Chief Seattle’s grave, overlooking St. Peter’s Catholic Mission Church and Puget Sound

View of Suquamish Cemetery overlooking Puget Sound

View of Suquamish Cemetery overlooking Puget Sound

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.

Marker by the entrance to the cemetery recognizing the 2009 renovation of Chief Seattle's gravesite.

Marker by the entrance to the cemetery recognizing the 2009 renovation of Chief Seattle’s gravesite.

Chief Seattle gravestone and monument

Chief Seattle’s gravestone, flanked by two 12 foot cedar poles portraying the life story of Chief Seattle by artist  Andrea Wilbur-Sigo of the Squaxin Island Tribe.

Chief Seattle grave

Chief Seattle’s grave

Tributes left along the stone wall by Chief Seattle's grave.

Tributes left along the stone wall by Chief Seattle’s grave.

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.

Memorial plaque honoring the 11 human remains that had been discovered near the Old Man House Village and held for many years at the Burke Museum. Pursuant to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the remains were reburied at Suquamish Cemetery in 2007.

Memorial plaque honoring the 11 human remains that had been discovered near the Old Man House Village and held for many years at the Burke Museum. Pursuant to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the remains were reburied at Suquamish Cemetery in 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):

One of several benches installed throughout the cemetery styled as historic Suquamish canoes.

One of several benches installed throughout the cemetery styled as historic Suquamish canoes.

Many of the cemetery’s burial records from the Kitsap County Historical Society Museum are listed at the Suquamish Cemetery’s FindAGrave page.

Orcas Island Historical Museum and Woodlawn Cemetery, Eastsound, Washington

For our fifth wedding anniversary, we went to a B&B on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands. We practically had the islands to ourselves, since it was the Thanksgiving weekend – and pouring! The inn where we stayed was also a working farm with a lovely view of Turtleback Mountain, and was located along the historic Crow Valley. As we drove to the inn, we passed a tiny old schoolhouse called the Crow Valley School with a sign for the Orcas Island Historical Museum. My wonderful husband, who had a list of some must-dos for the trip such as ocean kayaking (which torrential rainstorms the entire weekend prevented), hiking on Mt. Constitution, walking along the beaches, exploring Massacre Bay with Victim Island and Skull Island (all of which we did!) – he looked up as we drove by and said “looks like we are adding the historical museum to the list!”. He knows me well!

After various adventuring, we walked around downtown Eastsound and visited the main branch of the Orcas Island Historical Museum, an old log cabin with an addition built on. There we met a very helpful volunteer who told us about some of the exhibits and history of the Island. I had done a little research on the Native American history of the island and had a number of questions. She recommended reading Native American Wives of San Juan Settlers, a book researched by a local genealogist, which documented some of the complicated history of the islands, which were granted for white settlement in the latter half of the 19th century, after the local Native American Lummi tribe who lived or summered on the islands were placed onto a reservation after the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott (In 1858, a group of Haida raided a small group of Lummi who had left the reservation and were fishing off Orcas Island. The bodies of the murdered Lummi were left behind, and upon their later discovery by white settlers of the island gained the names “Massacre Bay”, “Skull Island” and “Victim Island”). When we mentioned that our inn was next to the Crow Valley School, she mentioned that the Historical Society had recently acquired it and she would be happy to drive out there the next day to open it up for us and give us a personal tour. Unfortunately, we had a ferry to catch back to the mainland the next day, so we missed the chance. But we learned a few interesting facts, such as the Pleasant Valley School (later called Crow Valley School) was built on an acre of land donated by settler Peter Frechette.The one-room school had as many as 47 students enrolled, 27 average in attendance. The school closed in 1918 and later became a community building.

Driving around the island, we came across Woodlawn Cemetery and stopped to take some photographs. Woodlawn Cemetery was established in 1891 and was first called the Methodist Episcopal Cemetery. In 1908 it was renamed Woodlawn Cemetery.

The cemetery is across the road from a dairy farm, and we explored the cemetery with quite a few bovine friends looking on.

Cows across the road from Woodlawn Cemetery, Orcas Island, Washington, with Turtleback Mountain in the background.

Interested bovine across from Woodlawn Cemetery, Orcas Island

W.R. Weddle (d. 1906) had a monument with a good solid handshake:

W. R. Weddle Gravestone (1906) Woodlawn Cemetery, Orcas Island

And Barbara Hambly (d. 1900) lies in pastoral peace:

Barbara Hambly Gravestone (1900), Woodlawn Cemetery, Orcas Island

Transcriptions of the all the epitaphs at Woodlawn Cemetery are available through the Washington State Digital Archives and USGenWeb.