the white man came, Whidbey was the home to Native Americans.
Island Skagits, also called the Lower Skagits,
lived in central and north Whidbey Island. Their lands included
over 50,000 acres on Whidbey and another 6,000 triangular
area along Skagit Bay on the mainland (the mouth of the
1792 George Vancouver mapped the Puget Sound and Joseph Whidbey
set foot on the island. He extolled its beauty and the friendliness
of the natives.
from England, Spain, Russia and America plied the waters of
the Pacific Coast from 1792 onward and traded with the natives.
In 1808, the Northwest Company (later the Hudson's Bay Company)
traveled the waters of Puget Sound and traded furs with Puget
Sound natives. Local natives traded at Fort Langley, Fort
Nisqually, and Fort Victoria and had regular contact with
whites. [Hudson's Bay trader John Work came to Whidbey in
1824, and described the Whidbey natives who he called the
"Scaadchet Indians" (Irish for Skagit) as a good-looking
people, whose heads were not flattened like the Chinooks.
They were dressed in blankets and fur and feather cloaks.]
20 years later Charles Wilkes commented that beneath the blanket,
they were naked.
Whidbey Skagits were in conflict with northern British Columbia
tribes who raided the island and took the Skagits as slaves
and the Clallams on the south shore of the Strait of Juan
de Fuca who encroached on their lands.
Whidbey Skagits did not sign the Elliot Point
Treaty, which moved all Puget Sound natives to
reservations, because they were not invited to
Catholics came to Whidbey and began ministering to the Skagits
in the 1840s. They were at first suspicious of the whites,
but usually did not feel threatened by them. White settlers
continued to come to the island, but the Skagits had a great
Chief in S'neet-lum who kept them strong until he died in
1853. They then lost much of their prestige.
Whidbey Skagits quickly lost control of the most fertile of
their lands, the bottomlands of the Skagit River on the mainland.
Encroachment by white settlers on Whidbey continued.
events were moving quickly in western Washington (the Washington
territory). Isaac Stevens, the governor (also surveyer and
indian supervisor), began to deal with the "Indian problem"
by aggressively making treaties with the natives to allow
room for peaceful white settlement. He summoned the tribes
to a great meeting. Understanding that there would be more
and more whites coming to their lands, and that they did not
have the power to resist, the Upper Skagits came to the meeting
along with many other tribes.
meeting was held in 1855 at Elliot Point, now Mukilteo.
This great council lasted only one day. There were no real
negotiations. The treaty had already been written and it
was read aloud to the tribes. They were asked to sign it
if they agreed. There was a substantial military presence
to remind the natives of the power of the white men.
treaty ordered that the Puget Sound Indians were to be removed
to as few reservations as possible to simplify government
administration. The difficulties that would arise from putting
different tribes together were not considered. In exchange
for the ceded lands, the natives would receive goods and services,
such as instruction in agriculture and mechanics, but no money.
The Chiefs would receive an annuity and they would receive
fishing rights. There would be no tribal warfare or slavery.
process was conducted in a jargon that had emerged as a common
communication tool. It was most like the Chinook language,
and so was called the Chinook jargon, but it was very simplified
and not well suited to complex negotiations. The government
negotiators spoke, their words were translated into jargon,
and then translated into the many different languages represented
there. The natives' words then had to follow the reverse process,
finally being translated into English. Because of this poor
process, It is not clear how well the tribes understood the
details of the agreement. However, they all agreed to sign.
Sealth (Seattle) of the Duwamish tribe presented a white flag
to Stevens and said:
by this we make friends and put away all bad feelings, if
we ever had any. We are the friends of the Americans. All
of the indians are of the same mind. We look upon you as
our father; we will never change our minds. As you have
seen us, we will always be the same. Now! now! do you send
this paper of our hearts to the Great Chief. That is all
I have to say.
of the Upper Skagit chiefs, Patkanin and Goliah, signed the
Point Elliot Treaty which ordered their removal to the Swinomish
that time, there were around 300 Whidbey Skagits. Their
numbers had once been greater, but like all the tribes,
they suffered losses from small pox and other diseases for
which they had little immunity. They did not send a representative
because they were not invited to the meeting. Stevens did
not understand until later that the Whidbey Skagits were
a different tribe from the mainland (Upper) Skagits. When
he discovered the error, Stevens sent a representative to
Whidbey to find a native to sign the paper. Someone signed.
Not understanding the intent of the paper, and having had
no discussion in the tribe, the Whidbey Skagits argued with
the government for years with no success. Since they had
been given no reservation of their own, they were transferred
to the Swinomish Reservation. Their
descendants are a part of the Swinomish Tribal Community.
of the haste of the treaty process, there were many misunderstandings.
Some natives, such as on Whidbey, who signed had no authority
to do so. Some tribes, such as the Nooksack near Lynden, never
signed a treaty because they had been overlooked just as the
Whidbey Skagits had been. Those tribes were very vulnerable,
losing their lands to white settlers, with no treaty to offer
them any protection. It was not until 1958 that, though landless,
the Nooksacks received compensation for the loss of their
lands (valued as of 1858).
Whidbey Skagits had some protection living in the Swinomish
Reservation, but they continued to have problems with the
white settlers in the fertile Skagit lowlands. They lost some
of the reservation land through encroachments that nearly
led to war. The government redrew the northern boundary of
the reservation. Then the railroad crossed their lands, bringing
further encroachment. There continued to be problems with
white settlers destroying burial grounds. In the mid-1980s
whites burned a village of 6 cedar longhouses.
were a few natives who stayed on Whidbey, but in time the
Indians gradually disappeared.