PORT TOWNSEND — The new Chetzemoka Trail has been offering visitors the opportunity to step back in time and learn more about the story of the S’Klallam people since opening June 29.
The trail winding through Port Townsend was created in a partnership between the Native Connections Action Group of the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, with help from hundreds of people in the community.
It consists of 18 historical markers, each sharing a portion of the story of the S’Klallam people who called the area home before European settlers arrived in the middle of the 19th century. It is of course named after perhaps the most famous S’Klallam in local history: Chief Chetzemoka.
Here is a sampling of what a visitor encounters on the trail as they travel and reflect on the past:
Hudson Beach/Big Heart
The trail sign here shares Jamestown S’Klallam tribal member Mary Ann Lambert’s story about Chetzemoka’s character:
Two drunken soldiers from the local U.S. Army garrison drowned after stealing a canoe from the S’Klallam village at Point Hudson.
A S’Klallam boy who discovered one of the bodies and donned the soldier’s cap and jacket was arrested. A hanging scaffold was quickly constructed for his immediate public execution. Another youth ran to notify Chetzemoka.
Chetzemoka rushed through the gathered crowd and cut the boy free. He turned, and speaking in Chinook, said, “Friends, this is Indian Country, our country. There never was a time when it was not our country. We are Klallams. Once we were strong, proud people. Because of sickness and death, we have diminished in number until now we are no longer a strong people.”
Before Western contact there were as many as 30 S’Klallam villages stretching primarily along the North Olympic Peninsula coastline. The first recorded encounter with the S’Klallam was with Englishman Robert Duffin’s longboat expedition in July 1788.
The early explorers that followed unwittingly brought smallpox, measles, tuberculosis and influenza. Wave upon epidemic wave wiped out village after village. Thousands were displaced. By 1859 there were only about two hundred Klallam living in Port Townsend in a village where Memorial Field sits now. These were Chetzemoka’s people.
Standing on the hanging scaffold, Chetzemoka continued, “… Let us remain friends. If this unwise act which you were about to commit is what you call civilization, then give us back our way of life. Oh, white people, our brothers under the skin, do not let this happen again.”
In 1850, the Oregon Donation Land Act was passed allowing homesteaders to claim free land in the Pacific Northwest, which led to conflict with Native American tribes and displacement.
In 1855, leaders of the Skokomish, Chemakum and S’Klallam tribes including Chetzemoka, signed the Point No Point Treaty near Port Gamble.
The tribes relinquished a quarter million acres to the United States government but reserved rights to fish, hunt and gather on those lands.
The treaty also promised a payment of $60,000 over 20 years. It was never paid.
Treaties like Point No Point lead to the Indian Wars of 1855-1856, a series of violent skirmishes scattered around Puget Sound with few American deaths. However, in 1855 a group of perhaps hundreds of S’Klallam gathered at what today is North Beach to consider attacking the local settlers. Chetzemoka attempted to dissuade this idea, arguing for a peaceful coexistence. The settlers were mostly families then. This was many years before the promise of a railroad brought ships and commerce and many more settlers.
The S’Klallam deliberated attacking for nine days. Each morning, Chetzemoka sat on this large boulder, now known as Sentinel Rock, at the east side of the Qatay Valley and by keeping his blanket over his head, he signaled down to the settlers that they were still in great danger. If the danger passed, he would “throw off my blanket and give a great shout.”
So for nine consecutive mornings he gave solemn news to the huddled settlers below.
On the 10th morning, Chetzemoka stood on the rock, took off his blanket and let out a cry. The villagers were safe. He had won the peace.
In 1996 a commemorative statue by Dick Brown depicting Chetzemoka signalling “danger is passed” was installed at Sentinel Rock, which now sits behind the driving range of the Port Townsend Golf Course.
In Laurel Grove Cemetery, the resting place of many of Port Townsend’s most famous residents, about half way up from the road off to the right, quite a ways toward the edge of the property, sits a humble but elegant tombstone.
There rests Chetzemoka himself, affectionately referred to as “Duke of York,” his first wife Si?an’itse, or “Queen Victoria,” and a grandson.
Chetzemoka’s two sons paddled from Indian Island on June 21, 1888 to give the news of their father’s death to the town. He was 80 years old.
His hearse was followed by no less than 22 carriages of the oldest and wealthiest of Port Townsend. Shots were fired by the escorting port of entry guards.
Village at Memorial Field
In the 1860s, settlers from across the area and the country moved into the S’Klallam’s territory.
A S’Klallam village where Memorial Field sits today was home to about 200 people, including Chetzemoka.
By 1871, many of the new settler residents had no appreciation for what Chetzemoka had done to save the town.
So 16 years after Chetzemoka saved those who would become the founders of Port Townsend, the entire S’Klallam population was removed from this ancestral homesite and the village was burned to the ground on federal orders Aug. 23, 1871.
The native residents would scatter to the Skokomish reservation or join fellow S’Klallam in Dungeness, Port Gamble and Port Discovery. Some remained in the area and assimilated into the local community.
Chetzemoka and his family went across the inlet to Indian Island to join a small group of S’Klallam. The tribe that revered and followed him for 17 years and chose peace as he had did not survive. The favor was not returned. One town was saved, another disappeared.
Northwest Maritime Center
On June 29, a 26-foot, 1,600-pound totem pole carved from a single cedar log was dedicated at the entrance of the Northwest Maritime Center as a gift to the center from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
The piece depicts, from top to bottom, the Supernatural Carpenter who shaped the world in preparation for mankind and gave it crafts and art; the Spirit of the Red Cedar, the traditional S’Klallam “Tree of Life;” and Chit-a-ma-hun, or Chetzemoka as he was known, and he is standing, beginning to discard his blanket on Sentinel Rock.
One can recall his words, “Let us remain friends … our brothers under the skin.”
James Cook is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.