Objects acknowledge impact of development on Lummi people
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - A museum exhibit about Bellingham's Centennial includes an acknowledgement of Bellingham's impact on the Lummi Indian population.
The exhibit, titled "Bellingham Centennial: Stories of Place and Community," continues until May 2 in the Whatcom County Museum of History and Art. The museum is located in the city's ornate and elegant former city hall, which was built in 1892 overlooking a Lummi landing and camping site.
Photos and artifacts, though few, give a glimpse at Lummi daily life in the area when the city incorporated. There's a photograph of a Lummi fishing village at Legoe Bay, Lummi Island, in 1895; an Edward Curtis portrait of a Lummi woman, taken in 1899; a photograph of Lummi canoes at a landing and campsite below what is now the museum building, taken circa 1900; and a photograph of a Lummi First Salmon ceremony taken in 1915 by Leslie Corbett.
The oldest artifact is a cedar house-post fragment from a longhouse used by Chowitsit, leader of the Lummi people in the 1850s. In a news article in the Bellingham Herald in 1907, a Henry Roeder "described the longhouse as being old when he first saw it in 1852." The longhouse fragment could predate European contact with the Lummi people, according to the museum.
After signing the Point Elliot Treaty of 1856, many Lummi people moved to a reservation of 12,500 acres of land and 8,000 acres of tidelands on two nearby peninsulas. Today, the Lummi Indian Nation has 4,000 enrolled members.
Americans settlers arrived in the area in the 1850s, attracted by logging, fishing and the Alaska Gold Rush. Towns sprung up: Bellingham, Ferndale, Whatcom City. In 1903, Bellingham absorbed its suburbs to become the city that now celebrates its 100th birthday. Meanwhile, the old Lummi camps, landings and villages are gone. The canoe landing in the shadow of the museum has been filled with dirt.
A museum exhibit statement takes an apologetic tone about how the Lummi people were impacted by the city's growth.
"In 150 years, the Coast Salish of Western Washington went from having it all to being a small minority in their own place, both in population and economy. None of us can go back - but can you understand why some native people might not see Bellingham's centennial as a very happy birthday?"
The museum has permanent exhibits of Native American artifacts, including baskets, bent-wood boxes, masks, canoe, fishing gear, Salish and Chilkat blankets, mats, hats, and other tools and accessories. A video on contemporary Lummi basket-weaver Ann Jefferson adds a first-person voice to the interpretation.
Also on permanent exhibit are nearly 350 Native American baskets from the Northwest Coast region, British Columbia, Alaska, and the western United States are included.
On the museum lawn is a sculpture of an American Indian family making a river crossing; the sculpture, "Cruzando el Rio Bravo," is by noted artist Luis Jimenez of New Mexico. Two totem poles look toward the former Lummi camp and canoe landing.
George and Morning Mist Pickett's home
Within a few blocks is the restored home of Capt. George Pickett and his wife, a Haida woman named Morning Mist.
Pickett is best known as the Confederate general who participated in the tragic Battle of Gettysburg. But his U.S. Army career and personal life here are most remembered in this region.
Pickett built the home in 1856 when he was stationed at Fort Bellingham; today, it is the oldest house in Bellingham. Pickett and his wife had one child, James Tilton Pickett, born in the home in 1857. Morning Mist died when James was an infant.
Capt. Pickett was transferred in 1859 to San Juan Island to defend America's claim in a territory dispute with Great Britain. When the Civil War began, he returned to his native Virginia, leaving his 4-year-old son with family friends in Mason County, the Tiltons. Pickett reportedly feared his son would be ostracized in Virginia because of his half-white, half-Indian ancestry.
George Pickett reportedly had contact with his son, but Pickett's new wife declined to acknowledge him. The father died in 1875 when James was 18.
James Pickett's requests for the deed to the Bellingham home were denied by his stepmother, compelling him to threaten a lawsuit. The stepmother ultimately acquiesced.
James Tilton Pickett became a prominent newspaper illustrator and lithographer; among his employers were the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Portland Oregonian. He died in 1889. The house was then purchased by Hattie Strothers, who lived there from 1889 until her death in 1939.
Strothers deeded the house and property to the Washington State Historical Society in 1936. After her death, the Pickett House became a state historical monument. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
The Pickett House, unaffiliated with the Whatcom County museum, is operated by the Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington. It is located at 910 Bancroft St., Bellingham, and is open to the public.
Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.