A bad Monday

Posted by Ken Campbell March 25, 2008 0 Comment 746 views

As the color was rising in the eastern sky on the morning of September 21, 1868, a group of Tsimshian Indians lay sleeping on the shore at New Dungeness Spit. There were 18 in the company, travelers on their way to Fort Simpson, British Columbia, from the Puyallup lands in south Puget Sound where they had been harvesting hops. With darkness and fog slowing their journey, the band had chosen to put ashore on the spit and wait for the right time to make the 22-mile crossing to Vancouver Island in their loaded dugout canoe. The entire group lay down to sleep under a single canvas tent that had been hastily constructed as darkness fell the night before.
The red hue of the dawn was reflected in the crystalline dew on the tent, like a sign of things to come. The sound of the surf on the other side of the spit was muted by the dunes, but was loud enough to cover the scuffs and muffled breathing of the raiding party of S’Klallam Indians that crept up the sand toward the sleeping Tsimshians. By the time the sun had fully risen on that day, a massacre had taken place. Of the 18 Tsimshians who were awakened by the bludgeons and knives of their attackers, only one young woman survived.
It was a retaliatory raid that took place on that morning, a payback for an event that had occurred nine months before. At this point in the history of the coastal peoples, raiding other tribes in order to obtain slaves was a common practice, and earlier that year the Tsimshians had conducted an ambush of their own, stealing a woman and child from the S’Klallam and whisking them away into bondage. The leader of the party that morning on the beach at Dungeness was a wily Indian known as Lame Jack; it had been one of Lame Jack’s wives and a son the Tsimshian had taken, and this early morning’s offensive was planned as a way to remedy the situation.
The S’Klallam raiders approached the sleeping camp and collapsed the tent, trapping the confused Tsimshian in darkness. The fight was bloody and brief, and when it was over, 10 Tsimshian men, 5 women and 2 children lay dead on the ground. The only casualty taken by the S’Klallam was Lame Jack, who had been shot and killed by a member of his own party as he tried to sneak away from the scene with a small case that contained some gold coins, jewelry and other trinkets. Apparently he was not well-loved by his fellow raiders who had been waiting for such an opportunity to do him in; his lifeless body was left on the spit along with the others.
The massacre had one survivor, however, a pregnant 17 year-old named Nusee-chus. She had been clubbed repeatedly and knifed in several places. Her jewelry had been pulled from her and she had been left for dead by the S’Klallam attackers. Not long after the killing had been concluded, the S’Klallams left and Nusee-chus was able to crawl to the lighthouse, pulling her battered body along the sand a foot at a time.
When she fell at the door of the Dungeness light, keeper Henry Blake carried her inside and gave her shelter. As she lay on the cold stone floor, she could hear the sounds outside of some of the S’Klallam raiders that had followed her tracks. They hammered fists and stones on the door and demanded that Blake give her up to them. The lighthouse keeper, safely ensconced in his impenetrable fortress, refused them. Later that same day, after the S’Klallam had gone, Blake took Nusee-chus to a home in nearby Dungeness, where the Tsimshian wife of one of the local white settlers nursed her back to health.
In 1920 or thereabouts (local history is not precise), a Tsimshian Indian landed his dugout canoe on the shore at Dungeness Spit. Edward Brooks was the lighthouse keeper at the time, and he went out to meet the man that stood on the beach, looking toward the part of Dungeness that had by then come to be known as Graveyard Spit. As the two men talked about the massacre, the Indian informed Brooks that he was the baby that had been born to the Tsimshian woman that had survived the murderous raid in 1868. A delighted Brooks suggested that the man visit Henry Blake’s son Richard, who lived nearby and had been present at the time of the incident. The man promised to do so, but he never did. He apparently had seen what he had come to see and after a short time on the spit, he piloted his canoe back toward Vancouver Island. He was not seen again.

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