By Ann Briley
So recent is recorded Okanogan history that little is known of the antecedents of this group. They were simply there when the first cattlemen and miners arrived. Twenty years later they were still there but in dwindling numbers, living on the fringe of the new town, by this time having become subservient to the white man's wares, the conveniences offered, and the worst of his habits.
If knowledge is meager regarding the ethnological and familial ground plan of the chieftain, a fulsome record is intact today of the social attitudes of the era towards the Indians, largely drawn from two pioneer newspapers published in Loomis at that time. The Loomis Journal under the captaincy of A.H. Sroufe (1893-1897) and the Palmer Mountain Prospector published by veteran newsman Frank M. Dallam (1897-1909) have left important-if scurrilous- reference to the local Indians.
Sar-sarp-kin (or Avalanche) was at the prime of his life when in 1873 the Yakima cattle syndicate of Phelps & Wadleigh made the protected valley a cattle station. The wandering journalist Frank Stramer made a chance reference to the chief. He was enjoying a visit to the nest of bachelors in 1880. Taking one of his strange aversions, he wrote peevishly, "Among those who visit here reside in the vicinity is the somewhat noted band Chief Sar-sarp-kin who is Moses' hot spur and not deemed a very delete Tyee [great chief]. He has some good traits about him but is at no time a 'brave' but at all times a 'boast.' His head is oval pattern, not well balanced, his smile is very much put on, being insidious, and this is all the notice I can afford him thus make him a more honorable Indian.
New Englander Guy Waring, who in 1885 came to the future site of Loomis, to begin his brief career as a pioneer merchant, expressed a different opinion. Many years later, as an old man, he wrote of his brave venture in "My Pioneer Past" and recalled the first time he met Sar-sarp-kin. It was a summer evening when the chief appeared at Waring's door. This was a business call since it was necessary to agree on the division of the large meadow upon which both lived. "He was," wrote Waring, "a short figure, well along in years, but his carriage was erect, his face strong and determined and his large eyes not unkindly.
The chief lived among the early white people peaceably and was considered a good neighbor. In one instance, he gave Billie McDaniel a water right on Toats Coulee Creek for a bottle of brandy and a red undershirt. He discreetly kept the brandy cached nearby and would return to the spot from time to time. Waring, however, made reference that as a young man Sar-sarp-kin had been a vigorous enemy of the whites, but does not elaborate. Upon the chief's death, Waring added, "something ancient and noble and fine would be leaving."
It is in the book "Kamiakin" by A.J. "Jack" Splawn, that evidence is given of Sar-sarp-kin's involvement in warring against the whites. He took, says Splawn, a leading role in the battle of McLoughlin Canyon near present Tonasket in 1858, wherein six miners, an undetermined number of Indians, and several horses were killed. In-no-mos-echa of the Chelans, writes Splawn, asked Sar-sarp-kin to stir up the Okanogan contingent in order to mount a general onslaught against the approaching cavalcade of miners, numbering around one hundred and fifty, all hell bent for the northern gold fields. Chelans were accordingly sent up and Sar-sarp-kin had a large force, which he held, in camp at Eaneas Creek. When the miners reached decaying Fort Okanogan, In-no-mos-echa was lingering around, presenting a blind front but gaining as much information as was possible. Of this period Splawn further writes:
As soon as the miners moved upriver, Sar-sarp-kin's camp at Eaneas Creek and the whole force of warriors then repaired to the narrow canyon where they felled trees across the south entrance. Then piled some stone breastworks on the cliffs overhanging the canyon through which the miners would have to pass. The scouts proceeded until they came to the narrow defile, the appearance of which they did not like. One of the party thought he saw an Indian in the nearby rocks. They had started back when the Indians fired upon them.
The McLoughlin Canyon fight mirrored the Indians' growing fears. For some years past, the northern natives had worried and plotted, as they were well aware that a treaty had been signed which facilitated white passage through Indian lands. This had been the Yakima Treaty of 1855, admittedly 200 miles to the south, but nonetheless, disquieting, Territorial Governor Isaac Steven's principal aim in this whirlwind operation had been to hasten the advent of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Attention to Indians along the way was brusque at best, while many native people to the north, such as the tribesmen of Moses and Sar-sarp-kin, were not notified at all. A feeling of alarm grew, discontent mounted, for how soon, they wondered, would soldiers with papers come to remove them from their homes?
So it was that in July of 1883 four chiefs, namely, Tonasket, Moses, the Indian Service and the Moses Agreement drawn up summoned lot of the Spokane's and Sar-sarp-kin to Washington City. This was a government move to safeguard the rights and properties of the northern Indians who had not been included in the 1855 Yakima Treaty. It was during this stay in the nation's capital that the western chiefs were maneuvered into a photographer's studio and historically valuable photos were taken. There were two of Sar-sarp-kin namely, the standard one of him wearing a beaver hat and a fine, second picture, a newly discovered portrait located in 1988 in the National Museum of History. It is a full-length view of the chief; he is leaning back against a beautiful baroque setting. He is dressed in richly embroidered buckskin, is bareheaded and holds in his left hand a beaded bag of finest quality.
Four years later Sar-sarp-kin was dead, his assailant being his older son, Peter.
The Moses Agreement, drawn up July 7, 1883, and ratified in 1884, enabled the Sinlahekin leader to…"return on the Columbia Reserve with his people…to be protected and in addition to the ground they now have under cultivation, to be allowed to select land to make a total of 2,050 acres of land four miles long, and each head of a family or male adult one square mile; or to move to the Colville Reserve if they so desire in which case he is to receive 100 head of cattle for himself and people and such farming implements as may be necessary."
Initially, the band was pleased with this settlement. Its members were aware of their good fortune in being allowed to live in their ancient land of streams and mountains. However, on this tract of land, the length of which a modern automobile could pass through in five minutes, there occurred over the years, much dissension, chicanery and even murder. Sar-sarp-kin endeavored, it is certain, to reserve as much of Sinlahekin Coulee as possible for his own kinsmen and dependents.
During his lifetime, the Indians say, Sar-sarp-kin had four wives. If we are to accept Splawn's premise that the chief had been an important figure in the 1858 McLoughlin Canyon battle (which would likely place him at a mature age of thirty), we can be certain that his early life and lovers had been in pre white-contact days. It was his fourth wife, Margaret, a tall, forbidding looking woman, who was with him at the time of the granting of the land and survived him. Their children were Jack, Peter En-how-chin, Alexander (commonly known as Alex or Alec), Julia, Katherine and Sophie.
As to distribution of the land, Sar-sarp-kin, with the assistance of a small contingent of soldiers sent to implement the Moses Agreement, made up six allotments. He kept for himself Allotment One at the southernmost point of the holdings, roughly, two miles south of Loomis. He gave Allotment Two to a very old, blind man, Cum-sloot-poose, who later died in the chief's home. Number Three went to Showder, or Showdy, as the Indians called him, who was married to daughter Julia. Number Four went to Jack, of whom nothing is known today. Number Five was given to Kala-witchka, Showder's father.
Then, a strange enigma, like a cloud on the warrior's mental processes, occurred. Sar-sarp-kin's traditional homesite north of Loomis on Toats Coulee Creek was designated as Allotment Six. But for some reason, the chief did not want to leave Number Six to his son Peter. There was a blank place left in the Coulee. It was years later, under what the Colville Agency records designate as Section 4 of the General Allotment Act, that Peter En-how-chin received any land at all. Was there a connection between this slight and the son's murder of his father?
Subsequent events might indicate such a grim connection. Guy Waring was living in his newly refurbished cabins with his wife and her two children in 1887. In November of that year his hired man, James Henderson, came hurrying to the house one day with the shocking news of Sar-sarp-kin's death. "Somehow," declares Waring, "we came to think of the old Indian as being immortal."
Henderson told him the story just as he had heard it from County Commissioner Billy Grainger that morning. Waring gives the account in his book:
"The old chief and several of his followers had been on a drinking spree for several days where they had bought a quantity of so-called whiskey and finally started home. Sar-sarp-kin, according to the story, was hopelessly drunk and had to be packed on a horse and tied down securely. About ten miles from the campsite, Pete, the oldest son, decided to push the old man and his horse together over a steep, rocky place some 40 feet high, both rider and horse were dead when the party got down to them."
By the time the news born to Waring, the chief's remains had been taken to his cabin at Toats Coulee.
Guy Waring, in the capacity of coroner and friend of the deceased, supervised the November funeral. The Indians brought burial clothing:
"Two of everything, for the weather was cold. We buried the old Indian the next day with snow falling heavily, the Siwashes present took turns with the shovels. On the southeast corner of the picturesque little homestead they dug a very deep grave, a plain box of pine boards covered with black cloth. With brass tacks I produced on the lid an imitation of Sar-sarp-kin's horse brand. After the services a stranger came up to me, a representative of the Indian Commission. He had come all the way from the East to see the old Chief about his participation in an Indian war of 1855."
It is impossible to evaluate with any degree of accuracy this act of patricide. Was it what some of the early settlers would regard as the blood lust of an intoxicated assailant? Did it result from a long smoldering grievance, an infraction somehow of the father's immutable authority? Factually, agency records clearly state, "For some reason the old chief did not wish to have number Six allotment given to Pete at the time of the first allotting. "Following the killing, a brief court hearing was held at Conconully. No action was taken. Probably the scattering of white people over the countryside deemed it "one less Indian."
Shortly after this violent incident, in the following spring of 1888, Waring and family returned to the East, having sold his half of the mercantile business to another expatriate, wealthy, unstable Julius Loomis, who would later become insane. The town of Loomis began its first newspaper, The Loomiston Journal, launched in 1893. Editor A.H. Sroufe wasted no time in giving his evaluation of the Indian population. Item: "Joe and Pete, sons of Chief Sar-sarp-kin, got drunk on the 11th and Joe beat Pete's brains out with a rock. It would be a very sensible plan to furnish the balance of them with plenty of whiskey and rocks and the country would be well rid of as useless a set of people as ever drew breath." Never mind that there was no Joe Sar-sarp-kin; possibly it was Jack to whom he referred.
They were pariahs around Loomis, fair game in any debauchery or illegal scheme. As they lay about in public, inert from whiskey, the town's nice womenfolk picked their way past them as if avoiding vermin. The covert suppliers of liquor, whether a hardened saloon keeper, or countless men found around livery stables and in alley ways, escaped censor. Indian women were commodities to be exchanged at an unfair rate in the booze traffic. So rampant was the debauchery that accounts of army forts preying upon nearby tribes do not exceed the Loomis debacle. There was a systematic planning of ruining Indians, men and women, and their reputations.
In a descending scale of drunkenness, disease and death, the followers of Chief Sar-sarp-kin found adjustment to their altered world increasingly hopeless. The whole Sar-sarp-kin family was dealt a series of blows until gradually their lands grew idle, and the old mother's home became the scene of drunken orgies.
Nevertheless, the local press continued to plaque them. Mr. Sroufe's successor was a veteran Northwest newspaperman, Frank M. Dallam, who at a recent date had been registrar at the District Land Office at Waterville. He wrote with a certain excellence and flair. In his Palmer Mountain Prospector of June 2, 1902 was headlined: "Charges of Murder. Siwash beats his wife so that she died from injuries." ("Siwash" was another uncomplimentary reference to Indians, one unblushingly employed by Francis Parkman, Bernard DeVoto, and other prominent historians. Dallam's use of Siwash echoed public acceptance of this designation in pioneer times.)
The article in the Palmer Mountain Prospector recounted the misdeed of Alexander Sar-sarp-kin whose wife was the daughter of a Canadian chief, Nahumchin. A post mortem revealed gory detail of her death, which was caused by many stab wounds, and by being beaten with 45-90 rifle found lying nearby. Alexander was lodged in jail until August, when he was acquitted. Immediately local Indians rose up in a paroxysm of celebration, which evidently lasted a number of days.
The dead girl's mother and father met with disaster when returning to their home across the line. "Old Chief Nahumchin, who was blind drunk and supposedly his wife was the same, drove the team off the edge of the road around Palmer Lake. The wife struck her head and was instantly killed," wrote the weekly paper, dismissing the incident casually with, "More Indian Pleasantry."
Still another orgy was described: "After making the shank of the evening hideous the sun rose on a beautiful collection of Siwashes, male and female, thickly distributed over considerable territory."
In the melee, Margaret, the widow of the deceased chief, was nearly killed by "an axe handle in the accommodating hands of her protector, Long Antoine." Once again horrifying details were given of blood clotting, matting of hair. In summary, the editor printed, "There have been no arrests and it would be useless to go to the trouble."
The year 1902 was full of Sar-sarp-kin family decimations. In June, Alexander was found dead at Chopaka next to the British Columbia line. His horse was mired down in the slough, the drowned body of the Indian nearby. "So passes away another native with a record," printed the newspaper. "He comes of a family all of whom have found premature graves."
With sanguinary losses inflicted by Indian upon Indian, and a growing debauchery, the malaise of the Indians who had once been a clean and vigorous people grew with a terrible crescendo. For, in addition to the above ills, it became manifest that the white lords of the valley were busily filching the Indians' land.
Thus occurred the memorable visit in April of 1909, by Inspector Z. Lewis Daley, of the Nespelem Agency. Mr. Z. Lewis Daley made some startling discoveries. In one case, a daughter of the chief, Ellen had signed a paper "selling" her land to one Fitzgerald. The lady thought she had signed a lease.
Occupying Pete's allotment was one Garrett, while another man, Dexter, resided on Sophie's land. Two minor children of another daughter, Julia, were Susette and Celeste (otherwise known as Dick). They were living in British Columbia with a relative named Qualtierre, a member of the Showdy (or Showder) branch of the family. But by some strange circumstance, these children had as their guardian a Loomis man, George Hurley. A former merchant in the ephemeral town of Ruby, Hurley also held the distinction of having been one of the original three commissioners who formed Okanogan County in 1888.
Proper adjustment as to the legal occupancy of the lands in question began, to the exquisite pain of the white population, who decried the dispossessing of families, neighbors, relatives, friends, who had "built houses, set out orchards," an opinion which persists in Loomis to the present day. White occupants were ordered to vacate. Some did so readily. Others protested and appealed to the courts, but to no avail. In the 105 years since the enactment of the Moses Agreement, which saw 2,050 acres of land given to a group of native peoples to whom concepts of private land ownership were entirely foreign, we might ponder the vagaries of the "solutions" of those items.
Several years passed. The Sar-sarp-kin name had died out and the Indian population was greatly decimated when, suddenly, in 1912, Sar-sarp-kin's "very deep grave" of Waring's time, became news again though scant newspaper coverage has been found. The Spokesman-Review made a barely noticeable mention. The May 5, 1912, issue stated, "Erect Monument. The Indian Department has just erected a marble cross eight feet high over the grave of Chief Sar-sarp-kin north of the town of Loomis." Records of any kind relative to that day is almost nil, two reasons being, (1). The mortality rate of county weeklies was high in the careless years following their folding and (2). Travel was not a thing of joy and the various towns kept news events largely confined to their quarters.
This was an occasion of fencing the Sar-sarp-kin family graveyard, placing headstones and erecting the fine white marble cross. The ceremony took place during a period of growing awareness by scholars and historians of notable Indians' burial sites that were being allowed to fade into oblivion. In 1905 a monument had been unveiled to Chief Joseph at Nespelem, and the bones of the famous Nez Perce warrior put into a more prominent spot. Attending this event were such renowned figures as historian Sam Hill and photographer S.E. Morehouse. Morehouse had difficulty, however, in taking pictures of Indians reluctant to have their images recorded.
It would seem likely that pictures of members of both races would have been taken at the 1912 Loomis ceremony, but if such exist, they evade detection. Judge William Compton Brown, who enjoyed terming himself "the father confessor of the Indians," officiated and surely other dignitaries were present. In mind's eye, the scene can easily be imagined: the small group gathered on the knoll, the plank platform tidily in place, horse-drawn buggies and single mounts tethered nearby. Local inhabitants, enamored of the great event touching their town, would attend, as well as moccasin-footed Indians.
For years, the white cross soared toward the heavens and became sort of a trademark for Loomis. Like a beacon in the wilderness people passing by in buggies, and later, in cars, turned heads to gaze at the imposing monument. Besides the central cross, two white marble and quarts headstones, cross-shaped, were set in place.
Then, in the year 1988 it dawned upon the consciousness of people that the eight-foot cross was no longer there. Loomis buzzed with comment and dispute and some even doubted that there had ever been that one dominant monument. (This writer walked up to the cross in 1972, and finding that it was of purest white marble, stone about the width of an outstretched hand, decided to forego any newspaper mention of it because of temptations which might accrue to thieves or vandals.) So, sometime after 1972 the historic and revered artifact was pulled from the ground, leaving large boulders and chunky wooden braces behind. There is no hope that it will ever be found.
There exist today but two remnants of the original 2,050 acres-land accrued to the present owners from the parcel originally given to Julia Cecile, a distant relative of the chief. She was known otherwise as Julia Thorpe, wife of Alvin Thorpe, a Virginian who was one of the earliest gentlemen-of-fortune to come to the area in the 1870 era.
The strongest local tie to the early chief is his great granddaughter, Margaret, the wife of Barnett Allison, living on the Chopaka reserve in B.C. It was her mother, tiny, hard working Susette, who was mentioned when the 1902 Z. Lewis Daily report referred to "Two minor children of another of the chief's daughters, Susette and Celeste (known also as Dick)."
Priceless government papers, photos, stone tools of prehistoric age, a peace pipe, documents from the Colville Indian Agency, went up in a roaring blaze four years ago when a tongue of flame shot up a wall from the basement in Margaret Allison's home. Much of this was riveted to the ancient and tragic Sar-sarp-kin.
Of what has been preserved might be fixed to the words of Guy Waring upon the occasion of Sar-sarp-kin's death in 1887: "Something ancient and noble and fine was leaving."