On a day set aside to celebrate the arrival 150 years ago of white settlers in Seattle, descendants of the city's five founding families paused to consider the costs paid by the indigenous people who had welcomed their ancestors.
November 13 marked the anniversary of the Alki landing of the schooner Exact, which carried 10 adults and 12 children and a boatload of ambition and trepidation.
The festivities included a luncheon at a West Seattle restaurant, attended by the latest generations of the Bell, Boren, Denny, Low and Terry families. It was followed by a ceremony re-enacting the landing, replete with a replica ship and descendants aboard in pioneer-era dress.
But instead of cutting loose to congratulate themselves for how far the city has come in 150 years, those taking part in the festivities were challenged to look within. At the luncheon, historian David Buerge alluded to unfinished business that sullies the legacy of the landing of the Exact. He asked the luncheon crowd of more than 200: "Are we a community or do we just pretend to be?"
A century and a half after the arrival of the landing party, Duwamish Indians whose ancestors lived here first are still trying to secure federal Bureau of Indian Affairs recognition for their tribe. They have no reservation and no fishing rights. A different kind of recognition, however, comes by way of the name of the city, Seattle, after the chief whose spirit of cooperation with the settlers contributed to their success in molding a muddle of water and hills into a city.
The Duwamish, which ceded 54,700 acres of land, are appealing a federal denial of tribal recognition, which had been granted in January but then was revoked in September. With fewer than 600 registered Duwamish members and no land base, tribal leaders say recognition as a political entity is necessary to ensure the tribe can carry on.
"We need to let the federal government know that those Indians made Seattle possible and I love them for it," Ruth Moore told the luncheon crowd. Moore is the great-granddaughter of John and Lydia Low.
Cecile Hansen, Duwamish tribal chairwoman, called yesterday's celebration bittersweet but acknowledged the historical significance of the landing of the Exact. She said she was heartened to know that descendants of Seattle's founding families were expressing an interest in helping the tribe's cause.
"We need a conscious decision by all people of Seattle to lend their support," Hansen said. "There would be nothing to celebrate today if it was not for our tribe."
Mary Lou Slaughter, great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Chief Seattle, said she believes the chief opted to befriend the white settlers because he foresaw what was coming.
"But make no mistake, if we hadn't helped them, they wouldn't have survived," Slaughter said.
Yesterday's events marked the climax of several months of ceremony to honor Seattle's 150th anniversary. For many of the descendants, the anniversary gave them the opportunity to meet one another for the first time. Descendants traveled to Seattle from places such as Syracuse, N.Y., and Norman, Okla. About 30 members of the Low family filled three tables at the luncheon.
"This anniversary provided the excuse for our first family reunion ever," said Carolynn Crawford of Lawrence, Kan., the great-great-granddaughter of John and Lydia Low. The house of Crawford's mother, Moore, became Grand Central Station over the weekend as long-lost cousins visited and perused a family history that Crawford has compiled.
"There have been a lot of comings and goings," Crawford said. "Everyone is squealing with delight. We're a noisy crowd. There is nothing reticent about the Low family, that's for sure."
At the shores of Alki, where the re-enactment of the Exact landing took place, rain fell steadily just as it had 150 years ago.
"It should rain," Mayor Paul Schell suggested. "This is Seattle."
The re-enactment featured the Yankee Clipper, a 43-foot masted ship similar to the Exact. The ship took part in similar ceremonies in 1989, in recognition of the state centennial, and in 1951, for the city centennial.
Nineteen adults and children played the roles of the original landing party during yesterday's re-enactment. (The roles of three infants were played by stuffed pillowcases.) Among those making the hourlong excursion from Harbor Island to Alki Point was Sam Matsen, the great-great grandson of Carson Boren and great-great nephew of David Denny. Matsen, as an 8-year-old, had attended the 1951 re-enactment.
This time, he brought along his 6-year-old grandson, Alan Matsen, in hopes that in 2051 his grandson could tell his own grandkids about the day he took a journey aboard a replica of the schooner Exact.
After the Yankee Clipper landed, attention turned to the obelisk at Alki Point that commemorates the landing. Donated in 1905 by Lenora Denny, daughter of Arthur Denny and one of the children on the Exact, the monument failed to pay tribute to the wives by name. A plaque dedicated yesterday rectifies that oversight.
Another new plaque unveiled yesterday praises the Native Americans who helped the original settlers persist through their first winter at Alki. Duwamish members along with some new allies believe recognition from the federal government is just as deserved.
Stuart Eskenazi can be reached at 206-464-2293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.