Native Americans force settlers to leave Whidbey Island in August 1848.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 2/19/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5246
In August 1848, local Puget Sound Indians force two white settlers, Thomas W. Glasgow and Antonio B. Rabbeson, to abandon farms on Whidbey Island, located in northern Puget Sound. Among the Native peoples are members of the Duwamish, Snoqualmie, and Snohomish tribes. It will be two years before settlers successfully establish themselves in the Puget Sound region away from the protection of the two Hudson's Bay Company farms at Nisqually and Cowlitz and the U.S. settlement in the Tumwater-Olympia area.

Settlements and Settlers

In 1848, very few settlers lived in the Puget Sound region. In 1847, the area of northern Oregon Territory west of the Cascade Mountains (except for the area of the future Clark and Skamania counties) had some 275 British and United States citizens. Nearly all of the settlers lived at three locations:

  • Tumwater, a three year old community located at the south end of Puget Sound, near present-day (2003) Olympia. Nearby were two British Hudson's Bay Company farms and trading posts;

  • Fort Nisqually located in southern Puget Sound (in 2003, between Tacoma and Olympia about 40 miles south of Seattle);

  • Cowlitz Farm located between Columbia River and Puget Sound at the head of the Cowlitz River near the present-day (2003) town of Toledo, Washington.

These settlements provided access to trading outposts, brought together a community of settlers who had skills that might be exchanged amongst themselves, and provided protection from Indians. Local Indians, including members of the Duwamish, Snoqualmie, and Snohomish tribes, resisted attempts of Euro-Americans to settle other areas of Puget Sound.

Whidbey Island

During the spring 1848, Thomas W. Glasgow, after exploring Puget Sound in a canoe, chose a farm site on Whidbey Island, erected a cabin, and planted potatoes, peas, and wheat. Glasgow took an Indian wife, whom he called Julia Pat-Ke-Nim, for companionship and to insure his safety from nearby Indians. After getting established, Glasgow traveled to Tumwater to convince others to join him on fertile Whidbey Island. Antonio B. Rabbeson and A. D. Carnefix agreed to settle on the island. They made the journey by canoe, the only mode of travel around Puget Sound except for an occasional Hudson's Bay Company ship.

On the journey, the three men took turns cooking and carrying out other camp duties. On the day it was Carnefix’s turn, an Indian stopped at the camp. The man assumed that Carnefix was a slave, since he was performing duties that an Indian slave would perform, and made an offer to Glasgow and Rabbeson to purchase him. The misunderstanding was quickly cleared up, but apparently Glasgow and Rabbeson ribbed Carnefix about it and he took offense, quit the group, and returned to Tumwater. The remaining two men continued on and reached Glasgow's cabin on the west side of Whidbey Island near Penn's Cove in July 1848. Penn's Cove is about 48 miles north of Seattle.

The Hunt

In August, Indians representing every Puget Sound tribe, including the Chehalis, Nisqually, Duwamish, Snoqualmie, and Snohomish, arrived and set up camp at Penn’s Cove on the east side of Whidbey Island near where Glasgow and Rabbeson where located. Within a three-mile radius of the two men’s cabin, there were, in Rabbeson's words, “about eight thousand of these wild men.” Although Rabbeson probably exaggerated, the sight of the immense throng of Indians must have been an impressive one.

On the following day, the Indians held a hunt. They constructed a brush and kelp fence across the width of Whidbey Island between Penn’s Cove and the west side. Then they went some distance to the south and used Indian dogs and “whippers-in” to herd deer and other game towards the fence line. Before the day was over the Indians had captured 60 to 70 deer and “large quantities” of other game and “held the biggest barbecue” Rabbeson had ever seen. Then the men -- in Rabbeson's words about “two thousand bucks” -- held a dance. Rabbeson stated, “We had a desire to witness the whole of the performance but were advised by Glasgow’s woman [Julia Pat-Ke-Nim] to hide until the excitement was over.”

Debate on White Encroachment

The cause of Glasgow’s Indian wife’s concern was that many Natives had expressed a desire to force the white settlers to leave Whidbey Island and other Puget Sound settlements. On the third day of the Indian gathering, they held a “big talk” about this and allowed Glasgow and Rabbeson to attend. Julia Pat-Ke-Nim translated the proceedings from the Lushootseed (Puget Sound Salish) language used by the Indians to the Chinook trading language that both settlers probably knew. The first speaker was Chief Patkanim, who was influential with the Snoqualmie and Snohomish Indians. According to Rabbeson he “spoke very bitterly against the Hudson’s Bay Company, and urged that all the tribes combine to attack and destroy the station at Nisqually, divide the goods and stock, and kill or drive off the King George men [British].”

Another Indian, called by Euro-Americans John Taylor, whose tribal affiliation was not given, expressed a desire to also attack the Boston men (Americans) at Tumwater. John Taylor stated that he had visited Willamette valley (Oregon Territory south of the Columbia River) and “had heard that the Bostons, in their own country, were as numerous as the sands on the beach; and, if something was not done to check their coming, they would soon overrun the country, and the Indians would then be transported in fire ships [ships with cannons] to some distant country where the sun never shone, and there be left to die; and what few Indians escaped … would be made slaves. He urged that then [August 1848] was the time to strike terror to the white man’s heart and avoid future trouble.”

Old Gray Head, who represented the sentiments of the Nisqually and Chehalis Indians, stated that the Boston men at Tumwater protected the southern Puget Sound Indians from slave raids and pillaging by the Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and other tribes. The Duwamish apparently sided with Chief Patkamin. Rabbeson said, “The chief of the Duwamish tribe now arose with a great flourish, and said that as his people occupied the country between the Nisquallies and the Snohomish, he would protect [the Nisqually]. Old Gray Head answered that he would rather have one rifle with a Boston behind it … than all of the Duwamishes …” The discussion between the Indians continued and “hard words” were spoken.

Outnumbered, according to Rabbeson’s estimate, 4,000 to one, the two men took the Indians’ comments seriously.  The two men abandoned their Whidbey Island cabin, left their household goods and farm implements behind, and headed back to the settlements at the south end of Puget Sound. It would be two more years before settlers would successfully establish themselves along Puget Sound away from the Cowlitz Farms, the Tumwater/Olympia area, and Nisqually and environs.


Sources: Noah B. Coffman, Old Lewis County Oregon Territory (Rochester, WA: Southwest Washington Pioneers, 1926); Jimmie Jean Cook, “A particular friend, Penn’s Cove”: A History of the Settlers, Claims and Buildings of Central Whidbey Island (Coupeville, WA: Island County Historical Society, 1973), 15-17; Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, 1845-1889 (San Francisco: The History Company, Publishers, 1890), 10-12.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You