My mother’s family, some of the people looked Indian, some really didn’t. – Joan Tuttle Wekell

Genealogical records provide evidence of the braided histories of Native and non-Native people at the mouth of the Columbia River, which commenced with the fur trade period in the late 18th century and continues into the modern era. Many fur traders married Chinook women, a common practice that reflected indigenous ties between economic activity and kinship. Marriages to Native women provided non-Native traders with an entry into the complex kin-based world of the indigenous Northwest. Native wives brought non-Native traders out of the realm of “stranger” and into that of family and provided critical labor such as trail guidance, pelt processing, food gathering, cooking, and homemaking.

As the Chinook population dwindled in size and political power in the 19th century, intermarriage ceased to carry the same political or economic advantages for either member. Tensions existed between family members who disapproved of their children’s or siblings’ interracial relationships, which were often expressed in unpleasant name-calling and sometimes turned violent. Nonetheless, it is clear that both men and women in intercultural marriages found it important to share their Native American identity and background with their children.

Personal Stories

Joan Tuttle Wekell recalls her paternal grandmother’s attitude toward her son’s marriage:

Jane Wekell-Pulliam (Joan’s daughter): You said that Grandpa’s family wasn’t very happy that he married Grandma.

Joan Wekell: No, and that used to bother me when my grandmother on my [father’s side], my grandmother called him ‘squaw man;’ you know, ‘Well, here’s the squaw man.’ They didn’t like that. I was very fond of my grandfather. My grandmother, I think you just automatically love grandmothers on one level, but she was always sort of scary and I always thought she was sort of mean.

I asked my cousin Tim about that and he said, ‘No, Grandma wasn’t that way at all,’ but he was the youngest grandchild. I mean, Tim I didn’t know as a kid. I’ve known him as a grown up, and ‘Oh no, Grandma wasn’t that way.’ So I don’t know but she always—it might have been that ‘squaw man’ stuff or you know, little asides, and that—but my Grandfather Tuttle was just a loving and warm and wonderful man.

I think he [my father] just pff! Shrugged [his mother’s comments] off. He may have laughed about it, I don’t know. I’m not sure. I really didn’t know my dad that well.”

Joan Tuttle Wekell on identifying as Chinook:

Joan Tuttle Wekell: Oh, my uncle, Don—my mother’s family, some of the people looked Indian, some really didn’t. My Aunt Marge looked Indian, except she had blue eyes, and my Uncle Don, he looked full-blooded Indian. I don’t know, well with eight kids I guess you get—there was just a big [difference]. Florence, she had sharper features, not like Chinook but she was dark and had black hair. But she didn’t, facially she didn’t look that, but anyway, my Uncle Don bought a fishing boat and he fished out of Neah Bay. And my aunt and uncle invited me to come and stay in Neah Bay for that summer. I figured I was Makah, I think at that time. All my friends were Makah kids.

Donna Sinclair: What did you hear about being Chinook?

Joan Tuttle Wekell: Well, I think I always knew I was Chinook. I think I just thought, I thought that we were related or that somehow the Makah were really Chinook. I mean I associated them with being relatives. Well, they probably are.

Ken Reed on his maternal grandparents: I know she was born in Bay Center in 1893. And her mother was a, what they call a full-blooded Indian, Chehalis and Chinook, from the Native village in Bay Center. But my Grandfather [Loyal Lincoln] Clark was also a pioneer family.

… and basically he was in the oyster business. And somehow he ended up in Bay Center, I don’t know how. And married a Native girl, was my grandmother. This was Annie Hawks and they had a family.

Ken Reed on his parents: Because when my mother married my [non-Native] father, the first thing they did, she got a job at the Quinault Reservation. And Tahola as a postmistress, was the first postmistress they had ever had there, and my oldest brother was born there. But then they moved to Seattle. And this must have been in World War I, because my father somehow got trained as a machinist, and you know, had good jobs doing that.

Anna May Strong talks about intermarriage and prejudice: Yeah, Mom, being the very youngest of the girls in the Clark family, her mother died right at a crucial age when she’s at her early teens, I know that it affected Mom’s life and then marrying into a family that part of them they didn’t, they weren’t accepting, they tolerated her but Mom said, she told me that in later years they found out that she wasn’t aborigine in that she could speak English and she could cook like white women and they accepted her after a number of years. But both Mom and Dad, Dad was picked on because he married an Indian woman, Mom was picked on because just merely because she was an Indian. And I grew up in that atmosphere and it does affect your life and how you see people and how you react.