An exciting new project that you can be a part of…

“A Tangled Web of History”

A collection of over 500 artifacts, once kept in the home of a South Whidbey pioneer family, has been revealed. These artifacts represent a remarkable outline of an unknown chapter of South Whidbey and Pacific Northwest history.

South Whidbey Historical Society President, Bill Haroldson states: “Rarely do we find an intact set of cultural artifacts that provides historians the opportunity to unearth the human story behind the broader historical record.”

“Project Manager Kyle Walker has been welcomed by family descendants and residents of Whidbey Island resulting in astonishing stories and identification of other artifacts and archival materials,” adds Haroldson.

The collection tells the story of a wayward Portuguese whaler, Joseph Brown, who married a royal member of the Coast Salish Snohomish Tribe, Mary Shelton and settled at Sandy Point.  Their story illustrates how a major tribal village on South Whidbey Island once an epicenter of trade between Indigenous tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest, became a destination of Euro-American settlers, developed into a maritime center and became a seasonal destination for families from the mainland.

The research is revealing the invisible history of the Snohomish Tribe on South Whidbey (villages, events and notable figures), the impact European immigrants had on tribal assimilation, and the challenges faced by bi-racial families and women in a cross-cultural, rural setting.

The collection also tells stories of the experiences of Brown/Shelton family members working as undercover detectives for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Treasury. Investigations included  prostitution and “white slavery” trafficking of women as sex slaves and suppressing the illegal sale of liquor and opium in saloons and on tribal reservations in the Pacific Northwest.  “Set against the backdrop of the Progressive Era from the 1880s to World War I, the parallels to the social conditions of today are remarkable,” states Walker.

The project team is eager to involve other organizations, Whidbey residents, descendants and trade professionals (e.g., photography, printing, mapping, videographers, aerial imaging, surveyors) throughout the Puget Sound who can assist with research and tell these stories.

Representatives from academia, historic organizations and government agencies at the local/state/federal level are helping to guide the research. Field surveys based on the collection will document and map natural and cultural landscape remnants of Snohomish villages and camps and Immigrant sites on South Whidbey.

During 2020-2021, the project was limited to outreach with residents of South Whidbey, online research and preliminary field surveys during the COVID-19 shutdown. Of surprise was the unexpected expansion of stakeholders and stories, new artifacts and archival materials. To date, the project has established more than 31 separate project files by topic.

Research is finally able to expand to regional and state archival centers, previously closed during the pandemic. A roundtable discussion with descendants, oral history interviews, website updates, and a new museum display featuring the Indigenous history of South Whidbey are all in the works. A part-time intern, funded by a grant from the Washington State Historical Society will be assisting in 2023.

Project activities requires funding to offset costs for materials, supplies and travel to regional archival centers. Individuals who have artifacts, archival materials and oral history pertinent to the project will be considered donors.  Professionals willing to donate their time  will also be considered donors.  Donors will be acknowledged in project materials and presentations and receive periodic project updates.

The Project Team invites you to join them on a journey of remarkable courage, heartbreaking loss, and longing for healing of the moral condition.  To learn more contact Project Manager Kyle Walker at  [email protected] or 503-970-1151.

Donations can be made online below.

Kyle K. Walker – Project Manager (pictured)
Bill Haroldson – President, South Whidbey Historical Society
Robert Waterman – Vice President, South Whidbey Historical Society
Rick Castellano – Executive Director, Island County Historical Museum

Donate to Support This Local Historical Research Project