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Sno-Isle Genealogical Society

The Sounder
Volume 23, Issue 1
First Quarter, 2009

Serving Snohomish and Island County Genealogists
for over Twenty Years

Sounder Banner Graphic by David Raney

Chief Napoleon Bonaparte of the Snohomish People
(by Betty Lou Gaeng)

Chief Napoleon Bonaparte               The photo on the left gives an idea of the flamboyant character of the man known as SNAH-TALC, or sub-chief Napoleon BONAPARTE. Great dignity and elaborate display, he believed, suited his position among the native Snohomish people. Therefore in this 1864 photo he wears a gaudy silk coat, carries a hardee hat, and bears a walking cane that has brass tacks all over it for decoration. The hat was government issue from the 1850s, and the brass tacks likewise came from the reservation traders.

               The Tulalip Reservation where he lived had been established by the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty. SNAH-TALC and other native people came on a cold January day to Mukilteo for this occasion that would alter their lives. They came down the rivers, along the shores, and from the islands. Here in Island County, Washington Territory, a choice was made affecting all the native people west of the Cascade Mountains from the White River just north of Tacoma to the Canadian Border. Living on the islands and along the shores of Puget Sound and the many rivers, surrounded by lofty cedars, the natives had been free people. Life for them was sometimes difficult, filled with many dangers, but they were free to live and travel as they chose.

               Yet they trusted in the promises made to them. By signing the Treaty of Point Elliott on the 22nd day of January, 1855, the native tribes became wards of the United States. Reservations were established to contain them.

               After Territorial Governor Isaac I. STEVENS signed his name to the treaty, SEALTH (SEATTLE), Chief of the Duwamish, Suquamish and allied tribes signed his mark. Following them, all the chiefs and sub-chiefs affixed their marks, beginning with PAT-KA-NAM, Chief of the Snoqualmie, Snohomish, allied tribes and bands; CHOW-ITS-HOOT, Chief of the Lummi, Samish, Nooksack and other tribes or bands; and GOLIAH, Chief of the Skagit, Swinomish and related tribes.

               SNAH-TALC, or BONAPARTE, sub-chief of the Snohomish, was one of these signers. Later, his contemporaries called him STADKOK or WANNAPOT (WAH-DAW-PAH). To the white people he was Napoleon BONAPARTE, tribal chief of the Snohomish. According to his own words, in 1871, he was the last man alive of the signers of the treaty. Some had died of old age, and many from diseases and strong drink brought by the white men.

               Chief BONAPARTE was born at Skagit Head on Whidbey Island sometime during the early 1800s, and was of the Snohomish people. After the signing of the treaty, Chief BONAPARTE moved to the Tulalip Indian Reservation as required, and called it home for the rest of his years.

               Chief BONAPARTE’s granddaughter, Anastasia SPITHILL, told the story that in the early days the chief men were supposed to have several wives. Her grandfather had two, but when the priests came they insisted that only one wife was permitted. Anastasia’s maternal grandmother was the one the chief kept. His other wife went to live on the Lummi Indian Reservation in Whatcom County. That region had been her home before her union with Chief BONAPARTE. When she left the house of Chief BONAPARTE they had a daughter about 10 years old, who went with her mother to the Lummi Reservation.

               Reverend Father Eugene Casimir CHIROUSE, O.M.I., the priest at St. Anne’s Catholic Mission, Mission Beach, Tulalip Indian Reservation, performed the ceremony, legally binding in marriage, according to white men’s law, Chief BONAPARTE and his Snohomish wife.

               A short time following their legal marriage Chief BONAPARTE’s wife died. When Anastasia was two years old, her mother, BONAPARTE’s daughter, had died, and Anastasia was living in the house of her grandfather. After the move to the Tulalip Indian Reservation the household consisted of Chief BONAPARTE and his little granddaughter.

               Meanwhile, on the Lummi Indian Reservation, BONAPARTE’s daughter by his Lummi woman became known as Mary WANAPA. She married a white man by the name of Edward CUSH and they had a son Edward CUSH, Jr.—the name sometimes recorded as KOOSH. Edward Jr. became a registered member of the Lummi Indian Reservation and received an allotment of land on that reservation.

               In 1870, Father CHIROUSE performed the marriage ceremony for Chief BONAPARTE’s granddaughter Anastasia and Scotsman Alexander SPITHILL, a widower. When Alexander SPITHILL died in 1920, the couple had been married for 50 years. Together, they had nine children: Alexander Jr., Matthew, Catherine, May (Mary), Cecelia, John, Zella, Inez, and David.

               Chief BONAPARTE’s Lummi grandson Edward CUSH, Jr. married Annie and they had children: Daniel, Norbert, Casimir, Christina and Mary.

               Chief BONAPARTE became known as a man of authority—recognized as he traveled. He was seen at Neah Bay, and Steilacoom, and spoke of spending time at Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

               In our present day, Chief BONAPARTE would be referred to as a man with stage presence. He knew how to dress to announce to the world he was not an ordinary man. He was referred to as a dignified man with an air of superiority. 
                                                                                                                                                           Major General Irvin McDowell    
               The 1906 History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties relates a story of a meeting between Chief BONAPARTE and Major General Irvin McDOWELL, the commander of the Pacific Department of the United States Army during 1864 and 1865. As a Union officer during the Civil War, Gen. McDOWELL participated in some of the well-known battles of the war. After his transfer to the West, he made a tour of the Indian reservations in the Puget Sound country, including the Tulalip Indian Reservation. Samuel D. HOWE, the agent of the Tulalip Agency at that time, wished to help his Indian wards as much as possible. When the general arrived, Agent HOWE called in all the chiefs for a conference, telling them that an important soldier had arrived and wished to talk to them. Immediately BONAPARTE, with all the other chiefs, went to the agency to meet this important white man who had been sent by the great chief in Washington, D.C.

               Gen. McDOWELL usually appeared in impressive full military uniform; however, for this visit he had chosen to follow the example of Gen. GRANT at Appomattox and appeared wearing simple civilian clothing.

               The 1906 History states:
               Now Bonaparte was a firm believer in the fitness of things, and was fully resolved that so momentous an occasion as a conference between himself and the representative of the government should be characterized by great dignity and elaborate display. Accordingly, when he entered, he was attired in strict accord with his notions of propriety. His habit consisted of a pair of black pantaloons; a British red coat with epaulets, a stove-pipe hat bedecked with gorgeous feathers; a red Spanish sash about his waist, in which were partially concealed a brace of old flint-lock horse pistols; a long sword hung at his side; a pair of unmatched kid gloves; a pair of brass-bowed spectacles astride his nose; a long cane with a large brass head in his hand and a fancy necklace adorned with talons and beaks of hawks and eagles, the tooth of a beaver and other savage ornaments.

               As soon as the general and the chiefs had been introduced with due ceremony, Mr. Howe addressed the assembly substantially as follows: ‘General McDowell is a very great chief among the soldiers, the greatest chief of all; the President has sent him out here to have a talk with the Indians on Puget Sound, and if any of you have anything to say the general would be pleased to hear it, and to repeat all you have to say to the great chief at Washington.’

               Meanwhile Chief Bonaparte had been eyeing suspiciously General McDowell’s very ordinary suit of citizen’s clothing, and plainly sizing up their owner very unfavorably. For some minutes after Howe had ceased speaking, not a word was said, but at length Chief Bonaparte arose with becoming dignity, and speaking through his interpreter, said: ‘If General McDowell has come here to talk with us, he must first speak.’

               Thereupon the general arose and said: ‘The great chief, the president at Washington, had been informed that the Indians were dissatisfied with the treatment they had received from the Bostons, and that they had threatened to fight and kill the white settlers on Puget Sound. I have come out here to inquire into the matter, to find out what is the trouble, and to try to fix up things without killing each other. If any of the Bostons have molested or injured any of the Indians, I want to know it, and I will have them punished. The great chief at Washington does not wish to fight and kill the Indians. I think there is room enough here for all the Indians and whites, and hope they will live and get along peaceably together.’

               Another silence followed this speech, then Bonaparte rose to his full height, smote himself proudly on the breast, and with great fire and hauteur said: ‘Look at me! Do I look like a common Siwash? I am dressed as becomes a warrior and a chief among my people. Look at me! Do I look like the rest of my people? I am a chief among my people and my dress shows it. You say you are a chief, a great soldier man, that you have been sent out here by the great chief, the president at Washington. I look at you; your dress is the same as Mr. Howe’s. You look the same as any common white man. I have seen soldier chiefs at Steilacoom, and I have seen King George’s soldier chiefs at Victoria, and they dressed differently from common people; they dressed as I do; but you dress the same as any worthless Boston. I do not believe you are a chief at all. I think you lie. Good day, sir.’

               Thereupon the old chieftain strode out of the room, followed by all the other Indians, abruptly terminating the interview. The confusion of Mr. Howe and General McDowell may be imagined.
                After the Civil War and becoming president, Ulysses GRANT decided that the sporadic wars between the Indians and the whites in the west should end. He also felt that the method the government used to handle Indian affairs should change. He selected a group of men from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis and Maine to make up what became known as the Board of Indian Commissioners. The chairman of the board was a wealthy engineer-aristocrat-philanthropist from Pittsburgh named Felix BRUNOT. Commissioner BRUNOT was also active in the political hierarchy of Protestant churches in the United States.

               In 1871, President GRANT gave this board the task of reviewing and preparing a report on mainly the western Indian reservations. This report became known as the Third Annual Report of Indian Commissioners to the President of the United States, 1871. The report contains over 200 pages and was presented to President GRANT on November 15, 1871 by Vincent COLYER, the secretary of the Commissioners.

               Felix BRUNOT with his clerk Thomas K. CREE, and others, visited the Tulalip, Lummi and Swinomish Indian Reservations of the Tulalip Agency, conducting interviews with various leaders of each reservation. At Tulalip, Clerk CREE recorded under the date August 28, 1871:
               A council was held with the Indians of this reservation at 10 a.m., meeting in front of the trading-house. There were present Hon. F. R. Brunot, chairman of the board of Indian Commissioners, and his secretary; S. J. McKinney, superintendent of Indian Affairs for Washington Territory; Father Chirouse, superintendent; Napoleon, the chief, and all the minor chief and young men; the employees; and a large number of men and women of the tribe. Before the council opened, Napoleon, the chief, reminded them that he was the only one left of the old men who took part in the treaty with Governor Stevens; all the others had passed away.
               Although Chief BONAPARTE was a proud man, he was not too proud to plead on behalf of his people. When it was his turn to speak, Chief BONAPARTE held his head high and made an impassioned plea to the council. His eloquent message to Commissioner BRUNOT, telling of the dangers to his people, has been officially transcribed for history.

               NAPOLEON, the chief, came forward with much dignity and laid before Mr. Brunot a bunch of split sticks, saying with great earnestness: These represent the number of my people killed by the whites during the past year, all Indian chiefs, fifteen of them, and yet nothing has been done by the Government to punish these wicked white men who killed my people. These fifteen men were not white men, but were Indians, whom the whites have killed. They killed them by selling them whisky. We always receive and keep good advice. I do not speak of these fifteen men killed because of a bad heart, but I want you to know what kind of people live about us.

               Governor Stevens has done what he promised. The agents and superintendent, after they came, did not do right. Stevens and Simmons did what they promised. The whites now scare all the Indians, and we look now wondering when all the Indians will be killed. We are glad to see you, and our hearts will be up. The poor Indians are scared now by the bad whites, and your coming has made our hearts strong. We never saw any man as agent on the reservation who had pity on the Indians, they all frighten them. As soon as the new agent comes on the reservation the Indians go away; they wander all over the country, get whisky, and are killed. When some of our agents who are gone were here there were many Indians on the reservation. The agents brought the whisky on the reservation, and drank it, the Indians thought it must be good, and now they drink it. That is what killed the Indians, and we feel sad; that is what I want to tell you; and that is what makes the Indians leave the reservation.

               There is no farm, because there are no Indians to make it. You come here and don’t see any farming. The Indians are scared and feel afraid. The whites say, “You will be killed soon,” and the Indians don’t care to work the land. I think you will give us advice that is good. Mr. Garfield, before he went to Washington, gave us good advice. I keep it in my heart.
               Prior to this hearing, because of the bad feelings between the Indians and the previous Indian agents, Father CHIROUSE, who held the respect of the most of the Indians, was appointed as Indian Agent for the Tulalip Agency. It does seem that as agent, Father CHIROUSE was more successful in keeping the Indians safe from the encroachment of the whites onto the reservations, but for those living off the reservations there was little protection. Father CHIROUSE during his years as Indian Agent posted notices throughout the Tulalip Reservation warning trespassers and those bringing intoxicating liquor to reservation property. A copy of an original notice as written in Father CHIROUSE’s own handwriting is attached.

               History shows that the skirmishes between the Indians and the whites seemed to fade as the federal government took a more heavy-handed approach in its treatment of the native people.

               Three years following the 1871 visit by government representatives, Father CHIROUSE made his annual report as agent for the Tulalip Indian Agency. In his report, Father CHIROUSE, a man who had known Chief BONAPARTE for almost 20 years, told of the old chief’s death.

To: Honorable E. P. Smith, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Washington, D.C.
From: Tulalip Indian Agency, September 23, 1874

During the past year the health of the Indians belonging to my agency has been generally good. Few deaths have occurred on the reservations; among those I have to mention, much to my regret, is the death of the old head-chief Napoleon Bonaparte, . . .

Signed: E. C. Chirouse, United States Indian Agent.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


Transcript from the hearing in equity: Anastasia Spithill, et al., Plaintiffs v. McLean, et al., Defendants; Case File No. 1194, The Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Washington, Northern Division, Ninth Circuit (1904). Record received from the National Archives and Records Administration, Seattle, WA.

William Whitfield, History of Snohomish County, Washington, Vol. I. (1926) Chicago, Seattle: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company.

An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties (1906), Endorsed as Authentic by Local Committees of Pioneers, Interstate Publishing Company.

Third Annual Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners to the President of the United States (1871). Washington: Government Printing Office 1872. One of the few original copies of this publication in existence is held at Sno-Isle Genealogical Society’s Research Library as part of its First People Collection.

Annual Report to the United States Dept. of Indian Affairs, from the Tulalip Indian Agency, Washington Territory (1874).

Notice by Chirouse as Indian Agent provided by Robert Dixon of Father Chirouse Council #5816, Knights of Columbus, St. Thomas More Parish, Lynnwood, WA.

Photo of Snah-Talh or Napoleon Bonaparte from:

Photo of Gen. McDowell from: 


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