Memorial Athletic Field is the only lit athletic field in Jefferson County. At the field, rec soccer teams meet up to practice, high schoolers gather on fall evenings to watch football, and community members have enjoyed the fun and games of the Rhody Fest carnival for years.
But behind the bright lights and underneath the green grass there is a history that should not be forgotten.
At the bluff of what is now the corner of Monroe and Water Streets once stood the village of quatay. Quatay was the principal village of the S’Klallam people at the time of the signing of the Point-No-Point Treaty, in 1855. This village was the home of the S’Klallam Chief Chetzemoka.
James Swan’s 1859 census showed “300 whites and 200 Klallams” living in Port Townsend. It wasn’t long before white settlers began to make laws excluding the S’Klallam people from the land. In May of 1871, an ordinance was published in the Weekly Argus “relating to Indian houses.”
The ordinance stated:
“The people of the city of Port Townsend do ordain as follows:
Section 1: Provides that no permanent Indian houses shall be built on the beach from the Catholic Church (Madison Street) to one hundred and fifty feet west of Tyler Street.
Sec. 2 Requires the Marshal to notify Indians coming for purposes of trade, or otherwise, that they must not erect their mat lodges or tents, nor build fires within the above mentioned limits. Any person violating either of the above sections shall be fined in any sum not exceeding twenty dollars, and costs.
Sec. 3 Provides that any white man coming to the City with Indians may, upon application to the Marshal, obtain permission for such Indians to camp upon some vacant lot, to be designated by the Marshal, in the city.”
Only a few months after this ordinance was published in the Weekly Argus, on August 23, 1871, the village of qatay was burned by order of the federal government.
Their homes burned and an ordinance excluding them from the city limits, many S’Klallam people were forced to move to the Skokomish Reservation, Port Gamble, Port Discovery, or to join family in Dungeness, who purchased land at Jamestown in 1874.
Chetzemoka and his family moved to Indian Island. When he died, his sons brought his body back to Port Townsend, where his village had once stood.
As more and more white settlers moved to Port Townsend and established businesses and built homes, the area where qatay once was and where Memorial Field is now, once again became a village. In the late 1800s, Port Townsend had a Chinatown - a village where Chinese residents of Port Townsend lived and worked, which was located where Memorial Field is now.
But old photographs in the Washington Rural Heritage collection show that in 1897, Chinatown also burned to the ground.
Years later, following two world wars, citizens of Port Townsend decided to build an athletic field on the corner of Monroe and Washington streets.
According to old Leader articles, by March of 1947, a grant was approved for the Memorial Field project and by September of 1947, the lights and bleachers were added and the first game played on the field was a Port Townsend High School vs. Port Angeles High School football game, which Port Townsend won 7-0.
It is called Memorial Field to honor the citizens of Jefferson County who fought in World War I and World War II.
But the history of qatay village will never truly be erased. In 2018, as Jefferson County began a project to install new lights at Memorial Field, historic remnants were found at the field.
“While completing archaeological screening of the sediments which were removed during the Memorial Field lighting project, a human remain of indeterminate origin was recovered,” said Eric Kuzma, an architect with the Jefferson County Department of Public Works.
The bones found were determined to be historic, so jurisdiction was turned over to the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) and State Physical Anthropologist Dr. Guy Tasa.
Currently, DAHP is completing the necessary notification process for affected Tribes, after which the remain will be turned over to the Tribes for a private reburial, Kuzma said.
When the new Chetzemoka Trail opens on June 29, a ceremony will be held at Memorial Field, which will be one of the stops on the trail. A sign placed at the field will give walkers, bikers and explorers some insight into what was once Chief Chetzemoka’s home.
On June 29, the new Chetzemoka Trail will be unveiled in a ceremony at Memorial Athletic Field in Port Townsend to begin the area’s journey to understanding the difficulties of coexistence between American Indians and non-Native people.
The trail, a project of the Native Connections Action Group of the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, in partnership with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, will feature 18 sites throughout Port Townsend.
At each site, signs will offer historic information about Chief Chetzemoka (pronounced Cheech-ma-han; later changed by settlers to Chetzemoka) and the S’Klallam people of the 19th century, as well as the impact of the arrival of European settlers and connections to present-day S’Klallam people.
The trail follows the life of Chief Chetzemoka, whose story represents the difficulties, not just in Port Townsend, but across the country, of living side-by-side.
Leading up to the opening of the trail, The Leader will present historical tidbits with the help of research done by the Native Connections Action Group and Jamestown S’Klallam tribal elder Celeste Dybeck.