In this Leader photo from 46 years ago, the late Mary T. McQuillen of Port Townsend performs the Thunderbird dance in front of the ancient native canoe at Point Hudson. Looking on are children Walter, Wendy and Scott. Her story was featured in the Leader’s 1973 summer special section, to which I do not have ready access.
Mary, my nearby neighbor for many years, was a proud but soft-spoken individual—and as I recall—said to have been the daughter of a chief of the Makah Tribe of indigenous Americans in Neah Bay and environs. She was born March 9, 1932, to Florence Tucker and Walter Greene in Neah Bay. When she died in 2007, she was a highly-respected elder of the Makah tribe and was eulogized as “having love for the human race.” Mary left behind five children: Terri McCullough and her husband, Kim, of Port Townsend; Wendy Jo Sinclair and her husband, Russ, of Spokane; Walter McQuillen and his wife, Sarah, of Port Townsend; and Trudi Anne McQuillen and Jeffrey Sean McQuillen. I also knew her husband Ellis McQuillen who died in 1985, leaving her widowed for 22 years.
In earlier times the Makahs traveled by canoe to Port Townsend on occasion to trade with the local-area S’Klallams and eventually the local newcomer whites who first arrived here 168 years ago. They also used their canoes for whaling on into modern times.
The Makah canoe in the photo here was found on Protection Island in 1952. It had been on display at Point Hudson since 1962 and it was only the summer before her death that it was given to Mary by the local port commission. She had been seeking to be entrusted with it for decades.
True to the traditions and religion of her ancestors, Mary believed the spirit of the tree lived in the canoe and often sang to it at Hudson Point. She often sang and danced for children to pass along the Makah heritage. She played an integral part in including Port Townsend as a stop in the Inter-Tribal Canoe Journey that took place every summer. She said greeting the canoes with song was an important aspect of the canoe journey that helped those paddling know where to go.
On another front, I was a college dorm-mate in1948 of the late Edward Claplanhoo (1928-2010), the first Makah to earn a college bachelor’s degree—later a tribal elder and chairman. He was chairman of the Makah during the excavation of the Ozette Indian Village Archeological Site in the 1970s and is credited with establishing in 1979 in Neah Bay the Makah Museum, which houses the Ozette collection.[ He also established Fort Núñez Gaona–Diah Veterans Park in Neah Bay in 2008.
I have mentioned in the past the early Spanish settlement at Neah Bay that preceded much exploration of the Northwest by the English. It is in Edward’s life history on the Internet that I finally found succinct detail. “Fort Núñez Gaona–Diah Veterans Park marks the site of a Spanish fort, called Fort Núñez Gaona (named for Admiral Manuel Núñez Gaona), constructed in 1792, which was the first European settlement in the continental United States west of the Rocky Mountains and north of San Francisco.. Spanish explorer Salvador Fidalgo had arrived on May 29, 1792, and soon established the fort near the Makah village of Deah (present-day). The Spaniards were expelled from the site following four months of attacks, led by Makah Chief Tetaku."
Edward’s adoptive mother Ruth Claplanhoo, who died at 100 in 2002, was the last native speaker of the Makah language.
Coincidentally, both Edward and I, former college class mates, wound up in U. S. Army engineering battalions in the Korean War, and while he served for a time at Fort Worden, our paths never again crossed. We both resumed college study in 1953 but at different schools. Edward Claplanhoo was inducted into the Washington State University Wall of Fame in 2008, an honor reserved for just one percent of the university's alumni.
All in all, it’s a small world, and I remain fascinated in the many ways that the threads of history can intersect, however briefly.
I do find, surprisingly, on the Internet (by googling “Mary McQulllen, Makah”) a lengthy blog I wrote on the Makahs on Oct. 25, 2012. It is not included in my briefer archive here on this present Leader site, but it can be read by going to: https://www.ptleader.com/stories/area-indian-history-the-makahs-of-neah-bay-in-the-19th-century,47866
Somewhere in my attic is a box containing early tribal photos of Peninsula area Native Americans, along with other portions of a history book that was never completed.
Meanwhile, my friends Mary McQuillen and Edward Claplanhoo made the world a better place—and may their spirits long survive and help us overcome the evils of the present day that include destruction of our environment.