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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

30 March 2014

❖ MR. BULL OF BAINBRIDGE ISLAND ❖

     
John Yoskadum Bull
A few paces from the spot where Chief Seattle rests in the old native graveyard of Suquamish, Kitsap County, there is buried a huge Indian who was called John Bull. Reputed to have been the strongest, toughest, native man who ever drove a canoe across Puget Sound, his name was a familiar one in pioneer households on Bainbridge Island. His life, an insolent swagger through early-day scenes, was terminated by a blast of gunfire at Port Madison in the 1880s. It is of some historical significance that, in his case, white authorities apparently allowed to prevail the ancient tribal code which decreed that any member who got too big for his breech clout was killed by fellow tribesmen. John Bull's Indian name was Yoskadum; he was a full-blood Suquamish, born c.1825 in a village on Agate Pass. Suquamish lore is full of stories about his athletic prowess, his feats of underwater swimming, his skill at wrestling, his tremendous prowess, his strength at weight lifting. Matched on one occasion in a wrestling bout with a giant Snohomish brave called "Moosmoos," meaning "the ox," in Chinook jargon. Yoskadum threw Moosmoos so violently that the big Snohomish lay as though dead. As a bull is stronger than an ox, Yoskadum emerged from that match with a new name, John Bull.
      Murder for fancied wrong was common enough among Puget Sound Indians in [pre-European] days, and Suquamish lore relates that the first man John Bull killed was an evil shaman who had done many persons to death by sorcery. When settlers came to the Sound, it was not long before they began to suspect that this big Indian would kill if it suited his fancy. Some Indians say this tendency has been exaggerated, others say not.
      But after his death, John Bull's size and weight grew to fantastic proportions. An aged informant still living who knew John Bull well says he stood just a shade under six feet, and on occasion when he took off his coat and stepped on to a Port Madison scale, he tipped the bar at an even 199 pounds.
      In the 1850s, when George A. Meigs got his sawmill going in Port Madison Bay, John Bull and other Suquamish Indians built houses on the west side of the bay, where they lived with their families and worked for wages in the sawmill. Meigs was always a friend to the Indians; among his favorites was big, impetuous John Bull, mighty man of muscle. John Bull carried alone, one end of 12 x 12 timbers, while two workers carried the other. When there was flour to be moved into warehouse, John Bull insisted that four 100-pound sacks be laid across his broad back, though others were content to tow one.
       
One heavy lift John Bull made at Port Madison was on a day when Meigs called him up to an old blockhouse, in disuse from the time of the Indian War. A large cannon lay there. Several men, even pairs of them, had tried in sport to lift the heavy piece and failed. John Bull up-ended the cannon, clasped it in his muscular arms, walked across the floor and flung it out a doorway. On Old Man House Spit there once lay a huge boulder called John Bull's Rock. It has disappeared now, but in all the years it rested there not a man was known who could lift it, except John. Old Indians still are living who saw him swing that ponderous stone to his shoulder and dance about a fire during potlaches.
      An intelligent Indian, John learned to speak good English. He was good-natured enough, until liquor brought to the surface a vicious temper. Few men, even whites, dared cross him, and the Sound thronged with tough, violent characters, sailors who had jumped ship, opium smugglers, and the like. Added to these were hordes of fierce Haidahs, who cam down from the north in huge war canoes to pick hops. At hop time, John Bull went into the fields as a boss. He knew the various tribal languages, and could translate and keep order, after his own tough fashion.
      However, as the big man passed into middle age, liquor began more and more to dominate his life. He became surly and quarrelsome. 
      Then at last, it began to be whispered that when John Bull had taken strangers to out-of-way places by canoe, on his return he would trade for whiskey, gold watches, and rings, personal things men did not turn over for such service. But he was no rustic, John Bull. He was sly, and hard to tag with crime.
      He made a mistake, however, when he took to beating his wife. She had brothers and half-brothers, Indians plenty tough in their own right. Arguments arose, followed by deadly tension. It was not relieved when a half-brother's house mysteriously caught fire and burned, destroying many sacks of flour, sugar, and other costly provisions. John Bull, nearing 60 now, was not relying entirely on brute strength. 
      Tension mounted. Ugly, half-mad with savage resentment over tribal hatred and ostracism enveloping him like a deadly miasmic fog, the big Indian took to prowling through the native village like a beast looking for a fight. The place was electric with fear. Presently, he let it be known that he was going to Port Blakely, but that when he returned he intended to clean house from one end of the village to the other. He ordered his wife into a canoe and paddled away.
      That John Bull's purpose in going to Port Blakely was to get a bottle of "fighting stuff" the Indians knew. They knew also when he returned, there would be violence, because John Bull did not boast idly.
      
Port Madison Bay across which John Bull's wife paddled
him after he had been shot in ambush on the spit.
From the archives of the S.P.H.S.©


A short distance up along the shore from Port Madison lies Port Madison Spit. Its beach was piled high with wind-rows of driftwood. In a pile of this, an Indian concealed himself with his rifle to await the return of John Bull from Port Blakely.
      John appeared at last, seated in the prow of his canoe, his eyes glaring fiercely out of a head full of murderous, alcoholic plans. His wife was paddling the canoe close inshore to avoid the push of the tide.
      The Indian in ambush, years later, admitted he was deathly afraid as he lay squinting over his sights at John Bull. A miss would mean his finish, he knew. But he pulled the trigger and, with the roar of the gun, John Bull tumbled backward to the bottom of the canoe. Instantly, however, he threw himself over onto his stomach and began working his way back along the canoe, evidently to escape another shot through the side where he had fallen. But his assailant, fearing he had missed, already was in desperate flight.
      The shore spreads peacefully today before summer homes, on the west side of Port Madison Bay, where John Bull climbed out of his canoe. His left arm, shattered above the elbow, dangled uselessly, and he had a large wound in his side. Hostile eyes watched him from nearby windows as he staggered up toward his house, but nobody undertook to attack him. He made the shelter of his home, climbed into a bunk with a gun, and lay like a wounded beast at bay. His wife said she was going after water, but instead, she hurried to the house of her brother.
      When she returned, she approached John Bull slowly and deliberately. And when she was beside him, she stepped suddenly aside, revealing her brother, who had been following her in a half crouch. The brother quickly thrust a gun against John Bull and pulled the trigger. It was not a gallant way to dispose of a one-time tribal hero, but it was effective.
Text by Ernest B. Bertelson for The Seattle Times, 15 February 1948.

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