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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.

04 January 2018

❖ INDIAN GEORGE ❖ A LEGEND LIVES ON

Washington State native fisherman.
Undated photo from the Saltwater People Historical Society©
In the almost forgotten past, when salmon were plentiful and life was simple, John Paul George lived on Orcas Island's northwest point.
      The old Indian who lived with a woman on Coal Point, did not dream that someday he would be a man of many legends. He could not foresee that thousands of Y.M.C.A. Seattle boys would one day charge his cliffs, search for his house and return home, eyes lit in the thrill of the past.
      He was simply a man called "Indian George." He made a living the way his ancestors had for years––fishing. But for city boys today, there is something enchanting about his story––his smokehouse, and his cliffs. For one does feel that the cliffs of Coal Point, though mapped as Point Doughty, U.S. Light House Reservation, in reality, belong to that Indian dead now many years.
      I know the feeling of mystery and excitement Coal Point brings. I visited it first when I was just old enough to climb up the cliffs. The currents around it run swift, and the winter winds beat it with vengeance. Trees tell the story––bent and gnarled. One feels the need of recognition for the victory of life, perhaps it's recognition comes in the form of visitors. They are small boys who can't keep still, checking every part of the point, memorizing it to dream about in the boredom of school next winter.
      Adults may think it's peculiar to give recognition to trees and dream about some old Indian who has been dead for who knows how long. But adults sometimes should try to appreciate the magic small boys feel.
      Some say Indian George lived on Coal Point simply because the fishing was good. Other legends throw a bit of intrigue into the pot, saying he married illegally and was ostracized from his reservation. Others claim, there's no truth in that, insisting that he simply lived there with his daughter after an epidemic had wiped out the rest of his family.
      Islanders who bought his salmon at $1 a piece remember him as a friendly old fellow, naturally wearing an Indian sweater. Summer people who have for many years been returning to beach cabins remember his yearly bringing a big salmon as a greeting. Children, who are now men, have fond memories of Indian George, patiently teaching them the plants that made good medicine. One sure way to tell they say, 'the good kinds always stink.'
      Just the smokehouse and a bare frame of boards haunt the place of his old house now. According to a woman who visited Martha George was a small girl, the house was insulated with newspaper. She said it was warm and quite clean since another layer was added or it was recovered whenever needed.
      Although little is standing now except the brave trees of Coal Point, children see many scenes. Indian George stands to watch for salmon. Some imagine he spears the fish. Others see him trolling with hand lines. When the boat is full he brings them to Martha. It does not matter what her relation is to him. She smokes the fish for a long winter.
      It will be a long winter for little children nowadays, too. Long school days will make them dream of camp and Coal Point. Perhaps when they're alone they'll play Indian George. Surely he would not mind. This is his recognition.
Text from the Orcas Sounder. 4 August 1966. Saltwater People Historical Society archives.

Pauline Hillaire writes in A Totem Pole History: the Work of Lummi Carver Joe Hillaire that Boston Tom operated reefnets at Coal Point. (Orcasisle.com)


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