Picture a tiny dark-haired girl; her skin is aglow with health; her cheeks are flushed. Her brown eyes sparkle. Her little bare feet flash as she runs to join the other little ones in the games the native children played in the early 1880s. She struggles to keep up with her cousins William and Henry Shelton. Her family and playmates call her Bah-hahlth (Return to Good). Later she was known by an English name, Katrina, and sometimes she was called Katie. Years later her grandson, David Spencer, called her Kwi-tee.
Born about 1876 in Snohomish County, Washington Territory, Katrina grew up near the Snohomish River and the town of Snohomish where the family lived in a native longhouse with about 20 other family members. Years later the Tulalip Indian Reservation would become her permanent home.
Katrina grew to become a strong woman. Survival depended not only on strength, but also the ability to adapt. While still maintaining her native language and teachings, Katrina learned the way of the foreigners. She became a savvy businesswoman and she learned to hold what was hers. No one took that from her — especially her land. It was not considered the best land —the government didn’t allot the best to the native people. However, it was hers and Katrina held it close.
Married and widowed four times before her final marriage to Ambrose Bagley, Katrina’s life was one filled with loss and sorrow. Her first marriage to a man named Campbell from Skagit was so short it was almost forgotten. They were married when Katrina was 15; when her husband was murdered, she was left a 16-year-old widow.
Her second husband was Henry Tukius from the Swinomish Tribe at LaConner. Katrina was soon widowed once again.
In 1894, Katrina married Maurice Jim/James from the Tulalip Reservation, and they were blessed with six children. She suffered another loss when her husband Maurice died in 1907 at the age of 39. In 1909, their 12-year-old daughter, Ella, lost her life.
In 1908 Katrina married for the fourth time. This husband was a much younger Tulalip man, Francis (Frank) Sese. In 1912 Katrina was again widowed. Two children, Grace and Agnes had been born during this marriage. While still a toddler, Grace died. Agnes married and lived to the age of 25 and gave Katrina her first grandchild, David Spencer. David was the grandchild Katrina would take into her home to raise as her own.
In 1914, another child, 13-year-old daughter Edith James, died. During 1917, three more children from Katrina’s marriage to Maurice James were lost to her: Anthony, 18; Wilbur, 14, and Christine, 12. Tuberculosis had been running rampant through the reservation.
Since his induction into the Army in 1917, Katrina’s son, Elson James, had been serving in France during WWI as a scout and guide for the troops. He was often on nighttime patrol behind enemy lines and Katrina worried. She was happy when finally a letter came from Elson telling her he would soon be home. A short time later Katrina’s heart nearly broke. She was notified that her heroic son Elson had died of pneumonia in France on December 11, 1918, as a result of those many bitterly cold nighttime patrols.
Katrina’s fifth and final husband, Ambrose Bagley, was a man with connections to the Duwamish Tribe as well as Tulalip. Katrina and Ambrose had one child, a daughter, Katherine. In 1933, Katherine married Alaskan native William G. Campbell and gave Katrina and Ambrose 12 grandchildren.
Katrina and Ambrose farmed and lived in the large comfortable home they built on her allotment land at Tulalip. This home became a welcoming one, often filled with family and friends. Many of those friends were fellow parishioners at the old Tulalip Shaker Church. Long-time members of the church, Katrina and Ambrose donated the bell for the steeple.
Katrina died in 1950, her age given as 74. Ambrose Bagley survived Katrina by six years. They are both buried at Tulalip’s Priest Point Cemetery.
Katrina didn’t live to see yet another war and another loss for her family. This time Katrina’s daughter and son-in-law Katherine and William Campbell in July of 1970 received the sad news telling them that their 20-year-old son, Donald, was killed in action in Vietnam.
Many years later the front page of The Everett Herald on Monday, September 22, 2008, featured a story about the remaining acres of Katrina’s 1904 allotment land which had become the property of her many heirs. On Saturday morning, some of those heirs gathered on the family’s land and with heartfelt love and appreciation they held a blessing for Bah-hahlth Katrina Bagley, a special woman they will always remember and honor.
In his 2011 book, “Lifted to the Edge, The Reflections of a Tulalip Grandson,” David Spencer, Sr. wrote about his grandmother Kwi-tee, his grandfather Ambrose, and the years he lived with them. When asked about his memories of his grandparents, David Spencer’s usual reply is: “They showed me how to walk my life.”
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