Photo courtesy of Kara Briggs
Sauk-Suiattle Chief Jim Brown, a young granddaughter, and daughter Ellen, near Packwood, Wash., circa 1910.

Photo courtesy of Kara Briggs Sauk-Suiattle Chief Jim Brown, a young granddaughter, and daughter Ellen, near Packwood, Wash., circa 1910.

Forum: Setting record straight on Sauk-Suiattle chief’s daughter

A recent Herald article misstated a dowry paid for my great-grandmother as her being sold into slavery.

By Kara Briggs / Herald Forum

The Daily Herald published an article April 8 that included a source’s assertion that my great-grandmother was sold as a slave, a claim with which I and other relatives disagree. In this column, I am sharing my perspective, including the name of my great-grandmother and her close relatives to provide the context that clarifies this misinformation.

My great-grandmother Ellen Brown Goudy, as she was named in her probate dated February 19, 1912, was the daughter of the Sauk hereditary Chief Jim Brown. The hereditary chiefs of the Northwest tribes were the governing leaders before the United States had established the Washington Territory here. On the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe’s reservation, there is a stone marker that lists the names of the Sauk-Suiattle hereditary chiefs going back more than 700 years, two centuries before Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean.

When Ellen was 19, a Yakama widower named James Goudy came seeking a wife. James likely knew Chief Brown from the banks of Lake Chelan where James had a business renting Arabian horses he raised to tourists.

James gave an Arabian horse and other gifts to Chief Jim Brown when he asked to marry Ellen. Horses were commonly part of doweries exchanged among the Tribes in the Northwest whereby doweries were given by the grooms as a way of showing they could support a family. In European traditions, doweries were given by the family of the bride to the groom. This difference gave rise to the misinformation historically spread by early settlers that the bride was being bought by the groom. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Ellen and James were married at the Catholic church on the Tulalip reservation, as James would say later “by a priest.” The dowery and the wedding “would have been proper for the daughter of a prominent leader,” as Chief Jim Brown was at the time, said Astrida Onat, president of Boas, a digital archeological record. “Tribal leaders of such stature would never have sold a family member into slavery; such an action would have been inconceivable,” Onat said.

Ellen moved to her new home near White Swan, Wash. She had five children before dying at about age 32, likely in childbirth. In her probate, her allotment on the Yakama Reservation was inherited by one of her children.

Later that year, the agents on the Yakama and Colville reservations exchanged letters talking about how James Goudy and his father-in-law were working together to try to get Ellen’s children allotment land. This correspondence, between Aug. 26, 1912, and Feb. 13, 1913, shows a relationship between father-in-law and son-in-law, and their shared care for Ellen’s children. I obtained these letters and other federal records from the National Archive more than 15 years ago.

The Daily Herald article contained multiple errors; the doozy was that Ellen was sold as a slave. Federal records paint the picture I have shared of a wife, a mother and a daughter. The information obtained through oral histories, including from Ellen’s one child who survived to old age, my grandmother Ermina Goudy Edsall, and the late Sauk-Suiattle Chairwoman Norma Joseph, who was Ellen’s great-niece, shared oral history that confirmed each other.

The Daily Herald did not need Ellen’s name to fact-check the basic misinformation before the story was published. They could have avoided these errors by simply asking one key question and checking public information available on the internet.

The Herald should have asked what years my great-grandmother, who was supposedly sold into slavery, lived. The answer: about 1880 to 1912. Or it could have estimated, starting at 1960 for the current generation, allowing for 20 to 30 years per generation and arrived between 1890 and 1900.

With that information, the paper could have searched online: Washington state and slavery. I immediately found slavery was banned in Washington Territory in 1857. A further search for the Point Elliott Treaty would show Article 11 that holding, buying, or selling slaves was banned for tribes including Sauk-Suiattle in January 1855.

This means Ellen was born after slavery was banned.

The Daily Herald and others who have shared this misinformation need to take care before repeating these insulting rumors about Ellen Brown Goudy, her husband and her father. These people may have lived more than a century ago. Still, they have many descendants across multiple Northwest Tribes, for whom they are respected ancestors, whose legacies continue to influence our lives.

Kara Briggs, a member of the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, is a former president of the Native American Journalists Association, Unity: Journalists of Color and the Center for Women and Democracy.

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