The segregated burial of minorities was a common feature of 19th and early 20th century cemeteries, and this held true on Whidbey Island. Indians had their own burial grounds around Penn Cove but on those occasions when whites were forced to bury a Native American found on the island, they did so in a location that skirted the outer edge of their established graveyards. When a black man named Antone Alva died in his cabin at Ebey's Landing, he also was treated accordingly. Despite being a close acquaintance of the Ebey family, the Island County Coroner recorded Alva's 1862 burial as being "up by the Indians at the Grave Yard."
Lower Skagit Indian Potlatch House and Canoes
Penn Cove, 1904
Photo by Oliver S. Van Olinda
University of Washington, Special Collections, Van 401
Alex Kettle, c. 1855-1947
As central Whidbey's Indian population began dying out, or moved off the island, they stopped using their traditional burial grounds near Penn Cove and a number were interred at Sunnyside along its western fence line, just south of the blockhouse. Most of their markers were simple wooden stakes inscribed with the names of the deceased: these markers that did not survive the period when Sunnyside lacked a regular caretaker and locals resorted to fire to clear the cemetery. One of the few Indian monuments that remain today marks the graves of Alex and Susie Kettle. Susie, who died in 1938, was an accomplished spinner and weaver who took in laundry to support her family. Alex, the last Indian to live in the central Whidbey community, died in 1947. A skilled carpenter who worked on numerous projects for Coupeville residents, Alex carved several of the canoes on display at the Island County Historical Society.
Between the 1870s and early 1930s, hundreds of Chinese immigrants worked on central Whidbey farms, yet, only one Chinese grave may be found in the area, that of Ah Soot who died in 1925. His gravesite is unusual for he was buried in the family lot of his former employers, Francis and Mary LeSourd. The proximity of their respective resting places is not only rare, but indicative of the close personal relationship they shared.
Ah Soot, Chinese laborer on Ebey's Prairie
and his monument at Sunnyside Cemetery.
Ah Soot Photo courtesy of Dorothy Sherman
Monument photo by Theresa Trebon
1889 Washington Territorial Census
Chinese laborers in Coupeville
On Tuesday last, the North Pacific brought over to this place, from Victoria, the remains of 122 Chinamen to be shipped by the ship Georges to Hongkong. It seems strange to "outside barbarians" but such is the Mongolian custom.
As for the burial sites of Whidbey's other Chinese laborers, they most likely were taken to Seattle for internment in one of that city's Chinese cemeteries. However, the final destination for many was actually their homeland. These immigrants paid yearly fees to one of several Chinese burial societies in Seattle that ensured their clients' remains would be shipped to China. After an immigrant died, he was buried for a short time on American soil, usually a year, until decomposition was complete. At that time, the burial societies would disinter the remains and box them for shipment to China for reburial. Once on home soil, the immigrant's memory, and burial site, would be honored by their family, an integral part of Chinese culture. The transshipment of Chinese immigrant remains was a practice that continued in the Puget Sound region into the mid-1900s.