Looking Back: Katrina Bagley of Tulalip — a woman to remember

Katrina Bagley

Much like the Biblical Job, during her lifetime, Katrina Bagley endured one loss after another. Through it all, she never faltered in her love of life, her church, nor her love for her family. While talking with three of her grandsons, I learned much about this indomitable lady and her enjoyment of life. With that in mind, to open her story, I added some of my own thoughts about Katrina Bagley as a child, and wrote of her as a spunky little girl — one who glowed with health and happiness.

Katrina Bagley —– her story

Picture a tiny dark-haired girl; her dusky skin is aglow with health; her cheeks are flushed. Her brown eyes sparkle. Her small 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 called by her English name, Katrina; and sometimes it was Katie. Years later her grandson David Spencer called her Kwi-tee. 

Born about 1876 in Snohomish County, Washington Territory, her parents were Dan Ned Laclous-y-son and Katie Bod-lutz-za Simmons. As a child, Katrina lived near the Snohomish River and the town of Snohomish, where the family made their home in a longhouse with about 20 other family members. Later in life, allotment land on the Tulalip Indian Reservation would become her permanent home.

Katrina grew to become a strong woman. She lived during a time when survival depended not only on strength, but also on being able to adapt.  While she still maintained her native language and traditions, Katrina learned the ways of the invading foreigners. She became a very savvy businesswoman and she learned to hold on to what was hers. No one took that from her — especially not her land. It was not considered the best land — after the treaty, the government didn’t allot the best to the native people. It was hers, and Katrina held it close.

Katrina’s home at Tulalip.

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 the Skagit Reservation was so short, it was almost forgotten. They were married when Katrina was 15.  The following year, when her husband was murdered, she was left a 16-year-old widow.

Her second husband was Henry Tukius from the Swinomish Reservation 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 James lost her life.

In 1908, Katrina married for the fourth time. This husband was Francis (Frank) Sese, a much younger man from Tulalip. However, in 1912 Katrina was again widowed. Two children, Grace and Agnes, had been born during this marriage. While still a toddler, Grace died. Agnes Sese married twice and lived to the age of 25. She gave Katrina three grandchildren, Grace Meninick, Nancy Spencer, and David Spencer.  David was only six days old when their mother Agnes died in 1937. After the death of their mother, the three children lived with their grandmother Katrina and her fifth husband Ambrose Bagley. Years later, David Spencer wrote of his life growing up his grandparents.

In 1914, another child — 13-year-old daughter Edith James — died.  During the year 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.

Elson James in a photo as a soldier.

Since his induction into the Army in 1917, during WWI, Katrina’s son Elson James had been serving in France. As a scout and guide for the troops, his was extremely dangerous duty. He was often on nighttime patrol behind enemy lines in what became known as No Man’s Land.  Katrina worried. Thus, she was happy when finally, a letter arrived from Elson telling her he would soon be home. A short while later, her heart nearly broke. Katrina was notified that her heroic son, Private Elson James, had died in a field hospital in France on December 11, 1918. His death had resulted from pneumonia, contracted during those bitterly cold and damp nighttime patrols. The good-news letter, Katrina was so happy to receive, had actually arrived after her son’s death.

Ambrose Bagley, Katrina’s fifth and final husband, was a man with connections to Seattle’s Duwamish Tribe, as well as Tulalip. Katrina and Ambrose had one child, a daughter Katherine, who was born in 1915. In 1933, daughter Katherine Bagley married Alaska Native William G. Campbell, and they had 12 children.

Katrina and Ambrose Bagley lived in a large comfortable home they had built on a portion of the Bagley allotment land at Tulalip. Katrina and Ambrose’s farm became a welcoming place — the house often filled with family members and friends; and, always, there was love. Many of the visiting friends were also parishioners at the old Tulalip Shaker Church.  As long-time members of the church, Katrina and Ambrose Bagley 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 once again, a terrible loss for her family. This time, Katrina’s daughter and son-in-law, Katherine and William Campbell, received the sad news in July of 1970, telling them that their 20-year-old son Cpl. Donald Duane Campbell had lost his life during battle in far-away Tay Ninh, South Vietnam.

Many years later, news about Katrina Bagley appeared on the front page of the Everett Herald.  On a Monday, Sept. 22, 2008, the Herald 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 had 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 continue to 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.”

My sincere thanks to Katrina Bagley’s grandsons, John Campbell, Walt Campbell and David Spencer, whom I am privileged to call good friends.  They gave me the insight and permission to write about this very special woman — their beloved grandmother.  The accompanying photos were provided by John Campbell.

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

Betty Gaeng is a former long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. Although now living in Anchorage, she occasionally writes about the history and the people of early-day Lynnwood, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace.










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