Katie Gale: The Cover Story for University of Nebraska Blog


The Story of the Cover / Katie Gale

LLyn De Danaan in collaboration with Justine E. James, Jr.

At a recent Pacific Northwest history conference in Vancouver, Washington, I was given a small display table in the sales room so that I might attract and talk with attendees about my book, “Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman’s Life on Oyster Bay”. The focal point of my modest exhibit was an 11 x 17 laminated poster of the book’s cover. I’d just finished standing the poster on its easel when I saw an old acquaintance across the room. He had me in his sight and was making his way across the room. He had a rather coy grin on his face. Everything about that smile and his eyes signaled that there was something he knew that I didn’t. It was Justine James, Jr., a cultural resource specialist with the Quinault Indian Nation and someone whose personal cultural roots within the coastal nations are deep. James pointed at the cover photograph on the book poster, a float house on a body of a water with mist banded highlands behind. The photograph is stunning, made by a once well-known Seattle photographer Kyo Koike. Koike was a founder of the Seattle Camera Club, a group of Japanese-American pictorialists in the 1920s. Their work was shown around the world and widely published but their reputations diminished with anti-Japanese feelings during WWII. Koike was incarcerated at the Manzanar facility in California. His health apparently failed while there, though he was busy writing poetry and encouraging others to do the same throughout those harsh years. He died in 1948. There are others whose names are more commonly known as regional photographers from the early 20th century (such as Ashael Curtis and Imogen Cunningham) but Koike was right up there with them and held in high esteem. His work is exquisite. From the notes in University of Washington Special Collections archives, I knew the year the cover photograph was made but there was nothing to confirm location. I sent the photograph to the University of Nebraska Press with others I thought important to my book because it was the best, most detailed photograph of a float house I had found. Though the image was made in the 1920s and the principle stories of my book are set before 1900, I knew enough about float houses to surmise that this one was built and lived in within the right time frame. The designers at University of Nebraska selected this beautiful photograph, originally spotted, serendipitously, in a University of Washington alumni magazine by my friend Connie Ruhl, as the cover for my book. The image, they thought and I agreed, would draw a potential reader’s attention and evoke a certain mystery. There was no doubting that.

James pointed at the photograph and said, “How’d you pick that photograph?” I knew he had a story to tell. He smiled again. Then he sat beside me. And I waited. I was almost as excited as when I first saw Katie Gale’s tombstone, a life changing moment described in the first chapter of my book. “That’s my great great grandmother’s house,” he said. She was known as Sally Freeman though her full name was Sarah Shileba-Legg.

James’ story of Sally Freeman, while wonderful family history, is one that that exemplifies the dynamic relationship between and among coastal people and the United States Government. It is also a story of a burgeoning tourist industry that brought people to enjoy the wild Olympics, fish with Quinault guides, buy Indian baskets, and even enjoy the spectacle of story and performance provided by the Quinault people, including Justine James’ forbears, within the cavernous lobby of the splendid Lake Quinault Lodge. Indeed, James’ father and father’s siblings sang, danced and drummed for the Lake Quinault Lodge guests and were paid with what money was tossed into a blanket at the end of their display. James’ father said that Sally Freeman, James’ great great grandmother, the woman who lived in the float house, often sat in the lodge weaving baskets and talking with tourists. Sally Freeman was well known in the area during her lifetime. In fact, she helped to dedicate a new Lake Quinault Lodge in 1926 (built after a fire destroyed the first one), James recalls. Her photograph, with the note that she “blessed” the lodge, appears in “A History of Lake Quinault Lodge” by R.H. Jones. Jones, as well as family members, recall that the wife of the owner of the lodge and Sally were good friends.

One of the few known photographs of Sally Freeman was featured on a 1937 Lake Quinault Lodge Christmas card.


The float house, “constructed entirely of cedar shingles and boards,” James says, was built before or around 1890, most likely on the Gatton Creek Cove site, near the mouth of Gatton Creek. Gatton Creek is a stream that drains into Lake Quinault on its south side. The James family have occupied and used that site for many generations. Lake Quinault covers an area of nearly six square miles and is 3.79 mile long. It is located in the Quinault Valley and is the property of the Quinault Indian Nation. The Quinault River Treaty was signed in 1855 and was one of territorial governor Isaac Stevens’ treaties that sought to consolidate many tribes or bands on reservations. Quinault and others who were assigned to the Quinault Reservation on the coast continued to pole their canoes, as they always had, up the Quinault River to reach the lake to fish. They often used the lake as a stopping off place and seasonal “base camp” on their way further into the mountains to gather berries or hunt or obtain basket-making materials. The majority of the seasonal camps were at the outlets of streams on the south shore of the lake, according to James’ father, Justine James, Sr. Other camps were at the mouths of the upper Quinault River and the lower Quinault River. The “north shore was very turbulent,” James, Sr. says, “so the only occupied area was near what is now (called) July Creek.” From these camps, groups ascended to high country for elk and deer, berries and spirit quests. Others would stay in the lower regions to gather bark, bear grass and edible roots. “They returned to the Lake Quinault base camps around September to harvest the ‘Blueback,’ (Sockeye) the most prized of salmon.” The lake lies within the Olympic rainforest. The surrounding forests can receive up to 130 inches of rain a year. The original forest was dense with Douglas fir, western red cedar, pacific silver fir, Sitka spruce, and western hemlock. The lush undergrowth includes ferns, salmonberry, thimbleberry and many other useful and beautiful native species. The glacier fed Quinault River still hosts steelhead, cutthroat, coho, and Chinook as well as sockeye. These fisheries are managed and regulated by the tribe in an increasingly fragile environment that includes receding glaciers. The Quinault are investing heavily to save the runs and protect the habitat on the Upper Quinault.

This attractive area didn’t stay isolated from white settlement and development for long after the treaty was signed and the reservation was established.

By the 1890s, the peninsula and the rain forest area were the site of many land claims. A lake front store was opened in 1891. Lake Quinault was soon a destination point for tourists. Amenities were offered in a well-publicized log hotel. After a fire in 1924, a new and grander hotel was built and is still in business.


Jake Freeman, of Chinook, Hawaiian, and African American came to Taholah around 1905 where he was eligible for an allotment on the Quinault Reservation through his mother. Little is known about his Hawaiian and African American ancestors but the name “Freeman” suggests that his family were former slaves. James says that Jake’s mother was Chinook and that Jake was apparently a fisherman and handyman who found good work around Taholah, the Quinault coastal village, and Lake Quinault. He married Sally, James’ great great grandmother in about 1910. “In the early days,” James says, “the occupants of the houseboat were Sally’s immediate family; then later, after grandfather David’s parents passed way (he was orphaned by the age of five) he moved in with grandmother Sally. “ Grandmother Clara Bremner (from the Blackfoot Reservation in Montana) joined David and they and their four children lived with Sally. Justine James’ father was the youngest. After his grandfather David divorced, he remarried and “brought two more boys” into the household. James’ dad and his brother Shillup stayed on the float house but their sisters went back to Montana with their mother. Three more daughters came along following David’s second marriage.


Jake Freeman was apparently Sally’s third husband. She was the daughter of John Shul—whul according to James and based on Quinault allotment files. She was born around 1865.[1] Her first husband was Charles James and the second was Charles Mason, known as Chief Taholah II and Captain Mason. She was known as a basket maker. The recent book, “From the Hands of a Weaver”[2], notes that her daughter Maggie Kelly, born in 1886 and also a noted basket maker learned by watching her mother, Sally, and her grandmother Sally Chepalis.

Living on the lake, Sally Freeman would have had ready access to many of the materials she needed for her work and a place to process and dry these. Of course, as James’ father says, “Indians were travelers.” They traveled to acquire resources all throughout the Pacific Northwest. For example, James says, the Quinault River did not have a spring salmon run, so groups went to the Columbia River for to fish.

Sally Freeman was trained in the old ways, James says, and would swim across the lake in the mornings, winter and summer. That was a one to one and a half mile swim from Gatton Cove to Bergman’s Resort, now The Rainforest Resort. Each year, she poled her way up the river from Taholah to reach the lake and her float house. That was likely a two-day trip. Sally Freeman was clearly a strong and capable woman with many talents. Perhaps very like Katie Gale herself.


The day we visit Gatton Cove to see the site from which the cover photograph was taken, the lake is calm, the water is low, and we can see the forests and snow packed mountains that rise from the river valley across the lake to the east. These cannot be seen in Roiko’s photograph for the mist that often lies low on the hills. Up on the bank behind us is the house that still stands on the property. David E. C. James, Justine James’ grandfather, built a “new house on land” in the mid-1940s after Sally Freeman had passed. The new house was placed, “on pilings 6 feet in the air.” But even then, it “flooded during high flow events.” A warm day can create a massive melt and that plus heavy rain sends water rushing down the river from the mountains and the lake rises almost to the road above the house. James was told that his grandfather had a rope and pulley system to raise the furniture when the water came above the six foot level and others recall seeing James’ grandfather “loading furniture in his canoe” to save it.

Justine James’ father built the cabin that stands on land today. It is high above the ground on 10-foot pilings and even so, the house occasionally floods. “He placed his electrical outlets four feet off the floor.” He worked on this new cabin from about the mid 1960s until the early 1970s. It is still used. Justine James calls the house HOS, “house on stilts.”

Because the house is within the ordinary high water mark, it is considered to be the property of the Quinault Indian Nation as is the lake itself. When the reservation was established, James notes, “tribal members were not allowed to inhabit the shorelines on a full time basis,” thus the float house. But the James family, “constantly reminds the Olympic National Forest of the James family’s long-term occupation of the Gatton Creek area and of the Quinault treaty.” The current cabin stands well below the ordinary high water mark and, in any case, the treaty establishes tribal rights to use traditional areas and it clearly “predates the formation” of Washington State and the National Forest Service.

There is still a Native American presence in the Lake Quinault Lodge during the summer months. Well-known Quinault storyteller Harvest Moon tends the Gatton Creek property and works at the Lodge to keep history alive in lively performances and reenactments.

In the little museum at Lake Quinault I saw one of only a few photographs I’ve found of Sally Freeman. Dell Mulkey, a local Grey’s Harbor photographer, made these images in the 1930s. One of these can be seen framed placed above a basketry display.   Two of Justine James’ father’s racing canoes are in the museum too. We admire them and learn about how they were altered and reworked, sometimes not so successfully, for racing. There is a photograph of James’ smiling father on a shelf beside them. After a while, Justine shows me a topographic map of the Olympic Peninsula and uses his finger tip to trace the route his ancestors would have taken up through the river valley, through the Olympic Mountains, all the way to Klallam Bay on the Strait of Juan de Fuca to visit relatives and friends.


The next day out, my companion on the trip and I drive into the valley along the Quinault River, just a few miles of what that journey to Klallam Bay would have entailed. We marvel at the majesty of the river as it rushes over shelves of rock, large reefs of stony rubble, and fallen logs that nearly jam it but don’t. An immature eagle soars to a perch above us and turns its profile to us, one a Barrymore would be pleased to have. It is still and silent as it considers its domain. Massive old growth trees, some breathtaking in their girth, rise above us on either side of the roadway. Cascades of water fall in sun struck cataracts down rock and moss walls just behind a wall of bright green ferns. Light barely breaks through the thick canopy the trees weave overhead. The lush underbrush of salal is dappled by it. We think about the complicated thicket of history that’s made this area what it is. It would be almost impossible to traverse without the proper knowledge, tools, and time to understand. The lake, the lodge, the Quinault people, the white settlers, and the tourists have walked a tangled past over these years. Sally Freeman is a legendary part of that past and she is present in the lives of her descendents and to others who take the time to listen.







[1] Credit the book here

[2] Credit to the book here for date of birth



About Llyn De Danaan

LLyn De Danaan is an anthropologist and author. She writes fiction and nonfiction. Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman's Life on Oyster Bay was published by the University of Nebraska Press. She is currently a speaker for Humanities Washington.
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