Cheshiahud and Madeline.
The history of Evergreen Washelli is imbued with the influence and stories of Native American Indians and the Seattle’s founding pioneers. The east side of Aurora Avenue, on the grounds of what is today known as Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park, was once known as Oak Lake. It was a full day’s carriage ride from downtown via Ballard, Seattle, Washington, and owned by the Denny Party. When the old Seattle Cemetery was to become Denny Park, David Denny and Louisa Boren Denny moved the remains of their infant son from there to the property at Oak Lake.
In 1903, Oaklake Cemetery was inherited by David’s son, Victor Denny. Victor sold the property to the American Necropolis Association, a St. Louis-based company that owned cemetery properties in several states. The ANA gave the cemetery the name “Washelli” (a Makah word meaning “westerly wind”), which had been the name of a central Seattle cemetery disestablished in 1887. In 1919, the Evergreen Cemetery Company started a competing cemetery on the western side of Aurora Avenue, directly opposite Washelli Cemetery. The two cemeteries merged in 1928, but it was not for another 34 years that the area became known as Evergreen Washelli.
David Denny was a close friend of “Indian John” Cheshiahud, a Chief of the Duwamish tribe and travel guide who lived in the Seattle area before the settlers arrived. In the 1852, the first settlers came to the Puget Sound, the Duwamish aided them in developing their knowledge of the land and by working with them in sawmills they built. Eventually, tensions arose between the Whites and the tribe, and the Natives were compelled to move to reservations.
Cheshiahud is one of the rare exceptions, as he befriended David Denny, and was able to own a plot of land given to him by his friend. Cheshiahud stayed on in an area that was later prohibited to Natives, and Denny gave him property in the area just south of Bellevue, Washington. He carved canoes for the Denny Party. After the death of his first wife, he sold the property and moved to a reservation to live with his daughter. Cheshiahud is interred at the Washelli Cemetery beside his first wife, Lucy Annie. A six-mile trail in Seattle has recently been named in his honor, the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop.
One the west side of Aurora Avenue, the magnificent Haida Totem Pole is displayed prominently at Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park.
The Orpheus legend, where a man follows his beloved wife into the land of death in order to bring her back, is found in many cultures. Evergreen-Washelli’s totem pole depicts one of the Haida versions of the legend. Genanasimgat had a beautiful wife. One day the hunters spied a rare white sea-otter. Genanasimgat’s mother-in-law, who was the wife of the chief, asked him to kill the otter for her so she could make a blanket. He went out in a canoe and shot the otter with an arrow. While his mother-in-law was skinning it, a drop of blood fell on the fur, so she asked her daughter to wash it.
The young woman took the skin to the beach, but while she was washing it, it drifted into deep water. She pursued it, and suddenly two orcas came out of the water. One of them put the wife on his back behind his dorsal fin and they swam away with her. Genanasimgat followed her to the bottom of the sea, where he met Crane Woman. In exchange for tobacco, she hid him from the orcas under her breast feathers. He had a number of other adventures, including being helped to hide by a giant slave in return for tobacco, before finally rescuing his wife and escaping home with her. Click here to read more about the story of Genanasimgat and the Haida Totem Pole.