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Herb Chase: Samish Island's Modern Pilgrims
Samish Island's Modern Pilgrims
by Herb Chase

aerial photo of Samish Island

kagit County is in the northwest area of Washington where the majestic Cascade Mountains appear to the east overlooking the fertile valley and a variety of crops. World famous tulip fields blanket the valley and in the Spring when flocks of Canadian geese and trumpeter swans can be seen. Bald eagles soar overhead year round and blue herons stand proudly on the Samish Island beaches.

Samish Island is not really an island because the swamps between the Washington mainland and this beautiful island have been filled in and make it more of a peninsula.

Current population: 438 people who thrive and love their community. Most of them know and support each other. The lineage of some date back to the early days when whites first came to the island.

map of Samish Island

Sue and Fred Miller are the authors of "Samish Island History from the Beginning to 1970," a new book which is considered the best researched record of the area, the geology of Puget Sound which surrounds Samish Island, and the "pre-history of the Samish Indians who occupied much of the "archipelago" before the white settlers arrived.

In 1821, the British Parliament amended the charter of the old Hudson Bay Company to allow it to absorb the Northwest Company which led the expanded company to establish the "Oregon Country," which included what became known as Samish Island. Chief facilitator John McLoughlin was instructed by the Brits to discourage Americans from settling in the territory but he was overrun by mountain men and lost the land he had appropriated from the Indians.

The only serious commercial activity on Samish Island today is the very popular Blau Oyster Company which grows and sells locally caught oysters to individuals and restaurants all over the West.

2009 marked the 30th year a diverse group of modern day "pilgrims" from throughout the West gathered for a unique Thanksgivings Day celebration on the farm of Anne Stapleton, a popular school teacher and mother of two college age daughters.

dog on beach, Samish Island

Anne's feast, which attracted 30 people this Thanksgiving, featured barbecued Blau oysters as a noon starter along with copious amounts of beer and wine. Course after course followed until the appearance at 6 p.m. of more cocktails and the traditional turkey combined with special wild salmon.

Like the old time spirit of Samish Island, all of the guests pitched in to move furniture, set the table which stretched from the front door to the fireplace at the back, pass the wine, help with the cooking, wash the dishes and clean up after the feast just like the settlers must have done several centuries ago. Some of the modem day Pilgrims over indulged and quickly found couches and rocking chairs to sleep it off and get some rest before the party adjourned.

During the three decade history of Anne's Samish Island feast, the main food attraction included a variety of entrees such as a huge pig which once took 18 hours to cook, lamb, steak, hams and other main courses which sometimes replaced the traditional turkey.

The Thanksgiving guests come from home turf as well as the rest of the nation. Regulars include a railroad engineer, a Boeing labor representative, a naval architect, a publisher, a University of California professor, college students, a British telephone company executive, a choreographer, a dance instructor, an author and countless offspring ranging from 3 to 35.

For visitors there are a few Samish bed and breakfast opportunities with more elaborate lodgings just off the only road which leaves the island.

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Hi Herb! Loved the article you wrote! It made me wish I could have come too! Thank you for the inspiring tour through your delightful descriptions.

Yoka, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks, CA

Enjoyed all the trivia about Hotel Del Coronado. Some Like it Hot is one of my all time favorite films. I always wondered where it was filmed. Wish you had more pictures of the insides.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA

Great article, Lt. Chase. I am a big WW2 Pacific campaign buff, and must say that I have never read a story such as yours. You focused on a personal story that rarely gets much coverage.

Sempre Fi! Thanks for your service to our country.

Paul Harper
Edmonds, WA

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As we dropped down to 25,000 feet I saw one of the most extraordinary panoramas I'd ever been lucky enough to witness. The majesty of it all and the stunning vistas that lay below and before me were spectacular. It was as beautiful as spring's first rose, and it made me understand why so many pilots on commercial jetliners love their job; they get to see so many awe-inspiring sights from the cockpit. My view was that of a vast vista of the Pacific.

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In the 1840s, the population of California was only 14,000, but by 1850 more than 100,000 settlers and adventurers had arrived from all over the world – and they came for one reason: gold. James Marshall had discovered the first gold nugget at Sutter’s Mill in El Dorado County, creating the largest gold rush in history.

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dressed-up for the Mardi Gras
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Having recently received a misguided shout-out from the president during Black History Month – Frederick Douglass has done an amazing job... – it seems a good time to revisit the cultural icon's legitimate place in history. And a visit to his home in Washington, DC – surely a place the current president might want to consider visiting himself – would be a good place to start.

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