Ruth "Siastenu" Sehome Shelton

(1857 - 1958)

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Ruth Sehome Shelton
1857 - 1958
Born
c. 1857
Guemes Island in Whatcom County, Washington United States
Death
October 4, 1958
Everett, Washington United States
Summary
Ruth "Siastenu" Sehome Shelton was born c. 1857 at Guemes Island, Washington. She died on October 4, 1958 in Everett, Washington at 101 years old.
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Updated: February 6, 2019
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Daughter of Chief Sehome

Courtesy of [external link] :

As a young woman Ruth Shelton was first a wife and a mother. Later with her third and final husband, Tulalip tribal chief and totem carver, William Shelton, she became a good will ambassador for the people of the Puget Sound Indian tribes. Following her husband’s death in 1938, she continued as a well-known and respected spokesperson working for the welfare of her people.

Siastenu Ruth Sehome’s birthplace was Guemes Island, Whatcom County, Washington Territory. The Indian Agency had no records regarding her birth.. The year of her birth was given by Ruth’s elder sister Julia. Julia had been present at the signing of the treaty in 1855 and told Ruth that she was born two years following the signing. Thus, 1857 is the date given as her birth date in all government records and on Ruth’s grave marker.

Ruth’s father was Chief Sehome one of the chiefs of the Clallam Tribe in the Port Angeles area. Her mother Emily Sehome was a member of the Samish tribe, owners of all of Samish, Guemes and Orcas Islands. Both parents were full-blood Indians. In the early days, a portion of what became Bellingham in Whatcom County was named Sehome in honor of Ruth’s father. Ruth Shelton had two sisters Julia (Sehome) Barkhausen, born between 1840-1841; and Sarah (Sehome) Oshan, born 1852.

Ruth and all the tribal members lived in a longhouse about 500 feet long and 70 feet wide. In order to manage this close living life-style, the people were expected to respect each other. Discipline and orderliness were necessary. Children enjoyed fun times, but were taught to obey their elders.
During her young years, Ruth Shelton learned all the skills that Indian girls were expected to know before their marriage. She excelled in basket weaving, blanket making and cooking. As a mother she taught these same skills to her daughters.
Ruth married three times—first to a white man in Bellingham and then to William Coy, a full-blood Indian from the Tulalip Indian Reservation. In 1878 Ruth moved to Tulalip with her new husband. This became her home for 80 years. When the 1889 census for the Tulalip Reservation was taken on June 30th, Ruth was listed as a widow. She was left with three young children: Hubert, age 10; Daniel Martin, age 7; and Susan Ann, age 6. Hubert was the only one to survive childhood. He became a leader and successful in business. He built and operated the Mission Beach Resort at the head of Tulalip Bay. Hubert Coy died March 5, 1958 at the age of 79, his mother Ruth Shelton surviving.

Her third husband was William Shelton also a member of the Tulalip Indian Reservation. Together they established not only a stable and good marriage, but also a working relationship promoting interest in the rich history of the native people. Their home on William Shelton’s allotment land was a treasure trove of artifacts of museum quality. Many of the items in the family’s living-room collection were given to *Chief Shelton by admirers from various reservations, and even though the family experienced some tough times, they never sold any part of the collection.

Ruth and her husband William Shelton were a handsome couple and in her youth Ruth Shelton must have been a striking woman. Along with other family members the couple became well known. They appeared at many events in the region, including Seattle, usually dressed in native attire. Ruth and her family created a bridge between the two cultures.

Her daughter Harriet Dover commented that her mother was always patient and understanding with a philosophy that life should be calm and unhurried. She expected her children to live their own lives in this same fashion. She did not believe in moodiness, but rather friendliness toward everyone from the time of arising in the early morning until retiring at night. Ruth taught her children that “Good manners were important.”

Ruth and William Shelton had six children: Robert E., Mary, William Alphonsus, Thelma, Ruth, and Harriet. Harriet (Shelton) Williams Dover was the only child to survive her mother. Harriet was a well-known representative for her people in her own right. A beautiful painting of Harriet hangs in the Tulalip Tribal Council Chambers. She died February. 6, 1991 at the age of 86.

Even though Ruth’s husband William Shelton went back to the ancient Indian religion, Ruth Shelton remained a devout Catholic her entire life. She spoke of the time when as a child living on the Swinomish Reservation at LaConner she took singing lessons from Father Eugene Casimir Chirouse, the renowned early-day Catholic missionary and teacher to the Indians of Puget Sound.

On November 16, 1940, 83 year-old Ruth Shelton made a trip to Seattle to talk to the Ed Dalby, the marine editor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Speaking in the Chinook dialect, she gave a warning that the area would experience a long and hard winter. The following day the paper published an article regarding her visit under the caption “Klonas mika wasa Chinook?” A picture of Ruth Shelton accompanied the article which also stated “chief’s widow knows the answers.”

On Saturday, October. 4, 1958 death came to Siastenu Ruth Sehome Coy Shelton at Providence Hospital in Everett, Washington. She was 101 years old. Ruth Shelton lived to witness the coming of the white settlers throughout the Puget Sound area, skirmishes between the Indians and white settlers, and the ratification of the treaties. She witnessed the evolution of travel from the gliding of canoes on Puget Sound and along the river waterways to the arrival of steamboats, ferries, automobiles, railroads and airplanes (both prop and jet). Satellites circling the earth must have seemed a miracle to Ruth.

Ruth Shelton’s obituary stated that Requiem Mass was held at St. Anne’s Catholic Church on the Tulalip Reservation. A quartet of Indians, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Joe and Mr. and Mrs. Tommy Bobb of LaConner, sang two hymns in the Indian language which had been translated by Father Chirouse a hundred years before. In keeping with Ruth’s inherited native culture, graveside ancient Indian traditional services were conducted at Mission Beach Cemetery with speeches and the singing of Indian hymns until the casket was lowered to its final resting place next to the grave of her husband William. Indians came from Nooksack, Clallam, Lummi and LaConner reservations to pay their last respects to a long-time beloved friend.
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Ruth "Siastenu" Sehome Shelton
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Ruth Sehome Shelton
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Ruth Shelton was born at Guemes Island in Whatcom County, Washington United States
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Ruth Shelton died on in Everett, Washington United States
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Ruth Shelton was born at Guemes Island in Whatcom County, Washington United States
Ruth Shelton died on in Everett, Washington United States
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Kathy Pinna
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Kathy Pinna commented
You can read an account of Ruth's memories (in her own words) of potlaches in her childhood at [external link]. The following is a small excerpt:

Every tribe that he invite did the same thing. Bring whatever food that could help to feed the people. They used to last one week at a time. And what I remember at that time, of course, I was quite small. Each tribe, if it's a big tribe, they used to come in to the village singing. Tie their canoes together and they used to stand on the canoe and dance. Dancing, singing.

Well, the Snoqualmie tribe came and they were singing when they come in. Everybody went out. My mother went out and she hold my hand so I wouldn't get lost. There were so many people standing on the bank. They all came along dancing and they got close to the beach, and before they land, they throw away blankets. The British Columbia Indians, the Cowichan they call. They had their ways. They came there with long poles and they get that blanket, and maybe two or three get hold of that blanket with a pole. When they put it down, well they both get ahold of it and they pulled and pulled and pulled. So the other one give the other man so much, and then he'll have the blanket. Now they keep on like that. On the water. They are on the water, these Cowichan tribe wade on the water.

Then they begin to throw guns on the water and, well, I guess a man was diving after the other one, and they throw another one and hit him on the forehead. All the people said, when he come up, this man. "Oh look at him, why his face is bleeding. Must have hit him." Now this man didn't mind it. He got the gun. Three or four got ahold of that gun. Then they pulled on the water here and there. They go back and come back again. Go back and come back again. Finally, the one who got hold of it first, he has to give so much. Maybe twenty five cents each and then he'll get the gun. The Cowichans they are the only tribe that does that. Got to fight [struggle] for that stuff. Go after it and when they throw blankets from top of the palach house. They have long poles to get ahold of that and pieces of wild sheep from the mountains. Small pieces. It was valuable to them because they make blankets from that stuff. Well, that's all over. When that's all over they all go into the house and then they feed them. Have two meals a day. Noon, they have only a little lunch. In the evening each tribe will sing a song.

. . . That's the way they used to do when they give palach. They used to give palach every fall when there's plenty of everything. Plenty of ducks and plenty of salmon. Cause everything was plentiful at those days. Lots of deer, lots of ducks, lots of salmon, camas. Anything what the other tribe got, well they'll bring it to this palach to feed the people. Well, they'll all go home. Well, maybe here next fall, the other tribes will give a palach, and he'll do the same. That's the way the old people was. In the early days, that's the way they did this palach because white people [called pastad, derived from Boston, the home port of most early American sailors who visited the Pacific coast] thought that was very foolish of giving [away] all what he's got. But keep up the poor, that's what this for. Keep up the poor. That's the end of it.
Oct 18, 2017 · Reply

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Ruth "Siastenu" Sehome Shelton passed away on October 4, 1958 in Everett, Washington at 101 years old. She was born c. 1857 at Guemes Island, Washington. We are unaware of information about Ruth's family or relationships.

Refresh this page to see various historical events that occurred during Ruth's lifetime.

In 1857, in the year that Ruth "Siastenu" Sehome Shelton was born, on October 13th, New York banks closed due to the Panic of 1857. The banks didn't reopen until December 12th.

In 1918, at the age of 61 years old, Ruth was alive when in January, President Wilson presented his Fourteen Points, which assured citizens that World War I was being fought for a moral cause and outlined a plan for postwar peace in Europe. The only leader of the Allies to present such a plan, the Europeans thought Wilson was being too idealistic. The points included free trade, open agreements, democracy and self-determination. They were based on the research and suggestions of 150 advisors.

In 1921, Ruth was 64 years old when in May, the Emergency Quota Act - or Emergency Immigration Act - was passed. The law restricted the number of immigrants to 357,000 per year. It also established an immigration quota in which only 3 per cent of the total population of any ethnic group already in the USA in 1910, could be admitted to America after 1921. Although the Act was supposed to be temporary, it stayed in effect until 1965.

In 1949, when she was 92 years old, comedian Milton Berle hosted the first telethon show. It raised $1,100,000 for cancer research and lasted 16 hours. The next day, newspapers, in writing about the event, first used the word "telethon."

In 1958, in the year of Ruth "Siastenu" Sehome Shelton's passing, on March 24th, Elvis Presley was inducted into the United States Army. Although he could have served in Special Services as an entertainer, he chose to become a regular soldier. Almost everyone thought it would be the end of his career - it wasn't.

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