History, Department of


Date of this Version

Spring 2013


American Indian Quarterly vol. 37, no. 2 (Spring 2013), 160-177.


Copyright 2013 University of Nebraska Press. Used by permission.


The cases discussed here represent very few of the guardianship arrangements that characterized intergenerational and interracial households in territorial Washington, yet the patterns they illustrate correspond with other evidence that allows historians to track the distribution of Indian and mixed- race children in the Puget Sound region. Th e 1880 federal census schedules for counties bordering the Puget Sound reveals the informal guardianship of Native women’s children in ninetytwo households. Among these extralegal arrangements were forty- two households headed by white men, some single like Ed Boggess and others married to white women like Phoebe Judson, who classified the indigenous and/or métis minors in their homes as “adopted” children or as boarders, laborers, and servants. Thirty- five interracial households housed children not fathered by the white head of household but related in some way to adult Indian women in the home. Like the Franks and the Fitzgeralds, these métis families reported minor wards as extended kin— nieces, in- laws, and cousins— and occasionally as family “visitors” or “adopted” children. Fourteen indigenous households reported children not their own, usually as extended kin or simply as children with other surnames, leaving their relationships undefined, as William and Annie Newton did. Though these households comprise a mere 1 percent of those enumerated in Puget Sound counties, they affirm that citizen, métis, and Native families valued the economic and emotional labors Indian women’s children provided. Some of these household heads no doubt exploited the minors in their homes, using them much as indentured servants, while others ensured their survival at the peak of settler-colonist dispossession in the Pacific Northwest, treating them much like their own kin. In combination with the guardianship cases discussed above, they also affirm the flexibility of guardianship as a localized and temporary arrangement, and they confirm métis and Native families’ ability to use guardianship as a means to retain custody of minor relatives. Among the arrangements formalized in probate courts and reported in census schedules, the slim majority of children found homes in interracial or Indian households. For this reason, proponents of racial uplift and tribal assimilation could not possibly have found the guardianship system an eff ective tool of colonization.42 Collectively, these cases demonstrate that Native and métis families managed to use guardianship as a means to navigate the shifting categories of race and power during the early stages of settler- colonialism before federal interventions accelerated and institutionalized indigenous child removal. Though children like Nora Jewell suffered the extreme abuses that the guardianship system could orchestrate, the flexible nature of guardianship allowed other wards to escape potential abuse and exploitation, to retain ties to indigenous communities and relatives, and to appropriate racial- ethnic fluidity during Washington’s territorial period. As Indian officials became more concerned with documenting family lineage and managing tribal membership rolls and allotment patents, extralegal and flexible guardianship arrangements would diminish, and federal officials, philanthropic organizations, and social welfare agents joined forces to institutionalize indigenous child removal and absolve Native maternal authority. As the twentieth-century studies in this issue reveal, indigenous mothers and their families would find ways to resist those systems of dispossession as well.