A Hidden History of Olympia

Prayer for Tsus-sy-uch
Colored Pencil on Paper
13" x 18"

This year, the Canoe families Paddle to Squaxin on the Salish Sea to land at Steh-Chass, also known as Olympia. Prayer for Tsus-sy-uch draws attention to a hidden history that should be remembered about Olympia. The canoes will travel past Butler Cove just before landing. The cove is named after John Butler, who settled 300 acres that is now a private golf course. The golf course is near where I live – I often take walks down to the beach, which I find to be a sacred space. In this space, I recall an incident that I learned about through a visit to the Squaxin Island Museum.

In 1854, a young Tsimshian and Tlingit man of nobility, called Tsus-sy-uch, journeyed with his crew by canoe from his homeland up North to earn money in this area. They spent time around Fort Nisqually, and then were hired by Butler to clear his property. Tsus-sy-uch and his crew labored hard, but when payment was due, were denied what they had been promised. Tsus-sy-uch was shot during the dispute, in a killing ordered by Butler and committed by Butler’s overseer. Tsus-sy-uch’s crew made their case to various Washington Territory authorities, but neither guilty man was ever brought to justice – instead, the cove was eventually named after Butler.

The crime made it transparent to the indigenous people of this region that the settlers of this area did not see them as equals, but as expendable. It set off tensions which, alongside the many crimes by settlers against tribal people, led to the Indian Wars and further genocide. The hidden history of the killing of Tsus-sy-uch – which remains deliberately obscured by a name – is reflective of the violence used to settle this continent.

Names have power. The movement to reclaim Native spaces through re-naming has gained ground regionally – most notably through the former Puget Sound returning to its ancestral name, Salish Sea, and other instances such as Bushoowah-ahlee Point at Evergreen State College. The designation of the place known as Butler Cove could be changed to reflect and honor Tsus-sy-uch rather than reward his killer’s legacy. 

1 comment:

  1. And today when most people hear "butler cove", they think of some of the shittiest, most over-priced apartments on the westside. (I lived there briefly in 2003, and never met anyone with anything positive to say about the place except that it was close to the Handy Pantry and on the bus line).

    Thanks for educating me on the story behind the name. I always wondered about it. I should have known those apartments were named after someone evil. If we manage to restore the actual cove to it's native name, let's make sure we don't besmirch it by letting them rename the apartments after the restored name as well.