By Kamalla Rose Kaur

The Jimmie Pickett Bridge

By On
• In Bellingham,

Wait! Please don’t disappear the name “Pickett” from our day to day public awareness of Bellingham’s/Whatcom’s short history. Instead, let us take this perfect opportunity to do the right thing and erect a statue of James (Jimmie) Tilton Pickett, and re-dedicate Bellingham’s “Pickett Bridge” to him.

Mercy mercy, what happened to Bellingham? When did we lose our civic pride in the life and art of James Tilton Pickett? White folk have only lived in this town for 150 years. Seen through the eyes of our Chinese and Sikh fellow pioneers, and the Lummi Nation, 1857 (the year Jimmie Pickett was born) is recent history; very recent. Shame on Bellingham citizens if we ever, directly, or indirectly, participate in the “whiting out” of Jimmie Pickett’s life, or the trashing of his name. Rather, why not celebrate, promote, support, and continue to broadcast Jimmie’s Pickett’s incredible story to the world, and share his paintings with all beings?

And hell, why not cheer the three generations of inspiring local women and their activism - women like Ella Higginson and Lottie Roeder Roth - who created, and have maintained, The Pickett House Museum?

The Civil War was heartbreaking. Any and every way you approach it; it horrifies and hurts. It still hurts and still horrifies. Yet the story of James (Jimmie) Tilton Pickett’s short life hurts harder. Being the eldest, unacknowledged, son of Confederate General George Pickett, and half Haida living among white settlers and Salish Nation peoples? That was hard, but Jimmie’s story hurts more yet, because - though it has been told and told, decade after decade - clearly his story hasn’t really been heard yet. Not even here in Bellingham, WA. Shame on us.

Because, James Tilton Pickett’s life is the best, forgotten Civil War story EVER!

Yet, beyond, and far, far above racism, our local history, and war, there is the experience of James Tilton Pickett’s paintings, which few have seen, yet.

It has been a constant 150 year old battle, staying true to Mrs. Pickett and Jimmie Pickett, but Whatcom Chapter 5, Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington State, persists.

Thank You Whatcom Chapter 5

Whatcom Chapter 5, Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington, is a dying club led by four or five elderly women (Republicans and Democrats etc.) who have cared for the historic Pickett House for many decades now. Their grandmothers and great grandmothers were our local pioneer women. I am not a member, rather I have volunteered as a Pickett House docent. That said, I know a lot about the club. I attended a state conference of The Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington State and met First Nation members, because like George Pickett, early male settlers took Indian brides. Phoebe Judson, the first white woman of Lynden, WA (who named the town Lynden) adopted children abandoned by their white settler papas, as did most/many other white women settlers. Early settler WIVES were First Nation and white. White women couldn’t cope with the wilderness without help. White men often skipped out on women here, no matter our race, and it was a dangerous place.

Weaving and Quilting (our stories entwine) by Dr. Linda Allen

Also please never forget that Washington pioneer women almost won the vote in 1854, making Washington the first state to grant women’s suffrage. We lost by one vote. One vote! Front page national news, of course!

Over fifty years Washington women won the vote, then had it taken away, and won it, then yanked away, and won and lost, until we finally gained suffrage in 1910, ten years before the national victory (1920). All front page national news!

Not to mention that Bellingham, WA was a prostitution town until 1947. The stores and restaurants stayed open 24 hours a day. Only “good” women could shop during the day here. The “bad” women had to stay hidden away during the day, but at night they could come out and shop and mingle. The husbands often worked late running said businesses. No wonder Washington state pioneer women, of all kinds, particularly here in Whatcom/Bellingham, rose up and became famous suffragists!

So Washington state pioneer women fought and clawed for our rights for 50 years and took lots of abuse from our men folk.

Whatcom Chapter 5, The Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington State (like Lottie Roeder Roth and Ella Higginson), knew that men were going to conveniently attempt to “forget” about pioneer women’s history - and everyone in the region knew that Mrs. Pickett and Jimmie Pickett were actively “whited out” in Jimmie’s own lifetime. And Jimmie was so BELOVED!

Thankfully proof of Jimmie’s powerful American story was given into the care of Whatcom Chapter 5 - in the form of The Pickett House!
The club has kept wonderful records and has, generation after generation, pushed to get the true story of Jimmie and his mother told. And they have succeeded generation after generation in making residents proud to live in Bellingham, the birthplace of a lonely, outcast, yet also deeply loved and respected, mixed race artist, named James Tilton Pickett, who SO easily upstaged his infamous macho papa.

Bellingham’s 15 Decade Battle To Honor The Name of James (Jimmie) Tilton Pickett

The Pickett House ladies have kept scrapbooks since the 1920s and we have club minutes too. They have pushed to tell Jimmie’s story constantly. (Lately we are finding out more about Aunt Mary, the black woman who lived there with Hattie Strother too.)

But, STILL James Tilton Pickett’s life is being whited out of USA Civil War history - and now, even Bellingham seems to be forgetting about Jimmie.

Obviously, many didn’t, and don’t, want Jimmie’s story told or his art rejoiced in.

And obviously, women have a hard time getting heard.

Also, traditionally, no one on the East Coast listens to, or cares, what Pacific Northwest folk think or say. This is partly because PNW folk have wanted to escape East Coast “civilization” as a core value for 150 years - nay, for eternity. In light of this, Bellingham’s historic 150 year campaign to honor Jimmie Pickett’s good name is very impressive, It proves Bellingham citizens actually care about Jimmie more than ourselves. Or we used to.

If you were born in Bellingham, you visited the Pickett House as part of your schooling. If you moved here, haven’t you visited every museum in town yet? Again, since when does Bellingham not stand strong honoring the name of James (Jimmie) Tilton Pickett? Ella Higginson, and friends, started the Pickett House Museum and her organ and other cool stuff live there.

In Loving Memory of Jean

About thirty years ago now, one of the Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington State, Whatcom Chapter 5 , named Jean, retired from being an accountant at the pulp mill. She and her husband planned to travel after she retired but unfortunately he died soon after she left the mill. So Jean decided to go traveling with her younger sister Ruth instead. Ruth was also, and still is, a Whatcom Chapter 5 member, and it is Ruth who told me this story - reminding me of it again this last week.

So Jean and Ruth went traveling together, all over our country and, of course, they visited the Battlefield at Gettysburg, and, while there, they also went on a special bus tour all about the Battle of Gettysburg and George Pickett. As the finale of the tour, the park guide went down the list of tourists on the bus, and noted what state everyone was from. Then - going through the states in alphabetical order - he relayed a story about George Pickett’s life that linked Pickett to each of the tourist’s home states.

“When he got to Washington,” Ruth told me, “the tour guide informed us all about Pickett’s being sent to the Pacific Northwest before the Civil War. Then he mentioned how George had two wives. Well, of course, Jean held her hand up with three fingers and said, ‘You mean THREE wives!’”

I grunted my deepest approval.

Ruth continued, “Well that ended the tour, right then and there. He never said another word. He just ended the tour, and herded everyone off the bus. He KNEW about James Tilton Pickett. And we KNEW he KNEW. We returned to Bellingham and committed, once again, to work harder yet to get Jimmie’s story told!”

More recently Whatcom Chapter 5 member, Edradine, and her husband, have volunteered for a month of service at Gettysburg, for several summers in a row. Finally, due to their activism, The Gettysburg National Military Park is actively telling Jimmie’s story, and recommending that all Americans visit Bellingham’s Pickett House Museum and our National History Park on San Juan Island.

About Kamalla Rose Kaur

Notifications • Bellingham • Member since Jul 12, 2009