- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

Maj. George E. Pickett of the U.S. Army was sent to the Northwest Territory to protect American citizens from the Indians. No one seems to remember that he fell in love with and married one of the Indians.
Historians writing about Pickett, the Confederate general of legend, mention his first wife, Sally Harrison Minge, their brief marriage, which ended with her death, and Sallie Ann "LaSalle" Corbell, his third wife, who survived him both in life and in her numerous writings. Little is said about the second wife he married during his years in what became the state of Washington, or about their son.
The young Army officer and the Indian girl met when Pickett visited Semiahmoo Bay, now the town of Blaine, Wash., on a survey trip. One writer pictures the girl meeting Pickett while returning with a jug of water for her father; another version has the meeting occurring during a treaty discussion with her father, the tribal chief. There is no substantiation of either meeting. Pickett was still mourning the loss of his first wife at the time.
The Indian girl was a member of the Semiahmoo branch of the Kaigani Haida tribe. Writings from the period and what slim documentary evidence exists produce a remarkable picture of their relationship and, most important, of their son.

Two ceremonies
Her name was said to be Skis Tiigang, meaning "Mist Lying Down" in the Haida language, or "Morning Mist." Research is difficult, but Pickett's great-grandson Christiancy Pickett confirmed before his death in 1999 that older relatives had acknowledged that as her name. Referred to as the daughter of a chief, she was thus identified as a princess.
Pickett had been posted to Fort Bellingham near the border of Canada with the 68 men of Company D, 9th Infantry. Since the days of Hudson Bay trappers, relationships with Indian women had been common. Several writers indicate that the men frequently entered into sham marriages for a night, a week or a month and then left and never returned, unaware (and uncaring) of the resulting children. By contrast, it appears that Pickett required his men to go through a marriage ceremony indicating commitment.
Marriages between the soldiers and upper-class Indian women existed as valid relationships. Confederate President Jefferson Davis' nephew Robert H. Davis had married a Swinomish woman, producing a son, Sam Davis. The mores of the American Indians of that era precluded the girls' even being alone with these men unless their fathers and grandfathers saw a marriage ceremony occurring. In 1879, Chief Justice Roger Greene of the Washington Territorial Supreme Court declared "tribal custom marriages" to be as legal as any other kind. His ruling negated the idea that Americans would recognize no marriages in cultures around the world but their own. Though later writers may discount Pickett's marriage to Morning Mist, his devotion to her remains unquestioned.
They were married twice: once in a traditional Haida ceremony, with the bride and groom each wearing one white glove, then joining their gloved hands, symbolizing the union.
Afterward, they were married in the "Boston" manner in a more traditional ceremony, which took place sometime in 1856 in the home of a prominent individual in the community. The wedding site probably was the home of Edward Eldridge, a local businessman, founder of the first school and a trendsetter in the early years of the new town, and his wife, Theresa.

Difficult decision
Pickett had a small house built for his new bride at what is now 910 Bancroft St. in Bellingham, maintained as a tourist attraction by the Whatcom County Daughters of the Pioneers. The modest frame house, the first home in Bellingham, consisted of a main portion 25 feet long and 15 feet wide and an upper level; it was heated by a stick-and-mud fireplace.
On Dec. 31, 1857, James Tilton Pickett was born and named in honor of Pickett's good friend Maj. James Tilton. The young mother never fully recovered from a difficult delivery. Pickett summoned his own physician, Lt. George Suckley, for assistance, but the doctor did not arrive in time, and she died within weeks. Pickett was inconsolable. He had loved her deeply, and she had given him his first son. He also had put down roots in the beautiful country of the vast Northwest, where he intended to remain.
Four years passed, during which he cared for young Jimmie. When Pickett was assigned to duty elsewhere in the territory, the child apparently was sent to stay with his Indian grandmother. Then came the fall of Fort Sumter, and Pickett faced a dilemma. He could stay in Washington state with his son and ignore the coming war or return to Virginia, joining his friends to defend his state.
Though formal miscegenation laws had not yet been enacted, old-line Virginians would not accept a child of mixed race; Jimmie could never hope to grow up in Virginia society with his background. Pickett agonized over the decision, but there was no escaping devotion to his original home.
Taking the only course he saw open to him, he instructed the grandmother to take the boy to Catherine and William Collins, local friends he had met earlier, whom he considered substantial citizens. The childless couple agreed to take care of Jimmie under the supervision of Pickett's friend Tilton.
His son's welfare assured, Pickett left for Virginia. He would never see his little boy again, even though a visit with friends in Olympia on the way back to Virginia put him within 20 miles of where the boy was living. He did provide for his son financially, periodically forwarding sums of money to Tilton for the next 10 years to be given to the Collins family, and he also sent gifts.

Bible and trunk
He kept in contact with the Collins family and, vicariously, with his son through Tilton. He left Jimmie his official commission in the U.S. Army as well as a Bible containing a letter written about Morning Mist so that the boy would not forget the mother he could never know.
The writing on the Bible's flyleaf states, "May the memory of your mother always remain dear. Your father, George E. Pickettfl" strong evidence that Pickett wanted to provide reassurance of his son's legitimacy. A lock of the boy's hair was also in the Bible; with it were the two white gloves worn at the Haida wedding ceremony.
These items were packed carefully in a leather-trimmed red trunk that Morning Mist had brought with her from "Russian America." It was typical of the Chinese tea chests brought to North Coast Indians by Russian trappers to trade with the settlers.
Into it later would go the little red-and-white calico dress the youngster wore when he was brought to the Collins family by his grandmother and also some of the boy's artwork and poetry.
The trunk also would contain some 13 letters written to the boy by LaSalle Pickett and at least 18 written to him by his devoted foster mother, Catherine Collins. It seems the boy's entire family legacy was contained in the red camphor-wood trunk studded with brass nails, which initially disappeared.
Archie Binns, an author and former Scripps Howard newspaper writer in the D.C. area, was one of the more tenacious researchers on this early Pickett family and scoured the entire country in an unsuccessful effort to find the missing trunk.

Painfully shy child
Jimmie Pickett was a painfully shy child who hid in his room when the Collinses entertained. He had few friends. He buried himself in art, which became a lonely little boy's main interest. Mrs. Collins (later Mrs. Walters) said he "wanted to draw nearly all the time. In those days, there were few pencils and very little paper. So the boy used chunks of charcoal from the burned logs and drew on the side of the barn and on all the smooth split cedar boards he could find. When he wished to color a picture, he used the juices from berries and leaves; he had inherited this gift from both his father and mother."
The family felt this talent should be developed and the Collinses saved funds to send the boy to Union Academy in Olympia, Wash., in fall 1876 when he was 19. He was a good student, though his diary reflected concern that his grades were not high enough, despite documentation showing grades of 98 percent in physiology, 100 percent in grammar, 90 percent in English literature, 100 percent in arithmetic and 99 percent in philosophy.
His artistic work indicated obvious talent, especially with nature subjects: birds, mountains and seascapes. Recognizing this, his instructors put him to work giving regular instruction in design to younger pupils at the academy and teaching drawing and penmanship to primary-grade students. During his three terms at Union Academy, he spent his spare time drawing campus scenes; other students; and ships, steamers and landscapes around Olympia. He once sat for hours sketching a particularly scenic area at Tumwater Falls, unaware that the tide was rising gradually around the large rock that was his vantage point. He had to wade through the chilly water to get back to shore.

Virginia relatives
Jimmie later attended an art school in California, and during that time, his half-brother, George E. Pickett Jr., came west to visit him. Sallie Ann, by then known as LaSalle and a widow (Pickett had died in 1875), had intended to accompany her son but was prevented by illness. No one knows what transpired, but Jimmie took offense at some slight on the part of George Jr. and never forgot it. There is no record of any further meeting between the two young men or with his stepmother. Some writers have found evidence that Jimmie was persuaded financially to stay out of the picture when Pickett gatherings were held back in Virginia.
After finishing his studies, he became an artist with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and later with the Portland Oregonian as both artist and occasional reporter. He also painted seafaring scenes, landscapes and portraits. Indeed, he grew up to be quite an artist. His drawing of Bellingham Bay and the town of Whatcom in 1888 is exceptional in its detail and perspective.
One painting was displayed prominently in the old Portland Art Gallery and used as cover art in a local arts magazine; several may be found today in museums in Washington state. Some of his drawings appeared in advertising copy.
In later years, LaSalle Pickett became impressed with his art and offered to bring him east for additional formal training, which he declined. When he became ill later, she again offered to bring him east or south for medical treatment, and again he declined.
It is interesting that in a book written in 1908, she presented the story that the child, Jimmie, had been a "gift" from a grateful Indian chief to Pickett.
This may have been her way of dealing with the prospect of a mixed-race stepson, or it may have been a story Pickett himself had told her. (Because she wrote the book nine years after Jimmie Pickett died, he was not around to challenge that version of his attachment.) The marriage to Morning Mist and the resulting son seem to have been carefully omitted from biographies and lineage charts of the Pickett family.

Final painting
Jimmie never married. All records of his life indicate that he had few friends. He was said to feel keenly the stigma of his mixed parentage his Indian blood became more apparent as he matured. He became a brooding artist, conscious of his past, cautious of his present and caustic about his future. He considered his paintings his "children" and said that if he were either a white man or an Indian, he would take a woman; as it was, he opined, "These crosses [of races] don't belong. We won't have any more of them."
When the general died, LaSalle Pickett notified Jimmie and sent him his father's cavalry saber. This led to the only time he asserted his family connection, asking for the property in Bellingham near the original home of Pickett and Morning Mist. LaSalle opposed the request for several years but ultimately agreed when the young man threatened a lawsuit.
Binns also searched extensively for a final nautical painting on which "J.T. Pickett" was working at his death in 1889 from a combination of typhoid and tuberculosis. In one of Binns' last speeches, he explained, "At the time he died, Jimmy [authors spell his first name variously] had just finished a painting that he said would be his masterpiece. He also said it would be his last picture. Jimmy was living at a boarding house kept by a Mrs. Jones. Anyway, to this boarding house came a number of sailors that had been saved from a ship wrecked off the Alaskan coast. Most of the crew was lost, and when the survivors were brought into Portland by a resource ship, they went to the Jones boarding house to stay until they got other jobs. These sailors told their stories to Jimmy. He was a real artist and, at one time, his stepmother, whom he never saw, planned on having him come east to study art. You must understand this boy was a legitimate son of the famous Virginia soldier. These sailors would tell their stories to Jimmy as he worked on the picture. They would cry as they told of the deaths of their friends, and Jimmy would feel so badly he would have to quit painting.
"But just before he died, he completed the picture. He asked Mrs. Jones to bring the picture to his bedside. He also had a sword left him by his father when the soldier was called east. Jimmy asked that the sword also be brought. The artist died [Aug. 28, 1889] looking at the picture of the shipwreck and at the sword." He was 32.
The painting was sold for $600, a substantial sum for an oil painting by an artist of whom no one had heard. It paid the remainder of his board bill and his funeral expenses. At one time, it was owned by the Washington State Capital Museum in Olympia, Wash.

Not forgotten
The famous little red trunk was left with his other personal goods to the boardinghouse owner, according to his will. It disappeared during the funeral but surfaced again in later years. Today, it is in the Washington State Capital Museum along with the gloves, calico baby dress and other memorabilia. The saber has never been found.
For a relative unknown in an area far removed from the accepted center of the arts, James Tilton Pickett left his mark as an artist in the Northwest. Several days after his death, the painter and poet was remembered in a eulogy written by David Wexler of the Portland Oregonian. Wexler summed up the feelings of many:
"His life seems as a picture of magnificent conception laid away half finished, as a beautiful poem half written, or a sweet sad song whose melody is shattered just as we begin to be enchanted by its music. James Pickett will ever live in the memory of those who knew him best as one of the truest, purest, manliest of men, as well as one of the rarest geniuses this Northwest has ever produced."
Jimmie Pickett is buried in Riverview Cemetery in Portland, near a spot he visited often to paint Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens and sunsets over the Columbia and Willamette rivers. Though early writings indicate that his mother was buried at SeHome (now near Bellingham), the final resting place of Morning Mist remains as elusive as her name implies.

Martha M. Boltz is a writer in Northern Virginia.

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