The Lopez Island Historical Society & Museum

2006 Exhibit

After “Hutch”—Life on Lopez 1850 to 1900

The period 1850-1900 was a wild and woolly time on Lopez Island. Samish and Lummi Indians had been a presence on the island for several thousand years, and they were about to be confronted with the first white homesteaders.

“Hutch” Arrives—With a Flair (and a Rifle)

Hiram E. Hutchinson ('Hutch') arrived on Lopez around 1850, landing in the midst of a battle between two native clans, the Coast Salish (whose descendants are the Lummi, Samish, Songhee and Saanich nations) and a raiding party of Haida (from the Queen Charlotte islands), who—according to their enemies, at least—regularly cruised in large cedar canoes among the San Juans to capture slaves. Hutch (age 19 or 20 at the time) employed his musket to turn the battle for the native Coast Salish, earning him their respect and a place to live.

Over the next 25 years, Hutch became Lopez Island's first postmaster, shopkeeper and unelected village mayor—an honorific title still alive in Lopez Village. Hutch may have come west to seek his fortune in the California gold rush, or he may have just wanted to find land to call his own. He soon married a Tlingit woman whom everyone called Mary. A son, Millard, was born in 1867. The family lived in peace until 1873, when Hutch's sister, Irene Weeks, came to Lopez with her husband Lyman and son Oscar, to help out at the store and (some say) shame her brother into ending his mixed-race union. Hutch may have left Lopez with his family for a time rather than fight his sister, but he and Millard returned at some point. Hutch died around 1880-81, and is buried on San Juan Island. Millard played in the Lopez Cornet Band around 1890, and died in 1915. He is buried in the Union Cemetery on Lopez.

Lopez Cornet Band—Millard Hutchinson in center on bass drum. Other players included George Cary, Joe Thornton, Charles Phelps, Charles Wood, Dick Sumner, Harry Cary, Sam Britt, Robert Hummel.

The Search for Eden Continues

Into the 1870s, the San Juan Islands were advertised in Eastern and Midwestern papers as a kind of heaven on earth, a place abundant with natural beauty and land for homesteading and farming. The islands' allure also reached prospective settlers in California and Oregon:

“Homes for the homeless can be had on Government land of 160 acres & The productions of the soil are various and when properly cultivated, yield immense crops & Nimrods can hunt to their hearts' content and sit down every morning of the year to venison beef steak. The water surrounding the island is very productive & Ducks and geese are plentiful & The healthfulness of the climate cannot be surpassed & Thousands that are eking out their worthless lives in cities and towns, can find a happy home in this Lower Sound, either on the island or on the mainland, as there is still thousands of acres of good land awaiting the hardy tiller of the soil.”

—An 1876 letter to the West Shore, a Portland-based paper

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