JAMES TILTON PICKETT
Ernest J. Whitaker, "George Edward Pickett; Defender of the San Juans," in John Hemphill, West Pointers and Early Washington. Seattle: West Point Society of Puget Sound, 1992, p. 186.
At Bellingham Bay, a neutral meeting ground for the various tribes, George Pickett was kept busy maintaining peace with the Indians. Pickett's wife, LaSalle, wrote in her book that Pickett became quite friendly with the Indians, particularly the Nootkas and Chinooks and even translated a version of the Lord's Prayer into an Indian language.
She does not, however, mention Pickett's marriage to an Indian "Princess" (as Pickett called her) of the Haida tribe. Pickett first met the woman at Semiahmoo, later again at Fort Bellingham. After a short courtship, they were married in both tribal and United States civil ceremonies, and took up residence in a house in Bellingham.
On December 31, 1857, a son, James Tilton Pickett, was born; the mother died soon after the boy's birth. Because Pickett realized he could not properly care for the child, he arranged in December 1859, for William Collins and his wife, of Mason County, to care for young Jimmie.
With occasional financial support from his father, Jimmie was raised by Mrs. Collins, later Mrs. Walter. He attended the Union Academy in Olympia and an art school in California, leading to a position as an artist for the Seattle Post Intelligencer and later for the Portland Oregonian. He died of an illness in Portland in 1889 having known of his father and of his career, but never having known him personally.
Ernest J. Whitaker "George Edward Pickett; Defender of the San Juans, " in John Hemphill, West Pointers and Early Washington. Seattle: West Point Society of Puget Sound, 1992, p. 186.
JIMMIE PICKETT - THE FORGOTTEN CHILD
(Dolly Connelly, "Jimmie Pickett, the forgotten child," TACOMA NEWS TRIBUNE AND SUNDAY LEDGER December 4, 1977.).
There is in the State Capitol Museum at Olympia a poignant collection of all the worldly goods left by a lonely northwest artist, James Tilton Pickett, who died in 1889 in a scruffy Portland boarding house of despair and tuberculosis at 31 years of age.
A sentimentalist cannot look at the residue of Jimmie Pickett's brief tragic life, the little calico pinafore he wore when his Indian grand mother delivered him to the Collins farm; the elaborate Chinese camphor tea chest, legacy of his Haida Indian mother; the yellowed silk gloves worn by his father, General George Edward Pickett, and his bride at their wedding; a leather bound Bible given by Pickett to his little brown boy as private acknowledgement that he had fathered the child; letters and copy books and paintings and tintypes, without speculating that in all his brief life time Jimmie Pickett never received much attention.
If he had, unhappy child of an Indian mother and white aristocrat, doubtless the story of his life would have been far different.
As late as 1908, "My Soldier," the series of LaSalle Corbell Pickett, widow of General Pickett, this Virginia lady explained away the long dead Pickett son on the Pacific Coast. This was a cinch for LaSalle who devoted the last years of her life in a determined adjustment of history to match her own, and Pickett's romantic image of the heroic leader of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg.
Wrote LaSalle fancifully in McClure's Magazine: "My solider was bound around the Horn to Puget Sound, where he was stationed at Fort Bellingham, which I thought must be farther than the end of the world. Forty thousand (sic) Indians had risen against the settlers. For two years he was in the thick of it, and greatly distinguished himself; but he did even better after the Indians were suppressed, for he made them his friends, learned their language, built school houses, and taught them, and they called him Nesika Tyee, Our Chief. One old Indian Chief insisted upon making My Soldier a present of one of his children."
LaSalle's own status rose with creation of the mythical Pickett of fantastic physical beauty and intelligence, moral strength and courage, the beloved officer "...who led, mounted on his spirited charger, gallant, graceful and courageous as a knight of chivalry; his long, dark auburn hair floating backward in the wind as he rode down the slope of death, a scene which has made the story of Pickett's Charge the glory of American arms."
A half-breed child simply didn't make the false scene.
Writers who base Civil War history solidly on determined fact picture a different, and certainly more human Pickett.
In his class of 1846 at West Point there were 59 graduates. Pickett, well liked but no great shakes as a student ranked 59th. He scored very low even in military subjects, in infantry tactics 52nd.
But the military suited him fine as long as decisions of great import did not rest on his shoulders, or he was faced with dreadful reverses.
He graduated just in time for a distinguished career as a lieutenant in the Mexican War, especially in the battles of Contreras, Churubusco, and Chapultepec, where he planted the American flag on the summit castle.
A forlorn young widower upon the death of his bride of six months, Sally Minge, Pickett went on to Texas in 1855 and then, in command of D Company, 9th Infantry north to Bellingham Bay in 1856 to erect a fort for the settlers protection against the Indians.
There were few white women in the area, but plenty of attractive Indian maidens who considered it a privilege to be singled out for the attentions of officers. Pickett is said to have married his Haida bride in both Indian and Boston ceremonies, but there remains no proof of these beyond the silk gloves in Jimmie's trunk.
Jimmie was born on December 31, 1857, in the Pickett House now restored as a historical monument on Bancroft Street in Bellingham.
By June, 1859, the sizzling powder keg of the San Juan Islands boundary dispute between Great Britain and the United States blew up when a single shot by San Juan Island squatter Lyman Cutler killed a black boar belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company. He'd caught the pig rooting in his potatoes.
L'affaire pig quickly got out of hand. Into this melee romped Brig. General William S. Harney, commander of Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River.
Seething like an old war horse, Harney ordered George Pickett and his D Company to the American Camp at Griffin Bay on San Juan Island and set about building a trivial dispute into an international war.
Pickett had known no such glory since the castle on Chapultepec. He scorned all British arbitration attempts, threatened to fight enormously overpowering forces, numbering 2,140 to the last of his 461 men and officers and radiated defiance from behind his hastily built earth works.
But Lieut. General Winfield Scott, commanding general of the United States Army arrived before any real damage could be done. He proposed a temporary settlement with one company not to exceed one hundred men from each nation to occupy two ends of the island until the boundary question was resolved.
Scott removed Pickett from the reduced American garrison, and saw to it that Harney, properly rebuked was sent packing to Washington D.C.
A piqued Pickett remained in Washington Territory until Fort Sumter was fired upon. When Virginia seceded from the Union, he resigned his commission and headed east.
Afraid that he might be picked up as a deserter while his resignation traveled by slow mail across the nation, he told friends that he was taking leave to settle a private matter, a legacy in Virginia. He went the long way by sailing vessel to the Isthmus of Panama, and finally to a commission as a colonel in the Confederate Army.
He never came back. On his way, Pickett visited friends in Olympia, not twenty miles from where Jimmie was being cared for, but made no attempt to visit the growing boy, last seen by him at the age of two. At that, he was far more concerned with the welfare of his child than was common with fathers of half Indian children.
Pickett's Indian bride died when James, named for his father's friend Major James Tilton, Engineer General of Washington Territory, was still in infancy. Jimmie's Indian grandmother took him in briefly.
When Pickett was assigned to San Juan Island, he asked Tilton, the child's god father to arrange with William and Catherine Collins, childless farmers of the trading center, Arcadia, in Mason County, to take Jimmie. The boy's Indian relatives took him down by canoe.
With him was all that he had of his mother's, the red and gold chest, typical of the tea chests brought to north coast Indians by Russian promyshlennika in exchange for sea otter furs, and proof that he was the son of George Edward Pickett, who wrote on the flyleaf of his Bible, "May the memory of your mother always remain dear. Your father George E. Pickett."
Pickett left some funds to pay for the boy's keep. When these ran out, Tilton assumed financial responsibility until Jimmie reached an age when he could merit his room and board with work on the farm.
Tilton concerned himself about his godchild. Though Pickett never corresponded with the Collins couple, Tilton kept in touch.
In 1861 he wrote Catherine:
"Captain Pickett passed through here (Olympia) a few days since on his way to Virginia. He bid me say goodbye. He regrets much that he could not take time to come down. He sent his commission and his leave of absence for his boy that the youngster might know who his father was, and should Pickett be killed (in the Civil War) his aunt in Virginia will look out for him."
Will Collins died and Catherine married a neighbor, William Walter, newly returned from service with the Union Forces. Catherine and Jimmie moved to Walter's log cabin and there Jimmie grew up.
Wrote Walter of him:
"He wanted to draw nearly all the time. There were few pencils and very little paper. So the boy used chunks of charcoal and drew on the sides of the barn and on smooth split cedar logs. When he wished to color a picture he used juices from berries and leaves.
"In time, a little school was started in our district and Jimmie went there. After he finished, we sent him to Olympia to the Union Academy, and on to art school in California. When he had finished he had a position as an artist on the Seattle Post Intelligencer, later at the Portland Oregonian."
Walter claimed that his wife could not have loved Jimmie more if he had been her own child. Walter appeared to like the boy but had no use for his father "...because he is a Southerner."
Jimmie was a loner, who hid in his room when the Walters had guests, aware of his "half-breed" status in a white world. Melancholy and ill inclined to make friends, painfully shy, he cherished throughout his life the fairy tale that some day a summons would come to join his distinguished Virginia family.
At the Academy where he boarded in the home of Captain and Mrs. Hale, a teacher at the school, he earned his way by helping Hale dig stumps, set out trees, build fences, make axe handles and work the farm. He was a brilliant student, forever filled with anxieties that he could not reach perfection.
He sketched constantly. His work indicated considerable natural talent, especially with nature subjects, birds, mountains, and seascapes.
He gave instruction in design to younger pupils and taught drawing and penmanship classes for primary students. He made a close friend in Dea Williams, the only boy to ever gain his confidence. For the most part this serious and joyless teenager avoided his peers, writing in his diary, "Such Boys! They think nothing but play."
He did not participate in sports or other pursuits, being too busy with work, studies and his efforts in art. But there was a bright spot in this dreary picture--girls!
Four Academy girls boarded at the Hales' home. Minnie Whelplay came close to being Jimmie's "girl" not quite, but nearly so. When snows came he built her a sled. He wrote in his diary, "Too miserable to draw, so I lie on the sofa and read to Minnie."
He wrote nonsense poetry for her:
I am cross and she is crosser,
And thus from sweet to sour,
Fifteen times an hour."
Once he wrote, "I made a pretty little sketch of pretty Minnie as she slept on the sofa." Sometimes the girls' excess of shrill femininity annoyed him.
Still he sought their company for many happy foolish times. He called Minnie and Sarah Sparks "Minniehaha," and "Sahara," and they returned the compliment by dubbing him "Jemima" and "Laughing Waters."
Of Minnie he wrote:
Me thinks thou art a fairy,
So tiny, reckless and airy,
And supremely contrary.
"The Laughing Waters run
On from shade to sun;
So they tongue, when once
The girls, however, left no accounts of their friendship with Jimmie. This light and laughing side of his personality was cut off abruptly when he departed for San Francisco art studies.
General Pickett died at fifty, miserable in a post war career as agent for the Washington Life Insurance Company. LaSalle wrote Jimmie of his father's death, beginning a correspondence that continued for thirteen letters.
She assigned to him a small amount of real estate, acquired by Pickett during his tenure at Bellingham Bay. And she gave Jimmie, then 17, the thing he valued most: his father's cavalry sword.
As the letters and sword were pilfered from Jimmie's trunk during his own funeral, there exists no record that LaSalle at last had accepted him as her husband's true child and not as the "...gift of an Indian Chief."
She made arrangements for himself and George, Jr., Jimmie's half brother to visit him in San Francisco. At the last moment she did not come, claiming the excuse of illness.
The brothers' visit was disastrous. George looked down upon the Indian appearing Jimmie with a southern gentleman's contempt for persons of mixed race.
Quick to feel hurt even when it was not intended, Jimmie never recovered from this encounter. There after, he had no close friends, no romantic attachment, though occasionally he wrote, "Dear Momma," Mrs. Walter. He carefully hid his unhappiness from her, picturing his life as adventurous and socially rewarding.
He did not sign his newspaper art. For the most part Jimmie was given the task of making woodcuts for the small display advertisements popular at the time. Woodcut prints of bearded men of the Smith Brothers variety, rather nice flower studies and little scenics are in the red trunk.
His paintings were done for his own pleasure. They are of mountains and sea, the one that attracted most comment shows the sinking of the S.S. Alaska a painting from accounts of the few surviving seamen. It sold for six hundred dollars, a tremendous sum in those days for an oil painting by a little known artist. It furnished funds to pay the last of his board bill, mounting during his lingering illness and his funeral expenses.
Jimmie died August 28, 1889, in the dreary boarding house at the corner of 8th and Salmon streets in Portland, attended by kind hearted boarders who took turns looking in on him. Mostly he wanted them to read his letters, especially the one describing the death of his father and announcing that Jimmie was to have the saber he wore at the battle of Gettysburg.
His death was attributed to tuberculosis and typhoid fever, but certainly his despair at finding no place for himself within his father's illustrious aura had much to do with it.
He is buried in Riverview Cemetery, Portland Heights, near a spot he visited often to paint pictures of Mounts St. Helens and Hood and of sunsets over the Willamette and Columbia Rivers.
Jimmie died before the inevitable debunking of the legend of the South's dashing hero of the bloody, desperate charge up Cemetery Hill. Despite LaSalle's flood of flowery literature to the ladies magazines, which dwelt long and lovingly on the beauty of Pickett's "...very small, perfect hands and feet," of his "...beautiful grey eyes that looked at me through sunny lights, " and his "gallantly curled mustache," Pickett's chief claim to fame is the enormous number of men killed and wounded under his command.
At Gettysburg, where only 1,500 survived of a force of 5,000 Pickett apparently did little, remaining behind at a farmhouse in an agonized mental state described as "wholly useless." He was not accused of cowardice, but of confusion and despair inappropriate to a military leader.'
Popular tradition was that Pickett's Charge was heroic. It was Pickett's therefore Pickett must have been heroic. But he was a broken man during that fatal twenty minutes that destroyed the spirit of the Confederate Army. His career really ended at Five Forks when he again lost most of his division, more men than were lost in the entire Spanish American War.
On this occasion, while his men were being crushed, Pickett was behind lines and out of touch through no intent of his own, enjoying a shad bake.
These were the last days of the war, and a possible scandal was hushed up. But Pickett was relieved of his command the day before the surrender at Appomattox.
General Lee, spotting him there remarked, " I thought that man was no longer with the Army!" Coming from Lee, most soft spoken of men, the phrase "...that man..." appears a deliberate derogation.
Pickett fled to Canada after the war to avoid Congressional investigation. There his wife and son joined him in voluntary exile.
They returned a year later at President Grant's bidding to family holdings at Turkey Island, Virginia, where Pickett built a modest cottage to replace the mansion destroyed by the Union Army. There he failed at farming, and turned to salaried employment for his remaining years.
His faithful wife traveled throughout his sales territory with him, encouraging him on his business appointments. He never adjusted to civilian life.
In a brief separation, he wrote: "My Sallie: This business will not earn my cough drops or your violets, and oh darling, it is such a crucifixion. You don't know how abhorrent it is to me. I spur myself on with this thought, that it is for my darling. I can't do it. I'd sooner face a cannon than ask a man to take out a policy with me. Your soldier is nothing but a soldier. The war is over, and he is no more account."
In the end, Pickett's life was not much happier than that of the lost son abandoned a continent away.
Dolly Connelly, "Jimmie Pickett, the forgotten child," Tacoma News Tribune. December 4, 1977.