Who Are The Descendants Of Seattle's Early Families? | KUOW News and Information

Who Are The Descendants Of Seattle's Early Families?

Oct 19, 2014

What are the descendants of Seattle's pioneers up to? KUOW Listener Ben Lee wanted to know.

For KUOW's Local Wonder project, I escaped into Seattle's past in hopes of turning up the present. Turned out that finding Seattle's dead pioneers was the easy part. 

They’re all in one spot: Lakeview Cemetery on Capitol Hill.

Leonard Garfield, of the Museum of History and Industry, tells me the cemetery is the Who’s Who of Seattle past.

"Everybody in Seattle history of importance is buried here, from the founding fathers all the way to recent celebrities like Bruce Lee," Garfield says.

Just past Bruce Lee’s grave, we find a massive pillar reaching for the sky.

"This is the Denny Family plot and it is pretty majestic,” Garfield says. “It reflects the view of the Dennys themselves; they were majestic in their minds. And they really were in Seattle history. They were Seattle’s first family."

Where are those family members now? You wouldn’t know unless they told you.

Among them is Zack Cook, a market master at the Pike Place Market.

Here, he tells a coworker about his ancestors.

Credit KUOW/Kara McDermott

"I'm a descendant of the Dennys," he says. "My great-great-great grandma was one of the Dennys."  

Pause.

"The who?"

"Dennys. They helped found Seattle."

Confused expression.

"Like, Denny's, the restaurant?"

"No, like Denny Way."

As a market master, Cook assigns stalls for the farmers and crafts people at the market.

The 35-year-old traveled recently to Southeast Asia, where many of the market’s flower growers are from.

"Na shong da shu – how are you? Yeah?" Cook gets along well with the flower growers, who have taught him some Hmong.

They don’t seem to care much about his connection to the Dennys. They’re more interested in the photos of Southeast Asia he carries around on his phone.

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Kai Braaten's boisterous personality matches reports of her ancestor, "Doc" Maynard.
Credit KUOw Photo/Joshua McNichols

Credit KUOW/Kara McDermott

  The Big Personality

Back at Lakeview Cemetery, Leonard Garfield and I nearly trip over Doc Maynard’s gravestone.

"He was a great colorful character in Seattle history,” Garfield says. “But notice that he has a flat stone, and the Dennys have a towering column."

Why? I ask.

"It may be that Doc Maynard did not take himself that seriously,” he says. “The Denny family were very serious folks."

Doc Maynard opened Seattle’s first general store.

His great-great-great-great granddaughter, Kai Braaten, also works in retail.

She sells espresso shots at Dubsea coffee in White Center, in deep West Seattle.

"Good morning!" she exclaims when I meet her.

Doc Maynard was famous for his personality.

So is Braaten.

"People started referring to me as their favorite barista,” she says. “I say that with as much humbleness as I can. It’s such a nice thing to hear that you can be a bright spot in someone’s morning."

Braaten started reading Maynard’s journals recently, so he’s on her mind.

"Any time I’m in the International District and I pass Maynard Street, I think of him, always," she says.

Kathie Zetterberg began researching her Duwamish roots after learning the story of her great grandmother, who was the daughter of Henry Yesler.
Credit KUOw Photo/Joshua McNichols
Credit KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Legacy Of Julia Benson

At the cemetery, Garfield and I look for Yesler’s grave.

It turns out to be solid, sturdy and a little squat.

“Yesler was a tough guy,” Garfield says. “He was old, compared to all the other folks. And he landed on this little settlement with these young people. And he said I’ve got an idea for this steam-powered saw mill; it’s going to put you on the map."

One of his descendants, Kathie Zetterberg, works in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood.

She designs control panels and labels – like the ones that mark seat numbers on airplanes. Other workers stamp out her creations on machines.

Yesler and his wife Sarah had two children, a boy and a girl, but they died young.

That didn’t stop Yesler from passing along his DNA.

"He liked the ladies," Zetterberg says.

Yesler got his foreman’s daughter pregnant. She was Duwamish and very young.

When Yesler’s wife Sarah joined him in Seattle in 1858, she didn’t begrudge the child.

"When Sarah came out here and found Henry with a baby daughter, she took her under her own wing and loved her and treated her as her own," Zetterberg says.

That baby was Julia, Zetterberg's great-grandmother.

Zetterberg has researched the Duwamish side of her family and learned the early pioneers couldn’t have succeeded without the labor of the Native population.

And for the most part, the natives accepted the pioneers’ treaties.

That was thanks in part to one of the Puget Sound’s most important leaders – Chief Si’ahl.

Ken Workman discovered that he was indeed from royalty -- he is a descendent of Chief Si'ahl.
Credit KUOW Photo/Bond Huberman
Credit KUOW/Kara McDermott

Si’ahl, Seattle’s Namesake

Ken Workman, a great-great-great-great grandson of Chief Seattle, said his family seldom spoke in detail about their history.

It wasn’t until Workman did his own research that he made the Chief Seattle connection.

"My mom’s been saying, 'We’re royal. We’re royal. We’ve got German royalty. A castle.'"

"I said, 'Mom, Mom, it’s not German. It’s Indian! Chief Seattle!'"

Workman's mom got kicked out of the house as a pregnant teenager.

And his whole tribe, the Duwamish, is homeless in a way. In 1866, the pioneer families recommended the Duwamish be denied a reservation.

When Workman was a teenager, he got hooked on motorcycles, specifically motocross.

A sport that allowed him to fly motorcycles off jumps.

"When you’re searching in your life for one good thing you can hold on to – this was it for me," he says. "I have all the broken bones. Back, neck, collarbone. Legs, arms."

When Workman grew up, he got a job at Boeing.

It was a natural step. When Workman talks about jumping motorcycles, he’s talking about flight.

"When you’re going really fast, you become an airfoil,” he says. “You can control the bike in the air. So you’re more or less flying."

Workman doesn’t ride as much anymore. Instead, he sponsors younger riders and mentors Duwamish kids.

Sometimes he gets back on the bike. In those moments, he channels Chief Seattle’s warrior spirit.

"We’re not allowed to go to war,” he says. “This is as close as I can get is to twist this throttle on my motorcycle and get this thing to roar and fly through the air. And the madder I get, the further I fly."

Leonard Garfield stands beside the Yesler tomb. "We honor people for what they do when they're alive," he said. "Every generation has to prove itself."
Credit KUOw Photo/Joshua McNichols

The Seattle Way

Since those early days, waves of immigrant groups pushed Seattle to grow bigger, wealthier and more important.

African Americans, Chinese, Greeks, Californians.

Those later waves of settlers shaped Seattle as much as the original settlers.

Leonard Garfield gestures to the field of tombstones at Lakeview Cemetery.

"So many of these early settlers of Seattle history – we’ve sort of lost track of their families,” he says.

“We don’t have families that dominate generation after generation. But I think that’s the Seattle tradition. That’s the American tradition. We honor people for what they do when they’re alive – and every generation has to prove itself."

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