Research project dives into South Whidbey history

A woman is asking for folks to help her with a research project exploring the years 1870-1940.

Kyle Walker has a family history that has been better preserved than those of most families.

When she was a young teen, she stumbled upon a collection of family photos, news articles and other artifacts detailing the lives of her ancestors who lived in the Sandy Point area east of Langley.

Now she is asking for folks with an interest in history to help her by considering a donation to her latest research project, which explores the years 1870-1940 and the lives of her great-grandmother’s in-laws.

The South Whidbey Historical Society is sponsoring the project. Walker is the project manager.

Although she does not currently live on the island, her family has extensive ties to South Whidbey.

Her latest research follows Portuguese immigrant Joseph Brown, who married a “high-born” member of the Coast Salish Snohomish Tribe, Mary Shelton. The couple settled near Sandy Point, which was formerly called Brown’s Point, and had 11 children.

Ruth Brown, Walker’s great-grandmother, married one of the sons of Joseph and Mary and is the family member who kept track of the pieces of history that have been handed down through the generations of Walker’s family.

“I’ve often asked myself this question, ‘Why did she do that?’” Walker said of her great-grandmother.

This discovery of the family collection, referred to lovingly as “The Bible,” compelled Walker to want to study historical preservation.

Her new project aims to create a profile of the villages of the Snohomish Tribes who lived on the southern part of the island. So far, Walker has identified 11 sites throughout South Whidbey.

She acknowledged that there is so much interest in the country right now in understanding Indigenous populations, but up until now, there hasn’t been much research on the Snohomish Tribes of South Whidbey.

Her profile will include how the villages conducted trade and how they traveled. Sandy Point, for example, was renowned for its clam beds that would attract seasonal visiting tribes from Eastern Washington.

Contributors to Walker’s project will receive tantalizing historical tidbits about South Whidbey gathered from her research, such as the story about the Ivy Inn, one of the first tourist destinations and getaways for vacationing families from the mainland.

Based on the amount of donations, contributors will also receive research updates and project images, among other things.

Within her own family, some of the Shelton/Brown family members were undercover detectives for the Department of Treasury and Bureau of Indian Affairs, investigating political corruption, prostitution and “white slavery” trafficking of women as sex slaves from Seattle to New York. They also explored illegal liquor sales and opium in saloons and on Pacific Northwest reservations.

John Brown, who married Walker’s great-grandmother Ruth, was partnered for the investigations with George Miller, Ruth’s first husband. Ruth collected over 250 postcards that have been sent from John Brown during the investigations. Some of them used aliases.

Residents of the Sandy Point area recently gave Walker a document that contains an emotional story about Joseph Brown taking down his three-story home, where he had homesteaded and had a logging enterprise and 170 acres of agriculture.

Brown sold the land in 1913 to private developers from Everett, who wanted to build the beachside cottages that still exist there today. As one of the conditions of the sale, he requested that he be able to de-construct his beloved home.

“There’s an entire screenplay in this story,” Walker said.

“Maybe that’s one of the reasons Ruth Brown kept this collection,” she added.

She believes she has enough research to result in a new volume for the South Whidbey Historical Society.

Donations can be made to Walker’s project on the GoFundMe Charity website titled “A Tangled Web of History.” The goal is to reach $10,000, which can be used to apply for matching grants that will support the project.

Walker has been slowly “excavating” and “prospecting” stories from Whidbey residents and their family members during the past year, but the coronavirus has halted some surveying work she has been aiming to conduct. By this time next year, she hopes to begin surveying and would like to include graduate students on the project. With the funds, she would also like to preserve the artifacts she has and to be able to travel to national archives to seek out even more information.

She also invites South Whidbey residents with knowledge of the Sandy Point area to contact her with their family stories, if they haven’t already, at 503-970-1151 or

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