Zakarias Martin Taftezon, Ulrich Freund, and Clement Sumner file land claims to the future city of Oak Harbor on January 4, 1851.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 7/25/2007
  • Essay 8226

On January 4, 1851, Zakarias Martin Taftezon (1821-1901), Swiss Ulrich Freund, and New Englander Clement W. "Charlie" Sumner file claims under the Donation Land Law at what will become the city of Oak Harbor.

Our Earthly Paradise

Norwegian shoemaker Zakarias Martin Taftezon (also spelled Toftezen and Taftsen, among other variants) (1821-1901), Swiss Ulrich Freund, and New Englander Clement W. "Charlie" Sumner met each other at New Orleans while en route to the 1849 California gold rush. They did not strike it rich in the gold fields and headed north to the Oregon Country. In late 1850, they landed in Olympia and with the help of Samuel Hancock, took an Indian canoe north down Puget Sound to find available land. At Whidbey Island the Skagits and the Tulalips were at war and the Native American paddlers would not enter the harbor off Saratoga Passage marked by Garry oak trees. The paddlers dropped the "fortyniners" off at Crescent Harbor. 

According to pioneer Jerome Ely, Taftezon cut steps into the steep bluff at the mouth of the inlet the Skagits called Kla-tole-tsche to climb up and view the area to the north. He spied the Oak Harbor prairie free of the dense stands of trees that covered so much of the region. He is said to have proclaimed back down to his companions, “The view is the most glorious on earth, our search is over, and we have at last found our earthly paradise” (Neil, 28).

Settling Down

When the warring Indians went home, the settlers marked out their 320-acre claims on the prairie, Freund on the west, Sumner in the middle, and Toftezen on the east. Much of Puget Sound was covered by dense stands of timber, but the grass-covered prairies where the Indians dug their camas roots offered good prospects for farming.

The settlers sent notice of their claims to the land office in Portland and their claims date from January 4, 1851. When Taftezon returned from Olympia by canoe with salt pork and nails he found a Dr. Lansdale trying to jump the claim. Taftezon prevailed upon the physician to move on and Lansdale settled on Penn’s Cove. Before he left, Lansdale named Oak Harbor for the Garry oaks there and Crescent Harbor for its shape. Irishmen Thomas Maylor Sr., and his brother Samuel staked their claims on the peninsula that separated Oak Harbor from Crescent Harbor that became Maylor’s, and later Forbes, Point.

Ulrich Freund and Martin Taftezon remained on their land, but Sumner moved on after a few years, writing to relatives, “When it becomes so crowded you can see the smoke from your neighbor’s cabin, it is time to leave” (Neil, 28).

Taftezon married an Indian woman and they had two sons. When Taftezon was gone to Olympia for supplies, the boys came down with measles. Unable to reach the white doctor, she took the boys to her home village for a traditional treatment of a sweat bath in a heated hut a followed by submersion in the frigid waters of Puget Sound. The sick boys did not survive. On learning of this, Taftezon drove his wife away and lived alone for the rest of his life, often repairing the shoes of Oak Harbor residents.

Sources: George Albert Kellogg, A History of Whidbey Island (Oak Harbor, WA: George B. Astel, 1934), 15, 18-21, 77-78, 83, 94; Dorothy Neil and Lee Brainard, By Canoe and Sailing Ship They Came: A History of Whidbey’s Island (Oak Harbor, WA: Spindrift Publishing Co., 1989), 27-31, 55-60, 167-178.

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