Is it Indian Burial Ground or Indian Burial Grounds? I’m a so-called expert and I’m not really even sure.
How does one become an Indian Burial Ground expert? I don’t think I speak for all of my peers but I achieved it simply by manning the booth at my brother’s firework stand shortly before the Fourth of July.
I noticed a 30ish white man wandering around by my booth one a slow morning after we just opened and I was trying to catch up on my Instagram feed. He walked by 2.5 times before he stopped and stood sideways in front of me.
He introduced himself as Dan and the thin, tattooed hipster in the short jean cutoffs with a handful of ironic tattoos, Buddy Holly glasses, and gray beanie even though it was 80 degrees out, looked totally out of place. I figured he was a visitor up from Seattle but he quickly explained he had recently moved into a house down by the Skagit River and his family had been experiencing strange phenomenons since they moved into the place.
He had a suspicion it may have built over, or next to, an Indian burial ground and he wanted to see if we up at the local Indian reservation had any experts we could send over to check it out and possibly offer help.
He corrected himself and started referring to it as a Native American burial ground after the second time he called it an Indian one and then explained he was looking to hire someone who was a Native American burial ground expert and he wanted to know if I knew of anyone. He could pay.
I was in no means an expert but I told him I could do it. I was a 22-year-old member of the tribe working part-time answering phones at the Cultural Center during the Summer as I weighed going back to University of Washington in the Fall but I figured what the hell. I was a Native American Studies major at least, If nothing else, it would be some free, fun entertainment. I would go consult with some Seattle transplant who was trying to start an organic farm or something who probably found some dead dog bones and a kid’s arrowhead toy and make some cash.
I went to Dan’s house that afternoon. He never introduced me to the rest of his family but referenced a young daughter and a wife whom I never saw. All the blinds of the little farmhouse on the property were shut tight.
He brought me over to a patch of woods at the end of a long line of farm fields with nothing but dead crops. A small muddy path led into a scattering of trees that were close enough to the banks of the river you could hear it rushing from where he stopped.
Where Dan stopped was a muddy little clearing next to a cabin. The earth had clearly just been upended and there was some rotted wood and bits of what did appear to be white bones sticking up out of the ground.
I may have been in over my head.
“The construction guys dug them up yesterday. We’re trying to turn this place into an AirBNB and want to put in plumbing,” Dan explained as I stared down at what I was realizing was about 5 percent of a skull jutting out of the dirt.
Dan pulled what looked like a legitimate arrowhead I had seen in the Cultural Center before out of his pocket and showed it to me as I kept an eye on the skull in the ground. This hipster may have actually stumbled upon an Indian burial ground. The stakes had changed.
He wanted someone real and local to examine the place and see what they thought. He didn’t want some academic from Seattle from the state of U.W. coming up and taking a clinical approach to the whole thing. He wanted something organic. Someone with roots where the roots of those trees wrapped around those bones in the dirt who could experience the place.
Dan’s instructions were strangely simple. He just wanted me to stay on the property in the little cabin next to the bones for the next two months of summer while he and his little family were back in Seattle tying up loose ends. He wanted me to write each night about what happened there. He figured it would give the best reading for what the place was and if it was okay for him to follow through with setting up his farm there.
Then, after I gave him my assessment, and he paid me $3,500, he might approach a more traditional route. The only question was, was I in?
Wait, wait, wait. Not that easy. Clarify please Dan? What did he want exactly again?
I’ll give you his indulgently verbose and introspective answer unedited and you do your best to make what you think he wanted out of it.
To feel and experience the land. Soak it in and see how it feels. See if it tells you anything. Feel free to look around and see if you can find anything that seems like it might give you an answer. Feel free to consult anyone else you want. Feel free to let him know if there’s anything he should know before the two months are over. Basically, feel free and report back.
My translation. I was going to live in this guy’s cabin for free for two months, collect his cash, and write a two-page write up that I half-assed ever harder than most of my gen ed class papers in college. So here that is.
I was shocked by the inside of the cabin on Dan’s land when I came back a few days later after he and his family had already left. It was nice – clean, new, modern furniture and fixtures. Some well-curated Native American art.
Dan also said he rushed some alternate plumbing so I could live there on short notice with his construction guys. The bathroom was impeccable. It had that tile in the shower that could take on water and not get the least bit slippery that’s at fancy hotels. It had a big soaking tub next to a huge window that looked out at the woods where you could hear the river from if you cracked the window.
I found myself in said bath my first night staying in the cabin. I turned the lights low and lit candles. This place beat the hell out of my damp and stuffy apartment up on the reservation I was given for the summer.
The magic stopped when I reached to grab my glass of wine and knocked my candles into the bath, extinguishing them immediately. I was suddenly in the pitch black of the deep woods and there wasn’t a dry candle or lighter anywhere near the tub.
I would have to get out of the tub naked and move across the cabin to flick on a lightswitch in the complete dark, soaking wet, on the tile floor of the place. It wasn’t going to be easy.
I was gameplanning my route to the lightswitch when I stood up and heard the splash of someone walking through a mud puddle out the big window next to the tub. I froze, cold and naked in the tub, the sound of footsteps moving away from the window and around toward the front door of the cabin where I thought I may have left the door unlocked.
I jumped out of the tub, still soaking wet, and sprinted across the hard floor toward the door. I slipped just before I got there and slammed hard into the wooden door, smashing my head then rolling onto my back on the floor.
The only positive was my vista from the floor allowed me to see I had turned the lock on the door and I was safe in that regard. A heavy breath pushed out of my lungs.
A hard knock on the door interrupted that relieving breath and pushed it back into my lungs. I froze there, wet, cold, and naked on the floor. I resigned to just stay there and ignore it. If it was some sort of spirit or creep, they would just leave, they would just leave, I repeated in my head.
Another stiff knock. It was clear being passive might not be an option.
Then I heard a throat clear. It sounded familiar. Deep, stoney, followed by some quick wheezing.
I popped up, unlocked the door and threw it wide open without fear.
I was face-to-face with my older brother Nick, the flame of a lighter between us as he tried to light a cigarette that dangled from his mouth that was below a waterfall of cascading tears and thin snot. I had seen this face before. I ushered it in.
Nick was troubled, even before we lost our parents at a young age. His fingerprints were probably still all over the principal’s office at the local elementary, middle and high schools. The problem was no one ever tried to help or listened, they just punished, but that’s another story for another time.
The police were after Nick. He ran out of the stash house where he was living in Eastern Washington during a raid and he needed a place to hide out for a little while. He talked to some people up on the reservation and they let him know where I was staying and he thought it was perfect for him.
I let him stay even though I knew it wasn’t a good idea. He slept on the couch. I slept in the adjacent tiny bedroom that could barely fit a full-size bed in it.
Slept isn’t the proper word to use in this point of the journal though to talk about that. I closed my eyes through most of the night but sleep would not come. I was too worried about the footsteps I kept hearing out in the woods.
I think the craziness and blur that was working at the fireworks stand up until the night of July Fourth blacked me out through the rest of time leading up the holiday that I never celebrate. Instead, I follow my usual tradition of shutting down the stand, grabbing something to drink or smoke and heading home to go to sleep early. I hate fireworks.
I was actually really excited to spend the Fourth in the woods at the house, far away from town and the reservation where I knew I’d have to hear the teenage boys and grown men who behave like teenage boys light off fireworks all night and it started like that, quiet bliss, other than for the sound of the unease inside my head about the note I found from Nick when I came in that said he was fishing down at the river for the night. Be back later.
I smoked and went to bed before 10 p.m. I was worried about Nick leaving the cabin. Someone easily could see him down by the river or maybe he was running away again? Either way it wasn’t good…but oh well…sleep…
I screamed when an explosion rocked outside my window and shook the glass. I popped up out of bed out of breath and coated with sweat.
I looked to the window above the bed which I had foolishly left open and saw the cascading colorful shower of a gold artillery shell falling to the ground outside the cabin like snow. Then another explosion ripped out and lit up the woods outside the window. Because of the faint second of light the popping explosion created, I saw the silhouette of someone standing just inside the treeline.
The sound of a key twisting in the door back in the entrance of the cabin distracted me from the image of what seemed to be a tall man for a moment before another pop explosion in the sky lit up the world outside. The silhouette of the man was now closer, about halfway through the 10 yard clearing of brush outside my window in the cabin.
I could see him much better now even though I only got another one-second glimpse in the light of the firework. He looked a lot like my older male family members – about 40, tall, lean, long black hair, except he wore clothes no one in my family would ever wear. He wore a white button up shirt with a black vest over it and beige trousers. It reminded me of pictures I had seen of my ancestors from the 1890s in the Cultural Center on the reservation.
The darkness returned outside and he was gone again. The sound of the door opening replaced the twisting of the key back by the entrance to the cabin.
I rushed back to the front door. I didn’t get there in time but found relief in Nick standing there with his fishing pole, looking at me like I was crazy.
I told Nick about the man I saw outside. I told him about how he looked like he was from the 1890s. The old pictures of our ancestors. He laughed. He said I was too high.
I’ll start by noting that days where I didn’t write in the journal were simply days where nothing to write home about happened.
July 12th was not one of those days. Well the day was normal. It was the night that wasn’t. The middle of it, to be exact.
I was sleeping soundly when I woke in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. As I left the bathroom I noticed something out of the corner of my eye through the curtains of the window in the living room – a dark silhouette of a person standing outside.
I froze in the drafty hallway and took a longer look. I couldn’t make out features but the outline sure looked like the ancestor from the 1890s I saw on the night of the Fourth.
Nick wasn’t on the couch where he was usually sleeping. No idea why. He didn’t say he was going anywhere.
The silhouette moved. Left-to-right. Almost out of sight. Then it stopped.
“Nick?” I asked quietly.
No answer. The silhouette just disappeared from sight and I let out a deep breath.
Then there was a knock on the door and my panic came right back. The sound of a baby crying and a mother trying to soothe said baby drowned out my internal worry. I now felt comfortable enough to just walk up to the door and throw it open.
I was greeted by a cherubic face I had never seen before, half-concealed by a beanie and a literal babyface also half-covered by a beanie. Both faces looked desperate.
The cherub started in immediately…
“Is Nick here?” She asked.
I was so stunned it took me a while to answer, especially because the baby now had it’s dark little eyes stuck on me as if it was demanding an answer just as much as the scowl of its mother was. Also, my answer was not going to be simple for a few reasons, one of which being my gut knew that Nick would want me to say no in this situation but my heart and head told me that was not the right thing to do.
“He’s supposed to be but I don’t know where he is right now. Maybe fishing by the river? I can check with you,” I explained, heart and head taking the victory in the first round of my internal struggle.
The cherubic woman looked down at the ground, no longer confrontational, just disappointed. The baby began to cry again, fat, wet tears filling its little doll eyes.
We exchanged numbers. Her name was Mary. I promised to tell Nick to text her and text her as soon as I saw him again and I meant it.
I begged her to come down to the river with me or at least wait while I went to check and come back. She refused and seemed to want to get out of there rather suddenly after she looked off to the woods we would have to walk through to check for Nick by the river.
She left quickly. I took to the woods in an angry stomp, ready to chew out Nick. He had a child and did not tell me?
I was drunk with late night rage and it blinded my fear when I should have been scared to stomp through those woods only to find Nick wasn’t down by the river. It wasn’t until I heard a sound from the brush to my side on my way back to the cabin that I sobered up and stopped in my muddy tracks. I also felt what caused my fear this time as I felt the splash of cold water hit my ankles from behind and get inside my shoes and into my socks.
I whipped around and the brief image of the tall man with the long hair standing right behind me. I only saw it long enough to lose my breath and fall to the ground and into a mud puddle.
My body was stuck in the cold, muddy water as I looked up at the man breathless for a few moments. He stared down at me with an expressionless cold face. I blinked and watched as his features started to fade. Another blink and his mouth was entirely gone as I was frozen in the puddle.
It was almost like my fear subsided for a moment as I looked up at his face. He wasn’t a monster. He was a ghost. He was dead, probably for more than 100 years and I doubted he had much interest in doing something sinister to the 22-year-old Native girl staying in the cabin next to some old bones.
I think he felt my sentiment because he started to fade and the world of the night started to come back to me. I was alone again, the sound of a lone owl my only soundtrack on the warm summer night.
It had been more than a week since I had seen Nick.
I will share something now I did not want to admit in this journal because what do you care and it’s an overshare, but I had started to go to therapy as soon as I came home from school in early-June because of depression. I was considering not going back to Seattle to finish my final year of school in September but also didn’t know what I really wanted to do. Plus, throw in the trauma of losing my parents at an early age.
I told my therapist about the ghosts I was seeing at the cabin and I think what she said was interesting and valuable to put in here to understand and answer the question of if this was a “Indian/Native American burial ground,” and if it was haunted, which I had decided early on, given the visions of the man I had seen.
After I talked about the man outside the cabin, my therapist told me about studies done on ghosts and paranormal activity over the last 200 years. She noted it’s been learned that about 80 percent of paranormal sightings have actually been of known family members, not the kind of spooky random ghosts commonly seen in movies and long discussed in folklore.
Ghosts and paranormal visions likely have much more to do with personal processing and the concept of death than hauntings and scorned spirits who may have died somewhere. Ghosts it turned out may have much more to do with the person seeing them than the ghost itself.
I took this to heart. Was the man I was seeing on the property by the cabin some long distant relative who was buried in that plot next to the cabin? So was it an Indian burial ground or was he just a manifestation of someone I was trying to remember but forgot? I’m doing my best to try and figure it out.
I woke up at 3 a.m. on a weird, warm windy night. It sounded like something had fallen on the ceiling above my head. My first assessment told me it was just a branch off of a tree.
I was initially going to ignore it. Then I thought I heard it rolling around on the roof in the wind. I was worried it would reach the sky light in the living room and break through so I got out of bed and hurried outside.
A quick look up on the roof showed I was correct but it also reminded me there was no way I was climbing up there and getting the branch off there or anything so I was pretty helpless. I headed back to the door from the side of the cabin next to the unearthed burial ground.
I went right back into the cabin.
But I had to stop once I stepped into the living room. The door was ajar when I came back in when I definitely closed it when I stepped out to check the roof.
I locked the door, retreated to the bedroom and went to sleep. I slept through the night.
You might be wondering why there is such a long break between entries. The truth is I wasn’t capable of writing about what happened on the night of the 2nd until now and even know there are portions I have to leave out.
The call came in the middle of the night from an unknown 509 area code phone number. I recognized the voice on the other end of the line as definitely being a police officer as soon as I heard it.
My entire body came to life in a flash. I sat up on the side of the bed and felt the tears and sobs start to warm up in my body before the officer even started talking.
I knew what he was going to say before he said it. Nick had been found dead of a drug overdose. What I didn’t anticipate was the next detail. He had been dead for months and they only just now found him because he was squatting in a remote cabin in the northeast corner of Washington.
Thankfully the officer didn’t give me any more information over the phone. I could meet with the police in Skagit County and they could give me the rest of the details and what to do next.
Sure, sure, I agreed, almost laughing when he asked if I had any questions and wondering if I told him that my brother showed up at the cabin I was staying at in the woods well after when they said he died.
I laid back onto the bed once the call was over and cried my eyes out.
I didn’t leave the cabin for more than a week. The local police department kept calling me and leaving voicemails but I never answered. I worried they would show up and want to talk to me but they never did, which actually made me more sad because it told me that was how little they cared about my brother.
I just laid around in Dan’s cabin. I would have probably done that for the rest of my life had I not had to go back to college. I had to get myself together and the cold and weirdness that was my time up at home convinced me I should go back to Seattle.
My things were packed. I had one more night to get through in the cabin. It may have made sense to go to a hotel or down to Seattle immediately but I felt a connection to the land now and actually hoped by some impossible magic Nick would come back.
Everything was packed up into my little car, ready to make the trek down to Seattle. I was ready to go but went back inside the cabin to go to the bathroom before I hit the road.
Mary and the baby were waiting for me when I stepped out of the cabin, standing next to some piece of shit car. The baby cried once she laid her eyes on me.
“I’m sorry to bum rush you like this but you haven’t been answering my calls,” Mary said as I stood frozen in front of the cabin. “We know what happened to Nick and I don’t want anything from you. Well, not true. Just like, no money, but I want to ask you something.”
I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t capable and I was pretty sure my soft posture probably made it clear Mary was free to go on.
“I just want Yolanda to be able to know some about her dad’s family and her dad, when the time is right…is that okay?”
Again, I was unable to form a verbal answer. I could tell my quivering jaw and flat face was hurting Mary, and possibly the baby whose name I just learned. Was I going to say no?
No. I gave her the strongest answer I thought I could and something I wish I would have done to Nick or that spirit in the woods who looked over me the entire time I was at the cabin. I walked up and gave her a huge hug. I held it tight. She was there. She was alive.
Yolanda stopped crying.
I apologize for taking so long to write. It took me some time to process what happened this summer. Case in point, I actually destroyed my original journal as soon as I got back to Seattle. I didn’t want anyone else to ever read about what happened, myself included.
That explains why I wrote everything in the past tense in the pages before this. I wrote these from memory of what happened on the nights I think they happened on, with the help of my therapist. I apologize if they are shoddy and not what you wanted but this is what happened to me during the time on your property, which is definitely not an Indian burial ground. I hope that trope and idea can die a horrible, horrible death soon.
The only actual Indian burial ground I am familiar with in the area is the standard county graveyard in the middle of town. That’s where Nick is buried. That’s where my parents are buried, surrounded by plenty of other non-Indian folk who have passed over the years. There’s nothing sacred about their dead bodies or the ground.
Now I guess this journal is just for me. My package with my journal that I mailed to Dan’s address up in Sedro-Woolley was returned to sender with a note from a realtor which said the property was unoccupied and no one named Dan had ever owned it and the property had actually been for sale for four years with no one living there.
The realtor did have some questions for me though. He heard rumors that there had been a squatter in the cabin they renovated on the property a few years before and people had dug up some of the ground around it but then refilled it.
He was not going to get me or anyone else in trouble. He just wanted to talk to me.
I threw away his letter.