The History of Sunnyside Cemetery
The Davis Blockhouse in Sunnyside Cemetery, like the monuments marking the gravesites of Whidbey's pioneers, is yet another tie to the island's early settlement period. It stands on what was once the southern border of James Davis' donation claim, one of three brothers of Rebecca Davis Ebey who followed her to Whidbey Island. [See map of Davis claim].
Davis Blockhouse, Sunnyside Cemetery, 1999
Photo by Theresa Trebon
Thomas Davis, the youngest of Rebecca's brothers, accompanied her and her sons on their 1851 journey over the Oregon Trail. The next year James and John Davis, together with their mother, Harriet, headed west. But a reunion of the Davis family on Whidbey was not to be. On January 9, 1853, Rebecca wrote the following entry in her diary: "An indian [sic] brought me a letter today ... O the distressing news it brought, the truth of the death of my dear mother on the plains. My heart is almost broken I feel that I cannot endure the torture of being separated from her in this life." John and James arrived on Whidbey that April, only to see Rebecca die a few months later. Despite their losses, the Davis brothers remained on the island, with James and Thomas both taking donation claims bordering those of Jacob and Isaac Ebey. Following the murder of his brother-in-law in 1857, John Davis became guardian of Isaac and Rebecca's three children.
By 1868, all three Davis brothers were deceased but none are buried at Sunnyside. James and Thomas, suffering respectively from insanity and tuberculosis, died in Hawaii in 1862. John Davis, the remaining brother, inherited James' claim but he was also mentally unstable. In 1867, Urban Bozarth [husband of Mary Ebey Bozarth], took John to the Washington Territorial Insane Asylum in Monticello and committed him; he died there the following year and was interred in the asylum burying ground. In 1868 the James Davis claim went on the auction block. Cyrus and Sarah Cook were the successful bidders and, along with the farmland, acquired one used blockhouse, left over from the "Indian troubles" of the 1850s.
Whidbey settlers constructed a number of defensive blockhouses in the 1850s in response to threats from two distinct groups of Indians, the so-called "Northern Indians," who hailed from Canada, and those Indians from the Puget Sound region. The Crockett family [located near the present-day Washington ferry dock], erected a stockade and two blockhouses as early as 1853 in response to warring factions of local tribes—and raids from Northern Indians. In the autumn of 1855, as various tribes in Washington Territory rose up in response to the treaties of Governor Isaac I. Stevens, two blockhouses were built near Coupeville, one by the Alexander family near the Coupeville waterfront [it still stands today in front of the Island County Museum], the other on John Crockett's farm at present-day Prairie Center. The August 1857 murder of Isaac Ebey by Kake Indians from "Russia-Alaska" prompted the construction of additional fortifications. Immediately after that killing, settlers converted the blockhouse on John Crockett's into "Fort Whidby" and surrounded it with pickets. Jacob and Winfield Ebey built their own stockade atop the hill on Sunnyside Farm, complete with two blockhouses. And in November of 1857, the Davis brothers followed suit on their claim.. On November 28, 1857, Winfield Ebey wrote in his diary, "In the evening went out to John Davis' old house + helped them put up a few logs The boys are fixing it up into a kind of Blockhouse," And on December 3, Winfield noted, "I hunted oxen until 11:00 unsuccessfully Then went out + helped the Davis boys on their house".
The Davis brothers never had call to use their blockhouse for defense. However, seventy years later their ramshackle blockhouse needed protection from the elements. In 1922, the Ladies of the Round Table [LORT] took on its restoration. Win Cook offered to donate the blockhouse to them providing that they could guarantee the structure's preservation. After attempting, and failing, to interest the Washington State Historical Society in taking charge of the site, LORT took over the project themselves. They solicited donations of labor, material, and funds, and in June 1930, as the restoration work was nearing completion, LORT looked for an organization to assume ownership of the structure. Lacking a local historical society at that time, the next best thing was the county. On February 2, 1931, after numerous meetings, the county agreed to take ownership of the old fortification by including it in an expansion of Sunnyside Cemetery called the Blockhouse Addition. LORT members hired noted Seattle sculptor James Wehn to create a special commemorative plaque for the restored blockhouse, one that dedicated the effort to "the Pioneer Mothers," [although they incorrectly dated the structure to 1855.] And on September 7, 1931, the restored blockhouse was christened with a community celebration. Edmond Meany, the renowned University of Washington history professor, gave the keynote address in front of a large crowd, many of whom were the now-elderly sons and daughters of the island's first settlers. The preservation project marked the community's first successful attempt to preserve its rich history, an important milestone in that ever-continuing effort on Whidbey Island.