Chief Son-I-Hat (Kóyongxung) of the Yáadaas clan (Eagle moiety), was born in 1829, and was considered one of the wealthiest of the Haida chiefs. Son-I-Hat had two brothers, Tákimash and Xakhú, and a sister, Shidla aówa kinás (“heavy flying bird” referring to the slow, heavy beat of an eagle’s wing). Son-I-Hat’s wealth consisted of slaves, gold coin, houses and totem poles. The Chief had a reputation of being fair to his slaves and treated them as part of his family. He carved gold and silver, but not totem poles, spoons or boxes.
Son-I Hat built two houses. The first one, called Náay I´waans ("great house," today referred to as Whale House) was built in 1880 in Kasaan Bay, about a mile from where New Kasaan stands now. The second house, some sources name Eagle House, was built in the mid-1890s. Above right, Chief Son-I-Hat's house, circa 1880s. Photo courtesy Ketchikan Museum #91-8-161-Son-I-Hats-House.
A good portion of the Chief’s wealth came from fur trading. He ran canoes from the northern part of the Gulf of Alaska, around Kodiak Island, and as far south as California. Son-I-Hat bought furs from the North and sold them to the Hudson's Bay Company. His name appears frequently in the Hudson’s Bay Company journals for Fort Simpson.
Pictured above: Chief Son-I-Hat (center, holding cane) and his wife (to his right) with family at New Kasaan, Alaska. Although the date was not recorded, the photograph was taken sometime between 1900 and 1911. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution National Anthropological Archives Negative #72-483.
Although Son-I-Hat is a Tlingit name meaning “well respected," both the Chief and his wife were of Haida descent. The Son-I-Hat family lived in New Kasaan and today the Totem Park is located where his house once stood. The Chief spoke fluent Haida and Chinook, and Mrs. Son-I-Hat spoke Haida and Tsimpsian. The family consisted of three boys (Alex, James and Takamoose [sic]) and at least one girl. James was the father of Original Kavilco Shareholders David Son-I-Hat Peele and Harriet Peele McAllister.
As a sign of wealth many chiefs held celebrations called potlatches. During the five-day potlatch celebration the host gave extravagant gifts to all of the invited guests. The last potlatch that Chief Son-I-Hat gave was said to have cost him in excess of $20,000. At one point the Chief had so many gold coins that he gave them to his aunt to take to Port Simpson, British Columbia for safe keeping. Neither the gold coins nor his aunt were ever seen again.
When the Russian Orthodox and other Christian missionaries told the Haida that Christianity was the only way to survive, Son-I-Hat relented and became a Christian. The remainder of the tribe followed.
In 1901, he was the first chief to answer a plea from Governor Brady (Territorial Governor of Alaska, 1897-1906), gifting his Old Kasaan Eagle house and its totem poles to be preserved and exhibited at the Sitka National Monument. A Sitka newspaper article from 1902 states that the 55-foot pole on the left was more than 70 years old at that time. The original was repaired in Governor Brady's sawmill, shipped to the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, then to the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, and finally back to Sitka. During the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project, when the pole was about 100 years old, the original was lowered, laid out alongside a new cedar log and a copy was carved using the designs of the original pole. The crew had problems finding a log of adequate height for the reproduction pole. The carvers eventually had to fit the design onto two logs pieced together. A careful look behind the pole reveals their skillful joint between the two logs. Pictured at right is a copy of the Son-I-Hat pole donated in 1901 to the Sitka National Historical Park, carved by Native craftsmen in the early 1940s. Although several figures such as the traditional village watchman, a bear and raven are identifiable, other figures are not, and little information about the story of this intricately carved giant has survived. Chief Son-I-Hat died at the age of 83 on January 18, 1912.
Pictured above: January, 1912 — Group gathered around Chief Son-I-Hat's casket, New Kasaan, Alaska. Copy from postcard photograph loaned by Mrs. Helen Sanderson, Hydaburg, Alaska. The following information was supplied by Mrs. Sanderson: "Second left behind coffin — John Wallace; seated to right of coffin — Walter Frank; next to Frank in dark shirt is Pat Skoka [sic]; man to left on porch is Reverend Marsden; next to the bearded man are two brothers Peel [sic], sons of Chief Son-I-Hat." Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution National Anthropological Archives Negative #75-513.
An unidentified man and two boys standing inside Chief Son-I-Hat's house. The man may be James Peele, Son-I-Hat's son, and the boys his sons, circa early 1900s. Photo courtesy Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives, University of Washington Libraries, Image #3593.
Information provided by David Son-I-Hat Peele, Walter B. Young, Sr. (Memories of Kasaan) and the National Park Service website.
CHIEF SON-I-HAT'S GRAVE