Gah-toh-litsa (Grandma Oliver)

Very little is known regarding William Johnson other than he showed up at about the same time as two other pioneer white settlers, Raphael Brunns and 26-year-old Virginian Robert Bailey.

William Johnson married a native woman, Gah-toh-litsa, born in 1860, and the two set up house at Double Bluff on tribal land that a Snohomish Chief had provided. They were industrious as farmers and established a productive farm. Gah-toh-litsa, who also went by the name of Jane Johnson and was said to be an Indian princess, had several children with Johnson, the exact number of which is not precisely known. Johnson would regularly fill his boat with vegetables and produce, and then row west at high tide. By riding the outgoing tide, he could get to Port Townsend to sell or trade his products, and then return home on the incoming tide.

He made a similar trip in February of 1886, but never made it home. He was discovered dead in his boat the following morning off of Haller’s Point. Although the authorities recorded the event differently, the family has always suspected violence since no money was discovered on his person, furthermore he had conducted a significant amount of business in Port Townsend the previous day. A perpetrator was never discovered, and the incident filed away in the history books.

In 1858, two years before Gah-toh-litsa was born, 26-year-old Edward Oliver arrived on the dock in Bayview situated at the head of Useless Bay.  Oliver was slender at 135 lb., an average height of five-foot-six, almost pale, blue-eyed, with sandy hair and full blonde beard and moustache.

Oliver purchased property in the Deer Lagoon region and started a logging operation. Historical documents describe what it looked like: “The land around Deer Lagoon where Edward Oliver started his logging operation was like a huge park filled with trees as large as fifteen feet in circumference. Fir, hemlock and cedar grew in abundance, with fern, salal and huckleberry at their feet. In places wild grasses sprouted among the trees and provided food for deer and elk.” Edward Oliver married a half-native woman, Melvina Sooy, who very quickly brought four children to their young family. Sadly, Melvina died in 1886.

In April of 1887, Oliver married Gah-toh-litsa, who would bring another six children to their combined families. Gah-toh-litsa lived until 1945, remained a colorful character into her old age and was known to all who knew her as “Grandma Oliver.”