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Legal Codes and Talking TreesIndigenous Women's Sovereignty in the Sonoran and Puget Sound Borderlands, 1854-1946$
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Katrina Jagodinsky

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780300211689

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300211689.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM YALE SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.yale.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Yale University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in YSO for personal use.date: 21 January 2022

Rebecca Lena Graham and “The Old Question of Common Law Marriage Raised by a Half-Breed”

Rebecca Lena Graham and “The Old Question of Common Law Marriage Raised by a Half-Breed”

Washington, 1859–1946

(p.131) Chapter 5 Rebecca Lena Graham and “The Old Question of Common Law Marriage Raised by a Half-Breed”
Legal Codes and Talking Trees

Katrina Jagodinsky

Yale University Press

This chapter examines how the children of Indigenous women sought to claim and retain family ties and land rights by focusing on the case of Rebecca Lena Graham in Washington Territory during the period 1859–1946. Graham was described by the press as “the half-breed daughter of Frank Matthias” and a “squaw named Rebecca.” In 1894, Rebecca Lena Graham filed an inheritance claim as the only daughter of Frank Matthias, a prominent territorial settler who was fondly remembered by Seattle's founding fathers, but who died intestate and unmarried. Despite her respectability and legal prowess, Rebecca enjoyed no privileges of whiteness once the press seized her claim and reduced the case to “the old question of common law marriage” that had perplexed Washington's state and territorial courts for nearly half a century. This chapter explains why Graham won her case and was acknowledged in a federal court as the rightful mixed-race heir to a white man's estate.

Keywords:   inheritance claim, Indigenous women, land rights, Rebecca Lena Graham, Washington Territory, Frank Matthias, Seattle, whiteness, common law marriage

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