As told to Daniel J Arthur by Steven M. Madison, a very special grandson. All rights reserved.
Copyright 2021 and 2022
Frank Freeman Madison, Sr., a Tulalip Tribes member, was born in what was then known as Chinatown, Seattle, Washington, USA on February 22nd, 1923, now the International District. February 22nd is the same date as President George Washington’s birthday. This great American was born during the era of the Greatest Generation, but like many others the cloud of racism was thick around him.
Sometime prior to school age, his family moved back to the Tulalip Reservation north of Seattle. He was first taken to the Tulalip Indian School by his father when he was 5 years old. His mother was able to rescue him when he was about six years old. This very traumatic experience of attending a very abusive, government approved boarding school would be a big part of Frank’s life. He turned it into motivation to protect his people as he was the wiser at a young age.
At home Frank was taught everything his parents and relatives knew to survive in those days and he learned Lushootseed, the language of his parents, and English as well. He was a happy child with plenty, even though Native American families were not treated equally in America at that time. His parents were able to get by on the Tulalip Reservation for many years, but would need to move from time to time to protect Frank and others. When Frank was 10 years old his family moved back to Chinatown in Seattle. Some of the Japanese people living there taught him Jujitsu and karate. His father wasn’t around much at that time, and everyone knew he would need to protect himself.
Once again they moved back to the Tulalip Reservation, having gone back and forth from Chinatown according to job opportunities. However, one day, at about 11 years old, the federal reservation officials came to his house again and told his parents he would need to go to the Tulalip Indian School to learn how to live in this country. Now this was a very scary and frightening time for little Frank and his family. They did not trust the federal officials, and knew this was not what they wanted. They had experienced the boarding school horror before, and it was known to them that it was dangerous to mind, body and soul. The local government officials made it known they had no choice but to send him to school. He would need to live there for much of the year, and only be allowed to visit his family on occasion.
At the school he was not allowed to speak Lushootseed or practice any of his cultural ways. He was forced to learn English and learn about someone’s version of the Christian faith and cultural ways. In fact, they were very cruel how they treated the children at the school, forcing them not only to learn what they taught, but to renounce and forget the ways of their parents, grandparents and ancestors. They used corporal punishment of the worst kind. And, many children did not return to their families. It was a horrific time. The governments of the world, including the relatively young United States, took almost all the land that belonged to the Native Americans by force, and fighting back just did not work. The same was true about keeping their culture and knowledge.
Frank was there for about six months before his mother, Delia or Grandma Lonnie as she was known, rescued him from the school again. At four foot and one inch tall she was a scary, tough woman. She was a Jimicum. Her father’s name was Martin – the last leader of the Jimicum people. She was a protector of her children in these very difficult times.
His elders told him to not just go into the woods. They tell us there are spirits in the woods, and some of them harbor ill will towards us. You need to be spiritually ready to go into the woods. Once upon a time there was a man who went into the woods without being spiritually ready. When he came back he was wild and nobody could stop him from doing anything as he ran, screamed and tore up things. He was so traumatized and was doing so much damage. They couldn’t get him settled down. Of course, they had to call a real shaman to come and remove the spirit from him.
When he was 12 years old Frank went out into the woods to get his spiritual power. He just told his mother one day that he was going to go and get his power. She packed him some food and out he went. His Grandpa Tom had taught him a great deal about how to survive in the woods without anything and about spiritual ways. Grandpa Tom was a great shaman. One of the last great leaders of the Jimicum people. Frank was out there for about three weeks. On the second to the last day he was out there he was moving through the trees and came face to face with a bear. The bear looked at him, sniffed him and turned around and left, which is how the bear became his spiritual power. The next day Grandpa Tom told everyone that Frank would be coming out of the woods. That’s when Frank returned to the people.
In the 1930s when he was about 13 years old, young Frank hopped trains across America. The reservation life was tough, he was too young to hold a job, and he had a great thirst for knowledge gained on his own terms. He was kicked off his first train in California, hungry as could be, after starting in Seattle, WA. He found a piece of wood, took out his pocket knife and started carving. He created a totem pole, and a white fellow walking by had noticed what he was doing. The man asked young Frank if he could sell his work of art. Frank said yes, how much? The man said $5 and Frank accepted the offer and had plenty of food and place to stay as a result. He carved many totem poles for money as he crossed America.
Frank persevered, survived, made it through the horrible boarding school experience and soon enough found he was 19 and registered for the draft. He fell in love, married and had a child with another Tulalip Tribes member. He was becoming a responsible adult, albeit at a young age as they often did back then, and was struggling to find a way to take care of his new family. If he left the reservation, he would need to stay out of sight. He found from experience that he could blend in what was called Chinatown near downtown Seattle. So, he often stayed there as he earned some money from odd jobs. It was a struggle as Native Americans were not treated well by most people. I’m understating the problem.
At this time he was drafted into the Army as things were heating up during World War II. The Allies, including America, were at war with Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire – these aggressive nations were doing even worse things to people all over the world, if you can imagine that. Frank was rushed through boot camp as were many others. After training and on the ship to war in North Africa, Frank recalled one soldier who would stand on the prow of the ship looking to make sure they would not fall off the edge of the Earth.
He joined the forces in North Africa fighting mostly under General Patton as they swept across the continent defeating the enemy. Frank was a lead scout going ahead of the main column of troops to help identify enemy weaknesses. It seems very likely that he fought alongside of a close relative of Steven’s storyteller friend, Great Uncle James also known as Jim Bill. The records are not clear, yet, but it seems very likely from the records reviewed to date that these two served bravely together through the most difficult of battles and U.S. Army duties.
Soon they invaded and captured Sicily and as the allies invaded Italy, his group was sent to England to ready for an invasion of France. After D-Day his command supported efforts to head into Germany and won the famous Battle of the Bulge. Frank was always in the lead and as they went into Germany he was involved in the liberation of the terrible concentration camps from the Nazi created Holocaust.
Frank told some stories including winning a life and death hand-to-hand combat match with an SS soldier as they were trying to maintain peace in West Germany. He also expressed how dangerous and untrustworthy the SS officers were. He experienced and saw too much before coming back home. He had PTSD. PTSD would plague Frank much of his adult life as it was not well understood at the time. Research is continuing to piece together Frank’s war record. Frank did not like to talk about his war experiences much, much like Jim Bill. He was honored with at least some medals. His encounters with the Nazis influenced him to say often that you “don’t believe a damned thing you hear and only half of what you see.”
Of course his traumas didn’t end there. When he returned home he learned his child had died under questionable circumstances. It broke his heart. He divorced his wife.
His sisters Darlene and Jeannie set Frank up with a young woman from Marysville. After a time he dated then married his Swedish-American wife and started a family. He was heavily involved in tribal politics and culture. He was known for fighting the good fight for his people.
In the 1950s Frank was a pipe welder of oil and gas lines in Alaska and Canada. He was also a professional wrestler, boxer and magician for a number of years. He was on a circuit run by a famous promoter, but more research is required as Frank did not divulge details. He started working closer to home as he decided to raise his children and two of his grandchildren, Steven and Bernice.
When some in the Tribes wanted to make a deal with the notorious Mr. Trump to operate the casinos in the early 1990s, Frank’s family worked hard to make sure that didn’t happen. It was not easy, but Frank instilled in his son’s the resolve to fight for what is right. And, we know from hindsight that it is best not to work with that family. The Tribes have done very well without that partnership thanks in large part to Frank’s family. Frank was involved very closely in tribal and state politics throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s and on, including the Boldt decision that restored some fishing rights to the tribes of Washington state. He was connected to many politicians and had a strong influence. He was especially driven to get tribal children the best wholesome education possible. It was a tremendous struggle.
You might wonder how the Coast Salish artist and master carver, Steven, came to be the guardian of such precious knowledge. Frank took care of and raised Steven since he was a baby – guiding him and teaching him. It certainly wasn’t easy, and there are many stories to come including how Grandpa Frank would encourage Steven to do a work of art, and then sell it to his contacts to help them to get by. Steven started doing Native art at around 12 years of age. In fact, Frank would visit local schools to share about his culture, getting paid about $250 for the lecture with three cans of root beer included. Steven would go along and help with art projects and to answer student questions about totem poles, Native stories and culture. He had been trained in classical sculpting and oil painting prior to that. At about 19 years of age he started to do more carving, and Frank would sell those.
In his earlier years, Steven often found himself in the presence of respected elders of the Tulalip Tribes and others. His great grandfather spoke to him and taught him Lushootseed and many, many legends. Frank repeated and told him many legends as well. They were all master storytellers of their time.
Steven also returned the favor and took care of Grandpa Frank and helped him through the end of life. Frank struggle with alcohol after the war until 1975. He developed severe emphysema at around 1993 and passed away in 2002. They were very close – sometimes at great odds with each other, but always there for each other. Frank shared his wisdom and knowledge to the end with Steven. This is why Steven is so special.
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