Two Snohomish Indians kill the Casto family in Squak Valley on November 7, 1864.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 6/02/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 4182
On November 7, 1864, two Snohomish Indians kill William and Abigail Casto in their home in Squak Valley (now Issaquah.) Also killed is John Halstead, a housemate. The assailants are in turn killed by Aleck, the Castos' Klickitat friend and employee.

Pioneers to Squak Valley

In 1861, Abigail Bonser married William Casto, a business associate of her father's, in Portland, Oregon. Two years later, they moved to Squak Valley and built a cabin near the south end of Lake Sammamish. Accompanying them on the trip were Aleck, a Klickitat Indian, and his sons. Aleck had worked with the Bonser family at their home in Oregon.

The Castos brought along trade goods. James Halstead, Abbie’s cousin, followed a few months later with more. As well as opening up a small trading post, the family began pruning hazel bushes to make hoop poles used in the construction of barrels and as stiffeners for ladies’ hoop skirts.

The Castos employed local Sammamish and Snohomish Indians, who were overseen by Aleck. Casto got along well with the Indians, and often shared liquor with them. This worried his neighbors, who felt that no good would come of this.

Killed at Home

In 1864, there were outbreaks of hostility between settlers and Indians throughout Puget Sound. During the summer, the English brig Marquis was attacked when it came ashore along the lower sound. One man was killed. In response, the captain marched his men to the nearest village and shot several of the inhabitants, including a chief.

Tensions were high amongst many tribes, but William Casto may not have been aware of it. After the end of work on November 7, 1864, he returned home for supper. As he was sitting at the table with his wife and John Halstead, two Snohomish Indians in his employ crept up to the cabin and fired shots through the window.

William was killed immediately, and Abigail and Halstead were wounded. The two attackers burst through the door, struggled with John, and stabbed him repeatedly. They then turned their knives on Abigail. Aleck, who was working nearby, heard the shots and rushed to the building. When the assailants ran from the house, he shot one and chased the other into the woods. Once he caught up with the killer he split his head open with a hatchet.

Family Matters

Fearing an uprising, the other settlers in the valley set out for Seattle. This trip took a day and a half. When they returned with a coroner and a posse, they found Aleck waiting with the bodies. A message was sent to the Bonser family in Oregon, and the Bonser men traveled north. Expecting more hostility, they came heavily armed.

Aleck returned to Oregon with the Bonsers, but other Indians thought of him as a traitor. Aleck’s son was later killed in an ambush that also wounded Aleck. The Bonsers built a small dwelling for him on their property, where he lived out his life.

The Castos and John Halstead were buried in Denny Park Cemetery in Seattle. Their remains were later moved to the Masonic cemetery.


Sources: Clarence B. Bagley, History of Seattle Vol. 2, (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co, 1916) and Vol. I, 781-787; Roger Knowles Thompson, Abbie Casto’s Fate (2001), Issaquah History On-Line accessed May 29, 2003 (http://www.issaquahhistory.org/archives/bonser-casto/casto.htm).

Related Topics:   Northwest Indians | Pioneers | War & Peace

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