Hikane Ito

July 1890

Local attorney James Hart was a trustee for the Auburn Pioneer Cemetery in its early days. In February of 1889 he took on the chore of finally—almost a quarter of a century after cemetery’s first official burials—formalizing the records by creating a detailed plot map of “The Cemetery at Slaughter” (as Auburn Pioneer Cemetery was then known).

He had a couple of reasons for devoting his time to this painstaking task. First, he couldn’t have helped overhearing that many local families planned to move their loved ones to higher, drier ground when a new cemetery was finally opened on Auburn’s West Hill. He himself felt there was no reason to abandon the quiet cemetery in the valley; nevertheless, this removal process began when Auburn’s new Mountain View Cemetery was established in November of the following year. He knew that an accurate plot map of the old cemetery would be essential for facilitating the process of moving the remains to their new resting places. He probably felt duty-bound to support his neighbors’ wishes by creating this important tool.

But attorney Hart certainly had a more personal reason for concerning himself with the accuracy of the cemetery records. His parents had emigrated with him from England when he came to Washington as a young man; they had lived with him ever since. As their only child, James was responsible for their care as they grew older day by day. Perhaps he sensed that he would soon be in the unenviable position of planning one of his parent’s funerals. As it turned out, it was only two months after drawing up the map that, with a heavy heart, he found himself penciling in the location of his own father’s grave on the document he created.

After the addition of George Hart’s grave to this master document, changes continued to be penciled in as time went by. It was just over a year after his father’s death that Attorney Hart jotted down a small notation to record the first of the cemetery’s Japanese burials: “Baby Ito, ‘Jap,’ July 1890.” At this time the cemetery was still crowded with the graves of Caucasian families, and the baby’s grave was tucked among them in the back-most corner of the cemetery.

Today, little is known about Baby Ito’s family. Births and deaths weren’t faithfully recorded in these early days, less than a year after Washington finally attained statehood. This was especially true in the case of babies and doubly so in the case of infants of Asian descent. Baby Ito seems to have arrived and departed from this world without leaving any trace in the official records.

But the mere fact that Baby Ito died here at such an early date was in itself unusual. Her death came just eight years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Potential Japanese emigrants saw the Act’s passage as economic opportunity—many planned to come to the United States and take over railroad or mill jobs that had previously been filled by Chinese laborers. As a result, the first wave of Japanese immigrants began to make its way to Washington soon after Chinese immigration was officially barred. Most of these new arrivals were young, unmarried men who hoped to make enough money in America to return to Japan with greater financial stability than they could have accomplished at home—a stability that would allow them to find wives and begin families in their homeland. Baby Ito’s Auburn death at a time when our area’s Japanese community was primarily a transient, bachelor workforce proves that there was at least one Japanese family in our area, even at that very early date.

As the months and years passed, many of the Japanese bachelors came to think of America as their adopted home. Although some of these men returned to Japan to fulfill their original plans, a substantial number instead contacted relatives back home to help them locate Japanese brides. As these so-called “picture brides” came to join their new husbands here in Washington, the couples tended to settle down and begin families, often making their livings running small truck farms in the Kent and Auburn valleys.

As the Japanese community grew, so too did their need for a place to bury their dead. And as the white community removed their loved ones from the old cemetery, newly vacant space was suddenly available for Japanese burials. Baby Ito’s grave eventually anchored three short rows of graves, set perpendicular to the main rows of the cemetery, which comprised the cemetery’s original Japanese section. By 1917, so much vacant space had been created that an additional strip of land along the eastern border of the cemetery was officially deeded to the Buddhist Church for the use of the Japanese community in exchange for care and maintenance of the cemetery.

Most of these early Japanese graves were marked with sticks or stakes rather than tombstones. In 1928, missionaries from Seattle’s Buddhist church, with the assistance of caretaker Chiyokichi Natsuhara (whose own family plot was in the same section of graves as Baby Ito’s), created concrete markers for the cemetery’s Japanese graves. These tombstones, inscribed with kanji characters, included the family name and given name of the graves’ occupants; unfortunately, if anyone thought to jot down Baby Ito’s first name, it cannot be located in any of the cemetery’s surviving records. It wasn’t until our Japanese translator attempted to read the deteriorated, 80-year-old stone in 2009 that the first name was interpreted as “Hikane,” (a name that indicates the forgotten baby was probably a girl).

After adding Baby Ito to the cemetery map, James Hart continued to make additional notations over the ensuing decades. Although he made no attempt to record graves that were disinterred and moved to other cemeteries, he did continue to note the increasingly rare Caucasian burials that took place after 1890, along with other more pedestrian cemetery features. The last of these notes recorded the placement of drainage lines that were installed in 1922, just months before Mr. Hart’s own death and burial in the cemetery. Between making the original drawing in 1889 and his death in 1922, literally dozens of our area’s Japanese residents were buried in the cemetery. With the exception of Baby Ito’s grave, Mr. Hart, discouraged by the changes at his beloved cemetery, declined to record any of them.


Note: The original 1889 map that James Hart created of The Cemetery at Slaughter is currently displayed in the office of the Auburn Mountain View Cemetery.

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