In the early days of white settlement in the San Juans, marriages and less formal arrangements between white men and native women were not uncommon. Though some ended sadly, others, like that of Anna and Christopher Rossler, were happy and lasting unions.
Anna Pike, a Native Alaskan woman, married Christopher Rosler, a U.S. serviceman in 1862. The onset of the Pig War brought Anglo men to the area, and they engaged in relationships with Native women. Cross-cultural marriages were often not recognized by the U.S. federal government, due to racist sentiments, but this lack of legal validation did not deter Natives or Anglos of the San Juan Island area from the union. The Roslers homesteaded on Friday Harbor.
Christopher Rosler was born in Hesse Kassel, Germany in 1838, and immigrated to the United States at the age of fourteen. In New York, he apprenticed as a shoemaker. The restless youth soon ran away and enlisted in the U.S. Army. Military service carried him to the edge of American empire when he became part of the 9th Infantry Regiment at Fort Bellingham, and later, American Camp. Rosler served for the entire occupation during the Pig War (1859-1872).
Anna Pike was born of the Metlakatla people (descendants of the Tsimshian Nation) in 1846. She was said to have been born at Fort Simpson in Alaska, to a Native mother and missionary father. Each year, the Metlakatla people journeyed to San Juan Island to fish the salmon bank. In 1861, Anna met Christopher Rosler while he served at the American Camp.
Anna and Christopher were married the following year in 1862, in what was referred to as an “Indian Ceremony.” The lack of legitimization and restrictions placed on mixed-race relationships by the U.S. federal government meant mixed race couples could not legally join in union under U.S. law. Rather, these marriages often took place under tribal customs, until they were later legally recognized by the federal government. Anna and Christopher were wed again by a Catholic priest in 1880, but it is unclear if this union was legal either, as a marriage certificate is not on record. The couple had eight children who survived childhood: Rudolph, Fred, William, Mark, Lorena, Adeline, Kate, and Harriet.
The children remained on the island with the exception of Mark, who became a dentist and moved to Portland Oregon, and Adeline whom wed and moved to Spokane, Washington. Following his death in 1907, Christopher Rosler deeded the farm and transferred all personal property to Anna. It certainly would have been unseemly to deed ownership of land to a woman at this time, let alone a Native woman. Anna remained on the land until her death just two years later in 1909. Following his death in 1907, Christopher Rosler deeded the farm and transferred all personal property to Anna. It certainly would have been unseemly to deed ownership of land to a woman at this time, let alone a Native woman. The deed of the property to Anna also indicates the success of this cross-cultural marriage, as some Native women were deserted by their husbands and had no legal claim to the property because their marriage was not legally recognized. Anna remained on the land until her death just two years later in 1909.