Basket Maker Bios
Mary Ann James Kle’ye
1897 – 1955
“She lives on in the few photos and the legacy of her basketwork”
Mary Ann (James) Graham was a Nlaka’pamux woman who was a gifted and prolific basketmaker from North Bend, BC. Her aboriginal name was Kle’ye. She was the granddaughter of Paul Youla, who was known as one of the last surviving warriors in the Fraser Canyon War of 1858, as well as being one of the best hunters and trackers in the country around the Canyon and Lower Mainland, as it is known now.
“She lives on in the few photos and the legacy of her basketwork”.
We do know Mary Ann James Graham was a basketmaker from North Bend; taught in the art by her mother Christina, and by various aunts and grandmothers as well.
We really only know a little about Mary Ann’s life. We know she was the daughter of Patrick and Christina James, who was born about 1897; she married William (Bill) Graham of Spuzzum, had one daughter Elizabeth, and died at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in Lytton, BC, in 1955. She was laid to rest at the Anderson Creek native cemetery in Boston Bar, BC, where others of her family were also buried. She lives on in the few photos we have of her, her basketwork, and in the memory of her last living relative, her sister-in-law Mary James.
Mary Ann (or Marion , or Margaret Ann ) has two birth years attributed to her; 1894 and 1897. The 1894 year is most likely inaccurate, as the informant on her death certificate, Arthur Skuki, did not even know the names of her parents, and he was most likely guessing at her age. His estimation of Mary Ann’s age was 61 in 1955. Her mother Christine James’ estimated age was 69 in 1952 ; whose son Harry was the informant. Both death certificates are almost certainly in error. It is extremely unlikely, though not entirely impossible, that Christina had Mary Ann at age 11; but it must be mentioned because the certificates are legal government records.
The accepted birth year for Mary Ann James should be 1897, as this is what the family had carved into her grave marker, so this would have made her about 58 when she passed away in Lytton on July 30, 1955.
Mary Ann was the daughter of Captain Jesse Patrick James, 1859 – 1939 ; and Christina James, 1877 to 1952 . She had four siblings, Harry James, 1909-1976; Dennis James, 1910 – 1925 ; Annie Helen James Chow, 1914 – 1980 , and Minnie James, 1916 – 1941 .
Her grandfather was a noted Nlaka’pamux, survivor of the Fraser Canyon War, and tracker Paul Youla who was noted for his longevity and witnessing the Canyon War. We know she lived for a while with her grandfather Youla in 1914.
One of the best photos of Mary Ann is the joint portrait (see Mary Ann above and Bill and Mary Ann below) that were taken of her and her husband in their youth, probably when they were married. It was obviously done professionally, as, if one looks closely one can see that the photographer altered the photograph to erase the mole on her right cheek.
Another excellent photo shows her seated on the walk of Harry and Mary’s North Bend home , with all of her and her mother’s baskets stacked on the porch steps. A fine basket sits beside her, overflowing with split cedar roots ready for making baskets. A personal communication from Mary James indicates that Christine made most of the large baskets, and that Mary Ann’s were several of the small ones. However, this researcher’s personal opinion is that, judging from her prominent position in the pose beside the basketry materials, Mary Ann likely made more than just a few of the smaller ones. Please note that this is just an opinion. Perhaps Christine did make all of the large baskets, but did not want to be the focus of attention.
Mary Ann married William Graham, (1871 – 1957) , and they had one daughter, Elizabeth Graham, (1922 – 1995) . When Elizabeth was still fairly young, Mary Ann left her husband and daughter in Spuzzum, and moved back to her family’s home in North Bend. She did, however, teach her daughter how to make baskets. Elizabeth’s very first basket resides in the collection of Clare Chrane .
Mary Ann was the daughter of Christine and Patrick James of North Bend. Mary James of North Bend remembers Mary Ann as her sister-in-law. When asked if she knew why the mother had left her family, she replied that Mary Ann was left alone for a long period of time, and had grown lonely, and left. She never went back to live in Spuzzum. Although Elizabeth was angry with her mother for leaving, she still loved to visit her North Bend relatives, and particularly enjoyed the company of her favourite Aunt Mary.
Mary Ann James did have roots in Spuzzum. Her grandfather was Paul Youla, (1831 – 1942) one of the last aboriginal survivors of the Fraser Canyon War of 1858. This war was actually a series of pitched battles caused by the incursion of Caucasian prospectors into Nlaka’pamux territory, precipitated by the white men’s disregard for Native territorial rights and especially by their abuse of native women. Rape was one of the deciding factors. Four companies of men made their way upriver from Yale to engage the Nlaka’pamux people, burning a number of food storehouses along the way. People on both sides were killed before a peaceful conclusion was reached due in large part to the actions of Chief Spintlum.
Paul Youla passed away in 1942, leaving three daughters and their children to mourn him. His daughters were Christine James, Pauline Carlson, and Sarah Pettis. Mary Ann James was one of his grandchildren, and her daughter Elizabeth was his great-granddaughter. A newspaper article describes his surviving family: “Youla left three daughters, Mrs. James of North Bend, Mrs. F.O. Carlson of Port Moody, and Mrs. Pettis of Agassiz; five grandchildren, Marion James, Annie James and Harvey James at North Bend, and Angus and Jack Pettis of Agassiz, and Elizabeth Graham at Spuzzum.” Obviously the reporter included Elizabeth as a grandchild instead of the great-grandchild that she was.
Mary Ann’s husband Bill Graham passed away in 1957. Their daughter Elizabeth Graham Pappenberger passed away February 23, 1995 at age 73, leaving her basket and photo collection to Clare Chrane, the daughter of her cousin May Algie (nee Clare). Since that time, Clare has shared the knowledge passed on to her by Elizabeth and other family members. She is the source of the photos which sparked the investigation into the James baskets.
On December 26, 1965, there was tragedy for the James family in North Bend; in a terrible house fire, the home of Harry and Mary James burned to the ground. Three children and a grandmother died and as well most of the baskets in the James photos were lost. Another photo in the James collection, showing Harry posed with the baskets was also burned.
Christine James and Mary Ann James Graham had long since passed away by the time of the James house fire, so they did not live to see all of their hard work destroyed, or the sad passing of their loved ones.
Several of their baskets had already passed on to other collections, so we do have some of their work preserved in museum, community, and family collections. Three of these baskets are lovingly cared for at the Lytton First Nations band office ; and two are in the Langley Centennial Museum. There is also another basket with the family flower design in a private collection, which was saved by Bill Graham’s sister, Clara Clare. However, this basket is not shown in the James photographs.
William (Bill) Graham Mary Ann James Graham
Written by Irene Bjerky