SATUS — Alfrieda Peters remembers heading to the hospital to get her new baby brother, Anthony. She remembers the maroon car her grandpa drove that late March day.
Her mother settled into the car with Tony and held him close to Alfrieda. This is your brother, she said. Her grandpa started the car and the lyrics of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” filled the air.
“He’s got the little bitty baby in his hands ... He’s got the whole world in his hands,” Laurie London crooned. “He’s got you and me brother in his hands ... he’s got the whole world in his hands.”
“That’s how I always remember his arrival, that song,” said Alfrieda, who was 5 when her brother was born on March 20, 1958.
Tony was her responsibility from the beginning. He was so little; he needed protecting. When an uncle jokingly threatened to take Tony home with him, “I remember picking him up and putting him in my lap and declaring, ‘No one’s taking him,’” she said.
Over time they only became closer. From his earliest months in a cradleboard, when his family lulled him to sleep in a swing while singing traditional Yakama lullabies, to food fights and Tony’s childhood years of powwow dancing, brother and sister were almost inseparable.
More siblings arrived; Alfrieda is the oldest of eight. But she and Tony, the only kids for a few years, were close then, always close. He called her nana — “big sister” in the Yakama language.
In the time before her brother was last seen in October 2014 at Legends Casino in Toppenish, the “Tony sightings,” as Alfrieda calls them, dwindled. Fewer people told her they saw him. Fewer people said they talked to him.
“He’d always pop up somewhere. One of the other brothers or sisters would say, ‘I saw him over there,’” she said. “But it’s gone silent. ... his friends, even that had gone silent.”
Anthony “Tony” Peters, also known as Anthony Colfax Peters, was 56 when he disappeared. As more state and national legislators seek solutions to the violence that has disproportionately plagued Native women and girls for centuries, relatives and friends of missing and murdered Native men and boys like Tony worry and wonder about their loved ones.
Tony was homeless when last seen, living with relatives or friends or elsewhere when necessary, his sister said. Alfrieda knows adults who go missing may be struggling with issues like addiction and mental illness. “They all have complicated lives. .... My brother was no different.”
Her brother was intense, she said. His emotions and temper at times alienated those closest to him. But she still feels responsible for Tony. She needs to know where he is.
“Even though he had difficulties, he’s still our sibling,” she said.
An artist from a young age
Lillian Miller Peters and Silas Temens Peters Sr. raised their children in the Satus area, in a house at Indian Church and Chausee roads. The kids attended school in nearby Granger.
An artist from a young age, Tony honed his skills under the guidance of Larry George and Leroy Colfax. Alfrieda graduated from Granger High School in 1972. As a teen Tony moved with their dad to the Seattle-Tacoma area.
“That’s where the work was,” she said. “He was there for a couple years. I don’t know if he got his GED.”
Tony returned to the Yakima Valley with their father, but his siblings scattered in adulthood. A younger sister moved to Canada, another to Seattle, another outside Satus, to a different part of the sprawling, 1.3-million-acre Yakama Reservation.
His creative bent was obvious. Tony sang with a family singing group. “He had a nice loud voice along with my sister,” Alfrieda said. He liked to cook. And in his years as a young powwow dancer, Tony made his own outfits.
“When he would get an inspiration on his outfits, he would ask my mom, ‘Do we have some beads?’ He would make either a choker or a little medallions, something that would go with his outfit,” Alfrieda said. “He had a talent for that. He was very artistic when it hit him, making one thing after another for a memorial or a name giving. Somewhere out there, someone is wearing the legacy of his work.”
He also had a talent for humor, hinted at by one of the photos on his missing- person flyer. With a shock of hair drooping down to his eyebrows and a big grin, Tony looks like he’s in the middle of a chuckle, or ready for one. He looks happy, and a little mischievous.
“I miss my brother because he knew how to make people laugh. You can hear him from down the hallway, and knew he was right around the corner,” younger sister Sylvia Peters said in an email.
Sylvia shares his flyer in hopes of reaching as many people as possible. His missing person case remains open with the Yakama Nation Police Department, number 15-006132. Tony has no known scars or tattoos, but he has an overlapped front tooth and one front tooth is missing, she said. Those with information should call the department at 509-865-2933.
“I know someone knows of his whereabouts. If they have seen him, I would like to know,” Sylvia wrote.
She had talked to Tony about his temper, urging him to walk away from confrontations. He had his angry periods, Alfrieda said.
“You do your best to control your emotions when that happens,” she said. “He would be that way with each of us. He’d have his bouts of anger, then we’d be OK. We love our brother but we couldn’t be in the same area with him when he was in this angry, turbulent mood.”
Much of the time, though, he’s just a loud, happy guy, Sylvia said.
“You can hear him from anywhere soon as you entered a building or event because he was always teasing you about something or he would say something or do something funny,” she said. “You can hear the people say ‘oh Tony’ and they would be all smiles and you can tell he made their day.”
“He would always leave you with, ‘Have a nice day.”
Tony was one of the three main caretakers for their mother and lived with her until she died in 2006. One day she wanted to go to the car wash; Tony went with her. They inserted the quarters but the high-pressure hose wasn’t secured and off it flew in a frenzy, spraying water everywhere. The chase was on as mother and son dodged the hose while also trying to grab it. “Mom was mad. (Tony) said, ‘Mom, I got wet too.’ Having to chase that wand all over the place, (they’re) both sopping wet.”
Her brother did the best job of telling that story, she said.
“When he tells it, he tells it very well, laying the foundation for it,” she added. “He loved corny jokes. Then you find yourself laughing along. I love the way he’s laughing. I love the way he’s carrying on.”
Just like those of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls on and around the Yakama reservation, a number of cases involving Native men and boys remain unsolved. During an FBI investigation more than a decade ago that was spurred by rumors of a serial killer, investigators found as many as 32 cases involving men and women dating back to 1980.
“We have a lot of men missing on the reservation,” Alfrieda said.
Missing men include Anthony Wahsise Sr., 56, who was last seen in Wapato in August 2017. Justin Lee McConville has been missing from Toppenish since Jan. 1, 2015. He would be 28 today. Among the unsolved homicides of men and boys on the reservation is Darryl Keith Celestine, who was murdered Sept. 25, 1988, in Wapato.
Outside the reservation, Ira K. Yallup Sr. was last seen at the Lone Pine fishing site near The Dalles, Ore., in May 2010. His family has offered a $1,000 reward for information about his whereabouts.
Roland Jack Spencer III disappeared in late May 1984. He was 3 years old when last seen in the area of Knight Lane and Campbell Road in Wapato, according to The Charley Project. Roland is presumed to have been abducted by a non-family member, his profile notes.
At that time, he was living with a great-aunt. Roland’s mother, Celestine Faye Spencer, went missing in late 1982. Two weeks after she was last seen, her body was found on Nov. 11, 1982, at the bottom of a gully in a field off McCullough Road along the north slope of Ahtanum Ridge.
Investigators said she died of hypothermia and ruled her death an accident. Her son has been declared legally dead, but his case remains unsolved.
Yakama Nation leaders, including a member of Tribal Council’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women committee created last fall, have spoken about missing men. Charlene Tillequots mentioned the need for data on missing women and men in comments before the Women’s March on Yakima in January.
“The hope is that we can work strongly with the Washington State Patrol and all of the city police departments, the county sheriffs, the FBI can all collaborate together for a strong database to help identify our missing men and women that have been missing out there for years,” Tillequots said. “Today, we still have men and women missing out there.”
One of the most high-profile cases involves a well-known religious leader who had been serving for eight years on the Tribal Council’s Code of Ethics Committee when he disappeared in the fall of 1994.
Donnie Sampson, 71, was hunting elk about 45 miles west of White Swan when his truck was found Oct. 30, 1994, in the foothills of Mount Adams.
Searchers found no trace of Sampson. His nitroglycerin, lunch, clothing and three rifles were discovered in his truck. A fourth rifle he left home with disappeared. In late 1994, his daughter told a Yakima Herald-Republic reporter that Sampson said the Code of Ethics Committee “was getting into something that’s going to make everybody mad.”
In a December 1994 story in the Kitsap Sun, daughter Roberta Danzuka said his family tried to think Sampson wasn’t gone.
“He’s still in our hearts. We have to keep thinking that pretty soon he’ll call up and say, ‘Come pick me up,’ or walk through that door. That’s what we have to think, because nobody knows,” she said.
“He’s not gone until we find something. That’s the way it has to be. But it’s difficult.”
“I just waved and went on my way”
Alfrieda last saw Tony just after Treaty Days in 2014. The dayslong commemoration of the June 9, 1855, treaty signing that united 14 tribes and bands as the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation draws visitors from throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
“I was leaving the area. I was by the (Yakama Nation main agency offices) and he was in the casino parking lot,” she said of the buildings across from each other on Fort Road in Toppenish. “I just waved and went on my way.”
She didn’t think much of it then. Tony would come and go from the Valley, for the most part within a 200-mile radius. He enjoyed city life, too, and traveled to Seattle a few times a year.
“There would be times he would be gone for a while, but then he would always go home. A few times he was gone ... up to six months, but we knew he was around,” Alfrieda said.
At age 56, Tony was considered an elder, and he was fine with that. As an elder, he received a little more money in his monthly per capita checks — net profits from tribal operations that are distributed to Yakama Nation citizens.
“For Tony, this was his main source of income,” Alfrieda said. “If things would have been different for him, his artwork and his talent would have supplemented” those checks, she added.
Their father died in 1996. When their mother died in 2006, “He literally had nowhere to go ... so he was staying here and there,” Sylvia recalled. She last talked to Tony in August 2014, when he was living with her but planned to move out.
“He was going to stay with our uncle, Tom Strong. And that was the last I heard from him,” she said.
By that point Tony was spending a lot of time at the casino before the “Tony sightings” dwindled, enough to elicit concern from those used to seeing him around town.
“Haven’t seen your brother around lately,” they’d tell Alfrieda. More people started asking her about him. She asked her brothers and sisters. They hadn’t seen him for a while, either. His per capita checks started piling up at the home he had shared with their mother. Alfrieda took them to the tribe’s enrollment office.
Alfrieda reported him missing. “I thought, maybe he’s on another reservation. Warm Springs and Umatilla, both have extended family,” she said.
Tony always knew where to get food, where to sleep, places he could go for a little help from his friends, Alfrieda said. Like their sister, she believes someone knows where he is, or what happened to him.
“I hope this generates enough interest that someone comes forward,” she said. “It does need to come out. At least we’ll have an idea, or maybe closure someday.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been edited to state that Darryl Keith Celestine was murdered Sept. 25, 1988, in Wapato and that his death remains unsolved.