Friday, May 27, 2016

The Real People: 1970s Documentary Series by and About Pacific Northwest Indians

I am often delighted and amazed by what pops up on YouTube. As  films are digitized, they often get loaded to YouTube. Old home movies, documentaries about regional history, clips of old TV shows, all once locked away on film reels housed in some basement or attic, become public again.

The Real People was a series of nine, 25-30 minute documentaries produced by and about Northwest native peoples in the mid-1970s. The movies were produced for KYRS-TV, which recently loaded them to their YouTube channel. Here they are:
  1. Real People: A season of grandmothers Ep. 1
  2. Real People: Circle of song #1 Ep. 2
  3. Real People: Circle of song #2 Ep. 3
  4. Real People: Mainstream Ep. 4
  5. Real People: Awakening Ep. 5
  6. Real People: Spirit of the wind Ep. 6
  7. Real People: Buffalo, blood, salmon, and roots Ep. 7
  8. Real People: Legend of the stick game Ep. 8
  9. Real People: Words of life, people of rivers Ep. 9
I wish I knew more about these films! All a quick search turns up is a few brief descriptions, such as this one from a 2001 book: "The Real People was an ambitious eight-part series developed in 1976 by KSPS-TV, a public television station in Spokane, Washington . . . . The series focused attention on lesser-known Indians located in the Northwest Plateau region of the United States. Among the tribes featured in the series were the Coeur D'Alene, Colville, Flathead, Kalispel, Kootenai, Nez Perce, and Spokane. George Burdeau was a consultant for The Real People series."

Burdeau turns out to be a veteran Native American filmmaker with a long list of credits, this series looks to be some of his earliest work.

Dear Readers, do any of you know more about these films?

Monday, May 16, 2016

What are Your Favorite Podcasts?

I do a fair bit of driving, and for the last couple of years have been relying on history podcasts to make the miles pass by. I have learned a lot about history and about storytelling. I also discovered that I am fairly picky--many popular history podcasts leave me cold. I like tight storytelling, concise conversations, and decent production values. I do not like listening to a couple of long-winded PhDs having a conversation over a poor telephone connection about who is more clever than the other. I particularly love the local, the off-beat, the unexpected.

I thought I would share a few of my favorites, and ask my readers
to share their own.
  1. The Memory Palace by Nate DiMeo is a series of tiny little jewels of storytelling. These short, quirky and intimate tales are  spellbinding. I love how DiMeo often takes the story in unexpected directions. DiMeo has a playlist of his favorites for new listeners, but I think you should start with Charlie, God of Rain.

  2. 99% Invisible by Roman Mars bills itself as a program "the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world." Which is just some fancy words for history. Mars delves into all kinds of subjects, from the era when automobiles took over the streets (The Modern Moloch) to William Howard Taft's answer to the Teddy Bear (The Billy Possum).

  3. Backstory with the American History Guys is  a more conventional approach but extremely well done. Each episode, hosts Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh explore a single topic across American history. Examples include American Spirit: A History of the Supernatural and Untrammeled: Americans and the Wilderness. The hour-long shows combine discussions from the hosts with interview with other historians, historic audio, field reports and questions from listeners. The website is rich with additional content.
  4. History Extra podcasts from the BBC feature European and world history. These are fairly staid, with most hour-long episodes consisting of two interviews with the authors of recent books. But the interviews are really well done, and God knows I could stand to learn some non-American history.
I have a few others that I listen to, but I am more interested in discovering some new podcasts. Dear Reader, what do you listen to?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Pillars of the Sky: A Crazy Mess of a Historical Film

I hesitate to share this at all, but it is one of only two films I know of that are based on the 19th-century white-native conflicts on the Columbia Plateau. (The other is I Will Fight No More Forever, a 1975 TV movie about the Nez Perce War of 1877.)

Pillars of the Sky is a 1956 B-movie western, based on a 1953 novel, To Follow a Flag, by Henry Wilson Allen. Though ostensibly set in 1868 (apparently so the characters can reminisce about how they fought together in the Civil War) it is loosely based on the Yakima War (1855) and the Steptoe Expedition (1858).

The film is a classic western of the time, with an outlandish plot, a conflicted, hard-drinking western hero, the fallen woman who loves him, and some stereotypical Indians. Some of the native characters are quite loosely based on real historical individuals--Kamiakin (the film's villain), Timothy (a U.S. Indian scout in uniform!), a couple others. Two of the white characters are based on real folks, Dr. Joseph Holden is roughly Marcus Whitman (with no Narcissa in sight) and Col. Edson Stedlow = Col. Edward Steptoe. Most of the film is invented from whole cloth, but there is a climactic battle scene based on the Battle of Steptoe Butte. I am so surprised I'd never heard of this movie.

Dear Reader, I watched the whole thing so you would not have to. If you want to skip to the more interesting parts, I would fast forward to 1) 23:48, where Kamiakin storms into a gathering of chiefs and has an epic argument with Timothy about how the Indians should deal with the white men, 2) 56:00, the start of the Battle of Steptoe Butte sequence, and maybe 3) the ridiculous ending starting at 1:23:00 where Dr. Holden (Marcus Whitman) is murdered by Kamiakin (!) who in turn is slain by Couer D'Alene chief Isaiah (!!). It is to be noted that none of that last bit actually happened.

Here you go:

1956 - Pillars of the Sky - Jeff Chandler; Ward... by westerns_only

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Language This Land Remembers

One of the most exciting developments hereabouts on the Columbia Plateau is the ongoing revival of native cultures. Everywhere I go I meet native people who are building traditional canoes, reviving native foodways, bringing back lost animal species and recovering and teaching the native Salishan dialects of the northern Plateau.

The Language this Land Remembers is a wonderful short film about the Salish School of Spokane, whose mission is "to create a vibrant community of fluent speakers of Interior Salish languages by providing Salish language instruction to children and by empowering parents and families to speak Salish in their daily lives." Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ethnic Cleansing and the City Beautiful: The Case of Spokane

One of my many uncompleted (or more accurately, hardly begun) projects is about the ways that the white leaders of early Spokane worked to force American Indians out of the city limits. In the 1890s and 1900s Spokane's elites wanted to move past the image of a rowdy frontier town and tried to become a more refined and sophisticated city. This effort took many forms, from anti-spitting ordinances to creating libraries and city parks. This City Beautiful Movement had an uglier aspect as well--the forced removal of Indians from the streets of Spokane. The very same people who created our park system pushed for the removal of the people who had originally inhabited those parks, and for the very same reason--to make Spokane appear more modern.

Today I found another newspaper article to drop into my research file for this topic. "Officers Stop Indian Spree," screamed the front page of the Spokesman-Review on June 9, 1903. "Spokane Children Terrorized by Bad Red Men," the headlines continued, "ON A BIG DRUNK."

The story is the usual set of racist assertions that shaped western press coverage of Native Americans in this period, using some particularly ugly language which I will not quote. But reading the article against the grain, as it were, we pick out some interesting facts about American Indians and the City of Spokane at the time.

The article notes that the hot weather has brought "a big bunch of Indians" to Spokane, that Indian Agent Major Anderson was unable to prevent. It further notes that Indians were supposed to get a permit to leave their reservations, a system which was proving unenforceable.

The tribes included the Spokane, Nespelems, and Couer D'Alenes, who established three camps. The largest, with 40 Indians, was at "the north end of Monroe Street, just inside city limits." This seems to have been at Drumheller Springs. Another was "across the river from the army post" and a third was near Greenwood Cemetery.

I have found bits and pieces of information about these traditional camping spots before. Drumheller Springs was used by reservation Indians as a camping spot when they traveled to Spokane as late as the 1920s, according to Barry Moses in this video (story starts at 4 minutes in). This 1904 death return for an Indian man killed in a fall lists the location of the accident as "at his camp North Monroe Street" and seems to imply the same location.

The camp across the river from Fort George Wright is portrayed in this detail from the 1890 birds-eye-view map of Spokane:

The map key identifies this collection of
teepees as "Remnant of Spokane's Early Days."
The third camp is what would come to be called Indian Canyon. This camp is where Slough-Keetcha, known to most as Spokane Garry, lived his last days, and was occupied at least into the 1910s, as we see in this lovely glass plate slide created by the early Spokane Parks Department, taken sometime before 1913:

The rest of the article describes alleged native shenanigans including loud partying and stealing a white man's team of horses to extract a fee for recovering them. Both are remarkably mild offenses in Spokane in 1903, a city that was known for rowdy workers from the mines and timber camps and the saloons and brothels that served them. It was enough, however, to get local law enforcement agencies to unite and order the Indians to leave town. "If the Indians are not gone by today," the newspaper warns, "some of them will sleep in the county jail tonight."

So if we strip away the racism we get a remarkable portrait of native life in 1903. Indians seem to have regularly slipped away from the reservations to return to their traditional gathering spots along the river. There were three regular camps that were used for generations after white settlers had displaced the original inhabitants and forced them onto reservations. If Indians grew too visible in the city, by their activities or their numbers, law officials worked together to expel them from the city limits.

I was talking about this research topic years ago to a friend, who pointed out a sad, modern connection. Some of our city parks today offer refuge to Spokane's homeless population--a population where American Indians are over-represented.

So many research topics, so little time.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

I Am Finally Going to Get Some Skills!

I am delighted to announce that I will be one of the attendees this summer at Doing Digital History 2016. "The goal of Doing Digital History is to introduce established historians to new media methods and tools, and to increase their confidence and abilities in applying those methods and in reviewing digital scholarly work," according to the website. The two-week institute is designed to provide hands-on instruction and access to a professional learning community for participants." Here is the draft schedule.

Doing Digital History, I should add, is put on by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History in New Media--the same outfit behind Omeka, Zotero, and other tools that I use all the time. Thanks, guys! It is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Digital Humanities.

Dear Reader, I have been leading a life of deception. I started blogging in 2007, and launched a local history smartphone app in 2012. Yet, I have no skills really--I do not code, or do GIS, or know Drupal from Joomla from a hole in the ground. I found some simple digital platforms developed by other people and I ran with them. My history colleagues sometimes think that I am some digital guru, but that is like impressing a four-year-old with a magic trick.

No longer, my friends. This summer I am getting some skills.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Dating a 100-Year-Old Photograph

[Note: The following is a story I wrote for Out of the Archives the newsletter of one of my employers, the Washington State Archives. If you enjoy this sort of thing you may want to subscribe to the newsletter, which is free and which features fresh historical content every month!]

The Washington State Archives holds tens of thousands of historic photographs. Many have excellent provenance--we know when and where the photographs were taken, who is in them, what agency held them before they were archived with us. Other times, not so much.

Caption: Convoy of Cars parked along Riverside Avenue displaying old City Flag,Spokane City Historic Preservation Office - Photographs, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives,

Recently, Allie Honican, an EWU graduate student employee, brought this photograph to the attention of Assistant Digital Archivist Larry Cebula. A wonderful image, full of interesting details, it also had barely any information attached. The image is part of the Spokane Historic Preservation Office collection at the Digital Archives, and is dated “1900-1930.” No identification is made for the people in the photograph, or what obviously ceremonial event was taking place. (You can zoom in on the photograph at the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives here.)

They noticed, however, that the photograph includes many details that should allow historians to narrow down the date range. The location is obvious to any Spokane native--they are in front of the Spokesman-Review newspaper offices on Riverside Avenue. What else could we find out about the image?

Cebula shared the photograph on social media and the Internet Detective squad got to work. A friend with a strong knowledge of clothing styles though the image must be from the teens or early 20s. An automotive historian noticed that the automobile headlights were a mix of electric and carbide lanterns (towards the rear of the caravan), a combination that would have only been seen in the early 1910s. Another found a webpage with a history of the official Spokane flags, which revealed that the flag draped over an automobile in the center of this photograph was not used after 1912.

The hero of the hour, however, was our own sharp-eyed Benjamin Helle, archivist for the Olympia branch of the State Archives. With a probably date range of the early teens in mind, Helle zoomed in on the lead car and recognized Governor Marion E. Hay sitting in the center. From there he identified Francis Cook as the man behind the wheel. Helle knew that Cook was instrumental in the creation of Mount Spokane State Park around this time. A bit more sleuthing and he came up with this front page of the Spokane Chronicle newspaper for August 23, 1912. “Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” Helle crowed.

Cebula, who holds a joint appointment in the History Department at Eastern Washington University, decided that this was a teachable moment for his students. With the help of archivist Lee Pierce and EWU graduate student worker Logan Camporelle, he brought some students to the Eastern Region Branch, along with poster-sized print of the photograph. The students used city directories to look up the businesses seen in the background, finding what dates the Crescent Hotel, The Vogue, Graves Music Company and Grandma’s Kitchen were in business in those locations.

The “solving a mystery” aspect of the assignment drew the students in, even as they learned the nuts-and-bolts of doing local history research. They worked in teams to create a timeline for each business, and found that the photograph could only  have been taken in 1912 or 1913. From there Cebula lead them through some of the online resources and they were able to pin down the exact date as well.  “At first we didn’t think we’d be able to find out anything“ one student said, “but it was a lot of fun when we did!”


Camporelle added the background information to the image in the online user comments, and Digital Archivist Debbie Bahn will soon amend the record description to include the names and exact dates. That is one photograph fully accounted for--a few thousands or tens of thousands to go!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Spokane Event: "Losing the West? Public Lands and Private Gain"

I wanted to make a quick post to inform Spokies of an upcoming event. I am going to be out of town so I am counting on you, dear reader, to attend in my place. Below is the description, including the details.

"Losing the West? Public Lands and Private Gain"
“Although the spirit of the American West remains an ideal to our national heritage,” says author and photographer Dave Showalter, “and many places remain wild and free, for the first time in our country’s short history, development has left many lands and waterways fragmented and scarred […] for short-term gains.”
Join Showalter and Paul Lindholdt, a professor at Eastern Washington University, for a discussion at the crossroads of the American West. Is a booming population and development bringing a new era of prosperity to the region, or permanently scarring the land that has so long captured the American imagination? In the era of Cliven and Ammon Bundy, how do we find a balance between public and private land use in the American West?
Speakers: Dave Showalter, nature photographer and author of Sage Spirit: The American West at a Crossroads; and Paul Lindholdt, professor of English at Eastern Washington University and author whose environmentally-focused work In Earshot of Water won the Washington State Book Award in 2012. Moderated by Shann Ray, American Book Award-winning author of American Copper.
When: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Where: Lindaman's Bistro, 1235 S Grand Blvd, Spokane, WA 99202

Friday, February 26, 2016

Killed by Alfred Thayer Mahan

Ever wonder about the grand bronze statue downtown? No, not Abe Lincoln--the other one. The dashing young man in uniform
Monaghan today, via
who perches in front of the Spokane Club, leaning on his sword and staring down the traffic on Monroe with steely-eyed determination? That is John R. Monaghan, who died because of a book.

In 1890, Alfred Thayer Mahan published his magnum opus, The Influence of Seapower Upon History. Thayer was a geopolitical strategist and an admiral in the United States navy, and he argued that throughout history great empires had flourished not by controlling large land areas, but by ruling the seas. America, Mahan wrote, should build up its fleet and seize islands that could function as naval coaling stations around the world. The book had a huge influence on policymakers in Washington D.C. and the world over--which would prove bad news for a jug-earned Spokane teen named John R. Monaghan.

Monaghan's father James was an early settler of the region who made a fortune in mining and railroads. He sent his son to Gonzaga College, where John was in the first graduating class of 18 students. As ambitious as he was privileged, young Johnny went east to the Naval War College, where he likely took a class or two from Admiral Mahan.  Fueled by the admiral's writings, the great age of American Imperialism was underway, and Monaghan was its eager instrument.

The U.S. Navy of the 1890s was the cutting edge of empire.
Aboard the battleship Olympia, Monaghan saw service across the wide Pacific. He took part in naval shows of force in China and Japan. He participated in the ceremonies marking the forced annexation of Hawaii into the American domain in 1898. He helped intimidate Nicaragua, where America was considering building a canal to link the seas. It was heady work for a young naval officer from Spokane.

Monaghan's luck ran out the next year, in Samoa. Since the 1880s the islands had been caught in an imperial tug-or war between the United States, Britain and Germany--none of whom thought the Samoans themselves had a particularly strong claim to their homelands. In 1899 the USS Philadelphia, with Ensign Monaghan on board, was dispatched to quell the pesky natives.

It did not go well. Monaghan's shore patrol was ambushed by Samoans, who had been provided modern arms by rival European powers. The leader of the expedition fell under heavy fire, as did a number of the enlisted men. Monaghan tried to rally the men and rescue his wounded commander, but the navy men were outgunned in unfamiliar terrain. Monaghan died, and the survivors beat a hasty retreat. He was 26 years old.

A defeat, far more than a victory, needs a hero. Monaghan was pressed into service one more time. "The men were not in sufficient numbers to hold out any longer, and they were forced along by a fire which it was impossible to withstand. Ensign Monaghan did stand." the official report would read. "He stood steadfast by his wounded superior and friend—one rifle against many, one brave man against a score of savages. He knew he was doomed. He could not yield. He died in heroic performance of duty."

On October 26, 1906 the Ensign John R. Monaghan Memorial was dedicated in Spokane with suitable pomp and circumstance. Five thousand Spokanites turned out for what the Spokesman-Review
Monaghan in bronze, courtesy
Spokane Historic Preservation
described as "eloquent addresses" and a "magnificent parade" a mile in length, that included every active military man, veteran, and marching band the city had to offer.

If you go to see the memorial today you may be struck by the dramatic bronze bas-relief panel on the pedestal, supposedly depicting the death of Ensign Monaghan at the hands of the Samoans. Monaghan is pictured at the very moment of his death, falling heroically in the familiar 19th-century manner of Davy Crockett or George Custer. Strangely, the Samoans look more like Africans than Polynesians, and in place of the modern weaponry they carried that day are shown using bows and spears. The artist rewrote the history of the incident to play up the very stereotypes of "savages" that were used to justify things like conquering and annexing islands on the other side of the world.

And what of Alfred Thayer Mahan, whose book might be said to have sent young Monaghan off to war in the first place? He continued to teach at the Naval Academy, eventually running the place. He died just before the outbreak of the First World War, itself in part a product of the rising tensions of the naval arms race his thinking had produced.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Public History and the Dead Hand of Historiography: The Case of Whitman Mission National Monument

Academic historians are used to thinking of historiography as something one finds in old books. You know: "Back in the 1800s historians understood the causes of Civil War to be A, B and C, as we see in books D, E, and F. By the 1960s however, historians though that G, H, and I were in fact the cause, as we see in the works of J, K, and L." Outdated interpretations are sentenced to the darkest recesses of the library, where books that were once the belle of the ball are shuffled off to long-term storage.

In the case of public history, however, those old volumes are not always volumes. They are more often museum exhibits, or historical markers, or even entire public history institutions that date their creations to very specific historiographical moments. And what historians thought they knew about the past in those founding eras can continue to shape and constrain how that history is taught to the public.

 I got to thinking about this as I was cleaning up some digital files and found a copy of the old visitor center film used at Whitman Mission National Historic Site. So here it is. Created in 1976 and used until only a few years ago, the film is an interesting historical document. Also, racist.

A few years ago I gave a paper at the National Council for Public History titled The Many Deaths of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. In that paper I divided the historiography of the killings of the Whitmans into four periods: 1) The Era of Blame: 1847-1880; 2. The Era of the Redeemer: How Marcus Whitman Saved Oregon, 1880-1940; 3: It Was All a Big Misunderstanding 1940-1980; and 4. The Whitmans Had it Coming: 1980-present.

The first era interpreted the killings in an effort to pin the blame on someone, preferably Catholics, though mixed-race persons such as Joe Lewis were also handy targets. The second era focused on the Whitmans as pioneers of white settlement rather than missionaries in an attempt to recover some meaning from their otherwise senseless deaths. The third era emphasized the cross-cultural misunderstandings in an attempt to bring the native point of view at least partially into the story. The current era of historiography (which I have perhaps named unfairly) focuses on the Whitmans as the agents of empire that they were and frames the actions of the Cayuse as self-defense. My book, Plateau Indians and the Quest for Spiritual Power, represents the most recent understanding, as does the new film at the mission that I shared last week.

This older film, though produced in 1976, represents the second stage of interpreting the Whitmans. They are representative of the white pioneers who "helped carve a nation from a wild and beautiful land." The Indians who met Marcus were "inspired by his spiritual zeal," though they showed "little aptitude for farming, and little more for the gospel." The Whitmans are significant not for their missionary work, which was a failure after all, but for their farm, their gristmill, their publicizing the Oregon Territory to eastern settlers, and for converting their mission into a way station for the Oregon Trail.

Most interpretive signs at Whitman Mission present
a traditional pioneer narrative of the missionaries. (Photo by the author.)
Why does an understanding of the Whitmans that fell out of favor in the 1940s appear in a 1976 film? It is because the national monument itself is dedicated to that interpretation. Established in 1936, Whitman Mission was molded from its inception by the Marcus Whitman Saved Oregon Story. And though the Park Service has struggled at times to distance itself from this narrative, the very layout of the park reinforces this interpretation.

The creation of Whitman Mission was part of a larger effort by the NPS in the 1930s to expand its mission from protecting wilderness to protecting and interpreting historic sites as well. At Waiilatpu the Parks Service found not a blank slate but a site that had been interpreted for decades, an interpretation firmly wedded to the "Marcus Whitman saved Oregon" story.

The Park Service slowly expanded and built up the infrastructure and interpretation at the site through the 1940s and 50s. The master narrative of the Whitmans as civilizers determined what kinds of improvements and interpretation took place. NPS employees cleared out the weeds and marked the outlines of where the mission once stood. The Whitman’s mill pond was recreated, and interpretive stops showed visitors the sites of the former gristmill, blacksmith shop, and irrigation ditches. Much was made of the fact that the Oregon Trail ran through the mission grounds, and the wagon ruts were maintained by regular applications of herbicide. A pioneer cemetery was cleared of weeds, and several headstones of people not related to the Whitmans were removed, to focus the story. An adjacent Indian cemetery was ignored.

“By their life and death the Whitmans symbolize the noblest in the spirit and endeavors of the pioneers,” wrote regional supervisor Olaf T. Hagen in the first interpretive prospectus for the park. It was added that “the life and culture of the native Indians will be presented as a background.” Park administrators did periodically notice the lack of information about the Cayuse—who were after all the vast majority of people living on the site in 1847—and sometimes they thought about doing something about it. “We have very little Indian culture references in our library,” one superintendent wrote, explaining that the park could not interpret the Cayuse because they did not know anything about them. From the 1950s well into the 1980s the park had only the slightest information about the Cayuse peoples.

In recent decades a series of superintendents and staff have worked hard and vastly improved the interpretation, with a new film, new visitor's center exhibits, and improved interpreter training. But at the end of the day, when people walk outside of the visitor's center, they are presented with a mill pond, a covered wagon, the outlines of pioneer buildings, and a soaring granite obelisk atop a hill. It is a historiographic lesson written on the landscape and carved in stone.

Monday, February 1, 2016

New Whitman Mission Film Online

A few years back I was filmed as one of the talking heads in a new interpretive film for Whitman Mission National Historic Site. I blogged about the experience at the time: In Which I am Filmed, and Confront a Ghost. The film premiered at the mission in 2013. I just noticed that it is now available on YouTube. Despite my participation the film is quite good--here you go:

I thought the old film, which provides an interesting contrast, was online somewhere but I cannot find it now. Anyone? In the meantime, you can enjoy this episode of On the Road With Charles Kuralt, which focuses on Narcissa and comes from a similar interpretive understanding of the event: Charles Kuralt on the Road to the Whitman Killings. (Bonus Hunter S. Thompson footage at the bottom of the post!)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Bridges of King County and Other Online Exhibits

3 miles NE of Duvall: Cherry Creek, July 15, 1932. (Series 474, Bridge Number 267Y. Sections 4 and 5, Township 26N, Range 7E.) Courtesy King County Archives.

A nice feature that a digital archive can provide is to highlight digital collections with online exhibits. The Library of Congress has been doing this for years with their American Memory project, such as American Notes, Travels in America, 1750-1920. (In fact they have been doing it so long that the website feels dated--which is perhaps another blog post.) At the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives where I work we try to do the same thing on a more modest level with our Treasures of the Archives feature, which highlight a single image and links back to its collection. (More here.)

The King County Archives is doing a nice job with digital exhibits. Their latest, The Bridges of King County, features an 80-year-old collection of photographs of county bridges. "During the years 1931-1934, County bridge inspector Thomas Patrick Blum traveled throughout King County inspecting and photographing bridges," reads a helpful introduction. "This exhibit presents a sampling of
over 500 bridge photographs attributed to Blum." The archivists also tell us that Blum had "an artist's eye for composition and detail" and that the photographs "show us the range of bridge styles and engineering methods of the time."

The resulting exhibit is both a striking portrait of a King County that is long since gone, and a useful architectural history lesson about bridges and their construction. The images are organized by the type of bridge construction, from "King and Queen Post Truss" to "Concrete Slab." The captions describe the origins and uses of each style. And the photographs are wonderful, particularly those showing a rural King County of dirt roads and shaded country lanes. King County offers other online exhibits from their digital archives, including one of 16mm films from the 1930s.

Does your favorite digital archive offer online exhibits? Here at the Washington State Archives we are exploring the option, and would love to see more examples.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Seafaring Indians and the Invasion of New England

Detail from a 1685 map at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.
This is a quick post to direct your attention to a lovely piece over at Slate: Masters of the Atlantic: The forgotten contest between colonists and seafaring Indians for command of the American coast, by Andrew Lipman, a professor at Barnard. The piece combines my favorite topic, unexpected and forgotten aspects about the encounter between natives and Europeans, with a deft ability to tell a story. Lipman shows how the Algonquian peoples of the northeast had advanced seafaring technology of their own when Europeans showed up, and how the seas themselves were important zones of contact and conflict for two centuries. Indian pirates! I also found this podcast interview with Lipman which covers much of the same ground. Lipman's book, The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast, comes out in a few months.

Slate has quite a lot of historical content, including The History of American Slavery podcast, The Vault which highlights "historical treasures, oddities and delights," and useful historical context pieces for current events and popular culture, like Who Was Hugh Glass?

Back in the day, when I was a grad student looking for a dissertation topic, I almost settled on writing a history of American Indians in the early 19th-century whaling industry. (I settled on a very different topic.) Lipman's excellent work has me thinking about paths not taken...

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas in the Northwest

Is this so bad it is good?


 No, it is merely terrible. You probably do not need to be told that it was created in the 1980s. The song is "Christmas In The Northwest," written by Brenda Kutz-White in 1985. This was actually part of an album with the same title, which was so successful that it produced two sequels--the first of which had this memorable cover:

I found about Christmas in the Northwest at the estimable blog History's Dumpster, which has lots more fun information about what is apparently regional holiday standard to some people, including other songs from the record.

Happy Holidays to all!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Documents from the Washington State KKK in the 1920s

Klan Rally in Colfax, Washington, September 1923. Colfax was a hotbed of what was a particularly strong KKK presence in the Palouse. Courtesy UW Civil Rights & Labor History project.
Here is a fascinating archive of an aspect of state history that we have tried to forget: Documents from the Washington State KKK in the 1920s.

The archive is part of the Labor and Civil Rights Project at the University of Washington, which  includes 11 projects which "bring together nearly one hundred video oral history interviews and several thousand photographs, documents, and digitized newspaper articles ... films, slide shows, and lesson plans for teachers" along with "several hundred essays about important issues, events, and people." It is a rich resource.

The Ku Klux Klan in Washington State reminds us of just how large a force the Klan was in our corner of the world. Historians often refer to the organization in the 1920s as the "Second KKK." Unlike the first KKK, which was a short-lived (though brutally effective) terrorist organization in the states of the defeated Confederacy, this second rising of the Klan was better organized, more widespread, and expanded its message of hate to target not only blacks but Catholics, Jews, and recent immigrants. And it was popular, with millions of registered members nationwide.

To explore the collection I focused on one section: Newspaper Clippings from Pullman and Colfax. It is a small subsection of the site with just 11 articles but it paints a vivid picture of the Palouse in the grips of the Klan fervor. A November 1922 article from the Colfax Gazette, "Klansmen Visit Christian Church," recounts how a recent meeting of the Christian Church was interrupted when "six white-robed figures silently entered" the building during services. They handed the minister an envelope which read "Please open and read after we retire, K.K.K." The envelope included $30 for the congregation and a proclamation of the KKK's purported principals, including "the supremacy of the Divine Being," the supremacy of the constitution, and "the sublime principles of pure Americanism."

The county seat of Colfax seems to have been a Klan hotspot, with many members and a sympathetic newspaper editor. A few weeks after the church appearance the Gazette featured another article friendly to the Klan, titled "Klansmen Do Not Tar and Feather." The article described how the Reverend L. E. Burger of Walla Walla, "official spokesman of the Ku Klux Klan," gave a speech to packed audience of 1000 people at the town auditorium. "We are not men who go out at night and commit unlawful acts," the Reverend declared. The Klan, he declared, was "law abiding" and "opposed to the I.W.W. and the bolshevik and every I.W.W. organizer in the United States." He also declared that "it was not intended that the races shall mix. Let's keep our race pure." Berger ended with a plea for new members and by passing the hat for donations.

Soon the Klan was riding high in this part of the Palouse. H. J. Reynolds, a Pullman minister called for the establishment of a local chapter of the KKK to prevent "desecration of the Sabbath" and to suppress "the red element, the local bootleggers, and other evils." By October of 1923 a crowd of 5000 resident of Colfax and surrounding areas turned out to watch Klansmen burn a 90-foot cross and initiate 125 new members into the group. The article made a point of noting that the ceremony took place "in a field owned by County Commissioner P. M. Price." The article noted that "cars were parked along the road for a mile and a half in any direction from the entrance."

There was also opposition, and the Pullman Herald seems to have led the anti-Klan movement in the area. A stinging January 1923 editorial in the Herald declared that although one of the objects of the Klan was "to perpetuate and to cultivate true Americanism," the methods which it uses to obtain this object are absolutely un-American." A September editorial congratulated the mayor of Lewiston, Idaho, for ordering the police there to arrest Klansmen who engaged in vigilante activity.

KKK Parade Float in Bellingham in 1926
The Palouse was by no means unusual to have so much Klan activity in the early 1920s. Much of America--especially the more white, rural areas--was in the grip of the Klan in those years. The organization claimed 4-5 million members by the mid-20s. Politicians were afraid to denounce it, and many actively sought its endorsement.

Washington State had a very active Klan presence. In 1926 there was a massive KKK rally in Issaquah, and in 1929 the Washington State chapter of the KKK held a convention in Bellingham, where the mayor gave the leader a key to the city.

The highwater mark of the Washington State Klan was in 1924, when the KKK backed a ballot measure that would have outlawed private schools, most of which were Catholic. Though a similar law had passed in Oregon the year before, Washington voters rejected the measure 2-1.

By the late 1920s this second KKK was in rapid decline. Feuding leadership, some high profile scandals, and the onset of the Great Depression all contributed, as Klan rolls nationwide shrank to around 30,000 supporters by 1930. This decline was mirrored in Washington as well, as mentions of the Klan in regional newspapers slow and then halt altogether as chapters became inactive.

These handful of articles from Colfax and Pullman paint a striking picture into Klan activity in one small section of our state. There are hundred of other articles to explore at the Labor and Civil Rights Project, such as the fascinating "The Washington State KKK and the U.S. Navy." The site is a great resource for teachers willing to tackle tough historical issues as well.