Sunday, December 30, 2007

Spokane's Native Mayor

A neat little story from Indian Country Today: Spokane's new mayor sworn in to the beat of the drum:

"I, Mary Verner ... will faithfully and impartially perform and discharge the duties of the office of the mayor according to law to the best of my ability.'' Those words proclaimed Verner as mayor of Spokane, the first mayor with Native ancestry in this city bordering the river and ancestral homeland for the Spokane Tribe.

Verner, who has Muskogee ancestry, defeated the incumbent mayor and was sworn in Nov. 27 during a ceremony that reflected her Native ties.

Verner was introduced to the several hundred in attendance by Spokane Tribe Chairman Richard Sherwood. ''It's a great honor for me and as a member of the Spokane Tribe,'' he said. ''She's done a lot for Indian people since coming to the Northwest. She worked for the Spokane Tribe in our Natural Resources Department and did wonders. The effects of her being there are still felt today in a very positive way.''

The Lotmip drum group from the Spokane Reservation was introduced and sang an Honor Song, ''a song held in high esteem by the tribe in memory of an incident that occurred in the mid-1800s,'' Conrad Pascal commented, a Spokane elder and member of the drum group. That was followed by a ''happy dance.'' The final song was a Prayer Song, all sung in honor and respect for Verner. Verner was also offered a seat at the drum which she accepted. "

Here is the Spokesman Review story on Verner's inauguration.

Chronicling America

Chronicling America: "Chronicling America . . . allows you to search and read newspaper pages from 1900-1910 and find information about merican newspapers published between 1690-present." This beta site from the Library of Congress digitizes selected newspapers from California, District of Columbia, Florida, Kentucky, New York, Utah, and Virginia and only for the first decade of the 20th century. At 100,000 pages for each state, the site holds three-quarters of a million pages of historic newspapers.

Chronicling America is exactly what the future of newspaper digitization should look like. It has a reasonably sophisticated search engine, allowing Boolean as well as keyword searching and searches for two words within 5 words of one another. Newspaper pages may be viewed in text (!) down loadable image, or PDF format. The site is responsive and search results and newspaper pages load briskly.

Unfortunately no Northwest newspapers are digitized as yet (unless we want to include San Francisco--do we?). However many northwest events may be investigated through the site--I got hits with such search terms as Chief Joseph, Edward Curtis, Spokane, and many others. To the left is one such story from the May 19, 1902 issue of The San Francisco Call about a threatening gold rush on the Spokane Reservation.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History

Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History is fun site and a nice example of presenting history teaching resources online in an appealing fashion. The website consists of nine (so far) unsolved mysteries in Canadian history, which students are invited to solve by examining the documents, maps, photographs, and other historic evidence on the site. Each mystery includes hundreds of items for students to explore. "Please check your preconceptions about "History" at the door," students are told on the very first page of Great Unsolved Mysteries:

"Doing History" is not memorizing dates, politicians and wars. That is all just context. "Doing History" is the work of the detective, the gumshoe, the private eye -- and we need you to take on this job. All we are left with are traces, artifacts, clues, hints and allegations. Putting those together, weighing the evidence, assessing the credibility of witness accounts,
sorting out contradictions, and showing how your solution to the mysteries is the best of all the alternatives -- that is "Doing History".

Where Is Vinland? for example challenges students to trace the route of Leif Eriksson to try and discover where exactly he landed when he described the legendary Vinland. Among the assembled evidence are archaeological reports, Viking sagas, maps, hundreds of images, material objects and more. The other mysteries at the site are Torture and the Truth: Angélique and the Burning of Montreal; Jerome: The Mystery Man of Baie Sainte-Marie; Who Killed William Robinson? Race, Justice and Settling the Land; We Do Not Know His Name: Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War; Heaven and Hell on Earth: The Massacre of the "Black" Donnellys; Who Discovered Klondike Gold?; Aurore! The Mystery of the Martyred Child; and Explosion on the Kettle Valley Line: The Death of Peter Verigin.

These mysteries are suitable for the high school or college classroom. I have used the William Robinson site several times in my American Indians classes with great success.

(via Metafilter).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mammoths of the Inland Empire

Fifteen Thousand Years ago the gigantic Glacial Lake Missoula burst through its ice dam and roared across eastern Washington. We are used to thinking of the flood as a geological phenomena, but it was also a biological one--especially for the doomed thousands of woolly mammoths who were swept up in a wall of water half a mile high and traveling at 60 miles per hour. The flood waters left behind what scientists have termed "An Ancient Bathtub Ring Of Mammoth Fossils" in eastern Washington.

In 1876 some farmers discovered the first mammoth skeleton in a bog along Hangman Creek south of Spokane. The discoverers toured the skeleton through eastern Washington, charging admission to see the massive bones. The excitement encouraged neighboring farmers to drain their own bogs in search of prehistoric monsters, and soon a rival skeleton was being displayed. The whole episode is amusingly recounted an "Palouse Mammoths," a chapter of Jack Nisbet's wonderful book Visible Bones. The original skeleton (pictured above) is now on display at the Field Museum in Chicago (and is perhaps the model for this charming puppet).

A quick search of our dear friend the Historical Newspapers in Washington Collection (hosted by the Washington State Digital Archives) turns up a delightful story of mammoth bones on display in Spokane in 1880:

On Exhibition: Dr. Tozier has his tent on Main Street, between Howard and Stevens, where our citizens are gathering in crowds to see the wonderful bones and fossils recently exhumed from a spring on Hangman Creek in this county. We have seem the spring from which the fossils are taken, and know they are genuine remains of animals formerly occupying this fair land of ours. Any one visiting the tent can see the pelvis bones of a mammoth elephant 6 feet across, indicating an animal weighing 10 or 12 tons; the bones of a little horse, full developed and standing only 32 inches high, remains of the musk ox, the monkey and several other species of animals now extinct. It is well worth the time and money of any one to visit this collection of interesting evidences of former inhabitants of this country. They go to show that many years ago, before the pent up waters broke through the Cascade range of mountains, our broad valleys were covered with lakes, along whose shores strange animals dwelt in peace. When the waters receded, they hovered about the living springs till the changes of circumstances performed the work of extinction. Of all that now remains of them, you can see a fair sample at the exhibition tents. Go and see for yourself.
(Spokan Times » 7/7/1881 » Page 3 » Column 4)

Late nineteenth-century northwesterners were hardly the first Americans to become fascinated by the mammoth skeletons that can be found throughout the continent. In this Common Place article Paul Semonin describes how scientists from Cotton Mather to Benjamin Franklin were intrigued by the occasional mammoth remains that turned up in early America. Charles Willson Peale, the preeminent American scientist of his day, displayed a mammoth skeleton (with the tusks mistakenly pointed down) in his Philadelphia museum in he first years of the nineteenth century. Meriwether Lewis would have seen the display during his pre-expedition crash course in natural history in 1804. Jefferson's instructions to Lewis included the mandate to report on animals "which may be deemed rare or extinct," an apparent expression of Jefferson's hope that mammoths might still live in the far west.

Mammoth skeletons continue to be found today in eastern Washington. I wonder if it is possible to predict where mammoth skeletons are likely to be found?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas from William Clark, My Family, and I

In this season 202 years ago Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, the Corps of Discovery and some native guests spent a damp gray Christmas at Fort Clatsop. It was their second winter on the trail. They had long since drunk all their liquor. For clothing they wore the shreds of their original uniforms supplemented with rotting elk skin jackets and breeches. Food was scarce (as the passage below illustrates) and all the trade goods they had left could be bundled in a single handkerchief. The better part of a continent lay between the party and their homes. And yet they made merry. William Clark's journal entry for the day reads:

"Christmas Wednesday 25th December 1805
at day light this morning we we[re] awoke by the discharge of the fire arm of all our party & a Selute, Shoute and a Song which the whole party joined in under our windows, after which they retired to their rooms were Chearfull all the morning— after brackfast we divided our Tobacco which amounted to 12 carrots one half of which we gave to the men of the party who used tobacco, and to those who doe not use it we make a present of a handkerchief, The Indians leave us in the evening all the party Snugly fixed in their huts— I recved a presnt of Capt L. of a fleece hosrie Shirt Draws and Socks—, a pr. mockersons of Whitehouse a Small Indian basket of Gutherich, two Dozen white weazils tails of the Indian woman, & Some black root of the Indians before their departure— Drewyer informs me that he Saw a Snake pass across the parth to day. The day proved Showerey wet and disagreeable.

"we would have Spent this day the nativity of Christ in feasting, had we any thing either to raise our Sperits or even gratify our appetites, our Diner concisted of pore Elk, So much Spoiled that we eate it thro' mear necessity, Some Spoiled pounded fish and a fiew roots."

The text is from the UNL site, Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The photo on the left is myself, my wife Renee and our youngest son Sam at Fort Clatsop in the summer of 2004. (I kept a photoblog of our trip along the Lewis and Clark Trail that summer--scroll down about 1/4 of the way for the trail pictures.

Thanks to everyone for visiting this blog in 2007! We are getting 30-80 visitors a day and many nice emails. And my main goal in blogging--to learn more myself about the possibilities of history online--has been richly realized. In the coming year watch for more "proof-of-concept" posts about how to harness the new information technologies to do real history research, and to bring that research to new audiences.

Happy holidays to all!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Whale Hunt / A storytelling experiment / by Jonathan Harris

"In May 2007, I spent nine days living with a family of Inupiat Eskimos in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost settlement in the United States . . . I documented the entire experience with a plodding sequence of 3,214 photographs, beginning with the taxi ride to Newark airport, and ending with the butchering of the second whale, seven days later. The photographs were taken at five-minute intervals, even while sleeping (using a chronometer), establishing a constant 'photographic heartbeat'."

The Whale Hunt / A storytelling experiment / by Jonathan Harris

This site gets more intriguing the more time you spend there. Harris tells the story of a trip to Barrow Alaska to tag along on a whale hunt. Aside from a brief statement, the story is told entirely through a series of photographs. What makes it work is the innovative website and the way the photographs are presented--explained here.

Though it would be much more difficult, one could use some of these ideas to organize and display a large collection of historic photographs such as the Curtis photographs.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Penalty for logging 700 year old cedars less than 10 years

A sad story from the Seattle PI: Penalty for logging 700 year old cedars less than 10 years: "The crime seems so audacious: chopping down 27 old growth cedars on public land. The trees measured up to five feet in diameter. They were between 400-700 years old." The trees in question were an isolated stand in eastern Washington along Lake Wentachee.

Isolated now--the first white settlers to the Northwest found infinite forests of such behemoths, and bigger. I am reminded of a delightful passage in Alexander Ross' Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon Or Columbia River: "There is an art in felling a tree as well as in planting one but unfortunately none of us had learned that art and hours together would be spent in conjectures and discussions one calling out that it would fall here another there in short there were as many opinions as there were individuals about it and at last when all hands were assembled to witness the fall how often were we disappointed the tree would still stand erect bidding defiance to our efforts while every now and then some of the most impatient or fool hardy would venture to jump on the scaffold and give a blow or two more Much time was often spent in this desultory manner before the mighty tree gave way but it seldom came to the ground."

Like so much else in the west it the arrival of the railroad that turned the trees from nuisance into resource. The groves of giant cedar became shingles. I am sitting beneath some of those shingles right now, nailed to the roof of my Missouri house a hundred years ago. The cedar shingles have been covered with multiple layers of asphalt, but whenever I climb into the attic on a hot day I can still smell the ghosts of ancient trees long since gone.

(I need to make a post on logging in the northwest! The photograph of western red cedars on this page is one of the breath taking images at Leland Howard Fine Art Nature Images.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Estimable History Blogs #2: Boston 1775

When I got the idea for series of posts pointing to excellent history blogs it was plan to save Boston 1775 for last, sort of a crowning post. But J.L. Bell's piece today, Fact-Checking the Huckabee Campaign, is too wonderful not to share. Alert readers may recall that only last month Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee claimed in a speech that "most of" the signers of Declaration of Independence were clergymen. You probably also read or heard that in fact only one of the signers was a clergymen. Bell goes much further than a simple debunking, examining the signers of the Constitution in search of clergymen. Bell's post is sort of a follow-up to an even better post on Mitt Romney's use of somewhat spurious story about the Continental Congress. This is historical fact-checking of a very high degree.

I am highly skeptical of history bloggers who drag politics into the mix, it usually results in predictably pompous and unreadable pieces (see the History News Network or Crooked Timber). But when a politician lobs one right into our court with a spurious historical argument we have a professional duty to set the facts straight.

I should hasten to add the Boston 1775 is rarely political in the modern sense. More typical is this delightful series of posts about comic books that portray revolutionary history, or this series about the eccentric Dr. John Jeffries: physician, Loyalist, aeronaut. What sets Bell's blog above the rest is the deep research that goes into every post. Enjoy.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I am charmed by the amateur enthusiasm of this site, Living up to its billing as "A Virtual Museum Preserving Walla Walla's Legacy" the site reminds me so much of little town and county museums scattered across the west. It features historic photos of Walla Walla, maps, the odd historic newspaper article, and a section called "Vanishing Walla Walla" that juxtaposes photos of decaying and demolished historic buildings with the strip development monstrosities that have replaced them. This is how amateur local history should be done, with a passion for place, careful research and a bit of whimsy.

The site also includes a enchanting (and extensive!) series of before and after pictures. I like this set. The ladies in the turn-of-the-century postcard on the left look so very proud as they stand beside the little fountain. The background is the treeless bleakness of large swaths of the Inland Northwest as it appeared it the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Presumably these ladies had something to do with the establishment of the fountain and the park, their efforts expressed an optimism in the future of their community and a desire to leave a legacy for future generations. The modern photograph of the same fountain to the right is profoundly satisfying--the fountain appears well-maintained these hundred years, the trees have grown up and benches allow visitors to enjoy the shade, and children frolic in the water, just as in the original photograph a century before.

Hey--I see that the site also offers careful reproductions of historic postcards and a calendar of historic photos of Walla Walla. I am going to buy one for an old friend from Walla Walla.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Mitt, Joe, and the Pacific Northwest

Mitt Romney is not the first Mormon presidential candidate. That honor goes to Joseph Smith the Mormon founder and prophet. Smith declared for the presidency in 1844: "Tell the people we have had Whig and Democrat presidents long enough. We want a president of the United States." He even had a catchy campaign song:

Kinderhook, Kass, Kalhoun, nor Klay
Kan never surely win the day.
But if you want to know who Kan
You'll find in General Smith the man.

Not catchy enough, however, Smith was murdered by an angry mob only months into his campaign. (No voter apathy in the 19th century!)

Mormons were a subject of curiosity and controversy in the Pacific Northwest. There was a short-lived Mormon mission to the Indians named Fort Limhi near Lemhi Pass from 1855-1858. After the mission was disbanded there were frequent (unfounded) rumors of Mormon and Indian shenanigans in the interior of the Northwest. In 1858 the Pioneer and Democrat fretted that "there is good reason for believing that the Mormons are aiding and abetting the savages in a war of extermination of what they designate--Gentiles." By January of 1861 the Portland Standard was fretting that Mormon agents were active among the Indians of the interior "inciting the various tribes into open hostility" against whites (though the paper admitted the rumor "does not come well authenticated.")

But by the 1880s most of the northwest was swept by anti-Mormon movements, culminating perhaps in the famous Idaho Test Oath of 1884, which used the practice of polygamy to effectively disenfranchise all Idaho Mormons. Appeals went all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the law. By 1893 Idaho lawmakers repealed the act, but anti-Mormon language remained in the Idaho constitution until the 1980s.

[The above cartoon shows Idaho as a sword-bearing angel casting out the leather-winged abomination of Mormonism. It appeared in the Portland newspaper The West Shore and is reprinted in Carlos Schwantes' The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History.]

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Finding the Inland Northwest in Unlikely Places

One of the great promises of digital history is the unexpected discoveries. As archives become widely accessible and keyword searchable, even a casual researcher can come across documents and images that were previously unknown. This is especially likely to happen with documents that are themselves in unexpected places, separated from their frames of reference by historical happenstance and lodged in some archive where researchers of the topic are not prone to look.

Consider for example this striking color image of Spokane Garry from the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery. I have often seen the black-and-white version but had no idea that a colorized version of the image existed. The NYPL page notes: "Published by EDW. H. Mitchell, San Francisco for G.M. Imlay, Spokane, Wash."

I discovered this with a NYPL search for "spokane" which revealed some other interesting historical images including some stereoscopic views of the falls and this commemorative menu of Columbus' 400th anniversary.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Unearthing Tse-whit-zen

From the Seattle Times comes a fabulous educational website: Unearthing Tse-whit-zen. "Tse-whit-zen is the largest ancient Indian village ever unearthed in Washington, and one of the region's most extraordinary archaeological finds."

The site was uncovered in 2003 by workers on the Port Angeles waterfront. Archaeologists were called in an in a multi-year excavation discovered 335 skeletons and thousands of artifacts dating back 2,700 years.

This website includes a multi-part series on the discoveries, a narrated sideshow of the discoveries, a Flash exhibit of life in the village, and some charming audio files where Klallam elders discuss some of the artifacts. Even a study guide to make certain that you were paying attention.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

1898 Obscene Language Baseball Document

This delightful document is not directly connected with either the northwest or digital history, but needs to be shared. I found it via this post at Metafilter, where a vigorous discussion about the authenticity ensued. Miko, a member of that site, uncovered numerous contemporary reports of an anti-cussing campaign so apparently the document is genuine.

Baseball was a popular entertainment in the Inland Northwest at the same time period. Soldiers seem to have been the most avid players of the game, and a search of the Historical Newspapers in Washington collection turns up a dozen or more stories about the game in the Spokane area in the 1880s. On July 14, 1881 the Spokan Times announced that "A base ball club is being organized in the city. A Meeting of Those interested will be held this evening at Red Handed Mike's castle."

Spokane Public Library History Links

Creating a static website of history links is something of--well, let's not call it a fool's errand, let us just say that many folks have discovered that it is one thing to create a set of links and quite another to maintain it. URLs change or go dead, new resources supersede the old, and sometimes your links end up going places quite unexpected. (A friend published a book of state history for 5th graders with a short list of web resources at the end of each chapter. A frantic teacher called him a few months ago that one of his most recommended links now led to a porn site, as she had discovered in front of her students.)

At the same time a good set of links, maintained and kept current, can be extremely valuable. So I am pleased to see that the Spokane Public Library maintains this page: Spokane Public Library - Northwest History Room - History Links. There is some good stuff here, including oral histories of the Civil Rights struggle in Spokane collected by the Spokesman-Review, and World War I Soldiers Remembered.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Jones Photo Historical Collection

The Jones Photo Historical Collection is a treasure trove of historic photographs of the Olympic Peninsula.

"The Jones Photo Historical Collection is a success story that includes four generations of two families spanning three consecutive centuries of life, work, art and commerce in one great area of Washington State . . . They have been very busy people during the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries making, collecting, preserving and now sharing on the internet these thousands of wonderful photographs."

What separates this from other historic photo collections on the internet is the artistic quality of many of the photographs. The portfolios section has some wonderful slide shows, the one on the timber industry is especially good.

The other thing that separates this collection is the unfortunate crippling way in which it is represented. All the pictures are displayed within a Flash interface (I think?)--you cannot right click to save them. The only way to grab the photos for a Powerpoint or presentation is to do a screen grab and edit the picture. Not very research friendly.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

::: American Indians of the Pacific Northwest Collection :::

::: American Indians of the Pacific Northwest Collection :::: "This site provides an extensive digital collection of original photographs and documents about the Northwest Coast and Plateau Indian cultures, complemented by essays written by anthropologists, historians, and teachers about both particular tribes and cross-cultural topics. These cultures have occupied, and in some cases still live in parts of Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Maps are available that show traditional territories or reservation boundaries."

The maps and pictures at this site are amazing, but best of all are the nine essays on Northwest Indians by scholars like Jay Miller and Deward Walker. They are excellent introductions to their topics and could also serve as lecture fodder. There is also a collection of documents, mostly government reports.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Boston 1775: Veterans Moving West

Uber-blogger J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 picked up my post about William Cannon in his post Veterans Moving West. Bell explores the migrations of Revolutionary veteran Thompson Maxwell, whose life journey carried him from Ireland to America where he fought not only in the French and Indian War but also the American Revolution and the War of 1812 before being laid to rest at his last home near Detroit!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Kennewick Man Virual Interpretive Center

The Tri-City Herald's Kennewick Man Virual Interpretive Center Has all of that paper's extensive coverage of everybody's favorite 10,000-year-old man. Discovered in 1996 along the Columbia River, the ancient remains of Kennewick man have provoked scientific discovery and political controversy in equal measure, as scientists and native groups struggle for control of one of the oldest skeletons ever located in North America. Along with the individual newspaper articles, the Interpretive Center offers a 1999 special series, "Recasting the Past," that uses the Kennewick Man controversy to explore controversial issues concerning the peopling of the Americas and archeology. There are also sections with court documents, photos, a time line and more.

Kennewick Man is in the news again right now, as Congress debates legislation that would automatically classify all ancient human remains as Indian, whether or not a cultural tie can be demonstrated.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

William Cannon and Revolutionary War Veterans in the American West

A few miles to the east of where I live in Missouri is a quaint little country graveyard. I stumbled across the Cave Springs cemetery while on a fall drive a few years ago. I surprised to find one grave that held a veteran of the Revolutionary War. "You are a long ways from Valley Forge," I chided the old fellow (who proved a disappointing audience). On the drive home I realized that I should not have been surprised. A young man in the Revolution could easily have lived long enough to have been part of the initial white settlement of southwest Missouri in the 1830s and 40s. There must be thousands of veterans of the revolution buried across the middle west. And farther. Why a boy of 16 in 1781 who had fought at Yorktown could even have been on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. He would have been in his seventies, but perhaps that is not impossible? It occurred to me that this was a great teaching opportunity as well. The westward movement of Revolutionary War veterans could be used to illustrate western movement and to tie it to other themes in American history. And because they were veterans, the genealogists will have located and marked their graves and put the data online somewhere. Witness the American Revolutionary War Veteran Graves waymarking page.

So did any Revolutionary soldiers make it to the Pacific Northwest? At least one did--William Cannon, Oregon's Only Known Revolutionary War Veteran. Cannon had quite the life. He fought at Charleston, one of the worst American defeats of the war. (Many American captives from that defeat ended up on British prison ships in New York harbor, but Cannon's name does not appear on the list of known prisoners.) He turns up again in 1810 in the employment of the Northwest Fur Company at Mackinaw, where he was lured away to join the Overland Astorians in 1811. Cannon merits a brief vignette in George Washington Irving's Astoria, who describes how the hunter became the hunted when a grizzly bear discovered Cannon hauling fresh buffalo meat back to camp:

"In passing through a narrow ravine he heard a noise behind him and looking round beheld to his dismay a grizzly bear in full pursuit apparently attracted by the scent of the meat. Cannon had heard so much of the invulnerability of this tremendous animal that he never attempted to fire but slipping the strap from his forehead let go the buffalo meat and ran for his life The bear did not stop to regale himself with the game but kept on after the hunter He had nearly overtaken him when Cannon reached a tree and throwing down his rifle scrambled up it. The next instant Bruin was at the foot of the tree; but, as this species of bear does not climb, he contented himself with turning the chase into a blockade."

Presumably Cannon endured the same horrendous trek as the other Astorians across the Bitterroots and down the Snake River. He is nearly invisible in the historiography of Astorian--mentioned only once in James Ronda's Astoria and Empire and not at all in Robert Stuart's or John Bradbury narratives. But the outlines of his life can be pieced together.

Much of this piecing has been done by Tom Laidlaw, a historical reenactor whose favorite character is William Cannon. William Cannon joined the Northwest Company when the Astoria
venture failed. He married a Chinook woman, worked as a millwright and blacksmith, and became a modestly important figure in early Oregon. In 1843 William Cannon was of the men who on May 2, 1843, voted to form Oregon's Provisional Government, an event commemorated by the pictured obelisk at Champoeg State Heritage Area. (A Google Books Search for "william cannon"+oregon+history turns up some additional nuggets of his history.)

A cursory search has not revealed any Revolutionary veteran graves in California, Washington
or Hawaii, so it looks like William Cannon is the westernmost known veteran of the Revolution.

The life and the grave of William Cannon illustrate the speed of the conquest of the American West. A man who grew up in the Virginia of Washington and Jefferson and served his country in the Revolution also settled on the Pacific coast and helped bring one of the last major parts of the west under American control.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

National Library of Australia Digital Collections

The National Library of Australia today posted their 100,000th digital image--an orphaned joey in a sweater. Awwww.

Australian history has many parallels with that of the American West, as these digital collections remind us. Indigenous peoples. Gold Rushes. Steamboats. Aboriginal drawings reminiscent of North American Ledger Art. Fire. Frontier travel. Daring outlaws. Chinese immigrants.

This collection would make for an easy comparative frontiers lecture, or an assignment for a class.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay

During the first world war, Woodrow Wilson authorized a crash program to produce wooden steamships to ferry supplies to the American Expeditionary Force in Europe. Over 700 ships were authorized but less than 100 built by the war's end. Yet the program continued for several more years, producing hundreds of leaky, inefficient, and unwanted vessels before Congress cut off funding. Eventually over 150 of the ships were towed to Mallows Bay on a remote section of the Potomac. Many were burned to the waterline and the rest slowly sank into the shallow water. Over 100 years later, their outlines are clearly visible from the air, as you can see on Google Maps. (Note: This post is shamelessly stolen from this great post at Metafilter, which contains links to other goodies like some kayaker's pictures of the wrecks). I recently used this in class and was rewarded with a collective gasp from the students as they saw the outlines of the wrecks come into view!

So what long-gone historical landmarks in the Northwest are still visible (or only visible) from the air and discoverable through Google Maps and similar services? I don't have time to hunt any down right now but possibilities include the Mullan Road, old railroad cuts, sunken docks and other facilities (a quick look at Seattle on Google Maps reveals some suggestive structures under the water). The problem however, as is so often the case with Google Maps, is that the resolution of the photos for much of the mountain west is very poor. (I was at a Google Earth teacher workshop at Eastern Washington University earlier this year. While the teachers from Spokane ooh-ed and aah-ed as they picked out their own cars in their driveways, the teachers from little towns like Republic and Usk stared at the pixellated blur on their screens and cursed their fate.)

Google is constantly updating and improving the resolutions avaialble. But currently the most promising use of this technology at present is to look for signs of history in the places Google cares about the most. Can anyone think of possble histori relics near Hood River?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

2008 Pacific Northwest History Conference

Update (3/24/2008): I will be giving a presentation titled "A Northwest Historian's Tour of the Internet" as part of the "Digital History and the Pacific Northwest" panel on Saturday. Here is the complete conference schedule [PDF].

The 2008 PNW History Conference will be in Corvallis, Oregon, April 17-19 at Oregon State University. The Call for Papers is below. Anyone want to put together a panel on digital/public history? This is always a fun conference.

2008 Pacific Northwest History Conference
Call for Papers: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest
Corvallis, Oregon April 17-19, 2008

When the expanding empires of Great Britain and the United States imposed imperial markers on the greater Columbia River country, their map makers drew lines that divided human cultures, watersheds, and ecosystems along convenient geopolitical bounds. The agents of empire then went into the field to declare sovereignty over Native people who had been inhabiting these landscapes for several millennia. Over the course of the following decades the newcomers proceeded to impose their languages (tools of thought), their religions (ways of making sense of the world), and their concepts of private property (processes to control land, labor, people, and information). More than 150 years later, Canadian and American scholars continue to probe the dynamics and legacies of conquest and the revolutionary changes to peoples, cultures, and landscapes in the region.

The Program Committee for the 2008 meeting of the Pacific Northwest History Conference invites session proposals and individual papers that explore the complex, ambivalent, and sometimes paradoxical antecedents to our present moment in time. What have been the historical relationships between the Pacific Northwest and global spheres of influence? How has the cultural politics of race, ethnicity, and gender, of class, poverty, and wealth framed historical discourse about the region? How have diverse immigrant groups shaped and reshaped our understanding of the Northwest? How has the presence and persistence of First Nations/Native American groups influenced scholarly discourse?

Submission Guidelines: Submissions can involve an entire session or an individual paper. All submissions must be received no later than December 31, 2007. Session proposals are particularly encouraged.

All proposals must include: title, description (no more than 250 words), A/V requirements (laptop, projector, screen, etc.), presenter name, professional affiliation, address, email, phone number and two-page c.v.

Session proposals must include all of the above for each presenter, plus: session title, session description (200 words maximum), and contact information for the panel organizer, including email address and phone number. We assume that everyone listed in a session proposal has agreed to participate. Electronic submissions are preferred; attach proposals as Word or PDF files. All submissions must be received no later than December 31, 2007. Submit proposals to:

William G. Robbins, Program Committee Chair
2008 Pacific Northwest History Conference
email: ( )
phone: 541-602-3867
Department of History
Oregon State University
Corvallis, OR 97331-5104

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air

I had a nice chat at the WHA with some scholars of the American West and we agreed how delighted we were that the L&C Bicentennial is at an end. I cannot imagine a more over-rated historical event. They weren't important and the canonization of what should be an obscure event distracts us from more important themes in Western History. On the other hand--some amazing scholarship, teaching and web resources came out of the anniversary hysteria, which is all to the good. And also some stuff that is just plain fun.

Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air
is a web presentation of a book by Jim Wark and Joseph Mussulman. The later of course is the Producer and Principal Writer at Discovering Lewis & Clark, by far the best of untold millions of L&C sites on the web. The idea of the book is simple enough: Our dynamic duo took flew a small plane over the route of the Corps of Discovery and took aerial photos of places along the trail. I am so jealous.

The principal impression one get from these photos is how completely the landscape of 200 years ago has vanished--dammed up, paved over and plowed under. The rivers of Lewis and Clark's time (and it was mostly a river journey) are drowned under the slack water of dozens of dams, and where they are not drowned they are often channelized, straightened and otherwise "improved." So it is no surprise that many of the best photos here are of the mountain crossing: Beaverhead Rock, Tobacco Root Mountains, Bitterroot Mountains.

This would be a good resource for a class about Lewis and Clark or western exploration. A possible assignment could focus on the changes in the landscape between the explorer's time and our own.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Geotagging with Picasa Web Albums

Here is a proof-of-concept post: my Picasa Web Album of Historical Sites in the Spokane region. This came out of a drive that Bill and I did last summer to find the Mullan Road marker south of Cheney. I put the photos we took that day along with some others into a Picasa web album, and then used the geotagging feature to create a Google Map that displays the photos. (Note: I did not keep perfect notes on my GPS positions for some of these and I may not have them exactly right on the map.)

I am still experimenting with the features but I am really excited about the potential. Photos can be tagged so that a user could sort to view only those tagged with Indians or transportation or schools. There are comments as well as captions so visitors to the site can add information. And you can export the album into Google Earth.

I think it is possible to share a Picasa Web Album via a Google Group. The album would them become a wiki of historic photos taken by dozens of users throughout the area. And of course historic photos could be imported as well.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Talking History

Talking History is back! This excellent radio program from the University at Albany has never been picked up many stations and suspended production fin 2006. Now it is back on the air--and on the web. If you go over to the archive you will find hundreds of wonderful programs from 1997-2006, most downloadable as podcasts. (Unfortunately the earliest programs are only available through the odious Real Audio software.)

Most of the programs are author interviews with academic historians--such as Gordon Wood discussing The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin or David Laskin on his book The Children’s Blizzard. There is a helpful topic index. Other programs are fascinating archival audio such as interviews with Langston Hughes and Marcus Garvey.

I often add some of these interviews to the "readings" of my online classes to offer students a variety of media beyond the printed word. Though there are few programs that relate specifically to the northwest, there are western-themed programs such as Frank Schubert on the Buffalo Soldiers, Malcolm Rorhbaugh on the California Gold Rush, and Shepard Kretch on the Ecological Indian.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Guide to Grading Papers

This will be old news to most of the teachers and academics who visit this blog. But for new faculty, Daniel J. Solove at Concurring Opinions offers this Guide to Grading Exams.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

“She didn’t even like bird poop on her car”

From the New York Times: Terrible Tillie, Where the Departed Rest Not Quite in Peace. "Terrible Tilly" was the nickname for the lighthouse on Tillamook Rock off the Oregon coast. The lighthouse was built on a battered chunk of rock in the 1880s to warn ships as they approached the entrance of the Columbia River. Though ever-so-picturesque, the lighthouse was expensive and dangerous to maintain and was decommissioned in 1957.

So what do you do with an abandoned lighthouse? Terrible Tilly went through a variety of hands until purchased in 1980 by Eternity At Sea Columbarium, a business venture that turned Tilly into a scenic final resting place where folks could pay up to $2500 to have their ashes stored for all eternity.

Or until the outfit goes broke--as Eternity At Sea Columbarium seems to have done. Today Tillie's roof is leaking, some of the funeral urns are missing, and the lighthouse is apparently full of bird poop. That and dead people.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Don Bain's Virtual Guidebooks

Here is a fun one! Don Bain's Virtual Guidebooks: "This site features over 5000 of my VR panoramas. These amazing photographs show you exactly what it is like to be in a particular spot - you can look in any direction, all the way around. It's the next best thing to being there." You can navigate within each 360 view and even zoom with some intuitive controls.

This is a great way to get a feel for places across the American west. These VR panoramas could be useful to the historian seeking that elusive sense of place, or to anyone planning a trip, or for a home sick north westerner stuck in Missouri (as a random example). For a quick tour of the northwest check out Fog in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Diablo Lake Overlook, Silver Falls State Park, and Wheatlands Near Almota, Washington. Or make your own tour--you have 5000 destinations from which to choose.

(You know what would make these really cool? If they were embedded in Google Earth!)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

NY Times: The Future is Drying Up

Scientists sometimes refer to the effect a hotter world will have on this country’s fresh water as the other water problem, because global warming more commonly evokes the specter of rising oceans submerging our great coastal cities. By comparison, the steady decrease in mountain snowpack — the loss of the deep accumulation of high-altitude winter snow that melts each spring to provide the American West with most of its water — seems to be a more modest worry.

This fascinating and chilling article from the New York Times Sunday magazine surveys the effects that a warming climate is already having on the American West. Among the worrisome observations and predictions:
  • 30 to 70 percent of the snowpack will disappear
  • a "catastrophic reduction in the flow of the Colorado River" has already caused the level of Lake Mead to drop by 100 feet and threatens the 30 million people who depend on Colorado River water
  • groundwater tables are dropping all over the west and those around Denver will be exhausted by 2050
  • dendrochronology suggests that western drought cycles often last 60 years
  • virtually all climate models show the west getting drier over the next century
The article focused on the Colorado basin, but this Seattle Times piece suggests similar issues in the Columbia River basin of the Pacific Northwest. On the other hand the snow pack in the northwern Rockies was 25% over normal this year.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Segregated Seattle

Segregated Seattle: "For most of its history Seattle was a segregated city, as committed to white supremacy as any location in America . . . This special section presents research that will surprise many Pacific Northwesterners. "

Segregated Seattle is part of The University of Washington's Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project. Created and maintained in part by students and members of the community, it is both a valuable historical resource and a nice example of collaborative teaching and community outreach using digital technology. The student Research Reports are quite good--see for example Nicole Grant's "Challenging Sexism at City Light: The Electrical Trades Trainee Program" and Heather McKimmie's "Quileute Independent and Quileute Chieftain, 1908-1910." The rich site also contains short films and slideshows, Activist Oral Histories, and a page where you can browse the site by time period or topic. There is much more--take a look!

I am going to begin teaching my seminars and perhaps select upper-level courses this way. The trick will be to come up with the website and some basic templates before the course begins. I tried something like this last year, adopting the ideas in Michael Lewis' 2004 Environmental History article "Reflections: 'This Class Will Write a Book': An Experiment in Environmental History Pedagogy" to my own environmental history class. It was a mixed success--the course was small (5 students) and lacked the critical mass to develop much momentum. I am teaching Introduction to Local History in the spring and will try again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Indian Claims Commission Decisions

Oklahoma State University has put the entire Indian Claims Commission Decisions online. The ICC was established in 1946 by Congress to investigate the claims of Indian tribes against the United States. Tribes had five years to file claims that their treaty rights had been violated. The ICC would recommend compensation if appropriate, and the whole process would wrap up in ten years.

The actual process proved much more difficult and controversial than anticipated, taking until 1978 to be completed. The government paid out a total of $800 million dollars in 285 cases.

The reports, filled with expert testimony from historians, anthropologists, and native elders are a historical treasure trove. This digization makes the 43 bulky volumes keyword searchable and far easier to use than in the past. Many northwest peoples are represented in the collections, and some fun searches include "Chief Joseph" "Chief Moses" and "Spokane Garry."

The Google-powered search software is sophisticated. A search for Kamiakin brings zero results, but does prompt the message "Did you mean kamaiakun?" since that is the spelling used in the ICC records. On the other hand the optical character recognition leaves much to be desired. For example:

Original Sentence: "Chief Joseph and his followers did, in fact, move onto the Colville Reservation and the members of his band or the descendents thereof continued to reside on the reservation until the present date."

OCR Transcription: "Chief Moses and h i s followers did, in fact, Eove cnto the Colville Reservation 2nd tke meribers of h i s band or the descendmts thereof have c ~ n t ~ u etod r eside on t h a t reservation
- until the Fres at date."

Fortunately the default display is not this OCR text but an easily-legible PDF of the original page. As with other PDFs you can print or save each document.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Estimable Blogs Post #1: Lewis and Clark Trail Watch

Lewis and Clark Trail Watch is the blog of Kathleen A. Dahl, an anthropologist at Eastern Oregon University. Dedicated to "how the Lewis and Clark Expedition has been interpreted" the focus on this blog might seem a bit narrow--and yet Dahl has come up with entertaining and interesting posts for 3 1/2 years now. Her most recent post is an excellent link to an Oregon Public Radio series on the Columbia River.

(Hey there's Jack Nisbet! I need to make a post on him soon.)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The 47th Annual Conference of the Western History Association

I am recently back from the 47th Annual Conference of the Western History Association in Oklahoma City. I was on the panel "Shamans and Showmen: Decolonizing the Indians of Buffalo Bill and Edward Curtis." The panel was organized by Kevin Shupe, a dissertating grad students at George Mason University. Kevin presented a clever paper ”Selling Geronimo at the 1901 Pan-American Expositon.” Dee Garceau of Rhodes College presented "Edward Curtis Photographs, 1899-1910: Challenges of Museum Interpretation." My paper was ”Joseph’s Funeral: Edward Curtis versus the Indians of the Pacific Northwest.” Michael Holloman, the Director of the Center for Plateau Cultural Studies at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, provided introductions and commentary. (I would simply link to the conference schedule but this year it is not online--tsk tsk.)

The panel was well-received and I thought hung together very well--though Dee and I, by presenting similarly-themed papers, rather stole the show from poor Kevin, the hard-working graduate student who pulled the whole thing together. Let that be an object lesson to you, Kevin.

I love the WHA and it was great to meet so many old friends, people whose work I admire, and bright young scholars doing exciting work. And I liked the new format of the meeting, with the awards at lunch and the evening banquet less stodgy. And above all it is good to see that the obnoxious Green River Knife tradition is gone forever. God that used to make me cringe!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

What I Had Hoped Would be a Brief Tour of Indian Ledger Art

History blogging is delicate proposition. I typically look for a topic which is sufficient to fill 3-5 paragraphs with perhaps that many links. But what to do when a topic grows and grows as one composes the post? Such is the case with today's post on Native American Ledger Art.

Ledger Art is a genre that comes out of the reservation and boarding school experience. American Indians took their traditions of stylized figure drawing as seen on petroglyphs and buffalo robe paintings and adapted them to the new mediums of ink, colored pencil and paper. Not a few of these early drawings were made on discarded ledger books, hence the name. The online Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture has a good entry on the form. Ledger Art is usually associated with Plains Indians, but as we will see there are some compelling northwest examples as well.

Ledger Art is well represented online--starting with the site Plains Indian Ledger Art. "This site is dedicated to presenting and and preserving Plains Indian "Ledger" art, drawings on paper, from the late 19th century for research and enjoyment."

Fourteen ledgers are currently featured, all from plains peoples. So where is the love for northwest ledger art? Well the University Oregon offers this Cayuse-Nez Percé Sketchbook with some compelling images:

Not available online is this remarkable example of Nez Perce ledger art, recovered and interpreted by Scott Thompson, an art teacher at Chase Middle School in Spokane! Nice work Scott.

And the modern Spokane native artist George Flett plays with the medium in some of his work:

In addition, the Massachusetts Historical Society offers glimpses at this Ledger Art book drawn by Making Medicine (Cheyenne). Making Medicine (1844-1931) had a long and astonishing life with experiences that ranged from fighting U.S. Cavalry to a student at and then a recruiter for Richard Henry Pratt's Carlisle School to serving as an Episcopal deacon in Oklahoma. And this particular ledger book was once owned by Francis Parkman!

There is so much more out there, which you can Google as well as I.