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.