Monday, January 30, 2012

CFP: Montana Historical Society 2012 Conference

This just in:

"Opportunity for All? Homesteading Next Year Country

2012 marks the 150th anniversary of America’s first Homestead Act. Born of the same political discord that led to the Civil War and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln during the early years of that conflict, the act provided for the transfer of 160 acres of public land to each homesteader upon payment of a nominal filing fee and five years of “proving up.” The original proponents of the Homestead Act envisioned the settlement of the West by individual farmers with an almost utopian fervor, and today, our cultural mythology most often portrays homesteading as a symbol of the most American of ideals.

Homesteaders at Cabin Creek. July 13th, 1913
Credit: Montana Historical Society Research Center Photograph Archives 
The conference will be held in Helena at the Best Western Premier Helena Great Northern Hotel, September 20-22, 2012. The deadline for submission is February 1, 2012. Session proposals relating to any aspect of homesteading are encouraged (see page 2 for information on how to submit a proposal). Possible topics include:

  • The impact of the Homestead Act on Montana’s first peoples
  • The impact of homesteaders on the environment
  • The impact of the environment on homesteaders
  • Daily life on a homestead
  • The material culture of the homestead era
  • Homesteading as it relates to women’s history
  • Homesteading as it relates to ethnic and minority history
  • The role of archaeology in telling the homestead story
  • The effect of homesteading on Montana politics
  • The impact of homesteading on rural settlement and community development
  • Homesteading and family folklore
  • The role of railroads in homesteading and land development
  • And more!

If you are working on any aspect of homesteading, this looks like a fascinating conference.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Barry Moses on Drumheller Spring and Grand Coulee Dam

Here is a fine short video of Spokan tribal member and Spokane Community College instructor Barry Moses, speaking about how the Spokans used (and still use!) some of the natural resources of the area. I love his story about his grandmother and Drumheller Springs, and how he brings the tale around to his own discovery of bitter root in the park. There are some good observations about the impact of Grand Coulee Dam as well.

Moses also blogs (sometimes in Salish) at Sulustu. He may be the only person in the world blogging in Salish?

The video, but the way, was originally filmed during a 2010 educational tour of the Spokane River sponsored by the Center for Justice. I had the privilege of being on the tour and it was great--the experts on the tour were Barry Moses, Jack Nesbit, and Bill Youngs, and we had stops at Spokane House, along the Little Spokane River, and at the Spokane Falls. A film of highlight of the entire event airs sometimes on Spokane's open-access cable channel, Community Minded Television.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Progress in the Battle to Save the Jensen-Byrd

Jensen-Byrd building by Flickr user Terry Bain.
(Thank you Terry for choosing Creative Commons licensing.)
This morning we have some good news about the fight to preserve Spokane's most-endangered historic building, the Jensen-Byrd. According to a Spokesman-Review article, the Historic Preservation Commission has ruled that the Jensen-Byrd is eligible for historic preservation: "The commission’s decision Wednesday designates the Jensen-Byrd building, which has been vacant since 2004, as eligible to be nominated for the Spokane Register of Historic Places.That decision now places a burden on Campus Advantage to establish reasons why it should proceed with demolition, said Kristen Griffin, the city-county historic preservation officer."

The article went on to state that the developer planning to raze the building, Campus Advantage, "has a contract with WSU to buy the building, but that deal has contingencies that could cancel the sale...Macejewski [a Campus Advantage executive] said he couldn’t comment on whether the restrictions on obtaining a demolition permit would jeopardize the sale."

What does this mean for Spokane history? I think if the public outcry is great enough, we can either get WSU to reverse the decision, or perhaps scare off the developer by adding uncertainty and delays to the process. Keep up the pressure! Spokane Preservation Advocates has been spearheading the public effort to save this historic building, their advocacy page has information on how to contact WSU to protest this unnecessary destruction.

Spokane has lost a lot of great buildings that could have been saved. But I have a sense that we as a community have reached a tipping point, where we come together and say enough is enough. If we save this building, it could mark a new era of historic preservation in Spokane.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The History of Hawaii as a Series of Plate Lunches

I am all for quirky ways of using technology to teach history, and this is absolutely charming. The video is "Unfamiliar Fishes" by "social observer" Sarah Vowell. Vowell is also the author of Assassination Vacation, a book about visiting the sites of presidential assassinations, and is an all around internet-enhanced author/personality. Enjoy. And keep an eye out for my upcoming YouTube viral video, "The History of Spokane as a Series of Chili Cheese Dogs."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Northwest History at Common-Place

It has been a while since I mentioned the marvelous online history journal Common-place, which describes itself as "a bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Common-place speaks--and listens--to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900."

It is difficult to find that historical sweet spot in-between popular storytelling and academic rigor, and Common-Place hits that mark more often than any publication I know (except maybe for Montana the Magazine of Western History).

Common-place deals mostly in colonial and early national history, but if you poke around in their archives there are some real gems of northwest history. Below are some fine pieces on Francis Parkman, the fisheries at Celilo Falls, a photographer on the Oregon Trail, and first contacts in Alaska.

It became the Emigrant Road, the main trunk of the trails to Oregon, Utah, and ...Benton had his eye on Oregon, which at the time meant all the country west of ...

The Horseshoe Falls, the most photographed part of Celilo Falls, was close to theOregon shore. Until its inundation, Celilo Falls was by far the biggest tourist ...

Science and art come to the Oregon Trail. When the photographer William Henry Jackson posed fourteen men around a table in a field, propped a deer head on ...

For the best recent history of Alaska, see Stephen Haycox, Alaska: An American Colony (Seattle, 2002). For a recent and more pro-Russian position see ...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Act Now to Save a Spokane Landmark

What is a community to do when a university is destroying its historic fabric?
The Jensen-Byrd building, 1909-2012 (?)

Washington State University announced last week that one of Spokane's landmark historic buildings, the Jensen-Byrd building, would be torn down to be replaced with student apartments. This despite the fact that a local developer has offered to buy the building for the same price and save it. A WSU spokesperson explained that they went with the wrecking ball because that buyer offered to pay WSU more quickly.

It might not be too late to stop the destruction of this important piece of Spokane history. The Spokane Preservation Advocates has issued an action alert calling on citizens to mount an email campaign to save the building. They ask that you contact WSU President Elson Floyd at and Chair of the Board of Regents Theodor Baseler at (also that you CC Ask them to preserve this Spokane Landmark. Here is the letter I just sent, which you may adapt if you like:

Dear President Floyd and Chairman Baseler:

I think you would be surprised to know the amount of disappointment and anger that has been generated here in Spokane over your decision to tear down one of our most historic buildings, the Jensen-Byrd building.

Dating from 1909, the building is a grand testament to Spokane at the peak of its early growth. The Spokane Preservation Advocates recently recognized the Jensen-Byrd building as one of the top historic structures in the Spokane region.

All over the country buildings such as the Jensen-Byrd are being renovated and breathing new life into their communities. Indeed a local developer, Ron Wells, has offered to buy and preserve the building. But you have chosen instead to tear down a piece of Spokane history, simply (according to press reports) to get your money more quickly.

It is not too late to reverse this decision, which is a disaster not only for Spokane but also for the reputation of WSU. If you tear down this building it will take a generation to repair the damage to the reputation of your institution. For your sake as well as ours, please spare the Jensen-Byrd building.


Larry Cebula

Friday, January 6, 2012

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Spokane Prohibition Documentary tonight

Raid on an underground still, via the Spokesman-Review.
KSPS is airing a documentary that should be of interest to readers of this blog: Rumrunners' Paradise: Spokane During Prohibition, which airs at 7 p.m. tonight. Unlike the east coast and midwest, where the bootlegging business was dominated by already-established organized crime networks, the inland Northwest liquor trade was more of an amateur hour. Bootlegging in the Inland Empire was shaped by our peculiar history and geography and involved unemployed timber men, Indians whose reservations were handily located between Spokane and the Canadian border, and not a few enterprising women and children. This HistoryLink article, "Prohibition: Booze Routes to Spokane" outlines the business. Edmund Fahey's Rum Road to Spokane is a wonderfully entertaining first-hand narrative from a rum runner.

Rumrunners' Paradise features historians Dale Soden, Bill Stimson, William Rorabaugh, Jim Kershner, Jim Price, and Tony Bamonte. An all-star lineup! Here is a good Spokesman-Review story on the documentary.