Monday, March 16, 2015

Living History: The John Feathers Map Collection

Archivists and lovers of old maps, just sit back and enjoy!

 This video fascinates me on a couple of levels. It is a great story, of an unexpected find that doubles the map collection of the Los Angeles Public Library. It is also lovely to look at (if you are a map lover) particularly the last few minutes where the camera just luxuriates in the old maps. Oooooh--Sanborns!

The video is also a nice example of low-key public outreach, an approach that I wish more archives and humanities institutions would emulate. Nearly all of us who have spent a few years working in archives have some interesting stories in the "You will never believe what someone found!" vein. The rub is always the lack of resources--archivists are not trained to make videos or podcasts, and we don't have the time anyway. It is no surprise that though this video is about the Los Angeles Public Library, it was produced by the LA Review of Books, which had the staff and saw the value of producing a short film of local interest.

 Some time ago I posted about short videos being made by the Minnesota Historical Society. Who else is making similar videos?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Spokane's Pride: Oral Histories of Spokane’s LGBT community

Look what my friend and EWU colleague Laura Hodgman has created: Spokane's Pride, a website dedicated to the oral histories of LGBT Spokane.

Spokane has a reputation as a conservative town, but of course we have always had a gay population. The first gay bar in Spokane opened in the 1950s, and the first drag ball happened about a decade later. Spokane's Pride explores this history with transcribed oral interviewsa timeline that integrates LGBT Spokane history with national events. and a glossary of some commonly-used terms.

Spokane's Pride grew out of “The Queer History Project,” an earlier oral history effort conducted by Maureen “Mo” Nickerson and others. The interviews for that project were conducted in 2006-07 and deposited at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. Hodgman resumed the effort in 2012, conducting her own interviews as well as transcribing some interviews from the earlier effort. Thirty-five individuals in all were interviewed.

The stories that Hodgman, Nickerson and others have gathered are by turns inspiring, harrowing, and revealing. A unique feature of the site is the Topics section, which organizes excerpts from different interviews around some common themes such as Coming Out, Parenting, and Spokane in Perspective.

Some may be disappointed to learn that there is no audio at the site. Hodgman explained to me that due to the sensitive nature of the topics and the necessary bonds of trust between interviewers and the LGBT community, she would interview the individuals, transcribe the interviews, and then allow the interviewees to review those transcripts and make sure they were comfortable with disclosing everything they said. Hodgman and the interviewees negotiated until everyone felt comfortable before the transcript went public. This is a completely justifiable way to proceed with such a project, and the method is partially explained under the Project portion of the website.

There is something of an explosion of LGBT oral history projects right now, including the ACTUP Oral History Project, Twin Cities Gay and Lesbian Community Oral History Project, and Closeted/Out in the Quadrangles: A History of LGBTQ Life at the University of Chicago. At the exhibits at the last National Conference for Public History there was entire table of brochures and handouts for similar projects.

Spokane's Pride is very much a work in progress, with additional stories being added at a regular clip. It is a great additional to our region's digital history projects.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

In Which I am Quoted in the New York Times

So Wednesday morning I checked my email to find a message from Scott Shane, a reporter for the New York Times. Could I give him a call for a piece he is writing? On the phone Shane explained he is doing a story--building off the current Hillary Clinton email brouhaha--about how the move to digital communications will change how historians do their work. "I spoke to Dolores Kearnes Goodwin and Robert Dallek and thought I would call you for your opinion," he said.

Dear Reader, I paused to savor that sentence.

We had a fun talk. Shane had come across a blog post of mine, Open Letter to the Historians of the 22nd Century: Sorry for All the Stuff. The short version of that post is that I argue against a prevailing idea that the inevitable loss of electronic records will mean a digital dark age for future historians. Far more likely they will be overwhelmed with data. I endeavored to be as sound-bitey as possible, remaking the same points as in the blog post.

So here is the story: Awash in Information, Historians Fear Loss of Rich Material.  I knew going in that at best a snippet of what I said in our 20-30 minutes of conversation would end up in the story, and so it was:

Larry Cebula, a digital archivist for the State of Washington who teaches history at Eastern Washington University, apologized in a semiserious blog post to historians of the next century for 'all the stuff.' If Thomas Jefferson were alive, he wrote, he might be commenting on his friends’ Facebook pages and posting photographs to Instagram. 

"I think historians a century from now will view this period as a time of an explosion of records,' Mr. Cebula said. 'Even if Facebook is out of business, someone will have bought the archive."

Shane also linked to my blog post, which was nice. He did not quote the one line I really had hoped he would use, where I called Goodwin and Dallek silly for their belief that the loss of hand-written letters doomed future historians to write superficial histories. I so wanted to be quoted in The Paper of Record calling Dolores Kearnes Goodwin "silly." My academic friends on Facebook took exception to the "Mr. Cebula" part, sharing one of my favorite quotes from the Austin Powers films.

And so ends my 15 minutes of near-fame. It has been a good week, media-wise, with a flattering puff-piece in the local paper on Sunday and quoted in the New York Times on Thursday. I believe I will enjoy a double bourbon just now.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Two Upcoming American Indian Events at Gonzaga

My friend Laurie Arnold is really tearing things up at Gonzaga, where she is Director of Native American Studies. She has organized two upcoming events that look terrific:

"Clyfford Still and the Nespelem Art Colony"
March 23rd, 5:30 p.m., Jundt Museum Room 110
Micheal Holloman
Please join Native American Studies in welcoming Michael Holloman (Colville), Associate Professor of Art History at Washington State University, for a lecture and discussion about Clyfford Still and

the Nespelem Art Colony. Clyfford Still was a former Fine Arts faculty member at Washington State College (University) in the mid to late 1930’s. He was also instrumental in the development of and teaching at the Nespelem Art Colony (1937-41) located on the Colville Indian Reservation. For most Still is recognized as one of the titans of the post WWII NYC abstract expressionist movement joined by other painters such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. This talk, based on Holloman's new research project, uses dozens of drawings and paintings only recently made accessible at the Clyfford Still Museum to illustrate the impact the Nespelem Art Colony had on Still and other working artists who interacted for a brief time at the Colony. This event is free and open to the entire campus community, as well as to the public.

"Mythbusting! Native American History and Contemporary Issues"
April 8th, 5:30 p.m., Wolff Auditorium
Dr. Laurie Arnold
Laurie Arnold (Colville), Director of Native American Studies and Assistant Professor of History, will give the 2015 History Department Art and Craft of History Lecture. This talk will focus on Columbia Plateau tribes' experiences with new immigrants to the Plateau in the 1800s and will discuss cultural continuities present in ancestral traditions still practiced today. This event is free and open to the entire campus community, as well as to the public.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Lynching in Cheney

[Edit: After writing this post, I discovered another source, which throws a different light on the whole incident.]

On the evening of September 7th, 1884, a group of men rode their horses from the pioneer village of Spokane Falls to even-more-rude hamlet of Cheney, in the Washington Territory. They had come to murder a man. In Cheney the men broke down the door of the county jail. They dragged out an unnamed Spokane Indian who was accused of having raped a white woman earlier that day. The rope broke on the first attempt, so they tried again. This time the Indian man was hoisted into the air. He probably thrashed about a few minutes, but was soon still. The men left the body where it hung and rode home "by separate routes."

This image of the old jail was captured by EWU professor J. Orin Oliphant
in 1923. Courtesy of the EWU Archives and Special Collections.
They murdered the wrong man. Within a few days the federal Indian Agent to the Spokane Tribe, Sydney D. Waters, stated as much (see below). An 1896 Spokesman-Review article compellingly identified a different man as the rapist. Mistaken lynchings were actually quite common in nineteenth-century America, and so was the excuse that was quickly made in Spokane--though the victim might have been innocent of the specific crime, he was probably guilty of something, and deserved his fate.

There are no official records of the arrest and lynching that I can find--just a handful of contemporary newspaper stories and a few lines in a memoir. Even the name of the victim is unknown. The two paragraphs above are most of what we know, and probably ever will know, about this terrible episode. Below are links to all of the significant primary sources I have been able to find, in order of their publication:

"The Lynching of An Indian Causes the Braves to Don Their War Paint..." Los Angeles Herald, September 9, 1884, p. 1 col. 3.
Pieces very similar to this one appeared in many western newspaper after the events. The Indians are described as "very sullen and are putting on war paint."

"Telegraph Notes." Omaha Daily Bee, September 10, 1884, p. 1 col. 3.
This very short notice reads in its entirety: "An Indian confined at Jail in Cheney, Washington territory, for raping a white girl recently, was lynched Monday night. His fellows claim he was innocent and threaten trouble."

"Spokane Outrage" The Northwest Tribune, September 12, 1884. A more detailed account.

"Neck-Tie Party: A Fable" The Northwest Tribune, Sept. 12, 1884, p. 5, col. 3. [PDF]
This article, published in the Cheney newspaper almost a week after the event, describes the murder in comic terms as "a neck-tie party given by one Joe Warren an Indian of Spokane Falls to the elite of Cheney." The identification of the Indian as Joe Warren is certainly a typo--Joel Warren was the name of the deputy who arrested the accused. The link above is to a typescript of the original, compiled by J. Orin Oliphant and included in his collection Readings in the Early History of Cheney, Washington, available at the JFK Library Archives and Special Collections at EWU.

"To the Settlers" Spokane Falls Review, September 27, 1884, p. 1, cols. 6, 7.
Indian agent Sydney D. Waters reassures area whites "need not fear that any trouble will result with the Indians on account of of the lynching of one of their number at Cheney." Waters also notes that he has been "positively assured" that the killers lynched the wrong Indian, but that he "no doubt deserved his fate." He blames the whole incident on "these devils" who were selling whiskey to the Indians.

"Twelve Years a Secret" Spokane Daily Chronicle - Feb 21, 1896, p. 3, col. 1.
This article, published nearly 12 years after the events, seems to very strongly confirm the innocence of the murdered Indian and includes the most detailed (if sensational) description of the events. The article notes that the rape victim "has always been in doubt" that the lynchers hanged the right man, and that "If the names of that mob should be published it would be found that a large number of them could be readily found in the city directory of today."

Detail from the 1884 birds-eye map,
with jail and courthouse visible.
"Indian Lynched by Citizens at Cheney" by Nelson Wayne Durham. from History of the City of Spokane and Spokane Country, Washington, Volume 1 (S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Spokane, WA., 1912) p. 593. In this very brief account, told to Durham by former sheriff Joel Warren, some facts seem confused by time. Warren includes the information that some Indians "blamed me for the lynching, and for two or three years I was warned that these Indians were watching for a chance to kill me."

Bird's eye view of Cheney, Wash. Ter., county seat of Spokane County, 1884
This map of Cheney, made the same year as the lynching, is helpful for placing events. Can you find the jail, pictured above, on the map?

...and there the trail goes cold. I can find no other records of the arrest of the murdered Indian in 1884 or of any attempt to find his killers. Oddly, Que-to-Quin, the native man identified (and who knows if the claim was true) as the actual rapist in the 1896 article also drops from sight. Though Indians in the region were angered by the action and there were rumors of an uprising, none took place.

If the lynching had failed in its stated purpose of punishing a rapist, it succeeded in what was always an unspoken purpose of such proceedings--to inform the targeted ethnic group that they had no rights that white society respected, and their lives could be forfeit at any time. The 1884 lynching was part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing that accompanied the growth of Spokane and was designed to force Indians out of the immediate environs of the city and onto the reservations that had been set aside for them.The years after 1884 saw an increasing campaign to drive Indians from the region, and particularly from within the Spokane city limits. Indians were allowed to come into Spokane to shop and spend their money, but were expected not to stay. It was a western "sundown town" in some ways.

[Spcial thanks to EWU Archivist Dr. Charlie Mutschler and Spokane Public Library Northwest Room Libraria Riva Dean in finding the material for this post. Forthcoming Post: Remembering the Cheney Lynchings Today.]