Friday, November 25, 2016


Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

For the last two months, I have been mulling over the best conference of my career—CampingCon 2016. The theme of the conference was “Public History in the Outdoors” and the format was--we camped. The conference occurred at Cade’s Cove campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Best conference name tag ever!
But wait, you say, you can’t have a conference in a campground! What about Powerpoint? What about Starbucks? How did people present? WHAT ABOUT BEARS??!!
 Andrew Denson and Lynda Doucette talk about Cherokee
Indians and historical interpretation at the park.
The conference agenda is here. Presentations took a variety of forms. Some folks presented their research in the form of a casual conference talk—working from a few notes, and perhaps using a map or circulating some handouts as they spoke. These took place at the picnic area (or under the pavilion on rainy Saturday morning.) It worked great, as the more casual atmosphere and intimacy encouraged questions and conversations.

Other presentation involved what I learned is “kinesthetic learning” or what you may know as “taking a walk." Brian Forist combined the two in his session on Two-Way Interpretation, first drawing out the audience in a guided discussion in the picnic shelter, then demonstrating the interpretive technique on a walk in the campground.

The most successful experiment was the hike and talks led by Aaron Ahlstrom and Jared Champion (and Caty the dog). We walked to the John Oliver cabin, and there we spoke about the 20th-century presentation of log cabins, scrape versus save preservation, and the fact that the restoration of this cabin was financed by Log Cabin syrup.

Aaron Ahlstrom, sharing the knowledge.
Then we walked another half mile to a spot where we could see the ridges on either side of Cades Cave. On a perfect and bugless afternoon, Jared Champion spoke of how Benton MacKaye’s sense of gender identity explains why there is no water along the Appalachian Trail through the park.
Jared Champion and Katy
Our keynotes were campfire talks. On the first night Nigel Fields, Chief of Resource Education, spoke about interpretation in the park. On the second, we had a discussion of the assigned reading for the conference, the book Black Faces, White Spaces by Carolyn Finney. Dr. Tameria Warren facilitated the conversation over some difficult topics.

Sunday morning we gathered for a conference wrap up. We shared what we had learned in the two days of conferencing about doing public history in the outdoors. And then we discussed the format—what worked, what could be better. Most of all, we excitedly discussed future Camping Cons. Because it had quickly become clear that this was a replicable model, that just as THAT Camps went from a yearly conference to an international movement, so could Camping Con.

Dear Readers, who among you would like to help organize a Pacific Northwest Camping Con? I am thinking Mount Ranier--a storied site with close access to Seattle, Spokane, and Portland. But a Camping Con can take place anywhere with a group campground and some landscape to interpret. Mount Hood, the Oregon Coast, or the Columbia River Gorge have numerous sites where we could do a Camping Con. Whose with me?

Monday, November 14, 2016

"It's a Major Award"

Well look at that! I am pleased to announce that Spokane Preservation Advocates has seen fit to give its Historic Preservation award in the category of Public Education and Outreach to Spokane Historical.

Some context: Spokane Preservation Advocates (SPA) is a citizen advocacy group that promotes historic preservation. This is no knitting club, the SPA are fighting preservationists. Their victories include saving a 100-year-old warehouse after everyone else, including city government, had assigned to the wrecking ball. Spokane Historical is the digital project that my students work on, it is a smartphone app and website for local history with over 400 stories.

It is a pleasant sensation to sit in a crowd of people of you admire while someone up front says nice things about you. But as I made clear when I accepted the award, Spokane Historical is not me, it is the collected work of more than 50 Eastern Washington University students who have researched and written stories over the last five years.

It was an impressive set of awardees last night. Stephanie Petit won for her charming local history stories at the Spokesman Review. Iron Goat Brewing was recognized for renovated the old Jones Automotive building. And past SPA president Paul Mann was recognized for his many, many efforts, including bringing the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference to Spokane in 2012. And others as well--see the list here.

I am so grateful for this recognition. When we began Spokane Historical five years ago, I thought we'd work on it for a few years and move on. I mean, how many stories are there in this town? More than I could have imagined.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Memories of Indians from the Voices of the Pioneers Collection

Winter scene of teepees in Indian Canyon, just outside of
Spokane, around 1910. Courtesy Washington State Archives.
One of the more interesting collections we have at the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, is an oral history collection called Voices of the Pioneers. These testimonies were gathered between 1955 and 1971 by the Friends of the Spokane Public Library, and were digitized and put online by a great EWU grad student, Shaun Reeser. There are over 100 of these oral histories, some from informants who came to Spokane when it was named Spokane Falls and was a part of the Washington Territory. And thanks to a partnership between the State Archives and Microsoft, the audio records are keyword searchable. I did a search for "Indians" and came up with some great interviews:
  • Edith Boyd Tells of the Indians of Spokane. I love this one--Edith Boyd has very vivid and detailed memories of Indians in early Spokane. She later became an author and lived to be 98 years old! Here is her obituary.
  • Mrs. W. C. Cowles recalls Mrs. Cowley. Some general history but also some personal experiences. Here is a good article about Mrs. Cowley's husband, Michael. The two were early Spokane settlers.
  • Interview with Joseph R. Garry. Garry was the great-great grandson of Slough-Keetch, better known as Spokane Garry. Joseph Garry is a hugely important figure in regional history, he was Chair of the Coeur D'Alene Tribe, President of the National Congress of American Indians, a member of the Idaho legislature and a candidate for the U.S. Senate. John Fahey even wrote a book about him
  •  Early Days in the Okanagan Valley with Mrs. Audrey Hazel Bennett Caulfield. (Part Two!) The interviewee came to Ruby Washington in 1889. A little about playing with Indian children and learning their language, and Caulfield even speaks a little Salish. Includes information about Saint Mary's Mission. PArt Two includes an "Indian scare."
  • Father Michael O'Malley, S.J. talks of Father Cataldo. O'Malley lived with Cataldo for five years, and has the coolest Irish brogue.Lots about Cataldo Mission in Idaho and the coming of Catholicism to the region.
  • Interview with W. S. Gilbert. (Part One, Part Two) Great environmental history of the Coeur D'Alene and St. Joe rivers, and the opening of the Coeur D'Alene reservation to white settlement. 
  • Harold James Doolittle mentions building roads on the Spokane Reservation for just a moment on this recording, and the interviewer says they will follow up on that on another recording. There seem to be multiple Doolittle interviews on different topics--you might look around.
  • George S. Clark (Part One, Part Two) has a lot of information about Indians and horse-trading and even pretending to be Indians in early Spokane. Also the Auditorium Theater and Ensign Monahan's funeral..
  • Biography of William McEachern read by Almeda McEachern Oatman. (Part One, Part Two)  Really racist justifications of taking Indian land and stereotyping about native drinking. 
  • H.S. Bassett Interview (Part One, Part Two) Includes a dubious story about an Indian "scare" but also stories of cooperation. Bonus: pioneer dentistry!
Some of these interviews include information that is found nowhere else, and they are an enormously valuable source for local and regional history. Many of the interviews include transcripts, which are available here. There is is also this index to the series.

Admittedly, the collection is a bit of a mess to use. As seen above, the audio search shows records where Indians are mentioned, but not whom is being interviewed nor any of the short list of topics that exist on the record pages. The audio records and transcripts are in separate collections because of how the archives software works, and the record pages of each don't provide any hint that additional resources are available. And the very useful index is not in our collection at all.

With these caveats, this is a rich and rewarding collection. Dive in and share what you find!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Did Dan Drumheller Murder an Indian in Early Spokane?

"Riverside Avenue in Stagecoach Days." Painted by John Meinhart for the Exchange National Bank in the 1920s, this mural illustrates the nostalgia Spokanites of that period sometimes felt for the past. Currently on display at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. 
Daniel Drumheller is one of our most colorful and fondly-remembered early white immigrants to Spokane. "Uncle" Dan rose from frontier man on the make to become a wealthy rancher, the founder of a bank, and mayor of the city from 1892 to 1893. He was a beloved figure in Spokane right up until his death in 1925, a living, storytelling symbol of the colorful early days of Spokane. Today there is a park named after him and his photograph hangs in the Spokane Club. The tales he spun to a local newspaperman were gathered up as a memoir, "Uncle Dan" Drumheller Tells Thrills of Western Trails in 1854. But he never told about that time in 1883 when he was charged with the brutal murder of an Indian man.

I came across this awful story in the March 13, 1910 edition of the Spokane Press. An article, "The Evolution of the Little Village by the River Falls," consists of a series of mostly sensational vignettes about Spokane in its frontier days. Newspapers from that era are full of these sorts of local history pieces. Editors would fill out the paper on slow news days with interviews with elderly pioneers, or long narrative biographies of  town founders, or as in this case collections of historical anecdotes. These pieces are full of racist assumptions and sometimes dubious history and should be used with caution. Such is the case with this story:

Short version: Shortly after the construction of the first bridge across the Spokane River in 1883, an inebriated Indian man played a prank by scaring Dan Drumheller's sheep. The man was arrested by Sheriff E. B. Hyde and put into the crude jail. The next day it was found the Indian had been murdered by a shotgun blast. The story reports that no one was arrested and there was apparently no attempt to solve the crime. A shocking tale--and one I had never read before.

I looked for a confirmation of the story in some other places. It is not in Ruby and Brown's Spokane Indians: Children of the Sun. I cannot find it in Durham's early history of Spokane, nor in Jonathan Edwards' similar volume. The story of the murdered Indian does not appear in Drumheller's memoir--and you would think it would, being of the thrilling tales variety. There are no surviving arrest records from this time that I can find, so no help there.

Finally, I looked at some online newspapers. Bingo. The Spokane Falls Review for June 2nd, 1883 tells the gruesome tale beneath a page 3 headline that reads "Atrocious! A Dastardly Deed!" The quality of the scan is a barely readable:

This contemporary article is very similar to the later version but includes some added details and differences. The article has Drumheller striking the Indian man with a stick, and the man returning with a rifle to threaten to shoot Drumheller. The arresting officer is identified as Deputy Marshall Gilliam. The wounds and the manner of the shooting are described in detail. The Indian man was not found dead, but wounded, and lingered for a while.

The tone of the article is telling for the combination of unabashed racism towards native peoples combined with outrage that anyone had been so murdered while helpless and without trial. "It is hard to believe that a white man would be guilty of such an act of savagery," the editor frets, adding that "It savors more of the work of a skulking Indian." The newspaper then indulges in a long paragraph of racist vilification of the Indians, before adding "but that is no extenuation for the murder in question." The newspaper also states that "we doubt if the criminal is ever apprehended."

That was not,  however, the end of the story. At the bottom of the column, the editor added a short update: "LATER.--Friday evening Mr. Dan Drumheller was arrested on a warrant sworn out by an Indian named Lewis, and released on his own recognizance. Of course no one believes that Drumheller was implicated in the shooting, but as he struck the man on the bridge the Indians have an idea that he must have desired the death of the prisoner."

A week later the Review reported that the wounded man was "in a bad fix" and "slowly sinking with hardly any hope of recovery . . . in the Indian camp." This camp might have been in what is today Peaceful Valley--see the photograph below. "There is no one in the community who excuses the crime," the story goes on, noting that a $200 reward was being offered and that "District Attorney Hyde has entered zealously into the investigation." An update at the end of the story noted "P.S. -- We understand that the Indian died Friday evening."
1884 image of a Spokane camp in Peaceful Valley. Originally published
in Durham's History of the city of Spokane (1912). Durham's 661-page
history is extremely detailed about this time period, yet never mentions
the 1883 murder. The victim apparently died in this camp.
The June 16 issue of the newspaper reported that Drumheller had been acquitted of the murder: "A number of witnesses were examined but nothing new was elicted." One wishes we had a more complete record of the proceedings.

So was Daniel Drumheller guilty? I have no idea. He was charged, and he was acquitted. And though I have no faith in the court system of that time to provide justice for an Indian harmed by a prominent white man, that does not prove that he was guilty either. Without further evidence, we are left with a macabre mystery.

Daniel M. Drumheller in 1900.
Courtesy of UW Library.
What I find most telling about this case is how it has been selectively forgotten. Here in Spokane the dominant white culture tends to celebrate our early history. The first whites to make their homes in the region are still called "pioneers" or (worse) "settlers" and their colorful deeds are mostly celebrated. There are some aspects of that history that we are beginning to engage critically--such as the Wright campaign--and Spokane Garry is universally seen as a victim of white greed and double-dealing.

What we rarely tell, however, are these stories of sharp violence meted out to individual native men and women. As I research, a whole series of shootings and lynchings and intimidations of Spokane Indians men and women are coming to light. These stories were known to everyone at the time they happened but have hardly made it to the history books--despite the sources being in plain sight. For this particular story, the selective amnesia might be partly explained by the identity of the only man ever accused of the crime. Good old Uncle Dan!

I have a few other cases of this sort during this time period (such as the shooting of an Indian named Jackson in Cheney the same year). What I need to do next is to find more sources, perhaps with a clever reading of cemetery or land records, some of which survive. I also need to reach out to the Spokane and other are tribes and see if there are oral traditions of this time period that will help fill out the story.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Surprising Glimpse of Gay Spokane from 1976

A quick post to highlight a really interesting newspaper article that one of my students, Logan Camporeale, discovered in a 1976 issue of the Spokane Chronicle: "Homosexuals Expose Conditions in Spokane As They Plan for Halloween 'Queens' Ball."

I began reading it with some trepidation, expecting ugly stereotypes and dismissive language, and was surprised to find instead a very sympathetic article that used the upcoming drag queen contest to give voice to at least some of Spokane's gay community from 40 years ago. It is interesting that Spokane seems to have regularly hosted such events with up to 1,500 in attendance, that there was a gay part of downtown with multiple bars, and that at least some gays were speaking on the record about their problems and their goals, including marriage equality.

Go ahead and read the article yourself if interested. I did a quick search for some keywords and for the reporter, Lew Pumphrey, and did not come up with any similar stories.

A great resource for delving further are the oral histories gathered at Spokane's Pride, an ongoing project of my EWU colleague Dr. Laura Hodgman. A portion of an interview with Leonard Mace addresses coronation balls like the one in Spokane, for example. And this interview with Gene Otto provides a less-rosy view of the relationship between the Spokane Police Department and the gay community than we read in the Chronicle piece.

Reading this, you can get a feeling that at least some Spokane gays were very optimistic about their future in 1976.  With the great strides that blacks and women had made in the 50s and 60s, they probably thought it was their turn. Little did they know that it would be almost four decades before marriage equality would come to Spokane.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Death of Jeremiah, 1904

I continue poking around in the history of Indians in the Spokane area in the decades before and after 1900. This period, after the Indian Wars but before the regular confinement of Indians to reservations, seems understudied, yet with a rich set of primary resources. I hope to eventually write something substantial on the period, but until then, I will use this blog to record the little nuggets of information I discover.

Today, I was looking for something else, and came across this story in the November 21, 1904 issue of the Spokane Press:

Obviously, the story is condescending and borderline racist, but it has a lot of information as well. Jeremiah lived "in his teepee up on the hill at the end of North Monroe Street." I could not easily find a 1910 map of Spokane online, but this detail from a 1920 map show North Monroe ending around Cora. This is just a few blocks east of Drumheller Springs, a traditional native campsite into the 1920s.

     The end of Monroe Street circled in red. Drumheller Springs
      is the 
blank area to the left.

The funeral ceremony took place at "Smith & Co.'s undertaking rooms." I don't know where this was located, but presumably downtown. City directories would show the location. In 1912 the firm built a Baroque Revival building at 1124 W. Riverside that still stands today. After the Presbyterian funeral service--including the 30-40 Spokane Indians present singing "Nearer My God to Thee"--the coffin was loaded in a hearse and take to Greenwood Cemetery, where the natives conducted a ceremony in Salish. One wonders what they said. This page from local genealogist Maggie Rail shows the Jeremiah was in fact interred at Greenwood. This is notable as well, since Indian burials were not normally allowed at that cemetery.

 This newspaper article caught my eye because I had read of Jeremiah before. The Washington State Archives, Digital Archives has Jeremiah's burial return, which includes additional information. Jeremiah's father was Polition (a well-known leader in his own right) and his mother was Albri. It is unusual that an Indian death record for this period to list the parents, and that itself might have been a sign of respect for Jeremia. The main revelation from this record, though, is the cause of death:

"Chief Cause: accident. Contributing Cause: fell from a cliff." The death return also notes that Jeremiah died "at his camp North Monroe Street" and that his late residence was the Spokane Reservation.

Together these two documents tell us a fair amount--they show a group of Spokane Indians who were Presbyterian but who still practiced some native rituals, who moved back and forth between the Spokane Indian reservation and the city of Spokane, and who had a regular campsite on the northern edge of town.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

"Northwest USA:" A 1945 Documentary Captures a Historical Moment

Here is something interesting I came across on YouTube today. "Northwest USA" is a documentary produced by the U.S. Office of War Information in 1945. The documentary seems to have been produced after the surrender of Japan in early August but before the closure of the Office of War information in September. This fairly dry documentary is no Why We Fight, but there are some interesting moments. There are the surprising pro-Moscow statements that reflect a wartime alliance not yet torn asunder. There are some interesting scenes of things like smelting metal at the Kaiser Plant in Spokane. And the last scene is precious, Rosie the Riveter marches right out of the factory with the bandana on her head and a baby on her arm, ready to resume her proper role of housewife. Enjoy!


Monday, July 11, 2016

On the Effective Use of Quoted Material

I find that even the better writers among my students have difficulty when they try to integrate quotations in their historical writing. So I made this handout. Feel free to use it in your own classes if you are a teacher--click here for a clean copy.

On the Effective Use of Quoted Material

Effective quotations add immeasurably to your historical writing.  Quotations are the evidence that prove your thesis, and they give your writing an air of immediacy and authenticity.  A well-chosen quotation can put the reader in the shoes of your historical actors, making your account more compelling and readable.  The examples that follow are taken from this excerpt from Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River by Alexander Ross:
When we reached the Walla Walla on the 30th of May, as already mentioned, we were at a loss to account for the unusual movement and stir among the Indians, who seemed to be assembling from all quarters in great haste.  The mystery was, however, soon cleared up when Mr. Clarke joined us, and related the affair of the silver goblet at the Catatouch camp.  What did Stuart and M'Kenzie say?  What could any man say?  The reckless deed had been committed, and Clarke's countenance fell when the general voice of disapprobation was raised against him.  The Indians all along kept flying to and fro, whooping and yelling in wild commotion.  At this time, Tummeatapan came riding up to our camp at full speed.  “What have you done, my friends?” called out the old and agitated chief.  “You have spilt blood on our lands!”
This is a wonderful passage, full of color and drama.  How to incorporate some of that excitement into your own writing?  It is easy if you know the rules.
  • First of all, know when to use quotation marks.  These should enclose any words that are not your own.  Failing to put quotation marks around phrases or sentences written by someone else is a kind of theft known as plagiarism.  Plagiarism is bad.

  • Also, know where to put the quotation marks—at the end of the sentence, enclosing all punctuation, even if that punctuation is not part of the original quote.

  • To be effective, the quoted material must be both colorful and relevant.  Don't quote pedestrian passages, paraphrase instead.

  • Always identify who is being quoted in the text of your paper, as well as in a footnote.  The first time someone is quoted, a short phrase should accompany their name to tell who they are: Alexander Ross, a clerk for the American Fur Company, described the “general voice of approbation” against Clarke's actions: 

  • An identifying phrase can be as short as one word: Astorian Alexander Ross described . . 

  • If the name of the person being quoted is irrelevant, you might omit it in favor of a generic identifier: One Astorian described the “general voice of approbation” . . .

  • Vary the position of the identifier.  Nothing is more boring than to introduce every quote with “Ross said . . .” or “Ross wrote . . .”  Your identifier can go at the beginning, middle, or end of your quotation:
  • Ross described the scene:  “The Indians all along kept flying to and fro, whooping and yelling in wild commotion.”
  • “The Indians all along kept flying to and fro,” Ross marveled, “whooping and yelling in wild commotion.”
  • “The Indians all along kept flying to and fro, whooping and yelling in wild commotion,” Ross remembered.

  • Vary the verb you use to identify the quote as well.  Replace said and wrote with action verbs like exclaimed, declared, marveled, excoriated, demanded, and rhapsodized.

  • Don't be afraid to manhandle your quotations, to use a part of a sentence rather than the whole to make your point economically:
  • The Astorians noticed an “unusual movement and stir” among the Indians.
  • The natives continued “whooping and yelling in wild commotion.”
  • Clarke's actions met with “the general voice of disapprobation” of his fellow traders.

  • Ellipses ( . . . ) should be used to indicate where something has been left out of a quotation:
  • Ross reported “ an unusual movement and stir from the Indians . . . assembling from all quarters in great haste.”

  • Or you can avoid ellipses by inserting a connecting phrase:
  • Ross reported “an unusual movement and stir from the Indians” who were “assembling from all quarters in great haste.”

  • Ellipses are necessary when something has been removed from the middle of a quotation.  Overly fastidious writers also employ ellipses to show that what might be mistaken for a whole sentence is actually an excerpt. I am against it:
  • Ross rued how “the reckless deed had been committed . . .”

  • Remember that an ellipse consists of three periods with spaces before, between, and after them ( . . . ) not three periods in a row (...).

  • You may alter the case of words in the beginning of your quotation to satisfy the rules of grammar, as has been done in the following:
  • “Yelling in wild commotion,” the Indians drove away the Astorians.
  • Ross disapproved of “the reckless deed” of M'Kenzie.

  • Some writers try to evade learning these rules by using block quotes.  Avoid block quotes, readers tend to skip over them and they disrupt the natural flow of your writing.  Try to use just a few lines or phrases from the text you want to quote.  If you absolutely must use a block quotation, remember:  introduce it carefully; use a colon for the transition; indent the block on the left side only; don't use quotation marks; and follow it up with an explanatory phrase to reestablish your authorial voice. As I did at the top of this page.

  • Quotes within quotes call for special treatment.  Use double quotation marks for the first quotation and apostrophe marks for the interior quotation: 
  • Ross remembered Tummeatapan's outrage:  “ ‘What have you done, my friends?’ called out the old and agitated chief.”

  • Or better yet, peel off the inner quotation to stand by itself:
  • “You have split blood on our lands!” cried Tummeatapan.

  • And remember that a single sentence can contain quotes from a variety of sources:
  • Though Alexander Ross described the Indians as “whooping and yelling in wild commotion,” another observer recalled the natives as “solemn and serious” when they met the party.

  • Article titles appear in quotation marks, book titles in italics or underlined.

For further reference:
              Strunk and White, A Guide to Style.
              Turabian, A Manual For Writers.
              Gibaldi and Achtert, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.
              Hodges and Whitten, Harbrace College Handbook.

                                                                                  - Larry Cebula, 2015

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Of Carbolic Acid, Suicide, and Key Words

The 1903 Death Return for Carolyn Merrill hints at the tragedy that ended her short life. Death Records, Adams County Death Return, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives.
The 1903 Death Return for Carolyn Merrill hints at the tragedy that ended her short life. 

Last month I was working with State Archives employee Allie Honican to present some of our sources for historical research to an EWU history class. The multimedia room in the archives is decorated with framed reproductions of historic documents--including the 1903 death return above. Looking at it during a break in the training I spotted a clue that hinted at a darker story in the death of young Carolyn Merrill. Can you find the clue?

The cause of death was listed as "carbolic acid," which was a common household disinfectant back then, but also a deadly poison. For these reasons, it was commonly used by suicides at the turn of the century. Merrill had killed herself.

Allie, who is a wizard with the Google News Archive, quickly turned up the whole sad story. “Rejected Girl Ends Her Life,” blares a headline in the June 11 Spokesman-Review, “Parting Talk to Lover, Then Carbolic Acid.” It seems Merrill had been engaged to local tavern owner Joe Naffziger. He had broken off the engagement the night before. The story is poignant: “The young woman spent the night grieving for the love she had lost. On her person were found letters of farewell to Naffziger and her brother, saying that ‘she could not live without Joe’s love,’ and begging God to forgive her for the deed she was about to commit.”

Merrill's is not the only record to list carbolic acid as a cause of death. The death certificate of Kate Barrett, the Spokane prostitute who is sometimes blamed for starting the Great Spokane Fire of 1889, lists "suicide carbolic acid" as her cause of death.

I wanted to do a little research on carbolic acid and suicide. Unfortunately, the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives is not set up to allow searching records for causes of death. So I went over to the Chronicling America website, which has 11 million pages of digitized, OCRed newspapers, most from 1900-1920. A search for "carbolic acid" revealed the shocking frequency of this manner of suicide with 75,785 results for the search term, many of them stories about women (and sometimes men) committing suicide.

Contemporaries also noticed what appears to have been an epidemic of suicides by carbolic acid. In a 1904 article, "Carbolic Acid the Favorite Poison of the Despondent," a Minneapolis coroner notes that there had been 100 suicides in his city in the last three years, 59 by carbolic acid. He called for tighter regulation of the substance to reduce the epidemic of suicides. The City Marshall of Joplin, Missouri made a similar set of observations that same year. By the 1920s, closer regulation of carbolic acid seems to have greatly reduced the number of suicides by this method.

This macabre short history makes a larger point about historical research in the digital age. Even a few years ago, researching the history of carbolic acid and suicide during this time period would have involved months of tedious skimming of microfilmed newspapers, trying to catch the odd story here and there. Now, a quick keyword search brings tens of thousands of leads in an instance. Yet this is only possible because we have a fairly unusual set of keywords--carbolic and acid. Similarly, it is easier to do digital research for Spokane (there are two in the United States, and the other one is tiny) than it is for say Springfield (42 towns of places) or Riverside (186 place names).