Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ethnic Cleansing and the City Beautiful: The Case of Spokane

One of my many uncompleted (or more accurately, hardly begun) projects is about the ways that the white leaders of early Spokane worked to force American Indians out of the city limits. In the 1890s and 1900s Spokane's elites wanted to move past the image of a rowdy frontier town and tried to become a more refined and sophisticated city. This effort took many forms, from anti-spitting ordinances to creating libraries and city parks. This City Beautiful Movement had an uglier aspect as well--the forced removal of Indians from the streets of Spokane. The very same people who created our park system pushed for the removal of the people who had originally inhabited those parks, and for the very same reason--to make Spokane appear more modern.

Today I found another newspaper article to drop into my research file for this topic. "Officers Stop Indian Spree," screamed the front page of the Spokesman-Review on June 9, 1903. "Spokane Children Terrorized by Bad Red Men," the headlines continued, "ON A BIG DRUNK."

The story is the usual set of racist assertions that shaped western press coverage of Native Americans in this period, using some particularly ugly language which I will not quote. But reading the article against the grain, as it were, we pick out some interesting facts about American Indians and the City of Spokane at the time.

The article notes that the hot weather has brought "a big bunch of Indians" to Spokane, that Indian Agent Major Anderson was unable to prevent. It further notes that Indians were supposed to get a permit to leave their reservations, a system which was proving unenforceable.

The tribes included the Spokane, Nespelems, and Couer D'Alenes, who established three camps. The largest, with 40 Indians, was at "the north end of Monroe Street, just inside city limits." This seems to have been at Drumheller Springs. Another was "across the river from the army post" and a third was near Greenwood Cemetery.

I have found bits and pieces of information about these traditional camping spots before. Drumheller Springs was used by reservation Indians as a camping spot when they traveled to Spokane as late as the 1920s, according to Barry Moses in this video (story starts at 4 minutes in). This 1904 death return for an Indian man killed in a fall lists the location of the accident as "at his camp North Monroe Street" and seems to imply the same location.

The camp across the river from Fort George Wright is portrayed in this detail from the 1890 birds-eye-view map of Spokane:

The map key identifies this collection of
teepees as "Remnant of Spokane's Early Days."
The third camp is what would come to be called Indian Canyon. This camp is where Slough-Keetcha, known to most as Spokane Garry, lived his last days, and was occupied at least into the 1910s, as we see in this lovely glass plate slide created by the early Spokane Parks Department, taken sometime before 1913:

The rest of the article describes alleged native shenanigans including loud partying and stealing a white man's team of horses to extract a fee for recovering them. Both are remarkably mild offenses in Spokane in 1903, a city that was known for rowdy workers from the mines and timber camps and the saloons and brothels that served them. It was enough, however, to get local law enforcement agencies to unite and order the Indians to leave town. "If the Indians are not gone by today," the newspaper warns, "some of them will sleep in the county jail tonight."

So if we strip away the racism we get a remarkable portrait of native life in 1903. Indians seem to have regularly slipped away from the reservations to return to their traditional gathering spots along the river. There were three regular camps that were used for generations after white settlers had displaced the original inhabitants and forced them onto reservations. If Indians grew too visible in the city, by their activities or their numbers, law officials worked together to expel them from the city limits.

I was talking about this research topic years ago to a friend, who pointed out a sad, modern connection. Some of our city parks today offer refuge to Spokane's homeless population--a population where American Indians are over-represented.

So many research topics, so little time.


Barry Moses (Sulustu) said...

A Kalispel tribal elder recently told me that the Kalispel had a camp on the Division Street hill, near the present day intersection of Division and Bridgeport. His statement was based on stories he heard from his mother. This camp was well within Spokane territory, but it shows the cooperation between tribes in accommodating one another.

Larry Cebula said...

Barry, do you have a sense of when these camps fell out of use? I am particularly interested in Indian Canyon, where the native inhabitants and their teepees seem to have been something of a tourist attraction in the 1910s.

I wonder if there was a spring near Division and Bridgeport? Lost springs and streams are another interest.