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!