Friday, July 14, 2017

Greetings from Boise

Traditional Basque dancing at the NAGARA closing party in Boise.

I am here in Boise at the tale end of the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators Annual Conference. A few highlights:

1. The conference has been terrific. Some very interesting sessions, but more valuable to me have been the many networking opportunities. I have met archivists from national, state, and local government, and even one tribal archivist. "Hi, I am Larry." I say to them. "Do you have any job openings? Hire my students!" I got some good leads.

2. I moderated a session where three of my friends and coworkers from the Washington State Archives presented. Todd Henderson showed off Scribe, the crowd sourcing tool that use to add metadata to historic records. My recent MA graduate, Charlie Byers, demonstrated his MA project, a pilot study of using facial recognition technology with historic photographs. (Spoiler: It works pretty well!) And June Timmons presented Correct That, a digital tool the archives developed to batch crop and correct scans of historic documents, thousands of images at a time. Each of these was a practical solution to common archival problems, and the audience loved it.

Todd Henderson, sharing the Good Word of crowd sourcing.
3. On my way to the session I kept thinking, "I would really love to take the afternoon off and rent a hotel bike and explore the Boise River Greenbelt trail, a paved bicycle and walking path that stretches for 40 miles along the river. But I better not because my boss is here." I met my boss before our morning session and he said "Hey Larry, I know you like to bicycle. This afternoon you should rent a hotel bike and explore the river trail. It goes for miles--you'd love it." And I did. Great boss!

4. I had not been to Boise before and this city is a revelation. I explored sections of town three times, twice with a friend who is a public historian at Boise State. It has the usual accretion of plaques and monuments of any state capitol, but also a lot of clever public history going on. I may make a separate blog post about this.

Boise's Freak Alley.
5. Basques have it going on. Boise is home to the largest population of Basque peoples outside the Iberian peninsula. There is a Basque Block with restaurants and a really excellent museum--which is in fact a model for smaller, focused museums. Basques are interesting because the numbers in which they migrated to America are fairly small compared to some ethnic groups, their peak immigration was well before the Second World War, and they scattered over most of the American West. Any yet they continue to have a strong sense of their ethnic identity, with Basque associations all over the west. How do they keep the flame burning when so many other immigrant groups have been subsumed into mainstream American culture?

Sheepherders wagon at the Basque Museum.
Tomorrow I do the loooong drive back to Spokane, hopefully with time to visit some of the site along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. Goodnight.

Looking down on White Bird Canyon, on the long road between Spokane and Boise.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Path of Totality: Pulling Meeting Minutes Out of the Shadows

Guest post by Logan Camporeale

On Monday, August 21st, 2017 the moon will pass between the sun and the earth casting a wide shadow over parts of the contiguous United States for the first time in nearly four decades. This unusual event, a total solar eclipse, will only be visible from the path of totality—a seventy-mile wide strip of earth that arcs across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina.

Skywatchers and armchair astronomers in the Pacific Northwest and beyond will flock to central Oregon in hopes that mother nature will offer a clear sky to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event. Nearly all reservable lodging options within the path of totality, including campsites and home rentals, have been booked. Cities and towns have been planning for the influx of people, holding town meetings and brainstorming ideas to generate revenue from the visitors. Stores are planning to stock up on the necessities and farmers are considering turning fallow fields into fertile campgrounds that they hope to rent for hundreds, or possibly thousands of dollars per site.

This is not the first time that the Pacific Northwest has fallen in the path of totality. In 1979, a total solar eclipse swept across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota before proceeding into Canada. The event, billed as the country’s final total eclipse of the century, generated a “solar mania” comparable to today’s excitement. Taverns in the path created specialty drinks like the “Total Eclipse.” And the Seattle Science Center chartered a plane to fly above the Columbia Gorge for a champagne-enhanced view of the eclipse with no chance of pesky clouds getting in the way.

Keyword searchable newspapers are a useful source to understand how Pacific Northwesterners engaged with the last total solar eclipse, but they can be hard to come by. In fact, there does not seem to be any freely-accessible keyword-searchable Washington State newspapers from 1979. Not even a subscription service at has anything. (Although it did provide some local details, the clipping above came from the Associated Press in a newspaper out of San Bernardino, California.) Fortunately there is another keyword-searchable collection that can help use to fill in the gaps and provide a more nuanced local perspective when newspapers are not doing the job.

The Minutes and Meeting Records Collection at the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives is made up of official accounts of meetings conducted by over two hundred local government agencies from the 1850s to the present. They are a running record of the most important business conducted by an agency. The records are completely keyword searchable and they provide a different window into the challenges of the eclipse in 1979. Instead of city councils and boards of commissioners laboring over how to accommodate an influx of visitors, as might have been expected, a keyword search for just the word “eclipse,” and then a handy date sort, shows that it was school districts that were talking about the event.

Unlike this year’s eclipse, the one in 1979 occurred in February well before children got out of school for the summer, and in the middle of winter when camping trips and others vacations were not as appealing. Instead of concerns about inundated cities and public lands, the records show that at least five school districts in Washington State had educators and administrators that were worried about the possibility of students damaging their eyes while trying to watch the solar eclipse on their way to school. The concerns were raised in public meetings, and in Vancouver School District an ophthalmologist was consulted to guide an action plan. Most school districts instructed teachers to educate their students about the risks of looking at the sun and agreed upon different start times to ensure that students were not walking to school when the event occurred—a practical local-level response to the eclipse, but not the one that was expected.

This is not an earth-shattering discovery shedding light on the long duree history of human responses to eclipses, but it is an interesting bit that fills in our understanding of how communities reacted to previous eclipse events. It also shows us how a simple change in the circumstances of these two events—the time of year—vastly changed the local response.
Using keyword searches of the Minutes and Meeting Records are an effective way to unpack local perspectives on national issues, and they certainly are not limited to the eclipse. For example, while trying to understand local impacts of forced relocation, searching the collection for the word “Japanese,” and then sorting it by date, revealed an organized effort to prevent displaced Japanese from resettling in their communities during World War II. The Grant County Commissioners were even in favor of establishing a concentration camp within the county to imprison those who were relocated.

Similarly, a researcher interested in the AIDS epidemic in Washington State would be handedly rewarded from a simple keyword search for the word “homosexual.” The query revealed that in the 1980s agencies like the Snohomish County Health District were actively engaged with the challenges their community faced with the spread of HIV. It was such a pressing issue that an “AIDS Update” was a recurring agenda item at their meetings.

As pajama-bound historians we often rely too heavily on keyword-searchable newspapers to understand local impacts of national events, even when keyword-searchable minutes and meeting records from local government agencies are readily available. As more states and local governments put their minutes online and make them keyword searchable, a deep chest of immensely valuable local history sources will become easily accessible to historians trying to understand local impacts of national events. Let the keyword searches begin.

Eclipse image courtesy of Temple University Libraries.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Of Facebook, Air Crashes and UFO Movies

This is a fun one. A couple of years ago, as a sort of experiment, I started a Facebook Group: Spokane History Buffs. I wanted a digital space where people who had a research interest in Spokane history could exchange information. And I was frustrated by the nostalgia Facebook pages like "You're Probably From Spokane If..." that specialized in an endless loop of "Hey Who Remembers Expo?" type posts (along with regular theft of intellectual property--but that is another post.)

The experiment paid off nicely. I have met a bunch of folks who have real expertise in local history and who I never would have met otherwise. And we have solved a few historical mysteries together.

Yesterday, a user named Josh at CityofSpokane asked the group a question:

Hi History Buffs. I recently acquired this 1932 map of Spokane County and found some handwriting on it that piqued my interest. An arrow points to an area just north of Fort Wright with the words "crash occurred about here" and another arrow points to a spot directly to the east of that with the words "area for spectators." The other two arrows point to Baxter Hospital and Fairmount Cemetery. Don't know what this is referencing. Might be completely insignificant but I thought I'd share. Thanks!

Josh shared a couple of pictures of his mystery map:

I quickly tried to Google up an answer (we get a little competitive at Spokane History Buffs) and came up empty. But group member Jeff Sims immediately recognized the map markings as referencing a 1944 crash during an airshow over Spokane. He shared a 2007 report on the crash from an aviation history site. The report, "Information on Observing the Location of the Military Air Crash the Occurred Near Spokane, WA, on July 23, 1944" by Darcey Hildebrand, is incredibly detailed.  It turns out a Paramount Pictures newsreel crew was on hand and filmed the whole tragic thing. Hildebrand took stills from the newsreel, images from Google Maps, and quite a few photographs he took himself to precisely pinpoint the crash location. Sample illustration from the report:

Hildebrand did some terrific detective work. He also mentioned that the Paramount film footage of the crash had been used in at least one feature film.

The crash itself was horrific. "Crowd Sees Two Planes in Fatal Crash at Air Services War Show" reads the headline in the Spokane Chronicle. "Before a stunned and almost unbelieving crowd estimated at 100.000, two of a formation of three army dive bombers came together in mid-air and crashed in a great ball of flame yesterday afternoon," the story continued. The show was to promote the war effort and the audience had been promised realism, so "some refused to believe that the sickening crash was not part of the show." The four men in the two planes were killed in a "rolling ball of flames and smoke."

You can view the 1944 newsreel footage here on the Critical Past website--be warned, it is pretty disturbing.

And here is where the story goes from macabre to weird--and a little sad. In the days before CGI, a film director who wanted a dramatic airplane crash in a film was facing an expensive proposition. The choices were to do something with models, which was expensive and hard to film, or use misdirection. In the film Patton, for example, when director Franklin J. Schaffner wanted an airplane crash he filmed a plane flying behind a hill and then set off some explosives on the hill's backside. So this high-quality footage of plane crash in Spokane had real commercial value.

Behold the 1956 movie, Earth vs the Flying Saucers. Our Spokane plane crash is at the start of this clip:

One wonders what the widows and orphans and relatives of the four men killed might have though, when they wandered into the theaters a dozen years later and witnessed their loved ones being killed by UFOs?

(A big thanks to Josh at CityofSpokane for letting me use his map photos, and especially to local history expert Jeff Sims for cracking the case!)

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Long Lingering Death of the Google Newspaper Archive

Once there was a happy land where historians could go online and explore by date and keyword through most of the historic newspapers of their town. In this favored place, researchers could quickly hunt down the names of specific people, or keywords like "Indians" or "temperance" of "I.W.W." and perform what used to be months of painstaking research in moments. Gone were the painful days of rolling microfilm through a projector and squinting at columns of cramped text, hoping against hope that you would find something on your topic. The Google News Archive, which contained most of our historic newspapers, promised a revolution in local history research. And the people did rejoice.

"Bringing history online, one newspaper at a time," Google crowed in 2008, promising to make "billions of pages of newsprint from around the world searchable, discoverable, and accessible online." Spokane was among the first cities to get the Google News Archive treatment, as the company scanned the microfilm copies of the Spokesman-Review, the Spokane Chronicle, and other newspapers and added them to the database.

This stuff used to work.
It was exciting--but Google's support for the ambitious effort faded quickly. Google mostly abandoned the project in 2011, without ever providing a reason for doing so. Soon after that, the company merged the archived news into the same category as current news, in the process breaking many of the search features. With some clever manipulation of Google search parameters and patience you could still tease a lot of information out of search, but it was a crippled feature.

Then, one day last fall, search suddenly stopped working at all. Oh a search like "Spokane Indian tribe" will come up with a few interesting hits from the historic newspapers, but compared to be able to narrow that search by newspaper, year, etc. it is pretty thin gruel. You can still (for now?) browse individual issues of Spokane newspapers at the Google News Archive (scroll down) but without search, they are far less useful.

Users of the archives got another shock last fall when, without warning, Google yanked all of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel from public view. This is because that newspaper, which is still in business, worked out a deal with the commercial electronic publisher Newsbank to add its back issues to their pay-walled database. Google even deleted those issues that are in the public domain. Will this happen in other cities? (Hint: yes.)

Attempts to contact Google have proven fruitless, and it appears that the News Archive joins the long list of abandoned Google projects. It would be nice if we could get the newspapers that Google has imaged into the Chronicling America site, but I have not been able to get anyone at either institution to speak about the possibility. The most likely future for the Google News Archive is that it simply disappears one day.

There is a larger lesson here, a story about the perils of relying on private corporations to provide what could be a public utility. The huge scanning projects of Google Books and Google News Archive could be replicated with a public effort--a few hundred million would do it. We could have nice things.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Preliminary Notes for the Case Against Ken Burns

As Americans we must acknowledge that our sins are many. Slavery, conquest, the pillage of the environment, inequality--the list hardly bears repeating. But what in our whole storied past have we done to deserve Ken Burns?

Image result for ken burns
Telling us stories we like to hear.
Burns has ruined the historical documentary film for at least a generation. His bloated, tear-jerker, The Civil War, was a monster hit that changed the rules of the game. Where before the American Experience documentaries were tight, disciplined 50-minute films, now they became hours-long, multi-part spectacles. Nothing was left on the cutting room floor anymore. “Interview with an old woman who pet LBJ’s beagle in 1960?! Ratings gold! We have 9 hours to fill after all! Go back and see if you can get her to cry.”

Worse than the length and endless digressions of the Burn’s method is the sentimentality. Burns is forever delving into the feelings (or imagined feelings) of the characters rather their motivations and importance. Historians are replaced by poets and political hacks and novelists (and, always, Dayton Duncan), brought in to narrate a history that they barely grasp. The cringe factor is off the charts.

The greatest sin, however, is that Burns is at heart a consensus historian from the 1950s. The Civil War is wrapped up in a “it was all a tragic misunderstanding” narrative that minimizes the ways it was a fight over slavery and white supremacy. The omnipresence of Shelby Foote, with his endless love of the Confederate heroes, drives this home. Lewis and Clark is similarly cursed with serial plagiarist Stephen Ambrose, who knows everything about Meriwether Lewis (except the fact that he was obviously freakin’ gay) and nothing at all about the Indians or even American expansionism. Real scholars of the period like Jim Rhonda and John Allen Logan were barely present, making room for Ambrose, William Least-Heat Moon and Erica Funkhouser--none of whom know much about Lewis and Clark.

Burn’s huge popularity and influence have made his sins viral. Now every damn thing on PBS is a big budget multi-part week-long extravaganza. Some of these are actually not bad. But their very length assures that they will have less cultural relevance. A five-hour series on the French and Indian War airs once, maybe twice, and disappears forever. It is too long for classroom use, and copyright and encryption on the DVDs ensures it will not be edited or remixed into something useful. The old American Experience was devoted to 50-minutes stories that were shown again and again--I can’t tell you how many times I have shared Demon Rum or The Orphan Trains with a college class. The new documentaries do not have a shelf life.

Honestly, someone needs to write a book with the title of this blog post--The Case Against Ken Burns. It will not be me, as such an effort would involve hundreds of hours watching and rewatching his films. So Dear Reader, I give the idea to you. Run with it, I promise to buy the book. In the meantime, I offer a list of some trenchant critiques to get you started:

Ken Burns’ The Civil War

Ken Burns’ Lewis and Clark

Ken Burns’ Jazz

Ken Burns’ The West as America

Ken Burns’ The National Parks

Ken Burns’ The War

Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts: An Intimate Portrait

Overall Critiques and Parodies:

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Den Danske Kronike, a Danish Newspaper in Spokane, Now Online

Advertisement for Spokane College, which was built in 1907 by the Norwegian Lutheran Community and stood near the corner of Grand and 29th. The college closed in 1929.  Source:  Den Danske Kronike, September 23, 1917 p. 3.

Spokane has from the beginning had its strong immigrant communities--some of which published newspapers in their own languages. According to the Library of Congress' U.S. Newspaper Directory, Spokane has hosted newspapers in Swedish, Norwegian, Swedish, German, and Italian. Today I ran into Den Danske Kronike, a Danish-language newspaper that is available online here, courtesy of the Washington State Library. The newspaper published for only little more than a year in 1916 and 1917. Its masthead proclaimed (in English) that it was "A weekly newspaper published in the interest of 10,000 danish- and norwegian- born Americans in the Pacific Northwest." As if to emphasize that its readers were loyal Americans it also bore the motto "Aerica First!"

If I could read Danish this would be a better post--but even without knowing the language these ethnic newspapers can tell us something about their communities. Den Danske Kronike served to inform readers both about events back home and also serve as a guide to local events and businesses. The front page (of the four-page sheet) featured news from Denmark. And ad for the Scandinavian-American bank offered readers to join its "Prosperity Club" whose model was "Save to keep and not save to spend."

Inside, the paper focused on local news of interest to the community. The advertisements point to a community that is prosperous, geographically scattered throughout the city, and often (from the frequency of English words) bilingual. Advertisers include doctors lawyers and other professional, often with Danish-sounding names; photographers; confectionary shops, colleges and business schools, and quite a few clothing stores.

"The time has come to get ready for the Great Danish Banquet to be held at Odin Hall by the Danish Brotherhood October 10," advised one advertiser. "Every good Danish citizen will be there with bells on--so to speak." The clothing store, named The Palace, goes on to describe the "exquisite inexpensive evening gowns" and fabrics for sale. The advertisement, all in English but very much tailored to the Danish readers of the paper, gives us a snapshot of a community that has its own fraternal organization, an annual festival, and the spending money to dress up for the occasion.

I thought at first that it was the very assimilation of its target audience that accounts for the short run of Den Danske Kronike, which published fewer than 70 weekly issues in its 16-month existence. But I see from the Washington State Library's description that the First World War was the immediate cause:

A weekly Danish-language newspaper, published in Spokane, WA by Ingvard Eskeberg and N. Berletsen Nelson. It was published in the interest of 10,000 Danish and Norwegian born Americans in the Pacific Northwest. It was published every Saturday from the offices located at Riverside Ave., Spokane, WA with the subscription cost of $1 a year. In Dec. 1917, the newspaper ceased when Ingvard Eskerberg felt it was his duty to enlist in the aviation corp of the U.S. Navy during World War I.

The original copies of Den Danske Kronike were donated to the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture by the Eskerberg family, and it is from those copies that the State Library digitized the newspaper.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Exploring the Death of Chief Joseph in Chronicling America

The Spokane Press judged Joseph a "Great Indian Chief" at his death, 
but other opinions would differ. Image courtesy of Chronicling 

On September 21, 1904, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce died. He was among the best-known native leaders in North America, famous for his oratory and for his leadership during the long retreat of his band during the 1877 Nez Perce War. (Short biography here.) He passed away on the Colville Indian Reservation in north-central Washington, far from his ancestral home in the Wallowa Valley of eastern Oregon. Newspapers around the country took notice of the passing of the old chief.

The death of Joseph is a useful event to use to explore Chronicling America, a digital repository for newspapers from the Library of Congress. Chronicling America launched in 2005. At first it was a digital home for the library's huge and still-useful index of every known newspaper published in the United States. In recent years, the Library added digitized newspapers to the collection, and today there are over 2000 newspapers totaling 11 million pages. And unlike the abandoned Google News Archive project, the newspapers are keyword searchable with sophisticated Advanced Search features. Due to copyright and technical concerns, the collection stops in 1922, and is strongest for the early 20th century.

Joseph in 1877 at the Ellensburg Rodeo,
wearing regalia lent him by Chief Moses.
Photograph courtesy of Steven Heiser.
I have been thinking about how to use Chronicling America in my classes, as it seems a great way to immerse students in a huge data set of primary sources. My thought is to have students explore one incident from their textbook that occurred sometime between 1890 and 1922. So let's go looking for newspaper coverage of the death of Chief Joseph, and see how this works.

Here is the search I used--the phrase "Chief Joseph," search all states, limited to the years 1904 and 1905. I got 473 results--too many, really. The very first page of results shows the richness of the tool, with relevant results from big city papers like the Los Angeles Times but also from tiny, long vanished regional newspapers like the Heppner Gazette and the Athena Press (of Athena County, Oregon, of course).

I was surprised to find that even a quarter-century after the events of 1877, opinions concerning Joseph were sharply divided. Many newspapers, particularly those in the East or in larger cities, lauded the man. "Chief Joseph Was a Great Indian" declared the Indian Advocate, in a long article that reviewed his history and mistreatment at the hands of the government. The Seattle Star ran a sympathetic (and also demeaning and maudlin) piece about how "the great Indian general" was mourned by his widow. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, published in Honolulu, referred to Joseph as the "Great Chief of the Nez Perce."

Some newspapers, however, particularly those in the rural west, took a dim view of Joseph and of those who would honor him. These often-hostile accounts from communities that might have been settled by white people who took and active part in fighting the Nez Perce in 1877, sometimes include additional information that might not be in any other historical source. The Havre Herald refers to Joseph's band as "murderous savages" and then goes on to provide a detailed account of the fight at Cow Creek, including the names of local volunteers who participated in the battle. In an article titled "Don't Want to Honor Chief Joseph," the Heppner Gazette shares the war reminiscences of Lew P. Wilmont, who claimed to have been a "volunteer scout" for the troops who had pursued the Nez Perce. Wilmont called Joseph "nothing more than a murderer" who "hated the whites with that bitter intensity that is born in the Indian." Wilmont continues with many specific and sensationalized instances of what he what he sees as the chiefs cowardice and cruelty. "Chief Joseph Was No Hero" agreed the Fergus County Argus, which quoted E. K. Connell of Tekoa to say that Joseph was a
"treacherous, cowardly brute."
Joseph with anthropologist Alice Fletcher in 1889.
Photograph courtesy Smithsonian Institution

Western newspapers were not unanimous in condemning Joseph, however. The Idaho Recorder wrote that "Joseph was a born strategist, but was also brave and honest," and gave a very sympathetic version of the 1877 war. The Athena Press of Pendleton, Oregon called the chief "perhaps the greatest Indian ever born on the Pacific coast."

The death of Joseph provides a sharp focus on American attitudes towards Indians at a certain point in time. It also  shows the power and limitations of doing historical research in Chronicling America. Many of the articles in the search results were only the briefest mention that Joseph had died, but finding this out involved drilling down to each newspaper page, zooming in twice to make it legible, and then clicking back up (or toggling to the original browser tab) to return to the search results. IT is light years more efficient than the old days of scrolling microfilm in a library carrel, but is still a slog.

I assigned a brief research paper based on Chronicling America in my undergraduate survey class last year, and saw some pretty good results, I will continue to refine the assignment.

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.