The Vanishing Race

Coll Thrush continues the story of Seattle’s Native past in this week’s reading of “Native Seattle.” We were left wondering what would happen next after Thrush tells us that some of the “higher up” white residents had been trying to get rid of the Native presence in and around the city through use of fire and the excuse of disease. Thrush starts off the following chapter describing a Mr. Glover’s rendition of a map of Seattle in 1878. This map would be similar to many of the bird’s eye view maps which were extremely popular at the time. The map

Bird's eye view seattle 1878
Glover’s map of Seattle. This gave an unrealistic view of Seattle at the time, leading people to believe it was a well-organized, booming metropolis full of civilized people. Source: Library of Congress.

showed all the streets of Seattle, the buildings, houses, and surrounding areas. What is interesting is that the map also showed a few canoes at the edge of the water. This means that even though many of the whites were advocating for the Native Americans to leave the city, their presence was still there.

It seems that the city was starting to become enamored with the idea of its own Native past and what that might look like with rose-colored glasses, but without actual Native people residing there. During this “village period” between 1880 and 1930 “actual Native people would be overshadowed by symbolic Indians in Seattle’s urban imagination.” (69) This was similar to how in the same type of period in Spokane there was a “Miss Spokane,” which was a white woman dressed up as a Native American that participated in important events. However, Seattle also brought in a

Chief of all women totem pole
Chief-of-all-women totem pole. Stolen from Alaska and brought to Seattle in 1899. Source: Cathedral Grove.

totem pole from Alaska as its first ever public art work that was “a monument . . . to a fast departing race,” (106) as well as becoming an attraction for those interested in curiosities, which of course included all things Native American. A lot more was happening during this time of urbanization in Seattle as well.

“Here was Seattle’s first urban sprawl, and it caught both Native people and Native places in its weave.” (76) The city was too wild, its landscape too untamed. The rivers needed to be straighter, the hills flatter, and the waters deeper. Today, through the Waterlines Project people are trying to understand the landscape of Seattle. How it was shaped by glaciers, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, mud-flows, and people, both Native and settler. Through the project, it has been discovered that Native people had been living in the area for at least the last 12,000 years. However, most of the information that could’ve been discovered about these ancient peoples had been either destroyed, covered up, or lost due to the work done years ago to make it more modern and less Native.

Years of construction and work led to Seattle becoming less wild and more urban, not only in its landscape, but in its people. Native Americans no longer fit in with the urbanized landscape. The rivers and lakes were dried up or diverted, the hills no longer existed, and the areas where they once set up their camps were now home to white people in newly constructed houses. The places the Native Americans had left to themselves, like Herring’s House in 1893, were intentionally burnt down. Major Hamilton, an Indian noted how “when the settlers came, they drove us away and then they destroy the house and even set fires to drive us away from these villages.” (84) Settlers were forcing the Natives that lived in these still slightly secluded places to leave to reservations, to different lands, or if they remained in Seattle, they would become “almost invisible as they adapted to life in the new metropolis.” (80)

Eventually all of the full-blooded, local, Native Americans were out of Seattle. When the last few members died off, like Kikisebloo, daughter of Seeathl, thousands of people roamed the streets mourning her and attended her requiem mass. However, only one Native American was in attendance. Both because the white people seemed to be lying to themselves about how they had treated these people and because there just weren’t any other Natives left. The Native Americans who were left in the city in the 20th century were ones who came from somewhere else, like Canada and the San Juan’s. Native Seattleites just were no longer part of the picture, they had all been forced away and faded out slowly, but surely.

It’s important to learn these types of local histories, because without them we don’t know where we came from or how we got to where we are. This “nearby history” as David E. Kyvig and Myron A. Marty call it, are the stories that, big or small, are close to each individual person. The events in them act like ripples, fanning out and affecting a person depending on their prevalence to the situation. The first chapter to their book “Nearby History” introduces this idea really well and explains it in much better detail. They describe how history has been thought of by people ranging from Henry Ford to William Shakespeare. The nearby history of Seattle has a similar type of story with almost every North American city, you just have to dig deep enough to discover the facts. Already so much has been learned from Thrush, but the book isn’t finished yet!

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One thought on “The Vanishing Race

  1. Hey Lauren,

    I tried to comment on your post, but I don’t think it went through. I thought you did an awesome job of summarizing Thrush! I really liked how you drew a connection between Seattle’s natives being overshadowed by symbolic Indians and Miss Spokane being played by a white woman.

    -Katie

    Liked by 1 person

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