“What Happened Here?” The Question that makes us look into our own Nearby History

While reading through the second chapter of “Nearby History” it felt familiar. Looking back to the assignments from last quarter, it became clear. When NH talks about peoples’ connections to the past, why they look into history, and genealogy, or personal history, it is the same story that we read in “The Presence of the Past.” However, in PotP, statistics and numbers are thrown at the reader with short personal stories that tried hard to keep hold of the reader’s attention. In NH, the same thoughts are expressed, but lacking the spewed out stats and numbers. NH asks the readers lots of questions, which is usually a big “no-no” in writing. However, the effect can be seen. The writer is urging the reader to ask themselves those questions and answer them, to realize one’s OWN nearby history.

Chapter three of “Nearby History” talks about the idea of a story and the root of history in curiosity. In all honesty it felt like it should be handed out to every single person who is trying to write a research paper. The chapter discusses everything from primary vs. secondary sources to the use of language and everything in-between. It was a much more interesting, smoother, in-depth reading than the usual hand-out a professor provides when a research paper is assigned. It could help any writer write a better story, one that entices the reader to keep on going, to find out what happened in a place or at an event and why.

The Northwest History blog this week tells a story that is all too familiar in settler period frontier towns, this time in Spokane. The story is about an Indian who was killed by a white man. Today, questions surround

The Nobel Savage, a stereotype give to Native Americans. Source

him, who was he, why was he killed, and who killed him? Back when he was killed, in 1883, all of these facts were known, however, not much makes it to the present. A few sources claim that well-known white settler, Daniel Drumheller, shot the Indian man after he had scared some of his sheep. Another source claims that “Uncle Dan,” as he was called, shot the Indian in self-defense, as the Indian had been threatening to shoot Dan himself after he had been hit with a stick. Whatever the true story was, one thing seems to be clear, Drumheller shot the Indian who later died from his wounds, so, was he convicted of his crime? No. As one editor put it, “It savors more of the work of a skulking Indian,” like most similar stories of the time, it was all the Indians fault and the white man wasn’t to blame. Unfortunately, there was not much more that could be found about the story. This too, is also familiar. These types of things just weren’t written about, unless there was absolutely no other news. Coll Thrush, however, is really good at digging out the stories that need to be told from the same resources that everyone has available to them. He looks at them with a different perspective, and maybe that’s what we all need to do when looking at our own nearby history.

Speaking of Thrush . . . this week we made one last return to “Native Seattle.” In the last few chapters of the book, Thrush talks about how Indians continued to come to the Seattle area as they had done for generations in order to gather and have potlaches. Even when it seemed that the Natives were gone, they all but were, especially in memory. As time passed, most or all of the original settlers had died and it became the job of their descendants to tell the stories of the early days, about the first interactions between the red man and the white man. One recollection definitely brings up what we think of as the idea of the noble savage, “wherein people of another world dwelt; the red man with his picturesque garb of blankets and beads.” (142) These stories were about lamenting the loss of the pioneer way of life, not lamenting the actual loss of Indian life. Around this time, the Natives seemed to be more determined than ever to not let the memory of their ancestors fade and to not let that memory only come from the mouths of the white people and “in the city of totem poles and Native ghosts, real live Indians seemed to reappear suddenly in 1970.” (162)

In the years following turmoil such as the world wars and the war with Vietnam Native Americans seemed to have decided it was time for them to be heard, they became activists for themselves. They started with the claiming of Fort Lawton and the creation of the American Indian Service League. They would create Indian places in the city like Daybreak Star

Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center
Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. Places like this gave Natives back a place that was THEIRS in the city. Source

Cultural Center in Discovery Park where they would be able to have powwows.

2013 Seafair Indian Days Powwow. Source

They would reclaim their part in the nature of Seattle, becoming, once again, stewards of ecology and cultural authorities as well as reviving the use of Indian-Place names. They took back what was theirs, including their rights to the waters, shorelines, and fisheries of the city.

The story of Seattle and its Native past is one of a local history, a nearby history, finally seen through a different perspective. It is one that can be told about almost every city settled in the United States. “Native Seattle” is an important read because it brings these stories, that we always had the sources for, into new light. It allows the reader to take a step into “considering how these stories can inform new kinds of action . . . and it is crafted in the moments when we simply ask each other, what happened here?” (207) It is a story that explains a mystery, the story of what happed to the Natives in Seattle and all the good and the bad that went with it, overall it is a good story because as “Nearby History” claims “good stories capture and unfold mysteries” (2) and that’s just what happened here.


One thought on ““What Happened Here?” The Question that makes us look into our own Nearby History

  1. “NH asks the readers lots of questions, which is usually a big “no-no” in writing. However, the effect can be seen.”

    I share the same opinion on this. I think the list is a good recommendation on things to think about, but I also think it makes a kind of statement too. With so many questions to be answered it helps push the point that local history can be complex and can go many different directions. I think it also reminds the reader that minor details they may overlook can actually be key components to writing a great story about their area.

    Liked by 1 person

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