07 November 2012

Obama Wins the 2012 Election: Obama's Complete Presidential Victory Speech

28 September 2012

Erasing Jim Crow

What was Jim Crow?

With A Patriot's History of the United States (2004) as a sole reference, a high school or college student, faced with a question concerning Jim Crow, would be able to say very little. The student would be able to link Jim Crow to segregation in the South and to Southern Democrats who called themselves Redeemers. These Democrats "restored white supremacy" and "intimidated blacks with segregation" (355). The student would have read that Jim Crow laws "ensur[ed] the separation of blacks and whites in virtually every aspect of social life" (483). If the question was part of an exam of the sort common in college courses, the student would fare poorly. He or she would struggle to offer more than one single example of a Jim Crow law.

Drinking fountain on the county courthouse lawn, Halifax, North Carolina, April, 1938, John Vachon, photographer, Library of Congress Prints and Photographic Division, LC-DIG-fsa-8a03228
Although Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen claim their text has been assigned in more than three dozen colleges, the principal market for their book is homeschools. Schweikart is a frequent speaker at homeschool conventions, and their website offers teaching materials especially designed for homeschool parents.

Homeschooled students are those least likely to receive instruction from a professional historian. They rely more heavily upon assigned reading materials. These students, thus, must be highly motivated independent learners in order to gain the knowledge of specifics necessary to answer competently our hypothetical exam question.

Coincidentally, a law professor at Schweikart's own employer the University of Dayton, Vernellia R. Randall, put up a website that replicates a list of specific Jim Crow laws from several states. That website is no longer maintained, nor is original, and yet it appears higher in a Google search for Jim Crow than the original: Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. This National Park Service site cites laws that protected white nurses from serving black patients (Alabama), required separate waiting rooms in transportation facilities (Alabama), prohibited miscegenation (Florida), prohibited black barbers from cutting the hair of white women (Georgia), and many dozens of others. The National Park Service list emphasizes that Jim Crow laws were not an exclusively Southern practice, although the vast majority of the examples are from the deep South.

Homeschool students who learn to use Google will be prepared much better than those who rely on A Patriot's History.

Although readers of A Patriot's History struggle to offer examples of Jim Crow laws without additional research, they can trace connections that are central to the American story as Schweikart and Allen present it. Not only was Jim Crow the work of Southern Democrats, but their northern Progressive colleagues found other ways to segregate the races: "Progressives used IQ tests to segregate education and keep the races apart" (483). Schweikart and Allen then offer a brief discussion of the landmark Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Their discussion of the case offers the sole example of a Southern Jim Crow law: a Louisiana state law segregating railroad cars.

The authors of A Patriot's History mention in passing that white Progressives combined with the Black Niagara Movement to create the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). But, this information is sandwiched between mention of  Plessy v. Ferguson as the federal government contributing to Progressives' separation of white and black education, on the one hand, and activities that created segregated neighborhoods in New York, on the other. The Southern system of white supremacy and enforced segregation is mentioned, but not discussed in detail. Reading A Patriot's History, one almost gets the impression that segregation was more significant north of the Mason-Dixon line than it was in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. That impression produces a distorted understanding of the American past, one that begins to erase Jim Crow from our collective memory.

31 August 2012

Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood's presentation at the Republican National Convention has provoked praise and criticism. Few are neutral. Eastwood is a fiscal conservative whose social views diverge from those of cultural conservatives.

Many critics found his remarks disorganized, but others praised the drama. While addressing the crowd, he also carried on a conversation with an empty chair representing President Obama. The crowd and viewers were left to fill in what he heard from the chair. Enthusiastic cheers and laughter made clear that the crowd could hear President Obama's profanities.

Eastwood explained that not all Hollywood people are liberals, despite what a lot of people seem to believe. "It's just that conservative people by the nature of the word itself play it a little closer to the vest; they just don't go around hot doggin' it."

Eastwood then introduced the empty chair and stated that he had some questions for the President. He mentioned everyone crying when Obama was talking about hope and change four years ago. "This is great. Everyone was crying. Oprah was crying. I was even crying. I haven't cried that hard since I found that there's twenty-three million unemployed in this country."

A historian might interrupt here with the observation that tears for the unemployed were shed while President Bush was in office. At least that's the sequence established by Eastwood's sentence.

"That is a disgrace, a national disgrace. ... This administration hasn't done enough to cure that."

Eastwood then turned to the chair to ask President Obama about promises he made. "What do you say to people?"

Eastwood's performance indicates that President Obama had little to say here. The actor then turned to Obama's promise to close Gitmo. Obama's response, as the actor presented it, was clear and to the point.

Eastwood faulted President Obama for supporting the war in Afghanistan because, "we didn't check with the Russians to see how they did for the ten years."

Was former President Bush sitting in the invisible chair next to President Obama?

Eastwood's only reference to specific proposals by Mitt Romney came next.  He contrasted the President's target date for bringing troops home from Afghanistan with Romney's, "why don't you just bring them home tomorrow morning?"

In his dialogue with the empty chair, Eastwood began suggesting what President Obama might be saying. "What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that. He can't do that to himself." Any ambiguity concerning the words the actor was hearing was soon resolved, even for the least imaginative viewers. The crowd loved the performance. Many liberals suggested that Eastwood seemed confused.

Later in the performance, Eastwood suggested that electing attorneys seemed like a bad idea (Romney, as well as Obama, has a law degree). Among the problems with attorneys: "they are taught to weigh both sides." Eastwood suggested, "it's time for a business man ... a quote unquote 'a stellar business man'."

He suggested that President Obama should step aside, mentioning that he could still use a plane, a smaller one, though. He contrasted the fuel economy of the Presidential plane with Obama's ecological views.

Responses to the performance appear to closely follow partisan alignments. It was a novel performance designed to fire up the GOP crowd prior to Romney's formal acceptance of the Republican nomination for President. It accomplished that much.

Many news sources are presenting portions of the performance with commentary. The performance deserves to be viewed as a whole.


The performance began with an image of Eastwood as Dirty Harry behind the podium, and concluded with Dirty Harry's signature line: "Make my day!" Michael Paul Rogin's classic piece is worth remembering: "'Make My Day!': Spectacle as Amnesia in Imperial Politics," Representations 29 (Winter 1990): 99-123.

Rogin recalls the scene of Eastwood's use of the line on the silver screen.
Eastwood is daring a black man to murder a woman, in other words, so that Dirty Harry can kill the black. No question this time about whether the gun is empty and Eastwood at risk. The lives he proves his toughness by endangering are female and black, not his own. (103)

Rogin opines that President Reagan, when he uttered these same words to Congress, endangered the same lives.

29 August 2012

PowerPoint in the College History Classroom

As a student, I railed against textbooks and lectures. I wanted primary sources, strong monographs, discussion and debate. In addition to learning the names and principal achievements of the European Renaissance, I wanted to argue about the implicit ideology at work in the label for that era. Taking notes while a professor summarized some of the key relationships between political adversaries in the early American Republic was one thing. I wanted to read their letters. From these texts, it would have been possible to construct my history of Thomas Jefferson's relationship with John Adams. That history could then be submitted to expert critique from my peers and from my professors. I wanted seminars. Seminars should not be limited to senior capstone courses for undergraduates, and then required in the distribution on graduate student transcripts. Rather, the methodology of the seminar should inform every history course even down into the college preparatory courses in high schools.

Becoming a Lecturer

As a young professor, I constructed some of my courses to satisfy those old student cravings. For the senior level Indians of the Pacific Northwest which I taught for several years at Washington State University, for example, students purchased a stack of texts that included monographs and compilations of primary materials. Students had to read these texts, discuss them in class, and write papers about them. That process of reading and writing with a bit of class discussion was a normal part of undergraduate history courses.

Of course, indigenous history presents complications. A putative Native autobiography highlights certain problems. Yellow Wolf: His Own Story (1940) was written not by the veteran of the Nez Perce War of 1877, but by his friend, Anglo-American rancher Lucullus Virgil McWhorter. The words in the text were spoken by Yellow Wolf, but the arrangement of the materials and the presentation of his memories was put together by the Anglo-American. Such texts formed a foundation from which I hoped that students would develop their own narratives. It was even possible to visit the archives in our library and examine McWhorter's papers. As Yellow Wolf told his story to McWhorter over several years, the rancher took notes. From these notes, he wrote the "as told to" Indian autobiography. Those notes are in the WSU library.

Seminar was not part of the name of the course, nor part of its official description in the university catalog. Students resisted my methodology. They wanted to be fed. They wanted me to make deposits that they could withdraw with interest at exam time.* As time went on, I developed a series of lectures for this course.  What I had to say about McWhorter and Yellow Wolf pushed aside what my students might have said.

In my lower division courses, the seminar structure was out of the question. I did not attempt to transform these into seminars, but embraced my destiny. Teaching became public speaking. One semester, Introduction to Comparative American Cultures 101 had two hundred students. Lecture was the only way to effectively feed large groups of hungry learners. Despite my proclivities, I learned to entertain. But even in lecture there are ways to provoke student engagement. It is not all passive note taking. One particular semester, I felt pleased after one class session late in the semester that was mostly question and answer during which I called upon more than two dozen students by name. Ninety percent of the students were silent, but I had a normal classroom full of engaged learners who I knew by name mixed into the larger crowd.

In those large courses, my lectures were driven by questions. Some of my questions went unanswered. From overhead transparencies of images and snippets of text, students confronted primary sources. How does a concentration camp differ from an internment center?
I have made the statement here that enemy aliens would be accepted in the State of Nevada under proper supervision. This would apply to concentration camps as well as to those who might be allowed to farm or such other things as they could do in helping out. ... I do not desire that Nevada be made a dumping ground for enemy aliens to be going anywhere they might see fit to travel.
Governor E.P. Carville to General DeWitt, February 1942 (quoted in Personal Justice Denied, 102)
Heart Mountain, Wyoming
Effective speakers who can entertain hundreds of undergraduates and fill their heads with knowledge and ideas for reflection are not necessarily effective teachers. I struggled to be both. Some students said nice things about my presentations. Sometimes they complained that they could not stop thinking about my class. That complaint was a compliment!

Beginning ten years ago, overhead transparencies gave way to PowerPoint slides. Classroom technology made it easier for me to prepare lecture materials. These innovations also made student note taking easier, or perhaps less necessary. Students demanded that PPT slides be available on Blackboard for review. Gone were the days when academic success rested upon the ability to convert an audible stream by a professor to a filled student notebook.

Transforming Technology

Students have access to the visual component of the lectures before they are presented. This structural change offers opportunity to renew my early vision for effective college history. My PowerPoint presentations had been listed on previous syllabi for my course as "lectures". In the current iteration of Pacific Northwest History that runs for six weeks beginning in mid-August, the term "lecture" appears no where on the syllabus. Now they are called "thematic presentations".

Changing the name is only the beginning. More substantive is a transformation in my expectations for the students, and for myself. In the past, as I constantly revise and update old presentations, these have been posted to Blackboard by mid-day before each class period (classes meet once or twice per week, depending upon whether they include Saturday session or not). Students are able before class to print the slides in a format that provides them with room for taking notes. In the current class, these presentations are  available on Blackboard as much as one week before each class session. I ask students to review all, or specified parts, of each presentation before each class.

Instead of racing through each presentation to "cover" the material, I highlight certain portions. My slide shows remain inordinately long, but the lectures are shorter. Some sequences of slides are raw material for the students to use as a resource alongside the assigned texts--books and primary source material--to answer questions during small group discussion.

Fomenting Resistance

For years I have cajoled students into interrupting my lectures. I have urged them to revolt, to take control of the course and their own education. I have suggested that the design of a lecture is something that demands disruption. Never did I urge disruption simply for its own sake, nor disruption that interferes with the learning process. Rather, I have insisted that more learning takes place when they argue with and interrogate the speaker (me). They learn more when they force me to adapt what I have prepared to their preparations, and to their experience of the past. Some students embrace such dialogue, but it is too easy to sit back and take notes. Many fall into the passive pattern that has been a mode of school as long as any of us can remember.

Some of the ways that students actively engage professors during lectures was brought out during an external review of my graduate degree program while I was a student there. Such reviews are part of the re-certification that university programs must undergo periodically. One of the reviewers--a professor from another university with a similar degree program--asked a group of graduate students to comment on certain qualitative aspects of ourselves both as a group and as individual students. We were asked to compare our self-evaluation to our perceptions of our peers in the two principal departments that fed our interdisciplinary program. We took courses in both American history and American literature. As part of our response, we described the classroom dynamic in a course on early nineteenth century American history in which there were undergraduate students, graduate students in History, and graduate students in American Studies (my degree program).

American Studies students, we explained, frequently interrupted the narrative of the professor's lecture to raise substantive issues with historical interpretation. We sought to engage our teacher in discussions concerning the merits and deficiencies of this or that historian's approach to his or her subject. The History graduate students, on the other hand, were difficult to sort from the undergraduate students with one or two notable exceptions. Several of them tended to raise their hand during lecture for the purpose of asking, "Professor Hume, could you repeat that date?" American Studies students raised their hand to inquire whether the professor thought that subsequent scholarship had confirmed or refuted Reginald Horsman's assertion that belief in white supremacy was planted deeply in the nation's dominant ideology by the middle of the nineteenth century. Most of Hume's discussion of race seemed to come from Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny (1981).

Illustrative Lesson Plan

Pacific Northwest history for adult students (age 25 and older) is one of my regular courses. These courses last six weeks, in which time we pack in a full semester's content and labor. Due to the shortened duration of the course, class sessions typically run 3 1/2 to 4 hours on weeknights, and occasional 7 1/2 hour Saturday sessions. My PowerPoint slide show are the visual and textual element in excruciatingly long lectures. Although originally conceived as stimulants to imaginative critical reading of the key text, and intended to provoke rather than stifle discussion, these slide shows easily become the forum for a kind of talking that leaves me hoarse and leaves my students numb.

Before next week's class, students are to review the slides in "Gold in the Klondike." They also must explore a website that offers many digitized images and texts concerning the last major gold rush in United States history. My "thematic presentation" concerning the Klondike gold rush has more than fifty slides. Flipping through them in front of a group of students could easily become a three-hour monologue.

This presentation has four parts: allure of gold, economics of gold, creating questions, and Seattle Spirit. The first two sections highlight the significance of gold rushes to Western American and Pacific Northwest history, the debate concerning the gold standard and bimettalism during the presidential election of 1896, Adam Smith's synopsis of economic theories of value in Wealth of Nations (1776), and a few related points. I will lecture through that portion, although a few slides pose questions that elicit student response. The other two sections comprise the bulk of the slides. Some concern Seattle's early history from the Arthur Denny party to the completion of the Great Northern Railway with that city as its western terminus.

The section creating questions offers a series of images of newspaper advertisements from 1897-1899, followed by extracts from letters written by a prospector who died in Alaska in 1900. Students are to develop historical questions from their examination of these images and texts. In class, they will present their questions and we will discuss how additional sources could serve to help develop answers.

The notion of the Seattle Spirit is an odd one. Sometimes, it seems, folks suggest that something in the air in that city develops marketing genius. Such successful businesses as Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft, and Nordstroms reveal a thriving business climate that contrasts with the city's early failure to beat Tacoma in competition for the Northern Pacific Railroad terminus. During the centennial celebration of the Klondike gold rush, there were a number of claims made both for the significance of this gold rush to Seattle's development and the almost mystical Seattle entrepreneurial spirit. Students see some of these assertions in the slides. Having them pore through the slides before class makes it possible to avoid flipping through the projections during a lecture. Instead of lecture, students bring evidence to bear on the issues raised in these assertions, evidence that they compiled from their exploration of digitized images on a website. If we need to look a the the slides, the projector is there, but it is not necessary.

Instead of taking notes on my narrative of these events and their significance, students work together to craft their own explanations. What is the historical significance of the Klondike gold rush to Seattle and the broader region? The answers my students develop are more important than my own.

*See Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans by Myra Bergman Ramos (New York: Continum, 1993). Friere's critique of the banking concept of education informed an earlier post: "Reflective Thinking, Teaching and Learning" (August 2009).

27 August 2012

"One of the most stormy councils"

Hearing about Indians at war with miners, settlers, and the military in the wake of treaties signed that summer, Washington Territorial Governor Isaac I. Stevens hastened back into present-day Washington from western Montana. His party rode into a Spokan village near the home of Antoine Plante and demanded to know whether they were for war or peace.

Young's Cauldron Redux

In January 2011, I posted "Young's Cauldron." These brief two paragraphs were written in a few minutes during lunch a couple of months earlier, and then a few errors were corrected in the coming weeks. Sometime later, I began documenting the claims in those two paragraphs, and then yesterday corrected an error in the final sentence, adding a new final sentence.

Here, now, is the current version with documentation.

In early 1836, Ewing Young purchased a large iron cauldron from Courtney Walker. Walker had the job of disposing of the goods left behind by Nathaniel Wyeth's abandoned Columbia River enterprise.1 A successful ice merchant in New England, Wyeth had come west with dreams of making a fortune packing and shipping Pacific salmon for consumption outside the region. Along the way, Wyeth also sought profits from trapping for furs, brokering timber sales, and importing goods to Oregon from Hawaii and the east coast.2 Wyeth's Oregon enterprise failed to turn a profit so he liquidated his assets in the region and returned to the ice business.3 Meanwhile, Young had carried on successful trade between New Mexico and Missouri for more than a decade before working his way west to California, and from California driving a herd of horses into Oregon. Wyeth's cauldron had been shipped to Oregon for pickling salmon.4 Young originated from Tennessee and saw in the kettle potential for preparing sour mash that he could then distill into whiskey.5

Oregon was not a wholly lawless frontier, but with joint occupation by the United States and by England, and with a small non-Indian population, enforcement authorities were far from prominent. United States law banned sale of liquor in Indian Country. The Hudson's Bay Company, England's presence in the region, understood that liquor sales to Indians had a deleterious effect on the fur trade—their business in the region. Young's plan to build a distillery provoked cooperation between HBC employees, American settlers, and missionaries who had recently arrived from the United States with the professed purpose of bringing Christian civilization to Oregon's Native population. The Oregon Temperance Society started a petition drive to dissuade Young from manufacturing spirits, and sent him a letter in early 1837.6 Some secondary sources claim that the Oregon Temperance Society formed in response to Young's plans, but the Oregon Mission Record Book contains entries showing that it had formed earlier, 11 February 1836.7


1 “Wyeth claimed to be the first successful colonizer of Oregon. He maintained that he had 'established the nucleus of the present American settlements in these regions.' In substantiation of this claim he pointed out that when he arrived in Oregon in 1832 there were no American settlers in the region. Three members of his first expedition remained in the country until his return in 1834, and nineteen of his second expedition, including the missionaries, settled permanently in Oregon. Wyeth is in truth entitled to a prominent place among the colonizers of Oregon, although the missionaries were more responsible for bringing settlers into the country than he. Wyeth also deserves recognition for the encouragement and opportunities he gave to Thomas Nuttall to study the plant life of the West, the results of which were published in The NorthAmerican Sylva (1842-1849).” W. Clement Eaton, “Nathaniel Wyeth's Oregon Expeditions,” Pacific Historical Review 4, No. 2 (June 1935), 101-113, at 113. Eaton's article offers a good narrative overview of Wyeth's enterprise and is drawn chiefly from letters by Wyeth and his associates. "Twice, in 1832 and 1834, a New England merchant, Nathaniel Wyeth, had attempted unsuccessfully to establish an American trading post on the Columbia in competition with HBC. When he returned to Massachusetts, he left Courtney Walker to dispose of the goods and equipment left at his ill-fated trading post on Sauvie Island. Among the equipment abandoned was a large iron caldron. Young obtained this kettle from Walker and packed it over the Tualatin Mountains to the lower Chehalem Valley. As a youth growing up in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, Young had become acquainted with methods of distilling alcohol from sour mash. With the help of Lawrence Carmichael, he started building a distillery to make whiskey to sell to the local residents and Indians." Kenneth Munford, and Charlotte L. Wirfs. “The Ewing Young Trail,” Benton County Historical Society and Museum,, accessed 2 January 2011. Originally published in the Horner Museum Tour Guide Series, 1981.

2“Nathaniel J. Wyeth to Perry Wyeth,” 2 December 1832, in F. G. Young, ed. The Correspondence and Journals of Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth 1831-6, vol 1 in Sources of the History of Oregon (Eugene: Oregon Historical Society, 1899), 89-90; “Wyeth to Henry Hall, Tucker, and Williams,” 8 Nov. 1833, in Young, 73-78.

3“From the commercial and economic standpoint, Wyeth's enterprise was a failure; from the historian's point of view, it was eminently successful.” Reuben Gold Thwaites, Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, vol 21 (Cleveland, OH: Arthur H. Clark and Company, 1905), 15-16.

4I failed to find references to a cauldron or cauldrons among the supplies shipped on the brig May Dacre. Wyeth's letters do not list the details of such cargo. There is a reference to pickling salmon in “Wyeth to Robert H. Gardner,” 31 January 1832, in Young, 29. “What I wish to know is how salmon are pickled and how smoked and how taken.” Wyeth makes reference to salmon selling in Boston for $16 per barrel, but not in good condition. He claims to have acquired some critical information while on the Columbia during his first journey, viz., “their having been caught too long before they were salted.” “Wyeth to Hall, Tucker, and Williams,” Young, 76. He is referring to the enterprise of Captain John Dominis who arrived on the Columbia with the brig Owyhee in 1829 and returned to Boston with salted salmon later that year. See Jim Lichatowich, Salmon Without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1999), 82; Joseph E. Taylor, Making Salmon: An Environmental History of the Northwest Fisheries Crisis (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), 60.

5Kenneth L. Holmes, Ewing Young: Master Trapper (Portland: Binfords and Mort, 1967) presents a narrative that covers the principal known features of Young's life. Holmes' Turnerian interpretation is of interest in its own right.

6Gustavus Hines, A Voyage Round the World: with a History of the Oregon Mission (Buffalo: George H. Derby, 1850) has an account of the formation of the Oregon Temperance Society. Although the bulk of Hines' book is grounded in his personal experiences, the first chapter, which concerns the early history of the Oregon Mission is a secondary work, “drawn from the most reliable sources, and, principally from the short notes of the late Rev. Jason Lee, and the Journal of the late Cyrus Shepherd, the first missionary teacher in Oregon” (xi). Hines reproduces a letter from the temperance society to Ewing Young and Lawrence Carmichael, as well as the reply of these gentlemen. It should be expected that these reproductions are not devoid of errors inasmuch as there is a clear inconsistency several pages later. Hines reproduces a letter from Captain William A. Slacum to the missionaries that states it contains a donation of $50; while introducing this letter, Hines indicates the donation to have been $15.

Despite this caveat, reproduction of the letters presents a glimpse into key primary sources:

Gentlemen,– Whereas we, the members of the Oregon Temperance Society, have learned with no common interest, and with feelings of deep regret, that you are now preparing a distillery for the purpose of manufacturing ardent spirits, to be sold in this vicinity; and whereas, we are most fully convinced that the vending of spiritous liquors will more effectually paralyze our efforts for the promotion of temperance, than any other, or all other obstacles that can be thrown in our way; and, as we do feel a lively and intense interest in the success of the temperance cause, believing as we do, that the prosperity and interests of this infant and rising settlement will be materially affected by it, both as it respects its temporal and spiritual welfare, and that the poor Indians, whose case is even now indescribably wretched, will be made far more so by the use of ardent spirits; and whereas, gentlemen, you are not ignorant that the laws of the United States prohibit American citizens from selling ardent spirits to Indians under the penalty of a heavy fine; and as you do not pretend to justify yourselves, but urge pecuniary interest as the reason of your procedure; and as we do not, cannot think it will be of pecuniary interest to you to prosecute this business; and as we are not enemies, but friends, and do not wish, under existing circumstances, that you should sacrifice one penny of the money you have already expended; we, therefore, for the above, and various other reasons which we could urge,
1st. Resolved, That we do most earnestly and feelingly request you, gentlemen, forever to abandon your enterprise.
2nd. Resolved, That we will and do hereby agree to pay you the sum that you have expended, if you will give us the avails of your expenditures, or deduct from them the bill of expenses.
3d. Resolved, That a committee of one be appointed to make known the views of this society, and present our request to Messrs. Young & Carmichael.
4th. Resolved, That the undersigned will pay the sums severally affixed to our names, to Messrs. Young & Carmichael, on or before the thirty-first day of March next, the better to enable them to give up their project.
[Then followed the names of nine Americans, and fifteen Frenchmen, which then embraced a majority of the white men of the country, excluding the Hudson's Bay Company, with a subscription of sixty-three dollars, and a note appended as follows:] (Hines' own words, presumably, although indented as part of the letter)
We, the undersigned, jointly promise to pay the balance, be the same more or less.

Hines does not give the date of the letter, although the purposes set out in the letter were agreed to at a meeting of the temperance society on 2 January 1837, so perhaps that is the date of the letter. Hines reproduces the reply.
WALLAMETTE, 13th Jan., 1837
Gentlemen,– Having taken into consideration your request to relinquish our enterprise in manufacturing ardent spirits, we therefore do agree to stop our proceeding for the present. But, gentlemen, the reasons for first beginning such an undertaking were the innumerable difficulties placed in our way by, and the tyranising oppression of the Hudson's Bay Company, here under the absolute authority of Dr. McLaughlin, who has treated us with more disdain than any American citizen's feelings could support. But as there have been some favorable circumstances occurred to enable us to get along without making spiritous liquors, we resolve to stop the manufacture of it for the present; but, gentlemen, it is not consistent with our feelings to receive any recompense whatever for our expenditures, but we are thankful to the Society for their offer.
We remain, yours, &c.,
YOUNG & CARNICHAEL. (pp. 19-21).
7Charles Henry Carey, ed., “The Mission Record Book of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Willamette Station, Oregon Territory, North America, Commenced 1834,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 23 (1922), 242.

26 August 2012

Vandalizing History

On a walk Friday, I visited Plante's Ferry Park in Spokane Valley, Washington. The park is located where the first "settler"* of present-day Spokane County established his home. Antoine Plante lived in the Spokane Valley c. 1849-1878, and then moved to the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, where he died in 1890. A stone monument at the park claims than Plante settled there in 1849, but other sources place him in California at that time. He certainly was established in the Spokane Valley by 1852. His home was across the river from that of his brother-in-law, Camille Langtu.

There is an iron statue (by sculptor David Govedare) of Plante looking over the river where he operated a ferry with Langtu for perhaps two decades, 1852-1875 (Nisbet claims the ferry was constructed 1855--see reference below). The ferry was profitable as the principal route across the river c. 1855-1865.

In the park, there is an interpretive kiosk put together as a school project by students at Spokane Valley High School. Both the statue and the kiosk have been severely vandalized. The iron statue remains intact, but has disturbing paint. The kiosk has been shattered, now standing as a metaphor for the average American's knowledge of our national history.

A Metaphor?

*I cannot call him non-Indian because he was Metis--his ancestry was a mixture of French Canadian (father) and Blackfeet or Gros Ventres (mother). I call him a settler because he was unrelated to the Natives who lived along the Spokane River, and whose own ancestors had lived there for thousands of years. His series of marriages--none lasting long--to Indian women included several whose lands were between the Spokane area and the lands of the Blackfeet. The best online source of information concerning Plante is Jack Nisbet and Claire Nisbet, "Plante, Antoine (ca. 1812-1890)," HistoryLink 9606 (7 November 2010).

View from the south shore

24 August 2012

Howard Zinn

Today is Howard Zinn's birthday. Were he still alive, he would be 90. Here is a tribute from Democracy Now!

26 June 2012

Spring Runoff in August?

There is plenty of public discussion concerning global climate change, and yet some historical data does not seem readily accessible. Recently rereading the classic primary text, Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River, 1810-1813 by Alexander Ross, I was caught by surprise by the date of a seemingly ordinary observation. While traveling upstream in 1811, Ross missed the great Columbia Falls (Celilo Falls) due to high water.

Having ascended about seven miles, we arrived at the falls--the great Columbia Falls, as they are generally called; but, from the high floods this year, they were scarcely perceptible, and we passed them without ever getting out of our canoes. In seasons of low water, however, the break or fall is about twenty feet high and runs across the whole breadth of the river, in an oblique direction. (132)*
This passage seems a perfectly ordinary description of spring floods in June or even early July, but Ross was traveling upriver 5 August! Had the flood levels dropped and yet remained high enough to obscure the falls? Was spring runoff in 1811 more of a mid-summer runoff than we experience today?

According to the Bonneville Power Administration and other government agencies, winter snows melt and flow downriver in the months May through July.
The moisture that is stored during the winter in the snowpack is released in the spring and early summer, and about 60 percent of the natural runoff in the basin occurs during May, June, and July. "The Columbia River System Inside Story," 2nd edition (2001)*
Has the flood schedule changed since the nineteenth century? Dams can delay high flows, but they do not make the snow melt faster. Did snows melt slower in 1811 than they do today? Are these questions for historians, or only for climatologists?

*I am using the Northwest Reprints edition: Alexander Ross, Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River, 1810-1813 (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2000 [1904]).

Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, "The Columbia River System Inside Story," 2nd edition (April 2001),

16 June 2012

Chelan County Museum: Cashmere, Washington

A roadside billboard alerted me to the phenomenal archaeology collection at the Chelan County Museum in Cashmere, Washington.* The fishing and hunting implements dating back thousands of years in central Washington certainly warrant the $5.50 admission fee.

Ancient Indian artifacts, however, are not the only treasures on display. The museum has some fine displays of nineteenth and twentieth century Plateau Native artifacts, and a small amount of Coastal as well. Of particular note is a large display of traditional Indian medicines. This display lists plants, their medical uses, and displays dried specimens of each.

The museum also has a strong display of late-nineteenth century pioneer life. The pioneer village contains more than a dozen original structures that were moved to and reassembled on the museum grounds. There is a mission house and a saloon, a post office, print shop, jail, blacksmith shop, and several homes. Some variability in construction techniques and materials are evident, and helpful explanations in each building guide the untrained eye. There is on display a waterwheel that was used to pull water for irrigation from the Wenatchee River a short distance from the location of the museum. Cashmere sits in the heart of the nation's premier apple growing region. It is the home of the highly addictive Aplets and Cotlets.

The natural history museum includes a terrific collection of rocks that seems better than the one that I recall from my university's Geology Department. If I wanted to refresh my memory for identifying the many rocks I learned to identify three decades ago, an hour or two in the Chelan County Museum would do the trick. There are also plenty of stuffed birds and critters in the natural history section, including a bear.

Of particular interest to those who concern themselves with political memorabilia, and highlighted in the verbal overview given me when I paid and signed the guest book, is a collection of campaign buttons. I was saddened a bit to see one that I wore in 1980: "Reagan Bush The Time is Now." I suppose youthful errors are forgivable, even when the consequences endure for decades afterward. The collection has buttons going back to a couple dated 1908 for William Taft and for William Jennings Bryan. There were several for Theodore Roosevelt, whether 1904 or 1912 was not clear. There were quite a few for Woodrow Wilson from 1912, and some undated. At least one button had the name William McKinley, and there were several others with matching mug shots. Those could have been from 1896 or 1900. Some of those for Bryan may have dated to 1896. There are more than a dozen for Barry Goldwater from 1964. One was a bright gold button with the single word Goldwater. Another was white and pictured a glass of water with the term H2O. There was a card that appeared to have a button from each state for Nixon Ford 1972 (I did not count to see whether any were missing). Democrats are represented, too. There were several clever campaign slogans evident in the Lyndon Baines Johnson buttons.

The museum is a two and one-half hour drive from my home in Spokane. It is well worth the price of gas and expenditure of time to warrant a second trip.

*The official name of the museum seems to be Cashmere Museum and Pioneer Village. It was created by the Chelan County Historical Society, and the name Chelan County Museum appears on some websites and signs.

03 June 2012

Sunday Morning Whiskey Run

For the first time since before Prohibition, it is legal in Washington state to purchase a bottle of liquor on Sunday. Not only have the blue laws passed into history, the state liquor stores were closed permanently on 31 May 2012. Since Prohibition, Washington had limited liquor sales to state-run and contract liquor stores. The state managed distribution and set prices. In 2011, voters passed Initiative 1183, ending the old system. I-1183 was authored and heavily financed by Costco and to a lesser extent by Trader Joe's.

The effects of I-1183 have revived the debates from last fall. Consumers rushed to grocery stores Friday morning to buy liquor with their eggs and milk, the news media covered the shopping spree, and the shock of new prices--mostly higher, some vastly so--have stimulated conversation. Before Prohibition, access to alcohol was limited by a variety of measures in states and municipalities. Drug stores were a principal outlet in many locales, for spirits have been medicine since they were first discovered in the ancient human past. There's now something poetic and rooted in history that even in Washington state, I can walk into Walgreens at 6:00am on a  Sunday morning to buy a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Dry Fly Distilling, Washington state's first post-Prohibition distillery, has more than doubled the retail outlets stocking its product in its home state. They have labored hard the past half-year stepping up production in preparation. Project V Single Silo Vodka made from the wheat on a single eastern Washington family farm is now available in Spokane for the first time. That increase in quality product availability should be a principle consequence of free markets. But, I-1183 offered something somewhat different from a true free market, something far more in line with the traditions of American capitalism.

Unfortunately, but predictably, news coverage of the changes resemble press releases from retailers more than any sort of investigative journalism. Prices that would have shamed gangsters during Prohibition are visible in plain sight on store shelves, but almost entirely absent from newspapers.

I-1183 is a mixture of long deferred blessings and unmitigated curses, some of which are covered in the news, and more of which are found in the comments.

An Everett, Washington news story offers several errors beginning with a lead sentence that reveals the authors do not understand the term "blue laws." "A Spirited Start to Liquor Sales" 2 June 2012, HeraldNet.

Never pour the glass that full
One of this article's howlers: "Reasons for the prices lie in the rules of Initiative 1183." Several retailers and fellow customers were repeating that mantra as I shopped yesterday. "Taxes raised the prices," is another version. But, that story falls short of explaining why a fifth of Blanton's was $55 including taxes last week, and now sells for $65 before the 20.5% Liquor Sales Tax and the $2.83 Liter Tax ($3.77 per liter). The highest round numbers explaining the Initiative noted a 27% tax, and that somehow accounts for a 68% price increase? I don't think so.

Many articles banter about the figures that prices are 10-30% higher, while Costco claims that its prices are 5% lower. The goat cheese that I buy at Costco costs almost exactly what I pay at Fred Meyer with the slight difference that I buy six times the quantity at Costco for that price. When a Costco price is 5% below a norm, the membership fee is not really worth the cost. But, the old state liquor store prices (long lamented as higher than prices in many other states) are no longer the norm. Much higher prices are. For the limited selection available at Costco, they will have the best price.

A Reuters story, "Liquor Sticker Shock Stirs Up Washington State Drinkers," repeats this strange and inaccurate 10-30% figure. Much of the rest of the article, however, shows more evidence of historical perspective and journalistic inquiry than is available elsewhere.

The most heavily circulated article seems to be "Retailers, Customers Welcome Wash Booze Sales," by Shannon Dininny and Elaine Thompson (link is to Bloomberg Businessweek). I read this article in the Seattle Times, and then ran into dozens more looking for something with a little better balanced coverage. There's not much wrong with what the article says, but most of the story is absent.

The Seattle Times offers a feeble effort to measure the price differences in "Help Us Measure How Liquor Prices Have Changed." The newspaper offers a list of old state prices and a field where readers can fill in new prices. But, their selection is limited to top-selling products, which quite naturally are the ones most likely to go down in price. One reader pointed out the foolishness. Many others listed their prices not in the database, but in the comments. There, one finds documentation of the 30-75% price increases on whiskey manufactured outside Lynchburg, Tennessee.

Suffering a late-season flu this past week, I was not among the customers who rushed the stores on Friday. Feeling better, a bit, on Saturday, I had an urge to explore the new world of liquor retail sales. I was delightfully surprised to find Blanton's Bourbon on the shelf at the Fred Meyer three blocks from my home. This small store does not stock non-sparkling wine that exceeds $26 per bottle in price, and only exceeded $25 when they recently added King Estate 2010 Pinot Noir. Previously, L'Ecole No. 41 2008 Merlot was the most expensive bottle. The price of Blanton's, however, assures me that I will not find it there in September. I've bought the Pinot and several bottles of the Merlot. I will not be buying the Blanton's unless I find it on close-out discount that brings it down to the old liquor store prices. I'll be going to Post Falls, Idaho to buy Kentucky bourbon.

It was Blanton's that turned me on to bourbon when I was in graduate school, transforming my drinking pattern from youthful drunkenness to adult cultivation of taste. It was a dinner at an academic conference at L'Ecole that turned me on to Washington Merlot. It's nice to see both at Freddies. The difference in price structure is another story. That's where the journalists should be looking. So far, they do not seem to see past the press releases put out by industry propagandists (I am not referring to the manufacturing industry).

05 April 2012

"Mistakes have been made"

President Nixon's Press Secretary, Ron Ziegler, may have been the politician most notable for deploying what has become a clich├ęd understatement in politics: "mistakes were made." Following the resignations of John Dean, John Ehrlichman, and H.R. Haldeman, Ziegler held a press conference. This conference was remembered in his obituary.
"I would apologize to the Post, and I would apologize to Mr. Woodward and Mr. Bernstein. ... We would all have to say that mistakes were made in terms of comments. I was overenthusiastic in my comments about the Post, particularly if you look at them in the context of developments that have taken place," he said at the time. "When we are wrong, we are wrong, as we were in that case."
"Watergate Press Secretary Dead at 63," CBS News
Later, President Reagan would use the phrase to brush off Iran-Contra misdeeds. President Clinton would do the same in the wake of a Democratic fund raising scandal, and Senator John McCain would describe missteps in the conduct of the Iraq War with the phrase.

The phrase is used as the title of a Broadway satire, a book about self-deception by psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, and a recent novel about the 1990s Seattle Grunge scene: Tyler McMahon, How the Mistakes were Made (2011).

Near the end of eight years in office as President, Ulysses S. Grant used a variation of the phrase in his last State of the Union Address. He admits error, denies intent, and shifts the blame to the advice he received from members of Congress. What else would one want to extract from a non-apologetic apology?

The third paragraph:
Under such circumstances it is but reasonable to suppose that errors of judgment must have occurred. Even had they not, differences of opinion between the Executive, bound by an oath to the strict performance of his duties, and writers and debaters must have arisen. It is not necessarily evidence of blunder on the part of the Executive because there are these differences of views. Mistakes have been made, as all can see and I admit, but it seems to me oftener in the selections made of the assistants appointed to aid in carrying out the various duties of administering the Government--in nearly every case selected without a personal acquaintance with the appointee, but upon recommendations of the representatives chosen directly by the people. It is impossible, where so many trusts are to be allotted, that the right parties should be chosen in every instance. History shows that no Administration from the time of Washington to the present has been free from these mistakes. But I leave comparisons to history, claiming only that I have acted in every instance from a conscientious desire to do what was right, constitutional, within the law, and for the very best interests of the whole people. Failures have been errors of judgment, not of intent. (emphasis added)
Grant, State of the Union Address, 5 December 1876
Every political speech should begin thus. It may be worth suggesting, that the phrase "history shows" always leads to a self-serving fabrication, and one that often defies the evidence. Even so, in this instance, who can argue with Grant that every administration has made errors? But, historians have often suggested that Grant's administration was particularly riddled with corruption. It's not the presence of errors that Grant must defend, but their scale. The same might be said concerning how we entered the Iraq War.

18 February 2012

Obama's Socialism Assessed

Richard Eskow offers a sensible assessment of the alleged socialism of President Obama at AlterNet. Eskow's analysis highlights the failure to comprehend history and economic terminology that is on display in popular expressions by those who will say anything to rally those who lament the election of America's first Black President (see "The Joker," for example).
The Republican presidential candidates keep calling Barack Obama a socialist. If they're trying to invoke the Red Menace like Republicans of past campaigns, they're a generation too late. Americans between the ages of 19 and 29 have no memory of the Cold War. Today they have a more positive impression of socialism than they do of capitalism.

The word “socialism” can be applied to a range of economic models, from Cuban collectivism to the Western European social democracies that are the home of some of the world's most successful corporations.
Read the rest at "Why Obama's the Least Socialistic President in Modern History (And That's a Shame)"

One wonders what those who deem President Obama a Socialist, despite the evidence, might have said a century ago after hearing President Roosevelt speak (see "Malefactors of Great Wealth").

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP