Category Archives: Guest Post

The Hauntings of Local History: Peter Boag on “Pioneering Death”

Admittedly, I see the world in terms of darkness rather than light, and in history as in life, I am drawn more to stories of human pathos than to tales of human triumph. I am bemused by “rosy retrospection”—the penchant of many to reflect on the positives of the past rather than on the negatives and to also, therefore, see the past as somehow better than the present.

Darkness, pathos, and the folly of rosy retrospection comprise the foundation of Pioneering Death. It tells the story of Loyd Montgomery, an impoverished eighteen-year-old who shot and killed his parents and a visiting neighbor on his family’s farm near the western Oregon town of Brownsville late on the fair autumn day of November 19, 1895. Little more than two months later, on a cool morning and just as the rising sun gilded the eastern sky above the Cascade Range, Loyd met his own end on gallows erected adjacent to the Linn County jail in the county seat of Albany.

I first became aware of the Montgomery murders when, back in the early 1980s, I began researching my own family’s history as connected to Brownsville, a community whose origins are rooted in the arrival there in the 1840s of its first white American settlers who came by way of wagons on the overland trails. When I began my work, local historians, the librarian, and museum docents who befriended me mentioned the murders. Given that the Montgomerys were among the most esteemed early American settlers of the area, when these local authorities spoke of that past tragedy, they did so more in hushed tones and as an aside to the official, celebratory “pioneer” history of that community. Clearly, Loyd’s grim tale haunted Brownsville long after it had happened. It took me close to four decades of intermittent research and unremitting reflection to figure out why.

My own digging, so-called, into the Montgomery murders began by accident on January 10, 1987. It was a dreary and rainy Saturday morning when I appeared at the Linn County Historical Museum in Brownsville to conduct research in its collections for my doctoral dissertation. That project later became my first book, and it focused on the environmental history of the southern Willamette Valley. (The reader will detect a clear pattern by now: my preoccupation with history—my need to make sense of its shadows—has taken me back time and again to Brownsville.) The gloominess of that January day and the relative darkness of the room in which I labored provided an atmosphere fitting for what I chanced upon—a photocopy of the special edition of the Brownsville Times for November 20, 1895. Its sole article is entitled “A TRIPPLE MURDER.” It was the first account of that crime to appear anywhere. It was also the one written closest to the event and by someone whose very eyes beheld the aftermath of the tragedy within hours of its commission. Sadly, only random issues from the 1890s of that newspaper are preserved. No issue among those, other than this fragment, comes from the period when the Montgomery murders otherwise lit up the headlines of papers in communities up and down the West Coast.

Albert Cavender, its writer, was the editor of the Brownsville paper. It took some time for word of the violent killings to make its way to his offices. By then, night had already fallen. But the resourceful newsman reached out to local boys—similar in age to the murderer—who, on horseback and with lanterns they must have grasped as tightly as anxiety gripped them, illuminated the way for the journalist as he headed up the country lane into this local heart of darkness. Cavender’s description of the landscape of death that he found there beguiled me—the bodies and the blood; desiccated hop vines in surrounding fields yet clinging to their poles long since the late summer harvest had ended; the Montgomery family’s forlorn and weathered house sitting beneath the sprawling limbs of an immense maple tree; and the canine companion of the neighbor-victim that took up vigil at his slaughtered master’s side, refusing to be lured from it. Those forbidding images and so many others in that two-page document bespoke the poverty, tragedy, darkness, and pathos not just of the victims and the boy murderer but of their community, the larger region, and even the nation.

Cavender’s story had nothing to do with my dissertation’s subject. But it so haunted me that I took a copy of it, promising myself that one day I would do something with it. For the next three decades and more, Loyd Montgomery became an unwelcome companion to me as I struggled to piece together who he was, what he did, how he and his violent actions fit into history, and how to craft a coherent story from it all. As it turned out, I needed those years—time spent at four universities, countless hours in the classroom, and intervals for producing three other books on quite different topics—to collect the research and, more, come to comprehend why Loyd haunted me as much as he did the community that he was more a part of than he was apart from.

Apart from rather than a part of community history is how local memory preferred it. The vast literature that exists on matricide and patricide, moreover, fortifies that construction. That is, psychology, criminology, and other social sciences that dominate parricide studies are by nature disciplines that, with rare exception, are disinterested in the larger, historical forces that I have come to understand contribute mightily to why children have more than occasionally killed their parents. Local tradition and the traditional approaches to explaining parricide had worked together—intentionally, defensively, or both—to bury the truth so deeply about Loyd that I simply needed the time and the education that time affords to unearth it.

As I excavated Loyd’s life, slowly peeling back the accumulated layers of historical and disciplinary sediments and sentiments, a much darker tale revealed itself than simply that of an isolated, though horribly gruesome anecdote. His story is really the underbelly of so many a local Oregon history (and local histories elsewhere in North America) that celebrate the “pioneer” foundations of community, state, and nation. Constructing these histories involved willfully burying the truth about the brutal, murderous, and even genocidal nature of them. But more, the violent expressions within Oregon “pioneer” families were in reality and are in the very wanton act of trying to forget them, an integral part of the story of American-settler violence against Indigenous people. The messy, unresolved, and troubling tension between the darkness of reality and the human need for rosy reflection in all this is just one of the many stories that Pioneering Death exhumes from our haunting past.


Peter Boag is professor and Columbia Chair in the History of the American West at Washington State University. He is author of Re-Dressing America’s Frontier PastSame-Sex Affairs: Constructing and Controlling Homosexuality in the Pacific Northwest, and Environment and Experience: Settlement Culture in Nineteenth-Century Oregon. His latest book, Pioneering Death: The Violence of Boyhood in Turn-of-the-Century Oregon is available now.

From The Street Smart Naturalist: Spring is Nigh

I am big fan of spring. I love the unpredictable weather, the reemergence of plants and beasts, the frisson of reproductive potential and have long enjoyed watching for signs of the vernal world. Recently, I have been inspired by an unlikely source: George Orwell. (I plan on writing about him in the future so won’t say much now.) In a splendid little essay titled “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad,” he wrote (in April 1946):

The point is that the pleasures of spring are available to everybody, and cost nothing. Even in the most sordid street the coming of spring will register itself by some sign or other, if it is only a brighter blue between the chimney pots or the vivid green of an elder sprouting on a blitzed site. Indeed it is remarkable how Nature goes on existing unofficially, as it were, in the very heart of London.

Orwell then asks if it’s “wicked to take pleasure in spring,” considering the challenges of the world, which were certainly epic and severe in post–World War II London, and sadly still are now. Shouldn’t people be more focused on more serious issues than whether a toad appears and pursues his or her life? He categorically rejects those who hold such a view and offers a wonderful sentiment: 

I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and—to return to my first instance—toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.

Here then are a few observations reaffirming the beauty, resiliency, and healing power of spring, in my fair city of Seattle.

Varied thrush – Graham Gerdeman, Macauley Library.

Varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius) – For the past few weeks, I have been thrilling to the trilling of varied thrushes. These orange-necked, black-bibbed cousins of robins typically start calling at dawn in a haunting, monotone whistle suffused with the mysteries of a mountain forest. Summer residents of higher elevation, they migrate down to hang out with we lowland dwellers from late fall to spring. Oddly, this year is the first that I have noticed varied thrushes in spring—they typically visit our yard in autumn—so it has been an exquisite joy to hear them. The trilling notes feel not only like a rejoicing of spring but also a call to turn one’s thoughts to the mountains.

Crocus (Crocus sp.) – Found in hundreds of locations around the city, these lovely irises are one of the first to provide a nourishment of early season color. With a name derived from the Greek term for saffron, crocuses come in scores of species and originally grew from Portugal to western China. Horticulturists have cultivated about thirty varieties of which five are considered to be commercially important. The best known, saffron (Crocus sativus), comes from the three thread-like stigmas, between 5,000 and 12,500 of which produce an ounce of the fragrant spice. Cultivated by Egyptians and Romans, saffron reached China in the seventh century, and by the fourteenth, it had permeated England, France, and Germany. By the way, you can grow C. sativus in Seattle, though you will more likely encounter one of the many cultivars heralding spring in yards across the city.

Camas, Charles Knowles, Wikipedia.

Camas (Camassia quamash) – Many years ago when we bought our house, I planted a few camas bulbs. Since then, they have spread across our yard, emerging in spring like green signposts of the bounty to come. I am not the first to encourage the growth of these edible roots. For generations, Indigenous people of Puget Sound burnt the prairies south of Tacoma around Nisqually and Fort Lewis and on islands in Puget Sound to foster camas growth, which they harvested in spring. One had to be careful though. As botanist David Douglas noted in April 1825 about camas bulbs: “assuredly they produce flatulence: when in the Indian hut I was almost blown out by strength of wind.” In contrast, botanist William Fraser Tolmie of the Hudson’s Bay Company wrote of the “rich and level prairies . . . [their] surface enamelled with a profusion of blue flowered kamass.” Our camas certainly don’t compare, but I still rejoice when the flowers blossom and blue ponds of shimmering light grace our yard. 

Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) – Noisy, territorial, and garnished by vivid red epaulettes, red-winged blackbirds have been out chattering of late with their distinctive konk-la-ree callsThey are denizen of watery locales, such as Green Lake, the Center for Urban Horticulture, and Echo Lake, where males flaunt their garish shoulder patches as a sign of territoriality. Studies have shown that if the birds intend to fight and protect their turf, they will display their badge of red, but if they are merely “visiting” or “testing” a new territory, they may not display and wait to see what the present owner does. Perhaps we could take a lesson. Be patient and sport red epaulettes but only flare them when necessary. Otherwise, chill out.


David B. Williams is a naturalist, author, and educator. His many books include the award-winning Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s TopographySeattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City, and most recently Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound. Subscribe to Street Smart Naturalist: Explorations of the Urban Kind.

Can You Hear the Voices of the Girls?

One Left and the Korean “Comfort Women”

Almost a year ago six Asian women, four of them Korean, were shot and killed in Atlanta. More recently, here in western Washington, we have learned of human trafficking centered in a massage parlor. For us, this violence perpetrated against women echoes the victimization of the more than 200,000 Korean girls who were coerced into sexual servitude by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Coincidental with the attack in Atlanta, the ongoing controversy about the circumstances of the Korean “comfort women”—the euphemism by which these girls have come to be known—was rekindled in an essay by a Harvard law professor claiming that the girls were recruited and contracted as sex workers. This essay and the ensuing outrage drew extensive media coverage nationwide.

As the translators of the first Korean novel to focus on the “comfort women”—Kim Soom’s Han myŏng, published as One Left by the University of Washington Press in 2020—we feel it is crucial that the voices of these girls be heard alongside that of the Harvard professor. And it is precisely those voices we hear in the novel, much of the detail based on the documented testimony of the Korean women who survived sexual servitude during World War II but did not break their self-imposed silence until the 1990s. By allowing us to hear of their experiences in the “comfort stations” as girls—some of them had yet to reach their teens and were premenstrual when taken from their ancestral villages in Korea—Kim Soom has restored to historical memory the overlooked and disavowed stories of a marginalized group of women, and by extension countless other victims of human trafficking. It is not just Korean girls who were taken to the “comfort stations”—if we add girls from China, Southeast Asia, the Netherlands, and Japan itself, the number swells to an estimated 400,000, according to scholars. In recent decades we have heard news reports of similar atrocities perpetrated against girls in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Contrary to the presumption of some observers of Korea-Japan relations and the “comfort women” controversy, One Left is not an exercise in Japan bashing. Instead, the novel attempts to remind us that each of the 200,000 girls taken from their homes in Korea was someone’s daughter, sister, and playmate, that the pain of their seizure was felt by families, villages, indeed by an entire nation. By allowing us to hear the voices of these girls, their testimony cited in more than 300 endnotes in her novel, Kim Soom offers us an opportunity to exercise our capacity for empathy and thereby work for reconciliation, healing, and closure.

Please listen to the voices of the girls in One Left and then take note that only 15 survive today. Let us remember these 200,000 girls not as an anonymous group of victims consigned to the remote fringes of our collective memory but as individuals who, like all of us, were each possessed of identity, agency, and family. And let us hope that by hearing their voices we can, in some small way, work for a more humane and a less contentious and divisive future.


Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton are longtime residents of Seattle and translators of modern Korean fiction. Ju-Chan Fulton worked for thirty years for Northwest and Delta Airlines. Bruce Fulton teaches Korean literature and literary translation at the University of British Columbia and is the editor of The Penguin Book of Korean Short Stories, scheduled for publication in 2022. One Left is available now.

Continuity of Expression: Guest Post by John Keeble

It’s hard to pinpoint how a subject becomes important to a writer’s work, sometimes more difficult for the writer to see than it is for a careful and astute reader. Just how the writer decides what to focus on is evasive, always on the move. Maybe it’s not a decision at all. Maybe by a writer’s nature and the nature of the lived-in world, the writer unconsciously falls into subjects. There is the writer’s background, which produces certain influences and fascinations, even obsessions. There are the barely grasped elements. Then there is the attraction of what is called “literary weather.” Here, issues of little consequence in one time period unexpectedly emerge as riveting topics in another. How are they to be addressed? What network of consciousness makes meaning? Consider the fairly recent, transformative changes in the place of gay and transgender people in our culture, of male dominance, of the nature of white supremacism, and of the regard for people of different races.

My father was a preacher. As a preacher’s kid I was taught that there are important things to say and that a person is obliged to say them when called upon, even when they are difficult. I am from Canada, an immigrant brought to the United States by my parents. From early boyhood through college I lived all over California. I came of age during the sixties and grew up surrounded by anti-gay bias, the misogynist treatment of women, and the assumed dominance by heterosexual men at the portals of power. These were accepted as givens in what seems now my pre-cognizant life; they were woven into the fabric of everything around me, including my mother’s attempts to broaden her role as a “minister’s wife.” I would later see that it caused her great pain. 

Also, during my early teenage years, I learned about “Indian lore” from an amateur archeologist. On Saturdays his family and mine traveled into the California desert in search of artifacts, focusing on burial grounds. We were stocking a San Bernardino museum. Although I learned something about desert Indians in the process, I was in a state of complete ignorance about what we were actually doing. I had utterly no conception of how our taking possession of the artifacts and spiriting them off—arrow straighteners, matates, heavily ornamented stone arrow points and hatchets, even bones—might be seen as white raids on past lives.

My father studied in Berkeley at the Pacific School of Religion with the Christian existentialist and Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich. He then joined the American Congregationalists (now the United Church of Christ) and came to be known for his commitment to integrating inner-city churches. He was “called” by several San Diego–area churches, the chief among which was in National City, one of three “American” communities south of San Diego, the others being Chula Vista, where we had also lived for a year, and San Ysidro. 

Before we moved there, National City had experienced white flight to San Diego suburbs, leaving the church in decline yet still under the control of the few whites who returned to National City for Sunday services. At the time, I am told, San Diego County was second only to Orange County in California for the presence of arch-conservatives. During the very early sixties, the John Birch Society became a force. My father knew his calling was to redefine the church, to allow it to speak for the community, but these outsiders harassed him for installing a Japanese choir director and a Black soprano soloist and for welcoming Mexican Americans to church events. Awkward though he may have been at times, my father was a staunch believer in ecumenical religion. On Sundays after his own services, he gave over the space of the church to a congregation of Samoans, who had no church of their own. Above all, I remember them for their mesmerizing hymn-singing, which I eavesdropped on from the church’s narthex. Unlike our own congregation, this congregation sang in harmony as if it in its entirety were a well-practiced choir, the men with booming bass lines and the women with eerily penetrating melodies.

National City was a navy town. Its high school had a marginal white student majority, yet the closest thing to a nonwhite faculty member was an Iraqi immigrant who taught civics. Nearly equal in numbers to the white students were Mexican Americans, followed by Samoans. There were fewer Black students and fewer still Asian students. I knew of no Native Americans, probably because of my own ignorance, or their quietude, but I counted Mexican Americans among my friends, including a couple of baseball teammates, one of whom went on to play professionally. 

When I left home for my first year at the University of Redlands, two out-of-town church members, John Birchers, took to harassing my mother. My father was often away during this period, and the two men had apparently learned his schedule. They badgered my mother with phone calls, filling them with accusations about the race mixing that was being wrought in the church by her husband. She attempted suicide by slitting her wrists in the bathtub. I don’t believe she ever fully recovered from this scenario, even though she and my father soon moved far away, to Albany, New York. 

*

In 1980 I published my third novel, Yellowfish, and in it refined two topics to which I would return again and again: racism, in this case represented by a group of illegal Chinese immigrants, and white supremacy, represented by a coterie from northern Idaho’s Aryan Nations. Ruby, the wife of the novel’s protagonist, was conceived as a forceful and independent character. Some thirty years after that book, another novel, The Shadows of Owls, had a full-blown treatment of the Aryan Nations and of an heroic woman scientist victimized by them. This book was intended to partner with a book of short stories, published in 2005, and my latest work, an historical novel entitled The Appointment: The Tale of Adaline Carson. This latter book has a male narrator who recounts the life of a woman who is half Arapaho and explores the roots of American white supremacy. To true believers, this seems to mean the hoped for waning and ultimate disappearance of minority cultures in America and the renewed domination of white men.

I’ve been writing long enough—over fifty years—to look back and see an evolving shape to such subjects, particularly the attraction of this twin obsession—white supremacy and the experience of minorities in the face of it. A major thread includes Native American experience. I have always believed that a part of the writer’s duty is to imagine the world through other eyes. How else is the meaning of interconnections to be understood? I suspect that my old friend and colleague Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux tribe, would feel that a white man has no business writing from the perspective of Natives, that it’s an appropriation and falsification of history. I know she has a point. Still, I persist in investigating my own role and the role of others through these durable fascinations. It’s a fine line between the appropriation of a culture, with salient features unlike my own, and the practice of caring for and having a clear-headed acknowledgment and appreciation of the alien in that other culture.              


John Keeble is the author of eight books, including Yellowfish, Broken Ground (both reprinted by UW Press), The Shadows of Owls (a UW Press original), and The Appointment (Lynx House Press, distributed by UW Press). He is also author of Out of the Channel, the definitive study of the Exxon Valdez disaster, and a collection of short stories. Keeble was co-founder of the graduate Creative Writing Program at Eastern Washington University where he taught for more than thirty years, and has also taught at Grinnell College and three times as the Coal Royalty Trust Chair at the University of Alabama. Most recently he served as Distinguished Visiting Writer at Boise State University. With his wife, Claire, he lives in a house of their own construction on a wooded hillside west of Spokane, Washington.  

Author Guest Post: Mike Gastineau

Mike Gastineau’s latest book is Fear No Man, which tells the story of the 1991 national championship football team at the University of Washington and the man who led that team to success, Don James. The 2021 UW team suffered through a disappointing 4–8 season that led to a coaching change. Here, Gastineau details five interesting stories involving new Husky coaches.

At any social gathering this winter attended by UW fans, the future of new Husky football coach Kalen DeBoer will be discussed. Some will predict wild success for the new boss, others will caution patience given the state of the program, and still others will offer grave predictions of doom. No matter how loud or confident anyone seems about their prediction, it’s good to remember that no one knows what’s going to happen.

Every story about the hiring of a new coach creates speculation among fans and contains at least a little drama. Some new coaches look good, and things go badly. Some look meh and subsequently become great. Some become exactly what many thought they would become. Here are five interesting stories about men hired to coach at UW.

Rick Neuheisel, 1999

This hire still generates a lot of conversation and speculation as to how things might have gone if UW had stayed within the Don James coaching family.

After the 1998 season, Athletic Director Barbara Hedges decided to dismiss Jim Lambright, who had replaced James after he abruptly resigned in 1993, upset with what he perceived as a lack of support from UW president William Gerberding during an investigation by the then PAC-10 into the program.

Former James assistants Gary Pinkel and Chris Tormey were thought to be the front-runners for the job. Both men had been part of UW’s run of success in the ’80s and early ’90s. Both were now successful head coaches, Pinkel at Toledo, and Tormey at Idaho. They interviewed with Hedges, and fans waited to see which one would get the job.

Desirous of a break from the past, Hedges shocked the college football world by grabbing Rick Neuheisel away from Colorado, making him the second highest-paid college coach in America in the process. Most fans were excited by the move, and Neuheisel’s charming personality won over many of the skeptics.

He had success early on at UW, including a Rose Bowl and near national championship team in 2000, but his stay in Seattle ended like a case of beer bottles being hurled down a stairwell. Caught in lies about his pursuit of the San Francisco 49ers job and his participation in a gambling pool, he was fired in 2003.

A messy lawsuit (eventually settled by a $4.5 million payout to Neuheisel) followed, and many Husky fans believe the fallout from the mess led to the program’s downturn over the next several seasons.

Tormey went on to a successful run at Nevada, while Pinkel built Missouri into a national powerhouse. “What if?” Husky fans wondered for years. “What if?”

Rick Neuheisel. Photo courtesy UW Athletics.

Tyrone Willingham, 2005

On paper, this hire looked good. Tyrone Willingham had enjoyed modest success at both Stanford and Notre Dame. The UW program was still reeling from Neuheisel’s departure and the subsequent lawsuit (which played out over two years) and craved the stability Willingham appeared to offer.

On the field, the hire fizzled like a wet sparkler. Willingham lost seven of his first eight games and ultimately presided over the worst four-year stretch in Husky football history. His tenure engendered so much anger that security was necessary at his radio show during his final season due to threats from fans.

Tyrone Willingham. Photo courtesy UW Magazine.

Chris Petersen, 2014

Here’s an example of a hire that looked good on paper and was great on the field. Chris Petersen came to Seattle after a successful run as head coach at Boise State. His UW teams posted six consecutive winning seasons, made the College Football Playoffs in 2016, and played in the 2019 Rose Bowl. Petersen surprised everyone in college football with his sudden retirement announcement after the 2019 season.

Petersen was popular among fans and boosters. At the age of fifty-five, he appeared to have several seasons left to captain the Husky ship. But he cited an inability to balance his life with the demands the job placed on him before stepping down. His fifty-five wins left him sixth all-time on the list of winningest UW coaches, and had he not left he would likely be third by now.

It was at the end of his run that he made the single second-guessable decision of his UW career when he proclaimed Jimmy Lake as being ready to step into the job as head coach. Maybe Lake would have enjoyed more success and a longer run at UW if his first season (2020) hadn’t been derailed by the COVID pandemic. But it was, and after just thirteen games he was dismissed and replaced by Kalen DeBoer.

Chris Petersen. Photo courtesy UW Athletics.

Gil Dobie, 1908

The general feeling of fans toward this hire is not known, but it’s easy to speculate how some would have reacted if Ye Olde Sportstalk Radio had been invented.

“Here’s Clarence, in a horse and buggy on the waterfront.”

“Thanks for taking my call. I don’t mean to be taken as scurrilous, but we need an Ivy League man. THAT’S where football was invented. What does a chap from North Dakota know about the game?”

Gil Dobie came to UW after two years at North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo. He wasn’t a Seattle guy, and he didn’t have a fancy educational background. What he did have was an ability to coach football. In eight seasons at UW, he never lost a game. His teams were 58–0–3 and the Huskies became the biggest powerhouse on the West Coast.

After the 1916 season Dobie had a falling out with UW president Henry Suzzallo and was dismissed. He went on to great success at Navy, Cornell, and Boston College, and his .781 winning percentage is among the best in college football history.

Gil Dobie. Photo courtesy of UW Athletics.

Don James, 1975

The best example ever of a hire that didn’t move the excitement needle at all but ended up being a perfect fit. Don James wasn’t the school’s first choice to replace Jim Owens. That was Dan Devine, who turned down UW when the Notre Dame job suddenly opened.

The second choice thus became the new coach, and the Ohio native was so unknown in Seattle that one of the first things he remembered seeing upon his arrival was a giant sign outside Husky Stadium welcoming new head football coach “Don Jones.”

Fans almost didn’t have to learn his actual name. His first two teams went 6–5 and 5–6, and his third team started the season 1–3, leading to calls for a change. But that 1977 team rebounded to go 7–1 down the stretch, including a Rose Bowl win over Michigan.

Don James. Photo by Doug Glant.

Kalen DeBoer is the thirtieth football coach in UW history, and speculation on how he’ll do is well underway. His first game is Labor Day weekend against Kent State, coincidentally where James worked before coming to UW. James’s career began with his name being misspelled and ended with a statue built to recognize his achievements.

You never know.

Black Independence by Robin J. Hayes

“What, to the [enslaved and colonized], is your Fourth of July?”

— Frederick Douglass

On US Independence Day, for years it has been an African American custom to circulate the poignant speech—widely known as “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”—by self-emancipated abolitionist Frederick Douglass.* His iconic oratory points out the stark contrast between America’s exaltation of self-determination through words and its actions of violence, false imprisonment, cultural imperialism, and other human rights violations to block African Americans from having the power necessary to shape their own destinies. Since before Douglass’s time, Black people in the United States and Africa have rebelled against the infantilizing nature of White supremacy by fighting to claim a fair share of the wealth their labor and cultures produce. As revealed in my new book, Love for Liberation: African Independence, Black Power, and a Diaspora Underground, part of what unites Black communities on both sides of the Atlantic is a consensus that the key to protecting Black lives is Black autonomy.

In his speech to a predominately White audience in 1852, Douglass stated plainly that the “rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not me . . . I shall see this day from the [enslaved’s] point of view.” While slyly pointing out the intersection between patriarchy, capitalism, and racism in America, he also highlighted a recurring theme in Black cultures throughout the diaspora: authenticity’s valor versus hypocrisy’s disgrace. American, British, and French empires have all waved the flags of self-determination in public while, for example, turning a blind eye to the mass rape of Black women during slavery. Douglass’s assertion that a nation’s democratic self-image can only be validated by its most marginalized community members became a core belief of the Black freedom struggle in the United States and abroad. 

Just over a hundred years after Douglass confronted his audience, anti-colonial activist and former political prisoner Kwame Nkrumah celebrated the hard-won independence of his country, Ghana. During the festivities, which were attended by prominent African Americans, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Mrs. Coretta Scott King, Nkrumah encouraged the Ashanti, Ewe, and other tribes in his homeland to see themselves as a shining example of a new era in the diaspora: “From now on there is a new African in the world [who] is ready to fight his own battle and show that, after all, the Black man is capable of managing his own affairs.”

The wave of African independence in the mid-twentieth century—and its accompanying critique of the two-faced nature of colonizing White supremacist institutions—profoundly influenced an upstart generation of African American activists. Malcolm X, Kathleen Neal Cleaver, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) were just a few of the Black Power movement leaders who were frustrated by the slow pace of progress toward racial equality. At the heart of their exasperation was the glaring divergence between American institutions’ stated values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and their willingness to enable the lynching, disenfranchisement, and economic exploitation of African Americans. As a result, Black Power activists began to seek alternatives to the changing hearts-and-minds strategy advanced by Dr. King.

Reaching out across borders, Black Power and African independence activists connected within a diaspora underground. A diaspora underground consists of the physical emancipated spaces in which activists engage and the shared understandings of the past, present, and future that are created in such spaces. This kind of international engagement helps Black activists dismantle dominant gaslighting myths about the benevolence of White supremacy and colonialism. In this diaspora underground, Black Power and African independence leaders were able to ground themselves in an authentic vision of paths toward autonomy and full enjoyment of human rights that they themselves could construct. They discovered a deeper understanding of their roots as well as routes toward liberation that did not depend on changing White hearts and minds.

During his speech, Douglass asked the rhetorical question, “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?” He responded, “A thin veil to cover up crimes.” Revealing the truth about White supremacist aggression has been part of the continuous work of the Black freedom struggle from Douglass, to African independence and Black Power, to Black Lives Matter. Through the affirmation of authenticity’s valor over hypocrisy’s disgrace, the Fourth of July has also become an opportunity to reflect on the rights Black communities have to assert autonomy over their own bodies, relationships, neighborhoods, and nations. This kind of Black self-determination, which can be nurtured from within, remains the true meaning of independence. 

*The original title of this speech is “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro.”


Robin J. Hayes, PhD, is a contributor to the Atlantic, writer and director of the award-winning documentary Black and Cuba, and creative director of Progressive Pupil.

Gifts from Their Grandmothers: Megan Smetzer on “Painful Beauty”

A common thread running through the contemporary artworks included in my book, Painful Beauty, is the deep respect for the tangible and intangible gifts received by the artists from their mothers and grandmothers through the beadwork they created. Two ephemeral fragments—a family snapshot of a mother and daughter beading moccasins and a paper beadwork pattern stored in a fruitcake tin—inspired the poignant and powerful artworks by Larry McNeil and Tanis S’eiltin that are critical to my own consideration of the histories of Tlingit beadwork.

Tlingit mothers and grandmothers in Southeast Alaska and elsewhere have known the power of beadwork to feed their families and also affirm thousands of years of connections to the land and its bountiful resources. Yet throughout the twentieth century, their beading has been dismissed by many scholars and collectors as derivative and inauthentic. Tlingit communities, however, have long recognized the strength and resilience of these women through the overt racism and discrimination brought to bear by the institutions of settler colonialism. Through the generosity of the descendants of these beaders, who are telling their stories through contemporary artistic production, the historical significance and impact of these powerful Indigenous women is being shared more widely with the public.

I was first drawn to Larry McNeil’s photographic collage, Once Upon a Time in America, because of the 1943 snapshot at its center depicting his mother Anita McNeil (kaajee seidee) and grandmother Mary Brown Betts (kah saa nák) holding and sewing beaded moccasins. Here was a beautiful illustration of the intangible intergenerational knowledge that fueled so much beading in the mid-twentieth century. I knew, from archival research, that around five hundred women had beaded moccasins and other work for sale through the Alaska Native Arts and Crafts Cooperative from the 1930s to the 1970s. Many contemporary artists I have spoken with shared memories of watching or helping their grandmothers with beaded work. In this print and in his writing, McNeil foregrounds the power of these women through a seemingly mundane activity, which, in fact, was central to their fight for equal education as well as perpetuating intangible Tlingit ways of knowing in a difficult and discriminatory era. I am deeply grateful to Larry McNeil and his sisters, Helen and Patty, for sharing stories of their mother and grandmother with me.

Larry McNeil, Once Upon a Time in America from Fly by Night Mythology series, 2002. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Over the years Tanis S’eiltin and I have discussed octopus bags—distinctive pouches with four pairs of “tentacles” made from wool and beaded with seaweed and floral designs—and how they express historical trade relationships with interior peoples as well as the ways in which Tlingit women transformed them aesthetically to better represent local knowledge. When I first saw photographs of S’eiltin’s untitled armor-like floor-length coat featuring an oversized beadwork pattern depicting an octopus, I was thrilled to see how she had transformed the idea of an octopus bag into a life-size work celebrating Tlingit women.

During my visit to see her coat, Tanis mentioned that she had a fruitcake tin filled with beadwork patterns that dated to her great-grandmother’s era. I was nearly brought to tears when she brought it out. I had been told of these tins filled with patterns, but this was the first time one was shared with me. We pulled out hundreds of delicate pieces of paper, cut from old envelopes and cookbooks, and Tanis shared stories of the women, including her great-grandmother Mary Barries and her mother Maria Ackerman Miller (Ldaneit), who filled the tin over the years. These patterns and others like them adorned hundreds, if not thousands of pairs of moccasins made for sale throughout the twentieth century. The oversize octopus pattern on the coat foregrounds those powerful Tlingit women and their centrality to trade in all its forms, including the relationships that brought octopus bags and other treasures to Southeast Alaska. S’eiltin has drawn inspiration from this battered “box of treasures” to create work for her own children and grandchildren to teach them about their matrilineal legacies. I am so grateful for the opportunity Tanis has given me to write about her work.

Tanis S’eiltin, Untitled, 2017. Photo courtesy of the author.

Tanis S’eiltin’s fruitcake tin holding three generations of beading patterns. Photo courtesy of the author.

Tanis S’eiltin, Untitled, 2017. Photo courtesy of the author.

I extend my gratitude to all Tlingit people, past and present, who have always expressed longstanding cultural practices through the incorporation of new ideas and materials in innovative and creative ways. The histories and stories shared in Painful Beauty are a testament to the power of their art and the strength of their resilience.


Megan A. Smetzer is lecturer of art history at Capilano University.

A Gift of Peace and Quiet: Judy Bentley on the West Seattle Greenbelt and “Hiking Washington’s History”

Armed with more than two hundred white plastic bags, neon-clad neighbors gather at the West Seattle Greenbelt trailhead on a cold, sunny morning in late February 2021. Their mission is to make a trail visible from more than five hundred feet above. At precisely 8:45 a.m., a helicopter will circle the greenbelt with Jean Sherrard’s camera peering out, photographing the bright white squares revealing the trail through the overhanging branches. Sherrard and Clay Eals are preparing a Now & Then column for the Seattle Times.

Photo by Christine Clark.

The bags are the brainchild of Paul West, a member of the West Duwamish Greenbelt Trails group, who brings an ample supply from Puget Ridge Cohousing. (With only a few splotches of mud, the bags will be carefully collected and folded for reuse.) The volunteers start down the trail in small groups to drop their “bread crumbs” ten feet apart. As the temperature climbs above the mid-thirties, the white helicopter circles three times against a clear blue sky, above the waving Hansels and Gretels.

Looking south over part of the West Duwamish Greenbelt. Photo by Jean Sherrard.

In the resulting aerials, the people are mostly invisible and the bag trail is faint, but the views of the ridge on the highlands between the Duwamish Waterway and Puget Sound are stunning. The green fields of South Seattle College and the Riverview playfields frame the greenbelt. Industrial companies hug the river, colorful containers park at port terminals, the First Avenue South Bridge spans the river, and a belt of late-winter brown separates commerce from neighborhoods.

Looking west to the West Duwamish Greenbelt. Photo by Jean Sherrard.

Glacier action that left rocks resistant to erosion created the greenbelt ridge more than sixty thousand years ago. A conifer forest of Douglas fir, western red cedar, and Sitka spruce grew on its slopes.

The Duwamish people lived below the greenbelt along the Duwamish River and its tributaries for centuries; the earliest archaeological record places a village on the river as early as AD 500. As settlers and land developers moved in, the Duwamish were dispossessed, but the spirits (and bodies) of their ancestors live on in the soil and the trees.

A 1920 aerial photo shows the same ridge but with fewer trees. Puget Mill Company extracted what they wanted from the ridge before donating twenty acres to the City of Seattle in 1912 for a park at the north end. The same photo shows Boeing Plant 1 sitting at the foot of Highland Park Way. The newly straightened and dredged river is visible below the tip of an airplane wing. A streetcar line, which ran from the tip of the Duwamish Peninsula south to new communities, shows faintly on the ridge. The green line indicates trails in the 2021 greenbelt.

An aerial photo taken in 1920. Courtesy the Boeing Company.

In the decades after 1920, a brickyard dumped kiln dust on the hillside, neighbors dumped trash, a gravel company mined sand and gravel, and the Seattle Department of Engineering acquired property to build Soundway, a proposed freeway from the First Avenue South Bridge to suburban areas of Burien and southwest Seattle. The state located one of three Seattle community colleges at the top of the ridge in the late 1960s.

“There is no place in the city of Seattle where a buffer between industry and residences is more badly needed,” wrote the unnamed author of a 1970s report advocating the ridge’s preservation under the city’s Urban Greenbelt plan. “It should be left to the following generations as a gift of peace and quiet in our busy, noisy, polluted city.”

Through gradual property acquisitions and the activism of citizens, the greenbelt became that gift—at five hundred acres, it is the largest contiguous forest in the city. The Seattle Parks and Recreation Department and countless volunteers have replanted and restored the forest and created a few good trails and more than a few social trails pounded by hiking boots and running shoes.

Trailhead at Fourteenth Avenue SW and SW Holly Street. Photo by Judy Bentley.

One of those trails is featured in the expanded second edition of Hiking Washington’s History by Judy Bentley and Craig Romano. Although this trail was not in use as an indigenous trail for thousands of years, it crosses an ancient landscape in the industrial heart of the state’s largest city. That makes it historic.


Judy Bentley taught Pacific Northwest history at South Seattle College for more than twenty years and is an avid hiker and author of fifteen young adult books. Her latest book, co-authored with Craig Romano, is Hiking Washington’s History, Second Edition.

The Most Noble Estuary: David Williams on the Making of “Homewaters”

Homewaters began with a simple idea: Write a book about the human and natural history of Puget Sound. I didn’t know exactly what this would encompass but knew that I wanted to focus on the landscape where I have lived for most of my life. I had a few vague ideas: the three forts (Casey, Flagler, and Worden) at the Sound’s northern entrance; something about Albert Bierstadt’s ferocious painting of Puget Sound at the Seattle Art Museum; the ferry system and the mosquito fleet; and, of course, geoducks.

I knew that more stories were out there, so I began to reach out to friends and colleagues. Over the next six months I interviewed scientists, tribal members, and historians. My standard opening was that I was working on a book about the cultural and ecological history in Puget Sound, and I wanted to know what stories they thought were important.

What stood out for me in these interviews was the passion everyone expressed for this lovely body of water: It is a “beautifully complex ecosystem.” The Sound is a “unique waterbody whose beauty is hardly rivaled.” It is a “microcosm of ecological issues everywhere.” The abundance of the Sound made “us some of the most complex and wealthy people; we didn’t need to migrate.” I also learned that six-gill sharks will eat anything on the bottom, that as herring go so goes Puget Sound, that salmon are narcissistic, and that no one has a handle on kelp slime.

Based on these interviews and my interests, I put together a proposal to address people, plants, and animals and how history could help modern residents understand the present and think about how to pursue a future Puget Sound that is healthier for its human and more-than-human inhabitants. My interviews also impressed upon me the idea that I should focus on overlooked species, such as herring and kelp, which are critical to the ecosystem.

The press accepted my proposal, though they were less than enthusiastic about my title “The Most Noble Estuary.” Two and a half years later, in June 2019, I turned in my manuscript. It totaled 76,184 words with 14,054 words in endnotes. And it had a new title, “Breaking the Surface,” which once again was met with a less than enthusiastic response. Not until another round of editing did we come up with Homewaters.

The main highlight of working on Homewaters was the field time I spent with researchers, which resulted in me filling seven five-by-eight-inch notebooks, by far the most for any book I have written. During my writing journey, I was treated to five types of fresh oysters, some harvested just hours earlier, and given a geoduck pulled up from water sixty feet deep in Agate Passage. (The other geoducks harvested that day traveled more extensively, being overnighted to China.) I crisscrossed Admiralty Inlet, luckily on a calm-water day, in a fourteen-foot Zodiac searching for herring; tagged along as researchers pulled up invertebrates from the Sound’s deepest location (930 feet off of Point Jefferson); and rode all of the Sound’s ferry routes, including several I hadn’t known existed. I also dropped a notebook in the water, was brutally pinched by a mean old Dungeness crab, was confronted by machine-gun-toting nuclear-submarine-protecting Coast Guardsmen, and got stuck on a sandbar with three biologists for several hours when we failed to notice how rapidly the tide was ebbing. I enjoyed every moment.

The other exciting aspect of the book was my dive into history. The Sound has a relatively short written story; not until 1792 did Europeans reach the waterway. But the x̌ʷəlč, as it is known in Lushootseed (pronounced as whulge in English), has a very deep record of human habitation, which stretches back at least 12,500 years, only a couple thousand years after a great ice sheet had rewritten the landscape and then retreated to the north. One of my goals was to weave together these story lines and to explore how the different people who called this place home have responded to the landscape and the more-than-human inhabitants, as well as to each other. 

Of all the books I have written, I am most proud of Homewaters, in part because of its themes of connection and caring. My primary goal is always to write in ways that allow people to develop better connections and relationships to the place they call home. In Homewaters I added a call to act by writing in a manner that I hope encourages people to think more carefully about their actions and their impacts on the health of Puget Sound. I wouldn’t call the book an activist manifesto, but it sends a message that it is up to the residents of the Sound to continue working to improve the waterway for everyone. And based on the people I met and the stories I learned, I truly believe that we are ready to work toward this goal.


David B. Williams is a naturalist, author, and educator. His many books include the award-winning Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography and Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City. Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound is available now.

A Short Discussion on the Zuo Reader with Editors Stephen Durrant, Wai-yee Li, and David Schaberg

To celebrate the recent release of the The Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan Reader: Selections from China’s Earliest Narrative History, editors Stephen Durrant, Wai-yee Li, and David Schaberg had a virtual conversation about the guide to the study of early Chinese culture and thought. Below is their conversation.

Wai-yee Li: Our intention in putting together the Zuo Reader was to emphasize that Zuozhuan is not only a valuable source of historical understanding but also an indispensable source of information about early Chinese culture and thought. Consequently, rather than organize the passages selected for it in chronological order, we have organized them according to fifteen topics or themes. As we explain in the introduction, our selection of topics is somewhat arbitrary, although we do believe they cover issues that recur and illustrate the variety and richness of the full text.

David Schaberg: This topical organization of the reader is not meant to obscure Zuozhuan’s importance as a work of history. In fact, it can give modern students a keen sense of how important historical memory and historical writing were to the early Chinese and can convey some of what they aimed to accomplish in their historical writing. Beginning in the eighth century BCE, the work already shows a fascination with details of social and cultural change and the continuous unfolding of new challenges. The text also conveys a strong sense of how governing practices and rituals helped define the early Chinese world and laid the foundation for a broader set of East Asian political debates and institutions. The Zuo Reader can also convey a sense of China’s role as one of several historical cultures to have defined itself in part around an early set of texts and religious practices.

Stephen Durrant: Not only does the Zuo Reader convey an understanding of an ancient culture and history but it also reminds us how many problems and issues broached remain relevant. So often as we read about the past, even the deep past as in the case of Zuozhuan, we suddenly realize that we are also reading about ourselves. This was brought home to me just recently while reading papers written by men at the Oregon State Penitentiary who were using the Zuo Reader in a class on Chinese narrative. Their papers discussed such issues as the passages concerning “Succession Struggles” (ch. 2) and what they might tell us about the recent controversy over presidential succession here in the United States. They struggled with the complex personalities of Chong’er (ch. 4) and King Ling of Chu (ch. 10), comparing some of the character traits and life experience of those ancient Chinese personalities with their own problem-fraught pasts. And they argued as they read “Laws and Punishment” (ch. 9)—men who have all had direct experience with our legal system—whether or not Shuxiang was right in saying, “Why should there be any penal codes at all? When the people have learned how to contend over points of law, they will abandon ritual propriety and appeal to what is written.”

DS: These kinds of personal responses highlight the advantages of being able to read Chinese history through a translation like the reader rather than a summarized overview. A summarized overview would be effective in relating historical facts, but it would omit something that the materials in the Zuo Reader do exceptionally well: they convey historical actors’ individual responses to facts, often quoting conversations and long speeches. Both in reading quoted remarks and in reading the historical narratives themselves, students encounter the attitudes and emotions of the ancients and learn to experiment with seeing the world through the values that are written into the text. The difference is something like that between giving someone a fish and teaching them to fish. By reading the narratives gathered in the Zuo Reader, students will get a direct sense of the kinds of historical stories Confucius and other thinkers knew and took into account in their arguments.

SD: Moreover, a handy one-volume collection of these narratives facilitates using it in comparative courses. For example, a course on comparative early historiography would use it alongside portions of the Hebrew Bible and the writings of classical Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides. In fact, we believe from a pedagogical perspective, the Zuo Reader is highly serviceable.

DS: Not only might it be used in comparative courses but it also could be used as the main reading in a class on early Chinese historiography, paired with supplemental materials from other early Chinese texts, or it could be used in a course on the history of Chinese prose narrative. Moreover, the topical arrangement is particularly suitable to a course on early Chinese thought, perhaps by pairing chapters on subjects with especially relevant “Masters” texts: “Law and Punishment” with The Book of Lord Shang or Han Feizi, “Ritual” with Xunzi’s “Discourse on Ritual,” “Confucius” with Analects. Whatever the course, there are a variety of ways a teacher might use the Zuo Reader in the classroom: organize weekly discussions around one or two chapters, using the chapter topics to introduce the discussion and steadily building the interconnection of themes each week; break students up into small groups for close reading of narratives, then bring them back together to share their readings; have students identify a theme or character in it and investigate it further in the complete translations; have students examine the use of poetry citation and recitation in speeches; have students write a speech or narrative in the style of Zuozhuan; and so forth.

WY: The Zuo Reader is wonderful for the classroom also because the narratives are condensed and often provocative. Because of its long and complex process of formation, Zuozhuan often contains multiple perspectives on the same issue. For example, we find arguments both for and against the right of the people to protest unjust policies, both praise and suspicion of centralizing power, both idealistic and cynical views of ritual propriety, and so on. In our choice of passages, we have made sure to bring out these differences. In a classroom scenario, students can be easily organized to debate the different positions and processes of reasoning underwriting various passages. Those who have some knowledge of later Chinese history may be surprised by the more varied views of loyalty and political hierarchy in the Zuo Reader. Unlike the elevation of imperial authority and glorification of the subject’s absolute loyalty in some later materials, students will find in it lively debates on whether the expulsion or even assassination of a ruler can be justified or questions on the proper balance of power between the Zhou king and the lords. Some of the moral precepts readily associated with the “Chinese Tradition” take on different contours in the Reader. Also, because Zuozhuan is both interested in offering judgments and committed to “respecting the facts,” it ends up with stories of surprising moral complexity. Dissecting such nuances will be really fun in the classroom.


Stephen Durrant is professor emeritus of Chinese language and literature at the University of Oregon. Wai-yee Li is professor of Chinese literature at Harvard University. David Schaberg is professor of Asian languages and culture and dean of humanities at UCLA. Their joint translation of Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan: Commentary on the “Spring and Autumn Annals” was awarded the Patrick D. Hanan Book Prize for Translation, sponsored by the Association for Asian Studies.