Below are columns by LLyn De Danaan from Around the Great Bend, a publication of the Union Tourism Association. All Rights Reserved.
Two Gallants and the Romance of the East
May 2010/Vol. 1/Issue 1
I knew about Orré Nobles from my early visits to Hood Canal with the David James family. So when I came upon a first edition of Eminent Asians: Six Great Personalities of the New East by Josef Washington Hall (aka “Upton Close”) I seized it. The frontispiece is a finely rendered woodblock print titled. “A Map Showing influence of Ymagata, SunYat Sen, Gandhi, Stalin, Kemal, Ito.” He signed the block OrrE N. Nobles one place and Orr E.N. Nobles in another. The map is nestled in an oval frame and encompasses Europe and Africa to the west and Japan to the east. Only a few, tiny images dot the expansive continents. A herd of diminuative camels traverse the north east of China. The Taj Mahal marks the Delhi area. A racing toy-like train rushes toward Moscow from Lake Baikal. St. Basil’s rises from Moscow itself. Inside the book are exquisite woodblock portraits of Prince Ito, Sun Yat Sen, Yamagata, and Mustapha Kemal. Joseph Stalin peers out from his page, a young, viril man with a full head of dark hair. Mahatma Gandhi stares with focused intention toward the future.
Josef Washington Hall, born in Washington State in 1894, was a journalist, a member of the Explorer’s Club, and a lecturer on Pacific Asia at University of Washington in the 1920s. He had already published several books on Asia by the time he and Nobles left for their six month odyssey in 1927. Close must have been a bit of a rascal. No doubt he was more than daring. He spent years on the forefront of history in Asia braving wars, famines, and natural disasters.The dedication to his book, The Revolt of Asia: The End of the White Man’s World Dominance (1927) is “To the end of all that is ‘revolting’ in human relationships.” He was called a, “…careful and acute observer of Asiatic life,” by a former ambassador to Japan, Roland Morris. His promotional brochure advertised lectures and courses he was prepared to offer.
Nobles was born in Minnesota. He attended school in Tacoma and Pratt Institute in New York for his art education. He was an art teacher at Ballard High School for thirty years. Richard Gilkey was one of his students and one of many acclaimed artists in his circle of friends. Union, Washinton celebrates him and mourns the loss, in the 1950s, of his beloved Olympus Manor and all the bling and brightness of it. The Manor was built in the 1920s. It was there his embrace of Asia was complete. It’s entrance was marked by a secularized torii or gate, a Shinto style boundary for sacred space. Isadora Duncan look-alikes frolicked in the gardens. One photograph shows Chase himself, dressed like a Mandarin lord, sketching an ensemble of pseudo-Polynesians. A muscular man in a bathing costume rests languidly on a stack of pillows, and a woman in a pith helmet or topee, a clear reference to the British Raj, gazes towards the brilliant windows nearby. Oh what a delight! And yet interesting that Chase’s imagined Asia in Olympus Manor celebrated symbols of a doomed, highly romaniticized Orient.
The woodblock portraits in Eminent Asians belie the mirth of Union life. Olympus Manor and Union formed, perhaps, a bastion against that ever threatening “outside world.” 1927. Asia was full of turmoil, movement, and hope. India was still British India but Gandhi had begun a movement of passive resistance. The last Chinese dynasty had been overthrown by Sun Yat Sen. The Russian Revolution was only 10 years old. Yamagata had already built a “military machine” in Japan. These faces, these times, are reflected in Nobles’ deceptively simple images.
June 2010/Vol. 1/Issue 2
Dateline Skokomish, Mason County, Washington. 1890. Married at the Skokomish 7 Mar by Rev. M. Eells, Mr. Wiliam R. Pemmant & Miss Alice D. Whitney. Mr. Pemmant, formerly of Port Ludlow, is clerk at Mr. J.L. Armour’s store. Miss Whitney is daughter of the late Capt. C.C. Whitney of Seabeck who was Capt. of St. Patrick & who died a few years ago.
A simple announcement. But careful study reveals that Mr. Pemmant’s father was born in England and was a ship carpenter at Port Ludlow. He had three children whose mother, Jane Pemmant, was S’Klallam. Alice Whitney, the bride, was a 17 year old teacher working on the Skokomish Reservation. A fire had consumed most of Seabeck, Captain Whitney’s home, only four years before the wedding. Alice’s mother, Kate, was a laborer in Kitsap County, who had given birth in her late 20s and may have left Alice an orphan. In later years, William and Alice were living on the Quilcene Reservation.
Indeed, many stories and questions about the cultural and social life of Hood Canal in 1890 can be gleaned from these few sentences.
Weddings, Births, Deaths. These are the records that scholars rely upon to vivify otherwise merely “headline” stories. I learned long ago that, “God lurks in the details.” That was the “motto” of a lauded and influential philosopher, Gershom Scholem. You may not be able to put a camel through the eye of a needle, but, he said, you can describe a whole world if you use that eye to focus on the details of life in an epoch. Historiographers use a methodology that looks at harvest statistics, medical reports, death records, and other official reports to build a picture of village life. The work from this school I first read was Emmanual Le Roy Ladurie’s, The Peasants of Languedoc. I was enthralled to learn what the fluctuation in wheat harvests reveals about shifts in marriage, divorce, and death rates and the decisions people make about their lives.
If you turn that fine eye to local history, you begin to understand village life in a whole new way. The “great man, big event” telling of history betrays the pathos of daily life. It fails to enchant.
Plus, the details are juicier. Just a single issue of the Mason County Journal in the late 1800s reads like Wisconsin Death Trip, Michael Lesy’s 1973 depiction of Black River Falls, Wisconsin’s disintegration after the 1893 economic crash. Turns out Black River Falls was not unique.
In and around 1890s Mason County and Hood Canal there were, for example, many tales of untimely demise. A 55 year old cook for Vance logging left camp in “an intoxicated state,” fell through a railroad tressle and was drowned by “incoming tide,” in May 1890. He had about $100, “…enough to give him a decent burial.” That same month, a little girl died of a “billious sort throat.” In June of 1890 a “Mr. Gates” was knocked in the chest by the butt of a “1 1/2 ft” diameter alder” near Satsop. Children left alone near blazing fires burned to death. Consumption took many, young and old. As did logging accidents. Amputations and other treatments were not always successful. One report of such a procedure, after an altercation in South Union, reads, “…the surgeons amputated the right arm close to the shoulder, as the bones were so badly shattered. His condition is very critical to say the least.” One woman died an agonizing death after spilling lye upon her body. Torturous months later, the poison took her life.
Murder. Suicide. Poisoning. Despair. It’s all in the papers. And taken all together, describe a time of loss, grief, and struggle. Call it true grit.
Yes, there were ostensibly happy events. For example, Reverend Myron Eells, a fixture in the are for years, presided over many a marriage in the 1890s. Unfortunately, these, too, sometimes had their peculiar moments. Even after vows were exchanged, forgotten wives might come out of nowhere. One such event caused a judge to offer several choices to the displaced spouse, among them: “oppose the divorce & take your chances.” She took the alimony offered instead.
Life was altogether too risky in the 1890s to gamble on yet another possible no-win.
The Allens and Elmendorf: The Writing of Skokomish History
In 1934, an economic depression in full bloom, William W. Elmendorf graduated with a B.A. from University of Washington and met Henry Allen, then about 69. Elmendorf was 22. Allen lived on the Skokomish Reservation and became Elmendorf’s window to the “pre-white, pre-reservation culture of the Twana” as well as social structure, language, and texts. Elmendorf made short visits to see him between 1934 and 1938. Allen knew what was required and was a co-researcher and teacher. Allen had worked as “an ethnographic assistant” to Edward Curtis so he had more field experience than Elmendorf, the student. In 1938, Elmendorf moved to Berkeley to begin graduate work. He spent the summer of 1939 on the Skokomish Reservation and met Frank Allen, Henry’s brother, then 81. After a rough start, in the summer of 1940, the two men spent several hours a day working together. Frank Allen directed the sessions, teaching the young scholar to listen. Later each week, Henry Allen checked over recordings and corrected linguistic errors and problems of pronunciation.
In those days, we anthropologists got the degrees and copyrighted the books (career builders, not money-makers), but the words came from the people. We were at best conduits: recorders and organizers of all the stories and images, ideas and ideologies that make up a culture. Elmendorf was lucky to have brilliant colleagues who were willing to collaborate. The Structure of Twana Culture: Pre-White Tribal Lifeways on Washington’s Hood Canal was published by Washington State University Press. It is a revised doctoral dissertation and represents Elmendorf’s analysis of what he learned at the feet of Henry and Frank Allen. Twana Narratives: Native Historical Accounts of a Coast is a transcription of the Allens’ words, texts, and stories. It is rich with tales of life on Hood Canal. It was published by University of Washington Press.
We’ve entered a “post-anthropology” period. Beginning with late eighteenth century “first encounters” between indigenous peoples and Europeans and Euro-Americans in the West, the newcomers and their vetted investigators employed a “professional,” objectifying eye in their attempt to understand, describe, and govern native peoples. Cultural anthropologists, including one of my mentors at University of Washington, Melville Jacobs, set out on forays at the bidding of their senior professors. Mel Jacobs was a student of Franz Boas, the “father” of American anthropology. Boas inspired a generation of ethnographers, folklorists, and linguists to go forth and collect all they could from representatives of what he believed to be doomed cultures. Jacobs, as he was fond of telling students in the 1960s, set forth in his Model T with a wax cylinder recorder. We have, thanks to him, the texts of languages, sometimes with only one or two speakers remaining even then, available to descendents as well as scholars. Some experts say that a language dies every 14 days. National Geographic notes that, “By 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth—many of them not yet recorded—may disappear.” Boas and Jacobs and students like Elmendorf knew they had a responsibility to do what they could. As Elmendorf’s obituary notes (he died in 1997), “…his legacy to linguistic anthropology comprises many brilliant analyses of some of the most difficult problems concerning Native American languages.”
For all the problems of anthropology and its often obscuring and overreaching interpretations and models, collecting texts and recording histories from elders was of great service. Today, thankfully, the production of cultural knowledge in our region is almost wholly self-defining and self-directed or at least collaborative. Tribes, Skokomish included, have cultural resource departments, write texts, produce curricula, establish museums and make available narratives and representations of their histories. See the Skokomish web site,http://www.skokomish.org/, for example. Or visit the vibrant, educative Squaxin Island Tribal museum and research center. Anthropologists are still involved, but, for example, since the early 1990s my work was contracted by tribes and the research agenda set by them. I like this.
Still, the work of people such as William Elmendorf is to be celebrated, especially by Hood Canal inhabitants. And the legacy of Henry and Frank Allen is immeasurable.