Kettle Falls

When I visited the site of Kettle Falls while researching Hiking Washington’s History, I had read the description by Mourning Dove of her family’s visits to the “roaring waters.” The traditional fishing site, where many tribes gathered in the summer to catch salmon, is now buried under Lake Roosevelt, created by the damming of the Columbia River.

Last winter, I met Lawney L. Reyes at an authors’ night at Island Books.  He was clearly the oldest author there, and I bought his book, White Grizzly Bear’s Legacy.  Just a month or so ago, I met his nephew on a bike ride in West Seattle, and returned to the book.

Reyes, too, wrote about Kettle Falls, where his people, the Sin Aikst, once fished.  The Sin Aikst are now known as the Lakes tribe and have been absorbed into the Colville Confederated tribes.  Reyes describes the tribes gathering in June.  “As a boy, I would stand in wonder as the chinooks, some more than a hundred pounds in weight, leaped the churning falls…. I still recall the roar of the falls and the voices of the people shouting instructions to each other.  I’ll never forget the beauty of the hundreds of tepees of the different tribes.  They lined the shores of the river close to the falls.  There were horses and people everywhere.”

Kettle Falls was once the center of Sin Aikst culture.  Reyes quietly and poignantly tells the story of the loss of this food source and history when the dam was completed in 1942.

Indian Racetrack and Red Mountain Lookout

Indian Racetrack

It has been more than ten years since I hiked to Indian Racetrack in the Indian Heaven Wilderness doing “research” for Hiking Washington’s History.  The racetrack hasn’t changed, but the approach has.  The last time I was there, riders and hikers appeared from the opposite side of the meadow, and now I know how.  They came up Trail 171 from FS Road 65 on the west side of the wilderness.

I had driven up Road 6048 from the southeast to the trailhead near the Red Mountain lookout.  That road is now gated due to frequent vandalism of the lookout. This is the third structure dating from the original in 1910.

My hardy Tuesday Trekkers group came up Trail 171 on a beautiful blue sky day in late August after a few days of haze.  After reaching the racetrack, which is still a straight line embedded in a meadow, we sat on a skinny log for lunch.  The meadow is shrinking as trees encroach, and the old sign proclaiming Klama’t for the racetrack has disappeared, but the feel of a gathering spot is the same. On the opposite side of the meadow,  we continued up Trail 171, desserting on abundant huckleberries.

Cool breezes mitigated the sun exposure on a mostly bare knoll dotted with balsamroot.  Where the trail reaches Road 6048, we walked up to the lookout and luxuriated in glorious views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Hood.  After three days of hiking around Mt. Adams for our annual retreat, we were sure of our identifications.  

It’s a wonderful hike, after mosquito season.  For directions, consult Tami Asars’ Mount Adams and Goat Rocksfor history read the Kalam’t chapter in Hiking Washington’s History.  

Everett Massacre Revisited

After my talk in Everett yesterday, I revisited the site of the Everett Massacre, a confrontation on the waterfront that led to at least seven deaths one hundred years ago.  When I wrote Walking Washington’s History: Ten Cities, there was nothing marking the site on Port Gardner Bay, but an audience member told me there was now a plaque.   Sure enough a plaque sits at the western foot of Hewitt Ave. where a brick spur ends at the railroad tracks.  This isn’t the exact spot where shots rang out on the City Dock, November 5, 1916, but it’s close.  The plaque is grounded on granite that should Plaque remembering the Everett Massacreoutlast the shifting sands of both the waterfront and historical interpretation.

My eye was drawn beyond the rock to a more temporary and more moving memorial–eleven cedar IMG_3379wreaths, red ribbons intertwined, hung on a fence, each with the name of a man killed or missing in the worst labor-management conflict in Washington history. Members of the Industrial Workers of the World (the I.W.W. or Wobblies) had been beaten and chased back to Seattle when they tried to support a shingle-weavers strike in the IMG_3367mills.  They returned by boat and were met at the dock by the sheriff and a force of deputized men.  A shot rang out, and in the ensuing battle, at least five Wobblies died, as well as two deputized citizens.  Another six or seven Wobblies went missing, never reclaiming the union cards they had left in Seattle that morning. They may have drowned after being shot or jumped into the water to escape the firing.  Another 50 were wounded.

IMG_3370Each wreath bears the name of a “fellow worker” who died that day.  They were hung by contemporary members of the I.W.W. who then completed the march the Wobblies had intended in 1916, to the Speakers Corner at Hewitt and Wetmore.  The wreaths hang on a fence with a No Trespassing sign, still drawing lines between corporate interests and public access.

The Everett Herald published a detailed discussion of the clash near its 100th anniversary.

My walking tour of Everett in Walking Washington’s History ends at the site of the massacre.  For more historic walking tours of Everett, visit



Too many on the trails?

I’m not a climber, so the overcrowding at Camp Muir–the overnight stop on the climb to Mt. Rainier–and the reports of hundreds of people on the slopes of the Three Sisters in Oregon don’t bother me so much. I am a hiker, however, and I hike mainly for the solitude–getting away from the city or suburb, away from driving, from fixing supper, from hassling phone companies, from scrolling Facebook. In the 35 years I have been hiking in the Pacific Northwest, I have felt less and less solitude on the trails.

I have twice reached the top of McClellan Butte, a nine-mile round-trip, 3700 foot elevation gain hike off I-90 west of Snoqualmie Pass—it’s no easy stroll. The first “summit” was in the late 1980s with the Issaquah Alps Club. The guide was an 80-year-old woman and the one companion was a young man working at a place called Microsoft; it was an inspiring introduction for a newcomer to the Cascades. The second time was a few years later in the 90s. When I again reached the top I had to share it with a guy on his cellphone, yakking away about his awesome hike.   I couldn’t believe his total disregard for the awesome experience other hikers wanted to have—away from irksome human behavior.

Now that behavior is common on the trails—people broadcasting the experience instead of just having it. A hundred parked cars stretch down-road from popular trailheads on a weekend. Gross blue doggie bags perch beside trail markers. I will never forget the image of a group of young people “mudding” with their truck—seeing how far they could dig it into and out of the mud in a meadow alongside the historic Naches trail northeast of Mt. Rainier.

Luckily, I’m retired now, and I can hike on weekdays when the crowds are smaller, but this is a problem for us all if solitude and the sounds and sights of nature are what we seek in the wilderness. According to the Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is an area “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.”Pelton Creek

I just read and reviewed Exceptional Mountains by O. Alan Weltzien (University of Nebraska Press, 2016), which considered the tension between access and preservation, the difficulty of finding solitude in a steady stream of hikers or climbers. Weltzien argues that the “endless freedom of high country close by reconciles many to urban life,” but if urbanites crowd the mountains, that endless freedom is lost. The proximity of Seattle and Tacoma and Bellingham and Vancouver and Portland to the exceptional mountains of the Cascades promotes “quick thick visitation” or a “windshield wilderness” experience. A fellow writer told me of a cartoon showing a person on a mountaintop with a laptop open, writing “I feel so connected.” To what, we must wonder.

How can we maintain a balance between wanting to feel unconnected and having to share the wilderness with others? Stop writing hiking guides? That might help, but the Northwest is steeped in the ethos of going to the mountains. Whether it’s the macho climbers of the 1800s or the weekend backpacker/hiker who shares exploits with colleagues on Monday morning, getting to the mountains is one of the reasons we live here.

Should we ration the wilderness? Forest managers have experimented with a system of advanced reservations balanced with first-come, first-serve permits on popular hiking routes. A lottery system is already in place for the Enchantments in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington. Climbing is rationed on Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. National Forest managers may try to limit use in the Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon where 400 people often try to climb the South Sister on a summer weekend.

When I backpacked with a friend and our daughters to Cascade Pass last summer, we had to make elaborate plans for Cascade Pass hikeone of the most scenic and popular hikes in the North Cascades: a drop-off at the trailhead 20 miles up a dirt road, reservations the third night at the Stehekin Valley Ranch, reservations on the Lady Express down Lake Chelan, and pickup at Chelan, 180 miles from Seattle. The success of the whole enterprise depended on backcountry camping the first two nights at a hikable distance apart for two women in their 70s. We had to give up all hope of backpacking on the spur of the moment when the weather was right.

After phone calls to the ranger station and warnings by friends that this would be hard, we left Seattle at 5 a.m. on a Sunday to arrive at the ranger station when it opened at 7 a.m. to get permits for Monday night. Second in line, we scored rare permits for two nights 12 miles apart; the campsites were free to us seniors for the asking but came at the cost of high anxiety. A Boy Scout leader had camped out the night before to be first in line for his troop. We happily shared Pelton Basin with them on Monday night, and the rest of the trip went swimmingly although, of course, Cascade Pass was completely fogged in.

Cascade Pass
Cascade Pass

As with many green spaces in the cities—think Alki Beach–we are loving the wilderness to death, and the transformative power of getting away from it all requires supernatural logistics. If we value remoteness from the sights and sounds of people, if going places untrammeled by man or woman is a transformative experience, we are duty-bound to share it, but how can we get away from us all? Should we lift up the wet gray Seattle image so you don’t want to come here? Should we mention the earthquakes, mudslides, and volcanoes? Should we push farther and farther into the wilderness? Should we stop sharing pictures?

This question bedevils many who hike and many whose job is managing the wilderness experience. The combination of some advance reservations (for those hiking the PCT, for example) with a good supply of first-come, first-serve spots may have to do for now. My personal response is a bit like making small changes to ward off climate change—avoiding popular trails and popular times of the week, savoring the experience without technology other than warm boots, practicing some of the old rules of the road—downhill yields to uphill, pack out your trash, don’t feed the wildlife, bring a shovel, don’t bring dogs to the wilderness. It makes me feel grumpy to say some of these things, but preservation is worth the whine.





Harriet Tubman photograph

A startling new photograph of Harriet Tubman has been discovered, a portrait of her as a younger woman in her 40s.  When I wrote the young adult biography of Tubman in 1990, the available photos of her were pictures dating from 1894 and an early 1900s photo showing her with white hair, decades past her most active years as an underground railroad conductor and spy in the Civil War.

The new photo has emerged in an album kept by Emily Howland, an abolitionist in upstate New York.  Howland lived in Sherwood, not far from Auburn, where Tubman settled after the Civil War.  Cayuga County was a nest of abolitionists, including William Seward who helped Tubman purchase land there in 1859 for a home she shared with anyone in need.  The new photograph is an 1860s carte de visite, a small (typically 2 1/2″ x 4″) photograph mounted on a calling card handed out to family and friends, which suggests there might be more of the cards in existence.  They were particularly popular among soldiers during the Civil War, as described by Andrea Volpe in an article in The New York Times.  

The discovery of the new photograph was brought to my attention by Grace Bentley, my 98-year-old mother-in-law who lives in upstate New York.

Newport High School orchestra

Newport High School Orchestra Performs Free Boy: Secret Voyage

Tone Poem for Charles Mitchell’s Flight to Freedom on the West’s Underground Railroad

BELLEVUE, Wash. – Newport High School orchestra, the Newport Philharmonic, will be performing the world premiere of “Free Boy: Secret Voyage,” a piece commissioned by award-winning composer Tim Huling, at the All-Northwest Music Educators Conference, on Feb. 17 in Bellevue, WA.

The piece is inspired by the nonfiction book “Free Boy,” written by local authors Lorraine McConaghy and Judith M. Bentley, and was commissioned by the school with support from the Bellevue Schools Foundation and Newport’s PTSA.  The book is about a thirteen-year-old boy who is born into slavery and escapes from the Washington territory to freedom in Canada by way of the West’s underground railroad.

Newport’s orchestra conductor, Christine Gero, decided to embark on this project as part of the school’s music history unit on contemporary music.  The intent is to work with a living composer and create a piece of music with a Pacific Northwest hero as the inspiration for the work.  Gero began the unit by asking how many students have lived somewhere other than Bellevue, and nearly the entire class raised their hands.  Gero herself is also a transplant to the Pacific Northwest, so together she and her students are learning about the Pacific Northwest’s history through the book “Free Boy.”

“In some ways Bellevue is very global,” said Gero.  “A lot of people in the community were not born here, so this has been such a great opportunity for us to learn about this place we live in and its history.”

Throughout the unit, students have met the authors, historians and even gave input to Huling on the composition of the piece.

“To actually see the students getting to interact with historians, authors and a composer and hear not just about the past, but how it plays into the present – and how they are able to take part in that to create something that is hopefully lasting and meaningful – I think that has been exciting for everyone involved,” said Gero.

For more information about the All-Northwest Conference:

For more information or to schedule a visit to see the orchestra rehearse please contact Christina Wilner at (425) 456-4

Coal Creek to Redtown Trail

See my article on this hike, “Find a Trail to History,” in the October 2017 issue of Northwest Prime Time.

The Coal Creek trail to Redtown, site of industrial mining in the late 1800s, was the first hike I did in Washington and the inspiration for Hiking Washington’s History.  I could walk out of my suburban home, follow a social trail down a hill, then a deer trail through wet land to Coal Creek. Coal Creek Trail The trail followed the creek, past an old farm-site (with apple trees), past mining artifacts (wagon wheels chained to a tree, chunks of coal), onto the old road-bed of the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad, past a cinder mine and the remains of the railroad turn-table, and finally reached Redtown.  Near the end of the hike there were old interpretive signs and a black hole in the ground–an air shaft going down 100 feet to the mines.  Coal CreekThe trail was rich in both natural and human history.

In the 30 years since my first hike King County has greatly improved the trail, part of the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park.  Updated, easy to read interpretive signs mark the Redtown end of the trail.  Bridges and stairs have been constructed.  The Primrose loop has been restored.

The most important charms remain–the concrete blocks of the turntable covered with fall leaves, the North Fork falls full in October, the remains of a wood-constructed plume in the creek and the visible coal seam, even the bricks discarded from the Mutual Materials lot, now a housing development.  You can still walk this three-mile trail, out of sight of homes or parkways, and be greeted by this weathered sign, an historic artifact on its own.  Coal Creek sign

Richland Urban Greenbelt walk

Attending the Washington State Trails Coalition Conference last weekend, I enjoyed a history walk through Richland’s urban greenbelt led by Nancy Doran.  The narrated walk embodied what I call a virtual trail, a walk on sidewalks, trails, even through parking lots when a detour was necessary–all connected by a story, the story of Richland’s World War II history.  My literary acquaintance with Richland comes through Paul Loeb’s Nuclear Culture and Kathleen Flenniken’s volume of poetry, Plume. This on the ground walk brought more social history into the picture.

Richland was a small farming town with only 247 residents when the United States government plucked it and the nearby towns of Hanford and White Bluffs off the map as the perfect place to produce plutonium for the atomic bomb.  Farms, homes, and some businesses were forced out in 1943 and housing for 11,000 workers was quickly built.  Richland became a bedroom community.  We walked past the alphabet homes–built on floorplans A, B, D, E,F or G–with the goal of having high and low income earners living side by side.  We saw the site of the women’s dormitories, which anticipated the housing needs of single women workers.  We saw the few buildings that preceded the 1940s, the current high school with the Bombers mascot, and a lovely walkway along Hip Deep Creek to the riverfront trail.  The Sacajawea Heritage Trail goes for miles along the Columbia River, connecting the Tri-Cities. Sacajawea Heritage Trail

Much of the architecture along the way reflected the technology and mid-century modern tone of the city.  The thoughtful planning of G. Albin Pehrson left parkland as a buffer between homes and businesses, land through which the paved urban trail goes today. For those without a guide, the trail is marked in the sidewalk but volunteer-led history tours are periodically offered through Richland’s Parks and Recreation Department.

A brochure by Gary Fetterolf, “Walking Tour of World War II Era Alphabet Homes,” describes the alphabet homes and the origin of street names, named after army engineers.  It is available at the new Richland Urban Greenbelt TrailHanford Reach Museum, a concrete structure rising out of the windswept ground, which broadens the story to the river and the land around it.


Oregon Trail markers in Washington

There are now fourteen Oregon Trail markers in Washington (see comment below), marking Oregon Trail markerthe Oregon Trail cutoff to Puget Sound.  In Washington the Oregon Trail followed the Cowlitz River from Fort Vancouver to Cowlitz Landing, then went overland on a rough wagon road to Olympia. There are markers at Vancouver, Woodland, Kalama, Kelso, Toledo, Mary’s Corner, Centralia, Grand Mound, Tenino, Bush Prairie, Tumwater, and Olympia, the end of the trail on south Puget Sound.   The trail marker pocket park in Toledo, maintained by the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sacajawea Chapter,  has been restored and was rededicated in 2016.

History Lives in Renton

Renton is the 9th largest city in Washington, with a population of more than 100,000.  Yet it has been overshadowed by neighboring Seattle and Bellevue, which rank 1st and 5th, and by its association with industry and jobs–coal mining, clay works, Boeing and PACCAR.  Even though it has a 405 and Rainier Avenue, the main routes of travel, bypass the main street at a fast clip.

During its centennial in 2001, the city marked a walking tour with markers designed by Doug Kyes with text by Barbara Nilson. Renton Number one is land where the Duwamish had lived for hundreds of years, at the confluence of the Cedar and Black rivers.  The Cedar River still runs through the middle of the city, but only a remnant of the Black River remains after the lowering of Lake Washington in 1916.

The community of Renton began when seams of coal were discovered near streams in 1873.  A lumberman, Captain William Renton, financed the Renton Coal Company, which opened a mine on the north side of Renton Hill.  He was also a trustee of the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad which transported the coal.  Renton depotThe town incorporated in 1901.  Located at the south end of Lake Washington along the railroad and a road to Seattle, Renton became a place where Seattle workers lived.

Renton’s moment of historical significance in Washington, its period of largest growth, was during World War II.  The Seattle Railroad Car and Manufacturing Company, which became PACCAR, had moved to Renton in 1907 and produced 30 Sherman tanks a month during the war.  The Boeing Airplane Company located a major factory on the north side of Renton and began turning out B-29s at the peak rate of six a day.  Thousands of workers flocked to the city seeking work, and the War Department helped build multi-family units.  In the decades after the war, Renton became the “Jet Capital of the World.”

The latest new neighbors are the Seattle Seahawks, with a training facility on Lake Washington.  Like many cities along Puget Sound, Renton must deal with contaminated properties on its waterfront, particularly the Port Quendall properties where creosote and coal tar were manufactured.  The city has enhanced enjoyment of the Cedar River with a walking and biking trail and the city library built over it.

To discover the real downtown of Renton, Renton ghost signfollow the “History Lives Here” walking tour, available online or by brochure at the Renton History Museum, 235 Mill Ave. South.

And does anyone know if there is any historical significance to this mural painted on a building in downtown Renton?

Renton mural