The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History

By Carlos Arnaldo Schwantes | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Holes in the Social Fabric

Men come and go like the waves of the sea. A tear, a tomanawos [medicine man], a dirge, and they are gone from our longing eyes forever. Even the white man, whose God walked and talked with him as friend to friend, is not exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see.--Words of Chief Seattle, 1854, as quoted in the Seattle Sunday Star, 5 November 1887

The social fabric that the Pacific Northwest's first Euro-American settlers wove together was for the most part sturdy and serviceable, embodying their vision of a good society. But as might be expected of any homespun effort, the result was not without its flaws. Most conspicuous were the several holes and a ragged fringe symbolizing treatment of those people that the dominant groups excluded or confined to the margin. Indians, blacks, Asians, Mormons, women, and others were at various times victims of blatantly discriminatory laws and activities. Complicating matters was the fact that on occasion the victim became victimizer, as when ancient quarrels between Indians led one group to cooperate with whites against another, or when Indians attacked and killed approximately fifty Chinese miners in southern Idaho in 1866. Yet, the discerning observer can also find instances of goodwill and social harmony and examples of individuals who successfully shaped their lives despite prejudice or legal impediment.

One of the most profound changes of the 1840s was a noticeable alteration of the region's racial composition. During the years of the fur trade,

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