The Local History

by Logan Camporeale

Charles Stewart Parker: Community Leader, War Hero, and Accomplished Botanist

Charles Stewart Parker was born in 1879 in Corinne, Utah Territory, a non-Mormon transportation hub in the northern part of the state near present-day Logan, Utah. He was born to John Byron Parker (watch for a future blog post about John Byron) and his wife Odella Parker nee De Reyno. John Byron worked in Corinne as a barber where he cut hair for travelers who stopped over in the town. 

Railroad companies skipped over Corinne when they rerouted which quickly turned it from a boom town into a ghost town, as was common in the American West. The Parker family picked up and moved to another boom town, Eureka, Nevada, in search of new clientele for John Byron’s barber business. According to the census, Charles gained two siblings while living in Nevada, one in 1881, and another in 1883. The family had both Black and white ancestry and they were often characterized by census takers as “Mulatto.” 

In 1883, when Charles was six years old, the family of five moved to Spokane, Washington. He attended public schools where he was a standout athlete in track and football. He graduated from Spokane High School as part of the class of 1898. After graduation, Charles headed to Washington D.C. where he attended classes at King Hall seminary, a theological training school associated with Howard University. He fell in love with Annice Marguerite Lewis and they married in D.C. The newlyweds returned to Spokane in 1901 before Charles could finish school due to health issues. 

Historic photo of the Parker family home at 2826 West Dean Avenue. This photo was featured in the Seattle Republican, a Black-owned newspaper, as an example of a successful home-owning Black Spokanite. The house still stands today, check out this recent Facebook post from the Spokane Historic Preservation Office.

Once back in Spokane, the couple moved into the family home at 2826 West Dean Avenue and Charles found work as a shipping clerk at the Crane Shoe Company. Beyond work, he became an active member of Spokane’s Black community. He was a leader of a congregation, the St. Thomas Episcopal Mission, where he would often read sermons and participate in ceremonies. In 1908, Charles and fellow Black leaders began planning for the centennial celebration of President Abraham Lincoln’s 100th Birthday and he was appointed secretary of the Lincoln Centennial Association. In 1909 Charles co-founded the Nonpartisan Colored Improvement Club, which is likely the first non-religious and non-partisan organization in Spokane dedicated to advocating for the rights of Black Spokanites. 

The front page of a 1912 edition of The Citizen newspaper, a Black-owned newspaper that Charles S. Parker edited.
A portrait of Charles S. Parker printed in the The Citizen newspaper.

In 1908 Charles partnered with another Charles, Charles Barrow, the son of Spokane pioneer and former slave Peter B. Barrow Sr., to found Spokane’s first Black-owned newspaper, The Citizen. Charles Parker served as the paper’s editor from 1908 to 1913 when the paper ceased printing. After the newspaper, Charles continued to work at X-Ray printing, a Black-owned print shop, while also pursuing agricultural education at Washington State College in Pullman, WA. Parker’s interest in agriculture and botany was almost certainly spurred by his involvement with the Deer Lake Irrigated Orchard Company, a Black-owned fruit orchard located north of Spokane. Parker was a co-owner and treasurer of the company. 

In June of 1917, just two months after the United States entered World War I and one month before Spokane conducted its first draft lottery, Charles enrolled in the United States Army (joining his brother who had served in the United States Navy for over a decade). Charles was sent to Fort Des Moines in Iowa to attend officer training specifically for Black candidates. In October of 1917 he received an officer’s commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 366th Infantry Regiment and was quickly promoted to 1st Lieutenant. In June of 1918, the 366th departed for France where they were active in combat at Alsace and at Meuse-Argonne, the principal offensive for U.S. forces in France. Charles led his platoon to the frontlines under heavy fire and through thick fog of noxious gasses. In a letter from the front to a friend back in Spokane, 1Lt Parker remarked that “the question as to whether the American negro will stand the pressure of trench warfare is no longer a problem. He has been called to the bat and hit a home run the first inning.” Parker and his troops advanced into Germany where they remained until the Armistice was signed. 

1Lt. Charles S. Parker (second from left) with fellow Black officers from the 366th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army. The officers from left to right—Capt. L.H. Godman, Lt. and Adj. Chas. S. Parker, Capt. Chas. G. Kelley, Capt. Wm. Hill, Capt. C.W. Owens, Capt. Geo. A. Holland, Capt. W.T. Thompson, 2nd Lt. Wm. D. Nabors. Public domain image.
Charles S. Parker in a newspaper clipping detailing his distinguished service.

1Lt Parker returned to Spokane in May of 1919 where he was greeted with a celebration from his friends, family, and the local NAACP chapter. Soon after he returned, the Department of War awarded him with the rank of Captain for his heroic leadership on the Western Front. 

In 1919, Charles was awarded a professor position at the Tuskegee Institute, a university for Black Americans in Alabama founded by Booker T. Washington. While teaching, he continued to pursue his own education culminating in a doctorate degree in plant pathology from Penn State University in 1932. After graduation, he was hired as a professor at Howard University, a famous Historically Black College and University known by some alumni as “the Mecca,” where he was Chair of the Department of Botany for sixteen years. The Charles S. Parker Herbarium on Howard’s campus, a collection of specimens he assembled, is named in his recognition. 

Professor Charles S. Parker sitting at a microscope at Howard University circa 1936. Photo courtesy of the Harmon Foundation Collection at the National Archives. 

During his academic career, Charles returned home to the Pacific Northwest in search of distinct flora native to the region. He collected thousands of specimens which he documented in two journal publications. Some of the specimens he collected are still held at Washington State University’s Marion Ownbey Herbarium. Charles’ contributions to the field of botany were recognized by renowned botanist Harold St. John when he named a species of pea plant after him (Lathyrus parkeri St.John). 

A specimen of Lathyrus parkeri St.John, the pea plant that Harold St. John named to recognize Charles S. Parker.
Professor Charles S. Parker observing the leaf structure of a plant on Howard University campus circa 1936. Photo courtesy of the Harmon Foundation Collection at the National Archives.

Charles Parker was a product of Spokane’s public schools. He was an influential community leader and he served his country selflessly in World War I. He became an accomplished botanist and left a lasting legacy at Howard University. In 1950, at 71 years old, Charles passed away in Seattle, Washington.

L’Quoit: Son, Warrior, and Elder

Luqaiot - Kittitas; . By: Edward S.. Curtis . Page or plate: Plate 247

L’Quoit (Lokout) was born around 1834 and grew up on the ancestral lands of the Yakama people. He was a descendant of prominent families from both the Yakama and Sinkiuse Tribes. His father, Owhi, was a respected War Chief of the Yakama people. L’quot’s youth was typical of native people on the Plateau. He took part in the seasonal round, a semi-nomadic lifestyle in pursuit of resources depending on the season with winters spent in communal villages. This included long trips by horseback to the bison hunting grounds of the Great Plains and frequent trips over the Cascade Mountains to the Salish Sea.

L’Quoit’s birth in 1834 places him in Washington at a pivotal and rapidly changing time when white Americans and Canadians began encroaching on their traditional lands in large numbers. The first permanent presence was established in 1810 by white fur traders from the North-West Company near Spokane in 1810. The following year, the competing Astor Company established the Okanogan Post near Brewster, Washington. This initiated a race between the fur trading companies to control territory and led to the construction of four additional trading posts: Walla Walla, Vancouver, Colville, and Nisqually. The last to be constructed, Fort Nisqually, was established in 1833, the year before L’Quoit was born.

One of L’Quoit’s first big adventures came in 1853 when he, along with a group of fellow Indians, travelled to Fort Nisqually to conduct business with the Hudson Bay Company. While there, a white traveler from Connecticut who was staying at the fort, Theodore Winthrop, asked Chief Owhi if he could purchase some horses and the services of a guide. Winthrop was hoping to make the trip from Fort Nisqually in present day Dupont, Washington to The Dalles, Oregon on the south bank of the Columbia River. Chief Owhi provided Winthrop with three horses and assigned his son, L’Quoit, to be Winthrop’s guide. The young man agreed to the task and he and Winthrop set out endeavoring to arrive at The Dalles in seven days. The travellers did not get along well, mostly because Winthrop was mean and condescending toward his guide as he seemed to be toward all Indians. Winthrop’s lack of respect for his guide culminated when he woke L’Quoit from sleep by kicking him. When they reached the east side of the Cascades, L’Quoit received a report that smallpox was prevalent at The Dalles and he was tired of Winthrop’s antics so he abandoned him to make the remainder of the trip on his own.

The trickle of white newcomers into the Yakama’s territory, reminiscent of Winthrop, increased to a steady flow. Gold was discovered near Colville, Washington in the fall of 1854 and the next spring prospectors and miners began flocking from the Willamette Valley and Puget Sound Region across the Cascade Mountains to northeastern Washington. All the regularly travelled routes from the west to the goldfields required travel across the Yakama’s lands. This may not have been a problem, except that white newcomers had a propensity to mistreat native people, much like Winthrop mistreated L’Quoit. Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens, sensing the rising tension between miners and the tribes (and because he was eager to grow Washington’s population by opening native lands to white newcomers), sent envoys to the Yakama to negotiate for their lands. In June of 1855, with an air of intimidation and the threat of war on the horizon, tribal leaders reluctantly agreed to sing the Yakama Treaty. The Yakama people ceded ninety percent of their lands in exchange for financial compensation, guaranteed autonomous reservations where trespassing by whites was prohibited, and unending rights to off-reservation resources. Despite the agreement, the terms were ignored by the American side. Governor Stevens and regional newspapers encouraged Americans to head for the Washington Territory in pursuit of lands and resources that belonged to native people. This prompted thousands of white newcomers to cross Yakama lands in violation of the recent treaty that was supposed to end unapproved traffic.

Chief Owhi by Sohon from WSHS
Battle at Steptoe by Sohon

The tensions reached a climax in the late summer of 1855 when a group of miners who were trespassing on the Yakama Reservation, in violation of the Yakama Treaty, raped and killed a Yakama woman. The woman, a daughter of Chief Teias, was also a relative of Chief Kamiakin, the representative for the Yakama people at the 1855 treaty negotiations. Yakama warriors tracked the suspect and his travelling party and killed them in retribution. This event, along with the subsequent killing of Indian Agent Andrew Bolon, initiated the Yakama War.

The first battle of the war occurred at Toppenish Creek in November 1855, two months after the death of Agent Bolan. The tribes, led by Chief Kamiakin and with L’Quoit in their ranks, mounted an impressive attack that resulted in multiple casualties for the US Army and an embarrassing defeat for Major Granville O. Haller. L’Quoit also fought in the Battle of Union Gap, the Battle of Walla Walla, and a roving attack on Governor Stevens after the Second Walla Walla Council in 1856. In the attack on Governor Stevens, L’Quoit was severely injured and left with a lifelong scar on his forehead.

Despite his injury in 1856, L’Quoit’s was also involved in the second phase of the Yakama War in 1858, the portion that took place on the Palouse and along the Spokane River. He was amongst the warriors who defeated Colonel Steptoe at Steptoe Butte where he played a critical role as one of the snipers tasked with targeting US Army leadership in the opposing regiment. It is unclear if he was involved in the Battle of Spokane Plains but he was present on the bank of Hangman Creek when his father, Chief Owhi, his brother, Qualchan, and many fellow tribal members were lured into a US Army camp to discuss peace but were ultimately hanged by General George Wright, an act that amounted to a war crime. L'Quoit, along with his sister-in-law Mary, escaped from Wright and his men.

L’Quoit’s life was long and it was full of battle and hardship. Near the end of his life he had an opportunity to tell some of his story when he was interviewed by regional historian A.J. Splawn. That interview helped to inform Splawn’s book Ka-mi-akin, the Last Hero of the Yakimas. Additionally, and most notably, L’Quoit met with renowned photographer Edward S. Curtis in 1910. Curtis interviewed and photographed L’Quoit, likely at his home on the Spokane Indian Reservation. L’Quoit’s photo was published in Volume VII of Curtis' The North American Indian and in the caption Curtis acknowledges that L’Quoit’s recollections are found throughout the text of Volume VII. L’Quoit spent the last fifteen years of his life living on the reservation until he passed away in 1913.


Spokane Going Viral: Lessons from 1918

In 1918, Spokane officials mandated substantial social distancing measures to limit the spread of an influenza outbreak. 

(Note: I am not a scientist, virologist, epidemiologist, or even a historian of science, but I am a local historian interested in how our region dealt with and was impacted by previous pandemics. This blog post and timeline is an evolving work that will be continuously updated and I encourage any comments or suggestions. I received some excellent feedback from Dr. Monica H. Green, including a tip to explore the Influenza Archive)

On October 5, 1918, James Alphea Howe died after a bout with pneumonia. Howe, a retired merchant and farmer, was 79 years old. Due to his age and the prevalence of respiratory illness, not much thought was put into the cause of his death. The 1918 flu virus had been spreading across the country and western Washington, but there were still no confirmed cases of the virus in Spokane. But, two weeks later Spokane doctors would connect the dots, James Howe was the first Spokanite to die from the 1918 influenza outbreak. Spokanites were dying before local health officials knew the virus had arrived.

The Spokane Regional Health District announced the first three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Spokane County on March 14, 2020. This announcement and the resulting interventions to reduce the rapid spread of COVID-19 (#flatteningthecurve) are scary and panic-inducing, but they are not unprecedented in our city. And, most importantly, the measures Spokane took in 1918 seem to have been effective at slowing the spread of a deadly disease that was transferred in the same ways as COVID-19.

In 1918, the world experienced one of the largest pandemics in modern history. The 1918 influenza, often erroneously referred to as the “Spanish Flu,” was a worldwide pandemic that killed at least 675,000 Americans and 50 million people worldwide. The 1918 flu was caused by an H1N1 virus, much like the virus that caused the 2009 “Swine Flu” outbreak. From a virology perspective, the H1N1 virus is notably different from the novel coronavirus COVID-19. However, despite the differences, the viruses have three important similarities that allow for meaningful historical comparisons. First, both viruses spread primarily via droplets transferred from one person to another while in close contact or by touching the virus when it is present on surfaces. Second, neither virus had a known vaccine or approved treatment at the time community spread was identified, meaning that controlling the virus was primarily limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions. Third and finally, before both viruses arrived in Spokane they had spread rapidly in Europe, the east coast of the United States, and even western Washington, providing Spokanites an opportunity to intervene before the pandemic arrived in the Inland Northwest.

Washington State and Spokane initiated non-pharmaceutical interventions to slow the spread of COVID-19 and there will likely be more mitigation efforts announced in the coming days. So far, all gatherings larger than 50 people were banned, schools and universities were cancelled for six weeks, and bars and restaurants were limited to to-go orders only. These social distancing efforts were not initiated until the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Spokane. How do these interventions compare to the measures taken in 1918? 

The transfer of communicable diseases in 1918 was not accelerated by international air travel, but the spread was still incredibly rapid. Spokane newspapers began warning readers about the 1918 H1N1 virus in August of 1918. On October 6, 1918, Spokane Health Officer, Dr. John B. Anderson, announced that there were still no confirmed cases in Spokane. On October 7, 1918, Spokane announced its first confirmed case of the virus (Although, much like COVID-19, it had almost certainly been spreading in Spokane for some time). The same day that the first case was announced, Dr. Anderson, enacted “quarantine regulations” by ordering the cancellation of all public gatherings including schools, universities, churches, mining and stock exchanges, all club and social meetings, YMCA activities, and all jury trials in superior court. As the virus progressed, Dr. Anderson put limits on public transit and elevator capacities, and he even banned Halloween masks.

Taking these actions were swift and effective, but they were met with some resistance. On October 11, 1918, health inspectors arrested a clairvoyant and a pool hall operator for hosting groups of over 10 people. Dr. Anderson took one of the most notable enforcement actions on October 21, 1918, when he was issued a warrant for the arrest of A. R. Wilson, the Superintendent of Washington Water Power’s streetcar company. As part of Dr. Anderson’s mandated “quarantine regulations”, streetcars were ordered not to fill beyond their seating capacity with standing-room-only riders, but W.W.P. cars had been ignoring that directive. (For more details on Spokane’s 1918 H1N1 response, read Nick Deshais’ excellent piece.)

I have updated the curve for 3-17-2020. Spokane announced the 4th case of COVID-19. I made an error the first time I graphed the curve by plotting the total number of cases instead of the new cases per day. I fixed the error.

Despite the social distancing measures, the number of Spokanites with the virus quickly exploded. The first case was announced on October 7. One week later, Spokane reached 500 cases, and two weeks later the count had surpassed 1000. By the end of the October 1918, Spokane was counting over 3000 cases of the 1918 H1N1 virus including 76 deaths. The total number of cases doubled every seven days, a stunning rate of spread. (I will continue to update the epidemiological curve as more COVID-19 numbers are announced, and I will add more to the 1918 curve as we get closer to Day 25.)

I have created the timeline below in order to show the speed in which the situation changed in 1918 Spokane and to offer comparisons with the COVID-19 pandemic as it progresses. As you flip through the slides, it is important to remember that October 7, 1918 is equivalent to March 14, 2020. (If you would like the sources for any of the newspaper articles, email me or leave a comment.)

Reverend C. A. Rexroad: Grand Cyclops of Spokane

The Ku Klux Klan in Spokane

The Ku Klux Klan invokes visions of hooded men burning crosses and intimidating non-whites in southern states. But in the 1920s, those frightening sights would have been familiar to Spokanites, too.

The Spokane Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan was organized in 1921 with elected officers, membership dues, and over 100 members. According to local newspapers, the upstart Klan was relying on political influence more than violence to achieve their goals. Most individuals who belonged to the Klan maintained their anonymity, and the members names were rarely published in the newspapers.

One Klansman though, Reverend C. A. Rexroad, was not shy about his affiliation with the robe and hood. Rexroad, a long time minister, moved to Spokane from Butte, Montana where he became the pastor at the Corbin Park Methodist Episcopal Church. Rexroad came under fire when he was outed in the newspapers as the Grand Cyclops of the Spokane Ku Klux Klan. His photo was plastered in the headlines and his bosses were notified of his role in the KKK. 

Due to public outcry, Rexroad was removed as the National Guard Champlain, his membership in the American Legion was questioned, and the board of the Corbin Park Methodist Episcopal Church met to determine Rexroad’s future. The board unequivocally supported the reverend and vowed to “stand behind Mr. Rexroad no matter what comes or goes.”

Klan gathering described in pro-Klan newspaper, The Fraternalist, June 12, 1924.

Although there was no substantial opposition to the Klan, one group formed a resistance. The Organization of the Three Brothers was founded in 1921 with the hope of removing all KKK members from political office in Spokane. (I have not discovered anyone specifically, but this likely means that Klan members did hold political office in Spokane.) Despite their efforts, the Klan continued to grow through the 1920s.

In 1924, under Rexroad’s leadership, the Spokane Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan held a large initiation ceremony on Five Mile Prairie. One hundred and fifty new members were initiated while they stood at the base of a ninety foot tall cross engulfed in flames. According to a pro-klan newspaper, over 4,000 klansman and 3,000 visitors attended the ceremony. Although smaller than chapters in southern cities or in Portland, the Klan was a powerful political force in 1920s Spokane.


This article was originally published in Nostalgia Magazine as part of my bi-monthly column “Heroes and Scoundrels.”

Walter Lawson: Breaking Down Barriers, Upholding the Law

-Walter Lawson served the Spokane Police Department for eighteen years

When the 1900 United States Census was taken, there were 376 black residents in Spokane, making up slightly more than one percent of the city’s total population. One of those residents, Walter Lawson, moved to Spokane in 1894 where he became an officer for the Spokane Police Department.

Members of the 25th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers at Ft. Keogh, Montana, 1890, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Before arriving in Spokane, Lawson completed five years in the United States Army. He enlisted for his term in 1886 and became a member of the 25th Infantry Regiment, a segregated unit of black soldiers often referred to as the Buffalo Soldiers. During Lawson’s time in the service, the 25th Infantry was stationed in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Montana. They did not see much active combat but the regiment was involved in the Ghost Dance War, a months-long armed conflict that ended with the Wounded Knee Massacre.

After his service, Lawson settled in Spokane with his wife Millie and began work as a porter at downtown hotels. Hauling luggage was not as exciting as soldier life, but in 1899 his military experience paid off. He was hired as a special policeman with the Spokane Police Department.

Officer Walter Lawson soon after he was hired by the Spokane Police Department, c1900, courtesy of Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

In 1905, a terrible crime occurred in Spokane. An abusive husband shot his wife in the abdomen and knee, and left her to die. The woman bled on the floor for hours before crawling to a neighbors home seeking help. She was taken to Sacred Heart Hospital where she was treated for her wounds, but her attacker was still at large. Officer Lawson located the man the next morning and apprehended him. As Lawson made the arrest, a .38 caliber revolver fell from the suspect’s pocket. Lawson had his man, and the likely assault weapon.

Officer Lawson worked over eighteen years with the Spokane Police Department serving in various positions including as a stock policeman, a driver, and a patrolman. In 1917, while still working for the department, the well-liked officer, husband, and father passed away. Much of the city was devastated. The Police Chief and fellow officers lauded him as “one of the bravest officers who ever wore the blue or swung a nightstick.” Newspapers across the nation exclaimed Lawson’s death noting that the Pacific Coast was now without a single black police officer.

 This article was originally published in Nostalgia Magazine as part of my bi-monthly column “Heroes and Scoundrels.”

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