by Logan Camporeale

Tag: Spokane (Page 1 of 2)

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.

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.”

Thanksgiving in Spokane: A Tradition of Volunteerism

Volunteers will make 400 happy tomorrow

Tom’s Turkey Drive has been feeding Spokane’s less fortunate for the past seventeen Thanksgiving holidays. The food drive, a collaborative community effort, collected and distributed over 11,000 Thanksgiving meals in 2016. Countless business and individuals donated to the cause and over 7,000 volunteers gave their time. Participating in Tom’s Turkey Drive is a tradition for Spokanites, a tradition building on over 110 years of charity and volunteerism surrounding Turkey Day.  

Feeding the poor on Thanksgiving has been an annual tradition in Spokane since it’s early years. "The newsboys, messenger boys, poor women and children of the city, will eat turkey and cranberry sauce tomorrow,” The Spokane Press proclaimed in late November 1904. The Volunteers of America, a national organization with a Spokane chapter, took on the huge task of feeding the city’s needy. A large group of volunteers prepared endless stacks of meals, set tables and chairs in the banquet room of city hall, and fed nearly a thousand people a festive Thanksgiving dinner—and they did it every year.

Maud Booth, along with her husband, founded the Volunteers of America in 1896. The Spokane chapter, one of the first, opened that same year.

Much as it is today, the effort was a collaborative one. Local markets and stores donated meat, and the organizers encouraged community members to contribute. But not everyone was generous, and The Spokane Press, a worker’s newspaper, was critical of the greedy: “The cost of feeding 1000 poor will not exceed what one rich man of Spokane would expend in entertaining 50 of his friends at his house. Yet the rich man sits in his elegant home, bounteously provided for amid magnificent surroundings, and gives no thought to his less fortunate fellow man.”

Although the paper was critical of the overindulged, it also engaged in poor shaming. The paper referred to the poor as “street urchins,” a “hungry mob,” and the “lowliest walks of life.” The paper and it’s readership hated bosses and big business owners, but it also disdained folks surviving on the backs of donors.

The newspaper, however, is clear about its stance on those that volunteer:

"The Volunteers do it lovingly, cheerfully and without thanks in many cases. The busy world looks on, remarks it is a good thing, but lend no helping hand.
God Bless The Volunteers.
I wish that there were more of them.”


Let me take this opportunity to thank all of the wonderful volunteers with whom I have worked. You make the world a better place.





#GreatFire1889

Spokane Daily Chronicle Tent After Great Fire

A few weeks ago a local history buff shared a fun idea. He proposed to live-tweet Spokane’s Great Fire of 1889. It was a brilliant thought, but unfortunately it surfaced just three days before the 128th anniversary of the tragic event. Knowing that time was working against us, I reached out to some potential partners and called for a meeting the next day to brainstorm and to do the work of writing the tweets. Fortunately, quite a few folks were compelled by the idea and a handful of us convened in the archives reading room at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, where I work as the Volunteer Coordinator. Creating the tweets was a blast and it was exciting to see the project come together on such short notice, so exciting that my former professor and fellow historian blogged about it.

Despite our rushed timeline to make the event happen, it was wildly successful. Before any of the tweets were even published, the event was featured on the front page, above-the-fold, in our local newspaper. (It must be expensive to advertise on the front page of the paper, eh?) The event only got more successful, drawing increased engagement and interest over the next 48 hours. (Including an additional newspaper article prompted by a #GreatFire1889 tweet.)

From an observational point of view, the #GreatFire1889 Tweet event was the most engaging social media interaction the museum has ever done. The tweets drew over thirty replies with a variety of different responses.

Some tweeters shared additional historical knowledge that they had on the fire. Some tweeters asked questions hoping to clarify historical details. And my favorite tweeters took on the persona of an individual living in early Spokane, and responded as if they were experiencing the Great Fire live.

These replies show the level and type of engagement that the event encouraged. It is important to recognize that people were experiencing a deeper level of interaction with these tweets. 

They weren’t just tapping like or retweet, or asking what time the galleries open, they were thinking critically about this historic event. Live-tweeting historic events reminds us that, when given the opportunity, the community has input to add to important discussions about the past.

But, most marketing folks and social media managers are interested in the numbers—like how many engagements were made and how many new followers gained? I have done my best to capture that data and I am happy to share it, with the the hope that it will inspire more institutions to live-tweet historic events—not only because it is fun and engaging, but because it drives interest to your institution, current exhibit, or collections. Below is a brief rundown of some of the numbers, and here is a spreadsheet with the data that twitter makes available.

Twitter data for all tweets posted by @NorthwestMuseum in 72 hours from 8/4/2017-8/7/2017:

  • Total impressions:  98,449
  • Total engagements:  4,026
  • Total replies: 38
  • Total likes: 686
  • Total retweets: 275
  • Total museum profile clicks from a Great Fire tweet: 453
  • Total new followers: Approximately 150
    (Twitter does not allow you to query how many new followers over a certain date range, so this was for August 1-8, 2017.)

For comparison, here are the numbers for all 41 tweets the museum tweeted during the entire month of July, 2017:

  • Total impressions: 43,501
  • Total engagements: 1,207
  • Total replies: 12
  • Total likes: 296
  • Total retweets: 95
  • Total museum profile clicks from all tweets: 58
  • Total new followers: 30

The @NorthwestMuseum is planning to live-tweet some other historic events, and I will continue to make observations and collect data that I look forward to sharing with you in the future. Shoutout and a big thank you to Tom McArthur, Anna Harbine, Jaymee Donelson, Katie Enders, Larry Cebula, and John Webster.





Jimmy Arnston: Bad Boy Bandit

Mugshot of Jimmy Arnston

Mugshot of Jimmy Arnston. Photo credit: Washington State Archives.

This is the first in a series of stories about a slippery criminal who caught my attention.

On a cold morning in December 1931 a train sped across central Washington carrying passengers from Portland to Spokane. Sheriff George G. Miles of Spokane County was on the train escorting a wanted convict back to Spokane to stand trial. The monotony of the central Washington landscape may have lulled the Sheriff into inattention. The convict, Jimmy Arnston, quickly picked the lock on his handcuffs and dove through a window of the moving train. The conductor abruptly stopped the train. Sheriff Miles and a bounty hunter jumped from the train car and gave pursuit. Firing shots as they ran, chasing the convict over snowy hills. He was apprehended and the journey to Spokane continued. Arnston later recalled that “it didn’t take any nerve to jump off.”

Jimmy Arnston was wanted in Spokane for the brazen robbery of the Blumauer-Frank Wholesale Drug company. In September of 1931, Arnston led a gang of robbers who broke into the drug company building, bound and gagged the night watchman, and stole narcotics. According to the Spokesman-Review, the drugs were “worth $15,000 at bootleg prices.”  

It was not Arnston’s first brush with the law. A few months earlier, Spokane Police warned the public that the most skilled gang of “safe cracksmen” in the Northwest was headed to town for the Fourth of July. Police Chief Wesley H. Turner explained that “with the noise of fireworks, the sound of a safe being blown would attract little attention. The temptation will probably be too much for the gang to overlook.” He continued, “if they don’t pick Spokane for their holiday, some other city of the district probably will get a visit from them.”

Newspaper headline about arrival of Arnston's gang.

Arnston missed the holiday in Spokane - but returned a few months later for the drug company robbery. Spokane was a favorite target of Jimmy and his gang. Detectives had identified them as the main suspects in multiple other Spokane burglaries including those of the J.C. Penny Store, Garden Dance Palace, the Kilmer & Sons Hardware Store, and the Garrett, Stewart, and Sommer Store. Police had arrested Jimmy in the Garden Dance Palace case in February 1931. He was charged with holding up a merchant policeman while his gang made off with $1100. Authorities were shocked when a Spokane jury acquitted Arnston of burglary and robbery on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

When the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railroad came into town with Arnston in the custody of Sherriff Miles, authorities had their man. Now they just needed a conviction. Arnston’s trial began promptly in early January 1932. The prosecution's star witness, the night watchman of the drug company, testified that he was certain it was Jimmy Arnston who stole the drugs and threatened his life. He identified Jimmy in the courtroom and exclaimed “that is the man who held the gun on me, sitting over there with the black hair. I know him by his size, his voice and his eyes.”

In a dramatic piece of testimony, the watchman told the court that Arnston had threatened to kill him while holding a gun to his head. Once the robbers had pilfered the drugs, “they tied my hands with tape and put a gag in my mouth and then tied a handkerchief over my face. They laid me down on the floor and tied my feet,” explained the watchman.

The testimony was damning but Arnston’s attorney waged the best defense he could. His lawyer was a straight shooter with the jury. He told them “we are not going to try to prove that these men are angels, their records show differently.” He explained that Jimmy had come to Spokane in September for just one reason, to support his wife, Helen Harlowe, who was facing a vagrancy charge in the city. Although he was in town the night of the robbery, the defense argued he could not have been involved in the robbery because on that very evening he was busy getting drunk at Liberty Lake. According to Arnston, him and a few friends had three gallons of alcohol which left them too drunk to move and certainly too drunk to commit robbery.

Despite his compelling alibi, on January 6, 1932 Jimmy Arnston was convicted of robbery and burglary in Spokane County Superior Court. He was sentenced to twelve years in prison and immediately sought an appeal to the Supreme Court. While awaiting his appeal, Jimmy was held at the Spokane County Jail.

Arnston, a popular figure with police throughout the Northwest, was also appealing a conviction for burglary in Snohomish County. Sheriff Miles placed Arnston in the most secure cell block of the jail. The prisoner was not happy with his accommodations. Using a three-inch piece of a hacksaw blade he sawed his way through his cell bars and was cutting through the outer walls when a deputy sheriff discovered him. “Arnston had woven a rope from mattress cloth to help him in his daring try for freedom,” explained the local newspaper.

Photo of the Oregon Boot

Oregon Boot. Photo credit: University of Washington Digital Collections.

The Sheriff was understandably frustrated. He placed Jimmy in the cell adjoining the jailor’s office and locked an Oregon Boot on him, a strange and inhumane prisoner restraint. A modern version of the ball and chain, the boot was a heavy iron collar that locked around a prisoner's ankle. The boot had extreme physical consequences for those who wore it for any extended period of time. The constant weight of the boot caused permanent damage to prisoners hips and knees while the metal collar rubbed their skin raw. Due to the health problems it caused, Oregon discontinued the boot for long term use in 1878. The Oregon Boot had fallen out of favor by the 1930s and was used primarily for transporting prisoners. It seems Jimmy was a special exception.

Newspaper headline about Arnston's move to the penitentiary.

On February 18, 1932 his Snohomish appeal was denied and Arnston was transported to the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla to serve six years. Sheriff Miles was relieved to see Jimmy go. Now the “bad boy bandit” was someone else’s problem.

« Older posts

© 2024 The Local History

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

css.php