Washington, Washington

I anticipated our trip to Seattle and Olympic National Park typically in the context of one of three things:

  • Warm sun, cool air
  • Hiking in the woods
  • Eating seafood


Taylor Street Shellfish, Seattle

The plan was to spend two nights at an Airbnb apartment in the eclectic Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle and two nights at a lodge on Lake Quinault in Olympic National Park. Jon and I researched restaurants in Seattle, what to see and do on Bainbridge Island, and which trails were accessible near the lodge. Not trying to be cute here – even with all the moving parts, the success of the trip really just depended on finding a tray of good raw oysters.

My mind was not on the plight of Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest, or on a placed called the Manzanar War Relocation Center and the people forced to live there. By the end of our stay, we had gorged on oysters and drank up the booze. We tried a phallic-looking clam called geoduck (pronounced GOOEY-DUCK) and feasted on a piece of salmon soaked in a sweet and sour Meyer-Lemon glaze that still makes me smile when I think about it. But after returning to Chicago, I was Googling variations of “Quinault tribe” and “Manzanar Japanese Americans” to find out more about these two distinct groups of people who at different points in American history were forced to surrender their homes and way of life. Their stories surfaced multiple times on the trip with minimal effort on our part. I was interested because I was bothered. I wanted to know more about these two groups of people who make up a vital part of the history in the Pacific Northwest.


On our second day in Seattle, we took a ferry (or “the boat,” as locals call it) from Seattle proper to Bainbridge Island, Washington. The route to Bainbridge Island is a short, thirty-five minute ride west from Seattle across Puget Sound. Of the approximately 20,000 people currently living on the island, some are retirees, some work there, and others commute to Seattle each day for jobs. In July 2005, Money magazine named it the second-best place to live in the United States. In the downtown district, older museums and shops jut up against new development, but across the island there are still more trees than buildings.

Before settling in at the Bainbridge Island Brewing Company, we wanted to do our due diligence at the Historical Society located just off the main road that runs through the downtown district. The docent, Dick, one of the residents of the island who had commuted to Seattle each day for work prior to retiring, walked us through the highlighted exhibits. Using pictures, maps, a 3-D stereoscopic viewer, and a scale model of the mill site, the first exhibit, titled “Port Blakely: Portrait of a Mill Town,” tells the story of the milling industry that emerged on the island in the mid-1850s. The growing economy transformed the island and drew in large numbers of white settlers as well as Japanese, Hawaiians, Croatians, Native Americans, and Filipinos. By the late 1800s, Bainbridge boasted the world’s largest sawmill, Port Blakely, located on the east side of the island. As a result of this thriving industry, residential communities consisting of schools, churches, and hotels developed near and around the ports.

After the Port Blakely exhibit, Dick led us into a large room covered with thoughtfully-arranged framed pictures, small-scale models of ships, and tools depicting Bainbridge Island’s history, with a focus on the early to mid-20th century. Once the milling industry took a downturn in the 1920s, the different ethnic groups living on the island developed alternative ways to earn a living. They built ships and tools, and the Japanese American community in particular found success farming strawberries through the time leading up to World War II.

Dick stopped at a picture of a famous boulder on the island with primitive scrawl etched into its surface, still of origins unknown. His running joke is asking tourists if they can decipher what it says. Next to the boulder, my eyes caught the work of Marvin Oliver, a local artist and Professor of American Indian Studies and Art at the University of Washington. Oliver is part Quinault and part Isleta-Pueblo, and his contemporary serigraphs of birds and aquatic animals feel steeped in tradition, resembling carvings scene on totem poles, with their vibrant eyes and boldly-colored thick lines. I sensed the serigraphs represented stories important to a group of people indigenous to the area. It really was as simple as reading that the artist is half Quinault and knowing in a few days we were staying at the Quinault Lodge in Olympic National Park that I assumed Quinault people are a significant part of the history of the Pacific Northwest and thought perhaps I’ll Google them later.

A film documentary played quietly in the opposite corner of the room, and surrounding the TV and small sitting area were mid-century newspaper articles and photographs of Japanese Americans going about life both on the island and in what appeared to be a desert environment. This sub-exhibit chronicles the history of Japanese Americans on Bainbridge Island and their involuntary placement at the Manzanar War Relocation Center. Due to the perceived threat of their close proximity to naval bases after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Americans on Bainbridge Island were the first on the west coast to be relocated per FDR’s Executive Order 9066, which allowed for the deportation of Japanese Americans, Italian Americans, and German Americans to incarceration camps.


Part of Executive Order 9066. (Questgarden.com)

On March 30th, 1942, Japanese Americans of Bainbridge Island were forced out of their homes and put on a train. One famous image shows men and women, dressed in nice clothes, carrying luggage across a dock on Bainbridge. Another shows Japanese children waving goodbye from the window of the train, holding the American flag and making a “V” for victory sign with their fingers. They were headed to Manzanar, a desert camp located approximately 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles in Owens Valley, California.


WWII relocation camps in the United States, including Manzanar. (Academic.csuohio.edu)

A separate group of photos showing Japanese Americans going about their daily lives at Manzanar is arranged in the center of the exhibit. This collection, titled Ansel Adams: A Portrait of Manzanar, consists of photos taken by Adams, a photographer famous primarily for his landscapes of the American West. The photos on display in the Bainbridge Historical Museum are part of Adams’ larger collection, titled Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans. Adams requested permission to photograph the Manzanar camp and was given two conditions: no shots of guard towers and no shots of barbed wire. What resulted was an intimate portrayal of Japanese American life inside the incarceration camp.

There are pictures of children playing baseball in the dust, a man reading a book in his bunk, another man smiling and squinting into the sunshine holding two large heads of cabbage, and portraits of stoic yet friendly looking women with coiffed hair and clean dresses. One mannerism stood out to me in the photographs. People frequently posed with their arms straight and hands clasped together in front. They looked so compliant. Not kicking up dust in the desert, literally, let alone acting as a threat to the safety of other United States citizens. Since I do not have copyright permission to post the photographs here on Mixtape, I recommend a trip over to the Library of Congress site to view Adam’s Manzanar collection.


Inside the Bainbridge Historical Society

When he donated the images to the Library of Congress in 1965 Adams wrote, “The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and despair by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment.” Manzanar operated as an incarceration camp from April 1942 to November 1945 and housed more than 10,000 people at its peak. In a letter to his friend Adams wrote, “Through the pictures the reader will be introduced to perhaps twenty individuals . . . loyal American citizens who are anxious to get back into the stream of life and contribute to our victory.”

By the end of WWII, no Japanese Americans had been found guilty of working against the United States. In 1988, President Reagan issued a formal apology and signed the Civil Liberties Act that compensated Americans still alive who were forced to live in camps during WWII.


We spent the second half of our trip at Lake Quinault Lodge, tucked back in the woods of Olympic National Park. Located on the shore of Lake Quinault, the lodge is relatively small as far as lodges go and has the intimacy of a bed and breakfast. Its tagline on the website suggests guests “Step Back in Time and Unwind.” What stood out most about the lodge was the reverence people had as guests. Voices stayed low and nothing moved quickly. This reverence, along with the absence of phones and TVs in the rooms, made the heartbeat of history is palpable.


The Lake Quinault Lodge was built in 1926. Its claim to fame originates from a visit made by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on October 1st, 1937. The story goes that Roosevelt was eating lunch in the dining room (now named the Roosevelt Room) when conversation turned to the possibility of establishing a park in the area. Within the next year, he had signed a bill creating Olympic National Park.

The huge fireplace on the ground floor is the heart of the lodge. A buck’s head hangs over the mantle and Alice in Wonderland-sized black leather couches are on each of its sides. We never had to wait for a spot on the couch. Despite the number of guests on the property, there is enough space for people to be where they want to be. I fell asleep reading my Kindle, guilt-free.

At one point I went to the lodge gift shop to find a souvenir (I ultimately settled on two wine glasses that say “Lake Quinault Lodge – Where the rest comes easy”). I was leafing through a rack of pictures when I came across prints of birds and fish with thick lines and bold colors, swirls within swirls. They were reproductions of serigraphs done by Marvin Oliver, the half-Quinault artist whose work we had first seen at the Bainbridge Island Historical Society. I had never heard of the Quinault people prior to the trip but it quickly became obvious that they, and other tribes for that matter, are a deeply rooted in the past and present of the Pacific Northwest.

The Quinault are named after the location of their largest settlement on the Olympic Peninsula, kwi’nail (present-day Taholah, WA), at the mouth of the Quinault River. The original Quinault fished salmon and steelhead, hunted, picked berries, and gathered wood. The Quinault are known as “The Canoe People” and “The People of the Cedar Tree” because they used the trees in the area to build gigantic canoes. Lewis and Clark noted at one time that the craft were “…upward of 50 feet long, and will carry 8,000 to 10,000 pounds’ weight, of from 20 to 30 persons….” In the 1850’s, the thriving lumber industry drew large numbers of white settlers to the area. Conflict arose between the Native Americans indigenous to the region and the waves of new settlers looking to take advantage of the booming logging industry. With the growing opportunity for capital gain, white settlers sought ownership of the land. The Quinault, along with other “Fish-Eating Indians of western Washington,” found themselves fighting for their homeland.

Isaac Stevens, Governor of the recently formed Washington Territory, was tasked with acquiring land for the government and re-organizing the different tribes onto reservations. On February 20, 1855, Governor Stevens attempted to have the tribes sign a treaty. Three hundred and seventy Native Americans attended the council. The proposed reservation was of little economic value and the tribes rejected the treaty. A second treaty ultimately signed by the Quinault and Quileute tribes was drawn up on January 25th, 1856. It established a 10,000-acre reservation around the village of Taholah, Washington. This site has useful graphics showing how much land was ceded by the tribes and/or taken through executive order.

Today most Quinault live on the tribe’s 208,150-acre reservation, and their economy still involves fishing and logging. They operate the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino at Ocean Shores, as well as the fish processing plant Quinault Pride Seafood, the Quinault Land and Timber Enterprises, and Quinault Mental Health.

I don’t turn every vacation into an intellectual conquest. I was surprised by our trip to Washington. The groups of people we learned about got my attention. What people lost, how they were treated, and how even today, tribes like the Quinault are still fighting to maintain and honor their culture. It’s a privilege to travel, and even though the oysters were delicious, it was more of a privilege to step into the stories of people of the Pacific Northwest.

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