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Mapping Home, Tracing Change--Taking Bearings (The Wild Card) by Adam M. Sowards - Issue #9
What archival maps show about where I grew up.
A few prefatory words
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This week is the Wild Card, and I went searching through archival maps of where I grew up. Read on!
(A note: Many of the maps shared below were too large to embed in this newsletter, so I've used screenshots but included links where you can explore them in more detail.)
All Americans grew up on Indigenous land, even if we rarely acknowledge or consider that basic historical and geographical fact. For some of us, the ties feel close and hard to forget.
I grew up within the boundaries of the Tulalip Indian Reservation. As a kid, I didn’t understand much of what that meant. As I became a historian, I understood more of it in a general sense, usually within a national or regional framework. The local details remained mostly murky.
I don’t like murky much, so for this Wild Card issue of the newsletter, I decided to explore maps of home that I could find online at the National Archives. I was drawn to details from these and other artifacts. Much remains murky, but some contours of the stories and histories of my childhood place started to emerge.
Treaty & Reservation
I cannot begin at the beginning, with time immemorial, if I’m aiming to share artifacts, so let me begin at an end.
On January 22, 1855, a collection of Indigenous leaders agreed to a treaty, each one marking an “X” on the paper. “Agree” exaggerates the level of consensus represented on the pages.
Named after its signing spot, the Treaty of Point Elliott (now, Mukilteo) ceded more than 9,100 square miles and reserved just 69 square miles, or 44,192 acres in several reservations. The largest one centered at Tulalip Bay, assumed to be the central reservation on Puget Sound. When you read the treaty, however, you find only general locations.
Meanwhile, the Senate took more than four years to finally ratify the treaty in April 1859. Nevertheless, the treaty instructed tribes to relocate to reservations the year following the signing at Point Elliott, 1856.
Officialdom delayed things further. Not until 1873 was the Tulalip Reservation surveyed. The map and Executive Order (shown below) shows the surveyed boundaries with President Ulysses Grant’s signature appended to it. Finally, on paper, with accurate townships and ranges laid out, this corner of the earth entered the bureaucracy. In the time between signing the treaty and establishing Tulalip’s boundaries, the United States fought a civil war and impeached a president; during that stretch, the presidency passed from Franklin Pierce to James Buchanan to Abraham Lincoln to Andrew Johnson to Grant. Efficiency and stability do not characterize the era, regardless of the straight lines and numbered squares.
One note of interest. The Executive Order defines this as the “Snohomish or Tulalip Reservation.” The Treaty of Point Elliott does not reference “Tulalip” other than as a place name—Tulalip Bay. In fact, Tulalip was a Snohomish word to describe the bay. Although the Tulalip Tribes are federally recognized today, there was no “Tulalip Tribe” at the treaty signing. The reservation became home instead to Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skagit, and many other allied bands.
A year after the initial survey, a more complete one appeared. Zoom in on this map and you can see a mission site, the telegraph line and trail, and a few ditches and other landmarks, mostly unnamed on the map. Within two decades, a living Indigenous territory from Puget Sound to the Cascade Mountains shrunk down to a checkerboard with surveyors notations, precise and static.
As solid as those lines appear, however, federal policy toward tribes shifted. In 1887, the General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act after its major sponsor, passed Congress and soon ripped apart reservations across the continent. Senator Henry Dawes believed the root of civilization rested in selfishness (his word) and thought individual land ownership would cultivate the values necessary to produce citizens. It was a narrow view and one at odds with the communal values that guided most Indigenous communities.
The Dawes Act worked like this:
A reservation was surveyed. Every head of household was allotted a quarter-section, or 160 acres. Single adults and orphans received half that. Forty acres were set aside for children. Once all that land went to individuals, the remaining land—what the government called “surplus land”—was thrown open to settlement by whites. Across the continent, the result proved disastrous. In the years the law remained in effect, 1887 to 1934, tribal holdings shrank from 140 million acres to 52 million acres.
For many tribal communities who had suffered from war and disease, their lower population meant reservations included significant “surplus land.” At the Tulalip Reservation, though, only 95 allotments were made, and several hundred people were not accommodated, according to Harriette Shelton Dover’s account, Tulalip, From My Heart: An Autobiographical Account of a Reservation Community.
This map—with notations dating to 1913—illustrates part of allotment's results. A name is etched on each allotment. My Marysville friends are likely to notice familiar names of neighbors, friends, and classmates
A second set of information embedded on a contemporaneous map requires an even closer look and reveals something just as powerful about this historical moment. If you look at the details, you can make out a series of letters and numbers. When you examine the map’s legend, you see those figures represent timber values, estimates of potential board feet. Here, the piece of land became abstracted to economic values, perhaps even the roots of selfishness Senator Dawes hoped individuals on reservations would imbibe.
After a half-century, vast living landscapes became Douglas fir board feet. The end result as envisioned in Senate chambers appeared something like this: a family unit in a wooden house, the presumed head of it working as a logger.
That end result also looked liked this map showing how logging proceeded from the coast inland, as well as concentrating adjacent to the railroad:
Or a proposed timber sale:
These maps illustrate, in two dimensions, a significant change. The land-use transformation was well begun a century ago and would have been unrecognizable the half-century before. Much less today:
When I dug into the digital archives to search—in quite the cursory way—the place where I grew up, I knew few details about Tulalip's history. Instead, I brought only a serviceable explanation of national policy—and an abiding interest in maps. The history displayed visually suggests local stories with specific implications, opportunities to dig deeper. The shifts in property ownership and the incursion of the timber economy both represent transformed ways of moving on the landscape for the Suiattle and Suquamish and others.
One critical part of life not represented here is fish, the salmon so central to Northwest peoples. That leads to more questions about the (in)adequacy of historical records.
And that’s what historical research usually does…raises more questions, especially in the gaps and silences.
Besides the archival material linked above, I relied mainly on Harriette Shelton Dover, Tulalip, from My Heart: An Autobiographical Account of a Reservation Community; Pauline Hillaire, Rights Remembered: A Salish Grandmother Speaks on American Indian History and the Future; and Alexandra Harmon, Indians in the Making: Ethnic Relations and Indian Identities around Puget Sound.
I have some book signings coming up that I invite those of you in the Puget Sound region to attend. I'd be so glad to see you and several of your friends in person.
The first is September 29th at Browsers Books in Olympia where I'll be in conversation with Lauren Danner:
The second is October 20th at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park:
Adam M. Sowards presents 'Making America's Public Lands' and 'An Open Pit Visible from the Moon' | Third Place Books What makes wilderness wild? What does America have to do with it?
Taking Bearings Next Week
We've cycled through my four newsletter types twice now, so next week, we're back to The Classroom. I'll be moving to the inland Northwest for a lesson in planning.
As always, thank you for reading and please share.