Today's Seattle Now & Then: 'Militia at Main Street'

When these soldiers were photographed, the distinguished Pacific House behind them was nearly new.  Listed as a “commercial block,” it appears in the city’s 1884 birds-eye drawing, although those artist’s renderings were smart to include structures that were only in the planning stage.

The scene looks southwest through the intersection of Main Street and what then was still named Second Avenue (Occidental). The guard may be one of the several militia groups formed in 1884-85 by locals anxious about their boom town filling up with strangers, especially after the transcontinental Northern Pacific was completed late in 1883 and made it much easier to reach Puget Sound.

Or these may be regular soldiers from Fort Vancouver sent here twice: first briefly in November 1885 to prevent action against the about 400 Chinese living for the most part in this neighborhood, and then again in February 1886 to secure the town under martial law.  In between these visits an organized mob – variously rowdy, racist, and resentful – with the help of the city’s chief of police, rounded up the “Celestials” and pushed 197 of them on board one steamship while waiting for another to take away the remainder.

When the courts and local militias intervened, a riot followed one block west of this intersection at First and Main.  One of the mob’s leaders was shot to death. The Governor who again packed the regulars and their rifles north from Vancouver quickly locked the town down.  Some part of them was kept here into August.

A brief reminder: this revelatory story is told beautifully in Murray Morgan’s classic Skid Road, the Seattle history he left with us.

(click to enlarge)

Then: The Pacific House, behind the line-up of white-gloved soldiers, might have survived well into the 20th Century were it not destroyed during Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889. Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry
THEN: The Pacific House, behind the line-up of white-gloved soldiers, might have survived well into the 20th Century were it not destroyed during Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889. Courtesy, MOHAI.
NOW: Completed in 1893, the extremely robust Union Trust Building was one of the first buildings in our most historic neighborhood to be restored by the architect-preservationist Ralph Anderson.  Photo by Jean Sherrard
NOW: Completed in 1893, the extremely robust Union Trust Building was one of the first buildings in our most historic neighborhood to be restored by the architect-preservationist Ralph Anderson. Photo by Jean Sherrard

For a complementary story, looking east on Main from 1st Avenue, please visit this Now & Then from early 2005.

3 thoughts on “Today's Seattle Now & Then: 'Militia at Main Street'”

  1. Rioters beware! Muster up Troopers!
    Reglars to the left, Guards to the right?
    (Embarassing and heroic moments from the Second Battle of Seattle)

    No slight to Murray Morgan, but a reading of Captain George Kinnear’s own first hand score-settling account is in order. One version was published in Bagley’s History of Seattle – From the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time (1916, pages 718-721, available on googlebooks also, but Kinnear’s full article, as published by the soon to be late Seattle PI? January 1, 1911, transcribed from UW Library copy is also to be found at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Anti-Chinese_Riots_At_Seattle

    The latter version of Kinnear’s account seems more original than the Bagley version (not surprising considering Bagley admitted to censoring his histories of embarrassments).

    Kinnear gives a first hand recollection of the 1886 Anti-Chinese riots and the calling out of the Militias and local forces and the regular troops in February 7 – 10 1886, including the shootings of rioters on the 8th.

    It is possible that both the local forces (Seattle Rifles, The Home Guard, and the University Cadets, and Capt Haines’ Company D) and the eventually (Feb 10th) arriving 14th Infantry under Brig. General John Gibbon and Col De Russy could have been both or in combination deployed at the corner of Main and Second to prevent rioters from accessing the Ocean Dock and the steamer/rail station/Celestials. It was a crucial intersection, as was Washington and Second.

    My take on reviewing the photograph is that the dozen plus solders appear to be of two different groups, the regulars on the left, and the irregulars with various hats on the right. Notwithstanding the shared white gloves which some local haberdasher may have provided.

    The rifles all look the same, and are well held by the forces, which initially led me to think that these are NOT irregulars, but on the other hand perhaps the older men remembered well their civil war training.

    The three officers whose backs only are shown seem rather old, perhaps being Capt Kinnear and other village elders?
    A description of Col de Russy would be helpful.

    PS the list of members of the Home Guard at the time of the brief shooting is quite interesting.

    Stephen Edwin Lundgren i Ballard

    PS Isaac Dennniston De Russy, U.S. Army
    the regular 14th Infantry troops were commanded by Isaac Denniston DeRussy (1840-1923), who had been promoted to Lt Col in July 1885 14th Infantry, later to full Colonel of Infantry, 11th Regiment May 19, 1891. Civil and Spanish Wars service, ret as Brig Gen. 1902. Biography and civil war era photograph at http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/idderussy.htm
    Buried at Arlington.

    Interesting speculations: Isaac’s relationship to the earlier soldiers, US and later Confederate Col Lewis Gustav De Russy and his Union serving brother Rene Edward De Russy(after which were named five Forts De Russy in USA and Honolu) is unproven, as the name spacing varies yet Isaac was from Virginia, as were Rene and Lewis De Russy family (all went to West Point).

    Rene, the noted coastal fort builder, also invented the barbette depressing gun carriage, which you may recall defended Seattle at Forts Warden, Casey, etc. Rene only had daughters, to Isaac is not from that descent. A fascinating history of Lewis De Russy’s life doesn’t show a son born in 1840 named Isaac, but perhaps the latter was a nephew of ???

    ah but I digress. Isaac made his own name and led his troops on the muddy Seattle streets of racist infamy.

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