2009-02-15 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.

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