Seattle Now & Then: Washington National Guard in Tacoma, 1935

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: Eyed by office workers in upper windows, Washington National Guardsmen fitfully use tear gas to ease lumber strikers and spectators back across Pacific Avenue and up the streetcar-tracked 11th Street hill in the late afternoon of July 12, 1935, in downtown Tacoma. The People’s (foreground) and Fisher’s (background) department stores stand prominently on the south (left) side of 11th. (Washington National Guard State Historical Society)
NOW: Backed by banks instead of department stores and posing in the footsteps of their guard predecessors are (from left) Rick Patterson of Dupont, Andy Leneweaver of Tacoma and Bill Woodward of Seattle, authors of “Washington National Guard.” The public can hear their free book presentation to the Pacific Northwest Historians Guild at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Seattle Pacific University library. For more info, visit here, (Clay Eals)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Nov. 28, 2019
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on Dec. 1, 2019)

Keeping their (National) Guard up in downtown Tacoma
By Clay Eals

Those who, like me, are charmed by the hillsides of downtown Tacoma may easily place the setting of our “Then” photo. But the activity bespeaks chaos, not charm.

The image looks west up 11th Street across Pacific Avenue in the late afternoon of Friday, July 12, 1935. Non-union men, desperate for Depression-era work and returning from tideflat lumber mills across the 11th Street Bridge, were confronted by angry hundreds who fueled the famed, summer-long Great Lumber Strike of 1935, a fractious, voluminously documented chapter in state labor history.

To preserve order, Gov. Clarence Martin called in part-time citizen soldiers of the Washington National Guard, who traveled 13 miles north from their Camp Murray headquarters, outfitted with rifles and bayonets and wearing World War I uniforms. Strikers jeered them as “tin hats.”

The photo captures guardsmen deploying tear gas. As thousands watched, a few from behind upper windows, some strikers hurled smoking canisters back at the guardsmen, who wore no masks and faced a stiff easterly wind that blew the acrid chemicals into their eyes. Despite the turmoil, the four-hour uproar produced only a few injuries. No shots were fired. No one died.

The 1935 scene evokes memories of my own – and, I suspect, many others – of a vastly different time and circumstance, when an ill-trained and ill-led Ohio National Guard used tear gas and opened fire during a 1970 anti-war protest at Kent State University, killing four students.

Such infamy, however, does not reside in the track record of this state’s guard, one of 54 such organizations in U.S. states and territories, say authors of a new book. The three – Andy Leneweaver, Rick Patterson and Bill Woodward — embody a combined 96 years of local guard service.

In their plain-titled Washington National Guard, the trio uses 200 photos to spin stories spanning a century and a half. They cover a wide swath of guard service, from protecting Chinese citizens during Seattle’s anti-Chinese riots in 1886 to providing police backup – without using tear gas – during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests, again in Seattle. The photos also depict deeply appreciated disaster relief, such when the fabled 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption enfolded guard soldiers in air and road patrols, search-and-rescue and ash cleanup.

The book does not overlook the guard’s many international military missions, and the authors and their 8,000 peers around the state remain fighters. Their slogan – “always ready, always there” – fits.

“We’re trained to go to war and support the national emergencies,” Patterson says, “but we’re also Washingtonians who care real deeply about our communities. When there’s floods and fires and quakes and volcanoes, we’re ready to jump on board, and we really feel proud about that.”

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard’s 360-degree video of the NOW prospect and compare it with the THEN photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

For hundreds of Seattle, Tacoma and labor newspaper stories about the Great Lumber Strike of 1935, including the incident described above, visit this page of the University of Washington site: “Strikes! Labor History Encyclopedia for the Pacific Northwest.”

Also, below are a 1976 column about the incident, a promotional postcard for the Washington National Guard book and a link to a 27-minute video interview of the book’s authors.

1976 “Labor Pains” column
Promotional postcard for “Washington National Guard” book
Video: Authors (from left) Riock Patterson, Andy Leneweaver and Bill Woodward discuss their new book “Washington National Guard.” (Clay Eals)

 

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