(Published in the Seattle Times online on Aug. 6, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Aug. 9, 2020)
The unseen letters of ‘Doc’ Maynard reveal poignancy and pride
By Clay Eals
Talk about destiny.
Chris Braaten entered this world Aug. 14, 1950, inside Maynard Hospital, a long-gone First Hill facility named for Chris’ great-great-great grandfather – the storied Seattle physician and promoter David “Doc” Maynard, who befriended and named our city for Seattle, the Duwamish and Suquamish chief.
The birth merited a Seattle Times blurb quoting Chris’ mother, Margret. “We have a lot of Dr. Maynard’s letters and papers at home,” she said. “I think Chris will get a thrill out of looking them over a few years from now.”
Today, Chris has delivered on his mom’s hunch, donating to the Southwest Seattle Historical Society 35 handwritten letters unseen by the public, including 25 by Maynard from 1850 to 1873, the year he died at age 64, and five by his second wife, Catherine.
It’s a priceless, scholarly gift to a fitting repository. The historical society’s Log House Museum stands just east of Maynard’s late-1850s farmsite near Alki Beach.
The letters total 112 pages that once had been slipped between magazine pages in a damp family shed at Seola Beach at the south end of West Seattle.
Chris, of Tucson, began to “look them over” 30 years ago. With a typewriter, he transcribed the earliest 17 of the faint missives. (A niece later transcribed two others. A brother-in-law digitized them all.)
Maynard’s letters addressed his grown children, Henry and Frances, whom he had left and failed to lure to Seattle from the Midwest. In 53 transcribed pages, the gregarious tippler whom “Skid Road” author Murray Morgan said “preached the gospel of Seattle’s certain greatness” waxes at length, with misspellings, about everything from coal mines to Catherine’s motherly instinct.
Throughout are poignant fatherly yearnings. “In you two,” he writes Feb. 26, 1854, “are wraped (sic) my troubles and anxieties & my bitter in these my latter days.”
Maynard also touts his territorial appointment as “agent” for local Native Americans, for whom he sought inter-tribal peace during their wars with settlers on Puget Sound.
There can be no avoiding his privileged promotion of white settlers at Native Americans’ expense. “They will fight,” he writes on Nov. 4, 1855. “There is no reason why they (sho)uld not, but we must conquer them.”
Still, on March 30, 1856, based on business and medical transactions with them, Maynard takes pride in building a “friendly feeling.” On Nov. 28, 1858, he says he must close because “the old Indian chief after whom I named the town of Seattle is here to talk with me.”
The museum will preserve and finish transcribing these unique letters and use them in exhibits and a possible book. As Chris’ mom foretold in 1950, this prospect will give students of Seattle “a thrill.”
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!
A follow-up Zoom session on the Maynard house, featuring Phil Hoffman, historian, and Mardy Topeke, owner of the house, is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, sponsored by the Mukilteo Historical Society.
The Southwest Seattle Historical Society panel was composed of three experts (see the next three photos):
Below are seven additional photos, as well as six clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column. As a bonus, you will find a 40-minute video of the Maynard letter-donation ceremony. Enjoy!