Maxon's Massacre

Posted by: Richenda at Monday December 10, 2007 in

What a rotten day! Usually, I love to spend my time in research, and the bigger the nugget, the yummier! But today, I found out something I would have been gladder not to know.

It turns out my darling Hamilton J. G. Maxon, adventurer, entrepreneur, Capt. in the Cayuse and Rogue River Indian Wars, Major in the Yakima Indian wars, the one who sold half his land to the County Commissioners in 1861 (curious, curious: why? why? why?) that H. J. G. Maxon perpetrated a terrible massacre against unarmed Indians along the banks of the Mashel river in Nisqually in April of 1856.

I admit to shock. Something about researching your subjects makes you fall in love with them. You revel in their squabbles, their triumphs, the day they buried their youngest child—and you want to know more. And all that regular human stuff, their foibles, tragedies, and accomplishments…That crazy mistress. I don’t know, you just fall head over heels in love with the whole business.

And then this.

First thing I did was shake my head in denial. Couldn’t be true! Not my Maxon! Not the guy who built the sawmill and helped his brother after his wife died and left him with five small children. Not that guy.

Then I searched for the truth. And there it was. Reputable sources all confirm it. Maxon was spoiling for a fight. He always seemed like a guy who wanted to be in charge, one who could be a bit of a danger to get on the bad side of. When he ran for office in 1855 he was on the territory ticket for both the house and the council, for both the Democratic and Republican combined ticket! Here’s someone who wants to be the center of the power pyramid.

Make him arrogant, sure. Make him a bit of a butt-head, hey. Pretty sure that would be accurate. But a murderer? War crimes? How terrible is this!

So next I’m looking for reasons why. I’m trying to find some kind of excuse, some justification for his actions that will make him seem a little less terrible. I mean, witnesses said there were only two men at those camp sites, and all the rest women and children. When the Indians saw the soldiers, they all fled. They were shot down as they tried to flee across the river. A woman with a baby on her back was shot in the river and was swept away.

Why? Were these otherwise ‘good’ men? Can anyone who perpetrates such an act ever be considered a ‘good’ man no matter what else he might do or accomplish?

He was frustrated. He was the commander of the Southern Battalion and personally inspired the men who volunteered to serve under him. He resigned his post as a Territorial Legislator to serve his community. But it was complicated. He couldn’t ride like the king of the army like he wanted. He was arrogant. He was told he was subordinate to Col. Benjamin Shaw and that chaffed. As it was, power rivalries between Clark County and Puget Sound were sparking. For Maxon, that he was subordinate to Puget Sound’s Shaw must have been the final straw. He flat refused.

When one of Maxon’s men committed murder, why—WHY did they send Shaw in to make the arrest? As one of Maxon’s volunteers, wasn’t it Maxon who should have made the arrest? Was this one last intolerable sting to a man who wanted the charge of command? Or was Maxon so out of control by then they didn’t feel like Maxon would make his men accountable, even to himself?

But there is no excuse. Maxon and his men unleashed their fury on that helpless group of people. Thirty people died, maybe more. Women. Children. Old men. Babies. There is no excuse. And my heart is broken.

From the Washington State Archives:

They went up the Nisqually to near the canyon, where they discovered a large fishing camp, and here they murdered everyone—men, women and children. But Mr. Evans says, where is your record ? Such as it is, is on pages 37-8 of Governor Stevens’ war message which lies open before me. Here is all there is of it:

‘We [Maxon] continued our returning course next on the trail, being generally in a south and east direction. * * * * Again arrived at Michel prairie. * * * * Having no provisions, I have come to this place, where I await orders.
Signed, H. J. G. Maxon, Capt. Com’d‘g Mounted Rifles.’

“Now read those eight asterisks and you have the massacre. The record is mutilated—it is wanting in completeness. When Governor Stevens printed his message with appendix, he found it too vile in this spot and cut out the account of the massacre—-at any rate it should be in this very spot under date of April, 1856. But it is not there and we must supply it.”

“Under date of Sunday, August 21, 1892 , James Longmire’s account of early days was published in the Ledger and from that I quote one paragraph:

“About this time Governor Curry of Oregon sent a company of troops to our assistance, under Captain Miller. Indians were still stealing horses and killing cattle. A band of these robbers were followed by Captain Maxon to the Michel River, where the last one of them was killed.

“Robert Thompson, who now lives at 24th and South C Street, Tacoma, was present when Maxon’s company attacked this camp and I quote a letter from him on this subject:

“Tacoma, Oct. 29th, 1893.
“James Wickersham.—Dear Sir: I know about the killing of the Indians by Maxon’s company on the upper Nisqually. They killed about fifteen to seventeen, maybe more. I saw the dead ones—two in the river. but two men among them.

Comment from Abbi Wannacott:

I just finished writing a book about the whole thing. It’s called Where the Mashel Meets the Nisqually. In case you are interested. I have all of Maxon’s original letter. That excerpt of Meeker’s book you are quoting is actually a portion of Wickersham 1893 speech. He was wrong about the letter.


Posted by: Richenda at Wednesday November 14, 2007 in

I went to college in the nineties, so I know what postmodernism is. It’s that abstract thing—the name for a mindset or worldview—that we all picked up from just being alive in the 20th century and supposedly we are all trapped inside it.

This intangible thing is like a brain funnel. Imagine ‘modernism’ has a shape. Now imagine that shape is a hat. Now imagine that the second we are born, the nurses clap this ‘modernism hat’ on our heads and we can never take it off. The hat covers our whole head and all our senses. The hat does not have eye holes, you have to see through it, and all you see is filtered by it. Same with taste and smell. And as your head grows, your skull and your brain conform to the shape of the hat. In the end, your brain is ‘modernism’ shaped. (And so is everyone else’s.)

Then, someone comes along, someone with a modernism-shaped head, and says that post-modernism is something new. lol. I know this isn’t a popular pov, but in my humble opinion, ‘post-modernism’ is a ‘modernism’ hat. We imagine that it’s not, however. We think it’s ‘new.’ More intellectual. You know you are a postmodernist if you get to feel smug and self-indulgent inside your modernist shaped brain. You’ve got the goods on everyone else! lol. You see their follies and…Something Must Be Done About it!

But… must we “do something!” Or is that’s yet another modern perspective?

But, okay. Let’s get serious. What should we do?
(1) quit worrying about it so much and
(2) quit obsessing while we’re at it.

Derrida was a genius, true, but he was an annoying genius. That whole ‘gift’ thing is a nasty bag of snakes. Watch while a linguistics professor takes that Russian nesting-doll thing straight into the crotch of insanity. Yup, Derrida is to modernism what Ogres are to onions. lol. It’s pointless, and that’s the point. Arg. And it just doesn’t get us anywhere.

[I’ll have to interrupt myself and admit that it does get us a little teensy bit of somewhere. It gets us zen. If we let the complexity lead us to nothingness (the sound of one hand clapping) instead of analysis, then perhaps what postmodernism offers us is the opportunity to unravel.]


Part of the trouble is that we all just can’t shut up about it. We’re stuck and we don’t care who knows it. Modernism brain isn’t a new concept to try out anymore. It doesn’t listen and all its ideas have already been thought up. It’s old hat. The thing is totally unresponsive and we’ve all become cement-heads as a result. Being stuck is unsatisfying and uncomfortable.

So, it’s good to recognize that your brain has been formed into a particular shape, and that this shape has limitations. But it does not follow that there is anything ‘wrong’ with that and it must be diagnosed and fixed (and taken out behind the barn and beaten half to death). We’re HUMANS. Human brains are goopy and full of neurons and they are supposed to take a shape. What modernistpostmodernism (yes, I wrote that on purpose) fails to grasp is that this, too, will be alright. All that anxiety, all that worry over how to think…lol. So don’t think.

Imagine now that the modernism hat is getting heavy. A cool rain has started. That hat is soaking up that rain, it’s getting thick and squishy, and, like sodden paper mache, it starts to pull apart and slide away in thickish, milky chunks. It splashes ‘plonk’ onto the ground. Can you feel it between your toes? Just let it go.

Fear Not! There are angels in our (mist)midst.

Material Culture!

Posted by: Richenda at Monday November 5, 2007 in

I got another book!

(Arg…two kids in college I do NOT have the budget for this.)


Thank you Bailgate Books! I always know I’ve gotten something wonderful when I get a parcel in the mail from the UK. You just can’t get some of this stuff in the states.

This book is another of the Antiquary’s Books, English Church Furniture by J. Charles Cox and Alfred Harvey, second edition 1908. It did not disappoint, chock full of sketches, a number of plates… And the best part? Wedged between pages 95 and 96 were a few bonus articles, clipped, copied and saved by some previous owner who, it seems to me, anyway, is as nuts about the medieval church as I am.

Yup. The material culture of a fellow book loving, newspaper clipping, ‘print-button’ pressing ecclesi-enthusiast. The only thing better might be a plentiful gloss penciled messily in the margins.

I blanked out the text above because I’m not sure about copyright. The article is dated 1939, and so may still be protected. I am posting the clipping here as a material culture ‘artifact’, not as an article. (Though the article is deadly wonderful, as well. I bet the British Library online would have a copy if you wanted to read it.)

So…who is M. Hudleston? Her name is in the book. Is she the originator of the treasure ‘tween pages 95 and 96? Is she the one who carefully saved the article The Story of Church Doors, from The Sign, dated 1939? Is the article Seats in Church copied out in her hand? How cool is this?

BTW. Belated congratulations (seventy years late) to Mr. Josiah Mason-Guttridge and Sir Robert Abbott Hatfield. And wishing Sir John Gilmour a speedy answer to the wheat question.

Lummi Island Getaway

Posted by: Richenda at Sunday October 28, 2007 in

Ooo… What a treat! Jon and I have escaped to Lummi Island for a long weekend. As we speak I am enjoying a jazzy, acoustic serenade and devil’s chocolate birthday cake from yesterday. Sweet, sweet, sweet.

My man, my musician:

I’m going to heartily recommend Lummi (like ‘yummy’) Island for a weekend get-away. It’s especially perfect for those folks who have a kid at Western Washington University. It’s close enough to Bellingham to see your kid, but still an ‘away from it all’ northern Island paradise with a population of about 1400: artists, musicians, families, a few recluses, a few yuppies, and us. What a life.

Willows Inn is located on the south side of the island right by the water. Lovely, really lovely. A big country-comfortable house built in 1914 and now a bed and breakfast. There’s a big five star kitchen upstairs, and a cozy pub downstairs called the Tap Root.

The Willows Inn pub.

The view of Orcas Island from Sunset Beach in front of the Willows Inn.

And, yup. I rode a bicycle. That’s what they do here, the crazy, in-shape fools. And I, too, rode a bike and lived to tell the tale. I was pretty sure the whole thing would lead to my abject humiliation. As I checked under the seat for spiders, my near future played out in my mind: Me, after just a few short yards, falling off the bicycle onto the rocks, panting and gasping and left without even enough strength to crawl under a rock to hide my shame. lol. Um… I’m not kidding here.

Instead I biked six miles! And the scenery was worth it. There are still fishing float tracks that lead to the sea. (Be careful. They hurt your bum when you ride over them.) And there are cows. And sheep. And Llamas. And horses. We also passed a weathered old house that the locals call the Rat Palace. I guessed it right, built in the 1890s. Wouldn’t it be great to see this old house restored?

Granger Ranch cows:

The Rat Palace:

So, I am now the bicycle king. lol. We rode six miles yesterday and seven today. We rode all the way round the northern half of the island. (Okay. So we walked some of it. The hilly bits.) We stopped at a couple of cute shops near the ferry dock. That’s the only way on or off the island, btw, you have to take the ferry. And someone was nice enough to pay my son’s ferry fare when he came to visit because he didn’t have the $2. Thank you kind stranger!

The Whatcom Chief ferry at night:

Some other pictures from our trip:

Liftoff! Our trip begins on Friday night with a little something for the road.

Breakfast with Nathan on Saturday morning at Tony’s Coffee in Fairhaven. What a bustle-y breakfast spot. Delicious. I can heartily recommend the Eggs Toulouse.

After Saturday breakfast, Nathan gave us a quick parent’s tour of WWU. Western’s campus mixes whimsy into its open spaces. I especially liked this little guy perched with his rock. This is just a portion of the overall ‘work.’ A lot of fun.

After we arrived on the island Saturday, we strolled up Sunset Beach. At the top are a number of tide-smoothed sandstone boulders. Someone placed river rock into the pockets in the stone to make this imaginative and lively art-of-place.

We biked past this picturesque church on Sunday morning, the Lummi Island Congregational Church. I said to my husband as I took this picture, “Now I can tell Bryan I went to church on Sunday!” Actually, had I known it was there I might have gone to services. How cool is that? A lovely island church.

Update: The church has a website!

One large Step for World Peace

Posted by: Richenda at Friday October 12, 2007 in

I hate to be so flippant in the title, because what I am blogging about today is so important. But I can’t help the joy that I feel. I mean, what happened today in a ‘big international’ way is just a reflection of the small, every day acts of tolerance and understanding that are already taking place, and really will change our world for the better.

Today I learned of a letter sent to His Holiness the Pope by a group of 130 Muslim scholars, a letter which represents a “consensus” of the best minds within the faith. Reading the letter I am struck by how sincerely the writer seems to want to communicate and how important it seems to him to make clear the tenets of the Muslim faith so that we can perhaps move past outdated perspectives and assumptions.

I am a person of great ignorance. There is so much to know, and I know about enough to make a bead of water from a drop of dew. And, I am absolutely not going to wade ignorantly into the crevasse that is Religious Politics. (I prefer to be an observer from afar, and hope I learn something.) Besides, even if I did try to make some sort of intelligent remark, there is no way I can speak my many and complex feelings. Where could I hope to start?


No small part of me is overjoyed in the promise and potential of this letter. No small part of me is hopeful beyond imaginings that we can turn to this kind of dialog in place of the kind of misinformation that leads to acts of violence.

Can I dream about a world of shared understanding and a global peace? Today I think I can. And I am going to hope tomorrow is the same.

I don’t know much about this website, but I will pass the link along. The site is called The Official Site of the Common Word. The letter is titled A Common Word Between Us and You. You can find a PDF of the letter posted on Common Word, with a text based summary of the letter posted here

— Richenda

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