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Connecting curious minds with uncommon, undeniably Northwest reads

Arctic Explorer’s Story Finally Told

Ernest Leffingwell with sled dogs 

As a member of the 1906 Anglo-American Polar Expedition, Arctic explorer Ernest deKoven Leffingwell (1875–1971) helped determine the edge of the continental shelf—the first solid evidence that searching for land north of Alaska was likely futile. The University of Chicago-trained geologist remained on Flaxman Island, and with assistance from his indigenous neighbors, was the first to define and chart the geography and geology of the region. His groundbreaking work included creating detailed, accurate maps of Alaska’s northeast coast (now part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), pioneering studies of ground ice (permafrost), explaining ice wedges, and identifying the Sadlerochit Formation, Prudhoe Bay oilfield’s main reservoir. He also observed birds and collected wildlife specimens for the Smithsonian and other institutions. “One hundred years later we’re still rediscovering things he discovered,” permafrost expert and consultant Torre Jorgenson commented.

Still, apart from geology specialists, none of it was enough to attract much notice—until Janet R. Collins, who spent thirty years as the director and map librarian at Western Washington University’s Huxley Map Library—decided Leffingwell deserved more recognition. She started giving presentations about his life, and the interest they generated led to her new biography, On the Arctic Frontier: Ernest Leffingwell’s Polar Explorations and Legacy, just published by Washington State University (WSU) Press.

At the turn of the twentieth century, people were eager for scientific knowledge about the Arctic and Antarctic. Geographic societies and wealthy individuals like Alexander Graham Bell, John D. Rockefeller, and the Duchess of Bedford helped finance new explorations—including the Anglo-American Polar Expedition. For Leffingwell, it was a calling. He relied on and socialized with Inupiaq families. His favorite meat was caribou and he preferred fur to wool. Yet despite his passion for the Arctic, it wasn’t easy. Loneliness, snow blindness, weather-sensitive instruments, and the exhausting rigors of sledge travel pushed the meticulous, driven leader to his limits. Through trial and error, he coped with the drifting ice floes, interminable darkness, and bitter cold of a harsh, polar environment.

Leffingwell recorded his findings in the 250-page U.S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 109. To write her biography, Collins utilized that report as well as published and unpublished writing by a variety of polar expedition members, newspaper articles, and Leffingwell family papers and memories. Along with his accomplishments, she portrays Leffingwell’s interactions with Native friends, whalers, traders, fellow scientists, and others, and conveys his thoughts about daily life with all of its challenges, frustrations, and triumphs.

On the Arctic Frontier is available through bookstores nationwide, direct from WSU Press at 800-354-7360, or online at A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.

On the Arctic Frontier cover

Award-Winning Journalist’s New Book Challenges Traditional Modoc War History

The 1873 Modoc War was the most expensive Indian conflict in American history, and the only one in which a general—E. R. S. Canby—was killed. Now, utilizing his skills as an award-winning broadcast journalist, author Jim Compton (1941–2014) tells the story in the newest title from Washington State University (WSU) Press, Spirit in the Rock: The Fierce Battle for Modoc Homelands. Following his sudden death, the author’s wife, Carol Arnold, a retired trial attorney, fulfilled his ambitions with a final edit and submission for publication.

Veteran correspondent Compton’s narrative examines events and experiences from a variety of angles, including those of Modoc warriors, army foot soldiers, and cavalry officers. Forced to fight for their ancestral territory in a brutal, bloody, and unjust dispute, the Modoc utilized guerilla tactics against the U.S. Army from a naturally protective setting—lava beds in what is now northern California. They fended off attacks by roughly a thousand soldiers, humiliating army troops and challenging their leaders. During peace negotiations, a charismatic Modoc chief known as Captain Jack fatally shot Canby. Four of Jack’s comrades betrayed him, he was captured, and the war ended. Captain Jack and three others were quickly tried and hanged at Fort Klamath.

Spirit in the Rock breaks important new ground as it analyzes underlying causes of the war. For the first time, the book details the schemes that ultimately drove the Modoc from their traditional homelands along the Lost River, calling attention to the intimate relationship between the Applegates and Frances Fuller Victor, whose flattering portrait of the famous Oregon pioneer family in various historical annals clouded understanding of the Modoc War for over a century.

A preface by respected educator and member of the Navajo Nation, Vivian Arviso, illuminates ways Native American traditions and spirituality influenced events. She also explains that the existence of the Modoc people today is a tribute to Captain Jack’s leadership, the participation of women and children in defending their land and livelihood, and the Modoc cultural spirit. In addition, historian Boyd Cothran’s afterword describes how the Modoc War shaped national perceptions of the Native American fight for survival in the West.

Original black and white photographs from the author’s private collection illustrate the story, and color images by Seattle photographer Bill Stafford reveal a contemporary view of Modoc Country. Text and maps highlight the army’s strategies as well as the brilliant maneuvers made by Modoc warriors.

Meticulously researched and footnoted, with an extensive bibliography, the book also explains why the U.S. Attorney General ordered a military tribunal to try Captain Jack as a belligerent of a foreign power. One hundred and thirty years later, the George W. Bush administration cited this precedent to justify rendition and military trial of terrorists.

Spirit in the Rock is paperback, 6″ x 9″, 334 pages in length, and lists for $27.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide, or direct from WSU Press at 800-354-7360 or online at A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.


Spirit in the Rock cover

WSU Press Title Wins Mining History Association Award

Washington State University Press is pleased to announce that All for the Greed of Gold: Will Woodin’s Klondike Adventure, has won the 2017 Mary Lee Spence Documentary Book Award. The prize was announced at the award banquet at the Mining History Association’s annual meeting held in Fairbanks, Alaska on Friday, June 16, 2017. Winning editor Catherine Spude attended. Established in 2013, the biannual honor recognizes mining history books that are edited works, compilations of documents (letters, previously unpublished manuscript reminiscences, oral histories), or significant photograph histories, or related genres. The winning author/editor receives a $500 cash prize.

William Jay Woodin was on board when the steamship Cleveland left Seattle’s docks on March 1, 1898, traveling with his father and several others. It was the nineteenth century’s last great gold rush, but rather than mine, they planned to earn their fortune by providing supplies. Unlike many stampeders, Will’s party chose to take both the White Pass Trail and the Tutshi Trail, and his story offers a rare glimpse into ordeals suffered along this less common, seldom  chronicled route.

Part of an emerging middle class who, with minimal formal education, left farm life to seek urban employment, Will’s experiences epitomize the story of how working-class men endured a grueling Yukon journey.  Whether packing tons of goods on their own backs or building boats at the Windy Arm camp, his accounts bring to light the cooperation and camaraderie necessary for survival, and his simple yet perceptive observations reveal much about how the average Klondike stampeder lived, worked, and struggled to overcome hardships.

Enhanced with family photographs and skillfully edited, Will’s writings—including diaries, a short story, and a candid 1910 memoir—record events, emotions, and reflections, as well as his youthful wonder at the beauty surrounding him. He provides specific descriptions of trail conditions, extreme weather, travel hazards, and social relationships as the horde of thousands climbed the White Pass and floated down the Yukon to Dawson. He describes the workings of the gold fields and the economics of minimizing risk.

Spude’s expert integration of the autobiography and selected journal entries places the young stampeder’s views within the context of the era’s value systems, economics and social structures, and illuminates what memoir writers sometimes fail to discuss when crafting personal narratives. A historian and archaeologist, she has written popular history for magazines and newspapers as well as numerous journal articles. Her book about the legend of Soapy Smith was a finalist for a Western Writers of America Spur Award.

All for the Greed of Gold is paperback, 6″ x 9″, 294 pages in length, and lists for $27.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide or direct from WSU Press at 800-354-7360 or online at A non-profit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.


Memoir Describes Life for Women During WWII Occupation

Washington State University Press has released a World War II memoir written by Nicole Taflinger. Unusual because it relates struggles faced by ordinary French citizens, it also provides insight into challenges that arise when different cultures collide. Written for her children decades ago, the author’s guileless voice enhances her adolescent memories of the German occupation—an existence of fear, loss, suffering, and fierce hatred—and illustrates the immense emotional toll of war.

Born as Nicole Braux in 1927, her earliest recollections occur in the French city of Nancy, where her father owned and operated a hotel and restaurant.  Her winsome stories portray childhood challenges, accomplishments, and joys. She conveys the influence and camaraderie of the generous, nurturing men and women—particularly her grandmothers and two Catholic nuns—who were an integral part of her young life. Her charming reflections paint a picture of a romantic culture still wounded by the First World War.

Nicole was twelve when her father was recalled into the reserves. A few months later, she watched German troops invade. “We peeked above the window sill and saw them…Our imaginations hadn’t exaggerated; they looked as evil, if not more so, than we’d expected!” By six o’clock that evening, it was over. Nicole and her remaining family members were under occupation. “Grandmother Marie was our savior…[she] had survived two wars; a third was simply a fact of life.”

Little by little, the Braux family adjusted. They experienced Nazi propaganda, recurrent air raid alerts, gas masks, food rationing, the Black Market, and bombings.  As they struggled simply to acquire food and keep warm, thoughts of the future became irrelevant. Teachers, friends, employers, priests, nuns, and doctors disappeared overnight. Relationships became veiled in worry, suspicion and secrecy. Despite the danger, Nancy citizens quietly resisted. They concocted strategies to elude curfew. They purposely dressed to offend Germans, donning short skirts and makeup, and choosing the bright colors of the French flag. They sold tainted food to the despised troops. As the fighting drew ever closer, desperation and terror increased, but miraculous events brought hope. One day, Nicole dashed unscathed through a shower of bullets. On another, she became part of a spontaneous, compassionate, and courageous gathering of French citizens. Rebelling against the German guards, they formed a chain to toss food to starving POWs aboard a train. Just as the soldiers raised their guns toward the obstinate crowd, RAF fighter planes arrived. For her, it was “one of the most exciting and beautiful moments of the war.”

Finally the inconceivable joy of liberation day came. However, food remained scarce, the fate of her father was still unknown, and now seventeen, Nicole found herself deeply in love with Captain Ancel G. Taflinger, pilot for General George S. Patton and recipient of the Silver Star. Eventually overcoming family objections and interference, their romance culminated in a wedding that yielded a sweet end to Nicole’s season of suffering.

Season of Suffering also includes never-before-published photographs from Captain Taflinger’s collection. It can be ordered through bookstores, by calling 800-354-7360, or online at Associated with Washington State University, WSU Press publishes scholarly books with a cultural or historical relationship to the Pacific Northwest.

Science with a Contemporary Twist

What did a new kind of MRI reveal about the hearts of older male fitness fanatics? How did an unsavory kitchen blender help save the lives of monkeys in the Bronx Zoo? Why might it be better to buy eggs from your local supermarket? What salt-favoring menace lurks in hospitals and beach sand? Which ancient crop might solve modern problems?

Recent scientific studies have addressed these questions and many more. Dr. Elsa Kirsten Peters regularly pores through journals and interviews researchers, then shares the utterly fascinating results in her nationally-syndicated Rock Doc column. Now the curious geologist has compiled her favorite articles, along with a few new contributions, into Planet Rock Doc: Nuggets from Explorations of the Natural World.

With her wry sense of humor, personal anecdotes, and knack for explaining the complex in simple terms, Peters stretches far beyond geology to explore a wide range of topics related to natural and applied sciences. In the process, she reflects on the remarkable observations and inventions cultivated by great minds of the past.  She comments on current debates and lends promise to the future, illuminating cutting-edge research. For easy access, articles are arranged by subject matter—geology and paleontology, energy and engines, food and agriculture, climate change, human health, biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and education and history.

Dr. Peters, a native of rural Washington State, earned her doctorate from the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department at Harvard University. She taught undergraduate-level courses for a decade and is the author or co-author of numerous journal articles, as well as several textbooks.

Available in paperback, Planet Rock Doc is 5 1/2″ x 8 1/4″, 198 pages, and has a list price of $22.95. It is available at bookstores or can be ordered from WSU Press by calling 800-354-7360 or online at WSU Press is associated with Washington State University located in Pullman, Washington, and publishes scholarly books with a cultural or historical relationship to the Pacific Northwest.

Links to podcasts

Heath Brown coaxes a fascinating interview from Coal Wars author David Bullock on this New Books Network podcast.

Listen to the fascinating story of fishermen and the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Red Light to Starboard author Angela Day was interviewed on KCHU’s Coffee Break program.

Get the scoop on some fascinating Seattle history when you watch the TV program based on our book, Eccentric Seattle. Author J. Kingston Pierce hosts.

Listen in as NPR host Ross Reynolds chats with Greenscapes author Joan Hockaday in early 2011 on his KUOW Seattle show.

Kent D. Richards, whose book, Isaac I. Stevens inspired an exhibit at the Washington State Heritage Center, spoke at the opening, along with Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed. The event was aired on TVW.

WSU Press An Election for the Ages author Trova Heffernan and Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed were interviewed on TVW’s author’s hour.

On September 4, 2010, Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk talked about reading in space on the radio program, The Next Chapter. What did he read? The Mapmaker’s Eye, by Jack Nisbet! He said his favorite spot to read was floating next to a window. (Thirsk’s portion starts about halfway through the podcast.)

On December 18, 2009, Shaper of Seattle author William H. Wilson provided additional insight into famed Seattle city engineer, Reginald Heber Thomson, in hislecture at the Seattle Public Library.

For John Charles Olmsted fans, we offer this podcast from Greenscapes author Joan Hockaday‘s talk at the Seattle Public Library on June 3, 2009.

Watch the video of TVW’s June 15, 2009 Author’s Hour, an interview with Finding Chief Kamiakin authors Richard D. Scheuerman and Michael O. Finley.

The 2009 American Library Association Conference presentation by reference librarian Hilary Albert featuring America’s Nuclear Wastelands was taped by C-SPAN2 for BookTV and aired on July 26, 2009. (The portion on America’s Nuclear Wastelands starts at about 16:46.)

Catch Dr. Power’s presentation at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Washington, on the Pirate TV Website.

On June 1, 2007, Dear Medora author Sydney Stevens was interviewed on the KMUN After Deadline radio program by Matt Winters, editor and publisher of the Chinook Observer. Listen to the podcast.

Catastrophe to Triumph author Richard S. Hobbs and The Mapmakers Eye author Jack Nisbet were interviewed by Megan Sukys on KUOW, Seattles National Public Radio affiliate. Podcasts of her program The Beat are available. Original broadcast dates were February 6, 2007 (listen) and February 14, 2006 (listen).

The Mapmakers Eye author Jack Nisbet, was extensively interviewed for the public television documentary on Pacific Northwest explorer David Thompson. Uncharted Territory: David Thompson in the Intermountain West that has been on the air at KSPS and other PBS stations.

A Bizarre Chapter in American Prison History


PULLMAN, Wash.— The 1970s and 80s saw a cultural shift in prisons across the country, but only one became the archetype of failed reform. That singular institution was the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Reports of shocking incidents there were splashed across newspapers and television screens nationwide. For the first time, Unusual Punishment: Inside the Walla Walla Prison, 1970–1985, tells the complete story—one of the most bizarre chapters in American prison history.


Geologist Merges Science with Eyewitness Interviews of Mount St. Helens’ 1980 Disaster


PULLMAN, Wash.— May 18, 2015 marks the 35th anniversary of Earth’s largest terrestrial landslide in historical times—a result of a restless volcano and a uniquely violent eruption. The top of Mount St. Helens plowed into Spirit Lake, throwing water 860 feet above lake level, a great inland tsunami. A ground-hugging hot surge sped across valleys and ridges, killing dozens of people and nearly all other life as it leveled 234 square miles of forest.


Challenging Existing Applegate Trail History


PULLMAN, Wash.— Levi Scott and his friend James Layton Collins completed the original manuscript for Wagons to the Willamette: Captain Levi Scott and the Southern Route to Oregon, 1844 –1847 in 1889. It is the only first-hand account written by someone who not only searched for the alternate route but also accompanied its first wagon train.


New Anthology Yields Long-term Value for the Nez Perce


PULLMAN, Wash.— On September 11, 1805, explorer William Clark made his first entry in an elk skin-bound journal which was to serve him through December 31, 1805:

we Set out at 3 oClock and proceeded on up the Travelers rest Creek, accompanied by the flat head or Tushapaws Indians . . . Encamped at some old Indian Lodges, nothing killed this evening hills on the right high & ruged, the mountains on the left high & Covered with Snow.

Thus did the first Americans enter Nez Perce country…

This is how Encounters with the People: Written and Oral Accounts of Nez Perce Life to 1858, an edited, annotated anthology of unique primary sources related to Nez Perce history, begins. Most of the selected material—Native American oral histories, diary excerpts, military reports, maps, and more—is published for the first time or is found only in obscure sources.


First Full-length Biography of Prolific Northwest Photographer Asahel Curtis


PULLMAN, Wash.— Long overshadowed by his older brother Edward’s fame, Asahel Curtis (1874–1941)  produced some 40,000 images chronicling a broad swath of early 2oth-century life in the Northwest. In Developing the Pacific Northwest: The Life and Work of Asahel Curtis, the first full-length biography of the photographer/booster/mountaineer, scholar William H. Wilson takes an in-depth look at Curtis and corrects some longstanding misconceptions.


How Priest Lake Became a “Cult” Vacation Spot


PULLMAN, Wash.— Wild Place: A History of Priest Lake, Idaho offers the first comprehensive, accurate chronicle of Priest Lake. Author Kris Runberg Smith’s family has had ties to the area since her great-great grandfather, a timber cruiser, arrived in 1897. Yet despite being a location one local newspaper branded “a cult with many vacationists,” no one had properly recorded its history.