Denied a place on their ancestral lands, the original Snake River-Palouse people were forced to scatter. After most relocated to the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama, and Colville reservations, maintaining their cultural identity became increasingly difficult. Still, elders continued to pass down oral histories to their descendants, insisting youngsters listen with rapt attention. Intended as life lessons, these sacred texts contain many levels of meaning and are rich in content, interpretation, and nuance.
The filming location for the popular TV series Northern Exposure, Roslyn, Washington, might not be as eccentric as its fictional counterpart. But the seemingly sleepy little town does have a dramatic past and lingering bitter sentiments that some residents didn’t want exposed.
With family roots that lead directly to Roslyn, David Bullock, the author of Coal Wars: Unions, Strikes, and Violence in Depression-Era Central Washington, spent considerable time there—but all of it was long after a 1934 incident prompted a New Republic writer to dub the town a “little nest of Fascists.” Bullock wanted to understand why, at that moment, the community was such a tinderbox, and he made some surprising discoveries along the way. In the 1930s, members of radical labor movements often opposed each other, yet he unearthed attempts at cooperative efforts between Communists, Socialists, and the Industrial Workers of the World. He also found elements of a David and Goliath story, with fierce local leaders pitted against powerful national interests.
Some Central Washington residents warned Bullock to avoid the topic. Even decades later, they consider the region’s labor history to be controversial and many have intense reactions when interviewed. One source refused to provide a college paper he wrote in the 1970s, asserting individuals within the community could still be hurt by its contents.
Roslyn had always been a coal town, ever since a railway company opened the first mine in 1886. On a normal shift, the miners spent ten or more hours at the workplace. Bullock’s grandfather, an immigrant, was one of many who dressed, prepared lights and equipment, and traveled in and out of the mine shaft on his own time. Some trips took nearly an hour each way.
In the early 1930s, concerned about safety, locals demonstrated at the state capital. Their success prompted additional dreams of better working conditions, fair wages, and a six-hour workday. They expected their national labor union, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), to remain strong during contract negotiations. Instead, UMWA leaders aligned with the coal company, setting the stage for the rise of a new local organization, the Western Miners Union of America.
With the United States in the midst of a severe national economic depression, the fledgling group faced opposition from their old union, a powerful railroad empire, and even their own government. The conflict between the Western Miners and the UMWA intensified, leading to murder on a Roslyn street corner. When the killer was acquitted, community outrage rose, and Communist activists and other radical labor groups offered to back the Western Miners.
The Western Miners called for a strike on April 3, 1934, but this time the unions themselves were rivals—dividing families, pitting neighbor against neighbor, and turning residents of Roslyn, Cle Elem, and Ronald against each other. At the picket lines, ordinary wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters pelted cars with rocks, rotten eggs, pine cones, and cow pies. They cursed and shrieked insults as they fought on behalf of their men. As the morning wore on, the taunts and assaults escalated. Officials called in the state police.
David Bullock made a concerted effort to keep his account balanced. He conducted interviews with local residents and reviewed newspapers, court documents, and corporate archives. Capturing the details surrounding a dual union movement in the 1930s American West, his narrative also describes the region’s melting pot of working families and the socio-political impacts of New Deal policies on their lives.
Now that it has been uncovered, perhaps Roslyn’s real history will inspire a new TV show.
PULLMAN, Wash.— Popular recreation destinations today, the massive concrete fortifications at the entrance to Puget Sound silently guard an obscure past—one that piqued author David M. Hansen’s curiosity. Not content to simply wonder, the former Washington State preservation officer/historian specializing in military architecture set out to uncover the story behind the structures.
PULLMAN, Wash.— The vastness and isolation of the American West forged a dependence on scarce natural resources—especially water, forests, fish, and minerals. The small towns clustered near these assets were often self-sufficient and culturally distinct. By 1941, mass media, as well as improved transportation and infrastructure, propelled these sequestered settlements into the mass society era.
Today, the internet is shaping another revolution, and it promises both obstacles and opportunity.
PULLMAN, Wash.— It took tremendous effort to build a road in the 1850s. When Governor Isaac I. Stevens needed someone to direct construction of the U.S. Military Wagon Road, he selected John Mullan, an army lieutenant and West Point engineering graduate. That project—the first government-funded road across the Northern Rockies —came with exceptional challenges.
PULLMAN, Wash.— Agriculture is one of the most important industries in the Pacific Northwest. Family wheat farms are one of the largest economic drivers of jobs in eastern Washington, creating approximately 25,000 jobs and a trade surplus for the state.
PULLMAN, Wash.—Like the 1852 journey Edward Jay Allen—the hero of their book—took to Puget Sound, the authors’ path to publishing was filled with surprising twists and turns. While researching a related topic, Karen L. Johnson discovered a tantalizing article that sparked an obsession with the twenty-two-year-old pioneer roadbuilder. She partnered with fellow Oregon Trail buff Dennis M. Larsen, and the pair began a long hunt for Allen’s letters cited in the article,
PULLMAN, Wash.— The newest book from Washington State University Press, Rugged Mercy: A Country Doctor in Idaho’s Sun Valley, tells the story of Robert Henry Wright, known to many in his day as the “doctor who never lost a patient.” He graduated from American Medical College in 1906, a time when medical practice was shifting from folklore and quackery to real science, and the West was emerging from its frontier past.
PULLMAN, Wash.— The first young adult book from Washington State University (WSU) Press, Be Brave, Tah-hy!: The Journey of Chief Joseph’s Daughter, is unlike many popular and historical novels written for adolescents, because the protagonist is not portrayed as a modern heroine. Instead, her thoughts and actions are appropriate for a girl of her age, time and background.
PULLMAN, Wash.—Award-winning former Seattle Times science writer Hill Williams has written Made in Hanford: The Bomb that Changed the World. Other books offer scant coverage of the facility’s role in the Manhattan Project, but as the title implies, Hanford is the heart of Williams’ book.
PULLMAN, Wash.— Unusual because it relates struggles faced by ordinary French citizens, our new World War II memoir 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.