In the mid-1880s, soldiers were called to the neighborhood around Main Street and what was then still Second Avenue (now Occidental) in downtown Seattle to deal with anti-Chinese agitation.
When these soldiers were photographed, the distinguished Pacific House behind them was nearly new. It appears in the city’s 1884 bird’s-eye drawing, thanks to artists who were smart enough to include structures that were only in the planning stage.
The scene looks southwest through the intersection of Main Street and what then was still named Second Avenue (Occidental). The guard may be one of the several militia groups formed in 1884-85 by locals anxious about their boomtown filling up with strangers. The then-new transcontinental Northern Pacific made it much easier to reach Puget Sound.
If not local volunteers in uniform, these are regular soldiers sent here from Fort Vancouver twice for two related emergencies. First and briefly in November 1885 they came to prevent a hostile roundup and deportation from Seattle of about 400 Chinese immigrants living, for the most part, in this neighborhood. No roundup was attempted while the soldiers were in town, and they were soon sent back to Vancouver. But once gone they were missed.
Most Read Stories
- A perfect Seattle summer is no longer a given
- UW coaching legend Jim Lambright’s brain donation pays dividends years after his death
- From 'MAGA Republicans' to a $30 minimum wage, the political parties seem headed for a crackup
- 'Sitting on a gold mine': As change comes to Lynnwood, urban growth spurs debate
- Ex-Gonzaga star John Stockton writes letter supporting woman who faces Capitol riot charges
In February 1886 an organized mob, with help from the city’s police chief, rounded up the “Celestials” — the popular name then for the Chinese — and pushed 197 of them onboard one steamship, waiting for another to take away the rest.
When the courts and local militias intervened, a riot followed, and one of the mob’s leaders was shot to death. The governor then packed the regulars and their rifles north from Vancouver again and this time locked the town down with martial law. Some of the regulars were kept here as late as August.
This revelatory story is told beautifully in Murray Morgan’s classic Seattle history, “Skid Road.”
“Washington Then and Now,” by Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard, can be purchased through www.washingtonthenandnow.com ($45).