Pacific World Passages:

The Traffic in Trees and the Transformation of Space in Puget Sound, 1850-1900


Draft of Paper to be presented as part of "Environmental History of the Pacific Region: A Symposium in the annual conference of The American Society for Environmental History"


Victoria, British Columbia, April 3


Douglas C Sackman, University Of Puget Sound

[Please do not copy or cite without permission of the author]

[Note: the following version of this paper still needs to be cut dramatically for the conference. If anyone is interested, I have a much longer version of this work which I would be happy to send to you. Also, I have included the notes for the paper at the end, but the footnote numbers have been dropped from the text in this html version].



draft, 3/19/04

Trees of Heaven

The World Headquarters of Weyerhaeuser exhibits a symbolically rich architecture. The main structure is surprisingly organic: its roofs are planted with ivy. Visitors can also take in an extraordinary collection of trees on display. You can stroll the grounds of a one-acre exhibit and see an astounding variety of specimens: there is a Japanese Maple, a Flowering Plum, a Kishu as well as a Rocky Mountain Juniper, and more. Nearby, you can find Douglas fir in abundance—the species on which the Weyerhaeuser’s fortunes in the Northwest were built—but not in this place. These giants wouldn’t have fit, for this is a bonsai forest, and a magnificent one—if magnificent can be applied to a collection of small things. "[C]reated in 1989 to honor Weyerhaeuser Company's trade relations with Pacific Rim nations and as a tribute to the Washington state centennial," the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection features creations from nature by artists of Japanese, Taiwanese, Korean, Canadian, American and Chinese origin.

As beautiful as the collection is, it is difficult not to look upon the display of model tress without a sense of irony. Beginning in the 1850s (long before Weyerhaeuser started operations in Washington), the ancient forests of the northwest were chopped and sawn through, hauled down skid roads by oxen or pulled out of forests with steam donkeys, floated to the mills, sliced into lumber, and then shipped off across the Pacific. To honor this great exchange, we have collected these diminutive arboreal tokens. Still, affixing a declensionist "honey I shrunk the trees" narrative to the lumber trade between the Northwest and Pacific Rim countries is to miss the complexity of the exchanges that have taken place as Washington forests have been turned into lumber to be shipped off across the Pacific. To begin thinking about the rich reciprocity of these lumber-driven relations, we might begin by thinking of bonsais as something other than diminished trees. They are, of course, works of horticultural art, living sculptures created through the disciplined mixing of nature and culture into aesthetically pleasing forms. We might take the fact that they now grow on the grounds of Weyerhaeuser as a symbol of the cultural exchanges that have coincided with the lumber trade between Puget Sound and Pacific markets. Just as bonsai artists have crossed species and used horticultural techniques to create their specimens, the lumber trade brought previously disconnected peoples and places around the Pacific rim into contact, creating novel and often surprising social and environmental formations. But unlike the bonsais, the new social and ecological worlds that the lumber trade pushed into being were not the result of some fore-imagined design.

The milling of trees did drive a succession of changes in the landscape, all of which transformed space in Puget Sound by opening it up to influences from across the Pacific. The lumber trade laid down pathways through which the peoples, cultures, and environments of the area were linked to San Francisco, Honolulu, Sydney, Shanghai and other places around the Pacific Rim. A sense of that can conveyed by the story of Port Townsend’s Ailanthus glandulosus, the "Chinese tree of heaven." Early in the 1860s, so the story goes, a son of the Emperor of China visited San Francisco, where he was very well received. The Emperor wanted to send back a token of his appreciation, and decided to send two of these trees of heaven. The ship he sent them on, battered by storms, arrived in Puget Sound before heading to San Francisco. The captain gave one of the trees to the people of Port Townsend in appreciation, and the second made its way to San Francisco’s Golden Gate park—the gateway to the Pacific. Draw a line between these trees and their origin in Beijing, and you have a triangle that begins to map the routes through which Puget Sound was linked to trade in the Pacific. Millions and millions of board feet of Douglas firs were shipped from Puget Sound on ships that had to stop at Port Townsend. A few trees of heaven, and many people and much else besides, came back to Puget Sound in the course of the transpacific exchanges.

I. Canoe World Submersion

I cannot fully go into the establishment of mills on the sound, and the transformation of water and land from Indian control to American hegemony, which involved mill siting, land dispossession, treaties, and war. The "canoe world" of the sounds Salish people did not disappear, but a new spatial order was created in the wake of American lumber schooner, steam powered sloops of war, and the steam powered sawmills established in sites around the sound, considered, in John Muir’s words, "a perfect paradise for the lumberman." [slide: map of sound/mills]

At the place that came to be called port gamble-which the Maine lumberman of the Pope and Talbot appropriated—the mill company town was called Teekalet, which the lumberman thought was the lashootseed name for the spot. the Puget mill put up a town that looked much like a New England town, and consigned the S’klallam Indians to a spit across the bay, a settlement that came to be called Little Boston. Though the S’Klallam had in no way formally given up their title to the land at Port Gamble, they now found themselves displaced and living in a floating community called Little Boston.

The treaties of 1854 and 1855, war in 1855 and 1856, and power of the lumber industry had altered social relations in the Sound and begun to establish a new spatial order. Whites had created a new hydrography of power on the Sound, one in which its capitalist enterprise, especially lumbering, could flourish. The mills would be centers of power in the new world, and Indians would face a flood tide of influences from up and down the west coast and across the Pacific.

II Pacific Marketplaces

Once Puget Sound was in the hands of the continental American republic, it envisioned the place and its prospects in relation to Asia. "That we shall have the boundless Pacific for a market is manifest destiny," the Olympia Pioneer and Democrat proclaimed in 1854. "We were bound to command it." The leading commodity Puget Sound had to offer was lumber. Though less highly prized than the sea otter furs of an earlier era, lumber would nonetheless find markets—some ready, some that had to be made— in that "boundless Pacific."

In 1851, the 154-ton brig Orbit carried timber and shingles from the Sound to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). In August of 1852, the American bark Louisiana (it’s name embodying Jefferson’s expansive continental vision for the young republic)arrived from Hong Kong via San Francisco. It left with ship spars to return to the British colony and commercial entrepot of Hong Kong, which had been ceded in the Treat of Nanking (1842). At least seven ships sailed with lumber to Hawaii in 1853. In 1854, 4 ships took lumber from the Sound to Australia, and one sailed for Calcutta. In 1855, the Louisiana again took a cargo to Hong Kong, as did the bark Live Yankee. Ships continued to call from Honolulu, bringing with them sugar and assorted merchandise to sell at the mill towns in the Sound and load up on wood for their return voyage. Ships continued to cross the Pacific in the last half of the 1850s, heading for markets in Hawaii, Australia, Hong Kong as well as the Chinese treaty ports of Shanghai and Amoy.

For the first years of the Gold Rush, California had become an apparently infinitely elastic market for lumber. Large profits could and were made in the trade. But just as more production was coming on line up the coast and on Puget Sound, the San Francisco market was contracting. In 1854, the Puget Mill company cut 3.6 million board feet at Port Gamble, but San Francisco absorbed just 2/3 of this output. The rest was shipped to foreign markets.

Though most of the mill’s on the Sound produced lumber for foreign markets in the Puget, the Puget Mill Company was the leading international trafficker of trees. Through H. Hackfield & Co., a steady trade with Hawaii was established. In 1856, the company shipped lumber to Hawaii, Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Tahiti, and Valparaiso. The mill operated night and day to fill orders.

In the early 19th century, Hawai’i had played a vital role in the sea otter trade between the Northwest and China. Traders often stopped in Hawai’i en route to Canton. In 1810, King Kamehameha I gave American traders access to the island’s sandalwood, a commodity that, like the sea otters, brought high prices in Canton. The trade in furs and sandalwood through Hawaii to China amounted to $300,000 to $1 million dollars annually. Despite conservation measures taken by Kamehameha I, the islands had been stripped bare of sandalwood by 1830. Yankee presence on the islands remained high in the next two decades as New England whaling ships used them as a base from which to chase the leviathans across the North Pacific. To reprovision the ships, agriculture grew on the islands and land increasingly fell into the hands of foreigners, especially Americans. Geographically and economically, Hawai’i was closer to San Francisco than the east coast or Europe. With ships to connect Honolulu, San Francisco, and Puget Sound, these places were not really oceans apart. It was only natural that San Francisco’s lumbermen would look for buyers of Puget Sound lumber in Hawai’i.

In 1857, seven ships took timber to the Sandwich Islands. With the rise of the sugar industry on the islands beginning in the mid-1850s, demand for lumber continued to grow. The sugar plantations used wood, and Honolulu and other island cities boomed; western style housing spread along with the influence of westerners on the islands. On their return voyages from Hawaii, the ships brought back such goods as molasses, pulu, whale oil, rice, sweet potatoes, koa wood, arrowroot, tapioca, bananas, oranges, and limes. Sugar, molasses, rice, and salt made up the largest part of these cargoes. The salt was used for preserving salmon. In addition, they also took barrels of poi to the Northwest to meet the demand of Hawaiian millworkers. Many Hawaiians, or "Kanakas" as they were called in the Northwest, worked for wages in Puget Sound preparing lumber to be sent to across the Pacific where it would be used to transform the landscape of their native country. In return, they earned script that they could exchange for a taste of home at the company stores. Loggers and other residents of Puget Sound came to rely on the sweetness of island sugar.

Hawai‘i—the "Heart of the Pacific"—occupied a central position in the forging of the Pacific world. But it did so not just because it was physically located in the middle of the Pacific: its own growth as a supplier of whale ships and trading vessels and later as an exporter of sugar fueled greater demands for products and raw materials on the Islands. Hawaii, then, became a major foreign market for the lumber manufacturers of Puget Sound. The trade in lumber created boardwalks connecting Honolulu with San Francisco and Puget Sound. These links were one of the factors that led to the eventual political incorporation of Hawai’i that had followed the economic, cultural and environmental exchanges between the Islands and the West Coast. At its mills at Port Gamble and Port Ludlow, the Puget Mill company produced 91.5 million board feet in 1899, a large portion of which went to Hawai‘i. From Port Gamble alone, some 14.6 million board feet went to the islands, enough to lay down a walkway all the way to Honolulu. Between 1892 and 1900, seven such boardwalks could have been constructed with wood that was shipped from Port Gamble to Hawai‘i. In the banner year of 1899, another 17 could have been added, with lumber to spare.

Of course, these boardwalks could never have been built: they just serve to visualize the very real connections between these noncontiguous places the seaborne traffic in trees created. The Douglas fir forests of the northwest were dismantled and then re-erected as flumes, ships, houses, railroads, mansions and government buildings in Hawai‘i, whose own sandal wood forests had earlier been razed and shipped off to China in exchange for tea and silk. The wooden structures would be counted as improvements, much if not most of which would become the property of Americans and other foreigners in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. While a Pacific Empire may have been conceived of in the minds of Thomas Hart Benton, William Seward and other visionaries of American expansion, the transpacific lumber trade created what we might call today facts on the ground.


When the 299 ton Louisiana made a triangular passage from Hong Kong to San Francisco to Puget Sound and back to Hong Kong in 1852, it was following in the wake of other American vessels that had engaged in the China trade since the 1780s...

Following the defeat of China in the opium wars, treaty ports became enticing destinations for was lumber ships from America’s Northwest Coast. In 1855, Andrew Pope of the Puget Mill company wrote that "I think in time we shall be able to market considerable lumber in China…" Six ships laden with lumber set out from Puget Sound in 1855, and ships regularly sailed for the ports of Shanghai, Amoy, and Hong Kong throughout the 1850s. With the opening of trade up the Yangze River in the 1860s, a building boom occurred in Shanghai—the entrepot for the region—which attracted shipments of lumber from all over the Pacific Rim. Many cargoes were dispatched from the Washington Mill Company and other firms on Puget Sound. In 1877, 2 million board feet entered Shanghai and the next year some 8,500,000 feet came mostly from the Northwest....

With figures for the year 1900-1901, we can begin to map the astonishing circulation of lumber around the North and South Pacific. 159 million board feet still went out by sea to foreign destinations, while 234 million board feet were shipped to San Francisco, Hawaii (now a "domestic" market) and some now was being shipped East by rail. 20 million board feet went to China and the "Orient", another 8 million went to the Society Islands, Fiji, Samoa, the Friendly Islands (Tonga), the East Indies, and the Philippines (some mills secured contracts with the US military); 62 million was sent to Australian ports of Melbourne, Sydney, Port Pirie and others; South America consumed 32 million board feet and Mexico another 11 million. Laid end to end, there was enough lumber to construct a boardwalk from Seattle through Honolulu to Shanghai and back through San Francisco to Seattle—with enough left over for another walkway to Sydney.

On December 8, 1869, the new Hanson-Ackerson mill in Tacoma sent off its first shipment of a half million board feet to San Francisco. The cargo had been loaded on the brig Samoset, which featured a representation of the Indian chief as its figurehead. Samoset was the Abenaki Indian who, in 1620, "came bouldly amongst" the English settlers at Plymouth "and spoke to them in broken English, which they could well understand, but marvelled at it." Prior to English settlement in New England, Samoset, and his friend Squanto, had already ventured on board English ships and learned its sailor’s language. Squanto had been to Spain and England. The two Indians were part of a cosmopolitan, international network of commerce and exchanges historians have begun to call the Atlantic world. The lumber ship’s mascot was unintentionally appropriate, for The Samoset was venturing out into the Pacific World, one that included the Salish Indians of the Sound and workers and merchants from places like China, Hawai‘i, and San Francisco (as well as New and Old England).

III. Workers of the Pacific World: Logging and Labor in & around the Mills

Trees to Lumber

John Muir visited Puget Sound in the 1880s, and observed that "When lumbering is going on in the best Douglas woods, especially about Puget Sound, many of the long, slender boles are saved for spars; and so superior is their utility that they are called for in almost every shipyard in the world, and it is interesting to follow their fortunes. Felled and peeled and dragged to tide-water, they are raised again as yards and masts for ships, given iron roots and canvas foliage, decorated with flags, and sent to sea, where in glad motion they go cheerily over the ocean prairie in every latitude and longitude, singing and bowing responsive to the same winds that waved them when they were in the woods. After standing in one place for centuries they thus go round the world like tourists, meeting many a friend from the old home forest."

Muir’s rendering of ship’s masts as a second life for Douglas fir trees was both imaginative and revealing. It can help us visualize just how Puget Sound wood traveled around the Pacific, whether it came to rest on the decks of ships or stood up from them holding rigging, sail, and catching the winds for power. To be sure, forests were destroyed in the lumber trade, as Muir also observed. He referred to the operations of the steam-driven mills, which poured smoke into the Sound’s skies, as "this fierce storm of steel that is devouring the forests" at the rate of 3 million board feet a day. But if the mills devoured the trees, the lumber that they produced was consumed again in other places. In many cases, the final destination was less glamorous than a schooner: the fir could become ties for railroad trackers or timbers sunk down into the gold mines of California or Australia. Other lumber went into the marvelous Victorians of Nob Hill, the campradoric mansions of Shanghai, or the spare worker’s quarters on the sugar plantations of Hawai‘i. Anthropologists have argued that objects become animated and enculturated as they are consumed, that "commodities, like persons, have social lives." In all of the places where the wood was shipped from Puget Sound, it took on a second life as it was used and reshaped to form part of the structure of distant communities...

The Confluence of Workers

Those distant communities were also connected to the Sound through the labor of people who ventured forth in a trans-Pacific diaspora. Business expansion in the Pacific, often linked to imperial expansion, went hand in hand with the immigration of people from those places to serve as laborers to produce the goods being exported to their homelands. Matthew Frye Jacobson calls this "an international crucible of immigration and empire-building." American business presence in Hawaii—through the fur trade, whaling and lumber—led to the presence of Kanakas in the Northwest as laborers in the fur trade and lumber production. Imperial designs on the islands grew as American involvement did. Similar patterns can be drawn for China, the Philippines, and, to a lesser extent, Japan.....

While the lumber mills did not singularly drive the whole dynamo of imperialism, market expansion and immigration, they did much to foster these Pacific world passages of goods and people. The mill companies were large employers, sometimes having hundreds of workers on their payroll. In addition to Indians (local and from BC), New Englanders, and European immigrants, there were three other vital sources of labor coming into the Sound from the Pacific: Hawaii, China, and, by the closing decades of the 19th century, Japan. Hawaiians had long worked for Americans and British in the Northwest. James Jacob Astor’s initial party sent out to the Columbia river to establish the Pacific Fur Company at Astoria had included several Kanakas, and the HBC had employed Hawaiians as early as 1828, establishing a set of relations between the northwest and the island Puget Sound mills continued to rely on Hawaiian workers for the rest of the century. The Tacoma Mill Company, for example, employed at least 14 Hawaiians—listed under names such as Kanaka Charley and Kanaka Kahama— in 1875. Though their homeland was half an ocean away, the lumber ships maintained a close linkage between the islands and the Sound. As we have seen, Hawaiian workers in the Northwest could sometimes enjoy homegrown poi.

Like Indians, Chinese performed a wide range of labor in and around the mills. Some worked on logging crews. Both in the mills and in logging, Chinese were often paid lower wages than whites. Myriad forms of anti-Chinese prejudice factored into labor relations a thousand times in a thousand places. Chinese workers, however, had ways of trying to prevent economic or physical abuse. Logging crew foremen occasionally would try to withhold pay for logging work. But Chinese were capable of using legal means to protect their rights. In January of 1873, a Seattle law firm sent a letter to the Washington Mill Co.—which presumably had purchased or had some tie to the logs in question—informing them that "(Sam Chinaman) has a lien upon the logs."

Usually, pay and other employment issues for Chinese were mediated through a central contract agency. In most cases Chinese millworkers were hired through a Chinese-run agency which hired the laborers and then paid them from the money the mill sent them. In 1877, the Washington Mill company began hiring Chinese workers from the leading agency on the Sound, the Wa Chong Company. But even the Wa Chong Company had difficulty securing payment from the mill, which was loath to give up cash when it could avoid it.

The Wa Chong Company had a dual identity as a labor contractor and an importer, as is reflected in one request to the mill: "we had a big consignment of goods arrive in port from China it will take large money for freight and Duty to pay so we wish you please help us all you can by the return mail." The Company’s letterhead, featuring a beautifully engraved image of its building on South 3rd Street [Slide], announced that they were importers of "Fine Tea, Rice, and all kinds of Chinese Merchandise." In this case, the wages paid to Chinese immigrants helped finance the importation of Chinese goods, which were in turn sold to whites as well as Chinese. In addition, Wa Chong exported flour and lumber to China. Transpacific exchange ran through the mills—one way (in the lumber shipped to China) and another (through the experiences of the Chinese millworkers and their wages that helped finance the trade in China goods).

One could find some of the finest examples of Chinese merchandise— big screens and furniture, pictures, vases and brass—in the office of Judge Thomas Burke. They had been give to him by Chin Gee Hee, one of the early partners in the Wa Chong Company, who considered the Irish Burke a close friend. Hee’s journey embodies the whole story of transpacific and transnational exchanges between Puget Sound and China that took place in and around the lumber trade.

He was born in 1844 in southern China. His family sold soy sauce. One day, he met a man in his village who had returned from America, who asked him "Young man, how would you like to go to the mountain of gold?" He took him with him to America. By 1862, Hee was working at the lumber mill at Port Gamble. There, he learned English and made friends with whites, including Henry Yesler. He also probably learned Chinook, as he is reputed to have had good relations with Indians and to have befriend Chief Seattle’s family. After saving money, he sent for his wife who went to work in the cookhouse at Port Gamble.

Yesler persuaded Hee to move to Seattle. There, he joined in a partnership with a fellow villager to run Wa Chong and Company, building up its linked import and labor contracting businesses. In 1888, Hee left Wa Chong to establish the Quong Tuck Co. After the 1889 fire that swept through Seattle and destroyed his building, he constructed a new place of business, a large brick structure between 2nd and 3rd on Washington Street called the Canton Building. Now, in Seattle, you could take Washington Street to Canton, but these places had been connected by a boardwalk since the 1850s. Asahel Curtis’s 1904 photograph of Hee— [Slide] seated at his roll-top desk intently reading a paper, with shelves above neatly stacked with various and sundry items, parcels just received or ready to be sent stacked against the wall where a telephone hangs, a safe in the office’s corner—very much conveys the image of a man of business with far flung interests and connections.

Hee made several return visits to his village, and became more and more consumed with, as he put it in 1905, his "the dream of... the construction of a railroad through my old home district of Sun-ning." With the help of the Great Northern Railway’s JJ Hill (who was then building his own transpacific steamship business at the time), Hee traveled around the United States on the railroad to raise capital for this project. Meanwhile, his partner in China secured permission from the Viceroy of Kwangtung Province to build the railroad, so long as they did "not destroy the fields, parks, and dwellings around the cemeteries." After forty years in the United States working in and around lumber mills and railroads, Hee returned to China to build the railroad. His road was one of several constructed at the time in China, and these projects, with their enormous need for lumber, stimulated the transpacific trade between Puget Sound mills and northern and southern ports in China. Hee certainly felt that he, and China, were better off for the ties that connected the two places. As he wrote to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, "Could I ever be what I am if it wasn’t for Seattle Men? None of those will be forgotten from my heart. I think the people of Southern China all owe Seattle a great debt of humanity’s happiness."

While the immigrants from southern China who had suffered at the hands of Sinophobes in Seattle might beg to differ, Hee’s gracious letter does illuminate the way that the spatial transformation of Puget Sound was linked to the spatial transformation of Southern China and other places around the Pacific Rim. Hee and many other Chinese laborers and business people linked the places in a transnational web of exchanges. In addition, Chinese built cross-cultural relations with whites as well as Indians and Hawaiians on Puget Sound. But Chinese would face efforts to limit their interaction with other groups coming from a number of directions.

In some cases, mill managers became concerned about the hybrid work Chinese laborers, Indians and poor whites had created. After the Washington Mill Company Port Hadlock mill, a heterogeneous community of Indians, Chinese and whites grew up around the mill on a sandspit. The company decided that it must literally and figuratively reclaim this land, and so embarked on a project to fill in around the spit. As the manager report in an 1893 letter to the San Francisco office:

The filling is progressing on the Spit, south of the mill... One object has been accomplished, the clearing out of the settlement formerly located there. We have separated the Chinamen and Indians, and the destruction of the cabins, has forced the low element of white men, that congregated there to leave the spit.

The mill was creating new land but it was also trying to create a new social landscape, one in which their power to control the disorder of cross-cultural affiliations would be complete. Try as they might, the mill owners could not entirely separate the cultures they had done so much to bring into contact around the Sound. [Slide: Indians with Chinese trunk]. Chinook became the lingua franca.

The prevalent use of Chinook by whites, Indians, Hawaiians and Chinese was a sign of just how much cross-cultural exchange took place around the Sound in the decades following the establishment of the sawmills. It was the medium through which all of the peoples drawn to the region by the economic opportunities opened up by trade with Pacific markets could communicate and establish their own livelihood in the region. Chinook opened up the social and economic space of Puget Sound to immigrants from around the world and around the Pacific Rim.

This much is evident in the story Thomas Prosch recorded about the experience of a son born to Chinese immigrants on Puget Sound:

A Chinaman was taken before C. H. Hanford, US Judge for deportation...The Chinaman in very fair English said the reason he had no certificate was because he was an American citizen, and did not need one. "I was born on Puget Sound," said he.

"Ikta mika nem? ..." came quickly from the Judge, in Chinook, the questions being: What is your name....?

"Nika nem Ling Fu," as quickly replied the Chinaman, ...-In English being "I am Ling Fu, ...."

"You are an American, sure, and you can stay here," the Judge remarked.

From our later vantage point, it seems both ironic and surprising that an ethnically Chinese man would be able to stake his claim to American citizenship on his familiarity with Chinook, the hybrid trade jargon. Fluidity with English would not have been enough, but the knowledge that came from having lived in a world of fluid cultural boundaries was. Precisely because he stood between cultures, this man was able to stand his ground before the law. But only because the judge at once realized and accepted—even respected and honored— the heterogeneous reality of a Puget Sound that was linked to the Pacific World.

But a group of Americans in the 1880s would neither recognize nor accept the blurred line between peoples and cultures on the Sound. In asserting their exclusive claim to the territory based on their whiteness, they would castigate and seek to expel all Chinese from the Sound.

IV. Chinese expulsion/Pacific boosterism

Behind the slogan "the chinese must go," whites, mostly working-class, agitated for the expulsion of Chinese from from the Sound, and they got they wish in Tacoma in 1885. Led by the so-called Committee of 15, all Chinese were rounded up and forced to leave the city. In this attempt to ethnically cleanse the city and region (an attempt that was ultimately unsuccessful)they pushed against the natural result of Sound’s economic linkages to Asia and the boosters who still saw Washington’s destiny arcing over the Pacific.

The Committee has not fared well in the local history books. In a 1909 History of Washington, they were portrayed as a group of newcomers who had no sense of the Sound’s history of relations with Asia and the way its future would be tied to Pacific trade. With a keen sense of poetic justice, the author reported that one of the Fifteen relocated to Honolulu, only to find himself in the employ of a Chinese man. He could have taken the Northern Pacific train to the East, but leaving Tacoma in the direction he did put him on the boardwalk that linked Puget Sound to the Pacific World.

Just before the Chinese houses in Tacoma’s Little Canton were burned in 1885, whites rummaged through them, looking for items left behind. Many white women ended up with Chinese tea pots in their cupboards. They would have ample opportunities to use them, as Tacoma, which would construct the longest wharf in the world, was fast becoming the major port for imported tea. From 1883-1889, the "City of Destiny" received some 25,000,000 pounds of tea from Japan and China. The department of treasury even stationed an official tea tester there. Of course, only a fraction of that was being consumed by Tacomans. After the Northern Pacific Railroad, completed its line to the city via Portland in 1883, Tacoma became an attractive port for transshipment of imported goods. By the Fourth of July 1887, a switchback was laid over Stampede Pass, completing the transcontinental Northern Pacific road over the Cascades. Tacomans celebrated for three days, holding parades, shooting off fireworks and stringing up Chinese lanterns to illuminate the roads at night. The Chinese had been made to go, but Tacoma nonetheless celebrated what it saw as the creation of the fabled Northwest Passage linking the West to the East using these sources of light from China.

After the door was closed on the Chinese, other Asians continued to emigrate and work in the lumber mills in Puget Sound. We should bear in mind that the Chinese, Hawaiian, and Japanese immigrants to the Puget Sound held their own American Dreams. They went to America not to give up their cultures and identities, but to find ways to maintain and express them in the strange new Pacific world—in part, through transforming the landscape The experience of the Japanese at Port Blakely, one of the mills that relied heavily of Japanese workers, reveals that these immigrants were not just the flotsam and jetsam of America’s economic imperialism in the Pacific.

Kihachi Hirikawa arrived in 1890. After tensions with his parents over marriage, he left home for Yokohama, learned English from a Japanese man who had been educated in America, and then took passage on a steamer to America where he went to work at the Port Blakely mill. He complained about the other Japanese he boarded with, who stayed up late gambling. But then after awhile, "my bad companions went to another place, and they were replaced by good Japanese farmers, so the environment was much improved." For Hirakawa, work at the mill was a means to pursue other interests—reading and studying. He earned enough money to return home in a few years, and then he came back to the United States, was ordained as a Christian minister, and then returned to Bainbridge Island to run a Japanese mission. Hirakawa, a Christian missionary from Japan, had become a man whose identity was fully transpacific.

Two small Japanese villages grew at port Blakely, Nagaya and Yama, or J-town. It became "a community where visitors could enjoy a Japanese meal, take a traditional Japanese bath and on special occasions, see women dressed in kimonos, looking for all the world as if they were in a Japanese village." The Japanese improved their environment and made themselves at home in it. They collected matsutake (wild mushrooms) and warabi (edible fern) on the hillside; they grew vegetable gardens; they fished, went clamming, and collected the seaweed they called nori.

They could also buy goods from Japan from the salesmen of the M. Furuya Company. Furuya had immigrated to Seattle in 1890, and then opened up a general merchandizing business and labor contracting firm to supply the mills. He built on this network of exchanges to create a thriving, transpacific business. He opened a bank for Japanese and Chinese, and opened branch offices in Portland, Tacoma, Vancouver, British Columbia, as well as Yokohama and Kobe.

With his profits, he built the Furuya Gardens on Bainbridge Island, three miles from the Port Blakely Mill. The gardens, in the words of its manager Yoshito Kawachi, consisted of "a large greenhouse and eight hot houses on six acres of land stretching 300 feet along the shoreline. We cultivated five thousand pots of lilies, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, geraniums, and chrysanthemums in the fall." The chrysanthemums were not just a plant: they were a central symbol of Japanese identity. Pope and Talbot had changed space in Puget Sound, and tried to make the mill towns of Port Gamble and Port Ludlow look like New England villages by importing elms and maples. Furuya, using the proceeds from his involvement in the business circulating around the mills and between the United States and Japan, created the Furuya Resort House. It "was famous in Seattle’s Japanese community. All the trees were shipped from Japan, including many paulownia and maple, and wisteria with white and purple flowers, and there were two lanterns, a pond and a bridge."

Torazo Nakao, another Japanese worker at Port Blakely, also constructed a bridge of sorts. He grew up in Nakamura, but his father lost the estate that had been in the family for 12 generations. He and his wife crossed the Pacific and ended up at Port Blakely. Whites called him Slab Harry, for he took on the job of finding the best uses for the waste-wood and bark of the mill, the "slab." He did well. Nakao was able to earn enough money to reclaim his family land in Japan. His transpacific bridge back to his homeland was made of slab.


Wood is a material people use to shape space. Formed into some shapes, such as walkways and bridges, this product of nature is used to connect places nature has separated. The boardwalk over the Pacific is only a conceptual tool, not a real bridge; nevertheless, it functioned as one by connecting the peoples and the lands of the Pacific Basin to Puget Sound. Traffic went over the bridge in both directions, bringing lumber to San Francisco, Hawaii, Australia, Fiji, India, Chile, Peru, China and Japan. Influences, goods and people came back to the Sound from all of those places, making it over into a very different place than it had been in 1850. While the Sound was not a homogeneous place in the pre- steam mill era, it became an increasingly heterogeneous zone in the wake of the lumber ships. The scope and scale of transactions linking the local economy to outside markets expanded to encompass the entire Pacific World.

Puget Sound was swept up into the Pacific World economy, becoming an edge of this greater entity it also helped create and define. Ecologists speak of ecotones, the zones between two environments which tend to be exceptionally dynamic and diverse places. Historians speak of borderlands, by which they usually mean an area of cross-cultural negotiation and exchange between two polities. By shipping out the trees of the Sound to the growing economies around the Pacific Rim, the mill companies linked the environment to those distant places. In doing so, they turned the Sound into a new kind of borderlands, or, better, borderwaters: a cultural and environmental ecotone which owed its dynamic character and its spatial configuration to its existence on the edge of the Pacific World.

By 1900, the geography and hydrography of Puget Sound could not adequately be mapped by just tracing the local waterways and landscape. To look closely, the mapmaker would find evidence of China, Japan, and Hawaii— in the dwellings, communities, shops, gardens, and tea pots but also in the continued cutting of trees and their movement through the mills and onto ocean-going vessels. And looking out, to ports like Honolulu, Sydney, Shanghai, Valpairaiso, San Francisco, Kobe and their hinterlands, the mapmaker would see the evidence of the Sound expanding into territories all around the Pacific Basin—wood laid down for train tacks or shaped into buildings or bridges. At places like Sun-ning in Southern China, our mapmaker could ask the president of the railroad for more information on the railroad and the country. He or she could inquire in Cantonese, in English, or in Chinook.

In 1850, Puget Sound was a complex place where many peoples met and negotiated. In 1900, space in the Sound was shaped in large part from its integration into a greater "Pacific World"—a new world whose genesis owed much to the Sound’s trees that were turned into lumber and shipped out across the ocean. The transpacific traffic in trees did not monolithically determine just how the space in Puget Sound would be integrated with the Pacific World. The economic exchanges across the Pacific merely created the boardwalk over which people and goods would move and new lives would be created. Tugging against one another as they passed nature from hand to hand and land to land, they hauled a new place into being—the Pacific World. That was a world of contestation, as some of its inhabitants tricked others, some drove others out of the space, and some filed liens on the logs others were trying to shuttle out of the Sound and across the Pacific as fast as wind, current or steam could carry them.



Notes:, accessed January 8, 2004.

James McCurdy, By Juan de Fuca’s Strait: Pioneering Along the Northwestern Edge of the Continent (Portland, OR: Metropolitan, 1937), 215.

John Muir, Steep Trails, ch. 17.

Meany, 116.

. Registers of Entances and Clearances of Vessels, Nov 1851-April 1861. RG 36, series 17, vol 1; National Archives and Records Administration. Seattle Branch.

Coman and Gibbs, Time, Tide and Timber, 51?; Cox, Mills and Markets, 75.

Victoria Wyatt, "Alaska and Hawai’i", in The Oxford History of the American West; Richard Tucker, Insatiable Appetite: The United States and the Ecological Degradation of the Tropical World Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000); John Whitehead, "Noncontiguous Wests: Alaska and Hawai’i," in Wrobel and Steiner, eds., Many Wests: Place, Vulture, and Regional Identity (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1997), 319.


Cox, Mills and Markets, 80.

Cox, Mills and Markets, 82.

Olympia Pioneer and Democrat, October 7, 1854.

Coman and Gibbs, Time, Tide and Timber, 192-193, 442. All 535 mills in Washington produced 1,429 million board feet in 1899. Ibid., 436.

Cox, Mills and Markets, 87.


Cox, Mills and Markets, 113.

United States Consular Reports, no. 3, January 1881, 80-82. Meany, 139.

Meany, 148.

Morgan, Puget’s Sound, 155.

Calloway, First Peoples, 87.

John Muir, "Wild Parks and Forest Reservations of the West" (1898), in William Cronon, ed., John Muir: Nature Writings (New York: The Library of America, 1997), 732-733.

Muir, 732-733.

Muir, Steep Trails, ch. 18

Arjun Appadurai, ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 3. For more on this idea as it relates to environmental history and consumption, see Douglas C. Sackman, "Putting Gender on the Table: Food and the Family Life of Nature," in Seeing Nature through Gender, Virginia Scharff, ed. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003): 169-193.

Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues, 4.

Not only mill owners took advantage of the new dynamism in the Manila economy. The Chinese merchant Ng Soon, operator of the Zee Tai Company in Port Townsend, moved to manila and became a manager of a gorup of Oriental merchants. McCurdy, , By Juan de Fuca’s Strait, 208.

For the Filipino experience, and an elaboration of the dynamic relationship between imperialism and immigration, see Dorothy Fujita Rony, Colonial Power. The pattern does not seem to apply to those immigrant who were not Asian or Pacific Islanders, such as the Scandanavians who began coming to the Sound in large number in the late 19th century.

Coman and Gibbs, Time, Tide and Timber, 69.

Ledger C, Tacoma Mill Company Papers. Washington State Historical Society.

Alexander Ross, Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River.

Robert Bunting, The Pacific Raincoast: Environment and Culture in an American Eden, 1778-1900 (Lawrence: University press of Kansas, 1996), 121; Ficken, The Forested Land, 13-18.

Tacoma Mill Company Papers, Ledger E (1875), Washington State Historical Society.

Hunt, History of Tacoma, v.1, 240.

Letter to Washington Mill Co. January 9th, 1878, Box 14, Washington Mill Companyt Papers, University of Washington.

Meany, 324-325.; Thomas Gedosch, "Seabeck, 1857-1886: The History of a Company Town" (M.A. Thesis, University of Washington, 1967), 58.

Letters from Wa Chong & Company to Washington Mill Company; March 28,1895; may 24 1896; dec 30, 1896; feb 11, 1897. Washignton Mill Company Papers. Jefferson County Historical Society.

Gail Nomura, "Eashington’s Asian/Pacific American Communities," in Sid White and S.E. Soldberg, eds., Peoples of Washington State (Pullman: Washington State University, 1989), 125.

Asahel Curtis, "Chin Gee Hee" (1904). Negatiove A. Curtis 01281, University of Washington, Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives Division.

Chin Gee-hee, :etter to the seattle Chamber of Commerce, (N.D. 1922?).Box 1, Folder 9, Willard Jue Collection, University of Washington.

Biographical sketch, Chin Gee Hee Papers, Williard Jue Collection, University of Washington

See Cox.

Chin Gee-hee, Letter to the seattle Chamber of Commerce, (N.D. 1922?).Box 1, Folder 9, Willard Jue Collection, University of Washington

June 16th 1893 from blake to adams. Box 43b. Washingotn Mill Company Papers. Jefferson County Historical Society.

Edward Clayson, Jr., Historical Narratiuves of Puget Sound: Hoods Canal, 1865-1885. The experience of an only free man in a Penal Colony (Seattle: H.L. Davis Printing Company, 1911), 5-6.

Thomas Prosch Papers, Box 1, University of Washington.

Snowden, History of Washington, v. 4, 345

Hunt, History of Tacoma, v. 1

Tacoma Illustrated, 14.


That line went through Portland; the direct line over the Cascade mountains was completed in 1888.

Thomas Ripley, Green Timber, 52.

Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues, 81. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had closed the door to immigration from China of laborers. Although it was driven by anti-Asian sentiment, the exclusion act applied only to Chinese. Closing the door on Chinese immigration (even as the united States insisted on keeping the door open to China and foreigners in China), opened the door to other immigrants from the Pacific, including the Japanese. Japanese began emigrating in large numbers in the 1890s and by 1909, 2,200 were employed in the sawmills of the Pacific Northwest.

Memoires quoted in Price,Port Blakely, 132.

Quoted in Price, Port Blakely, 130. 136.

Nomura, Peoples of Washington, 125.

Though Ruth Benedict’s book is problemetic (especially the uses to which it was put in WWII), her points about the importance of the flower to Japanese identity are not in themselves invalid.

Quoted in Price, Port Blakely, 134.

Price, Port Blakely, 141-142.