Strange Historical Facts

Not long thereafter, they erected the first sawmill in what was to become the state of Washington on a site by the lower falls of the Deschutes River. Much of the capital for erecting the mill apparently came from George W. Bush, Washington’s first black resident. The cut of this mill, it has been claimed, was marketed through the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Nisqually and found its way to Victoria and the Hawaiian Islands. The first shipment was supposedly made on the Hudson’s Bay Company steamer Beaver in 1848.

Um, wow. I don’t know where to begin. This excerpt comes from page 25 of a 1977 book by historian Thomas R Cox titled Mills and Markets: A History of the Pacific Coast Lumber Industry to 1900. Aside from the interesting anecdote quoted above, it’s not very good. I picked it up because of the possibilities associated with such a subject, but instead of a theoretical narrative on globalization, identity, state-building, and property rights, it is a book that reads a lot like the excerpt I quoted above (the local history aspect I have enjoyed, though; local history is one of my secret pleasures, the kind of stuff that never makes it into grand theoretical treatises but always lights up my brain because of the fact that places I know and places I have lived are the focus of the narrative).

I blame it on the year it was published, of course. 1977 was at the height of the Cold War, which means that scholarly inquiry was inevitably going to be policed by ideologues, and also that works appraising global or regional scales and scopes just weren’t doable. For instance, there was virtually no mention of Natives in the book. (See archaeologist Kent Lightfoot’s excellent, highly-recommended work – start here and here – for more on how this is changing.)