Totem Pole and Pioneer Square
I like Seattle, it reminds me of S. F. as it was before the fire
Everett Wash. July 11-07
Dear Uncle and Aunt
How are you all? Hope you are just as well and enjoying yourselves as much as we are. We are having fine weather and seeing lots of nice places. This is a fine little city on Puget Sound. We were in Bellingham yesterday and tomorrow go back to Seattle where we will stay a week. This is a fine state and I am having a lovely time.
Stolen from Tongass
The first thing you see when you look at this card is the large prominent totem pole reach from the ground to the top of the image, framed between buildings and in the center of the square. This Totem Pole was hoisted into place on October 18, 1899, and since then totem poles have become a symbol of the city. In fact, a 2011 article written by the Seattle Times proudly begins “Seattle is a city of totem poles: Carved figures glower, stand watch, warn, scold, honor and mourn on poles raised in parks, city squares, museums and shop fronts all over town.” Even Seattle’s Football team, the Seahawks sells “Team Totems” on their official store.
But there’s a problem. Totem poles have little to do with Seattle, and the totem pole that started it all, the Chief-of-All-Women pole in Pioneer Square, was actually stolen by a group of wealthy Seattle businessmen who had recently traveled to Alaska. During their expedition, they stopped off at the Tlingit village of Tongass, and the way they tell it, the village was abandoned by all but one man who didn’t object to them taking any pole of their choosing. In their minds, nothing would be a better gift to the city of Seattle than this stolen piece of culture. But the people of Seattle did not know this pole was stolen, and in 1889 groups gathered and celebrated the 49 feet 8-inch tall totem pole as it was erected in pioneer square.
The Tlingit people tried to retrieve their totem pole but the local Seattle government refused to surrender it to them. The Tignit people then sued for $20,000 but only received an “out-of-court settlement of $500 to benefit an Indian school near Ketchikan”. None of the criminals who stole the totem pole faced any repercussions for their crime.
So since 1889, it’s remained in Seattle’s pioneer square. Well, sort of, an arsonist burnt the original in 1938, and the Tlingit people carved a replica that now stands in its place. In 1977 the National Park Service placed the Chief-of-All-Women pole on the register of National Historic Places commenting that the pole “now stands as a symbol of the complicated relationship between American Indians and European Americans.”
Today you can still find Totem poles around the city of Seattle, but that may be changing. The Coast Salish, the indigenous people of Seattle, did not create totem poles and their art is not prominently featured in the city. However, that may change soon as a couple of city council members have started a review of the city’s numerous totem poles in consideration of cultural concerns.
But, for now, you can still find hundreds of Seattle Postcards featuring the Chief of All Woman pole in Pioneer Square on Ebay. And many of them are waiting to be sent by you to a friend.
That’s all I have for you today,
P.S. Send your Grandpa a postcard!
Totem Pole and Pioneer Square Seattle, Wash.
Lithograph on card stock
5660 Published by The Puget Sound News Company, Seattle (Wash.) Leipzig, Dresden. Polo Chrome Trademark ANC N Y Germany
Postmark + Cancellation:
Everette Washington July 11th 1907 6pm
American Flag Cancellation
Arsonist damages Seattle’s Pioneer Square totem pole on October 22, 1938
Digital Collection of Tlingit people and Totem Poles
Part 2 Coast Salish Art and Carving
Special Thank You to Paul for helping to transcribe the card and Valerie for copyediting.