Checking the Facts
In a recent review of my book North Beach Peninsula’s IR&N the writer commented on my “meticulous research.” I was thrilled! I do try to be thorough when I am writing about historical events, but the problems are legion.
Take, for instance, the identity of the Indian who told my great-grandfather, R. H. Espy, of the huge stand of oysters on the west side of Shoalwater Bay – information that ultimately led Espy and his friend Isaac Clark to establish the town of Oysterville. My venerable uncle Willard Espy wrote in Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village that it was Nahcati who led Grandpa and Isaac Clark to this part of the bay. I, like everyone else, always assumed that was so. After all, I knew Willard to be diligent in his pursuit of facts and a bit of checking into earlier publications on my part did not reveal any particular discrepancies in his information.
There was just one little thing. In 1893, while R.H. Espy was still living, a two-volume work by Julian Hawthorne, History of Washington, was published. The book included biographies and portraits of Washington’s pioneers based on personal interviews. In my great-grandfather’s case, his biography was written and submitted by his wife Julia, a former school teacher to whom Espy deferred in matters to do with writing. She made no mention of Nahcati or of any Indian at all.
In fact, the earliest mention I could find of R. H. Espy’s association with an Indian was in a speech, later published in a small book called A Collection of Historical Addresses, by George Johnson of Ocean Park: Mr. Espy moved over on to the Palix with the idea of locating a homestead. While there he was told by an Indian of the great beds of oysters on the flats on the peninsula side of the bay, or out in front of where he subsequently located the following year… following the sound went ashore, and there sat the Palix Indian pounding on a hollow cedar log to attract their attention… This speech was delivered before the Lower Columbia Associated Chambers of Commerce sometime prior to Johnson’s death in 1934.
By 1966, Nahcati’s name had been attached to that “Palix Indian” by Lucile MacDonald of Coast Country fame and, the following year, by Oysterville native son Charles Nelson, president of the Pacific County Historical Society. Apparently no one, not even Willard, questioned the validity of their stories. And so in the ensuing half century the Nahcati-Espy association has become “fact.”
Imagine my surprise and dilemma, then, when I recently unearthed amongst the family papers, an account by R.H. Espy, himself, in which he spoke of his Palix Indian friend by name, “Old Klickeas:” …while on Palix old “Klickeas,” Indian, had told of oysters here…When came along front Oysterville tide was out – was foggy—could not see shore but heard something tapping …Found “Klickeas” pounding on old stump on beach…
In my forthcoming book Oysterville for Arcadia Press it is Klickeas, not Nahcati, who will be given long overdue credit for his role in the founding of Oysterville. I expect flack from my readers as was my experience when writing the circumstances of Medora’s death in Dear Medora. Willard had that wrong, too, but when it comes to his word vs. mine I don’t have the necessary renown and, therefore, credibility – meticulous research or not. Such is the lot of the author/historian!