Checking the Facts

Apr 5, 2010 | 9 comments

The Wrong Man

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!


  1. Cheryl

    Wow! All of that meticulous work last year did pay off!

  2. Betsy

    Despair not! Credibility comes with time and meticulous research will win out as your own renown will surely grow.

    • sydney

      Thanks, Betsy. We can but hope! But, mark my words, there will be flack!

  3. Jim Sayce

    Yikes, our Troop 44 did the gravesite cleanup (Nahcati’s) like about 40 years ago…as I recall. To quote Edward Abbey, “Time is running out like shit through a short dog”.

  4. Sydney Stevens

    You are so right about the time thing. Look at “the rest of the story” though — it’s not about who is in Nahcati’s grave, although that’s another matter of controversy. It’s about yet another historical “fact.”

  5. Brigid Byrne

    So did Nahcati even exist? And I bet Nahcati got in trouble when he got home, I’ve heard of wars over those osysters.

  6. Sydney Stevens

    Yes, Nahcati did indeed exist. Nahcotta is named after him. He just wasn’t the one who told Espy and Clark about the oysters on the west side of Shoalwater Bay. It will become clear if you read “the rest of the story” by clicking the “read the entire article” button. Or did you do that already?

  7. Jim Sayce

    Yes, I had read the entire article (fascinating)..but since I was part of the Troop, the sign brought back instant memories. BTW, Nahcati was rumuroed to havea summer camp iin the once upon a time field south of my parent’s place.

  8. Sydney Stevens

    Oh good. I was afraid you were getting the impression that your grave cleaning was for the wrong guy!
    I’ve heard that Nahcati and his family lived in the area that is now the Moby Dick. But I’ve also heard that John Peter Paul who had the first cranberry bog on the peninsula lived where the Moby Dick is now. Ditto the Crellin family from the Isle of Man, some of whom later moved to Oysterville and built our house and the old Heckes house. I think “South of your folks place” sounds close enough to the Moby Dick to account for Nahcati and family. I’m glad to have that pinpointed! Now it would be fun to get more details about the Crellins and JP Paul.


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