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Indians and non-Indians attend a historic powwow at Cashmere from August 20 to August 22, 1931.

HistoryLink.org Essay 9147 : Printer-Friendly Format

A historic powwow held at Cashmere August 20 through 22, 1931, draws Indians and non-Indians from a wide area. The main organizers are J. Harold Anderson, a young Cashmere attorney who represented the Wenatchi Tribe, and Mark Balaban, one of the founders of the well-known Cashmere firm Aplets & Cotlets. Through John Harmelt (d. 1937), the last hereditary Wenatchi chief, Anderson has become increasingly aware of the unfair treatment of these Indians following Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens's Walla Walla Treaty of 1855, which deeded Wenatchi land, now part of the Wenatchee National Forest, to the Yakama Nation. Article X of the same treaty assures the Wenatchis of the continuation of their fishing rights by promising a fishery, the Wenatchapam (Wenatshapam) Fishery Reservation, at the confluence of Icicle Creek and the Wenatchee River at present Leavenworth. As an attempt to call attention to this unfilled treaty obligation to the Wenatchis, as well as to boost the economy of Cashmere area, Anderson, Balaban, the Chamber of Commerce, and local Indian leaders organize a “Grand Powwow and Historical Pageant.”  

Wenatchis, Yakamas, and the Cashmere Chamber of Commerce

The Wenatchis and Yakamas had always viewed this traditional fishing area as belonging to all the tribes that had shared it for generations. As a result of complex factors relating to the Great Northern Railway’s desired right-of-way and settler interests, as well as deceptive government dealings with the Indians, the Yakamas eventually sold the land to the federal government. Many Wenatchis who had occupied these lands for countless generations drifted to reservations, particularly the Colville and Yakama. Only a few impoverished Wenatchis remained locally into the 1930s to carry on their traditional life as best they could. Among them were Chief Harmelt and his family. Another was Medicine Man Johnnie Baker, who was living on traditional Wenatchi land four miles south of Cashmere. 

Indians attending the powwow set up teepees on a level expanse of land where Yaksum (Yaxon) Canyon meets Mission Creek just south of Cashmere, referred to in newspaper accounts as Indian Sam’s allotment or old Indian Camp Ground, land owned by Mary Felix, one of the remaining Wenatchis in the area. Ahead of time, local Indians had cut poles that were then trucked down to the encampment area for visiting Indians to erect their teepees. The remaining approximately 250 reservation Wenatchi traveled to join the few of their tribe still in the Cashmere area. The newspapers estimated that more than 700 Indians of various tribes attended the powwow, although it is unclear how many actually stayed in teepees. Among the visitors from Western Washington tribes was Chief William Shelton of the Tulalip (or Snohomish) Tribe in Western Washington, a totem pole carver who brought samples and demonstrated their significance during the powwow. 

The newspapers did not mention food or sanitary arrangements on the powwow site, either for the Indian encampment or for the throngs attending the programs. However, T. J. Henry made the Henry Building in Cashmere Avenue available for Indian women and children to use when they left the encampment to come into town. Intoxicating beverages were forbidden in the Indian encampment and grounds of the powwow, with a special Indian agent from the Department of the Interior enforcing the edict. Assisting him were men temporarily deputized from the Chelan County Sheriff’s Department.

J. Harold Anderson recalled in a 1989 interview that the original impetus for the 1931 powwow was to enable Chief Harmelt to assemble the remaining Wenatchis for a business meeting to address tribal grievances and present them to Indian agents. Anderson enlisted the Cashmere Chamber of Commerce to finance it and to cover participants’ travel expenses. As he recalled, Kiotus Tecumseh, a prominent Indian singer who worked in advertising for Skookum Apple Growers in Wenatchee, was hired to promote the idea. Soon Tecumseh advocated turning the powwow into a more commercial event in order to cover expenses. As it turned out, there was money left over from the more than 5,000 paid admissions, which was used to restore the local Indian cemetery.

The Cashmere Chamber of Commerce, merchants throughout the Wenatchee Valley, and the local newspapers immediately recognized that Tecumseh’s suggestion for the powwow could be a means of boosting the region’s Depression-era economy. This emphasis was not without precedent, as the use of Indian motifs and events to promote tourism and economic growth was a longstanding practice in the West. In fact, the apple industry of the Wenatchee Valley was a prime example, with its colorful box labels bearing Indian images. Furthermore, boosterism was a major impetus behind the Northwest Indian Congresses held in Spokane in 1925 and 1926. The Wenatchee Valley towns exulted that Universal Pictures would film the powwow, with the result that “the community will get advertising by having this appear in the news reels over the entire country” (CVR, August 20, 1931, p. 8).

Treaty Rights and Wrongs

The press gave short shrift to the restoration of treaty rights aspect of the event, although an article about the principal organizer, J. Harold Anderson, did refer to him as “attorney for the Indians in their conference with the United States government agents in the matter of the land settlement” (CVR, August 13, 1931, p. 3). An editorial in the Wenatchee Daily World recognized the Indian empowerment possibilities of the powwow, but did not mention the unfulfilled treaty obligations involving land and fishing rights: 

“Many Indians are coming from all over the state to attend the powwow to be held this week in Cashmere. This powwow is the most recent effort to unite the Indians of the state into an effective organization. We see some real possibilities in such a movement.

“There is an opportunity to dignify the true Indian character ... elements which are entitled to emulation. The elements of independence, of courage, the love of the Great Outdoors, the thoughtfulness of younger ones for the elder members of the tribes, honesty ...  

“Most of the troubles of the past were due to lack of understanding. Criminal whites were responsible for most of it. The Indian, unable to understand the language of the white man, was ready to fight for his home and native land. And he did, till he was overpowered. We wish for the powwow an unbounded success” (WDW, August 20, 1931, p. 4).

An article from the same paper said only that the 1855 treaty negotiated by Governor Stevens was the basis of Wenatchi claims to money the federal government erroneously paid to the Yakamas for the sale of traditional Wenatchi land. In general, the newspapers emphasized the dispute between the Wenatchis and Yakamas rather than any disagreements with the whites.  

Parades and Other Preparations

Advanced publicity for the powwow included a car parade and band concert the previous weekend at Wenatchee, resulting in large ticket sales. On August 15, Chief Harmelt gave a speech, through an interpreter, at the Fox-Liberty Theatre. In addition, non-Indians put up teepee replicas all over the valley. Winner of a contest among local merchants for the best Indian exhibits displayed in their windows was the Mission Hotel in Cashmere with an exhibit featuring a teepee and an Indian sitting before a fire. All Wenatchee businesses were asked to run powwow announcements in the advertisements, and the Fox-Liberty Theater showed slides advertising the event. People were urged to put stickers on their cars. The Chamber of Commerce sent out letters inviting chambers throughout the state to send representatives. The highest-level public official at the powwow was Governor Roland H. Hartley (1864-1952).

A ticket covering the entire weekend cost $1.50, with single admissions 75 cents. A grandstand seating more than 2,000 was, according to the Wenatchee Daily World, for white visitors. The amplification provided was state-of-the-art for the time. A huge area was allocated for parking, coordinated by the Boy Scouts and Highway Patrol.  

The Powwow

The powwow program for Thursday and Friday afternoons began at 2:00 with an Indian parade. There followed Indian foot races, teepee races, Indian dancing, and Chief Shelton lecturing on totem poles. On Saturday afternoon, there was a parade followed by speeches by Chief Kiutus Tecumseh, the mayors of Cashmere and Wenatchee, Congressman Sam B. Hill, Chief Shelton again, and a beauty contest for Indian girls after which Governor Hartley gave out prizes and delivered a speech. 

The main event for all three evenings was a pageant reenacting a highly romanticized version of the 1855 treaty signing and a traditional Indian wedding, with Indians and non-Indians acting the various roles. The program printed in the Cashmere Valley Record, featuring a large photograph of Chief Harmelt, included the following synopsis of the pageant:  

“The Wanatcha [Wenatchi] Indians were encamped on one of their camping sites in Mission Creek. It is late one evening when a runner came into camp, with a wild cry drew the attention of the camp. He had scouted some strange people. Their faces were white. The chief and two warriors go forward to meet the newcomers and parley with their leader (Governor Stevens) and two of his men. They return to camp and the Indians entertain them with dances and wrestling. They parley over the agreement (treaty) with the white men and accept it. While all this is going on a brave from an enemy tribe, the lover of a Wanatcha princess rides up with a whoop as she is unloading baskets from her horse and lifts her to his horse. They flee into the darkness, pursued by her tribal lover and other braves. Captured they drag the brave to camp and tie him for torture. Council decides he can prove himself, and twelve warriors arrange themselves for the Gauntlet. He dashes thru, risking all for his sweetheart. He is successful in his run and is acclaimed a Brave and given to the Princess. He sings to her as they ride away on their honeymoon. Governor Stevens bids good night to the Chief, sentinels are stationed and the Tom Toms from the Peace Dance die away” (CVR, August 20, 1931, p. 7).

In addition to the reenactment of the an ancient Indian wedding, an actual wedding took place at the powwow on Friday night, when Chief William Shelton performed a ceremony uniting Lloyd Daniel Knapp, Chippewa Tribe, and Irene Inell Elwell, Snohomish Tribe. Shelton was described as authorized by the federal government to perform traditional and binding Indian weddings. The couple already had obtained a Chelan County marriage license, yet there were murmurings among some of the spectators that such an Indian wedding was not legal. Therefore, the next day, a missionary married the couple in a Christian service.

On the opening night, according to newspaper estimates, between 1,500 and 2,000 observed the pageant, “which received continuous ovation from the beginning to end. After the regular program was ended, a large percentage of the crowd lingered to watch the stick games which lasted on to midnight” (CVR, August 20, p. 8). Estimates of attendance for Friday night were between 4,000 and 5,000.

The day after the powwow, Wenatchi leaders met with Indian agents from the Yakama and Colville reservations. It was probably during these negotiations that Chief Harmelt recounted his ongoing efforts to help his people regain their rights and urged the younger tribal members to continue the struggle. Not until August 13, 2008, did the U.S. 9th Circuit Court render a long-awaited decision restoring Icicle Creek and Wenatchee River fishing rights to the Wenatchi living on the Colville Reservation, now the most numerous descendants of the original tribe. 

On the weekend of June 15-18, 1989, Cashmere hosted another powwow as its contribution to festivities celebrating the centennial of Washington statehood. It was held at the Chelan County fairgrounds. Organizers Terry McCauley, who had succeeded J. Harold Anderson in his law practice, and Greg Taylor of Aplets & Cotlets enlisted the participation of the Cashmere Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, the Chelan County Historical Society, and various tribes in sponsoring the event. Seed money and advanced ticket sales raised enough money to provide prizes attracting more than 300 Indian dancers, at least 15 drumming groups and many top rodeo riders. Many tribes and more than 10,000 spectators attended the four-day event.

Sources:
Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, Indians of the Pacific Northwest (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981), 264; Richard Scheuerman, The Wenatchee Valley and its First Peoples (Wenatchee: Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, 2005), 97, 106, 115-136; “Everything Ready for the Huge Indian Powwow,” Cashmere Valley Record, August 13, 1931, p. 3;  “Indian Judges Select Mission Hotel Window,” Ibid, August 20, 1931, p. 1; “All Chambers are Invited for Powwow,” Ibid, August 20, 1931, p. 2; “Indian Powwow and Historical Pageant,” Ibid, August 20, 1931, p. 7; “Governor Hartley To Arrive Friday Evening for Powwow,” “Good Attendance for Powwow for Opening Program; “Powwow showing to Capacity Crowds,” “ Powwow Program to be Amplified,” “Movie Company Here for Powwow,” Ibid, August 20, 1931, p. 8; “Chief Harmelt and Monitor Quartet on Stage Tonight,” Wenatchee Daily World, August 15, 1931, p. 2; “Indian Powwow and Historical Pageant,” Ibid, August 17, 1931, p. 14; “An Active ‘physician’ at 80,” Ibid, Wenatchee Daily World, August 19, 1931, p. 16; “Cashmere is Indian Center; Bride and Bridegroom Come,” Ibid, August 19, 1931, p. 15; “Pages of Time Rolled Back 50 Years at Cashmere,” Ibid, August 20, 1931, p. 1, 17; “Powwow to be Shy Firewater,” Ibid, August 20, 1931, p. 2; “The Indian Powwow,” Ibid, August 20, 1931, p. 4; “‘Wahanatchas’ Gather for Tribal Business,” Ibid , August 21, 1931, p. 1; “700 Indian Men and Women Present; More Coming,” Ibid, August 21, 1931, p. 19; “Red Men’s Wigwam Village ... A Picturesque Setting at Cashmere,” Ibid, August 22, 1931, p. 1; “Powwow is Nearing End,” Ibid, August 22, 1931, p. 2; “Indian Couple to Wed Again,” Ibid, August 22, 1931, p. 2; “5,000 View Indian Pageant,” Ibid, August 22, 1931, p. 9; “Judge Rules Wenatchis Have Fishing Rights at Leavenworth,” The Wenatchee World, August 16, 2008, Wenatchee World Online website accessed August 18, 2008 (http://wenatcheeworld.com/article/20080816NEWS04/297602595); “False Promises: the Lost Land of the Wenatchi,” False Promises website accessed August 8, 2008 (http://www.falsepromises.com/); Kimberlee Craig, “The Great Indian Gathering -- Tribes Return to Cashmere,” Wenatchee World, June 11, 1989, pp. 1, 2; Rick Steigmeyer, “Politics & Pageantry; 1931 Powwow Was a Sight to Remember, Cashmere Valley Record, June 14, 1989, pp. 1, 4; Richard Scheuerman, emails to Laura Arksey, August 13 and 17, 2008, in possession of Laura Arksey, Spokane, Washington. See also: "Wenatchi Band’s Fishing Rights Upheld,” Spokesman-Review , May 29, 2010, B-1.


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Wenatchi Chief John Harmelt (d. 1937), powwow, Cashmere, August 1931
Courtesy Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (Robert Eddy Collection)


J. Harold Anderson, ca. 1931
Courtesy Cashmere Valley Record


Teepees, powwow, Cashmere, August 1931
Courtesy Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (Robert Eddy Collection)


Chief Kiutus Tecumseh and Mary Felix, powwow, Cashmere, August 1931
Courtesy Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (Robert Eddy Collection)


Antoine Francis, powwow, Cashmere, August 1931
Courtesy Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (Robert Eddy Collection)


Johnnie Baker, powwow, Cashmere, August 1931
Courtesy Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (Robert Eddy Collection)


 
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