Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle celebrates Red Men's Day, Butte-Anaconda Day, and Union (Oregon) Day on July 22, 1909.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 4/08/2009
  • Essay 8979

On July 22, 1909, Red Men’s Day, Butte-Anaconda Day, and Union (Oregon) Day are celebrated at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (A-Y-P) in Seattle. The A-Y-P Exposition took place on the University of Washington campus in Seattle between June 1 and October 16, 1909, drawing more than three million people. Visitors came from around the state, the nation, and the world to view hundreds of educational exhibits, stroll the lushly manicured grounds, and be entertained on the Pay Streak midway, while Seattle promoted itself as a gateway to the rich resources of Alaska, the Yukon, and Asia.  Each day of the A-Y-P was designated as a Special Day for one or more groups.  Special Days drew people involved in the featured organizations, and the resulting programs, lectures, ceremonies, parades, and athletic competitions gave local people a reason to visit again and again. Union Day is an informal celebration with no organized activities planned, while Butte-Anaconda Day features 500 excited Montanans who give away 5,000 copper ingots. Red Men’s Day is the day’s big day. Numerous activities are planned, with the highlight of the day scheduled to be a sham gun battle between the Red Men and the militia. But the mock battle turns tragic when one of its participants is struck and mortally wounded by a wax-tipped paper wad fired from a blank cartridge.

Red Men’s Day

The Improved Order of Red Men is the earliest fraternal organization established in the United States. It first formed as the Society of Red Men in 1813, but changed its name to the Improved Order of Red Men in 1834. The customs and terminology of Native Americans is a hallmark of the fraternity, but the group has a broader focus of preserving the history and traditions of America as a whole as well as upholding the principle of free government. 

Perhaps as many as 3,000 Washington state Red Men gathered at the A-Y-P on July 22, 1909, to celebrate their special day. (Women were included too, but under the ladies auxiliary of the Improved Order of Red Men, the Degree of Pocahontas.) A parade on the A-Y-P grounds at 10 a.m. kicked off Red Men’s Day; at 10:30 the group met in the Auditorium.  After lunch the women adjourned for a reception in the Women’s Building, while the men played a baseball game. But the real event of the day was a sham battle scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at the Stadium between 100 Red Men and the “militia,” made up of 100 members of the Washington National Guard.

The battle had been rehearsed in some detail. Rifles (used by the militia) and revolvers (used by the Red Men) were loaded with blank cartridges and checked before the battle to ensure that no live cartridges had been accidentally inserted.  But the blank cartridges in the rifles were tipped with a wax paper wad filled with powder. Though the wad was designed to explode immediately after being fired, people knew that these projectiles could actually travel 10 feet or more before exploding. Recognizing the hazard, organizers instructed the battle participants on both sides to aim high and not to fire from point-blank range at each other. 

Sham Battle, Real Tragedy 

The fighters followed these instructions when the battle first began. But soon, caught up in the heat of the moment, the warriors were firing their weapons directly at each other and from a distance of only a few feet. Several men were struck, but none were seriously injured -- at first.  Then one of the Red Men, Joseph Morhinway, 30, of Everett, was struck in the groin by a powder-filled wax paper wad, which exploded as it entered his body. He fell to the ground. 

At first everyone else thought it was part of the show. After all, all around fighters were falling to the ground in the fake throes of death. Morhinway lay on the ground unassisted for a time, but when he was put into a wagon, groaning in pain, it suddenly became clear he wasn’t faking. Closer examination revealed a two-inch wound in his right groin. His femoral artery had been severed and blood spurted from the injury; his intestines had also been badly damaged and were protruding from the wound. As both fighters and spectators realized what was happening, a stunned silence fell over the Stadium. Morhinway was rushed to the exposition hospital, but, despite the frantic efforts of four doctors to save him, bled to death.

The Red Men had scheduled a parade that evening on 1st and 2nd avenues, and it was forming when the marchers learned that Morhinway had died. There was talk of cancelling the parade, but instead the participants removed their hats and marched forward, flags draped in mourning; the boys’ band accompanying the Red Men played “Nearer, My God, To Thee.”

Both sides in the battle were quick to point an accusatory finger at the other, though the shot appeared to have come from a militiaman’s rifle. An inquest was planned for the next day to try to determine who had fired the fatal shot. But Morhinway’s brother, John Morhinway (who had witnessed the tragedy, along with his father, sister, and another brother) asked Coroner James C. Snyder to abandon the inquest, explaining that he believed the shot had been nothing more than a tragic accident and that he did not wish to hold anyone personally accountable for it.  Snyder honored Morhinway’s wishes, and the inquest was cancelled. 

Other Days

Union, Oregon, a small town in the northeastern part of the state, celebrated its day at the fair on July 22, 1909. There were no organized activities, and, judging by the lack of press coverage of the event, it appears that relatively few paid attention to Union Day. Not so for Butte-Anaconda (Montana) Day. Five hundred Montanans made the trek by special trains to the A-Y-P and made the most of their day, distributing to curious fairgoers 5,000 copper ingots and thousands of badges reading “On Your Way East Stop at Butte, the Copper Center” (Montana was renowned for its copper production at the time). The Montanans also held an afternoon reception at the Washington State Building, described by the Seattle Daily Times as a “big, happy reunion.”

The National Editorial Association also met at the A-Y-P on July 22.  Although this was not a designated special day on behalf of the association, the group had a scheduled program for much of the day in the Fine Arts Building. That evening they visited the Pay Streak and danced at a reception in the Washington State Building.

Sources: “Montanans Bring Copper Souvenirs,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 22, 1909, Sec. 2, p. 1;  “Accident In A Sham Battle Ends In Death Of One Of Participants,” Ibid., July 23, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 1. 3;  “Marchers Bare Heads In Red Men’s Parade,” Ibid., July 23, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 3;  “Militiamen In Fray As Volunteer Exhibitors,” Ibid., July 23, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 3;  “Montanans Hold Reunion At Fair,” Ibid., July 23, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 5;  “Says Disregard Of Order Caused Redman’s Death,” Ibid., July 24, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 1, 2;  “Sham Battle To Be Feature At Fair,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 21, 1909, p. 7;  “Montana Scatters Copper,” Ibid., July 22, 1909, p. 5; “Sham Battle Ends In Death,” Ibid., July 23, 1909, p. 1, 4;  “The Improved Order of Red Men,” website accessed April 4, 2009, (

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