William Morley Manning loans a large collection of Indian artifacts to the Spokane Museum on September 11, 1916.

  • By Jack and Claire Nisbet
  • Posted 6/04/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9445

On September 11, 1916, mining engineer William Morley Manning (1877-1944) of Spokane loans a large collection of Indian artifacts to the Spokane Museum, which later merges with the Eastern Washington Historical Society. This valuable record of traditional Plateau artistry and craftsmanship is currently housed in climate-controlled storage at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane.

Spokane's First Museum

In the spring of 1916, a group of Spokane citizens established the Spokane Historical Society "to awaken a keener interest in the public mind" of the "unusual historic charm" of the city and surrounding region (Spokesman).  The group's founders soon decided that a museum should be a top priority, and appointed committees to raise funds and seek donations of objects. By mid-September, organizers had secured the use of a small room on the third floor of City Hall and had rented two glass showcases from a second-hand store.

On September 11, 1916, William Manning, a local mining engineer, loaned the fledgling Spokane Museum their first exhibit, a collection of 164 tribal artifacts that included stone implements, baskets, tule mats, pipes, clothing, bows and arrows, and fish spears. Officially recorded as Accession No. 0001, the items were valued at $1,200.

William Morely Manning

Manning was born in Canada in 1877 and studied mining engineering at the University of Toronto before moving to Eastern Washington in 1897. While working as supervisor and engineer at several mines in the Orient district, he began collecting artifacts from members of the Colville and Kalispel tribes. Sometime before 1904 he met Chief Joseph (1840-1904), then living on the Colville Indian Reservation near Nespelem. Joseph presented Manning with a council pipe carved from serpentine and inlaid with silver. "This pipe was a personal gift from Chief Joseph and is contained in a leather case which is beaded to represent the design on the pipe which is the tree of life with the spear and fish of plenty" (Item 70, Manning Collection List).  

During the next decade, Manning devoted considerable time and resources to collecting artifacts from the Plateau region, noting details of their construction & craftsmanship.

After being naturalized as a U.S. citizen in September 1906, Manning won a position as Stevens County Engineer in the November election. His duties as supervisor of road surveys carried him throughout Northeastern Washington, and he frequently traversed the Colville and Spokane Indian reservations, where he had many occasions to further his hobby during visits with tribal members to discuss boundary lines and wagon routes.

While overseeing the survey of a new road on the Spokane Indian Reservation, for example, Manning made the acquaintance of Chief William Three Mountains the Younger and his wife Mattie. On one visit, the county surveyor admired a pair of moccasins belonging to Mattie and left with them in his possession. "Woman’s buckskin moccasins, bought from wife of Chief Three Mountain of the Spokanes, who was at the time, wearing them. Solid beaded design in blue, green, yellow, old rose and purple. 7 1/2” long. Beaded on front and outside only" (Item 88, Manning Collection List).

Many of the objects he collected were very rare examples of traditional design, such as a the first object on the list enumerating his collection: a soft weave basket, "dark brown, flat, native hemp, 18 x 25 inches. Very old. Spokane. Secured from Spokane Indian Chief Three Mountains" (Manning Collection List, Item 1). Twined from native hemp during the mid-nineteenth century, the bag, although very worn from use, still exhibits remnants of its cornhusk weft design.

At the completion of his second term as county engineer in December 1910, Manning moved to Spokane, where he had recently married. He worked as a U.S. Deputy Mineral Surveyor and a self-employed civil engineer, but little else is known of his activities until the fall of 1916, when he donated his collection to the fledgling Spokane Museum. There is no evidence that he continued collecting after this time.

A Living Legacy

When the Spokane Historical Society was incorporated as the Eastern Washington Historical Society in 1918, Manning was elected a life member in recognition of his contribution to the founding of the institution. After his death in 1944, the society acquired the collection from his widow.

With the exception of a few items that he reclaimed or that were repatriated to various tribes, the artifacts that he first deposited in simple glass cases in a small room in City Hall, after four moves to new locations, now reside in climate-controlled storage at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. Nationally recognized for its unique Plateau components, the William Morley Manning American Indian Collection has most recently served as the basis for the Living Legacy exhibit at the MAC, on display until summer 2010.

Sources: Accession Record 001, Joel E. Ferris Research Library, Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane, Washington; "Back of Spokane Is a Century of Deep Historic Interest," Spokesman Review, April 23, 1916; Manning Collection List, January 1, 1926, Joel E. Ferris Research Library, Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane, Washington.

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