Saturday, November 27, 2021

Four questions from the last election in map form (Fall 2021 edition)

 1. Did Talauna Reed's strategy of encouraging voting in high density apartment complexes work? 

2. Why did Reed get a post-primary bounce in SE Olympia?

And, it is more than the bottom line result that she did not win. When I look at the maps, she didn't move the needle in the neighborhoods with large apartment buildings. I had seen this approach being promoted on social media, and I was incredibly interested to see if it would work (in a winning result) or move the needle (by improving her returns in neighborhoods with more large apartment buildings).

First off, here is the map for her overall vote percentage:


Her best precincts were basically on the Eastside north of the highway and on the near-in Westside. Only one of these precincts (the blue one furthest west) has a collection of larger apartment buildings. 

Since I heard about the approach to focus on larger apartment buildings after the primary, I think looking at the change in raw votes and percentage change would be important. This is especially true since the primary finished very close between Lisa Parshley, Reed and Wendy Carlson. This meant that Carlson's large number of voters (for someone who didn't advance) were up for grabs.

First, here is the percentage change:


And here is the raw number of votes change:


And here you might start seeing a pattern with higher turnout with apartment dwellers. On the far Eastside by the hospital and down South of Ken Lake there might be some movement. 

But what is also consistent in these two maps in the handful of SE Olympia precincts where overall Reed did not do well. They also had large movements toward her during the primary to general shift. These are places where Carlson had a lot of votes to give up after she didn't make it through the primary. And despite not doing well, Reed picked up a fair amount of votes.

3. What is the meaning of the weirdest countywide map I have ever seen?

Eight years ago, I thought I'd seen the weirdest map ever when Sue Gunn won both extremely rural and conservative precincts and urban and liberal precincts. 

For a reference of how a Thurston County results map should look like, look at the Amy Evans/Joel Hanson for Port Commission map. Hanson is in blue, Evans in red.


Here you see the traditional urban to rural way these maps are organized. Hanson does better in the urban center of Olympia, while Evans does better in the rural areas and builds in towards Olympia. The battleground are the suburban belts around Olympia, including Lacey, Tumwater and a bit further out. From this map, you can see Evans won this by limiting Hanson's precincts to largely inside Olympia.

But, would someone please explain to me this? This is the Bob Iyall (blue) and Jesse Simmons (red) race for Olympia Port Commission: 


As normal, Iyall did do pretty well in the middle of the map. And, if you told me that Iyall did really well in Olympia, but Simmons bossed all of Lacey, I would have said this map was a lot closer than what it was. Here, it seems like it is the rest of the county vs. Lacey. I have never seen a map in Thurston County where a candidate does really well in Lacey and isn't able to translate that into better results elsewhere in the suburban belt or either in the urban core of Olympia or out in the rural areas.

4. Why did the right lane candidates have such varied success across the map?

I didn't want to do election results maps for the other city of Olympia races, because they all seemed to follow the same pattern of conservative candidates doing well on the far Westside and SE Olympia  and the eventual winners doing well everywhere else. I did do Reed's race because as the only one left in the progressive lane, she was unique. 

Well, what I did do was map the precincts won by any or all of the candidates in the right-hand lane. Candi Mercer didn't win any precincts, so she's not on this map.


The three remaining (Weigand, Kesler and Gauny) won several precincts in SE Olympia together. Weigand and Kesler then combined to win a couple more on the SE side and on the far Westside (both traditional conservative-for-Olympia territory). Kesler then won two on her own, both on the edges of town. Weigand in blue then picked up the rest of SE Olympia and the far Westside. He also won an inside precinct that includes the East Bay Harbor condominiums. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Forgetting Thanksgiving Island



A week or so ago, Feliks Banel put out a challenge to find the origin of the name of Thanksgiving Island. Thanksgiving Island was a small piece of land that you can see on some old maps on the stretch of the Columbia River between the Gorge and where the Snake joins. The image of an "Island of Thanksgiving" stokes the imagination. But the actual history of the naming is pretty pedestrian.

I think I ended up winning the challenge by finding a 1968 Oregonian article that covered geographic features that would disappear after the inundation by the John Day Dam reservoir. According to the article, Thanksgiving Island was named after an event. A steamboat landed on the island on Thanksgiving. That is a pretty normal sounding explanation, especially when you cross-reference the steamboat era of the Columbia River with when Thanksgiving as a national holiday was first coming into focus.

Thanksgiving Island disappeared under thousands of cubic feet of water of the John Day reservoir in 1971. Because even when it did exist, it was an island in a river, its existence was always temporary. These kinds of islands are formed and destroyed by erosion and sedimentation caused by the river moving back and forth across its flood plain, cutting new channels. 

Even without the John Day covering an entire landscape, that Thanksgiving Island would still exist today is an open question.

And this ethereal existence of Thanksgiving Island gives us a useful way to think about history, how we know anything in history and what we do with it.

Thanksgiving Island itself is interesting not because it tells us anything about ourselves, but because it was the only Thanksgiving Island recorded, and it is late November and people think about these kinds of things now. But there is a lot more to know about that particular stretch of the Columbia that we have forgotten.

During my internet searching to solve Feliks' mystery challenge, I came across this personal history by Sam H. Gill, the "oldest living steamboat engineer" on the Columbia River. In his history, he recounts the details of a massacre at Thanksgiving Island that I'd already heard about and wrote up here.

During the Bannock and Paiute War in 1878, the U.S. Army outfitted a steamboat with a Gatling gun and set it to patrol the Columbia. Lt. Mellville C. Wilkinson commanded the gunboat Northwest as he and his crew patrolled the Columbia River. Wilkinson’s mission was to prevent a tribe from the Oregon side from crossing to Washington. He would commit one of the countless under-recorded massacres of Indians by American soldiers.

According to Gill, the Thanksgiving Island Massacre was quick and cruel:

In the afternoon when we had reached Thanksgiving Island, a band of Indians with a large number of horses were discovered on the north bank, evidently coming west. At this locality, there are a series of three high hills presenting rounded fronts and sloping down to the narrow flat area between the base of the hills and the river. The hill separated by deep draws or canyons which is the general formation of the Washington shore in this section.

On first sight of the Indians, they were just coming up out of the draws and crossing the front of the next intervening hill. They were about two miles upstream from us and perhaps 500 feet up the hillside. They were evidently surprised at seeing the boat and began hastening to the next draw, for a hiding place.

When the Indians didn't respond to the whistle of the steamboat to stop running, "the Gatling gun was prepared and brought into action... The capacity of the gun is 400 shots a minute, and we fired at them for several minutes."

Michael McKenzie writing in the Columbia magazine in 2008 recounts that even at that time, what Lt. Wilkinson commanded his troops to do was not universally supported:

Steaming down from Wallula, he fired his artillery and Gatling gun without the slightest provocation into a group of peaceful natives camped there, killing at least two men and one woman, wounding others, and laying waste to the entire camp. Even some of the settlers of the period reacted to his action with distaste, (A.D.) Pambrun calling it a "massacre" and stating flatly that "there was no excuse" for what Wilkinson had done. The following month the Walla Walla Union heaped scorn on the lieutenant’s action...

Massacre survivor Jim Soh-yowit in 1917 told his story to historian L.V. McWhorter

...a band of Indians crossed the Columbia at Oom-i-tal-lum and pitched camp on the Washington shore. There were women and children in this camp, all peaceable, the men not having many arms. A steamboat came down the river, and without any warning opened fire on us with what seemed a machine gun. A man named Wah-la-lowie, belonging at La-qwe on the Columbia, was shot in the belly and killed. He was a middle-aged man. A middle aged women named Wah-lul-mi from Ti-che-chim, on the Columbia, was shot in the forehead, and fell dead. The Indians scattered and hid. 
I had a single breech-loading rifle which I grabbed and ran among the rocks and lay so they could not see me. A few horses were killed. They fired at where I lay hid but did not reach me. Finally the boat went away without landing. Indians lost a lot of things, for they did not try to gather up their belongings.

Shaw-ou-way-coot-shy-ah to McWhorter:

The white people from The Dalles, they all organized and got guns and got a steamboat and went up to the village and they killed all the old people, [who] don’t do nothing, all the old ladies and all the old men and before these Indians got back to their home they were all dead so part of them went up to the Umatilla River and then part of them went up the Columbia River and crossed the Columbia River …and they came there to a white man and his wife and some of the Indians says, "Here the white people have killed our fathers and mothers and they were not doing any harm, now I am going to kill this white man to make even."

The murder Shaw-ou-way-coot-shy-ah talked about is the much better documented revenge killing a few days later of two white people.

We know why Wilkinson's Thanksgiving Island Massacre is forgotten and the murder of  Blanche Bunting Perkins and Lorenzo Perkins is remembered. It is the same reason we keep up the statue of John R. Rogers and say nice things about Senator Slade Gorton after he dies.

The history we know is skewed. We don't write down nearly enough, and we seek to remember the things that keep us near our already existing legends. And, pulling the ends of history, so we can better understand episodes as clearly misremembered as the Whitman murders, is hard.

Every historian should feel chastened by the last election in Virginia. The common trope is that one of the reasons Democrats did not do well was because voters were afraid of how history will be taught in schools. Targeting the 1619 Project puts the continued understanding of history in the bulls-eye. There is a real force behind not continuing to research the years our civilization has existed, because the information we surface is contrary to the accepted narrative.

We absolutely forgot why Thanksgiving Island was named what it was. We also forgot the Thanksgiving Island Massacre. But we didn't forget the Perkinses. And knowing what we know and why we know it helps us see ourselves and the harm we caused. And if we find echos of that harm in our lives and our communities, we can try to make it better.

A good apology includes two things: an explanation of what you did wrong and what you will do to fix it.

And like the geomorphology nature of Thanksgiving Island and the landscape capture of the John Day dam reservoir, our understanding of what happened in the past has ebbed and intensified.

To be honest, the name Thanksgiving Island is trivia. It was a fun adventure, it gave me a chance to chat with a cool historian, but it doesn't help us move forward. 

Re-remembering the Massacre of Thanksgiving Island is much more instructive. It gives us a peak into the brutality of the Bannock and Paiute War and how our country came to dominate our region. Knowing what we did is the first part of a good apology. Knowing what harm we created.

The second part of a good apology is much harder.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Where Olympia has become less black in the past 10 years

 Last month I put up a couple of posts featuring maps that explore population growth in Olympia over the last decade.

The first map showed the uneven distribution of population growth across the city. The second map took a look at the change in the percentage of white people in the last ten years on the neighborhood level. 

I was thinking about the second map today and realized I may have done a disservice by using change in white population to properly illustrate change in race. It is true, Olympia overall has gotten more diverse in the last 10 years. The white population has barely budged from 38,000 (around 82 percent in 2010) to around 39,000 (75 percent in 2020). At the same time, the black population has increased from 931 (2 percent) to 1,340 (3 percent).

But it is important to note where that population increase has occurred. In fact, in some neighborhoods, the black population has decreased in the past 10 years, while the black population citywide has increased.

The most growth seems to be in neighborhoods I've discussed before. For example, I am not surprised at all that block group 105.1 (the blue section in the bottom left of the Westside) showed a large increase in percentage of black residents. The far Eastside near St. Peter's also doesn't surprise me.

All the neighborhoods marked in red saw a decrease in black population. These neighborhoods follow the same trend as the previous map on population growth. The neighborhoods that didn't grow in the past 10 years also saw a decline in black population.

Again, there are outliers, but the relationship between the population increase in neighborhoods and the change in the number of black people living there is real. Here is population change charted against change in black population as a percentage:


2020 marked the close of the last decade of a long-term experiment we played in Olympia. We closed off growth in many Olympia neighborhoods beginning in the 1980s by systematically downzoning predominantly older, single-famly home neighborhoods. This was to prevent the spread of multi-family housing and the creation of "ghettos." The Housing Options Plan passed right after the census data was collected largely reversed these downzones city-wide. 

You can find my data sources in the posts below. Here is my crosswalk file for this map.