October 3, 2009
Dick Little's Cities of the West

Originally published in the Chicago Record-Herald, Richard Henry Little's satirical column "The Cities of the West" was reprinted in the Everett Herald on June 26th, 1909 on page 5.

I used this as inspriation for my presentation at MOHAI about the visit by the Chicago Association of Commerce to Seattle in 1909.

Here's the full text of his look at Seattle and the Puget sound while visiting for the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition:

In the middle West, we think New York is somewhat insular and blind because the citizens of that excellent community think Chicago a benighted frontier town somewhere between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The trip of the trade extension delegation of the Chicago Association of Commerce to the Northwestern states has taught some of us that New York has not a monopoly on all the insular prejudices in the country.

Those of the delegation who had not been this way before had some sort of a hazy idea that Spokane, Seattle, Tacoma and Portland were all in one little cluster somewhere up in this corner of the country. We regard Seattle and Tacoma as being twin cities at least and that you could walk from one to the other. Spokane was but a little way off and Portland somewhere in the neighborhood.

One member of the delegation was planning to leave the special train for a day or two after we arrived in Portland and run down to San Francisco. Of Everett and Bellingham we know as much as we do of the smaller towns in the interior of Beloochistan.

It was a surprise, almost a shock, to find that Seattle, the nearest of these most northwestern towns to Spokane, was yet 400 miles away. The boundary lines of Tacoma and Seattle do not coincide because there is a neat margin of thirty-six miles between. It's almost 200 miles from Seattle down to Portland, and don't ever think of running down from Portland to San Francisco, because it's just 778 miles.

Bellingham and Everett, the two Puget Sound cities we had never heard of, are north of Seattle, Bellingham 100 miles and Everett 45.


When we were going into Seattle we had an impression the train crew had made a mistake and were taking us into Tacoma because along the tracks here and there were big illuminated signs, "You'll Like Tacoma." But we found that this was only clever advertising on the part of the enterprising citizens of Tacoma.

Seattle was a surprise. All of these western cities are surprises to the eastern visitors, and when you come out this far Chicago is considered about as much east as Boston. We know that Seattle was entitled to be called a big city, but we were hardly prepared to find out that it numbers its inhabitants at 300,000. That is, they number them at that in Seattle. In Portland they say that Seattle has 250,000. It is Portland that has the 300,000.

It depends on the viewpoint. In Seattle they tell you that their town is marked by destiny as the future great metropolis of the Northwest. It has the start, the location and the greatest harbor in the world, a harbor where the navies of all nations there be can rest at anchor. They point out that Portland cannot claim to be a great seaport because it lies 150 miles up the Columbia river, and that a great bar in the river prevents deep-draught vessels from ascending to the city. We believed this until we heard banquet speakers in the other towns we visited.


At Everett one of the eloquent speakers said: "Here in Everett, on proud Puget Sound, we have the greatest harbor in the world, a harbor where all the navies of every nation that there be can lie snugly at anchorage."

At Bellingham the chairman of the Commercial association in his address of welcome said: "You are in Bellingham, Bellingham on Puget Sound, and here you will find the greatest harbor of the world, where the navies of every nation on earth can lie together peacefully at anchorage."

At Tacoma the committee called our attention to the fact that we were in the city at the head of navigation on marvelous Puget Sound, where there is the greatest harbor in the world and where "all the navies of every nation on earth could lie together in proud security."

And at Portland we were assured that here indeed was the greatest harbor in the world, "where all the navies of all the nations that there be could lie together in sweet harmony."

One thing is certain, all the navies of every nation in the world "that there be" can without hesitancy proceed together to the northwestern coast of the United States. They're bound to find a place where they can all anchor together in snug security.


Seattle was not entirely to the liking of the Chicago visitors. We are a plains people and haven't the muscular development required to walk about Seattle. The city is built on the side of a steep hill, with streets that are as steep as ladders and cross streets built on terraces. The Chicago visitors were domiciled in a hotel away toward the top of the hill, and on Sunday the cable cars broke and we had to climb. The Chicago visitors blew like porpoises in making the ascent and sat down every half block to rest. The Seattle folk trudged stolidly by us without a sign of discomfort. They had a certain way of walking - a sort of trick that we lacked. They tacked gently from one side of the walk to the other and carried their bodies with a sort of loose, swaying motion. They seemed surprised when we talked about their hills. They said, yes, that Seattle was some hilly, but nothing like it had been. They told us how the city had cut down all sorts of hills to make streets, and that a young mountain over a hundred feet high had bee calmly carted away to make room for the Washington hotel. If Chicago was built with a jack screw, then Seattle was built with a scoop shovel, and the hydraulic sluice, and the work was well done, too.


All the talk at Seattle was of the exposition. The exposition is worth talking about, too. It's not as big as lots others that have been held in the past, but no exposition was ever more prettily set. The buildings are under great pine trees, and everywhere are beds of gorgeous flowers and bowers of roses and clinging vines. There is nothing startlingly new even on the Pay Streak, the Midway of the Seattle exposition. Here we found all our old friends, the Streets of Cairo, the House Upside Down, the Japanese village, the Igorrotes and a boat ride through painted scenery. It was all old to us, but there's a lot of people in the Northwest that were not at the Chicago exposition, nor yet at the one at St. Louis, and who have never visited the Chicago summer amusement parks.

They talk nothing but money in six figures at Seattle, but so did they in all other towns. Citizens were pointed out to us who were now rolling in wealth who came to Seattle a few years ago on the blind baggage. But those who told us these strange things were quick to say that Seattle today offered more promise of quick returns than ever. Here was a city that held the trade f Alaska in sole captivity and was the capital of a great empire, bound to be the richest and most powerful section of country in all the world, with just a few years more of development. The slogan they gave us in Seattle was: "Get in and get in quick."

Up at Bellingham they told us the same thing. Bellingham pleasantly intimated that when the matter of being the capital of the great new empire of the Northwest was finally adjudicated the place would not be Seattle, but a certain city which excessive modesty forbade them to mention, but which commenced with B and the final syllable of which was "ham." They pointed proudly to their 45,000 population, and also mentioned that the largest lumber mills, the largest shingle mills and the largest salmon cannery in the world are all at Bellingham. Also they dwelt on the fact that if the Alaskan trade appealed to the visitors that Bellingham was 100 miles nearer to Alaska than Seattle and had the greatest harbor in the world, "a harbor where all the navies," etc.

We went aboard a tug at Bellingham and steamed far up the Sound until we came to a salmon net, where the fishermen were waiting for us before hauling in. We were disappointed as we approached because the boss fisherman shook his head dismally as we came alongside, and in response to the hail of the gallant captain of our tug said: "Nope, not much doing: it's too early. There's a few fish in the net, though, and we'll take 'em out, but it's a poor haul."

Thereupon the lusty fishermen commenced to haul up, and we got the impression that all the finny monsters of the deep were right there in that net. Great salmon four feet long and weighing up to forty and fifty pounds leaped high from the water and rushed furiously against the narrowing confines of the closely woven cords. 'Skates, that looked like salmon that had been run over by a steam roller, flopped around protesting in vain that they were not good to eat or look at, or play with, or anything else, and that it was no use catching them. Halibut and mackerel and strange looking sea monsters that we didn't know the names of flopped everywhere. Two big seals with red stains on their heads rolled helplessly in the bottom of the net as it came dripping from the water.

"Seals," explained the boss fisherman, looking up. We had to shoot 'em with a rifle: they were eating the fish." A big scoop net dipped up and down transferring the flopping fish from the net to the fishermen's scow.

"Only 300 or 400 salmon," said the boss fisherman. "I'm durned sorry. I wanted to show you a real sure enough catch.

We implored the skipper of the tug to tell us what a real sure enough catch would be.

"Oh, several thousands," said the skipper nonchalantly. "Generally the traps are simply jammed with salmon closer than they are when they're packed in cans. Sometimes they have to cut the nets and let a lot of 'em go so they won't walk off with the whole works."

We steamed back to Bellingham and into one of the canneries where the foreman proudly exhibited an iron Chinaman, or "Chink," as they call it. The work of beheading, sealing and cleaning the fish used to be performed by Chinamen, so they called the machine that now does all this work the "Chink." The fish are fed on a belt into the "Chink," which forthwith proceeds to cut off their heads, scale them, cut off the fins and tails, clean them and split them into halves. We stood in the most respectful admiration before the "Chink." It was such an intelligent, active machine that we would not have been surprised if it had spoken a few words concerning the salmon industries of Bellingham.

A long line of automobiles took us on a tour around the town. I don't know where they get all these automobiles they have away out here in the West. At the smallest towns we stopped in there were always more than enough automobiles lined up to haul all of our personally conducted party and a hundred or so of prominent citizens of the place.

One of the Chicago delegation had a theory that the machines were shipped on from town to town and that we used the same set of automobiles all the way around, but that theory is hardly tenable because the machines were of different make at the various cities. Anyhow they have machines in profusion and many of them were owned by the farmers of the locality. If there is any sign of wealth in the ownership of automobiles then there is much wealth in this great Northwest. They took us to the new chamber of commerce and the new Y. M. C. A. building and the State Normal school and the Elks' club and down blocks of business streets and over fine pavements past hundreds of beautiful homes.

It all looked very new, but very substantial. And all along the way we heard of how "Bill up there, drivin' that red otto, came out here five years ago without a nickel, that's his place up there on the hill, looks like a castle, you bet your life, and Tom back there in that green otto, th' feller with the cigar in his face, tried Seattle and Portland an' went broke and hiked up here and went to work on the docks and, well wait a minute and I'll show you Tom's bungalo, some bungalo, too, and the new five-story building he owns downtown and the factory he's just built, an' honest he don't know just how much money he has got, and there's just the same opportunity to the right kind of a man right here in Bellingham today."

It all sounded so alluring that after we got back to the train we had a notion to have the delegation paraded and order a check roll call to see that none had listened to the siren call of Bellingham and deserted.


Our next stop was Everett, where the customary line up of automobiles took us straightway out to what we were told was the biggest sawmills in the country.

"We got a treat for you boys out to the sawmill," said our gentleman chauffeur, who also owned the machine and incidentally a bank and a canning factory and a ew more little things like that. "Yessir, boys, they've been saving a log for you. It hain't as big as we wanted to have; just a smallish sort of a log, what we call an Everett toothpick, the same being eight feet an' four inches in diameter. We hoped to have a real man-sized log to kill for your special benefit, but we were in a hurry an' this was the best we could do in a pinch."

We stood in the sawmill and watched the Everett toothpick yanked out of the river by a big chain and hauled up the skids, where six giant arms grabbed it as though it were indeed nothing but a toothpick and slapped it over on to a car, where other big arms clamped down on it and then it was whirled down the track and a big circular saw cut off a tow-foot slice as easily as a butcher knife would cut through a pumpkin pie. And while the big log was being barbecued to make an Everett holiday I took as much interest in watching two young men that a citizen of Everett pointed out to me as "the two boys that own this here mill."

"Yessir," said my guide, "them boys four years ago was working in a sawmill at $4.50 a day. And now they own this mill, which is the biggest in the country, and where lumber is sawed cheaper than in any other mill in the world. Consequently, they can sell their output cheaper and they simply can't keep up with their orders. Make money; honest, those boys are making money so fast they don't know how rich they are."

We heard this before; we heard it again many times. For the sake of the bureau of statistics at Washington, I hope that some time the citizens of our great Northwest will take a week off and county their money. I'd like to know how much they've got.

We didn't have much time to see Everett and it's 35,000 population, because most of the time after we saw the saw saw the big log was spent at a banquet at a hotel. But we were given two photographs there to look at and ponder over. One was a photograph of an untamed wilderness with a single house labeled "Everett seventeen years ago," and the other was a panorama of a beautiful city, with church spires and miles of paved streets and homes snuggled down in deep foliage and labeled "The Everett of to-day." And so that we could have an idea of the homes in Everett every one of the Chicago visitors was given a book containing six pages of pictures entitled "Where We Live," and on every page were photographs of fifty Everett houses.

While we were walking around the exposition at Seattle we were every now and then handed a little card with this inscription, "You'll Like Tacoma." Also at night you could look up from anywhere in the park at a big hill just outside: where in bright electric letters glowed a great sign fifteen feet or more in height with the same modest inscription, "You'll Like Tacoma." So we were prepared to think very well of Tacoma. They explained to us in Tacoma that while the city had only 100,000 population the city was destined to be the capital of the great empire of the Northwest. It was the head of navigation on Puget Sound, had wealth untold and "a harbor where all the navies of the world, etc." They sneered at Tacoma's pretentions at Seattle. But Tacoma spoke very sweetly, though somewhat condescendingly, of Seattle. They gave us a little booklet at Tacoma which had this pleasing reference to Seattle:

"The busy city of Seattle, thirty six miles away is connected with Tacoma by three lines of railways and comfortable steamers."

They don't like this in Seattle. They don't like it any better than we in Chicago would like it if Evanston published a booklet with a paragraph saying that the "busy city of Chicago, twelve miles away is connected with Evanston by two lines of railroad, and the Northwestern elevated."

We sat in the dining room of the big Hotel Tacoma at night and heard of how Tacoma had "admittedly the finest harbor on the Pacific coast." That is, this is admitted everywhere possibly with the exception of Seattle, Everett, Bellingham, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Outside of these exceptions, "Tacoma has admittedly," etc.

Away out on the tide lands in front of the hotel a great electric sign blazed forth in the darkness. It read "You'll Like Tacoma." I strayed from the feast and found out on the veranda the other side of the picture. He was from Chicago, but for five years he had lived in the great Northwest and yet, strange though it may seam, he could easily count his money. He counted it in my very presence. It totaled $1.75. He had been lured by the call of the new empire and he had not made good. Possibly he would have not made good if he had remained back in Chicago. But he had failed in Tacoma. He stood gazing through the night at the big blazing white sign. "You'll Like Tacoma." Then he spoke.

"I've done everything out here," he said. I've been a dock walloper and I've worked in the lumber mills and I've had a splendid position in a salmon cannery. All I had to do was sprinkle salt on the fish. I sprinkled salt on salmon, until today I'm threatened with scurvy because I can't eat salt. The sight of it makes me sick. I can't look a salmon in the face. I've tried hard, but I can't get away from it. I landed in Seattle, and the first thing I saw there was a big sign just like that one out there, 'You'll Like Tacoma.'

"I went to Bellingham and didn't get along very well. I saw a big sign up there, but I closed my heart to it. It said: 'You'll Like Tacoma.' I went to Everett and worked in a real estate office. Every day I would look out of the window and see a sign on the bill boards which read: ' You'll Like Tacoma.' So finally I surrendered and I came to Tacoma. And now I've got just one ambition: I live for only one thing. I'm going to hold on right here in Tacoma. I'll sleep in the street, I'll sweep out a saloon, I'll do anything. I've just got to make good right here in order to gratify the only ambition which I have in the world. I've got to buy that tide land out there. I know to the penny how much it will cost me. I've got to buy 9,480 incandescent bulbs. I've got to buy 800 feet of lumber and four kegs of nails and the services of an electrician for one week at $5 a day.

"I want just enough money to pay for these things and no more. Some day I'll get it. I'll hang on here until I do, and then when I've got it, I will go out there on that tide land and I'll build a great big electric sign just like the one that is blazing away out there now, and I'll put up another sign right alongside of it. And then as I take the first train in the evening that's headed for little old Chicago I'll see my sign shining white and bright through the darkness, and my sign will say: "To ---- with Tacoma."

I loaned the man a dollar to buy four incandescent bulbs for his sign. He had touched a chord in me that responded. I'm glad to rejoice in the wealth and prosperity of any part of our great country, but I can't help but sympathize for a man who in the last analysis has but one ambition and that is to be aboard a train that's headed for little old Chicago. As they say out there in the West: "It's a pretty good camp."

Written by Rob Ketcherside at October 3, 2009 6:35 PM
Lost Seattle
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