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Dig Hunts for Clues to City's Past

September 16, 2006

SANDPOINT, IDAHO -- American newspapers largely ignored the daily lives of ethnic people and prostitutes in 19th century stories. 


That includeslocal accounts of the Chinese and Japanese workers who built the area's railroads and the women who lived in the "Restricted District" alongthe eastern bank of Sand Creek.


Without newspaper accounts to guide them, historical researchers must turn to other methods to learn about their lives -- a physical record extracted from just below the surface of dirt above thecreek, and asdeep as 10 to 12 feet into the earth, said chief archaeologist Bob Weaver.


It also is possible data recovery will take them into the mucky soilsof Sand Creek once the water recedes following the drawdown of Lake Pend Oreille, he added. 


Piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of those forgotten lives are 16 archaeologists employed by CH2M Hill as part of the cultural resources aspect of the proposed U.S.95 bypass.

 

The focus ison three sites believed be historically significant to Sandpoint.


All are located on the westside of the railroad along Sand Creek and encompass about a mile of the byway area, said Barbara Babic, Idaho Transportation Department information officer.


One of those sites include the formerLakeside Inn location, once a seedypart of town inhabited by gambling halls, saloons and bordellos at the end of the 19th century. By all accounts, the town was quite wild, especially during the 1880s and 1890s, Weaver said.


Famousvisitor Teddy Roosevelt stayed in the much largertown of Kootenai whenhe cameto visit.
"He walkeddown the tracks to party in Sandpoint," Weaver said.


When L.D. Farmin platted the current Sandpoint townsite on the west side of Sand Creek, the city passed an ordinance prohibiting houses of prostitution in the new area, creating the "Restricted District."


Weaver estimates the bordellos occupiedthe area from1904 until 1920. 


Archaeologists have extracted thousands ofartifacts in a week and a half from two sites where the Lakeside once stood.


Digging some three feet below surface cleared of parking lot debris, they have found fancy bits of dinnerware, a ceramic doll's ear, marbles, and garter belt fasteners.


"There's a fair amount of them (artifacts)," beneath where the hotel stood, Weaver said. The toys offer strong evidence that the prostitutes alsowere mothers who evidently had children living with them, he added.


The women living in the bordello area appear to have enjoyed luxurious items as indicated by the fancy pressed glass and a French toilet water bottle found there, said laboratory supervisor Raena Ballantyne.


"It's been kind of fancy stuff," she said.


Ballantyne stood in the on-site laboratory housed inside a portable trailer. Surrounding her were several computers, tables and trays filled with drying artifacts, heaps of green and brown glass waiting to be catalogued, and items packaged in archival plastic bags.


The artifacts tell a different story as you walk 150 to 200 feet further east into Chinatown, she said.
Here a foot below the surface in an area about 10 feet square they have found a clay door knob with a marbleized surface, a bean pot lid and portions of pig jaws.


The cooking pottery found there reveals people who blended their traditional culture with the country they helped build, Weaver said, as he watched prehistory archaeologist Jim Bard lift a green shard from table.


The shards include traditional Chinese pieces, and American items, along with the bottom of a bit of English China stamped with enough information that it should tell the researchers where and when it was made, Ballantyne said.


The Chinese workers appear to have used their own traditional pottery along with Western pieces in traditional cooking methods, she added.


Two items found at this site may add a few more pieces into that cultural puzzle researchers are trying to put together.


One is that green piece of pottery -- perhaps a Japanese piece, Weaver said.

 

While researching the 1900 U.S. Census for Sandpoint, he found out that not only 350 Chinese workers lived in the area, but so did 100 teenage Japanese males.


The Japanese men were hired by the Northern Pacific Railroad after expiration of 25-year contracts with Chinese workers, he said.


The second item is actually three related pieces: Two turtle icons the size of an adult thumbnail and a baby turtle at least half that size.


Bard turned one of the adult turtles over, exposing a hallowed out belly, then placed the baby inside.
It is difficult to tell what the items were used for until you look at the second largerturtle that appears to have a pierced earring loop attached to the top.


So the question is this: Did the owner bring the item with him from his past life in China or did a woman or women live in the camp?


Turtles are found in Chinese iconography, so its doubtful the items came from another source, the researchers said.


A bone dump found nearby also indicates the workers primarilyate pigs -- probably because the animals took up little space and ate garbage. Mixed in with the bones was a dirt caked opium tin.
Weaver also identified the city's old jail and city hall site, also located on the Lakeside property, as another area of interest.


It appears prisoners were housed in the first floor of the two-story structure, which probably included offices upstairs, Weaver said.


Archaeologists also would like to know more about the Kalispel and other Native Americans who camped along the shores of Lake Pend Oreille during the summer.
That may be difficult because their own historical record -- the stories passed from ancestor to ancestor -- were largely wiped out when as many of 90 percent of villageswere wiped out by white man's diseases, such as smallpox, Weaver said.


Researchers do know the area was a transportation hub for its first inhabitants who followed the three trails that intersected through here.


Those routes include the Walla Walla Trail that led north to the Pend Oreille River at Seneacquoteen near present-day Laclede. Tribal people had many travel options from there, dependent probably on the food they were seeking.


They could have followed the shoreline south of the river to Sandpoint and crossed where present day First Avenue is located, then taken the WildHorse Trail north to Bonners Ferry and into Canada. Or perhaps they followed the Trail to the Buffalo into the plains of Montana and beyond. It also is possible they gathered on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille.


"It's just like Sandpoint today," Weaver said. "Your a node in a transportation network."


Were the Kalispel alone when they camped along the lake?


Were they joined on its shores by other tribesafter disease killed many of their members?


Did they live in the area during the winter, too?


David Thompson and Father DeSmet met people from several tribes while exploring the area, perhaps indicative of a nomadic people searching for food and trade goods.


A few Native American artifacts have turned up during the dig -- bits of chip stone, basalt and chert broken from tools, along with fire cracked rocks, indicating that they probably lived here during the summer months only, Bard said.

 

• • •

 

Weaver said collecting artifacts is expected to take almost three months.
However, that depends on what is found during the excavation.


"The thing about archaeology is we don't have Superman vision. You don't know what you're getting into," he said. 


He also is inspecting old photographs in hopes of identifying privy sites, where people used to dump household garbage, and the original Sandpoint cemetery. Inhabitants from the old cemetery were moved to Lakeview Cemetery on Division Street in 1903 to make way for a planer at Humbird Mill.

 

It is possible that some graves were not moved, either because they were not marked, their relatives had moved away or could not afford to have the coffins moved.


The site does not have any significance based upon National Historic Register standards, but the last thing historians, the contractor or ITD wants, is for heavy equipment to unearth human remains, Weaver added.


Poorly conducted research into a known Native American site in Washington several years ago resulted in the state abandoning a site in Port Angeles that it had planned on using to build pontoons for the aging Hood River bridge.


The archaeologist, paid a paltry $7,000, failed to find what has been called the largest Native American 
archaeology site ever discovered inthe United States, Weaver said.


Construction crews unearthed the graves of 264 ancestors of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, who tried to work with the state before asking that the site be abandoned, according to Seattle Times stories.
The state had spent about $58 million on project, including $3 million for a new cemetery for the tribe.

 

• • •


Items recovered from the site become property of the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory at the U of I because the college is state's official artifact repository. The items can be loaned to and displayed at the Bonner County Historical Society Museum.


ITD will host two open houses for the community in October to look at some of the artifacts and discuss the finds with the project's archaeologists.

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