Found artifacts tell story of lost Japanese community

By Sara Bruestle | Dec 12, 2012
Photo by: Sara Bruestle Ashley Pickard, a recent college grad, tells Linda Gall about the leather shoes she analyzed to learn more about the community that lived in Japanese Gulch in the early 1900s. Pickard presented her findings at a lecture held Dec. 6 at the Everett Mall.

Although they are long gone, the remnants of a company town in a Mukilteo gulch help to give a voice to the people who once called it home.

Local college students from the Learn and Serve Environmental Anthropology Field School (LEAF) shared on Dec. 6 the stories of artifacts they recovered during a Japanese Gulch archeological dig.

They and their instructors presented a lecture, “Voices from the Dirt: Japanese Gulch Artifacts,” at the Everett Music Project Theater in the Everett Mall. More than 70 history buffs listened to the stories.

As practicing archeologists, LEAF School students excavated a site in the gulch over the summer. They were looking for remnants of the Japanese American community that lived there in the early 1900s – and they found many.

They uncovered glass bottles, ceramic cups, shoes, chicken and cow bones, architectural debris and other artifacts. Many of them were just parts or pieces, but some were still intact.

The artifacts they collected help to tell the story of the Crown Lumber Co. community, known at the time as “Japan Town,” that thrived for nearly 30 years up until the Great Depression.

“We have a lot of historic documentation of what we would expect to find, and all of this was verified,” said archeologist Emily Scott, who supervised the students. “Evidence of families living in Japanese Gulch, a working community and, of course, Japanese.”

Mukilteo partnered with the LEAF School after the city’s Japanese Gulch Fish Passage Project was delayed in 2011 because archeologists found historical and cultural artifacts in Japanese Gulch. They agreed that allowing students to excavate the site was a less expensive and more educational way to get the job done.

The four-phase project to return salmon to a creek in the gulch was finished only months ago – and already fish have been seen passing through.

The students first learned about human ecology and archeology, and then went into the field to collect and analyze artifacts under the supervision of an archeologist.

Here’s a sample of what they found:

• Women’s and children’s leather shoes – Some pieces of women’s shoes were identified as Martha Washington brand high top button down boots, which had been manufactured in the United States in the 1900s.

• A small metal tin that once held a “cure all” balm – The lid of the tin advertised in Japanese “Cheat death! Rise to life!” and came from a medicine shop in Tokyo established in 1604 and still open today.

“Back in the day, they claimed that the balm could cure everything from tuberculosis to cholera,” said Marshall Kramer, who helped students by reading the Japanese on artifacts.

“Now they’ve ramped down their claims to just say that it will help with stomach upset. So it’s not quite what it used to be.”

• Name or quote placards – There were several pieces of wood with large characters in the middle that either spelled out a family name or a Confucian quote.

• A ceramic cup or bowl hand-painted with the design of a bottle-gourd that is grown in Japan either for food or dried and used as a vessel. The gourd is a very common symbol in Asia.

• A Fletcher’s Castoria bottle – This bottle once held medicinal syrup that worked as both a laxative and stomach soother. Charles Henry Fletcher’s company was founded in New York in the 1870s. It is now owned by a Japanese company.

• An Everett Bottling Works bottle – Everett Bottling Works was a local soda bottling company founded in 1902. The colorless bottle likely held soda.

• Marbles – Japanese American children likely lost these marbles while playing in the gulch, only to be found 80 years later.

No Native American or prehistoric artifacts were found at the site.

The recovered artifacts will go to the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle.

Crystal Donovan, who ran the field lab, said of all the artifacts found in the gulch the marbles stood out to her the most.

“Most of the stuff was trash to the people; it wasn’t anything important to them,” she said. “But these marbles… were almost certainly lost rather than just tossed aside.

“They made me feel very connected to the people there. It felt very alive.”

In 1903, Crown Lumber hired Japanese immigrants to work at the sawmill. The workers brought their families to Mukilteo and built a company town for themselves in Japanese Gulch. They lived there until the sawmill closed in 1930.

“This wasn’t just a company town for the workers, but for families with women and children,” said Thomas Murphy, founder of LEAF School. “That’s testified by photos; that’s testified by artifacts that tell the story of the family community who lived there.

“It’s a great story, a very human story, and we’re honored to be a part of it.”

The LEAF School was founded at Edmonds Community College in 2006, and expanded to Everett Community College this year. It is a field-based program that provides students with hands-on experience in their communities.

The city partnered with the school to create an anthropology and archeology field-training program.

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