Saturday, June 21, 2014

Ranald MacDonald, Japan and Fort George Wright

A notation on the Washington State road map just south of the Midway/Danville US/Canada border crossing indicates Ranald MacDonald's grave. The grave site is within a small cemetery on a terrace above the Kettle River and the grave is marked with a tall granite obelisk. During a visit to the site I noted wreaths of flowers and postcards. The postcards were from Japan and had images of a matching obelisk in Japan in honor of MacDonald.  

Memorial to MacDonald in Nagasaki (Wikipedia)

Ranald was the son of Princess Raven, a daughter of Chief Comcomly of the Chinook Tribe, and Archibald MacDonald, a Hudson Bay Company officer. He is one of my favorite historic figures from the time before Washington State existed. He played a role in opening up trade with Japan by having himself marooned off the Japanese coast. During his time of captivity in Japan he greatly advanced Japanese understanding of English and America. A nice summary of his life and his importance in Japan can be found at Regardless of the size of his role in the opening of Japan, he clearly was much admired in Japan and is still admired to this day. 

The reverence of MacDonald in Japan has also been instrumental in preserving a part of Washington history at the former Fort George Wright in Spokane. Fort George Wright replaced the original Fort Spokane which was located 50 miles to the west. The first army battalion at fort consisted of black soldiers who gained local fame in fighting the massive fires of the Big Burn in northern Idaho, western Montana and northeast Washington.

The fort was used by the CCC during the 1930s and served needed space for the massive military buildup during WWII. Post WWII the fort became surplus and was for a time occupied by colleges, but the cost of upkeep and declining enrollment led Fort Wright College to close in 1985.

The Fort has since been taken over as a study abroad branch campus of Mukogawa Women's University as class rooms and dorms. The buildings are now in much better shape and are well maintained, keeping a bit of Washington history in tact.

Learning about Ranald MacDonald is part of the curriculum as could be seen when visiting a classroom building.

1 comment:

Geoffrey Middaugh said...

I learned something. Nice job. I belong to the George Wright Society, named after the first scientist/wildlife biologist in the National Park Service. Another George.