Jillaine Cook

“I, Joseph Berger hereby register as an alien enemy at Police District No. 9, San Francisco California and make the following statements and answers under oath.” Thus begins the detailed four-page affidavit containing Berger’s immigration status, employment history, family, background, photograph, and fingerprints that he submitted to the neutrality squad of the San Francisco Police on February 4, 1918. For nearly two weeks that February, police departments across the nation were inundated with German nationals who, like Berger, had done nothing to bring suspicion upon themselves other than failing to secure citizenship in their new home. When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the German-American community came under instant suspicion, and in November, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation requiring all male German nationals residing in the United States to formalize the government’s suspicions by registering. Although initially exempt, their wives and daughters would be forced to register in June 1918. Presumed disloyal and potentially dangerous simply by virtue of their citizenship, these men and women were forced to swear under oath that they were “alien enemies” and provide detailed information to facilitate surveillance of their activities.

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Finger prints from Joseph Berger’s file, 1918, San Francisco Public Library, History and Archives

Housed in libraries, community archives, and genealogy websites these forms have been largely untapped in the historiography of the German-American experience during the First World War, which focuses primarily on outbreaks of mass-hysteria or the increase of vigilante surveillance practiced by groups like the American Protective League. It can be challenging to read meaning into forms that required primarily factual answers and left little room for protest, but these registration affidavits are valuable sources. Documenting an encounter between Germans living in the United States and the federal government, the forms are both a record of the government’s attempt to formalize presumed disloyalty and snapshots of a traumatic experience that reveal the slippage between the government’s assumptions and the way these people regarded themselves. Though a century has passed, the struggles over definitions of loyalty and belonging inscribed in their old-fashioned cursive evoke current headlines, powerfully reminding us of the enduring presence of these debates. Several examples drawn from my work on the registration affidavits submitted by San Francisco’s German-American community suggest the ways in which these forms and accompanying police correspondence can provide insights into this encounter between bureaucratic power and individuals.

In August 1918, Leonhard Bauer was accosted and arrested for failing to register. The documentation of his arrest and the affidavit he was forced to submit highlight the absurdity of trying to pinpoint loyalty and identity based on citizenship and the stakes involved for those who registered. Leonhard and his brother George did not register in February because they had been born in England where they lived until 1913 when their family immigrated to the United States. According to a police report, Leonhard argued that “he had never at any time resided in Germany, and considered himself an English subject.” Aside from the question of loyalty and national identity that made registering anathema for Leonhard and George, there were practical reasons motivating their avoidance as well. Although it was possible to apply for a permit to enter forbidden areas, many alien enemies lost their jobs because, as the San Francisco Chronicle explained on February 10, 1918, “under no circumstances are enemy aliens to be permitted near warehouses and docks.” Leonhard, who was employed at the Crowley Steam Launch Company on the waterfront, discovered this for himself when a Coast Guard officer grew suspicious and arrested him for failing to register and being found within a protected area. He avoided internment, but the U.S. Marshal registered him and forbade him from returning to his job. George avoided arrest by voluntarily going to the Department of Justice office in San Francisco to inquire whether it would be necessary for him to register. As the policy stated that children of German immigrants were to be considered German aliens regardless of the location of their birth unless their parents had naturalized in the United States, the U.S. Marshal registered George as well. George worked at the Globe Grain and Milling Company, which was near the waterfront as well, and it is likely that he and Leonhard had avoided registration deliberately rather than out of ignorance. Their sister, Eva, who had also been born in England and lived with them and their parents had registered in June during the prescribed registration period.

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Leonhard Bauer’s affidavit, 1918, San Francisco Public Library, History and Archives

Like the Bauer brothers, women like Neida Huling Adler balked at the assumption that their citizenship reflected their loyalty or national identity. Under the 1907 Expatriation Act, women who married foreign nationals lost their American citizenship. American-born women affected by this law vehemently protested their registration and used the forms to make statements about their identity. Born in Virginia City, Nevada, Neida Adler wrote “Born U.S.” in large letters where information about immigration dates was requested. Under the question about which languages she spoke, she simply wrote “American.” Subtle statements of identification as an American like these show up repeatedly on American-born women’s forms, along with emphasis on their parents’ citizenship or on relatives who were fighting for the United States.

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Neida Huling Nickersen Adler’s affidavit, 1918; San Francisco Public Library, History and Archives

Registration could have economic consequences for those employed in protected areas and it frequently contradicted the identity of the registrants. Beyond the ideological issue of loyalty and national identity, it also carried strong connotations of criminality and subjected the registrants to police surveillance of their every move. The sense that they were being booked as criminals came most forcefully through the photographs and fingerprints submitted on the final pages of the affidavit. Most registrants were able to provide their own photographs, controlling the image they presented as they thronged the photography studios of San Francisco. The photographs taken by the police of German residents at the city’s Relief Home for Aged and Infirm, like John Jonkosky, stand out from the rest. In these photographs, the subjects often look dejected or angry. Most significantly, the police placed numbered placards on each person’s chest, probably to assist in matching photographs with the correct paperwork. While most of the photographs in the registration files look like portraits, these images are a stark reminder that in effect they were really mug shots, documenting suspects and preserving their image in case of future investigations.

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John Jonkosky’s affidavit and photo, San Francisco Public Library

Unlike their photographs, over which most registrants had a degree of control, no one could avoid the indignity of being fingerprinted, and the association of fingerprinting with criminal procedures was clear. Newspapers published articles about the new techniques of fingerprinting and its use in identifying German alien enemies. For the registrants, the full page of fingerprints they had to provide was surely tangible confirmation that they were suspects and registration was not a mere formality. Taking finger prints made such an impression during the first round of registration in February that the expanded instructions on the top of the forms used to register “alien females” in June included a caveat explaining that “The finger printing is a method of identification and the taking of the finger prints is not to be deemed an imputation that the registrant is not a law-abiding person.”

One hundred years later, the snippets of thousands of lives dutifully inscribed on alien enemy registration affidavits in police stations across the nation continue to speak eloquently. Collectively, these forms offer demographic information about entire communities of German immigrants, offering insight into immigration, occupation, housing, and family trends. As the examples presented here suggest, they also offer insights into the way individuals push back against the rigid boundaries of bureaucratic formalities and address questions of identity and power that remain all too relevant in today’s America.

Jillaine Cook received her bachelor’s degree in History from Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. She joined the History PhD program at USC in 2016. Her interests include questions of immigration, citizenship, and empire in late 19th-early 20th century America and the Pacific.

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Tin Cup Creek, Caribou County, Idaho

By William Deverell

Back on the road, July 21, 2018.  We left Jackson this morning around nine.  As we drove alongside the mighty Snake River, we saw a bald eagle splash down into the river from about forty of fifty feet above, probably doing a lot better at fishing than we have.  We made our traditional and always-fun stop at Tin Cup Creek just over the Wyoming line into Caribou County, Idaho.  It’s a small stream of about ten miles’ length, beautiful and cold.  Each year, I love this part of the drive the most.  Not much looks to have changed – a big ranch or two notwithstanding – in a long, long stretch of years.

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Tin Cup Creek, Carbou County, Idaho

I pulled over at this interesting historical marker in Wayan, ID (population just over 200, with a surprisingly young median age of less than thirty).  John Grey, who may have been mixed race Iroquois and Scottish (with perhaps Cree lineage as well) was a long ways from home when he wandered into the Wayan Valley looking for beaver in 1819 or 1820 for the North West Company out of Montreal (which would soon thereafter merge with the Hudson’s Bay Company).  Kanye West and Kim Kardashian named their daughter for this famed fur-trading operation.  No, they didn’t.

Grey’s other name – Ignace Hatchiorauguasha – signaled his Catholic loyalty to St. Ignatius.  Aside from famed grizzly-fighting abilities, Grey seems to have been a gifted intermediary between whites and Indians in this most rugged terrain of the early 19th century mountain West.

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John Grey and the Wayan Valley

Not long after, we encountered this dust devil about a quarter mile in front of us.  I thought at first it was a fire, then a smudge on my windshield.   But, no, it was some wild atmospheric something-or-other, and it was amazing.

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Idaho Dust Devil

In Salt Lake for the night.   We’ll hit the fabulous climbing gym, The Front, in the morning (or one of us will).  St. George tomorrow evening, then back home in Pasadena around lunchtime on Monday.  We have had a stellar trip, but we miss our loved ones (human and canine).

9781626400535_grandeWhat questions are you considering thanks to your summer reading list? In After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame (Angel City Press, 2018), Lynell George asks the big questions, “How do you want to contribute to the story of the city? How do [you] want to influence and shape history?” Her vibrant and personal work walks through the L.A.(s) of her life and memories – from the scents of the city in 1971 through today’s interplay of language, gentrification, and displacement (and the intertwined realities of ethnicity, race, and class). Her “cul-de-sacs of fading memory” invite one to consider how place is both location and time and how Angelenos are a living museum of the city. Change is reality. Yet for those feeling lost or a sense of dislocation, how might we collectively work to “launch” the L.A. of the future that delivers promises of respect, of context, and of a sense of belonging? Which historical realities must be investigated to generate positive change for L.A.’s next episode?

Replica Fur Trapper Shelter

Replica Fur Trapper Shelter by William Deverell

By William Deverell

July 14, 2018.  Daniel, Wyoming.   John and I went in to Pinedale today for the annual festivities wrapped around the famed Rocky Mountain Rendezvous.  These were held all over the Rocky Mountain West from the mid-1820s to the 1840s, though the most of them were put on right here at Daniel, on the banks of the Green River.  We pass the commemorative sign each day we leave the ranch for the drive into Pinedale.  Trappers, traders, Indians, and (once the word got out) even tourists mingled for weeks on end, and the gatherings became famous for their merriment and the various contests put on between the trappers.  The mixed-race trapper James Beckwourth, born a slave in Virginia (and later freed by his master/father), said this of the rendezvous: “Mirth, songs, dancing, shouting, trading, running, jumping, singing, racing, target-shooting, yarns, frolic, with all sorts of extravagances that white men or Indians could invent.”

I have a few doubts about just how innocently joyful these were, but I easily admit I would love to see one.  I can’t imagine, in the days before the Gold Rush, any gathering in the far West that would feature more human diversity than one of these.  Anyone wanting to know more should consult Anne Hyde’s splendid book, Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West. 

We had fun at the rendezvous commemoration.  Just above town, the excellent Museum of the Mountain Man (where, a year ago, John and I discovered the late 1850s photographs of Oregon Trail migrants made by none other than Albert Bierstadt) had put up a fur trapper encampment with re-enactors showing off their gear, clothing, and handicrafts.  I think I have a pretty good radar about re-enactors and re-enactments, and I generally shy away from them.  These participants, men and women alike, were tremendous.  I think some of them, even in the 21st century, may actually try to live the life, or at least do so in stretches of time and place.  The equipment looked right, the clothing looked right (if too clean), the guns and knives looked lethal and utilitarian.  One of the trappers scoffed at what was going on “in town” (literally a few hundred yards away); that was tourist stuff, he intimated.  Up on the hill, in the encampment, they took this all very seriously.  He had a point.

We did go down the hill.  A parade was heating up, and John and I watched the whole thing.  It was classic small-town Rocky Mountain fare, and fun for it.  Horses, buckboards, politicians and wanna-be politicians.  One sitting U.S. Senator, John Barrasso, who is one of the only 21 Senators from this relatively new state (all white men).  Fire trucks, classic cars, people trying with less success than those on the hill to look, act, walk, and ride like fur trappers.  One man at the parade, a very warm and friendly guy about my age, said that he had seen us the other day at the “Burger Barn.”  “You two have such a great relationship,” he said, “it was fun to watch you together.”  I thanked him, and I introduced him to John.  “Is he your grandson?” he asked.  Once again, life in the mountain West, and I took no offense whatsoever.

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Trout on the Roof, Pinedale by William Deverell

At one point, a parade vehicle came by with veterans aboard.  An announcer, who had trouble speaking through tears, asked us all to stand and sing happy birthday to a 94 year-old World War II veteran.  We did.  I hesitated, I admit.  It’s not exactly my thing, though I recognize the man’s duty and sacrifice.  Only a few minutes later, as I had a quiet conversation with myself about this, a younger man walked by us with a T-shirt on that depicted an automatic weapon and the words “But first, coffee.”  There it is, I thought: that slippery seam between … between what? Patriotism and mere fascination with violence?  Between knee-jerk exuberance about mayhem and something more complex?  Between honoring an elderly man’s service in the so-called “good war” (I hate that designation) and back-slapping, winking brotherhood about masculinity, violence, guns, and coffee?

I am not going to figure it out.  Suffice to say that the festivities were fun for the both of us.  But the history wrapped around all of it – the fur trade, the western exploration, the genocidal assault on indigenous peoples, and everything that’s come since (including another T-shirt, new to me, that said, simply “Trumplican”) go together in some complex alchemy that will stick with me awhile.

A T-shirt ethnography of mountain West just might tell us something.

Tomorrow: Jackson: another town, maybe another Wyoming, maybe another planet.

 

Car Dealership on Wilshire Blvd

Car dealership on Wilshire Blvd (circa 1937) courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

By Michael Block

Through a grant administered by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, I am helping to research the early history of automobile dealerships in Los Angeles. Scholars have frequently written about “car culture” (especially as it developed in Los Angeles), but they have focused almost exclusively on the roles of manufacturers, drivers, and drivers’ advocacy groups like the Automobile Club of Southern California. History has paid far less attention to the role of car dealers. The car industry in the early twentieth century was similar to the technology sector today: innovation and competition meant that firms popped rapidly in and out of existence. Los Angeles, led partly by its car dealers and partly by heavy demand for cars, wanted to be at the forefront of the excitement. In 1907, car dealers in Los Angeles organized the first car show west of the Mississippi, narrowly beating out San Francisco. In 1917, the chair of the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce declared the Los Angeles dealers’ association to be the largest in the country, and claimed that Los Angeles had “more cars than in any other county in the country, and judging by the traffic conditions in Los Angeles, it has more cars per mile of street than New York or any other city.”[1] Despite the excitement at the time, we know very little today about how the automobile selling business took shape in Los Angeles. Part of the project will involve mapping the locations of dealerships (the auto row on Figueroa Street turns out not to have been the first such concentration). My research so far has focused on the collections of the Seaver Center for Western History Research at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

[1] “Reeves Praises California,” Motor West 26, no. 11 (15 March 1917): 13.

Don Lee Cadillac LaSalle in Pasadena

Don Lee Cadillac and LaSalle dealership in Pasadena (circa 1935) courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.


Michael Block received his PhD in history from USC in 2011. He is currently a lecturer in the history program at CSU Channel Islands. 

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White Mountain Petroglyphs in the Red Desert, Wyoming

By William Deverell

July 11, 2018

Rock Springs to Daniel.  We stayed last night in a Best Western (“The Outlaw”) in Rock Springs.  Very accommodating, nice pool, warm people.  Architecturally, the strangest motel I’ve ever stayed in.  Everything is arrayed off a large and central courtyard, enclosed, and set up kind of like a convention.  All original construction they told me – ca. 1966 – kind of “mid-century awkward,” but we were well looked after and had a good time.

Just out of Rock Springs, we took a detour I’ve long wanted to take, over to the White Mountain petroglyphs.  Probably between 200 and 1000 years old, carved into a huge sandstone butte pockmarked with holes and caves.  It was amazing.  We were the only ones who’d taken the dirt road out there, and we stayed quite awhile looking at the carvings.  Deer, elk, birds, men, even a mounted man with a sword or lance (which gives it a convenient post-contact date).  The local indigenous people regard the site as sacred – utterly understandable and fitting.  We found ourselves in a kind of hushed reverie out there.  One of the carvings was of a man standing, face forward, and we could stand just where the native artist stood to do it – 100, 200, 500 years ago.

 

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On the way out, we could see the Boar’s Tusk volcanic spire rising from the floor of the Red Desert.  This was surely a landmark for not only the indigenous people, but the Oregon- and California-bound emigrants in the mid-19th century.  I bet it still is for oil and gas workers out here.

Rolling towards Pinedale we hit a rain squall, common in the summers anywhere in the Rockies.  We passed a few Oregon Trail markers – a campsite, a fork in the wagon road – these are always fascinating to me.  I can see them out there – caravans of hardscrabble farmer mostly, generally unprepared for what they faced on this perilous journey that could stretch to five or six months’ duration.  It wasn’t the Indians – the natives knew enough to stay away, for the most part, or to interact only in brief trading sessions.  It was disease, the bad water, the accidents, the stupid gunplay, and the drownings – that’s what got most of them.  I disagree with my colleagues who blip over this chapter in 19th century American history as either too romantic or a story already told over and over again.  There is still so much to learn from the stories of these 200,000 or 250,000 people, shock troops of Manifest Destiny, settler-colonials who re-made history on foot, for good, for ill, and for everything in between.

If you are interested in learning more about this era, let me direct you to the work of the historian Sarah Keyes, who did her doctoral work with us at USC.  See, for instance, her articles “Western Adventurers and Male Nurses: Indians, Cholera, and Masculinity in Overland Trail Narratives,” Western Historical Quarterly<https://academic.oup.com/whq/issue/49/1> (Spring 2018) and “Like a Roaring Lion’: The Overland Trail as a Sonic Conquest,” Journal of American History (June 2009).

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Rain Squall Coming into Pinedale

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Wyoming Territorial Prison

By William Deverell

Headed north into Wyoming.  An eventful day on the road.  Drove north out of Colorado Springs, cut west to hug the mountains above Fort Collins, then punched into Wyoming to make our way to Rock Springs for the night.  Had the road more or less to ourselves, at least until I-80 at Rawlins.  We stopped at the Wyoming Territorial Prison, now a museum.  Well done – the buildings and cells have been preserved, and even the grounds are foreboding.  It is a grim place – as you’d expect – the incarcerated must have suffered year round in the heat and the freezing cold.  They even beat the guards for dereliction of duty.  The site, now run well by Wyoming State Parks, points out the life stories of a number of prisoners: men and women alike, the career criminals, the bank and train robbers, and those who looked simply to have made a few very bad choices.  The prison’s practice of shaving the heads of the male prisoners did not prevent individuality from staring out at us from huge black and white photographs made at booking.

We had a start when we visited the “broom factory.”  The imprisoned worked as master broom makers in a big factory on site, and Wyoming State Parks puts historical actors – who stay silent – in prison garb making brooms as you walk through the factory.  Very effective, even creepy.

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Wyoming Territorial Prison

History and geography roll back on themselves, and prisons keep coming up in our travels.  We drove I-80 through Sinclair, Wyoming.  I’ve noticed it before, but I had never made the connection before.  Population 450 (tops), the landscape given over to a huge array of oil refining equipment.  I’m going to make a reasoned guess that this place is named for Harry Sinclair (of Sinclair Oil, which you can still see at Sinclair service stations in the West). Harry Ford Sinclair got caught up in the notorious Teapot Dome oil scandal of the 1920s, and he served six months in federal prison for witness tampering.  It whacked him and his reputation, for sure, but he proved remarkably resilient (with uninterrupted wealth as a cushion, no doubt), rebounding to a life of leisure in Pasadena until his death in the mid-1950s. Someday I’ll find out which house he lived in, as I bet it still stands.

We are now in Rock Springs – tough railroad town and, like Los Angeles, the site of a horrific massacre of Chinese in the 19th century.

The high and barren landscapes of Wyoming and the spaces and places of greater Los Angeles – linked by all kinds of stories and histories, oil and infamy and violence and racism among them.

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Northern Colorado, Southern Wyoming