Person Record

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Name Thompson, J.W.
Othernames John William Thompson
Born June 25, 1890
Birthplace Missouri
Places of residence Missouri
Moved to Clatskanie, Oregon when 13
Taught school in Seattle, Washington
Nationality Probably Caucasion
Notes Thompson, who was a botany teacher with the Seattle School District at Cleveland, Lincoln and Ballard high schools until he retired in the early 1950s, died in 1978 in Seattle at the age of 87.

Thompson developed his photographic avocation in the early 1950s.

The following was written by Mary Schlick for the opening of an exhibit at the Maryhill Museum:
In the early 1950s, a retired Seattle high school botany teacher with a keen interest in photography, and an important event in the Native history of the Northwest came together by chance. The result was an archive of approximately 6000 slides illustrating the colorful life of the Native people of Washington State at the midpoint of the 20th century. This visual record of Native life, a century after the Eastern Washington reservations were established, was given to Maryhill Museum of Art by from the photographer's daughter, Lucile Munz of Marysville, Washington in 1997.
The Eastman Kodak Company introduced the first successful amateur color film for 35 mm. slides in 1936. By the 1950s, John William Thompson was an avid color photographer with two Leicaflex cameras and some success photographing zoo animals and detailed bird prints, which he sold through a scientific supplier in Seattle. Recently retired from teaching, Thompson made a June visit to his sister in Toppenish, Washington. His goal was to photograph people at work in Central Washington for a proposed elementary school unit on occupations.
The headquarters for the Yakama Indian Nation is located near Toppenish and Thompson learned that tribal leaders from across the Columbia Plateau had assembled there that weekend to observe a moment in their history that had changed their peoples' lives forever.
Nearly a hundred years before, on the 9th of June in 1855, their predecessors, in many cases, direct ancestors of those gathered that day, had met at Walla Walla, then Oregon Territory, to sign the Treaty with the United States. This treaty established the Yakama, Umatilla, and Nez Perce reservations. This historic gathering offered the 65-year old Thompson an unusual opportunity to meet tribal leaders. Harry Owhi, 2nd from the left in this photo, was descended from the signer, Owhi, here drawn by Gustav Sohon at that treaty gathering. Here is Sohon's drawing of the famous Yakama leader, Kamiakin, and Thompson's photo of the leader's son, Cleveland Kamiakin.

Born in 1890, John Thompson was a man who had learned early to recognize opportunity and to act on it. His mother died in childbirth and grandparents who were Missouri sharecroppers raised him. It was a hard life picking cotton and helping with the other work on a marginal farm. Eager to learn, John taught himself to read but did not go to school until the family moved to Clatskanie, Oregon, when he was 13. He entered school there and graduated with his age group.

Thompson married at 19 and found work teaching typing and penmanship in business college, then moved his family, by this time including four children, to the state of Washington where he enrolled in Bellingham Normal School for a teaching certificate. Supporting his family by teaching, Thompson continued his education, earning a baccalaureate degree in journalism and botany, then a master's in education. He began his science teaching career at the age of 38 at Ballard High School in Seattle. Thompson discovered several new varieties of plants, which carry his name and developed an herbarium, which is now at the University of Washington.

Interested in photography for many years, he found Kodak's amazing slide film a perfect medium for capturing the world that interested him.
Lucile Munz, Thompson's daughter, described the Toppenish experience that opened a new field for her father in his retirement: That weekend, she said, her father went over to the gathering of chiefs. Eager to capture the event on film, the photographer asked some of the men if he could take pictures. They shook their heads. But, it took more than that to discourage this determined man, he waited around until one by one, they allowed him to bring out his camera. Through the years that followed, Thompson photographed the people of the Plateau in street clothes (note Alex Saluskin on the left) as well as wearing colorful regalia.

Having learned that Thompson always asked for permission and sent copies to those who wanted them, I can imagine that the word soon got around.

J.W. Thompson's purpose was not to create works of art but images that were, to use his words, "Interesting and authentic," that would document the lives of Indians of Washington State at the middle of the 20th century for school children of the state.

He wanted to show through his slides that these First People were not at the end of the trail, as they had been described by some, but were indeed alive and thriving and enjoying a life full of festive gatherings on the Columbia Plateau, as had their ancestors "since time immemorial."
Occupation Botany teacher with the Seattle School District, retired in the 1950's.
Started photography in the early 1950's.
Relationships Ida Anderson Flett, sister
Role Photographer
Children Had 4 children. Lucille Munz of Marysville, daughter
Deceased 1978

Associated Records

Image of 2001.004.0039 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0039 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Thirtieth-ninth slide of series (color). Picture of cemented irrigation canal with road and hills in background. "Cemented Canal" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0051 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0051 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fifty-first slide of series (color). Picture of a green and white trailer with a possible Caucasian adult woman and three possible Caucasian male children (one of which is holding a black dog) standing and sitting in front of it. Silver automobile, orange truck, miscellaneous household items and hills in background. "Trailer Dwelling" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0040 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0040 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fortieth slide of series (color). Picture of finished irrigation canal with water with hills in background. "West Canal" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0041 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0041 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Forty-first slide of series (color). Picture of Basin Street in Ephrata, Washington which shows store front exteriors, street lights, stop lights, signs, cars, and banners. "Ephrata" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0042 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0042 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Forty-second slide of series (color). Picture of construction of a flood gate showing a crane and a man with hills in background. "Building Flood Gate" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0043 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0043 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Forty-third slide of series (color). Picture of completed flood gate with water with hills in background. "Completed Flood Gate" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0044 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0044 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Forty-third slide of series (color). Picture of canal, water, vegetation, road, fences, and telephone poles with hills in background. "Small Canal" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0045 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0045 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Forty-fifth slide of series (color). Picture of man driving a tractor which is pulling a land leveler with hills in background. "Land Leveler" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0046 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0046 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Forty-sixth slide of series (color). Picture of a field with water trenches and a possible primitive road with buildings, trees, and hills in background. "Water Trenches" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0047 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0047 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Forty-seventh slide of series (color). Picture of a field with water trenches filled with water with trees and hills in background. "Irrigating" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0048 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0048 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Forty-eighth slide of series (color). Picture of a possible Caucasian man in a field squatting next to a water trench filled with water. Man is placing a siphon from the trench into the ground with a shovel and hills in background. "Setting the Siphons" on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0049 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0049 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Forty-ninth slide of series (color). Picture of a field with trenches filled with water, siphons, and a building with a white house with landscaping and hills in background. "Garden" on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0050 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0050 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fiftieth slide of series (color). Picture of a possible Caucasian man holding a shovel in a crop field squatting next to a water trench filled with water. Man is placing a siphon from the trench into the ground with a building, trees, telephone poles and hills in background. "Irrigating Sugar Beets" on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0052 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0052 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fifty-second slide of series (color), "Building of new homes is booming in the Columbia Basin towns of Ephrata, Moses Lake, and Odessa. Whole streets of houses, followed by paving and landscaping, go up continually." Picture of houses on dirt lots with automobiles in background. "New Homes" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0053 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0053 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fifty-third slide of series (color), "This new street was sagebrush waste land earlier in the year. In no time sidewalks, lawns, paved streets with shade trees are made ready for the new settlers in the Columbia Basin." Picture of houses with lawns, trees, and paved sidewalks with a possible transistor in background. "New Streets-" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0054 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0054 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fifty-fourth slide of series (color), "This farmer was one of the first to get started near Winchester. Here his dairy herd are out to graze on the irrigated alfalfa field. He sells milk in nearby Quincy." Picture of white and black cattle grazing in a field with houses, trees, and hills in background. "Dairy Herd" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0055 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0055 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fifty-fifth slide of series (color), "This second year farmer has a house for his family, but as yet no shed for his expensive farm machinery, and live stock. Building a barn must wait until his crops are planted." Picture of a green tractor, farm machinery, orange truck, silver car, trees, and brown house with hills in background. "2ND Year Farm" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0056 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0056 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fifty-sixth slide of series (color), "All sorts of temperate climate crops flourish prodigiously in the rich soil of the Columbia Basin. The yield of tomatoes on this piece of land has been very large." Picture of a possible Caucasian male child holding tomatoes and sitting in a field among tomato plants with tractor in background. "Tomatoes in the Field" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0057 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0057 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fifty-seventh slide of series (color), "Acres and acres of potatoes are grown near Odessa and Moses lake. Here a thriving field of potatoes has just been irrigated." Picture of canal with siphons irrigating a crop with hills in background. "Potatoes" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0058 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0058 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fifty-eighth slide of series (color), "Harvesting the potatoes on irrigated land later." Picture of two men loading sacks of potatoes on to a blue truck with a man on a tractor and hills in background. "Harvesting Potatoes" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.