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 2001.004.0059 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0059 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fifty-ninth slide of series (color), "But alfalfa is perhaps the leading crop in the Columbia Basin. Alfalfa is a wonderful feed for cattle, sheep, and horses, even rabbits, and at the same time it enriches the soil. This farmer is using a compressor pump at the irrigation ditch. This type of putting water on the soil saves the time and trouble of using the small trenches which often leaves the soil very rough. It saves standing around with a spade in the hand to keep the water running into the right places. The pipes are easily moved, and are very light because they are made of aluminum." Picture of crops in field bein

Image of 2001.004.0060 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0060 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Sixtieth slide of series (color), "This farmer is using up to date machinery to load the baled alfalfa on the big truck, and at the same time the field is nearly ready for another cutting of hay." Picture of possible Caucasian man operating farm machinery to load baled alfalfa in a field with a truck, fields, and hills in background. "Loading Hay" 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 2001.004.0061 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0061 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Sixty-first slide of series (color), "Thousands of bales of alfalfa are hauled daily on big trucks to the Puget Sound region. You see the trucks any day you drive over Stevens or Snoqualmie Pass. But a lot of the Basin farmers stack up their hay and feed it to their own stock, as this dairyman is doing near Quincy." Picture of Caucasian male child standing in front of farm machinery in a field with a stack of baled hay, trees, fences, fields and hills in background. "Bale Hay" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from

Image of 2001.004.0062 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0062 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Sixty-second slide of series (color), "And let us return to where we began with the dry arid desert, deserted homes, and forsaken schools. This settler had a hard time to even get the logs to build the one-room log cabin. He had to float the logs up from the Columbia River many miles away, drag them over to where he wanted to build the house. He dug a well but it went dry in the summer when he needed water most. He had little of the comforts of today - all he did was to toil and hope for rain. How the Columbia Basin is changing!" Picture of log cabin in field with basalt columns in background. "Abandoned Home" written

Image of 2001.004.0063 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0063 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Sixty-third slide of series (color). Picture of a mixed group (African-American and Caucasian races and children, men, and women) of people who to appear to be listening to a Caucasian man speak in a room. Some of the people are seated and some are standing. "Photography & Script / by / J.W. Thompson / 5245 20th Avenue S. / Seattle 8, Wash." is overlayed on image in white lettering. "Credits" on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide CB B appears to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0064 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0064 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Sixty-fourth slide of series (color). Picture of words "Return to / INSTRUCTIONAL / MATERIALS CENTER / Moses Lake Schools." "Return" on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. "FEB 58" embossed on one side of slide.