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Puyallup, Washington (an interrogation) by


o s e p h


i i p p i



The Chapbook Genius Publishing Company a division of Publishing Genius Press 2014

47.1850째 N, 122.2922째 W --History

[ 1 ]

Five miles south of Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, there lies a valley. In 1829, less than two thousand people lived in this valley and drank from its river. Tall mountains rose to the East, a smaller range to the West. Cedars flourished here. Salmon spawned. There were birds, daffodils, wilds. To the Southeast, an enormous peak rose above the valley like a happy mother. The river curled from it like an umbilical. There are noticeably more people living in this valley today. There are noticeably fewer trees. The fish are delicious. The mountains stand. The river rises when it rains.

[ 2 ]

In 1830, a boy named Ezra was born in Huntsville, Ohio. After growing up, getting married, and moving shortly west to Indiana, Ezra read a newspaper and decided with his wife to travel the Oregon Trail. They went in 1852 to claim their free three hundred twenty acres. They thought, perhaps, they would be happier in the West. The trip took quite a long time.

[ 3 ]

In 1851, an adolescent of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians netted steelhead salmon in a river with his brother and father. The sun rose behind the taller mountains and came to rest behind the smaller. The fish glistened in the light as the boy carried two in each hand by the gills into shore. His muscles tensed, and he looked through the bright trees for the young girl he loved. He wanted to see if she could maybe see him carrying the glistening fish, his muscles. Perhaps she did. Later, the boy’s mother and sisters rested the pink meat on planks of sweet-smelling cedar. They sang happy songs of gratitude to each other and the great mountain. They bathed in the river.

[ 4 ]

Eleven years later the Puyallup boy was a man, married and netting salmon with his own sons. He taught them to carry the great fish by the gills and to clean them and be grateful. He taught them stories of the Mother mountain and stories of the river. He sang them songs as his mother had, as her mother had, as hers before that. At night his wife and he lay together and spoke of the day, their happiness, their hopes for more of it all.

[ 5 ]

By 1890 the boy Ezra was in the Valley and made mayor. He cut down trees on his acres for flat land where he grew hops and brewed beer. The Valley was generous and nourished him into a wealthy man. He built a house for his wife in the Victorian manner. Her name was Eliza Jane, and she lived there the rest of her life. But Ezra, despite being a rich mayor and, assumedly, in love, did not stay forever. At seventy-five years old he went back on the Trail. In 1906, he drove east by wagon and oxen, marking for America the way to his Valley. He drove the Trail all the way to New York City and, with his oxen and prairie schooner, paraded down Broadway and across the Brooklyn Bridge. Like many, he was perhaps only happy when coming or going. In 1909, Eliza Jane passed away. Eight years later, Ezra traveled the Oregon Trail by automobile. Eight more, and he went by plane. He died in 1928. Sitting for pictures he looks unbearably sad. Eliza Jane, too, but maybe less so.

[ 7 ]

37, 022 – 37, 620 --People According to the 2010 US Census there are thirtyseven thousand, twenty-two people living in Puyallup who were recently acknowledged on a census form. In 2012, authorities estimated an additional five hundred ninety-eight more. According to national averages, eighteen thousand, one hundred forty-one of them would report being happy if asked (that’s just under half, with a four percent margin for error). According to other national averages, one thousand two hundred eighty-three Puyallup residents will be victims of a crime this year, four or five will commit suicide (also this year), and approximately thirty-two thousand, eight hundred seventy-five legal and civilian-owned firearms are scattered about the population (not quite one-perperson*, but nearly). *Includes children.

[ 8 ]

The word Puyallup comes from the language of the native tribe and is an adjective, describing a “generous and welcoming behavior to all who enter our lands.” Examples of “Puyallup” being an appropriate descriptor for these people can still be found today in berry farmers who provide cash-paying jobs to local adolescents, and in those same adolescents who sneak free fruit to children at local markets. Examples of inappropriateness involve the usual trappings of greed and meanness you might imagine, typically having to do with human nature, American history, and religion.

[ 9 ]

In recent years, the woman who owns the gourmet cheese shop near the small park where the farmers’ markets are held will sometimes give away her fanciest gouda to a white-bearded homeless man who sleeps there. The woman tells any customers who ask that the man looks like her father, who abandoned her family when she was very young (there will be approximately one hundred forty-eight divorces in Puyallup this year). It makes the woman happy to do this, and the old man is grateful when she does. He makes it a rule to never beg for things—a rule the woman is trying, unsuccessfully, to teach her children.

[ 10 ]

In 1926, a statue of Ezra Meeker, founder of the City of Puyallup, was erected in that same park near the town library and cheese shop. What Ezra, ninety-six at the time, thought of the statue isn’t public knowledge. However, historical records suggest the bearded figure with hat in hand is “a remarkable likeness to the man who crossed the plains in a prairie schooner.� Some children in town believe the statue comes to life when the moon hides behind the mountain, a story parents may choose to encourage, since it keeps children from wandering the park at night.

[ 11 ]

A recent addition to the Valley is the two hundred thousand square-foot multipurpose building complex for the Chief Leschi Schools, a pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade campus settled between berry fields and serving members of more than sixty native tribes*. Although previously known as the Puyallup Tribal School, they are now named for a Nisqually war chief who was wrongly convicted in 1858 of murdering a soldier. A first trial resulted in a hung jury, with the recently-arrived Ezra Meeker serving as one of two jurors who voted for acquittal (they reasoned, perhaps, that killings during wartime should not be considered murder, and besides, the defendant was hundreds of miles away at the time). But nascent governments are insistent, and a second jury had Leschi hanged. In 2004, a few years after the schools’ new campus was built, Leschi was officially pardoned. *The schools are operated by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.

[ 13 ]

25% / Faith / 86% One in every four of Puyallup’s residents is an evangelical believer in Jesus Christ. Another one in four claims no religion at all. In between are mostly Catholics (sixteen percent) and mainline Protestants (twenty-three percent). Mormons, Jews, and Muslims make up two, one, and one-half percent, respectively (after which the demographics get very small). Three percent of people in Puyallup believe something else entirely, which they (or the census takers) choose not to share.

[ 14 ]

In October of 1900, local farmers banded together to hold a three-day community fair to show off their fall harvests. As always, the Valley was generous, and the fair was a success. In 2000 more than a million visitors came to the valley for the annual event, now seventeen days long each September and featuring roller coasters, carnival games, a rodeo, gun/car/tractor shows, and national musical acts. The Puyallup Fair holds permanent residence on one hundred sixty acres of land in the southern half of the Valley, and for a brief period in 1942 this land was known as Camp Harmony, a Japanese internment facility. On September 11, 2001, the Fair’s musical act, Mya, was cancelled due to air traffic being grounded. On September 12, the band Chicago played as scheduled (they traveled by bus). In 2012, one million, one hundred seventeen thousand, three hundred twentythree people attended the Fair, or thirty-four times the Valley’s population. The Fair’s slogan, “Do the Puyallup,” was coined in 1976 by a Seattle advertising copywriter, prior to which no slogan really caught on.

[ 15 ]

One Wednesday each year, the Puyallup Public School District shuts down early for Fair Day. Schoolchildren are given red tickets to attend the Fair for free, however Puyallup High School’s football team practices longer than usual that day, hoping to gain leverage against that Friday’s opponent. (Football players might attend the Fair on the weekend, at full student ticket price). Ninety-two percent of people who attended the Fair in 2011 reported they would return. Eighty-six percent reported enthusiastically recommending the Fair to other people. More than half of the people who attended the Fair rated their experience as “Great, over the top.” (It’s worth pointing out that the Fair is more popular in Puyallup than all the religions combined.)

[ 16 ]

Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain in Washington State and an active volcano, stands fourteen thousand, four hundred eleven feet high, and about forty miles to the Southeast of Puyallup. One of sixteen volcanoes identified by the United States Geographical Survey as a “Decade Volcano,” for significant potential of mass destruction, Mount Rainier is constantly monitored for eruptive activity. Although no eruption appears imminent, the USGS estimates a one-in-seven chance of eruption in the next seventy-five years. If and when Rainier does erupt, the large amount of glacial ice packed on the volcano would (will) create a lahar of such massive proportion that the whole of Puyallup would (will) be engulfed in boiling mudflow within forty minutes*. In 1998, the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management implemented Volcano Evacuation Route signage throughout the Puyallup Valley. One upside of the imminent eruption, however, will be that the current richness of the Valley’s generous soil is due in part to the last major eruptive event, which occurred circa 3000 BCE. One could argue that the Valley’s due. *Not to mention Enumclaw, Orting, Kent, Auburn, Sumner, and Renton, which will also (probably) be destroyed.

[ 17 ]

Many people in Puyallup still believe an old tribal adage, that if a cloud covers the top of Mt. Rainier, it will rain tomorrow (and if the mountain cannot be seen, it is likely raining already). One wonders what girl or boy bathing in the river first looked out to the Southeast, made note of the clouds, and noticed a pattern. For before Ezra or Eliza or any census taker arrived in the Valley to rename what came before, this peak was known as Mount Tacoma, Our Mother of the land, who bore water for the salmon and earth for the cedars, who gave all that was good and endured with Her children what was not. What history there is of those early times does not state how many did or did not believe in the Great Mother mountain, or how many of Her people were or were not happy, did or did not carry weapons, did or did not kill, were or were not in love.

Interrogation (noun) An act of questioning*, especially in a formal or official way. *And therefore, too, an act of providing answers.

[ 19 ]

Six or seven babies are born each day at Puyallup’s Good Samaritan Hospital. Five or six people die, there or elsewhere in town. Net fishing the Puyallup River for steelhead is illegal unless you are an official member of Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Inc., as deemed such in a court of law versus the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

[ 20 ]

Spawning salmon can be viewed “in a natural setting” (according to the Department’s website) via a department-built footbridge along Clark’s Creek, a tributary of the river. The creek runs past strawberry fields and large houses with lawns and fences. Locals from these houses sometimes launch kayaks and float with the current down to the park. Commuters waiting to cross the steel bridge from River Road can watch the kayaks from above, however the salmon are much too distant to be seen from that height.

[ 21 ]

The Meeker Mansion charges an admission fee of four dollars for adults, three dollars for seniors, and two dollars for children. If you would like to hold a wedding reception at the Meeker Mansion, it will cost you one hundred sixty dollars an hour, plus a two hundred fifty dollar deposit (but according to the website, “For a truely [sic] memorable experience, there is nothing like The Meeker Mansion”). Other offerings for guests of the Mansion include the “Victorian Tea.” For twelve dollars per person, you will be served cucumber sandwiches, lemon and pumpkin bread, tarts, scones, fruit of the season, and other such fare by the “ladies of the house,” who wear full Victorian costume. For reservations, email

[ 22 ]

Every spring since 1933, the annual Daffodil Festival Parade is driven down Main Street, and, in preparation, local young women compete for scholarships to be a Daffodil Princess, the most outstanding of whom is crowned Queen. In the parade, the Queen wears white, and waves a little more happily than the Princesses, who stand just a bit in front of her on the float, a little lower and wearing yellow. Last year’s coronation was held at a church, and the new Queen wept, thanking her mother and smiling. A few days later, the Princess from the Chief Leschi Schools was found dead at her home, apparently of suicide. A photograph was paraded in her place, and friends spoke of her with love. Meanwhile, the mountain had a cloud at its peak, and in the hospital a baby was born, named, and its mother given a certificate declaring it all an actual real event with a specific date, place, and time in history. “I can’t believe you’re real,” the mother said, her finger tracing the baby’s cheek. “Do you know where you are?”

This book is dedicated to Ted and Betty Picha

Joseph Riippi grew up in Puyallup but now lives with his wife in

Brooklyn. His most recent book is the novel Because. Visit him at

Publishing Genius Press Bigger. Faster. Reader. @pubgen

Copyright Š Joseph Riippi 2014 Drawings and Cover by Edward Mullany Figures presented are based on US Census data, public records, or otherwise acknowledged sources. This book is also archived for online reading at


Puyallup, Washington by Joseph Riippi  

This is the lovely story of Puyallup, about its history and attractions and its people.