Manning, William Morley (1877-1944)

  • By Jack and Claire Nisbet
  • Posted 5/09/2010
  • Essay 9403

William Morley Manning, a native of Ontario, Canada, arrived in the Inland Northwest in 1897 to seek his fortune in the region's burgeoning mines. During the following decade, he worked as an assayer, mining engineer, and county surveyor throughout Northeastern Washington. In the course of his travels, Manning began purchasing artifacts from the Colville, Kalispel, Nez Perce, and Spokane tribes; in 1916, he loaned a sizable collection to the Spokane Historical Society. This donation became the charter collection of the Eastern Washington Historical Society upon its formation two years later. Currently housed in climate-controlled storage at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture in Spokane, the Manning Collection comprises a valuable record of traditional Plateau artistry and craftsmanship at the beginning of the twentieth century.

From Ontario to Stevens County

William Morley Manning was born in 1877 in West Gwillimbury, a small township near Lake Huron in southern Ontario. His father, a farmer, died two years later at age 45  of "inflammation from colic," according to the death certificate. William's widowed mother soon moved with her four children to the neighboring town of Bradford. William studied mining engineering at the University of Toronto for a time, then was apparently attracted to the mining opportunities of the American West. In 1897, the 20-year-old migrated to Idaho County, Idaho, where he filed a Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. citizen.

By early 1900, young Manning had found employment with Bruce White, a wealthy mine owner from Nelson, British Columbia, who had recently purchased the rights to a group of mining claims on the Colville Indian Reservation in northern Stevens County, Washington. The 1900 federal census recorded Manning's occupation as “assayer” and indicated that he was lodging in the town of Bossburg in a neighborhood of miners. When Bruce White and his fellow investors began developing the First Thought gold mine a few miles west of Bossburg, Manning moved to the mining camp, where he was put in charge of 30 men who were sinking a shaft on the property. In his free time, he staked several claims in the surrounding area, either on his own account or as a representative of his employer.

In October 1900, he visited the Colville Agency of the Office of Indian Affairs, then located in Miles, Washington. According to Major A. A. Anderson, superintendent of the Colville Indian Reservation, Manning accompanied tribal member Alex Herrin, who owned property between the First Thought Mine and the route of the Northern Pacific railroad, which ran north along the Kettle River. Manning was offering to lease an easement across Herrin's land on which to build a tramway to transport wood and supplies from the railroad to the mine, and ore from the mine to the railroad. Mr. Herrin was to receive $150 for his consent, but the rules governing reservation lands required the superintendent's permission before a lease could be signed.

Superintending Mining

Two years later, work at the First Thought mine was stalled by litigation, and in September 1902, the editor of the local paper reported in his "Little Local Links Which Make the Chain of Events" that Manning had found work as the superintendent of the Easter Sunday mine a few miles farther north. From his lodging at the mining camp, he made frequent trips by horseback or wagon to the nearby town of Orient (in Ferry County), where he sometimes boarded the train for a visit to the city of Spokane. His comings and goings were recorded by the editor of the Kettle River Journal, who reported in mid-July, 1903 that "Billie Manning's reputation as a 'high flyer' was emphasized the other day. He flew over the head of a cayuse, and the contact between his head and a metamorphic formation assayed only a trace" (Kettle River Journal).

Five months later, the Easter Sunday was declared in a comatose state due to a dispute among its owners, and during its siege of inactivity, Manning moved to yet another mining camp in the vicinity, taking over the superintendence of a smaller operation known as the Little Giant.

Tribal Connections

In addition to his mining concerns, Manning developed an interest in the tribes of the surrounding area.  Sometime before 1904 he met Chief Joseph, then living on the Colville Indian Reservation near Nespelem while constantly lobbying to return to his homeland in the Wallowa Mountains. Two decades later, Manning summarized the renowned Nez Perce chief's situation:

"Joseph and a part of his tribe were exiled to what was and is still known as the Okanogan Country and they were held there by our Gov’t. and are still there but Joseph is dead..." (Item 70, Manning Collection List).

The two men apparently established a rapport, for Joseph presented Manning with a council pipe carved from serpentine and inlaid with silver.

"This pipe was a personal gift from Chief Joseph and is contained in a leather case which is beaded to represent the design on the pipe which is the tree of life with the spear and fish of plenty" (Item 70, Manning Collection List). 

Over the next several years, Manning devoted considerable time and resources to collecting Native American artifacts from the Plateau region, as well as a few coastal and Alaskan items. His written notes about the articles reveal an attention to details of construction & craftsmanship. At some point after Joseph’s death in 1904, Manning acquired one of the chief’s eagle feather war bonnets, possibly from one of Joseph’s nephews, to whom they were bequeathed at the chief’s funeral potlatch.

Stevens County Surveyor

In 1905, Manning accepted a job as deputy surveyor for Stevens County. In addition to laying out routes for new wagon roads, his engineering expertise was put to use on a survey of Z Canyon on the Pend Oreille River. Years later, Manning described how he "discovered a lone pine tree growing from a crevice in the rock near the spot where the rocky canyon narrows to 18 feet. The tree was felled so that it dropped across the canyon and while Mr. Manning and his assistant were surveying, platting and mapping the project, the tree was used as a footbridge" (Helena Independent).

While working on the Pend Oreille, Manning made the acquaintance of an elderly chief of the local Kalispels, from whom he purchased a sturgeon-nosed canoe fashioned from white pine bark, of the type used by the Kalispel people.

"This canoe complete with paddle was made for me in 1905 by totally blind Chief Massalaw of the Boundary [Kalispel] tribe, Pend d’Oreille River, Washington. Massalaw was reputed to be about 100 years old" (Item 50, Manning Collection List).

Manning also purchased a pair of buckskin moccasins from Massalaw, and from other Kalispels he acquired a fine assortment of baskets, stone pipes, snowshoes, a horsehide drum, wooden needles, and two papoose pouches.  During the summer of 1906, he attended a Fourth of July celebration at the tribal village on the Pend Oreille River, where he bought from a Kalispel man “all he had on his person,” including his buckskin moccasins" (Item 86, Manning Collection List).

Surveying and Acquiring Indian Items

After being naturalized as a U.S. citizen in September 1906, Manning was elected as the engineer of Stevens County that November. Road-building was high on the agenda of the county government during this period, and Manning’s duties carried him throughout Northeastern Washington. Taking up residence in the Hotel Colville, he traveled through the Pend Oreille Valley and frequently traversed the Colville and Spokane Indian reservations to inspect existing roads and bridges, scout new wagon roads, and oversee surveys of routes and boundary lines. Before the county could construct a public road across the reservations, they were required to obtain permits from the Indian agency as well as the signed consent of any allotted residents whose property would be affected. Manning apparently used these official responsibilities to further his acquaintance with tribal members, from whom he acquired many valuable items.

While overseeing the survey of a new road between Detillion Bridge and the Turk Mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation, Manning made the acquaintance of Chief William Three Mountains the Younger and his wife Mattie, and purchased several important artifacts from the family. On one visit, the surveyor admired a pair of moccasins belonging to Mattie and left with them in his possession.

"Woman’s buckskin moccasins, bought from wife of Chief Three Mountain of the Spokanes, who was at the time, wearing them. Solid beaded design in blue, green, yellow, old rose and purple. 7 1/2” long. Beaded on front and outside only" (Item 88, Manning Collection List).

From her husband, he purchased an item of  much greater antiquity:

"Bow of iron wood, back lined with deer sinew firmly attached by fish glue. Both ends so fashioned as to form when strung a cupid bow. 36” long. Five plain, wooden or target (Bird) arrows attached. Very old, obtained from Chief Three Mountain of the Spokanes" (Item 105, Manning Collection List).

Some of the objects he collected were very rare examples of traditional design, such as a flat basket woven of native hemp that also came from Chief Three Mountains. Other items were of modern manufacture, and on at least one occasion he commissioned a work to his own specifications

"Shriners Emblem in green, red, blue, in scimitar and black, green, pink, blue, orange, red, old rose in head design ... . All in native hemp and wild rye with two native hemp strings at top for handles ... . This bag was made for me in 1907 by an old, totally blind Indian woman, the widow of a chief of the Spokanes. She was shriveled and bent into a tiny being and was one of the few old timers left who knew the art of weaving on the out side layer of a double weave fabric without carrying the design to the inside except on the edges" (Item 10, Manning Collection List).

County Engineer, U.S. Mineral Surveyor

In the fall of 1908, Manning filed a suit against the Stevens county commissioners compelling them to pay for a transit for his professional use. That November, despite accusations by the editor of the local Democratic newspaper that he was exploiting the county’s surveying instruments for private gain and not moving quickly enough on certain road surveys, he was handily re-elected as county engineer on the Republican ticket, with a monthly salary of $133.

During this period, he took on additional responsibilities as U.S. Deputy Mineral Surveyor for the states of Washington and Idaho. The position required the posting of a $10,000 bond to insure the faithful performance of his official duties, which consisted of surveying mining claims and evaluating any improvements thereon. In order to reach potential clients, he posted ads in regional newspapers and installed a telephone, number 25 on the Colville exchange.

Mapping roads and landmarks fell among the myriad duties of the county surveyor, and in preparation for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle, Manning oversaw the preparation of a relief map of Stevens County by a group of college students. In 1910 he published a map of the Spokane Reservation that codified the tribal landowners, unclaimed land, and roads on the developing reservation. Copies were sold at local stores such as John W. Graham & Co, especially to white settlers who were anxious to stake claims on available reservation land, scheduled to be opened to homesteading later that year.

Committing Matrimony

In early March of 1910, the Colville Examiner noted that Bill Manning had been absent from the county seat for several days, and that he was reputed to have “committed matrimony” during his absence. The Spokane Chronicle of February 23 carried the details.

"In the presence of immediate relatives and a few intimate friends, Mrs. P. S. Cummings and W. M. Manning were married last night at 5:30 o’clock at the bride’s home, 528 S. Adams Street ... .A wedding supper was served later at which covers were arranged for 12. The table was trimmed with pink roses and lilies" (Spokane Chronicle).

The bride was Pet Shinn Cummings, who had moved to Spokane with her parents as a girl and had divorced her first husband a year earlier on grounds of neglect and refusal to make suitable provisions for support.

Settling in Spokane

After completing his term as Stevens County engineer at the end of December 1910, Manning settled with Pet and her teenaged son at her home in a well-to-do neighborhood on Spokane’s lower south hill. In addition to his position as U. S. Deputy Mineral Surveyor, William worked as a self-employed civil engineer while Pet volunteered for the local Red Cross. Little else is known of Manning’s activities until the fall of 1916, when he loaned a “large collection of Indian curios,” to the fledgling Spokane Historical Society’s public museum (Accession Record 001, Manning Collection).

At one of the early meetings of the society, he spoke of the importance of collecting Native American materials:

"W. M. Manning, who has loaned to the historical society the largest single exhibit, said much can be gathered in the way of historical material from the Indians if an effort is made before it is too late. He spent several years in collecting his exhibit" (Spokesman Review).

When the Spokane Historical Society was incorporated as the Eastern Washington Historical Society in 1918, Manning was elected a life member in recognition of his contribution to the founding of the institution. There is no evidence that he continued his collecting hobby after loaning his artifacts to the museum.

Moving to Montana

By 1918, Manning had renewed his involvement in the mining industry and was investing in mineral claims in central Montana, where he spent increasing amounts of time in the 1920s and early 1930s. After Pet’s sudden death in 1935, he made a permanent move to Helena, where he married Gertrude Ashby, a young woman active in the political and social scene there. 

During World War II, he served as the technical adviser for the mining branch of the War Production Board for Montana and Idaho. In late March 1945, while inspecting a mine in the Gallatin Gateway, he suffered a heart attack and died a few days later. He was 67 years old. His survivors included his wife Gertrude, a sister and brother in Toronto, and a stepson in Spokane.

Manning's Collection

The artifacts that Manning had deposited with the Eastern Washington Historical Society had remained on loan since 1917, with the exception of a few items that he had reclaimed. Five years after Manning's death, museum director Florence Reed approached his widow's attorney in hopes that she would donate the material in his memory.

"As Director of our Museum, I am concerned with the care and preservation of early material. Because the Manning collection is pertinent to our region I am anxious to secure this collection on a permanent basis. Many people here still remember Mr. Manning. A museum collection is one of the finest ways of perpetuating a name. We always speak of various items in our Museum by the collector’s name, and refer to the Manning drum or the Manning baskets" (Reed to Toomey).

Gertrude's attorney replied that the widow preferred to sell the artifacts rather than donate them, and in March 1954, the Eastern Washington Historical Society acquired the collection for $750. Over succeeding decades, several items of ceremonial or spiritual importance were repatriated to the appropriate tribes.

The remainder of the Manning Collection, first assembled in simple cases in City Hall as the charter display of the visionary Spokane Museum, has provided elements for several major exhibits of the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. Nationally recognized for its unique Plateau components, it has most recently served as the basis for the Living Legacy exhibit at the MAC, on display until summer 2010.

Sources: Accession Record 001, Joel E. Ferris Research Library, Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, Spokane, Washington; A. A. Anderson to W. A. Jones, October 25, 1900, Letter Box 18, Letters 1891-1901, Federal Records Center, National Archives, Seattle, Washington; Bossburg Journal, 1900-1902; "Local News," Colville Examiner, March 5, 1910, p. 4; "Helena Man Interested in Big Power Project," Helena Independent, June 15, 1931, p. 6); "Local Briefs," Kettle River Journal, July 17, 1903, p. 1; Manning Collection List, January 1, 1926, Joel E. Ferris Research Library, Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, Spokane;  Florence D. Reed to Edward G. Toomey, July 7, 1953, Folder 1, Box 180, Joel E. Ferris Research Library, Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, Spokane, Washington; "Wed Quietly at Bride's Home," Spokane Chronicle, February 23, 1910, p. 5; "Historical Society," Spokesman Review, September 11, 1917, p. 6; Stevens County Naturalization Records, September 1, 1906, Eastern Washington Regional Archives, Cheney, Washington; Stevens County Quartz Records, Book 11, Eastern Washington Regional Archives, Cheney, Washington; U. S. Census, 1900, Enumeration Dist 74, Sheet 16, Line 50.

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