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Views of the Forest: Celebrating the Fourth
Image of the forest on fire.Photo: Courtesy of Forest History Society, Inc., Durham, North Carolina. A New Englander named James G. Swan was among the early settlers to the Washington Territory who celebrated the Fourth of July as a very special day. After the morning bonfire, which Swan himself set off, different local oystermen read the Declaration of Independence and gave orations on Adams, Jefferson, or heroes of the American Revolution. Then came the pot-luck feast, which they properly called a banquet, followed by the firing into the air of every hand gun and rifle they could find.

Mr. Swan describes how at the end of the day's celebration, he and six or eight others crossed over the river and climbed to the top of a hill, where they discovered a hollowed out stump of an old cedar. The stump stood nearly twenty feet high and measured 18 feet in diameter. They filled the stump with dry timber and set it on fire. The bonfire burned all night and into the next day and eventually set fire to the surrounding forest. The resulting forest fire burned for months until the winter rains extinguished it.

In the introduction to James G. Swan's book, The Northwest Coast or, Three Years' Residence in Washington Territory, Norman H. Clark, who is generally sympathetic to Swan, seems compelled to comment on the rowdy Fourth of July celebration, which climaxed with the forest's being set aflame. Clark points out the that the thoughtless destruction of the forest could be seen as an "allegorical comment" on people of the old West Swan, J. G. The Northwest coast or, three years' residence in Washington territory. 1857. Reprint, with an introduction by Norman H. Clark, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982.

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