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San Juan Archipelago, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 650, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

02 February 2019

❖ THE GREAT TOZIER HEIST part II ❖



A fraction of the Capt. Dorr Tozier collection.
Courtesy of the WA. State Historical Society Museum
Tacoma, WA.

Part One of this important historical collection was posted on this site two years ago. 
Click here if you would first like to read a short introduction to this long story below.


The greatest treasures the WA State Historical Society Museum ever had was lost, stolen, or both, depending on how the strange circumstances concerning its departure are viewed. At the time, 1909, viewed from Tacoma, it was theft, but in the rival metropolis of Seattle, it was simply a legitimate removal.
      The treasure consisted of the largest, and possibly the best, a collection of Northwest Indian art assembled up to that time, numbering thousands of objects. It was entrusted by the man who acquired it, piece by piece, Capt Dorr Francis Tozier, to the Ferry Museum of Art in 1900 because that newly established institution was the only place on Puget Sound capable of caring for and displaying so vast an accumulation. after a distinguished early career in the Revenue Service, during which he received a gold medal from France for rescuing the crew of a wrecked French vessel in the Gulf of Mexico, Tozier was sent to the Northwest with the US Revenue Cutter GRANT to enforce maritime laws, intercept smugglers, and answer calls of distress. 


Click image to enlarge.
This image courtesy of the US Coast Guard Museum
Pacific Northwest Branch,
Seattle, WA.
The assignment gave Tozier the opportunity to put the Grant into remote rivers and harbors, where natives were as eager to trade the things they made as their forefathers had been to trade for pelts. He became imbued with collecting fever, realizing that this was a rare opportunity to bring out from the wilderness, to be seen, preserved, and appreciated, the elements of a civilization that was rapidly being overwhelmed and superseded by that of the white settlers.
      In his zeal to collect he and some of his crew members sometimes were less than scrupulous. In 1902, a B.C. constable reported that when the GRANT was in Ucluelet [Vancouver Island], whiskey was used to trade for “curios” and crew members had gone into Village Island Reserve when no one was there and walked off with a much-esteemed item, the headgear worn by Inikitson, the chief dancer.

      In an interview after he retired Tozier told of a visit to Friendly Cove on Vancouver Island, where he offered a chief twenty dollars apiece for twelve large ceremonial figures. The chief turned down the cash but offered one figure for a bottle of whiskey. When Tozier said he had no liquor, the chief thought he was bargaining and offered all twelve figures for one bottle. Tozier returned to the village the next year and found that the chief had died and all the totem figures had been burned upon his death.
      Tozier learned to carry trade items on his trips. One of his prized acquisitions was a carved ivory snow knife. Its owner, a woman, would not take cash for it, but couldn't resist a red dress he happened to have.
Captain Dorr Tozier
USS GRANT

      Homeport for the GRANT was Port Townsend, and by 1900 Tozier's collection, dominated by many large baskets, was getting so sizeable he realized it was more than he could keep at home. He heard about the new museum in Tacoma and went to secretary W. H. Gilstrap, offering to let him have custody, but not ownership, of the collection. Subsequent events indicated that Gilstrap probably was to undertake sales from the collection and receive a commission. However, the curators at the Ferry Museum welcomed the opportunity to fill some of the vacant space they had been assigned in the courthouse with a massive array of native American material never before seen by the local people.
      Some scarce money was spent to prepare for the Tozier collection––as much as two thousand dollars, according to Gilstrap. A new floor was laid. Walls were painted a 'light cream color.' Glass cases with adjustable shelves were designed and built. And two long table cases to display small articles and carvings were provided. More than two thousand baskets were put on display under glass. Totems, masks, and carvings were hung on the walls. Furs and clothing were placed in cases line with red cloth. Mats were hung from the ceiling.
      The collection was the making of the Ferry Museum, and Gilstrap was so delighted that he was able to find funds to publish a small pamphlet. The pamphlet had a checker-weave cedar bark cover tied up with a buckskin thong that was decorated with one 'genuine Hudson's Bay Co trade bead.' Entitled Arts and Crafts of the Totem Indians, each copy was signed by D. F. Tozier under the statement: 'The objects illustrated in this book were in actual use by the natives when obtained by me.' He proclaimed that the collection, 'representing the expenditure of thousands of dollars and many years of work,' contains ten thousand articles, including twenty-five hundred baskets, representing some thirty tribes. Also in the collection were one hundred stone chisels and axes, carved pipes of stone and jade; two hundred stone hammers, boxes, fish dishes, harpoons, duck spears, arrows, war clubs of bone, copper and stone; knives of copper ivory, shell and iron, ancient medicine and cooking stones, one large racing and one war canoe; wood and stone images; cedar bark rope; and beaded gloves and slippers.
      The collection also included 'twelve mammoth totems, weighing from six hundred to twenty thousand pounds,' representing an Indian religious art form becoming scarce because of the success Christian missionaries were having in getting the natives to abandon 'their former religious rites and superstitions.'
     The collection was described as being three times a large as a smaller one at the Smithsonian Institution (principally Wilkes expedition material) and in a Seattle newspaper article in 1904, four years after it was taken to Tacoma, the collection was said to be 'practically unknown except in Tacoma and to the immediate friends of the owner.'
      It was not unknown to other and larger institutions interested in native materials, including the Smithsonian and the Field Museum in Chicago. When Tozier made it plain that the collection had to be sold, some Tacomans, including Gilstrap, wondered if enough money could be raised locally to keep it from being taken away. A letter went out to various museums around the country from Dr. W. M. Smith of Tacoma containing price quotes as high they indicated his intent may have been to discourage potential buyers. In his letter, he stated that Tozier had offered to sell the collection to Tacoma 'at practically what it cost him. This is a very large sum for citizens to raise and I fear we will lose it.' He went on to say that Captain Tozier had made him his agent to sell the collection if it couldn't be kept in Tacoma.
      One who wanted the collection very much, and said so, was G. Dorsey of the Field Museum. He wrote to Gilstrap saying Field would buy the collection if it could be bought for a reasonable sum. 'I am the only one in the country in a position to purchase it as the other museums do not have sufficient funds' and asked' what is the lowest cash price.'
      British Columbia Provincial Archives sent its representative to Tacoma to inspect the collection, as did the Brooklyn Museum, twice, and then write disparaging reports about most of what he saw, describing the Ferry Museum as disorganized, badly maintained, and a general hodgepodge of unrelated items.
      But no sale took place, and the years went by, causing Tacoma to take an increasingly greater proprietary interest in the dominant holding of its museum and raising hopes that perhaps ho buyer would ever be found. Tozier had retired and moved to Los Angeles, telling Gilstrap that he hoped Tacoma would keep the collection, but that he couldn't take less than what he estimated it cost him–thiry-five thousand dollars.
      In 1909 several Seattleites pondered the situation of the Tozier collection and concluded there was money to be made from it. They organized what was called the WA. State Art Assoc and convinced Tozier that it was a serious buyer and would pay his price of around $40,000. But it would have to be an installment sale with very little down. Tozier trusted them and accepted the down payment.
      When the sale was announced, Tacoma, predictably, was incensed. Just previously Seattle had attempted to take over the WA. State Historical Society. Now, it wanted the Ferry Museum. Tacoma could not match the offer to Tozier but was unwilling to yield. This defiant attitude led the purchasers to expect trouble when they went to Tacoma to pick up the collection.
      Thirty workmen were recruited and sent to Tacoma on the interurban early on the morning of 9 Oct 1909. Earlier, the Northern Pacific had been asked to provide five freight cars to carry the material. The freight agent, a loyal Tacoman, let it be known that even if the cars were loaded he could not say when they would be moved and that the freight rate would be high.
      This led the Seattle group to charter the Puget Sound steamer, the T. W.LAKE. It was moored in the Tacoma harbor, ready to receive the Tozier art, which weighed as much as sixty tons and required eleven large horse-drawn vans to move it down the hill to the waterfront in one day.
      When G.L. Berg, one of the organizers of the Art Assoc arrived at the Ferry Museum early on Sunday 9 Oct, he was told that an injunction to prevent him from removing the collection had been requested. If so, it was not acted on, and the men Berg brought with him set to work packing the material in boxes. Gilstrap was there and by then had become reconciled to the collection being taken away after Berg assured him that he could keep enough baskets to satisfy the museum's claim for costs in connection with the collection's custody. 
      During the day a small crowd gathered outside the courthouse and there were cries of protest. 'They are moving the Ferry Museum to Seattle.'
      
Poster of a small portion of the Tozier baskets
Courtesy of the WA. State Historial Society
Tacoma, WA. 

In mid-afternoon, the workmen started taking the screws out of cases containing the baskets that Gilstrap said were not to be taken. Berg was summoned. He said he had changed his mind, they were going to take it all. Gilstrap was outraged and began to protest. He was vociferous and loud. Then, on Berg's instructions, a burly workman took hold of Gilstrap, who was described in press reports as 'aged,' pushed him into his office and locked the door from the outside. When Gilstrap continued to yell, the transom over the door was slammed shut so that he could not be heard. By then the street was deserted and no one could see him through a window, waving in protest.
      Only after the last item in the collection had been boxed up and sent to the deck of the T.W. LAKE was the key turned and Gilstrap allowed out of his office. He had cooled down but little and went immediately to the Daily Ledger office, where he told the story that made the next day's lead headline on the front page: 'HOLD CURATOR PRISONER DURING RAID ON CURIOS––Gilstrap Overpowered by Thirty Brawny Men.'
      Tacoma banker P.C. Kaufman noted: 'This is another example of the so-called Seattle spirit. It reminds me of the totem pole controversy...A committee of businessmen left Seattle one dark night and stole a big totem pole from one of the islands. The totem pole was placed in Pioneer Square where it remains today.'
      The Seattle P-I began its report the next day with this statement: 'Under circumstances which fully demonstrates an envious spirit on the part of residents of Tacoma and in an utter lack of magnanimity on the part of the officers of the Ferry Museum, officers of the WA State Art Assc, last night removed the Tozier collection
      There it was put in storage while the association undertook to rent space for a gallery. The location it found was a good one––at Fifth and Union in the downtown area––and there some of the Tozier collection was exhibited. The Art Assc turned out not to be much if any, more affluent than the Ferry Museum. In 1912 there was a mismanagement of funds investigation and Capt. Tozier revealed that payments to him were not being made. He had not received anything more than the $1,500 initially paid. Meanwhile, published estimates of the value of the collection had risen to $60,000. 
     Commissions amounting to $3,600 had been paid to two persons in connection with the sale, and Tozier brought suit against the Assoc for $5,000. The suit did not go to court. In the confusion over ownership of the artifacts, the Univ of WA began insisting that it go to the museum located on the campus, where it would be 'beyond the reach of speculation and envious rivals.'
      In 1916 the Art Assoc gave up and went into receivership. 
      The collection had been downgraded in value to $25,000 when Indian collections were out of favor or fashion.
      In 1917 the Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation was assembling in New York city what was to become the preeminent collection of Native American material in the nation. President George G. Heye, collected with a zeal that matched that of Capt. Tozier and he was wealthy. He arranged the purchase of a major portion of it, except for baskets.
      Tozier had never been paid, and his widow possessed the notes that had been given to her husband when the 1909 purchase was made and the collection removed from the Ferry Museum. Mrs. Tozier was paid #22,500 and canceled the notes.
      Parts of the collection not sold to the Heye Foundation were purchased by other parties, including the Thomas Burke Museum, on the U of WA campus. One of the carved house poles was purchased from a dealer in recent years by John Hauberg of Seattle, who subsequently gave it to the Seattle Art Museum because the figures carved on it frightened his grandchildren.
      The Ferry Museum, which in 1931 became part of the Society, was not mortally wounded by the loss of the Tozier collection. The captain was not the only collector and the museum has accumulated other scarce Indian items over the years. Today the WA. State Historical Society has an especially large and good collection of Indian basketry.
Above essay was written by John McClelland, Jr. Window to the Past. Tacoma. WA. State Historical Society. 1992. Pg. 51-59.
      
       







      
       

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