Former Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard speaks about his role in the Redheart Memorial.
Bio: During his six terms as mayor, Pollard shaped the development of downtown Vancouver including the revitalization of Esther Short Park and the dedication of the Hilton Vancouver Washington Hotel and Convention Center. Educated at the University of Alabama, Pollard served in the U.S. Army beginning in 1961, including deployment during the Vietnam War. His final post was as Commander of the Vancouver Barracks. After retiring from the Army in 1988, he was appointed to Vancouver City Council one year later.
People and Places Mentioned: Wilfred Scott, Redheart Ceremony, Vancouver WA, Horace Axtell, Bob Knight, Nez Perce
Narrator: Royce Pollard
Interviewer: Courtney Yilk
Transcriber: Lily Hart
Date of Interview:
Date of Transcription: 23 June 2021
Location of Interview: Zoom
Abstract: Former Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard speaks about his role in the Redheart Memorial.
00:00 – 04:00
Hi, I’m Royce Pollard. I used to be the mayor of Vancouver. I served 21 years serving in the city. Seven as a council member and 14 as the mayor. And I want you to know that I absolutely love the Nez Perce Indians. They brought things to this community that we never would have seen or heard or been able to receive with their visits here.
And it all started with the national celebration of the Corps of Discovery. Lewis and Clark’s trek to the west to see what was there and report back to the president. A bunch of us were sitting around the table one time saying, well, what can we do to honor Lewis and Clark in Vancouver?
I’m not sure, I don’t remember who, but the idea came up as well, maybe we could, uh, get some Native Americans to come and we could put some teepees up on the parade ground and we could have a powwow of some kind. Which was not a really smart idea, but it got us thinking.
And David McHardy who was a great historian in Seattle area, Tacoma, was a friend and provided me a lot of advice about the Nez Perce and particularly about the Redheart band, which I did not know that the Redheart during the war between the US army and Chief Joseph — the Redheart band and the number of older people and young people were trying to get to the reservation and not be involved in the war.
And they were captured by the US army and they were brought back to Vancouver. And the records show, as I understand, that they weren’t treated very well. They were put in some kind of a barricade down below at, on the reserve here. They were actually paraded, I think, in front of the public, on a couple of occasions.
And in fact, a baby Nez Perce boy died here that we do know of.
|So having that information we reached out. I had staff reach out to the Nez Perce and say, hey, we’d like to talk to you about some kind of a ceremony in which we could both — we said honor, the Lewis and Clark expedition. Their reaction wasn’t all that positive.
But I think with McHardy involved, who they did know and respect, they agreed that we could have a meeting. The meeting was not in the Nez Perce reservation. It was in Pendleton. Antone Minthorn was the leader of the Umatilla tribe and he agreed that he would be the host. And we went there, myself, city manager Vernon Stoner and Ray Day, who was his executive assistant. So the three of us went, um, and we sat in a room much like the one I’m in right now. I sat in the middle, the city manager at one side and Marie Day was on the other.
Alan Pinkham sat on the end of the table. And the seat that I’m sitting in was Bobby Frank, who was a significant Native American representative in the entire state of Washington. And sitting across from us were I think, three people, I’m not sure whether they whether they were Nez Perce. I think there were two women and one man. And I think the discussion opened with Antone saying he welcomed everyone here and he wanted everyone to listen to what we might have to say and that we would discuss it. And after he did that I think I kind of jumped in and said you want to come to Vancouver and participate with us in some form to celebrate the Lewis and Clark expedition.
And they immediately — you could feel the tension in the room and you could cut it with a knife. A number of people said why, I’m not sure who it was, I think it may have been Allen who said, why would we want to come to Vancouver? You held our relatives prisoners there.
And I said, well, then I need to make a confession right now. Not only am I the mayor of Vancouver, but I spent 26 plus years in the United States army. And I was a former commander of Vancouver barracks. And that’s when Allen looked at me and said, “Oh, you’re the guy that held my relatives prisoner.”
And I said, “well, not me personally.” And he said, “Well, just relax mayor, that’s just an Indian joke.” But he made a point. That the army was responsible and I was part of it. It didn’t go very well after that. A number of comments negative were made about why would we want to go there when you know, your army mistreated our people.
And I said, I said, I’m aware of the mistreatment of the Redheart Band in Vancouver and I’m sorry. And I apologize for that. But I, I would hope there will be some way that we can make some kind of reconciliation and do what we can to become friends and celebrate the things that we have in common.
And then there was a lot of discussion back and forth and comments and so forth. Mainly they did the talking, we did the listening. And Bobby Frank — and as they were wrapping it up and saying, well, maybe we need to take a break and come back tomorrow and talk some more — and Mr. Frank spoke up and said, now, wait a minute.
He said to the Nez Perce. He said, “Now where you live, you live on one side there of the river and you have a mayor And on the South side and the state of Washington, you have another mayor. Have either one of those mayors ever been to your reservation to visit with you?” They said no way, essentially.
And he said, ‘Well, you know, this mayor has come a long way to visit with you and in good faith, And I think that we ought to consider what he has to say and think on it and see if there’s not something that we can do to improve our relationships.” And I believe, I believe Anton spoke up and said, “Okay, let’s think on that. Now let’s go have something to eat and we’ll provide them dinner. And then we’re going to take the mirror to the casino where he can spend some of his money.”
And we did that. And we did enjoy the meal together. We met the next day and the comments were some favorable, some unfavorable, not everybody wanted it. But I believe it was Alan who said we will talk about it and we will get back to you.
Delegation from Nez Perce
|And within a few days, I don’t remember the exact number, we got a call from someone representing this person, said a delegation from the Nez Perce want to come to Vancouver and visit and talk to you and look at the site where you held their relatives prisoners. And I said, we’d be glad to have you. And they surely they did come.
And I recall that Uncle — Horace Atxell — who was well-known kind of led the delegation and they were like, they were like two or three others. And the park representative, who was I forget right now who that was, myself and, a couple of other people. And we met in the general Marshall house and we had tea and whatever. And before we started Uncle said, mayor, if you don’t mind, I would like to pray and sing a song.
And he did.
|08:44 – 10:02
Finding the spot
|And it was very emotional. And then we had coffee and tea and some drinks, and I think there were cookies and Uncle said, I’d like to take a walk. I said, okay, let’s go. So Antone, Uncle and I, and he said to me, he said, mayor I want you to call me Uncle from now on which I did. So we started walking down, uh, into the parade ground and across and down into the lower area.
And he said, you and I will walk here. And everybody else followed along, not too close, followed along behind us. And he just said, I’m glad to be here and glad to meet you. And we got down into the bottom area where we traditionally hold the Redheart ceremony. And he stopped, looked around and looked up.
He said, mayor, you know, I believe this was the place. The place where our people were held. And I said, Uncle, how do you know that? And he said, well, look up. And we looked up and it was an Eagle circling around our heads. It sent chills down me like it does now.
|10:02 – 13:17
|He said, if we come, this is where I want to have a ceremony. I said, we will do whatever you need to come and visit with us. And he said, okay, we will talk about that later. And then we went back, I think to the Marshall house, talked a little bit longer and he said, well, we’ll be in touch. It wasn’t very long after that, that they said, okay, we are now setting aside a Saturday.
I forget it was in April, obviously. And he said we will come to Vancouver and hold a ceremony. And it’ll be a ceremony of reconciliation where we’ll remember our warriors and your warriors. We’ll see how that goes. And we offered to provide assistance and we were told no, we’ll take care of it all.
And the funny thing was that Scotty, who I met also during that time, Scotty said, you know, I like bananas. I said, okay. You know, I was thinking about sending flowers to their rooms, but I had a Peggy Ferno, I think, or Judy Holgert?, who was my assistant, put bananas in their rooms, both of them. And it became a tradition after that, whenever they came to Vancouver, they had to have bananas in their rooms and Scotty still harasses me about that.
Well, they did come and it was a very successful one. It was somewhat emotional. But it’s amazing the number of people who turned out. The city came out to meet him and greet them. People that have known the Nez Perce for years came there. And I didn’t know that there was significant numbers of the Redheart band living in Portland.
And we through Dave MC and the Nez Perce I believe they were all invite and a bunch of them showed up. It was amazing. It was a good event. We sat around the circle. Anyone who, the warriors, anyone in the military, there are people in our set together in a round circle. It was, we passed the pipe, uh, Uncle spoke, I think Scotty may have spoked.
I said some words, I don’t remember what they were and it was a, uh, it was refreshing. It was an inspiration for the community. And from that day forward — and in fact, the other big thing was that I think may have drawn some people was that the local Native American Association offered a free salmon bake after the event in the former chapel in the barracks. You may remember that. And very successful too.
And it happened. And we did it every year and every year the crowd got bigger and every year people showed up who had some kind of connection with the Nez Perce. And you’ll hear, I think from many of them after mine.
|13:17 – 15:04
Nez Perce meeting Lewis & Clark
|I would offer a bit of humor here. It’s interesting when I had my first trip to the Nez Perce reservation, I was taken to the spot where Lewis and Clark came out of the Bitterroot Mountains and the Nez Perce were up in that area gathering some staple that they eat, I forget now what it was. And a young boy came running into the camp and said, there are very strange things coming.
Some have hair all over them and they look a little bit like fish and the warriors had a quick discussion they thought they had to kill them all. And I guess a senior female, a Nez Perce said, now wait just a minute. Maybe we should just consider them humans and treat them as humans.
And they did, and for good and bad, they were accepted. They were fed, they were given horses and eventually they were sent on their way. And the Nez Perce had no idea that by doing that, shortly thereafter, you know, a tremendous amount of Americans and other people would be coming and grabbing much of their land.
And that was a mistake on our part. But the fact that it took a Native woman to save their lives, really, I don’t know whether they knew that or not, but…
|15:04 – 17:34
| My relationship with the, I spent, I made many trips to the Nez Perce reservation, just because I was invited. Scotty invited us, Uncle invited us.
A number of those trips were made with Bob Knight, who was the commander at the barracks when all this came about. I remember the time that the Nez Perce, I think it was Scotty said, we’re going to take you out to our fishing ground and show you how we fish, for salmon.
And he took us out and they were like, took us off the road. There were about four or five teepees set up. There are women and children playing and took us to this little stream and the stream if it was 10 feet apart from one bank to the other, that was big. And they were men standing in the water with big, big poles and nets and their women and children standing on the bank. And they were huge salmon. Then there was a wall there of rock and they were huge salmons jumping up that wall. Many of them making it, some fall back down and they try again.
And every once in a while one of the men would hook, you know, catch one of the salmon and throw it on the bank and the woman and the children would take sticks and put it out, put it out of its misery and then they would throw it up on the bank.
And I remember I said to Scotty, I believe maybe I said, Scotty, you got a lot of fish here. What do you do with them? Well, he said, first of all, we take care of our seniors and we take care of our people. And then we take them up on the road and we sell them to white people. We sell it to you white people, and he said, did you bring a cooler with you? You and Bob?
We said, no, we flew over, rented a car. He said, darn, he said, you shouldn’t, I would have filled you with salmon. So we learned a lesson. We never did get any salmon after that either, but we got blankets, every trip we made and then I’ve donated a number of my blankets to various organizations for auctions and the city hall for display. They would give us blankets. And we often said, you know, we got enough blankets. He said, no, no, you need this blanket. Cause this blanket was on so-and-so’s horse. And sometimes they smelled like they had been on so-and-so’s course, but the most generous people, considerate people.
|17:34 – 18: 31
“I’ve met a lot of people and they rank right up at the top.”
|I think that I’ve met a lot of people and they rank right up at the top. My time, I think the Nez Perce made me think more about how I treated people. Again, the first Memorial was strikingly different than every after that. After that they said, look, we’re not here to reconcile. We’re here to celebrate.
And after that, that’s what we did. And every time I would look around and see who showed up and it wasn’t very long after that we started seeing families and children who wanted to pat the horse. And the Nez Perce would give out gifts to children who were there. And other people would talk about how their children were recognized, I’m sure.
They’re great people.
|18:31 – 19:44
|You know the Memorial was very important to me for the, for the benefit of this city and the Nez Perce go out of their way to come here. And there’s a lot for us to learn about you deal with other people from them. I think we have. They’re generous people and we tried to be as good as we can.
We offered help. I offered help on numerous occasions, whether they wanted to talk to some of our police, fire department, they always thanked me, but that they didn’t need our help. They were doing fine without us. They were here to help us understand them. And I look forward to the day that we can have the ceremony again.
I think just a ceremony can become — it already is, part of the character, that I hope for this city. I think I said enough. Thank you.
[slight pause/section break]
|19:44 – END
Honoring the little boy
Royce Pollard: Well, you know, if you would reflect upon the divisions in our country today, I think what we achieved with the help of the Nez Perce is we’ve shown that you can come together and, and deal with your differences. And put them off to the side and say, okay, we’ll deal with those. But there are things that we have in common and we should nurture those.
You know, I mean, I don’t vote for parties. I vote for people. And I’ve often said, you know, I may not agree with you on some things, but I’m going to put those aside because I like what you have done here and here and in today’s market, it’s not like that. I mean, our country is split, And, and I think, you know, the way that city of Vancouver joined the Nez Perce and dealt with our issues could very well be an example of how you do put things aside and you don’t deal with those.
I forgot to tell you the one story, but you may not really — just for your information. At one of the ceremonies we decided that we were going to honor the baby boy who had died here as a prisoner. And there is a monument down here that you’ve seen, there’s a chair and there are trees. I think we’ve planted two or three trees.
And for that, I said, I want to have nice two shovels painted gold. And after the ceremony here, we all gathered up there and the holes were kind of semi dug, but we dug a little bit. We put the trees in, Scotty had one — I don’t think I’m not sure whether Uncle or Scotty were there, but one of them.
Both of us put dirt in the hole. And we had other people that come up and put a little dirt in the hole and set them up. And they all touch the trees. And then they got ready to leave and I looked around and I said, where are my shovels? And I looked over and Scotty’s got them in the truck.
I said, “Hey, those are my — .” “No, no, no, no,” he said “These have to go back, go to Lapwai. They have to go to the reservation because we’re going to plant some trees there. And we’re going to use these shovels.” Well, okay. I’m not sure about that, but I hope they did. I hope they did. Yeah. I love Scotty like a brother.