I find this letter fascinating for so many reasons. Let's start with current events. As our new city trash/compost/recycling collection begins Monday, it's fun to see the humble beginnings. Mr. Yamaguchi saw a need for trash collection to preserve the health and beauty of his community, and made a proposal to the city council to address his interests. The records show the council reacted favorably, granting him the first trash franchise in March 1911.
Note the address provided is the Niguma Store (later Yasui Bros. store, now Celilo Restaurant location). Records show Mr. Niguma operated a labor referral business at that address, and also a boarding house (though I am not positive it was in this same building).
My second fascination is with the writing style and skill. The author was clearly very well educated. I shared this letter with Homer Yasui, and he suggests that while many Issei were at least partially educated in US schools and achieved a good command of the English language, this perfect mastery of American English suggests someone wrote this for him.
So who is this "H. Yamaguchi?" Homer Yasui consulted the ledger of checks cashed at the Yasui Bros. store from 1910-1912. No H. Yamaguchi, but an M., K., and a Y. Yamaguchi. He consulted the 1928 census of the Japanese population of Oregon, which also showed several Yamaguchis but no H. Yamaguchi. He checked the records of people incarcerated in the concentration camps during WW2, which include 384 Yamaguchis but none matching likely age and first initial "H."
So we're a bit stumped on who this man was. I wonder if perhaps the "H." we see in this signature was actually a "K.". The city council minutes and The Hood River Glacier record the initial as "H." but they were all working from this same piece of paper we see here. We're not sure he signed this himself, or what his reading and writing skills were, so it's possible there is an error or some confusion. Or it's possible he didn't leave much paper trail. History isn't always clean or easy.
Category: [Downtown Hood River]
The April 6, 1911 Hood River Glacier includes this letter and other mentions to it:
Jeffrey Bryant on 28th April 2017 @ 7:30am
I agree he must have had well educated help, I do not believe many could word it this well even with present day schooling.
Kenn on 28th April 2017 @ 8:29am
Fascinating letter, and it really makes you ponder the ins and outs of keeping a town clean and methods of gathering garbage.
Before a collection service was enabled, what did all those big beautiful homes along Oak and State street, do with their food scraps. broken dishes and whiskey bottles. Did each home have a garbage pit in their back yard?
Probably very little plastic garbage, but what kind of container did you put your garbage in?
I am curious about where Mr. Yamaguchi took the garbage.
L.E. on 28th April 2017 @ 8:34am
Back in the day a lot of folks pitched their trash into the outhouse. A great source for archeologists nowadays.
Melody Shellman on 28th April 2017 @ 8:43am
Believe people who enjoy reading and do a lot of it would be perfectly capable of writing this letter. "Schooling" is just the first step in becoming educated.
Buzz on 28th April 2017 @ 10:04am
Arthur, I can't answer who H. Yamaguchi was but I can, I think, give some insight to what he did during his short stay in Hood River.
The Hood River news. (Hood River, Or.) 1909-current, October 26, 1910, Image 11
Wanted - Japanese wants days work at cooking and housecleaning. Address: H. Yama 14 Oak or Phone 160.
This ad ran almost weekly into March, 1911.
In March 1911, H. Yamaguchi sent a letter to the mayor of Hood River offering to establish a business for garbage disposal, to which the city council readily agreed.
On April 19, 1911 the following ad appears.
The Hood River news. (Hood River, Or.) 1909-current, April 19, 1911, Image 4
Phone 160 14 Oak St.
House and Yard Cleaning
Ashes, empty can and all rubbish removed at once, on order
Housecleaning, cooking or chopping wood done on demand.
YAMA & KOWA
Telephone betwen 7 and 10 p.m.
The ad ran weekly through August 23, 1911 in the Hood River News and occassionally in the Hood River Glacier.
In the September 6, Hood River News the name KOWA is dropped. H. Yama is now listed as Garbageman and Day Worker. In the October 11, 1911 edition of the Hood River News H. Yama has dropped being a garbageman and continued the day worker portion of his ad. This continues to be displayed in the newspapers unitl September 25, 1912.
In the March 6, 1913 Hood River Glacier there is a small article;
Yama Returns Home
Hood River housewives will weep when they learn that Yama, the Jap boy who had become as a kind of a trusty cook, housecleaning boy and Jack of all trades, has left for Los Angeles, from which point he expects soon to leave for his former Oriental home. There has never been a better liked Japanese boy in the city than yama. He was polite and as dignified as any old southern Negro. He could do anything around the house and always did his work well.
One of Yama's Japanese friends intimated that he had returned to the land of cherry blossoms to get a bride
This is the bare bones of the story how H. Yama became H. Yamaguchi and then reverted back to H. Yama. The story of the Niguma Bros. store would yield lots of interesting stories. How did the city council resolve the garbage problems? What happened to the Niguma brothers and their families? What about the workers that contracted with the Niguma brothers? Did Yama find his bride in Japan? There are still lots of unanswered questions but that information has been lost to history. As you said, "History isn't always clean or easy."
LMH on 2nd May 2017 @ 1:40pm
I think that the Niguma store was originally operated by Chotaro Niguma, who was Motoji Niguma's older brother. According to Rose Niguma, who was Motoji's daughter, her father lived somewhere in California until the 1906 earthquake, after which he moved to Hood River to join his brother in the store business. For the record, many years ago, the Yasui family donated a lot of old store papers and artifacts to the Oregon Historical Society, and among those documents are/were a "Japanese Store" flyer that listed the names of both Chotaro and Motoji Niguma as operating that business.
I am guessing that Chotaro Niguma left for Portland sometime before 1913, because by that date, Motoji Niguma is listed as being the sole proprietor of the store. I understood from one of Chotaro's daughters that he also ran a store in Portland, at least for awhile.
One of Motoji's daughter is buried in the Idlewilde Cemetery in the Japanese section. Another of his daughter's, Rose Niguma, was born in Hood River in 1915, and died in Portland in 2014.
Chotaro Niguma reared a family in Portland, and some of his descendants live there today.
Homer Yasui on 2nd May 2017 @ 10:49pm
History is made up of little stories like this. It's wonderful that a simple letter can offer such insight into life 100 years ago.
Arthur on 3rd May 2017 @ 7:58am
Thank you Homer for providing the information on the Niguma family. I have found a taped online interview conducted with Rose when she was ninety. Terrible times. But you know that people with rise up and meet the challenges of what appears to be an uncertain future.
LMH on 2nd June 2017 @ 10:20am