McKenzie Creek Site: History and Purpose for Excavation

The McKenzie Creek site was noticed when a new pathway was being built through the area in around 2002. Bob Muckle was first shown the site in 2003, and the field school at that time spent a day investigating it. Based on excavations in 2004 and some historical research, Muckle was able to figure out that the area was likely logged initially by a local company in the very early 1900s (i.e. c. 1900-1910). The logging company put a network of roads in to move the felled logs, but they did not build a camp there.

In about 1920, a Japanese camp was built at the site. A Japanese entrepreneur was given permission to log the neighboring area at the same time, and Muckle thinks that the entrepreneur was essentially "squatting" on the land owned by another company. The other company probably did not have an issue with this since that area had already been logged, and was not being used.

In 2004 Muckle initially had difficulty understanding the distribution of artifacts and features, insofar as they did reflect what he understood to be a typical Pacific Northwest logging camp, such as an identifiable bunkhouse, mess hall, blacksmith/farrier shop, and central trash dump. Eventually, however, Muckle realized that the site was simply laid out in a more typical Japanese way, with several individual cabins where a Japanese logger likely lived with his wife and perhaps children. During 2004 we also discovered the foundation of a Japanese bathhouse.

The field school excavated for a few field seasons at McKenzie Creek and almost all evidence support the interpretation of the site being a Japanese camp that was probably occupied around 1920. However, Muckle has always been troubled by the fact that at a fancy cook-stove (the most expensive one in the 1917 Woodward's catalog) was discovered beyond the site boundaries and was likely hidden at the base of a stump. He has also been troubled by the fact that the preservation of cans seems much better in some parts of the site than others. One night a few years ago Muckle was reading the memoirs of an elderly local Japanese woman (which had been translated into English), and in that memoir she noted that someone told her that a small group of Japanese continued to live at an abandoned logging camp after the logging in that area ceased. It was one of those "ah ha" moments. The location of the cook-stove could be explained by the deliberate hiding of it. Japanese were known to hide things of value when they knew they were going to be interned for WW II, because they had thought that they would be returning to their own belongings. It also explained why the rates of preservation would be better in some part of the site (i.e. the better preserved cans are presumably more recent).

So, Muckle's working hypothesis is that after its initial use as Japanese logging camp, a small group of Japanese continued living there. It is probably that the men simply walked the few miles on a path through the forest to work each day. This hypothesis also explains why there are so many personal items at the site. Some examples of recoveries, so far, are four time pieces (two alarm clocks, a pocket watch, and a wrist watch); personal items (combs, several toothbrushes, a pocket knife), many buttons, and at least a few dozens work boots. Japanese were only allowed to take one suitcase when they were interned, which would explain why many of these lesser valued objects could be left behind.

In past years when field schools have excavated at the site, Muckle was interested in reconstructing basic life in a Japanese camp, c. 1920 and thinks that the field school program has gone quite far with that, based on the several hundred artifacts recorded; and identified features such as the bathhouse and the probable garden areas.

This year, the main objective of the field school is to find artifacts that can place people living at the site from the mid 1920s to the early 1940s. This would make for an interesting story; a group of Japanese living in the forest undetected by everybody else!

Both the main excavation area, and the hillside cabin were chosen for excavation this year because Muckle felt, based on the apparent preservation in the area, that those two areas have the best potential for being areas that were occupied between the mid 1920s and early 1940s.