methow grist 2011-2014 archive


Finding Gladys
A ten year journey

Some years back an historian, who was working on a project for the Black Heritage Society of Washington State to gather the history of the state's African Americans, told me the file folder for Okanogan County was empty - not one shred of information about any black person in the county. Then she said, "Karen, I was in the community center in Twisp once years ago and saw a black girl in a photograph on the wall. Do you know anything about her?”

You have to understand that Mary T. Henry, a retired school librarian and writer as well as historian, is one of the most gracious human beings I've ever known. And although she speaks softly, you always know exactly what she means and what you have to do.

I had never noticed a black girl in a photograph on the community center wall but it didn't take me long to get to Twisp and find that photograph. Thus began the historical detective work that over the past decade has yielded only this sketchy profile of Gladys Price, who graduated from Twisp High School in 1926.

The 1926 Twisp High School graduating class. Back row, left to right: Dwight Filer, Gladys Price, Fred Dees (Advisor). Front row, left to right: Carlyle Batie, Catherine Ross, Harold Stowell, Robert Gibson. Foss Creveling was also in the class. Photo courtesy Methow Valley Community Center.

Price may have been the only black person living in the Methow Valley before the 1970s, although Napoleon Bowes, an extremely reclusive man who may have had black ancestry, lived in the Mazama area from the 1940s to mid 1960s, according to Mazama - The Past 100 Years, compiled by Doug Devin.

My first stop was Lois Lince's house in Twisp. Lince, who died in 2006, was 90 years old at the time. She remembered the black girl, who was ahead of her in school. She said Gladys lived with a local family although she wasn't sure which one. "I don't know where they got her," Lince said. "I can't remember anybody teasing her, but she was in high school before I was and I suppose they gave her a terrible time."  She did remember that Gladys Price disappeared from the Methow Valley right after high school graduation.

There were other local elders who didn't remember or couldn't recall any information about Price. Then someone suggested that Arlene Lehman Campbell might know something. I called Campbell in October 2006. She was living in Yakima and after my call she wrote the following note:

"You asked about Gladys Price. I don't think anyone knows or remembers much as she didn't seem to want to participate in school activities or in making close friends. She lived with the Glen Davis family on their small farm about two or three miles from us and about the only contact I had with her was riding on the same school bus with her. There were always vacant seats next to her as the boys on the bus wouldn't sit by her and my friends and I were much younger. (ten years) Most of the older girls were nice to her also but no one ever became very close.

"She lived with the Davis family because Mrs. Davis wasn't very well and I think they exchanged board and room for helping where needed.

"All the ones who were closer to her age and knew her better may have had more information - but unfortunately they are all gone. I am now 90 years old so there isn't anyone now living that would probably know more. I think she was a very nice person and endured a lot of people's unkindnesses."

Gladys Price disappeared from the Methow Valley right after high school graduation.

Price lived in the Methow Valley during the height of Ku Klux Klan activity locally and in Washington State. In 1926, the same year she graduated from high school, Wenatchee hosted the state KKK convention that included a parade of 1,400 members, according to a story published in the Wenatchee World. The same story said that in 1923 there were 38,000 Klan members in the state. And much closer to home, a photograph taken in Twisp in the 1920s shows about 80 Klan members dressed in full regalia.

In 2008, I was reading Vernon LaMotte's "Stories of the Methow," which are collected in a three-ring binder available at the Winthrop Library. LaMotte said his father bought the Ashford Davis ranch from Mrs. Davis in 1923. Her husband had fallen off his hay rack, broken his back and died in the winter of 1921-1922. The Davis's had a son named Glen Davis. LaMotte said there was a cattle drive through winter snow down valley to Pateros in March 1926. The second night the cattle wranglers stayed about 3.5 miles north of Pateros at the Peter Jess place.

"Glen Davis always stayed there when he went to his wheat ranch in Del Rio," LaMotte recalled. "This was Ash Davis' son who had a Negro girl as his farm hand. She went on the same school bus with us and graduated from the Twisp school. Her name was Gladys Price. In 1987, we saw her grave marker in the Del Rio Cemetery."

An online search turned up a list of who is buried at the Del Rio Cemetery, including "Price, Gladys, b. 1893, d. 1958." The dates meant she was 33 years old when she graduated from high school. She worked as a farm hand. She died at age 65 - apparently unmarried, given her last name still was Price.

The cemetery records listed three other Prices buried in Del Rio. I made phone calls. I went to the pioneer cemetery, which is 15 miles west of Coulee City. Eventually I learned there were four children, Janey, Gladys, Joe and Hobart, according to a teacher at the one-room Fiddle Creek School, which they attended. She said the family was "well respected," and they had come to North Central Washington about 1900. (Gladys would have been eight years old.)

From another source I tracked down the Price family history that Gladys' brother Joe shared as part of a project to preserve the stories of old-timers in the Coulee Dam area. Here is what he said:

"I was born in South Carolina on December 20, 1883, but our family moved west and eventually lived near Denver, Colorado for some time. When I was about 18 years of age, my father, a man named Brockman, and I started out for North Central Washington. We came the slowest way possible! By a covered wagon pulled by two horses! I rode horseback most of the way as we also drove 12 head of horses behind our wagon.  Most of our stock were part hotbloods, Hamiltonians, saddle or race horses. 

"We traveled days and days across Wyoming semi-desert prairie seeing nothing but a few antelope or bands of wild horses. These cayuses almost caused us to lose our horses by their interference. We came through the area where Custer had fought the Indians. Empty shells and other signs of the battle were noticed. Forewarned, we had only one or two dry camps, but often had to gather buffalo chips for fuel.

"We left Denver in the late spring, and I recall that we arrived on the Crow Reservation on the Fourth of July where the friendly Indians were holding a big pow-wow or celebration. We came on and finally reached this part of the State of Washington. We crossed the Columbia at Condon Ferry, and went on to Alma (another name for Okanogan), arriving there during apple harvest.

"I worked there for a time, but my father came back to Washington Flats [where he originally bought property].  Before long, I came back here and filed on a homestead south of Grand Coulee. I worked out some - especially on threshing crews. I eventually sold my homestead and bought the Alec Trefry place in Delrio [sic]. I farmed there for some time and finally sold out and moved. Now I live on the former Whiteley place which belonged to my father.

"During these many years I often played my violin for dances held throughout the Rex-Delrio country. I have fiddled at Alec Trefry's Barn Dances, at North Star, and at Fiddle Creek School as well as at the local Grange affairs years ago."

William Joseph "Joe" Price was born in 1883 and died in 1964, according to his tombstone. He married and had at least one child - a son named Archie, who for many years refereed local basketball games.

I didn't find Archie, who would have been in his 20s when his Aunt Gladys died. But I did send everything I gathered to Mary T. Henry, who placed it in the Okanogan County folder in the Black Heritage Society archive. Maybe someday I can add more information about "the black girl in the photograph on the wall" at the Methow Valley Community Center.



Have a comment? >>

Karen, I am sure you are aware of the picture on page 128 in "Bound for the Methow":Twisp High School Assembly in 1926 showing Gladys in seat 7 of 2nd row. (After reading your article, Wayne remembered seeing reference to her in another book and found this.)

Donna & Wayne Bonn

Winthrop, Wa

Thank you Karen for the research on MS. Price. It helps to know some of the stories behind the people on our walls. Kirsten

Kirsten Ostlie


Great story; great research; impressive! Karen. Thank you.

Gay Northrup