James “Curly Jim” Silkoewoyeh
As told to Mary O. Clark, LL.B.
By Wesley M. Clark, Ph.D.
Curly Jim was a Spokane Indian I knew as a boy – even though his name could trick you into believing he might be a dig. His last name was Silkoeyvet and he was born in 1842 near Spokane Falls.
At the time I new Curly Jim before World war 1, he had a tepee in the vicinity of the Indian Canyon area.
Like me, Curly Jim enjoyed Spokane spring with the floral vistas on the rim rock. Summer days he’d sun in front of the national Bank building at Howard and Riverside. He also had a chair for his exclusive use outside the Sprague Avenue entrance of the John W. Graham store. Autumns he’d smell the pungent aroma of burning leaf piles in the streets. As he’d wind his way back from downtown to Indian Canyon winters, he’d spot coyote tracks and deer and bird imprints in the soft white snow.
According to Colonel L. B. Nash, the District Judge and a Civil War veteran, it was his belief that Curly Jim’s real name was ‘Tzanus’ meaning “bow and arrow.” Colonel Nash also thought that Curly Jim fought the whites in the defeat of Colonel Steptoe near Rosalia.
E. S. Payne and Company were the designers of a Spokane cigar manufactured around 1911 that depicted a like ness of Curly Jim’s face.
About this same time, I had an encounter with Curly Jim that would eventually lead into an event which would never leave my memory. I doubt if it ever left the memories of a number of my classmates at the Whittier school either.
One day Curly Jim walked past my house and said to me with his direct Indian approach. “You like Curly Jim? Curly Jim like you, too. You come spend some night in Curly Jim‘s tepee.” Well, you can imagine my reaction! Being a normal ten-year-old, I ran into the house and blurted the invitation to my mother.
My mother was a frontier woman, who, as a girl, listened enraptured to the fairy-tales spun by Hans Christian Andersen in her native Denmark. She knew how I was anticipating her reply. “If Curly Jim asks you again, you can go,” she said with a smile. “Indians are pretty good people.”
I wasn’t much of one for hugging and kissing, but I smiled back. Mother and I understood each other perfectly.
Several weeks later I met Curly Jim again. I used to get up early mornings and deliver the Spokesman-Review to Garden Springs and other areas above and below Latah Creek. We met as I was hiking home from school rather sleepy, as you can imagine. “You come and visit Curly Jim tonight?” “Wait, I’ll ask my mother,” I* replied with eyes sparking. Fatigue vanished like vapor! Curly Jim nodded. “I wait.” Mother gave her approval and off we went.
Curly Jim and me, walking toward Indian Canyon. When we arrived and went inside the tepee, I saw three women. I don’t know whether they were Curly Jim’s wives, daughters, or both. On e Indian woman was cooking something in a pot over an open fire. It smelt good. After eating, Curly Jim and the Indian women all lay down inside the tepee and went to sleep. I tried to do like wise, but didn’t sleep very well. The ground was hard, but mostly I was aware of odd noises and strange smells.
Next morning I took off for school and arrived at the usual five minutes before nine. I could hardly wait to get home and tell my mother and brothers and sisters about my experience.
I didn’t have to wait long. The entire school was emptied shortly after my arrival from curly Jim’s tepee. It seems I’d brought along a few crawling insects. As a result, the school had to be fumigated.
Curly Jim was a friend and contemporary of Spokane Garry, who was a Christian convert and educated. “If you are good Indian,” Spokane Garry told Curly Jim, “when you die you’ll go to heaven and meet God.” Curly Jim believed in the Christian religion. He also believed in Spokane Garry.
Curly Jim fell ill in 1917. A squaw, Mrs. Marie Brown, looked after him. He died on January 19, 1917 at Sacred Heart Hospital. His passing was the end of an era. No more would his once handsome features be carved from a huge block of frozen butter at the Interstate Fair, Curly Jim used to pose for $10.00 for this sculpture. His friends were numerous. They made it their business to take care of his needs. His last words spoken to his friend Basil.