Cemetery stroll teaches Spokane history | News
Being careful not to step on graves, Duane Broyles, walks through his old haunt, the Fairmount Cemetery. After 34 years of running the cemetery's association, he’s now retired, but his curiosity for history continues. Broyles is on his way to Curly Jim’s historical marker to share his knowledge on what’s become a fascination for him.
Broyles has his theories about James “Curly Jim” Silkoewoyeh. He doesn’t think he was a member of the Spokane Tribe which was the common belief even in a Spokane Daily Chronicle article from 1917, published while Curly Jim was on his deathbed. Broyles believes he was a Sioux.
“In his older days, he became a fixture in downtown. It’s kind of sad how he ended up because he became poverty stricken, but there were people downtown looking after him and taking care of him,” Broyles said.
Years ago, Broyles noticed images of Curly Jim in his postcard collections of Spokane.
“The man standing out there as proud as he can, was Curly Jim. I recognized him from other photos I’d seen of him. I thought that was really cool,” Broyles said. “Probably a way he was trying to make a living, make some money by selling some of these post cards.”
The dead man’s history became relevant again in 2006, when a grave marker was finally built to mark where this man lies six feet under. For years, it was unmarked.
“When he died in 1917, the Tribe said they would put a monument on his grave. They took up a collection, but no monument ever appeared,” Broyles said.
Broyles felt an itch of curiosity. He researched the history and is now credited with discovering a letter that said Fairmount would build a monument for him. During a very cinematic series of events, Broyles says he jumped into his car because he wanted to see the monument the cemetery provided.
When he got there to the plot of land where Curly Jim was buried, he found nothing but grass.
“I told our board members that we’re going to do something right,” Broyles said while standing over the spot of Curly Jim’s grave.
This isn’t the only historical fascination Broyles has. The first series of graves he motioned for historical markers was a set of men who died in an 1890 explosion on Sprague and Division. While working on a train terminal, packing powder got away from the crews and blew up. Broyles said some of the men who died were buried in a common grave at Greenwood Memorial Terrace.
“I went out there to look at the area. The grave was paid for by the construction company. There’s no marker. Nothing,” Broyles said. “I decided we needed to tell that story. These guys weren’t shakers or movers, but they sure gave their all for building Spokane. They had no family to claim them.”
A historical monument was installed just to tell their story. That was the first.
Broyles blames his curiosity of history on his passion for archaeology. That was his first career of choice when he was younger.
“But when I met the gal that became my wife, I realized being married to an indoor girl with an outdoor life wasn’t going to work, so I studied accounting instead. I still have this passion for history and archeology,” Broyles said.
He soon realized working the cemetery was his cup of tea. To him, the cemetery is an outdoor museum. You could pick any grave and learn the life story of the person six feet under. Spokane’s history is unlimited and rich. Even though Broyles is retired, that curiosity doesn’t stop.
Spokane's Titanic Connection: On Friday, learn more about Broyles’ curiosity for history regarding Spokane’s connection to the sinking of the Titanic. Melissa Luck has that story about the ties of a few Spokane residents to the tragedy. Broyles explains yet another historical marker at Fairmount Cemetery and the research he used to find those lost to time. Tune into KXLY 4 News during Friday and Sunday newscast at 6 p.m.