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Miners, a Merchant, and (Maybe) a Massacre

by Ana Maria Spagna




ana maria spagna.jpeg


ANA MARIA SPAGNA is the author of nine books including the young adult novel The Luckiest Scar on Earth and most recently the poetry chapbook Mile Marker Six. Her work has been recognized by the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize, the Society for Environmental Journalists, the Nautilus Book Awards, and as a four-time finalist for the Washington State Book Award. A former backcountry trails worker, Ana Maria now teaches in MFA programs at Antioch University, Los Angeles and Western Colorado University.


Amid the current alarming rise in xenophobia, Ana Maria Spagna stumbled upon a story: one day in 1875, according to lore, on a high bluff over the Columbia River, a group of local Indigenous people murdered a large number of Chinese miners—perhaps as many as three hundred—and pushed their bodies over a cliff into the river. The little-known incident was dubbed the Chelan Falls Massacre. Despite having lived in the area for more than thirty years, Spagna had never before heard of this event. She set out to discover exactly what happened and why.

Consulting historians, archaeologists, Indigenous elders, and even a grave dowser, Spagna uncovers three possible versions of the event: Native people as perpetrators; White people as perpetrators; It didn't happen at all.
Pushed: Miners, a Merchant, and (Maybe) a Massacre replaces convenient narratives of the American West with nuance and complexity, revealing the danger in forgetting or remembering atrocities when history is murky and asking what allegiance to a place requires.

February 2023 | Nonfiction | 978-1-948814-69-0 | 220 pp |$18.95 

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"Pushed is a mystery, a personal investigation, and an attempt to de-mythologize the American West. Spagna's dedication to locate the real people at the heart of this tale is a moving reminder that the West was settled not only by white colonizers, but also Chinese miners, railroaders and sojourners: people who survived and thrived in America and can't be imagined only as victims. Pushed is as personal as it is historically informed, and a lively reminder that the American history we teach ourselves can be as much fantasy as fact."
PAISLEY REKDAL, author of Appropriate: A Provocation

“The particulars of the crime, Spagna’s work suggests, matter less than understanding how something awful can change a place and its people. Pushed is a compelling true crime book that explores issues of race and justice in the American West.”

FOREWORD REVIEWS, starred review

"Through complex and nuanced explorations of how we record history, Spagna offers the reader no easy answers. Instead, she challenges us to consider the big, important questions of how we can move forward without repeating our past."


"A solid history of Western expansion, a powerful refrain against xenophobia, and a celebration of those who resist."



"In her quest for answers, Spagna explores how xenophobia shaped US history, particularly in the American West. A thoughtful, well-written addition to any history collection.”

"Spagna’s book could be paired with Mae Ngai’s The Chinese Question, the Bancroft Prize–winning scholarly book that supplies an in-depth look at how exploited Chinese labor fueled a worldwide boom in gold extraction."


"Spagna brings a storyteller's gifts to bear in unearthing the truth of a tragic event mostly forgotten...if it happened at all. The larger story relates to the treatment of a people most western mythmakers would prefer we forget, prefer we not engage with and rectify. Pushed is Spagna's heart-full effort in making certain this injustice will not be overlooked."
CHRIS LA TRAY, author of One-Sentence Journal

"Spagna sets out on the trail of what may or may not have been a Chinese massacre in Chelan Falls, Washington, in the 1870s. The records are scant and the stories contradictory, but Spagna embraces the ambiguities of her adventure. What she finds is not so much the definitive truth of this history, but rather the deep stories behind Chinese exclusion, Indian campaigns, and Manifest Destiny, an emotional terrain that undergirds the xenophobia of our times."
TEOW LIM GOH, author of Islanders

"Pushed grounds us in a landscape, and then explores—in vivid detail through the eyes and heart of a compassionate and curious narrator—what the land holds: the history, the questions, the bridge of shared references, and the silences. Spagna masterfully lets the reader experience an unfolding mystery alongside her, providing an in-depth snapshot of a particular place she loves in Washington State that holds a complex historical conflict among Indigenous residents, white settlers, and Chinese immigrant laborers, as she turns and turns the story to trouble the nature of 'truth' and ask what remains."
SONYA HUBER, author of Supremely Tiny Acts: A Memoir of a Day

"Spagna takes us on a surprising twist-filled journey as she explores different versions of an unknown story: What was the Chelan Falls Massacre? A massacre without survivors, without a written record, without bones? That mystery is fascinating unto itself, but this gorgeous book is more than the story of one event—it is a retelling of history that has been wildly incomplete, and by filling in some of the gaps, she helps us see place with renewed clarity and understanding. Again and again, Spagna has proven herself to be one of our country's most thoughtful nonfiction writers, and this new book is no exception."
LAURA PRITCHETT, PEN USA winner and author of Stars Go Blue

"Spagna takes us sleuthing to uncover the facts surrounding the story of hundreds of Chinese miners being killed in late 1800s Chelan, Washington. We read of her adventurous traveling for interviews, examining microfilm, finding newspapers, looking at survey maps, and there is even grave dowsing as we are brought yet closer through artful speculation to the more complex truth of massacres and the xenophobic history of the Pacific Northwest. Spagna crafts this investigation with great care; all of this becomes a recounting of the highest order."
ALLEN GEE, author of My Chinese-America


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