By SARA JANE RUGGLES/Special To The Press
| February 21, 2021 1:10 AM
Have you ever heard of Eugene Settle? He was a proud North Idaho resident and an early transplant to this region. He moved to Moscow in 1899 when he was five years old with his small yet loving family. He grew up on the family farm and attended Moscow High School where he was a popular student and excelled at track and field.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army in October 1917 and served in an infantry unit in France during the Great War. He came home as a Sergeant in 1919 to find his family suffering from the influenza outbreak, almost losing a brother to the virus. He married the lovely Stella Brown in Walla Walla, Wash., in 1924.
Eugene worked as a warehouse superintendent for the Latah County Grain Growers and was respected by the many workers he managed. He passed away in 1980 at the age of 86 and was laid to rest in the Moscow Cemetery.
Why is this week’s column dedicated to Eugene? Because the Settles were one of the first African-American families to take up residence in north Idaho. Eugene is one of us. He is part of our story. And we are celebrating his voice for Black History Month by bringing his story to life in the next episode of the Confessions of History Geeks podcast.
We honored African-American history in our region by performing a dramatic reading of Eugene’s oral history, sharing the memories he made around 100 years ago. We were able to locate Eugene’s oral history within the Latah County Oral History Collection at the University of Idaho.
In 1975, Sam Schrager recorded six oral history interviews with Eugene at his home in Moscow. All of the audio recordings are available to the public on the University’s Digital Initiatives website. Along with Eugene’s voice, you can hear the sounds of various mid-century car engines as they drive by and the neighbor kids giggling in the summer sun, altogether transporting you to another time.
For this performance, I was honored to work with local actor and 6th grade teacher, David Casteal, who read the part of Eugene. Thanks to David’s skill in interpreting Eugene’s voice and vernacular, I found myself utterly transfixed on Eugene’s words as they came to life before me.
The excerpt I chose for this episode covers various topics, including: Eugene’s first ride in a Model T Ford on the bumpy roads to Spokane, his service in World War I, the influenza outbreak, his career, and upholding the good name of the Settle family.
But I was especially moved by his description of agrarian life: “I always think the farm is the most independent life as a man can live. And I know one thing about the farm, I think especially for a black man, because he don’t have to buck this labor market, he’s more independent.
“I think that’s one reason I escaped much of this prejudice, all of us, the whole outfit of us, because we was on the farm, we lived an independent life. We wasn’t dependent on somebody else all the time for our livelihood. We got it right there on the farm…there’s not too many families that conducted theirself the way the Settle family did, either black or white. They lived a better than average standard of living, adopted that way of living…That’s one thing about the Settles, they had the respect of their fellow men. They always had lots of respect.”
Thank you, Eugene, for sharing your story with us. You can find this episode at www.museumni.org.