Fill That Shake and Quiver

This is Coffin Lake, named after Stanley Coffin of Yakima. Back in the Progressive Era, he and his brothers were livestock and real estate barons in central Washington. They owned this land, which is now public.

When looking into Stan’s history, I discovered that during Yakima’s 1895 Fourth of July celebration, he made up a group called the Plug Uglies.

Anyone familiar with the term will remember that one of the gangs from New York’s Five Point area was named that. They were, originally, fire fighters (thus the plug reference). So naturally, I wondered how a term that originated in the 1850s, and received a horrible connotation in the 1860s, so take on a positive – though mysterious to me – usage just three decades later.

Who were the Plug Uglies? I have no clue. The only thing that the old newspapers tell me is that I should already know who they were. They marched in the parade, coming after “citizens and carriages,” but before “Indians on horseback.” The “Yakima Volunteer Fire Department” also marched, so it’s clear that the name didn’t revert back to the original usage.

Is it possible that the Plug Uglies were reenacting the dress and style of the gang from the 1860s? The same term appears in various celebrations around Washington. In Ritzville, for example, advertised a “comic parade of plug-uglies, horribles, hoodlums and hobgoblins” with a $15 prize given to “the most ludicrous and best sustained character or group of characters.”

So maybe that’s just what it was. Normal folk dressed up like hoodlums. And yet, other contemporary uses have it down as someone beaten up in a boxing match, as well as a seemingly derogatory term for a worker in the labor movement. One article complained about anti-worker propaganda “whose pictorial prints picture farmers as fools and organized workingmen as plug uglies.”


‘Fill That Shake and Quiver’

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper (1942)
Film: Kodak Ektachrome 400 (x-08/1987)
Process: C-41

Stan Coffin Lake, Grant County, Washington


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