From this vantage point, you can get a sweeping view of the river once re-ferred to as the Eastern Branch of the Potowmac River, and which we now refer to as the Anacostia. The southeast shore of this river was once home to a thriving native american trading center, visited by traders all up and down the east coast. They were referred to by white settlers as Anacostans, an angli-cized version of Nacotchtank, meaning “at the trading town”. Only 60 years after their first contact with Europeans, with their numbers greatly depleted by Eurasian infectious diseases to which they had no immunity, they relocated to Anacostine Island, which we now refer to as Roosevelt Island. Their remnants and descendents likely merged with the Piscataway.
Also on the southeast shore, most of the 20,000 Bonus Marchers—broke and starving WWI veterans and their families—who arrived in Washington in 1932 stayed in camp Marks, a shantytown that rose on the Anacostia flats, described by John Dos Passos as “built out of old newspapers, cardboard boxes, packing crates, bits of tin or tarpaper roofing, old shutters, every kind of cock-eyed makeshift shelter from the rain scraped together out of the city dump.” Marchers spent most of their time protesting in front of the Capitol, returning to Camp Marks or Camp Glassford to eat, sleep and listen to speeches, like one Dos Passos reports from “a tall scrawny man with deeply sunken cheeks”: “Here’s a plant that can turn out everything every man, woman and child in this country needs, from potatoes to washing machines, and it’s broken down be-cause it can’t give the fellow who does the work enough money to buy what he needs with. Give us the money and we’ll buy their bread and their corn and beans and their electric iceboxes and their washing machines and their radios. We ain’t holding out on ‘em because we don’t want those things. Can’t get a job to make enough money to buy ‘em, that’s all.” After their petition to Congress was denied, the veterans were evicted. In an attack led by general Douglas MacArthur, Camp Marks was burned to the ground.
- Fhar Miess