• Nancy and her books

    Alaskan writer and fisherwoman with childhood roots on the banks of the Columbia River

    My Books:

    Storytellers at the Columbia River;

    Rough Waters: Our North Pacific Small Fishermen's Battle;

    Orchards of Eden: White Bluffs on the Columbia 1907-1943;

    Beachlines: a Pocket History of Nome


    My bio:

    I am a long-time Alaskan. But first about my deep connection to the Columbia River. I played on its banks as a child near my family's orchard at White Bluffs. Just upstream was a seasonal camp of Wanapum Indians. In 1943 everyone was evicted for the creation of the Hanford atomic plant and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. In 1998 I listened at a reunion to stories from those orchardists and also their new worry: the plant's nuclear waste seeping toward their beloved river.


    Alaska: In '61, I came here from the Puget Sound area and for ten years combined teaching and salmon trolling, mainly in SE. In '71, I moved to NW Alaska, again to teach, (later did adult education and administration) and have lived here since. Summers are mainly setnet fishing with family near Nome, other subsistence, hiking and cross-country skiing when climate change permits.


    I'm always writing. My interests in particular are small commercial fishermen, northern environment advocates, northern cultures, life along the Columbia River, fiction, poetry and oral history.



    See my blog for current commentary.



  • Books

    to buy a book, click here to find an indie store, click here to buy from the rebel Bookshop.org, or click cover to buy from Bezos

    Storytellers at the Columbia River (2020)


    My first novel and 3rd book that features the Columbia River


    The story:


    Five newcomers arrive at the 1998 Settlers' Reunion at the mid-Columbia River: two anthropologists drawn by the storytelling, two on special missions from their elders, and a Siberian shaman intent on river healing. A Wanapum Indian bus driver angry over salmon losses takes them into the devastated area around the defunct Hanford atomic plant, the scene of the 1943 settler evictions. That view, and the growing threat of nuclear waste from the plant, spark new insights, friendships, and loves. Decades-old anger is swept into vows of action to save the salmon, the Columbia, and the world beyond.

    Read the raves at review section


    Rough Waters: Our North Pacific Small Fishermen's Battle (2015)

    Get an insider's look at the massive threats facing West Coast small-boat fishermen in Nancy Danielson Mendenhall's fascinating new book. Sweeping ecological changes, weak management, and pushback from industrial fishing are all conspiring to gradually undermine the ability of small-scale commercial fishermen to make a living. As a result, fishing families and towns—and those businesses that rely on them—are struggling to stay afloat.

    Mendenhall delves into the root causes and effects of the industry's problems through stories, photos, in-depth interviews with those most affected, and analysis from biologists and social researchers.

    The book presents the issue in two parts, first analyzing the state-managed fisheries on the West Coast and then looking at federally managed fisheries. Mendenhall goes on to compare the industry in the United States with those in other parts of the world and then examines the destruction wrought by the new strategy of "catch share" management.

    As more national environmental groups take interest in the plight of small-boat fishermen, hope that the industry can be saved has been rekindled. But as Rough Waters reveals, the battle to preserve this unique livelihood won't stop any time soon.

    See raves at reviews section!

    Orchards of Eden: White Bluffs on the Columbia 1907-1943 (2006)

    Orchards of Eden is cited heavily in the Hanford History Project's Nowhere to Remember: Hanford, White Bluffs and Richland to 1943 (WSU Press, 2018);


    also cited in the new book The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Age (Steve Olson, W.H. Norton & Co. 2020)

    My social history of the old White Bluffs settlement:

    America's early 1900's dream of greening the western desert through irrigation drew hundreds of would-be farmers to the Columbia River hamlet of White Bluffs in Washington State. Yearning for a healthy, possibly lucrative life in the wild desert setting, they struggled with nature, railroads, power companies, commission houses, water systems and the ever-disappointing market. Through oral histories, letters, photographs and meticulous research, author Nancy Mendenhall tells the story of how, despite all the adversities, the orchardists built a remarkable, thriving community until it was cut short by events of World War Two. At times reading like an epic novel, this rich social history shows in detail the hard roles of pioneer women, children and their men, and delves deeply into their emotional and intellectual lives.


    See praise in reviews section!

    Beachlines: a Pocket History of Nome

    (George Sabo Press, 1997)

    My history of Nome, Alaska:


    "In the first book to be published in Nome in two generations, local historian Nancy Mendenhall fills in the gaps. Beachlines: A Pocket History of Nome covers the Gold Rush but also gives accounts from dispossessed Native Alaskans who watched the stampeders occupy their land. Mendenhall goes beyond traditional retreads of Nome’s past by noting other events perhaps less romantic to Outside consumers interested in mystique and legend." ~ Nome Nugget


  • Buy a BOOK:

    Support your local indie bookstore (click here)! Try the new Bookshop to support small stores (click here). Or click on the book cover to buy with Bezos

    (Far Eastern Press, Jan. 2020)

    Orchards of Eden: White Bluffs on the Columbia, 1907-1943


    (Far Eastern Press, 2006)  

    Rough Waters

    Our North Pacific Small Fishermen's Battle: A Fishing Family's Perspective


  • Reviews of my Books


    Storytellers at the Columbia River:


    "A great read... Storytellers at the Columbia River is a strong voice for the power and importance of place...through a series of carefully constructed interlocking stories that connect the Hanford Reach's different cultures, generations, and (involved) countries. Underneath (Mendenhall's) web of stories, like the deep current of the Columbia River, is this lesson on the use of technology: do not be too quick to adopt new technology until the consequences are known and can be controlled.


    She illustrates this lesson with the fate of "downwinders" who were infected with radioactive iodine from the (Hanford) reactors and the slow creep of radioactive waste toward the river. These problems have been with us for 75 years without adequate resolution. The river once supported large runs of wild Pacific salmon, whose habitat was traded for another technology, hatcheries, as the river was developed. The fate of the salmon is a thread that weaves its way through several of the stories."


    ~ Jim Lichatowich, author of Salmon, People, and Place:

    A Biologist's Search for Salmon Recovery



    “Mendenhall tells a rich and complicated story—in reality many stories—cautionary tales of violence done to people and the environment: families evicted from their farms and orchards in order to build the Hanford, Washington nuclear facility; the construction of huge Columbia River dams that prevent salmon from reaching their spawning grounds; indigenous people dispossessed of their ancestral land and food sources; the horror of Nagasaki; the threat of nuclear waste leaking from storage at the Hanford plant and contaminating the river. These stories, told through the concerns of the novel’s characters, join together in a narrative to raise ecological awareness of these enormous problems and to rally a spirit to actively respond to them.”


    ~ Dr. Gerald W. McFarland, author of The Buenaventura Trilogy, and A Scattered People:

    An American Family Moves West


    "Gripping...Tragic...(brings) in a cast of characters who tell their personal stories, bringing alive the tremendous losses suffered because of nuclear weapons, thermonuclear war, the internment in concentration camps of Japanese immigrants, most of them U.S. citizens during WWII, the oppression of the Wanapum Indians, who lived on the east bank of the Columbia, the construction of dams on the river that has destroyed the salmon runs that provided food for the Wanapums and other residents along the river and for millions of people across the U.S. Mendenhall's book weaves all these critical issues together. She is a wonderful writer (and) writes with much wit so there are also plenty of laughs in this book."


    ~ Tim Wheeler, journalist, author of News From Rain Shadow Country




    "Rich, questioning, often funny . . . has the social flavor of a traditional novel with a multicultural cast of characters who struggle with their unique histories while bom-barded with today's challenges to the river and its people. The challenges are global, while the Columbia, a river I love myself, can use this attention, and the lively plot holds us tight to its banks."

    ~ Dr. William Keep, English Professor, past resident of Yakima, WA



    "An engaging novel of people dealing with a difficult and challenging situation rather than being a didactic book using characters to illustrate a viewpoint, and the author achieved it well, I think. The importance of the river, its history, and its challenges all came through, but the author's take on it all was not clear, which is what a novelist wants. (Mendenhall) showed the complexity, because each of the characters had his or her attractive aspects, but none was perfect. (They) grappled with the issues (in '98) and didn't solve any problems and that was realistic and helped make the book literature."

    ~ Laird Hastay, Oregon college educator





  • ReVIEWS of Rough WATERS


    Kevin Bailey's 2018 Fishing Lessons: Artisanal Fisheries and the Future of Our Ocean, cites Rough Waters!


    Reviews for Rough Waters in Boston Globe,

    National Fisherman, Hakai Magazine (Alan Haig-Brown),

    Fishermen's Voice (Paul Molyneaux)

    Univ. of Alaska Aurora, Anchorage Daily News, Arctic Sounder

    for full length reviews scroll down



    ""In this impassioned, broadly researched book, (Mendenhall) plumbs today’s fraught seascape, from the West Coast’s state-managed fisheries, to federal policy, to plights in other regions." ~ Boston Globe



    Personal and poignant. . . an intimate look at what small-scale fishermen have been up against...As long as writers like Nancy Danielson Mendenhall exist, the voices of the underdogs will be heard." ~ Fishermen's Voice; Paul Molyneaux (author of The Doryman's Reflection: A Fisherman's Life)



    "In Rough Waters, Mendenhall has given us an exhaustively researched book in which she presents information on privatizing management regimes from around the world, while always relating her findings back to the independent and small-boat fisherman...A definitive review of the current trend toward individual vessel quotas, individual transferable quotas, catch shares, and other versions of privatization."

    ~ Alan Haig-Brown in Hakai magazine



    "Spellbinding... a tour de force... a masterful account (of the)

    . . . tragic enclosure of the world's fisheries.”

    ~ Dennis Brown, author of the bestselling Salmon Wars



    "Covers every angle on the North Pacific small fishermen’s battle... Mendenhall documents a way of life with exhaustive research and reporting. This history of the fishing fleet and its struggle is more intimate than what you’ll find in the news and official reports and more extensive and accurate than your grandfather’s memoirs."

    ~ National Fisherman



    "...I'm a fishery biologist. I care about fish. I also care about fishermen and the communities they support. I have read about the fishermen's problems because of declining abundance of fish, but until I read Nancy Mendenhall's book did the dry statistics become real people who work hard to get by on a shrinking resource and have to contend with policies that seem to care little for both the fishermen and the fish."

    ~ Jim Lichatowich, author of Salmon, People, and Place: A Biologist's Search for Salmon Recovery



    "Fantastic... I am so glad these kinds of perspectives and voices are having a chance to get in print. I appreciate you taking the huge effort (I know) to research and write this important book and I will let people I know in Iceland about it."

    ~ Margaret Willson, author of Seawomen of Iceland: Survival on the Edge




    ~ Dr. David Olsen, fisheries biologist, past director of Fish and Wildlife for the U.S. Virgin Islands, member of the Caribbean Council, international consultant



    "A great Alaskan book that now can be found in the library of Cambridge University in England..."

    ~ Lawrence Khlinovski Rockhill, Scott Polar Research Institute, Univ. of Cambridge


    "Bravo! I was both delighted and impressed by (this) fine-grained and very balanced history of every stage of the struggle against privatization... Mendenhall's work serves as a much needed bridge between the ever-present critiques, and the big picture of where we need to go and what programs and tools, however imperfect, are helpful along the way. She knows her history and she tells it well, making it accessible and meaningful to a much wider audience than would otherwise have access to this intimate story."

    ~ Dr. Evelyn Pinkerton, Simon Fraser Univ., B.C.



    "Heartwarming and heartbreaking. . . Danielson-Mendenhall comes from a long line of Norwegian commercial fishermen. . . so she writes with sensitive yet accurate profundity, in an intimacy of place that conjures many memories for me. Our story deserves to be told and is told uniquely and honestly in (this) exhaustively researched book up to the present, including insights into fish politics that most have never deigned to imagine. . ." ~ Dave Otness, Alaska fisherman and activist



    A deeply engrossing book. . . about the struggle by independent fishermen (and fisherwomen) along the Pacific coast from Oregon to Alaska. Great in terms of suggesting measures we need to fight for to win sustainable fisheries.”

    ~ Tim Wheeler, journalist and author of News from Rain Shadow Country


    "Well-researched... offers a unique perspective... full of colorful and relevant stories which highlight life as a fisherman (and) relates the struggle of small, family-owned fishing operations against the politically savvy factory fishing fleet. This book brought me back to my time as NMFS fishery observer in the Bering Sea, while it also did a great job of capturing the high-stakes politics that have created the current fisheries landscape in Alaska. Bravo!" ~ Michael Sloan, fishery biologist


    "Does an excellent job of showing how the complex pieces of our fisheries management system came to be and how they fit together. Along the way it asks the obvious question – are the assumptions this system is built on valid? Given the continued decline in fish stocks, and the economic devastation facing small fishing communities and small family fishermen this is a valid question to ask."

    ~ Andrew Crow, Alaska Cooperative Development Center



    "Mendenhall creates a vivid profile of a classic small business venture with a long history and an uncertain future. She details its importance -- especially to small coastal communities -- its joys and rewards, threats to its survival, and the complicated interplay of groups which would control, sustain, perhaps even eliminate such ventures.

    Throughout she feeds us firsthand accounts of trolling for salmon, long-lining for halibut and cod, crabbing through unstable winter ice and summer’s recent rough seas -- sometimes idyllic, sometimes frightening, always compelling: she puts us there."

    ~ Dr. William Keep, fisherman, English professor and book reviewer




    A War Story That’s Not Over Yet

    review by Paul Molyneaux in Fishermen's Voice :

    "Nancy Danielson Mendenhall, who spent more than half a century in the Alaska salmon fishery, gives readers an intimate look at what small-scale fishermen have been up against in Alaska. In addition to her own experience, Mendenhall is heir to a family fishing legacy, and her book begins with stories that are personal and poignant. She describes how her family and their friends built their own boats and helped open up the commercial fisheries of the north. In addition to the commercial fisheries, she describes the importance of subsistence fisheries to Alaska and the role that fishing plays in both Native and non-Native Alaskan culture...

    In the first part of her book, as Mendenhall writes with a depth of intimacy and understanding that transports the reader back to the 1960s, 70s and 80s, she hints at coming troubles. Dams, habitat destruction, increasing regulations, and competition from sport fishermen contribute to the “death by a thousand cuts” that many fishermen have experienced...

    Fisheries are a vital part of Alaskan culture. Mendenhall notes that for most Americans, fisheries may occupy little more than a hazy corner of their consciousness. “It’s a different story in Alaska,” she writes, “where a recent poll found that 60% of the people still think that salmon is very important to the image of the state. Alaska is the only state that prioritizes subsistence fishing. People need to be able to get enough to eat and sell on a small scale, then commercial fishermen get their whack at the stocks, and after that, sports fishermen.”..

    (Mendenhall's) stories are intimate and personal, revealing the values and cohesive spirit of the North Pacific fishing communities. But in the value system of the policy makers, things like intergenerational knowledge and cultural integrity cannot be measured in dollars, and so they are discounted...

    Tolstoy once wrote that the history of battles is barely more than conjecture. Nobody knows really what the generals intended or how their orders were executed. Even those engaged in the fight have little awareness beyond the reach of their own vision. Mendenhall, after years of watching her friends and family struggle to stay in business, and many of them failing, finally recognized an institutional problem. “As I researched this book I discovered that although our federal government floods us with information promoting healthy, sustainable fisheries, its management is full of contradictions for the small fishermen, the majority…”

    That’s putting it mildly, but in the second half of her book Mendenhall offers meticulously researched, and painfully detailed, analysis of how federal regulations have privatized fisheries and disenfranchised the small-scale fleet. Mendenhall’s play-by-play description of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s actions, from promoting Individual Transferable Quotas, to its unworkable programs ostensibly intended to protect small-scale fishermen and their rural communities...

    She writes that the council passed a Community Quota Entity (CQE) program, intended to buy quota from large operations and sell it to communities of less than 1,500 people. But most towns could not meet the costs. Mendenhall quotes Sven Haakanson: “It cost us two million to get that community quota working. Two million.” According to Mendenhall, Haakanson’s community, Old Harbor, was the only one out of 42 that really got the CQE working for it...

    The battle Mendenhall chronicles takes place throughout the Alaska and North Pacific region over the course of a hundred years, but has been most fiercely fought in the last three decades. Mendenhall’s meticulous research shows how corporate interests have taken over the pollock and crab fisheries, and how quota management has shrunk the state’s halibut and black cod fleets with little or no conservation benefit, especially in Western Alaska where the pollock fleet is allowed to kill and discard thousands of salmon and halibut, much of it underreported...

    Countering the gains made by the privatizers of Alaska’s fisheries, Mendenhall notes a number of fisheries that have endured due to one fortunate circumstance or another. As in any battle, survival is a matter of luck. But the gist of Mendenhall’s book is that the surviving small-scale fisheries are the kind that should be intentionally restored and preserved...

    After a certain amount of time, war stories become completely defined by the winners, but as long as writers like Nancy Danielson Mendenhall exist, the voices of the underdogs will be heard. Rough Waters: Our North Pacific Small Fishermen’s Battle, is a war story, and the battle is not over yet."

    ~ Fishermen's Voice, May 2016

    Paul Molyneaux (author of The Doryman's Reflection)



    From Dennis Brown, author of bestselling Salmon Wars:

    "For any one interested in Pacific Coast fisheries, Nancy Mendenhall’s new book Rough Waters is hard to put down. Those not familiar with fisheries or fisheries politics, but interested in how neo-liberal economic policies are under-mining human societies all over the world, will also find this book a “must read”.

    Mendenhall’s book is consummately researched and broad in scope--as befitting social science of the highest order. Yet her narrative is rendered with such intimate sensitivity to people, places and things at the local level so as to evoke poetry. Mendenhall provides an encyclopedic overview of not only fisheries in her home sate of Alaska, but also Washington , Oregon, New England and British Columbia. Throughout her book she weaves together the common problems facing small boat fish harvesters everywhere—including depleted fish stocks due to habitat degradation, the challenge of dealing with increasingly complicated management regulations, and the perils of declining incomes vis-a-vis increasing operating costs. Above all, Rough Waters, is a tour de force so far as exposing the insidious threat to small boat fish harvesters and coastal communities posed by a world wide governmental obsession with privatizing fish resources through Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQ) or Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQ)—or “defined catch shares” as they euphemistically dubbed by the apostles neo-liberalism who promote them.

    In the final chapters of the book Mendenhall offers a sobering, but realistic, appraisal of the daunting prospects facing small boat fish harvesters and the communities that depend upon them. Her analysis is a well thought out appeal for fish harvesters to empower themselves with greater technical knowledge and organization, when dealing with management agencies, as well as the need to build alliances with NGOs and the general public. While Mendenhall’s criticism of the drive to economically redesign and privatize common property fisheries is not particularly new in fisheries literature, her first hand experience with the fishery elevates her voice to an unique and compelling stature.

    Mendenhall is at her very finest in describing her years as a troller in Southeast Alaska, way back in the 1970’s. To any one her has ever fished commercially her stories will resonant to the deepest possible level. Moreover, her description of her present day participation in the subsistence fishery, based out of Nome Alaska, is seminal in pointing the way for both humans and wild creatures to sustainably co-exist in perpetuity. Her account of her own sons and their fishing adventures in small vessels in the wild expanse of Bering Sea makes for spellbinding reading.

    Mendenhall exudes authenticity in the way she superbly describes the almost Will Rogers-like philosophical genius of her cousin George Morford, an Oregon troller with deep roots in the fishery. Morford’s life story in the fishery is subtly interspersed throughout the narrative, and he serves as a microcosm of the fate of fish harvesters all over the world. Both in the sense of the insidious and relentless victimization that small boat fish harvesters everywhere face because of ideology and misguided management systems, as well as for his undying sense of optimism, common to all fish harvesters. After decades of slowly being displaced from the Oregon troll fishery. Morford, late in life, rises phoenix –like and happily re-establishes himself as a troller out of Sitka, Alaska,

    It is through the viva voce of individuals like George Morford, and many others, that Mendenhall is able to so thoroughly validate her overall thesis that fish harvesters are not the true threat to fish stocks the world over, as is commonly assumed. Indeed, she convincingly shows how commercial fish harvesters have become the unfortunate scapegoat victims of massive hydro-electric dams, bad forestry practices, industrial pollution, urban sprawl, over capitalized industrial fishing, to name but a few. In short, any one reading Nancy Mendenhall’s masterful account will never be able to naively look at the tragic enclosure the world’s fisheries commons in quite the same way."


    ~ Dennis Brown, author of bestselling Salmon Wars



    from ~ Andrew Crow, Alaska Cooperative Development Center

    "The world of fisheries management is about as esoteric a topic there is. Even if you have been involved in commercial fishing the gumbo of Federal and state laws, regulations, programs, mixed with mind numbing, endless commission meetings, and hearings and spiced with acronyms and bureaucratic jargon is daunting and incomprehensible. At the same time this system seems unable to deal with what most of us see as the core problem, the need to preserve our fish stocks.

    Our marine resources are faced with a wide assortment of threats from overfishing, to climate change and a host of other environmental stresses. When faced with such a complex problem it often helps to look at one aspect of the whole system, a part that can serve as a canary in the coal mine a simple gauge to illustrate what is happening. In her new book Rough Waters Nancy Mendenhall focuses on the effect of modern fisheries management, especially the privatization of fisheries resources in Federal waters on small fishermen, and has found a good measure for gaging the health of the North Pacific fish stocks...

    Small fishermen are the marine equivalent of family farmers. Like family farms they are the core of a romanticized image of fishing, and like family farms there is a hard economic reality behind that romantic view. The small family fishing operations on the North Pacific coast not only provided an economic anchor for coastal towns, but offered a reliable pathway for young people to earn a living. Rough Waters tells the story of how that pathway has become increasingly difficult if not impossible to follow. While telling that story Mendenhall describes the development of our current fisheries management system with its focus on privatization and industrialization of the fishing fleets.

    Telling this story from the perspective of family fishermen makes the topic more interesting and human. It becomes the story of people, including Mendenhall herself, her children and cousin. Being told from this perspective it is not an objective look at management decisions which have at best underlined the demise of a way of life and at worst have hastened its end. Despite its partisan slant it does an excellent job of showing how the complex pieces of our fisheries management system came to be and how they fit together. Along the way it asks the obvious question – are the assumptions this system is built on valid? Given the continued decline in fish stocks, and the economic devastation facing small fishing communities and small family fishermen this is a valid question to ask."

    ~ Andrew Crow, Alaska Cooperative Development Center



    Review by a professor at Simon Fraser U (Evelyn Pinkerton, 2018):

    "What could be more delightful for an anthropologist/political ecologist such as myself than a book which is both ethnography and political economy? In Rough Waters, Nancy Mendenhall covers the terrain in an amazingly comprehensive way. She has an insider’s view of what it means to be a small-scale fisherperson, since her whole family has fished for generations, in Norway, Southeast Alaska, and the north Bering Sea. But she knows the fish politics of not only these areas, but also of the hot spots of privatization of fisheries: British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and New England. Her book is a testimony to the havoc wreaked on coastal communities and their fishermen by what is euphemistically called “fleet rationalization” (getting rid of the small boats) and privatization in the form of Individual Transferable Quotas.

    But this book is so much more than that. Mendenhall has kept track of the intricacies of policy-making, so she understands at the deepest level how the world of fisheries politics has evolved, and how small-scale fishermen have miraculously survived against all odds by sheer determination. What is most impressive is the maturity and balanced nature of her analysis, which seeks to understand and point ways through the morass, appreciate what has been accomplished, and suggest what needs to happen next.

    For example, while exploring the difficulty of small-scale fishermen in getting the support they needed in the first decade of Alaska’s Community Development Quota program, she also shows how much they eventually benefited from CDQs, the best thing that could have happened to them.

    Thus Mendenhall’s work serves as a much needed bridge between the ever-present critiques, and the big picture of where we need to go and what programs and tools, however imperfect, are helpful along the way. She knows her history and she tells it well, making it accessible and meaningful to a much wider audience than would otherwise have access to this intimate story."

    ~ Dr. Evelyn Pinkerton, Simon Fraser Univ. B.C.


  • Reviews of Orchards of Eden

    for full length reviews scroll down



    Orchards of Eden is cited heavily in a book by Hanford History Project (Nowhere to Remember: Hanford, White Bluffs and Richland to 1943, WSU Press, 2018);


    also cited in the new book The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Age (Steve Olson, W.H. Norton & Co. 2020)



    "A captivating journal about a place and the people who were much like the hardy folks who settled here and built up our Valley. . . rich, familial stories. . . “

    ~ Walla Walla Bulletin

    "Gives us important insights. . . A well-documented historical story. . ."

    "~ Journal of Rural and Community Development



    "An excellent social history of the White Bluffs settlement that includes the families of Walt Grisham and Alene Clarke (who are featured in Arid Lands)
    ~ Sidelong Films, producer of
    Arid Lands documentary




    Orchards of Eden is a wonderful book, and will be a valuable reference for me. I took scads of notes. I am so glad that Mendenhall recorded this history in such detail and with great compassion. Truly a gift to future generations of Northwesterners—this is where we came from. It's like a Steinbeck novel, only true.”

    ~ Kevin M. Bailey, author of Fishing Lessons: Artisanal Fisheries and the Future of Our Oceans; and Billion-Dollar Fish: The Untold Story of Alaska Pollock



    "Reading Orchards of Eden is like experiencing a great screen documentary, made rich through letters, photos, and memoirs, spanning 40 years. It is a personal history of a family, and a peoples' history of that era, with a close-up look at early desert irrigation and its adversaries. Nancy Mendenhall has written a great contribution to Pacific Northwest history and honored the lives of people who are usually only statistics in historical tracts."
    ~ Maria Brooks, documentary maker, (Sinrock Mary, The Reindeer Queen and The Odyssey of Captain Healy)



    "A fascinating history of an early irrigation project in Washington State, based on the letters, memoirs and interviews of a White Bluffs family who tell not just of their farming experience but of the community they helped build and of the political/economic forces that influenced their successes and failures.

    In spite of the White Bluff farming families' resolve to turn the desert into an Eden, the story of how their efforts were impacted by the railroads and power monopolies and by the US government itself, including the devastating Hanford Atomic Project, makes this book an important contribution to Washington State history."

    ~ Margaret Hamilton Wood, PhD, former resident of Columbia Basin towns



    "At last--the little-known story of the orchard-based communities of the Priest Rapids Valley of Washington State before the devastating effect of the World War II Hanford Project...This book needed to be written for everyone who loves the Pacific Northwest and cares about its history."

    ~ Marthiel O'Larey, historian and descendant of White Bluffs settlers


    "Vivid... dramatizes a great American tragedy... Mendenhall writes sympathetically of the people’s struggle to build a viable and civilized rural community.”

    ~ Tim Wheeler, journalist and author of News from Rain Shadow Country




    "Reads like a novel...Tells in vivid detail the birth, maturation and death of a tiny desert town through the eyes of one family. Their dream lasted from 1907 until the confiscation of their land for the Manhattan Project. An economic balance sheet would say that their dream failed, but this richly woven human story...tells a different tale."

    ~ William Keep, college professor, desert gardener and Hanford Reach devotee



    "Does for the small farmers of America what 'The Naked and the Dead' did for the foot soldiers of WWII..." ~Thomas Coons, teacher of American history, retired



    Informative and interesting. . . Orchards of Eden is an engaging family history which goes far beyond the story of one family to illustrate an historical period and the economic system that many small farmers struggled with. The author began with a wealth of information saved in her grandparents' letters which she augmented through interviews. Her story has been further informed by narratives of other families from the area as well as research of historical resources. . . I found her description of the social structure of White Bluffs particularly fascinating. She used her grandmother and great-grandmother's experiences in that society as examples to illustrate the role of women in building social cohesion in rural America. Children played an essential role in the economic survival of farming families. I heartily recommend this book for people interested in history of the West or family stories.”

    ~ Carlyln Syvanen, ret. English teacher, Sequim, WA




    "I was born in Stevens County, WA, in 1916. My father owned a large sheep ranch...The story "Orchards of Eden" meant so much to me because I knew White Bluffs and the surrounding area, the Wheeler family, and their friends....I found fascinating (this) account of their life there, as well as the history of the hardworking orchardists and their irrigation travails."
    ~ Oma Singer, Vancouver, WA



    "Vivid! Authentic! The life of an isolated river community before the Hanford Project ushered in the firestorm of the atomic age...The whole Columbia River should be declared a National Monument."

    ~ Helen Wheeler Hastay, educator, raised in settlement of White Bluffs



    An honest and insightful picture of the life of small farming when it was still possible. The respectable work, pride in crops, love of surroundings, and rich social life of a small rural community--all that good made the strangling economics endurable for families. If we could only reconstruct it now, with a decent return!"

    ~ Steven Vause, former Washington State dairy farmer and retired teacher



    "Mendenhall does a great job of combining the rich personal history of an extended family with the history of an early irrigation project and the social/economic issues facing small farmers of that day."

    ~ Susan Wheeler, descendant of 1907 White Bluff settlers



    "A valuable and engrossing account of pioneering history. In the present generation of high technology and corporate lifestyles, Mendenhall recounts a time when sweat, idealism and individuality mattered. It is a priceless gift to former residents of the region and for all of us who value the histories of American settlers."

    ~ Reader review at Amazon





    From Walla Walla Bulletin:

    ‘Orchards of Eden’ tells of turn-of-last-century settlers...

    “When I first drove across Eastern Washington in 1977, following the Columbia River, vast sections of it were scrub land. Since then, large orchards and vineyards have replaced barren tracts of sand, rocks and sagebrush, with the aid of irrigation. Across the Hanford Reach in no-man’s land, lies a place once inhabited by a small town that was settled at the turn of the last century. The settlers dreamed of growing things with irrigation. The town had a bank, a ferry landing, farmhouses, an orchard, a pumphouse and 40 years of Wheeler family history. The rich, familial stories became author Nancy Mendenhall’s legacy. She remembers the area from early childhood and writes about it in “Orchards of Eden: White Bluffs on the Columbia, 1907-1943.”


    Her grandparents’ Willowbank Farm was north of town. She draws from a wealth of letters written by her grandfather and other family members, interviews of neighbors and other historical information, to relate the story of communities along the Priest Rapids Valley of the Columbia River and the tiny orchard town of White Bluffs. Frank Wheeler, Nancy’s brick mason grandfather, was drawn to the agricultural dreams of greening Eastern Washington through irrigation during the early 1900s. Although he had no farming experience, he brought his wife and children to an uncertain life in the desert.


    Despite challenges of weather, the governmental climate, rising and falling market prices and the economy, the family and the community thrived for nearly 40 years. Yet they were forced to leave behind their labor when the land was confiscated for the Manhattan Project during World War II. Nancy simply intended to preserve her family’s memories, but she also captured an era of near modern-day pioneers who wrestled with isolation, the elements, fickle markets, power companies, banks, the railroad, the Depression, the advent of World War II, economics, politics and perseverance. She produced a captivating journal about a place and the people who were much like the hardy folks who settled here and built up our Valley."

    ~ Walla Walla Bulletin, (Annie Charnely Eveland)




    by Tony Nakazawa, The Journal of Rural and Community Development:


    "The Orchards of Eden story is a quick read, albeit almost 500 pages, and gives us important insights on community infrastructure and community involvement. The setting of Orchards of Eden is the 1906 land boom that opened up the Eastern Washington desert’s potential to irrigated farming.This well documented historical story of the Shaw-Wheeler family’s efforts to find the American dream through land ownership, farming/orchards, also chronicled the community’s likely responses to government efforts to stimulate/support such rural development programs by such agencies as the Bureau of Reclamation, Agricultural Extension (now Cooperative Extension), rural electrification, railroads, and so forth. While the beginnings of the story of White Bluffs is almost 100 years old, being able to live through this community’s story will give many of us involved today as educators and policy makers a better perspective on the timeless aspects of the community development process."

    ~ Tony Nakazawa, The Journal of Rural and Community Development





    images for Storytellers at the Columbia River, Orchards of Eden, and historical photos, some of which appear in Rough Waters, and some reviews

    Frank Meek with Nancy's books

    Meek is an original resident of the White Bluffs settlement (evicted in 1943 to make way for the Manhattan Project--which is one of the big themes in both of Mendenhall's books set on the Columbia River).

    Mendenhall also spent her childhood in White Bluffs at her grandparents' farm.

    photo by Tim Wheeler

    Back cover of my new novel shows the beautiful Hanford Reach; front cover shows my grandfather on the river at White Bluffs






    This new book by the Hanford History Project cites Orchards of Eden in many sections, especially about the lives of the settler women

    Nome Nugget, Beachlines

    Nancy Danielson Mendenhall fishing in SE Alaska

    Me -- fishing in SE Alaska

    in the 60s
    Nancy Danielson Mendenhall fishing

    Net-fishing with my daughter in Norton Sound, Alaska

    Me, set net fishing in Norton Sound near Nome, Alaska

    Dundas Bay Cannery,
    SE Alaska, early 1900s

    The Alitak, my Norwegian immigrant uncles' halibut boat in Alaska some decades back - still fishing! 

    Chinook tribe families fishing in Ilwaco, WA, early 1900s (courtesy of Oregon Historical Society and Legacy Washington)

    My dad Torvald Danielson on a fish trap, SE Alaska 

    An immigrant from Arctic Norway to the Puget Sound in Washington State in the early 1900s, my dad spent some time fishing in Alaska - he also pulled sails on a clipper between Seattle and Alaska, and wrote short stories of his adventures. 

    Future fishermen on the beach at Nome, Alaska (my grandkids)

    My kids crabbing on the sea ice near Nome, Alaska, 1983

    My son set netting for salmon on Pilgrim River, near Nome 

    Another son, and grandson with halibut and cod in Nome

    National Fisherman review:


    "Covers every angle on the North Pacific small fishermen’s battle... Mendenhall documents a way of life with exhaustive research and reporting. This history of the fishing fleet and its struggle is more intimate than what you’ll find in the news and official reports and more extensive and accurate than your grandfather’s memoirs."

    Another son on his small halibut boat, Nome

    Trolling fleet in harbor, SE Alaska, 1960s 

    Hakai Magazine reviews Rough Waters 

    ..."Exhaustively researched...a definitive review of the current trend toward individual vessel quotas, individual transferable quotas, catch shares, and other versions of privatization...
    (Mendenhall) presents information on privatizing management regimes from around the world, while always relating her findings back to the independent and small-boat fisherman." 
    Hakai Magazine; ~ Alan Haig-Brown (author of Still Fishin': The BC Fishing Industry Revisited

    First Event for Rough Waters

             Feb 24, 2016,  Nome, Campus 

    Listing in Aurora, U of Alaska

    Nome Nugget article

    on Rough Waters

    Pacific Fishing journal review of Rough Waters

    See column 2 for the review 

    my painting of troller 

    at La Push, Washington

    mending set net at Cape Nome fish camp


    events and articles



    2020: Storytellers at the Columbia River is published!!! Available at bookstores worldwide



    2019: new book Nowhere to Remember (the Hanford History Project) cites Orchards of Eden in many sections, especially about the lives of the settler women



    2019: soon to be published––my historical novel Storytellers at the Columbia River, set in the Hanford/Columbia River region in the '90s, with themes of environment, nuclear dangers, indigenous tribes, spirituality, social justice and love!



    Nov. 2018 Professor Pinkerton of Simon Fraser U reviews Rough Waters


    Oct. 2016 National Fisherman reviews Rough Waters


    Sept. 2016; Aurora Magazine of U of Alaska showcases Rough Waters


    June, 2016; Boston Globe review of Rough Waters!


    June, 2016; Bristol Bay Times with Molly Dischner interviewed Nancy and discussed Rough Waters


    June, 2016; Hakai Magazine reviewed Rough Waters


    May, 2016: Rough Waters reviewed in Fishermen's Voice (Paul Molyneaux)


    April, 2016: Rough Waters now carried in many libraries, including Oxford University in England


    April, 2016: Pacific Fishing journal reviewed Rough Waters!


    Feb. 24, 2016, Wed: Author reading: I will discuss Rough Waters at an event sponsored by Nome Arts Council/UAA Northwest Campus - NW Campus Conference Room, Nome Alaska, 7 pm


    Feb 21, 2016: Rough Waters got a great writeup in Alaska Dispatch!/ADN


    Nome Nugget (click link for online pdf, interview of author and article on page 16)



  •  other works

    Alaska Writers Directory


    Alaska oral history project


    My grandmother Jeanie Wheeler at 100 years old relates story of life in White Bluffs


    Project Jukebox, funded by the Alaska Humanities Forum, highlights some of the storytelling from Nome, Alaska in February 1996, where people talked about the history of life and activities in Nome. Eight stories were selected based upon their importance to the overall telling of Nome's history.


    In this 2007 discussion, I talk about the changes in Nome since the original project. I talk about the effect of global warming on coastal erosion and salmon populations, and about the effects of gold mining and regional economic development.


    Take part in discussions about west coast fisheries issues: click West Coast Fishermen!

    More great books about Hanford or the Columbia River:


    Harden, Blaine

    A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia


    Ulrich, Roberta

     Empty Nets: Indians, Dams, and the Columbia River


    Layman, William D.

    Native River: The Mid-Columbia Remembered


    Fisher, Andrew H.

     Shadow Tribe: The Making of Columbia River Indian Identity



    Eugene S. Hunn. With James Selam and Family

      Nch'i-Wána, "The Big River": Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land   


    Aguilar Sr., George

      When the River Ran Wild: Indian Traditions on the Mid Columbia and the Warm Springs Reservation


    Beavert, Virginia

    The Gift of Knowledge / Ttnúwit Átawish Nch'inch'imamí: Reflections on Sahaptin Ways


    Lichatowich, Jim

    Salmon, People, and Place: A Biologist's Search for Salmon Recovery; and Salmon Without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis 


    Brown, Dennis

    Salmon Wars: The Battle for the West Coast Salmon Fishery


    D'Antonio, Michael

    Atomic Harvest: and the Lethal Toll of America's Nuclear Arsenal


    Olson, Steve

    The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Age


    Williams, Hill

     Made in Hanford: The Bomb That Changed the World



    Bauman, Robert and Robert Franklin

    Nowhere to Remember: Hanford, White Buffs and Richland to 1943 (My book Orchards of Eden is cited heavily in this one)



    Shields, Sharma

    The Cassandra (novel)



    Coplin, Amanda The Orchardist: A Novel


    Egan, Tim The Winemaker’s Daughter




  • Blog

    Mostly about fish and the Columbia River, lots about climate change

    August 7, 2020 · Nuclear Bomb,Cover-up,Nagasaki bombing,Hiroshima bombing,Greg Mitchell
    August 5, 2020 · Atomic Age,Nagasaki bombing,Nuclear Bomb,Manhattan Project,Apolcalypse Factory
    July 6, 2020 · Indigenous Rights,Uranium mining,Fukushima,Nuclear Waste,Columbia River
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