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Mossback’s Northwest

How a PNW Cowboy Shattered 19th-Century Gender Norms

March 20, 2019

Long before transgender rights were headline news, a man by the name of Harry Allen was challenging gender norms in the Pacific Northwest, making headlines of his own during the gold rush era of the late-19th century. He was a cowboy, he was a bartender, he was an outlaw and he was assigned female gender at birth. Allen lived on the rough edge of society, worked jobs reserved for men, had relationships with women, and wore pants (which was controversial enough to land him in jail). By challenging Victorian norms, he was plagued by scandal and became a popular newspaper figure. A pioneer, he struggled for his own identity and ultimately paid a steep price for it. In this episode of Mossback's Northwest, Knute Berger tells his story.


Knute Berger

Knute Berger is Crosscut’s Mossback. Born and raised in Seattle, he writes with his own Pacific Northwest perspective. He also writes the monthly “Gray Matters” column for Seattle magazine where he is editor-at-large, and is an occasional commentator on KUOW-FM’s “Week in Review.” He is the author of two books: Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice and Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. He was writer-in-residence at the Space Needle and has had a cocktail named after him at Ivar’s. You can email him at or follow him on twitter @KnuteBerger.

More stories by Knute Berger

Stephen Hegg

Stephen is a 25-year veteran of KCTS, producing a wide range of cultural and public affairs series, documentaries and arts programming.  His credits include PIE, Something in the Water  (PBS feature on Seattle’s indie music scene), the gala opening of Benaroya Hall, and documentaries on Asahel and Edward Curtis, Dan Sullivan and Doris Chase.  Seattle-born, Hegg is a graduate of Whitworth University and is also an accomplished violinist and avid cyclist.

More stories by Stephen Hegg