New Era Oregon

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January 7, 2011 by David Gillaspie

PART ONE

WHAT DRIVES OREGON HISTORY

It is the history living within you, not what surrounds you, that takes hold here.

You’ve probably heard the reverse.  I’ll explain.

You won’t find a house Washington slept in, or a grizzly battlefield soaked in blood.

If that’s a problem, why not work the problem.

A walk into the Central Library surrounds you with a feeling;  if you knew everything in there, you’d hold the knowledge of the ages.  The Guinness Book Of World Records gives a similar jolt.

That’s stuff inside the library; the library building drives it’s own history.

For those who drink the history kool-aide, the building recalls an innocent time for the whole country, 1913.  (Early birthday alert.)

The Central Library reflects a certain Portland the year before the rest of the world fell into WWI.  It was a time before gas attacks, a new gimmick called a tank, and a new gun called a machine gun whose efficiency some commanders wouldn’t believe.  What else explains 60,000 British dead on one day of the Somme Offensive?

Boom.  Outa here. 

You work for your history here, it’s not a handout.

TYPES OF HISTORY

It’s not all about the wagon trains and pioneers.

Go to an Oregon beach to get a sense of what early maritime explorers saw.

Not a friendly landing.

Now look at a native canoe.  That’s how it’s done.

Prairie schooners came later, bringing men who worked the earth.

They were farmers who knew good land when they saw it, but they didn’t get to see Oregon land.

They heard about it, and that was good enough.

What drove them to make the trip?

Was it the free land, or something else?

Follow the path of the 1861 Mason-Dixon Line described by the white South and the dark North.  That little peninsula of white slave state is Missouri.

Why does that matter when wagon trains rolled out in the 1840s?

The Compromise of 1820 allowed Missouri as a slave state even through their southern border lies above the agreed on free state/slave state  latitude 36° 30′.

Missouri sat in the cross hairs of history when the wagon trains pulled out.

Call it Manifest Destiny or racial tension when a family packs up and leaves after a black family moves onto farm near them.  Maybe the black farmer had a better mule and plow and the white farmer had a bad attitude getting worse.

What happens?  Load up and head for Independence.

Whatever the reason, economic or social, the trip to Oregon changed attitudes for the better.

The trail taught pioneers a lesson on cooperation.  When your wagon starts drifting downriver, when a snake in the water aims straight for your wife, or when your ox yoke breaks, you need help and take it from the nearest source.

You learn to give the same way.

It’s a lesson that reaches across all boundaries.

Who comes from that sturdy midwest stock?  All Oregonians.

Helping one another is an Oregon tradition; it’s in the history books.  Live here long enough and it seeps into you.

Learn more in the Oregon Historical Society Research Library.  It might change your life.

 

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