Father of Oregon’s Wife

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July 19, 2009 by David Gillaspie


A real historian kept us company at the B&B this week.  What made him real?  He told us.  He also looked like Joel Grey in Cabaret:

“Professional re-enactors are real historians.  We touch on significant events, you know, native village life, fur trade encampments, Gettysburg charges here and there.  I’ve done them all and loved them all, but none more than my work at Fort Vancouver.

I played a woman, an important man’s wife.  I was a bitter pill.  People taking notes, looking for facts and figures for their scrapbooks got more than they wanted.  I was Dr. John McLoughlin’s wife and I got mean.  I earned it.  After a few complaints I explained Method Acting well enough to be left alone.  I was never cruel, but often came close.  She was not a happy camper.  Here’s why:”

Apparently real historians channel their subject in falsetto.

“I came to Fort Vancouver.  I had no choice.  We didn’t talk about it.  Fort Vancouver?  Okay.  That’s what women of my station did.  I left my children, never to see them again.  They wouldn’t have had any educational opportunity here, as you can see if you look around.  It was expected I would leave them.  I don’t know how to read so I wouldn’t be any help.  I don’t need to know how to read.  I am the wife of the Chief Factor.

The pleasant joys of feminine company are not here.  Any woman visitor needs to be of equal class, and there is no one near that.  I live a cloistered life.  All I know how to do is sew.  I sew.  I sew all day.  It is all I know.  I don’t cook.  The Chief Factor’s wife cooking?  Never.  I don’t clean for the same reason.  I sew like a machine.

People today ask if I’m happy.  Happy?  I spent three months in a canoe with a baby.  Does that sound like fun?  Would you be happy?  I’m fifty years old with a small child on the far edge of civilization.  I cannot speak to anyone below my station, so I am silent most of the time. 

This is my life.  This is the life of women of my time.  Happiness isn’t a part of it.  You wouldn’t know that.

My husband helped settlers.  He’s losing his job because of it.  He is their champion, the Father of Oregon.  When we move to Oregon City these same people will turn on us and take our land.  Nothing in my power will stop it.”

Joel Grey/Mrs. John McLoughlin/ real historian, shifted gears back into normal.  All I could see was Sally Bowles defiantly kicking on the front porch at Fort Vancouver.

“I like to think my work speaks to today’s need for automation from dishwashers to remote controls.  When the drudgery of life goes away, so does quality of life.  If everything is done for you where is an outlet to show who you are? 

Career women of a certain stripe refused to learn to type to show they never swam the steno-pool.  Now one hundred words a minute is a point of pride. 

Senior facilities have cooks and laundries to help their residents while seniors living with their families still plan around life’s necessities.  Who has a better chance for happiness?  It’s called home-style for a reason. 

The social structure of her era locked Mrs. McLoughlin into a prison, her empty catered life a contrast to modern day, but I feel in my soul she would have been a better person if she had a voice she could call her own, something she could control.”

We waved as I grabbed a shovel and a new plant.  An old joke echoed from Fort Vancouver to Portland:

Young Lance Romance whispers to the new cougar in town, “I’ll do anything you want.” 

Cougar asks, “Anything?”

“Yes, anything.”

“Wash my car.”


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