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Flaunting the Floozies

So. A lot of towns have history. Gettysburg?
We have history, and so much more. We have the Fort Dalles Floozies!
I confess, when first preparing the (then) new website for www.historicthedalles.org, I was trying to come up with a tagline that sounded... well, fun.
So I wrote the phrase: "Welcome, Pioneers, Adventurers, Gold-Miners, Mountain Men, Floozies and Scallywags!"
And dear Ms. Mary Mouse, said with longing in her voice, "I want to be a Floozie!" And she set out to do just that. Now you shall find the Fort Dalles Floozies at the new river dock, greeting the tour cruise ships arriving in The Dalles. We are welcoming five different cruise lines to our lovely town this year, and they are bringing about 5000 tourists through the Columbia River Gorge.
We have a great deal of gratitude and many, many thanks to issue to the Floozies for making our cruise guests feel welcome and to start their visit off with fun and laughter.
A mouse no longer, Ms. Mary is now our head Floozie Madam! And lucky to have her, we are.

Celebrate Genealogist Month!

I had the good fortune to meet a decendant of Andrew J. Bolon yesterday. For those of you who don't know, A.J. Bolon was the Indian Agent who was murdered in September of 1855, and who's death triggered the Yakama Indian war.

From the Lulu Crandall clippings stored at The Dalles Wasco County Public Library:
"Captain" A J Bolon leaves The Dalles on Sept. 20, 1855 on a horse borrowed from D.W. Butler. At Toppenish Creek a few miles from Fort Simcoe he visits lodge of Chief Show-a-way (Chief Ice), younger brother of Kamiakin. Show-a-way urges Bolon to return to The Dalles, warning him he'll be killed if he goes ahead. Bolon accepts advice and begins backtrailing to TD.His trail is crossed by a party of Indians headed for fishing grounds above TD, led by Me-cheil, son of Show-a-way. Me-cheil, Wap-pi-wa-pi-clah and Stok-an-chan rode with him.  Me-chiel decides Bolon knows too much about Qual-chin's murders and that Bolon should be killed. Camp was made and a good fire burning. Bolon was standing by the fire warming himself when Wap-pi-wa-pi-clah, a powerful man, pinned Bolon's arms and Stok-an-chan calmly pushed Bolon's head back and cut his throat. They threw his body into the fire, killed his horse, and rolled it and his gear into the fire. "The killing was over the treaty of General Palmer on Three-Mile creek" [D.W. Butler, 1896 Crandall Clippings]

It was a rare opportunity to connect with a family who's ancestor had a part in shifting historical events. As a genealogist, she says they've compiled a great deal of family history on him. The lady had red hair, and from her I learned so did Bolon. That's a fact the history books never told me. Family history can add a human element to the otherwise staid facts of an event. Genealogists who compile family stories, as well as birth and death records, add bits and pieces of personality that make the ancestor's stories come to life.

In my opinion, in recognition of how genealogists help preserve history we should have an annual Genealogist month. Let's make it September!

Threading the tapestry of history

I keep coming back to the concept of combing through records time and time again to build layers of perception like a magnifying glass to view historical events. Each record has little bits and pieces you may not find in any other source, a snippet that may illuminate you or even change your view on how an historic event unfolded.

The most striking example I can cite is the "Whitman Massacre" at Waiilitpu Mission, near Walla Walla, Washington in November 1847. I continue to learn a little more about this event each year.

Those of us who learned about this event, usually heard it explained the first time as how the "ignorant savages" were superstitious and blamed the Whitmans for the deaths their people suffered following the introduction of diseases like measles, cholera, etc. These people then rebelled and slaughtered the Whitmans and their household.

Yes, the local Native peoples had no understanding of how bacteria and viruses worked at that point, and neither did most white people. How do you think cholera became so epidemic? So in that sense they were ignorant - unknowing - about the cause, or the treatment. Not knowing, many of their own methods of treatment for ailments backfired, killing the sickly victim. But this was only a single factor. The thing they DID understand is the white man had brought diseases into their region that, since the 1700s, had been wiping out whole families or sometimes entire villages.

But there is more, much more, to this story. The explosion of anger that resulted in the murders at Waiilitpu had been building for years. It has taken me years to comb through various accounts to learn:

#1: Toayanu, the son of the local Walla Walla chief, Peupeumoxmox, was given the English "Christian" name of Elijah Hedding. Hedding was shot and killed by a white man while in California on a horse/cattle trading expedition. His enraged uncle, in their cultural tradition, swore vengence on a person of "equal" worth and Marcus Whitman was named as one of the possible targets ... two years before the massacre. When Hedding's father demanded the white man be tried and punished by the same laws the tribes had agreed to live by, nothing happened, in a stark demonstration that they were not "equal" under the law.

#2: The Whitmans were Presbyterian. The Catholic church was actively sending priests into the region in the race to "save the Indians" souls. Catholic priests in the region were denegrating the Whitmans, saying their ways of prayer and approaching God were ineffective and wrong.

#3: The Whitmans were American. The Hudson's Bay Company, operating out of Fort Vancouver, was an arm of the British empire who was at that time struggling for control over the riches of the Pacific Northwest. The fur trade had proven highly lucrative, so much so that the beaver were nearly trapped out. HBC representatives were actively spreading malicious malcontent about the Americans, who had begun infiltrating the area, in an effort to keep them out.

#4: A man named Tom Hill, a Delaware Native American mountain man who had trapped with Kit Carson, moved to nearby Lapwai. Hill held a hatred for Americans. He had seen the devastation endured by his own tribe. He was an eloquent speaker who acquired a following. He would tell the Indians of the area, "Kill the whites or they will destroy you."

#5: Joe Lewis, a French-Canadian half-breed, was a disciple of Tom Hill. Lewis was deliberately feeding lies to the Native Americans of the area, the Cayuse and Nez Perces, telling them they were being poisoned by Whitman. Why? He was a former HBC employee, a Catholic (although one could question his morals), and overall enjoyed stirring people up. He was considered a trouble-maker by the Whitmans prior to their deaths.

#6: One story I read said that when Indian youngsters persisted in swiping melons out of the mission garden patch, Dr. Whitman tried to teach them a lesson by inserting purgative powders into temptingly convenient melons, the boys stole and ate them, and got sick as poisoned pups. In scolding a Cayuse brave for a minor offense, Whitman inadvertantly laid a hand on his shoulder, and that night the Indian got a bite of meat stuck in his throat, and choked to death.

#7: The Oregon Trail emigrants had been flooding the area for years, and the Natives were not blind to the fact that their land was being encroached upon and taken from them. Their people were being killed and violated by these intruders who were not held to an "equal level of accountability and justice" under the white man's law.

#8: Whitman himself had a sense that hostilities were building. He had made plans to move from the area, to the Wascopam mission site in The Dalles that had been occupied by the Methodist Episcopal missionaries. He wrote a draft for about $600 for the purchase in September of 1847, a draft that was never cashed. Once Whitman was killed, both the Presbyterian mission board and the Methodist Episcopal mission board pulled their people out of the area, abandoning the area and the Native people they had sworn to serve.

#9: Adding to all this is the opinion by some that the Whitmans were reportedly somewhat aloof and haughty. They did not develop deep friendships with the Native people they were there to serve, nor integrate into their culture. They never seemed to shake the idea that these people were "savages" and somehow inferior and retained the status of "outsider".

The picture seems so clear in hindsight. Looking at all the layers, all the threads that wove into this story, how could you NOT think there would eventually be violence?

Only by viewing all the strands that thread the story can you really see the authentic tapestry of history.

Historic Oregon Newspapers

I feel like a drunk who has been handed keys to the brewery and told, "Go at it and have yourself a good time!" Those of you who love history will understand what I mean. I got an email that finally (FINALLY) announced a long-awaited research resource is now online! From the Project Coordinator for Oregon Digital Newspaper Program, through the University of Oregon:

I am pleased to announce that newspaper content from The Dalles has been added to our Historic Oregon Newspapers website.
You can keyword search, browse, and view content here from:

The Daily Mountaineer (1861-1866): http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn89055266/
The Dalles Times-Mountaineer (1882-1904): http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn93051669/

The Dalles Weekly Chronicle (1890-1947): http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/2003260222/
The Dalles Daily Chronicle (1890-1948): http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn85042448/

These links will take you back through time to some of the earliest newspapers from The Dalles, Oregon... back to the days when Fort Dalles was in operation, the gold miners were passing through town and outfitting themselves, when riverboat traffic flowed up and down the Columbia and the mighty railroads were just pushing their way west.

Take a look at the main page for the Historic Oregon Newspapers website: http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/

This will be a boone for genealogists and history researchers. And look out for drunken rabbits.

A little piece of history

I've always been more inclined to research history, rather than collect it. Today is an exception. I have recently spent a great deal of time researching the Umatilla House, a particular "pet" interest of mine. Lo and behold, I was alerted to the fact that eBay had a letter written on Umatilla House stationery for sale, and I went ahead and threw down the $20 to buy it. And glad I am.

It has a lovely line-drawing of the "New Umatilla House" as well as Handley and Sinnott's names as proprietors. The letter written on the stationery is no one I'm acquainted with, and lists an address in Brooklyn, New York. The letter is dated January 1891. By November of that year, Daniel Handley would pass away in Room 11 of the Umatilla House, where he lived.

It's a little piece of history, and I'm glad it's mine.

Want to read about the Umatilla House? Check this out:

Hopping down the Rabbit Trail

historical-rabbitApparently I've coined a phrase that struck a chord with history buffs. The idea of following rabbits down rabbit trails seems to be catching on. Those of us who love  — and I mean love  — history know the problem all too well. The "rabbit" that pops up and grabs your attention — that distraction from your original pursuit that suddenly pulls your attention off on a side trail and there you go, galloping down another path, chasing a curious little clue or interesting factoid until you look up, hours later, and think "How did I get here?" Like Alice chasing the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole, you can end up in unexpected places.
Last weekend I was privleged to attend a talk at the Original Wasco County Courthouse. They present a history forum series each year, and this one forum happened to be about the minting of money in Oregon Territory and the building of the branch mint in The Dalles and the one in Oregon City. The presenters talked about their process of researching the topic, and mentioned chasing rabbits down rabbit holes, and the audience immediately grasped the concept. During the Q&A, people were using phrases like "...or was this just a rabbit trail?" One lady said, "You know, that rabbit thing."

As I read historic material during my research, I'll sometimes read something that perks my interest, and find myself muttering, "Rabbit. He's a rabbit. Don't follow." Problem with those darned rabbits is they can prove important for other people. As I expand my own knowledge, of course I keep running across more and more information that relates to what my compatriots in the field are researching. I feel like the History Sorcerer's Apprentice, gathering more and more buckets of history until I'm awash in a sea of information, with no hope of bringing order to oddities or taming the tide of chaos.

And I love it.

Digging up dirt on a scallywag

I love when random chance suddenly sparks a whole new furvor of interest. A week ago, I was researching old The Dalles Chronicle newspaper clippings of the year 1926. My, that was a big year! It was the year both Rudolf Valentino and Harry Houdini died, the year Queen Marie of Romania came to visit Oregon and Maryhill, and one of the first Fort Dalles Frolics, which was my original topic of interest.

It was when Lulu Crandall was in her heyday as a historical reporter for the Chronicle, and I found a series of interviews with a fellow named Oliver Cromwell White that she had written.

Local legend has told of the first few meetings of the Congregational Church in 1859 at the original Wasco County Courthouse, and how they were disturbed during church services by a prisoner in the jail cell downstairs who would sing bawdy lyrics to their church hymns.

Imagine my delight to find one of the White articles mentioned that very incident, and gave the name of the prisoner — Hank Vaughan. And such a name! It is said "He was a horse thief, gunman, desperado, gambler and a drunk, spreading his deeds from Nevada, through Idaho and into Oregon and Washington."

This bit of trivia has sent my history maven friends and I into a flurry of research as we are churning up more dirt on Mr. Vaughan. It's like mining for gold... every nugget of information you uncover makes you feel as if you won the prize. For me, I'm pleased to have a name to tag onto one of the infamous "scallywags" of early The Dalles history.

Don't make it painful to find you

After agreeing to take on a writing assignment regarding Oregon history, I happily settled down to do a little preliminary online research. Because some of the towns I needed to research were located in areas I was not completely familiar with, I was relying on their local websites to point me to what I needed to know.

Fat chance. One thing became obvious to me — nobody was thinking like a visitor when they set up their website. The thing that amazed me most is that so many history museums forget to post the TOWN they are in. The people offering the information forget the vast majority of website visitors may not already know that information.

Take the Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Because it is affiliated with the University of Oregon, which is in Eugene, I figured it was probably in Eugene. However, we all know what they say about people who ASSUME - Makes an ASS out of U and ME. And certainly before I submit my article to a national publication, I need to confirm my guesses. The directions on how to GET there on their website assume you already know what town you are in and are familiar with the street names. What part of "I'm from out-of-town" did these learned professors forget? A person shouldn't have to dig for the gold of knowing what town your museum is in, or better yet, the orientation within the larger geographic region and proximity to roads. And yes, I eventually found my confirmation that the museum is, indeed, in Eugene... a factoid I wouldn't have been able to guess had I been a resident of another state or country.

The other thing that left me somewhat flabbergasted is how many websites claim, "This town is rich in local history." But that's it. They don't actually REVEAL any of that rich history. Just taunt you with the teaser that it exists, like saying "You gotta work for your history, sucker — we ain't givin' it to you!"

People from outside the area love to come visit Oregon for the history, as well as the scenic beauty. If we are to lure them into our communities with the rich history we have, we need to be a little more upfront on what that history is and where to find it.

Celebrating Fort Dalles

July is an annual homage to local history, as well as the annual Rough & Wild Fort Dalles Pro Rodeo www.TheFortDallesRodeo.com . This year we kick off Fort Dalles Days 2012 tonight, with the Jammin' July celebration. It's a fun family-friendly time, and quite a few of the 25+ events during the nine days are free admission. For information on the events, visit www.FortDallesDays.com or www.HistoricTheDalles.org. Fort Dalles Museum will host a history extravaganza on July 21, with free museum admission, free horse-drawn wagon rides to and fro to the Rorick House, blacksmith, rope-making and spinning wheel demonstrations, food (Indian Fry Bread, salmon, hot dogs, hamburgers, Kettle Korn, snowcones) and hand-crafted goodies for sale, historic re-enactors, 4-H Farm animals, old-timey music and lots and LOTS of fun. Bring the kids, they'll have a blast!

Fort Dalles Museum Surgeon's QuartersFort Dalles has a warm place in my heart. You have to love a place that's been the center of operations for more than one renegade... people like Louis Scholl, the architect who designed several of the Fort's buildings, including the last remaining building, the Surgeon's Quarters. Scholl didn't feel that just because you were in the army, you had to suffer in a rude construction axe-hacked split log cabin. He felt beauty and functionality might bring rest and respite to hard-working soldiers, and that they deserved to return to housing that gave comfort as well as protection from the elements.

There is much written on Fort Dalles, including the book "Picturesque Frontier, The Army's Fort Dalles," written by Priscilla Knuth. (Copies are available for sale at Fort Dalles Museum, www.fortdallesmuseum.org ) And there is even more written on Colonel George Wright, who oversaw the campaign to control the rebellion by the local tribes who did not wish to cede their traditional lands and way of life to the whites.

It is with a great deal of interest that I like to venture into Google Books and do a search on "1855 1856 Fort Dalles George Wright"... pulling up congressional reports made to the Secretary of War gives one a first-hand look at the heated action happening at the time, and often makes mention of little known facts or clarifies a point that may have mystified the student of history.

One of my greatest downfalls is that I like to be helpful, and most of the time people don't see my help as anything more than interference or criticism by an old busy-body. So when my help actually IS helpful, I am particularly delighted. I managed to unearth one of these congressional reports about Col. Wright in a downloadable PDF for a highly knowledgeable researcher who had never seen that particular source documentation. He was delighted, and so was I.

It really wasn't anything special on my end. I was trolling for history, and ran across it. One can while away hours  (more productive than playing computer solitaire), reading through government military reports made regarding famous battles, and get a better glimpse into the personalities at work. When reading through the reports of 1856, one can tell Major General John E. Wool, who was in charge of the Dept. of the Pacific, had a burning hatred for the Territory governors (Curry in Oregon; Stevens in Washington); he doesn't do a very good job of covering that fact up, even in his sarcastic reports to the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. Regardless of whether he was justified or not, he sure comes across as a somewhat whining martyr.

And reading the annual report to Congress from the Secretary of War gives an eye-opening glimpse into ALL that was going on, across the nation, at the time. These were the years just prior to the Civil War, and the U.S. Army was dealing with insurrection on multiple fronts. The Indian wars were only one of many armed conflicts taking place. (Like the fact that the Secretary of War WAS Jefferson Davis, who in a couple of short years turned coat and headed up the Confederate efforts in the Civil War. Gave him somewhat of an advantage going in, to know EXACTLY what the military status of the Union states was, didn't it?)

Fort Dalles today is a lovely building surrounded by a lush lawn and shady trees. It wasn't always thus. There were many feet that paraded through this location, not the least of which were the Native Americans who lived here long before the fort was built. A city-wide celebration to honor our history is a fun occasion, but don't forget to take a moment of silence to recognize those who served bravely, with honor -- on both sides of the conflict.

Then go have some fun with history!

Eating crow

The problem with history is, for the most part, we weren't there. We're taking the word as a hand-me-down fact when it might actually be... how can I say this delicately.... erroneous.

This isn't conjecture... this is personal observation. I work at a newspaper. Newspapers get a lot of flack for typos and errors. (I might add, absolutely NO one praises us for all the words we got RIGHT that day...."Why look! You had 99% correct content in today's edition!")

No, they zero in on the screw ups... the typos, the mangled homonyms and synonyms, the out-of-context headlines. I can tell you how each and every one of them happens. The recipe for disaster is: small staff + work overload + tight deadlines + constant interruptions = oops.

Let me give you an example. A couple of weeks ago a lovely couple sent in a notice that they were getting married. The person who typed it up (that would be moi), was trying to juggle several other critical tasks at the same time and unfortunately had a brain fart... the announcement went out with the statement that they "were married" (past tense) on a day that had not yet arrived. So it's rather obvious the dateline on the top of the page doesn't match tense of the announcement. And three people proofreading missed the contextual error.

Another example. A reporter, on deadline, finishes a fairly lengthy and complex article that deals with several political viewpoints and politicians. Said reporter turns article in... the page is sent to press, the newspaper put to bed. The reporter suddenly realizes a major gaffe... a prominent republican (R) politician was mistakenly identified as a democrat (D). Frantic calls to the pressman to pull the page are to no avail. Yes, he got the message, but he was in the midst of his own crisis... something broken on the press... and by the time he got the press chugging along again, he had simply forgot we had resent the page.

I won't even go into the time one reporter (on deadline) accidentally typed a headline to read: "Crows gather in Mosier" when he meant "Crowds." To his horror, no one caught the error during proofreading and the headline went to press. Later that day, my 80+ year old mother read that headline (on the front page, no less) and said, puzzled, "Why, I was AT that event and I didn't see ANY crows!"

Bottom line, any printed publication is produced by human beings, who are capable — and likely — to make a few errors at least a small percentage of the time.

Fast forward another century or two... now envision being the history researcher who is diligently scanning the printed page for "facts"... do you take the printed word at face value? I hope not! Like any good reporter, cite your sources and seek corroborating evidence.

Because you never know when a crow was simply meant to be a crowd.