Monday, September 10, 2018

End of the Oregon Trail

There is a nice garden display and
plenty of outdoor seating for a picnic.
Our visit to the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive and Visitor Information Center in Oregon City, Oregon.

I never played the Oregon Trail computer game when I was a kid. But I've been fascinated by the Oregon Trail most of my life. Some day I'm going to devote a vacation to traveling the the modern day route and visit all of the sites and museums along the way. But while we are here in Oregon, I can at least say that I visited the end of the trail.

The early history of the state of Oregon can be generalized in decades. The fur trappers were here in the 1810s to 1820s, setting up forts and trading posts. The missionaries arrived and created their stations in the 1830s. From 1840 was the time of the settlers and farmers. Thousands of them arrived by the Oregon trail that ran from the area around Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, in the Willamette Valley of Oregon Territory. It is estimated that over 50,000 emigrants traveled the trail until 1869 when the transcontinental railroad was completed.

What tools would you take with
you on the trail?
Oregon City is just up the Willamette River from the Columbia, at the base of Willamette Falls. This community literally was the end of the trail, where people could rest, resupply, and find out more information on available land before they headed south to homestead in the Willamette Valley, a prime agricultural area. In fact, Oregon City was at one time the territorial capital of Oregon, that is, before it was moved to ever growing Portland and the junction of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. Now Oregon City is at the edge of the Portland metro area.

At the end of your tour, find out
how travelers fared in Oregon.
The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive and Visitor Information Center is first and foremost a museum with three sections. The first section concerns preparing to take the trail. This includes a theater presentation with an outstanding docent and a well done film. The second section presents displays concerning the difficulty of the trail. In this section you are introduced to actual travelers on the trail and here their voices through the diaries and letters they left behind. The third section is a recreation of a general store at the end of the trail. You are able to sit and view a PowerPoint on a big screen that tells you about the travelers you learned about in the second section and how they fared in Oregon.

"You have died of dysentery"
on the Oregon Trail.
As every "museum aficionado" knows, a great museum has a great gift shop. At the End of the Oregon Trail gift shop they have a very good selection of books, T-shirts, plush animals as well as snacks and drinks. It does double duty as a visitor information center for other attractions in the city. The folks who worked there were super nice and informative. Okay, I have to admit that we really cleaned out the gift shop. I bought three books, a t-shirt, and a little stuffed bison to sit on my bookshelf.

My very own office bison!
So the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive and Visitors Center gets an A++ and five star rating. If you are traveling to Portland on vacation, please add this site to your list of must sees. If you have kids, then move it higher on the list. ;-)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Mussel Slough Tragedy

Last year I was teaching at a high school in the Central Valley of California. As you know from reading this blog, I like to find the local history in the places we live and visit. Earlier this summer I told you about the spot in the San Joaquin Valley where Murrieta was killed. Continuing with the wild west history of California, I tracked down the location of the shootout at Mussel Slough.

About five miles to the northwest of Hanford, California, in Kings County you will find California Historical Landmark #245, that is titled Location of the Famous Mussel Slough Tragedy. It's located on a country road almost indistinguishable from all of the other farm roads in the San Joaquin Valley. Don't drive too fast or you'll miss it. I believe I drove by it at least four times before I finally recognized it for what it was. The text on the monument reads: 
Here on May 11, 1880, during a dispute over land titles between settlers and railroad, a fight broke out in which seven men - two deputy U.S. marshals and five ranchers lost their lives. The legal struggle over titles was finally settled by a compromise. Location: 5833 14th Ave, between Everett and Elder Aves, 1.5 miles SE of Hardwick.
It seems like a short description (in error) for what happened here. Especially since there are no original structures left, or even a tree that witnessed the event. Here's a summary of what happened.

In the nineteenth century the area was called the mussel slough region due to a slough off of the Kings River that backed into Tulare Lake. The lake and the slough are no longer present due to modern agriculture. The Southern Pacific Railroad was granted odd numbered lots of a square mile each as an incentive to build a line through the Central Valley of California. The line through this area was completed in 1872. Settlers had come into the area and homesteaded the even numbered lots and began to create improvements such as buildings, fencing, and irrigation ditches. This included hand-dug canals to bring water from the Kings River, more than two miles away for some.

In the meantime, the railroad put out brochures to sell the land they controlled. Farmers would be able to settle on the land for a few years, then gain title when a price was fixed. Brochures from the railroad advertised prices at $2.50 per acre and up. Of course the purchasers assumed that they were getting their land at that bargain price, and set about improving the land. When it came time to complete the transaction, the railroad insisted on valuing the land with improvements, inflating their asking price to twenty dollars an acre. After the railroad filed suit against settlers and won, the price inflated again up to $35 an acre. There was also an element of rancher versus farmer in that some cattlemen who had the wherewithal were stepping front of the farmers to purchase the improved land. 

With the stage now set, on May 11, 1880 a meeting of settlers was being held when false rumors where spread that U.S. marshals were conducting evictions. The settlers grabbed their guns and went to intercept them. The truth was that a railroad appraiser, two potential buyers from the cattlemen's side, and a U.S. marshal along for protection, were driving around in a carriage looking at properties. The two belligerent parties met at the site of the monument, the homestead of one Henry Brewer. While the marshal and a leader of the group of farmers stepped off to talk about resolving the situation peacefully, the bad blood between the farmers and the two from the cattlemen's side spilled over. No one knows who shot first or even what was said to start it. But in the end, the two cowboys and five farmers were dead.

No marshals were killed despite what the marker says. Five farmers were convicted of interfering with a marshal in the performance of his duties, each spending eight months in jail and paid a $300 fine. Although there was a high level of animosity toward the railroads, the people could not get the government to change the policy of providing land grants to railroads. In the end, the railroads reduced their asking price a token amount and most of the settlers stayed on their land and paid the asking price. At the time of the incident, the dead and wounded were brought to the shade of a large oak tree on the property that was referred to as the "Tragedy Oak." It blew down in the 1990s. A piece of the tree is reportedly put on display in front of a local elementary school. Ultimately the fight was lost to history, with the exception of some local interest and fans of old west history.

The Mussel Slough Tragedy took on a bit of mythology over the years and like so many wild west gunfights there are multiple versions of what actually happened. The three that I consulted, each with a little bit different take, are the Wikipedia article on the incident, "Garden in the Sun: A History of the San Joaquin Valley 1772-1939" by William Seacrest, and "Hanford" (Images of America Series by Arcadia Publishing by Robin Roberts.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Fort Humboldt State Historic Park

We decided to vacation in northern California a bit while on the way to Oregon this summer. While very scenic and awe inspiring (think big redwood trees), I was still able to fit in a little history tourism. I had just started the book on Ulysses Grant so we couldn't pass through Eureka without stopping off to visit Fort Humboldt, where Grant was stationed early in his army career.

Fort Humboldt State Historic Park is the site of the fort that was occupied from 1853 to 1870. The fort was built overlooking
Humboldt Bay to provide protection to gold seekers and arriving settlers from the local Native Americans. Captain Ulysses Grant was stationed here for a few months in 1854. At its peak, the fort had 14 buildings arranged around a parade field. For the troops stationed here, the duty was dull and boring.

We visited the park in early June and the weather was still very cool compared to the Central Valley of California where we had just come from. Being the "morning people" that we are, we arrived just before they opened the gate. Actually, it's a good thing we had Google Maps giving us the step-by-step directions, as the signage directing you to the site was not obvious. The gates opened at eight o'clock. The visitors center and the two buildings of the fort that remain were not scheduled to open until nine. We spent an hour and a half walking around the park, starting with a display of logging machinery that is co-located with the fort. The park is certainly well tended, but not well visited by all appearances. We pretty much had the park to ourselves with the exception of a local walking her dog and some high school kids on bicycles that I'm pretty sure were ditching the last day or two of school.

The buildings at the fort are the original hospital and a reconstructed surgeon's quarters. The hospital building has some displays on the history of the fort, but unfortunately they were not open during the time we were there. I guess that the park is staffed by volunteers and they were having a late morning. It was disappointing, but the main thing to see when you visit a historic site is actually the location and the lay of the land. The fort is on a bluff and today the city of Eureka has grown around the bay that the fort overlooks. It is obvious that the fort is defensible with a small number of soldiers (I believe that less than 50 were typically at the fort), and the view allows for easily spotting arriving ships.

Probably the best part of visiting Fort Humboldt State Historic Park is knowing that you are walking on the same ground as U.S. Grant, George Crook, and other noteworthy soldiers from the Civil War period. You also gain a glimpse into what their living conditions were while serving in what was then still a far off place, well removed from the civilization in the East that these soldiers were used to.

Next stop in this little "Grant Pilgrimage" I've got going on will be
a visit to Fort Vancouver, another frontier outpost where Grant served before his civilian hiatus from the army.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Book Review: Grant by Ron Chernow

Book R & R: Grant by Ron Chernow

Warning: I'm going to try to get you to read this book. Okay, I know that you know that my book review and recommendations are only for books I like. But I really liked this one. So much so that I'm going to try to convince you to take it on despite the 929 page length, not counting front and back matter.

Most of us know who Ulysses S. Grant was. However, most of us (including me before I read this book) know the details of his life and the service he provided to our country. U.S. Grant was a West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican-American War. Unsuccessful in civilian life with the exception of his marriage to Julia Dent, he returned to the army at the start of the Civil War. A very successful commander in the western theater of the war, Grant ascended to the post of commanding general of the Union armies, ultimately responsible for defeating Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy. He served as 18th President of the United States, elected to two terms spanning the years of Congressional Reconstruction.

Author Ron Chernow demonstrates that there is still an interest in bibliographies of the "great men" of American history. His previous works include Washington: A Life and Alexander Hamilton. This is the first work by Chernow that I have read and I truly wish I had picked up one of his books sooner. He is an excellent storyteller (as evidenced by over a thousand positive reviews on Amazon). Do not let the length of the book put you off! There is detail, but the facts hold your interest. Chernow is honest with both Grant's fine points and flaws. And besides, the author quickly moves to the Civil War years, which of course is one of my interest areas.

What made this book a real page-turner was actually the post-Civil War period. Grant held his post as General of the Army during President Andrew Johnson's term of office, following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Through the perspective of a biography of Grant we see the (at times) unbelievable actions and attitudes of the President and how Congress, the Cabinet, and Grant try to reign him in and accept the will of Congress. This political divergence eventually brought about impeachment proceedings for Andrew Johnson. Grant follows Johnson into the White House, winning the elections of 1868 and 1872. During this time Grant, an unflagging supporter of the Union and civil rights for freed slaves, led the country through the remainder of the Reconstruction era. At the end of his presidency, all of the states that had seceded were back in the Union. However, although the Constitution guaranteed rights of citizenship to freedmen, Reconstruction was not so successful in practical terms for former slaves. This was not only a contentious time politically, but also an incredibly violent period in American history. As Chernow puts it, "Americans today know little about the terrorism that engulfed the South during Grant's presidency. It has been suppressed by a strange national amnesia."(p.857)

I know you are going to enjoy this book. I also believe that you are going to learn a great deal and gain an appreciation for the turbulent times following the Civil War. After reading this book, you'll have to agree that if our country made it through that time, today's contentious political landscape is no big deal.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Elvis, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi

The latest member of the Roving Historian team joined us a few days ago. Elvis is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. He's only 10 weeks old, so he has a bit of schooling ahead of him before he joins us on any extended adventures. But being the history geeks that we are, we had to do a fair amount of research on the breed before he came home. Sheila literally read every book (five) on the breed that our local library had. So let us share some of that information with you, a couple of pictures of our baby boy, and a short video.

History of the Pembroke Welsh Corgi

First, to avoid any confusion, there are two types of Corgis and they are distinctly separate dog breeds. The Cardigan Welsh Corgi is the larger of the two. The Cardigans will be ten to thirteen inches tall and probably weigh a bit over thirty pounds. The breed has been around longer than their Pembroke cousins. The Pembroke Welsh Corgi typically won’t be over thirty pounds or twelve inches tall. Both breeds are herding dogs (don’t let the short legs fool you), and as such their temperaments are to be tenacious, outgoing, friendly, bold, playful, protective, affectionate, devoted, alert, companionable, intelligent, and active. Both breeds are small and adorable, but they are not couch potatoes.

Humans started domesticating the wolf about 15,000 years ago and through selective breeding and training there is evidence that dogs were being used to herd cattle more than 2,000 years ago. The challenge in determining when a specific breed originated is that it was not until the 1800s that specific breeds were recognized and pedigrees were recorded. However, the 10th century is probably the right answer, as archaeologists have found the bones of Corgi-type dogs at a site in Wales that dates to 890 CE.

There are several theories to the origin of the breed. Here’s my favorite origin fable. Welsh legend tells the story of two children playing in the woods when they found two dogs with foxlike faces and short legs. The kids bring the dogs home and their parents told them that they were fairy steeds who draw their carriages and carry the fairies into battle. The gift of the fairies helps the children to do chores around the farm. You can see the marks of the fairy saddles on the backs of the Pembroke Corgis’ backs to this day. (Well, if it ain’t true it ought to be.)

My other favorite origin theory, a little more down to earth, is that Vikings from the Scandinavian countries brought early breeds like the Valhund, the Lundehund, and the Buhund to Wales in the ninth and tenth centuries. There is also the possible influence of the Schipperke and/or early Pomeranian breeds that were brought to Wales by Flemish weavers in the early part of the twelfth century. A couple of the Scandinavian breeds are a bit larger than the Corgi, but with the influence of the shorter legged breeds and selective breeding over the centuries, we have the modern Welsh Corgi. By the 1800s, the Corgi is very popular on farms in Wales, particularly in Pembrokeshire.

The corgi was first seen at a dog show in 1925, the same year that a corgi club was formed in Pembrokeshire. Both the Pembroke and the Cardigan were shown together. Because each breed had their own fans, a separate cardigan club was formed the next year. By 1934 the Kennel Club in Great Britain separated the Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis into the two separate breeds we have today. 1934 also saw the first corgi registered by the American Kennel Club. The next year the AKC recognized the two separate breeds, Cardigan and Pembroke. The Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club of America is founded in 1936.

A history of the breed is not complete without mentioning the corgi’s most famous fan. Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain was given a corgi puppy for her eighteenth birthday and has been a fan ever since. All of the queen’s dogs descend from that puppy, “Susan,” she received on her birthday in 1944. The video is a bit dated on its information. The Queen no longer has sixteen corgis. As of November 2012, it was reported that Elizabeth owned two corgis, Willow and Holly, and two dorgis (a cross between a Pembroke Welsh Corgi and a Dachshund), Candy and Vulcan. It was reported in July 2015 that the Queen has stopped breeding corgis as she does not wish any to survive her in the event of her death. The last of her corgis passed away in April 2018, marking the first time the Queen has been without a corgi since her eighteenth birthday. She has owned 30 corgis during her reign. Her dorgis are still living at the time of this writing.

The American Kennel Club says that the Pembroke Welsh Corgi is the 18th most popular breed of dog out of the 194 breeds that they recognize. They make a great family pet. But remember that they are a herding dog. They are smart and assertive. Probably not the best choice for families with children under the age of 8. Do not let the small size and adorable looks fool you. Like other herding breeds, they need strong leadership and plenty of exercise. There’s a lot of energy in that small package.


Pembroke Welsh Corgi: Your Happy Healthy Pet by Debra M. Eldredge, 2009

The New Complete Pembroke Welsh Corgi by Deborah S. Harper, 1994

Pembroke Welsh Corgi (Breedlover's Guide) by Susan M. Ewing, 2011

American Kennel Club website

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Oregon Historical Society and the Museums for All Program

One of the first things I like to do when moving to a new state (right after ordering a book about the state history) is to join the state historical society. State historical societies usually have a pretty comprehensive museum, plus I like to get their journal.

The Oregon Historical Society is located in downtown Portland. I have not visited yet, first I have to get over my dread of Portland traffic and parking. However, I'm looking forward to checking it out and promise to post some pictures when we visit later this summer. I joined the society ahead of our visit by visiting their website. For $80 I signed up for a family membership for the year. That might sound like a lot but their are benefits. Along with free admission to the museum for two adults and as many children as you have living in your house, you also get a quarterly journal. A few of the articles are posted online so you can see the quality and depth of the publication, but once you join you have access to past issues online through the website (so no need for that JSTOR account). With membership you can also participate in the area "reciprocal membership program." Each month, one of the participating museums admits members of the other museums for free. So if I had been a member of the Oregon Historical Society last month when we visited the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria while on vacation, we would have saved twenty-eight bucks! And best of all, your membership fee helps the society continue their good work of preserving the state's history through the museum and archive.

One of the things I hate to see is when a museum or historic site charges what I consider to be too high of an entrance fee. I want to see these sites available to everyone, regardless of means. Along with the entry fee, I support every site I visit by buying a book or some kind of souvenir in the gift shop (Sheila collects refrigerator magnets to keep track of where we've been) and I might even drop a couple of dollars in the donation box as well. Now I get it, to run a quality museum takes funds, and sometimes donations just aren't fulfilling the need. But anyone who took economics can tell you that when you raise the price, you might make more money up to a certain price point, but with each increase in entry fee you are going to lose some visitors. I hate the thought of a young person being denied the experience of visiting a museum because they did not have the means to pay the entry fee.

So here's my final point of why I'm praising the Oregon Historical Society before I've even visited the museum. The entry fee is only five dollars. It was a bleeding fourteen dollars at the maritime museum, so for a state museum five bucks sounds like a bargain to me. Moreover, they participate in the "Museums for All" program. Museums for all is "a signature access program that encourages families of all backgrounds to visit museums regularly and build lifelong museum habits." In other words, let's remove the obstacle of cost, and get kids visiting museums with their families. With this program, all visitors have to do is present a valid EBT card along with a picture ID and up to a family of four can visit the museum for free. I love this program and I'm proud to support it with my membership.


We are enjoying our new home in Salem, Oregon very much. I'm getting up to speed on the local history. But I wanted to let you know that I took on the challenge of reading "Grant" by Ron Chernow. The reason I call it a challenge is that it is 929 pages not including front and back matter. I'm about a third through it and it is worth the investment of time so far. I'm pretty ignorant of Grant's contributions as President, so I'm looking forward to getting to that part of the book.

That's all for this post. I hope you're visiting some exciting history sites and reading some good books. Recommendations are welcome. ;-)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Joaquin Murrieta and Cantua Creek

Sometimes I like to complain about California's relationship to their history, in that they don't have a relationship at all. I mean sure, you have some great Spanish Missions to visit, the best in my opinion is a state park. You also have a nod (provided by the NPS) to WWII history with the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Site. But the sites of many events receive no special standing. I believe that in most cases California land is just too valuable. Some places just get plowed under for a new housing development or, in this case, maybe an orchard. Or perhaps the site is just too remote. Even in California.

CA Historical Marker #344, about
nine miles from Coalinga.
For a year I commuted from Fresno across the San Joaquin Valley to Coalinga, California. I taught social studies at the local district's continuation high school there. Every day I would pass a historical marker and one day I stopped to read it. It said:
"14 miles [with a direction arrow] Arroyo De Cantua, Headquarters of notorious bandit Joaquin Murrieta. Killed here July 25, 1853 by posse of state rangers, led by Captain Harry Love. Terrorized mining camps and stage operations during his career. Historical Landmark No. 344. Department of Public Works - Division of Highways."
Joaquin Murrieta. Well, you know who he is. Murrieta is arguably the most famous of California outlaws. He terrorized the state during the Gold Rush with lots of mythology growing over the years. For some Californios he was a Robin Hood character, avenging the Hispanic community for the wrongs brought by the invasion of Anglo-Americans. It is said that the story of Joaquin Murrieta was the inspiration for the fictional character of Zorro. To the state of California he was a ruthless bandit. The new state government raised a party of "California Rangers" to hunt Murrieta down. They caught up to him and some of his associates, including "Three Fingered Jack" at Arroyo De Cantua, or Cantua Creek. (Check the location link at the bottom of this post for a Google map link.) This spot is on the far west side of the Central Valley, the closest city being Coalinga, a community of about eighteen thousand which was not founded until almost three decades after the incident.

Murrieta and Jack were both killed in the resulting shootout with Captain Harry Love and his California Rangers. Other members of the gang were captured. But to prove they had caught the famous outlaw and collect their reward, the rangers brought Murrieta's head and Jack's severed hand, pickled in a jar of alcohol. Of course there is the requisite conspiracy theory that they got the wrong man and Joaquin escaped to continue the good fight.

So why did they put the marker 14 miles away? The state Office of Historic Preservation doesn't say. On their website they say that the actual site is three large rocks located in the foothills southwest of Cantua Creek bridge. I admit I didn't go look for them. There are no roads to the site and the area is now private ranchland. However, I provide you a picture looking southwest from the bridge over the California Aqueduct in the area on the map marked as Cantua Creek. Yep, nothing but orchards out there. High lonesome. About twenty miles to Coalinga, and fifty miles back to Fresno.

Looking southwest from the Aqueduct at Cantua Creek.
My best guess is that when the marker was placed near the intersection of highways 33 and 198, that was the nearest they could get to the site where people might actually drive by and notice. The arroyo that was the site of the shootout might have been filled in, plowed over, and planted on by California's industrial agriculture machine. Or if it is in the foothills, it is being grazed on by cattle with no way to realistically get to the site. I don't know if I'm wrong headed in this, I mean, California agriculture land is pretty valuable. I just thought there would be more attention paid to California's most notorious outlaw.


Where have you been the last ten years?

Salem is the state capital
of Oregon.

We are quickly coming up on the ten year anniversary of the Roving Historian blog. For those of you who check the blog routinely or are signed up to receive emails, I want to thank you for your attention and support of public history. Posts have been pretty sparse the past couple of years. But summer is here and the Roving Historian is free again! I thought it might be time to review where we've been and make a re-dedication to sharing history for the rest of us.

Ten years ago I started this blog to share places, books, and ideas about history with a non-academic audience. You know, regular people who like history (which is not meant to say that regular people can't be scholarly at times). The blog was used to help document an intern project for my master’s program in applied history. We also talked about a book I wrote about the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion. We reviewed some other books and told you about some historic sights that we visited. However, our frequency of posting fell off about five years or so into it. What happened? We moved to California in 2013 to help out my aging parents. While we were there I went about teaching history in both a regular high school environment and in a alternative education program. While doing that I also earned a master's degree in education. With all of that going on, the blog suffered. As they say, life gets in the way.

Great places to walk and bike along
the Willamette River.
My wife, Sheila, and I are starting a new chapter in our lives. We have moved back to the Pacific Northwest. This time we are trying out beautiful Salem, Oregon. With that move it is time to rededicate to this blog. Certainly we'll talk about new sites we've visited, new books to read, finish writing that book on the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, and we'll probably talk a bit about education and how we teach history. I'm looking forward to it. I hope you are too.

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