Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Our Oregon Field Trip: Fort Clatsop

Map image from NPS
There's a number of reasons to visit Astoria, Oregon. Beautiful scenery, the Columbia River Maritime Museum, maybe go on a Goonies hunt. But for me, a big Lewis and Clark groupie, there are three historic sites to see when you go there. The first is the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Cape Disappointment State Park on the Washington side of the Columbia River. There is also the Lewis & Clark Salt Cairn Historic Monument in nearby Seaside, Oregon. And the third location is, of course, Fort Clatsop just outside of Astoria and part of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Park.

Fort Clatsop was the winter encampment of the Lewis & Clark expedition from December 1805 to March 1806. The Corps of Discovery, as the expedition was called, first sighted the Pacific Ocean from Cape Disappointment. However, the explorers thought they would have better weather on the Oregon side of the river. It was here that they built a small fort. The National Park Service has built a replica fort on the site. The members of the expedition hiked from this location to the beach in today's city of Seaside to obtain salt from sea water. Today, if you are feeling adventurous, you can hike the same trail from Fort Clatsop to the monument in Seaside.

When you visit, come early in the day as this is a popular destination. There is a nice little museum and gift shop in the visitor's center. Bring a jacket, even in the summer. Because Astoria gets on average 86 inches of rain a year, even in June we had a light drizzle in the morning. Also, it is a short walk from the visitor's center to the fort. At the fort you will find docents in period costume to answer questions and give short presentations throughout the day.

The history of the Lewis & Clark expedition is well known and readily available, so I won't duplicate that here. But before you make a pilgrimage, you might want to bone up a little bit. I would of course recommend reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose for a thorough and enjoyable background. And check out the Oregon Encyclopedia, a project of the Oregon Historical Society, for some related articles and historical records online

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Whalers Cabin at Point Lobos

Welcome to Monterey Bay!

We tried retirement, it just didn't stick. In reality, I just took the summer and fall off. That was long enough to get me back to work. Since January, Sheila and I have been living on Monterey Bay in the central California coast. I'm back to teaching alt ed high school, currently at a county juvenile hall. When you mention this area, most people probably think of beautiful views of a rocky coastline, Big Sur, or Cannery Row. But there is no doubt that there is a lot of history here in the Monterey - Salinas area too, especially compared to the rest of California. I wanted to share with you a hidden gem where you can get both scenic beauty and a little dose of history: Whalers Cove at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

Point Lobos SNR is just a short ten mile drive south on Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1) from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Traveling south on Hwy 1, about a mile or two outside of Carmel you will make a right turn into the reserve. It costs ten dollars per car to get in, but totally worth it. Come early (the reserve opens to vehicles at 8 am), because this can be a popular place. I know I said it is a hidden gem, but that doesn't mean that the locals don't know about it. The ranger at the main gate can give you a map and directions, but it is a short drive to the parking lot at Whalers Cove. From there, you take a short walk back up the road to the Whalers Cabin museum that you drove by on your way in.

Take a break from the scenery and check out the long history of Point Lobos. The area has been occupied by non-native Americans since the 1850s. Until 1879, this spot was one of seven whaling stations along the California coast. Portuguese immigrants started shore-based whaling at this location. Crews would row out of the calmness of the small cove and past the breaking waves to hunt the grey whales that migrate up and down the California coast. You can still spot these giants as they pass by on their way south from Alaska to their breeding and calving lagoons in Baja during December through January. Or you might spot them as they return to their feeding grounds in the north, passing Monterey Bay from March through May. Of course there is more to the history of this particular spot. A community of Asian fishermen hunted abalone and canned the product here. There was a granite quarry here. The cove was used as the shipping point for a nearby coal mine. And troops trained here for specific missions during World War II. See artifacts and pictures of each of these periods in the small museum located in the Whalers Cabin.

Luckily, Point Lobos was never developed as any kind of residential property. Ownership eventually passed to the state of California, and the site was made into an ecological reserve in 1973. That also includes 775 acres of underwater reserve, the first designated in the United States. That's good for us normal folks because the real treat here is the views of plants and animals and rocky California coast. On the day that we went, we saw sea lions, an otter, and plenty of birds. The best way to see it all is to walk. Hiking trails honeycomb the shoreline around the point. There are three main parking areas, so you'd never have to walk more than a mile from your car. Or you can leave the car where it is and walk the whole point and probably not log more than five miles.

When you vacation to Monterey, take the opportunity to visit Point Lobos. It is very accessible and worth the time to stop. If I haven't sold you on visiting, then take a look at the Whalers Cove Live Stream, or take a virtual hike with Google street view. When you do come, bring a light jacket or sweatshirt as the coast here gets a marine layer at times that can be a bit chilly, especially if you just left the warmer interior.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Book R & R: “Hodges’ Scout”

I’m currently teaching history at a court school (juvenile hall) and my students by and large think that if something didn’t happen in their lifetime, then it either just doesn’t matter, or in their words it’s “hella boring.” I try to get them to tune in to history (as an entry point) by just finding stories that are interesting, exciting, adventurous, or a story that demonstrates a person’s courage and fortitude. This is one of those stories.

I got turned on to the French and Indian War way back in high school when one Saturday afternoon my dad and I watched “Northwest Passage” starring Spencer Tracy. That was followed by reading the book by Kenneth Roberts. Then I read “Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper, and the movie with Daniel Day Lewis is still one of my favorites of all time. Fiction got me excited about the subject, so from there I moved on to books about the war in general, and a couple of books about Rogers Rangers: “White Devil” by Stephen Brumwell and “War on the Run” by John Ross. Reading “Hodges’ Scout” is a natural progression and if you also enjoy the movies and books I just mentioned, then you should read this book.

Here's the setup. You know Fort William Henry, from “Last of the Mohicans?” Well this event took place in September of 1756, while colonial troops were building that fort. While under construction, company sized patrols of around 50 men would venture out to look for signs of approaching French or Indian forces. One of these patrols, led by Captain Joseph Hodges, met the enemy and was wiped out. Only three men initially made it back to the fort. While Hodges and a number of his men were killed and mutilated, a number of the company were taken prisoner. A few escaped, some were sold to the French by their Indian captors and then sent home in a prisoner exchange, and many were held until the end of the war. And finally one soldier decided to join his captors and eventually paid the price for it.

The title, synopsis, and cover art for “Hodges’ Scout” grabbed me right away. I enjoyed the author’s voice in the telling of this story. It is very readable; the details are there but this book does not sound academic. What impressed me most is the detailed research that Len Travers (a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth) has conducted to tell this story. Through official records and period correspondence, Travers has pieced together what happened to the majority of the 48 colonial militia soldiers that departed the fort with Hodges. His section titled “dissecting disaster,” where he supposes scenarios of what happened during the fight the wiped out Hodges’ company is excellent. You don’t have to have a background in the French and Indian War to enjoy this book. Professor Travers fills you in on the strategy of the war and why the fort was being constructed, how soldiers were recruited, and the events at the conclusion of the war. Read this book, I think you’ll enjoy it.

One more thing. In the front matter of the book, the author includes a bible quote:

And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born…
Ecclesiasticus 44:9

This quote really spoke to me, especially now as we remember the 75th anniversary of D-day. This is what we need to keep from happening. Our memorial to the unknown soldier is to remember what they have done.

Friday, June 7, 2019

D-day plus 75 years and other stories to be heard.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that even if you are not a fan of history, but you participate in social media, or certainly if you watch the evening news, you know that it is the 75th anniversary of the WWII Allied invasion of France. Over the past eight years we’ve had a number of significant anniversaries of our country’s military history. They include the 150th anniversary events that took place during the American civil war, the 100th anniversary of WWI battles, and now the 75th anniversary of World War II and the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing. I appreciate these benchmark anniversaries because like James Holzauer’s winning streak bringing new fans to Jeopardy, the buzz about the anniversary of a significant historical event will make more people take note and hopefully learn about these great trials and triumphs of our past. The difference between the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion and the other wars mentioned is that we still have a lot of regular people who can tell us what it was like.

Surviving veterans and eyewitnesses to the Second World War are in their nineties. I heard on ABC News the other night that over 300 World War II veterans pass away every day. And the thought occurred to me that we aren’t considering how many non-veterans we are losing who can tell us what it was like on the home front during the war years. Of course I love my military history, but one of the most fascinating and educational places I’ve visited is the Rosie the Riveter and WWII on the Home Front National Historical Park. There is a lot to learn from those who stayed home, worked, and sacrificed to win the war.

And what about veterans and civilians from other countries? When it comes to meeting folks from our “Greatest Generation,” I’m lucky to be a baby boomer. When I was in my twenties most WWII veterans were in their sixties, so I have met a few in my time. Moreover, having been stationed in Germany for three years, I met a few German veterans and civilians who experienced the tragedy of war first hand. My landlord’s father (I called him “Opa Willie”) fought on the Russian front, but deserted at the end of the war so that he could surrender to American forces. Good thing he did. I dated a German woman for a while whose father was a POW held by the Russians. They did not repatriate him for eleven years. And I met that girl’s apartment manager, who was married at age 19 and only spent three weeks with her husband before he went off to fight in the war. He never returned and remained missing in action. She never remarried.

As an aside, do you think that Germany has learned from its history? I think so. When I visited the concentration camp at Dachau, I saw school children arrive on a bus for a field trip. That is just one example of how the Germans don’t hide from their past. This week, Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked the Allies for “liberating Germany from the Nazis.” I’m sorry, but I just can’t see the United States being that forthright, especially when you read reports that say that only about forty percent (40%) of Americans can correctly answer the history questions on the citizenship exam.

I regret that I didn’t start a serious study of history until after my years in the army. I believe my conversations with the veterans I had met would have taken a different turn. Like many young people, I had different priorities. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wish I could go back and take the opportunity to conduct an in-depth oral history interview with all of these people I’ve met over the years. Of course, there are members of this great generation still with us. And it is not too late to hear their stories and it is never too late to learn our history, so that we don’t have to repeat it.

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