Friday, February 14, 2014

East of the Cascades

The part of Oregon I grew up in, the southern end of the Willamette valley, is kind of a rainy, gray, dreary place, like most of western Oregon.  The people that settled the area were the sort of people who wanted to plant crops, raise their children, build schools and churches, and otherwise lead happy but boring lives.  This is not "the West" that you see in movies or in books.

That west starts east of the Cascades in Oregon, in the high, dry country.  I wouldn't want to live there, but when I'm back in Oregon I always love to visit the high desert.  The sense of vast, lonely openness is something that is all but absent in the bits of Europe that I have seen.

Written in 1964, this book talks about the history of central Oregon - focusing on the area around Bend and Prineville, an area that was more remote and more "Western" than the rainy part of the state on the other side of the mountains.  Indeed, the more fertile farmland in the Willamette Valley was settled first, and only later did settlers head back east, or south from The Dalles.

The book talks about the history of the area, starting with the earliest people of European descent in the area, range wars, Native Americans ("Indians", in the book, being from 1964), and lots of odd bits and pieces of history.

One of the most interesting anecdotes is about a group called The Vigilantes, who dispensed "justice" in Prineville, Oregon in the 1880ies.  Only it turned out that their version of justice was not very "fair and balanced", and as the area was settled, the population wanted real law enforcement, rather than masked riders and mysterious deaths.  A group called the "Moonshiners" formed, and eventually, 75 strong, rode through the town and called out the Vigilantes who were in a local saloon.  The latter wisely stayed put inside. Realizing their days of power were over, and, humiliated, they gave up and never acted again.  No gunplay, but a fascinating story nonetheless.  You can read more about this showdown here:

It's interesting to read about the rise and fall of various places.  At one point, Shaniko, as a railroad terminus, was one of the more important towns in the region.  Antelope was also on the road north to The Dalles, but is now nearly a ghost town, as Highway 97 bypasses it to the east.  Well after this book was written, Antelope was briefly in the news again in the 1980ies when the Rashneeshees made their home on a large ranch nearby, but that story isn't covered in the book (you can find links to it from this page on Antelope:,_Oregon ).  Bend, now the largest town in the region, is actually relatively recent compared to Prineville and some of the other early sites.  Bend was incorporated as a city only in 1904.

In any event, I would recommend the book to anyone interested in Oregon history.  Others might not find that it holds their interest.

For further reading, here's the wikipedia page on the author: