Undoubtedly many who’ve lived their entire lives on the east coast of the Unites States have no idea when Oregon became a state. Well, if Jay Leno is interviewing those people on the street for a Jaywalking segment, it’s likely those same people couldn’t tell you when their own state was added to the union. But when Oregon became the 33rd state in the nation on February 14, 1859, it already had enough major history behind it that it could be designated as a special sanctuary. When those on the East Coast hit the road in their covered wagons and created the Oregon Trail to a more prosperous way of life out west, the term of “God’s country” for Oregon Territory was never disputed by anybody else other than the most ardent big city dwellers.
That kind of division of thought over natural surroundings v. big city life hasn’t changed much in 150 years of American history. For those pioneers who willingly came to Oregon and helped evolve it to where it is now, they helped create a healthy balance of big city life and natural environments all in one state. When people come to visit the valley of Oregon today, the appeal of scenic variety in every direction you travel is why so many want to come back if not live here permanently.
All that variety was already apparent in the Oregon region long before the white man arrived. Native-Americans had no concept of what a city was yet, but they could plainly see that the natural environs of Oregon gave you a little of everything. It must have been doubly disheartening to the Chinook, Nez Perce and Umpqua (just to name three Native-American tribes that lived in regions around the state) when they were later forced into other states or into reservations in order to appease the encroachment of the Oregon Trail pioneers.
For those who know their Oregon history, though, they’ll know that the white man managed to make peace with Native-Americans in Oregon Territory long before it became a state.
When celebrating Oregon’s sesquicentennial, no other piece of the state’s history comes close in importance than Lewis & Clark’s time spent in what’s now Astoria during the winter of 1805-06. If you’ve ever seen the Ken Burns-produced PBS miniseries “Journey of the Corps of Discovery” (based on the book by Stephen Ambrose), you’d understand just how profound the discovery of the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington was to William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, their crew and basically the world. Realistically, you could probably only connect it in comparison to when Adam first gained consciousness and experienced the overwhelming sensory experiences of the Garden of Eden.
Even if you’re an unbeliever in a Garden of Eden existing, Lewis & Clark’s experiences would have to rank first then in the ultimate discovery of nature and zoology.
Today, when visiting the replica of Fort Clatsop in the vicinity where Lewis and Clark and their crew stayed that winter, you still get the feeling you’re standing on close to sacred ground. If that sense of natural discovery isn’t enough, it was also the rare moment when peace was forged between the white man and the Native-American tribes living in the area. In this case, it was the Shoshone and utilizing a female member of that tribe (Sacagawea) to help the Lewis & Clark crew navigate the unknown surroundings.
With monumental American history like this, the process of cause and effect ultimately brought much darker situations to Oregon in ensuing years after Lewis and Clark and crew were safely back home. When the floodgates opened to big business, Native-American cultures were starting to get in the way of the white businessman.
Despite the inevitability of Native-American cultures being sent to live on reservations when the pioneers arrived, there were still decades of big business existing in concord with Native-Americans. The Father of Oregon, John McLoughlin, had managed to take over the Columbia District where the fur trade business was booming. Keep in mind this was only 20 years after Lewis and Clark had discovered the area. But McLoughlin managed to keep peaceful relations with Native-Americans in the region for his entire career. Ironically, he helped welcome the Oregon Trail pioneers by founding Oregon City in the early 1840’s and starting a store there that sold supplies for those settling in the state permanently.
While many Native-American battles were already underway in other parts of the nation, that peaceful existence with Native-Americans in Oregon managed to hold at least into 1850 when settlements had increased to the point where land belonging to Native-American tribes was needed to make the economy thrive. Once Oregon was admitted into the union on our equivalent to Valentine’s Day, 1859, the state had joined the fray of shoving the Native-American tribes to the side–even though Oregon can go on record of doing it without monumental bloodshed.
Of course, most of the population who live in Oregon today really have no knowledge about Oregon’s history and probably weren’t even born in the state. Many came from California during the mad rush of Californians moving here back in the 80’s and 90’s to get away from earthquakes (only to find out Oregon also has them). That’s what makes Oregon 150th birthday celebrations through 2009 all the more important.
Through Oregon150.org, myriad events are being planned that’ll allow people to not only put their state in the proper historical perspective, but also ruminate on the future of where the state may be decades from now. For those living in the bigger cities (namely the ever-growing Portland that’s now a quasi NYC), the thought of growth might seem daunting. For those in the smaller cities (namely the capital city, Salem, or Eugene) it may seem that growth can’t happen fast enough.
On Oregon150’s website, you’ll be able to tell your own historical connections to the state through “Oregon Stories.” More than that, though, a “Take Care of Oregon” project is being set up in May of this year to get involved in giving back to your local communities. To promote traveling in the state, you’ll also be able to win some prizes for traveling more than 150 miles to the endless and appealing tourist attractions throughout the state through a “Travel Oregon 150” project.
To emphasize the importance of getting Oregon’s younger population involved in connecting the state’s history to the future, a Youth Legacy Project will be underway all year for kids to come up with plans on how to improve Oregon in the next 50 years. The goal will be to have a distinct plan worked out by Oregon’s youth that could be implemented in 2059 when Oregon celebrates its bicentennial.
For those who appreciate the arts in Oregon, though, the highlight will be a performance of a musical performed fifty years ago for Oregon’s centennial and called “Oregon! Oregon!” The innovative and eclectic Oregon-bred group Pink Martini will perform an updated version of this musical throughout various cities in the latter half of this year.
Then Oregon’s future will be prognosticated through a “Dreamer’s Blog” on the website where people can answer where they think the state will be in 50 years. These answers should help define exactly what all those newer residents of Oregon truly want for their state down the road. When there’s clarity in the sense of direction, Oregon should continue to have some of that “God’s Country” mantra survive, despite the state’s more recent political controversies…