Story Keeper #8–Gold Fever


gold rush

Sent by his employer to build a new sawmill, James Marshall, an emigrant from New Jersey, was inspecting a ditch on the morning of January 24, 1848 when he looked down into the water and thought he saw gold. He reported the find to his boss, Johann Sutter, a Swiss emigrant to Mexican California, who had conned his way into ownership of a rancho in the Sacramento valley.

Sutter wanted to keep the discovery quiet. He was a successful farmer and herder with ambitions of becoming the head of an agricultural empire. Sutter’s Creek had been named for him and he owned the sawmill Marshall had been sent to oversee. Mining for gold hadn’t made the land baron’s agenda.

This happened to be a quiet time in the nation’s history. The economy was slowly regaining ground after a depression.  Mexico had lost its war with the United States. The  problem of ownership of the Oregon territory, which had threatened to produce conflict between the United States and Great Britain, had been diplomatically resolved. Settlers like my great-great-grandfather migrated to the call of free land.

Soon, though, the rumors of gold on the South Fork of the American River spread. By July, 1848 Oregonians had heard the news and the report spread to the East coast later that summer. My great-great-grandfather couldn’t resist the claims of fabulous wealth and decided to head south. Much of the route south of Ashland was unimproved, and travel over the Siskiyou mountains proved treacherous. But with the goal of realizing all of his hopes and dreams, he ventured on. When he arrived, he staked a claim and began his search. Soon his life would take a very different turn.

Story Keepers #7– Thanksgiving in the Wilderness


Though Thanksgiving Day wasn’t recognized as a national holiday until 1864 when President Lincoln declared a day of thanks to be held annually the last Thursday of November, thanksgiving observances were known as early as 1620. Fifty Pilgrims who had survived their first winter paused to express thankfulness after their harvest and celebrated a three-day holiday of feasting with ninety native Americans present. After that, thanksgiving celebrations within the colonies occurred in sporadic irregularity, often held at the end of a great harvest or to remember a joyous event.

In 1623, Governor James Bradford, after a severe drought, wrote: “And afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing. For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving… By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine now God gave them plenty … for which they blessed God. And the effect of their particular planting was well seen, for all had … pretty well … so as any general want or famine had not been amongst them since to this day.” (Of Plymouth Plantation, Bradford journal) His proclamation, coming from a government official, and not as a religious observance, marked the first civil recognition of the celebration of Thanksgiving.

When my great-great-grandfather arrived in Oregon in November,1847, a national holiday wasn’t yet on the books, but records indicate he was grateful to have finished his journey, find his land claim, and make friends with the few settlers who had traveled before him. No doubt one of those meals he remembered sharing with the Skinner family was a meal of gratitude.

Giving thanks is a choice we make as a nation, pausing to remember another year has passed, another season of productivity has come and gone, anticipation filling us as we await the commencement of a new year. In Psalms 136:1 (KJV), King David writes: “Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endures forever.”

This coming Thursday, before the meal, or the service, or however you celebrate the national holiday, take time to give thanks. We were founded as a nation under God, let’s not forget to include him in our festivities. Happy Thanksgiving.

Story Keeper#6–Earning Respect


A story passed down through the family . . . .

Splitting logs to make fencing consumed most of my great-great-grandfather’s time his first winter in Oregon. One afternoon he was swinging his axe when a panicked Indian came running across the field, shouting.

“Little White Brother! Come! You must come!”

Alarmed at the anxiety he saw in the young man’s face, my great-great-grandfather followed the runner, knowing that when a native became agitated and hurried, something terrible had happened.

He soon arrived at the encampment and came upon a horrific scene. An Indian the settlers called Old Fisherman, who had a reputation for being mean and surly, had grown unhappy with one of his several wives and had thrown her onto the fire. Since all his wives feared the old man, this woman stayed there, afraid to move, her flesh sizzling.

When my great-great-grandfather saw the squaw, he grabbed her and pulled her from the fire. Lifting her, he carried her badly burned form to his dwelling, applying the only medication he had—bear grease—to the wound. The burns did not respond to the treatment and within days, the woman died.

Furious, my great-great-grandfather confronted Old Fisherman, who merely smirked, and said in broken English, “She no good squaw. No get wood. She burn.”

My great-great-grandfather took a length of rope and dropped a noose over the old man’s neck, leading him to a nearby tree. Throwing the rope over a limb, he jerked the Indian up on his toes and kept him there until he promised to never do such a cruel thing again. Old Fisherman gathered his wives and left the camp, disappearing into the forest. Those natives who remained at the camp revered my great-great-grandfather’s leadership and treated him with great respect.

Old Fisherman would return at a later date to cause trouble again, but for now the Indians could live in harmony alongside, and with respect for, their little white brother.


All The Way West, Hallie H. Huntington, 1984

Art in the Eye of the Beholder

Publication 2016 C alendar Cover

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Story Keeper #5–Native Neighbors

native american033

My great-great-grandfather knew Indians frequented the area when he chose the land on the east side of the middle fork of the Willamette River. Once settled, he discovered a family group of natives lived above a nearby second creek which ran parallel to the waterway traversing his land.

Historians believe most Indians living or passing through the Willamette valley were comprised of the Kalapuyan tribes. Some evidence of Molalla and Klamath peoples also existed. Artifacts found included obsidian arrowheads, rock scrapers, metates (flat table-like stones), manos (hand rollers made for grinding) and mortars.¹ The Indians hunted game, gathered wild berries, collected acorns which were crushed and ground into flour and harvested camas, a root that tasted like sweet potato.

My great-great-grandfather described those living near him as peaceful, often overly friendly, always begging for food or anything a white man possessed. After crossing the Plains and being threatened by more aggressive tribes, he found these people to be smaller and stockier, fish eaters, who seemed less mentally alert. Like innocent children, they had no concept of theft. Anything lying on the ground became an object to be picked up and claimed. Tools disappeared frequently.

To catch fish they caught live grasshoppers and bound them with deer hair so only the legs could wiggle. Taking a hazel switch and a fine piece of sinew, they attached the bug and dropped it on the surface of the water where it would try to swim. A fish would grab for the grasshopper and get its teeth caught in the deer hair. With lightning swift precision, the native would land the fish on the bank.² Living so near to the tribe my great-great-grandfather learned many hunting tricks and self-preservation skills from his native neighbors, earning him the title of “Little White Brother”.

That endearing title would give him authority in the not-too-distant future.


¹Early Days on the Upper Willamette, by Veryl M. Jensen, 1970

²All The Way West, Hallie H. Huntington, 1984

The Golden Frontier, The recollections of Herman Francis Reinhart    Doyce Nunis and Nora Cunningham, 1962

Photo is a partial reproduction of a tintype made of Charlie Tufti in 1887, a Molalla Indian who lived on the Upper Willamette. The rifle and the photo belong to Edna Temple.