Archive for the ‘Community Historians’ Category

Fake History: A Righteous Discussion Topic

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

“Plank Road” – from CPHM’s Community Historian webpage

Although our current prez claims he coined the term “fake news,” the little bit of research I’ve done about the origin of that catchy phrase does not corroborate (Surprise! Surprise!) what he says.  No matter.  Whoever came up with that particular descriptor did a great service to us all, as far as I am concerned.  It has rapidly become an aphorism that the general population understands.  Whether it is used properly or not, “fake news” has become a red flag, of sorts.  It helps some of us to think twice or to dig deeper before we take what we hear or read at face value.

Besides that, we now hear about fake-other-stuff and we know immediately that there is a question as to its veracity.  Bravo!  Yesterday, for instance, Betsy Millard, Director of the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum (CPHM) posted an interesting article on the Community Historian Participants at CPHM Facebook page.  It is from the American Association for State and Local History:  “6 Steps to Historical Literacy: Your Guide to History on the Web.”  The introduction said: “Fake News, false stories, misinformation, propaganda—it’s an important time to reinforce critical thinking skills and remind students and citizens not to accept information at face value.”

Teachers’ Institute – Oysterville, 1885

I didn’t see the term “Fake History” but that is what they are saying to be on the lookout for!  I love it!  For years I’ve been lamenting the misinformation that is being propagated about our local history – propagated by some of our most cherished institutions, in fact.  I’ve written in this very blog about the erroneous information published in our local Visitor’s Guide and even posted at the County Historical Society’s museum right across the bay – unfactual information about the founding of Oysterville, a historical event near and dear to my heart.

We’ve talked about other examples of false Pacific County history at our Community Historian gatherings, but we’ve never used the label “fake history.”  Perhaps that terminology will bring more focus to the problem.  I hope so.  What I really hope is that we can concentrate on practical ways of eradicating or correcting some of that fake history – beyond talking to the local perpetuators of such misinformation. Perhaps finding ways to correct articles on Wikipedia (so often the source of misinformation) or… who knows?   I look forward to next year’s discussions.

Sweet Relief

Friday, March 24th, 2017

Early Nahcotta

On Wednesday, against all odds, I presented a Power Point Program, “Peninsula Settlement” to the Community Historian group at the Columbia Heritage Museum. And I do mean “against all odds.” Just as I began to put the presentation together – which photos in which order with what titles and what subtitles, my computer screen went black. Or maybe it was royal blue. Then, marching across the screen came the white letters: Microsoft Windows Update. Say what???

It was seven a-frigging-o’clock at night. Prime time for computer business. MY computer business. And, sure enough, along flashed something, faster than my eyes could focus, about the unusual time of the update. I’ve never actually seen one in progress before; I think they must happen in the middle of the night. Not that I saw this one either – mostly a continuous warning not to turn off my computer.

Two hours later, it was done – presumably updated. I thought I could work a few hours, then sleep fast for that four a.m. alarm so that we could get Nyel to the hospital in time for his ablation. And while in the waiting room, I could continue working. After all, I had days and days yet. But come to find out, during this long, mysterious ‘updating’ process, my computer had had a stroke. It no longer had the space bar function of the use of the first four number keys. And who knew what else.

Isaac and MaryAnn Whealdon

For days I stewed and fumed and figured ways to work around the problem. Hours went by – scary hours with Nyel on the operating table for nine of them and then the interminable days of his recovery interspersed with the inevitable setbacks. My computer continued to function by fits and starts. I tried not to think of it as a metaphor for Nyel’s situation….

By Wednesday, I had a sixty-minute program ready to present with only a few glitches that my community historian colleagues gently pointed out. They get high marks for ‘editing!’ And they were so complimentary with many suggestions that I “take it on the road.” Actually, I’m thinking about it. Perhaps I could do one of those Salt programs down at the Port of Ilwaco next year. The teacher in me would love to explain to an audience the whys and wherefores that answer the perennial question from newcomers: “Why can’t all the communities on the beach cooperate on …” this or that project.? Oh my. Let me count the ways.

Ocean Park’s “All Boy Players”

And so many stories – about John Douglas who died with his boots on. Literally. Or Isaac Whealdon who had to choose between his church and the devil in the music box. Or how about the Kola brothers who, in their youth, had a disagreement about green paint and never spoke to one another again, though they fished from the same gillnet boat for the rest of their lives. Yep. I’m thinking about taking it on the road!

Meanwhile, I get my replacement computer today. Definitely not a metaphor for anything.  Nyel would be the first to tell you that I can still push all of his buttons as usual….

Of Ghost Ships and Ancient Mariners

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

British Ship Glenmorag, wrecked near Ocean Park, March 18, 1896

In an area such as ours with its stormy winters and many creaking old structures, it’s not surprising that ghost stories abound.  But, what is surprising to me is that we have no stories of phantom mariners or ghost ship sightings – or at least none that I’ve heard.  Since the waters adjacent to us have long been called the “The Graveyard of the Pacific” that seems odd.

According to James Gibbs in his 1950 book, Pacific Graveyard:  Losses total well over 200 deep-water ships with damages inflicted on an additional 500.  The fishing fleets alone have suffered about 500 loses and another 1,000 fishing craft have been damaged.  Within one hour in a sudden gale of Cape Disappointment, May 4, 1880, 200 fishermen were drowned when their vessels capsized.  That makes for a good many ghostly possibilities.

Astoria’s “Butterfly Fleet” lost off the Mouth of the Columbia, May 4, 1880

It’s been seventy years since Gibbs wrote his definitive book on shipwrecks there have been many additional wrecks and a rising toll of loss of life.  If you have lived here for any time at all, you undoubtedly know someone from a fishing family who has suffered the loss of a loved one.  Perhaps that is the very reason we don’t hear much about the local version of The Flying Dutchman or The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Our waters are still the most treacherous in the world and maybe, for many of our neighbors, stories of Davy Jones’ Locker are difficult to deal with – not fodder for tales around the evening campfire.

Rescued crew of the French ship Alice at the Taylor Hotel, Ocean Park, January 1909

Yesterday at our Community Historian class, the speaker was Chris Dewey from the Maritime Archaeological Society.  The group is new – less than two years old – and its mission is “to seek out, investigate, and document shipwrecks and other maritime archaeological sites; conserve artifacts from those sites, when appropriate; and educate the public in areas of maritime cultural heritage, historic shipwreck preservation, and the science of maritime archaeology.”  They use amazing high tech equipment to locate, measure, and document wrecks and parts of wrecks in and around the mouth of the Columbia River.

I had hoped to ask Mr. Dewey if he or team-members have heard of or, perhaps, experienced first-hand, any ghostly sightings in line with their work.  But, before I could approach him, he was gone…  Probably just as well.  Even if I explained that my search for ghosts of the area is for the serious underlying purpose of documenting our history, he might have been a bit skeptical.  Still… I have his card and it might be worth a shot.

Mike Lemeshko: Author!

Thursday, September 8th, 2016
Mike Lemeshko and His New Book

Mike Lemeshko and His New Book

“I just sold my first book!” he told us yesterday afternoon.  Mike Lemeshko was talking about The Cantankerous Farmer vs. The Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company and the rest of his neighbors on the Long Beach Peninsula – his hot-off-the-press, self-published book about Judge John Briscoe (1812 – 1901)I couldn’t have been more pleased had I been saying those words myself!

In the book’s preface, Mike tells how the book came to be – from an intriguing first ‘introduction’ to “the cantankerous farmer” in 2010, through the six-year journey that has resulted in this 100-page volume, complete with photographs and a thorough documentation of sources.  I was surprised to find myself in his acknowledgements and, though his words were kind and perhaps true from his perspective, from my own point of view I was simply one of many who clapped and cheered from the sidelines.

We met three (almost four) years ago at a Community Historian class.  I was impressed that a) Mike was ‘commuting’ to Ilwaco every week from Bothell; b) that he was part-owner of the Anchorage Cottages, a long-time Peninsula landmark; and c) that he was hoping to learn more about the man who had taken out the original Donation Land Claim for that property back in 1853!  I knew a little about John Briscoe – he and his family had lived next door to my great-grandparents in Oysterville in those early days.  Mike and I talked a bit that first day of class, and so our friendship began!  And so did the clapping and cheering.

By Mike Lemeshko

By Mike Lemeshko

During that first fifteen weeks, Mike was the most attentive ‘student’ ever.  He took notes, quizzed the speakers, talked with classmates.  He was curious about everything – where and how to proceed with research, who to contact for further information, who Briscoe’s descendants were…  In the next few years he returned for more Community Historian classes and it wasn’t long before he, himself, was the go-to guy for the how-to questions!  When it comes to researching local history, Mike Lemeshko ‘knows where the bodies are buried.’

No one could have been more delighted than I when Mike began talking about putting what he had learned into book form.  “I’m not a writer,” he would say.  In fact, that’s what he said yesterday when he presented me with a copy of the book.  Maybe not.  But he is now an author and documentarian and, I hope, on his way to another book!

The Cantankerous Farmer vs. The Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company and the rest of his neighbors on the Long Beach Peninsula (and doncha just love that old-fashioned, tell-it-all-on-the-cover title!) is available at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum and will, no doubt, be showing up at other local outlets as well.  When you read it, you’ll be clapping and cheering, too!

From Long Island to Glass Butte

Thursday, August 11th, 2016
Nyel, Obsidian Prospector

Nyel, Obsidian Prospector

According to Wikipedia (a site with which I concur in this particular case), I believe that Nyel and Cate Gable and I have been rock hunting.  They say: Amateur geology (known as rockhounding in the United States and Canada, and regionally known as rock hunting in southern Oregon) is the recreational study and hobby of collecting rocks and mineral specimens from their natural environment.  We have actually been on a Great Obsidian Hunt at a place called Glass Butte, not far from Bend, Oregon.

I’m more inclined to think of Bend as being in central Oregon but… no matter.  The three of us have been on a trek to gather obsidian and, luckily for us, one of the very best sources of obsidian on the hoof is just five hours and change from the Peninsula.  Shiny, sharp and perfect for making spear and arrowheads, obsidian is formed from lava flows.  In the case of Glass Butte, the eruption was about 4.9 million years ago.

Nyel at workAnd, who knew that obsidian comes in a variety of colors in addition to basic black?  At Glass Butte there is plenty of gem quality obsidian readily available for collection on the ground surface. Rainbow, black, pumpkin, mahogany, midnight lace, gold sheen, silver sheen, fire, and double flow varieties can all be found in the area.

Apparently, many serious rockhounds choose to dig for preferred material and our Expedition Leader (that would be Nyel) included a pick axe and several crowbars in our equipment cache.  But we did little digging.  As State Parks Interpreter Aaron Webster had told us, there is plenty for the taking right along the roadside.  The area is owned by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and individuals can collect up to 25 pounds per day or 250 pounds per year without charge.

Lunch Break for Rockhounds

Lunch Break for Rockhounds

It was Aaron’s flint-knapping demonstration last spring at a Community Historian’s class that prompted our interest.  I was entranced by the process (which, of course, he made look SO easy!) and told Nyel all about it.  He talked to Aaron and got more information and then mentioned it to Cate who, it turns out, just loves rocks.  I thought I’d just go along for the ride and take a few photographs.

But, once we got there, my old rock hunting memories kicked in from the summers of my childhood – all those excursions to look for agates over on Willapa Bay’s Long Island.  I remember that I could hardly tear myself away when the tide dictated our return to the Peninsula.  I just knew that there would be a more perfect agate just a few steps farther on.  Fast forward seventy years or so and I knew that the ultimate hunk of obsidian was just on the other side of that clump of sage brush.  So did Cate.  So did Nyel.

It was a good thing that we were in our little Prius-C.  Space availability probably kept us honest.  It certainly wasn’t any natural restraint on our part!  Wow!  You had to be there!




Jim Crow and the… – Part II

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

Dick Wallace Examines Artifacts

Yesterday’s 2016 Community Historian class was everything a culminating event should be – lively discussion, more questions than answers, laughter, and even food!   (Make-your-own deli sandwiches, chips, lemonade and cookies!  What could be better?)

The day’s main activity centered on the contents of black storage bags – items in the museum’s collection that await cataloging and/or placement in the permanent storage area.  People worked singly or in pairs examining, analyzing, and using their powers of deduction to identify a variety of items.  Great fun!

But, it was the discussion at the top of the day that I enjoyed the most.  Instead of a “homework discussion” (there had been no assignment) I asked what the group thought about yesterday’s Chinook Observer headline story: “JIM SAULES, NOT JIM CROW –Effort underway to change racist names in Wahkiakum County.”   No one had yet seen the newspaper, although at least one class member had read elsewhere that State Senator Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, recently proposed changing 36 Washington place names that contain racial slurs. (“Oh,” was one remark, “another, urban do-gooding outsider…”).

April 20, 2016

April 20, 2016

Commentary ran the gamut. One woman, brought up in the south, said the present Jim Crow name conjured up the days of her childhood when, as a white child, she wasn’t allowed to ride in the back of the bus “where all the fun was.”  She was definite that the name should be changed.  At the other extreme were several folks who thought we risk losing our history by obliterating names from the past.  “Our attitudes change as our culture changes, but we shouldn’t erase the story of how we got here,” someone said.

Anne LeFors Sets Up a Portable Clothes Dryer

Ann Lefors Sets Up a Portable Clothes Dryer

Mostly, though, the group felt there were many questions that need answering before a final decision is made.  Why was that name given to that particular point of land?  Does it commemorate something that happened there or, perhaps, an individual who lived there?  And why substitute ‘Saules’ for ‘Crow’?  What connection did Jim Saules have with that area of the river?  (He is known to have ‘squatted’ for several years at Cape Disappointment, but association with the areas upriver are a bit vague.)  And, if Jim Saules does not have an historical association with the area, why choose his name as a replacement?  Because he’s black?

There was commentary about the changes to school names and boulevards after the JFK and MLK assassinations  as well as about the recent announcement of replacing Andrew Jackson’s likeness on the twenty-dollar bill. What do we gain by such replacements?  And what do we lose?  Is it true that one of the factors in making the Jim Crow decision is pure economics – that potential tourists are scared away from our area because of the name?

Bottom line:  everyone agreed that more research was needed to find out why Jim Crow Point was so named in the first place.  Even more importantly, whether the name stays the same or is changed, the Community Historians said over and over that “interpretation is the most important ingredient of all.  It’s all about putting the story back in history.  Without the story, why bother?”

Jim Crow and the Community Historians

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Image_5Wednesday might be hump-day in some places, but here on the Peninsula it’s paper day and, for four months of the year for a lucky few of us, it’s Community Historian Day.  As a long-time retiree, I discount the hump-day part.  In fact, the days go by way too fast to celebrate the passage of time.  But I do love to take a quick, online peek at the Chinook Observer on Wednesday mornings – especially on the days that I can’t get my mail until later in the day.  (For those who don’t know, newspaper delivery on the Peninsula involves the U.S. Post Office.)

Sometimes, the headline news segues right into the Community Historian class.  Today (which is the final 2016 community historian gathering) couldn’t offer a better example.  “JIM SAULES, NOT JIM CROW” says the front page.  And then, “Effort underway to change racist names in Wahkiakum County.”

We’ve talked about Jim Saules in our Community Historian class.  He is a not-so-well known historic figure in Pacific County.  Saules was the black cook aboard the U.S.S. Peacock, one of Commander Charles Wilkes’ U. S. Exploring Expedition vessels. On July 17, 1841, under the command of Lt.  William Hudson, the brig “sailed straight for a shoal west of Cape Disappointment and grounded” according to Lucille McDonald in her book, Coast Country published in 1966.

USS Peacock , Drawing 1813

USS Peacock – 1813 Drawing

Subsequently, the crew were taken to Fort Vancouver to await Wilkes – except for Saules who was next heard of three years later in Oregon City where he became embroiled with an Indian named Cockstock.  Saules was found guilty, popular opinion mounted against him, and Indian agent (and later founder of Pacific City) Elijah White, advised him to leave the Willamette Valley.  Saules headed for Astoria where he found employment as a cook and later moved back across the river to the area where the Peacock had stranded.

McDonald’s spin on “Saule”[sic] paints him as a brigand, a squatter, and in general, a shady character.  The Observer, on the other hand, identifies him as “a multi-lingual fiddler, bar-pilot, a ship’s captain and an entrepreneur” and goes on to say:  “He was one of just two people to have been publicly flogged in Astoria, and was probably the catalyst for Oregon’s infamous black-exclusion policy.  But all he got for his trouble were three Columbia River landmarks with miserably racist names; Jim Crow Creek, Jim Crow Hill and Jim Crow Point.”

Whether or not Saules had direct connections to any of those landmarks is up for conjecture.  I am probably in a minority, but I vote for leaving the names the same.  Changing them, at least in my mind, once again white-washes our history.  People need to know that Jim Crow was not an actual person, but came from a popular 19th-century minstrel song that stereotyped African Americans.  ‘Jim Crow’ came to personify the system of government-sanctioned racial oppression and segregation in the United States.  And, for whatever reasons, our forefathers saw fit to commemorate the expression by using it as a place name.

"Jim Crow" - Minstrel Show Tune, 1930

“Jim Crow” – Minstrel Show Tune, 1930

I seriously question whether changing the ‘Jim Crow’ name would be a good thing.  Don’t we need to take ownership of our history, racist attitudes and all?  When I was in school there were no mentions of African-Americans in my history book.  It took the Civil Rights Movement several decades later to begin to raise our consciousness.  I fail to see how eliminating the evidence of our shameful attitudes does anything more than continue the cover-up.

But maybe my thinking is askew.  My friend Andrew Emlen who takes kayaking excursionists on the river says the name ‘Jim Crow Point’ is “an embarrassment.”  I agree.  But if it prompts some righteous discussion with people who don’t know the history, then I think that’s a good thing.  I hope I can talk about it a bit with the Community Historians this morning.  I’d like their take on it.

Appearances Are Everything

Friday, April 1st, 2016
A Tourist's Eye View

A First Impression, 2008

I once had a husband who felt strongly that “appearances” are everything.  By that, I think he meant that first impressions are lasting and that it’s wise to put your best foot forward – all that homey advice our parents offered as we were setting out in the world.  It’s one of the few things we agreed upon.

In fact, I think it’s only for the sake of appearances that I dust the house or weed the garden.  Granted, I like to live in an orderly environment, but I could easily ‘look the other way’ about some of those chores that are the bane of my existence.  I do love it when the crystal sparkles and the silver shines but I resist getting it to that state unless I’m expecting company.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, perhaps) we do a lot of entertaining and so I’m always up against it, so to speak.  Sometimes I wonder which prompts the other.  Do I clean because we are having guests or do I invite people to force myself to tidy up?  I like to think I was born in the wrong era.  I should have a bevy of housemaids and groundskeepers to keep things up to snuff.  However, with my luck, I would have been the scullery maid, not the lady of the manor.

Our Stairwell

Our Stairwell (No white glove tests, please!)

I thought about all those things yesterday as I was doing a bit of weeding out in the south garden.  I’ve been out there the last few days – and who wouldn’t be?  It’s been gorgeous!  I’m sure (almost) I would have been digging and pulling and clipping in any case, but the fact that I am giving a house tour to the Community Historians tomorrow has definitely been nudging at me.

And I do confess that I chose the location for my gardening efforts with that very fact in mind.  The garden bed I’ve been working on is the first our visitors will see when they enter our premises.  I hope their first impression will at least convey that I care.  As for the inside… if we keep the lighting dim and decree that there be no white glove tests along the tops of the picture frames, I may be all right.

Although… I remember well the one and only time I hired someone to clean for me.  When she walked in the door she declared, “I can just smell the dust!”  I never had her back.  Come to think of it, maybe it’s not only appearances that matter…  Maybe I should be baking cookies for the fragrance factor.

My Great Grandmothers!

Thursday, February 18th, 2016


Jane Gilbert (Tubbs) Apperson 1809-1859 -- My three times great grandmother

Jane Gilbert (Tubbs) Apperson 1809-1859 — My three times great grandmother

Yesterday, our speaker at the Community Historians gathering was Irene Martin. Her topic dealt with the way early settlers along the Columbia got here – the men who jumped ship and the women who were mail order brides. The stories about the hardships the women faced really ‘spoke’ to me, although none of my direct forebears were of the mail order variety.

My great great grandmother, Matilda Jane Apperson was born in Tennessee in 1830 and, according to my Uncle Willard, had sat proudly beside her own mother Jane in 1847 as their ox team plodded into Oregon City. They had lost Jane’s husband Beverly to cholera at Hamsfork on the Oregon Trail. Delos Jefferson took the same trail a year later from Ohio, and married Matilda in 1850. Delos, though he lived by farming, was considered a cut above his neighbors, because he had an ear for music, and at one time even taught singing in Portland.

Julia Jefferson Espy 1851-1901 -- My Great Grandmother

Julia Jefferson Espy 1851-1901 — My Great Grandmother

Delos and Matilda had eleven children, eight of whom lived to maturity. Two of the girls, Susannah and Clara died within a few days of each other of diphtheria (in those days called “putrid sore throat”) and were buried in one grave. Matilda never completely recovered from their deaths and was mentally unbalanced for many years, shuttling in an out of the mental hospital near Salem where they lived.

That left the much of the care of the younger children to Julia, the eldest, who left home in 1869 at the age of eighteen to teach here in Oysterville. The following summer, she married Robert Espy who was twenty-four years her senior and who was already well established in the Shoalwater Bay oyster business. No doubt she was happy to escape the domestic duties of her parents’ household. However, hers certainly was not the life of Riley.

When Julia was ready to deliver her first baby in 1871, there was only one doctor in the entire Shoalwater region. He was located across the bay in the Bruceport area and, by the time he was needed in Oysterville, he was off in the woods somewhere attending to a case of smallpox.

At the Oysterville Cemetery0004

At the Oysterville Cemetery

It fell to the neighbor ladies to deliver Julia’s firstborn. They had to use “distressing methods” which meant, it was whispered in the family, that the infant had to be dismembered in the womb in order to save twenty-year-old Julia’s life. Over the next fifteen years, Julia would have seven more children, all healthy, and according to family lore, ever after that first experience, her husband Robert made arrangements for the services of a doctor or a midwife well in advance of her due dates.

I’ve often wondered if Julia was ‘made of sterner stuff’ than her mother. Or was it watching her mother’s long suffering that made her bound and determined to carry on for the sake of her husband and family. In any event, I take great pride in being descended from these women – and from their husbands, as well. It’s difficult to imagine the hardships they endured… just as a matter of course.

At Its Finest!

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

Community Historians — Networking

Talk about warm heart cockles! Mine were fairly melting after the Community Historian’s weekly gathering yesterday and this is why: hardly anyone left the room after ‘class’ was over.  In twos and threes, people stayed to visit. About history!

Some stayed to talk with the day’s speaker, Dr. Douglas Wilson who had been given rapt attention for his hour-and-a-half-long talk about Station Camp/Middle Village. Wilson, an archeologist with National Parks told about the process of establishing a park adjacent to St. Mary’s church along the river and how the project gradually changed character and expanded (or contracted) in scope each time a new, significant discovery was made.

Community Historians 2014

Community Historians 2014

All the former ‘graduates’ of Community Historian classes had been invited to attend, so this year’s class size of 18 was about doubled. (That’s according to Jim Sayce who had the presence of mind to do a head count; I was much too busy doing my own bit of networking.) Several people had brought ‘treasures’ to share – Tucker Wachsmuth, a very old huckleberry ‘comb’ and Jon Christian a beautifully hand-forged tool of indeterminate age and unknown use. I wish I’d taken pictures…

Others talked with one another about the progress they had or hadn’t made on their individual projects. They asked questions of the one another and shared newly discovered information, Some folks made plans to get-together to talk some more. It was “networking” at its finest – at least in my opinion!

More Networking, Community Historians 2016

More Networking, Community Historians 2016

I was enthralled with the amazing exchange of historic information about Pacific County! It embodied fully the Community Historian Project’s mission statement: “Sustaining a sense of place by teaching residents how to shape tell and retell community stories.” I felt honored to be a part of it all.