Monday, June 28, 2010

Inaccurate and offensive Oregon history

I discovered something quite disappointing the other day when I typed in the search terms "oregon history" into Google. Link # 5 led me to:

On this website I came upon such gems of inaccuracy and offensiveness as . . .

    The history of this State properly begins[1] with the discovery of the mouth of the Columbia River by Captain Gray, of Boston, in the ship Columbia, May 7, 1792 . . .

According to this interpretation, I suppose, Native American history isn't proper, or isn't truly history, though it extends at least ~14,500 years.

    His [Captain Gray's] report caused President Jefferson to send the explorers LEWIS and CLARKE . . .

The author is here proposing a new spelling for William Clark.

    . . . [Captain Gray's report also] gives title, by right of discovery, to the territory drained by that river [the Columbia] and its tributaries, clearly gave to the Americans the domain to the lat. of 54° 40' N. . . .

This statement over-simplifies the complex relationships between the empires of Great Britain and the United States and among the United States and Native American tribes along the west coast of North America. The carving-up of far western territories between the two empires wasn't fully resolved until Oct. 1872 (here and here), after German Kaiser Wilhelm I provided final arbitration to the question of control of the San Juan Islands. Further, once the United States wrested Oregon Country from the British through the Oregon Treaty of 1846--with Oregon Country's northern boundary set at the 49th parallel--the U.S. government then engaged in at least 130 years of negotiations with various sovereign Native American tribes to establish and re-establish reservations and treaty rights. Hardly as clear or simplistic as this website would have one believe.

The following section is just racist nonsense:

    Settlers in Oregon and in Washington Territory, in 1855, suffered much from Indians, who went in bands to murder and plunder the white people. The savages were so well organized at one time that it was thought the white settlers would be compelled to abandon the country.

A more accurate representation of the Rogue River Indian Wars:

    The Rogue River War began in October, 1855, when a mob from the mining town of Jacksonville . . . killed at least twenty-eight Indian people who were camped near the Table Rock Reservation. . . . This and several subsequent attacks on Rogue River Valley Indian people were meant to start an Indian war that would employ miners unable to mine because of a drought. Like several conflicts in nearby northern California in the 1850s, the Rogue River War was a pork-barrel war. Land was not an issue. Leaders of the southwestern Oregon Indian people had signed treaties giving up most of their territory.[2]

Additionally, soldiers stationed at U.S. Army forts in Oregon from the 1850s into the 1870s were often tasked with protecting Indians from settler attacks and from encroachment upon their lands.

So, who is the author of such lamentably skewed information? After poking around a bit I wasn't able to find full names, affiliations, or credentials, but I did find the assertion that the creators of the website "strive to provide invaluable source material for the serious student of the Civil War." Perhaps the website does provide some "invaluable [primary] source material" in the form of "7,000 pages of original Civil War content . . . photographs, original illustrations, and eye-witness accounts." However, serious students and other interested people are warned to be wary of the website's attempt at interpretation -- judging from its representation of Oregon's early Euro-American settlement history, the website's content is inaccurate, incomplete, and demeaning.

It disappoints me that this website would be at the top of the Google search page for the terms "oregon history." I wonder how many people click to this page and, thereby, receive erroneous information?[3]

[1] Italics mine throughout.

[2] "A Brief Interpretive History of the Rogue River War and the
Coast, Alsea, and Siletz Reservations to 1894,", accessed June 28, 2010.

[3] I'm probably helping to keep this link high on the Google search page by linking to it in this post. Pooey!



  1. It's a good thing you are too young to have been taught from the Oregon history book we had to study "back in the day." You'd surely have a heart attack. :-)

  2. There's no doubt about that! Thank goodness for the 1960s and 1970s!