OSU Libraries | OSU Home
November 13th, 2013

We are pleased to welcome OSU Press Acquistions Editor Mary Elizabeth Braun as a guest on our blog as part of the University Press Week blog tour! The tour continues today at Texas A&M University Press. A complete blog tour schedule is available here.

UP Week logo   There are many ways to define a region, yet no single definition can completely capture its essence. The diverse books published by university presses help define and describe the complexity of various regions, covering everything from a region's history, culture, flora and fauna, geography, natural history, ecosystems, watersheds, and political history, to its folklore, literature, and art. They may include reprint editions of out-of-print regional classics, as well as newly written books. Such books are usually written for general readers as well as scholars and students, with an emphasis on good writing and accessibility, and published in attractively designed, well-illustrated editions. Increasingly, such books are available electronically—some with digital ancillaries—as well as in print.

Dragonflies coverSlugsButterflies

Regional books from the Oregon State University Press focus on the Pacific Northwest. Some of our authors define the Pacific Northwest strictly by political boundaries, others define it by watersheds and landforms. Some include northern California, or Alaska, or western Canada, or western Idaho and Montana, while others are adamant that the region comprises only Oregon and Washington. Of course, the definition of the region has shifted over time. Our books include an atlas of the Pacific Northwest and an atlas of the state of Oregon; several regionally-based scientific reference books and field guides, such as Dragonflies and Damselflies of Oregon and Field Guide to the Sedges of the Pacific Northwest; and books about land-use planning, natural resource management, wildlife policy, Oregon viticulture, and cheesemaking in the Pacific Northwest. We recently published our first children's book and an accompanying teacher's guide, Ellie's Log: Exploring the Forest Where the Great Tree Fell, which was inspired by research done at the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest in the Oregon Cascades. 

Our literary books include the anthology Long Journey: Contemporary Northwest Poets, edited by noted poet David Biespiel; the six-volume Oregon Literature Series created by the Oregon Council of Teachers of English; many memoirs by women and men who have lived and worked in the Pacific Northwest at different points in time; and our first novel, Brian Doyle's Mink River, which has sold more than thirty thousand copies since its publication in 2010.  Books in the Northwest Photography Series present the finest Pacific Northwest historical and contemporary photographs in book form, complemented by an online digital archive, curated exhibitions at museums, schools, and libraries, and education programs. 

We continue to expand our list in Native American and Indigenous Studies, which includes titles such as Teaching Oregon Native Languages and Oregon Archaeology and the forthcoming books To Win the Indian Heart: Music at Chemawa Indian School and "Salmon Is Everything": A Community-Based Play from the Klamath Watershed. Our political books include a series by Pacific Northwest women politicians; To the Promised Land: A History of Government and Politics in Oregon, written by Tom Marsh, a long-time Oregon high school history teacher and state legislator; and A Force for Change: Beatrice Morrow Cannady and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Oregon, 1912-1936. Other recent books include titles about slavery in the Oregon Territory, the first authoritative account of the unsolved murder of more than thirty Chinese gold miners on the Oregon side of Hells Canyon, and noted historian Richard Etulain's cross-continental history about Abraham Lincoln's strong connections with the Oregon Country on various political issues. Glenn May's book Sonny Montes and Mexican American Activism in Oregon is a major contribution to Oregon and Chicano history, along with Mexicanos in Oregon: Their Stories, Their Lives. We have published books about two WWII conscientious objector camps in Oregon, and our reprint edition of Oregon poet laureate William Stafford's book Down In My Heart: Peace Witness in War Time continues to sell well.   

The regional books we publish create an identity for the Oregon State University Press, as well as the region about which we publish. We help our parent institution fulfill its mission as a comprehensive public, research-extensive university, one of only two land-, sea-, space-, and sun-grant institutions in the country. We contribute to the economic, social, cultural, and environmental progress of people in Oregon, the Pacific Northwest, and beyond.

The bottom line? We publish well-written and engaging books for readers eager to learn more about the place in which they live or visit, and to facilitate their exploration, entertainment, and enjoyment of the region.

—Mary Elizabeth Braun, Acquistions Editor, OSU Press

November 12th, 2013

up weekThis week, OSU Press is pleased to celebrate University Press Week with colleagues around the globe.

Thirty-seven presses are participating in the 2013 UP Week blog tour. Each press will blog on a particular theme: profiles of university press staff members,  the future of scholarly publishing, subject area spotlights, the importance of regional publishing, and the global reach of university presses. You can view the complete schedule here. check out the daily round-ups at The Digital Digest.

Today, the tour begins at Duke University Press, where Priscilla Wald, Professor of English and Women's Studies at Duke University, writes about the slow future of scholarly communication.Then head over to Harvard University Press, where Jeffrey Schnapp, faculty director of metaLAB (at) Harvard and editor of the new metaLABprojects book series, blogs on the emerging currents of experimental scholarship for which the series provides a platform. At Stanford University Press,  Director Alan Harvey discusses the challenges presented by new technologies in publishing, and how the industry model is adapting to new reading-consumption habits. Alex Holzman explores the partnerships university presses and libraries can forge as the means of communicating scholarship evolves at Temple University Press. At the University of Minnesota Press, editor Dani Kasprzak discusses a new UMP initiative. Robert Devens, Assistant Editor-in-Chief for the University of Texas Press, writes about the future of scholarly communication at the University of Texas blog, and at the University of Virginia Press, historian Holly Shulman looks at the need for university presses to adapt to new technologies, while ackowledging the difficulties of doing so.

Ellie's LogCheck out Ideas Unbound, an online gallery of projects that highlight innovation in scholarly publishing. OSU Press's featured title, Ellie's Log, is our first children's book, which was recently announced as an AAAS Subaru SB&F Prize finalist.

Finally, we share this suggestion from our friend at The Well-Read Naturalist:  "...take a moment to visit the websites of your favorite university presses, leave a comment on their blogs or Facebook pages, perhaps even send them a tweet – using the hashtag #upweek – telling them how much you appreciate all the work they do to promote the spread of knowledge through their publications."

how much you appreciate all the work they do to promote the spread of knowledge through their publications. - See more at: http://www.wellreadnaturalist.com/2013/11/university-press-week/#sthash.91ytjyTR.dpuf
how much you appreciate all the work they do to promote the spread of knowledge through their publications. - See more at: http://www.wellreadnaturalist.com/2013/11/university-press-week/#sthash.91ytjyTR.dpuf


October 31st, 2013

We're pleased to welcome Abby Phillips Metzger, the author of the just-released Meander Scars: Reflections on Healing the Willamette River, as a guest to our blog today.

For the Sake of Mystery

Abby Phillips Metzger

When I was doing research for Meander Scars, I came across some astonishing facts about the Willamette River—ninety channel miles between Eugene and Albany gone, tens of thousands of snags blasted or removed from the channel, and thousands of cubic yards of gravel dredged and dumped each year. The consequences of these actions have created a simplified river system with far fWillametteewer off-channel habitats, which many species depend on to survive and thrive.

The facts are astonishing indeed. But one thing that struck me more powerfully than the data was public testimony from a 1971 proposal to install a dam within the Marys River drainage, a watershed within the 12,000-square-mile Willamette Basin. Both sides argued well, with supporters citing increased irrigation for agriculture and improved flood control, and opponents stating concerns for salmon and habitat loss.

One citizen’s poetic plea to leave the river alone stuck with me. He said that damming the Marys would take away the “mystery behind the bend.” In this old, forgotten report from a public hearing, I found a beautifully evoked description that spoke of a deeper loss from messing with our rivers, akin to what Robert Michael Pyle calls the extinction of experience. With diminished wildness comes diminished wonder, intrigue, and opportunities to explore what’s behind the next bend. The disappearance of ninety channel miles is a tremendous blow to an ecological system, and it is also a tragic loss of mystery.

And what a thing to lose. Mystery is perhaps one of the more provocative forces in human Meanderhistory, luring us to explore all crevices of the globe. It drives our science and our stories, our fables and our myths. In the words of theorist Paul Ricouer and a former English professor of mine, mystery gives rise to story, gives rise to thought. That is, all our rational pursuits first began as attempts to understand and unravel the world’s great mysteries.

Whether or not you believe this to be true, it’s an interesting way to frame ecological loss on the Willamette River. What will happen to our stories of the river with fewer enigmas to inspire them? And, following Ricouer’s logic, what will happen to our intellectual contributions to the natural world without the rich stories to nurture them?

The days of blasting snags from the channel and filling in sloughs are behind us, but the threat of losing the mystery behind the bend is still there, just in a different form—urbanization, climate change, population growth, to name a few. Fortunately, the Willamette contains a lot of mystery still, even though it has been armored with riprap, dredged, diked, dammed, and developed. As someone who likes to paddle the river, I can tell you that you might see a green heron hunched on a log, clouds of swallows swarming the frayed air, a slinky mink running in the soft mud, or the giant knotted trunks of cottonwoods much older than you.

The mystery behind the bend is there. It calls forth, asking us to be present and attuned. Becoming aware of the river’s remaining complexity might be one way to combat the forces that threaten to take it away.

So go beyond the next bend, and then the next. Let the unknown take you to some place new. Set adrift. Get lost in the current, and then tell me what you see.


AbbyAbby Phillips Metzger grew up near the Willamette River in Corvallis, and still lives there. She earned her Honors English degree and master’s in environmental science from Oregon State University. In addition to her current job as a writer and research communicator at OSU, she has worked in journalism, book publishing, and environmental education. She worked as an outreach coordinator for Honoring Our Rivers, a student anthology of art and literature celebrating Oregon watersheds. She also facilitates nature interpretation for children and adults during raft trips down the Willamette. Meander Scars is her first book.


October 17th, 2013

For twenty years, Steve McQuiddy has been uncovering the story of a conscientious objectors camp on the Oregon coast that plowed the ground for the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s.

OSU Press is pleased to announce that his long-awaited book, Here on the Edge, is now available. HOTE cover

The author will present a slideshow and talk at Powell's Books on Burnside on Wednesday, October 23, 7:30 pm. and at the UO's Knight Library on Wednesday, November 6, 7 pm.

At Civilian Public Service Camp #56, located just south of Waldport, pacifists and political objectors spent their daylight hours planting trees, crushing rock, building roads, and fighting forest fires—fifty hours a week, for now pay. At night, they published books, produced plays, and made art and music—all during their limited non-work hours, with little money and resources. They were the Fine Arts Group at Waldport, and their focus was not so much on the current war, but on what kind of society might be possible when the shooting finally stopped.

“Nearly all the great social movements in history can be traced to small groups working in obscurity, sometimes for years,” McQuiddy observes. “It can be very useful for people to actually see the evidence of how small actions really can make a big difference.”

The talented group included poet William Everson, later known as Brother Antoninus, “the Beat Friar”; violinist Broadus Erle, founder of the New Music Quartet; fine arts printer Adrian Wilson; Kermit Sheets, co-founder of San Francisco’s Interplayers theater group; architect Kemper Nomland, Jr.; and internationally renowned sculptor Clayton James.
Other notables published by or involved with the Fine Arts Group include artist Morris Graves, poet William Stafford—OSU Press reissued his classic book, Down in My Heart, which recounts his experiences as a conscientious objector—fiery antiwar poet Kenneth Patchen, and iconoclastic author Henry Miller. After the war, camp members went on to participate in the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the 1950s, which heavily influenced the Beat Generation of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who in turn inspired Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, leading the way to the radical upheavals epitomized by San Francisco’s Summer of Love.

Explore research materials and photographs from the camp and read the author's blog at his website.

Read about Steve McQuiddy's experiences while researching and writing the book at The Oregonian.

See what Bob Welch has to say about Here on the Edge in the Register-Guard.


September 26th, 2013

Today we're pleased to welcome creator of the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project, author, and all-around cheese wiz Tami Parr as our guest blogger. Tami's new book, Pacific Northwest Cheese: A History, was released in September by OSU Press. Tami will be a featured author at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association conference in Portland next month.

PNW Cheese cover

I KNEW THAT if I wrote a history of regional cheesemaking, readers were going to want to know who was the region’s first cheesemaker. But in the early stages of research, I worried over how I could possibly sort out the answer to that question. After all, there were hundreds of dairy farmers that came to in Oregon Country in the nineteenth century and any one of them could have been “the” one. Worse, the moment would probably not have been recorded. How would we ever know?

As it turned out, the answer to the question “who was first?” came much easier than I thought. In fact, it turned out to be one of the easiest research problems that I solved while writing this book.

The answer came in several steps. In thinking about dairying in the Pacific Northwest I first considered that the native populations of the region lived off of the land and did not keep domesticated animals for food consumption. So clearly there were no cheesemakers among the Native American populations of the Pacific Northwest. In fact, dairy animals—cows, sheep and goats—were brought to the New World, and the Pacific Northwest, by Europeans. So I knew that elusive first cheesemaker would be found among the earliest Europeans who came to the region.

What next? We know that thousands of people came to the Pacific Northwest over the Oregon Trail during the mid- to late-nineteenth century, so it was tempting to look among those early homesteaders to find the earliest dairies and cheesemakers.

Fast forward for a moment to the twenty-first century…. if you’ve ever been to Vancouver, British Columbia you may know the Hudson’s Bay Company as a big department store on Granville Street, but in fact it’s one of the oldest corporations in existence. First founded, or “chartered” as they liked to say, in 1670, HBC was a global fur trading concern during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, many different countries were vying for control of the region we now call the Pacific Northwestern United States. HBC fur trappers were among the first Europeans to reach the region and they established Fort Vancouver in present at Fort Vancouverday Vancouver, Washington in 1824-5. What I hadn’t realized prior to doing research for this book is that, in addition to fur trapping and trading, the Hudson’s Bay Company also conducted extensive farming operations at Fort Vancouver and other sites around the Pacific Northwest in order to support its trading operations. HBC grew wheat, barley, peas as well as keeping large herds of cattle, sheep and goats.

While I wasn’t able to find any mention of making cheese (or eating cheese, for that matter) in the letters of John McLoughlin, Chief Factor at Fort Vancouver, a number of visitors to Fort Vancouver in the 1830s and 1840s mention the large on-site dairy and cheesemaking operations (very helpful for later research, thanks Narcissa Whitman!). 

One of the fun things about doing research on the Hudson’s Bay Company is that they kept meticulous records. I spent many hours at the Fort Vancouver research center combing through microfilm of nineteenth century inventory records, which list numbers of animals kept at every HBC establishment in the region. These records confirm the presence of dairies and dairy equipment at the Fort, as well as its satellite dairy operation on Sauvie Island.

If you’ve ever delved into your family history you already know that historical research is part detective work, part futility, and you’re often crossing your fingers hoping you will find that one bit of information that leads to something interesting. In this case, I’m thrilled that I was able to put a few pieces of information together and come up with an answer to a very important question!

Tami Parr, author of Pacfic Northwest Cheese: A History—Tami Parr, author of Pacific Northwest Cheese: A History



September 5th, 2013

A Facebook friend writes of spotting “thousands of red dragonflies at a beach south of Seal Rock, Variegated Meadowhawk obliskingall heading south and none stopping for anything.” In recent days, similar sightings have been reported in Cannon Beach, Neskowin, and other locales, from southwest Washington to the central Oregon coast. Dragonfly migration is underway.

Less heralded than the annual migrations of gray whales along the Oregon coast—a phenomenon that now has its own trademarked web site (Whale Watching Spoken Here) and a corps of hearty volunteers—dragonfly migration is no less spectacular. Timing and numbers vary year to year, but 2013 appears to be a major migration. At the onset of fall cold fronts, the main species involved, the Variegated Meadowhawk, seems to funnel to the coast and head south. But beyond that, little is known about these fall migrants.

“This is not only an amazing spectacle to witness but a great mystery even to scientists,” says Cary Kerst, co-author with Steve Gordon, of Dragonflies and Damselflies of OreAuthors Steve Gordon and Cary Kerstgon, the definitive field guide to the subject. “We don’t know where they are coming from or going or what prompts them to start moving.”

Scientists have tried various methods of tracking dragonfly migrations with little success. Now, a partnership has formed to solicit the public’s help to better protect and sustain this phenomenon. The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership offers an opportunity for people to collect and record dragonfly migration observations. Citizen scientists monitor the timing, duration, and direction of travel of migrating dragonflies, and note any additional behaviors observed in migratory flight such as feeding or mating.

Learning to identify the main migratory species of dragonflies is an essential first step in migratioDragonflies covern monitoring, and for Oregon there’s no better place to start than the Kerst and Gordon guide. It includes full color photographs of all species found in the state, along with helpful illustrations and charts showing important identification characteristics. The book also features descriptions of the thirty best sites in Oregon to observe these amazing insects, a useful tool for viewing uncommon species in spectacular settings.

With sufficient participation in migration monitoring, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which volunteers line Oregon dunes each fall wearing “Dragonfly Watching Spoken Here” t-shirts and introducing curious onlookers to the wonders of dragonfly migration.

Variegated Meadowhawk oblisking (top), photo by Cary Kerst
Authors Steve Gordon and Cary Kerst (middle)

July 11th, 2013

We're pleased to present our fall catalog. catalog cover Please send an e-mail if you'd like to receive a print copy, and please read on for a preview!

PNW Cheese cover
Tami Parr
's engaging history shows how regional cheesemaking found its way back to the farm. Pacific Northwest Cheese: A History begins with the first fur traders in the Pacific Northwest and ends with modern-day small farmers in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Along the way, Parr tells some untold stories: about the cheese made along the Oregon Trail, of the region's thriving blue cheese and swiss cheese makers, and about the rise of goat's milk cheese.

Salmon cover

Jim Lichatowich's new book, Salmon, People, and Place: A Biologist's Search for Salmon Recovery, is "essential reading for anyone hoping to understand salmon in the Northwest," according to author John Larison. Drawing on more than forty years as a Pacific salmon researcher, manager, and scientific advisor, Lichatowich exposes the misconceptions underlying salmon recovery plans and presents a strategy to heal the catastrophic decline of salmon in the Northwest.

Collared cover

Aimee Lyn Eaton takes us from meeting rooms in the state capitol to ranching communities in Oregon's rural northeast corner in her forthright and balanced account of the passionate debate over the storied presence of wolves in the state. Collared: Politics and Personalities in Oregon's Wolf Country introduces readers to the biologists, ranchers, conservationists, state employees, and lawyers on the front lines of the controversy.

Our list this fall also includes:

• the story of a group of conscientious objectors on the Oregon Coast who, at CPS Camp #56, took art and peace from the margins to the mainstream

• a personal account of the history and healing of the Willamette River, once a rich network of channels and sloughs

• an environmental journalist's insightful and revealing history of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act

• a new Horning Visiting Scholars publication that is part food history lesson, part editorial about our use of packaged foods, part call to arms—of the kitchen variety

• a collection of writings from geographers exploring collaborative work with Indigenous communities around the globe

• an invaluable collection of writings that reveal the day-to-day reality of implementing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act


DeeperBridgingGrow FoodMeander cover

Here on the Edge cover

June 6th, 2013

Could California condors once again take to the skies in the Pacific Northwest?

The iconic California condor was once at the brink of extinction; at their nadir only 22 birds remained in captivity. However, conservation efforts have shielded the birds from complete extinction; 234 condors live in the wild, and another 170 survive in captivity.  

A timely new OSU Press book on condors, out this month, is already generating wide attention. California Condors in the Pacific Northwest by Jesse D'Elia and Susan Haig documents the condor's history in the region and explores the challenges of reintroduction.

Crosscut.com columnist Knute Berger described the book as "an in-depth look at the history of the condor in the territory ranging from the Redwood coast to the Gulf Islands in British Columbia… D’Elia and Haig attempt to lay out a complete record of the condor here, from the fossil records to eyewitness accounts to Native American stories and practices.”

Katy Muldoon of The Oregonian called the book, "a fascinating blend of science, culture and natural history." 

Interviews with Susan Haig are available for reading: visit Oregon State University's news release and CNN's Light Years. Haig discusses the challenges of recovery in a Tedx DeExtinction talk: "Bringing Back the Birds of Our Dreams." Jesse D'Elia writes about the book and the implications of its findings on the USFWS Pacific Region blog.

We're pleased today to share Noel Snyder's Foreword to the book.


Presently the largest and most astonishing bird in the skies of North America, the California Condor was one of our most highly endangered species by the 1980s, when it persisted only in a region just north of Los Angeles. By the late 1980s it endured only in captivity, but it has since been returned to the wild in selected regions. Fossil evidence from Pleistocene times shows that it inhabited not only California but a continent-wide range stretching from northern Mexico to Florida, New York, and the Pacific Northwest.

The condor was likely a breeding bird in most regions where its fossils have been found, but so far, breeding has been confirmed only in California, Baja California, and Arizona. In Arizona, paleontological research has revealed that the species once nested in caves perforating the many formations of the Grand Canyon and, following releases begun in 1996, it has again returned to nest in these sites. Whether the species ever nested in Oregon and Washington, however, has been a subject of controversy. It was frequently reported seen in this region in the nineteenth century, starting with the epic journey of Lewis and Clark in 1805, but no one has ever documented a contemporary or historic condor nest north of California. This book discusses suggestive evidence that condors were indeed breeders in the Northwest and presents a careful analysis of causes of disappearance of the species from this region by the early twentieth century—efforts that serve as a prelude to a potential program to revive a wild population in the region.

Should a consensus develop that the condor was indeed once a full-time resident and breeder in the Northwest, and should agreement be achieved that the past and present causes of the species’ decline in this region have been reliably identified and countered, it may well prove feasible to reestablish this species as a wild creature in the region. This book goes a long way toward justifying such an effort, although it also thoroughly discusses the information gaps and resistance factors still remaining that could prevent success in such a project.

The last wild condor in the remnant historic population in California was trapped into captivity in 1987, joining twenty-six other condors taken from the wild as eggs or otherwise trapped from the wild. Captives have bred readily, and the total captive population, now maintained in part by the Oregon Zoo, has increased rapidly. Numbers of birds have been sufficient to allow the initiation of release programs to the wild in several locations in California, Baja California, and northwestern Arizona. These release populations, which now collectively include several hundred individuals, have been maintained in part on subsidies of carrion food and have all initiated breeding activities. However, none of these populations has yet attained demographic viability because of a variety of problems, the most important of which has been poisoning stemming from the birds feeding on carcasses of hunter-shot game containing lead ammunition fragments.

California passed legislation outlawing the use of lead ammunition in the condor’s range in 2007, but the poisonings in this state continue because of difficulties in enforcing the legislation and the wide availability of lead ammunition across the country. It seems likely that an effective solution to the lead-poisoning problem may necessitate national legislation that truly removes the sources of lead ammunition and substitutes other equally effective ammunition that is nontoxic. As lead ammunition also contaminates humans to some extent, especially through ingestion of hunter-shot game, such legislation would also be a significant benefit for human health, to say nothing of the benefits to wildlife species other than condors that also suffer from lead poisoning. The insidious sublethal effects of lead contamination on our own species have already led to a banning of lead in paints, gasoline, and plumbing.

Thus, success in reestablishing condors in the Northwest may well depend on success in national efforts to solve the lead contamination problem. But it will also presumably depend on the development of effective solutions to other problems considered in this book. Success in such efforts will surely demand a continued commitment toward conservation of the species by the public and on well-conceived research and management programs to overcome resistance factors.

The re-creation of a viable population of condors in the Northwest would constitute an achievement of substantial importance, not just for those with a special interest in birds, but perhaps especially for the many Native Americans living in the region, whose cultural traditions have always honored this species as a supreme master of the skies.

—Noel Snyder, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in charge of condor research in the 1980s and lead author of The California Condor: A Saga of Natural History Conservation

—by Brendan Hansen, George P. Griffis Publishing Intern, OSU Press

May 16th, 2013

We’re pleased today to share an excerpt from R. Gregory Nokes' new book, Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory. We invite you to join the author at upcoming author events in Portland and beyond, including this Sunday, May 19 at the Oregon Historical Society; June 4 at Powell's Books; June 13 at Broadway Books. For a complete event list, visit www.breakingchainsbook.com.

Breaking chains cover
First Slaves

There are two versions of how Robin and Polly Holmes, both Missouri slaves, came to Oregon. One, told by Robin Holmes, is that his owner, Nathaniel Ford, persuaded him to come in exchange for his freedom. The other, told by Ford descendants, is that Holmes begged to come and Ford brought Holmes—and Holmes’ wife and children—against his better judgment.

Whichever version is correct, and certainly Holmes’ version is most believable, the family of slaves joined a wagon train of fifty-four wagons in 1844 for an eight-month journey along the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri. It was among the first emigrant wagon trains to leave for Oregon, and Robin and Polly Holmes would be among the first African Americans to live in Oregon.(1) They brought their three small children, and settled with the Ford family in what is now Polk County.

Years later, Holmes and Ford would face each other in a landmark court case that would help shape Oregon’s policy toward slavery and slaves.  The case was a habeas corpus suit brought by Holmes against Ford in 1852 seeking custody of his children, who Ford tried to keep. A remarkable feature of the case is that it provides a rare written record of the relationship between a slave-owner and a slave—from the slave’s point of view.

Just as remarkable is the fact that a former slave managed to hold his own in a fourteen-month legal battle, which no judge seemed to want to decide. Holmes patiently stood his ground as the proceedings plodded through several Oregon courts before four different judges, at least one of whom appeared biased in favor of Ford. Holmes would demonstrate during the court battle—and also in his later life in Salem—a determination to struggle for personal justice in the face of overwhelming odds.

Like most slaves, Holmes was unable to read or write—it was against public policy in Missouri and throughout the South to educate a slave.(2)  Nevertheless, aided by sympathetic attorneys, Holmes mounted a credible case against Ford, one of Oregon’s first settlers, who was prominent in Oregon politics. Ford served in the territorial legislature and was appointed the region’s chief judge in 1845, although he declined the office. Moreover, Holmes faced the added burden of taking on a slave owner in a farming community known to be sympathetic to slavery, and at a time when Oregon’s own position on slavery, while technically outlawed, was still in flux.

To say Oregon came close to becoming a slave state would be an exaggeration. But not a wild one. There were influential leaders who wanted Oregon open to slavery. And there were those like Ford who wanted to, and did, keep slaves.

An early nineteenth century historian, Walter Carelton Woodward, concluded that slavery posed "an actual menace to Oregon" prior to the Civil War. Writing in a 1911 issue of Oregon Historical Quarterly, Woodward said:

At this distance it may seem almost inconceivable that there was any basis for such agitation [for slavery]; that there was any danger of Oregon's (sic) becoming a slave state. Whatever may be the mature conclusions on this point after the lapse of a half century, the fact remains that there was apparently very serious danger at the time.(3)

The writer of a 1970 thesis, citing newspaper coverage, was led to remark, "The pro-slavery element was sufficiently vocal that the imporession was gained in the terriroty and throughout the nation that Oregon was about to apply for admission to the Union as a slave state."(4)

There were probably never more than fifty slaves in Oregon, a number that pales in comparison with Missouri’s total of 114,965 slaves in 1860, and the national total of 3,949,557.(5) And, in Oregon, slaves had an opportunity to gain their freedom, an opportunity denied them in slave states. Still, many may be surprised to learn there were slaves in Oregon at all.


I learned of the Holmes family while researching the background of another Missouri slave, known as Reuben Shipley. I had recently discovered in a long-unread family genealogy that I am a shirttail descendant of the man who “owned’’ Shipley and brought him to Oregon.(8) I was less than pleased to learn of this, and sought to know more. I was soon to discover that Reuben Shipley put his own important stamp on race relations in present-day Benton County, where, after receiving his freedom, he owned a farm near the small town of Philomath.

The lives of Reuben Shipley and Robin Holmes would intersect in later years, another of the several compelling stories involving these two former slaves, both unschooled, both of whom signed their names with X’s.

1 The first known African American in the Oregon Country was believed to be Marcus Lopez, a native of the Cape Verde Islands and a cabin boy on Robert Gray's Lady Washington. According to Elizabeth McLagan in A Peculiar Paradise, the ship dropped anchor on August 14, 1788, near Tillamook. While ashore on August 16 to get provisions, Lopez was killed in a dispute with Native Americans. The second African American was believed to be York, a black slave who traveled with the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805. Others had come too, including several with the Peter Burnett wagon train in 1843.

2 An 1847 Missouri law was typical. It assessed a penalty of up to $500 and six months imprisonment for anyone who who would "teach or keep any school for the instruction of any negroes or mulattoes in reading or writing...." Trexler, Slaves in Missouri, 1804-1865, 83-84.

3 Woodward, "Rise and Early History of Political Parties in Oregon III." Oregon Historical Quarterly, 145.

4 Schneider, Black Laws of Oregon, 31. Schneider based his judgment in part on editorials in newspapers throughout the country as reported in the Oregon Statesman on June 8, 1857, 2-3. The New-York Tribune, described by the Statesman as a "frantic abolitionist sheet," said in an undated editorial: "We have a number of letters from Oregon, by the last mail, containing the startling information that this Territory hitherto sat down as a certain for Freedom, will, in all probability, present herself to the next Congress for admission into the Union with a constitution legalizing slavery."

5 Trexler, Slaves in Missouri, 4. Also the 1860 U.S. Cenusus, which listed no slaves in Oregon, overlooking local census takers who officially listed at least three slaves; other known slaves were idenitfied as laborers or servants, or not listed at all.

8 Junkin, The Henckel Genealogy, 359.



R. Gregory Nokes is the author Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory and Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon, an Oregonian Pacific Northwest “Top 10” book. He travelled the world as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press and The Oregonian. He is a graduate of Willamette University and attended Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow. He and his wife, Candise, live in West Linn, Oregon. 

April 19th, 2013

The Willamette Valley is bursting with green growth and spring blossoms. And Monday is Earth Day. We can't resist sharing a few arrivals, perfect for the occasion.HOldfast cover

The newest addition to our Northwest Reprints series is naturalist, philosopher, and essayist Kathleen Dean Moore's Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World. Moore has written a moving afterword for this edition exploring the new responsibilities of nature writers as the world faces the consequences of climate change. 

Please join us in celebrating the re-release of Holdfast with the author and special guest, concert pianist Rachelle McCabe, on Wednesday, May 1 at 7 p.m. at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library. Moore and McCabe will explore the music of words and the words of music at this free event, sponsored by Grass Roots Books & Music, The Friends of the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, The Spring Creek Project, and OSU Press.

Ellies' Log cover

Our new children's book, Ellie's Log: Exploring the Forest Where the Great Tree Fell, has arrived just in time for springtime tromps through the forest. Author Judy Li and illustrator M. L. Herring will talk about creating the book and its companion Teacher's Guide at a workshop for educators this weekend. Then on Friday, May 3 at 2:30 pm,  they'll be the special guests of the The Kid's Book Club at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, where they'll share the book and show everyone how to create a field logbook. All kids are invited to attend!

Nature lovers of all ages are invited to celebrate the book's publication at another event with Judy and Peg on Monday, May 13, 7 p.m. at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library. This book launch celebration is sponsored by Grass Roots Books & Music, OSU Libraries and Press, the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest, and the Corvallis-Benton County Library.

To learn more about Ellie's Log, check out our very first book trailer, created for Ellie's Log by our Griffis Publishing Intern, Brendan Hansen. Watch an interview with the author on KVAL. And visit the companion website for more resources and information about Ellie's Log and the natural world.

In another book that's just reaching bookstore shelves, John Reiger shares his journey from a troubled childhood to a rich career as an environmental historian and sportsman-conservationist, Escaping Into Nature: The Making of a Sportsman-Conservationist and Environmental Historian.

Condor hatchlings at the Oregon Zoo were in the news this week, and we're anxiously anticipating the publication of California Condors in the Pacific Northwest later this spring.

We just received an advance copy of Land Slugs and Snails in the Pacific Northwest—it's beautiful and will arrive soon!

The OSU Press shelves, past and present, are heavy with books on the environment. We encourage you to explore!

Escaping cover         Condors cover         Land Snails



Member of AAUP