In 1843, brothers Jesse, Lindsay, and Charley Applegate — accompanied by their wives and 22 children — led the first major wagon train from Missouri to Oregon. By the end of the decade, the restless clan had left the "crowded" Willamette Valley and pointed their wagons toward Yoncalla in southern Oregon's Umpqua Valley. There, Charley built an immense two-story frame home — with one side for men, the other for women.
The divided house in Yoncalla is at the heart of Shannon Applegate's Skookum, the award-winning chronicle of her pioneer family. With the skill of a historian and the craft of a novelist, Applegate recounts the story of her family over several generations-the dreams, hardships, mysteries, and joys. She looks beyond the well known lives of the Applegate men, in whose honor were named a trail, a town, a river, and a mountain peak, to offer a more intimate history.
Skookum gives voice to the women of the family, who, writes Applegate, "as surely as certain stitches… have held the generations together." Her female kin "kept the time" by cherishing and protecting the thousands of family letters, journals, recollections, manuscripts, sketchbooks, and photographs. Tied into bundles and stored for years in chests of aromatic cedar and Douglas fir, these family treasures infuse Skookum's narratives with the powerful presence of the past. Out of these richly detailed sources, Applegate has fashioned a compelling, imaginative saga that brings her extraordinary family and the emerging West dramatically to life.
Selected for the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission's Literary Oregon: 100 Books 1800-2000
About the author
Shannon Applegate's visit with several elderly Applegate relatives changed the course of her creative life. Soon afterward, she moved into the ancestral home in Yoncalla and began the seventeen years of researching and writing that led to Skookum. Her recent experiences as sexton of the Applegate Pioneer Cemetery are chronicled in her book, Living Among Headstones: Life in a Country Cemetery. She is also co-editor of Talking on Paper: An Anthology of Oregon Letters and Diaries (OSU Press).
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"This history of the families of Jesse, Charles, and Lindsay Applegate, who open the way to the settlement of Oregon, is as important in its own way as the chronicles of the Adams family or the Beechers. It adds an important piece to our understanding of American families and how they work."