ISBN 9780870713774 (hardcover)
Talking on Paper
Terence O'Donnell and Shannon Applegate
Illustrated with art by Oregon artists.
Contributors to this anthology of Oregon letters and diaries include a missionary and a gambler, a prosoner and a judge, a clown and a civil servant, a housewife and a homesteader, a cowboy, a schoolgirl, a nun, and many others. Few would consider themselves writers. Yet all took the time to commit words to paper, providing us today with a unique sense of their lives and times.
Letters and diaries are among the most intimate of literary expressions. Seldom written for an intended audience of more than one (if that), they provide a private forum for feelings, concerns, and interests. Yet letters and diaries also benefit a wider audience. They afford us a special knowledge of the past, for they are commonly filled with the concrete details of everyday life, details which biography and history tend to disregard. A summer holiday, fur trapping, a sea voyage, courtship and war, travel and homesteading, the Depression, the Japanese internment, hope despair, and joy--the writings collected in Talking on Paper bring an impressive immediacy to these experiences.
In gathering material for this book, the editors traveled thousands of miles and researched thousands of documents. Selections span a period of a century and a half and reflect the wide cultural and ethnic diversity of Oregon. From the lyric-laced diaries of Greek emigrant and itinerant railroad worker Haralambos Kambouris to the poignant letter by 10-year-old Julia Wilson of Mitchell describing the loss of her family in a flash flood, these private expressions of literacy and imagination reveal an intimate aspect of Oregon literature.
About the author
Terence O'Donnell is a Portland-based author and lecturer. His many credits include the inscriptions on the Oregon Vietnam memorial; an account of his experiences in the Middle East, Garden of the Brave in War; and three books on Oregon history: Portland: An Informal History and Guide, An Arrow in the Earth: General Joel Palmer and the Indians of Oregon, and That Balance So Rare: The Story of Oregon.
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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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General Introduction Editors' Preface
Introducing Oregon Diaries: A Dialogue by Shannon Applegate
Introducing Oregon Letters by Terence O'Donnell
|1788||Robert Haswell, "The Death of Marcus Lopius at Tillamook Bay"|
|1805||William Clark "American Explorers Meet the Chinook Nation"|
|1826||David Douglas, "Seeking Magnificence: A Botanist Finds a Douglas County Pine"|
|1844||Peter Burnett, "Crossing the Plains: Letters from a Tualatin Pioneer"|
|1846||Tallmadge B. Wood (aka Word), "A Hunter's Life Is a Dog's Life: A Fur Trapper's Letter"|
|1847||Elizabeth Dixon Smith, "Protest, Fire, and Hyperbole on the Oregon Trail"|
|1851||Elizabeth Wood, "A Young Woman's Trip to Oregon"|
|1853||Anonymous Soldier, "A Rebuke for Racists, Settlers, Bureaucrats, Mercenaries, and Thieves"|
|1854||Calvin B. West, "Oregon Is a Wicked Paradise, Washington a Children's Heaven: A Missionary's Letter"|
|1858||Nancy Judson, "I Cannot Live with Mr. Judson: A Willamette Valley Wife Petitions the Legislature for Divorce"|
|1858||Henry Cummins, "Perfecting the Self in Eugene, Then Going East Forever"|
|1860||Eugene Skinner, "Oregon Is Not Wealth, but Contentment and a Conscience Clear of Offense"|
|1860||Preston W. Gillette, "At Home and Almost Alone for Ten Years: An Astoria Bachelor's Diary"|
|1861||Harriette Applegate and Gertrude Applegate, "Yankee and Pacifist: Two Cousins Argue the Civil War from Yoncalla"|
|1864||Royal Augustus Bensell, "Rowing After Indians Is Not a Real Soldier's Duty: A Union Corporal's Diary from Fort Yamhill"|
|1864||Rachel Colver, "My Brightest Flowers Have Faded: A Grandmother's Letter to Her Granddaughter So Far from Home"|
|1868||Ellen Hemenway Humphrey, "Work for the Night Is Coming: A Lane County Farm Wife's Diary"|
|1871||Matthew P. Deady, "The Place Was Crammed with the Elite: The Diary of a Federal Judge in Portland"|
|1873||Harry De Witt Moore, "It Is Impossible to Catch Them: A Lieutenant's Letter from the Lava Beds"|
|1873||Oliver Cromwell Applegate, "Eight Greedy Men Lived around Dick Johnson's Farm: A Letter to Expose Racist Criminals"|
|1876||Cynthia Horning, "Advice to a Lake County Girl from Her Best Friend in Corvallis"|
|1890||Polly Hewitt McArthur, "Letter to a Doll"|
|1894||Emily B. Trevett, "George Eliot's Life Has Made Me Ashamed: A Portland Socialite's Quest for Knowledge, Reverence, Control"|
|1895||Rufus B. Matthews and Grace Smith Matthews, "The Roseburg Gambler Who Wrote His Mama Everything--Almost--and Invented His Own Spelling"|
|1907||Charles Marshall, "Gold Miners in a Siskiyou Mountain Winter"|
|1909||Amanda Smith Donaldson, "A Mother Creates a Memorial Fund after Her Boy Dies in a Hunting Accident"|
|1910||Florence Hofer, "Pebbles Picked Up on the Beach at Newport"|
|1914||Abigail Scott Duniway, "Doing Double Duty: A Suffragist's Self-Portrait"|
|1914||Haralambos Kambouris, "Railroading in Oregon: A Greek Poet's Diary"|
|1916||Elizabeth Trimberger, "A Teacher's Life at Crooked Finger School"|
|1917||Linus Carl Pauling, "Oregon's Two-Time Nobel Prize Winner Prepares for College,"|
|1918||Charles Linza McNary, "After the Campaign, a Senator Thanks His Lion"|
|1920||Opal Whiteley, "The Many Things That Opal Sees When She Is Sent Straight for the Milk: Chapter from a Controversial Best Seller"|
|1931||John Casteel, "Where There Is No Vision, the People Perish: A Professor's Diary from the Willamette Valley"|
|1933||Ernest Haycox, "Pulp Hack or Enduring Artist? A Western Novelist in Conflict with Himself"|
|1934||Fred Brenne, "A Fast Hard-Talking Progressive in Coos Bay--a Slow and Easy Town"|
|1937||A.J. Tittinger, "Seasick All Day: A Federal Landlubber Reports His Short Unhappy Voyage to Tillamook Rock"|
|1942||Lee Owen Stone, "Make No Peace with Oppression: A Priest Calls for Union Reform in Portland during World War II"|
|1944||Adrian Wilson, "All War Stinks to High Heaven: A C.O.'s Diary from World War II"|
|1948||Vance DeBar Colvig, "Bozo the Clown: A Jacksonville Boy Never Forgets His Friends"|
|1951||William Nunn, "Building Our Summer Place above Eagle Creek"|
|1965||Shizue Iwatsuki, "How Many Nights Did I Cry: An Issei Settler Remembers Her Early Life in Hood River"|
|1970||Kenneth Reber, "It's Great Here Except I'm Lonely, Homesick, and Going Crazy: Letters from an Army Private in Vietnam"|
|1981||Miriam Murphy, "A Marylhurst Nun's Diary, or Exploring the Sacred Mainland Within"|
|1985||William L. Sullivan, "Not Likely to Cut Corners: One Day in a Solo Walk across Oregon"|
|1839||Thomas Farnham, "Observing Instead of Disturbing: A Peaceful Meeting in the Blue Mountains"|
|1853||William Chinook, Robert Hull, and Joel Palmer, "Selling What You Don't Own: An Early Federal Fiasco with No Fast Fix"|
|1863||George Irving Hazeltine, "A New Husband--Alone in John Day--Learns How Not to Make His Bread"|
|1866||Julia Gilliss, "To Think We Are So Far Away: An Army Bride in Eastern Oregon"|
|1870||Orson A. Stearns, "A Lonely Bachelor in His Log Castle in Paradise"|
|1871||Eunice Robbins and Kate Robbins, "Anxiety and Astonishment: A Mother and Daughter Report on the Ochocos"|
|1873||Jesse Applegate, "Should a Woman Become a Doctor? A Man of Destiny Responds"|
|1875||Eli S. Glover, "The Wreck of the Yakima, a Steamboat, at John Day Rapids"|
|1876||James M. Sutton, "Walking on Toads at Linkville: An Editor Meets Klamath Marsh"|
|1878||Charles Erskine Scott Wood, "A Soldier and Poet in the Last Oregon Indian War"|
|1878||Sarah Jane Findley, "Diphtheria Has Taken Nearly All My Children: A Wallowa Mother's Lament--With a Scapegoat"|
|1881||Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, "Paiute Refugees from the Malheur Need a Bit of Land: Another Letter Never Answered by Washington D.C."|
|1883||Grace McCrary, "A Baker City Orphan Girl Endures the Worst--With Help from a Chinese, Sisters, Teachers, Neighbors, Friends"|
|1884||Julia Wilson, "I Ran for the Hills: A Girl Escapes the Mitchell Flash Flood in 1884"|
|1890||John Waldo, "Save the Cascade Mountain Reserve"|
|1890s||Kam Wah Chung letters, "The Invisible Men of Gold Mountain: Four Chinese Voices"|
|1904||Tong Yick Chuen Co.|
|1894||Henry Kreiser Miller, "Running a Tighter Ranch in Hard Times: A Boss's Letter to His Manager in Harney County"|
|1895||Charles C. Lewis, "The Mazamas Ascend Mt. Jefferson: A Polk County Adventure in Equality"|
|1899||Loye Miller, "A Naturalist on Bridge Creek Digs All Day, Then Dreams"|
|1900||Cornelia Bernard Knox Watson, "The Photographer Who Saw Lakeview Burn Makes Her New Year's Resolution"|
|1910||Anna Steinhoff, "Sage, Jackrabbits, Infant Death: The Last Settlers on a High Desert Homestead"|
|1912||Alice Day Pratt, "This Quiet and Harmonious State Is All in Turmoil: A Teacher's Diary"|
|1914||Essie McGuire, "Best Bronco and Best Rider: A Redmond Potato Show Story"|
|1918||Claudia Spink Lorenz, "Klamath Falls Celebrates the End of War--Early"|
|1921||John Robert Keyes, "A Boy in Bend--Fatherless and Thirteen--Needs to Write"|
|1921||William E. Lees, "Letter from Ontario to a Yankee Who Bought 40 Acres of Hades"|
|1922||L.H. Vincent, "Commonplace Things Are Important: A Doctor's Lost Diary from Sisters"|
|1922||Mary McKinley, "Rough and Rocky as Far as I Can See: A Diary from a Wasco County Ranch"|
|1930||Daniel Mote, "Detailed to the Point of Wearisomeness: A Joseph Eccentric's Diary"|
|1935||Ella Higginson, "The River Has Glimmered through My Whole Life: A Writer Remembers Her Grande Ronde Valley Childhood"|
|1935||Dave Stirewalt, "The News from Sourdough Ridge: A Spray Cowboy Writes His Friends"|
|1937||Felix Urizar, "The Closing of the Range: Angry Basque Sheepmen Leave the High Desert"|
|1940||Giles French, "Rambling Around inside My Head: A Moro Father's Letters to His Daughter"|
|1951||Earl Russell Bush, "The Naked Truth about the Mysterious Lady of the Woods"|
|1962||Brooks Hawley, "Doubting the Coming of Dam Civilization: Christmas Letters from a Baker County Ranch"|
|1970||John Scharff, "Just the Same as White People: African Americans East of the Cascades"|
|1974||Cindy Donnelly Fairchild, "Trying Hard Not to Become Extremely Religious: A Fire Lookout Diary from the Blue Mountains"|
|1975||Jane Bachman Tippett, "Packing in the Dudes: A Wallowa County Hunting Camp Letter"|
|1986||Jack Ward Thomas, "Whispers in the Night: Reflections of a Wildlife Biologist"|
The idea for the Oregon Literature Series, six anthologies of the best Oregon writing, was first proposed to the Oregon Council of Teachers of English (OCTE) in 1988. At that time, OCTE decided to depart from the conventional state literary anthology--a monolithic tome put together by a few academic volunteers and generally intended for libraries and adult readers. Instead, OCTE decided to create six shorter, genre-based anthologies: prose, poetry, autobiography, folk literature, letters and diaries, and short fiction. OCTE would publish a public "Call for Editors," and the most qualified individuals would be hired for their expertise and treated professionally-honoraria, expenses, research assistance, travel, etc. The anthologies would be intended as classroom/reference texts for students and teachers, and as introductory readers for the general public. Books would be designed to be easily held, carried, and read.
Numerous arguments were raised against this innovative proposal--most of them signaling Oregon's 150-year status as a literary colony. No one had ever done this before. Oregon's literature was non-existent. There wasn't much writing of merit. Most scholars and critics have ignored Oregon literature--even in the best histories of Western literature. There's no literary history of Oregon. It will take years to find this work. In Oregon, literature has the least financial support of all the major arts. We had no publisher. It might rain.
Nevertheless, in 1989, Ulrich Hardt and I were appointed by OCTE to complete the Oregon Literature Series. The work began when we signed a publication contract with Oregon State University Press, our first and most important professional collaborator. Next, from a pool of 139 applicants, OCTE chose these editors to discover Oregon's literary heritage: Shannon Applegate, Stephen Dow Beckham, Gordon B. Dodds, Primus St. John, Suzi Jones, Glen A. Love, Terence O Donnell, Jarold Ramsey, and Ingrid Wendt. Appointed in August 1990, those individuals began the search for Oregon writing that eventually spread beyond every corner of the state--from ranch houses to university archives, from oral storytellers in Longhouses to Chinese Miners' letters in museums, from Desdemona Sands to Burns. Some editors traveled thousands of miles. Others corresponded with hundreds of authors. Most read thousands of pages. Poets, historians, folklorists, critics, scholars, teachers, and editors--they all benefited from and shared their research expertise. Even though honoraria were small, editors gave generously of their time. While the editors looked for Oregon writing, Ulrich Hardt and I sought out and received endorsements from many major cultural and arts organizations. Financial support was like rain in the time of drought, but we attracted a few wise, faithful, and generous patrons, as the Acknowledgements record.
Once the editors had discovered this vast, unstudied, and unknown body of writings, they assembled their manuscripts by using the following guidelines--guidelines that required them to choose writing--in its broadest sense--that might reveal the Oregon experience to both students and the public:
- The volume must include a representative sample of the best Oregon writing from all periods, regions, occupations, genders, genres and sub-genres, ethnic, religious, political, and cultural backgrounds.
- Oregon birth should not be used as a single criterion for inclusion. Oregon residence is important, but no arbitrary length of stay is required for a writer to be included.
- Works about experience in Oregon are preferred, but editors are not limited to that criterion alone.
- "Oregon" will be defined by its changing historical boundaries--Native American tribal territories, Spanish, Russian, British, U.S. Territory, statehood.
- One or more translations and original from non-English languages should be included when appropriate to show that linguistic multiplicity has always been a part of Oregon.
- Controversial subjects such as sexism and racism should not be avoided. Multiple versions of events, people, and places should be included when available.
- Length of works must vary; limit the number of snippets when possible. Meet the need of diversity in reading, from complex to simple.
- New, unknown, or unpublished work should be included.
- Works will be edited for clarity but not necessarily for correctness. Editors may invent titles, delete text, and select text as appropriate and with appropriate notation.
Once assembled in draft, most of these manuscripts were two to three times longer than could be published by Oregon State University Press; therefore much fine writing had to be omitted, which all editors and our publisher regret. After being reduced to the requisite size, the manuscripts passed through two separate reviews: first, a different Advisor Board for each volume read and rated all selections; second, the Editorial Board composed of all fellow editors of the Oregon Literature Series read, responded, and eventually voted to adopt the manuscript for publication. At all stages, both ulrich Hardt and I worked closely with editors in may ways: readers, critics, fundraisers, administrators, arbitrators, secretaries, grant writers, researchers, coordinators, pollsters.
Now, we hope that these books will create for Oregon literature a legitimate place in oregon schools and communities, where the best texts that celebrate, invent, evaluate, and illuminate the Oregon condition have been invisible for too long. Here, for the first time, students will have books that actually include writing by Oregonians; and peoples in the state; librarians will be able to recommend the best reading to their patrons; the new reader and the general reader can find answers to the question that has haunted this project like a colonial ghost "Who are Oregon's writers, anyway?"
Let it be known that an Oregon literary canon is forming--rich, diverse, compelling. Here we give this sample of it to you. Let your love of reading and wiring endure.
George Venn, General Editor
Grand Rhonde Valley, Oregon, September 1992
In 1990, Terence O'Donnell and I faced a huge task: we had to find and evaluate the millions of Oregon letters and thousands of Oregon diaries written between 1830 and 1990. This would be no small or simple task. As a first step, we divided Oregon into two unequal geographic but equal demographic areas: I would investigate the large archive of the Special Collections at the University of Oregon, and I would also search in smaller archives, museums, ranches, homes, and libraries in remote, rural Oregon. So, with a small copy machine, a hundred feet of extension cord, and a miniature office in my Dodge van, I visited the southeastern corner, the green craggy northeast, the vast basin and range, the luminous lake country, the tilting high desert plateaus. In two years I logged about 8,000 Oregon miles. While I was on the road, Terence O'Donnell would research the northwest quadrant with half of Oregon's present population and more than half of the population in the nineteenth century--Willamette Valley, Columbia River corridor, north coast. He also searched in the Oregon Historical Society archives and publications--a major source.
What did we find? My research uncovered a surprising number of letters and diaries among remote ranches, homes, and small institutions. In fact, about half of the thirty-three diaries published herein have seen only limited, local audiences, or have been read only by the families or individuals who preserved them in shoe boxes or paper-lined drawers. Also, letters and diaries found by both of us in this collection came--as they should--from published works by William Clark (1814), Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins (1883), Alice Day Pratt (1922), Judge Matthew Deady (1975), William Sullivan (1985), and others. Finally, we both found immense quantities of material in the two institutions named earlier, whose archives contain thousands of letters and diaries, and in the county historical societies and museums. In all, there was just too much to publish. However, the full scope of our research is presented in the bibliography.
Once we discovered and selected these texts, Terence O'Donnell and I agreed to publish excerpts from newly discovered texts without correcting or editing. We made this decision because it is good scholarship, and because diarists have the right to their own language. We retained the idiomatic homebrew of spellings such as "nocked out his brains" and "valueable artickles" in the journal of Elizabeth Dixon Smith (1847). When Robert Haswell (1788) writes, "I had given posative orders to our people not to fier…" we did not correct him. To be consistent, we have deleted most of the bracketed material and notes in published works by previous editors who may have felt the need to clean up the texts. We wanted to preserve what Henry Thoreau spoke of as "presentness" or "greenness," which gives character and interest to diaries and letters.
In spite of this commitment to authenticity, we still made a few changes in these texts: we added white space to clarify sentence boundaries; we standardized the dating and format in diaries and letters; we gave the first year of a diary entry, then left the year out until a new year; in letters, we used the basic form of the original, but rearranged or deleted parts of them, e.g., we simply couldn't publish an entire 26-page letter about the first known ascent of Mt. Jefferson by whites. Consistent with the rest of the Oregon Literature Series, we generally have not indicated our omissions with ellipsis points. In diaries, we excerpted enough to show the diarist's style and situation, but readers are always encouraged to consult the original as listed in our bibliography.
Our next step was finding a way to structure our voluminous materials. Again, we agreed to divide Oregon--this time into its most well-known geographical regions: Eastside and Westside. We then arranged the materials for each subregion chronologically, usually by date of composition. By using this design, we intend to highlight regional differences and similarities. For instance, Preston Gillette's 1860 journal from Astoria shows that he visited and traded with a friendly Chinook hunter, while Julia Gilliss's 1866 letters from Fort Dalles record the slaughter of Native Americans in southeast Oregon. To frame the selections, we gave each a title.
With these responsibilities divided, Terence O'Donnell and I made a last division: even though we both found, worked on, shared, and present both kinds of texts in this collection, I would write a brief introductory essay for diaries (Part II), and he would write the same for Oregon letters (Part III).--S.A.
II. Introducing Oregon Diaries: A Dialogue
Over the years, critics have not been kind when evaluating the efforts of Oregon diarists. In 1948, for instance, scholar H.B. Nelson wrote: "There is no more reason for regarding the diaries (and) journals of the early settlers as literature than there is to regard a windmill a steam engine" (Nelson 82). Thus, I may reasonably start by raising a frequently asked question:
"Are Oregon diaries literature with a capital "L"?
No, not in any narrow canonical sense. However, these thirty-three examples are rich in literature's most essential trace elements: careful observation, idiosyncratic voice, revelation of interior life, a quest for emotional insight and integrity, a mix of image and statement, original language, dramatic immediacy, a sense of place, character, voice, risk, adventure, and story. Diaries can have the dramatic suspense of mystery novels in which resolutions are only gradually revealed. In this collection, the poignant 1972-73 diary of thirteen-year-old cancer victim, Nora Longoria, a Mexican-American schoolgirl from Nyssa, Oregon, leads the reader to an implied tragic ending. Reading Judge Deady's 1871 diary immediately draws the reader into his amazing Portland social life. From Shaniko, consider Mary McKinley's description of her hard-luck life "in a five-cent house out of a nine o'clock town." Places, people, and events come alive in such writing--rural and urban, dry and wet, east or west of the Cascade Range.
"Do people who write diaries intend them as literature--is that their purpose?"
No, not intentionally--with some exceptions. The reasons and circumstances for keeping diaries are extremely complex and varied. Some are traditional: to prevent forgetting during daily routines, to develop writing skills, to do personal accounting, to gain self-knowledge anywhere, to relive the past, to find the release of solitary confession. In this volume, Emily Trevett (1894) identifies some of these better-known purposes:
As a child I was trained to [keep a diary] & I dare say it did me both good and harm, good in teaching me to express myself easily in writing, harm in as much as it led me to pay too much attention to my own ideas and feelings. During the last eight years, since leaving school, there has been a great deal of nonsense written in my so called journals & much of it deserves a very hot fire, but in beginning again it is with the determination of doing an entirely different kind of writing. Reading George Eliot's life has given me the idea of it. She notes down the most interesting events of her life regularly, with simplicity & sincerity. Sometimes she expresses her feelings without sentimentality or exaggeration. It is evidently written neither for posterity nor for her friends but for herself. I rite so much to my friends never to return to me that it will be good to keep some record for my own future pleasure.
Others purposes include "self-improvement," a tradition made popular by the published works of Benjamin Franklin, and found here in the diary of Lane County inventor and gadfly, Henry Cummins (1858). Diarists such as Haswell (1788), Clark (1805), Douglas (1826), Glover (1875), and Sullivan (1985) participate in the Hakluyt Society tradition--recording their journeys of exploration and discovery for civilization. Writing as she crosses the plains to Oregon, Elizabeth Wood represents the nineteenth-century emigrant tradition in this collection, a diary type later gathered and studied in the monumental Covered Wagon Women: Dairies and Letters from the Western Trails: 1840-1890 (1983) by Kenneth Holmes and in Lilliam Schlissel's Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey (1982). Haralambos Kambouris (1914), a Greek emigrant railroad worker and poet, represents the emigrant diary tradition continuing in the twentieth century. For Oregon poets and prose writers, the diary has served as a place to gather rough materials for later autobiographical books: Whiteley's The Story of Opal (1920), Pratt's A Homesteader's Portfolio (1922), and Sullivan's Listening for Coyote (1988) all began as diaries under isolated and remote circumstances. Diaries also serve their writers as places to order, understand, and survive major change: the challenge of adolescence, as in the diaries here of teenagers Grace McCrary (1899) and Robert Keyes (1922); the challenge of some new role, as in Linus Pauling's preparations for college (1917) or in the diary of fire lookout Cindy Donnelly Fairchild (1973). Diaries may also begin and end because of a particular life crisis or emotion--oneliness, marriage, war, death. Sr. Miriam Murphy (1981), a painter and Marylhurst nun frustrated by a feeling of waning creativity, began her Intensive Journal when she was in her seventies. When chaos needs the order which language can give to experience, diaries get written.
"What kinds of people keep diaries?"
There are no easy stereotypes here. Many diarists are amateur writers, many are not. As novelist and critic William Maxwell has pointed out, diaries "do not spring from prestidigitation or require a long apprenticeship" (viii). Gender and age are not barriers to such writing: girls, boys, women, men, young, and old--all appear here in this most democratic of genres. Judged by this collection, class, education, and economic status don't seem to stop anyone from keeping diaries. These selections are by authors ranging from the wealthy and well-educated federal judge, to the middle-class grade-school teacher with average education, to the poor and semi-literate ship's clerk. Ethnicity--when joined by literacy--seems to be no barrier: railroad worker and poet Haralambos Kambouris kept a lyric-laced diary in demotic Greek about his southern Oregon experiences.
"If diaries are so widely used by so many different kinds of people, why don't we study them more often for their factual information?"
A diarist's account may not be factually reliable--for a variety of reasons. The diarist may not be able to recognize the breadth or depth of his or her motives. Lord Byron, the English poet, wrote in his own diary, "I fear one lies more to one's self than to anyone else." If Byron is right about our tendency to self-deception, any private version of reality may be skewed, and any diarist may alter the facts to fit the diarist's view of events. Also, any diary--published or unpublished--may be factually inaccurate. For instance, the diaries here of youthful Florence Hofer (1910) and traveler/ writer Thomas Farnham (1839) were significantly added to after the experience was over. The language has been changed. Should they still qualify as "true" reports? How can we tell without the original? Elizabeth Dixon Smith reported in 1847 that Elizabeth Markham said she "brained" her son with a rock while they traveled on the Oregon Trail, but the Oregon census shows that Markham's son, Edwin Markham, arrived in the Willamette Valley in good health and became a poet there. Elizabeth Markham's hyperbole or irony in her diary may be impossible for a reader to detect.
"For what audience does the diarist write?"
This is more ambiguous and complex than it might first appear. As suggested earlier by Emily Trevett, her diary modeled on George Eliot was to be "neither for posterity nor for her friends but for herself." Should readers believe a diarist when she makes such a declaration about audience? One scholar says clearly that we should not. Since the late 1970s, American diary literature scholar Steven E. Kagle has read thousands of texts while collecting representative diaries for his comprehensive three-volume survey listed in the bibliography. By the time Kagle wrote his second volume (1986), he came to believe that "almost all, if not all, diarists envision an audience for their entries...even those who profess horror at the idea that anyone else might see their 'private confessions'." He qualifies this opinion by noting that the diarist's audience may be an idealized self, a future self, or a partial self, but it "is not the diarist, at least as he or she exists at the precise moment the entry is being written" (Kagle, Early Nineteenth 5). Who is that "listener within" for whom the diarist writes? Who is the audience being invented? Who shouldn't be listening? Such questions have no simple answers.
"Are there some other formal ways to read, study, and understand the diary as literature?"
Given an awareness of the basic rhetorical context, I would say "Yes, there are many, but consider at least one." Kagle's three-volume survey seems to describe four general types of American diaries: the earliest type is a spiritual journal in which "authors… sought to find evidence of their place in the divine scheme either directly through religious experience or indirectly through finding a pattern in the world God had created," and which served as confessional, confidant, and weapon against despair (Kagle, Early Nineteenth 104). Practiced intensely by the seventeenth-century Puritans, by later Protestant sects, and by missionaries, this type of American diary is represented here by Sister Miriam Murphy (1904-83) who noted in 1977 that she was attracted to keeping a journal because "the 'process'… reinforces the faith dimension of my life. I believe in the indwelling spirit… [and because keeping a journal would] "help my spiritual life of prayer and a sense of God's presence in my life." For further examples, readers might also review the diaries of early Oregon missionaries.
Kagle's most common type, a diary of situation, is "created to record a special activity or to perform a limited role. Once that situation is ended they usually stopped" ( Am. Diary Lit. 142). Here, we present most of the rich sub-genres Kagle identifies: diaries of travel (Smith , Wood , Glover , Sullivan , and Thomas ); exploration (Haswell , Clark , Douglas , and Miller ); settlement (Humphrey , Pratt , Steinhoff , and McKinley ); and war (Bensell , C. E. S. Wood ). While Kagle's study also includes diaries of romance and courtship, we do not include them here. However, I have added two important sub-categories to diary of situation omitted by Kagle: diaries of work (Watson , Marshall , Vincent , and Fairchild ); and diaries of childhood/adolescence--(McCrary , Keyes , Hofer , Pauling , and Longoria ).
The longest, most complex type Kagle identifies is a life diary in which "the habit of diary-keeping itself is the motive; and therefore, extensive diary production continues even when a diarist's activities change" (Kagle, Late Nineteenth 99). The voluminous life diary is represented here by various writers--Cummins (1858), Deady (1871), Trevett (1894), Trimberger (1916), Casteel (1931), and Daniel Mote (1930). A self-educated eccentric, Mote describes his frustrations with quack cures, his love of Tolstoy, the collapse of the international stock market, and the bank closures in his own community. Despite the wide range of topics in diaries such as Mote's, the real subject matter is always the needs of the diarist's self at different stages. Life diaries, like all diaries, reveal the development and concerns of an individual who records personal experiences at regular intervals over a significant period.
Kagle's last type of diary, literary notebooks, is the most likely among all diaries to be published and considered as "literature." They are "used to improve [the author's] writing and as a sourcebook that might be mined for materials to be used in their public writing" (Kagle, Early Nineteenth 104). These are represented here by Pratt (1911), Whiteley (1920), and to some extent by Sullivan (1985), who probably used his field notebooks as the base material for Listening for Coyote. While Kambouris might also be included here, there is no evidence that he ever published his poems written while traveling in Oregon. This may also be the largest under-represented body of writing in our collection, since there are undoubtedly hundreds if not thousands of writers' journals in Oregon.
"Based on your travel, research, and reflection, do Oregon diaries create any dominant impressions?"
Over and over, I'm left with the profound impression of the exact moment, of the diarist, and of his or her need for company--for someone to talk to. Talking to the page seems to resolve loneliness into solitude. Also, while I found several previously unknown Oregon Trail diaries still in the hands of families, the overland diary is more a subset of Oregon's extensive diary literature than a quintessential or dominant diary type. Some Oregon diarists feel compelled to include objects tucked between the pages: locks of hair, pressed roses, plant samples, playing cards, religious medals, etc. Other diarists add drawings: Mary McKinley (1922) drew stick figures in the margins of her diaries; Charles Marshall (1907) drew detailed diagrams of ore chutes and pipelines at the R. and S. Mine in his diary; Dr. L. H. Vincent (1922), a physician serving the isolated mountain community of Sisters, made his lengthy typed diary a scrapbook of photographs, invitations, letters, and colored pencil drawings of his immediate surroundings. One such drawing, reproduced in this volume, shows his little stove, a rocking chair, a book, an ink well and a man's pipe resting on a small table near a partially curtained window. The caption reads, "I sit here and read and smoke and prospect through my fenestrium." In some Oregon diaries, the words seem to generate the need for an even more graphic image--as though the writer felt the language too limited or limiting to render the moment.
"Why are we as readers so attracted to diaries? Is it merely that we relish eavesdropping upon those who are talking on paper; who are only half-certain that someone, someday, maybe be listening?"
No one disputes that we delight in the diary's apparent authenticity, integrity, and content--both literary and historical. As Dr. L. H. Vincent says, "I intend to record… such matters as will give a natural touch to the scene and enable one to vision these times. A picture is not true nor interesting that paints only the sublime." Like Dr. Vincent, Maxwell also reminds us that the enduring virtue of diaries lies in the fact that "they tell what happened--what people said and did and wore and ate and hoped for and were afraid of… in detail after unimaginable detail."
These are rewards enough for any eavesdropper! But Maxwell adds something which goes more deeply to the heart of the matter: diaries "refresh our (own) idea of existence." For the diarist as well as the reader, they "hold oblivion at arm's length."
III. Introducing Oregon Letters
Most letters are very boring," writes Felix Pryor in his introduction to The Faber Book of Letters. He's right and he isn't--to use an Irishism.
Having read hundreds and hundreds of these communications written in Oregon between 1830 and 1980, Shannon Applegate and I might indeed agree with Pryor's charge that letters in general can be a bore. On the other hand, those who received the personal letters in this collection prove that Pryor is wrong. "The only pleasure I find in this wooden country is your letters," writes the photographer George Hazeltine to his new bride. He was alone in Canyon City in 1863. "I could never get along without letter papers and magazines coming pretty frequently. I always consider them my best friends," writes Cynthia Horning in 1876 to her friend in Lake County. What is more pleasing to the ego, the heart, than those pages just for us? What better gift.
The repartee of conversation, good conversation, is delicious, but limited: "I wish I'd said…" or "I was too shy to tell… ." But in a personal letter, we have the distance shyness needs, the space that telling the whole truth may require. In this collection, for instance, Rufus Matthews, a professional gambler, may have never had the courage to tell his mother--face to face--that he was cheating everyone in town, but he tells her here in a letter. Polly McArthur may have left out something important from her childhood memory of Portland's Chinatown if she had just told her story after dinner one night. Hood River settler Shizue Iwatsuki wrote, "I wanted to tell my sadness to my mother, so I wrote letters… ." Later, she decided that even her letters were too truthful for her mother, so she burned them in her stove.
Time to discover our thoughts, to organize, to reflect and revise--these are added benefits of writing personal letters. In this collection, there are several types of personal letters that show why people need such time: when Oregonians are caught up with action--building summer camps (Nunn), walking on thousands of frogs (Sutton), fighting barbarian thieves (Kam Wah Chung), climbing Mt. Jefferson (Lewis), watching a bronc riding contest (McGuire), riding into a deer hunting camp (Tippett)--they may be too busy with living to write. However, the day or week after the demands, the excitement, the danger, the difficulty, the challenge of action are over, people frequently sit down and write a record to share with others and to keep for themselves. They want to reflect, remember, relive, reconsider--in letters.
Other types of personal letters included here that require time to pass and/or very careful language include love letters (Hazeltine), letters to old friends about childhood (Colvig and Higginson), thank you or bread-and-butter letters (McNary), letters by travelers to those at home (Gilliss, Robbins, Reber, Lewis), and most frequent of all in this collection, letters to family and friends about major life events--birth, growth, change, moves, loss, death. (They are too numerous to list.)
Letters also become engaging because of their traditional form and its variable conventions. "Honored Madam" was a favored nineteenth-century form as was "Reverend Sir." In this collection, "Dear Beloved Anna," "My Dear," "Little One," "Dear Folks," "My Dear Brother and Sister"--these show the range of personal salutations here. And for arewells, General Joel Palmer is most traditional with "I am, Sir, your obedient servant"; Abigail Scott Duniway most political with "Affectionately yours for Progress"; Pinto Colvig most informal with "Howdy"; Kenneth Reber most direct with "Love." A cultural variation on these English complimentary closings can be found in the Chinese Kam Wah Chung letters which traditionally and with "I bow to you" and "I wish you wealth."
Of course, not all Oregon letters are personal intimate correspondence between two people who know each other. There is also another general type of communication included here we might reasonably call public letters with many subdivisions: letters to an editor (Burnett, O.C. Applegate, Sutton), letters to government authorities (Chinook, Hull, Waldo, Tittinger, Bush), letters to researchers (Iwatsuki, Duniway, Scharff), prolocutor letters written on behalf of a group (Winnemucca, Urizar, Stone), letters as legal documents (Judson), and business letters (H. Miller, Lees, and Kam Wah Chung). The broad scope of this collection includes a sample of such public discourse written--in many cases--to a larger and frequently unknown or impersonal audience. These public letters intend to solve problems, to make something happen, to document facts, to make transactions, to influence public life, politics, legislation. Unlike personal letters, such public letters may or may not be welcomed by the person who receives them, and they may or may not be intended for publication or some kind of permanent record, and they may demand a reply. Most often, they begin with the conventional "Sir" or "Madam," maintain apparently formal address throughout, and end as formally as they began with "Sincerely."
In early nineteenth-century Oregon, both personal and public letters--as well as the wide range of letters between them--had no easy, fast, frequent, or dependable means of transportation. Letters of credit, letters of introduction, and personal letters were all carried by hand, horse, or ship, and were frequently entrusted to a friend or acquaintance heading in the same general direction as the addressee. In one of his letters to the New York Herald in 1844, Peter Burnett states that his letter will be sent by Hudson's Bay Company ship, the Columbia, which was leaving Fort Vancouver in a few days. Sailing first to Hawaii, or the Sandwich Islands as they were called in those days, his letter could take months to arrive in New York. Tallmadge Word states that all the letters he sent overland in 1845 were lost. Eugene Skinner tells his sister he has received no letters for twelve years after he came to Oregon.
However, no colony can become an authentic place if people there cannot communicate--personally or publicly--with the rest of the world and among themselves. Thus, in 1846, the Provisional Government created a postal department with service of sorts to Oregon City, Fort Vancouver, and a few locales in the lower Willamette Valley. In the words of one commentator, the service soon "languished" and it was not until Oregon achieved territorial status that two federally appointed postmasters were installed at Astoria and Oregon City. Regular mail service by ship was established between California and the Columbia River in 1850, and in that same year, Eugene Skinner reports he became postmaster in Eugene City. Eventually, over forty post offices were established in the Oregon Territory. In The Dalles of 1866, Julia Gilliss told her parents that she heard every steamer that brought the mailbag up the Columbia about 8:00 p.m. She further reports that the arrival of the mail was a major evening social event in their home. However, through the 1860s and later, remote regions east of the Cascades and away from the Columbia River still may have had only weekly or monthly mail service. From Ochoco in 1873, Kate Robbins wrote that "Tomorrow is mail day and I hope to get letters… ." Rachel Colver noted in 1864 that family members did not know where to send letters to Idaho, so all she could do was send them--with hope--to the closest city.
Then, as now, no place becomes a town until it has a post office, for a post office is the imprimatur, as it were, of a community. The absence of a nearby post office was a decided hardship in early Oregon--as two personal letters included in this collection show. "I should consider that the worst feature of frontier life," wrote Cynthia Horning in an 1876 letter. In 1873, Jesse Applegate measured his remoteness in rural Klamath County by stating that a letter "was brought to me at my sheep ranch, more than fifty miles from any post office."
In addition to symbolizing a new community's identity, the post office also provided a social service, for it was there, day after day, year after year, that people going for their mail encountered one another. This continued until the turn of the nineteenth century and the introduction of rural free delivery. The rural mail box with its red flag was no doubt looked upon as a great convenience, but may have further isolated the Oregon farm families included in this collection--the Hawleys, the Stirewalts, the Donaldsons, the Steinhoffs, the Tippetts, the Robbins, the McGuires. With roadside mailboxes and star routes, there was no longer any need for all families in a rural community to call at the post office in town. In short, rural free delivery was a strike against what we now call "community."
But there was worse to come for letters--especially personal letters. Until the turn of the nineteenth century, there were only three common ways for people to communicate: face-to-face meetings, letters, and telegrams. Then came the telephone. It tended to decrease the isolation of rural life--and Oregon was predominantly rural well into the present century--while it also further increased rural isolation by decreasing the need for face-to-face communication. The telephone seemed to take over more and more from the personal letter as means of communication. The mailbox, meanwhile, became polluted with an endless stream of public junk sometimes called advertising.
In several important respects, however, the telephone never can and never will be able to replace either type of written communication--and all the variants between them. For one thing, a personal letter still signifies a special effort taken for just the addressee. Also, both personal and public letters--unlike telephone calls--can be kept. The permanency of letters: that is one of their great virtues. Without them, what would we know of the adventures of overlanders such as Peter Burnett?--whose public letters were published in newspapers in both New York and Iowa. What would we know of the intimate revelations of a cheating gambler named R.B. Matthews?--whose private letters to his mother appear here for the first time. What would we know of the community's conscience without prolocutor letters by Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, Rev. Stone, and Felix Urizar, and an anonymous soldier?--who all spoke for an invisible group of people who had not received justice from their community. What would we know of a lonely bachelor's life in the Klamath wilderness, a distraught mother's life in Tillamook after her son died, the daily nightmare of the Vietnam War, a judge's plea to save the Oregon Cascades? Yes, letters both personal and public can be read again and again. They are tangible, concrete, lasting records of adventure, affection, sympathy, tragedy, and love.
Also, letters--from personal to public--afford us a special knowledge of the everyday past, for they are commonly filled with the concrete details of daily life--details which biography and history may generalize away or disregard in favor of safer, more abstract, more self-adulatory, less controversial themes. For example, the letters here of Julia Gilliss, a young army wife in the Oregon of the 1860s, give us lively descriptions of rooms and gardens, pots and pans, carts and clothes, and she also becomes an authentic witness to the widely unknown slaughter of Native Americans in southeastern Oregon. Both Pinto Colvig, famous as Bozo the Clown, and Ella Higginson, famous for her poems and stories, have given us here intimate insights into their childhoods in Jacksonville and La Grande, and so created intimate portraits of unknown Oregon small towns seventy years ago. Henry Miller, the richest man in the cattle industry, reveals the hidden policies he used to manage his ranches in Harney and Malheur counties when depression hit the country in the 1880s. The letters of Chinese gold miners--published here for the first time--show us the dangerous life of the Oregon gold frontier.
So, though the telephone is handy, it is ephemeral, its messages written on water. Garrison Keillor, in an essay on letter writing, has put it well: "You can't pick up the phone and call the future and tell them all about our times. You have to pick up a piece of paper."
One last virtue of the letter, and another reason it will never disappear may be worth noting here: the letter is the most adaptable and popular literary device in English. Columnists such as Ann Landers use letter format every day. St. Paul wrote his New Testament theological treatises as letters. Novels, essays (like this one), and poems can be written as a series of letters. In this collection, we see that same adaptablity of letters as they become many different things: a series of letters can be edited into a diary (French, Ad. Wilson); a letter can become family or local history (Skinner, Findley, Colver, Colvig, Higginson, Iwatsuki); a letter can become a promotional tract (West, Burnett); a letter can become an annual report (Hawley); an exchange of letters can become a debate (Applegate cousins); a letter can become an autobiography (Duniway and Iwatsuki); a letter can become an expose (Brenne, Kam Wah Chung); a letter can become a magazine article (Lorenz); a letter can become a court deposition (Judson, O.C. Applegate); a letter can become an advisory (Horning, Burnett, J. Applegate); and finally, a letter can become free self-analysis (Haycox); and, finally, every penitent's confessional (Matthews).
Because Shannon Applegate and I were limited by time, budgets, and pages, we did not entirely succeed in our endeavor to find all of Oregon's letters and diaries in every nook and cranny of the state. However, we have an impressive scope--from personal to public--in the following pages. We hope you enjoy this first anthology of Oregon letters and diaries.