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East by Northeast 9/20/20

A little over a year ago I started writing little stories on this blog ostensibly centered around a weekly trip to a high school football game. Little did I know at the time that I was capturing snapshots of the final season B.V. (Before the Virus). Now, just a year later, instead of listening to pep bands as we watch high school sports, we’ve been listening to evacuation updates while watching ash fall from the sky. Instead of Bulldogs and Spartans tackling each other on a field, we’ve got “patriots” and “protesters” shooting each other dead in the streets. Instead of grabbing a jacket to stave off the evening chill, we’re grabbing a mask to stave off the grim reaper. When there’s looting in the Santiam Canyon you know the world has gone totally bonkers. Sure, the virus has stolen my McGuffin this season, maybe forever, but as I walk through this wicked world searching for light in the darkness of insanity (thank you Nick Lowe), I ask myself “who needs a football game to see some cool stuff, meet some interesting people, and be reminded that others have gotten through worse crap than this?” At least that was our attitude as Willie Nelson sang us out of the driveway and Mrs. Ednold and I got back on the road again for a little more Oregon history. Is there only pain and hatred, and misery? Where are the strong? And who are the trusted? And where is the harmony? 46 years after Nick first posed those questions I’m hoping the answers lie in Wallowa County. Buckle up.

Through the smoke and the haze we made our way to I-84 and headed for the far northeast corner of the state. But before leaving Umatilla County we hung a left at Pendleton and left the interstate to visit Athena in the rolling farmland northeast of town. We found her sitting right there beside the road where we thought she’d be. Athena is a small town of about 1,000 people named after a Greek goddess. If you get your goddesses mixed up, you may remember Athena as the one who was born by bursting out of her father Zeus’ head, and she was already adult-size when she was born. I bet the women learned pretty quickly not to complain to Zeus about the pain of childbirth: “You had it bad? YOU had it bad? Talk to the hand, beehive. She blasted out of my skull in full body armor!” Lucky Zeus. It would almost be worth having my head split open to have a comeback like that.

The reason for this little side-trip was to see the new addition to Athena’s municipal landscape. Just this summer the town unveiled a sign designating it part of the Oregon Film Trail. The Trail identifies locations throughout the state that have been significant in the movie business for one reason or another, and in the summer of 1928 footage was shot in and around town that would make Athena worthy of a plaque 92 years later. Actress Mary Duncan and the crew came to the town and the surrounding countryside to film the silent movie “City Girl”. I’ve never heard of the movie or the actress, but if people who know these things think the town is worthy of a sign then it was worthy of us getting off the freeway to see it. And we were glad we did. The sign is located next to the Gem Theater, which has a beautiful mural on it’s exterior wall. There isn’t much else to see, but Athena’s a nice little farm town that deserves a reason for people to drive through and take a look.

We saw the sign, bade Athena our adieus, and showed ourselves out by the side door, otherwise known as highway 204. Highway 204 could be considered a shortcut to the Wallowa Lake Highway if, by shortcut, you mean longer and twistier and narrower, but it was nice to be on a two-lane backroad making our way towards Elgin. *Spoiler Alert* Don’t get all excited driving to the Blue Mountains thinking they’ll actually be blue. They should be called the Various Shades of Brown and Green, Just Like Other Mountains Mountains. While we were there even the Smoky Mountains would have been accurate, but they weren’t blue. How have they gotten away for so long with such blatant false advertising? Now I wonder what color the Green Mountains in Vermont really are. But the mountains are still beautiful and are home to one of the largest concentrations of log cabins anywhere. I don’t know if they are mandatory but everyone seems to live in one. And Langdon Lake just off the highway is stunning, and a place Mrs. Ednold and I agreed we would like to get back to one day. Past Elgin we followed the Minam and Wallowa Rivers as they threaded their way through the Wallowa Mountains, and, when the mountains suddenly opened up, found ourselves looking out on the Wallowa Valley sprawled out before us.

While looking into the history of Valsetz earlier this summer I ran across some information regarding the town of Maxville, another railroad logging operation in Oregon. The two towns had come into existence almost simultaneously and both were company towns in remote areas owned by people on the other side of the country. Located 13 miles northeast of the town of Wallowa and beginning operations in 1923, Maxville was the largest town in Wallowa County at the time and the influx of timber workers and their families was a major economic boon for the whole county. The biggest difference between Maxville and Valsetz was that Maxville was home to several African American loggers, recruited and transported cross-country for their skills and experience in the industry. About 50 of the town’s 400 or so residents were African American, which is remarkable when you consider that the Oregon constitution didn’t even allow blacks to live in the state at that time!

The Bowman-Hicks Lumber Company was based in Missouri and they brought their southern ways with them to Oregon. The African American residents were segregated to their own part of town, and the only segregated schools in Oregon were in Maxville. There were two baseball teams, though they combined when taking on teams from other towns. It was a little slice of the Old South right here in Oregon.

But everyone in town was there for the same purpose and they all recognized that success depended on their ability to cooperate. Things weren’t perfect, and the African Americans received constant reminders that they weren’t considered equals. But as long as they didn’t step out of line they had a good, secure income working alongside people who appreciated their professional skills, if not their looks. If the white residents in the surrounding country didn’t celebrate the presence of the black residents, they at least tolerated it because many made good money supplying goods and services to the loggers. And even though there was a Klan presence in the region at that time, they eventually understood that their own financial security depended on the presence of these people they supposedly wanted to harm. The one and only time the Klan made an appearance in Maxville, the logging supervisor snatched off their hoods and told them to get lost.

The economic conditions brought about by the Great Depression caused a significant downturn in the lumber market, and while Valsetz was able to scrape by until times changed, Bowman-Hicks closed Maxville in 1933 and the African American families dispersed, though many stayed in Oregon. Several of the families moved to Wallowa or La Grande and some went to Portland to work in the shipyards.

We didn’t make the trip to the Maxville site up in the hills above Wallowa, mainly because there isn’t much there to see these days. Until recently there was only one structure left - the large log-cabin style office building which served as the Bowman-Hicks Maxville headquarters. Now even that building is gone, but the pieces are in storage waiting to be reassembled someday.

The person who will be overseeing that reconstruction is Gwen Trice, the Executive Director of the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center. You may have seen her in one of OPB’s documentaries, The Logger’s Daughter, which is where I first saw her. If you haven’t seen it yet, you will want to. There are probably some people somewhere in the world who could watch that show and not want to meet Ms. Trice, but I don’t think any of those people read this blog. So I called her up and told her Mrs. Ednold and I would be in town for a few days. Could we possibly get into her Interpretive Center even though it’s not really open now due to the virus? So we spent an amazing few hours in the “closed” Center in downtown Joseph, getting a personal tour of the exhibits and listening to Gwen tell of her experiences growing up in La Grande and how the Maxville story has altered the entire trajectory of her own life in a positive way. I can’t put anything in writing that does justice to hearing the same information as it was told to us. Ironically, we even witnessed our first Trump truck rally while we were there. We watched from inside as a mini-parade of Trump supporters complete with honking horns and rebel flags rolled down main street. I felt a little sick standing next to the woman who has dedicated her life to promoting everything those people are against. But Gwen seemed less discouraged than just disappointed to be reminded how important it is that she continue her work.

Executive Director Gwen Trice

I don’t know how many hats the Interpretive Center has, but Ms. Trice wears all of them and I can’t even remember all of the educational, archeological, historical, and social projects she is working on to preserve the history and help everyone benefit from the lessons of cooperation and mutual respect that Maxville represents. Though she has lots of allies in the area, many of whom remember her father as a community leader in his own right, Gwen is conspicuous in this part of the state and is making the uphill climb largely on her own. The fact that I, or any of us, have ever even heard of Maxville is due to her, which in itself is pretty amazing. Joseph is a little out of the way but it’s a beautiful town and if you’ve been looking for an excuse to go there, now you have one. Tell her Ednold sent you.

We didn’t get to see Maxville in person but we did see lots of pictures, and though the Maxville area could be considered scenic in its own way, it’s definitely not the most attractive spot in Wallowa County. So I’m a little dubious about the fact that Eden is only about 10 miles north of Maxville, and Paradise is another 10 miles from Eden. East of Eden, in fact. Mormon founder Joseph Smith believed the Garden of Eden was in Kansas City. I’m not even joking about that - it’s a fact. Ever been to Kansas City? I’m pretty sure he was mistaken, and I’m thinking maybe those old-timers didn’t really understand that whole concept very well.

What Wallowa County lacks in terms of population it makes up for with its history, so there was another story I wanted to explore while we were there: Chief Joseph’s band of Nez Perce Indians and how they came to NOT reside in the area.

Oliver Otis Howard fancied himself a forward-thinking man. He was a hardcore christian who had served as a Union officer during the Civil War before running the Freedmen’s Bureau during Reconstruction. He was sincere in wanting to do the right thing for the newly-freed former slaves, and was instrumental in starting up Howard University in D.C., which is named for him. But the combination of his own shortcomings and the fact that he never had more than token support from his Presidents led the entire enterprise to end up something less than a resounding success. By 1875 he had basically been run out of town and sent into exile as the General stationed in Portland, responsible for Oregon Territory.

The story of the Nez Perce is long and complex so I won’t go into details, but by the time Howard arrived in the Northwest, Chief Joseph had already spent a few years bending the ear of any government official he could find, trying to convince anyone who would listen that the Wallowa Valley should be kept free from the immigrants who were settling the lands around it. The Nez Perce had always considered the valley their home and used it as a grazing land for their massive herds of horses during the summer. The problem, from the settlers’ point of view, was that the Indians weren’t there year-round and some of the best farmland in the country was being wasted on people who weren’t taking full advantage of it.

Eventually Oliver Howard got tired of talking and in 1877 ordered Chief Joseph and his people onto the reservation in Idaho, or else. While it looked for a while that Chief Joseph would relent and give up on the promise he made to his father to never relinquish the Wallowa Valley, last-minute hostilities between Indians and whites started a war that lasted for five months and covered almost 2000 miles.

It’s easy to forget when you look at old photographs of the old chiefs, but when all of this was happening Joseph was only in his mid-30s. He has gone down in history as a great warrior, but the fact is that he was a master negotiator who, once the fighting started, deferred to others in his band to lead the fight and/or flight. By the fall of 1877, having fled and periodically fought as they crossed Idaho and the new Yellowstone National Park, the Nez Perce were in northern Montana, close to the Canadian border when Chief Joseph finally decided enough was enough. Having been chased the whole way by General Howard and his army, the Nez Perce were tired and hungry and ready to surrender. Chief Joseph was able to negotiate a return to the Wallowa Valley for his remaining people, but the promise was never honored and most of the survivors eventually ended up exiled to Indian Territory in Oklahoma where the heat and unhealthy conditions eventually killed most of them.

Thanks to his eloquence and integrity, Chief Joseph had friends in high places from before the war and won over many more by his demeanor afterward. Unfortunately, these “friends” were willing to listen and say they would help, but were never willing or able to change the tide of federal policy and allow his band to resettle in the Wallowa Valley. Chief Joseph lived out his final years on the Colville Reservation in Washington State, dying in 1904 at the age of 64. By the time Chief Joseph made his last trip to the Wallowa Valley in 1900, much of the valley had been settled and Wallowa Lake was already a popular summer resort.

That Chief Joseph and his followers lived out their lives on reservations was probably inevitable. The Nez Perce custom of moving with the seasons was incompatible with the white man’s concept of private property and the U.S. government would eventually overwhelm all resistance to white settlement. Joseph was as doomed to his fate as all the other Indians. But the thing that set him apart was that he never gave up trying to regain the Wallowa country for his people, sticking to the high road no matter the intensity of the threats and insults thrown his way. To the very end he was using his considerable contacts in high places to find someone willing to listen and make good on all of the promises that had been broken. It may have been a quixotic pursuit, but in the end I think he achieved more than he ever realized. He’s still an important historical figure more than a century after his death, and people all over the world recognize and sympathize with his ideals. Though probably not quite as well known and certainly not as successful in his own lifetime, he’s an inspirational figure in a class with Ghandi and MLK Jr. To the extent that he failed it wasn’t because anyone could refute his logic. It’s just that logic rarely gets a hearing when it comes to policies of the federal government.

The final resting place of Old Chief Joseph

At the same time, his nemesis, Mr. Howard, who fancied himself a great humanitarian, just never got it. He was a good man, trying to do good things and raising a lot of money for some very worthy causes. But during the last years of his life, in the early 1900’s, he was still advocating for the “civilization” of the savages. He believed that only by forgetting their own culture, traditions, language and religion could Indians ever be real Americans. He never did realize that for some people perhaps there is something more worthy of pursuit than becoming an American citizen, especially when that citizenship comes with different privileges for different people, depending on their background. Howard spent his final years championing his conservative causes and on the lecture circuit speaking about his Civil War experience. He died of a heart attack in 1909 at his home in Burlington, Vermont, probably still thinking he had won. But more than a hundred years later Chief Joseph is an icon while Oliver is remembered as a big nincompoop.

I didn't take this picture of Wallowa Lake, but I wish I had.

There is a Nez Perce Interpretive Center and Homeland park in the town of Wallowa to help you make sense of all of this, and Chief Joseph’s father, Old Chief Joseph, is buried near Wallowa Lake. We checked them all out and ended up on the south shore of the lake, which is a truly alpine experience. With the glacial lake at the foot of the towering mountains, the area around where the Wallowa River empties into Wallowa Lake wouldn’t look out of place next to Lugano or Locarno in the Swiss Alps. It’s easy to forget you’re still in Oregon, and it was unexpectedly the scene of the highlight of our trip. My little brother is a pretty good golfer and for the past 20 years I have frequently been reminded that he once hit a hole-in-one. I’ve always pretended like it doesn’t bother me but of course, as the older brother, it’s been kind of embarrassing not to have recorded an ace of my own. So, with a great deal of pride and more than a little relief, I am able to report that I, with Mrs. Ednold as witness, aced the 7th hole on the front nine of the Wallowa Lake Mini-Golf course. A perfectly weighted shot threaded through the concrete obstacles in the middle of the fairway at a well-chosen angle resulted in the ball kicking off the back wall and trickling into the cup, and one more item was removed from my bucket list.

We also spent some time exploring the town of Enterprise, the county seat with a magnificent old county courthouse constructed, as many other buildings in town are, out of Bowlby stone. This porous volcanic turf was discovered just outside of town in the late 1800s by homesteaders Enoch and Lulu Bowlby. The stone could be easily cut in the spring while it was still damp, but when dry it’s as hard as concrete. An eventual construction lull and competition from other building materials ended the stone’s popularity, but in the early days it provided the building blocks for the whole area. And we couldn’t spend any time in Enterprise without a stop at the Terminal Gravity brewery, where we sat out by the babbling brook with a pint of Tap Out and a glass of cider. If you’re ever in the area it’s a must.

Enterprise has a statue of Chief Joseph in Warde Park, as does the town of Joseph, on Main Street. And in recent years Oregon has thought about installing a statue of Chief Joseph in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building in Washington. Jason Lee and Dr. McLoughlin have represented Oregon there since 1953, but they can be changed, and a lot of people would like to see one of them retired in favor of Joseph. Among those who would like to see Joseph in the Capitol is, strangely, former Idaho Governor Butch Otter (that’s the guy’s name, I swear) who warned Oregon not to make the move because Idaho considers Joseph an Idahoan. Look, Butch. Mr. Otter (hehe). I’m not saying Idaho sucks, but this guy was willing to risk his own life and the lives of everyone he knew just so he wouldn’t have to live in your crappy state. He literally would rather have died than lived there! And now you want to claim him as one of your own? I believe your brain has been twice-baked, or French fried, or mashed, or … au gratined? By the way, Mr. Otter wasn’t reelected last year, presumably because even people in Idaho don’t want a governor who’s a dumbass.

I was tempted to steal this from a yard in Enterprise

There’s more to see in Wallowa County and we’ll be back. But this little trip was about over. As we got back on I-84, headed west, and approached Pendleton, all that remained was to speculate on the exact location of old Warm Springs Station, a long-gone site east of Pendleton that was the scene of events that would eventually lead to my father landing in the Umatilla County Jail. We saw a few likely spots but still don’t know exactly where it all went down. We made it home safely and are now awaiting the near-miss from an asteroid on November 2 and the inevitable chaos of the election the next day. And we still have three months left this year for a volcano to go off, or the Big One to hit. I’m not convinced that 2020 is done with us quite yet. But even though, as I walk on through troubled times, my spirit gets so downhearted sometimes, I know now about the strong, and the trusted, and the harmony. Thanks Wallowa County and Ms. Gwen Trice! And thanks again, Nick Lowe, for letting me borrow some of your words, without which we wouldn’t have perhaps the most ridiculous music video ever made (shot in Vancouver, B.C. in 1978 with, apparently, a budget of about $4.72). I challenge you not to sing along as you watch the goofiness. Enjoy!

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Sep 21, 2020

I always learn so much from your blogs, Marc. You should have been a history teacher!

Did you know I spent the first three years of my life in a logging camp? Mom


Sep 21, 2020

Another entertaining history lesson, actually several of them in a single post. Glad to see that you are venturing into the extreme corners of our great state. Sounds like Joseph, and especially the Maxwell Heritage Center, would be worth the long drive. And to hear that you are descended from a line of jailbird desperados.....that was surprising.

Hopefully in the future, when high school football returns, you might be able to include a Crane High ballgame in a drive out to Rome and Jordan Valley, in the southeast corner of the state. Lots to do there......looking for arrowheads in the sagebrush, exploring the back street of Burns, etc.

But if ever you find yourself in that country you may choose…

Sep 21, 2020

195 yard par 3, how long was yours? Very well done and great song by the world's homeliest band.

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