Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 1/Issue number 2 Reviews of Books


McLoughlin and Old Oregon. By Eva Emery Dye. (Chicago: A. C. McClung and Company, 1900. Pp. VIII, 381.)

The incidents, personalities, color, and sequence of events in the growth of Oregon from 1832 to 1849 were never before portrayed as they are in Mrs. Dye's "McLoughlin and Old Oregon." Had the present day kinetograph and phonograph been at hand and in operation for recording the dramatic scenes and sayings of that period of wonderful changes in the Valley of the Columbia, we should have had more of the foibles, limitations, and obliquities of human nature, but Mrs. Dye's minute study, sympathetic assimilation, and unique strength in constructive imagination have given us an exceedingly interesting series of pictures almost as vivid as real life.

The book opens at Fort Vancouver, on the Columbia, the center of the Hudson's Bay Company's widely extended operations west of the Rocky Mountains, and the home of its chief factor, Dr. John McLoughlin. The time, 1832, marks the revival of the movement of American enterprise for the occupation of Oregon in the person of Nathaniel J. Wyeth. Nineteen years had passed since the Astor venture had suffered dismal discomfiture in that region. From 1832 on, however, the United States was to have representatives, in one capacity or another, of its interests in Oregon. Slender was its hold during the first half of this period, but its preponderance was overwhelming in the latter half. Wyeth failed with his commercial venture. Physical obstacles taxed his resources, and he had to meet the determined monopoly of the Hudson's Bay Company under its competent and benignant chief factor, Dr. John McLoughlin, backed by the millions of the company, and a disciplined host in possession of the good-will and salutary respect of the Indians. But the American missionaries remained on the ground, established stations, accumulated stores, formed nuclei of settlements through their lay helpers, and correctly conceived policies of inuring the Indians through example and precept to a status of settled agricultural life. Then come strong mountain men, who had had their fill of experience as solitary trappers in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains. Beginning with a band of one hundred and thirty-seven in 1842, and rising immediately to eight hundred and seventy-five in 1843 there rolled in the mighty tide of pioneer home-builders.

In such an entourage of events the author correctly conceives of the motive that is primary in this culminative course of events. A lower race is to be dispossessed by a higher, though Wyeth's plans contemplated advantage from the Indians' retaining their native employments, and the missionaries vainly hoped by a summary procedure to elevate them from lowest barbarism to civilization. Doctor McLoughlin holds the key to the situation, at least as to the immediate outcome. As representative of the fur trading monopoly, his interests are linked with the interests of the Indians in remaining in undisturbed possession of their imperial domains. It would have been so easy to have hustled back home the first forerunners of the great immigrations, and, if this had not deterred others from coming on in larger numbers, these in turn, utterly without resources after their long marches, could easily have been thrown into consternation and wrought havoc with by the chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company.

The issues in this great drama of the Pacific Northwest turn then, first, upon the qualities of heart and character of the Indians that came under the influence of Lee, Whitman, and Spalding. Will they have the faith and fortitude to sacrifice a world in which they are the leaders for a possibly better world in which leadership is with the white man? Secondly, the outcome of this second movement of the Americans on to Oregon lies with Doctor McLoughlin. Will the depth of his humanity suffice to rescue, shelter, nourish and shield year after year those who would have perished but for his intervention and whose survival is bound to result in the appearance of invading hosts who will wrest the sceptre from him? Mrs. Dye has thrilling issues and two real heroes, Whitman and McLoughlin, in this epoch of Oregon history, and she makes the most of them.

The secret of her remarkable success in making the characters and conditions of that time live again lay in her getting the confidence of the principal surviving actors of that period and securing from them the fullest impress of the traditions of stirring times, with all the halo that half-a-century would naturally invest them with. Through these sources she attained an understanding of the actors and spirit of the times so intimate that her pretension to supply the words used on all important occasions does not become a mockery, but through this dramatizing the author attains the unique element in her success. In this role her inimitable power of vivid representation, through successions of pictures, has its best application.

The stock of reminiscences that Mrs. Dye exploited with such rare skill and energy needed corroboration from contemporary documents. As the material for Oregon history is brought together, many lapses, more or less important, in matters of fact will no doubt be disclosed. As an instance: The magnitude of Wyeth's second expedition is stated in figures at least four times too large, both for the number of men and the amount of money.

The author has, however, kept herself remarkably well poised between the partisan bickerings that have characterized so much of the writing in Oregon history. The search of the author for indubitable evidence has been rewarded in the finding of some valuable material, notably the Whitman papers; and clues that she came upon have yielded treasures for others.

Towards the closing chapters the author swerves farthest from history towards romance. Instead of bringing the vigorous young Oregon community into the foreground, she leaves the stage empty. "Old Oregon," with its life had, of course, departed, but it was crowded out by the thronging of the new.

This book is by far the best that the general reader can select for an introduction to the life of early Oregon.

Missionary History of the Pacific Northwest. By H. K. Hines, D. D. (Portland: H. K. Hines, San Francisco: J. D. Hammond, 1899. Pp. 510.)

As the sub-title indicates, this is rather the "Story of Jason Lee" than a missionary history of the Pacific Northwest. There would have been no impropriety in giving it the title of "Jason Lee and the Methodist Missionary Effort in the Pacific Northwest." The title is positively misleading as it stands, for forty pages only are devoted to an account of the work of the missionaries under the "American Board," while some four hundred and fifty are taken up with the story of the Methodist Missions. The Methodist denomination was first in this field with wisely chosen representatives. It sustained and reinforced its movement to christianize the Indians of Oregon most munificently, considering the conditions of the times. As a memorial of these efforts conceived with such grand and consecrated spirit, nothing would have been more fitting than a volume by Doctor Hines.

No one could have been so unfair as to demand of Doctor Hines a cold and critical account of these missionaries and their work. A panegyric on Jason Lee and his colaborers was becoming from him. He was the man prepared through life-long schooling and natural inclination to do this, and Jason Lee's work deserved it. But for the title and an invidious comparison that crops out all too frequently, Doctor Hines has done in this book just what God had prepared him to do.

It is a pity that a work of so high general character, the best product of such fine literary ability as Doctor Hines possesses, could not have been one of some famous series by a strong publishing house of the East that would have pushed it into the markets of the world.

The fact that the critical historian will take issue with the conclusions of this book almost from the beginning constitutes no disparagement of the real worth of the author's work. It was a labor of love for a character and for a denomination. This, however, may be said: The Methodist missionary project in the Pacific Northwest was, soon after its inception, at all but one or two points, not distinctively a missionary station at all. But it was a colony with a strong secular spirit and exercised a most salutary influence upon the affairs of the Oregon community. This fact the work of Doctor Hines unwittingly proves.