The West Shore/Volume 1/The Literature of Oregon

The West Shore, Volume 1
The Literature of Oregon by Frances Fuller Victor



Have we a literature? Where are our historians, scientists, humorists, poets? Let us see if we can find them.

W. H. Gray, in his "History of Oregon," relates that more than thirty years ago there existed at Oregon City—then the business, as it was afterwards the political capital of the country—a literary society. He says the object of it was to bring together the American and British occupants of the country, and furnish an opportunity for the discussion of certain ticklish points concerning a provisional government without exciting opposition or alarm. He and others may have used the opportunity for such a purpose, but I have never heard that motive ascribed to the society by any other of the members. Undoubtedly it was hoped it would promote concord of feeling and unison of social sentiment. Hon. Geo. Abernethy says that one of the customs of the society was to deposit anonymous contributions in a receptacle called the "Omnibus Box," from which they were drawn and read, and that among them were many of considerable merit, both serious and witty.

In due course the provisional government was formed, whether by the aid of the society or not. It was an event to bring out the talent in the country, literary and executive. A committee was appointed to form a code or draft the organic laws of the county. The labor, however, finally devolved upon Jesse Applegate, Esq., leader of the immigration of 1843, a man whose natural gifts eminenty fitted him for a literary life, bu who, with so many others, sunk his abilities in the wilds of Oregon, where no suitable arena could be found for the exercise of his powers. The public documents of those early times, of which he is the author, are of a classic purity of style that has seldom been attained to and never excelled by any writer in the State. Such public offices as the country afforded were open to him, but unless he saw that his services were really required, he declined to accept the small honor and smaller profit, retiring upon his farm to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, and writing but little.

In 1846 a newspaper called the Spectator was started at Oregon City by a company of gentlemen called the Oregon Printing Association. In looking over this journal one is struck with the evidences of literary talent in the community, and led to conjecture that the editors must have had access to the "Omnibus Box" of the literary society. Scissors could not have played a very important part in getting up a paper, when the mail arrived not oftener than once in six months, and then by private hand. I have made some inquiry with regard to the authorship of contributed articles with partial success. A poem, entitled "Adventures of a Columbia River Salmon," of a good deal more than average merit, was written by Henry N. Peers, an officer of the British ship Modeste, lying at Fort Vancouver from 1844 to a847. "Lines to Mount Hood" were the production of Hon. Geo. L. Curry, who was at one time editor of the Spectator, and who was then and is now favorably known as a writer. Some verses addressed to "Mary" appear to have been written by an officer of the Modeste on the departure of that ship, and make us wonder which one of Oregon's earliest daughters captured this British heart. Another contributor of merit was "J. B. P."—his name was Passenger; and still another, Mrs. Dr. Bally. These were all writers of verse, as well as several others who wrote anonymously, as "Lothario," "Wandering Bard," "Theta," "Ulysses," "Posiwat" and "M. J. B." A talented writer in those times was H. A. G. Lee, the second editor of the Spectator; and also G. J. Campbell. Others there were who lived under the provisional government who may at different times have contributed to the Spectator, but who are best known for their connection with other matters: Hon. Peter H. Burnett, J. Quinn Thornton, Gustavus D. Hines, S. O. Thurston, and Dr. E. White, all of whom, excepting Thurston, have published books about the country. Hon. Geo. Abernethy, who wrote only in his capacity of Governor of the colony, furnished able and finished documents of much use to the future historian; and there were doubtless others connected with the mission who could and did wield a graceful quill whenever circumstances called them out. There were several gentlemen connected with the Hudson's Bay Company who were elegant writers as well as cultivated gentlemen.

Here we have presented the picture of a little colony of one or two thousand people, of mixed nationality, sequestered from all the world by thousands of miles; poor as to money and goods, toilsome, ill-dressed, weather-beaten, yet full of spirit, patriotism and courage, with time to cultivate literature. The had, at least, this advantage—they brought their culture with them. But how about their immediate descendants? Do they come up to the standard of their progenitors? Talent seldom descends in a direct line from father to son; yet there is a natural feeling of expectancy regarding certain traits, the impression being that, even in the absence of marked heredity of gifts, there must at all events be a conspicuous inheritance of habits of mind and culture. Unhappily in all new counties the first generation is for the most part sacrificed to fill up the gap between an old and a new civilization.

Yet Oregon is not without her men and women of gifts bred on her soil—poets and romancists, and possibly philosophers. F. L. and O. C. Applegate are men with the hereditary strain of literary talent in their composition—neglected, as in the case of their uncle, "the sage of Yoncalla." The genius of Sam. and Sylvester C. Simpson is undoubted, both in prose and poetical composition. Mrs. Belle W. Cooke is a paid contributor to the New York Independent. A Salem lady, over the nom de plume of "Mem Linton," has also written very acceptably for different journals of this State. Rev. Thos. Condon has contributed valuable and interesting articles to the Overland Monthly on his favorite study, "The Geology of Oregon." Hon. M. P. Deady has, from time to time, when he could intermit for a little his judicial labors, furnished the Overland Monthly and journals of California and Oregon with important articles upon the history of Oregon and its founders. Hon. W. Lair Hill occasionally indulges in truly literary work—for which he is eminently fitted—between the labors of law and journalism. John Minto, Esq., has written a good deal in the interest of Oregon and agriculture. S. A. Clarke, Esq., of Salem, is a facile writer of prose, an excellent newspaper correspondent, a journalist, and a versifier also. Harvey Scott, Esq., is another good newspaper writer. His sisters, Mrs. A. J. Duniway and Mrs. C. A. Coburn, have made places for themselves in the newspaper world under great difficulties, showing that, in this instance, as in several others in Oregon, talent pervades the whole family group.

The question naturally suggests itself: If all these writers, and many more probably that have been overlooked, are in possession of the "divine afflatus" to any extent, why we have not a literature purely Oregonian? The answer is not far to find. Men of real ability have generally a corresponding ambition, and in Oregon they find their audience too small to excite enthusiasm. Besides, literature, to be of any worth, should be made a profession, and in Oregon the profession of literature will not give so good a living as almost anything else—hardly furnish a living at all. Even journalism—the only branch of literature that pays—is not considered of sufficient importance to be performed really well. The "leaders" of our newspapers may have been written with some care, but the local columns with none at all. The grammar, the diction, the paucity of language exhibit small regard for literary merit by the publishers of these journals. It might be discreet, while thinking they will do well enough at home—a false proposition—to think how they look to the world beyond home, who take our public journals as standards of our intellectual advancement and our social status.

But we have yet to notice our most and only famous literary man, who, with his gifted wife, determined to win distinction by seeking a wider field, and succeeded—Miller, fantastically dubbed "Joaquin." It is not necessary to advertise his merits—he has done that himself; nor his demerits—they, too, have been rendered sufficiently conspicuous. But as a purely Oregon production, he is worthy of particular mention. He has written as one imbued with the very spirit of the wildness and beauty of the scenes among which he grew up; and whatever faults of style he has, he is in that respect admirable. The very noblest utterances in all the range of his productions are when he speaks of Oregon, though likely enough he calls it California through the promptings of a mean vanity to be thought to belong to a State more favored than his own in authorship. I pass over some bits of mountain pictures in words that I would like to quote, to give place to his tribute to the pioneers of Oregon, made, as I have said, to seem a tribute to the pioneers of California by putting "the Pacific" for "Oregon," and "Sierras" for "Cascades;" but we all recognize the picture, and feel to thank him for this evidence of recognition, however surreptitiously yielded:


What lives they lived! what deaths they died!
A thousand canyons, darkling wide
Below Sierras' slopes of pride,
Receive them now.

And they who died
Along the far, dim desert route,
Their ghosts are many.

Let them keep
Their vast possessions.

The Piute,
The tawny warrior, will dispute
No boundary with them. And I,
Who saw them live, who felt them die,
Say, let their unplowed ashes sleep

The bearded, sunbrowned men who bore
The burden of that frightful year,
Who toiled, but did not gather store,
They shall not he forgotten.

And white, the plains of Shoehonee
Shall point us to the farther shore,
And long white shining lines of bones
Make needless sign or white mile stones.

The wild man's yell, the groaning wheel;
The train moved like drifting barge;
The dust that rose up like a cloud,
Like smoke of distant battle! Loud.
The great whips rang like shot, and steel
Flashed back as in some battle charge.

They sought—yea, they did find their rest
Along that long and lonesome way,
Those brave men buffeting the West
With lifted faces. Full were they
Of great endeavor.
Brave and true
As stern crusader clad in steel,
They died afield as it was fit.
Made strong with hope, they dared to do
Achievement that a host to-day
Would stagger at, stand back and reel,
Defeated at the thought of it.

What brave endeavor to endure!
What patient hope when hope was past!
What still surrender at the last,
A thousand leagues from hope!
How pure They lived, how proud they died!
How generous with life!
The wide
And gloried age of chivalry
Hath not one page like this to me.

Let all these golden days go by—
I breathe beneath another sky.
Let beauty glide in gilded car,
And find my sundown seas afar,
Forgetful that 'tis but one grave
From east unto the westmost wave.

Yea, I remember! Tho still tears
That o'er uncoffined faces fell!
The final, silent, sad farewell!
God! these are with me all the years!
They shall be with me ever.
Shall not forget. I hold a trust.
They are a part of my existence.
Adown the shining iron track
We sweep, and fields of corn flash back,
And herds of lowing steers move by,
I turn to other days, to men
Who made a pathway with their dust.

Mrs. Miller, after trying her literary fortunes abroad, has returned to Oregon to reside. Her short poems show the true poetic inspiration, and have a finish remarkable in consideration of the little aid she could have had from her associations—proof that the true poet has not to be taught numbers.

We now come to a notice of books written and published in Oregon; books written in Oregon and published elsewhere, and books written about Oregon that have been published at home and abroad. Probably the list is incomplete, but it has been with some labor that it has been made as full as it is.

The first book printing done on the Pacific coast—unless the Spanish authorities in Mexico and California owned printing presses—was done on a small hand press that was sent from the mission at the Sandwich Islands to the mission at Lapwai, about 1840. Mr. H. H. Spalding, missionary at that station, printed a portion of the New Testament and a collection of hymns in the Nez Perce tongue for the use of Indians. Idaho was then a part of the Oregon territory. Therefore it is proper to say that the first Oregon book was printed in the Indian language.

The first book printed in English was an edition of "Webster's Spelling Book" at the office of the Spectator at Oregon City in 1846. If a copy of this Oregon edition of Webster could be found, it should be presented to the State library as a relic. The next publication in book form, issued from the same office, was "The Oregon Almanac," in 1848, a copy of which is preserved in Judge Deady's library. The columns of the Spectator were used for the publication of the organic laws of the Territory and reports of legislative proceedings, the book form being dispensed with.

In March, 1848, a paper was started by Geo. L. Curry, Esq., called the Press—in allusion, perhaps, to the censorship to which as editor of the Spectator he had been subjected. Material was not to be had either for "love or money" in those days in Oregon, and "starting the paper" was a notch more difficult enterprise than it is to-day. But there are few things that wit and will cannot accomplish. A wooden press of home manufacture and wooden type, with an "m" turned upside down for a "w," and a "v" in the place of a "u," proved indeed that it was possible to have a free press in Oregon.

About the same time J. S. Griffin, Esq., of Hillsboro, started a paper called the Oregon American, the purpose of which was to expose the machinations of the Jesuits, and to prove that the Hudson's Bay Company were concerned in the massacre of the Protestant missionaries and immigrants at Waiilatpu. Mr. Griffin's paper was printed on the little press belonging to the mission in the upper country, which had been abandoned on account of the Indian war, and was about the size of an ordinary magazine page. Both these papers were continued for a year or more.

The third attempt at book printing was made in 1849, upon Mr. Curry's press, when Gov. Lane gave an order for copies of the act of Congress of Aug. 14, 1848, creating the Oregon Territory. Not knowing anything about arranging the matter for folding in book form, the act was printed in columns, first on one side and then upon the other, arranged for folding length-wise only. But the people were so delighted to have the act at all, after so many years of waiting, that they were in no mood to criticise the manner of its presentation.

Politics ran high about this time in Oregon, and newspapers multiplied rapidly. Oregon City had hitherto been the only centre of commercial or political importance, but in 1850 two off-shoots appeared in the newspaper line—one at Milwaukie and the other at Portland, called respectively the Star and the Oregonian. The Star, edited by J. O. Waterman, Esq., afterwards removed to Portland, and became the Times; but the Oregonian has always been a fixture in Portland. Its first editor was Thos. J. Dryer, afterwards consul to the Sandwich Islands. Following close upon those came the Statesman, established first at Oregon City by A. Bush, Esq., and removing to Salem in 1853.

The first literary production in book form was of the nature of a political drama, written by W. L. Adams, Esq., and called "Brakespeare." It appeared first in the columns of the Oregonian in 1852, occupying several numbers, and was afterwards produced in pamphlet shape, with illustrations, a few copies of which are still extant. The second was Mrs. Duniway's romance of "Captain Gray's Company," published in Portland by S. J. McCormick, Esq., in in 1859. The third was C. H. Miller's little pamphlet of "Specimens," printed in Portland by Geo. H. Himes, Esq., in 1867. The second was Mr. Miller's second attempt, "Joaquin et Al.," also printed by Mr. Himes, in 1869. The fifth was Mrs. Belle W. Cooke's little volume of poems, "Tears and Victory," printed in Salem at the job office of E. M. Waite, Esq.; and the last, Mrs. Duniway's pamphlet, called "Musings."

It would appear from this showing that book-publishing in Oregon has not yet reached the dignity of a regular trade, as, with so limited a population as ours, was not to be expected. But a more stimulating reflection is suggested by this review, viz: that it is not the absence of talent so much as the absence of opportunity which keeps Oregon literature in abeyance. The number of books written in Oregon and published elsewhere shows creditably for the literary habits of a population that hardly yet numbers one hundred thousand. Should the opportunity ever come, and with it the inevitable competition and criticism, there will be found underneath these "croppings" many leads of pure gold.

Appended is the list of books written in Oregon and about Oregon. The length of the latter makes us feel that we ought to be pretty well advertised to the world, instead of being regarded abroad as an Indian territory. The books marked with an asterisk were written in Oregon:

1808—Journal of Lewis & Clark.

1828—Excursion a l'Ouest des Monts Rocky, Jedediah Smith.

1831—Adventures of the Columbia River, Ross Cox, London.

1833—Oregon, J. B. Wyeth, Cambridge.

1835—Notes on the Geography of the Columbia River, Gairdner.

1836—Astoria, Washington Irving, New York.

1842—Exploring Tour, Samuel Parker, New York.

1843—Oregon, Rob't Greenhow, Washington.

1844-*History of Oregon Territory, Jno. Dunn, London; *Letters from Oregon, Peter H. Burnett; History of Oregon, Lee & Frost, New York; United States Exploring Expedition, Chas. Wilkes, Washington; Journal of Sir Edward Simpson, London.

1845—Emigrant's Guide to Oregon and California, L. W. Hastings; His-tory of Oregon, Geo. Wilkes, Philadelphia.

1846—The Oregon Territory, C. G. Nico-lay, London; Question de l'Ore-gon, Poussin, Paris; The Oregon Territory, Twiss, London.

1848—Mission de l'Oregon, P. J. DeSmet, Gand; *Oregon and California, . J. Q. Thornton, New York.

1849—California and Oregon, T. J. Farnham; Tour de l'Oregon, DeMo-fras; Natural History of Oregon, Townsend; Oregon Archives, Salem: flregon Antiquities, P. Schumacher.

1850—*Ten Years in Oregon, E. White.

1851—Statutes of a General Nature, Salem; *Voyage Round the World, Gus. A. Hines, New York; Railroad Survey, L. T. Stevens, Washington.

1852—*Journal of Travel over the Rocky Mountains, Joel Palmer; *Brakespeare, W. L. Adams, Portland.

1854—Sketches of Mission Life among the Indians, New York; Franchere's Narrative, New York.

1855—*Official Report of the Owyhee Reonnoissance, Drew, Jacksonville.

1857—California and Oregon, T. T. Johnstone, Philadelphia.

1858—*A Plea for the Indians, John Beeson, New York.

1859—Captain Gray's Company, A. J. Duniway, Portland.

1864—Souvenirs d'un Voyage en Oregon, Rossi, Paris.

1865—Mullen's Overland Guide.

1866—Organic and other General Laws, Portland; *Oregon and her Institutions, G. A. Hines, New York; Oregon and Eldorado, Thos. Bulfinch, Boston.

1867 —*Specimens, C. H, Miller, Portland.

1869—*Joaquin et Al., C. H. Miller, Port-land.

1870—*History of Oregon, W. H. Gray, Philadelphia; *The River of the West, F. F. Victor, Hartford.

1871—* Tears and Victory, Belle W. Cooke, Salem; *Report of State Geologist, Thos. Condon, Salem; Songs of the Sierras, C. H. Miller, Boston.

1872—*All over Oregon and Washington, F. F. Victor, San Francisco;, *State Directory, J. M. Murphy, Portland; *Oregon and her Re-sources, Hugh Small, San Francisco; *Organic and General Laws, Salem.

1873—*Oregon as It Is, W. L. Adams; *Women's War with Whisky, F. F. Victor, Portland; Life among the Modocs, C. H. Miller, Boston; Songs of the Sun Lands, C. H. Miller, Boston.

1874—*A Journal of Army Life, R. Glisan, San Francisco; *Oregon Code, M. P. Deady, San Francisco; Resources of Eastern Oregon.

1875—Ship in the Desert, C. H. Miller, Boston; *Wallamet or Willamette, Deady et al., Portland; *Wigwam and War Path, A. B. Meacham, Boston; Advantages of Oregon as an Agricultural Country, Board of Immigration, Portland.

1876—Farrish's Pocket Farrier, Portland.


In addition to this list, probably somewhat imperfect, are the several publications of L. Samuel, as well as those of S. J. McCormick, from 1855 to the present date, comprising an almanac for each year, a dictionary of the Chinook jargon, and the Oregon handbooks. Mr. McCormick was also the publisher of Mrs. Duniway's novel, C. H. Miller's first two poetical efforts, and the State Directory.

From the job offices of Himes and Walling have issued innumerable pamphlets of interest only to the societies ordering their publication, indicating the business rather than the literature of the State, besides army and other reports.

To return to the early newspapers of Oregon. The Spectator was issued for four years, or until about 1850. Of the two papers started in that year, the Star was removed in 1851 to Portland, where it became the Times, edited first by Mr. Waterman, and subsequently by Mr. Hibben, followed by Mr. Russell D. Austin. It ran until 1858 in the interest of the Democratic party. The Oregonian was Whig, and has kept on the Whig side of the House ever since. Another Democratic paper, called the Standard, came into existence in July, 1854, edited by A. Leland Esq., and subsequently by Jas. O'Meara, Esq., but was not long-lived.

The Statesman removed to Salem in 1853, where it has since remained, though undergoing some changes. In 1852 a monthly magazine was started by S. J. McCormick at Portland, which had but a brief existence. It was followed the next year by the Portland Commercial, which, together with the Journal of Commerce of the same year, soon perished for lack of support. Several ephemeral publications appeared under various absurd titles, apparently intended for political effect, and doubtless very broadly humorous. Another paper that has survived the changes of twenty-three years is the Pacific Christian Advocate, published at Portland under the direction of the Methodist Conference. There was a paper called the Umpqua Gazette, published at Scottsburg in 1854—the pioneer paper of Southern Oregon. When discontinued I am not informed.

From this time periodical publications and political papers arose in every part of the Territory, having a longer or shorter existence according to party demands or to the ability of their owners to make them a public necessity.

There are fifty journals of different kinds published at present in the State. Of these sixteen are issued at Portland, viz: Oregonian, Evening Journal, Bee, Commercial Reporter, Sunday Welcome, Standard, New Northwest, P. C. Advocate, Churchman, Catholic Sentinel, West Shore, Thoroughbred Stock Journal and Record, Archangel, Helper, North Pacific, and Deutsche Zeitung. Of these three are dailies, four monthlies, one quarterly, and the others weeklies.

At Salem there are the Willamette Farmer, Statesman, Mercury, Monthly Literary Paper, Educational Journal. A very good medical journal was published for a year or two at Salem, but could not be sustained.

At Albany we find four publications—the States' Rights' Democrat, Register, Cultivator and College Missive; at Shedd, the Flail; at Corvallis, the Benton Democrat and Corvallis Gazette; at Eugene, the Guard and State Journal; at Oakland, the Weekly Centennial; at Roseburg, the Umpqua Call and Plaindealer; at Jacksonville, Oregon Sentinel and Democratic Times; at Empire City, the Coos Bay News; at Marshfield, the Coos County Record; at Dallas, the Itemizer; at Monmouth, the Chistian Messenger; at McMinnville, the Reporter; at Lafayette, the Courier; at Hillsboro, the Independent; at Oregon City, the Enterprise; at Astoria, the Astorian; at Dalles City, the Mountaineer and the Oregon Tribune; at Heppner, the Times; at Pendleton, the East Oregonian; at La Grande, the Mountain Sentinel; at Baker City, the Bedrock Democrat.

With this enumeration of what the State has so far produced in literature and journalism these observations close, indulgence being asked for any inaccuracies that may be discovered when the article has been subjected to the criticism of the readers at their leisure.