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If only I could find a satellite image of Laurelwood in 1900 …

The photo above shows the approximate location of the John Walker Donation Land Claim, which formed the basis for what became Laurelwood. I wish I had a satellite photo from 1900 for comparison, but I can’t find one.

If such a satellite did exist, it would look much different. There would be no Laurelwood Academy, no Laurelwood Road, and just enough homes to house the extended Walker family.

The Walkers were pretty much boxed in by the Chehalem Mountains, so their closest neighbors were Walter Hoffman to the south and Almoran and Sarah Hill to the west. The last house the Hills built still stands, on Spring Hill Road across from the end of Laurelwood. I don’t know where the Walker home was, but I think it’s safe to assume that it was between one and two miles away.

Almoran Hill’s house also served as a station on the Forest Grove-Lafayette stagecoach line, so if the Walkers walked there they could catch a coach south Dewey, where Spring Hill meets Albertson and Laughlin roads, where they could transfer to the Laughlin Gap stage to Yamhill, McMinnville, or Tillamook. More likely they would head north, either all the way to Forest Grove or to catch the train near where Spring Hill crosses Highway 47.

You might notice that I didn’t mention Gaston, which isn’t fair because they could take the train south into town. But because of the Chehalem Mountains, Wapato Lake, and the Tualatin River, there were few safe or easy connections between the Forest Grove-Lafayette stage line and the railroad, which paralleled the route Highway 47 now follows. In fact there were no year-round crossings between Yamhill and the what’s now the junction of Spring Hill and Highway 47. (Gaston Road wasn’t built until 1917 and washed out regularly in its early years). That made visits to Gaston by people east of Wapato Lake so rare that they often were covered by local newspapers.

Most donation land claims were one square mile (a few were a half square mile), so a trip into Forest Grove to buy flour or shoes would have taken the Walkers past only about eight properties until they transferred onto the stage at where Highway 47 now crosses Elm Street to finish the last leg of their trip. But because of how infrequent the stagecoaches and trains ran, that 20-mile round trip often took two days, so they probably checked their shopping list carefully.

I have not counted all the homes we pass today between Laurelwood and Elm Street in Forest Grove, but when you add up all of the side roads and streets, it’s probably into the hundreds, all on the same land that once had eight or 10 (although by 1900 some of the donation land claims had been divided, including to form the small town of Dilley). And the trip doesn’t take two days, even when you’re behind a tractor, which the Walkers probably would have loved to own.

I picked 1900 as the starting date for this little stagecoach trip down Memory Lane for a reason, because that’s the approximate date that Laurelwood and the rest of Washington County started to grow. In Laurelwood, the growth began when the Walker family donated two-and-a-half acres to the Adventists for a school in 1904. There are no Census figures specifically for Laurelwood, but in 1900 all of Washington County had fewer than 15,000 residents. Today it has nearly 600,000. About half of that growth has occurred just since 1980. About a quarter of the growth has occurred since 2000.

Now I’m going to look into the future to find a satellite image of what Laurelwood will look like in 2100 …


1968: My friend died in his pajamas on Election Day

The following is an excerpt from Wheels on the Bus Copyright 2011 by Ken Bilderback. All Rights reserved.

This particular story happened a few days after Halloween, 1968. I had gone to the lunchroom at school and waited for my friend David to join me to exchange leftover Halloween candy. David was my best friend in those days, a quiet but happy kid with a complexion even pastier than mine. In fact I remember his skin as white more than flesh-colored. David came from a dirt-poor family, although he lived in a nicer house than I did. David and I had things in common, like never wanting to go home, and never wanting to talk much about his personal life. Instead we talked about cars and about the little Revell models we were building. I liked muscle cars, while David was partial to things like the Munsters mobile and Batmobile.

David didn’t join me at lunch that day, which surprised me because we had talked about it just an hour or so before. I figured he had gone home sick, which wouldn’t be surprising because he was sick a lot, often throwing up. When I got home a few hours later I plopped myself on the davenport to watch “Where the Action Is” or “It’s Happening” or one of the rock ‘n’ roll shows I could watch only when my father wasn’t home. On this particular Tuesday afternoon, my mother came from the kitchen with a worried look on her face. Someone from the school had called because they knew David and I were friends. David’s mother, it seems, had picked him up at lunch time, along with his little brother and sister. A couple hours later, one of David’s neighbors saw exhaust seeping from the garage of David’s house and investigated. Soon after police found David, his mother and his four siblings in the back of the family’s station wagon in the garage, all dressed in their pajamas, and all dead.

I imagine I cried a little, but mostly I was stunned. None of this made sense to my 12-year-old mind. My main question was not “why?” but rather “why were they in their pajamas?” Looking back, I think that was about as deep as I wanted to get to solving that mystery. I stayed on the davenport all evening that night instead of retreating to the basement because Walter Cronkite was on the old black and white Columbia television, reading the results of Richard Nixon’s victory over Hubert Humphrey in that day’s presidential election. “There’s news besides the election,” Cronkite said at one point, or words to that affect. “We have word from Detroit that a mother and her five children were found dead in the back of their car, all dressed in their pajamas, dead of carbon monoxide poisoning.” I sat on the davenport, hands tightly gripping the frayed fabric upholstery. I learned later that David’s parents had both lost their jobs months earlier and were getting a divorce. I never did learn why they were wearing pajamas at noon. My mother had me sit on the davenport the next day or so to explain why she wouldn’t let me be a pallbearer for David’s casket. I wouldn’t be able to handle the “trauma,” she told me. I asked her what a “Paulbearer” was and didn’t understand what her answer had to do with people named Paul. I protested a little, but not a lot. The fragile little boy on the overstuffed davenport had moved on from David’s death. I still had assassinations and such to worry about.

Ernie Harwell’s sunny voice drowned out riots and assassinations

The following is an excerpt from an autobiographical novel, Wheels on the Bus: Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Life in 1974, Copyright Ken Bilderback 2010.

Lakeland was the first city I really wanted to see, because it was the Spring Training home of the Detroit Tigers. Actually it was much more than that, thanks to the calm, soothing voice of Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell. Listening to Harwell on my little plastic transistor radio in Detroit, his voice always created vivid images in my young mind.

Wheels on the Bus

Wheels on the Bus

Wherever he was broadcasting from sounded like Heaven on Earth. He would talk about the clouds and the breeze and the happy families and dads catching foul balls in the stands for their adoring sons. Harwell was the calm voice of reason during the riots and assassinations of the late 1960s. In the ’60s and ’70s, the Tigers had a couple of young black players named Gates Brown and Ron LeFlore who had been discovered in reform schools or prisons. Today, Brown and LeFlore would be criticized endlessly on talk radio, but to Harwell they were just good human beings, like everyone else who crossed his path. My father never saw anything but the bad in people. Harwell was his happy antithesis, and I hung on his every word.

Ernie Harwell’s voice was most magical in the early Spring. While back in Detroit we still were sloshing through the black crusty snow of late winter, Harwell was in Lakeland for Spring training. Late winter for me meant huddling in the basement away from school bullies and my father. Harwell’s voice, beamed to my little transistor radio from Lakeland, always was the first harbinger of better days ahead. Lakeland sounded magical. Sometimes still shoveling snow, I would listen as the warm breezes through the palm trees cooled the families sitting in the stands enjoying Tiger squads that were destined to have great seasons in warm, happy summers at Tiger Stadium. Lakeland sounded more magical than anyplace Harwell broadcast from, except perhaps the golden cities of California. When he was broadcasting from the Golden State I couldn’t listen to the whole game because of the time difference, but I was amazed to think that as I huddled under the covers of my bed with Bandit, the sun was shining brightly on California.

Is this a monument to government overreach or salvation?

Perhaps the two most-striking images from the Great Depression are soup lines of unemployed workers in the big cities and caravans of “Okies” fleeing the Midwest Dust Bowl. Few people can conjure images of places such as Harney County, Oregon. The visitor center at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is one of the few that remains, and it is testament to both struggles.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Since the days of the earliest pioneers, Harney County has been subjected to a series of economic busts, with the federal government coming to its rescue each time. The first bust came during the days of the Oregon Trail in the 1840s and ‘50s. Settlers gobbled up the fertile farmlands of the Willamette and Tualatin valleys, but few wanted the mountains and high-desert sagelands that cover most of what now is the state of Oregon.

The area around what today is the Malheur refuge was a bit of an exception to that because of its lakes and abundant natural springs. The federal government set up Fort Harney to protect the few intrepid souls who took Donation Land Claims. Some hoped to tap the springs for irrigation, while others took “reclamation” claims to drain the lakes. No one found much success. Continue reading

That time armed men seized an Oregon county and its federal land at gunpoint

This is an excerpt from Law and Order at the End of The Oregon Trail, Copyright 2015 Ken Bilderback and Kris Bilderback.

Few things rile cattle ranchers quite like cattle rustlers. Some folks in the Wild West considered rustling to be a crime on par with murder, and more than a few rustlers found themselves hanging from a tree without benefit of a trial. If there was anything that riled ranchers even more than poaching, it was disputes over grazing land. The land was free to most of the pioneers, given to them as gifts from the federal government under the Donation Land Claim and Homestead acts. Regardless of how they acquired their land, however, some pioneers were willing to fight to the death to protect their claims.

With that in mind, townspeople thought that they knew who killed pioneer A.H. Crooks and his son-in-law on March 15, 1882, near Prineville. Suspicion immediately focused on Lucius Langdon, who owned a ranch next to Crooks, because the two had been feuding for years over a 40-acre parcel of grazing land. The folks of Prineville had a long history of taking the law into their own hands, according to historian Jim Yuskavitch in Outlaw Tales of Oregon. In the mid-1800s, the sheriff was 100 miles north of Prineville, in the county seat of The Dalles, which was a journey of several days on horseback. Perhaps swayed by the adage that justice delayed is justice denied, the ranchers were not keen on waiting that long for the law to make an appearance. The Crooks murder was a case in point, as rancher Bud Thompson quickly organized a “vigilance committee” to capture Langdon. Langdon eluded the wrath of Thompson and his gang, which allowed time for cooler heads to gather in Prineville. Rancher Jim Blakely notified the nearest deputy sheriff of the murder, then formed a second posse to find and capture Langdon before Thompson’s gang could lynch him. When Langdon heard that the trustworthy Blakely was looking for him, he surrendered peacefully and as promised, Blakely delivered him safely to the deputy sheriff. Langdon’s ranch hand accompanied his boss to help insure his safety until he was delivered to The Dalles for trial. With no jail in town, the trio retired for the evening at a small hotel. Continue reading

Oregon’s long history of grazing land and violence

The following is an excerpt from Law and Order at the end of The Oregon Trail, Copyright 2015 Ken Bilderback:

Disputes over acreage and animals continued to simmer just beneath the surface, and at the turn of the century a new wave of killing shook Prineville. The murders often involved disputes that might seem trivial now, but which were deadly serious in 1900. For example, when a Greek immigrant named Leonidas Douris introduced a huge flock of sheep to the valley, cattle ranchers were furious over the competition for grazing on federal rangeland.

Book cover

The story of race and crime unfolds in our new book.

Douris was a man with big dreams who parlayed his meager earnings as a farmhand into a small fortune as a rancher. Douris also was a man of small stature, described as extremely short with a huge head and long arms. Douris parlayed his meager stature into celebrity, adopting the moniker “Shorty Davis,” the only name most people in Central Oregon knew him by. Shorty enjoyed his celebrity status, but also endured threats and vandalism from ranchers who resented his use of federal grazing land in addition to his own 800 acres. One day in 1900, Shorty disappeared off the face of the Earth, never to be seen again. His friends immediately suspected murder, but years passed with no sign of Shorty, dead or alive.

Then in 1909, a Spring flood washed bones down a creekbed into town. The bones were believed to belong to Shorty Davis, but in 1909, authorities in Prineville could not say with certainty that they even were human. Still, the authorities had a man named Charles Colby in their sights, because he had been one of the people who had threatened Shorty. They used this opportunity to arrest Colby and take their case against him to a grand jury, which refused to indict him. Although Colby was a free man in the eyes of the law, he was a marked man in the eyes of Shorty Davis’ many friends, and he high-tailed it out of Prineville and headed to California. The disappearance of the popular Shorty Davis remains, at least officially, one of the most celebrated mysteries in Oregon judicial history.

Gaston Schools history, Part III: The little district that could

The Gaston Public School District doesn’t seem to have an official birthday, although the elementary and high school districts merged officially on May 31, 1968, offering a potential date.

The district’s obituary has been written several times (click here for earlier history), always prematurely. About all that is certain is that Gaston always has been, and continues to be, the little district that finds a way to survive.

In our last installment, Gaston had survived several votes that could have merged the district into Forest Grove; in fact some of the votes actually enlarged the Gaston district. But as the 1970s began, the Gaston school budget crisis persisted. Continue reading

That time a President died in Oregon … the tale of a psychic ghost

The following is an excerpt from Creek With No Name: How the West Was Won (and Lost) in Gaston, Oregon, Copyright 2011, Ken Bilderback. All rights reserved:

Creek With No NameLouis Rader was the subject of many stories in The Oregonian after his arrest, but the basis of his story is revealed in the cascading headlines on the very first article, which appeared on the doorsteps of Portlanders on the morning of June 27, 1923. The story involved a planned visit to Portland by President Warren G. Harding, and the main headline blared: “Farmer Threatens Life of President.” The first subhead elaborated on the evidence against him: “Rancher of Gaston Arrested for Writing Letter.”

On the surface, a letter threatening the life of a President about to visit the area sounds pretty damning. Upon closer inspection, however, the letter seems more a statement of confusion than confession. The letter was written to the Portland Chamber of Commerce and contains this threat, or possible threat: “Now friends this nice morning I have a hunch here it is President Harding will be called this month on a Fryday to a high court where he will give account to the above mention.” Continue reading