Last week an important nonprofit group with which I am affiliated in Beaverton was discussing the importance of local history, and I was moved by the comments of one woman who said, 'People here have a thirst to know more about the history of Beaverton.'
How true, I thought, and also true of people in Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood. In fact, I think many of us are about to die of thirst for such knowledge of history.
Let's face it, many of our residents are new to our communities - from far-off places like North Dakota, South-ern California and Mars - so they don't know anything about our past.
Some of us, of course, had local history rammed down our throats back in junior high. We took school buses to Champoeg, where we actually saw the place where a line was drawn on the ground and the vote was taken whether or not to make Oregon a state - and we saw a settler's cabin with hides nailed on the walls and tools they used for daily living like the butter churn, an early upper-body workout machine.
And many of us, in our youth, had to listen to the ramblings of crazy old people, their minds diminished by whiskey and lack of oxygen, telling us about days that were so long and so difficult that whipper-snappers like us would never understand. So our contact with local history has been mixed, to say the least.
I know what you're going to say next. We already have some good resources on our local history.
In Tualatin, for example, Loyce Martinazzi and Karen Lafky Nygaard contributed 'Tualatin: From the Beginning' in 1993. And, back in 1979, Tigard resident Mary Payne published 'Tigardville - Tigard; A History of Tigard,' a collection of historical columns she had written for the Tigard Times about the founders of her community. And the definitive book on Beaverton's history is the utterly unpronounceable 'Chakeipi - The Place of the Beaver.'
These books are fine, if you're interested in a lot of important 'names' and 'dates.' But I personally believe history is about other things, too. Here are some highlights.
THE MISSOULA FLOOD - A giant beaver dam stretching from Canada to the Great Plains broke several thousand years ago when the melting water from the ice age proved too much for mere sticks and mud to contain. The result was some of our grandest canyons and many of our Northwest rivers. It also is responsible for carrying the Willamette meteor from Montana to West Linn, where it was discovered by prospectors, given eventually to the American Museum of Natural History and labeled The World's Largest Paperweight from Outer Space.
THE INDIAN WARS - With the exception of some 'difficulties' in eastern Washington and down around Klamath Falls - both involving shooting and killing - there really wasn't much friction between whites and the original inhabitants of this area. Mostly, we killed them with diseases. The survivors, of course, laid low and waited a couple hundred years and then began building gambling casinos all over the Northwest to get the white man's money. More on this ongoing story as it develops.
THE LEWIS AND CLARK EXPEDITION - Sorry, but this story has been told to death. If you want to brush up on the details, see 'Oregon History for Dummies,' which doesn't waste a lot of ink on anything.
THE GREAT MIGRATION - Wagon trains full of settlers started coming to the Oregon Territory in 1843, followed by the first McDonald's in 1844, the first Starbuck's in 1845 and the Trail Blazers' first losing season in 1846.
PORTLAND NAMED WITH A COIN TOSS - As all students of local history know, there was quite a controversy over what to call Portland. One group of people from Boston insisted it be named after their original home. Another group, from Portland, Maine, made a similar case. Other proposed names included Paris, New York, Schenectady, Mudburg, Toon Town and Boogerville. A series of contests, including arm wrestling, beer drinking and, finally, a coin toss, made it official.
SUBURBS DEVELOP - In the beginning, Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood had no physical connection to Portland. They were small, independent communities over the West Hills which grew up along the Tualatin River. (Tualatin, by the way, is an ancient Indian word meaning 'Be Careful Where You Step Because the Animals Poop Wherever They Want.')
In the 1970s, however, people came from many places - including North Dakota, Southern California and Mars - and the communities filled up to the point where they were not only touching each other (ew!) but also Portland. At the same time, most of the large Portland employers moved to the suburbs, so now people driving to work jam the major highways in all directions, another fact that surviving Native Americans find very amusing.
(Former managing editor of the Lake Oswego Review, Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, Mikel Kelly handles special sections and contributes a column for Community Newspapers - which, by the way, you should believe at your own peril).