Tales from the Grubby End: The extraordinary life of Oliver C. Yocum
The late resident accomplished much during his 75 years of living
When Im looking for story ideas, I search first for the ones that connect Newberg to something bigger than itself.
The other day, while browsing through A Century to Remember: Newberg 1889-1989, published by this newspaper 25 years ago to celebrate our citys centennial, I ran across a doozy.
It links Newberg to Shakespearean drama in the mining camps of Idaho, the manufacture of the first dry plates for photography in Oregon history, the formation of the world-famous Mazamas mountaineering club, the development of Government Camp on the shoulder of Mount Hood, and the building of that popular ski resorts first hotel.
All of these achievements were tallied by the extraordinary Oliver C. Yocum, a Renaissance man if there ever was one. Lucky for us, he lived in Newberg long enough for us to claim him as one of our own.
Indeed, his love for this part of Yamhill County was so strong, he moved back to nearby Dayton to live out his final years (with his wife Ann), spending his leisure time teaching himself to read the Greek Bible.
Known as O.C. to family and friends, Yocum was five years old when he accompanied his parents, Jesse and Minerva Cooper Yocum, to the Pacific Northwest via the Oregon Trail in 1847.
Reaching Yamhill County, the Yocums lived as gypsy settlers for the next 10 years, moving first to Grande Ronde, then Bellevue and finally Lafayette, where Oliver, now 16, took a job clerking for Morris Wolf, later Sidney Smith.
A restlessness settled on the young man so he moved to Portland. At Sherlock & Co. he learned harness and saddle making. In his spare time, he worked on a deficiency in formal schooling by studying law and the classics. He also developed an interest in Shakespeare, committing to memory many of the Bards plays.
In 1865, he put his new talent to use by joining a troupe of actors working the mining camps of Idaho. They performed burlesque Shakespeare, which was spreading like wildfire across the West.
Every camp had a stage. Once the curtain lifted, the diggers watched the Bards plays altered to be less intense, more ludicrous, occasionally ribald, and full of clever comedy and themes that mirrored their own lives.
Tiring of the lifestyle and low pay of a traveling actor, Yocum said goodbye to Shakespeare in 1870 and returned to Lafayette, He married Ann Robertson, moved to Newberg and began farming 50 acres on the northwest part of the J.B. Rogers Donation Land Claim.
In A Century to Remember, the late historian Doris Jones Huffman pinpoints the location as a present-day tract of land on Fifth Street, between Lincoln and Grant streets, continuing south past Dayton Avenue to Ninth Street.
In addition to farming, Yocum was Newbergs best saddle maker and served the area for a time as a justice of the peace.
In 1878, he moved to Dayton and two years later was in Portland working as a photographer for I.G. Davidson at First and Yamhill streets.
In 1882, he moved to the Mount Tabor neighborhood, set up his own photo gallery and manufactured what are thought to be the first dry plates for photography in Oregon.
Then a new love entered his life, one that would bring him lasting fame mountain climbing.
Ascending to the top of Mount Hood with camera in tow, he became one of the first (if not the first) to take pictures from the summit. He now belonged to the mountain.
In 1890, he began looking for a place to live close by. He found just the spot on a lovely piece of ground adjacent to the old Barlow Road. Today we know the location as Government Camp.
Yocum platted parts of his claim in blocks, naming the streets Yule, Olive, Church, Union and Montgomery and Yocum. Establishing a post office for the new community, he applied for the name Government Camp but was refused. Pompeii, however, was accepted, but it was short-lived.
On July 19, 1894, he was among the 105 climbers who became charter members of the Mazamas, the Pacific Northwests most prestigious and oldest mountaineering fraternity. The word is from the Nahuatl language of Mexico and means mountain goat. Membership is reserved for those who have climbed to the summit of a mountain with at least one glacier.
From this point forward, Yocum was one of the mountains top guides.
Today, Mount Hood landmarks are named in his honor. Hikers enjoy the remote and difficult Yocum Ridge Trail, a 16-mile roundtrip trek at 3,600 feet in elevation. The journey begins at the Ramona Falls trailhead and ends at Yocum Meadow. On lovely Camp Creek off Highway 26, Yocum Falls greets visitors
In July 1909, Newberg Graphic editor and publisher W.C. Woodward visited O.C. and Ann at their mountain resort and was taken to the top of Mount Hood. Afterwards, Woodward could proudly count himself a true Mazama.
To maximize the experience of what the mountain offered, Yocum in 1899 built the areas first hotel, a 16-room, two-and-a-half story place known as the Mountain View House. The cost was $23,000, an enormous sum for the time.
To protect his investment, he stayed at the facility year-round, even in the dead of winter, when conditions made it impossible for anyone to travel to the area.
In 1910, he sold the property to Elijah Coleman, who changed the name to the Government Camp Hotel. On Oct. 11, 1933, the building burned to the ground.
In 1911, at age 69, Yocum gave up his career as a guide and became an assistant chemist at North Pacific Dental College in Portland.
Six years later, he retired from the position and moved to Dayton, where he passed away on March 12, 1928. Ann joined him on July 6, 1931.
Newberg resident George Edmonston Jr. is the retired editor of OSUs alumni magazine, the Oregon Stater, and is a frequent contributor of history features to this newspaper. Contact him at edmonstg @comcast.net