Fort Umpqua Farming

Visitors to the fort during Fort Umpqua Days this coming weekend will be drawn back in history through several activities for children that commemorate the fort’s importance as a historic agricultural site. These children will water the garden, make cornhusk dolls, grind corn, and sort beans from the fort’s gardens of heritage vegetables. And they’ll make apple cider from fruit out of the fort’s heritage orchard.

Ft.Ump.orchard signAs usual they’ll have plenty of 1800s games to play. And after they try samples of tasty food that workers at the original fort might have eaten, they can lead their parents out to take a look at the large gardens and orchards surrounding the reconstructed fort.

My books, The Shifting Winds and A Place of Her Own, tap into this same era, so the celebration has special meaning for me. I won’t get down to the fort during the day between 10 am and 5 pm because I’ll be up near the butterfly pavilion selling books in my booth, offering my own look at these intriguing times. On Saturday my writer friend Lynn Ash will join me to sell her travel memoirs, The Route from Cultus Lake and Vagabonda, describing her own pioneer spirit as she goes camping solo around the country.

Ft.Ump.gardens-1 (2)Like the Fort Vancouver headquarters for the Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade operation in the West, Fort Umpqua was a trading post, not a military fort, although both forts had tall picketed walls for protection. And the people who worked there had to sustain themselves in this wilderness.

The Oregon Country in the 1800s lay far from suppliers in eastern North America and Britain, so the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Dr. John McLoughlin, Chief Factor of this western region, placed self sufficiency high in the order of business. He chose a broad plain north of the Columbia River for the Company headquarters site of Fort Vancouver because he needed a fertile place to grow food to feed employees.

So it’s not strange that when he proposed a site for an outpost in the Umpqua region he wanted a place that could grow orchards and gardens for food.

Ft.Ump.gardens-2 (2)Company trappers in the Umpqua had been using a couple of temporary sites, and in 1832 McLoughlin assigned the French Canadian Jean Baptiste Gagnier to supply those. But McLoughlin sought a more permanent outpost. Gagnier selected a site, but McLoughlin, wanting a second opinion, sent his son-in-law William Glen Rae down to be sure the place had enough suitable land for growing vegetables.

Gagnier had in fact found a lovely open meadow with the fine treelined Umpqua River on one side and scattered oaks and swaths of fir forest crowning the hills on the other. The rich bottomland soil would grow fine vegetables and fruits from orchards and possibly vineyards.

Ft.Ump.orchardRae proceeded with the fort, dubbed Fort Umpqua, and the Company maintained this post for fifteen years, from its construction in 1836 until 1854, their southernmost outpost in the entire Oregon Country.

Once the United States acquired the area after the 1846 boundary settlement with Britain, the British cut back on business south of the new border, but they kept a trader at the site until 1854. The fort burned in 1851, but they stayed on, working out of some kind of structure for three more years. By that time the meadow thrived as an agricultural center.

Of course, all this happened a short distance upriver from the Fort Umpqua structures and plantings you see today. More on that in my next blog post. But that small factoid does nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the annual Fort Umpqua Days at ECEC, happening this next Saturday and Sunday, September 3 and 4.

Beckham, Stephen Dow. Land of the Umpqua: A History of Douglas County, Oregon. Roseburg, OR: Douglas County Commissioners, 1986.

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Black Powder Men

A popular event at Fort Umpqua Days in Elkton, Oregon, is the gathering of black powder men, reenactors who come out with their muzzleloaders to exhibit their prowess at shooting these early weapons and to share stories of historic Fort Umpqua times. That’s Saturday and Sunday, September 3 and 4, and I’ll be there with my own books where you’ll find old-time black powder men, especially in The Shifting Winds. Update: See also a story in the The News-Review about a brigade of reenactors of 19th century trappers who camped at Fort Umpqua last weekend on their way to California as the Hudson’s Bay Company trapping brigades might have done back in the day.

First Mountain Man jpgSome of today’s black powder folks call themselves mountain men, and there may have been a few mountain men who passed by Fort Umpqua in its prime, like the man at left painted by Andy Thomas, artist, who dubbed him “The First Mountain Man.”

However, the term mountain man generally refers to the American trappers who did in fact work in the mountains, over in the Rockies.

Jed Smith was an early American mountain man who passed through the Umpqua region years before the fort’s construction, when he led an exploratory expedition of fellow trappers from the Rockies west by way of California.

Jed didn’t fare well in the Umpqua. The Umpqua Indians attacked him and his men, killing many of them, and stole all their furs. Jed ultimately made his way north to Fort Vancouver, where Dr. McLoughlin treated him hospitably.

Hudson’s Bay Company men recovered Jed’s furs and McLoughlin paid him a fair price for them. Jed so appreciated McLoughlin’s decency he swore he wouldn’t trap in the Oregon Country, leaving beaver there to the British. Although British and America trappers collided occasionally along the Continental Divide that marked the west edge of the undisputed U.S. territory of the Louisiana Purchase, the British for the most part were left alone in the Oregon Country, which was supposed to be jointly occupied by Britain and the United States.

Only when the trade died in the Rockies did American mountain men push on west. That’s when Joe Meek and my fictional Jake Johnston of The Shifting Winds headed to the Willamette to become settlers.

Mt. ManMountain men typically wore buckskins as many black powder reenactors do. So did British trappers who went out with the trapping brigades. Ken Putnam of Drain, Oregon, poses with me in his mountain man garb at the 2015 Fort Umpqua Days.

Frontiersmen who hunted in the wilds found the buckskin, or deerskin, to be sturdy and protective in the rugged brush where they sought game. In the Rockies it had the added advantage of availability. American trappers worked and lived with Native American tribes who wore buckskin themselves, often beautifully crafted by the Indian women who also became wives of many mountain men.

The weapons changed over time. In the early years the muzzleloader would have been a flintlock rifle, perhaps a Kentucky long rifle, but the long barrel proved awkward for the mounted trappers. They soon opted for a shorter barreled half-stock with bigger bore. About the same time this “mountain rifle” became popular the flintlock was being replaced by the percussion rifle, which was easier to load quickly–important when you had only one shot per loading.

Then gunsmiths Jacob and Samuel Hawken came up with the clean-lined plains rifle known as the Hawken rifle, and that became the mountain man’s rifle of choice. My character Jake Johnston takes great pride in his sleek Hawken rifle he brought out of the Rockies with him.

During Fort Umpqua Days you can expect to hear the deep harrumpf of muzzleloading rifles echoing across the hills as modern-day black powder men slip into a past where expertise with those weapons could be a matter of life and death.

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HBC Outpost Ready for Celebration

the fort 2 (2)Nestled on the bank of Oregon’s Umpqua River, this replica of the British Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Umpqua will come to life in a couple of weeks for the annual Fort Umpqua Days celebration at Elkton. The event will run all day Saturday and Sunday, September 3 and 4, and I’ll have a booth there to sell my books.

Fort Vancouver Big HouseJust last month I stepped into the historic past of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s western headquarters at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River, touring the commander’s house, shown at left, among other structures there. So I see this Umpqua outpost with new perspective.

I’ve attended Fort Umpqua Days celebrations every year since I returned to the family farm near Elkton in 2009, joined the writing team for the event’s pageants, and had a booth the last two years there to sell my first book A Place of Her Own. Still, I feel a difference this year after my event at Fort Vancouver in July where I presented my new book The Shifting Winds, which has many scenes at that HBC headquarters.

Before the Fort Vancouver event I wrote a series of posts for this blog called “The TRUE Shifting Winds,” giving an overview of history leading to the days of my book and the fort’s part in it. Fort Umpqua doesn’t appear in the story, but for me the enhanced sense of Hudson’s Bay Company history wraps Fort Umpqua into the fold.

622.John McLoughlin Daguerreotype - creditDr. John McLoughlin, shown at right, commanded the efforts of the British HBC fur trading empire in the Oregon Country and had been at Fort Vancouver only a year or so when he decided to push south through the Umpqua basin with brigades of trappers.

Those expeditions into the southern region became annual events–and rather colorful. Author John A. Hussey quotes Editor Alice Bay Maloney in describing them:

At the head of the brigade rode the leader, a chief trader [or clerk] of the Hudson’s Bay Company, astride a strong limbed Nez Perce horse and armed to the teeth with the best weapons of the day. Directly behind him rode his Indian wife gaily attired in the finest London broadcloth, with a wide-brimmed, feather-trimmed hat atop her wealth of long, shining black hair…. All the men were clad in deerskin….

Hussey adds a description of the brigade by an unnamed priest who wasn’t quite as impressed: “‘The brigade,’ he wrote, ‘is a hideous assemblage of persons of both sexes, devoid of principles and morals,’ and possessed of ‘revolting exteriors.'”

In any case it was during one of these expeditions that members of the brigade selected a site on the Umpqua River they thought would be a good outpost for trade with the local tribes. McLoughlin, concerned about competition from American trappers, wanted to clear the area of beaver and establish a strong foothold.

434.fort umpqua interiorThe Hudson’s Bay Company built Fort Umpqua in 1836, and it served the Company well for more than a decade, even after the boundary settlement between Britain and the United States gave the land to the U.S. in 1846.

The photo at left shows the interior of the reconstructed Fort Umpqua with the HBC flag flying again.

In the next two weeks I’ll write a few more posts about the Hudson’s Bay Company trade in the Oregon Country and about the reconstruction of their southern outpost as the Fort Umpqua Days celebration nears.

Hussey, John A. Champoeg: Place of Transition. Portland, OR: Oregon Historical Society, 1967.
Maloney, Alice Bay (ed.). Fur Brigade to the Bonaventura, John Works California Expedition, 1832-1833 … San Francisco, CA, 1945.

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At the Fair

Janet FairA surge of heat gripped Roseburg during the Douglas County Fair last week, making us authors happy to be in one of the few air-conditioned buildings at the fairgrounds.

Here I am at the Author Table surrounded by props for my two books, The Shifting Winds and A Place of Her Own, doing my best to keep cool.

My expectation of ideal weather didn’t quite work out. The forecast looked good when I promised pleasant days in my last blog post, but by the time the fair started, the numbers had ticked up dramatically. Sorry if I misled anyone.

More traffic than usual passed by our table in the foyer of the Community Hall, I think, as folks sought refuge from temperatures running into the high 90s and 100s.

My writer friends and I had many good conversations with passersby and sold some books. Through banners, posters, and a notebook filled with pictures and brief descriptions, I offered a glimpse into my stories.

After the scorching sun slunk behind the hills, I ventured out for fair food and checking the exhibits. No little piggies this year. Probably a good thing. We might have had cooked piglet. But I enjoyed seeing lots of other animals, as well as all the fine displays of the handiwork of children and adults.

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Fair Week!

The Douglas County Fair starts Wednesday this week with rides and fair food and animals and other amazing exhibits–and yes, authors selling and signing our books. It’s a great fair, and the weather promises to be almost perfect. A little hot on Friday, but otherwise ideal. You’ll find us authors the epitome of cool in the air-conditioned foyer of the Community Conference Hall, just to the left as you come in the main gate.

web-County-Fair-rides - 2013Outside, the fairway awaits with scenes at dusk like Robin Loznak’s picture at the Douglas County Fair from a few years ago.

Or you may find piggies like these Robin caught napping at the time. Although a regular attraction at the fair, I can’t promise there will be piggies this year. But there’ll be animals aplenty. For more of Robin’s fair photos that year check here. They’re down a ways, but it’s an entertaining scroll.

web-County-Fair-naptime - 2013I’ll be at the fair all four days this year from 3 to 7 pm, highlighting my new book, The Shifting Winds, with copies also of A Place of Her Own.

My friend A. Lynn Ash from my Eugene writing group will be there Wednesday and Thursday from 3 to 7 with her two travel memoirs, The Route from Cultlus Lake and her latest, Vagabonda. My friend Dianne Carter from my Roseburg writing group will be there all four days with her new debut novel, Misled, Wednesday through Friday from 11 to 3, and Saturday from 3 to 7.

Various members of An Association of Writers, my Roseburg group, will be at the Author Table throughout the four days from 11 in the morning until 7 in the evening. They’ll be selling member anthologies and inviting local writers to join the group. We’ll all be talking writing with whoever wants to chat.

So if you’re looking for cool at the Douglas County Fair this week, check out the Author Table, indoors, first left inside the main gate.

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Bloomsbury Event Rescheduled

627.ashland outside bloomsburyJust a note to let you know my book signing and reading event at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland has been rescheduled and will now be held on Monday, October 10 from 7 to 8 pm. I previously announced it in “News Briefs” as a September event, but realized it was the same night as the first Presidential Debate. Since that might affect attendance we moved the event ahead to the October date.

It’s always a pleasure to visit Ashland where I used to live back in the 90s. And Bloomsbury Books is a lovely store. Looking forward to it.

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