History of Oregon by Oregon Historical Society
homeSection 4Subtopic: Pre-Industrial ...
Subtopic : Pre-Industrial Period: 1870-1910: Pre-Industrial Arts and Culture

Themes: Arts

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Horse Race down Main Street
Bend, c. 1908
OrHi 555752

Writing Letters
Before the railroad, the sawmills, and the influx of industrial workers, central Oregon homesteaders were isolated from each other and from the outside world. Most settlers “made their own entertainment” with folk arts including music, letter-writing, and story-telling. Letters from central Oregon correspondents like the Robbins family and Alberta McCabe are remarkable for their ability to present the drama of the frontier and at the same time show us the ordinary details of domestic life.  Sick children, balky animals, household budgets, and social occasions have the same importance in the letters as Paiute Indian attacks, stampedes, and the occasional desperado. The letters also show us family correspondence conducted at the level of craft if not quite art. Alberta McCabe’s witty and articulate letters were meant to amuse her father in Detroit, and they surely amused her as well. The pleasure she took in her writing comes through in her ironic narrative voice: “We are all well except when I forget to boil this pure mountain snow water, as the natives feelingly refer to it, [then] we all have dysentery.”

Telling Stories
Another widely-practiced home-made form of entertainment was story telling.  The story telling tradition at Warm Springs remained strong. Stories of Coyote and other animal characters date back to the earliest times of the Sahaptin and Wasco people. Many of these oral tales are recorded and re-told in Jarold Ramsey’s Coyote Was Going There. Writing these stories changes some of their characteristics, of course, and compromises the spontaneous nature of traditional story-telling, but it is important to record the tales before they are lost.

Reub Long, a homesteader and horse rancher from the Ft. Rock Valley is central Oregon’s best example of a Euro-American story teller. Reub’s stories and anecdotes have been recorded in several sources. Included in the repertoire of any self-respecting central Oregon story teller would be several stories about the eccentricities of Bill Brown, a good rendition of the Lost Meek Party and Blue Bucket Gold, and—for telling beside a campfire—the story of Billy Quinn’s murder high in the Cascades.

© Ward Tonsfeldt & Paul G. Claeyssens, 2004.

Themes: Arts

Regions: Central Oregon

Date: 1900-1950

Author: Ward Tonsfeldt & Paul G. Claeyssens

Most central Oregon settlers had to make their own entertainment through folk arts, music, letter-writing, and story-telling.

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