Archive for category Oregon (generally)

wálamt, wallamat, wolamat, wolamut, Willamette

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on May 14, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There are three comments at the original post.]

In doing research for my book, I recently came across Urban Scout’s discussion of the origin of the word “Willamette”. He debunks some myths about the meaning of this word, and concludes:

In remembrance of the Kalapuyan and Clackamas (lower Columbia Chinook) [I]ndians who lived and died here, and in honor of those who still live here; please stop saying “no one lived here.” Please stop saying that Willamette means “the valley of sickness and death.”[1] Please know that if the natives later refered to this valley as one of “sickness and death,” it came from the biological genicide inflicted on the natives by this [i.e., Euro American] civilization. Please go to the library, or better yet find a living native, and learn the real history of this place.

Urban Scout does a great job of sleuthing that includes critiquing “explanations” of the name that do not cite a source and then referencing scholarly works on the topic, particularly Henry Zenk’s essay in the Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 7: Northwest Coast (1990). To add a little to this . . .

Lewis and Clark identified the river we now know as the Willamette as the Multnomah in their journal entries of early April 1806, though the Chinookan word that served as their source refers only to a village on Sauvie Island (/máånumaå/, “those towards the water”).

Henry Zenk finds that trappers and Indians extended the name “Willamette” (also spelled wálamt, wallamat, wolamat, and wolamut) to the entire river and watershed by the time the Pacific Fur Company founded Fort Astoria in 1811. Zenk posits that this is most most likely by way of the lingua franca of the Columbia basin, Chinuk Wawa. Previously, the name appears to have only applied to the name of a Chinook village on the west side of Willamette Falls that had long served as an important center of trading, at least until the large-scale depopulations from malaria outbreaks between 1830 and 1834. Zenk states that we have no definitive record of what the name “Willamette” meant to the Chinooks.[2]
[1] I hadn’t heard this explanation before reading this Urban Scout’s blog.

[2] Henry Zenk, “Notes on Native American Place-names of the Willamette Valley Region,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 109: 1 (Spring 2008), 25-26. See entries for April 2-6, 1806, in Gary E. Moulton, ed., The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition (Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1983-2001),, accessed May 3, 2010.



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Pollution in Paradise turns 50!

On November 21, 1962, KGW-TV of Portland, Oregon, broadcast the television documentary Pollution in Paradise. Television correspondent Tom McCall produced and narrated this film to draw attention to the problems of air and water pollution in the Willamette Valley and throughout the state.

McCall observed in his narration that pollution was a complex topic intertwining social, political, scientific, moral, economic, and environmental issues, but that these issues were solvable so long as Oregonians actively pursued a balance between economic, environmental, and public health. As McCall narrated,

    Some pollution is inescapable, especially in a society such as ours, whose commercial and domestic demands on water and air constantly accelerate. Thus, some water, for example, must be employed for diluting pollution. But how much, and what priorities should be given this use, are central to a great debate, on which the shape of this region and this nation’s future could well hang.

McCall was a well-known and respected journalist with a background in radio and television and prior service in state government. Many Oregonians lauded the documentary for being a clear, concise, and effective overview of the issues. McCall’s boss at KGW-TV, Tom Dargan, sent copies of the film to educators and state legislators. In January 1963 Dargan broadcast the documentary again to influence state legislators into taking stronger actions in support of pollution abatement. Momentum from the documentary did influence legislators in this way and also contributed to McCall’s election as Secretary of State in 1964 and Governor two years later.

The documentary had this kind of effect because of McCall’s renown and the content of the film. It was also effective because it aired in the midst of other influential works on environmental issues and during the formative period of the development of the television news documentary. Pollution in Paradise aired just a few months after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring appeared in book form. McCall’s film also appeared not long after Edward R. Murrow’s acclaimed 1960 CBS Reports exposé of the agricultural industry’s mistreatment of migrant workers, Harvest of Shame.

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A Graphic Post

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Oct. 27, 2011. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There are six comments at the original post location,, as of April 29, 2012.]

I must warn you: This is a graphic post. Below the fold you will see images of line graphs and bar charts that provide visual representations of data across time. They look something like this:

Image 1: Oregon State Biennial Appropriation to the OSSA, 1939 through 1965.

If this seems like something that might cause your stomach to turn, perhaps you dare read no further; if, on the other hand, you have courage, stamina, and are sure that the kids won’t be peeking over your shoulder, please do read on, because I’m seeking your input.

I would like any and all readers to weigh-in with comments and questions about the graphs below, and the conclusions I’m drawing from them, and to let me know if both of these are clear (or not). For those readers who have specialized training or experience in history, statistics, social science, mathematics, etc., I have some specific questions below that I would like help answering.

A common refrain I come across in both primary and secondary sources discussing the efforts and results of the Oregon State Sanitary Authority (OSSA) in addressing water pollution is that the Authority was not funded adequately. Authority members and historians have concluded that this lack of funding handicapped the OSSA between the time it commenced its work in early 1939 and the time that Governor Tom McCall restructured it and the Oregon Air Pollution Authority into the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in 1969.

Perhaps the OSSA was underfunded, but that brings up at least two important points. First, it seems that the majority of government agencies, non-profits, for-profits, and individual households would prefer more money; I know I certainly would, and I also would prefer it if all of the non-profits that I support had much more funding. Therefore, it is quite common to hear complaints about a lack of money . . . but does that make it a pointless refrain, a case of “crying wolf?”

Second, is there some kind of objective reference point that one can call upon to gauge whether or not a given entity is “underfunded,” “adequately funded,” or “over-funded?” Maybe there are such metrics in some instances, but what might these be? In the case of the OSSA specifically, I suppose this metric would be whether or not the Authority was achieving it’s legal mandate: Was the OSSA making substantive progress in abating water pollution? If not, to what extent does lack of progress correlate with a shortage of funds?

Asking these kinds of questions is important in a democracy. It’s important for taxpayers to know where their money is going, and if the agency is using the money as effectively as possible. When voters turn-out overwhelmingly in favor of the creation of a new government agency — as was the case with the OSSA in 1938 — it’s important for citizens to know that the agency is doing the work that they authorized it to do. Of course, there is at least one important dynamic that confounds this straightforward logic: Are citizens willing to pay for achieving the purported goal of a given piece of legislation or citizen’s initiative?

The pattern of my pursuit of these answers regarding the OSSA can just as easily be applied to other local, state, or federal government agencies.

The first graph I want to show you is straightforward:
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A Sketch of Water Quality-Related Events in the Eugene Area

A staff member at the City of Eugene recently contacted me with a question about events related to water pollution abatement in the Eugene-Springfield area. I replied that my research has largely concentrated on pollution from the valley’s two primary polluters through the 1960s—the pulp and paper industry and the City of Portland—but that I have uncovered some items of note specific to Eugene/Springfield. A typhoid outbreak in 1906, a significant fish kill in 1926, and the annual Commonwealth Conferences held at the University of Oregon were all significant events within the larger context of Oregon’s clean streams movement.

An important dynamic in the early history of Willamette River pollution was the fact that the earliest Euro American settlers to the valley took their potable water supplies from the river. As water quality deteriorated, municipal governments throughout the watershed secured other sources of potable water, beginning with Portland in the 1890s. I wrote the following in my thesis regarding this transition:

Other Willamette Valley cities ceased drawing municipal water from the river from the 1900s through the 1930s. After an outbreak of typhoid fever in 1906, Eugene residents lobbied successfully to have the city take over water treatment responsibilities from private ownership. In 1911, Eugene city engineers completed the Walterville Power Plant, primarily to pump McKenzie River water into the city. The city of Corvallis replaced their Willamette River water supply in 1906 with water drawn from the Mary’s Peak watershed west of town. However, in 1949 city officials did authorize construction of a water treatment plant on the west bank of the Willamette River to augment supply during high demand periods. The city of Albany has drawn its municipal water from the eighteen-mile Santiam-Albany Canal at least as early as 1912. The canal was built in 1872 to serve transportation and power generation purposes by diverting water from the Santiam River to the Willamette River.6 Salem city officials developed the North Santiam River watershed in 1936-1937 in reaction to public pressure since the 1910s for a healthier water supply. Securing new municipal supplies solved one pressing issue, while decreasing the need to address Willamette River pollution directly, contributing in some ways to the continued use of the river as a waste sink.[1]

During the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, public health was a significant motivator—not to clean the Willamette River, but to give the river over to the function of waste disposal:

Representatives of the State Board of Health, newspaper editors, and others were aware of the steadily deteriorating quality of water in Portland and along the entire Willamette River. In February 1906, the Oregonian reacted to a typhoid epidemic linked to Eugene’s Willamette River sewer outfalls by calling the river a “common sewer for the entire valley between the Cascade and Coast Ranges of mountains from Cottage Grove to the Columbia.”11 Later in 1906 the Oregon State Board of Health observed typhoid in the Columbia River for the first time and identified the sources of this contagion as tributary streams in eastern Oregon as well as the Willamette. The Secretary of the Board of Health noted that the “Willamette River has not been free from typhoid germs for years.” In response, an Oregonian reporter concluded that “it evidently behooves the many swimmers about Portland to cultivate the gentle art of keeping their mouths closed while in the water.”[2]

The Oregonian allocated “censure where censure is due” in blaming Eugene city officials for the February 1906 typhoid outbreak. Editors recognized that Eugene’s small size precluded city leaders from investing in costly treatment facilities or in securing water sources from away from the town, but lambasted city officials nonetheless for not providing healthful drinking water and, instead, delivering to its citizens water from “a great open sewer running through the town, and a water system contaminated at its very source.”[3]

Six years later, Read the rest of this entry »

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Notable people remembered on a nondescript moss-covered boulder at the end of a rarely-traveled country road

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Nov. 21, 2011. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

Izaak Walton League Memorial Plaque, Oak Island Game Management Area, Sauvie Island, Oregon, Nov. 19, 2011. Photo Seth S. Moody.

A few weeks ago, I went a-looking for a plaque in North Portland that was not to be found. A few days ago, my intrepid co-explorer Seth Moody and I braved the wilds of Sauvie Island to find another plaque. I’m proud to report that neither of us were disemboweled by the Sasquatch, and that we achieved our goal (and we have proof!).

The plaque we found was installed by the Oregon Division of the Izaak Walton League on September 14, 1957, to commemorate the life and work of Edgar F. Averill and William L. Finley. Both men were long-time members of the League, long-time active conservationists, and long-time water pollution abatement advocates.

Our trek to discover this plaque was somewhat of a pilgrimage for me. In my ongoing research on Willamette River pollution, I have discovered an extensive amount of information about the in-the-trenches work of men and women like Averill and Finley. With every discovery I am increasingly more appreciative of this work, and conscious of these people’s relevance and resonance to the present day. I locate my spiritual center in nature and human consciousness, so, in my interpretation, Averill and Finley are two notable and fully human figures—among many—who illustrate the ways in which real people can take real actions in the real world to effect real and positive changes to benefit present and future generations. In my interpretation, this is precisely the realm of the highest spiritual practice.

I will explain what I mean and ground these men in the real world. Below you will find some details of the lives of Averill and Finley to help explain why their names are glued to a nondescript moss-covered boulder at the end of a rarely-traveled country road in an out-of-the-way place like Sauvie Island. Follow me after the jump . . .

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The 1940 U.S. Census & Willamette River pollution: What’s the connection?

Recently, there have been a few articles in the Oregonian about the U.S. Census Bureau’s release of details from the 1940 census. The Oregonian‘s David Stabler wrote on April 3, 2012:

The 1940 Census, released Monday after 72 years of confidentiality expired, is like a vast shoebox of old photographs and letters discovered in a cobwebbed attic.
Interest in Oregon is high because the state is among the first of five to make the census searchable by names. Volunteers around the country are working quickly to index all 1,086,000 names in the 1940 Oregon census. They expect to finish indexing names as early as this summer.[1]

There is a direct connection between the 1940 U.S. Census in Oregon and the push for clean streams in the Willamette Valley and throughout the state. I’ll make the connection after the jump . . .

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