Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 7/Reviews (Number 4)
"Morning and evening the hills throw welcome shadows."
Many will recall the delicious humor of "Elizabeth," whose letters from "The Pointed Firs" were published from time to time in the Oregonian. Later, they were collected into book form and brought out under the title, "Letters from an Oregon Ranch," by Katherine. Now "Katherine" is "Elizabeth," and "Elizabeth" is "Katherine," and the book belongs to the very small flock of "Oregon Classics." Would you live again an evening by an Oregon fireside with the rain dripping outside, would you see an Oregon Spring in bridal beauty dressed, would you know the mysteries of Oregon hillside and woodland, of waterfall and brooklet, read Katherine-Elizabeth. This charming book with its laughable associations, its pathos and its native art, its poesy and its prose, is really the high water mark of Oregon literary achievement. No library of the Pacific Northwest can claim to be up to date without this volume, beautiful in tint and print, in holiday dress and filled with the delicate perfume of pear and plum and apple blossoms. In it we hear again the carol of blue jays and wild canaries, in short, it is the Oregon book. If the East knows little of Oregon and cares less, if Oregon herself ignores her artists with pen and brush, where then shall come our place on the literary map of the nation? When something so really precious lies unheralded on the shop shelves, and our Christmas shoppers load up with cheap eastern novels, one might be pardoned for encouraging all authors to move back to "the effete east" where at least literature finds its author recognition. As a matter of loyalty every Oregonian should own a copy of the inimitable Katherine-Elizabeth's "Letters from an Oregon Ranch."
McDonald of Oregon. A tale of Two Shores. By Eva Emery Dye. (Chicago. A. C. McClurg & Co. 1906. Pp. 395.)
A tremendous task is essayed in this book, for the sub-title, "A Tale of Two Shores," more truly indicates its scope than does its main title. The four parts to the work are given as "The Fur Traders" (of the Pacific Northwest), "Beyond the Border" (oi-the settled portion of the Mississippi valley), "Japan," and "Kamhkin" (the head-chief or the Yakimas). What but a medley would one expect from such an aggregation of parts! And yet there is a unity, if not bodied forth, at least shadowed out, in this work. It theme is nothing less than the meeting on the Columbia and in Japan of the vanguard representatives of the eastward-moving and the westward-moving races. Mrs. Dye contends that the American Indian tribes were off-shoots of the Japanese stock and does not tire in pointing out anthropological, ethnological and philological parallels among these peoples—and she finds not a few that seem significant. Incidents in the great westward streaming of the English speaking peoples and in the interflow of the races reaching even to the shores of Japan constitute the bulk of the volume. These are given as vividly and as pieturesquely as only Mrs. Dye can.
The unique and original contribution that Mrs. Dye makes in this book to the literature of the "Westward Movement" is the story of Ranald McDonald. His name thus fitly figures in the title, though that account comprises but a minor portion of the book. Ranald was the son of Archibald McDonald, a chief factor of the Hudson Bay Company, and of a daughter of Cumcumly, a head-chief of the Chinooks. His childhood was spent at different posts of that Company in the Pacific Northwest. He was educated at St. John's Academy at Red River and became a clerk in a bank at St. Thomas, Ontario. But the heredity of a Scotch Highland father and of an Indian mother was not to be held in restraint. He resolved "to break into Japan," and with an exploit that involved most daring and reckless ventures he succeeded. He not only saved himself where others paid with their lives the penalty of violating the mystery of Japan, but also instructed his Japanese attendants so that a few years later these could interpret for Commodore Perry in his forced negotiations for the opening of the harbors of Japan to the world. Furthermore it is claimed for Ranald McDonald that he was "the instigator of Perry's expedition" and more particularly that Perry's equipment of working models of all the more important inventions of western ingenuity with which he was able to set up a small exposition when he landed was solely the suggestion of McDonald.
While the story of Ranald McDonald and of the subsequent expedition of Perry are the distinctive features of the book, Mrs. Dye made it serve for a grand resume of the results of her explorations in the whole range of early Oregon history. In it she "touches the high places" in the progress of events from the coming of the Hudson Bay Company fur traders (1823) to the close of the Yakima War (1856). Mrs. Dye has genius for ferreting out blood relationships. With these ties of kinship and with the most startling coincidences of time and place that she unearths she integrates our Pacific Northwest history. This is the second fine service performed with this book.
"McDonald of Oregon," then, has a grand conception underlying it. It contains an important piece of research and in it we have a summation of Oregon's history from "the eternally feminine" point of view. The novice in Oregon history will be bewildered by its amazing flights and transitions. Some day, however, when all landmarks in Oregon history are matters of common knowledge and when its chief incidents are household stories, this book will be widely read with the delight that attend the revelation of unnumbered relationships before unperceived.
These "gleanings from a pioneer woman's physician's life" are declared to have a two-fold purpose:
First, to assist in the preservation of the early history of Oregon; second, through the story of her life and selections from her writings "to show how the pioneer woman labored and struggled to gain an entrance into the various avenues of industry and to make it respectable to earn her honest bread by the side of her brother, man."
Dr. Owens-Adair has earned the deepest gratitude of every true Oregonian in making this record of her life. This candid and graphic account of the intimate life experiences of so representative a pioneer woman is simply invaluable. It is the story of a life keyed to the pitch of heroism in the pursuit of a noble aim. Withal it is in a style that makes it delightful reading.
Following the autobiography and taking up nearly three-fourths of the book are found letters from her friends, Jesse Applegate and Stephen F. Chadwick, biographical sketches of many of the leading pioneers of Clatsop County, Dr. Owens-Adair's contributions to the press in promotion of the causes of public health and prohibition and discussions of physical culture, woman suffrage, heredity and social welfare. There is pervading the volume from beginning to end the finest spirit and enthusiasm as a champion of large and advanced ideas that affect our destiny as a nation. So much of moral tonic is in the book that a second edition, of appropriate compass and arrangement, adapting it to a wider public, would be highly desirable.
This is a "gem of purest ray serene." The tories mainly centering around life in the Indian village of Cathlamet and in the pioneer settlements in its vicinity "may be," says their author, "in themselves of little worth, and yet may help future generations of our children to better understand the life and atmosphere of a peculiar time, to better appreciate the crimson and the gold, and mayhap a little of the gray of the morning hour of the white man's day on the Pacific Coast."
They are told with exquisite charm, and of this book it can with confidence be said, what so far can be claimed for but few, that it is a permanent part of Oregon literature. One feels intuitively that the conceptions obtained from it of Indian life and character and of pioneer conditions and experience will not some day need revision. In substance, it is all pure gold, and in form it is polished so that it shines.
Experiences of a pioneer family crossing the plains told in verse have the attraction of novelty. The author penetrates to the inner life and deeper motives of the pioneer movement. A stately dignity characterizes the narrative throughout. The author succeeds at least well enough with the form of poetry to suggest that the Oregon migrations will yet afford the theme for some our grandest poetic productions. There is the highest degree of effectiveness in her art when picturing critical situations in the progress of migration. The following ideas and incidents are typical of what Mrs. Hamilton's memory recalls and her pen now portrays: The considerations from which came the resolve of an Iowa farmer to undertake the journey to Oregon; the scene when the ties of home and neighborhood are broken; the first actual camping experience; the strange exhibitions of human nature on the plains where there was no organized authority; the extrication of a small band of pioneers from a trap into which they had been led by Indians; lost for weeks among the lakes of south central Oregon when winter was at hand and the snow-covered mountains were yet to be crossed, though ox-teams were weak, supplies exhausted and father and mother almost helpless through illness; the scene in the snow at the crest of the Cascade mountains where a train of wagons was stalled in a canyon and compelled to stand all night in harness with no camp and no food for man or beast. Many such trials, hardships and tragedies are depicted leading to a climax intensely interesting. All this was suffered because they had challenged fate in setting out for a climate salubrious and free from frost and storm and free from toil necessary to prepare for winter's need and where ample farms were awaiting free.