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BOOK REVIEW: Three books for Oregon history buffs

Published on June 18, 2016 3:00AM

“The Fur Trade Gamble: North West Company on the Pacific Slope, 1800-1820,” by Lloyd Keith and John C. Jackson.© 2016, Washington State University Press.

It is a well-known historical fact that on May 12, 1792, Captain Robert Gray aboard the Boston coastal trading ship Columbia Rediviva chanced upon an as yet unknown river along the Pacific coast. In the grand European tradition of discovery, he claimed the entire drainage of the newly found river for the United States, and named it the Columbia, after his ship.

This new territory became a battleground between British and American fur trapping interests and those looking for the famed Northwest Passage from the center of the continent through to the riches of China. “The Fur Trade Gamble” is the story of a consortium of British-backed fur traders from Montreal, Canada, who spent two decades searching for a route from central Canada over the northern Rocky Mountains to the sea.

Authors Keith and Jackson mined a wealth of obscure data to piece together the story of a doomed enterprise that failed not because of a lack of effort by its people or the enormous geographical distances entailed by the venture, but because of the economics of the waning beaver trade.

“The Portland Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City,” by Lucas N.N. Burke and Judson L. Jeffries. © 2016, University of Washington Press.

A branch of the infamous Black Panther Party organized in Portland in the 1960s in an effort to bring focus to the plight of African Americans living in the Albina District in the northern section of the city. Economics and political maneuvering had gradually concentrated the black neighborhoods into a small area nestled between the Willamette and Columbia rivers north of the business district, and by 1965 Portland city government was making the attempt to close down the Albina District for good.

The Portland Black Panthers wanted a voice in Portland politics to bring stability and peace to their neighborhood: a breakfast program for its children, a health clinic for its residents, and freedom from the still-oppressive biases that existed in an otherwise liberal bastion of the West. “The Portland Black Panthers” chronicles the largely peaceful efforts of Portland’s black community to be heard during a turbulent time in Oregon history.

‘Oregon: A State That Stands Out,” by Michael McCloskey. © 2016, Inkwater Press.

Portland resident and former Sierra Club director Michael McCloskey has rounded up a virtual cornucopia of tidbits about Oregon and organized them into a fun and informative book. It is a collection of firsts, bests and “did you knows” that lead you down winding paths in every direction, covering politics, geography, business, the arts, conservation, sports and more.

Loosely organized by category, McCloskey bases his book on Oregon’s standout traits as viewed on a national scale. While he does tend to focus his lens on Portland and the Willamette Valley, a few tidbits surface that those of us on the dry side can be proud of, including the Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon, Hamley’s famous saddlery, the Pendleton Air Field and UAV range, and Wallowa Lake and its famous tramway, among others.

A quick and entertaining read, “Oregon: A State That Stands Out” is a great introduction to why Oregon is the perfect place to live, work and recreate.


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