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On the Trail with Stephen Dow Beckham

August 15, 2012

By Matthew Diederich, Ian Johnson, and John Pouley

Oregon Heritage and noted historian Stephen Dow Beckham are on the Oregon Trail! As part of a National Park Service-sponsored project to identify and list publically-owned segments of the Oregon Trail in the National Register of Historic Places across the country, staff and Beckham have walked the trail on the high desert of Eastern Oregon at Flagstaff Hill and Virtue Flat, the Mountain Pass at Blue Mountain Crossing and through the Boardman Bombing Range.

Left to right, Sarah LeCompte and Katy Coddington with the Bureau of Land Management, and Stephen Dow Beckham on the Oregon Trail at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City.

While much less treacherous today than in the nineteenth century, surveyors have crawled under range fences, forded creeks, and tip-toed across the Boardman Bombing Range following the Trail. Well-over a hundred-and-fifty years old, the route is clearly visible in these areas, and the scenery still conveys the sites, sounds, and experience of nineteenth century overland travel. The information collected through the survey will assist National Register nominations for these portions of the trail, and is expected to be listed in 2014.

Beckham, a professor emeritus at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, is known for his work with Native Americans and the American West. He is a recognized expert on the history of the Trail and authored the interpretive content for the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City.

While the project focused on public property, Beckham’s draft context is written broadly to include the entire trail in Oregon from the west bank of the Snake River to its terminus in Oregon City. The document’s broad focus includes the entire history of the trail, and will allow private property owners to list portions of the trail in the future. Get more information about the Oregon Trail on the National Park Service’s Oregon National Historic Trail website.

Matthew Diederich is an Archaeologist, Ian Johnson is an Historian, and John Pouley is the Assistant State Archaeologist, all with the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, part of Oregon Heritage.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 24, 2012 6:08 pm

    Very cool.

    Years ago I worked at the Oregon Trail Museum in Oregon City (when it was still housed underneath the senior center there), and had opportunity to tour many ‘privately’ owned pieces of the trail. I still have the Barlow Trail map that leads to various sections on this side of the mountains. I have no idea if those areas are still ‘open to the public’, but would like to visit some day soon and find out.

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