Monday, December 11, 2017

The Whitman Mission

National Historic Site
Walla Walla, Washington

Seeing all of the national parks is a goal of mine, so two years ago I joined the National Park Travelers Club to receive information and guidance in building my master plan.  It brought to my attention the fact that the 59 national parks are only part of the whole enchilada.  There are 417 in total!  This number includes battlefields, monuments, preserves, historical sites, memorials, lakes, rivers and scenic trails.  I scan the club's website whenever I set out on a road trip to see if there is national "something" nearby.  Trust me; they are always worth a detour.  Like this one. 

We found ourselves in southeastern Washington a few weeks ago, so off we went to find this place.  I have traveled to almost all of the California Missions, but since moving to Oregon I have been made aware of a secondary wave of missionary zeal--this time by the protestants.  I can't help but think of Pete Seeger's song, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, whenever I learn about the tragic events that most of these missions encountered.

When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

The Visitor's Center at the site has an excellent exhibit, describing the events that led up to the massacre.  A persuasive bit of propaganda brought Dr. Whitman and his wife out west from St. Louis, Missouri.  These well-educated, gentle folks read that the Indians were welcoming teachers with open arms; that they were eager to learn more about the Bible.   The truth is, the doctrine of Manifest Destiny would only work if people started to populate those vast unexplored areas.  If evangelicalism was a means to an end, so be it.

Don't try to understand 'em
Just rope, throw and brand 'em
Soon we'll be living high and wide.

From "Rawhide" lyrics

Yet another song popped into my head as I read an excerpt from the journal of Narcissa Whitman.

She was excited by the prospect of bringing the Gospel to the local Indians.  She really and truly believed she could teach them to be "civilized".

. . . it would not be long before we should see them located around us, with houses, fields, gardens, hogs and cows and their children enjoying the benefits of constant instruction. 
And so they built a mission, a fine stone house, a grist mill and a blacksmith shop.  To the doctor's credit, he made an effort to learn the Nez Perce and Spokan languages, but the local Indians would have nothing to do with the hard back breaking work expected of them.   The doctor tried and tried to get the natives to settle on his farms, but why should they?  The berries were ripe for picking; the salmon were jumping.  More importantly, the concept of owning land was completely foreign to them.  

The mission's justification shifted.  It became more of a hotel, a welcoming rest stop for those exhausted pioneers arriving by covered wagon from the midwest.   The local Cayuse felt betrayed.  Yes, treaties had been signed but the language got lost in translation.  They had been tricked  More and more foreigners were arriving and settling on their lands.  And worst, they were bringing horrible diseases with them.  In 1847, half the tribe was dead.
Even though Marcus Whitman was a medical doctor, there was nothing he could do to stop a measles epidemic.   Frustration mounted on both sides until on November 29, 1847, a party of Cayuse Indians took matters into their own hands.  They attacked the mission, killing Dr. Whitman and his wife, two of their sons and ten other settlers.

Whitman Memorial

Yes, it was horrific, but the museum does a good job in presenting both sides of the story.  From an historical point of view, this massacre served as a catalyst in granting the area territorial status.   As part of the United States, money and militia could be sent to track down the murderers.  It took three years, but five young men were finally caught and hanged.  Sadly, one or more of them might have been innocent.

The Great Grave

All protestant missionary work stopped in the Pacific Northwest for an entire generation.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Pendleton 97801

Since moving to Oregon two years ago, I have run into several fellow travel aficionados who have raved about the Pendleton Roundup.  I listen politely as they rattle on about the bucking bulls, barrel races, parades and carnival-like atmosphere that takes over this community for an entire week every September, but I remain nonplussed.  I'm afraid it's that old been there done that syndrome that tends  to infect me with a glassy-eyed demeanor whenever the word "rodeo" pops up in conversation.

I grew up in Coffeyville, Kansas, where every August the Interstate Rodeo and Fair was all everybody and anybody talked about.  My girlfriends and I would obsess about it for weeks. So no thanks.  I've had enough calf roping, bareback riding, cotton candy and ferris wheel rides to last a life time.  Make that, ten life times.

"But I've never been to a rodeo," my Southern California beach loving husband reminded me.


However, I am happy to write that this little town of Pendleton, Oregon, has so much more to offer than the September Roundup.  I had a wonderful two days here, shopping for Pendleton blankets, taking the Underground Tour, dining at Cimmiyotti's, sitting at the ornate bar for a beer at Hamley's Saloon, photographing all the lifesize bronzes on Main Street and adding another Carnegie Library to my peculiar little collection.  And yes, if you really really must buy a pair of cowboy boots, this is the place to do so.
Carnegie Library turned Arts Center

OH . . .  one more reason to come to Pendleton:  Alexander's Chocolate Shop.  I'm not kidding!  These guys make the best chocolates I've ever tasted.  Trained in France, their truffles burst with flavor and have the texture of velvet.  I can't wait to make their sipping chocolate for my sons at Christmas. To be served in demitasse cups, the drink is so rich and creamy.
Alexander's-a Serendipitous Find

So . . . okay . . . if my travel buddy really really insists on returning to see a rodeo, I guess I'll join him.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Taking the Pendleton Underground Tour

What a great tour!  If you find yourself in Pendleton, Oregon, don't leave without going underground.  This 90 minute tour is entertaining, disturbing, educational, thought-provoking and  well . . . to put it simply . . . a real hoot!

This small town has a very colorful history.  Miles and miles of tunnels formed a labyrinth of Chinese laborer sleeping quarters, opium dens, speakeasies, ice cream parlors and butcher shops, all under the busy city streets.  Our tour guide took us through the different eras, ending topsides with a tour of the "Cozy Rooms," the many bordellos and boarding rooms that serviced an eager clientele.

Life size replicas bring each era alive.  The dioramas, along with an entertaining, informative commentary, made the time go by with breakneck speed.  Because we were the only two people on the tour that morning, our loquacious guide continued talking for an extra half-hour.  (Another reason to travel off-season.)

It is, of course, the horrible racial discrimination that sent the Chinese laborers underground to live.  This was the sad part of the tour.   Thousands of immigrants came to America in the 19th century to work on the railroads and in the mines.  They arrived on our shores filled with hope.  They were promised employment, security, freedom and opportunity.  Instead, they found a life of drudgery, working as slaves for a pittance.  It was a shameful deceit and a blight on our history.  

The tour then takes a more humorous tone as it jumps to Prohibition.  Once again, a population of people were forced to go underground, but these people had judges, lawyers and legislators among their rank.  Secret doors, special passwords and lots of bribes insured that the Big Cheese could indeed have their cake and eat it, too.

There were, however, legitimate businesses that made sense going underground like ice cream parlors, bowling alleys and butcher shops.  Later, during the Big Band era, Pendleton would hold many dances down here.  The air was cooler and space, abundant.  

The tour ends with a walk through one of the bordellos.  This part, of course, was above ground but hidden doors and quick escapes were still part of the scenario.  Even though prostitution was legal, any self-respecting man did not want to be seen entering the front door, right?  

This tour was worth every penny of its $15.00 admission price.  During my travels, I have encountered many such "Shanghai tunnels" and Chinatowns, but this underground maze covers so much more; that colorful lawless part of American History that makes you shake your head with disbelief.  

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Night at the Working Girls Hotel

We had made reservations for the Pendleton Underground Tour and thought it would be fun to spend the night at the Working Girls Hotel, a few doors down.  In 1991, one of the famous (or should I say "infamous") bordellos of Pendleton, Oregon, reopened for business as a hotel with one suite and four sleeping rooms.  It is located on the second floor of an old building in the historic downtown area.
With its 18 foot ceilings, hardwood floors and exposed brick walls, the decor is straight out of the Wild Wild West Dash Victorian Era.  Our rooms were lovely, filled with antiques, lace curtains and prints of angelic women on the walls, which made us laugh.  Prostitution was legal in Pendleton until 1953.  This hotel, of course, romanticizes the whole business, propelling it into the realm of fantasy.  In truth, it was an ugly, immoral way to make a living.  Or was it?  In light of what is happening in today's world, would sexual harassment stop if men could satisfy their urges with a swipe of a credit card? 

I'm glad no one was around to hear our rather heated debate on the subject.  We were the only ones at the hotel that night. (Or so we thought.)   The manager had texted me the code to get in.  We were to leave the key in the room the next morning when we left.

 "Call me if you need anything," she wrote.

So the next morning I was surprised when I woke up to the smell of coffee.  I heard footsteps in the hallway.

 I nudged my travel buddy.  "Do you smell that?  Someone is making coffee."

"I didn't know breakfast was part of the deal," he answered hopefully.  "Is it?"

I jumped out of bed and threw on a robe.  "I'll go check," I said.  "It might just be another guest."
The long hallway was dimly lit; it was still dark outside.   So was the kitchen.  I switched on the light and saw that the coffee pot was empty.  Unplugged.  I poked my head into the dining room.  Also empty.   I checked the lobby.  No one.

"There must be an explanation," my travel buddy said.  "The place is old.  Drafty.  And there's a restaurant across the street.  That's probably where the coffee aroma came from."

Later that morning we struck up a conversation with a local woman in a gift shop. "You were very brave to stay in that hotel alone.  I've heard stories of it being haunted.  That a ghost roams the hallway.  Did you hear anything?" she asked with expectation.

My eyes widened. "People have active imaginations, don't they?" I finally commented.

My travel buddy chuckled.  Then he asked, "By the way, can you recommend a diner around here?  We're dying for a good cup of coffee."

Friday, December 1, 2017

Tour of the Pendleton Blanket Mill

Pendleton blankets have always held sentimental meaning to my travel buddy and me.  Richard's father sold these beautiful blankets in his store, Viking's Men Shop in Solvang, California, along with Pendleton shirts and jackets.  When we toured their mill a few weeks ago, he wore the navy blue plaid Pendleton shirt that he purchased from his dad nearly 30 years ago.  It still looks brand new.  Not only that, but the wool throw his parents gave us for Christmas when we were first married, is still as beautiful and warm and inviting now,  as it was way back when.

We drove to Pendleton, Oregon, specifically to buy our sons each a blanket of their own and to tour the mill.  We wanted to continue this tradition.  (Sorry boys, Spoiler Alert!)

Pendleton offers free tours of the mill Monday through Friday.  There is a sign-up list in the back and we immediately penned our names for the next tour at 1:30 pm.  Turns out we were the only two names on the list so we had a private tour.  Our guide gave us earmuffs because it is NOISY back there among the looms and spinners and spools.  But what fun!  We were totally enthralled every single minute of our half-hour tour.

Pendleton has been making blankets since the late 1800's--all here in the United States.  It was a marvel to watch these two-story Jacquard looms do their magic.  I have always admired the artistry involved in these blankets, but this tour made me admire and appreciate those invisible engineers, industrial designers and computer programmers behind the scenes.  Every computerized stroke of the loom results in an intricate design.

We learned about the dying process, the cleaning and drying of the fleece, the cording, roving and spinning of the yarn.  We saw bobbins dancing round and round.  But then . . . unbelievably, we witnessed a woman at the end of the line, hand-inspecting every single blanket.  The whole process, from start to finish, is a sight to behold.  

Because our tour guide was also a sales associate and it was slow in the store that day, she helped us inspect dozens of blankets among the seconds that were offered for sale in the back room.  I don't think the boys will mind one bit that a line might be a little crooked or the napping might be a little uneven.  We left, happy and satisfied.

Thank you, Pendleton Blanket Mill, for a memorable afternoon!