Yes, perhaps you plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day with someone special. Newcomers to Oregon – and those who haven’t paid much attention to history – may need to be reminded that it is also Oregon’s birthday. Oregon became the 33rd state on February 14, 1859. And while we can all agree that our history is filled with inequities still affecting us today, statehood remains something to celebrate. Me? I plan to be at our Capitol in Salem sharing my memoir, My Music Man.
Perhaps because of family history, I sometimes tend to think more about the famed May 2, 1843 meeting that first established our provisional government, rather than when Oregon achieved statehood.
“Back on the famous day of the signing, over a hundred years before my birth, settlers came to Champoeg from all directions and by all means: boats cruising along the river, horses wading across streams and riding over plains. Old and young – mountain ranger, missionary, seaman, blacksmith, merchant, doctor, farmer. Pioneers who had, for all kinds of reasons, given up the life they had led somewhere else to imagine a new future. …..On that day, William and others voted to proceed with a provisional government or organization for protection and to be secured under law and order among themselves until such time that they would follow within jurisdiction under the American flag.”
Chapter 13: Champoeg from My Music Man
What struck me today, is that while my great-great-great grandfather William Willson was one of three secretaries during the May 2 meeting and soon after “founded” Salem, platting the original downtown area, establishing Willson Park (now Capitol Park), and along with his wife Chloe Clarke Willson, acquiring a land claim where today’s Capitol and Willamette University exist: he died in 1856, three years before statehood. He also died before receiving the official title to their land, signed by President Lincoln and received by Chloe in 1862.
I am honored to be invited by the Oregon State Capitol Foundation to share my memoir and stories about family, especially William Willson, Chloe Clarke Willson, and J.K. Gill – all earliest of Salem residents – on Oregon’s Birthday, February 14, 2019 at noon. I hope you might join us at a hearing room in our Oregon State Capitol. If you can’t be there you can join the webcast. Learn more. And before we head out to celebrate with our Valentine, let the power of telling old stories remind us of where we have been and what we have learned, as we work together to move ahead.