Only recently did I recognize the significance of participating in Oregon City’s 175th celebration on August 24, 2019. I’m excited to join others at the End of the Oregon Trail Museum, with music, food, and history talks, as Oregon City plans to “party like it’s 1844” in celebrating 175 years of pioneers. Look for me with my memoir, My Music Man, in the Visitor Center between 11 AM to 1 PM. I’ll have a running slide show, share stories to whatever degree desired, and of course have copies of both My Music Man and Beyond the Ripples.
Unlike many, my siblings, cousins and I are fortunate to actually know what our great-great-great grandmother was feeling those days of 1844 in early Oregon City. Thanks to our Chloe Clarke Willson, her diary from 1839-1849 was saved and protected, and then gifted to Willamette University by her son-in-law J.K. Gill in 1935. A few decades later Willamette U. posted it online for all to see.
As I read Chloe’s diary, what I wish most is to be able to sit down with her to talk, and try to better understand her feelings and beliefs. I want to understand her through her perspective, not solely filtered through my own of the 21st Century. What if I could sit down with this voice of our past and ask bold questions? What might I ask? Here’s a few to start:
- Did your feelings about how Oregon should settle and develop change as you got older? Chloe’s diary was written between 1839-1849 (when she was 21-31 years old), during her trip aboard the sailing ship Lausanne, during her time at Nisqually Mission, at the Falls, and early in Salem. Chloe died in 1874 in Portland at the age of 56.
- What were your biggest regrets in moving to the Oregon Country? What were your regrets of the early work of the Jason Lee Missionaries? Would you have done something different, knowing what you learned later in your life?
- What prompted you to return to Oregon after your eastern trip following your husband’s (William Willson) death? Was it wanting to continue to raise your daughters in Oregon, rather than Massachusetts? Was it because you received the land claim deed signed by Lincoln? Was it for the memory of William?
- Decades after the Jason Lee Missionaries’ failure to convert native Americans to Christianity, did you look back at the effort and wish something different? In your lifetime did you ever acknowledge the devastating effects to other people (and land) by whites pushing west?
I’ll never know her answers to these and other questions. Do you have personal stories from 1844? I’d love to hear from you! In the meantime, I hope to see you on August 24. I understand it to be a free admission day at the Museum, so come on over!