30 October 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: H is for #History

I love history! Almost anything historic will pique my curiosity, and a historical marker will almost always interrupt my trip if I see it in time. Back when I was geocaching regularly, historic locations were always my favorite.

Military history is especially fascinating to me! Being from the South, I have a particular interest in all things War, Civil. As a kid, I made several trips to Shiloh National Military Park, walking among (not “amongst,” wink to my lovely wife) the old trees and dirt pathways, reconstructed rail fences and spiked cannon. I’ve walked the hills of Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield where Confederate General Joseph. E. Johnston defeated Union Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in June 1864; hiked the lonely railroad cut at Allatoona where CSA Major General Samuel G. French failed to dislodge the railroad defenders under command of Union Brig. Gen. John M. Corse in October of that same year; climbed the rudimentary fortifications of Fort Pillow, and viewed the site of Parker’s Crossroads, where CSA Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, finding himself pinned between two Union Forces under the command of Union Cols. Cyrus L. Dunham and John W. Fuller, supposedly commanded his troops to “split in two and charge ‘em both ways.”

Moving out west, I don’t encounter much War Between the States material, though there is a former Confederate Colonel named Leonidas Willis, who rode with Forrest, buried in Pioneer Cemetery in Salem, and an apochryphal story of a small group of (six?) Confederate raiders who attempted to steal some Yankee gold and were chased into the Willamette River.  Exploration and Native American lore are the common bill of fare out here. Lewis and Clark are mentioned more often than Lee and Grant, and the remnants of mills, camps, and small forts dot the landscape that would be marked by Napoleons and timbers. Sometimes looking across the ranging hills I can imagine what it was like for the Corps of Discovery, who had the firm belief that they would cross one mountain peak and find a gentle slope to the Pacific Ocean a couple of miles away, to have topped a hill to find… another freakin hill. -_-

Salem itself was founded along “Mill Creek” (so named for the sawmills and grist mills established upstream to the southeast in the 1830s) in the 1840s by Methodist missionary Jason Lee, in an area traditionally inhabited by the Kalapuya tribe, who called the are “Chemeketa,” or “meeting (resting) place.” European fur traders venturing out from Astoria were first noted in the area around 1812, the year, you may recognize, of some momentous events back east. Lee established the “Oregon Mission” about 10 miles north of present day Salem, near the Wheatland Ferry crossing of the Willamette. The enthusiastic but unskilled missionaries struggled to erect sheltering cabins, prompting Lee to remark that “Men never worked harder or performed less.”

 By 1840, Lee had returned from a stint in New England with a group of 50 recruits, many of whom were the skilled craftsmen and tradesmen needed to get the struggling mission off the ground. Like many white settlements, unwittingly transmitted diseases decimated the helpless immune systems of the local population, and extensive flooding in 1841 forced the operation to move south, into what is now Salem, where the first plats were filed in 1850-51, and the town became the capital of the Oregon Territory. The city was incorporated in 1857, and became the state capital upon Oregon’s admission to the Union as the 33rd state on Valentine’s Day, 1859. By far the largest employer in town is the State government, employing over 21,000 people; four times as many as the next highest entity (Salem-Keizer School District, roughly 4,000). Salem became my home (although West Tennessee will always be “home”) in 2007 when I moved here to take a job with a local bank. Salem is okay, but I much prefer living in Dallas, the small town where I now live with my new wife and stepchildren. The proximity of the beach (an hour west) and the mountains (two hours east) make the geography unbeatable! I’m happy here. I wish my kids were closer, but I have found love and peace in a place where I can make my own little contribution to history.

But someday, I’d still like to walk the fields of West Tennessee again. And venture back into the mountains of north Georgia, or up into the virgin (to me) battlefields of Virginia. Maybe into Revolutionary War territory in New England. Perhaps one day I’ll even see Blenheim Palace, the white cliffs of Dover, the beaches of Normandy, the forests of Bastogne, the Carpathian Mountains and the Borgo Pass, the Steppes of Asia, and the Holy Land.

What’s your favorite period of mankind’s story? Got some favorite historical sites near and dear to your heart?  What do you think of the following quotes?

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

“You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.”

1 comment:

Suzi Spencer said...

Steve - those are some great quotes. I once taught middle school history and heard the complaint, "Why do we have to study history?" almost daily. I made it into a class project and had the students make posters answering their own redundant question. They came up with some great reasons and those posters made good decorations in my classroom that year.

PS I'd like to go with you when you take your trip to the South :) I've never been to Tennessee and will need a tour guide.