Portland, Oregon

It's a city framed by the breathtaking peaks of Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood, only a 30-minute bike ride from the lush farmland of the Willamette Valley, and driven by a powerful sense of community that allows its citizens to hold on to the best of its pioneer past while collaborating on the future. Randy Gragg explains why American Heritage’s Great American Place Award goes to...

ON THE LAST THURSDAY OF EVERY MONTH, ALBERTA STREET in Portland, Oregon, turns into a long buffet of grass-roots creativity. The energy was equaled only by the diversity on a recent spring night, when a Coltrane-blasting saxophonist led a parade of eco-activists dressed as endangered fish, and steps away, in front of a newly opened eighties-vintage glamour-rock fashion shop, a man blowing a long Aboriginal didjeridoo waved halos of sound over the heads of passersby.Read more »

For The Duration

The world about us is strewn with relics that are quietly eloquent of the struggle that ended half a century ago

Finger some old magazines from the world War II years. Among the earthy-scented, kaolincoated slicks or the brittle, decomposing butterfly wings of newsprint, advertisements acknowledge cutbacks in consumer goods while the advertisers produced war essentials “for the Duration.” Americans knew what that meant: The Duration was the duration of the war, an unknown length of time right up to the end in the Pacific. Read more »

“Never Take No Cutoffs“—on the Oregon Trail

The first caravans lumbered across two thousand miles of dangerous, inhospitable wilderness in 1843, the year of the Great Migration. To a surprising degree it’s still possible to follow something very like their route.

A couple of miles south of Marysville, Kansas, not far from the east bank of the Big Blue River, lies one of the most moving places on the Oregon Trail. Back in a shadowy sanctuary of oak and ash and cottonwood trees, just a few hundred yards from where the emigrant trail used to run, a cold black spring sparkles from the ledge of a little rock alcove and pours into a stony basin ten feet below. It’s a beautiful place, impressively quiet and a little gloomy.Read more »

Nicknames On The Land

A small but dependable pleasure of travel is encountering such blazons of civic pride as “Welcome to the City of Cheese, Chairs, Children, and Churches!”

Stephen Vincent Benét confessed that he had fallen in love with American placenames, and George R. Steward, author of the classic Names on the Land, wrote that he was born with rapturous feelings towards the names and cities that “lay thickly over the land.” Read more »

The Youngest Pioneers

For many children who accompanied their parents west across the continent in the 1840s and '50s, the journey was a supreme adventure

The historian Francis Parkman, strolling around Independence, Missouri, in 1846, remarked upon the “multitude of healthy children’s faces … peeping out from under the covers of the wagons.” Two decades later a traveler there wrote of husbands packing up “sunburned women and wild-looking children” along with shovels and flour barrels in preparation for the long journey west. In the goldfields of California in the 1850s, a chronicler met four sisters and sisters-in-law who had just crossed the Plains with thirty-six of their children.Read more »

The Farther Continent Of James Clyman

“Surveyor, mountain man, soldier, businessman, wanderer, captain of emigrants, farmer…he was himself the westward-moving frontier.”

In medias res: Fort Laramie on the Oregon-California Trail, June 27,1846, a day of reckoning. Francis Parkman was there, beginning the tour that he would chronicle in The California and Oregon Trail , the Harvard man come out West for health and curiosity, patronizing, disdaining the common emigrants who halted at the fort to tighten their iron tires and recruit their oxen, effusively admiring the stylish Sioux.Read more »

Hells Canyon

Man, Land, and History in the Deepest Gorge on Earth

Hells Canyon is awesome. There is no other single word that can adequately describe it. Incredibly deep, austerely magnificent, it slashes between the states of Oregon and Idaho like a raw and gaping wound. To stand on the rim and gaze into that vast hole is to know humility as few places can teach it; to venture into it is to enter a place apart, a separate world-within-a-world where the old scales and comfortable concepts of size and distance fade into irrelevancy. “The grandeur and originality of the views presented on every side,” wrote Benjamin L. E.Read more »

Winterkill, 1846

The tragic journey of the Donner Party

To the brothers George and Jacob Donner the way to California seemed clear and simple. Both in their sixties, solid and well-to-do thanks to their own hard work, but beginning now to feel their age and the long Illinois winters in their bones, the two men sat in the glow of the hearthfire that winter of 1845-46 and turned again the wellthumbed pages of The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California .Read more »

Grandpas Village

All that is left now of Grandpa’s village is a handful of well-worn homes on the peninsula side of Shoalwater Bay (now officially Willapa Harbor—but the water remains shoal), a small estuary of the Pacific Ocean in the sparsely populated southwestern corner of the state of Washington. Read more »

Remme’s Great Ride

The thud of horses’ hoofs resounds through history, and occasionally a great ride is singled out for song or story—Paul Revere’s, Jack Jouett’s, and those fellows’ who brought the good news from Ghent to Aix, for instance. Louis Remme’s great ride was possibly more heroic than any of those, although it was not made for any lofty, altruistic purpose. It was made, quite simply, to save his fortune. We retell the story here as adapted from an account m the Portland Oregonian for February 12, 1882.Read more »