If you know where to look, Oregon’s history books come to life in the great outdoors –– including one of the oldest and more controversial chapters that even pre-dates Oregon statehood. It is history that’s open for you to explore at a military outpost that’s also one of Oregon’s newest state parks – a trail to new understanding about Oregon’s past at Fort Yamhill State Heritage Area near Grand Ronde, Oregon.
Today, you can still see signs from those times inside one of the original and intact officer’s homes. Although undergoing a painstaking restoration, the old home is remarkably well preserved. Oregon State Parks considers the house a “treasure chest” because it may have been the residence for then Lieutentant Phil Sheridan who was fresh from West Point Academy and commanded Fort Yamhill years before the Civil War led him to fame and glory.
Fort Yamhill’s story isn’t always pleasant. After all, the US Army was there for a purpose: in the 1850′s as new emigrants arrived from back east, westward expansion approached a peak and more land was developed by Oregon pioneers. The Army was there to protect the remaining Native Americans in the wilderness – but it was a symbol of the government’s “big stick” of power and authority. That power was specifically symbolized by the heavy timbered “blockhouse:” a military defensive structure and a presence that couldn’t be denied.
The original blockhouse survives in Dayton, Oregon where it’s being restored as centerpiece of a city park and you can visit it anytime. Even three generations later, Confederated Tribal Spokesman Eirik Thorsgard said Fort Yamhill provides a memory that remains strong. Thorsgard said that the irony of Fort Yamhill is that the military presence was despised and yet without it, the people who were brought so long ago might not have survived.
In fact, the Grand Ronde Tribes partnered with Oregon State Parks so that al of the stories from those days will be told at historic parkland that connects you with enduring Oregon history.
About the Author: Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.