Willamette Falls

As we continue the countdown to the launch of my new book, The Shifting Winds, today’s historical factoids focus on the developing settlement of Willamette Falls, soon to be named Oregon City, the first Euro-American settlement in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the destination for many American settlers who would cross the Oregon Trail.

Society208-Clackamas County Historical Society Photo, All Rights Reserved

The above lithograph was created in the 1840s by lithographer J. H. Richardson who traveled to Oregon City during the settlement’s early days, one of several artists sent out to record images of the West during that period. The picture shows the bluff and the heavy forest above, which will become familiar to readers of The Shifting Winds.

A dramatic horseshoe-shaped falls gave the place its first name. Long before the white men came, the remarkable cascade drew Native American tribes like the Clowewallas, one of several Chinookan tribes who found excellent fishing at the site, and it became a place for the tribes to gather for trade. Some said the salmon were so thick a person could walk across the river on the salmons’ backs. Men built scaffolds right in the plunging water and climbed up to use spears and dip nets to catch fish struggling to leap the falls for the great return to their spawning grounds upriver.

When British fur traders entered the region they quickly recognized the potential power of the falls, and in 1829 Dr. John McLoughlin, HBC Chief Factor at nearby Fort Vancouver, laid out a two-square-mile claim at the site. By the time the characters of my story arrive, he’s in the process of building a sawmill on an island there.

The construction work brought HBC employees to the place which they called Willamette Falls. Then Americans began to arrive, and contentions stirred at this focal point, as well as across the Oregon territory. When the story opens in 1842, the Oregon country has been jointly occupied by the British and Americans for almost twenty years, because the two nations still can’t agree on a boundary. The British have been entrenched for years with their fur trading operations, and only a few Americans have trickled in—some missionaries, a few mountain men escaping a dying beaver trade in Rockies, and a scattering of emigrants who’ve come by land and sea.

Protagonist Jennie Haviland isn’t happy her father tore her away from her prestigious academy in Utica, New York, to come to this wilderness, but her one hope is that she’ll find a place she can call home in Willamette Falls. As she and her family follow their Indian guides through the dense woods to an overlook of the mighty cascade, she hopes to get her first view of this town. Awed by the spectacle of the falls, she can’t help admiring the beauty, but she doesn’t see a town, only some shacks on the island and a couple of log cabins with a few outbuildings on the flat bench of land below. Homes of isolated settlers? She turns to her father.

“‘But where is the town? Where’s Willamette Falls?’ She wanted to find the town of proper houses.

“The young guide mumbled to Pa again, and Pa nodded. ‘So that’s it,’ Pa said. ‘That’s our settlement.’

“Jennie scanned the tree-cloaked hills. ‘Where?’

“‘Those cabins are it.’ He pointed to the flat bench of land. . . .

“Jennie darted a quick look at the cabins on the flat, then jerked her head back to stare at Pa. ‘What do you mean?’”

NEXT: Mountain Men



First Travelers on the Oregon Trail

The launch for my new historical novel, The Shifting Winds, is now seven days away, one week, and I plan to do a blog post each day from now until the day before the event. For each post I’d like to share some historical factoids that relate in some way to the book, from today’s brief overview of the first travelers on the Oregon Trail to bits of information on mountain men, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and other background elements that may work into a tapestry of color surrounding the story.

469.diorama oxen & wagonThe photo above was taken at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center at Baker City, Oregon, a diorama showing a typical oxen-drawn wagon on the trail west.

Jennie Haviland, protagonist of The Shifting Winds, comes west across the Oregon Trail in 1842 with one of the earliest wagon trains of emigrants from the States. But fur traders first blazed that trail across the continent. As early as 1812 men employed by John Jacob Astor, founder of Fort Astoria, were probably the first white men to locate South Pass, a remarkably gentle passage across the otherwise rugged Rocky Mountains which made it possible for later emigrants to cross the Continental Divide with ease.

Missionaries began to make their way across the trail in the 1830’s, stopping along the way at the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, the raucous summer gatherings of American mountain men and traders. In the words of mountain man Joe Meek in our story, “My heavens! That was the time fer big doin’s, mind ye, when the company sent out supplies, and after bein’ temperate all year, we let loose a mite, we did. A man would spend mebbe a thousand dollars a day on—” Jennie’s pa interrupts before Joe can say more.

The first white women to cross the trail, missionaries Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding, traveled by wagon in 1836 with their husbands, Marcus Whitman and Henry Spalding. After a few days at the rendezvous, which must have brought a little shock to their sensibilities, they took the wagons as far as Fort Hall in what is now eastern Idaho, the first to take wagons that far. Beyond that point they used pack animals.

481.Ft Hll exterior

The picture above shows the Fort Hall replica my daughter, granddaughter, and I visited when we backtracked the trail taken by our ancestors.

By 1840 as beaver played out in the Rockies, the American mountain men held their last rendezvous and some headed for Oregon. Joe Meek and his friend Robert Newell managed to get three wagons from Fort Hall to Walla Walla, the first to take wagons overland as far as the Columbia River.

As promoters sang the praises of Oregon, hoping to gain the land with settlement, more emigrants dared take the trek. A fair-sized party of seventy or so left the States in 1841, but about half the party went to California, all of them leaving their wagons at Fort Hall.

That brings us to 1842 when just over a hundred emigrants took the journey, the group my fictional Haviland family joined. This group also left the wagons at Fort Hall and went by foot and horseback to the Columbia River, where some proceeded either by boat or raft down the river, while others like the Havilands took horses over the Cascade Mountains.

The story of The Shifting Winds opens as the family approaches their destination, Willamette Falls, soon to be named Oregon City. Jennie expects to see a thriving town there, a semblance of civilization in this godforsaken wilderness, but she has a few surprises in store.

NEXT: Willamette Falls


NEW BOOKS!!! of books came today! What a thrill to actually hold one of these real books in my hands and flip through the pages. My good old story I have loved for so long. Now in print so other people can read it and come to know some of my favorite characters. And the books are beautiful! I love what the publisher did with the cover.

My agent emailed me over the weekend to tell me she had gotten her copies, so I suspected mine might come today. I gave a talk at my Roseburg writers’ group this morning and had to leave home before the books came. But when I got back they were waiting on the porch for me. Ah! What a sight!

Checking an old blog post, I see that boxes of my first book came early the month before the release date too. And for those of you who have pre-ordered The Shifting Winds from one of the online outlets, you may actually get your book before March 1. I don’t know, but I think people started getting them earlier last time.

Oh, what fun! This is one of those moments for a writer. Sheer pleasure. I am so looking forward to sharing. 🙂


Turning the Page

Today marks a transition for me when I turn the page from writing to marketing. The photo below shows the rough draft of my latest writing venture, Book Five in my Golden Isles Series, Webs of Stone, and a draft of a poster for the launch of my upcoming release, The Shifting Winds. Release date is one month from today, March 1, so I must really get onto the marketing side of things.

906.turning.pageI finished the rough draft of Webs of Stone on January 19, then had to read it, once on the computer and once on paper, to get it ready for readers. I delivered it to my first reader yesterday, my daughter Carisa. So today I can focus on The Shifting Winds.

Of course it isn’t quite that tidy. I’ve had to do a few things for the upcoming release before today. I’ve scheduled some events and worked on my contact list. My daughter Christiane put together the poster for me and we worked on it a few days ago. But I feel the transition today, now that I can set the writing aside for a bit.

Friends often ask if I get confused going from one of my book projects to another, and I have to admit sometimes I feel conflicted. There’s such a long lag time between the writing of a book and the release of an actual book you can hold onto, you might write several in between. I have an added shift because I’m writing in two distinct time periods. It’s the same genre, historical fiction, in which I follow my theme, “following strong women through history,” but some of my books are set in nineteenth century America, and some are set in ancient Ireland and Crete roughly 3,000 years ago. Both are periods when women faced great challenges.

When I’m in the middle of writing one, as I just was, I’m really in that world. I have been immersed in the ancient world of Ireland and the surrounding scenes in Britain and Brittany and the Iberian peninsula, absorbed in the lives of my characters. I get a little otherworldly, a fine Irish concept with its myths of the Otherworld. For me it’s like getting caught up in reading a good book and not wanting to put it down. But when you write one it takes a lot longer.

So when I’m in that world it can be difficult to focus on another world, including the one around me. But now the new one feels done enough to let it rest while I turn to marketing of the one about to be released. And I move from the fourteenth century BC to the nineteenth century AD, with occasional glimpses of the twenty-first.

I love to write. I am more a writer than I am a marketer, but I do enjoy the readings and signings, the book talks, the book clubs–especially the book clubs where I can sit down with a group of readers and talk about the nuances of the book because they’ve already read it. I love hearing from readers. Their responses enhance my joy in the work and make it feel worthwhile.

Now I look forward to sharing this new book because it’s a favorite of mine. I’m so glad it’s going to be out there for others to read, and I hope readers enjoy the characters and the predicaments I had fun getting them into.