A beautiful October walk along the Mill A Loop Trail in Bend, Oregon. The rising sun’s rays highlight gold and red fall foliage. The sunlight was hitting the trees just right on this autumn walk.
An American flag flies from one of the Old Mill smokestacks. Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) renovated the 28,000-square-foot former lumber mill and opened a retail store there in 2005. They retained much of the building’s historic charm and it’s one of Bend’s iconic landmarks.
This pub art at Silver Moon Brewing captures many of the iconic landmarks of Bend, Oregon. Artist Natalie Fletcher included Smith Rock in the background flanked by the Painted Hills on the left and Mt Bachelor on the right. The Deschutes River winds through the scene.
Can you see the source of the river? An overflowing glass of beer of course. Little Lava Lake is the “real” source and it’s a great place for kayaking.
This mural shows the Les Schwab Amphitheater on the left. It’s packed with people attending one of our many outdoor events.
Phil’s Trail is in the left forefront. It’s a favorite of mountain bikers.
In the right forefront you can see the Tower Theater. This small venue has been lovingly restored. On the marquee the featured film is “The Beer Fairies.” There is a tiny fairy hidden on the right side of the mural.
This pub art at Silver Moon captures many of the things that make this place great. The beer there is good too.
Silver Moon’s sense of humor is reflected in parts of this mural and also on their website. Here’s a quote from the site:
Sunflowers & stagecoaches? You may be wondering how those two things go together.
Last August we explored the Steens Mountain area by car. Did you know you can drive all the way around this 50-mile long mountain and to its 9,700-foot peak at certain times of the year? The views from up there are breathtaking!
The following pictures are from the dirt road on the east side of Steens Mountain. Common sunflowers, Helianthus annus L., were in full bloom along the road.
As their name implies, common sunflowers are common throughout the conterminous United States and in parts of Canada and Mexico. Sunflowers have been introduced in other parts of North America and throughout the world. They occur in a wide variety of habitats including prairies, roadsides, near railroad right-of-ways, savannas, and forest edges.
These leggy plants grow 1.5 to 8+ feet tall and bloom from July through October. Their iconic flowers actually have two kinds of flowers. The yellow “ray” flowers look like petals but each is an individual flower. The “disc” flowers, at the center of the brown head, are usually small. If you magnified your view of the center of the flower, you would see that each of these disc flowers had five petals. The alternate leaves, and the main stem are covered in coarse hair.
The value of sunflowers
Sunflowers are valuable to both wildlife and people. The seeds are sought out by many species of birds. Do you have sunflower seeds from the cultivated variety of sunflower in your bird feeder? If you do, you know how much birds and other wildlife enjoy eating them.
Now on to how this plant is used by humans. Wow! Where do I start?
You have probably munched on sunflower seeds, but did you know the yellow flowers are also edible? They make a colorful addition to a salad.
In July of 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled along the Missouri River in Montana and recorded these observations on sunflowers.
The sunflower is in bloom [NB: Copy for Dr. Barton] and abundant in the river bottoms. The Indians of the Missouri particularly those who do not cultivate maze make great uce of the seed of this plant for bread, or use it in thickening their soope. they most commonly first parch the seed and then pound them between two smooth stones untill they reduce it to a fine meal. to this they sometimes mearly add a portion of water and drink it in that state, or add a sufficient quantity of marrow grease to reduce it to the consistency of common dough and eate it in that manner. the last composition I think much best and have eat it in that state heartily and think it a pallateable dish.
There are many medicinal uses of this annual plant. Flowers were used for heart problems and in treating burns. Roots were used in treating blisters and snakebites. Native Americans made a leaf tea to treat lung ailments and high fevers. A poultice was applied to snake and spider bites. Seeds were used as diuretics and to help heal coughing.
Some current uses
In addition to the historical usages, sunflowers are used in creating dyes, soap, cattle and chicken feed, and a fine silky fiber, similar to hemp. Sunflower oil is widely consumed in both North America and Europe.
Fun Fact: Some Native Americans believed sunflowers were a symbol of courage. Warriors would carry sunflowers cakes with them into battle. Hunters would sprinkle themselves with sunflower powder to keep their spirits up.
Sunflowers & stagecoach stop
So now you know more about sunflowers, but why is this post called Sunflowers & Stagecoaches? While taking pictures of the sunflowers, I remembered to look for an old stagecoach stop I had seen on a Circling Steens Mountain birding field trip. Ah ha! Found it. See the dark spots in the middle of this photo? Those are the remnants of a stagecoach stop.
Here’s a closer look. The crumbling rock walls are all that’s left of this stop.
In the late 1800s to early 1900s, stagecoach routes crisscrossed the West. On the more heavily traveled routes there were stops every 25 miles or so. Why that distance? That’s about how far a team of horses pulling wagons full of goods and passengers could travel. Their progress was slow due to difficult terrain and weather that could quickly change from scorching heat to bone-chilling cold.
Some of these stations were just for changing horse teams while others had accommodations available for travelers. The stops in Fields and Frenchglen offered more options for weary travelers. One stop near the one pictured above charged 25 cents for overnight lodging and meals. The charge for the care of each horse was an additional 25 cents.
Travel along these stagecoach routes was not fast. For example, the east-west route from Ontario, Oregon to Burns, Oregon took approximately 40 hours. Today that 130-mile route takes 2 hours 12 minutes. But imagine all the sights those early travelers must have seen on those slow journeys…
We recently saw this magnificent mural in the downtown area of The Dalles, Oregon. Isn’t it fantastic! This is The Valley Gorge Hub by Blaine Fontana. Blaine and Jeremy Nichols used hundreds of cans of spray paint to create this mural in 2018. Toma Villa consulted on this project. He is a colleague of Fontana’s and an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation.
This building has murals painted on the north, south, and east sides. You can see a small sign for Kung Fu classes on the left side of the building.
This Valley Gorge project is one of many planned to bring together the communities near the Columbia River Gorge. They plan to “build a more inclusive mecca for creativity, culture, outdoor recreation, and opportunities for new and existing businesses.”
Blaine created another magnificent mural in The Dalles as a part of the Oregon Mural Trail. This project is funding seven large murals in seven small Oregon towns located throughout the state.
On a recent trip revisiting Steens Mountain, I thought back on what this place looked like decades before. When I got home, I browsed my photos and realized several pictures I took on this trip were taken in nearly the exact same spot.
Places seem to me to have some kind of memory, in that they activate memory in those who look at them.
W. G. Sebald
Some places call you back to them. While revisiting Steens Mountain this summer, I realized it is one of those places for me.
Here are a few “then” and “now” pictures I took of the Steens.
“We’re almost there,” Pa said. He pointed
towards a low sagebrush-covered hill. “It’s just over that rise.”
“How many times have you said that, Pa?” I
said to myself. I shaded my eyes and looked at the dismal landscape. Dusty
sagebrush and clumps of dry grass for as far as I could see.
The year is 1853 and my name is Lizzie. My
family is heading west along the Oregon Trail. It’s not a trail so I don’t know
why they call it that. Some people call it Emigrant Road, but I don’t think
that’s right either. It’s a rough meandering pathway to a new life, that’s what
it is. That’s why so many of us are making this journey, no matter what the
We have traveled nearly 1,600 miles so
far. On a good day we make 20 miles but on most days we travel 10-15. It’s been
five months since we left Missouri.
We came here because of the promise of
free land. If Pa was a single man, he could claim 320 acres; since he’s
married, he and Ma can claim 640 acres. Was it worth it? I sure hope so. Based
on what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think this is “The Land of Milk and Honey”
that everyone said it was.
History of Trail
Many of the nearly half a million emigrants that migrated to the Oregon Country in the years 1840-1870 could have written this account. In the nineteenth century, Great Britain, France, Russia, and Spain claimed parts of this region. Each country eventually gave up its claims. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 ended the joint occupancy with the British and set new boundaries for Oregon. As a result of this action, the U.S. government encouraged settlement of the newly acquired land.
Sensationalized accounts of the “Promised Land” caused the single largest voluntary migration in America. Artists such as Albert Bierstadt presented glamorized versions of the journey along the Trail.
For many of the settlers, the Willamette Valley was the final destination. To read about another wagon route, located near Sisters, Oregon, see my post Santiam Wagon Road.
In 1861, they discovered gold in the Blue Mountains in northeastern Oregon. The gold rush brought even more people to the state. Miners established mining camps in several locations. In 1894, gold was discovered on Flagstaff Hill and a mine was built there. By 1897, three quarters of Oregon’s gold—worth millions in today’s dollars—came from Baker County. One nugget weighed seven pounds!
National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, located atop
Flagstaff Hill east of Baker City, introduces visitors to this fascinating era
in American history. Exhibits at the Interpretive Center focus on different aspects
of the journey west, including the experiences of pioneers and native peoples.
Approximately 300 miles of the Oregon
Trail still exist. Much of the 2,170 mile trail has disappeared because of erosion
and development. When traveling on a dirt road, motorized vehicles create two
distinct ruts. In contrast to that, wagons pulled by teams of animals create a
trench-like swale, or wide depression. Hooves pack down the middle of the road.
At the Interpretive Center, you can hike or drive to areas where you can view
actual remnants of the trail.
Covered wagons – Inside and Out
Covered wagons are a prominent part of the
Interpretive Center, both inside and outside. Teams of oxen, mules, or horses
pulled the wagons. Mule teams cost the most to buy. Though mules could be
stubborn, they had remarkable endurance and surefootedness.
Wagon makers often painted wagons blue, with red wheels and undercarriage. The wheels shrank and separated in the heat so the wagon trains went through creeks and rivers to soak them back to size. The emigrants sometimes painted the canvas covers with oil paint for waterproofing.
Every inch of space was used in the wagons. For example, false floors and pockets sewn into the canvases held extra supplies in the interior. They strapped other supplies to the outside or carried them in saddle bags. However, many of the supplies were abandoned along the way because of excess weight. Many wagons went without brakes since this too would add weight. They slowed wagons going downhill with rough locks, wheel shoes, or a tree tied to the wheels.
Emigrants used the wagons for sick rooms,
birthing rooms, and shelter from storms.
Most did not travel inside the wagons on the trail. The rough roads led
to a bone-wrenching ride, so the emigrants walked alongside their wagons. When
the landscape allowed it, wagons traveled abreast to avoid each other’s dust.
Life and Death on the Trail
If several wagons were traveling together,
they often formed a circle at the end of the day’s travel. The area inside the
wagon circle served as a corral for livestock. Exhausted travelers slept in
tents and bedrolls outside of the circle. The day started when the sun rose.
After breakfast and gathering of the livestock, the caravan would travel for
five to six hours. The travelers had limited food supplies so meals might
include such delicacies as Velvet Tail Rattlesnake, Blue Beaver Tail Soup, and
Sometimes the wagon trains camped at noontime
resting spots, but most of the time they pressed onward for several more hours. Women and children collected firewood and men
hunted for game along the way. As evening approached, they would encircle the
wagons again. Evenings were a time for chores, such as repairing wagons and
mending clothing, but also a time to tell stories, sing, and dance.
Quarrels along the trail were common due
to events like wagons getting stuck in the mud or runaway livestock. They took
thousands of livestock animals on the trail for the settlers. The emigrants
lost many because of predators, disease, and accidents.
Many emigrants died on this perilous journey. Some called the trail a “two thousand mile long graveyard.” One estimate suggests there were 10-15 graves per mile from Missouri to Oregon. Provisions gave out and hired hands abandoned their employers. The weak and the sick gave up hope. Cholera caused death within hours and it took the lives of many on the trail. Crossing rivers was one of the most dangerous parts of the journey. Records show that ten percent of the travelers perished.
Sharing the Trail
Emigrants shared the Oregon Trail with
trappers, traders, and native people. The Umatilla, Walla Walla, Cayuse, Nez
Perce, and other tribes lived in the area near the Interpretive Center. As
emigrants displaced local people, conflicts such as the Cayuse War of 1847
arose. The old ways of living off the land and using it for hunting and vision
quests had passed. It forced Native Americans to deal with sweeping changes.
Both emigrants and natives learned to
engage in the business of trading. Native people traded horses, local game, and
salmon for cattle, beads, clothing, powder, and lead. Emigrants learned to
differentiate the tribes by their clothing, hairstyles, beadwork, and basketry.
Communication often consisted of hand signals and a few common words.
Visiting the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
After decades of planning, the National
Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center opened in 1992 to commemorate this
period of history. The 23,000-square foot building sits atop Flagstaff Hill
where visitors get a panoramic view of the surrounding territory. The Interpretive
Center includes exhibits, a theater, a café, and a gift store. There are living
history interpretive talks, lectures, and special events throughout the year. Regular
demonstrations include topics such as flint knapping, Dutch oven cooking,
blacksmithing, and black powder firearms. For more information see this brochure.
A network of trails leads you to living history encampments and to ruts left by wagons passing along the trail. You may catch glimpses of eagles flying overhead or pronghorn browsing in the sagebrush. In the spring and summer, wildflowers such as lupine, Indian paintbrush, and buttercups splash the desert with color. Visitors can take part in regular guided nature hikes.
Flagstaff Hill marked where the Great American Desert ended on the journey west. For the emigrants that made it this far, the lush vegetation and abundant game near the hill amazed them. This site symbolized all they had worked so hard for and many returned to the site years later. The Interpretive Center presents the tragedies encountered along the trail, and the joy many felt when they reached their destination.
You can find the Tin Pan Theater tucked away in an alley in downtown Bend, Oregon. If you didn’t know it was there, you could walk right past it.
This tiny theater only has 28 seats. You might not see the next Avengers movie there, but you will see some great movies. Indie films like The Nightingale, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of my Voice, and Maiden. They also feature foreign films.
Get there early because seats fill up fast. You can enjoy some popcorn and drinks while you’re waiting–including some local brews.
This theater received good news recently. BendFilm purchased the property in May 2019. The BendFilm Festival takes place in October and films can be viewed at this theater and several other locations. This festival was recently recognized by MovieMaker Magazine as being one of the 25 coolest film festivals in the world.
As BendFilm Executive Director Todd Looby noted, “Anyone who has entered the Tin Pan Theater immediately falls in love with the space.”
Be sure to look at the artwork in the alley just across from the theater. Tin Pan Alley Art features a variety of techniques and media. Bend has some amazing art and culture tucked away in its nooks and crannies.
Wouldn’t you like to have a river winding across your floor
like this one in the entry hall?
How about a cedar dugout canoe? Some were up to 50 feet in
The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum is in The Dalles along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Built in the 1900s, this road was the first scenic highway in the U.S. The highway winds through areas with forests, rocky cliffs, and dramatic waterfalls. We were planning to visit Multnomah Falls that day, but it was inaccessible due to a fire.
Creatures from the Ice Age
So we ended up here and a Columbian mammoth trumpeted with joy when he saw us. We stayed out of the way of his 16-foot long tusks. We found another interesting critter close by.
Did you know that there were once dire wolves in Oregon? Me neither. They were the largest canid to have lived, weighing as much as 150 pounds. Sometimes creatures portrayed in stories, such as Game of Thrones, actually existed.
From cultures that date back >10,000 years ago
Next we walked into a gallery of Native American artifacts. This center features artifacts from Wasco, Northern Paiute, and Warm Springs tribes.
Beadwork and basketry always impresses me. It would take so much patience to create something like that, something I don’t always have.
In another part of the center, the practice of fishing the Columbia River off of wooden platforms is highlighted. Native Americans fished this river for thousands of years but the runs of salmon have decreased dramatically due to dams and warming water temperatures.
Lewis & Clark’s travels
Several displays referred to the explorations of Lewis and Clark.
They passed through the Gorge traveling west in October of 1805 and on their way back home in April of 1806.
Members of the Lewis and Clark party traded with the natives for needed supplies and information on routes. See those strings of beads hanging from the display? Beads had great value as an item to trade at the time.
Naturalists were eager to explore this new land and this
display shows some of the winged wonders they encountered. That’s a lot of
As the United States expanded its territories in the 1840s and 1850s, more settlers moved toward the West. Lt. John C. Frémont explored the Oregon Trail, camping at The Dalles in 1843. The Army helped map potential wagon routes through Oregon.
Settling into Wasco County
Thousands of settlers soon made their way to Oregon and towns sprung up to support them.
The right saddle
Businesses catering to the settler’s needs prospered. Those are some nice saddles!
The Chinese in mid- to late-1800s Oregon
The railroad expanded into Oregon. Chinese immigrants helped construct railways and worked in the gold mines. They brought elements of their culture with them.
Though some of their customs and products, such as fireworks, were appreciated by the largely European American residents, Chinese often encountered prejudice.
This exhibit detailed archaeological work on the Chinatown site that once existed in The Dalles. After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, it was more difficult for them to stay in the United States. Most moved away from The Dalles by the late 1920s.
There were a couple things we didn’t see on this visit.
The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center put a lot of time into restoring native habitat on the 54-acre campus. There is a short nature walk with interpretive markers around the buildings.
They have a Raptor Interpretive Program that uses live falcons, hawks, eagles, and owls. They have presentations for visitors on days that vary with the season.
The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center was a nice place for an unplanned stop. Lots to see and do there. We were there in October and there weren’t many other visitors. The fall leaves outside the building greeted us in bright shades of gold.
There’s a great fountain just outside the front door. I leave you with the calming sounds of its waters.
Birds of the shore are common in the spring in parts of eastern Oregon. Why? Because flood irrigation is one of the main methods used to water the crops. As the snow melts off surrounding mountains, it collects in rivers and reaches the lower elevations.
It is released in controlled amounts in the Harney Basin, where 320 bird species congregate. This ancient method of irrigation benefits the rancher and the birdwatcher.
Birds such as sandhill cranes take advantage of all of that water. You can see flocks of them in the photo above and a single bird below.
I love seeing delicate long-legged beauties such as black-necked stilts and American avocets.
If you’re lucky, you may even see a Wilson’s snipe. Yes, they really do exist.
Flood irrigation creates temporary ponds and lakes with miles and miles of shoreline.
I saw quite a few long-billed curlew this spring. I was dive-bombed by one once when I was too close to her nest. That bill is dangerous looking! It can measure more than eight and a half inches in length.
Thousands of Ross’ and snow geese congregate in this area.
Waterfowl are common in the ponds and lakes. Here is a raft of ducks. This image is a little blurry but I included it to show the difference between canvasbacks and redhead ducks. The pair on the far left are redheads. See how the plumage is more gray? There are lots of opportunities to get clear views of many species.
You may see elegant swans as well. Trumpeter and tundra swans have been seen here.
You will be amazed when you spot unique birds of the shore, such as this American bittern. Keep your binoculars handy when traveling through this country in the spring and you will be rewarded.
I saw plenty of raptors on a Birds of Prey tour in the wide-open country of Harney County, Oregon last April. We ventured briefly into the Malheur National Forest in search of eagles. Though we didn’t see any eagles, we did get a nice view of an American kestrel.
We saw immature and mature bald eagles later that day. It’s always exciting to see them.
Some of the wildlife out there was keeping an eye on us. This herd of elk on a distant ridge top watched us for a while.
Raptors were common and we saw many of them perched on fenceposts and telephone poles.
Ground squirrels hang out in the irrigated fields and the birds of prey congregate there to find an easy meal. They like to perch on the pivot irrigation systems.
Turkey vultures also enjoy some nice fresh ground squirrel. This one was close to the road and we had a great view of it having a little snack.
We were lucky to see a prairie falcon, the only one we spotted that day.
Mule deer were common. This herd had 30+ deer.
We stopped in another spot to take pictures of deer then noticed something else in the foreground. Two burrowing owls! Can you find both of them in the photo with the deer? That was my favorite observation of the day.
This tour was part of the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. Our guides that day were Ben Cate, from the High Desert Partnership, and Melanie Finch, wildlife technician with the U.S. Forest Service .
Raptors Pocket Guide
Though I know certain species well, I’m no expert when it comes to identifying raptors. I rely on helpful tour guides and field guides. I have field guide books and the iBird Pro app, but this handy fold out pocket guide is really helpful.
This guide includes silhouettes, identifying markings, and different color morphs. It was a dark spring day on this trip and the silhouettes page helped make identifying birds easier.
We saw quite a few raptors so it was a successful seven-hour field trip. Until next year…
I can be jubilant one moment and pensive the next, and a cloud could go by and make that happen.
Here are few clouds in my sky from the last year’s worth of Lens-Artists Photo Challenges. These pictures were taken in Eastern and Central Oregon, my favorite country. Enjoy their many moods.
Special thanks to Patti, Amy, Tina, and Ann-Christine for hosting the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge for one year! Many of us eagerly await the weekly challenge and look forward to seeing all the entries.
On the first 4-mile hike, my llama was Marty McFly, AKA “The Professor.” He was not the most dominant llama there, but he was considered to be the smartest. He was always on the lookout. Llamas have large eyes, much like pronghorns, so they can spot predators.
If you go on a hike with pack llamas, they can carry all of your gear. Well, at least 60 pounds of gear. You have to weigh each pack so that they are about even on both sides.
On both of the hikes I went on, I worked with llamas from the Burns Llama Trailblazers group. They have llamas that are trained in packing, cart pulling, and livestock guarding. They train the llamas to do packing from a very young age by having them carry miniature packs.
So what’s it like walking with a pack llama? Kind of like
walking with a very big and inquisitive dog. These highly-trained animals keep
a loose lead and they’re very sure footed. Though some are more spirited than
others, they have an overall gentle nature.
We stopped for lunch at a small lake and tied off our
animals. My llama had been quiet the whole trip, but once we stopped he became
more vocal. I thought he sounded like Chewbacca from Star Wars. The reason he
was complaining was because he wanted to keep going. Llamas can walk many miles
in a single day.
On the second hike I went on this spring, we traveled three miles. My llama that day was a young female named Manzanita. She was going for Basic Pack Llama Certification. She had to walk a three-mile course with 250-500 feet elevation gain. The llamas in this level carry 10% of their body weight.
We would encounter five different obstacles. These would
include walking through tight places, moving up/over/across obstacles, and
walking at least ten feet down a flowing creek. Did you know llamas often have
a fear of water? Neither did I.
Manzanita did fine and passed all of the tests with flying colors. There are four levels of PLTA certification. At the highest level, the llamas walk on a 10-mile course with 2,500-3,000 feet elevation gain. There are 20 obstacles. The animals carry 25% of their body weight.
I was happy doing the shorter hike. My llama companions had a good walk and so did I.
If you are interested in helping out with pack trials, they can always use more volunteers to lead the llamas so contact the Pack Llama Trial Association .
There are many wild Oregon places and this post highlights just a few of them. The ever changing skies can make familiar landscapes look completely different. Here are some portraits of Oregon’s wild places.
Oregon is an inspiration. Whether you come to it, or are born to it, you become entranced by our state’s beauty, the opportunity she affords, and the independent spirit of her citizens.
Have you ever stepped inside a time capsule and discovered a place frozen in time? You have the opportunity to visit such a place if you stop at the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site in John Day, Oregon. The small building, located two blocks north of Highway 26, was, at one time, bustling with activity. Kam Wah Chung, which translates to the “Golden Flower of Prosperity,” served as a dry goods store, herbalist shop, import business, house of worship, and boarding house. It also housed an informal library and post office.
A Tour Inside
As you step into the dimly lit interior of the building, you get a feel for what life was like decades ago.
Boxes and tins of everyday products line the shelves. Merchandise stocked at Kam Wah Chung appealed to both Chinese and American customers.
In the backroom, larger boxes of supplies fill the room.
The apothecary is amazing! Stacks of small neatly labeled boxes reach to the ceiling.
They used many herbs in the practice of Chinese medicine, but also more exotic things like lizard feet, bat wings, and bear parts. A small room across from the apothecary served as a place to treat patients.
You step through a low doorway to get into the kitchen. The table and wood stove look ready to serve a hot meal.
An early version of a refrigerator cabinet sits in a corner.
Religion was an important part of everyday life and small altars, with dried oranges and incense stick offerings, are tucked into various nooks.
Two sets of bunk beds are in the same room as the kitchen. Advertisements line the walls and undersides of the bunks, in case you might need to purchase a suit while staying there.
As you pass through another door, you’ll enter a private bedroom. You can’t go upstairs, but additional boarding and living quarters are located there.
History of Kam Wah Chung
The building was constructed in the 1860s as a trading post, and it was put under lease to the Kam Wah Chung Company in 1878. Ing Hay and Lung On, both originally from the Guangdong Province of China, formed a partnership and purchased the business in 1887. It served as a gathering place for Chinese immigrants who traveled to Oregon to work on railroad lines and in gold mines. In 1862, prospectors discovered gold in Canyon City, two miles south of John Day. In 1880, John Day was home to over 2,000 Chinese, the second largest Chinese community in Oregon and one of the largest in the U.S.
Partners in business – Ing Hay and Lung On
Ing Hay, also known as “Doc Hay,” practiced herbal medicine and pulsology. Doc Hay lost his sight, but he claimed he could use his sensitive hands to identify ailments based on a patient’s pulse. Western medicine was in its infancy at that time and anyone could claim to be a doctor. Nearly half of patients treated by “quack” doctors died from infection. Ing Hay served both Chinese and non-Chinese patients and was a well-respected healer throughout the region. He was considered a “municipal treasure” after he used his herbal remedies to prevent the spread of illness during the Influenza Epidemic of 1918.
Lung On, also known as “Leon,” was a well-educated man fluent in both English and Chinese. He used his charisma and many skills in his work as a merchant, labor contractor, mediator, and translator. After the gold rush, he turned to other endeavors. Lung On started a mail-order clothing company and also had one of the first car dealerships and service stations east of the Cascades. He also dabbled in real estate and horse racing. Lung On was a successful businessman and he willed his $90,000 estate to Ing Hay. Both men continued living in the Kam Wah Chung building for nearly 60 years and were considered valued members of the community.
The Chinese Exclusion Act
Though both had family in China, they never returned to their native country. One reason for this was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Increasing tensions between Chinese and resident laborers in a struggling economy led to a series of laws. The Act stated that Chinese could not become U.S. citizens or own land. Teachers, students, diplomats, and merchants were given limited rights, but weren’t always allowed back into the U.S. if they left the country. In John Day, Chinese could only live in a small neighborhood near Kam Wah Chung and it served as a refuge for them. More moved to John Day in 1885 when the Chinese neighborhood in Canyon City burned to the ground and they were not allowed to rebuild. It was a challenging environment for people of Chinese heritage and they felt safer living near each other.
Chinese could not own guns in Grant County so Ing Hay and Lung Ho kept meat cleavers at the ready to defend themselves. You can see evidence of how they were harassed by observing bullet holes in their metal-clad front door. The thin layer of metal didn’t stop any bullets, but it prevented fire from destroying the building.
Opening the Time Capsule
Lung On passed away in 1940 and Ing Hay moved to a Portland nursing home in 1948. He passed away in 1952 and his nephew sold the building to the city of John Day. Ing Hay wanted the building to serve as a Chinese history museum, but that request was forgotten. The Kam Wah Chung building remained locked until 1967. When the doors were opened, everything inside was largely intact. Over 30,000 artifacts have been cataloged. The apothecary contained hundreds of herbs, some of which no longer exist in the wild. One of Doc Hay’s medical books may have been compiled 300-500 years ago by one of the founders of Chinese medicine. If the book is an original, it would be one of the few copies known to still exist.
Visiting Kam Wah Chung
Kam Wah Chung was deeded to Oregon State Parks and Recreation in 1975 and leased to the city of John Day. It opened to the public in 1977. The state took over management of the site in 2004. The Friends of Kam Wah Chung help manage a small visitor center and store housed in a separate building.
Oregon State Parks and Recreation offers free 45-minute tours of the Kam Wah Chung site from May 1 to October 31. A guide must accompany visitors. The guides offer visitors a wealth of information and they obviously enjoy sharing their knowledge. Their talks are enhanced by informative recordings. The tours fill up fast so this year they are experimenting with making reservations in advance.
There are several exciting updates related to Kam Wah Chung. Plans are in the works for a larger visitor center that may include a “virtual reality” room that would simulate the interior of the building. Recent archaeological research at the site has revealed where the temple and other buildings may have once stood. In July, students can participate in an archaeology field school on the site as part of the Oregon Chinese Diaspora Project. Malheur National Forest, Southern Oregon Laboratory of Anthropology, and Kam Wah Chung are among those working on this project. The Discovery Channel is working on a documentary about Chinese traditional medicine and they have shot footage at Kam Wah Chung and several other locations. The program is expected to air in North America in the fall of 2019.
Visitors from around the world
This site is an important destination for those interested in history. It is the best known example of an historical Chinese mercantile and herb store in the United States. Chinese scholars have expressed great interest in Kam Wah Chung and they visit the site regularly. As news stories related to discoveries at the site have spread throughout China, it has become a destination for Chinese tourists. People from all over the world visit Kam Wah Chung.
There has been a significant increase in the number of visitors from the Netherlands. Locations near Kam Wah Chung were featured in the highly popular Dutch reality program “Wie is de Mol?” which translates as “Who is the Mole?”
I am fortunate that this site is only about two hours away from Bend, Oregon, where I live. It’s a trip well worth taking.
Here are a few interesting facts about Kam Wah Chung:
More than 90 unopened bottles of bourbon whiskey were found under the floorboards and in the walls, stashed there during the Prohibition. Today they are valued at around $10,000 each. Several bottles mysteriously disappeared during various renovations.
Ing Hay’s great-grandnephew, Robert M. Wah, MD, served as president of the American Medical Association in 2015. The call to work as a healer continues in this family.
$23,000 worth of uncashed checks were found under Ing Hay’s bed. They would be worth about $250,000 in today’s dollars. Some think he never cashed them because he knew his patients couldn’t afford to pay the bills.
To view a 2015 Emmy nominated documentary about Kam Wah Chung produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting, see Oregon Experience – Kam Wah Chung. The personal stories recounted by people who knew Ing Hay and Lung On helps to bring the history of this remarkable place to life.
This is a reprint of a June 2019 article in High Desert Voices, a newsletter by and for volunteers and staff at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. To see more issues of the newsletter, go here.
The Lens-Artists Photo Challenge this week is the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Here are pictures that feature several of the elements that I took at Yellowstone National Park.
The five pictures above of Yellowstone elements each include wood, water, fire, and earth. In this case, the fire is below the surface. This area sits inside a giant caldera and geysers and hot springs are common in the park. Steam rises over these thermal features.
You may be wondering where the element of “metal” is in these photos. In the photo below, I was using our metal car as a blind to take pictures of the bison and accidentally took a picture of myself holding my metal camera. 😀
Hope you enjoy my interpretation of this challenge!