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Monday, January 21, 2013

Site Seeing Exhibit Draws Crowds at the University of Oregon’s Museum of National and Cultural History

A new exhibit at the University of Oregon’s Museum of National and Cultural History — “Site Seeing: Snapshots of Historical Archaeology in Oregon” — proves that the past doesn’t have to be ancient to be fascinating.

Take the Stevens family cemetery, discovered five years ago when a heavy-equipment operator named Erica French — she’s now considered a “heritage hero” by the state of Oregon — turned up some bones as she worked on the construction site of the Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, along the McKenzie River in north Springfield.

French alerted her employer, the Wildish Co., which notified PeaceHealth, owner of the construction site, which contacted the state, which called in the UO archaeologists to examine the site.

They found the remains of the family’s burial ground, which originally contained 12 bodies — including those of patriarch William Stevens and his wife, Hixey Jones Stevens — although eight had been removed to a different cemetery around the turn of the last century, after the Stevens family donation land claim was sold.

The four remaining graves — p­erhap­s left behind because they were not members of the Stevens family — contained an adult male and three children estimated to be an infant, a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old.

The other three sections of the exhibit illuminate different and perhaps less well-known aspects of Oregon’s cultural history.

“Jacksonville and Kam Wah Chung” looks at the experience of Chinese laborers who trekked to Oregon by the thousands after the California Gold Rush expanded to include the gold country of Southern Oregon.

Upon arrival, they found that they were excluded from owning their own mining claims but were welcome to work in the mines, or as fisherman or on road or railroad construction.

The “Portland Privy” exhibit takes a different sort of look at the way people lived in different parts of the city, by recapturing artifacts discarded in outdoor toilets that doubled as personal landfills for used-up items or belongings no longer wanted when people moved to a new neighborhood.

Similarly, the “Beatty Curve” aims to recapture the lifestyle of people living in a cabin in the Klamath River Basin. Its occupants may have been Native Americans caught between their own and European culture during the era when federal policy pursued forced assimilation of tribal members.

UO archaeologists have been involved in nearly two dozen excavations around the state, but these four were chosen for an initial exhibit “based on how interesting the artifacts are and giving an idea of the breadth of cultural history in the state,” museum exhibit coordinator Ann Craig said.

“We wanted to include Native voices and also show the importance of the Chinese experience in our state’s history, which many people may not be so familiar with.”

There will be a free reception, attended by the archaeologists from the projects, on Friday. The exhibit will be up for the rest of the year. Possibilities for future archaeology exhibits include exploration of mining, logging and farming cultures, Craig said.

She was surprised by several things as the new exhibit was put together, such as learning more about the influx of the Chinese population in the mid-1800s.

“The Chinese people who came were almost all men — most of them did not start families here and apparently did not intend to stay their whole lives,” Craig said.

“But many of them died here, and it’s possible that many of their families never knew what had happened to them.”

The new exhibit explores two aspects of Chinese culture, one based on the lifestyle of working men in the Chinese quarter of Jacksonville and the other on the contents of a Chinese-run general store in John Day.

Patricia Konova, a UO sophomore with majors in history and Chinese language, took in the exhibit on Friday, its opening day. “It doesn’t take up much space, but it packs in a lot of information,” she said.

A couple perusing the exhibit hovered around the Beatty Curve section, which Craig also finds interesting because of its mystery.

“Cabins like this were built in this area — which had been inhabited by Native Americans for 10,000 years — by the Indian Agency to try to force them to take on Euro-American ways,” she said. “This particular cabin definitely has signs of both cultures in it.”

It may be that the Native American inhabitants outwardly exhibited white culture while secretly holding onto their traditional ways, Craig said. “The archaeologists found pieces of obsidian — called tinklers and used by Native Americans on their regalia — hidden under the floor in a leather sack.”

In terms of number of artifacts, the Stevens Cemetery exhibit has relatively few, but it nonetheless sheds much light on who may have been the original white residents in what is now Springfield.

After filing his land claim in October 1847, according to the “Illustrated History of Lane County, Oregon,” published by A. G. Walling in Portland in 1884, William Stevens “commenced the erection of a house in December 1847, the rest of his family joining him on Christmas Day of that year.

“This was the first house erected in what is known as the Forks of the Willamette, the timber used in its construction being the first cut by a white man in that vicinity,” Walling wrote.

Descendants of the Stevens family still live in the area and loaned the museum a copy of the family Bible in which the names of William and Hixey Stevens and their descendants are recorded, Craig said.

The most poignant of artifacts also may belong to the Stevens Cemetery portion of the exhibit. A small silver ring found in the empty burial site No. 8 could have been worn to the grave by 5-year-old Mandely Stevens, who once occupied that plot.

And it’s possible that the infant and 4-year-old found in the cemetery may have been buried in shrouds instead of clothing, because only straight pins — no buttons — were found in their graves, No. 2 and No.

Source: Register Guard


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