Skookum – A book report

Skookum: An Oregon Pioneer Family’s History and Lore, by Shannon Applegate

Skookum. A word from the Chinook Jargon, means good, solid, reliable, and true. Shannon Applegate, the great-great granddaughter of Charles Applegate, has sifted through family stories and papers to bring to life the experiences of one of Oregon’s first pioneering families.

In 1843 three brothers, Charles, Lindsay, and Jesse Applegate set out from Missouri with their young families. Among them there were already 21 children and more would be born in the coming years. The families first settled in the Willamette Valley, west of Salem, in what is now Polk County. But Jesse and Lindsay, having each lost a son to the rapids of the Columbia River, set out a few years later to find an overland route into Oregon. Thus was born the Applegate trail.

The new route departed from the Oregon Trail at Fort Hall, Idaho and brought emigrants through Nevada via the Humboldt River, into Northern California near Goose and Tule Lakes, then into the Klamath Basin and over the Siskiyou Mountains following a route close to the current Greensprings Highway (Hwy 66). The trail then turned north following the Rogue and Umpqua Rivers before crossing the Calapooya Mountains into the Willamette Valley.

In the course of their explorations the brothers found greener pastures and relocated their families to the Yoncalla area in the late 1840’s. Lindsay would uproot his family again in 1860 in order to operate a toll road over the Siskiyou Mountains near Ashland. Unfortunately, Shannon Applegate’s stories mostly revolve around the Yoncalla crowd and we somewhat lose track of the southern branch of the family, though she does include some recollections of Lindsay’s son Jesse Applegate Applegate about his interactions with the native peoples.

I found this frustrating because as an Ashlander I wanted more information about the Ashland Applegates. Further research indicates that Lindsay would go on to be an agent for the Klamath and Modoc Indians as well as a state representative for Jackson County. He retired in Ashland in 1869. I was interested to note that when we buried my brother in the Mountain View Cemetery last summer many of his neighbors were Applegates. I have not had a chance to revisit the graveyard to see exactly who is there. Presumably they are children of Lindsay, as I have since learned that he and his wife are buried in the Ashland Cemetery (the one behind Safeway for those in the know). I’ll be checking that out next time we get some warm dry weather all in the same day.

I went looking for the connection between the Applegates and our own beloved Applegate Valley. I was only able to learn that the river was named for Lindsay Applegate but based on my reading in Skookum I could only conclude that while some of the Applegate children may have spent time in Jacksonville in its heyday, none of the family actually settled in the Applegate Valley. (I could be wrong about that so please leave a comment if you know otherwise).

While I found Skookum to be an incomplete history of the Applegate family, it did bring a personal and very human light to the pioneering history of Oregon. The cherry on the sundae for me was reading through the acknowledgements to learn that one of my childhood friends, Margaret Haines (aka Peggy) had been of assistance to Shannon in researching her book.