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.

Oregon My Oregon

It is always good to set the stage with a few facts so that is what this post is intended to do. Oregon was admitted to the union as the 33rd state on February 14, 1859. Though the number and boundaries of its counties have changed over time, there were 36 counties with approximately the current boundaries established by 1916. Here is a link to a website showing the historical boundary changes of Oregon counties:

And here is a map of Oregon counties and their county seats (thanks to the office of the Secretary of State):


In 1860 the official population count was 52,465. By 1900 the population had grown to 413,536. In 1940 when my father’s family moved to Oregon from Idaho the population had reached 1,089,684. When my parents were married in 1950 the state had a population of 1,521,341. When I was five years old in 1960 the count was 1,768,687. By the time I had finished school and moved away in 1980 the population had reached 2,633,156. The official count in 2010 was 3,831,074. I cite all these figures for two reasons. First to give myself some perspective on how the population has changed over my lifetime and second, to show that while, indeed the population has more than doubled since I was young, that kind of growth is normal for the state. In its first 50 years the population grew 10 fold, in the next 50 years it more than doubled and in the past 50 years it has more than doubled again.

Here is a map showing population density based on 2010 population to give you a feel for just where all those people live:


The state is roughly 400 miles wide and 360 miles tall for a total land area of 98,381 square miles. Plenty of room for a 21st century explorer to roam around. The highest point in the state is Mount Hood at 11,249 ft (3,428.8 m). The low points can be found at sea level all along the Oregon Coast.

State stuff is always fun but mostly designated at the whim of state legislatures so not to be taken too seriously, some of the more recent ones particularly make me laugh. I mean, seriously, how did a state with a burgeoning wine industry and a history of really great beers end up with milk as a state beverage? But for the record here is a list of state stuff including the year of its designation:

Flower: Oregon grape (1899)
Tree: douglas fir (1939)
Animal: beaver (1969)
Bird: western meadowlark (1927)
Fish: chinook salmon (1961)
Rock: thunderegg (1965)
Colors: navy blue and gold (1959)
Song: “Oregon, My Oregon” (1927)
Insect: swallowtail butterfly (1979)
Dance: square dance (1977)
Nut: hazelnut (1989)
Gemstone: sunstone (1987)
Seashell: Oregon hairy triton (1991)
Beverage: milk (1997)
Mushroom: Pacific golden chanterelle (1999)

And on that note I think it is time to close out this first post. This is going to be fun. I hope you will join me in rediscovering Oregon.