Time moves a little differently here than it does elsewhere. The distant past is not as far away, the future does not crowd us quite as closely. This has left its mark on the population. People here tend to be both unfamiliar and uncomfortable with sudden change. Like the horses which are so much a part of our landscape they can be spooked by the sudden appearance of something new and it can take a while to get everyone calmed down again.
This pattern was set by the Indians who have lived here continuously for at least 14 thousand years. In other parts of the world such as the middle east, human occupations of this duration has made a lasting mark on the landscape. The valleys are pocked with 'tels', artificial hills formed by villages being created upon the ruins of earlier villages for millennia. In other regions, piles of broken stone mark the sites of towns, temples and fortifications from ages past.
Here, 400 generations of Indian occupation have come and gone leaving little or no visible trace. These tribes were not exactly nomadic, they each had specific territories but the land is so sparse that no one location can support year round occupation. In order to survive, the native tribes had to adapt to the seasons, living in the valleys in the winter for warmth and in the mountains in the summer for moisture. As a result their dwellings were built of reeds and animal hides, things which could be packed up and moved as the seasons changed.
In other regions Archaeologists can trace the history and movements of people from ancient times by their ceramics which can endure for thousands of years but our natives used no ceramics. Instead they wove their containers and cooking vessels from bear grass and cedar roots. Although these baskets and bags may not seem interesting to the uninitiated, they are a beautiful fusion of craftsmanship and practicality. They are much lighter and less fragile for packing from camp to camp than any clay pot and they were always adorned with intricate patterns which identified the maker. But grass and bark are not likely to survive for more than a couple of generations and it is rare today to find any woven artifacts which are more than a few hundred years old.
The only trace we find from the people of past millennia are the arrow heads and stone tools. These are everywhere especially after a rain has washed the bits of flint and obsidian so that they shine in the sunlight. These present the opposite problem. There are still people who knap flint today and it is tricky to be sure if the spear point found on the river bank was made yesterday, 15,000 years ago or any time in between.
While the past seems timeless, the future came late to this part of the world. The first settlements in western Oregon and along the Columbia river came shortly after 1800. Oregon City in the Willamette Valley was founded in 1829 and incorporated in 1844. Oregon was admitted to the union as a state in 1859. But the wagon trains all passed far to the north along the Columbia river or to the south through Utah and Nevada. With the exception of a very few fur trappers, the first whites did not arrive in Grant County until after 1862.
In most of the west once the miners and cattlemen arrived, the next stage of encroaching civilization was the coming of the railroads. But the railroads never made it to John Day. They came close, with logging road spurs from mainline tracks coming as near as Prairie City and Seneca but civic boosters' dreams of rails linking John Day to the rest of the world never did come to fruition.
For many people in Grant County, a working life spent on horseback under and open sky was routine up to the 1940s. Bits of the twentieth century that were common in the cities by 1900, electricity, telephones and indoor plumbing took much longer to percolate into this region. For the most part, they did not become the norm until the late 1930s and after.
Even the automobile took longer to become established. The combination of great distances and thin populations meant that many roads remained what were basically unpaved wagon trails until federal highway funds became available.
Things do change of course, but elk and cougar roam these mountains and cottonwood and willows still line the river banks. Our civilization leaves its mark just as the Indians' did. But the marks are not as deep as they are in other regions. There are places in Grant County where I know there were towns three and four generations ago but I can't tell exactly where or how big they were because no trace of them remains today.
this is a picture caption