From August 4-7, 2017, I had the privilege of traveling about a thousand miles through eastern Oregon—to Burns, Frenchglen, Baker City, Pendleton, and back through the Gorge. I’m always struck by the vastness of our state, its overwhelming beauty, and the diversity of its terrain and eco-systems. In a few hundred miles, I passed through many national forests, mountains (Cascades, Blue, and Steen), high desert, sage prairie, great basin, hot springs, some surprising wetlands, and lava beds. A smoky haze hung over all, due to the fires raging throughout the state.
What brought me out of Eugene was the opportunity to attend two of a series of folklife programs that Four Rivers Cultural Center (Ontario) put together with cultural partners in Harney and Baker Counties.
My family and I had a long drive Friday night, broken up by a wonderful dinner at Diego’s Spirited Kitchen in Redmond. Douglas Manger, one of OFN’s contract folklorists, introduced me to Diego’s during his folklife survey fieldwork in 2016. It’s been a staff favorite ever since, especially the tacos de pescado with sautéed halibut.
We arrived in Burns that evening, and the next morning my family and I set off for Frenchglen and the traditional craft demonstrations that Josh Chrysler, Four Rivers staff folklorist, had planned alongside the Frenchglen Jamboree taking place at the Frenchglen Hotel State Heritage Site. Read about the full scope of Eastern Oregon Folklife programs that Chrysler designed elsewhere in this newsletter.
An hour’s journey through the mostly arid basins, along twists and turns, and over dramatic basalt ridges led us to Frenchglen, located on the edge of the Steens Mountain. Frenchglen Jamboree, complete with a youth rodeo, included barrel racing, roping, and a spoon race as well as a Dutch oven dessert cook off, and live music. The folklife demonstrations took place on the side lawn at the Frenchglen Hotel, which was also hosting a cribbage match and a barbeque dinner.
Under shady tents, we visited with Native beadworker, cradleboard, and basket weaver Sara Barton; rawhide braider Dan Fowler; and leather worker John O’Connor of the Steens Back Country Horsemen. Both Barton and Fowler are part of OFN’s Culture Keepers Roster.
Barton, who is of Mono Lake Paiute and Yosemite Miwuk heritage, lives at the Burns Paiute reservation, where she makes and teaches folks how to make cradleboards for babies of different ages and sizes as well as a variety of baskets.
Dan Fowler, a long-time rancher and cowboy, is known throughout the region for his fine rawhide braiding. Each of the buttons—the intricately woven bumps on mecates, lariats, and comals—take hours to complete.
I was particularly charmed by the miniature reins that he had displayed, which are about 1/6 scale.
O’Connor (on Fowler’s right), also a rancher and horseman, makes a variety of leather vests. Both he and Fowler regaled everyone with stories about horses (Fowler’s favorite “Old Strawberry”), rattlesnake dens, and more.
We also took a few breaks to sample the tasty food at the Hotel; the homemade raspberry crisp was a perfect ending to a meal of salads, burgers, and fries.
After a full day in Frenchglen, we traveled through the stunning lava beds of Diamond Craters and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge wetlands to Crystal Crane Hot Springs. Soaking in the seven-foot deep hot springs pond, which hovers around 100 degrees, amidst the quiet, star-filled evening, was a true Oregon experience.
But before winding down, we drove back into Burns for the annual Burns Paiute powwow at the Harney County Fairgrounds. There we enjoyed a variety of traditional powwow dancers and their stunning, hand-crafted regalia. I found out later that some of the dancers had been part of OFN’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, which funded Burns Paiute elders, Betty Hawley, Myra Peck, Phillis Miller, and Ruth Lewis, to teach moccasin making to children ranging in age from 3 to 6.
One of the benefits of attending a powwow is the yummy food. While we missed out on the meat and potato stuffed frybread, we did inhale some “rez dogs” (a hotdog wrapped in frybread dough and deep fried) as well as chili rez dogs (a rez dog topped with chili, cheese, and condiments).
As we strolled around the powwow grounds, we even found some Oregon Ducks.
The next day, we enjoyed a morning soak in the hot springs before a filling breakfast at Ed’s Fast Break & Grille at the edge of Burns.
After breakfast, we journeyed north and east through the dramatic terrain of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness as we made our way to Baker City and a performance and community conversation with Janet Komoto and the Kawa Taiko Drummers of Ontario, Oregon.
Komoto and her Taiko drummers have long been a mainstay of eastern Oregon’s performing arts circuit. With the able assistance of Josh Chrysler, this traditional Japanese drum group performed and engaged with a crowd of about 100 on Sunday afternoon, August 6, at Geiser Pollman Park. In 2000, several members of Ontario’s Japanese American community came together to practice the traditional Japanese art of taiko. Komoto became part student, teacher, and group leader. Thanks to Base Camp Baker for posting this video of the Kawa Taiko Drummers.
These programs were made possible by the Four Rivers Cultural Center, the Harney County Cultural Coalition, Crossroads Carnegie Arts Center, the Oregon Folklife Network, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Josh Chrysler, Staff Folklorist at Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario, developed this series of programs and exhibits that celebrate the traditional culture and folklife of eastern Oregon.