Note: Original article can be found here:
By Linell Nevius
The Confederate battle flag has never flown from Oregon’s Capitol buildings. Few if any Confederate heroes are memorialized in this state — with one important exception.
If we believe the Confederate battle flag was removed from state-sponsored prominence in the South because that flag is no longer considered an inclusive symbol of southern heritage, I think it’s time Oregon’s citizens gave some thought to our state history and had a conversation about our own state heritage.
Here is a quick Oregon history review: According to the Oregon Encyclopedia, a project of the Oregon Historical Society, in 1848 President James Polk appointed Gen. Joseph Lane as the territorial governor of the Oregon territories. Later, when Oregon became a state, the general was elected as one of the state’s first two senators. He was popular and known to be brave in combat. Gen. Lane was also a slaveholder, although slavery in the Oregon Territory was made illegal in 1844, long before statehood, and was clearly illegal in the new state he represented as territorial governor and later as senator. He was an outspoken proponent of both slavery and secession, and when civil war appeared imminent, Gen. Joseph Lane ran for vice president of the new Confederacy. Defeated, he chose to remain in Oregon while his son left West Point to accept a commission in the Confederate army.
Although the 13th Amendment abolished slavery throughout the United States in 1865, Joseph Lane remained on his farm in Roseburg and, according to a Wikipedia statement and citation from the book “Great and Minor Moments in Oregon History” by Dick Pintarich of Portland Community College, he continued to keep at least one slave until 1878 in unrestricted, open defiance of both state and federal law. The people he held in bondage were citizens.
How did the state of Oregon honor Gen. Joseph Lane? We named a large county after him. We named a community college after him. Children in our state learn from two middle schools named after him; one in Portland and another in Roseburg. We named a jail for him.
And we forgot. Or maybe we covered it up or thought it wasn’t important.
Information is widely available on the web, through sources including the Oregon Historical Society, the Oregon History Project and the Oregon Blue Book on Notable Oregonians, as well as Wikipedia, and in many books, including a biography of Joseph Lane and “Fifty Years in Oregon” by T.T. Geer, an early governor of Oregon. I don’t know if it appears in current history textbooks, but most people are not aware that Oregon unblushingly honors a man who kept one or more legal citizens of our country in slavery, flouted state and federal law with impunity, ran for high office against his country and supported and promoted the ideals of the Confederacy long after it was defeated. The Lane County website lists “A Brief History,” which describes Lane simply as “a rugged frontier hero.”
Oregon has so many fascinating people and qualities to remember and teach our children about. We can’t fix everything wrong with history, but do we really want to commemorate over 4,700 square miles in the state of Oregon to recognize Joseph Lane?
Maybe we have flags of our own to bring down.
Linell Nevius lives in Dundee.
An answer from the Douglas County Historical Society:
How sad that you quote: ” “Great and Minor Moments in Oregon History” by Dick Pintarich of Portland Community College” without checking facts, and sources. The little black boy that the general helped to raise was not a slave. Legally, Lane was his guardian. He was first placed with another man, and when that man could not take care of the boy, he placed the boy in the generals’ care. The boy’s father had died, and the mother could not care for her two children. The courts placed both of the children with families who were OBLIGATED to care for them and TEACH them how to care for themselves. That means they’d had to do chores, and it doesn’t mean the child was a slave. An Indian chief, if my memory serves me right, a rogue tribe Indian gave the general a boy who had been stolen from his tribe as war bounty. He was considered a slave by the Indians. The general took custody of the child and fed, clothed and cleaned him up. The general proved by the way he treated the Indians including respecting them and their lands by trying to actually protect them –that he did not, nor ever considered the Indians slave material.
I am outraged that today’s citizens are still fooled by yesteryears political machine that sought to ruin the generals reputation. The general never condoned slavery- what he fought for and he made it abundantly clear in his many, many speeches that he was for STATES RIGHTS. He felt that the federal government had no right to tell the state what to do. And if you actually read your constitution, you’d realize he was pretty much right.
General Lane was a war hero. Yes, a war HERO of the Mexican War. He entered politics as a very young man in Indiana. He left his seat in the Indiana state legislature in order to volunteer to fight for our country in the Mexican War. Because he had experience with war and knew how brutal it was, he did not want to see his country go to war, and he said so publicly many times. He believed, maybe mistakenly, that if the slavery issue was left alone that it would kill itself eventually, and that there would be no reason to tear this country apart and have brothers killing brothers.
General Lane left an incredible legacy of love for his country, love for it’s people and Oregonians should be proud of what he did. Those who wish to smear his name really should use sources that actually exist so that facts can be checked out. And if NO one believes me, they can double check my research, every fact I have used, I have found on the internet. Most of it free of charge! However, if you’d like a list of sources, I can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, Peggy Snyder
Co-editor of the Umpqua Trapper.
Douglas County Historical Society caretakers of the Floed-Lane House in Roseburg.
PS. I have found no evidence that the general ever had a slave. It may be out there but I have not seen it. I have seen that wife, Polly inherited (it was willed to her ) a slave from her adopted father, Mr. Hart. That being said, I’ve never seen evidence that she actually ever took possession of said slave. And even if the Lane’s were slave holders, they were people of their times, can we not forgive and be forgiven? They are no longer here to protect themselves or answer to you for their lives, and I can tell you one thing for certain this man did FAR MORE for this country, this state, and our government than most people would in two lifetimes! Polly learned to live most of her adult life without the company of her husband, a compromise that was made to the benefit of our citizens. They gave and gave again. It is time to let history rest, and be thankful for what we have today, and quit tromping on people who lived in THEIR time.
In defense of Gen. Joseph Lane (OPINION)
As fate would have it, I was a month or so into researching Gen. Joseph Lane for a project of my own when an opinion column by Linell Nevius, “South Carolina had a Confederate flag; Oregon has Gen. Joseph Lane,” appeared in the July 26 edition of The Oregonian.
As a card-carrying Confederate descendant, I must respond. (For the purposes of this piece and for the sake of brevity, I am citing one reference. Any quotes that appear are from “Joe Lane of Oregon” by James E. Hendrickson.)
In 1849, when Gen. Lane was commissioned governor of the Oregon Territory, he was residing in Indiana with his family on his farm, where he had lived all of his adult life, slaveless. While serving with the 2nd Indiana Volunteers, Lane distinguished himself during the Mexican–American War and was ultimately promoted to the rank of major general by brevet. He was wildly popular among the citizens of Indiana, often referred to as the “Andrew Jackson of Indiana.”
After an arduous journey from Indiana, covering over 6,000 miles and spanning seven months, Gen. Lane set foot in the Oregon Territory at Astoria in April 1849, still slaveless. After a brief stop at “the little village of Portland, where the residents, hardly more than 20 souls, received them with warm hospitality and a simple but substantial meal,” he and the surviving members of his party canoed on to the territorial capitol, Oregon City.
Oregon became a state in February, 1859. Lane and Delazon Smith had already been elected senators; both were staunch Democrats, slaveless and, of course, labeled pro-slavery by the opposition.
On the eve of the Civil War, Sen. Lane was nominated for vice president on the John C. Breckinridge ticket. By this time, the forces of reaction had done their dirty work and fractured the Democratic Party into three factions. In a last-ditch attempt to keep the Republicans from taking the election and plunging the Union into an unnecessary, vicious and bloody war, the Democratic factions were maneuvering to have Sen. Lane appointed president by the U.S. House of Representatives. He was a candidate acceptable to all.
Nevius maintains that Sen. Lane was a slaveholder, holding slaves brazenly and illegally in Oregon long after the Confederacy was crushed. Initially, Nevius cites the Oregon Encyclopedia, “a project of the Oregon Historical Society,” as a source of this misinformation, attempting, by insinuation, to cloak this preposterous lie in the authority and respectability of the Oregon Historical Society. If the Oregon Encyclopedia does say any such thing, the compilers should be brought to account about this matter, forthwith.
Perhaps this mythical slave that the general kept in “open defiance” is one Peter Waldo. After the death of his wife, Polly, “Joseph Lane remained on his farm for another eight years, living as a hermit, his only companion a Negro lad, Peter Waldo, who had been committed to his care by the Court of Josephine County in 1864.” I must point out that the Civil War was raging in 1864. I doubt that the Confederacy had anything to do with the court of Josephine County, or that the court had anything to do with “slavery.”
How does one “fix” history? What’s wrong with it, anyway? I thought history was what it was; or is what it was. Of course, one can consult Wikipedia and propagate lies and misinformation, but that fixes nothing. Not only does Oregon have Joseph Lane, we also have Gov. John Whiteaker and Col. Isaac Williams Smith, who gave us the Bull Run watershed, for example. There are many more, all labeled “pro-slavery” because they were Democrats. They all deserve honoring.
Since most of the early pioneer settlers were staunch Democrats, from North and South, Democrats dominated state political life long after the war ended. Oregonians provided sanctuary for the fleeing survivors of the Civil War for many years. There are hundreds of Confederate descendants living all over Oregon and Washington. Most are unaware of their heritage. I do have to thank The Oregonian/OregonLive for giving me the opportunity to set this small part of the record straight. It’s good for reconciliation.
Kathleen Galloway, of Northwest Portland, is a retired English as a second language instructor.
Keep in mind, that in the general’s time, Democrats were the conservatives, and Republicans were the liberals. They didn’t do a flip-flop until later. There was much muckraking going on at that time. I have read several of the generals speeches, etc. He made it quite clear that he was supporting states rights, not slavery persae. But, people of his day are the same as the people today-they hear what they want to hear, and the attack regardless of the truth. The general was a man of his times, and I find it quite remarkable that he never owned slaves even though he was born in the south, and raised a southerner. It can most certainly be said that he was a human being capable of making mistakes like any one of us might make. But, he believed that he stood for the right thing (States Rights), and he believed that if he came in on the right side he could not fall into the wrong side.
I am very sorry that people of today, as imperfect as they are, feel they have the right to judge people from another place & time. Andrew Jackson in his time was considered a hero, and Lane was very proud to be considered a Jacksonian politician. If you do not understand the facts of history, then do not judge.
When General Lane became territorial governor of Oregon, he set into motion Oregon’s first census, and postal service, judicial system, and more. A lot of these first government services as they might be called today were paid for out of the general’s own pocket. He made it clear over and over again when pushing bills through congress as Senator that he was the friend of the people, all of them.
He treated the Indians so respectfully, that one indian chief actually asked if he could take the General’s name. The general gave him permission to use Joe, and the chief let the general name the rest of his family. There are books, and records that list that same chief as “Chief General Joe”.
He might have made mistakes but he was on our side. He served the people his whole adult life. He never got rich from doing so, and he always followed his convictions. Nuff said.
Peggy Snyder, Douglas County Historical Society, Roseburg, Oregon