Documenting Monuments in Time
Documenting local history is a passion for historian Steve Lent, and in the process, he has authored nine books on Central Oregon history.
Lent is the historian for Bowman Museum in Prineville, and he began contributing local stories as a history column in the Central Oregonian in 2002. The articles, or vignettes, comes out in the local newspaper once per week. Each article has one page and one picture, with a unique story about a family or place in the Central Oregon region.
He indicated that all the stories that he has written for the Central Oregonian are in the three volumes. Lent said that his inspiration comes from his desire to promote local history. He recently completed the third volume, which is now for sale at the Bowman Museum.
"When we first did the articles for the Central Oregonian, it was to have a segment that we could promote history – but to me, it's a passion to seek out people, places and things that happened in the past that had some kind of significance, and to pass that along," stated Lent.
In addition to these three volumes, Lent has authored a total of nine books that have been published for Bowman Museum. They include Central Oregon Place Names on Crook (Vol I), Jefferson (Vol. II) and Deschutes (Vol. III) counties; Arcadia photo history books on Prineville, Madras and Crook County; and the three article compilations, "Islands in Time," "Pillars in Time," and "Monuments in Time." He has also compiled a documentary history of the Crook County Courthouse.
Lent added that if these stories are not documented, they can get lost in time. It takes a great deal of research to go through old newspapers, old journals and scrapbooks at the Bowman Museum. It is getting increasingly difficult to find stories and material that is local, and Lent said that it will most likely begin to expand out more to surrounding areas, but currently is still based on Central Oregon.
"Unfortunately, most of our past is going into a digital age, and people don't get to see a lot of the original documents and things. It's kind of fun to try to ferrate those things out and put them in a place where people at least know about the people or places around here or the events that shaped our local history," he stated.
Lent gets a lot of positive responses from his stories, as they often resonate with locals who enjoy reading about family and acquaintances. He also tries to alternate stories between men and women.
"They (women) were kind of the forgotten heroes of this area," he went on to say of early female settlers.
Lent explained that it can be really hard to research information on women of this era, because they were referred to by their husband's surname — even after death.
"I really have to search out to try to find out information about them and their families, versus just being an appendage of their husband. A lot of the pioneer women were pretty rugged individuals."
He added that once they got to where they settled, they were far removed from supplies and outside help.
Lent began his historical writing on how places got their names in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties. This evolved into writing about the people and events, in addition to the places. It originated with Crook County and the Central Oregonian, but it now includes stories from Jefferson and Deschutes counties — which were once part of Crook County. Jefferson became its own county in 1914 and Deschutes county in 1916. Lent also writes for the Madras Pioneer occasionally.
"My focus is on Central Oregon, and I try to get a lot of things in Crook County," he said, although he added that it often includes Wheeler, Lake and Grant counties.
Lent really enjoys finding out more about these countries and their people by researching information. He added that you often have to work at finding the most accurate sources.
"To me, it's just fun trying to find out about these places that I vaguely heard the name and trying to find out something about them."
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