Saturday event will feature re-enactors dressed as fur trappers describing 19th century life

COURTESY PHOTO CHAMPOEG STATE HERITAGE AREA - (From left) Re-enactors Dale Coleman, Jerry Jackson, and Larry Meade dress in the manner of fur trappers from the Willamette Valley in the 1820s.A party of trappers from the Hudson Bay Company will be setting up camp at Champoeg State Heritage Area this Saturday.

The buckskin clad men are historical re-enactors who depict the lives of trappers and their families who traveled the Oregon territories collecting furs for trade in the early 1800s.

Interpretive Park Ranger Dan Klug organizes the trapper camps each spring and fall at Champoeg, with the aid of friends from other re-enactment groups and historical sites around the state.

Klug has been organizing the event since he started working at Champoeg six years ago. He grew up in Oregon and visited Champoeg as a kid, and his interest in the region's history has been a lifelong obsession.

Klug formerly worked as an archaeologist for the Bureau of Land Management and studied the western fur trade. Now he educates kids (and adults) about Champoeg's long and rich history.

"Champoeg has always had a focus on living history," Klug said. "What we portray is the transition between an economy based on bartering furs to an economy based on agriculture."

The historical town of Champoeg was the first site on the Willamette south of the Columbia River with easy access to the interior of the Willamette Valley. North of the Willamette, the river's banks were steep cliffs, or thick impenetrable forest. The wide oak savanna of French Prairie provided a perfect point to unload supplies and begin a season of trapping.

"The Hudson Bay South Brigade would disembark, get all their packs together and head out all across the Willamette Valley," Klug said.

The trappers were French Canadian, Scottish and English. They often traveled with their families — women they married from the Chinook and Kalapuya tribes and their children. Trappers from Champoeg traveled as far south as the San Joaquin Valley in California and as far east as the Great Salt Lake Basin.

"Champoeg was a focal point, not just for Oregon and the Willamette Valley, but for the entire Pacific Northwest and Western United States," Klug said.

The town washed away in a flood in 1861, but its French Canadian and American settlers left an indelible mark on the West when they voted to create a provisional Oregon government under American control in 1843. This year marked the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the provisional government.

On Saturday, Klug and his fellow re-enactors will demonstrate how trappers and their families of those days lived. They will demonstrate how trappers bartered furs for goods and fur-skinning techniques, although they won't actually skin any animals. They will also show off some black powder muskets, and those who want to get really hands-on can try their skill at a tomahawk-throwing station.

The fur trapper re-enactment runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 15 at Riverside day-use area in the park. The event is free, but visitors will be required to pay a $5 day-use parking fee.

For more information about the event, contact Klug at 503-678-1251.

Patrick Evans



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