The Scars of History: Mapping Oregon’s Cascade Mountains

By the Oregon Heritage Tree Program

An early scientific survey in the Pacific Northwest, the U.S. Pacific Railroad Survey of 1855 not only charted the feasibility of railroad routes over Oregon’s Cascade mountains but also cataloged the geology, flora, fauna and interactions with Indiginous peoples of the region. The expedition and its official report furthered the United States’ pursuit of empire and conquest of the west and led to an exaggerated characterization of the American scientists as conquering heroes. Like most of these euro-american expeditions, Indiginous people offered critical information, hospitality, goods, and services to the explorers. Seldom are these Indiginous people credited or named– both in official reports and in historical interpretations. However, a growing body of ethnohistorical scholarship aims to recenter Indiginous contributions to these expeditions by offering a critical reading of the information in these historical scientific reports.

In 2021 the Oregon Heritage Tree Program, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, listed a Ponderosa Pine that was blazed by one of the members of the 1855 expedition in its registry. Seeking a fuller historical interpretation of the expedition, and the tree, a careful analysis of historical documents revealed multiple unnamed Indiginous people that guided the expedition through the Cascades and along pre existing Indiginous trails.

The Oregon Heritage Tree Program recognizes Oregon trees of statewide historical and cultural significance. The committee of agency staff and volunteers from across Oregon both research, review, and approve nominations as well as provide educational materials to promote the appreciation of trees in Oregon’s heritage. In lieu of in-person dedications due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oregon Heritage Tree Program collaborated with producer David-Paul B. Hedberg and videographer James Krzmarzick of Outdoor History Consulting to create videos that tell the stories of the newest heritage trees to the state program.

Williamson-Abbot Expedition Tree is located in the Whispering Pines Horse Camp between campsites 7 & 8

The Smithsonian Institution digitized the full text of Williamson and Abbot’s Official Report, including the plate illustrations.