North of Fort Hoskins, Oregon’s Civil War–era history comes to life at Fort Yamhill in Polk County. As its lost remnants emerge under the direction of archaeologist David Brauner, he can almost sense the soldiers’ presence. "You become one with the folks who lived and worked here," the anthropology professor says.
The roots of farm crops are not the only riches embedded in Willamette Valley soils. Unwritten chapters of Oregon history lie there, too. David Brauner has spent his life reading them.
For the OSU anthropology professor, the long–buried scraps of ordinary life — shards of pearlware and buttons of brass, combs of tortoiseshell and bullets of lead, bottles once filled with pickles, ink or whiskey — are not mere remnants of unremarkable lives. They are the "nitty–gritty" of local history. Pieced together with diaries, letters and other historical materials, Brauner says, they reveal the stories of "all those nameless people through time" — farmers, soldiers, Indians, merchants, servants, blacksmiths, barkeeps — who are missing from most "official" histories.
One of those missing chapters has been unearthed in the forested foothills of Benton County. In his 2006 book, Fort Hoskins Illustrated: An Archaeologist Reflects, Brauner and his wife, Nahani Stricker, detail the decades–long archaeological endeavor that not only restored important chunks of understanding to Oregon’s heritage, but also resulted in a new county park in Kings Valley.
Fort Hoskins was built in the mid–1800s to keep peace between pioneers and the Indians they displaced. But Brauner’s research challenges the stereotype of marauding bands of indigenous peoples. He found, instead, that threats to Indians’ lives and welfare prompted the federal Department of Indian Affairs to request troops for the Willamette Valley. "They are now entirely defenseless, and, as an act of justice, entitled to our protection," Superintendent Joel Palmer wrote in 1856 after the tribes had been removed from the valley by military troops and confined to a reservation on the coast.
Correcting the record of Indian–white relations is just one factual gap filled by Brauner’s digs at Fort Hoskins and its sister installation, Fort Yamhill near Grand Ronde. Another is Oregon’s little–known Civil War debate. Southern sympathizers were a powerful contingent in the 1860s, both in the statehouse and in the settlements. Fiery pro–Confederacy speeches by members of the Knights of the Golden Circle rang out in the churches and meeting halls of Kings Valley, Brauner reports. When the soldiers of Fort Hoskins were sent back east to fight for the North, volunteers manned the fort to keep munitions out of anti–Union hands.
"Oregon histories have been very negligent in talking about our military past, and the Indian removal policies of 1855–56 have just been swept under the carpet," Brauner says. "The Fort Hoskins site represented a very important chapter in our local and regional histories that no one had written."
Brauner has worked hand–in–hand with Benton County Parks and other experts to design and develop the 130–acre Fort Hoskins Historic Park, which opened in 2002. Interpretive signage and educational events take place on a landscape restored to its mid–19th century ecology of oak savannah.
"The park helps make the public aware that wherever we go, people have been there before us," says Brauner. "There are unique histories for every little nook and cranny out there."