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Useful Notes / Oregon

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"We want you to visit our State of Excitement often. Come again and again. But for heaven's sake, don't move here to live."
Gov. Tom McCall, 1971

In the olden days, where pioneers on the Oregon Trail were trying to get to. In more modern times, the land of hippies and environmentalism.

The name "Oregon" comes from an archaic name for the Columbia River, which divides Oregon and Washington. Whatever you do, don't pronounce "Oregon" as "or-e-gone" anywhere near where a local can hear you. It's pronounced "or-ih-gun" or "organ". In addition to Washington, it also borders the Pacific Ocean to the west, California to the south, Nevada to the southeast, and Idaho to the east.

Native Americans have inhabited the area of present-day Oregon since at least 15,000 years ago. One of the first notable events in Oregon's history occurred around 5677 BC. That was when the supervolcano Mount Mazama collapsed in on itself. The resulting caldera gradually filled with rainwater and became Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the U.S. The Klamath Indians may have witnessed this event, as their legends speak of Crater Lake being formed when a mountain was destroyed in a battle between their gods.

The first white person to sight the Oregonian coast was Portuguese explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1543. In the following centuries, more European explorers would arrive in Oregon, either coming up from Spanish California or via the Pacific. Generally, they were searching for the Northwest Passage, a sea route through North America to speed up trade with Asia.note  Amongst the more notable of them were British captains James Cook (yes, that James Cook) and George Vancouver. Following The American Revolution, Captain Robert Gray became the first U.S. explorer to visit Oregon, where he named the Columbia River after his ship.

With the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, the United States now had a border with the disputed land of Oregon, which by that time was already claimed by Britain, Spain, and Russia. Of course, the U.S. couldn't resist throwing its hat into the ring. With the decline of the Spanish Empire as well as the expansion westwards of the U.S. and British Canada, the dispute over Oregon effectively became a dispute between the United States and the British Empire. In the Treaty of 1818, it was decided that Oregon would, at least for the time being, be jointly occupied by the U.S. and Britain.

In 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition reached Oregon overland from the east coast. Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific near present-day Astoria, now known as the setting of The Goonies and Free Willy, and spent the winter there before beginning their journey back east in the spring of 1806. This was part of the Dawn of the Wild West, as Lewis and Clark's route would go on to lay the foundation for parts of the Oregon Trail. The Oregon Trail itself was established by mountain men in the 1830s and was widely publicized by 1843. Much river fording, dying of dysentery, and only being able to carry back 100 pounds of meat ensued.

With the rising popularity of the idea of Manifest Destiny, the American people decided to elect James K. Polk in 1844. War hawks were screaming "fifty-four forty or fight", which would have given the U.S. half of present-day British Columbia, including all of Vancouver Island and the modern city of Vancouver. With the backing of his party, Polk threatened war with Britain but ultimately proved willing to compromise. The border was drawn at the forty-ninth parallel, with the land to the north becoming British Columbia. The land to the south became the Oregon Territory, which comprised present-day Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Polk's war hawk supporters were disappointed that the issue was resolved without them getting to shoot at anyone, but Polk proceeded to go to war with Mexico so it all worked out.note 

With Oregon now firmly in U.S. hands, the Oregon Trail continued. Portland was founded in 1845 and was not initially considered important. Oregon Trail pioneers regarded Portland as a town to pass through on their way to more important places like Oregon City. Oregon filled up with settlers so fast that it became a state in 1859, with the Oregon Trail still at its height. In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed, providing easier transport to the west coast and eliminating the need for the Oregon Trail. In the late 19th century, Portland rose in influence due to its strategic location at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. Oregon City still exists, by the way, but now it's the one that's irrelevant.

Following the 19th century, Oregonian history becomes rather dull. The most exciting thing to happen to Oregon in the 20th century was the Lookout Air Raids, which was the only attack by Imperial Japan on the contiguous U.S. during World War II. A total of six people were killed. Nowadays, Oregon is known for its left-wing, green politics. Rural parts of the state tend to be as right-wing as it gets, but the left-leaning urban areas always outvote them anyway - fully 50% of the state's population lives in metro Portland, and Eugene/Springfield and Bend account for another 25% or so between them, so the sort of good ol' boy tricks seen in the South and Midwest to gerrymander the cities out of political relevance are overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Put another way, a good 70% of Oregon's population is concentrated in the Willamette Valley to the west of the Cascades which contains all the above-mentioned cities except for Bend which is in central Oregon. Because of this, Eastern Oregon conservatives have attempted to secede from the state multiple times (either proposing a brand new state also containing Eastern Washington, or joining its more conservative neighbor, Idaho); so far, none of these proposals have been successful.

From 1951 to 2023, Oregon was one of the two states (along with New Jersey) that outlawed self-service gas (NJ still outlaws it). A 2018 law allowing it under limited circumstances (customers could pump their own gas only at stand-alone gas stations in counties with fewer than 40,000 residents) led to the sort of public freakout that was a true headscratcher to those in the other 48 states where self-serve has been the norm since The '70s, to the extent that full-service gas stations are now seen as outright strange in most states. The ban on self-service was fully lifted in 2023, though with limitations. No more than half of the pumps at any station can be self-service, and at least one employee must be present at all times to pump gas. Also, stations are not required to offer self-service.

Towns and cities in Oregon:

  • Portland (PDX, City of Roses, Stumptown, Rip City): The state's largest city, home to about sixty percent of its population. Its residents are often stereotyped as hipsters, Granola Girls, erudite stoners, or Bomb-Throwing Anarchists. Supposedly the dream of the '90s is alive there. The city is home to both the world's largest bookstore and the world's smallest park, and boasts more micro-breweries and strip clubs than anywhere else in the world. The suburb of Beaverton is home to the world campus of Nike.
  • Eugene: The state's second largest city, Eugene is best known as the home of the University of Oregon. The city has a reputation for being a bastion of alternative lifestyles, and its residents are often stereotyped as being New Age Retro Hippies. The suburb of Veneta is home to the Oregon Country Fair, which arguably never left the Summer of Love culturally speaking. The city is also known as "Track Town USA" due to its association with the sport of track running, and hosted the 18th World Athletics Championships in 2022.note 
  • Salem: The capital of Oregon, Salem is the third city to hold that title, being preceded by Oregon City and Corvallis. Salem is also a major agricultural center, due to its central location in the Willamette Valley. Because many of Salem's northern suburbs bleed into Portland's southern suburbs, many consider Salem a satellite city of Portland.
  • Bend: Located near the geographic center of the state, Bend has become something of a tourist mecca, and is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. The city's location on the Deschutes River between the Cascade Mountains and the Oregon High Desert have given it a reputation as an outdoorsman's paradise. It is also home to the last remaining Blockbuster Video in the world
  • Medford: Located in southern Oregon, Medford functions as the regional hub for both southern Oregon and far-northern California. Its location in the Rogue Valley gives it a warmer, sunnier climate than most other cities in Oregon. The city's economy is primarily focused on agriculture and fruit (particularly pears), as such, it is one of the few reliably conservative population centers in Oregon. On a more negative note, the city boasts an above-average crime rate for its size, which has given it the unfortunate nickname "Methford". The suburb of Ashland is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
  • Corvallis: Located in the Willamette Valley between Eugene and Salem, and in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range, Corvallis is best known as the home of Oregon State University. The city was also home to chemist and Nobel-Prize winner Linus Pauling, and UFC Hall of Fame member Randy Couture.
  • Roseburg: Located in southern Oregon, roughly halfway between Eugene and Medford, Roseburg is primarily known for its timber industry, so much so that Johnny Cash mentioned the town in his song "Lumberjack". Most of the city's downtown was devastated in 1959 when a truck carrying dynamite and nitro carbo nitrate parked next to a building that later caught fire and exploded, killing a total of 14 people. The town was also home to the deadliest mass shooting in Oregon's modern history, when a gunman killed nine people at the local community college.
  • Klamath Falls: Located in south-central Oregon, on the southern shore of Upper Klamath Lake. Home to the Oregon Institute of Technology and and Air National Guard base. The city is also a major geothermal resource area, utilizing geothermal energy to heat homes, schools, hospitals, and to melt snow off of sidewalks.
  • Coos Bay: The largest city on the Oregon Coast, Coos Bay is located on the largest deep-draft harbor between San Francisco and Seattle, and at one point boasted the title of the largest timber port in the world. The city is also known as the birthplace of Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine.
  • Newport: another city on the Oregon Coast, notable for being the location of the Oregon Coast Aquarium (the home for a few years of the orca Keiko aka Free Willy), and the western terminus of US route 20, the longest road in the country.
  • Astoria: Located at the mouth of the Columbia River, Astoria was the terminus of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and was the first permanent English-speaking settlement west of the Rockies. The city has also gained notoriety in pop-culture for being the setting of The Goonies and Kindergarten Cop.

Works that feature Oregon: