Crossing the Santiam Pass to share A Novel Idea: Blacks in Central Oregon

A packed house in Bend

Stories of Black Pioneers in Central Oregon

For a retiree, Gwen Carr keeps going strong. Her passion for sharing the stories of Oregon’s Black Pioneers keeps her moving. April 18 and 19, 2017 found Gwen with her sister Enid, heading over the Santiam Pass to the downtown Bend Library and the following day to the LaPine Branch library.

In Bend Gwen was welcomed by a full house of folks curious to learn how black pioneers  experienced the Oregon Trail migration. It was all part of “A Novel Idea- Blacks in Oregon” presented at the library and the lecture held attendees spellbound.

Enthusiastic supporters Sharon Leighty and Enid McGraw traveled quite a distance to attend the Bend presentation.

The woman in the Box

Many were surprised to hear the story of black pioneers, some who arrived as slaves, despite Oregon’s exclusion laws. Like the story of the woman in the box, Rose Jackson (Allen). Rose’s story was just one of many that were shared during the presentation.

A reproduction of the box that transported Rose Jackson across the Oregon Trail is on display at the End of the Oregon Trail museum in Oregon City

The focus was primarily on the migration of folks who traveled to the Pacific Northwest during the mid 1800’s. Though some arrived as slaves many were freed by their families or bought their way to freedom once their owners had settled and were established.

John Livingston traveled the Oregon Trail with the Ringo family and arrived in Oregon in 1864, a free man. He went on to conduct several prosperous businesses in Oregon City and beyond.

It’s John Brown Canyon Today…..

During the hour long presentation a short video produced by Oregon Humanities, An Oregon Canyon played. Local historians and our own Gwen Carr provide a journalistic narrative about current day efforts at renaming the canyon during this insightful video.


There were lots of questions and interest in the many stories Gwen had to share with the audience.  Before wrapping up the group learned the all volunteer board of Oregon Black Pioneers is currently looking for time to schedule research time and to continue tracking down valuable leads.

The organization is in the middle of a campaign via GoFundMe ( Racing to Change)  for their 3rd exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society (January through June, 2018), getting ready to accept the George McMath Historic Preservation award,  preparing for a virtual museum and of course sharing their knowledge about the rich history of Oregon’s Black Pioneers. (Researchers, historians, interns and volunteers are invited to join the board as we work to un-earth this rich legacy.)

Watch for information for on our traveling exhibits and presentations state-wide.


Ready to find out  more? Contact us at (503) 540-4063