Pioneer memory is particularly powerful in Portland, Oregon due to its location near the end of the famous Oregon Trail. The city of Portland was platted on lands used by the Multnomah Chinooks in 1845. Its population grew rapidly, first through overland migration and later through immigration. Since the 1850s it has been the largest city in Oregon.
Early Portland public monuments declared the city and its residents to be “civilized” by emphasizing the area’s transition from indigenous peoples to white settlement.
Sacajawea by Alice Cooper honored both the famed Shoshone-Hidatsa interpreter and guide to the Lewis and Clark expedition AND “the pioneer mother of Old Oregon.” It was displayed near Coming of the White Man at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition and in their later permanent locations in Washington Park. Viewing the two statues together emphasizes their underlying message that Native peoples were expected to yield to white settlement and culture.
The bronze lobby doors of the United States National Bank building in downtown Portland likewise celebrated technological and cultural progress from American Indian “savagery” to white “civilization.”
Nearby Vancouver, Washington, joined cities across the nation in erecting monuments to white Pioneer Mothers in the late 1920s. Sculpted by former University of Oregon art professor Avard T. Fairbanks, Vancouver’s Pioneer Mother emphasized white female settlers’ domestic roles and maternal nurturing.
So powerful is Portland’s pioneer memory that Frederic Littman’s sculpture of a mother swinging her young daughter in a park soon became known locally as “Pioneer Woman.”
The Oregon Trail Coordinating Council commissioned a statue of a pioneer family to mark the 150th anniversary of the overland trail in 1992. But some Portlanders objected to adding David Manuel’s sculpture to the city’s collection of public art. Particularly controversial was the work’s title, The Promised Land, because it implied that white settlers were justified in taking lands from indigenous peoples.
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