The City of Hillsboro and its citizens have always been passionate about the holidays, even in the way way back. The very first settlers here in the Tualatin Valley spent Christmas eve of 1840 together in a crude tent on the Tualatin Plains. This would have been just West of where Top Golf is now.
Joesph L. Meek, Robert “Doc” Newell, Caleb Wilkins, and Geoge Ebbert were all fur trappers in the Rocky Mountains and had fought the elements to make it to our valley. These rugged men were supported by their wives, who had traveled with them, and their children. How this group made it from the Rocky Mountains to our valley requires some serious research and reading (which I have done) but let’s just say it was brutal. They survived things none of us could, including taking horses and babies over the Columbia River 11 times to reach Fort Vancouver.
The women and children included three Sisters, all daughters of the Nez Perce Chief Kowesota:
- Virginia Meek, Nez Perce, wife of Joe Meek, and their baby boy, Courtney Walker
Meek, who was a year and a half.
- Kitty Newell, Nez Perce, wife of Robert “Doc” Newell, and three children (who
were named after his trapper friends), Francis Ermatinger (5), William
Moore (2), and Marcus Whitman, two and half months old.
- Catherine Wilkins, Nez Perce wife of Caleb Wilkins, had one child traveling with
her, two-year-old George Wilkins.
With them was Fanny Ebbert, Nez Perce wife of George Ebbert.
If you are a local, you may look at those last names and realize each of them has a street or area named after them. Pause for a minute and see if that hits a nerve!
Starving, with little food, bitter cold, and the rain dripping through the tent, this brave band hung on, hoping for a better future. Not knowing what would happen or what faced them, they hung on together. Christmas was celebrated in spirit only.
Historian Ginny Mapes provided these notes to us so that we can understand how this bleak situation was viewed by our pioneers.
A quote from memoirs of the Meek family, given by Virginia, Joe’s wife — “Oh, but it
was cold and lonesome [Dec 18, 1840]. Mr. Meek hurried and built a bark house and
had a nice fire and made it nice and warm, but I couldn’t help it, I was lonesome and
homesick for my people. There was plenty of game and fish in the creek [McKay], and
they were never hungry. (end quotes needed here)
“Mr. Meek would say, ‘Never mind, Virginia, never mind. In the spring, you will see the
nicest country you ever saw.’ Sure enough, the next spring, everything was nice and
green, and she found the prettiest flowers she had ever seen and the largest
strawberries, but she couldn’t help being lonesome and homesick. They picked out the
land for their farm, built a log house, and planted a garden. She was influential in
choosing their farm where the land”
These early pioneers would prove to be among the most influential people in the Pacific NW, with Meek himself leading the meeting at Champoeg, where the decision was made for this territory not to be British but rather an independent one. That eventually led to our Statehood and that of the other NW States as well. No doubt these pioneers shared Christmas and many decades of holidays here in greater Hillsboro, and their descendants continue to do so to this day.
After the Oregon Trail opened in 1847, hundreds and thousands poured into the Oregon Territory, and many ended up here in our area. German, Dutch, Swiss, and other European first-generation people came and settled, and when they did, they brought the old country traditions with them. Places like Roy and Verboort and Helvetia and Laurel all have very distinct traditions that really manifest themselves during the Holidays.
One example is Teresa Grossen Brandt, who shared on her Facebook how the above-mentioned Ginny Mapes shared her Granat family recipe for Swedish Rosettes. Grossen-Brandt made them up and posted this photo of the result. Pretty amazing. The Grossens are well known for the sausage and cheese they make with their family traditions, all of which I have been so fortunate to sample. Of my gosh, are these traditions amazing!
The Modern Era-
The 1900s brought the car and the train and the industrial revolution. New traditions came, but Hillsboro was an all-white community, almost without exception. That meant that Christmas was the Holiday the vast majority celebrated. While we are very diverse now, that is a more recent evolution led by our tech sector and the employees they have brought in from around the world. Now we see holidays celebrated all year in every religion and cultural tradition. But we can not deny where we came from or the fact that Christmas is as American and as Hillsboro as the Super Bowl.
Here is a look at the 1921-22 Hillsboro Argus and some very special photos that I have procured as the President of the Hillsboro Historical Society. This is a window into our past, and you will see below some interesting relics that you can still see today if you are of the mind to. So here we go!
Click on a Photo to start the slideshow in full size!
Traditions Tie Us To Our Past – Our past was just that, our past. But it does not mean that these things are canceled or irrelevant. They were and are important because it is who we were and what made our community great. It showed us to be who we hoped and hope to be – what we can be. A time of charity and caring and outpouring of love and fun and charity.
Now we have done so much, built so much, and at the same time, torn down so much of what was. Let us not do that- not be those people who aspire to live in the glass city on the hill. Not when what we have always had and always needed was right here in our grasp. Together we have melded our town into something grand, and many aspire to make it grander. Our diversity is our strength, and yet it feels as if we have stamped on tradition at times. That is not right. We can care for each other and enrich each other without removing anyone heritage or traditions.
We love our town, and we are making house by house and block by block our new Holiday traditions. Would any of you that care to please email me your traditions and memories? I will include them below for everyone to share. No matter your faith or experiences, we are Hillsboro, and together we shape our future the way we want it.
Happy Holidays to you all- and Merry Christmas too!
Special Thanks to my good friends Ginny Mapes and Judy Gates Goldmann, who are two of the premier living historians in our State. Also, thanks to WCHO for the photos, to Jeff LeRiche for coloring our cover photo, and to the members of We Remember Hillsboro Group on Facebook (5,300 of us and we want you to join).
Great article and photos – thanks Dirk and Merry Christmas to you & yours!
Back at you all!!!
Thank you, Dirk, for your love of Hillsboro history. Merry Christmas!