By Michelle Frost
Calvin Tibbets: Oregon’s First Pioneer is a thoroughly-investigated account of Oregon’s early trailblazers, researched and written by author Jerry Sutherland, SE Portland resident.
From Sutherland’s blog: “When Calvin Tibbets ventured to Oregon Country in 1832, the area was more British than American. Hudson’s Bay Company, the Crown’s proxy, had virtual control of the entire region and its French Canadian employees were retiring to build farms along the Willamette River.
“The only Americans in Oregon before Tibbets were explorers, fur trappers, scientists, and sailors. His goal was different – to settle permanently and make it part of the United States. Tibbets forged good relations with his Canadian neighbors and native tribes in order to set the stage for fellow American settlers when they arrived: first missionaries, retiring mountain men, and wagon train pioneers, who crossed the Oregon Trail in such great numbers that the British finally gave up their claims to Oregon in 1846.
“Tibbets died in 1849 and his life’s work faded into the shadows of Oregon history. Readers will learn about other important figures in Oregon’s history including John McLoughlin, Jason Lee, Ewing Young, Bethenia Owens-Adair, Elbridge Trask, Joe Meek, Solomon and Celiast Smith.”
When asked about his writing career, Sutherland explained, “This is my first published work of historical non-fiction. I am not a credentialed historian, but I wrote this story to withstand the scrutiny of those who are. I did not set out to be a writer of historical non-fiction. That was a skill I learned in order to get the story of Calvin Tibbets out into the world.
“After the Clatsop County Historical Society gave me permission to combine the two-piece article they had published in their Cumtux journal, I spent about four months learning how to desktop publish, adding more images, and editing to update and correct errors discovered in the original article. That was this spring.”
He retired at the end of 2013 from a career designing and selling heating and air conditioning systems and has an Associate Degree in Business Administration from Clark College and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Portland State University. Sutherland is not an Oregon native, but has spent the last 30 years here.
His father, Art Sutherland, started researching Calvin Tibbets 12 years ago.
“My mother Vi’s maiden name is Tibbetts, so he thought there might be a family link. By the time he gave up on finding any relationship, he’d become so interested in Tibbets that he couldn’t stop researching him. He talked me into taking a look at what the Oregon Historical Society might have, and I was soon hooked,” Sutherland said.
How might Calvin Tibbets be relevant to today’s reader? “I am sure the social pressure Calvin and Louisa (his Native American wife) faced was a very unpleasant surprise after his longing for more American settlers to arrive, and working so hard to prepare the way for them,” Sutherland replied.
“We think we’ve come a long way since then, but prejudices and social pressures, sadly, still wreak havoc 165 years later. I argue that Tibbets was first of the Oregon Pioneers because he shared their reasons for coming to Oregon. The fact that they eventually did so in such great numbers is what brought Oregon into the United States.
“From a selfish perspective, I’m glad it worked; and it’s historically significant in any case. But it doesn’t mean they were all good people doing good things. I try to make that clear in the book. Survival of the earliest white settlers like Tibbets depended a great deal on native tribes, especially their women, who were able to bridge intercultural gaps by intermarriage.
“I cite books that have been written about this dynamic and the power native and Metis’ women gained from it – until Oregon pioneers of the 1840s took their tribal lands and pushed them onto reservations. It also seemed to me that Metis and native women were better able to adapt to the invasion of whites.”
Jerry Sutherland has several upcoming public in SE Portland: The Oregon Historical Society’s Holiday Cheer event December 4, 12-4 pm and Belmont Library December 10, 2 pm and other Mother Foucaults Bookstore, 523 SE Morrison St. on December 17 at 2 pm. For more information see calvintibbets.com.