Portland Oregon Social Features and Noted Public Events

As may be inferred from the foregoing pages, the staid residents who made the city were men and women of a morality, religious conviction and sturdy force of character not exceeded by any class of people in America. But it must be noted, in any just estimate, that Portland has been a most cosmopolitan spot. From the first it was the landing place for ships, and they came from all ports. French and English as well as Americans tied up at our docks. Sailors coming ashore from long voyages, whereon they had lived on salt beef, some of which had been well apostrophized in seafaring song, as “old horse,” and upon a very limited supply of grog, felt the usual jubilation of the jolly tar off duty, and sought whom and what he might devour. To meet the wants of such men, came the abandoned wretch with his “blue ruin” and in latter times with his scorpion juice. More infamous means of satisfying the long denied passions of the seafarer, were sought and supplied.

Immigrants from across the plains, naturally an honest and moral class, reached Portland destitute, eager, and without the restraints of their old home about them. During the time of gold, men acquired a directness and bluntness, often leading to bravado, especially in those naturally ill-balanced or light. The “luck” of the mines bred a feverish unrest, developed abnormally a love, of excitement and speculation, and magnified the desire of gambling. The gamblers of the Mississippi River flocking to the Pacific shore, brought with them their manners, morals and tone, and set up on the Columbia and Willamette very much their former methods of business. They were a class of hard drinkers, stimulating them-selves for successive nights of indulgence in their games, and among the excitable and feverish people who came from all parts, their example was a sort of law. The perverse notion that friends meeting must drink together, that a bargain must be sealed by a drink, that any big luck must be celebrated by a drink all around, that a good story could not be very well told, or very well listened to without a drink, that going off on a “prospect,” or a safe return home, or good news from the folks, or bad news either, or getting well, or feeling sick, or in fact almost every occurrence or mental state, must be accompanied by a little social drinking, became all but universal. This was mixed up with so much of good will and human feeling, and anything else seemed so sour and graceless and was referred to as a niggardly desire of saving one’s money, and keeping to one’s self what belonged to the “crowd,” that even men trained in temperance, accepted it as the rule of the West. The inevitable’ tendency of men from all parts of the world, adopting a course of life common to all, which would eliminate many former ideas of religion and morality, moved the masses toward a recklessness of health and life not before known. The comparative absence of women stimulated grossness and coarseness of speech and manners, and the temptation toward immorality was greatly intensified.

Portland got the full benefit of all this, and from early days was a place where drinking was carried to a most ruinous extreme, and men of the finest capabilities sank under the blight, not living out half their days. Gambling, and other indulgences were carried to the same violent and wild excess. Bloody affrays or murders were not so frequent here as in the mining camps. Even with all these unfavorable influences, however, there was a high moral tone in the early days, and it is said that the bagnio was so discountenanced as to be obliged to leave the city. The young men of the place were all in good fellowship, and in time of distress, as in the winter of 1852, bonded together to care for the sick. With the coming of the Chinese, however, further inducement to brutal indulgence was added. With the building of railways a large floating population of men away from, or without homes, and not on their best behavior, came on pleasure excursions to our city, crowding the low hotels, and saloons, the theatres, and places of popular amusement. To satisfy the thirst of such men, came the cormorant class, who live chiefly on the disease and death of their fellows. To increase their business and swell their profits, these caterers to public vices added attractions which swept in the young, unstable and thoughtless, as well as satisfied the cravings of those already indurated. Thus the demand of the vile for vile pleasures led the way to the establishment of a kind of trade, which in its turn bred still further corruption.

With the increase of foreign commerce, in 1868, and onward, the foreign sailor class became much larger. With the rise and growth of the salmon fishing business, the fishermen of the Columbia River, many of whom were of low character, made periodical trips to Portland to spend their earnings, as did also the miners, and to some extent the ranchers, from east of the mountains. Men of their class, from a life of hardship and peril, and social privations, frequently made their trip to the city for nothing but amusement, which meant dissipation of the most violent description. Opium joints from the Chinese appeared, and the variety theatre was set up. A passionate sort of existence without purpose, unguided by principle, reckless of money and health, and even destructive to life, was followed by these migratory crowds. It is always observable that in a time or place, where men are shifting about, and come upon others with different religious views, doubt is thrown upon the fundamental ideas of life, and especially to those of slight conviction who see in religion chiefly an irksome restraint, a general insensibility and prodigality spring up. Life becomes easy, free, generous, impulsive, careless, intense and self destructive.

Portland is not well yet out of these conditions incident to all our frontier cities. But the times of deliverance are nearly at hand since to a large extent the manner of life which first brought the evils is passing by. The mining camps, the ranches, the fishing stations, the logging camps, are not now occupied as they once were by men away from home. The home has been taken to those places, and the fathers and sons do not feel the craving for, not being without, social life, as when away from all such privileges. The railroads will never again be built by armies of men gathered up from the four winds. The main lines have been put down, and the others will be provided with workmen from the laborers living along the line. More than all, other towns divide with our city the rude classes. Portland is not so much as formerly, the headquarters of amusements. The ” rough crowd ” will not flock here from all points, since they find what they want nearer home. As our city grows in population, in the steady laboring classes, in families, in large business, in extensive wholesale connections, and in the pursuits of the higher classes, the transient and vicious element will at least become proportionately less.

There has been a noticeable improvement in the tone of the people as to temperance since the earlier years. It is not now, as then, the fashion for the leading public men to drink to the point of intoxication, and to excite the entire place by their excesses. There is at least much more conventional, and probably much more actual restraint of the appetites.

Along with this state of private vice, public corruption exists only too extensively, crime against the ballot and complaint against the officers of the law, being only too common.

The above is a fair, concise statement of the immorality of Port-land. We have preferred to thus sketch it boldly, thinking it improper in any one attempting to write a history to omit any facts, which go to work up a complete view of the subject. Perhaps the worst feature of it all has been a weak acquiescence in all this on the part of the better classes as something necessary and inevitable, or at least profitable.

On the other hand there is much hope for future improvement. The general stability and growth of the State, and the fashion that reprehends excess have already been spoken of. A strong effort to improve the sanitary conditions of the city; an intelligent interest in education; great activity on the part of benevolent societies and the churches; and at least the dawning perception that that which is destructive of human life, happiness and activity cannot be of any use, in any way, to a great and flourishing city, are signs of progress toward the higher civil order, not only of the old East, but of the great new West of the future. A general denunciation of political corruption and official negligence and connivance with crime, goes to the same end.

It must always be remembered, in charity, that a commercial city has great evils to contend with, not of its own seeking, and most difficult to eradicate.

In the face of all that has been said above, the general quiet and tranquillity, and good order of the place is quite marked. Affairs of blood are not common; house breaking, violent robbery, or affrays are but few. Popular tumults are unknown. The order in processions, or excursions, or in public assemblies is good. A general spirit of urbanity and civility prevails, and the virtue of hospitality is nowhere more marked.

For particulars in the special field of schools, churches, and societies, the reader is referred to the chapter under these headings. He will find by such reference that large and wide endeavors are made toward mental culture and moral melioration.

Public Events of Interest

While the people of Portland are not mercurial or exciteable, and by Californians, or people “east of the mountains,” are even accused of being lymphatic, if not somnolent, they are much given and have been from the earliest times inclined to recreations and public amusements. The two forms in which all are ready to unite as obnoxious to the feelings of none are the excursion and the procession. Oregonians having crossed the plains or doubled the Cape early learned the pleasures of traveling, and it is almost universal custom to take an annual trip here and yonder.

From Portland, excursions by water are easily made to points up and down the river. In the Cascade Mountains, and on the coast are nooks and corners of the rarest beauty and scenery upon the most ample and lofty scale. As the summer comes, picnics for the Sunday schools and churches follow each other week after week, preferably on Saturdays, loaded steamboats or trains speeding out in the clear of the morning and returning in the cool of the evening, or by moonlight. Sunday excursions are exceedingly popular, particularly among the foreign population, and these usually have their accompaniment of music. Rides on the river boats or on the trains to near points are much indulged in as a recreation of a few hours. Points thus frequented near at hand are, Vancouver, Mt. Tabor, Ross Island, and The White House, a few miles south on the Macadam road, a particularly popular terminus for carriage drives; River View Cemetery on the southern boundary of the city, Oswego and Oregon City. These places are frequently thronged Sundays, not so much by large companies, as by individuals, small parties and families. The young men of the city quite generally spend the Sabbath day in driving, boating, hunting or fishing, at a distance of 5 to 40 miles from town and the transportation companies favor them with reduced fares.

The regular summer vacations are spent chiefly at the seashore. The beaches at the mouth of the Columbia River are the places of most frequent resort. These are: the Ilwaco or North Beach, in Pacific County, Washington, on the weather shore from Shoalwater. Bay, and Clatsop Beach, leading down to the seaside near Tillamook head. Both are magnificent expanses of wave-beaten sand with delightful surroundings of meadows and grasses. Each has its advocates and advantages. They are reached by steamers on the Columbia and both are supplied with railroad facilities from the point of debarkation.

As the heat of summer becomes oppressive in the Willamette Valley, and the freshet of the Columbia threatens malaria, the coast-bound steamers are loaded with men and women, and particularly children. At the sea-shore they live largely in tents. Many own lots at the ephemeral cities and have their own cottages, although there are accommodations at the hotels. A few weeks or months, breathing the salt air and of salt water bathing are certainly of great advantage to the health, and those thus spending the hot months preserve their strength throughout the year. This is particularly the family method. Yaquina Bay, reached by the Oregon Central Railroad and by the Oregon Pacific, is also sought to some extent for the same purpose. To those desiring more exciting recreation the peaks of the Cascade Mountains prove inviting; they afford all the beauties of precipices, crevasses, snow-fields and glaciers, and the perils of Alpine climbing. Mt. Hood is the greatest attraction, being the nearest and most familiar. Rev. Dr. Atkinson, of Portland, and Prof. Woods, the botanist, were among the first to make the ascent. ‘ Many others from Portland have followed. Rev. Mr. Izer, pastor of the Taylor Street Methodist Church was the first to carry to the top an iron chest for holding papers, names of those ascending, etc. Several young ladies of this city, among them Miss Libby Vaughn, have stood upon the summit. This is no small feat, the mountain being about 11, 000 feet in height, and the last 1,000 feet of the climb very heavy. Rev. Dr. T. L. Eliot, of Portland, is much at home on this old volcano, and one of the glaciers bears his name. Some of the young men of the city have been in the habit of illuminating this mountain with red fire on the night of July 4th. As this is early in the season to climb the snowy sides, the lower peaks not yet being wholly denuded by the hot suns of summer, the enterprise is quite difficult. Nevertheless, it has been done quite successfully, a party consisting of Messrs. Yocum, J. M. Breck, Jr., Dr. J. M. Keene, and several others first accomplishing the task. The fire was seen over the valley to the intense admiration of the people and illustrations of the mountain thus lit up were made in leading papers of the east.


Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890.

Search Military Records - Fold3

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top