Sharing the history: Davenport lore

March 2014 Posted in Arts, Culture & History
Gus Frederick is research the history of T.W. Davenport.

Gus Frederick is research the history of T.W. Davenport.

By Brenna Wiegand

These days when local historian Gus Frederick mentions something that happened in ‘72, chances are it’s 1872.

Homer Davenport was 5 then, his parents and grandparents having journeyed to Oregon 20 years earlier. As Frederick researches the family in his insatiable quest for Silverton history and as a major proponent of the annual Homer Davenport Community Festival, it was Homer’s father, T.W. Davenport, that Frederick became fascinated with – sparking The Davenport Project he embarked upon last year.

Frederick will give a free presentation, “The Life and Times of Homer C. Davenport, Late of Silverton,” 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 25 at McMenamin’s Old Church and Pub, 30340 SW Boones Ferry Road in Wilsonville.

He has been increasingly pleased at what has since unfolded – opportunities to speak in the metro area; securing an original set of eight Homer Davenport cartoons for a song and networking with the many Davenport Arabian breeders in the region.

Frederick is in the final stages of his fourth book –Thomas Woodbridge Davenport: The Collected Works, a compendium of the statesman’s prolific writings – letters, accounts and various reports. A film is in the works.

“T.W. was a constant observer, checking things out and writing stuff down – and looking at it through nontraditional eyes,” Frederick said. T.W. was 26 when he settled in the Waldo Hills. He soon found work as a merchant surveyor who ended up buying a lot of property. He married Florinda Geer. They had four children, two of whom died in infancy; then in 1870 his wife succumbed to smallpox.

“He was also a physician but he didn’t use it when he came to Oregon,” Frederick said. “He wrote, ‘the people who made it were all pretty healthy and didn’t really need a doctor.’ Only the brave began; only the strong arrived.”

In 1872 T.W. married Nancy Gilmour. He was just finishing up a term in the Oregon House of Representatives and had for years been an “Indian agent,” witnessing Kalapuyan Indians communing with the “Great Spirit” in stone spirit chairs atop the butte then known as Tapalamaho, translated “Mount of Communion,” now known as Mount Angel and since 1889 home to Mount Angel Seminary.

T.W. Davenport

T.W. Davenport

“The butte was near, and this they ascended and, taking seats within the stone sanctuaries, communed with the Great Spirit,” T.W. wrote. “Bowing the head upon the hands and resting them upon the knees for a few moments, then sitting erect and gazing to the West over the enchanting valley interspersed with meadow grove and stream, who can tell but they felt as sacred and elevated religious emotion as those who have succeeded them on the butte?”

Frederick tries to make such historical gems available to the general public as possible – photos, cartoons, letters, reports and more – whether online, through book or film.

Further digging revealed T.W. at many of the same weighty events as his son Homer during the latter’s rise to fame as a political cartoonist, including the extended Western post-presidency tour taken by Teddy Roosevelt in 1910.

During the trip letters flew between T.W. and his daughter Adda. In a letter from Cheyenne, Wyo., he went from complaining about his hotel reservation not being there to giving her advice on selling some of the Davenport property.

“…don’t let those Drake brothers take advantage of you,” he told her.

“There’s no lack of material for this project,” Frederick said. “T.W. was just incredible.”

Frederick is driven by his desire to “put the Homer back in Homer Days,” with greater emphasis on the Davenport family, from T.W.’s part in the settlement of Oregon to Homer shaking up the political scene with his bold, intricate caricatures of big business tycoons and governmental heads.

That’s not all – Frederick is hoping to gather owners and breeders of Davenport Arabians for the parade and plans to situate the horses downtown for easy enjoyment. Little wonder Silverton Country Historical Society named him 2013’s volunteer of the year.

Frederick aims to expose more people to the cartoons with an exhibit at Borland Gallery, talks on the subject and by bringing back the international cartoon contest of previous years. On display will be the recently acquired collection of eight original Davenport cartoons; a grant request is in for getting them framed. “The nice thing about the cartoons is that it adds a new, regional flair to the festival – come to Silverton, see these original cartoons by Oregon’s first media superstar.

Plus, comics have made a huge comeback in the last few years, and Frederick “got drafted” to help curate an exhibit with the Oregon Historical Society on cartoon history for June 2015. Homer Davenport was Oregon’s first cartoonist and made a point of saying he was from Oregon. “Homer cultivated this ‘country boy’ persona which is totally bogus,” Frederick said. “He was not a country hick … he had a father who was quite intellectual to say the least.”

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.