Recorded interviews with pioneers who homesteaded Central Oregon a century ago are now digitally preserved, and available online for the public to hear.
The “15 Minute Histories” series — a joint effort between the Deschutes libraries and Des Chutes Historical Museum — is a collection of 15-minute recordings with 40 local legends and pioneers. Museum and library staff teamed up for the past year to digitize the aging reel-to-reel tapes. As of this month, each original recording can be found through the Deschutes Public Library system.
Kessler Cannon, a broadcaster for Bend radio station KBND, taped the interviews in 1953, in celebration of Bend’s 50th anniversary. Cannon interviewed influential figures from Central Oregon’s first pioneer families, such as Thomas William Vandevert. But he also interviewed everyday people such as Birdie Curd Stadig, a bubbly Southern belle who homesteaded Central Oregon with her husband.
“You can look at a picture. You can read their words,” Kelly Cannon-Miller, the museum’s executive director, said. “But being able to hear their words — it changes everything.”
In the past few months since the first batch was released, the digitized recordings have been checked out 532 times, according to the library. The most popular are the interviews with O.B. Riley, one of the first homesteaders in Bend, and Klondike Kate Rockwell, a famous vaudeville singer and dancer who made a name for herself on saloon stages in Yukon, Canada, during the Klondike Gold Rush.
Cannon-Miller, no relation to the KBND radio host, said the reel-to-reel tapes were kept for decades in the museum’s vault. About two years ago, Cannon-Miller said, the museum was doing an inventory of the vault when the recordings were found in a poor condition.
“One of the things that whole inventory process did was point out that we had all of these audio pieces that were well beyond their life cycle,” Cannon-Miller said.
The reel-to-reel tapes were sent to a company in Tennessee to be digitized. When the digital versions returned on CDs, library staff edited and cataloged the interviews. The library system’s graphic designer created visual covers for each interview with pictures of the interviewees.
The whole process was a collaborative effort, said Nathan Pedersen, president of the Deschutes County Historical Society and community librarian.
Pedersen was impressed with the variety of those interviewed in the series. He especially enjoyed listening to the early civic leaders, a sheepherder and High Desert cowboys.
“It’s all of these little pieces of not just Bend life, but early Central Oregon life and development,” Pedersen said. “I think that diversity of viewpoints is well done.”
As people listen to the interviews, Cannon-Miller said, she hopes it reminds people how important preserving oral histories is for a community.
“It’s a great vehicle to get people aware,” she said. “We need to be actively perusing oral histories before folks are gone, and before they move away.”
The museum has another collection of oral histories on cassette tape from the 1970s and 1980s that were produced by local historian Joyce Gribskov.
Those tapes will take an additional effort to digitize, since they are not as condensed and edited as the 15-minute interviews, Cannon-Miller said.
“The rest of the collection are a lot of oral histories that are not edited or packaged and ready to go for the average listener,” she said.
For now, Cannon-Miller and the rest of the museum and library staff are proud of the work they did to make the historic interviews readily available.
Having spent so much time researching the pioneers in the series, Cannon-Miller said, it has been fascinating to actually hear their voices.
“When you know so much about a specific person, then being able to hear them really completes your picture of them,” she said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, email@example.com