They crossed the Blue Mountains, floated the mighty Columbia and portaged around Celilo. They carved pathways like the Barlow Road and the Applegate Trail. And they settled in places like Oregon City, Salem and Eugene City.
“We went down Laurel Hill like shot off of a shovel,” said William Barlow of that terrible trail in December 1845.
Founding new communities, they had none of the comforts we take for granted.
A man named Monteith started a mill at Albany and, for some pioneers, that summer of 1853 was the first time any of them had tasted bread in years.
Captain Applegate (as remembered by Bud Thompson) said, “No delicacy, no morsel of food ever eaten in afterlife tasted half so delicious as that bread.”
Winters brought the hardest times. The Kincaids, Thomas and his wife, Nancy, in Lane County on Dec. 25, 1853, shared a grouse for dinner and thin cakes made of dried fruit, flour and brown sugar.
William (Bud) Thompson wrote, in “Reminiscences of a Pioneer,” that the settlers saved their starving cattle by turning them loose to eat the long streamers of moss. The cattle learned to associate the crack of an ax with the soon-to-be-felled tree and the life-giving moss.
“The stock soon began to thrive and cows gave an increased amount of milk, which was hailed with delight by the small children,” Thompson wrote.
Celebrating the holidays in Oregon Territory is more comfortable now. For those with outdoors enthusiasts on their list, shopping for gifts is easier, too.
Let’s start with sharp things:
Out of Oregon City, Benchmade’s Altitude is a skeletonized lightweight hunting knife with carbon fiber micro scales. If a hunter counts every ounce, this blade is a great choice ($230).
Ashland-based Work Sharp has a new guided field sharpener with diamond plates, ceramic rods and leather strop for fine-tuning blades. Built-in angle guides help to keep a consistent bevel (worksharptools.com, $34.95).
Ever wonder how some of your friends always cast farther than everyone else? There are a couple of tricks. When the guides are slick and the line is slick, you can cast 10 to 15 percent farther. Give the gift of Real Magic . Spray it on the reel, wipe it on the line and soak the guides. And there are a lot of other uses for this stuff, too (ttiblakemore.com.)
For the gear fisherman who wants an edge on steelhead and coho there is a new way to fish a spinner, proven on the Olympic Peninsula. Pre-tied on a long leader, Wicked Lures are designed to add a weight for trolling or casting (wickedlures.com, $7.99).
There are few places where it rains harder than in Grays Harbor, Washington. Grays Harbor Unders has figured out how to keep people comfortable in the rain, sleet and snow. Give a steelheader Grays Harbor Unders fingerless gloves (ghunders.com, $25.99).
If your favorite angler has sprung a leak, check out the new Aquaz Kenai convertible waders (aquazfishing.com, $199.99).
Another thing that wears out from time to time is a net. If we are using them right, we break them or lose them. It’s what we do. One great new landing net is the KastKing Madbite (kastking.com, $45.98).
Eyes wear out, too. That’s why I am tying knots with the aid of KastKing Hiwassee bifocal sport sunglasses , $39.98. And no one can tell.
Another optical option: Ombraz sunglasses (ombraz.com, $160) with no frames! Instead, you slide two friction-fit beads on the cord to hold the glasses on.
Fly-fishermen will sniff, but the trophy trout hunter who employs spinning gear would sure like Pro Cure trout sauce in the Christmas stocking (pro-cure.com, $8.87).
People who love their family members should not let them fish bad tackle. A Ceymar spinning combo from Okuma is a good way to get good gear in someone’s hands.
Fish Fighter Products is an innovative company from Mountain Home, Idaho. Its approach to downrigger weights allows an angler flexibility when targeting various species in diverse conditions (fishfighterproducts.com, $69.99). Another great product, for cold-weather fishermen, is Fish Figther’s reel feel disposable gloves (30 pair for $19.99).
Know someone who cleans a lot of fish? Fillet Away fish mats are stink-free and easy to clean. I keep one on the woodpile and hose it off after each batch of hatchery trout or kokanee we bring home (filletaway.com, $27.99).
For the hunter, it’s hard to beat binoculars. Testing new glass this year, two favorites rose to the top: Leupold’s BX4 Pro Guide HD ($744.99) and Sig Sauer Zulu7 10x42mm ($839.99).
And the Sig Kilo range finder Kilo2400ABS proved itself from New Zealand’s alpine to Oregon’s outback.
Everyone needs luggage. If an outdoors-person is climbing on floatplanes, drifting rivers or crossing salty bays, he or she should have a Crusader X waterproof roll-top duffle from Alps Outdoorz (alspoutdoorz.com, $99.99).
New from Camp Chef this year is the Stryker 200 multi-fuel stove . It runs on propane or butane and heats half a liter of water in only two minutes (campchef.com, $104.99).
If holiday travels take you past places like Stinkingwater or Tombstone Pass, reflect on what it must have been like for a band of pioneers with horse-drawn wagons headed to the Willamette Valley in the weeks before Christmas not so long ago. Bring a fresh loaf of bread.
—Gary Lewis is the host of “Frontier Unlimited TV” and author of “Fishing Central Oregon,” “Fishing Mount Hood Country,” “Hunting Oregon” and other titles. Contact Gary at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.