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The Logger's Daughter

OPB | May 7, 2009 9 p.m. | Updated: July 25, 2013 1:15 p.m.

Photo courtesy of Anne Rodriguez

In 1923, a Missouri lumber company built a town in northeastern Oregon named Maxville.  Hundreds of loggers left Arkansas and Mississippi to live and work there.  Many brought their families, and many were African Americans.  While the town has long since disappeared, the Maxville story is still unfolding. The Logger’s Daughter follows Gwen Trice, an African-American woman who was born and raised in Eastern Oregon, as she sets out to explore her family’s past.

Large timber harvests require many workers.  Logging camps were once common in the Oregon woods. But few of those camps housed whole families.  Maxville did, and that fact alone made the town distinctive.

Maxville was built in 1923, almost overnight, by the Bowman-Hicks Lumber Company near Wallowa in eastern Oregon. The Maxville workers came mostly from the deep South, recruited by the company from its operations in Arkansass and Mississippi.   But what made Maxville unique was that 50 to 60 of its citizens were African-American. It was home to the only segregated school in Oregon. Maxville’s black residents lived in a group of houses across the tracks from the white residents. Yet the local lore says that conflicts across racial lines were few and friendships many.

Maxville was officially closed in the early 1930s, though a few loggers and their families stayed on for another dozen years. Altogether, most of what happened there during the town’s short existence is not well-known.

A black woman from La Grande, Gwen Trice, never knew much about her father’s early years in Oregon. She only recently learned that he had left Arkansas in the 1920s with his father to live and work in this place called Maxville.

A couple of years ago, Gwen set out with a tape recorder and a video camera to learn more about Maxville. Yet her gathering of oral histories took some unexpected turns as she became immersed in a much wider community. The Logger’s Daughter portrays the story of that community, its history and its people.

Resources

Web sites

Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center (the proposed visitor and research center)

Oregon Geneology: Wallowa County

Oregon Geneology: Maxville

OHS: African American History in Oregon

BlackPast.org: History of African Americans in Portland and Oregon - Bibliography

Wallowa County Official Site

 

Broadcast Date: May 07, 2009

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OREGON EXPERIENCE is a co-production of Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Oregon Historical Society.