Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Author of Massacred for Gold Tonight

On May 25, 1887, at least 34 men were robbed and killed on the Oregon side of Hell's Canyon. You probably have never heard of this massacre, because scant attention was paid to it at the time, and it was subsequently buried by authorities and the community. The reason this mass murder wasn't received with outrage and action is because the murdered men were Chinese immigrants, working as gold miners. In fact, sadly, we only know the names of eleven of the murdered men.

The killers were a gang of rustlers and schoolboys from northeastern Oregon. Eventually, six of the participants were tried and acquitted, while most -- including the ringleader -- were never caught or brought to justice.

We might not know about this story even now, if it weren't for two people: A Wallowa County clerk, who discovered the documents relating to the crime in an unused safe, and R. Gregory Nokes, who has recently published a book about the event -- a book he spent at least a decade researching.

The result of that reseach is Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hell's Canyon, and tonight Greg Nokes will join us at 7 pm to tell us about his book and the event. Nokes worked for The Associated Press for 25 years and for The Oregonian for 15. He graduated from Willamette University and attended Harvard University as a 1972 Nieman Fellow. He first learned about the discovery of the documents while working as a reporter for The Oregonian, and he wrote about the massacre for the paper in 1995.

But his obsession with the massacre didn't stop there. Nokes wondered why he, someone educated in Oregon schools, had never heard about one of the worst crimes in the state's history. And as he dug into it deeper, all evidence pointed to a massive cover-up extending for more than a century. When he retired from the newspaper in 2003, he was able to devote more time to research and to running down leads, which has resulted in this wonderful and important book.

Barry Lopez describes Nokes's book as "an act of citizenship as much as it is a commendable work of history," a book that describes "a community's willful denial of it's past." Jim Lynch, author of The Highest Tide and Border Songs, says, "This is an important book. Meticulously researched and engagingly written, Massacred for Gold should be required reading in the American West."

We hope you can join us tonight for what is sure to be a fascinating evening with author Greg Nokes.

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