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An Inside Look at "Sporting Oregon: A Pictorial History of Early Oregon Sports"

October 22, 2019

In Sporting Oregon: A Pictorial History of Early Oregon Sports, Brian S. Campf presents a slice of history--spanning over twenty-five years--through photographs related to Oregon sports. Campf tracks the development and popularity of sports such as baseball, football, basketball, horse racing, track, hockey, tennis, and cricket, incorporating various artifacts along the way. Though the progression of many sports unfolded on a national level, Sporting Oregon provides local context and rich detail about the history of sports in the state.

Here we share an exclusive preview of Sporting Oregon--an excerpt from the foreword (written by Carl Abbott) and the author’s preface: 



Excerpt from the Foreword by Carl Abbott

Oregon was a very young state at the end of the 1860s—Oregon City was thirty years old, Portland was twenty-five, and the state itself was just completing its first decade with 91,000 people spread thinly over the landscape. Men outnumbered women by nearly three to two, a sign of the state’s frontier resource economy. Only three cities counted more than 1,000 residents—Portland, Salem, and Oregon City. Fifty years later, when the last photographs in this collection were made, the state had grown up, with the 1920 census counting 788,000 Oregonians who lived a much more settled life than previous generations.


Competitive sports grew up with the state. The images that Brian Campf has assembled tell us about the growth of education, the establishment of a middle class, and the spread of railroads. They also testify to Oregonians’ love of the outdoors.


If you wanted to play competitive team sports in nineteenth century Oregon, one of the big challenges was finding the competition. In the 1870s, Columbia River steamers plied the great river of the West; Willamette River steamboats connected river towns like Harrisburg, Salem, and Albany; and the first railroads connected Portland and East Portland to a string of Willamette Valley cities and towns. That was it for easy travel. Salem ballplayers could travel to Aurora with relative ease, or a McMinnville nine could take on a Portland team. Even in the 1910s, however, the only comfortable way to get from eastern Oregon to the western side of the state required changing trains in Portland. The images also remind us of the importance of Albany and Astoria in these decades. Albany rivaled Salem as the most important city in the upper Willamette Valley until Eugene nudged ahead in the early twentieth century, and Albany athletes make the third most appearances in this book. Astoria, which also appears repeatedly, ranked second only to Portland in the 1880s and 1890s.


Outside the northwestern quadrant of the state, competition was local. Campf documents separate constellations of competition in the Coos Bay area, in Umatilla County where at least nine towns had teams in the early 1910s and there was fierce competition among the members of the Blue Mountain League and the finely named but short-lived Irrigation League. The Inland Empire League stretched more ambitiously from Baker City (the Nuggets) to Walla Walla. Prineville, Bend, and Redmond put in their appearance in 1909, reflecting the beginnings of central Oregon’s timber industry and anticipating the resolution of the battle between James J. Hill of the Great Northern/Northern Pacific and E. H. Harriman of the Union Pacific/ Southern Pacific to be the first to control the Deschutes River railroad route.


Sports developed in step with the developing infrastructure of public education. Teams from the University of Oregon and Oregon Agricultural College garnered plenty of attention, tiny as the schools were compared to the institutions of the twenty-first century. Even more telling is the way that the images reflect the creation of comprehensive public high schools as essential community institutions. Even though Oregonian editor Harvey Scott fulminated against public high schools as a waste of money (he fulminated against a lot of things), Portland established its first high school in 1869 in rented space, built a neo-gothic building in 1885, and then a modern Lincoln High School on the Park Blocks in 1912. Jefferson High School opened on the east side in 1908 and Gresham High School dates to 1906. And it was not only the larger cities, as we learn that Harney County High School had twelve seniors in 1911–1912, divided equally between boys and girls.


Campf concentrates on the big three teams sports—baseball and its community and semi-pro teams, football and its college teams, and basketball with its high school teams for boys and for girls who refused to play by wimpy “girls’ rules.” Oregonians, of course, had plenty of other ways to enjoy exercise and the outdoors. There were elite sports like rowing, lawn tennis, and golf (the Waverly Golf Club dates to 1896). English immigrants and ex-pats sporadically kept their ethnic sport of cricket alive in Portland. And there were outdoor activities like fly-fishing where no one kept score (well, maybe the trout did). Energetic Portlanders joined the Mazamas, whose inaugural climb on July 19, 1894, took 158 men and 38 women to the top of Mt. Hood. If you didn’t have time to summit a mountain, you could join the bicycle craze of the 1890s. Thousands of people took to the roads on Sunday cycling expeditions—sedate families, daredevil wheelmen, and “scorchers”—young men who rode too fast and too recklessly for most people’s taste (what else is new).

Preface by Brian Campf 

I have loved sports for as long as I can remember. I enjoy the anticipation of the game, watching the drama unfold, and seeing a winner and a loser. There is nothing else like it.


A few weeks shy of my tenth birthday I watched on television as the Portland Trail Blazers won the NBA title in 1977. My parents took us downtown for dinner that night. We found ourselves in the midst of a massive celebration. A picture of me near the podium at the Blazers championship parade the next day was published in Hoop magazine. My wife, Sandy, says that I remember the parade day as fondly as our wedding. I won’t say if she’s right.


Baseball was just as important to me. Portland had no major league team, but I followed the big leaguers and also Portland’s minor league team, the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League. When we were kids, my father, Alan, would take me and my brother, Andy, to their games at Portland’s Civic Stadium. I began collecting baseball, basketball, and football cards around 1978, the same year as my first trip to the Memorial Coliseum to see the Blazers play.


A baseball card store opened in Portland in 1980. I insisted that my mother, Susan, drive me there. I must have been one of its earliest visitors. Though I was only about thirteen and had no money to spend, I loved my visit. Andy had come with us. A Wall Street Journal article published soon afterward described the store owner patiently answering the many questions from two unidentified youngsters (me and Andy).                                                                                                                              

Later in the 1980s, at the same store I stumbled across a baseball card. It showed a local player, a Portland player. The card was old and its history intrigued me. I snapped it up. This is the one: Miles Albion Netzel, issued in 1910 with Obak Cigarettes.I thought it would be a fun challenge to seek out cards issued of other Portland players during that 1910 era and research their base- ball careers. Around the same time I got to know several dealers of vintage baseball collectibles who helped me in that pursuit. They remain my friends to this day.


Then something changed everything: the arrival of the Internet. The Internet gave me access to Oregon sports objects, such as photos and postcards, that were dispersed across America. What had been far away suddenly became a few mouse clicks away from reaching my mailbox. I also began to look for items associated with Oregon sports other than baseball. With the Internet my collection expanded by leaps and bounds. I continued to enjoy investigating the history of each new piece. Sandy stopped asking about the little boxes that kept arriving.


The Internet also opened a door to new avenues of research. Keyword searches in century-old newspapers could be swiftly performed to reveal the stories behind a photo’s charm and mystique. Period photography ultimately became a focus of the collection because it offers interesting and varied content, as well as locations and a more personal kind of connection to its subjects than objects such as trophies provide. Over the decades I acted like a magnet for these images, bringing them home to Oregon and into the archive, usually one at a time.


What emerged from my efforts is an archive of images I did not create but a collection I did create. I came to realize that anyone who says the fun is in the looking is seriously underestimating the satisfaction in the finding. It would be like saying the real fun of going on vacation is the plane ride. The pleasure for me came in adding some- thing to the collection that gave it more depth and dimension.


I recall my mom asking me, “What are you going to do with all of this stuff?” I had no idea what to say so I answered, “Maybe a book one day.” I had to say something, and in the back of my mind it seemed that if I said “book,” there might actually be one. I also had begun to feel weird about squirreling this “stuff ” away and being the only one who could see it. It is, after all, Oregon’s history, and it deserves not just to be compiled, but preserved, seen, and enjoyed.


A website instead of a book seemed like a good place to start, sort of like learning to ride a bicycle before you drive a car. I store the entire collection in an enormous bank vault, so I started bringing home boxes of goodies from the bank, scanning it all, returning the boxes, and retrieving more, back and forth until the scanning was done. It was during one of those bank runs that someone nearly sideswiped my car. Were it not for some defensive driving that would have made my driving teacher proud, the contents of this book would look very different.

Seeing the website go live made me feel that I had conquered the law of gravity. I conceived of it as a free virtual museum. I researched each item and added brief descriptions I hoped would approximate placards on the wall next to objects hung in galleries. I also left my name off the site so it would be about “the” stuff and not “my” stuff, something that has necessarily and somewhat regrettably changed with the publication of this book.


The website (no longer active) showed Oregon sports material and also original images from my collection of early major league, minor league, and Negro league baseball. The site began receiving visitors who shared kind comments. The Oregonian even published a story about it. That encouragement helped push me toward making this book a reality. I liked the idea of a book offering a more permanent re- cord than a website, plus it gave me the opportunity (read: awesome excuse) to research early Oregon sports.


After years of acquiring images and now sifting through them to decide what to include here, it occurs to me that if history is written by the victors, pictorial accounts are made possible by the collectors. I hope you enjoy this one.






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