Pioneer John Beeson didn’t have Twitter, Facebook or other technology to alert the nation that Native Americans were being abused and swindled, but he kept up “a steady drip” of tactics to make the 19th century public aware of the problems.
Author Jan Wright of Talent came to that conclusion as she wrote her book “Oregon Outcast: John Beeson’s Struggle for Justice for the Indians, 1853-1889,” now available online from Lulu.com.
Beeson settled in Talent in 1853 but spent much of his time in the East advocating.
Beeson used grassroots tactics to get his message across. He joined numerous groups so he could speak at events about the issue. He took opportunities to speak at churches, on street corners and in pubs. And he got a lot of newspaper attention.
“(Reporters) can direct the course of how we look at things that happen in the past. Their words are stuck there in print forever,” said Wright. “Someone like me interprets that in my own ink and in my own time.”
Beeson was particularly reviled by Oregon newspapers over his advocacy for Native Americans, but Eastern newspapers were more receptive to his message, said Wright. A spiritualist, Beeson used publications by like-minded groups to create greater awareness.
When Abraham Lincoln stopped on a preinaugural celebration tour in Buffalo, New York, he attended a lecture that Beeson gave on Indian affairs. Beeson was later able to meet with Lincoln and other presidents.
“John Beeson was seeing a displaced people and advocating for them and not getting a lot of sympathy for that. He was just basically dismissed,” said Wright. “He would be dismissed as this crazy old man who was not fixed on reality.”
Beeson’s spiritualism was one of his idiosyncrasies that opponents focused on. He also advocated for universal peace and a universal language.
“Sometimes we find it so easy to dismiss people based on one thing alone, and it’s kind of revealing of us often not to listen or try to find an element of truth,” said Wright.
Audiences sometimes ask Wright whether Beeson succeeded. She said she’s come to see success as more of a long-term goal.
“It seems to me his goals of making his points were successful. He did become identified as kind of the guru of the effort to reform Indian policy,” said Wright. He was not unlike consumer advocate Ralph Nader, known by many but not popular with some segments of the population, she said.
Beeson opposed the Rogue Indian Wars, which were underway when he arrived from Illinois. When he ran for the state Legislature in 1855, research shows, he garnered only 10 votes. He left Oregon in 1856 under threat and didn’t return until 1864, then left again in 1866. Beeson spent his final years in the Talent area from 1880-1889.
Wright spent 20 years researching Beeson, traveling and digging through archives. She used a Kickstarter campaign to fund editing, writing and publication of the book. Donors who gave $100 or more to the effort will receive their volumes shortly.
There are almost 20 photos in the book. Wright is going to set up a website so readers can look directly at newspaper articles from the 1850s to 1890s that she used in her research.
Wright will have copies available Oct. 6 during the Harvest Festival at the Talent Historical Society, 105 Market St. She will give a talk about the book at the society Oct. 23. She will also speak at the Windows in Time lecture series in Medford Nov. 7 and Ashland Nov. 14 at the libraries.
Once Wright has a supply of books, she will approach local stores about carrying copies. Lulu.com prints copies on demand as it receives orders. The link for orders is https://bit.ly/2NT7JxL.
Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.