Travelers on Route I-84 may speed past Ontario, Ore., with nary a glance. But the decision not to stop at this agricultural center is their loss, because the town houses one of the best historical and cultural centers in the West.
The Four Rivers Cultural Center celebrates the
confluence of cultures in the Western Treasure Valley, where the
Snake, Malheur, Owyhee and Payette rivers meet. Since the beginning
of the 19th century, the valley has been home to a diverse
assemblage of people - the Northern Paiute, Basques, Hispanics,
Japanese and European immigrants. And the center doesn't sugar-coat
the conflicts that arose between the intermixing cultures.
Using dioramas, artifacts, photographs,
diaries, recorded interviews and videos, the center chronicles the
Paiutes' demise when trappers and then cattlemen destroyed their
resources and later forced them onto reservation land, which was
also taken away. The cattlemen and Basque shepherds then battled
for hegemony, only to be shouldered out when the railroad opened a
market for agriculture. Irrigation and dams provided the water for
produce; Mexican and Japanese workers provided cheap labor. The
center's section on the internment of Japanese-Americans during
World War II is heartrending.
The center also
describes contemporary cultures in the valley, including prejudices
that still exist today. Highlights include the 1946 Studebaker
pickup that brought the Gonzales family to the valley, a
refrigerator filled with diverse foods - camas cakes, sushi,
tortillas and chorizo - and the story of Coyote bringing the Paiute
and Shoshone home.
For information, write the
Four Rivers Cultural Center, 676 SW 5th Avenue, Ontario, OR 97914,
call 888/211-1222, email email@example.com or find the center's Web
site at 4rcc.com.