« Return to this article

Know the West

Where cultures collide

  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 protected] or find the center's Web site at 4rcc.com.

Copyright © 2000 HCN and John Rosapepe