Historic Hood River
Here’s a detail from a Carleton Watkins image we saw a while ago. There’s quite a bit of great detail here, and it’s also an excuse for me to talk about the nature of historical research. As many of you know I am always skeptical of “facts” written on photographs. The images themselves may tell an objective truth, but people’s memories are rarely precise, especially by the time they get around to labeling images in their albums decades later. That’s why I take so much pleasure in this story:
There’s not much written about Carleton Watkins’ visits to the Northwest. We have several prints from his 1883 visit, and they may be the only existing instances of those images. Two of them are dated December 1, 1883, but even though the label appears to be contemporary with the visit, I wasn’t 100% sure. The date is important to me because the oldest “dateable” image of Hood River in our collection dates to this visit, and I wanted some independent corroboration he did indeed come through here in December 1883.
Last week an HHR viewer alerted us to the online diaries of Brigham Young’s son Willard. Since Willard Young worked at the locks in 1883, I wondered if he actually met Watkins. Sure enough, his diaries describe a photographer visiting the locks engineering office on December 1 seeking information, and he mentions watching the photographer taking photos of a steamer on December 2. While there is a slight date discrepancy here (Watkins might have taken photos of the steamer on both days, or one of them may be off by a day) this is close enough to proof for me! It is rare in history to meet the journalistic standard of multiple independent sources on a minor event 150 years ago. When it does happen, it is very satisfying.