Perception and Reality
Writing involves perception and reality. How we perceive things and how things really are.
On the one hand, we might be like William H. Packwood, who thought that bringing water to the Willow Creek Drainage in Malheur County in Oregon would be a great idea. His perception was that gold miners in the Willow Creek area needed the additional water. The reality is, the ditch–once constructed–took water badly needed by the ranchers in Baker County. Things got heated and–at one point–explosive.
Politics aside, the ditch was a pretty amazing construction. It wound about 140 miles, five feet at the bottom, seven feet at the top, with a grade of 4.8 feet per mile across mountainous country (Eldorado Pass is 4,623 feet, Willow Creek averages 2,000 feet). Constructed by Chinese laborers.
The perception is the Chinese laborers were cheaper and more reliable. That makes perfectly good, economic sense. You can read about the reality in the link above. It’s an old story of how they built things in the west.
You can still see much of the canal today if you travel through that part of North Central Oregon. If you get to this area, stop at the Unity historical site for more information. A small population of the descendants of the Chinese laborers still live in Baker City. More information on this engineering feat and the people involved is available at The Blue Pine Publishing website.
So, I didn’t know anything about this canal until earlier this summer when I stopped at the historical site in Unity, OR. I knew some sketchy things about mining in the Blue Mountains and I’ve seen the large dredge in Sumpter, OR (worth a visit!). But, I didn’t get the full picture until I found the historical site in Unity and found a few other online resources as a result. Sometimes you just have to know the questions to ask and the search terms to use.
As I travel, I do try to stop at interpretive sites as much as possible. It’s amazing the information they provide and adjust my perceptions of what happened in the past. Will I use this in a story or novel? Maybe.
Think about it. It makes a good story line. A group hires a brilliant engineer to build something. The project takes precious resources away from another group. There are consequences. Other story threads that would weave through it is the indentured labor used and the “side businesses” that crop up around that activity. And there’s the anger of the other contract laborers who lost out to the cheaper indentured laborers.
I used the word “explosive” earlier. Yes, that would accurately describe that story.