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Evelyn Sibley Lampman (1907-1980) -- by Truman Price
I confess three special reasons for an essay on Evelyn Sibley Lampman. We are about eight miles from where she was born and raised, in Dallas, Oregon. We’ve had the pleasure of compiling a complete set of her 38 books for a descendant. One of those is among my favorite children’s books, from which I have retold stories many times.
Dallas, a small county seat on the edge of the coast range, once a logging town, is unusually conservative. The Klu Klux Klan held rallies on Main Street in front of the Courthouse as late as 1937. Evelyn’s father, a small-town lawyer and judge, was an anomaly in the town; he taught Evelyn to respect the local Native Americans, who, he felt, had been treated unfairly. Evelyn adopted his outlook, which may tell something about herself. Often the main character is a sensitive outsider, who observes and tries to do the right thing (with minor gaffes on occasion); and we are expected to pick up and share the characters’ sensitivity... which is why her books work well, when they do. And we are rewarded with small insights into human nature and a general trust in human kindness.
Evelyn attended nearby Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis, now a state university but at the time a technical college with no degrees in liberal arts or social sciences. After graduation, she found a job as continuity writer at a radio station in Portland, where she wrote continuity scripts for the announcers. In 1935 she married newspaperman Herbert Lampman. They bought a house in Portland and she quit her job to care for the two little girls that came along. After Herb died she cut down his suits to fit her and went back to radio, eventually becoming educational director for KEX radio, which broadcast six dramatized in-school listening programs a week. According to her grandson, she was Portland's first white-collar woman to wear pants to work. She checked inside the classrooms on the interest the work produced, and her diligence served as a useful apprenticeship for the novelist.
One day Evelyn’s 4th grade daughter complained that she had read everything in the school library, and couldn’t Mama write another book. Responding to demand, Evelyn set to work.
In Crazy Creek, 1948, she told the story of Judith, who paddled down the millrace in a small Oregon town, had an accident in the water, and was rescued by her people of two generations earlier - by her own grandfather as a child. Judy spent a year with the family, learned the cultural differences and like everyone else worked nearly non-stop. There is a didactic edge to the story, but it is well done, and the family fairly well fleshed out. The sweetest line is the last, after she has returned to her own time (via a reverse trip on the water, and another accident) and tries vainly to convince her elderly grandfather of the visit with details that could only have learned by being there:
“But don’t you see,” cried Judy, “that’s where I’ve been. Back to your old land when you were a little boy.”
“That’s where I figure to go now,” said Grandpa, and his eyes closed gently. “I go there all the time, Judy.”
Crazy Creek was well appreciated, and her career was launched. Her second novel, Treasure Mountain, came out the next year, and it was also successful. A career teacher here in Monmouth, Dennis Eberly, tells me he read it to his fourth-grade class every year for 30 years.
In Treasure Mountain, a boy and girl, orphans being raised and educated at the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, have to find a place to go for the summer. They can go to their ancient great-aunt, who lives in a shack by the river mouth at Nehalem. Hitch-hiking to the coast, they are befriended by a kindly Anglo who at first scares them but gives them food and a ride all the way to the shack; it is just one of Lampman’s glimpses of the basic kindly nature of most people. They have never before met the aunt, and soon realize sharper cultural differences between themselves, although they are full-blooded Salish, and their own relative. But differences everywhere are resolved; and while they never find the lost Nehalem treasure ( a real one; people around here have searched for it for years) they do rescue their aunt’s cabin and land from the tax-man. The treasure that rescues the great-aunt's home was in her trunk of memories the whole time. It is quite a nice read, altogether.
Subsequent books more or less follow similar themes: In The Bounces of Cynthiann', 1950, A family of children arrive as orphans at the end of the Oregon Trail. Cynthiann’ was the first name of Lampman’s home town of Dallas. The Bounces were real children who arrived over the Southern Route discovered by Mose Harris, which later became called the Applegate Trail, in 1847; they had become orphaned in a flooded creek in Southern Oregon in November, and reached Dallas on Christmas Eve, where they were assigned to the care of Jesse Applegate.
In Captain Apple's Ghost, 1950, a ghost returns to his former home and helps to preserve it as a children’s museum.
By this time, Lampman had found her stride; she quit her job at KEX and wrote full time. She also married her second husband Wilfrid Bronson, who was and is well known as a children’s book artist. Doubleday felt they did not want more than two books a year from her as Lampman, so she began to write occasional books as “Lynn Bronson”, including her next book, Timberland Adventure.
Three later titles of particular note are City Under the Back Steps, The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek, and Rusty's Space Ship. These three are very difficult to find, much sought after, and usually quite expensive when found. My favorite, Tree Wagon, was a Weekly Reader selection, so it is possible to find good hardcover copies inexpensively; quite a nice story.
Like her subjects, Lampman gradually explored new areas. Her later books included migrant workers, Mexican history, unwed mothers, and many additions to her lasting interest in Native Americans. Most are around 200-225 pages; the shortest book is Bargain Bride at 188 pp, and the longest is 263 pp.
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A list, with a few comments from our database.
Crazy Creek. Doubleday, 1948; 213 pp.
Treasure Mountain. Doubleday, 1949; 207 pp. See description above.
The Bounces of Cynthiann'. Doubleday, 1950.
(as Lynn Bronson) Timberland Adventure. Lippincott, 1950. Two boys adventure into the unsettled wilderness of early Southern Oregon.
(LB) Coyote Kid. Lippincott, 1951.
Elder Brother. Doubleday, 1951.
Captain Apple's Ghost. Doubleday, 1952.
(LB) Rogue's Valley. Lippincott, 1952. A boy, part of the miners' invasion of the Rogue Valley in the 1850's, becomes friends with an Indian lad during the "Rogue Indian Wars."
(LB) The Runaway. Lippincott, 1953. An early Oregon farm boy joins the army and is befriended by Captain Ulysses "Sam" Grant; including "an eerie adventure in the camp of the Calapooya Indians."
Tree Wagon. Doubleday, 1953. In my honest opinion, this is the best written of all Oregon Trail stories, child or adult: about the first nurseryman's family and their difficulties in bringing a large oak wagon of soil planted with hundreds of fruit trees. I’ve retold episodes from it many times.
Witch Doctor’s Son, Doubleday, 1954
The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek. Doubleday, 1955. Exploring the desert around their home, Jean and Judy find an amiable stegosaurus. George tries his best in all things, given his pea-sized brain, and helps them save their family ranch.
The Tilted Sombrero. Doubleday, 1956. During the Mexican Revolution the son of a wealthy landowner learns to survive though penniless and on his own. The longest and one of the scarcer of Lampman's titles.
(LB) Darcy's Harvest. Doubleday, 1956. Just as an all-important prune harvest is about to begin on their Oregon farm, Darcy's father has a car accident. Two wandering hitch-hikers help out, and, while Darcy is glad to have friends, she doesn't trust them. Teenage.
Navaho Sister. Doubleday, 1956. Story of a lonely Navajo girl at the Chemawa school in Oregon.
Rusty's Space Ship. Doubleday, 1957. As soon as Rusty and his sister build their wooden spaceship, a kid-sized lizard from outer space shows up looking for the metal saucer Rusty's tacked onto the nose. The lizard lifts the whole thing by brain power, but he's terribly absent-minded and can't really remember where he's going... so we get a tour of planets and moons of the solar system, filled with facts and fancy: on Mars one's step is very light and springy, it is cold and dusty and windy, and -- the canals are massive lines of ants going places! next stop is ... A much sought and hard to find title.
(LB) Popular Girl Doubleday, 1957.
Rock Hounds. Doubleday 1958. Set in a geology summer camp for an OMSI summer program, but struck me as didactic rather than engaging.
Special Year. Doubleday, 1959.
The City Under the Back Steps. Doubleday, 1960. Two children are shrunk to the size of ants, and taken to the City Under the Steps. It would be hard to imagine a more vivid introduction to the world of ants. It feels like, and has references to, Science Fiction, but applied in a real manner to a smaller world. Suspenseful, while full of information, it is easy to see why it is still a much sought after book today.
Princess of Fort Vancouver. Doubleday, 1962. The daughter of John McLoughlin, Hudson Bay Company Factor, in the early Oregon country, was always referred to as "The Princess". With bibliography.
The Shy Stegosaurus of Indian Springs. Doubleday, 1962.
Mrs. Updaisy. Doubleday, 1963,
Temple of the Sun. Doubleday, 1964. Follows a youth who is slated to be a priest-in-training, at the time Cortez is mistakenly welcomed into Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) by Moctezuma. Full of detail of the time, but... perhaps more detail than I could handle; I got bogged down. Unlike say, City Beneath the Steps, which has quite a lot of detail narrated as a fantasy, this struggles to be both accurate and vivid.
Wheels West, Doubleday 1965.
Half-Breed. Doubleday, 1967.
The Bandit of Mok Hill. Doubleday, 1969. A twelve-year-old Mexican orphan honors the famous bandit Joaquin Murieta; he travels from San Francisco by singing with a troupe; later, after he discovers that bandits also kill, he learns the value of honest friendship. Perhaps too cynical for a child.
Cayuse Courage. Harcourt Brace World, 1970. The story behind the Whitman Massacre of 1848 from the point of view of a native Cayuse boy, very sensitive writing.
Once Upon the Little Big Horn. Crowell, 1971. The Custer battle as seen from Sitting Bull's side. As with her other novels about Native Americans, Evelyn started by going to the elders of the people she was writing about and asking for their stories. This was written during the AIM years of rebellion in the Dakotas - but she arrived with excellent references.
The Year of Small Shadow. Harcourt Brace Jovanich, 1971. At the Grande Ronde Reservation (15 miles from Dallas) a boy's father is sentenced to a year in jail for taking a horse, and the boy becomes the ward of the defense lawyer for a year. Another in Lampman's typical theme in which characters learn to appreciate the best in other people's traditions, and a nice cover painting that sums up the mingling of cultures.
Go Up the Road. Atheneum, 1972. With migrant workers from New Mexico to Oregon.
Rattlesnake Cave. Atheneum, 1974.
White Captives. Atheneum, 1975.
The Potlatch Family. Atheneum, 1976.
Bargain Bride. Atheneum, 1977. "An often funny and sometimes touching" story of a girl orphaned on the Oregon Trail who is to be married off at a very young age to an old man.
Squaw Man's Son. Atheneum, 1978. Billy Morrison's irascible father sends his wife and son back to live with her tribe, the Modocs -- just before the Modoc rebellion led by Captain Jack in the lava beds of SE Oregon / NE California
Three Knocks on the Wall. NY: Atheneum, 1980. Someone is knocking on the wooden wall on the other side of the garden and Marty learns how to communicate with her new friend. A sympathetic treatment of a child born out of wedlock, set in a small town in Oregon at the end of WWI.
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and one Adult novel:
Of Mikes and Men, by "Jane Woodfin", 1971. About old-time radio in Portland in the 30's, hilarious, with one interesting character after another, based on many small incidents from the days when radio was local and real (house orchestra, live broadcasts from many places, etc.), when Evelyn worked at KEX (here known as KUKU) - real vignettes, I think, from her life. Illustrated by Paul Galdone.
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Three Knocks... was Evelyn's last book, and she passed away the same year, age 73.
Only three of her 39 novels won awards:
Award of Committee on the Art of Democratic Living, for a juvenile novel portraying democratic life among different peoples, 1950 - Treasure Mountain
The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, 1953 - City Beneath the Back Steps
Western Writers of America, 1970 - Cayuse Courage,
However, she had lasting influence, and the Children's Services Division of the Oregon Library Association now presents the annual Evelyn Sibley Lampman Award to "honor a living Oregon author, librarian, or educator who has made a significant contribution to the children of Oregon."
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