R. Gregory Nokes: The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett
We are pleased to welcome back R. Gregory Nokes, reading from his newest book of northwest history, The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett: Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California, published by Oregon State University Press. Burnett helped organize the first major wagon train to the Oregon Country. He served on Oregon's first elected government and was Oregon's first Supreme Court judge. He opened a wagon road from Oregon to California. He worked with the young John Sutter to develop the new city of Sacramento. Within a year of arriving in California, voters overwhelmingly elected him as the state's first US governor. He also won appointment to the California Supreme Court.
Yet with the exception of the wagon road to California, in none of these roles was Burnett considered successful or well remembered. Indeed, he resigned from many of his most important positions, including the governorship, where he was widely perceived as a failure. Burnett's weakness was that he refused to take advice from others. A former slaveholder, he could never seem to get beyond his single-minded goal of banning blacks and other minorities from the West. In his latest book, Nokes presents the first full-length biography of this complicated character. Nokes is the author of Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory and Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon. He traveled the world as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press and The Oregonian. A graduate of Willamette University, he attended Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow. His reporting on the 1887 murders of more than thirty Chinese gold miners in Hells Canyon resulted in a formal designation of the site as Chinese Massacre Cover and was the basis for an Oregon Public Broadcasting documentary. Nokes and his wife live in West Linn.