Project gives John McLoughlin's story a digital reboot

Fort Vancouver, WSUV team up for historical multimedia narrative

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter



Did you know?

• The Fort Vancouver National Historic Site includes the McLoughlin House in Oregon City, Ore. It will reopen for the 2014 season on Feb. 14.

On the Web

The ebook “The McLoughlin Family Collection: A Look Inside the Fort Vancouver Museum Collection” is available at

The saga of John McLoughlin has gotten a high-tech retelling through a free digital publication. While the project represents new-wave story-telling, it also links to a soundtrack that's about as original as you can get, considering that Dr. McLoughlin died in 1857.

"The McLoughlin Family Collection: A Look Inside the Fort Vancouver Museum Collection" was created through a partnership between Fort Vancouver National Historic Site and Washington State University Vancouver.

The ebook is an introduction to McLoughlin and his family through items in the Fort Vancouver museum collection. Its animated segments are narrated by Heidi Pierson, a National Park Service museum specialist at Fort Vancouver.

Museum technician Meagan Huff worked with family artifacts in the collection, which range from archived images of McLoughlin and his wife Marguerite to a 160-year-old reed organ he once owned.

Students in WSUV's Creative Media and Digital Culture program on the team included Nicholas Rudy, project manager; Bryan Ruhe, graphic design; and Kyleigh Williams, animation and video. The students worked under the guidance of Dene Grigar, director of the digital culture program.

Dubbed "The Father of Oregon," McLoughlin is a man who deserves to be remembered, Pierson said. He was chief of the Hudson's Bay Company trading center at Fort Vancouver from 1825 to 1845. When American settlers started arriving, McLoughlin defied official company policy by treating the hungry, trail-weary immigrants hospitably.

"He really helped facilitate the U.S. expansion out here, because of the way he was so generous," said Pierson. "If he hadn't been so helpful, it would have been more difficult for those first settlers to get a toe-hold out here.

"It also was significant that he decided to become an American citizen," said Pierson. Her narration was based on her own writing in another Fort Vancouver publication about the McLoughlins.

It's a complicated story, but McLoughlin "threw his lot with the Americans when he split with the company and decided to make America his home," Pierson said.

The publication is available as a free download at

An enhanced version includes songs played on the McLoughlin family's 160-year-old melodeon -- a 19th-century pump organ. The musician uses foot pedals to keep the bellows pumping.

The enhanced version is available through:

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558;;