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Oct. 18, 2021

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Mysterious case of Camas mural’s mistaken identity

Descendant, historians identify art’s depiction as original Washougal settler Richard Ough, not David C. Parker

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
Published:
7 Photos
Descendant Anne Christie poses next to the face of Richard Ough, the founder of Washougal and her triple-great grandfather. "We love it," Christie said. "This is my dad's family.
Descendant Anne Christie poses next to the face of Richard Ough, the founder of Washougal and her triple-great grandfather. "We love it," Christie said. "This is my dad's family. I'm a history teacher and this is my jam." (Joshua Hart/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

CAMAS — Who is the smiling man on the mural as you enter town — and why does it matter?

“History should be right. History should be accurate. Stories get passed down that can be incorrect, and people don’t know or don’t dispute it,” said Madeline Mesplay, the lead research volunteer at the Two Rivers Heritage Museum, which looks after the legacies of Camas and Washougal.

So let’s say it loud, proud and factual: The big, sly grin on the side of Young’s Deli & Grocery, which cannot be missed as you approach downtown via Northwest Sixth Avenue, belongs to founding Washougal settler Richard Ough. (Pronounced “Ow,” Mesplay said, and originally spelled “Howe.”)

Contrary to a popular misunderstanding, it’s not the face of David C. Parker, a slightly later arrival who is associated with the founding of Camas but who was not this town’s literal founder or first settler, according to several historical sources.

How do we know this, and how did the misunderstanding arise?

Evergreen High School history teacher Anne Christie, the triple-great-granddaughter of Richard Ough, was delighted by the mural, which was created in 2018. But she was also indignant to discover that some people believe the mural — which itself doesn’t list a name and is dedicated only to East County’s “settlers and pioneers” — depicts David C. Parker.

On the web

Washington History Link on Washougal: www.historylink.org/File/9312

History Link on Camas: www.historylink.org/File/9290

“We heard there was a mural of Grandpa Richard,” she said. “So not too long ago, I went out with my daughters and saw. Oh my gosh, it’s a huge mural and … we love it.

“I’m a history teacher and this is my jam,” Christie said. “Our whole family is really into this stuff. We’re very interested in the history of this area.”

Christie snapped some photos with her kids, then went inside to ask the store owner about the mural. Her assertion that the mural was her ancestor was met with: Your great-great-great-grandpa was David Parker?

No, that’s Richard Ough, Christie insisted. But, she recalled, the store owner insisted right back: David Parker.

“I was floored to get that response,” said Christie, who contacted the Two Rivers Museum, where volunteer Mesplay started digging. It didn’t take her long to locate what she believes is the source of the misinformation: a simple design oversight.

The layout of the Washington Secretary of State’s “Legacy Washington” web page about the history of Camas and Washougal would lead any viewer to link the article’s top text, about David C. Parker, to the photograph embedded right alongside it.

That captionless photo shows Richard Ough, whose distinctly bearded smile is well familiar to Christie, Mesplay and other local history nerds. The identical photo was featured in articles about Ough that appeared in a special edition of The Camas-Washougal Post Record in the 1980s, and in a popular 2013 history book, “Legendary Locals of Camas and Washougal.”

The photo is the source for the mural. “The mural is clearly Richard Ough,” said Brad Richardson, executive director of the Clark County Historical Museum. “Saying otherwise is a huge error.”

According to Mesplay, no one has ever found a photograph of David C. Parker.

Generous gift

We don’t mean to look a gift mural in its so-called mouth. The gorgeous, colorful artwork at Young’s Deli was a present to the city from artist and temporary Camas resident Allan Jeffs and from Sam Musa, the owner of Young’s Deli since 1982, who said he spent about $1,400 on Jeffs’ painting supplies.

Jeffs told Lacamas Magazine in 2018 that he loves the city and its flowery name, dislikes blank walls and thought that Camas’ founding father’s face would be an ideal way to welcome folks to town.

“I was thinking about the roots of the city,” Jeffs said in a Lacamas Magazine video posted on YouTube. “I went to the library and asked them to give me books about the history of Camas, and I found him. And I think, this is the man!”

While not precisely right, he wasn’t very far off.

“David Parker was the founder of the earliest establishment by an American north of the Columbia River, which was Parkersville,” Richardson said. Parkersville was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. But the tiny port-point on the river never really thrived, Richardson said, while the town of Washougal grew and spread.

Either way, David C. Parker was not the founder of the adjacent city of Camas, which began a slow journey toward incorporation when one Jacob Hansaker built the first sawmill there in the 1840s. Henry Pittock, the publisher of The Oregonian, built a paper mill here in the 1880s. The town, then called La Camas, was incorporated in 1883.

“Parker and Ough are both understood to be important to the area, but it’s wholly historically inaccurate to say Parker was the founder of Camas,” Richardson said. “The founder of Camas was Henry Pittock. Ough was the founder of Washougal. Parker was the founder of the failed town of Parkersville.”

Muralist Jeffs was just going by available historical information, he told The Columbian last month. The native of Santiago, Chile, and current resident of Puerto Rico doesn’t claim to be a historical expert about Southwest Washington.

“Actually I prefer Ough because he was more in touch with the Indigenous community,” Jeffs said. “He was in a relationship with the Indigenous people in the area.”

‘Oldest Pioneer’

Ough’s story is a fascinating example of cultures crossing in the New World. He was a British citizen and Hudson’s Bay Company officer who became the first white man to settle permanently in the Washougal area. That was around 1841, according to History Link, a free online Washington State history encyclopedia.

Ough married a Chinook woman named Betsy (or Betsey, depending on the source) White Wing, the daughter of a local chief. The couple became “the first settlers on record” in the Washougal area, according to History Link. They began a large family and many of their descendants — like Anne Christie — still live in the area. 

David Parker arrived with his family in 1845 or 1846, depending on your source, squatting on land and eventually claiming 580 acres in 1850, when the Donation Land Claims Act became law. Ough did the same thing with more land — nearly 640 acres — that he’d started squatting on years earlier than Parker.

Ough became a successful farmer, dairyman and respected local leader, and Betsy was renowned for her generous spirit and hospitality. Ough eventually sold 20 acres to Joseph Durgin (or Durgan), who quickly donated a portion of the land for building the town of Washougal, officially incorporated in May 1880.

In 1884, The Vancouver Independent ran a story about Richard Ough’s death headlined, “The Oldest Pioneer Gone.” To this day, Betsy Ough is often referred to as “the mother of Washougal.”

“David C. Parker and his wife, Ann … are often credited as Washougal’s first permanent settlers, despite the evidence that Richard and Betsy Ough had already been living there for three or four years,” according to History Link. “This may be due to the fact that the Parkers were in fact the first non-Native American settlers. … Or it may simply be due to the fact that Parker had a tendency to name things after himself, whereas Ough did not.

“Richard and Betsy Ough played a larger role in the founding of Washougal proper than did Parker, but have received little credit for it.”

That has changed in recent years, Richardson said, largely thanks to the efforts of the city of Washougal and the Two Rivers Heritage Museum.

Credit and errors

“I can easily see how an error like this happens,” Richardson said. “The people who have the original knowledge move along or pass away. It’s not uncommon for photos to get mislabeled or the information to get mishandled.

“The history field tends to work on a shoestring budget,” he said. “When people do their best, with limited resources, there are going to be mistakes.”

But, he added, he’s never seen any photo of Richard Ough mislabeled as David Parker. As near as anyone can tell, the mural misunderstanding appears to originate with state website and a simple — and unfortunately influential — design goof. (The text for that website was provided by the late Curtis Hughley of the Camas-Washougal Historical Society for the state’s 2003 Territorial Sesquicentennial Celebration, but Hughley wasn’t responsible for the website layout.)

“Errors getting introduced like this can be really insidious,” Richardson said. “People get tied to ideas and don’t want to change. They’ve been told all their lives that something is correct. How embarrassing to learn it’s not.”

John Hughes, the chief historian with the Legacy Washington project, acknowledged the website error and said all the Territorial Sesquicentennial Celebration history pages will soon get taken offline.

Reached by phone, Young’s Deli owner Sam Musa didn’t seem concerned about the identity of the face in the mural. Musa didn’t specifically recall being approached by Christie, he said. He talks to lots of people every day, he said, and many stop by to take photos and compliment the brilliant artwork — whomever it depicts.

Christie is eager to tell the world that it’s her great-great-great-grandfather, Richard Ough. Her Yakama reservation relatives, displaced from Washougal generations ago, are hungry to reestablish their ties to the Columbia River and to this historic spot, she said. They recently held a reunion at Cottonwood Beach and also explored local cemeteries for their ancestors’ remains, she said.

“In this day and age, when we are revisiting a lot of our history — it seems an appropriate time to revisit this too,” she said.

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