Exhibition explores pioneering, gold rush days of Eastern Oregon

photos by Rich Bergeman
photos by Rich Bergeman

An exhibition by Rich Bergeman of photographs depicting the history of Oregon's Baker County is being hosted through July 24 at the UO School of Law's second-floor gallery.

A public reception for the photographer will take place in the gallery from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21.

The exhibition, "East of Eden: Baker County Country," contains 32 black-and-white photographs that explore the pioneering and gold rush days of Eastern Oregon. The photographs capture ghost towns, gold mines and other historic sites while celebrating one of Oregon's most geologically diverse regions.

Each photograph is accompanied by a brief comment discussing its significance to Baker County's history. The exhibit will be accessible to the public Sunday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Once a favored wintering ground of the Nez Perce Indians and a rest stop on the Oregon Trail, the county is bounded by the Blue and Wallowa mountains on the west and north, and the Burnt and Snake Rivers to the south and east. Despite its agricultural potential, the wagon trains on the Oregon Trail bypassed it on their way to the Willamette Valley -- the so-called "Eden at the End of the Trail"--leaving the northeast corner of Oregon largely unsettled.

"That all changed when gold was discovered in the county in 1861," said Bergeman. "Within a year, thousands of people came flooding back from the Willamette Valley and California, and mining towns mushroomed all over the territory."

Only remnants of most of those 19th Century towns remain. Baker County is now known more for its large cattle ranches, the Victorian architecture of historic Baker City and the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center on Flagstaff Hill.

All of that and more became subjects for Bergeman's camera in 2011, when he served as the first artist-in-residence for the Crossroads-Carnegie Art Center in Baker City.

"I was given the liberty to approach this project from my own point of view, which turned out great," said Bergeman. "My photography has always been about the vanishing past, and my natural inclination to point my camera backward was a good fit in a place with such rich history to take aim at."


Bergeman, an Ohio native and Oregonian since 1976, has been documenting Oregon's past through photography for the past several decades using a variety of camera equipment. He currently resides in Corvallis.

More of Bergeman's work can be seen on his website.

- from UO School of Law