Lavola Bakken’s little green book, “Lone Rock Free State,” is like a family bible to the descendants of the early settlers of the North Umpqua area.
Copies are passed down from one generation to the next. Through stories and hard facts, Lavola documented the biographical and sociological history of the region — starting millennia earlier with the first indigenous inhabitants. Even today, it is the bedrock of any research of the North Umpqua area.
Ownership of the book is a bragging right for long-time Glide residents, as copies are exceedingly difficult to find. What makes the book a treasure is its authenticity, imbued by the loving narrative of its author.
Lavola (McMillen) Bakken was the daughter and granddaughter of Ohioan settlers who arrived in the Umpqua Valley in the late 1800s. In genealogical notes to her family, she assured them that she was “conceived” up the North Umpqua, despite being born in Wyoming. Her parents returned to her grandfather’s homestead in the Swiftwater area around the time of his death in 1924.
Lavola lived during a transition between historical epochs. She played the mandolin at family reunions up at the homestead and heard first-hand accounts of the early pioneers. She personally knew Mace Tipton (“Last of the Umpqua Indians”), whose wife Nance made beaded buckskin clothes and bags for the McMillen family. Lavola was niece to Tip Hill, who built the original Rock Creek fish hatchery just a five-minute walk from her home. Her family hunted and fished with youthful exuberance and proselytized the bounty of the North Umpqua’s fishery. They operated the early post offices out of their homes.
Lavola heard this territory described as “Lone Rock Free State.” It had no distinct boundaries, but her stories spanned a geographic area from the Lone Rock ferry — now Glide’s “Green Bridge” — to Bill Bradley’s cabin past Dry Creek and up to Cap’s Illahee. Lavola wrote that, “We call this land ‘Lone Rock Free State’ because, like the early Indian, most of us feel a freedom here seldom found in modern cities or suburban life today.”
Then came the power lines from Toketee, dynamite to clear the way for a state highway and the modern wagon trains of tourists that followed. Lone Rock was changing fast. Lavola knew she was at the turning point of history. The old ways and stories were fading quickly. She wanted future generations to understand why this place was so special.
“Lone Rock Free State” was published in 1970, the year her husband died. Lavola dedicated the book to him and her sons, Clarence and Howard, who “may some day wonder how this community began.”
Lavola breathed dialogue into the main cast of Lone Rock’s history: the last Indian, the widowed hatchery builder, the bachelor mountain man and the beloved schoolteacher.
Lavola also insisted on telling stories that others hoped would vanish in the fog of time. A battered and abused woman who became Willamette University’s first female medical student and an ardent woman’s rights advocate. A ruthless “termination” posse of white settlers that hunted down a small band of peaceful Indians. Lavola lists the names of each person who participated as a permanent condemnation.
She quotes a settler’s journal to describe the painful removal of Indians to distant reservations: “They made the valley ring with the same funeral chant that they make over the dead. It was something terrific ... the last howl that the Indians ever made in that Umpqua Valley.”
The sometimes-folksy flavor of “Lone Rock” cleverly masks the foundation of intense research Lavola built it upon. She collected as much historical information about the mysterious North Umpqua Indians as any source at the time. She collected birth and death dates, pictures, hand-drawn maps and stories. Flowing through the pages of her book was a deep love for the land of Umpqua — a love that inspired chillingly beautiful poetry:
“Long moonbeam fingers slip between bars of tall fir trees across the river, stroking the ripples and rapids of the Umpqua below the camps, touching the pools and falls with gold and silver more beautiful than any yet panned.”
For Lavola, one book would not be enough. Between 1967 and her death in 1980, Lavola wrote books about North Umpqua Indian legends and practices, children’s stories and historical pieces for The Oregonian and western magazines under the pen names “Howard Wylie” and “Maxwell Fanning.” She was active with the Douglas County Museum, whose research room is named for her. The Umpqua Trapper magazine published many of her articles, including two posthumously.
The lasting power of her book is its message: that Lone Rock Free State is a way of life as much as a place. In her final reflections, Lavola wrote that the “whirring, zipping and roaring” of modern life “boggles your horse-and buggy mind.” So she imagined climbing the hill to her family homestead and turning back time. “If you travel the trail in dreams, it’s always spring.” Lavola’s daydream trail always ended at the backdoor of her grandfather’s homestead cabin, which is sketched on the cover of her book.
On the 50th anniversary of “Lone Rock Free State,” the Archie Creek Fire burned the old McMillen homestead to the ground. In a sad irony, the fire’s perimeter roughly approximates the boundaries of Lavola’s famed and fabled Lone Rock. The stories of Lone Rock Free State will endure because she wrote them down. /