Third Tuesday Author: R. Gregory Nokes
R. Gregory Nokes has traveled the world as a reporter and editor and will be visiting Lake Oswego Public Library on Tuesday, November 20 at 7pm. He is author of three non-fiction Western histories. His latest book is The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett: Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California, published this year by Oregon State University Press. His earlier books are Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon in 2009, and Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory in 2013, both also published by OSU Press.
Peter Burnett had the most impressive resume of any early leader in the American West: a defense attorney for Mormon leader Joseph Smith in Missouri; the first captain of the 1843 wagon train from Missouri to Oregon; Oregon’s first supreme judge; a member of Oregon’s first elected legislature; blazed the first wagon road from Oregon to California in 1848, and played a lead role in developing the city of Sacramento. In 1849, he was overwhelmingly elected the first governor of California, and later served on the California Supreme Court.
Yet he’s been virtually forgotten in both states. His downfall was his racism, underscored by his advocacy of exclusion laws against blacks with the goal of establishing the West as an all-white enclave. He seemed to have no other agenda, even as California’s governor. Those who once supported him were embarrassed by him and quickly turned away. He resigned after less than two years. Greg’s book explains this complicated man who was handed extraordinary authority in both Oregon and California, yet proved unable to exercise it, so much so he became an embarrassment in both states.
Greg spent more than forty years in journalism, during which he traveled to more than fifty countries. As a reporter in Washington, D.C. for The Associated Press, he covered the State Department and traveled with several presidents and secretaries of state on foreign trips. Greg started his career as a reporter for the Medford Mail Tribune, and finished at The Oregonian, where he was both an editor and reporter. He retired from journalism in 2003 to embark on a second career as an author and lecturer on Northwest history.
A native of Oregon, Nokes did his undergraduate work at Willamette University. He attended Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow in 1971-72. Nokes and his wife, Candise, live in West Linn, Oregon.