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La Grande couple’s

AN ENVELOPE FULL OF SURPRISES prompted the Campbells to submit their story to PBS’ “History Detectives.’’ Dale Campbell, a stamp collector for most of his life, purchased a box of philatelic materials from an antiques dealer in Michigan and was surprised to find 150-year-old letters in some of the envelopes.

Civil War-era letters

capture attention of ‘History Detectives’ Story airs Tuesday, 8 p.m. on PBS




pening an envelope is usually a mundane task, one that yields bills, bank statements and brochures. For Dale and Ellen Campbell of La Grande, an envelope opened up their world to a mystery, one that will be solved Tuesday evening on the popular PBS television series, “History Detectives.”

LISA MCMAHAN | The Observer

HOLDING HISTORY IN HER HANDS, Ellen Campbell of La Grande reviews some of the documents tracked down by Eduardo Pagan of the PBS series “History Detectives.’’ The Campbells discovered Civil War-era letters that left lingering questions and led to an investigation into the past. Their story will air Tuesday night at 8 on PBS.




State water contract impacts talks with ditch company JOYCE OSTERLOH Correspondent

JOSEPH — Whether or not the City of Joseph has a valid permit from the state to access water from Wallowa Lake appears to be the holdup in contract talks with Associated Ditch Co. Joseph Mayor Dennis Sands told the city council at its meeting Thursday that the city and the ditch company concur on everything in the proposed contract except whether the city has obtained the permit. City Attorney Brandon Eyre confirmed that the permit is required for water use and for the contract to be valid. Sands said the Shroeder Law Firm was hired in 2000 to obtain the permit. However, no one knows for certain if that was done. The


mayor requested that the city recorder contact the Shroeder Law Offices and obtain a copy of the city’s file to determine what was accomplished by the firm. He said he and the city recorder will continue to move forward on the issue. Associated Ditch Co. President Tom Butterfield said that attorneys are finalizing the other details of the contract. In another matter, City Recorder Donna Warnock requested clarification on her job description and title from the council. Warnock recently took over the position of city recorder upon the retirement of Noma McDaniel. Council members Roxanne Delillo and Candy Staigle said the job title was changed to See CONTRACT, 5A

Fire hydrant testing begins The city of La Grande Public Works Department started its annual fire hydrant testing and maintenance program last week. Work runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday until all the hydrants are tested. The program allows Public Works to determine the quantity of water available for fire-fighting purposes and it serves to rid the city’s water distribution system of accumulations of sediment deposits over the past year. People who notice unusual water clarity after the hydrants are flushed are encouraged to turn on a cold water faucet outside of the house and let it run for five to 10 minutes. Doing this normally clears up the agitated water from the service line to the home. Further problems may be referred to the La Grande Public Works Department by calling 541-962-1325.





sion to serve as lieutenant or captain in a “colored regiment.” A letter dated the following year from a soldier named Amos Peck told William his brother suffered bodily injuries in a battle and was taken prisoner. “We knew from the letter that John was in the Union Army,” Dale said. The letters left many questions unanswered, including two the couple wanted to pursue. “Did he ever command a black regiment, and did he survive the war?” Ellen said. “You kind of hope for happy endings.” After doing some initial research, she decided to submit their story to “History Detectives” in the spring of 2009. See LETTERS, 3A



What’s next worries local leaders RICHARD COCKLE The Oregonian

HERMISTON (MCT) — After 70 years stockpiling the nation’s most nightmarish rockets, bombs and war chemicals, the Umatilla Chemical Depot’s future hangs in the balance because it may miss a deadline by a mere month and a half to wrap up its grim mission. The 19,728-acre repository

was supposed to finish destroying the last of its deadly inventory by Sept. 15 — an arbitrary date set by the government in 2005 as part of a plan to downsize its military operations. But the work instead most likely will take until November, depot officials say. The delay means the Pentagon may scrap a hardfought blueprint devised by a special committee of local leaders worked out over years

at a cost of $1 million that earmarks the depot land for economic development, wildlife habitat and a military tank-training site. Instead, the Pentagon may turn the base over to the General Services Administration, the federal government’s monolithic landlord and property management agency. See STOCKPILE, 5A

Debt limit deal eludes Obama, leaders on Hill WASHINGTON (AP) — With the clock ticking toward an Aug. 2 deadline, congressional leaders returned to the White House Monday for another round of budget bargaining with President Barack Obama, who has warned top lawmakers he will call daily

meetings until they break their partisan stalemate. Monday’s discussion will focus on formalizing the tentative agreements lawmakers reached in talks led by Vice President Joe Biden. Republicans say the Biden group identified more than $2

trillion in cuts, but Democrats put the true figure significantly lower — in large part because many of their concessions on spending cuts relied on the assumption Republicans would accept some new tax revenues. See DEBT, 2A



A stamp collector for most of his life, Dale purchased a box of philatelic material from an antiques dealer in Saginaw, Mich. Sifting through the envelopes and stamps, he realized there was still a letter in a Civil War-era envelope. And another. And another. The investigation began at a basic level — trying to make out letters and words written on both sides of the papers, which had caused the ink to bleed through. “It made it really difficult to decipher what was on there,” Ellen said. Eventually, the faded cursive script came together to form a story — but it was a fragmented one. The letters were addressed to William Blackford at “Senate Post” in Washington, D.C. His younger brother, John E. Blackford, wrote to him in 1863 asking about a commis-



HOW TO REACH US 541-963-3161 Two sections, 12 pages La Grande, Oregon


Monday, July 11, 2011

The Observer 3 A

Letters tell story LETTERS from 1A “We had always enjoyed ‘History Detectives,’” Dale said. Despite thinking the letters might make for an interesting episode, the couple didn’t expect to hear back from the series. “Apparently they receive thousands of submissions per year,” Dale said of the series, now in its ninth season. But Ellen soon received an email requesting photocopies of two of the letters and more information, which the Campbells gladly provided. Show researchers go through the submissions in a preliminary selection process, said story producer Bruce Barrow, who worked with two of the cases on Tuesday’s hour-long episode. “They’ll do additional research to try and figure out, ‘is there really a story here that addresses a historical issue?’” Barrow said. “There has to be enough information to make it an interesting story.” The Campbells learned their letters would be investigated by Eduardo Pagan, one of the presenters on “History Detectives” and a professor of history at Arizona State University. He was interested in the same issues that intrigued the Campbells and set off to find an explanation for John’s commis-

sion request and his fate. The journey took him to Washington, D.C., Kansas and Arkansas. “We kept following the leads until we wound up at the Poison Springs Battlefield Park in Arkansas, and met with the leading historian on that battle who walked us through what happened there when Union troops met Confederate troops,” Pagan said. “We flew coast to coast for this story.” In November 2010, he brought the information to the Campbells in Portland, where they filmed their scenes together in just one day. THE EPISODE SHOWS Dale and Ellen poring over documents with Pagan, whom they described as “businesslike” and “a nice fellow.” He shows them Blackford’s enlistment form and several other documents, providing answers to their questions and placing the letters in the greater context of the Civil War. “It’s this really interesting window into a part of the war that doesn’t get a lot of attention,” Barrow said. “It’s a remarkable individual story.” The Campbells already know the results of Pagan’s research but will learn the details of his investigation along with the rest of the program’s audience Tuesday. They plan to watch the episode, which will be aired on

PBS at 8 p.m. Tuesday, after they’re finished golfing at Couples Night — a fitting activity as Ellen and Dale have been working as a team through the entire investigation. The Campbells, who are both retired from the U.S. Forest Service, were originally told one of them would have to travel east to film “History Detectives,” which is co-produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting and Lion Television. Lion Television has offices in New York but the Campbells were relieved to learn the taping was moved to Portland. “We wanted to do this together,” Dale said. Now that the Campbells have their answers, they hope perhaps the episode will reach any Blackford descendants interested in their ancestors’ roles in the Civil War. “It’s kind of amazing that those things last that long,” Dale said of the letters, which were written a century and a half ago. “There’s probably a lot of things hidden in attics around the country.” After tracking down the Blackford brothers’ story, the Campbells know the real value of the letters purchased from the antiques dealer years ago. “They carry history,” Ellen said.

their own table service. The picnic is open to the public. For more information, call Pat Larson at 541-963-9387 or Scott Miller at 541- 5625083.

6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Misener Conference Room, 1001 Fourth St. in La Grande. Parents can learn how divorce or separation impacts children and what can be done to help them. Meg Valentine, M.A.T., and Eric Valentine, J.D., are the mediators and educators. Attendees should not bring their children. Child care will not be provided. For more information, call 541-962-9500, ext. 2228, or visit, or .

No tsunami danger for U.S. states after Japan earthquake


E D U A R D O PA G A N O F “ H I S T O RY D E T E C T I V E S ” met with Ellen and Dale Campbell in Portland to film their scenes together. Pagan traveled across the country to track down the Campbells’ mystery before bringing them the results in November 2010.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Officials say there is no danger of a tsunami that could damage Hawaii or the west coast of the United States after a strong earthquake shook Japan. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says that it will not issue a tsunami watch or advisory for California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska or Hawaii because the earthquake was not sufficient given its magnitude, location and the historical record of tsunamis in the Pacific.

Volunteers clean 55 miles of river

D E C I P H E R I N G T H E L E T T E R S was the first step in understanding the Civil War-era letters discovered by Ellen and Dale Campbell. The faded ink, which had bled through the paper, made it difficult to read, but once the words were identified, they formed a fascinating story with many unanswered questions.

WATERVILLE (AP) — Volunteers filed onto the banks of the McKenzie River for a cleanup project spanning 55 miles. The Eugene RegisterGuard reports that volunteers at Saturday’s event found old sleeping bags, carpet and fishing lines. Event organizers say that frequent homeless campers, partiers and fishermen leave piles of trash.

BRIEFLY Wallowa Mountain Open Horse Show Series set for Saturday ENTERPRISE

The Wallowa Mountain Open Horse Show Series is set for Saturday and Sept. 17 at the Enterprise fairgrounds. The office opens at 7:30 a.m. and the show starts at 8:30 a.m. Buckles and prizes for highpoint and all-around placings will be awarded. Show book and registration forms are available at the OSU Extension office in Enterprise. Call Brinda for more information at 541-398-0026.

Pie auction benefits Union County Senior Inc. LA GRANDE

A pie auction will benefit Union County Senior Inc. Wednesday. The auction begins at 11:30 a.m. at Union County Senior Center in La Grande.

Make an appointment to visit fire museum LA GRANDE

The Eastern Oregon Fire Museum does not hold regular open hours anymore. Make an appointment to visit the museum by calling the La Grande Fire Department at 541-963-3123.

La Grande Philly group meets Tuesday evening LA GRANDE

La Grande Philly group 2012 will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Riverside Park. For more information, call LaDonna Blagg at 541-910-1005.

Union County Cattlemen plan annual picnic UNION COUNTY

The Union County Cattlemen annual picnic begins at 1 p.m. Sunday at Catherine Creek State Park. Steak and drinks will be provided. Each family should bring one salad, one dessert and

Learn English country dancing Tuesday LA GRANDE

Larry B. Smith will lead a special free English country dancing workshop from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Union County Art and Culture Center, 1006 Penn Ave., La Grande. No experience, partner or special clothes are required. The Northeast Oregon Folklore Society sponsors this special event as part of their ongoing Tuesday evening folk dance series. For more information, call Carla at 541-663-0776.

Secretary of State offers notary public seminar ENTERPRISE

The Secretary of State is offering a notary public educational seminar July 27 from 9 a.m. to noon at Toma’s Conference Room, 309 S. River St. in Enterprise. The seminar is free to the public and the information presented will cover the rules and regulations for Oregon notaries. Attendees will learn how to properly identify the signer; what to record in a journal; and what requirements are needed to create a proper Oregon Notarial Certificate. Visit the seminar website Registration is available online or call the Wallowa County Chamber at 541-426-4622.

Program helps parents explain divorce to kids LA GRANDE

The Family Law Advisory Committee is offering a free program, “Helping Children Cope with Divorce/Separation,” from

Bev’s Upholstery


Dottie Brown and Co. will perform from 3:30 to 4:30 today at Grande Ronde Retirement Residence. Then on Wednesday, the band will perform from 11 a.m. to noon at Union County Senior Center.

Island City council meets tonight at City Hall ISLAND CITY

The city of Island City regular council meeting begins at 7 p.m. Monday at Island City City Hall. On the agenda is a memorandum of understanding with Union County regard-

Scholarships fund ‘green’ certificate program UNION COUNTY, WALLOWA COUNTY

Training and Employment Consortium is accepting full tuition scholarship application packets for an on-line “green technician” certificate program offered through Blue Mountain Community College. Approved scholarships will cover the tuition of the 45credit, one-year certificate designed to prepare graduates for a variety of entry-level “green” careers in various industry sectors. Scholarship application packets are available at the TEC offices in Enterprise, Baker City and La Grande. For general information and deadlines, call Marilyn in Enterprise at 541-426-3149; Carol in Baker City, 541-523-6331; and Lynn in La Grande, 541-963-7942. TTY is 541-962-0693. The program is Workforce Investment Act-funded and an equal employment opportunity and educational opportunity program. Veterans are encouraged to apply.

La Grande planners meet Tuesday LA GRANDE

The city of La Grande planning commission regular session will begin at 6 p.m.


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ing the Fregulias and streetpatching bids.

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repair, Crawl space dig out and laying vapor barrier.

INTERIOR WALL & FLOOR REPAIR GROUNDS MAINTENANCE: Structure Demolition and Removal General clean up & other lawn care services

Tuesday at council chambers and La Grande City Hall. A public hearing will include variance applications made by John Bozarth, William and Julie Pettitt and Jack A. Moseley, and a right of way vacation application made by Gary Haefer for Dennis and Karen Fenn.

Wallowa Lake State Park offers variety of activities this week WALLOWA LAKE STATE PARK

Wallowa Lake State Park is offering a variety of activities all week. On Tuesday, meet at 9:30 a.m. at Wallowa Lake Tramway for a photo walk that will feature views from Mount Howard. At 10 a.m., the Junior Ranger program starts at the playground in the camp. WallyBall for people 13 and older starts at 6 p.m. at the playground. An evening presentation, “Pioneers West to the Wallowas 2,” begins at 8:30 p.m. at the program area above B Loop foot path at B16 and B25 in the camp. Junior Ranger awards will be given. On Wednesday, the Junior Rangers meet at 10 a.m. in the playground. An open mic with

a Fishtrap writing group meets at 4 p.m. for “Art in the Park” at the amphitheater. WallyBall is at 6 p.m. in the playground and the evening presentation at 8:30 p.m. is “Pioneers West to the Wallowas” at the program area. Junior Ranger awards will be given.

Union council meets tonight UNION

The monthly meeting of the Union City Council will be tonight at 7 at City Hall, 342 S. Main St. Several action items are on the agenda. For information, Union residents may call 541-562-5197. To get your non-profit event in any day’s paper, call before 3 p.m. the previous day.

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TRANSFORMERS: Dark of the Moon CARS 2

La Grande couple's Civil War-era letters capture attention of 'History Detectives'  

Story and photo by Lisa McMahan. Opening an envelope is usually a mundane task, one that yields bills, bank statements and brochures. For D...