News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

For the love of history

Long-time Sisters resident David Banks remembers a day long ago when he rode down Cascade Avenue on the back of a Triumph motorcycle on his way to the B Bar B tavern.

He was familiar with Sisters because his parents had a place at Black Butte Ranch where he visited often. When things changed for him in Palo Alto, California, where he was living, he made the decision to “matriculate north,” to Sisters. He had a best friend in Tumalo and Banks decided to settle in Tollgate, where he and his wife Adrienne raised their children, John and McKenzie, who attended Black Butte School, graduating from Sisters High School.

“I came to Sisters before we had sewers,” Banks recalled.

He remembers hearing stories of the earlier days in Sisters from Tom Craven, who had lived in Sisters long enough to play six-man football in high school. Banks soaked up all Craven’s stories because he loves history, always has.

“History was the only subject in school I had an aptitude for. That and recess,” Banks joked.

He remembers liking to hear his grandpa’s stories and watching old war movies, learning about past times. Surprisingly, Banks didn’t major in history at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, but rather geology. He related how he failed mineralogy, which he said “is like the organic chemistry of geology.”

When Banks joined the working world, it was not in geology but rather in the advertising field and later in marketing communications. Along the way, he indulged his love of history by picking up historic memorabilia, some of which is now finding a home in the newly opened Sisters History Museum where Banks volunteers.

After moving to Sisters, Banks served as the manager of the Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce when it was housed in the little Maida Bailey building, which is today located next door to the Chamber visitors center. Given the history of that building, Banks always thought it would make a fun museum, but he’s very happy with the location of the new museum in an historic house on the corner of East Cascade and North Larch Street.

For the past six years, Banks has been deeply involved in the Northwest Civil War Council’s re-enactments each May out in a meadow near Camp Sherman. Those events draw participants from across the Pacific Northwest who portray realistically what life was like in the 1860s, complete with authentic clothing, tools, rifles, food and daily activities.

The re-enactment is not a glorification of the institution of slavery, over which the war was fought, but rather, Banks emphasized, living history about the time period of the war to be experienced and learned from. The event had to be canceled this year due to COVID-19, but Banks is hopeful next May will see its return.

During one day of the re-enactment, students are invited to come experience the encampment. There have been more than 1,000 school children who have had the opportunity to participate in the activities. Before coming to the Metolius location, re-enactments took place at MacIver State Park, Fort Stevens, and Willamette Mission State Park.

Given the current atmosphere around things like the Civil War and its monuments, Banks was asked about the impact of changing attitudes on the re-enactment events.

“We have to be careful,” he said. “We are not trying to resurrect slavery. Rather, we are recreating a period of history in an effort to learn more about both sides. That includes using symbols, such as the Confederate battle flag, which is correct to the period.”

Banks went on to explain, “People who don’t understand why we do the re-enactment might assume we must be racist, but we are simply re-enacting history as accurately as possible.”

As a volunteer for the museum (he recently strung all the outside Christmas lights), Banks conducts research and has provided some valuable artifacts to their collection. He recently discovered a letter written by a soldier posted at Camp Polk in 1865 to his family back in the Willamette Valley. Banks also donated the 1938 General Electric radio in the museum, which back in the day was referred to as “talking furniture.” The first radio station in Bend, KBND, began broadcasting in 1938.

Banks put an amplifier in the radio and an iPod loaded with old radio programs that visitors to the museum can listen to. There is also a recording of Warm Springs elder Wilson Wewa recounting the legend of Green Ridge and the Metolius River, accompanied by Native drumming.

“The museum is a great place to volunteer,” Banks said. “Having a museum puts Sisters on the map. We all know about current-day Sisters with the rodeo, quilt show, and folk festival. When you walk into the museum and start looking at the exhibits, you realize how remarkable it was what the early settlers in Sisters had to do to establish the town. It shows how different and interesting daily life was 70 to 100 years ago.”

Banks thinks the museum is a great place for school children and is hopeful the museum can link up with the schools.

“We need history,” emphasized Banks, “because it presents us with ambiguity. Activities and beliefs that were part of everyday life in the past, may be thought of as repugnant today. But learning to live with ambiguity helps build maturity and helps young people become adults.”

Banks believes that what is going on in today’s world is an example of “presentism” — judging people of another time by the standards of today, leading to attempts to erase or change history.

“Museums can increase knowledge and understanding of the world,” Banks said.


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