Peter Boag.

Washington State University Vancouver historian Peter Boag’s new scholarly book, “Pioneering Death: The Violence of Boyhood in Turn-of-the-Century Oregon,” is a kaleidoscopic study of the whole societal context surrounding a triple murder in Oregon in 1895. It expands outward from standard criminology turf – the murderer’s troubled psychology, health problems, history of bad behavior and possible domestic abuse by his father – to explore the grinding economic depression of the late 1800s and the complex financial and social pressures felt by Willamette Valley farm families.

“So many things are happening at that particular moment. When the murder happens, it seems to tug on all these strands that are connected outward into society and the nation – and the world,” Boag said.

Violence was an essential part of the pioneer and post-pioneer landscape, Boag writes. At the time, the original Oregon Trail pioneers who were starting to die off both celebrated and whitewashed their own long history of violence.

Boag’s scholarship about the American West often focuses on gender, sexuality and culture. A museum exhibit that he developed in partnership with the staff of the Washington State Historical Society, called “Crossing Boundaries: Portraits of a Transgender West,” won an Award of Excellence from the American Association for State and Local History. The exhibit recently closed after a run at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.

Boag’s book “Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past” provided much of the research for the exhibit, which highlighted the stories of specific transgender people in the American West from 1860 to 1940.

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