The Oregon Caveman Club
Wednesday July 27, 2005
By Dawna Curler
Welcome to As It Was: Tales from the State of Jefferson
The Oregon Caveman Club of Grants Pass, a boisterous group of civic boosters, formed in 1922. At the time, they had no idea their good-natured antics would someday be twisted into anti-American propaganda by Cold War Communists.
Club members, mainly community and business leaders, appeared at public events in animal skins and long scraggily wigs. They whooped and hollered and waved animal jawbones to promote the region and near-by Oregon Caves. The Neanderthal look-a-likes delighted in initiating visiting politicians and celebrities as honorary members.
In 1948 they inducted presidential candidate Thomas Dewey. Three years later, photos of Dewey with the cavemen ended up in Russian newspapers. According to English translations, the Soviets portrayed the Cavemen as American peasants "protesting against the cruel and vicious Wall Street-backed church" whose wealthy priests were imposing a "religious feudalism" on the "down-trodden masses. Dewy, who was an active Episcopalian, was characterized as an anti-religious leader.
The Cavemen, who were quite the opposite of the distorted portrayal, reacted to the propaganda by raising money for the Crusade for Freedom to help get factual information through the iron curtain.
The Oregon Cavemen survived the communist threat and, although less active and notorious today, still meet regularly in Grants Pass.
Today's episode of As It Was was written by Dawna Curler, the program engineer is Raymond Scully. I'm Shirley Patton. As It was is a co-production of JPR and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. To Share stories or learn more about the series visit asitwas - dot- org
Working, Russell. "Clan of the Cavemen," Table Rock Sentinel, Summer 1992, pp.3-13; "Fellow Peons, Dewey Says Oregon Cavemen Given Salute," Union Bulletin, Walla Walla, WA, Sept. 21, 1951.