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Scott McArthur: Monmouth's Answer Man

MONMOUTH -- What role did the pro-South Knights of the Golden Circle play in Oregon prior to the Civil War? Why did Monmouth fancy itself a candidate site for the Winter Olympics in 1974?

Monmouth's Scott McArthur is an author of five books, former Capitol Journal reporter, and a lawyer with nearly 40 years of experience.

Photo by Pete Strong

Monmouth's Scott McArthur is an author of five books, former Capitol Journal reporter, and a lawyer with nearly 40 years of experience.

January 08, 2013

MONMOUTH -- What role did the pro-South Knights of the Golden Circle play in Oregon prior to the Civil War? Why did Monmouth fancy itself a candidate site for the Winter Olympics in 1974?

When it comes to questions about local history, Scott McArthur has grown accustomed to being a go-to guy.

"I'm flattered by it," McArthur said. "If somebody wants to know something and I can help them out, I'm happy to do so."

He quickly adds with a laugh, "I just hope I'm right."

Historian is a role McArthur has played while living in Monmouth for more than 40 years -- alongside reporter, prominent attorney and philanthropist.

Put author on that list, too. He's written five books dealing with the history of small towns and institutions throughout Oregon and Washington.

"You generally have one or two people in town who are interested in the old stuff, but it's all up here," he said, tapping his temple. "When they go, their stories go, as well."

His most recent tome, "The Enemy Never Came," a history of pre-Civil War life in the Pacific Northwest, will probably be his last, he said.

The Enemy Never Came (book cover)

The Enemy Never Came

"I've been there and done that," he said. "I've got other things I would like to do ... like catch up on sleep."

While growing up in Tacoma, Wash., McArthur never planned on being a historian. He did want to be a teacher, however. His undergraduate degree is in music education.

"I didn't have the skills for it," he opined.

He could write, though.

After graduate school at the University of Oregon, McArthur worked as a radio editor in Portland, a reporter in Albany and edited a newspaper at Fort Myer, Va., while serving in the Army.

From 1959 to 1964, McArthur worked for the Capitol Journal newspaper in Salem. His beat included city government and crime -- he covered the last public execution at the Oregon State Penitentiary in 1962.

His first stint, however, was overseeing stories throughout the rural Willamette Valley, which brought him to Monmouth.

"I remember that enrollment at (Western Oregon University) had just topped 1,000 and people were just tickled and giggling (about) that," he said. "Of course, it's more than 6,000 now."

McArthur went on to earn a law degree at Lewis & Clark College; he decided he wanted to work for himself instead of other people. He ran a private practice in Monmouth from 1967 to 2004, when he retired and sold the business to John Hasbrook.

Scott McArthur in 1962 covered the last public execution at the Oregon State Penitentiary. Here he sits in the gas chamber prior to that event.

Courtesy Scott McArthur

Scott McArthur in 1962 covered the last public execution at the Oregon State Penitentiary. Here he sits in the gas chamber prior to that event.

McArthur continues to do part-time arbitration and mediation.

"Back in the old days when you practiced law, you were taught to be a gladiator, go in and lick the other side," he said. "I kind of like this, being able to help people out."

McArthur credits his father's old stories about his own hometown of Tenino, Wash. -- McArthur wrote a book on it -- as a catalyst for recording and writing about local history.

Another spark? The "No Purpose Luncheon Club," a group of Monmouth old-timers who met regularly at a cafe on Main Street when he moved here during the 1960s. McArthur joined them and turned their tales into a book on Monmouth in 2004.

McArthur's "The Enemy Never Came" was published last fall and can now be found in 62 public libraries, including ones in Canada and England.

The passion project took him 18 years to complete and involved research in library archives across the United States, from Washington, D.C., to the University of Texas, Arlington.

"What's most interesting is just how people lived," McArthur said. "Oregon had no telegraph service until halfway through the war ... it took 18 days after the war started before anybody in the state knew about it."

Civic involvement has always been part of McArthur's schedule. He cofounded an educational trust in 1991 that served as a precursor to the Monmouth-Independence Community Foundation, which has distributed more than $300,000 to schools and local activities in the last 12 years. He's an MICF board member today.

Monmouth Oregon (book cover)

Monmouth Oregon

He's also part of Independence Masonic Lodge and a tuba player for the Monmouth-Independence Reconstituted Town Band since 1973.

"I think I've done all of their Fourth of July concerts," McArthur said. "We have a good schedule now: two rehearsals and one concert.

"I still like to stay busy," McArthur continued. "Hell, I'm 80 but I still like to feel that I'm making some kind of contribution."

Scott McArthur on Monmouth:

"Basically, you have four separate communities that have merged into one. You have the university students; if they live here it's temporary and then they go away. You have the employees of the university, and most of them live out of town or commute in. You have the town regulars and, finally, what's left of the old agricultural community. They all seem to mix together pretty well."

On the research process for "The Enemy Never Came":

"Before I knew how to use the internet," McArthur visited the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and libraries and universities in Texas, Washington and California. "At that time, I found the best library with the best collection of Civil War material in Oregon was at the library of the Mt. Angel Abbey."

Did you know?

While McArthur wasn't part of the campaign to legalize beer and wine in Monmouth in 2002 and hard liquor in 2010, he has played a key role during Monmouth's dry history.

While serving as Monmouth City Attorney in 1969, he convinced city leaders to draft a bill that was eventually introduced to the Oregon Legislature to allow Monmouth to share in state liquor revenues -- as a dry town, Monmouth was previously denied those funds up to that point.