New book links Cottage Grove populism to progenitor 2023

Mud, Blood & Ghosts: Populism, Eugenics, and Spiritualism in the American West is the newest book by University of Colorado professor and poet Julie Carr.

Her book traces her great grandpa, Omer Madison Kem (1855-1942), from the populist movement’s 1880s roots in the Great Plains states through today’s strong political convictions.

Carr’s family background shows populism’s racial origins. The author drew connections between U.S. agrarian populism, spiritualism, and eugenics to help readers understand populism’s tendency toward racism and exclusion and why so many of these topics are still an issue today.

Ultimately asking whether we can embrace the Populists’ profound hopes for a just economy while rejecting their barriers around who was considered fully human enough to be part of this dreamed society.

Populism returned to American politics, including Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

The author’s interest in the homestead act and populist movement inspired the work. I’m recounting the tale of populism’s egalitarian shift. Their slogan was equality and no special favors. Carr says he wants to aggressively push eugenics.

Omer Madison Kem was a spiritualist and eugenicist who represented Nebraska in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1891 to 1897. Kem then raised cattle and produce in Montrose, Colorado. In 1907, he was re-elected to the Colorado House of Representatives.

Omer Kem moved in Cottage Grove, Oregon, in 1908 and founded Cottage Grove Electric Co. with his son-in-law Charles Shinn, which Mountain States Power eventually sold to PacifiCorp. Cottage Grove’s first electric utility burned timber industry wood chips and sawdust to generate electricity.

Kem’s obituary called him a “colorful figure” who supported Lane County’s partition to establish Nesmith County. He spoke forcefully and campaigned for populism.

He had eight children, including Claude J. Kem, who rebuilt the property on 6th and Main, now Delight, adding to Cottage Grove’s historic skyline. Claude was a druggist in Lebanon, Oregon, and Cottage Grove, where he took over The Modern Pharmacy in 1910. In 1923, he rebuilt the corner into the Omer Apartments, named after his father, which housed The Cottage Grove Sentinel, The Grey Goose Tea Room, and Kem’s for Drugs.

Portland’s McMenamins Kennedy Theater will host Carr’s book talk on Sept. 25. Oregon Historical Society co-sponsors. June 9 is her virtual event. Authors have praised the writer.

Julie Carr brings her great-grandfather’s radical Populist homesteading heritage to life. She depicts his survival as a chaotic mix of hardscrabble tenacity, spiritual longings, eugenic ideals, and racial supremacy. Carr confronts violence, silence, and memory in the politically combustible present as she poignantly reconstructs an extremely personal history. Eugenic Nation author Alexandra Minna Stern states.

Carr’s unusual writing style highlights her great-grandfather’s experiences. Her style and tone express the complexity of human interactions and stretch traditional literature. The 356-page history book has 26 photos.

Carr writes about hardships, dreams, and goals. Carr won the 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Poetry for her literary work. Her writing will continue to inspire and reflect our complicated reality.

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