Long before the people of Oregon took to their local parks in search of Pidgeys and Spearows on Pokemon Go, William Finley and his childhood friend Herman Bohlman were out with their cameras on breaks from school capturing Oregon’s pigeons and sparrows on film. Finley’s early fascination with birds blossomed into a lifelong passion for ornithology.
Today we celebrate William Finley, Oregon’s pioneering wildlife photographer, conservationist, and author. He was born August 9, 1876 in Santa Clara, California. After moving to Portland, Oregon in 1887, Finley went on to become one of the biggest advocates for birds and wildlife in the state. Along with his wife, Irene Finley, and Bohlman, Finley photographed and wrote extensively about birding in Oregon. He also was a founding member and president of the Oregon Audubon Society, founded the Oregon Sportsman magazine, and served as Oregon Fish and Game commissioner, state game warden, and state biologist. His photographs and advocacy helped pass laws protecting birds from overhunting and pushed President Theodore Roosevelt to establish national wildlife refuges at Three Arch Rocks, Klamath, and Malheur.
Nature had few obstacles too great for Finley and Bohlman in their pursuit of the perfect shot. The pair scaled countless trees and forded many a river in search of some of the West’s rarest bird species, most notably the California condor. Even going so far as to hide for hours in haystacks and donning goat costumes in an effort to photograph their subjects unnoticed (more on these in a future blog post, I promise it is worth the wait).
Want to learn more? Read on in the Oregon Encyclopedia: William L. Finley (1876-1953), and be sure to check up on the Reuniting Finley and Bohlman Collection on Oregon Digital throughout the year as additional materials are uploaded.
This month we are celebrating Finley’s 140th birthday by kicking off a yearlong partnership between the Oregon Historical Society Research Library and Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives to digitize the Finley and Bohlman photograph and document collections held by our libraries and to unite them online through Oregon Digital and the OHS Digital Collections website. Stay tuned in coming months for future installments about Finley, Bohlman, and their birding adventures around the state.