I offer thanks to
relatives, and ancestors whose strength of purpose
led me to my own. A special thanks to my co-author,
Rev. Marilyn A. Riedel, for her deep love and dedication to me and this project.
Without her tireless effort and selfless interest,
this liberating history of Oregon would never have been written.
History... is a wallflower. She sits neglected in the corner, drab and demure, invited to the dance. What does it take to get us to notice her? A suitor, of course. The most popular boy in the class, say, who suddenly sees her there and proclaims her beautiful.
Chapter 1: Corps of Discovery 1804
The idea of the penetration of Oregon by land had originated with the American Philosophical Association, and to promote it, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) had contributed $12.50 each. It was Jefferson, however, who finally followed through, who persuaded Congress to fund an Expedition across the continent to the Northwest Coast. To head the expedition he chose his secretary-aide, Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809). Lewis, in turn, chose William Clark (1770-1838), an army comrade, to share the command.
Meriwether Lewis was born August 18,
near Charlottesville, Virginia, and was a boyhood neighbor of
In 1794, Lewis joined the militia and, at the rank of ensign,
to a sublegion of general "Mad Anthony" Wayne commanded by Lt.
Clark. In sharing the experiences of the North campaign against
and Indians, Lewis and Clark fashioned the bonds of an enduring
On March 6, 1801, Lewis, as a young army captain in Pittsburgh, received a letter from Jefferson, the soon-to-be inaugurated president, offering Lewis a position as his secretary-aide. It is said,
Your knowledge of the Western Country, of the army, and of all it's interests and relations has rendered it desirable for public as well as private purposes that you should be engaged in that office.
Lewis readily accepted the position.
The reference to Lewis' "knowledge of the Western Country" hinted that Jefferson was again planning an Expedition to explore the West and had tentatively decided it would be its commander. On February 28, 1803, Congress appropriated funds for the expedition, and Lewis, who had worked closely with Jefferson on preparations for it, was commissioned its leader.
As he made arrangements for the expedition, Lewis concluded it would be desirable to have a co-commander. With Jefferson’s consent, he offered the assignment to his friend and former commanding officer, William Clark, who was living with his brother, George Rogers, at Clarksville, Indiana Territory (1800-1816). Clark accepted, stating in his reply,
The enterprise, etc., is such as I have long anticipated and am much pleased. My friend, I do assure you that no man lives with whom I would prefer to undertake such a trip, etc., as yourself.
Also a native of Virginia, Clark, born
1, 1770, was four years older than Lewis. In capability and
he and Lewis shared much in common. They were relatively young,
adventurous, resourceful, and courageous. Born leaders,
and seasoned army officers, they were cool in crises and quick
decisions. Clark, many times over, would prove to be the right
joint leader of the expedition.
In temperament, Lewis and Clark were opposites. Lewis was introverted, melancholic, and moody; Clark, extroverted, even-tempered, and gregarious. The better-educated and more refined Lewis, who possessed a philosophical, romantic, and speculative mind, was at home with abstract ideas; Clark, of a pragmatic mold, was more of a practical man of action. Each supplied vital qualities which balanced their partnership.
The purpose of the Corps of Discovery was threefold:
• to determine a route between the Missouri
Columbia rivers and thereby facilitate travel and trade;
• to report on the flora and fauna and geography of the region; and
• to establish friendly relations with the Indians.
Another purpose, though not stated, was to
further basis for new territorial claims should the US decide to
The Expedition departed from Saint Louis in the spring of 1804. They proceeded upstream in a leisurely fashion through desertions and thievery, all severely punished with the lash. On arriving at the Platte they had reached the end, as it were, of their world. Lewis wrote:
We were now about to penetrate a country at least 2,000 miles in width, on which the foot of civilized man has never trodden; the good or evil it had in store for us was for experiment yet to determine.
More good than evil was their lot on the westward trek. Despite the cold, they wintered comfortably near present-day Bismark, North Dakota. What difficulties they suffered were minor, as for example, the behavior of the Indians they encountered after crossing the Continental Divide. Lewis wrote in his diary:
We were caressed and besmeared with their grease and paint till I was heartily tired of the national hug.
Also, they grew weary of a diet consisting
much fish, but this they remedied on reaching the Columbia by
On November 15, 1805, 19 months after their departure from Saint Louis, the expedition saw the Pacific at the mouth of the Columbia. Here they spent a miserable winter in a little log stockade,Fort Clatsop, which they built on a low hill above a bog of tidal creeks. It rained every day but six. They spent these dreary days making salt at present-day Seaside, hunting the scarce game and fighting the abundant fleas. On Christmas Day they celebrated with
poor elk, so much spoiled that we ate it through necessity, some spoiled pounded fish and a few roots.
Explorers Infect Natives with Venereal Disease
There was also much sickness: colds, dysentery, rheumatism. Many of the men acquired venereal diseases from the Indians who, in turn, had been infected by sailors of the fur trade. Indeed, in the scant 13 years since Gray and Broughton, there had been a shocking deterioration of the native peoples, far fewer of the "fine looking fellows" and "women very pretty" than Gray's party had noted. And instead of the "deer and otter many now wore the tattered castoffs of the foreign sailors." One Indian woman wore a more permanent adornment: the name J. Bowman tattooed on her arm.
Corps Departs the Columbia 1806
With spring the expedition was only too happy to be on its way, departing the Columbia in March of 1806, arriving in Saint Louis in September, thus completing one of the most remarkable journeys of exploration in the history of the Americas and establishing another basis for eventual US claims in the West. Of more immediate importance was the fact that Lewis and Clark's reports now made known to all that here was a place suitable for non-indian settlement.
Sacajawea "Bird Woman" (1789-1812)
Across the West more memorials of
kinds commemorate Sacajawea (c1789-1812) than any other woman in
history. "Her name is to be found on everything from mountains
to museums and Girl Scout Camps," according to Dorothy Kamer
of Women of the West. So widely has she become a legend for her
role in the Lewis and Clark Expedition that the facts of her
true significance of her involvement in the expedition has been
entirely obscured. Like so many Femelle trailblazers, the actual
remained a figure hidden in the shadows of history. Since she
write nor speak any of the European languages, she left no
of her observations or feelings. What we know of her is
often brief journal entries of the two captains of the
other members of the party.
Sparse as the record is, however, it establishes Sacajawea as a major figure at a critical moment of American history. At the vital moment of crisis in the Lewis and Clark Expedition it was upon her that the success of the journey rested and with it the future of the young US and the dreams of Jefferson, its visionary president, who hoped to increase knowledge through exploration and scientific observation and establish "peace" among the indigenous tribes within the new territory.
Sacajawea not only made a significant contribution to the development of the nation, she did so as a member of a socially despised group—an Indian woman. In this latter aspect she is a figure of transition, marking out the sorrows, benefits, and cruel "choices" that women of various races would experience in the long social upheaval known as the opening of the West.
She was born a Shoshone in about 1786, a member of a subtribe later to be called the Lemhi, who were then living in what is today the State of Idaho. Through acquisition of horses from the Spanish far to the south, the Shoshone group to which she belonged had transformed itself within one generation from a desert tribe living a meager and circumscribed existence in the Great Basin west of the Rocky Mountains to a tribe capable of crossing the splendid heights of the Rocky Mountains to hunt buffalo on the Great Plains to the east. The tribe's transformation is critical to the role Sacajawea played in the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Another basic change occurred in the life of the tribe shortly after Sacajawea's birth. To the east and north of the Lemhi-Shoshone hunting grounds their implacable foe, the Blackfeet, had obtained guns from the English and French-Canadian and were now able to inflict terrible losses upon the Shoshone. But the Shoshone advantage in being mounted was steadily overcome by the Blackfeet's superior weaponry. The Blackfeet drove them from the Great Plains and back into the game-sparse Rockies, securing abundant buffalo hunting grounds and obtaining Shoshone horses as well.
When Sacajawea was ten or 11 years old her tribe could venture down on the Great Plains after buffalo only to risk a Blackfeet attack.
On one occasion a war party of Hidasta, allies of the Blackfeet, surprised the Shoshone at a camp near Three Forks on the Missouri. At the sound of gunfire the men leapt to their horses and fled, leaving women, children, and elderly to run towards the woods. A number of Shoshone men and boys were killed, and the attackers rounded up some of the women and children as captives. Sacajawea was taken as she attempted to cross the river at a shallow place.
Now began five long years of exile. Indian captives were generally regarded as slaves; however it is unlikely that Sacajawea or the other children were mistreated since Indians were usually gentle with children., The difficult part was separation from homeland and family. Rather than endure such separation, a number of children risked escape and a long dangerous journey home through hundreds of miles of strange land. It is not factually known why Sacajawea did not join them, but tradition says she chose to stay with a young friend, Otter Woman, who could not be roused from sleep the night of the escape.
Sacajawea and the other captives of the Hidatsa were taken to Mandan villages on the Upper Missouri near today’s Bismark, North Dakota. It was a tremendous change; from this place on the vast flat plains the Shoshoni could not even see the soaring mountains that had been their home.
But there were other changes of even greater significance. Sacajawea was now intermingling with one of the most developed and admirable people among the Western Indians. The Mandan were a permanently settled tribe, living in earthen lodges and engaged in farming. They were an unusually handsome people, tall and of fine form, and noted for their intelligence and level dispositions. Among the Plains Indians they were the only people who made pottery.
Here at the cluster of five villages on the Upper Missouri were encamped over 4,000 Mandan and the related Arikara and Midasta, the largest single concentration of indigenous peoples west of the Mississippi. The villages formed an important trade center to which came Indians from a wide area of the West to trade. Through here passed beaver and otter pelts, deerskins, hides of elk and even white buffalo, beads of bone, ornaments of shells and feathers, and, increasingly, white people's goods. By this time the French and English traders from Canada had worked their way up the Missouri seeking precious furs.
It was at the Mandan villages that Sacajawea and Otter Woman grew to what was then considered womanhood by both Indians and non-indian. At the age of 15, Sacajawea and her slightly older companion were either bartered or gambled away by their Hidatsa master to a Frenchman named Touissant Charbonneau who took the two women as slaves.
Charbonneau was what is known as a voyageur. He, like other voyageurs, knew the waters and the woods as no other men interested in the Northwest did. He worked hard; was responsible for the success or failure of an axpedition; knew the many varieties of aboriginal languages; and spent long winters in distant, ramshackle outposts. One of these men, long past age 75, gave the following account of his life:
I have been 42 years in this country. For 24 I was light canoe-man; I required but little sleep, but some times got less than I required. No portage was too long for me... Fifty songs a day were nothing to me. I could carry, paddle, walk, and sing with any man I ever saw... No water, no weather, ever stopped the paddle or the song. I had 12 wives in the country; and was once possessed of 50 horses, and six running dogs... I want for nothing; and I spent all my earnings in the enjoyment of pleasure... Yet, were I young again, I should glory in commencing the same career again...
In the autumn of 1804, a new element
introduced into the life at the Mandan villages. A large party
arrived. Known as the Corps of Discovery, it was headed by
Lewis and William Clark, under the direction of Thomas
Jefferson to explore through to
Ocean. The Expedition leaders decided to winter over at the
set about building Fort Mandan.
At the fort, the captains sentenced Pvt. John Collins to 100 lashes for getting drunk on guard duty. Collins was described by one of his ancestors, historical novelist Rita Cleary of Oyster Bay, New York as "something of a ne'er do well."
On November 4, Charbonneau came in from a hunt on the Great Plains and applied to the expedition for a job as an interpreter. A week later Sacajawea, who was pregnant, appeared at the fort with Otter Woman, who was also pregnant with her second child.
Clark was proficient at geography and was able to assemble what would prove to be a highly accurate idea of the territory up to the base of the Rockies.
During the winter, Charbonneau moved into the fort with his two Shoshone slave-wives and possibly a third unnamed Mandan slave-wife.
By Christmas the fierce plains winter had driven temperatures to 20 below zero on the thermometer of the Corps of Discovery but the Americans celebrated anyway.
Then in January, Clark learned something that made the Shoshone, Sacajawea, a potentially significant asset to the expedition. A war chief from the Gros Ventres tribe revealed to Clark his plan to attack the Shoshone in the spring. The last thing that Clark wanted was war upon the Great Plains the Corps would be crossing, and he dissuaded the young chief. But from the conversation Clark learned that the Shoshone had horses. Lewis and Clark had some idea that an overland journey might be necessary in the Rockies between the headwaters of the Missouri and the beginning of a navigable river flowing to the Pacific. Although they thought such a portage would only be a day or two in duration, the availability of horses must certainly have seemed a potential advantage.
Sacajawea’s people provided horses and a guide, "Old Toby," for the grueling trip over the Continental Divide.
The two captains had other matters to consider that winter. From the English and French fur traders who came to the fort, they learned that two English fur companies in Canada, the North West and Hudson's Bay companies, had merged and would soon be able to move into the unclaimed lands of the far Northwest along the Columbia and even further south. If that occurred before the Americans lay claim through exploration, then President Jefferson's dream of one nation spanning a continent would be foreclosed forever. Clearly Lewis and Clark were in a race with the British and—history.
Sacajawea gave birth to her son, Jean Baptise Charboneau (1804-1866), February 11, 1804. She called him Pompey or Pomp, a name in Shoshone meaning "first born" or "leader of people." Because of her timely delivery, she was allowed to go on the expedition as planned. Otter Woman, who had not delivered by the time of departure, was left behind, much to the grief of both women who "wept upon being parted."
The Corps of Discovery, led by captains Lewis and Clark, departed for the Great Northwest on April 7, 1805.
As the journey up the Missouri progressed, there was much hard working to get the boats upstream against strong current, but the country was full of the wonders of a new land unseen before by white races and unsullied by their ways.
Clark's Slave York: The Corp's Shining Star
In 1788, Captain
Robert Gray (1775-1806), the
landing in Oregon, arrived at Tillamook. Markus Lopius,
person of African decent to set foot on Oregon soil, was aboard
sloop Lady Washington.
If Lopius was indeed the first African to step foot on the Oregon Coast, perhaps York, William Clark's slave, was the second some 16 years later.
York was the first black person known to have crossed the continent from the Mississippi River to the Pacific coast, and the first to cross the US western frontier north of Mexico.
Most notably, at a time when slaves and women were not allowed to vote, both York and Sacajawea were treated as equals in the entourage. They participated in the polls by Lewis and Clark to weigh group opinions along the journey—most notably in a decision to built Fort Clatsop on what became the Oregon side of Columbia River.
In part, York is a lesser known member of the expedition because he did not write and keep a journal. Nor did Sacajawea, but she had an advocacy group speak for her; she was singled out by the Woman's Suffrage Movement about 100 years ago and catapulted to fame.
Despite his contributions, York's name does not appear in most history books, movies and other depictions of the explorers' journey to the Northwest between 1803 and 1806.
The bronze edifice of York with William Clark at the University of Portland is thought to be the first time he was included in a statue.
"This is unfortunate," James J. Holmberg, editor and annotator of a cache of Clark's personal letters, told the Oregonian. "He was more important to the success of the expedition than most of the guys in the group."
Unlike Lopius and Sacajawea, York, has slipped out of the pages of Oregon history. Yet he was a hard man to ignore. Over six feet in height and weighing more than 200 pounds, he was often the main attraction for Indians who visited the explorers. Many had not seen an African before, or at least not one so large. To the delight of visitors, York would jump and bound about, showing a remarkable athletic agility. All this he did in good humor—a form of friendly communication to those who might find his spoken language difficult to understand.
Oregon historians Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown wrote that most of the expedition party
were fair-skinned, except for the member with the "buffalo hair on his head," Clark's black servant, York, who helped keep natives along the way more curious than contentious.
He played his role as the expedition's
attraction to the hilt. When one tribe presented a dance
for the Lewis and Clark party, the headmen wondered how to
the favor. They asked York to dance, and he did, Clark noting in
that York "amused the crowd very much, and somewhat astonished
so large a man should be active."
Pierre Cruzatte, a French-Canadian boatman, was the expeditions fiddler. Impromptu hoe downs helped keep up morale during the explorers' long winter encampments. According to Daniel Slosberg, whose stated goal is to create a historical reenactment of Cruzatte, "They had a couple of fiddles, a tambourine, a jaw harp...as well as a horn they used to sound between boats when they were heading up the Missouri." Cruzatte's fiddling delighted the Mandan and Hidatsa, settled tribes that lived in earth lodges on the upper Missouri and controlled a far-flung trade in furs.
Another time, among the Mandan in North Dakota, York patiently submitted to an examination of his skin. Tribesmen wet their fingers and rubbed his black skin to see if the color would come off. For those who had seen only white and red-skinned people, this was important scientific experiment. The moment was preserved in a painting by the noted western artist Charles Marion Russell (1865-1926).
While world traveler and humanitarian Shirley MacLaine was on safari, she spent two weeks with the Masai tribe of East Africa. She reported an experience similar to York's:
I stopped to gaze unabashedly into the
of one of the women. She giggled and pointed to my hand. I
She lifted one of my fingers and caressed one of the pink,
Her child saw her touch me and screamed in consternation.
of the children had seen a white person so close before. With
bellies protruding, and eyes wide in disbelief, they crowded
to stare. Intrigued by freckles, one of them touched my arm,
with delight at his courage. He looked down at his own finger—no
He tried again, this time touching the white skin between the
He pulled away with a jerk—but still no damage. Then there was
of small jabs and touches, all over me, accompanied by
My long, painted fingernails, my passport to conversation, continued to be the object of attention. How was it possible to grow such long ones, and of such an unusual color? Ten children, one on each finger, studied the phenomenon. Freeing my hands gently, I peeled the polish from one nail. There was a communal intake of breath. Didn't such tearing hurt? Where was the blood underneath? Disbelief turned to compassion as one of the bravest boy children gently caressed my natural fingernail and began to spit and blow on it to ease the pain. I tried to gesture that it didn’t matter, that it was all right, and I started to peel another nail. Again the blowing and spitting.
Kijimbele tried to reassure them, but they had found a new game. The Masai children closed around my hands, tearing the polish to shreds with cruel, delighted, childlike fervor, salving the pain of it with spits and blows as they worked.
When the party reached Idaho and the
Perceé tribe, York danced and allowed them to rub his
diary recorded a story York concocted for the tribe: "By way of
he told them that he had once been a wild animal, and caught,
by his master; and to convince them showed them feats of
added to his looks, made him more terrible than we wished him to
Nez Percé were pleased with York and permitted him, along
non-colored males of the expedition, to take an Indian wife
Despite his comic and athletic feats, York was considered powerful medicine by those he met. He was taken seriously, and accorded the respect due a man of his skills. A Flathead tribesman recalled that his people thought York had merely painted himself in charcoal: "Those who had been brave and fearless, the victorious ones in battle, painted themselves in charcoal. So the black man, they thought, had been the bravest of his party."
As the mission across the continent progressed, York learned more frontier skills. Hunting, fishing, and swimming were required, and he excelled in each. Along with Sacajawea and Charbonneau, he served as an interpreter. Messages from Indian tribes went from Sacajawea to Charbonneau to York and then to Lewis and Clark—York had probably picked up some French during his stay in Saint Louis before the expedition began. However, one member of the party felt that York "spoke bad French and worse English."
With the other members of the party, York survived the rigors of the difficult journey from Saint Louis to the Columbia and back. Indeed, he had contributed to its success in many ways—from utilizing his frontier skills as a resourceful hunter, fisherman, trader and scout, to serving as an entertainer and informal ambassador of good will to all he met.
Much of York's life is still a mystery, especially his experiences after returning from the expedition in 1806.
Historians still debate whether York was granted his freedom immediately upon returning or continued to work as one of Clark's slaves. There also are lingering questions about York's marriage and family life, and the legend that he returned to the West and became a chief in the Crow (Apsaalooke/Absaroke) nation.
More than 50 recently discovered letters written by Clark between 1792 and 1811 indicate that York apparently was married before the expedition and he definitely wasn't freed immediately afterward.
More intriguing are Clark's heated
and retaliations for York's escalating efforts to gain his
York had been Clark's personal body servant and companion since both men were children, and they both lived in Saint Louis before the trip. But after contributing greatly to the big expedition, York thought he had earned his freedom with his services to the famous Corps of Discovery.
Sparks flew between the two men after Clark decided in 1808 to move permanently to Saint Louis from Louisville, where York's wife (whose name remains unknown) and other relatives lived.
Holmberg told the Oregonian:
As York starts agitating...to stay in Louisville with his family...William gets madder and madder. His letters to his (older and closest brother, Jonathan) are really steaming.
Finally, later in 1808, Clark sent
to Louisville to work for Jonathan, with confidential
him to New Orleans to be sold or hired out to a severe master if
to perform his duties as a slave or attempted to escape.
Details of York’s death are vague; Holmberg thinks it was 1822 when there was a cholera outbreak in the area. But witnesses reported encountering York as late as 1832 and 1834.
At last they reached the long sought
Falls of the Missouri. It was an important achievement,
leaders that thus far they had correctly charted their course.
soon faded in the face of hardship. For a full month they
their canoes and equipment up the falls.
Sadly, they suffered more than was necessary. The slow ordeal round the falls was rooted in the persistent dream of the Northwest Passage sought by explorers since the time of Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). They were sure that somewhere, only a day's portage beyond the river, there would be navigable waters to carry them to the Western Sea.
On July 4, the Great Falls were surmounted and a celebration was held. But the hard work was by no means over. Even though the river course leveled out somewhat beyond the falls, the ascent against the current was still difficult. Almost another month passed as they worked their way up into the Rocky Mountains to the place called Three Forks. Here, at a crossroads for Indian travel from all over the West, the Missouri divided and the Corps of Discovery elected to take the branch that they named for Jefferson.
On July 28, Sacajawea recognized familiar territory, the place where the Hidatsa had attacked her tribe and seized her as a prisoner of war years ago.
Sherr and Kazickas wrote that as they neared the land of the Shoshone
Sacajawea showed Lewis and Clark the shoal place midriver where as a child she had been captured by the Hidatsa. "She does not show any distress at these recollections or any joy at the prospect of being restored to her country," wrote Lewis in his diary, underestimating with a white man's insensitivity his faithful guide's capacity for sentiment.
If they were to proceed over the Rocky
they must have horses soon. They had reached the point at which
must decide to continue or turn back.
At this most critical moment Sacajawea again sighted familiar terrain and announced that they were near the home of her people. With this encouragement Lewis determined to push ahead and find the Shoshone, and as he did so, the entire hope of the expedition rested upon making contact with the Sacajawea's tribe.
Finally, on August 11, Lewis saw in the distance a mounted brave. He tried to signal the man to come closer but he fled in fear. Lewis and his men followed. In doing so they passed a narrow valley between high peaks and thus, on August 12, 1805, they passed the Continental Divide, the first Americans to do so.
The next day they came upon more tribesmen but those fled too. At last they found an elderly Shoshone woman and a young girl who, despairing of flight, sat down with heads bowed as though awaiting a death blow from the strangers. Lewis put down his gun and approached them. He raised them up and then gave them their presents and painted their faces with vermilion as a symbol of peace.
Before long he and his men were in the midst of the tribe, being embraced and smeared with bear grease and paint. Lewis persuaded them to accompany him to the rendezvous with Clark, but when they arrived at the designated spot Clark was not there and the Shoshones' suspicions returned.
While Lewis held the Indians at the rendezvous, Clark slowly struggled to the meeting place. Suddenly, he saw Sacajawea ahead of the party begin to dance and "show every mark of extravagant joy." She had sighted several people on horseback and recognized them as being her tribe.
Sacajawea discovered that the headman was none other than her own brother! Chief Cameahwait, was the sole surviving member of her family except for one other brother, then absent from the tribe, and an orphaned nephew who, states the record, "was immediately adopted by her."
Although he hesitated to do so at first, Cameahwait provided the horses and guides necessary for the Corps to continue on across the Rocky Mountains.
Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas wrote of the event, which took place near Armstead, Montana:
In August 1805, Sacajawea was picking Serviceberries in the high, dew-covered grass when suddenly she saw some Indians riding toward her. According to William Clark, his brave scout "danced for the joyful sight, and she made signs to me that they were her nation." Sacajawea ran to embrace her brother, Chief Cameahwait, whom she had not seen since she had been captured by the Hidatsa tribe as a child. Through Sacajawea's intercession, Lewis and Clark were able to obtain more horses for their historic Westward journey.
Following a long and difficult
the expedition finally reached the Clearwater in Idaho, the
members built more canoes. After some 600 miles of water travel
Snake and Columbia rivers, they sighted the Pacific Ocean in
near present-day McGowan, Washington.
The Corp of Discovery's successful crossing established firm grounds for America's claim to the far Northwest as opposed to that of the British. In the face of British arguments, the expedition was the strong lynch pin that secured the outline of the American nation and opened the territory to the vast migration in the century ahead. The Expedition literally began the recorded history of the West.
Chapter 2: Fort Astoria
Astoria, celebrating its 175th
in 1986, has a long and eventful history. The Clatsop and ChinookIndians
at the Columbia's mouth linked an extensive network up and down
Coast of North America and hundreds of miles up the Columbia.
and fur traders failed to discover the mighty river until Capt.
Gray of the US crossed its treacherous bar in 1792. Many ships
nations followed hard on his heels.
In 1805 the remarkable Lewis and Clark Expedition set out by Jefferson erected Fort Clatsop, a small winter outpost, near Astoria's future site.
Fort Clatsop Established 1805
Fort Clatsop was the first military
to be built in Oregon, and it served as the Lewis and Clark
for 1805-1806. The men were allowed to vote on the location.
a reconnaissance and on December 5, 1805, rejoined Clark,
he had found a food situation. Construction of a stockade about
square was started at once. This was built around seven cabins.
1, 1806, Lewis recorded in his orderly book that the fort was
and the first orders for its operation and security were
on that date. The party left the fort on the return trip at 1pm,
March 23, 1806. On March 20, Lewis wrote: "We have lived quit as
as we had any reason to expect we should."
The Charbonneau quarters were on the south side of the captain's quarters. Touissant Charbonneau, his slave-wife, Sacajawea, and their son Jean Baptiste lived in this room during the winter encampment.
A guard shack was located outside the door to the mean room and to the captain's quarters. The guard had to check the meat room for spoilage at least once every 24 hours. He was also responsible for daily checking of the canoe landing and for clearing the fort of guests each evening.
Sgt. Patrick Gass, a member of the expedition, noted in his journals that
near our camp the country is closely timbered with spruce pine, the soil is rich, but not deep, and there are numerous springs of running water.
This spring, located about 50 yards behind
fort, was probably the main source of fresh water.
According to the journals kept by Lewis and Clark, the canoe landing was originally part of a large marsh area and about 200 yards from the fort on Netul River, now called Lewis and Clark River.
The members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition remained at Fort Clatsop from December 7, 1805, until March 23, 1806. Perhaps the most important activity undertaken during their winter here was the reworking of the journals by the leaders, and the preparation of organized accounts of the scientific data gathered during the journey. Here also, Clark prepared many of the maps which were among the most significant contributions of the expedition. Some of the maps were based only on information supplied by Indians. Through use of the maps, Lewis and Clark determined that the way they had come was not the easiest and decided to change part of their return route.
Indians, whom Clark described as "close bargainers," came to Fort Clatsop came to Fort Clatsop almost daily to visit and trade, which quickly depleted the expeditions' gift supplies. They traded for items such as otter skins, seal meat, fish, roots, elk meat, and canoes. Lewis and Clark wrote often in their journals about the tribes, their appearance, habits, living conditions, lodges, and abilities as fishermen and hunters. Much of the available information on past tribes comes from their observations.
All the men on the expedition hunted and trapped, but George Drouillard, an adept hunter, earned high praise from his commanders for his skills. The 33-member party killed and ate 131 elk and 20 deer. A few small animals were killed, such as otter and beaver and one raccoon. As spring approached, the elk took to the hills and it became increasingly difficult for the hunters to keep the camp supplied with meat and hides for food and clothing.
Salt Cairn at Seaside
To augment their low supply of salt upon arriving at the Pacific Coast, Lewis and Clark held a high priority to the task of producing salt. During the winter of 1805-1806 a salt-making camp was set up "near the houses of some Clatsop and Kilamox families" about 15 miles southwest of present-day Seaside. Clark wrote that he:
"directed... Joseph Fields, Bratton Gibson to proceed to the ocean at some convenient place form a camp and commence making salt with five of the largest kittles, and Willard and Wiser to assist them in carrying the kittles to the sea coast." Messengers reported that "the men had at length established themselves on the coast about 15 miles southwest from this, near the lodge of some Killamuck families; that the Indians were very friendly and had given them a considerable quantity of the blubber of a whale which perished on the Coast some distance southeast of them; part of this blubber they brought with them, it was white and not unlike the fat of pork, though the texture was more spongy and somewhat courser..." Lewis and Clark had some of the blubber cooked and liked it. Lewis continued: "They commenced making salt and found that they could obtain from three quarts to a gallon a day; they brought with them a specimen of the salt of about a gallon; this was a great treat to myself and most of the party, having not had any since the 20th ult. month; I say most of the party, for my friend Capt. Clark, declares it to be a mere matter of indifference with him whether he uses it or not; for myself I must confess I felt a considerable inconvenience from the want of it; the want of bread I consider trivial provided, I get fat meat, for as to the spices of meat I am not very particular, the flesh of the dog the horse and the wolf, having from habit become equally familiar [as] with any other, and I have learned to think that if the chord be sufficiently strong, which binds the soul and body together, it does not so much matter about the materials which compose it."
The camp operated until February 21,
Usually at least three men were assigned here thought the number
and personnel were rotated. Salt was obtained by laboriously
water in five large kettles. Very shortly the men were producing
fine, strong and white" salt. They were able to make about three
a day and accumulated enough for the trip home. About three of
four bushels produced at the camp were packed in kegs and
from Fort Clatsop with the expedition on March 23.
The original low-impact campers, Lewis and Clark left little behind which can be unequivocally traced to them. However, at Fort Clatsop, there is evidence of the remains of what may have been a privy.
Vermin and Virus
Life at the outpost was far from pleasant. It rained every day but 12 of the 106 days at Fort Clatsop. Clothing rotted and sand fleas infested the furs and hides of the bedding. So bad was this pest that Lewis and Clark wrote often of a lack of a full night's sleep. The dampness gave nearly everyone rheumatism or colds, and many suffered from other diseases, which Lewis treated vigorously. Some suffered from dislocated shoulders, injured legs, and back pains.
Whale on Tillamook Head
In addition to the salt-making
Clark, Sacajawea, and other members of the expedition hiked over
head to present-day Cannon Beach. There they acquired whale oil
from a group of Salish-speaking Tillamook.
Ruby and Brown wrote that a few events transpiring near Fort Clatsop diverted the party's attention from the soggy, flea ridden winter:
On January 6, Clark set out with a group in two canoes to see a whale washed up on a Tillamook beach. Sacajawea insisted on going along, for she had never seen the ocean. By the time they arrived at the beach, Tillamooks had cut most of the flesh from the 105-foot mammal, rendering slabs of its meat into oil in wooden vessels heated with hot stones and storing the sticky substance in the whale's bladder and intestines. Cooked, the whale meat was palatable and tender, resembling in taste that of a dog or beaver. Tillamooks were very possessive of their oil and blubber, trading But small quantities of it; nevertheless, Chinooks and Clatsops went down to trade beads for it.
On March 23, 1806, after the
of no contact with coastal vessels for possible return by sea,
of Discovery began the long trek home.
By the time the men returned to Saint Louis in September of that year, they had traveled over 8,000 miles, established cordial relations with dozens of Indian tribes, accurately mapped the regions they traveled, kept daily journals, and cataloged new species of plants and animals.
After the expedition, Lewis was appointed governor of Louisiana-Missouri Territory (1805-1821); Clark was promoted to brigadier general and appointed to the superintendency of Indian affairs. Lewis, at age 35, died tragically October 11, 1809, just three years after the expedition. Clark lived a long and productive life in Saint Louis, dying September 1, 1838, at age 68.
Lewis and Clark's well-published venture helped fire the imagination of John Jacob Astor, perhaps the young nation's wealthiest man.
John Jacob Astor
Astoria represented the key to Astor's
Pacific Fur Company. Traders from the North American interior
bundles of furs to the Columbia's mouth. Others would conduct a
trade with Indians up and down the coast and with the Russians
Ships laden with furs would said from Astoria for the lucrative
markets in Canton.
Astor selected most of his partners, clerks, and voyagers from Great Britain's North West Fur Company, based in Montreal. In September 1810, the ship Tonquin sailed from New York with men and supplies for the new post. On March 12, 1811 an overland party left Saint Louis. They were to locate sites for future trading posts as they worked their way across the continent to the Columbia.
Neither party fared well. The Tonquin's dictatorial captain, Jonathan Thorn, quickly earned the enmity of the fun-loving French-Canadian and Scottish fur traders. He needlessly squandered eight men's lives while crossing the Columbia's bar in March 1811. Wilson Price Hunt's overland party moved tentatively across the continent and was fragmented after being turned back to impenetrable rapids on the Snake. They limped into Astoria in early 1812, many months overdue.
They talked to me of whites who had built a large house at the mouth of the river, had surrounded it with palisades, etc. They had not been there; but they informed me that the whites were in great trouble, expected a large number of their friends, constantly looked toward Big River and, when we arrived, would dry their tears and would sing and dance.
Astoria's First Days
Astoria got off to a rough start. Men began clearing brush and cutting huge trees at the post's site on April 12, 1811. On May 18 they named the post "Astoria" and were building a warehouse. But hard labor, the rain, poor food and medical care, and Duncan McDougall's leadership wore on the men. Then, in late summer, they learned that Vancouver Island natives had killed the Tonquin's crew. The loss cost the Astorians most of their supplies and firepower, as well as the means of pursuing the rich coastal fur trade. They quickly built palisades and installed cannon to intimidate the local Indians. A few men tried to desert.
I have seen the whole party so reduced that scarcely one could help the other, and all this chiefly owning to the conduct of Mr. Astor; first, in not sending out a medical man with the party; and, secondly, in his choice of the great pasha, McDougall, whom he placed at the head of his affairs.
In 1812 the Astorians' luck turned. They overland party finally arrived, and the fur trade on the Upper Columbia looked promising. On May 10 the ship Beaver arrived with provisions, trade goods, and nearly 30 more men for the enterprise. The now optimistic partners soon dispatched large parties to trade on the Willamette, Snake, and Upper Columbia rivers. The Beaver sailed north to obtain furs from Russians in Alaska. Astor's plans were proceeding well.
The buildings consisted of apartments for the proprietors and clerks, with a capacious dining hall for both, extensive warehouses for the trading goods and furs, a provision store, a trading shop, smith's forge, carpenter's workshop, etc. The whole surrounded by stockades forming a square, and reaching about 15 feet over the ground.
The War of 1812
The possibility of war with Great Britain or competition with the aggressive North West Fur Company had threatened the Pacific Fur Company from its beginnings, and in 1813 both threats materialized. News of the War of 1812 reached the post in January 1813. Despite appeals to the US government, Astor failed to get an armed ship to protect his investment on the Pacific. He succeeded in squeezing a supply ship through the tight British stockade, but the vessel wrecked in Hawaii before reaching the now-beleaguered Astorians. In July, 1813 the four partners present in Astoria agreed to abandon the post in 11 months if Astor failed to provide support.
...even yet it is not too late to do good if our government would act with promptness... Good God what an object is to be secured... I have not time to point out all the advantages that would result from the securing the river for us.
In fine, circumstances are against us on every hand, and nothing operates to lead us into a conclusion that we can succeed.
The North West Fur Company forced the Astorians' hand before the year ended. In September 75 of them arrived and boisterously announced that a British warship soon would arrived to seize Fort Astoria. A month later, on October 6, Pacific Fur Company partners agreed to sell out to the Nor'Westers to salvage what they could before the warship arrived. Some of the Astorians joined the British fur company. Others would return to the East in the spring. Over 60 of them had lost their lives, and no fortunes had been made.
...the agents of the North West Company had exaggerated the importance of the factory in the eyes of the British ministry; for if the latter had known what it really was—a mere trading post—and that nothing but the rivalry of the fur traders of the North West Company was interested in its destruction, they would have taken umbrage at it, or at least would never have sent a maritime Expedition to destroy it.
Astoria Under the British Flag
The British fur traders quickly displaced the Astorians. On December 18, 1813, Capt. Black of HMS Raccoon formally took possession of the small post and renamed it Fort George. In April 1814 the long-awaited ship Isaac Todd arrived with supplies, more Nor'Westers, and the first European woman in Oregon, an English barmaid named Jane Barnes.
Jane Barnes Aboard Isaac Todd 1813
In Portsmouth, England, he ordered ale
found both it and the barmaid heady stuff. He took her aboard
Todd and sailed for the outpost on the Columbia where he spent
time keeping "his" Jane out of the amorous clutches of other
he had to "share" her, lose her and then his life in the stormy
When the North West Fur Company appointed Donald McTavish (1772-1814) to the post of chief factor at Fort George all he knew about the place was it was situated at the mouth of the Columbia in Oregon Country and that it lacked all the comforts of home. The fort was started as Astoria by J. J. Astor but the British had taken over at the outbreak of the War of 1812 and renamed it.
On a late evening in February 1813, McTavish was stopping at an inn in Portsmouth where the Isaac Todd, the vessel that would carry him to the far outpost, was anchored. He expected to sail in a few days and had tried to think of everything he could take along to keep him comfortable and happy in the raw New World. He had quantities of fancy cheeses, liquors and other delicacies in the hold but what about women? He was going to miss his women friends, he mused, as he went into the barroom of the inn. What he saw relieved his mind and sparked an idea—blonde, buxom Jane Barns, one of the barmaids. Damn all ridicule—she was a lovely bit. As she served him he caught her wrist. Would she go with him to Fort George?
Barnes and McTavish Sail for Fort George
That she would, gracious sir, and Barnes flew into a tizzy of excitement, spending hours in the town’s best stores buying dresses and other finery, all to the account of Donald McTavish. And when the Isaac Todd sailed into the Atlantic, Jane Barnes sailed into McTavish's cabin as Fancy Lady.
The crew, from the captain to cabin
harbored ideas about luring the pretty barmaid into their
hands. McTavish, however, kept her in his own iron fist and
to the cabin during the long months at sea, and when the Isaac
the Columbia bar on April 17, 1813 and anchored off the
George, the barmaid was still "his" Jane exclusively.
But McTavish had qualms when he went ashore in the long boat about leaving Barnes on board. And then, after a few days getting familiar with things, he invited young Alexander Henry, head clerk, and other officials on board the ship to dinner and to meet Barnes. The meeting was electric. Any non-colored woman would have made and impression on men so long removed from any females other than the vermin-infested Chinook squaws, but these men were fairly bedazzled by the blonde beauty of the English woman. After a few drinks had loosened restraints the conversation began to get out of hand, according to an item in Henry's journal: "A vile discourse took place in the hearing of Barnes, on the subject of venereal disease among the Chinook squaws." Henry stopped the talk, no doubt aware the barmaid had heard worse.
Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown wrote that the biggest surprise package aboard the Isaac Todd was Jane Barnes,
a Portsmouth barmaid, a "flaxen-haired, blue-eyed daughter of Albion" who "in a temporary fit of erratic enthusiasm" had consented to become "le compagnon du voyage" of one Donald McTavish, a former Nor’Wester proprietor now out of retirement to organize the new Columbia District. Not only was Jane an object of interest to traders, but she also was "the greatest curiosity that ever gratified the wondering eyes of the blubber-loving aboriginals of the northwest coast of America." They named their daughters for her and thronged the fort to examine her various adornment and attire, which she sported in daily evening walks on the beach. Native male royalty sought to prevent a rumored move by McTavish to send her east by proposing marriage to her.
When she made her first visit ashore she flaunted her new finery before all the men at the fort and ignored the venomous looks of the Chinook squaws, always eager to entangle a white man. Then McTavish began to worry about his charge. He was increasingly busy with fort affairs, feeling Jane was unsafe ashore or on board without him. His original plan had been to arrange matters at the fort quickly and return overland to Montreal with his love interest. It was now pointed out this was too dangerous and difficult.
McTavish Marries a Chinook Squaw
McTavish came to a decision. Barnes had been "his" for several months and now he would "share" her with Alexander Henry so the clerk could keep an eye on her when he couldn’t. The arrangement was most agreeable to Henry and apparently to Barnes but not, it soon appeared, to the chief factor. Henry began to "watch out for her" full time, McTavish usually sleeping alone. In spite of this both men continued to get along well in their business relations, and McTavish took to one of the Chinook squaws left behind by a departing American who had worked for Astor. The squaw was "deloused," somewhat "cleansed" of fish oil and was fairly easy to live with once the chief factor realized he had lost Barnes.
McTavish Drowns Crossing the Columbia May 22, 1814
On May 22, 1814, McTavish, Henry and
crewmen boarded a longboat for what should have been a routine
of the Columbia to the Isaac Todd. They may have intended to
Chinook Camp at Point Ellice to look over some squaws but they
make the crossing. A strong wind was kicking up huge swells, an
normal condition at the mouth of the river, over five miles wide
point. The boat was swamped and all were drowned.
The body of Donald McTavish drifted ashore and was buried in the tiny cemetery at the northeastern bastion of the fort, a suitable tombstone erected some time later. This is of sandstone, not native to the area, presumed to be finished from a "blank" among many shipped as ballast in North West ships, the company expecting many deaths among personnel at Fort George.
Barnes Refuses Prince Casaka's Marriage Proposal 1814
Barnes was now left without a
but also without restraint, free to make the rounds of the men
One day, Prince Casaka, a son of Tyee Concomly, one-eyed Chinook
from Point Ellice across the Columbia, was at the fort, offering
100 of the finest otter skins for her hand. But the one-time
a look at his painted face and decided all that fur wouldn’t
smell of his body coating of whale oil. She said, "Chinook go
a similar phrase of the day.
Sherr and Kazickas wrote that in April 1814 when Jane Barnes set her tiny foot on the banks of the Columbia, she became the first white woman on the Pacific Northwest Coast:
A waitress from Portsmouth, England, in search of adventure, Jane arrived with territorial governor Donald McTavish. He drowned a few weeks later, thus clearing the way for Cassakas, son of a Chinook chief, to woo her. Exquisitely decorated with red paint and shiny whale oil, Cassakas promised Jane she would never have to carry wood, draw water, dig for roots, or hunt. She could have all she wanted of salmon, elk, and anchovies to eat and unlimited pipes of tobacco. Jane nevertheless declined such tempting offers until Cassakas threatened to kidnap her, forcing Jane to leave Oregon in September. Apparently heading for home, Jane stopped in China, where it was learned "she was enjoying all the luxuries of eastern magnificence."
Ruby and Brown wrote that Cassakas arrived at Fort Astoria all dandied up in his best attire,
face debaubed with red paint and body redolent in whale oil, and offered to buy her for a hundred sea otter skins. Were she to have accepted his offer he would have made her his special wife. No hewing of wood and carrying of water and that sort of thing for her—his four other wives could do that. She would have lived a life of leisure, smoked as many pipes of tobacco as she thought proper, and dressed in the manner to which she was accustomed. Rebuffed in his attempts to win her for himself, he plotted with other young men of his tribe to kidnap her as she took her usual stroll on the beach, hoping no doubt to insure himself in Tarzanian fashion a happy life in the wilderness with his Jane. Why not? White man had cohabited with his women; this plan would simply be a fair turnabout.
Jane Leaves Astoria with the East India Company 1814
Some time later capt. Robinson of the
Columbia offered her passage to Canton, China, and she went with
least he did "escort a young woman ashore" in Canton, one record
Ruby and Brown elaborate on Barnes' trip to the Orient:
In the fall of 1814, Jane would leave
Columbia to receive an even better offer from a nabob of the
Company. She would later return to the fort after having
and motherhood, which one trader thought had improved neither
nor her language.
Cargo from the Isaac Todd had been unloaded and shuttled to the fort on the ten-ton coasting schooner Dolly, whose frame the Astorians had shipped to the Columbia aboard the Tonquin. The craft was renamed the Jane for the lady of the hour.
Stories about Jane Barnes from here on are
well documented, but she is supposed to have taken up with a
for a time, eventually returning to England where her trail
On the Columbia, history was in the making. The Americans regained the country, and in 1818 Fort George was once again Fort Astoria. The town grew. Sometime in the 1870s workmen excavating for a building uncovered half a dozen skeletons and presumably the McTavish headstone. A Catholic priest blessed the bones which were then moved to a new small burial ground near the top of the hill where the Astor Column now stands. In time the sandstone marker fell over and was covered with weeds and brush.
McTavish Grave Excavated 1904
About 1904, Samuel Gill, an uncle of
Gill of the present J. K. Gill Company in Portland, was in
Astoria as a
crew member of the government survey ship Lincoln. Familiar with
story, young Gill searched for the long lost grave, located the
on the hill and cutting through the weeds, finally reclaimed the
stone. Determined that the relic be properly preserved, he
aid of an expressman and got the marker in a large gunny sack
the sternwheeler Lurline, putting it in the hands of the Oregon
Society in Portland.
There the stone rested until an Astoria business man visited the Society's museum and George Hines, the curator, showed him the exhibit. The Astoria man and fellow townsmen wanted it returned and promised to take proper care of it. So the slab went back to Astoria and was mounted near the front door of the newly erected City Hall at 16th and Exchange streets with a cage to protect it from vandals. Much later, when Astoria garden clubs finished landscaping the grounds at the Fort Astoria memorial site, the stone was again moved to a spot a block and a half above the original location.
North West Fur Company and Hudson's Bay Company Merge 1821
Over the next few years the British expanded the fort, traded for furs throughout the Pacific Northwest, and enjoyed rollicking rendezvous at the damp post on the great river's mouth. In 1821 the North West Fur Company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company, another British concern, and a new set of men came to Astoria. Then, in 1825, Sir George Simpson (1786-1860) moved his headquarters upriver to Fort Vancouver. The Hudson's Bay Company, however, kept at least one man at Fort George from 1829 to 1846 to help their ships negotiate the river's bar and to keep an eye on the restless Americans who were again pushing into the region.
Fort George has "an air of appearance of grandeur and consequences which does not become and is not at all suitable to an Indian trading post."
The Americans Return
Settlers from the East trickled steadily into Astoria in the 1840s. In 1846 the US and Great Britain settled their old boundary dispute and divided the Oregon Country along the 49th parallel. Astoria had become part of the US! The town boasted 252 people in 1850. It grew but slowly until salmon canneries began multiplying in the 1870s. By 1900 Astoria had become the second largest city in the state with 8,381 residents. Declining salmon runs and a large fire reversed the city's growth in the 1820s. Armed services personnel temporarily swell its population during WWII. Today Astoria's economy depends largely upon the traditional fishing, lumbering, and shipping industries while developing services for the thousands of visitors who flock to the historical and natural attraction in and about the venerable old city. Astoria features many reminders of its illustrious past. There is no better place to reflect upon great events and people who shaped Western American history.
Bethenia Owens-Adair, MD
Owens' family was among The
in Oregon Territory (1848-1859), heading West in 1843 when she
years old. The Owens family, which was eventually to include
settled southwest of Astoria. Bethenia spent much of her
family chores, particularly taking care of the many younger
was the family nurse, and it was seldom that I had not a child
Where there is a baby every two years, there is always no end of
to be done..."
Bethenia's brother Flem was her "constant companion," and the two enjoyed fighting one another to see who was the stronger. Flem, though younger, was bigger, but he never got the best of Bethenia during her tomboy years. The tiny Bethenia's tomboyishness seems to have been based not only on competition with her brother but on the general frontier admiration of strength. "My father, a tall athletic Kentuckian, served as sheriff of Pike County for many years, beginning as a deputy at the age of 16. It was often said of him: '"Thomas Owens is not afraid of man or the devil.'"
Watching her father build a fine farm on the Oregon frontier and seeing her younger brother outpace her in growth and strength, Bethenia admitted that
The regret of my life up to the age of 35 was that I had not been born a boy, for I realized very early in life that a girl was hampered and hemmed in on all sides simply by the accident of sex.
Bethenia did try, however, to follow the principle course then open to women. At the age of 14, in the manner of the frontier in marrying young, she became the spouse of LeGrand Hill, a man who had worked on her father's farm. She went to marriage with all the womanly delight of the time in furnishing out a new home and a new life.
I spent all my time in preparing for my approaching marriage. I had four quilts already pieced and ready for the lining... [mother] also gave me muslin for four sheets, two pairs of pillowcases, two tablecloths, and four towels. I cut and made two calico dresses for myself, and assisted in the making of my wedding dress, which was a pretty, sky-blue figured lawn.
The hopes and enthusiasm that Bethenia
for a happy traditional marriage were soon crushed by
When she looked up at her spouse—he was five feet eleven inches
she could fit snugly under one of his arms—she must have thought
had married the kind of man her father was—a strong, able, and
person who would provide for his family and take pride in doing
her spouse was off to a far better start than her father had
He first reached Oregon. To the marriage Bethenia had brought a
array of pots and pans, her father's credit in buying groceries
she did on the afternoon following her wedding), a riding mare,
and a heifer, a wagon and harness and considerable furniture
"a good feather bed." Her husband had a horse and saddle, a gun,
than $20. He also had a woman who believed in him: "I thought my
was the equal of any man living."
But whereas her father had started out in Oregon with 50 cents and in less than ten years had over $20,000, Bethenia's new spouse was unable to take hold well enough even to provide her with proper shelter. "Mr. Hill was always ready to go hunting, no matter what work was pressing to be done." The unimproved cabin they had acquired along with 360 acres remained unimproved the first year, and, by the coming winter, rain was pouring in and skunks roamed the kitchen at night. "I was not yet 15 but, girl as I was, I could but realize that this condition was due not only to poor management, but to a want of industry and perseverance."
At Hill's insistence the couple tried one move after another to improve their situation. First they went back to "visit" Bethenia's father at his ranch near Roseburg where the Owens family had moved to accommodate their growing herds. If her father was surprised that his new son-in-law had given up so quickly on making his own way, he said nothing. Next Hill took his wife to live near his family in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains. Unlike Bethenia's parents, Hill's apparently refused to help the couple. Having tried to lean upon each set of parents, Hill cast around for some other scheme whereby he could achieve easily what usually comes hard. This time he decided to join the goldrush occurring in Yreka, California.
Although Bethenia was considerably younger than Hill, she had grown up with a sense of strong values and believe in her own abilities.
A girl of 15 was then considered a woman... I was at home in the saddle (on the journey to Yreka) and felt perfect confidence in myself.
But her sense of confidence in Hill was
He had forced her to sell her two cows in order to finance the
chase to Yreka.
In Yreka Bethenia gave birth to a son whom they named George. As if she had not worries enough about how her husband was failing as a provider, one of Hill's aunts urged her to give up the baby to her.
I will give him all that I have and that is more than his father will ever be able to do for him. I know very well that LeGrand will just fool around all his life and never accomplish anything.
Bethenia was of stronger stuff: "My
was too precious to give to anyone."
By 1857 the couple was backs trying a new start in Roseburg. Bethenia had been sick since childbirth and the baby was ill and fretful. Hill could not stand the baby's condition and treated him callously. Often he lost his temper with both wife and child, as though his own failures were somehow their fault. Finally Bethenia went to her parents and told them she could stand marriage to Hill no longer. Her mother favored a separation, fearing that "...with his temper he is liable to kill you at any time." But Bethenia's father told her to go back and try again.
Before long the baby was sick again, and again Hill acted up under strain. Added to her troubles with Hill were Bethenia's anxieties for her child: "I slept little that night, expecting that the child would be in convulsions before morning." This time when she went home to her parents she stayed.
Hill repented of his treatment of Bethenia, but It was too late. Deep within herself she had formed a strength and resolve that was never to leave her in her whole life. Bethenia's weak spouse had forced her to develop a determination to meet life on her own. To her penitent spouse she said, "I have told you many times that if we ever did separate, I would never go back, and I never will."
Although she was free after four years of roller-coaster life with Hill, she was in a difficult position:
And now at 18 years of age, I found myself broken in health and spirit, again in my father's house, from which only four years before I had gone with such a happy heart and such bright hopes for the future. It seemed to me that I should never be happy or strong again... surrounded with the difficulties seemingly almost insurmountable—a husband for whom I had lost all love and respect, a divorce, the stigma of which would cling to me all my future life, and a sickly babe of two years in my arms, all this rose darkly before me.
On top of all this Bethenia could scarcely
or write, having only been to a three-month's school taught by
teacher the summer she was 12 years old.
"I realized my position fully and resolved to met It bravely, and do my very best." The first step in her new resolve was to go to school. After getting up each morning at 4am to help with the family milking, she went with her younger brothers and sisters to primary school.
"I Was Never Born to be Stuck by Mortal Man"
After mastering the fundamental
she decided to go to live with her married sister and begin to
own way. Before leaving her parents' home, however, she filed
A neighbor woman, shocked at her action, advised her that the
cause for divorce was adultery. "Go back and beg him on your
you," the neighbor urged. Bethenia answered firmly, "I was never
be stuck by mortal man."
The divorce blew up into a rough court fight because Hill's mother sought custody of Bethenia's child, hoping thereby to draw her own son closer to her. Bethenia's attorney, later governor of Oregon, fought the case successfully and Bethenia secured her divorce, custody of the child, and the right to resume her maiden name.
The struggle only deepened her determination "to make my own livelihood and that of my child." This she first did by taking in laundry, "one of the few (occupations) considered "proper" for women in those days." To this she added sewing and nursing and "thus a year passed profitably." But she became restless "because of my intense thirst for learning. An education I must have at whatever cost."
Bethenia Attends School in Oyster, Washington 1860
Then in 1860 her chance came. Friends
Oysterville, Washington Territory, with whom she was visiting
to let her stay
with them and go to school there. She agreed to their proposal
she could earn her own way. For the next five years she
an education, actually spending most of this period in Astoria
took in laundry, did housekeeping, and finally was teaching
she got this far she had to bear the "humiliation of having to
children from eight to 14 years of age." But she stuck to her
beginning each morning at 4am, and advanced rapidly. "Nothing
to come between me and this, the greatest opportunity of my
Not only did she manage to support herself, take care of her son George, and progress in school, but she also managed to save enough money to build herself a little house in Astoria. After her heartbroken disappointment in Hill, she rejoiced in her own ability to do well.
During the five years of working 18 and more hours a day, Bethenia was "happy in my independence, I dare say, as John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937)." Repeatedly Hill wrote to her asking her to remarry him, but she steadfastly refused. Then one night he showed up in person and found, as Bethenia viewed it, not the child bride he had abused but "a full-grown, self-reliant, self-supporting woman who could look upon him only with pity." Although Hill had failed to provide child support he asked if the could have George visit him. Bethenia agreed but, being older and wiser, alerted the town sheriff to make sure George was not taken out of town.
Bethenia Starts Millinery Business in Roseburg 1867
In 1867 she returned to Roseburg and
what was to become a successful millinery business.
Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas wrote of this venture:
At first, Bethenia Owens-Adair didn't know anything about blocking, bleaching, or trimming hats. But with the unwitting help of a competitor whose secrets she learned in 1867 by spying from the rooftop, she soon had one of the most successful shops in town.
By 1870 she was able to send her son to the
of California at Berkeley. With her easier financial situation
to grow in her the desire to become a doctor.
Sherr and Kazickas wrote that she was, however, destined for more vital work with scissors and thread:
She memorized Gray's Anatomy and left for Philadelphia to study medicine. "The delicate and sympathetic office of a physician belongs more to my sex than to the other and I will enter it, and make it an honor to women," she vowed.
Stephen F. Chadwick, the attorney who had fought her divorce case, heard her ambition and told her, "Go ahead. It is in you; let it come out. You will win."
Bethenia Attends Electric School of Medicine in Philadelphia
Systematically she began to make
to go East to medical school, turning over her business to her
"But I was not prepared for the storm of opposition that
felt that they were disgraced... people sneered and laughed
One respected woman friend told her that she personally would
submit to a woman doctor. Bethenia choked back tears and
will tell. People have been known to change their minds."
Against all arguments she set out for the East, taking a train from Marysville, California, on a rain-swept night. She was all alone in the car as the rain beat down and there came to her the full realization "that I was starting out into an untried world alone, with only my own unaided resources to carry me through."
Her unaided resources were sufficient. Despite the doubts that assailed her as the train stood in the Marysville station, Bethenia completed the course offered at Philadelphia's Electric School of Medicine.
Doctor Owens Returns to Roseburg 1874
When she returned to Roseburg in 1874,
was jokingly invited by six male doctors to participate in an
Although the corpse was a male (the autopsy was of genitalia)
of 50 people were watching, Bethenia skillfully and calmly
scalpel. When she had finished, the audience, but not the
three cheers for "the woman who dared."
Her boldness so scandalized the town, however, that later she said she believed she had narrowly escaped being tarred and feathered. Enraged at the attitude among her own townspeople, she decided to move to Portland and there she fitted up her office with electrical and medical baths, the style of medical treatment she had learned in Philadelphia.
Sherr and Kazickas commented that while in Portland:
...Bethenia dared to ice skate, ride astride on a horse, and go around town without a hat, pleasures as forbidden to women as the vote—for which she relentlessly campaigned.
Her practice became so successful that
was able to send George to medical school at Willamette
her sister to Mills College in Oakland, California. During this
also adopted the daughter of a deceased patient.
Bethenia was not satisfied to be what was then termed a "bath doctor" and she decided "I've done my duty to those depending upon me and now I will treat myself to a full medical course in the old school."
At the age of 38 she entered the University of Michigan Medical College. She received her MD in 1880 and supplemented her education with clinical work in Chicago, further postgraduate work, and a tour of European facilities. On her return to Portland in 1881 she specialized in eye and ear diseases. Although her practice soon reached $7,000 per year, a huge sum in those days, few men were among her patients. But the Roseburg woman who said she would never have a woman doctor changed her mind and became one of Bethenia's patients.
Bethenia became active in the Women's Suffrage Movement and in the Oregon State Medical Society and contributed papers and lectures to both organizations. She called these years some of the happiest and most prosperous years of her life. Looking back on her original decision to become a doctor she said, "I can assure you it was no laughing matter then to break through the customs, prejudices, and established rules..."
Controversy Over Eugenic Sterilization
She was not yet done with controversy,
for in later years her pioneer advocacy of eugenic sterilization
another storm around her.
Sherr and Kazickas said that her greatest notoriety came from:
...her 15 year effort to pass a law to sterilize the criminally insane. The law was approved in 1925, a year before her death.
Owens Marries John Adair 1884
Nor was she done with family life. In 1884 she married John Adair, a childhood friend. Gen. John Adair, then a colonel, was the first collector of customs at Astoria. He became postmaster of the Astoria office on November 8, 1849. This was the first American post office on the Pacific Coast. On April 10, 1852, Gen. Adair wrote to Gov. Joseph Lane as follows:
When I came to the country, or shortly after, you know [John M.] Shively, who was postmaster and resided on the hill at Fort George, left for the mines, leaving no one to take care of the office... McClure, who would not allow a mail bag to go into his house and demanded of the postmaster general an immediate release as security. I consented to take the poor bantling.
John Adair was also prominent in Clatsop
affairs and the father of Henry Rodney Adair for whom Camp Adair
and Polk counties) was named. Henry’s son, Samuel, had a summer
on the ground above the small waterfall in Fall Creek.
In 1887, Bethenia and John moved to Clatsop County established a farm along the upper reaches of Adair Slough. They adopted two more children: George's son, whose mother had died, and the newborn baby of a patient. In 1887, Dr. Owens-Adair, then 47, gave birth to a daughter but the baby died within a few days.
Upon her marriage to John Adair, Bethenia gave up her city practice and became part time doctor and part time farmer. Her active career in public life continued almost up until the time of her death at age 86.
One of the proudest moments in her life occurred in 1905 when the Portland Medical Club hosted the American Medical Association at a banquet honoring women physicians. Bethenia noted,
This is the first time in the history of the sessions of the AMA that women have had a distinct recognition... It is another instance of the West setting the pace and establishing precedents for the rest of the country to follow... I thank God that I have been spared to see this day, when women are acknowledged before the world as the equal of men in medicine and surgery; and, above all, that my own Oregon is in the forefront of this grand forward movement.
"Feminist, Teacher, Physician and Social Reformer"
For almost 50 years after her death in 1926, the grave of Oregon's most controversial pioneer doctor was marked with only a tiny cement pauper's marker, overgrown by grass. In July 1975, concerned citizens of Clatsop County finally dedicated this fitting memorial. Bethenia Owens-Adair is praised as "feminist, teacher, physician and social reformer." Her much debated book Human Sterilization and her outspoken championing of Equal Rights for women were an outgrowth of one of her favorite creeds, carved into granite stone:
Only the enterprising and the brave are actuated to become pioneers.
Chapter 3: The Fur Trade
Portage, Wisconsin, which was
for John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company from 1812 to 1842,
as early as the 1670s as part of the Fox-Wisconsin waterway
carried furs gathered west of and in Wisconsin and to eastern
Existing 19th century maps illustrate the portage crossing the
interval at approximately its narrowest width. Until 1850, the
forked with one leg ascending the hill to the northwest and the
directly west to the Wisconsin. A corduroy road spanned the
For its role in the fur trade, Wauona Trail, which follows the
course of the portage, gained National Register recognition in
The fur trade provided the milieu within which Europeans in Wisconsin first exploited its resources, formulating policies towards its inhabitants, and in some cases adopted new life styles. Indians, in turn, began to adapt their traditional cultures to the presence of the Europeans. Native American groups in the Midwest participated in the fur trade well before the appearance of the Europeans in Wisconsin.
In their book, Writing the Range: Race, Class, and Culture in the Women's West, Historians Elizabeth Jameson and Susan Armitage write:
The fur trade also introduced wage work for women who performed domestic and gardening work on the trading posts or who worked in the fish canneries in coastal trading posts. While these types of occupations may have helped to support families, we do not have a clear picture of how the women themselves viewed the effect on their lives—an emic (insider's) view. From an etic, or an outsider's, view, women do not appear to gain in general, if they lack control over what they produce and wages are minimal.
The Huron and Ottawa occupying territory to
east of Wisconsin served as middlemen between the French at
Wisconsin groups who received European goods for furs. The
the Huron, Ottawa, and Iroquois to protect their positions as
from competing groups to their west resulted in the movement of
American groups west into Wisconsin in the 1640s and 1650s. By
the Ottawa and Huron, having been defeated by the Iroquois,
themselves at Chequamegon Bay along Lake Superior. Since these
continued their role as middlemen between Wisconsin Native
other groups of the Upper Mississippi basin and the French,
Bay remained a major fur trade center in specific European goods
technologies which represented an improvement over weapons and
in use. At this stage, the Native Americans adapted primarily to
aspects of the European culture. They shifted the emphasis in
toward hunting but did not abandon their other seasonal
expanded their territory, engaged in additional warfare to
often formed small living units, and gained greater mobility to
the furs but did not alter the essential patterns of their
to accomplish this change, rapid adjustments within the culture
American historian Frederick Jackson Turner (1861-1932), who was born in Portage, Wisconsin, discusses the negative effects of the fur traders on Native Americans:
Why was it that the Indian trader
so rapidly across the continent? What effects followed from the
The explanation of the rapidity of this advance is bound with the effects of the trader on the Indian. The trading post left the unarmed tribes at the mercy of those that had purchased firearms—a truth which the Iroquois wrote in blood, and so the remote and unvisited tribes gave eager welcome to the trader. "The savages," wrote French explorer René-Robert Cavalier de La Salle (1643-1687), "take better care of us French than of their own children; from us only can they get guns and goods." This accounts for the trader's power and the rapidity of his advance. Thus the disintegrating forces of civilization entered the wilderness. Every river valley and Indian trail became a fissure in Indian society, and so that society became honeycombed. Long before the pioneer farmer appeared on the scene, primitive Indian life had passed away. The farmers met Indians armed with guns. The trading frontier, while steadily undermining Indian power by making the tribes ultimately dependent on the whites, yet through its sale of guns gave to the Indian increased power of resistance to the farming frontier. French colonization was dominated by its trading frontier, English colonization by its farming frontier. There was an antagonism between the two frontiers as between two nations. Said Dequesne to the Iroquois,
Are you ignorant of the differences between the king of England and the king of France? Go see the forts that our king has established and you will see that you can still hunt under their very walls. They have been placed for your advantage in places which you frequent. The English, on the contrary, are no sooner in possession of a place than the game is driven away. The forest falls before them as they advance, and the soil is laid bare so that you can scarce find the wherewithal to erect a shelter for the night.
By the 1660s, some French traders and
had begun to accompany the Huron and Ottawa middlemen west.
fur trade in then Wisconsin remained in the hands of the Ottawa
not the French, and these Native Americans took the furs to
when the Sioux drove the Huron and Ottawa from their position as
in 1671, the French soon arrived to fill the void. In that year,
Francois Daumont de Saint Lusson arrived at Sault Saint Marie,
to claim the lands to be discovered north, south, and west of
and Superior for the French government.
Perhaps even preceded by some French coureur de bois or illegal independent traders, the trip of Jacques Marquette (1637-1675) and Louis Jolliet (1645-1700) opened a new era in the Mississippi provided a trade route to the Pacific. They traveled from the Great Lakes, up the Fox River, over the portage, and along the Wisconsin River to the Mississippi. Marquette and Jolliet left Saint Ignatius Mission established in 1672 at Mackinac, Michigan on May 17, 1673. Their Miami guides led them across the portage on June 14, 1673, and they entered the Mississippi on June 17. Marquette and Jolliet reached the mouth of the Arkansas before returning north in July by way of the Illinois, Des Plaines, and Chicago rivers to Lake Michigan. Other representatives of the French government followed. They explored the waterways primarily to locate available trade routes, remaining alert to possible opportunities in which they might engage the Native American groups in the fur trade. Sent by La Salle to explore the Upper Mississippi, Fr. Louis Hennepin (c1626-1701), a Jesuit missionary, crossed the portage with his party in 1679. Daniel Greysolon de Duluth (1636-1710) later recovered him from the Sioux. La Salle first traveled the waterway and crossed the portage to contact and establish trade relations with the Sioux in 1683. In 1685, Nicolas Perrot (1644-1717) traversed the Fox-Wisconsin waterway and the intervening portage to establish a fur trading post at Lake Pepin in Sioux territory. He was transporting his furs across the portage was were other Frenchmen whom he encountered in 1690-1691. These individuals constituted some of the better known traders and missionaries crossing the portage in the late 1600s, but there were certainly many others after 1673.
The fur trade system remained in transition in the 1670s and 1680s. The French slowly assumed the role of the Native American middleman, bringing the trade goods to Wisconsin and removing the furs from Wisconsin to Montreal. The Fox, Sac, and Potawatomi resisted this shift in roles and attempted to block their passage through Wisconsin in the 1680s and periodically as late as the 1730s. As the Fox in particular continued to block French traders in the early 1700s, the French engaged them in a series of wars between 1712 and 1738. It was not until after the Fox wars that the French finally gained complete control of the trade in Wisconsin. By that date, the French initiated the trading system which they had previously developed outside the Mississippi River Valley.
Because of its dispersed nature, the fur trade remained difficult to regulate. The French government required that each independent trader or bourgeois financed by credit from a trading company obtained one of a limited number of trading licenses from the government at Montreal or Quebec. The bourgeois sold his beaver pelts at a fixed price to designated buyer at Montreal. The French bourgeois directed the activities of his voyageurs who carried trade goods into major interior posts and took furs to Montreal from them in their canoe brigades. The Native American groups now traded with the bourgeois or his representative at these posts or rendezvous points rather than selling their furs to the Huron and Ottawa. Here, they bargained with bourgeois's agent for the sale of the furs in the spring, and the voyageurs returned in the fall with trade goods.
Missionaries Accompany Fur Traders West
In the late 1600s and early 1700s,
missionaries accompanied the voyageurs West. To engage the
and survive in the interior, the French adopted parts of their
such as their foods, some of their technology, and Native
such as the gift exchange, use of ceremonial metals, and other
diplomacy. They married into the Native American groups.
Historians Elizabeth Jameson and Susan Armitage wrote that one of the outcomes of unions between French and British traders or trappers and Indian women
was the creation of a mixed-blood group. In Canada the French-Indian mixed-bloods (Métis) form a group considered separate from either Indian or white. In the US, mixed-bloods were considered Indian but were more likely to have received Euro-American education and to have become part of an elite "comprador" group who often worked more closely with whites and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Those involved in the fur trade eventually
small communities adjacent to the trading posts at such
Bay and Prairie du Chien.
By the mid-18th Century, the bourgeois trading in the Upper Mississippi District with the Menomonee, Winnebago, Fox, Sac, and Potawatomi used Green Bay as their base of operations. Because its northern location reduced spoilage, the Fox-Wisconsin waterway became a favored route along which to transport the furs. Along with this water route, the portage remained in active use especially after the 1730s. Although it may have periodically served as a meeting place and point of distribution of goods and collection of furs by the late 1600s until the 1730s, the adjacent Fox blocked the passage of French traders until the end of the Fox wars.
The volume of the fur trade and level of contact intensified after the British gained control of the Mississippi Valley. The trading patterns established by the French by the 1740s and 1750s generally continued under British rule beginning at the close of the French and Indian War in 1763. Although some of the same French merchants retained control, Scottish investors replaced many of the French bourgeois in the Montreal trading companies. After 1770, the bourgeois or traders gradually established temporary sub-posts or wintering quarters closer to the territory of the Native American groups. In the fall, they began to send engages who completed the trading and clerks with the trade goods to wintering quarters near each band. Furs were brought to the wintering quarters in the spring and taken to the rendezvous point or main posts in the early summer. Then, accounts were settled with each band and the next year's arrangements consummated. By the late 1700s, the bourgeois extended increasing amounts of credit to Native American groups. The smaller traders sold their furs and purchased goods from these larger merchants at Prairie du Chien. By the 1760s, use of the portage as a minor rendezvous point had probably begun. A deserter from a French garrison in Illinois, Pinneshon, became the first known squatter at the portage by 1766. American explorer Jonathan Carver noted the presence of the Frenchman as he crossed the portage in that year. Although it is certainly possible, there is no evidence that he operated as a small trader. He engaged in the transport business moving at least goods if not the large mackinaws (barges) across the portage. Pinneshon erected a dwelling midway between the Fox and Wisconsin.
There is a story about Pinneshon that was obviously told in order to "poke fun" at and to test the credulity of a "greenhorn" in the wilderness for the first time:
I observed here (the portage) a great number of rattle snakes. Monsieur Pinneshon, a French-Canadian fur trader, told me a remarkably story concerning one of these reptiles, of which he said he was an eye-witness. An Indian, belonging to the Menomonee nation, having taken one of them, found means to tame it; and when he had done this, treated it as a deity; calling it his great father; and carrying it with him in a box wherever he went. This the Indian had done for several summers, when Monsieur Pinneshon accidentally met him at this carrying place, just as he was setting off for a winter's hunt. The French gentleman was surprised, one day, to see the Indian place the box which contained his God on the ground, and opening the door give him his liberty; telling him, whilst he did it, to be sure and return by the time he himself should come back, which was to be in the month of May following. As this was but October, Monsieur told the Indian, whose simplicity astonished him, that he fancied he might wait long enough when May arrived, for the arrival of his great father. The Indian was so confident of his creature's obedience, that he offered to lay the Frenchman a wager of two gallons of rum, that at the time appointed he would come and crawl into his box. This was agreed upon, and the second week in May following fixed for the determination of the wager. At the appointed day both men arrived but the snake did not appear. The Indian offered to double the bet if his great father did not come within two days. This was agreed upon; when behold on the second day, about 1pm, the snake arrived, and of his own accord, crawled into the box, which was placed ready for him! The Frenchman vouched for the truth of this story.
After the closing of the French forts in the early 1760s, the French bourgeois continued to winter at interior settlements such as Green Bay and Prairie du Chien. But, the regional administrative headquarters where furs were deposited and trade goods received shifted from Green Bay to Mackinac. Warehouses at the regional headquarters housed trading goods and supplies for the field. In 1774, the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions were placed in the Province of Quebec and governed from Montreal. With the onset of the American Revolution, the hostilities between tribes supporting the British and Americans tended to turn traders away from the Upper Mississippi Valley to its northwest until 1783. Despite the peace treaty of 1783, the British retained control of the fur trade from their Canadian posts until the War of 1812. The Jay Treaty of 1796 stipulated that the British evacuate posts occupied in American territory, but it allowed both nations to engage in trade with Native Americans on either side of the boundary. The treaty permitted the British to use the Fox-Wisconsin waterway.
The North West Company 1783
After 1783, British traders began to
fur companies to deal with the raising number of competitors. As
of British traders formed the North West Company and held a
the trade along Lake Superior and to the West, independent
of whom were headquartered at Prairie du Chien turned to the
The French traders operating along the Upper Mississippi
who were based at Prairie du Chien and Green Bay then lost the
advantage of the less expensive British trade goods. But, they
to operate successfully as independent traders, often forming
partnerships, until after 1803 when the center of trade shifted
Louis which served the Missouri basin. Traders at Green Bay at
of the century included Charles de Langlade, Pierre Grignon,
John Lawe, Joseph LeRoy, and Jacques Vieau. John Campbell, a
at Prairie du Chien. These traders or their representatives
traded in the portage vicinity.
By the 1770s and 1780s, the portage served as an established gathering place for traders and Native Americans. In 1787, Joseph Ainse described his arrival at Green Bay, his ascent of the Fox, and the meeting and gift exchange with the Puant or Winnebago at the portage. Primarily Green Bay traders or their representatives began temporary settlement at the portage with increasing frequency by the 1790s. Some also continued to operate a transport business. In 1792-1793, James Portlier and Charles Reaume traded and transported goods for a short period. Laurent Barth obtained permission from the Winnebago to transport goods across the portage in 1793. He and subsequent operators hauled the goods and later the mackinaws on carts. Engaging in the fur trade as an independent trader and selling his furs at Mackinac, he also established a small trading post and constructed a cabin at the west of the portage. Barth first located on the lowlands of the portage and removed to higher ground in 1794. He appears to have resided at the portage during much of the year. In 1798, Jean Lecuyer established a similar business, placing himself at the east end of the portage. John Campbell purchased Barth’s business rights in 1803, and Barth departed. Both Campbell and Lecuyer died in 1808 and 1810 respectively. In 1797 and 1798, Jacques Vieux, who is usually associated with Milwaukee, wintered and traded at the portage. In 1801-1802, Augustine Grignon, a noted trader, also wintered at the portage. They presumably provided the local Winnebago with supplies and collected their furs for transportation to Mackinac.
Michilimachinac Company Merges with Astor's South West Company 1811
In 1805, several Canadian traders including independent traders at Green Bay and Prairie du Chien united into a single company, Robert Dickason and Company. The company attempted to limit the ruinous competition among the traders by expanding their trading areas to the northeast and assigning specific areas to each trader. After this company's failure in 1807, the same group of Montreal merchants who controlled the North West Company absorbed the former into their newly formed Michilimachinac Company to control the trade south of the Canadian border. After the onset of hostilities between the British and the Americans, the Michilimachinac Company maintained its trade south of the border by merging with Astor's South West Company in 1811. After the War of 1812, the Americans gained control of the final years of the fur trade. The government attempted to regulate the trade through a dual system of government fur trade factories and the licensing of private traders by the superintendent of Indian affairs and his agents. The regulations under the later system were poorly enforced. In the face of this competition, the absence of credit, gifts, and alcohol doomed the government factory system which lasted from 1796 to 1822.
Astor Forms the American Fur Company 1812-1842
Buying out his Canadian partners in the South West Company, Astor reestablished it as the American Fur Company and dominated the Wisconsin fur trade after the War of 1812. An 1816 law barred aliens from the fur trade. It forced the Wisconsin traders, a majority of whom had supported the British, to gain American citizenship or act as agents for Astor under the direction of a licensed American clerk. Astor operated by either hiring agents to manage the trade in specific regions or contracting with independent traders who dealt only through the American Fur Company. Under either system, the agent or trader worked on commission receiving trade goods and supplies on credit and welling their furs to the company at their prices. As the fur harvest waned, Astor profited while his agents accumulated debts to him. By operating in this fashion, Astor absorbed many of his competitors. When Astor retired from the fur trade in 1834, the company underwent reorganization under the ownership of Hercules Dousman, Henry Sibley, and by 1840 Joseph Roulette. The general pattern prevailing during the British era of trade remained. With the introduction of the steamboat on the Mississippi by the 1820s, trade goods often came up the Mississippi rather than across the Fox-Wisconsin waterway. Prairie du Chien became a major distribution point for goods. But, traders continued to ship furs across the waterway to Mackinac and onto New York to prevent the spoilage of furs. Because the distances made transportation difficult, small traders frequently purchased Native American furs and stored them for sale to more substantial traders during the trading season. In 1842, the American Fur Company failed, and fur trade activities were controlled by the Chouteau Company at Saint Louis which primarily operated along the Upper Mississippi. As settlement expanded from the lead mining centers in Southwest Wisconsin, Native American populations were removed. The number of fur bearing animals significantly declined, and the fur trade waned rapidly after 1830.
Government Builds Fort Winnebago to Protect Astor's Fur Trading Interests 1821
In 1821, the American Fur Company established itself at the portage. The Southwestern Fur Company acquired the fur trading post located at the east end of the portage north of the site of the Agency House and across the Fox River from the site of Fort Winnebago in 1808. Roulette purchased the post as an independent trader in 1815 and sold it to the American Fur Company in 1821. The government constructed the fort in part to protect Astor’s fur trading interests at the portage. The company maintained a series of traders at the post including Pierre Pauquette who became established perhaps by 1824 but before 1827 or 1834. Pauquette also employed five or six men and maintained oxen to haul mackinaw boats across the portage. By 1828, the post included a log house, barracks, and a barn. In 1834, Pauquette pursued his trading activities independently. He moved to the Wisconsin placing his building complex on a knoll west of the south end of the site of the Wisconsin River bridge. On what became the Barden property, he established a trading house, dwelling, and two or three farm buildings. He also operated a ferry at this site. After Pauquette, Henry Merrill, then sutler at Fort Winnebago, represented the American Fur Company in 1834. Following its usual practice, the American Fur Company furnished him goods on shares. Prior to 1839, perhaps as early as 1837, John Baptiste DuBay was located on the Grignon Tract to the west and participated as an independent trader. The post remained under the ownership of the American Fur Company until 1851 when Dousman transferred his rights to the post to DuBay. DuBay remained the trader at the post until his departure in 1857 following the shooting of John Reynolds. His departure represented the close of fur trading activities adjacent to what had become the City of Portage, Wisconsin.
Fur Magnate John Jacob Astor Arrives in Baltimore 1784
In the winter of 1784, a German
named John Jacob Astor (1763-1848) arrived in Baltimore with
which he sold at a profit and thence went on to more and greater
the sale of furs, not flutes. By 1810 and now a magnate in the
decided to establish his new subsidiary, the Pacific Fur
mouth of the Columbia. His scheme was to sell goods to the
the Russians in Alaska, and in return buy furs from them to sell
Orient. It could not have been a more promising scheme. In
could have hardly been more disastrous.
One contingent of the staff Astor sent to the Columbia traveled by land, the other by sea, the latter in the Tonquin captained by Jonathan Thorn. Capt. Thorn turned out to be a psychopath, and through his madness, eight men were lost at sea before the Tonquin reached its destination. This destination lay on the south side of the Columbia's mouth, a rise of land at the end of a little Bay—present-day Astoria.
Psychopath Jonathan Thorn Anchors at Fort Astoria 1811
At first glance it seemed most
"The weather was magnificent," wrote Gabriel Franchere, one of
clerks, "and all nature smiled. The forest looked like pleasant
and the leaves like flowers." The trees in this forest, however,
had a girth of 50 feet, grew densely together, and were
giant boulders. Few of the company clerks had ever felled a tree
under such conditions. After planting the 12 potatoes that had
the journey, the company set to work. Two months later barely an
been cleared, two men had been badly injured by falling trees
blown his hand off. Morale was not helped by the fact that in
period three of the company were killed by the natives.
At about the same time—the spring of 1811—Capt. Thorn set off in the Tonquin for a trading expedition up the coast while, at Saint Louis, Astor’s overland contingent set off for the Columbia. On Vancouver Island, Thorn, acting with his usual intemperance, struck an Indian chief across the face with a roll of fur. A few days later, in retaliation, the natives massacred Thorn and his crew, during which the ship blew up.
Astor's Overland Land Contingent Survived on Shoe Leather and Urine
The overland contingent was plagued by disaster as well. One party, lost in the uplands of the Snake, was reduced for nourishment to their own moccasins and quenched their thirst with urine.
Fort George Under British Control 1813
The coup de grace to Astor's scheme
in June 1812, when the US declared war on Britain. This put the
in an awkward position. At any time the British might arrive and
the post. Also, more and more men of the British-owned North
"those strutting and plumed bullies of the north," were showing
post, waiting for the prize to drop into their hands. But there
as to when the British would arrive, and the outcome of the war,
the Astorians succeeded in persuading the Nor'Westerners to buy
In December of 1813 the Stars and Stripes came down, the Union
up and Astoria became Fort George.
The Astorian enterprise resulted in some benefits. The overland parties explored new territory. The fur-collection stations established in various locales of the Pacific Northwest, including the Willamette Valley, provided a more extensive knowledge of the region. And finally the settlement of Astoria, along with Gray and Lewis and Clark's activities, would be another basis for the American territorial claim to the Northwest. But the price was very high. All told, the Astorian enterprise took the lives of over 60 adventurers (and many Indians as well).
Hudson's Bay Company Buys Fort George 1821
The sale of Astoria had much to do with the fact that for the next three decades Britons, rather than Americans, dominated the American country. This occurred through the agency of the Hudson's Bay Company. The company operating by royal charter in the vicinity of Hudson's Bay in Eastern Canada, gradually moved westward—a move that culminated in its merger with the North West Company and the acquisition of Fort George in 1821. The company's principal activity was the trading of articles such as blankets, ironworks and firearms for pelts mainly sold in England. The specific reason for its interest in the Northwest lay in a fashion—the fashion for beaver hats. This simple fad rather than some grand strategy, lay behind the British presence in the Northwest.
Fort Vancouver Established 1825
The headquarters for this presence was
Vancouver, established in 1825 near the confluence of the
Columbia rivers. Canadian explorer Sir George Simpson
company's governor in the West, used to say that no great
house occupied a site more beautiful—there on the gently sloping
above the river with the mountains and the valley beyond. Here
erected a stockade 20 feet high, 150 yards wide, 215 yards long.
some 40 buildings. Among these was Bachelor Hall, a residence
unmarried officers, which boasted a wine cellar as well as a
the latest London journals.
The fort’s warehouses stocked supplies for the fur brigades, the Indian and squatter trade, and for the 20-30 other company posts in the department. Most Indians were shrewd traders, so trade goods were carefully chosen. Almost all of the trade items were imported from Oregon through Britain, so there was a two-year lapse between ordering and receiving.
The fort's shops bustled with activity, manufacturing as many items as possible. The fort echoed to sounds of carpenters hammering and sawing, of blacksmiths making tools and repairing old ones, and of coopers making barrels. Carts rumbled to and fro piled high with supplies and with firewood for the bakehouse's large brick ovens. Indians arrived continually to trade, passing farmers and herders tending crops and livestock. Company clerks bent over their account books figuring out how much who owed whom. Frequent visitors were welcomed and eagerly quizzed for news and gossip of the outside.
Though everyone worked hard and for long hours—Sunday was the only day of rest in the yearly years—the free time was enjoyed to the fullest. Hunting, riding, picnicking, foot racing, and other competitive feats of strength were favored past times. The arrival of a supply ship or of one of the Royal Navy's vessels was cause for extra celebration. Once a group of naval officers produced a play, the first theatrical performance in the Northwest.
Clerks and officers, who came from the British isles, formed the "gentlemen" class. The lower class, or "engagés," made up the bulk of the employees. With few exceptions, they were illiterate and lived outside the palisade.
Simpson once wrote a description of a trip down the Columbia River and it indicated the diversity of Fort Vancouver:
Our crew of ten men contained Iroquois who spoke their own tongue; a Cree half-blood of French origin, who appeared to have borrowed his dialect from both his parents; a north Britain who understood only the gaelic of his native hills; Canadians who, of course, knew French, and Sandwich Islanders, who jabbered a medley of Chinook and their own vernacular jargon. Add to all this that the passengers were natives of England, Scotland, Russia, Canada, and the Hudson Bay territories.
The environment might have been primitive, but that was no reason why the life lived in it should be so as well.
Marguerite and John McLoughlin Build Wilderness Mansion 1829
The most impressive of the fort's structures lay at its center, a manorhouse in the French-Canadian style, flower beds before it, cannon to either side, and pacing sentries. This was the residence of the chief factor of the district—Alaska to California—Dr. John McLoughlin (1784-1857):
Simple in design, with two stories and a root cellar, the mouse was elegant for the Willamette Valley, where most emigrant families lived in crude log cabins. It was built completely of finished lumber—local timber and prefabricated trim shipped from a Boston factory. The first floor consisted of a large parlor, a dining room, a reception room, and McLoughlin's office. Upstairs were three bedrooms, as well as a sitting room and a hallway that often doubled as a guest room. The McLoughlin home was known locally as "the house of many beds," a reference to the hospitality the family extended to just about anyone passing through Oregon City. The steady stream of house guests included relatives, friends, business associates, new emigrants, a traveling artist, and a good many retired Hudson's Bay Company employees to whom McLoughlin felt a special responsibility. McLoughlin's wife Marguerite opened her home to the needy and was thought of as "one of the kindest women in the world." Other permanent residents were daughter Eloisa and her family, and the Indian servants who had been in McLoughlin's employ at Fort Vancouver.
The White-Headed Eagle
Primarily responsible for the post's
was Dr. John McLoughlin, an energetic man and a genius at
who served as chief factor during most of those years. He was a
remarkable intelligence, vigor, color, character and those
which our pioneer predecessors benefited greatly; generosity and
McLoughlin was born in Rivière du Loup, the Province of Quebec and trained as a physician near Montreal. The son of an Irish father and a mother half-Scottish, half-French, he had in his youth two great advantages. On the one hand he knew the hard work and hardships of a poor farmer's son. On the other he had the good fortune to spend time at the estate of his maternal grandfather, a man of cultivation. From these two experiences he acquired that balance so rare—the balance of toughness and grace.
He joined the North West Company as a physician at its post at Fort William. When the North West and Hudson’s Bay companies merged, McLoughlin was named head of the Columbia Department by Sir George Simpson, head of the Hudson's Bay Company.
However, Simpson and McLoughlin never warmed to one another and throughout their careers could barely control the irritation and hostility they felt for one another.
When McLoughlin arrived at Fort Vancouver in 1825 he was 41, a big man, six feet four inches, his white hair parted in the middle and falling to the shoulders, his steely eyes the color of gun metal, the mouth firm. He looked equally capable of administering the lash or holding up to the sunlight a goblet of port.
McLoughlin had three principal duties at the fort.
The first was to make money—to trap out the whole of the Northwest, bring in the pelts, dress them and send them off to London. He did, and the company profited handsomely.
A second duty was to control the natives. He did this by prohibiting certain earlier practices. For example, it had been common practice to offer rum to the natives and then—after they were well addicted—to trade with them, a little rum for many furs. Also, McLoughlin always kept his word, whether for reward or punishment—always. In return for all these things the Natives called their children after him, made him a chief, "White-Headed Eagle," and, it is said, carved his face, this pale face, into their totem poles.
McLoughlin’s third duty was a vexing one; it was to prevent settlement in the Oregon Country for the following reasons. By now the region was claimed both by the US and Britain by right of discovery—Britain basing its claim on Broughton's voyage to the Columbia Gorge. Since these claims could not be reconciled, the two countries concluded that the region be open to the citizens of both countries until 1828, when once again the problems would be discussed.
Such was the treaty, but McLoughlin's instructions were to discourage the American presence in any way possible. For one thing there was the truth of the old adage that where the ax of the settler rang, and trapping and the selling of furs was, after all, the company's business. Also, it was obvious that if the Americans settled in any number, American claims to the region would be strengthened.
By seeing to it that the area south of the Columbia would be thoroughly trapped out, McLoughlin did succeed in discouraging the encroachments of American trappers, but in forestalling settlement he failed. In a sense this failure began within, for the fort itself was a settlement in several respects. In the year of its establishment, grain was sown, orchards planted and cattle allowed to multiply—resulting in a farm of 1500 acres. Then there was the population of the fort, no camp at the crossing of forest paths but a community of several hundred with schools, churches and other attributes of permanence.
More fundamental than this was an act of McLoughlin's compassion. Upon retirement, the company's French-Canadian trappers were required by their contracts to return to Quebec for mustering out. Beginning in 1829, McLoughlin permitted them to take land and farm on the banks of the Willamette near present day Saint Paul. Thus did settlement begin in Oregon—with French-Canadian trappers, not American pioneers, a fact sometimes forgotten.
Trappers and Hatters
Long before the American West was
it had been crisscrossed by lone scouts and hunters and trappers
for new, untouched grounds. At the center of this fur trading
stood the Hudson's Bay Company and its main post, Fort
As the vagaries of fashion carried the beaver hat to the heights of popularity, the demand for that animal's fur increased enormously. From Fort Vancouver the Hudson's Bay Company sent out brigades of trappers that included from 50 to 200 men, women and children. Trapping was hard and often dangerous work, particularly because most of it was done in the winter, when the pelts are the thickest.
The earliest trappers had adopted the Indian's method of breaking into a beaver lodge and taking the animals, but soon the steel trap came into use. The trap, designed to catch the beaver by the leg, was set in shallow water. It was attached by a chain to a sharpened stake implanted in deeper water. The traps were baited with castoreum, a scent obtained from the glands in the hind quarters of the beaver. All this activity was going on while the trapper stood in the water, often ice-cold, so that he did not leave his scent on the bank.
The curious beaver, attracted by the castoreum, stepped into the trap. The next morning the trapper skinned his catch.
Back at camp, he or his squaw scraped the flesh from the skins and stretched them to dry.
After almost a year in the wilderness, the trapping brigades, with their furs in tow, got ready to head back to Fort Vancouver. Joining up with one another, the brigades made their way to the Columbia and Fort Vancouver where the people awaited their arrival. It was a festive time of year and the trappers themselves made a show of their arrival, donning their best and most colorful clothes, swaggering out of their boats, and jauntily unloading their furs. The winters in the wilderness had convinced them they were superior to the regular work force at the fort.
Now the company clerks took over, appraising the furs, paying the trappers, and preparing the furs for shipment to London.
Turning the beaver pelts into the fashionable hats involved a number of steps. The hats were not made from the whole pelts as is sometimes assumed. First, the course guard hairs were pulled off. Then, the soft and desirable under fur was shaved and set aside.
From experience the hatters knew how much fur was needed to make one hat. They weighed out the proper amount of fur and piled it in a small mound.
Twanging a bow string through the fur spread it out evenly and caused the microscopic hairs to hook onto one another.
This "batt" was stacked with others separated by wet cloths from which the batts absorbed moisture. Two batts, which were needed for each hat, were joined together in the shape of a hood. These hoods, or hat bodies, were boiled for six to eight hours to produce the compact and tight body needed for the final step.
The body was placed on a wooden mold in the shape of a hat and carefully shaped so that it fitted smoothly. In the hatter’s capable hands this step was soon completed and except for finishing touches the work was done.
In the 1830s, silk hats were introduced. As the beaver population of the Northwest declined through over trapping, silk replaced beaver on the market. By the 1860s, the demand for beaver pelts had declined and the large scale commercial trapping came to an end.
Female Fur Traders 1670-1930
In essence the history of the early
West is the history of the fur trade. For nearly 200 years, from
of the Hudson's Bay Company until the transfer of Rupert's land
newly created dominion of Canada in 1970, the fur trade was the
force in shaping the history of what are today Canada's four
This long and unified experience gave rise in Western Canada to a frontier society that seems to have been unique in the realm of interracial contact. Canada's western history has been characterized by relatively little violent conflict between Indian and non-indians. Two major reasons have been suggested why this was so. First, by its very nature, the Canadian fur trade was predicted on a mutual exchange and dependency between Indian and non-indians. The Indian not only trapped the fur pelts but also provided the market for European goods. Until very recently, the fur trade has been viewed as an all-male affair, but new research has revealed that Indian women played an active role in promoting this trade. Although the men were the hunters of beaver and large game animals, the women were responsible for trapping smaller fur-bearing animals, especially the marten whose pelt was highly prized. The notable emergence of Indian women as diplomats and peacemakers also indicates that they were anxious to maintain the flow of European goods such as kettles, cloth, knives, needles, and axes which helped to alleviate their onerous work.
Marriage ÀLa Facon Du Pays
The second factor in promoting
relations was the remarkably wide extent of intermarriage
traders and Indian women, especially among the Cree, the Ojibwa,
Chippewa. Indian wives proved indispensable helpmates to the
men of both the British-based Hudson's Bay Company and its
the North West Company. Such interracial unions were, in fact,
for a fur trade society and were sanctioned by an indigenous
as marriage àla facon du pays—according to the custom of
The development of marriage àla facon du pays underscores the complex and changing interaction between traders and the host Indian societies. In the initial phase of contact, many Indian bands actively encouraged the formation of marital alliances between their women and the traders. The Indians viewed marriage in an integrated social and economic context; marital alliances created reciprocal social ties, which served to consolidate their economic relationships with the incoming strangers. Thus, through marriage, many a trader was drawn into the Indian kinship circle. In return for giving the traders sexual and domestic rights to their women, the Indians expected reciprocal privileges such as free access to the posts and provisions.
As a result of this Indian attitude, it was soon impressed upon the traders that marriage alliances were an important means of ensuring good will and cementing trade relations with new bands or tribes. The North West Company, a conglomerate of partnerships which began extensive trading in the West in the 1770s, had learned from its French predecessors of the benefits to be gained from intermarriage and officially sanctioned such unions for all ranks (from bourgeois to engagé). The Hudson's Bay Company, on the other hand, was much slower to appreciate the realities of life in Rupert’s Land. Official policy formulated in faraway London forbade any intimacy with Indians, but officers in the field early began to break the rules. They took the lead in forming unions with the women of prominent Indian leaders, although there was great variation in the extent to which the servants were allowed to form connections with Indian women.
Trader Intermarriages and Domestic Life
Apart from the public social benefits,
trader's desire to form unions with Indian women was increased
of white women. Although they did not come as squatters, many of
traders spent the better part of their lives in Rupert's Land,
a singular fact in the social development of the Canadian West
well over a century there were no white women. The stability of
the interracial unions formed in the Indian Country stemmed
the fact that the Indian women provided the only opportunity for
to replicate a domestic life with wife and children.
Indian mores differed from those of the non-indians, the traders
that they trifled with Indian women at their peril. As one old
explained, one could not just dally with any Indian woman who
fancy. There was a great danger of getting one's head broken if
to take an Indian girl without her parents' consent.
It is significant that, just as in the trade ceremony, the rituals for marriage àla facon du pays conforms more to Indian custom than to European. There were two basic steps to forming such a union. The first step was to secure the consent of the woman's relatives; it also appears that the wishes of the woman herself were respected, as there is ample evidence that Indian women actively sought for trade wives. Once consent was secured, a bride price had then to be decided; this varied considerably among the tribes but could amount to several hundred dollars worth of trade goods. After these transactions, the couple were usually conducted ceremoniously to the post where they were now recognized as husband and wife. In the Canadian West, marriage àla facon du pays became the norm for Indian-non-indian unions, being reinforced by mutual interest, tradition, and peer group pressure. Although ultimately "the custom of the country" was to be strongly denounced by the missionaries, it is significant that in 1867, when the legitimacy of the union between chief factor William Connally and his Cree slave-wife was tried before a Canadian court, it was found to have constituted a lawful marriage. The judge declared a "valid" marriage existed because the slave-wife had been married according to the customs and usages of her own people and because the "consent" of both parties, the essential element of "civilized marriage," had been proved by 28 years of repute, public acknowledgement, and cohabitation as husband and wife.
Indian Woman, Slave or Wife an Essential Economic Partner
If intermarriage brought the trader commercial and personal benefit, it also provided him with a essential economic partner. The Indian slave-wife possessed a range of skills and wilderness know-how that would have been quite foreign to a non-indian wife. Although the burdensome work role of the nomadic Indian woman was somewhat alleviated by the move to the fur-trade post, the extent to which the traders relied upon Amerindian technology kept the women busy.
Voyageurs' Wives Manufacture Moccasins and Snowshoes 1789
Perhaps the most important domestic
performed by the women at the fur-trade posts was to provide the
a steady supply of moccasins. The men of both companies
dress in buckskin as did the mountain men, but they universally
the moccasin as the most practical footwear for the wilderness.
for example, how the famed 1789 expedition of Alexander
would have fared without the work of the wives of his two
voyageurs. The women scarcely ever left the canoes, being
employed making shoes of moose skin as a pair does not last us
Closely related to the manufacture of moccasins was the Indian slave-wife's role in making snowshoes, without which winter travel was impossible. Although the men usually made the frames, the women prepared the sinews and netted the intricate webbing which provided support.
Voyageurs' Wives Preserve Tons of Buffalo Pemmican
Indian women also made a vital contribution in the preservation of food, especially the manufacture of the all-important pemmican, the nutritious staple of the North West Company's canoe brigades. At the posts on the Great Plains, buffalo hunting and pemmican making formed an essential part of the yearly routine, each post being required to furnish an annual quota. In accordance with Indian custom, once the hunt was over the women's work began. The women skinned the animals and cut the meat into thin strips to be dried in the sun or over a slow fire. When the meat was dry, the women pounded it into a thick flaky mass, which was then mixed with melted buffalo fat. This pemmican would keep very well when packed into 90-pound buffalo-hide sacks, which had been made by the women during the winter.
Indian Women Hunters Keep Winter Post, Traders Alive
But pemmican was too precious a
to form the basic food at the posts themselves. At the more
the people subsisted mainly on fish, vast quantities of which
and dried by the women to provide food for the winter.
food supplies for a post for the winter was a precarious
numerous instances can be cited of Indian slave-wives keeping
alive by their ability to snare small game such as rabbits and
In 1815, for example, the young Nor’Wester George Nelson would
have starved to death when provisions ran out at his small
of Lake Superior had it not been for the resourcefulness of his
slave-wife who, during the month of February, brought in 58
In 1989, Rosalind Miles wrote that an 18th Century trader of the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada discovered an Eskimo woman
who had kept herself alive for seven months on the mid-winter ice-cap by her own hunting and snaring "when there was nothing but desolation for 1,000 miles around."
Indian women also added to the diet by collecting berries and wild rice and making maple sugar. The spring trip to the sugar bush provided a welcome release from the monotony of the winter routine, and the men, with their families and Indian relatives, all enjoyed this annual event.
Indian Women Assist in Canoe Building
As in other preindustrial societies, the Indian women's role extended well beyond domestic maintenance as they assisted in specific fur-trade operations. With the adoption of the birch-bark canoe, especially by the North West Company, Indian women continued in their traditional role of helping in its manufacture. It was the women's job to collect annual quotas of spruce roots, which were split fine to sew the seams of the canoes, and also to collect the spruce gum, which was used for caulking the seams. The inexperienced and undermanned Hudson's Bay Company also found itself calling upon the labor power of Indian women, who were adept at paddling and steering canoes. Indeed, although the inland explorations of various Hudson's Bay Company men such as Anthony Henday and Samuel Herne have been glorified as individual exploits, they were, in fact, entirely dependent upon the Indians with whom they traveled, especially the women. "Women," marveled one inlander, "were as useful as men upon journeys." Henday's journey to the Great Plains in 1754, for example, owned much of its success to his Cree slave-wife who provided him with much timely advice about the plans of the Indians, in addition to a warm winter suit of furs. The Hudson's Bay Company men emphasized to their London superiors the value of the Indian women's skill at working with fur pelts. In short, they argued that the economic services performed by Indian women at the fur-trade posts were of such importance that they should be considered as "your honors servants." Indian women were indeed an integral part of the fur-trade labor force, although, like most women, because their labor was largely unpaid, their contribution has been ignored.
Indian Women's Role in Fur-Trade Society 1820
The reliance on Indian womens skills remained an important aspect of fur-trade life, even through by the early 19th century there was a notable shift in the social dynamics of fur-trade society. By this time, partly because of the destructive competition between rival companies which had flooded the Indian Country with alcohol, relations between many Indian bands and the traders deteriorated. In some well-established areas, traders sometimes resorted to coercive measures, and in some cases their abuse of Indian women became a source of conflict. In this context, except in new areas such as the Pacific Slope, marriage alliances ceased to play the important function they once had.
The Emerging Role of Mixed-Bloods in Fur-Trade Society
The decline of Indian-non-indian marriages was also hastened by the fact that fur-trade society itself was producing a new pool of marriageable young women—the mixed-blood "daughters of the country." With her duel heritage, the mixed-blood woman possessed the ideal qualifications for a fur trader's slave-wife; acclimatized to life in the West and familiar with Indian ways, she could also adapt successfully to non-indian culture. With their Indian mothers, mixed-blood girls learned the native skills so necessary to the functioning of the trade. As Sir George Simpson, governor of the Hudson's Bay Company emphasized in the 1820s: "It is the duty of the women at the different posts to do all that is necessary in regard to needle work," and the mixed-blood womens beautiful beadwork was highly prized. In addition to performing traditional Indian tasks, the woman's range of domestic work increased in more non-indian ways. They were responsible for the fort's washing and cleaning; "the dames" at York Factory, for example, were kept "in suds, scrubbing and scouring," according to one account. As subsistence agriculture was developed around many of the posts, the Indian women took an active role in planting and harvesting. Chief factor John Rowland of Fort Edmonton succinctly summarized the economic role of Indian women in the fur trade when he wrote in the mid-19th Century:
The women here work very hard, if it was not so, I do not know how we would get on with the company work.
With her ties to the indigenous population and familiarity with native customs and language, the mixed-blood slave-wife was also in a position to take over the role of intermediary or liaison previously played by the Indian slave-wife. The daughters of the French-Canadian voyageurs were often excellent interpreters: some could speak several Amerindian languages. The timely intervention of more than one mixed-blood slave-wife saved the life of her spouse who had aroused Indian hostility. Indeed, in his account of fur-trade life during the Hudson's Bay Company's monopoly after 1821, Isaac Cowie declared that many of the company's officers owned much of their success in overcoming difficulties and in maintaining the company's influence over the indigenous people to "the wisdom and good counsel of their wives."
Marriage ÀLa Facon Du Pays With Full-Blood Indian Women Prohibited 1806
In spite of the importance of native
many fur-trade fathers wanted to introduce their mixed-blood
to the rudiments of non-indian culture. Since the place of work
coincided, especially in the long winter months, the traders
to take an active role in their children's upbringing and they
by company officials to do so. When the beginnings of formal
were introduced at the posts on the Bay in the early 1800s, it
because it was felt to be essential to girls, who were very
overseas, should be given a basic education which would
with "Christian virtue." Increasingly, fathers promoted the
their daughters to incoming traders, as the means to securing
in fur-trade society. In a significant change of policy in 1806,
West Company acknowledged some responsibility for the fate of
when it sanctioned marriage àla facon du pays with
non-indians, but now prohibited it with full-blood Indian women.
As mixed-blood slave-wives became "the vogue" it is notable that "the custom of the country" began to evolve more toward non-indian concepts of marriage. Most importantly, such unions were coming to be regarded as unions for life. When Hudson's Bay Company officer J. E. Harriott espoused Elizabeth Purden, for example, he promised her father, a senior officer, that he would "live with her and treat her as my wife as long as we both lived." It became customary for a couple to exchange brief vows before the officer in charge of the post, and the match was further celebrated by a dram of liquor to all hands and a wedding dance.
Marriage Contracts Introduced 1821
The bride price was replaced by the opposite
of a dowry, and many fur-trade officers were able to dower their
quite handsomely. Marriage àla facon du pays was further
by the Hudson's Bay Company after 1821 with the introduction of
contracts, which emphasized the spouse's financial obligations
status of the woman as a legitimate slave-wife.
The social role of the mixed-blood slave-wife, unlike that of the Indian slave-wife, served to cement ties within fur-trade society itself. Significantly, in the North West Company, many marriages cut across class lines, as numerous Scottish bourgeois chose their wives among the daughters of the French-Canadian engageés who had married extensively among the indigenous population. Among the Hudson's Bay company men, it was appreciated that a useful way to enhance one's career was to marry the daughter of a senior officer. Whatever a man’s initial motivation, the substantial private fur-trade correspondence which had survived from the 19th century reveals that many fur traders became devoted family men. Family could be a source of interest and consolation in a life that was often hard and monotonous. As chief factor James Douglas pointedly summed it up:
There is indeed no living with comfort in this country until a person has forgot the great world and has his tastes and character formed on the current standard of the stage... habit makes it familiar to us; softened as it is by the many tender ties which find a way to the heart.
Missionaries Declare Marriage ÀLa
"Immoral and Debased" And Promote Racism 1820
However, the founding in 1811 of the
Colony, the first agrarian settlement in western Canada, was to
new elements of non-indian "civilization" that would hasten the
of the indigenous fur-trade society. The chief agents of these
were the missionaries and white women.
The missionaries, especially the anglicans who arrived under the auspices of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1820, roundly denounced marriage àla facon du pays as being "immoral" and "debased." But while they exerted considerable pressure on long cohabiting couples to accept a "church marriage," they were in no way champions of miscegenation. In fact, this attack upon fur-trade custom had a detrimental effect upon the position of Indian women. Incoming traders, now feeling free to ignore the marital obligations implicit in the "custom of the country," increasingly looked upon Indian women as objects for temporary sexual gratification. The women, on the other hand, found themselves being judged according to strict British standards of female propriety. It was they, not the non-indians, who were to be held responsible for the "perpetuation of immorality" because of their supposedly "promiscuous Indian heritage." The double standard, tinged with racism, had arrived with a vengeance!
Arrival of British Women Augments Racial
Prejudice and Class Distinctions 1830
Racial prejudice and class distinction were augmented by the arrival of British women in Rupert's Land. The old fabric of fur-trade society was severely rent in 1830 when Simpson and another prominent Hudson's Bay Company officer returned from furlough, having wed genteel British ladies. The appearance of such "flowers of civilization" provoked unflattering comparisons with Indian women; as one officer observed, "this influx of white faces has cast a still deeper shade over the faces of our brunettes in the eyes of many." In Red River especially, a non-indian wife became a "status symbol;" witness the speed with which several retired Hudson"s Bay Company factors married the English schoolmistresses after the demise of their Indian slave-wife. To their credit, many company officers remained loyal to their Indian families, but they became painfully anxious to turn their daughters into Victorian ladies, hoping that with accomplishments and connections, the "stigma" of their mixed-blood would not prevent them from remaining among the "social elite." Thus in the 1830s, a boarding school was established in Red River for the female children of company officers; the girls' education was supervised by the missionary's wife, and more than one graduate was praised for being "quite English in her manner." In numerous cases, these highly acculturated young women were able to secure advantageous matches with incoming white men, but to some extent this was only because white women did not in fact make a successful adaptation to fur-trade life. It had been predicted that "the lovely, tender exotics" would languish in the harsh fur-trade environment, and indeed they did, partly because they had no useful social or economic role to play.
Indian and Mixed-Blood Females Shoved Aside 1870
As a result, mixed marriages continued to be a feature of Western Canadian society until well into the mid-19th Century, but it was not an enduring legacy. Indian and mixed-blood women, like their male counterparts, were quickly shunted aside with the development of the agrarian frontier after 1870. The vital role Indian women had played in the opening of the Canadian West was either demeaned or forgotten.
Chapter 4: The Missionaries
The Americans, however, were coming, but through a circumstance that initially had no connection with Oregon whatsoever. In the years 1824-1836 there occurred in the Eastern US a "born again," evangelical movement, which placed great emphasis on missionary work. In 1831 for Nez Percé tribesmen journeyed to Saint Louis seeking knowledge, it was said, of Christianity. Thus was kindled that fire of evangelism that would bring, in numbers, the first Americans to Oregon:
Let two suitable men, unencumbered with families, and possessing the spirit of martyrs throw themselves into the nation (the natives of Oregon). Live with them—learn their language—preach Christ to them and, as the way opens, introduce schools, agriculture, and the arts of civilized life.
So proclaimed the great Methodist divine Wilbur Fisk (1792-1839) in 1833.
His call was answered the following
by a 31-year-old Methodist, Jason Lee (1803-1845), a dedicated
ready to suffer all hardships to save the indigenous peoples of
from damnation. Two years later, in 1836, four missionaries,
Marcus Whitman (1802-1847) and Eliza and Henry Spalding
by the Congregational, Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed churches,
for Oregon—like Lee with trapping parties. Both groups were
by JohnMcLoughlin and given sound advice on where best to
respective missions. Lee and his associates settled near Salem
Whitmans and Spaldings began their work in the vicinity of Walla
and Lewiston. Over the next decade these mission stations not
in population due to periodic reinforcements from the East, they
substations—the Methodists at The Dalles of the Columbia, Oregon
Clatsop Plains, and the Whitman-Spalding group at Spokane. In
by the early 1840s, the American missionaries had established
in the Oregon Country.
This major contribution to the settlement of Oregon by the American missionaries is beyond dispute. Their success in Christianizing and civilizing the Indians of Oregon is another matter, a tale of basically good intentions frustrated at every turn.
In the first place the missionaries were distracted by their own internal difficulties: frequent squabbling among themselves, little understanding from their distant headquarters in the East, and finally the necessity of devoting much of their time providing for their own needs, thus leaving little energy for the instruction of the native population.
Pretend to Love Thy Neighbor—While Abhorring Him!
It was, however, their problems with the natives themselves that were insurmountable. Many of the latter were to some degree migratory, so sustained instruction at the mission sites was often difficult. Far more distressing was the fact that the missionaries were obliged to love a people whose habits they abhorred—gambling, drinking, stealing, "irregular" sexual conduct, the near nakedness, and an almost total indifference to cleanliness, bodily or otherwise. Worse, the missionaries were signally unsuccessful in convincing the Indians that in practicing these habits they were sinning.
"God is Stingy"
If the missionaries had problems with the Indians, so too did the Indians have problems with the missionaries. In the beginning the missionaries were a novelty, but the novelty rather soon wore off. In the beginning also, the missionaries had been distributors of material rewards, but these soon dwindled, provoking one Cayuse to complain that "God is stingy." Baptism, as far as the Indians could see, had not improved their prowess in the hunt, in war or in love. The missionaries' continued descriptions of the torments of hell both puzzled and depressed them. Soon, too, doubts developed as to the divine origins of the missionaries' message. A Walla Walla Chief questioned:
Where are these laws from? Are they from God or from the earth?... I think they are from the earth, because, from what I know of white men, they do not honor these laws.
Finally, Indians had reason to question one of churchianity's cardinal tenets. In 1839 two Catholic priests, fathers Blanchet and Demers, arrived in Oregon evangelizing in competition with the Protestants. The antagonism that flared between the two religious bodies was fierce and often waspish, none of which deterred these “men of God” from haranguing the indigenous peoples on the absolute necessity of “brotherly love.”
Missionaries Poison Natives' Dogs
It took no more than a decade for the
missionary effort to founder. In 1844, Jason Lee was removed
while in the following year the Methodist annual report
"The hopes of the mission for the future depend primarily upon
of the Gospel among the immigrants." As for the Whitmans and
in November 1847 the Cayuse, convinced that Dr. Whitman was
them with smallpox, slaughtered him, his wife, and 12 of their
Though failing in their mission to Christianize and civilize the Indians, the missionaries nonetheless had a profound effect. For one thing they established schools, which became colleges, such as Willamette, Pacific, Linfield, and Lewis and Clark (formerly Albany College), which continue after nearly a century and a half to enrich the state. Also, by reason of their letters and reports concerning the virtues of the Oregon Country, they encouraged immigration. Finally, they planted the seed in 1838 that was to bear fruit with statehood. This was a memorial carried by Lee to Washington asking Congress to establish its jurisdiction over the Oregon Country. "We flatter ourselves we are germ of a great state."
Jesuits Establish Saint Paul 1836
French Prairie was know to Jesuit
long before the coming of the Methodists in 1834. Most of the
employed by the Hudson's Bay Company were of the Roman Catholic
as was the company's chief factor; and religious instruction in
school at Fort Vancouver was in accordance with the tenets of
The first church within the present limits of Oregon was a log structure erected by Roman Catholics at Saint Paul in 1836, although mass was not celebrated there until three years later.
Jason Lee 1803-1845
Students of Pacific Northwest history
the story of the Rev. Jason Lee's immediate response to the
for Indian missionaries in the Pacific Northwest.
Born at Stanstead, Canada, June 28, 1803, Lee was left fatherless at three and sent to live with the children of his brother Elias Lee, 21 years his senior. One nephew was Daniel, only three years younger than himself, the two growing up together and remaining very close, Daniel later joining Jason in the trip to Oregon. The British-American war upset the Lees' lives and Jason found himself on his own at age 13. An item in his diary reads, "I was thrown upon the world without money to provide for all my wants except by my own industry."
Fortunately he went to school for a short time, later referring to the little Stanstead School as the place where "our gentle youth was cherished." After working at manual labor for a time he was converted by fiery-speaking Rev. Richard Pope. He worked three more years and in 1829 registered at Wilbraham Collegiate Institute in Massachusetts in 1828 and was under the tutelage of the great Methodist divine, Dr. Wilbur Fisk. Although Lee bypassed the Nez Percé, who were later awarded to the Presbyterians, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent the Rev. Samuel Parker to make a reconnaissance of that mission field in 1835.
Lee's Eyes Were "Spiritualistic Blue"
Of imposing height, about six feet
inches, he was "slightly stooping" according to one description,
awkward in movement. His complexion was light, features sharply
with nose prominent, jaws massive and lips kept tightly closed.
refers to his eyes as "spiritualistic blue," forehead high and
long hair pushed back. The impression is of an austere, cold and
man, yet he was to write the guardian of his small daughter,
he was separated at the time, "Please tell little Lucy Ann how
papa loves her, and how he longs to kiss her."
After ordination in 1833 Jason and Daniel left inspired to establish a mission in far off Oregon to convert the "Flatheads." The two arranged to accompany Nathaniel J. Wyeth who was about to start on his second expedition to Oregon. Big-hearted Wyeth even made provision for the missionaries' personal belongings and mission supplies in the hold of his brig May Dacre. The vessel set sail for Oregon by way of Cape Horn from Boston in January 1834, cargo including farm implements, garden seed and live chickens.
Lee Preached First Funeral in Rockies 1833
The land party assembled at Independence, Missouri and left for Oregon. In his diary Lee noted some vivid descriptions of the journey, writing of the boundless prairies, of how trails were crossed and recrossed by tracks of countless thousands of buffalo, about which George W. Riddle, pioneer of 1851, wrote:
...In 1851, there were countless thousands [of buffalo] along Platte River. At times emigrant trains were in great danger if caught in the route of a stampeding buffalo herd. Loose cattle, if enveloped in this rush, would be carried away... When the bison reached our side they were about a quarter of a mile in front—great masses of them—a hundred or more yards wide and miles long. They were several hours in passing, and were moving at a brisk gait, but not stampeding... no attempt was made to kill any of them; in fact it might have endangered the train. The buffalo are said to follow their leaders when on the move, but when stampeded will crowd into such irresistible masses that many of them are trampled to death... Indians of long ago had a plan for capturing buffalo by directing a stampede to a precipice. The leaders, by pressure, were forced over and others would follow to their destruction by the thousands...
In the Rockies the men met Cpt. Thomas McKay's Hudson's Bay Brigade, the Indians with it staging a horse race, two of the mounts colliding and killing one rider named Kamseau. Young Lee preached the funeral service, first to be held in the Rocky Mountains.
Lee Meets McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver
At Walla Walla the party stayed with
Pierre Pambrun who helped get Lee's ten horses, four mules, and
down the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver. There begun a long
friendship between Jason Lee and John McLoughlin. The warm
spectacularly coincidental arrival of the supply ship seemed
guarantee the success of the projected Walamet Mission.
McLoughlin provided the mission party with canoes for the trip to the Willamette, and upstream as far as the farm of Thomas McKay who was McLoughlin's stepson.
Historian Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown discuss the McKays:
Chinook half-bloods William Cameron, Thomas, and Alexander McKay, sons of Astorian Thomas McKay and their Chinook mother Timee, had been en route east in a fur company brigade when they left it to join Lee's party. (The lads had been cared for by Dr. John McLoughlin, whom they called their grandfather because of his marriage to [Marguerite], the widow of Alexander McKay, who had been killed on the Tonquin). William McKay was to have left for Scotland to study medicine. His brothers were to have remained in the East. They had, however, been persuaded by missionary Marcus Whitman to abandon the brigade in order to study in the US. As Whitman had offered to pay his education, William had entered Fairfield College in New York to study medicine. His brothers had entered a Methodist training school in Wilbraham, Massachusetts.
After a short rest there, the party moved on to French Prairie, then only dotted with a few rough log cabins of French-Canadian fur trappers and their Indian slave-wives and children. Farther on up the valley Lee found a site for his mission, about ten miles northwest of the present site of Salem on the east side of the Willamette River. Construction of log cabins began immediately.
Lee Establishes Walamet Mission at French Prairie Near Salem 1834
Food was a real problem that first
most of it consisting of unleavened cakes made of flour provided
peas grown by French Prairie squatters, salt pork from the May
and the luxury of a little milk from the cows driven across
mountains. Later more milk would be supplied by Ewing Young's
California, which included a bull or two, the missionaries' bull
on loan from McLoughlin. After shelters were completed the
was erected, 32 feet by 18 feet, story and a half high, from the
plentiful Oregon oaks, Quercus garryana, growing on the river
The logs were squared on one side to give the interior a
There were two rooms on the found floor with four windows,
floor of "split planks," likely of cedar as were the roof
was snug but built on the rich black-soiled bottom land, created
floodings of the river. And another of its rampages carried away
log and shake so painfully put together. The only consolation
building had served its purpose in being the center of mission
A new structure went up on higher ground and added to it was a school for local Indian children. Many presented themselves almost naked, perhaps wearing a fringe apron around the waist or a piece of deerskin slung over the shoulder. All were infested with vermin, Lee personally scrubbing and delousing most of them.
Dr. Elijah P. White First Physician at Walamet Mission 1836
In July of 1836 the Hamilton sailed from Boston carrying the first reinforcements to the mission, including Dr. Elijah P. White, first physician to join the forces, and Anna Maria Pittman. The ship stopped at the Sandwich Islands, the party continuing to the Columbia River on another. It was met at Champoeg by a messenger requesting the doctor to hurry to the several sick at the mission.
First Christian Marriage in the Oregon Country 1836
On a bright Sunday morning in July
Maria Pittman and Jason Lee were married in a grove of oaks near
bank. Attending the wedding party were 30 or 40 Indian children
of French-Canadians, half-bloods and Indians. The wedding
by Jason's nephew Daniel and it marked the first Christian
the Oregon County, those at Fort Vancouver having been under
contract," witnessed by two persons and approved by John
Bride Anna Maria wrote her brother, "George, I hope you are as happy with your wife as I am with my husband." But in June of the next year she was to write no more as she died in childbirth, the first white woman casualty in the Pacific Northwest. Lee was in the East at the time on one of his many journeys to raise money for the mission.
On one such journey later he met Lucy Thompson and the August 14, 1839 issue of Zion's Herald carried a notice: "Married—at Barre, Vermont July 28, by Rev. E. J. Scott, presiding elder of Montpelier District, Rev. Jason Lee of Oregon Mission and Lucy Thompson." A student at Newbury Seminary for two years and valedictorian of her class, Lee's new spouse wrote a letter to her half-brother, dated October 8, informing him
The long looked for day has arrived, our vessel is in the stream; we go aboard at half past nine tomorrow morning. We sail on the ship Lausanne, captain Spalding... My further acquaintance with reverend Lee proves him to be worthy of the confidence I imposed in him. He is one of the kindest, best of men... he is all an earthly friend can be.
On October 9, 1839 the New York Journal of Commerce reported:
The ship Lausanne has gone to sea, having on board a large Methodist expedition to the Oregon Country.
Cape Horn was rounded safely in spite of a delaying storm but the Straits of Magellan were not reached until early in February and Valparaiso, Chili, was found to be in the throes of a smallpox epidemic. Since it was necessary to replenish food and water supplies, crew of the Lausanne went ashore which frightened some of the missionaries-to-be. Lee remarked in his diary shrewdly
I have been watching the reinforcements in order to discover their traits of character... I am persuaded it is one thing to be a missionary on board the Lausanne, another to be a good one in Oregon.
The ship finally reached the Columbia River on May 21, 1840. Historians Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown wrote that on May 21, 1840,
the Lausanne, Capt. Josiah Spalding, inched across the bar to anchor in Bakers Bay. Aboard was the “great reinforcement” of the missionary society of the Methodist Episcopal church arriving via the Hawaiian Islands from New York, which it had left in October the previous year. Aboard were some 51 persons, among whom were six ministers, four young women teachers, a physician, a cabinetmaker, a steward, and a number of farmers and mechanics and children. Leading the reinforcement was Jason Lee, who had helped recruit it in order to strengthen a mission of the church which he and his nephew, Daniel, had established one half dozen years earlier primarily in the Willamette Valley but which branch missions at The Dalles and Fort Hisqually. Also returning was an Indian lad, Thomas Adams, a Calapooya from the Willamette who had accompanied Lee East in 1838. Missing, however, was William Brooks (Stum-Manu), a Chinook youth who had also accompanied Lee to the East. Believed to have been born at Chinook village and orphaned possibly by the plague, William had been trained at the Willamette Valley Methodist Mission School, which he had entered in 1835. He had been an important member of Lee's team to promote his missions, acting in the capacity of what one writer had called a "Chinook publicist." William's younger brother, Ozro Morrill (Klytes), had also entered the school, as had his sister, Harriet Newell (Tapal). Death on the eastern tour, possibly a result of some tubucular infection, had denied William Brooks any further education.
Lucy Thompson Lee Dies 1842
Lucy Thompson Lee began to fail in health shortly after reaching the mission. Her spouse was gone much of the time, establishing branches at Wascopan, Oregon City and other outposts. About March 20, 1842 she gave birth to a daughter and about a month later, while standing next to her spouse at a Sunday service she collapsed. "One gasp, and it was all over," recorded historian Rev. Harvey K. Hines. He further remarks that when a few hours later
they laid away her remains by the side of his former companion, they laid away the casket that had borne one of the purest gems that ever blazed in the dark night of Oregon.
Jason Lee, his tiny daughter cradled in his arms, turned away from the grave, perhaps vowing never to marry again, for he never did.
Jason Lee Dies at Stanstead 1845
Death overtook him when he was only 41 years old, on March 12, 1845, in his old home and birthplace at Stanstead, Canada, a postmortem showing "diseased state of the lungs... the right lobe attached to the walls of the chest." He was buried in the little Stanstead Cemetery far from the wives he had buried in Oregon.
Josiah L. Parrish First Minister Ordained in Oregon 1860
Born in New York State, January 14,
Josiah L. Parrish was one of the dedicated pioneers who came
the original group founding Oregon's Methodist missions. His
(?-1869; m. 1833), and three children came with him on the
Parrish was licensed to preach before leaving the East and was the first Methodist minister ordained in Oregon, the ceremony one of many "firsts" credited to the mission colony. With Joseph Holman, Parrish started breeding pure blooded sheep in Oregon from a nucleus of several Marino ewes and a buck in 1860. And he was said to have obtained and planted the first white clover seed.
The minister held many offices, one being acting Indian agent for the vast territory extending from California to the Canadian border. He was treasurer of the early Willamette University and in the 1860s donated a valuable parcel of land close to the center of Salem on which to build an asylum for orphans. A few years later he was elected president of Willamette University and then became honorary vice-president.
Rev. Parrish lived to be 90 years old but long before his death he took particular interest in prisoner welfare at the state penitentiary at Salem. Often preaching at the prison, he was known affectionately by many inmates as "Father Parrish." Parrish died May 31, 1895.
Marcus Whitman and Henry Spalding 1936
In 1836, Dr. Marcus Whitman and Henry
Spalding and their wives, Narcissa Prentiss (1808-1847) and
arrived at the Rocky Mountain Company, and established their
Waiilatpu ("the place of the rye grass") and Lapwai, two miles
former station was in Cayuse country and the latter was in the
the Nez Percé country.
At Lapwai and Spalding Missions, Eliza taught the Indian women to sew, weave, and knit
and to read "the white man's book of heaven" that she illustrated on charts six feet long and translated into Nez Percé. The Indians were kind to her, but it was a difficult life for the quiet, sickly Eliza, who missed her good friend Narcissa Whitman—away at Walla Walla, Washington—with whom she had shared the exciting trip as the first white women to cross the Rockies. The two arranged to have simultaneous prayer sessions every morning at 9am, to be together in spirit at least.
Like Lee, Spalding recognized that the
purpose would be achieved best if settled community life could
He also realized that non-indian expansion would raise havoc
bison-hunting and salmon-fishing economy of the Indian. If the
were to become Christian farmers their chance of survival in the
world was good. To that end he served as both pastor and
both roles his bearing was austere. He and Eliza labored with
and the Christianized Nez Percé became "the most advanced
in the arts of civilized life due to the Spaldings."
Many Indians attempted to become "civilized" according to non-indian formulas. They hoed the soil, planted crops, tended livestock, and helped the missionaries erect a blacksmith shop and sawmills and gristmills. By 1839 100 families were engaged in farming, and a second mission station sponsored by the Spaldings was opened at Kamiah.
The Nez Percé were beginning to be split into Christian and heathen categories in terms of attitudes towards liquor, gambling and polygamy, all of which Spalding abhorred. There was a faction that also objected to farming.
Historian Merrill D. Beal wrote that Lt. C. A. Woodruff believed the Nez Percé' Christian teaching
prevented them from engaging in the awful barbarities that usually characterize Indian hostilities. The nontreaty, heathen warriors did not subscribe to this view; they attributed their conduct to the traditions and mores of the tribe. ...
Rivalry Between Faiths
Rivalry between Presbyterian and Roman
missionaries was disturbing to the Indians. The Nez Percé
of theological tenets was impressive, and little trouble
1846, when Indians from the East brought accounts of happenings
frontiers. Joe Lewis and Tom Hill, a Delaware, advised Northwest
to abandon churchianity and return to their tribal God. This
played a part in the Whitman Massacre, on November 29, 1847. As
the Spalding missions were suspended for 14 years, and were not
An act of Congress in 1869, parceled out the reservations to different Christian denominations, and under that law the Nez Perceé were awarded to the Presbyterians.
Lee made two tours to the US in the interest of his missionary work in the Oregon Territory. The first was in 1833-1834 when he came with Nathaniel J. Wyeth of Boston who was planning to start a salmon fishery and packing plant on the Columbia River, and his nephew, Rev. Daniel Lee. That trip was followed four years later by his second visit in 1838-1839. He gave his life and power and success to the Oregon movement.
The ambitious Methodist minister organized and brought to the coast a great reinforcement in 1840. He was also responsible for the coming of the emigrants in 1842, who assisted missionaries in the formation of a Provisional Government for the Oregon Territory.
According to Oregon historian Joseph Gaston, some of the "very good men" who were active in organizing the Provisional Government (1843-1848) were:
Reuben Allen, Bailey,—, Barnum,—, John Bearum, G. W. Bellamy, Vandeman Bennett, Winston Bennett, Thomas Boggs, Bridges,—, Gabriel Brown, James Brown, William Brown, Hugh Burns, Patrick Clark, A. N. Coats, James Coats, Nathan Coombs, Alexander Copeland, Medorem Crawford, Nathaniel Crocker, John Daubenbiss, Allen Davie, Samuel Davis, James Force, John Force, Foster,—, Joseph Gibbs, Girtman,—, W. Hastings,—, John Hofstetter, J. M. Hudspeth, Hardin Jones, Columbia Lancaster, Lansford,—, Amos L. Lovejoy, J. L. Morrison, Sidney Walter Moss (1810-1901), Alexander McKay, John McKay, Dutch Paul, J. H. Perry, Dwight Pomeroy, Walter Pomeroy, J. R. Robb, T. J. Shadden,—, A. D. Smith, Andrew Smith, Darling Smith, Owen Sumner, A. Towner, Joel Turnham, David Weston, and Dr. Elijah White.
Lee was a man of great executive
force of character, tact, energy, and adaptation to the work to
had consecrated his life. His eloquence in speech attracted the
of the people and won their hearts, whenever and wherever he
them, and gave marvelous success to his efforts on behalf of the
At the beginning, the mission embraced a number of buildings. These houses formed the nucleus of the first permanent American settlement in the Oregon Territory.
The mission house was 20 square feet in size, with walls 12 feet thick and side additions for carpenter and blacksmith shops. It was built of logs about ten to 12 inches in diameter, faced on the inside with a broad ax in the hands of Lee. The walls were chinked on the outside with clay and small pieces of lumber. The roof was white fir clap-board. There were two windows, and two in the upper half-story, one in each gable.
A partition divided the two floors into two rooms, the larger one 20 square feet. The smaller room was ten by 20 feet. The partitions and floors were of whip-sawed lumber.
The center of the lower partition was occupied by a double fireplace. The doors were of whip-sawed plank, with wooden hinges and latches. The windows were made of 12 panes of glass, each pane eight by ten inches in size. The furniture was of a primitive design and pattern, and consisted of benches, stools and tables. A Christian bible lay on the table, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence hung over the fireplace.
Here, Cyrus Sheppard indoctrinated the Indians with non-indian religion and culture, and here the children of the missionaries received instruction. Regular and daily religious worship was also observed here, as well as special revival services for Indian youths, mountaineers and settlers. These revivals resulted in many conversions.
Merrill D. Beal, a conservative and traditional historian, wrote that mountain men noticed that the Nez Percé
were strongly "religious." In fact, the trappers thought that what they learned abut the Nez Percé beliefs, legends, and practices bore a close relationship to Christianity. The Indians in turn discovered that the white man’s religion was interesting, and, since trappers were such masterful men, it seems logical that the Nez Percé would seek more philosophical knowledge than they could get from that source.
It was in this building that the first
were held looking to the establishment of the Provisional
In 1851, Ewing Young, who became one of the wealthiest squatters, died without an heir. His lands, buildings and stocks were left unclaimed. Now in place of the social and religious meetings the squatters were accustomed to having, they gathered to appoint and executor of his estate. At the same time another kind of meeting was called to cope with losses of livestock from wolves and other predatory animals—specifically losses of cattle and horses running wild on the Young place after his death.
The farmers met again and levied an assessment of $5 million on each to pay bounty for carcasses of marauding wolves, mountain lions, lynx or bear, on February 2, 1843. This meeting was termed a "Wolf Meeting," and the phrase was applied to future meetings.
The Americans, now equal in number to those of foreign origin, were in some ferment over fear of British control, and it was agreed by everyone in the settlement that a local government of some kind was needed. A committee of 12 was appointed to "take into consideration the propriety for taking measure for civil and military protection of this colony."
Within a few days, the committee met at Willamette Falls and arranged for a general gathering on May 2, 1843, to vote on the situation. That meeting was the turning point of the Oregon Territory. It resulted in a peaceful decision that the vast territory should be under the control of the US rather than Great Britain.
The meeting at Champoeg was called to order in the corner of the warehouse, which was used as an office by the Hudson's Bay Company. The first resolutions, calling for organization into a self-governing body, generated so much excitement and confusion in the confined quarters that many voters went unheard. Many people who voted did so improperly. Some even voted for the opposing side! The whole gathering was moved outside to the middle of the field. There, the situation improved, but a voice vote proved hopeless.
A fur trapper by the name of Joseph L. Meek raised his penetrating voice against the uproar and urged men to “side up” in the field, and declared he would start things by taking the American side. French-Canandian George W. Le Breton made the formal motion that this be done. American William H. Gray seconded the motion. Meek stepped out and called on all those present who wanted an American government established to gather around him. There were 102 voters present, none of them women or Indians. Forty-nine non-indians were on the American side. Including Meek, there were 50 in all. Fifty men remained where they were. Etienne Lucier and Francois Xavier Matthieu stood in the middle, hesitating to choose either side. Everyone waited impatiently for them to make up their minds in the matter. Lucier was afraid that under American rule he would be heavily taxed. Matthieu owned much land and property in nearby Butteville where he was surrounded by American sympathizers. He decided to go with them, and persuaded Lucier to do the same. They joined Meek's side and swayed the vote, 52 to 50 in favor of the Americans. The Oregon Country was safe under the flag of the US.
The work of the committee was ratified, a code of laws was adopted, and officers were elected on July 5, 1843.
At subsequent meetings, most of the propositions advanced by the Americans were rejected by the Canadian sympathizers. However, in the autumn of 1843, when 873 immigrants arrived over the Oregon Trail, it was apparent that Oregon was to be American and the Canadians reconciled and voiced no further opposition.
Narcissa and Marcus Whitman
No sooner had Lewis and Clark
historic crossing than others followed them into the Far West.
trip the explorers encountered two lone men in the vicinity of
the reckless vanguard of hundreds of mountain men who were to
vast area over the next decades.
The next 30 years these mountain men scoured the Western mountains for beaver, trapping every likely river and stream for pelt. An incredible lot, enduring all manner of hardships and danger, they fought and drank hard, and they left their names on the Western land. Some lived with the Indians and adapted totally to their ways; many died in the unending skirmishes between Indian tribes. It was a wild life, culminating each year in a rendezvous held in a chosen mountain valley where "Taos lightening" fueled bloody fights and general hell-raising. This was a strictly male era, the only women occasionally present being those Indian slave-wives who most of the time were left with their tribes while the mountain men each year pushed farther and farther West in the pursuit of the valuable furs.
There in 1836 the era ended, its closing marked by the passing of the beaver into near-extinction as the meager catch of that year made plain. So heavily had the animal been trapped that the enterprise was no longer economically worthwhile. But the end was marked that year in an even more dramatic way. At the annual rendezvous on the Green River arrived a party of missionaries and their wives bound for Oregon Territory. The age of settlement was opening and the wild free days would soon draw to a close.
There was undoubtedly some consternation among the mountain men as they beheld white women entering upon the Western scene. White women meant settlements and civilization which over the long course of time would change the face of the country. The settlements would become towns with governments and laws and regulations—none of which were much esteemed by the mountain men. The more astute among them must have realized that the two white women in the missionary party marked the end of their way of life.
The women in the party, Narcissa Prentiss Whitman and Eliza Hart Spalding, did not see themselves as squatters but as those bringing the word of salvation to the "heathen savage."
Annie Besant (1847-1933) addresses the Quixotic Victorian:
Take again, glancing over history, the fashion in which Christian nations have ever dealt with savage tribes. Charlemagne (742-814) Christianized the Saxons with fire and sword, breaking them into the obedience of the church. The Spaniards Christianized the Peruvians in similar fashion, turning the happy flowery land of the sun into a slave-filled shambles. The English have Christianized Indians and Africans, Maories (Philippinos) and Australians, in good old historic manner of murder and fraud and theft. Look where we will at the treatment experienced by the savage at Christian hands, and we find ever the same old story—cruelty that sickens, treachery that disgusts, brutality that appalls.
They viewed themselves as bound to a distant
land, as exotic a destination as that of their counterparts en
Africa or the Sandwich Islands.
Marilla M. Ricker (1840-1920), distinguished attorney and free thought missionary, wrote that the business of trading in slaves
was not immoral by the estimate of public opinion in colonial times. A deacon of the church in Newport esteemed the slave trade, with its rum accessories, as "home missionary work." It is said that on the first Sunday after the arrival of his slaves he was accustomed to offer thanks that an overruling providence had been pleased to bring to this “land of freedom” another cargo of benighted heathen to enjoy the blessings of a Gospel dispensation.
The real meaning of their venture was to
hidden from them. In Narcissa Whitman's case this inability to
and face reality was to contribute greatly to the tragedy that
She was quintessentially the 19th century "gently reared" white woman. Although encumbered with some of the more constricting views of the age, at the same time she harbored an independence of spirit and resoluteness, that might in a later time have made her a suffragist or abolitionist. Whatever she might have been in a later age, she was most certainly unsuited to be a missionary to the Indians. How she came to this place in 1836 tells a great deal about the culture of the time as it applied to women like her.
Narcissa was born in 1808 in New York State, living first in Prattsburg and then in the town of Amity where her family moved when she was a young woman. Her father, Judge Stephen Prentiss, was well-to-do by small town standards and the Prentisses were pillars of the Presbyterian church, their family and social life entirely church-centered. In a day of limited communications and cultural isolation, Narcissa's entire existence turned upon the church. She sang in the choir, read religious tomes and seemed to focus her whole intellectual and emotionally life upon religion. These were the years of the great awakening, the spiritual revival in protestantism that spawned an emotional evangelism of intense energy. Like many young people, Narcissa "wrestled with her soul" and achieved "conversion."
She was a bright woman, and she seems to have been the pet of her parents in a family of nine. She was also, through her blonde good looks, lively spirit and beautiful singing voice, something of a star in the small town firmament of Amity. But the choices of the time for a woman of energy, intelligence and education were indeed few; for Narcissa there was only one. When she was 16 years old she decided to be a missionary.
Twelve years later when she actually made application to the American Missionary Board she would recall the moment of decision clearly.
I frequently desired to go to the heathen but only halfheartedly and it was not until the first Monday of January 1824 that I felt to consecrate myself without reserve to the missionary work awaiting the leading of providence concerning me.
It has been suggested by Narcissa's
perceptive biographer that she was brought to this decision by
religious wave and romanticism of the period concerning Indians
work. But another reason for her yearning cannot be overlooked.
of verve and talent as well as woefully limited choices, how
it must have been to dream of the adventure of a journey to a
How dramatic to cast oneself in the role of savior of the
There was in Narcissa a streak of individualism that made her out of step with the early 19th century concept of women. Yet at the same time she shared many of the concepts of her time, particularly the superiority of the educated non-indians. These two factors guided her into her fateful decision and taken together virtually insured that her chosen goal would end in disaster.
As limited as her choices were, even that of missionary seemed to be closed to her for a while. When her application for missionary work was received by the board it was set aside. They would not send an unmarried woman into the field.
Shortly thereafter Marcus Whitman, a young doctor who had always wanted to be a minister, won the approval of the board for work in the Oregon Territory. Word had come East reportedly from the territorial governor, William Clark, of the desire of the Nez Perceé Indians for the white man's God and the white man's "book." Actually what had prompted the Nez Perceé to make the long and dangerous journey to Saint Louis was not desire for the Christian religion but for the white people's "magic" which they attributed to non-indian religion. It was the power of the guns and gunpowder—not Bibles and salvation—that truly interested the Indians. To the missionary-minded, however, this was a missionary call not to be ignored.
Marcus Whitman's First Trip to Oregon
While both Whitman's and Prentiss's
were still before the board, Whitman had come to Amity and an
regarding his marriage to Prentiss was made. It is not known
specifically came with the idea of securing a helpmate or
of marriage developed upon his meeting Prentiss. In any event,
to marry and Prentiss thereby qualified for the career she had
It was a business-like arrangement typical of 19th Century
Then Whitman decided to make the trip to Oregon on a trial basis without Narcissa. Apparently she strongly urged otherwise, but Whitman, always a very stubborn man, held to his view of the fragility of women. Both marriage and Narcissa's missionary work would have to await his return and his decision as to whether it was feasible for Narcissa to make a journey that no white woman had made before.
As it turned out he did not explore the whole route but went only as far as the site of the fur trade rendezvous, traveling with the annual caravan of trader's goods. Whitman then decided to head home and while on the trail began preparations for bringing Narcissa out. He was not amply satisfied that she could made the journey and wrote to her from Council Bluffs:
I was exceedingly surprised that you should have conceived it practicable for you to have crossed the mountains this spring. Had I known half as much of the trip as I do now, when I left you, I should have been entirely willing, if not anxious, that you should have accompanied us.
Even though the marriage was an
his decision to turn back in mid-journey and head for home,
he felt a desire to be with her.
Upon his return to New York State Marcus found that in the view of the board it would be necessary to find more people to accompany him and Narcissa to Oregon in order to constitute a mission. Frantically Whitman hunted about for more recruits. The final choice was the most unlikely and perhaps the most unfortunate possible. The man chosen was Henry Spalding, a rejected suitor of Narcissa. Although Spalding had since married and his wife Eliza Hart would accompany him, he still harbored bitterness at the rejection. He hated Narcissa Whitman, deemed her a fool, and kept these feelings as long as she lived.
Spalding was otherwise unsuitable as a companion for the enterprise. In addition to a very touchy ego, he was not good under stress and was prone to pettiness and bickering. His wife Eliza was of better character, a "plain" woman whose loveliness was internal. But she too offered problems. Only recently she had given birth to a stillborn child and was still ailing.
Like many women who were to come after her on the trail, she nevertheless deemed her spouse's decision to go West a command not only of her "earthly master" but thereby from God himself.
Eliza and Henry Spalding did not attend the Whitman wedding but it was an add enough affair even without the presence of the rejected suitor. As always, church matters came first, and Narcissa's wedding was hardly more than an adjunct to the ceremony by which judge Prentiss was made an alderman. In almost prescient fashion, Narcissa was married in a black dress. The services concluded with a hymn, Narcissa singing the last verse alone in her beautiful voice.
Whitman's Second Trip to Oregon
The American Board of Missions provided for Whitman a generous outfit—blacksmith tools, plows, seen grain, clothing for two years and other necessities, pack animals, riding horses, 16 cows and two wagons, making it itself quite a train, and which was driven and managed by William H. Gray and the two Nez Percé Indian boys.
The honeymoon too was odd by today’s
Bride and bridegroom literally moved with a crowd of people. In
to the Spaldings, they traveled with two Nez Percé youth
had brought back from the West with him. Crossing into
picked up others—the Satterlees, headed for Indian mission work
the Mississippi, and a young woman also going there to marry her
According to Oregon historian Joseph Gaston:
To Marcus Whitman belongs the honor of attempting the first wagon haul from Missouri to Oregon. If one could transfer their personality back 76 years to the May morning in 1836, when Dr. Whitman and his bride, Narcissa Prentiss, Rev. Henry Harmon Spalding and his bride, Eliza Hart, the invincible William H. Gray, and the two Nez Percé Indian boys, all and each with light hearts and high hopes, seated themselves in that first wagon to test all the unknown and unforeseeable toils and dangers of a 2,000-mile ride over plains, deserts, mountains and unbroken forests, they might get some idea of the courage, heroism and self-sacrifice which animated that first wagon party on its holy mission to Oregon. These two cultured women were the first white women to attempt that unequaled exploit in the history of mankind. And these two women have been well named "The Real Pioneers of Civilization in the Oregon Territory."
In spite of the circumstances,
deeply in love with her spouse during the honeymoon. Like many
of the period this marriage developed into a deep bond in the
hard experiences. In favor of developing such a bond was the
they shared and the clear and complete dependency that marriage
that time dictated. Further, they had brought no romantic views
to their union and in the absence of such expectations, they had
pleasant surprise. It was not, however, an idyllic union. In the
ahead this conflict would take its toll.
While still east of the Mississippi, though the journey was relatively easy through the recently settled frontier along the Ohio, you Ms. Satterlee, who like Eliza Spalding had obediently followed her spouse, despite ill health, died of what was probably tuberculosis. At Saint Louis, the party received official permission of the federal government for settlement in the Nez Percé and Chinook Indian Country. The document was obliquely worded because the situation of ownership of the Oregon Territory was in doubt. The question of British vs. American claims had yet to be settled.
In Saint Louis, Narcissa and the others had the opportunity to view the French city that was already the grand old dame of the frontier before Narcissa was born. Here a characteristic of the protestant missionaries became clear. In writing to her family of a visit to the new Catholic cathedral, Narcissa gave voice to the hatred that then divided Catholic and protestant and made some missionaries feel they were in a race to save the heathen savage.
The journey overland from Saint Louis to the Rockies was probably the happiest time in Narcissa's life. In contrast, Eliza Spalding suffered grievously. The jolting ride, the scant diet, the anxiety of the journey wore on her.
The Heroic Pioneer Woman
Of the fortitude of the women one can not say too much. Embarrassed at the start by the follies of fashion (and long dresses which were quickly discarded and the bloomer donned), they soon rose to the occasion and cast false modesty aside. Could we have had the camera (of course not then in existence) on one of those typical camps, what a picture there would be. Elderly matrons dressed almost as like the little sprite miss of tender years of today. The younger women more shy of accepting the inevitable, but finally fell into the procession, and we had a community of women wearing bloomers without invidious comment, or in fact of any comment at all. Some of them soon went barefoot, partly from choice and in other cases from necessity. The same could be said of the men, as shoe leather began to grind out from the sand and dry heat. Of all the fantastic costumes it is safe to say the like before was never seen nor equaled. The scene beggars description. Patches became visible upon the clothing of the preachers as well as laymen; the situation brooked no respect of persons. The grandmother's cap was soon displaced by a handkerchief or perhaps a bit of cloth. Grandfather’s high crowned hat disappeared as if by magic. Hatless and bootless men became a common sight. Bonnetless women were to be seen on all sides. They wore what they had left or could get without question of the fitness of things.
There was as yet no actual Oregon Trail and
a good part of the journey on the Great Plains the missionary
hurrying to overtake the fur company's caravan somewhere ahead
The crossing of the swollen Platte River was particularly
had been injured some days earlier and the brunt of the work of
the draft animals across the river fell to Marcus Whitman—often
years ahead such would be the case. For three days he labored in
water until the crossing was accomplished.
In this stretch of the journey they added to their party: William H. Gray, an egocentric young man who, like Spalding, would make a lot of petty trouble; a hired man to drive the wagons named Dulin; another Nez Percé youth; a young man named Miles Goodyear, who was now a greenhorn but in these twilight years of the mountain men would make a name for himself. Yet another person was added to the venture, for here on the prairie Narcissa Whitman became pregnant.
On May 24, 1836, they finally overtook the fur company caravan. Now at least their fears concerning Indian attacks were eased. The fur train was headed by Broken-Hand Fitzpatrick, a legend even in his day; and among the rough frontiersmen were two English officers.
Historian Joseph Gaston wrote that soon after starting, the Whitman party
overtook the Fitzpatrick fur traders with their carts, and then making up altogether a caravan of 19 carts, one light wagon and two heavy wagons.
Narcissa promptly invited the Englishmen and
to tea. This scandalized Spalding and Gray, who hated Englishmen
Narcissa unseemly and forward. But it assuaged some of
as being encumbered with a party of greenhorns and women.
Gaston wrote that on reaching Fort Laramie at the junction of the North Platte and Laramie rivers, in what is now Laramie County, Wyoming,
the fur traders' carts stopped, that being as far as it was then deemed practicable for wheeled vehicles, but on account of the enfeebled condition of Narcissa Spalding, Whitman decided to retain the lighter of his two wagons and leave the others behind. In this way Eliza Spalding was carried on safely and comfortably through the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains, following a natural highway.
The land they crossed was virtually as unspoiled and pristine as when seen 30 years earlier by Lewis and Clark. The fur traders had left virtually no mark on the land even along the caravan route. Not until a few years later when the prairie schooners passed this way by the thousands would streams, trees, grass and game be decimated along the line of travel.
The Green River Rendezvous
At Green River, Whitman met the annual rendezvous of the fur traders, and also cpt. Nathaniel J. Wyeth returning from his second expedition to Oregon. Here both the fur traders and Wyeth united in advising Whitman not to attempt to go with his wagon, which they assured him would not only give him great trouble, but dangerously delay his trip. Nevertheless, the courageous Whitman resolved to take his wagon along, and did so successfully, reaching Fort Hall in what is now Bingham County, Idaho, July 24, 1836.
Once the Green River rendezvous was reached somehow for Narcissa the thrill of the adventure ebbed away. She fully realized how far she was going into the wilderness and how unlikely it was she would ever see her home or family again. But what seems to have disturbed her most was the nature of her encounter with the Indians. She found to her dismay that she could not relate to them. Eliza could, but Narcissa couldn't. There may have echoed in her mind something of the words of the head of the missionary board at the outset when he cautioned the Whitmans that the task before them would take profound humility. Though Narcissa had many strong points, humility was not among them.
According to Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas, authors of The American Woman's Gazetteer,
The Cayuse whispered among themselves that [Narcissa Whitman] was "haughty and very proud," and that Marcus [Whitman] was an evil sorcerer who was poisoning the tribe to make way for the white immigrants.
The missionaries left the rendezvous to travel with a party of fur traders returning from Hudson Bay. At Fort Hall the party lost one of its number. Thoroughly fed up with the terrible struggle to bring along the Whitman's wagon where no other wagon had gone, Miles Goodyear turned south at Fort Hall for Utah where he became the first non-indian to settle in the area. One other tried to drop out; William H. Gray, ill from the poor diet, begged to be left by the side of the road to die. Whitman viewed this as senseless melodrama and hauled him astride a horse and the party pressed on.
Snake River Valley
The country of the Snake River was
the worst they encountered in the long journey. Cutting through
hundreds of feet deep, the river itself was frequently
above its rushing water, the party looked down upon it and
I thought the heavens over us were brass and the earth iron
Narcissa wrote in her journal.
Stubbornly, under the blazing August sun of the high desert, Whitman struggled to bring the cart on to Oregon, believing that its utility as a farm vehicle outweighed the trouble. Like countless pioneers to follow, the party began to lighten their load. Spalding's books, Narcissa's little trunk of clothes, the wagon box itself and eventually the entire wagon was abandoned.
Here Whitman and his party had to stop
rest and repairs, and here he was again warned that he could not
through that country with his wagon. Loath to give up the wagon
the doctor resolved on a compromise—he would convert the wagon
proceeding with the front axle, fore wheels and tongue, and put
axle and wheels on top as cargo; and in that shape the wagon was
down through the Snake River Valley, over lava rocks, sand
brush a distance of 250 miles to old Fort Boise. And there the
wagon—the first to pass the Rocky Mountains—was left because the
and the whole party had become so tired out with the labor of
journey, it was not safe to try to drag it through to the
But Whitman’s wagon did not make a wagon road. It had followed the route found by Hunt and Stuart, and had blazed the way, and that was honor enough. Three years later, Dr. Robert Newell and others concluding to leave the Rocky Mountain region and come to Oregon, came through by Fort Boise, and picked up the remains of Whitman’s wagon, and brought it safely through with their wagons, and delivered it up to the doctor at Waiilatpu Mission.
The experience of Dr. Whitman showed that it was not an impossible undertaking to bring wagons from the Missouri River through the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains to Fort Hall. And six years later, that party of emigrants coming into Oregon with Dr. Elijah White, US Indian agent, brought 19 wagons as far as Fort Hall and then traded or sold them to the agent of The Hudson's Bay Company, and came on to Oregon with horses. That was a very valuable addition to the population of Oregon, bringing in some very good men who were active in organizing the Provisional Government.
They made Fort Snake, the forerunner
Idaho, a rough outpost of the Hudson's Bay Company. There the
in deference to the women's desire to do some laundry, only
opportunity since leaving the Missouri frontier. What followed
most difficult kind of travel. Repeatedly they had to cross the
which earns its name in part from its twisting course, but they
the final stage of the long, long trek.
There on August 26, the party divided at a place called Division Creek. None of the journals tells of a final dispute between the Spaldings and the Whitmans but many quarrels and reconciliations had preceded this day. It was decided that the Whitmans and the Nez Percé boys and Gray would continue with the Hudson's Bay party, while the Spaldings would follow along with the cattle under guidance of an Indian called Rottenbelly.
As ominous as was this division Narcissa Whitman was now to become the first white woman to reach the Columbia River and would not share in history this honor with Eliza Spalding. They had come nearly 4,000 miles overland, riding much of the way sidesaddle. There yet remained the treacherous descent of the Blue Mountains, but from its crest Narcissa beheld far below the thin silver trace of the Columbia River and took heart.
Fort Walla Walla
On September 1 they reached Fort Walla Walla, a fur trading post since 1818. The worst of the journey was done and the Columbia River missionaries, probably now to jaded with travel to appreciate the then untrammeled grandeur of the mighty river with its rapids and abundant salmon and waterfowl. All their expectations were focused on Fort Vancouver, the British fort that was the only town in all the great Pacific Northwest.
Fort Vancouver: Hub of the Northwest Territory
It should have been obvious to them at Fort Vancouver that their preconceptions of the Oregon Territory were wrong.
Fort Vancouver was the headquarters
Hudson's Bay Company's Columbia Department, embracing
Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The trading post also
Britain’s business and governmental interests in competition
The fort's warehouses stocked supplies for the fur brigades, the Indian and settler trade, and the 20 to 30 company posts in the department. Most Indians were shrewd traders, so trade goods were carefully chosen. Almost all of the trade items were imported from or through Britain, so there was a two-year lapse between ordering and receiving.
The fort’s shops bustled with activity, manufacturing as many items as possible. The fort echoed to sounds of carpenters hammering and sawing, of blacksmiths making tools and repairing old ones, and of coopers making barrels. Carts rumbled to and fro piled high with supplies and with firewood for the bakehouse's large brick ovens. Indians arrived continually to trade, passing farmers and herders tending crops and livestock. Company clerks bent over their account books figuring out how much who owed whom. Frequent visitors were welcomed and eagerly quizzed for news and gossip of the outside.
Though everyone worked hard and for long hours—Sunday was the only day of rest in the early years—the free time was enjoyed to the fullest. Hunting, riding, picnicking, footracing, and other competitive feats of strength were favored pastimes. The arrival of a supply ship or one of the Royal Navy's vessels was cause for extra celebration. Once a group of naval officers produced a play, the first theatrical performance in the Northwest.
The workers represented many nationalities. Sir George Simpson, head of the Hudson's Bay Company's north American operations, once wrote a description of a trip down Columbia River and it indicated the diversity of Fort Vancouver:
Our crew of ten men contained Iroquois who spoke their own tongue; a Cree half-breed of French origin, who appeared to have borrowed his dialect from both his parents; a North Briton who understood only the Gaelic of his native hills; Canadians who, of course, knew French, and Sandwich Islanders, who jabbered a medley of Chinook and their own vernacular jargon. Add to all this that the passengers were natives of England, Scotland, Russia, Canada and the Hudson Bay Territories.
The Whitmans and Spaldings had not come to a wilderness to serve Indians cut off totally from civilization. All around the fort were farms—established by British men who had retired from the fur trade and settled down with Indian wives. More significantly, American missionary Rev. Jason Lee and his nephew, Rev. Daniel Lee, sent out by the rival Methodist missionary board, were already on the scene and eager for settlement by American emigrants. The Whitmans and Spaldings had arrived at that moment in which the Oregon Territory was about to become the newest frontier for American settlers.
Stubbornly however, they stuck to
dream. As though to force it into reality the group pulled back
Vancouver eastward into a wilder area. The Spaldings went alone
the Nez Percé tribe and the Whitmans settled on the Walla
River at a place called Waiilatpu.
It was foolhardy to separate again. None of them were experienced in making a home on the frontier. Further, they were dividing their strength without much prior knowledge of what relations with the Indians would actually be. In the case of the Spaldings at least the Nez Percé had demonstrated eagerness to have them in their midst. But the Whitmans’ case was quite different—Marcus, for reasons unknown, chose to settle among the Cayuse tribe.
He could hardly have made a worse choice. The debilitating effect of non-indian intrusion on the Columbia River had worked its way as far upstream as the Cayuse. The Indians there were already infected by the cultural and physical decline that generally followed the intrusion of non-indian material goods, disease, and alcohol. Even the Nez Percé warned Whitman against settling among the Cayuse, pointing out to him that the tribe was restless, discontented and rapidly depleting in numbers. But Whitman looked over the land of the Cayuse and found it good for farming. He was caught between the most effective way to serve as a missionary and the most effective way to establish a missionary outpost.
Life Among the Cayuse
The years that followed for the
were a long, heartbreaking struggle to transplant the amenities,
and mores of Amity, New York to the shore of the Walla Walla
never relinquished her narrow system of values; Marcus never
returning East. They persisted in the face of the hardest kind
aided only sporadically by men passing through who would hire on
at the tiny settlement. The Nez Percé boys who had
the Whitmans grew discontented and left; William Gray decided he
his own property and walked out on them.
The missionary work necessarily fell back into second place. Their energies were almost completely taken up with building a house, establishing a farm, and doctoring the Indians. More often than not Marcus worked beyond the point of exhaustion, a pathetic but gallant figure taking upon his shoulders work and care enough for six men.
Narcissa, pregnant and struggling to relate to the Cayuse, worried about their very survival. When the baby came the first spring, there was no one to help with the birth except Marcus. The Indian woman who had been hired to aid Narcissa came down ill and Marcus had to care for her and her children as well as Narcissa and the new infant, Alice Clarissa. Over the years the house on the Walla Walla was more an infirmary and hostel than a home. It was an inhumane burden for two people unschooled in frontier skills and grappling with unknown languages. Psychologically, it was particularly hard on Narcissa, for she still clung to the style of life now a continent away with its amenities and orderliness.
Pioneer Miriam Colt expressed her loneliness in her diary:
We are as much shut out here from the world as though we were on some lonely island in the ocean.
But survive they did. Marcus built the house and a barn. Fencing went up and crops were planted and harvested. Towards the end of their venture on the Walla Walla a mill was under construction. He even found time to impart to the Cayuse some agricultural skills. Narcissa too learned to manage—cooking, cleaning and doing laundry for hordes of people. As the Oregon Trail developed into an emigrant roadway, the annual wagontrains found help and food at the Whitman mission. On one occasion a wagontrain arrived with the half-starved Sager children who had been newly orphaned on the trail. Narcissa took them in and became their mother.
The Cayuse: An "Inferior" Race
Narcissa tried, though unsuccessfully,
be a teacher to the Indians but they remained to her an "alien"
people. Gradually her school became almost entirely a school for
children or the children of non-indian fathers and Indian
But she labored on, constantly reexamining her heart and her conscience as her copious letters and diaries show. She truly longed to serve her God and the Indians. She was a victim of her time, thrust into an unsuitable and demanding role by her deep desire to make something significant of her life when there was no suitable channel for her talents.
In short while the light-hearted energy had ebbed from Narcissa; hard work and anxiety took a heavy toll. She made her own road even harder for she still yearned for the style of life now a continent away—a genteel life with time to read, with privacy, with opportunity for prayer and thought. Especially both she and Marcus yearned for rest.
Walla Walla Claims Alice Clarissa
On a Sunday afternoon in their third
on the Walla Walla Narcissa paid a terrible price for a few
well-earned rest. While she and her spouse sat enjoying rare
in their books, Alice Clarissa wandered from the house and
nearby river. For Narcissa, what light there had been in her
passed out of it. Thereafter, each time she stepped out of her
saw the tiny grave surrounded by its white picket fence.
Her loss did not, however, embitter her. Although she was inept as a missionary and had a narrow concept of God and religion, she was a truly faithful believer. She accepted the tragedy. Her love for Alice Clarissa—the only child she would ever bear—reached out to other children—among them the orphans of the Oregon Trail.
By the time the seven Sager orphans were established in the house by the river the situation at the mission was very bad. In spite of all the visible fruits of their labors—the farm, the spacious house, quarters for travelers, a blacksmith shop—the Whitmans and the Spaldings had never been able to resolve their original conflicts. Worse, the constant flow of squatters’ wagons that began in 1842 into the Oregon Territory was alarming to the Indians. They had heard what had happened to their Eastern Brethren when pallid people came to settle and now they feared they too would soon be displaced from their land. The Oregon Territory was no longer a wild Indian country but the immediate object of the American nation reaching out to extend its borders.
Waiilatpu Mission Ordered Closed
Then the missionaries received a
blow. The board, disturbed by the quarreling and realizing that
of an Indian mission had become obsolete, ordered most of the
closed and told their builders that they must come home.
Whitman looked around him at the results of his long years of hard work and decided He could not let go. It would have been a kindness to Narcissa had he done so, but he instead decided to return East and fight the board’s decision.
Even though it was winter, Marcus Whitman undertook to travel overland in what was to be a truly heroic journey. Legend later would say that Marcus Whitman braved the terrible crossing to persuade the government in Washington to annex Oregon but that was not his real motive. He did not see the broader territorial stakes; he went to fight for his own territory—Waiilatpu and the life he and Narcissa had invested there.
In Whitman’s absence, Narcissa stayed alone at the mission with only the children as companions. On a dark knight she was awakened by the sound of an Indian trying to force entry into the house. Her terrified screams as she fought to hold the door caused the intruder to flee. The incident forced her to realize that she could not stay alone at the mission but before she left she had the courage to confront the Chief of the Cayuse about the intruder. An Englishman at Fort Walla Walla sent a wagon for her and, in a state of depression and anxiety, she left the mission.
It had been an ominous incident but what happened next made things worse than they might have been. A self-important man, Dr. Elijah White, had secured appointment as emissary of the US government with respect to Indian relations in the Oregon Territory. In response to the attack on Narcissa he headed inland from the Willamette Valley with six armed men, determined to make the Indians submit to his white man's laws. White’s show of force and his edicts, among them an Article Nine forbidding the keeping of dogs, predictably inflamed the Indians. Word circulated among them that Whitman had gone East to obtain soldiers for war against the Cayuse.
The Migration of 1843
In his actual mission to Washington Marcus was successful. As he returned home in 1843 a new vision exploded on him. He joined a train of white-topped emigrants' wagons heading to Oregon with an unbelievable 1,000 new squatters. He was so dazzled by what was now happening—the surge of squatters toward Oregon—that on his return to the Walla Walla he failed to see that Narcissa was too sick and worn to continue at the mission. In his excitement over the now full-blown emigration he could not perceive her real needs for rest and to return home. Apparently, however, she tried to be brave and made no such request, at least none that is found in the records.
Chapter 5: Provisional Government
The Value of the Provisional Government 1843-1848
The great body of the emigration of 1843 (estimated from 105 to 137 persons), reached the Oregon City terminus about the last days of October of that year. Suppose, then, that there had been no government, no person or authority to give direction to affairs, to give information, or maintain the orderly progress of society or the public peace? They all came for land; and suddenly without notice, 320 families are dropped down at Oregon City. They know nothing of the country, nothing of what land has been claimed, or where they can go to get a homestead, without trespassing on the rights of a prior locator. In such a case of there had not been anarchy, confusion, and violence, it would have been a wonder. If anarchy and violence had resulted from indiscriminate land grabbing, or land claim jumping, where there could be no US or English title promised, the Hudson’s Bay Company by its Canadian officials, would have been compelled to interpose to maintain peace and order; and that interposition would have set up and put in operation a British, instead of an American government, in Oregon. That would have made the country British in fact and deed; and there would have not been one chance in a hundred for the US to have ever recovered any part of Oregon. But the heroes of Champoeg had wisely forestalled such a calamity by the organization of May 2, 1843. And when the great caravan reached Oregon City six months afterwards, it found an American government in operation, with laws authorizing the newcomers to go out and select their homesites and have them duly recorded and protected. The infant Provisional Government was literally a God-send to the settlers, the incoming immigrants, and to the Canadians as well; and too much honor can never be given the men who organized that government.
"A ball was given on the floor of Dr. John McLoughlin's mill in Oregon City. Lt. Peel bet the wine with the late Dr. Robert Newell that most of those present would take the British side in case of a contest. Peel lost the bet and showing some chagrin in his manner, offered to bet another bottle of wine that a man he indicated sitting right opposite to him across the floor would fight under the British flag. Dr. Newell took the bet. The man was asked to cross the floor when the question was put to him. 'Sir, which flag would you support in case of a war for this country?' The answer was quick and clear. 'I fight underneath the stars and stripes, myself.' The man was Willard H. Reese."
This incident was related by Gov.
F. Chadwick a number of years later. It gives a vivid glimpse
way events were building up to trouble with Great Britain over
Country, as to whose flag was to fly over it. "Oregon" at the
a vast territory extending from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky
between parallels 42 and 54 to 40. The controversy centered in a
grassy "prairie" area extending from the Indian village of
where the state capitol at Salem now stands northward to a point
of the Willamette Falls at Oregon City. Possibly this land had
covered by the same dense forests that mantled the surrounding
but Indian tribes, loosely grouped as Calapooya, had long been
of setting fire to the grass and brush each fall, to corral game
killing and discourage forest growth.
To the earliest squatters in the 1820s the land seemed waiting to be planted to wheat. Etienne Lucier, born in the District of Saint Edouard near Montreal, came to this part of the Willamette Valley in those years. He had been a recruited member of the Wilson Price Hunt Expedition overland to Astoria, arriving there in 1812. The arduous trip was part of Astor's great venture to establish a branch of the Pacific Fur Company at the mouth of the Columbia River. Lucier became a trapper and guide, saw the fertile fields of the Willamette Valley and decided to settle there, planting wheat he brought from the post at Fort Vancouver, Lucier was Oregon's first farmer.
During the 1830s more French-Canadians gave up trapping, married Indian squaws, termed "infidel women" (heathens or pagans) by the priests who established missions at nearby Saint Louis and Saint Paul. Inept at farming to begin with, these mountain men were soon producing wheat in a golden flood, using it to pay for all manner of food and supplies in place of money.
A system was established to get the grain to market. Many of the farms centered on the banks of the Willamette River at a point called Encampment du Sable. A landing and warehouse were built there, batteaux loaded with grain and floated to the falls at Oregon City where larger boats reloaded the cargo below the falls. Dr. John McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver found a good sale for the crop in Russian settlements along the coast.
Encampment du Sable took on the more convenient name of the Indian village nearby—Champoeg. The origin of the name, according to one version is that it is a combination of two Indian words for weed—"champoo" and "coich," pronunciation similar to "shampooick."
By 1840 there were 50 families on the French Prairie, most of them near Champoeg. At first all were French-Canadians with Calapooya or Nez Perceé wives and numerous progeny, but later Americans joined the community so that Protestants, particularly Methodists, mingled with the Catholics. There was little friction since in this remote country every man had to rely on his neighbor.
Yet there was a storm of vaster implications brewing in high levels—the dispute between the US and Great Britain as to who would control these fertile lands of the entire Oregon area. On October 28, 1818 a treaty of joint occupancy had been signed in London. In 1827 this was renewed but now more and more American squatters began to chafe at the idea of a possible English government. When the discontent finally reached an explosive state, it was less a quarrel than the need to settle a private estate amicably.
Ewing Young, who became one of the wealthiest squatters, died in 1841 without an heir, his lands, buildings and stocks unclaimed. Now in place of the social and religious meetings the squatters were accustomed to have, they gathered to appoint an executor. At the time another kind of meeting was called to cope with losses of livestock from wolves and other predatory animals, specifically losses of cattle and horses running wild on the Young place after his death. On February 2, 1843 the farmers met again and levied an assessment of $5 on each to pay bounty for carcasses of marauding wolves, mountain lions, lynx or bear. It was aptly termed a “Wolf Meeting” and the phrase applied to others following. A second Wolf Meeting was held on March 2 but this time wolves were not discussed.
The Americans, now about equal in number to those of foreign origin, were in some ferment over fear of British control and it was agreed by all that a local government of some kind must be established. A committee of 12 was appointed to "take into consideration the propriety of taking measures for civil and military protection of this colony." The committee met at Willamette Falls within a few days and arranged for a general gathering at Champoeg on May 2 to vote on the situation.
The meeting was the most momentous and dramatic in the history of the Oregon Country, resulting in a bloodless decision that the vast territory should be under the control of the US rather than Great Britain.
It was called to order in a corner of the wheat warehouse, used as an office by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The first resolutions, calling for organization into a self-governing body, generated such excitement and confusion in the confined quarters that many voters went unheard and many of those who did hear voted improperly, even for the opposing side. The whole gathering then moved outdoors to the middle of a field and while the situation was improved, a voice was hopeless. Trapper Joseph L. Meek, tall, dark-eyed and black-bearded, raised his penetrating voice against the uproar, urging the men to “side up” in the field and declaring he would start things up by taking the American side. French-Canadian George W. Le Breton made the formal motion that this be done and it was seconded by American William H. Gray, a Methodist mission worker.
Joseph Gaston wrote that William H. Gray, the author of History of Oregon, will forever hold a unique place in the history and early literature of the state.
Always in the forefront of the battle for what he conceived to be cause of truth and justice to the pioneers of Oregon, he will be recognized and remembered as one of Homer's heroes:
"Oh friends, be men, and let your hearts be
And let no warrior in the heat of fight
Do what may bring him shame in others' eyes."
Gray will not be remembered so much for his History of Oregon as for the facts and experiences which made the book. While he may not have planned the battle at Old Champoeg on May 2, 1843, he was undoubtedly one of the most active partisans of the American cause at that history making contest. Gray was imbued with the idea that the Hudson's Bay Company was scheming to beat the US out of Oregon Territory, and that the Catholic church was partner in the scheme. And so impressed, he was big with an irrepressible disposition to give battle to those recognized opponents of American occupation of the country, whenever an opportunity offered.
Meek stepped out and called on all those of
102 present who wanted an American government established to
With a loud hallooing 49 men went to the American side to make 50 in all. And fifty remained where they were. As for the dissension, McLoughlin and a majority of the French-Canadians were understandably chary at this attempt to form a government on American lines in a region still jointly occupied by Britain and the US. The other two? They were Etienne Lucier and Francoise Matthieu, standing in the middle, hesitating. Everyone waited impatiently for them to make up their minds. Lucier said he had heard that under American rule, the very windows of his house would be taxed. Matthieu, who owned much land and property in nearby Butteville where he was surrounded by American sympathizers, suddenly decided to go with them and persuaded Lucier to do the same. They joined Meek and swayed the vote. The immense area sandwiched between Mexican California and Canada, so tenuously held by England, was now safely under the flag of the US—at least as far as the inhabitants were concerned. Succeeding events soon made it official.
A group of nine was named to set up the beginnings of the infant government and a short time later Champoeg was declared the capital. A crude State House was erected of split cedar slabs and poles roofed with cedar bark.
This then, was Oregon’s government until 1849. As time passed its provisions were revised. In 1845 the executive committee of three was replaced by a governor—George Abernethy, a former mission employee. Also in 1845 changes were made to allow local British participation. Still there were stresses and strains. Some were content with the provisional nature of government; others wanted immediate American intervention. There were also those who favored an entirely independent republic, neither American nor British. The "English Party" and the "American Party" were the two principal factions in these disputes. The English Party consisted of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Catholic French-Canadians. The American Party was a uneasy alliance of the Rocky Mountain Boys, the New England merchants, the wagontrain immigrants, and the Methodists. It was because of this dissension in the American Party that the English Party usually held the balance, at least until 1846 when the boundary question was finally solved. After a generation of bickering, the British demanding everything north of the Columbia, the Americans demanding everything south of Alaska, the present boundaries were finally agreed upon by negotiation. The 1846 treaty was not popular in Oregon. In particular, the provision to keep its land at Fort Vancouver was resented—that fort where so many of the missionaries and squatters had received McLoughlin. "Man is a preposterous pig; probably the greediest animal that crawls upon this planet," wrote Frances Fuller Victor in commenting on the desire to grab Fort Vancouver too.
Cayuse War 1847
Between the boundary settlement and the end of the decade three events occurred that had a profound effect on Oregon. The first of these had its beginnings on the morning of December 8, 1847 when Abernethy addressed the legislature, gathered in the Methodist church by the falls at Oregon City. The governor warned:
Our relations with the Indians becomes every year more embarrassing. They seethe white man occupying their lands, rapidly filling up the country, and they put in a claim for pay. They have been told that a chief would come out from the US and treat with them for their lands; they have been told this so often that they begin to doubt the truth of it.
That afternoon the legislators,
leave off their game of horse billiards (a kind of shuffleboard)
of falling show, assembled again the church, and it was then
heard the news. The Cayuse had slaughtered the Whitmans together
members of their mission and were holding captive 53 women and
The legislators acted immediately by moving that a volunteer
with three objectives: (1) rescue the captives; (2) punish the
and (3) prevention of a coalition of the Cayuse with other
Thus began the Cayuse War, the first of the Oregon Indian wars,
and a waste from beginning to end.
First of all, there was a shortage of both money and men. The Provisional Government's treasury contained $43.72 and, as for volunteers, one squatter remarked that when the war was over "We will have great patriots as we now have great chimney-corner warriors."
Next to the considerable chagrin of the Americans, before they could get themselves together and proceed to the scene of the massacre, the Hudson's Bay Company had rescued the prisoners and delivered them to Oregon City. As was feared, some of the women had been violated. The wrath this provoked can be gauged from an editorial in the Oregon City Spector:
...Let them (the Indians) be pursued with unrelenting hatred and hostility, until their lifeblood has atoned for their infamous deed; let them be hunted as beasts of prey; let their name and race be blotted from the face of the earth; and the places that once knew them, know them no more forever.
Colonel Cornelius Gilliam: Baptist
Fighter, and Famed Tracker of Runaway Slaves
The formal campaign began with the arrival at The Dalles of the volunteers' commander, col. Cornelius Gilliam, veteran of the Black Hawk and Seminole wars, famed tracker of runaway slaves, Baptist preacher, and a man of whom it has been said that he "preferred the smoke of gunpowder to the smoke of peace pipes." The first casualty of this campaign occurred on the evening of his arrival and was reported by him in a letter to his wife:
...One of the guards shot a squaw in the thigh thinking that she was an Indian man. It appears that she was crawling along on the ground so that she [could] get to a place of appointment between her and some of your young men which I am very sorry to [say] such things do frequently occur...
Col. Gilliam's young men, in a manner
haphazard, fought their little war for the next six months,
reduced by dysentery, drunkenness and desertions, the latter
frequent when spring planting came around. Also, they had some
in finding the Indians, and when they did, some difficulty in
which were enemies and which friends. They never did succeed in
let alone identifying, Whitman’s murderers. Finally, Gilliam by
shot himself dead, which more of less ended the hostilities.
Though the casualties were not particularly high since both sides were chronically short of gunpowder, it exacerbated those already difficult relations between Americans and British, protestants and Catholics and, most seriously, Indians and non-indians. The only blessing in disguise lay in the fact that Oregon at last gained the capital from Washington City, as the capital was then called. At the outset of the war the sheriff of Oregon, retired Rocky Mountain trapper Joe Meek, was dispatched to Washington where he presented himself as "envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary from the Republic of Oregon to the court of the US"—the "court" a sarcastic reference by sheriff Meek to what he no doubt considered an effete and decadent capital compared with his own at Oregon City. This prejudice notwithstanding, Meek had come to request assistance in the Cayuse War and, in particular, to urge on pres. James Knox Polk (1795-1849), a shirttail relation, territorial status for the Oregon Country. Eventually his efforts, along with others, would prove successful but, in the meantime, the second event so important to early Oregon occurred.
California Goldrush 1848
One day in August 1848 Robert Newell
up the Willamette, buying as he went along all the spades he
circumstance found puzzling. When his ship would hold no more of
wheat and other provisions, capt. Newell informed the gulled
gold had been discovered in California.
It is estimated that two-thirds of the able-bodied men of Oregon threw down what was in hand—axes, awls, chisels, plows, pens, scales, forceps, tankards, and bibles—and departed for California. The most serious of the derelictions was the plow for, after all, the people left behind had to eat. The Oregon City Spector pled with Oregonians to stay on the farm—until, that is, the paper’s own printer departed and ended for the time being the paper’s publication.
It is possible that the Oregon settlement would not have survived, or if so but lamely, without the California goldrush. Now for the first time there was a nearby market for Oregon products. Also, many Oregonians returned with gold to replace what had been an awkward currency to say the least; what, one bushel equals one dollar.
Finally, there were those who, going off to the goldrush, never returned. Good riddance! Such could not be persons of worth for otherwise they would not have elected to remain in California. Here is Frances Fuller Victor on the subject of the goldrush:
...After all it will be seen that the distance of Oregon from the Sierra Foothills proved at this time the greatest of blessings, being near enough for commercial communication, and yet so far away as to escape the mad scramble for wealth, such as social dissolutions, the rapine of intellect and principle, an overruling spirit of gambling—a delirium of development, attended by robbery, murder, and all uncleanness, and followed by reaction and death.
Doctor Robert Newell
Champoeg began to take on the
of a permanent town, largely through the efforts of dr. Robert
Two places in Ohio, Putnam and Zanesville, are mentioned as his
in 1807. At 18 he became a Rocky Mountain trapper, then as the
declined, he teamed up with Joe Meek on a trip to the Oregon
some time in Idaho and acquiring Nez Perceé wives. They
princess daughters of Sub-Chief Kow-e-so-te. With a third man
the first wagons from Fort Hall to Oregon, although half
they stopped at the mission in Walla Walla, Dr. Marcus Whitman
the young men, saying: "You will never regret your efforts. Now
have brought the first wagons, others will follow."
Newell, often referred to as "Doctor" or more friendly as "Doc," took up residence in Champoeg and began to raise a family. He bought and fitted up two batteaux, starting a regular run between the town and the falls above Oregon City. They were called Mogul and Ben Franklin, power provided by Indian paddlers.
By 1851, when steamboats reached the town, Newell abandoned his primitive vessels and turned to real estate. Having taken up the 360-acre claim of Walter Pomeroy at the southern edges of Champoeg, he laid out a sub-division and sold lots. When need for land access became acute, he persuaded the provisional legislature to survey and construct a stage road from Salem to his property which he called Oxford. The Salem-Saint Paul-Champoeg road is essentially the same route today.
By the 1850s there were about 150 buildings in Champoeg including adjoining Oxford where Newell had built a fine home331 on a higher level above the Willamette River. Canadian fur trader Peter Skene Ogden (1794-1854) and politician Sir James Douglas (1803-1877) reported in 1847 that the Hudson's Bay Company property in Champoeg was worth about $8,500 and the concern sold out in 1852 for some $17,000. Values and building continued to increase until the catastrophe of 1861 which all but wiped out the progressing city.
The Great Cholera Panic 1852
The scourge of cholera on the Platte
is far beyond my power of description. In later years I have
panics on shipboard; have experienced the horrors of the flight
population from the grasp of the Indians, but never before nor
scenes as those in the thickest of the ravages of cholera. It
that people lost all control of themselves and of others. Whole
could be seen contending for the mastery of the road by day, and
of endurance tested to the utmost both men and beast at night.
came from the south, as we met the trains that crossed the
the trail, one might almost say, both day and night. And small
such scenes occurred as is related. Ms. M. E. Jones, now of
relates that 40 people in their train died in one day and two
reaching the crossing of the Platte. Martin Cook, of Newberry,
for the following: A family of seven persons, the father known
Friels," from Hartford, Warren County, Iowa, all died of cholera
buried in one grave. He could not tell me the locality nor the
but it would be useless to search for the graves, as all such
ago been leveled by the passing of the hoofs of the buffalo or
stock, or met the fate of hundreds of shallow graves, desecrated
hungry wolves. While camping with a sick brother four days a
above Grand Island, by actual count of one day and estimate for
1,600 wagons passed by, and a neighboring burial place grew from
52 fresh graves. With usual opportunities for gathering
this subject, through personal acquaintance with pioneers
Pacific Northwest, all of whom came to that region prior to
1860, it is
his judgment that from 25,000 to 30,000 men, women and children
in nameless graves between the Missouri and the Columbia, as a
the price paid for the early settlement of Oregon.
All sorts of incidents of human life break the monotony of the march. Suddenly a wagon is seen to pull out of the train and off to the wayside. The only doctor in the train, Marcus Whitman, goes off with it. Many are the inquiries of the unusual event; and grave fears expressed of the danger of leaving a lone wagon behind in an Indian country. The lumbering caravan moves slowly on, passes behind the bluffs and out of sight, and the anxiety and fears for the lone wagon behind increase. The train halts for the night, forms its defensive circle, fires are lighted for the evening meal and the shadows of the night are creeping down upon the camp—when, behold, the lone wagon rolls into camp, the doctor smiling and happy—it was a newborn boy—mother and child all right and ready for the continued journey. Jesse Applegate
Jesse Applegate, in the article mentioned, speaking of Dr. Whitman, who had been over the trail once before, says his constant advice was
Travel, travel, travel; nothing else will take you to the end of your journey; nothing is wise that does not help you along; nothing is good for you that causes a moment's delay.
And Applegate adds his testimonial as follows:
It is no disparagement to others to say that to no other individual are the emigrants of 1843 so much indebted for the successful conclusion of their journey as to Dr. Whitman.
The watch for the night is set; the flute and violin have ceased their soothing notes, the enamored swain has whispered his last good night, or stolen the last kiss from his blushing sweetheart, and all is hushed in the slumber of the camp of 1,000 persons in the heart of the great mountains 1,000 miles away from any white man’s habitation, with savage Indians in all directions. What a picture of American ideas, push, enterprise, and empire building. Risking everything, braving every danger, bumptious people, boasting of our good deeds and utterly ignoring our bad ones. But where is the people that have accomplished such work as these Missourians and their neighbors from Iowa, did it literally picking up a commonwealth in pieces, on the other side of the continent and transporting it 2,000 miles to the Pacific Coast and setting it down here and around and about this Willamette Valley, and starting it off in good working order at Champoeg with all the state machinery to protect non-indian life and property and promote the peace and happiness of all concerned, and all others who might join in the society. It is something to be proud of.
Let me take you back to 1839—just a
of years before Gilbert Knapp set foot on the banks of the Root
said this place was now his.
That sounds not quite right—to say a place belongs to you. It may be impossible for us to understand what the world felt like back then. It's hard to contemplate the feeling of incredible confidence that seemed so natural (looking at them from this great distance) to successful white men of the time.
I don’t think they were arrogant, at least not in the boastful way we think of that word these days. My guess is that they saw the world as a big, unbounded and unfinished wilderness, a place that was given to them by God. And their job was to turn this earth into some vision of an endless, cultivated, European countryside.
That vision so dominated their imagination that the way they treated non-Europeans must have seemed peripheral. To them, Indians and slaves were tools to help them complete their work.
What we don't take seriously can become our greatest evil.
The Flood of 1861
The Willamette River had risen in
to the point where water flowed through the edges of Champoeg
at the foundations of buildings. The stream subsided with little
but Champoeg citizens were not alert to the warning.
In 1861, September and October passed with almost no precipitation. Then it began to rain in earnest and November brought an unending deluge which turned to snow. Temperatures rose, rain continued and the snowbanks melted.
Every tributary of the main stream, particularly the raging Santiam, which originates in the Cascade Mountains, swelled the Willamette almost a foot an hour until by December 2 the river was 55 feet higher than summer stage and 12 feet above the level of 1853-1854 flood. This time the murky, roaring waters swept over the town seven feet deep with terrific force, large logs acting as battering rams, and one by one Champoeg's buildings were carried away. The river stayed up for several days then slowly subsided to reveal a townsite "bare as a sandy beach." Three hundred and fifty houses were washed downstream yet the destruction was not quite total. Two solidly constructed structures remained standing—the two saloons!
The higher bench where Robert Newell had his house remained dry, the house intact. Newell, however, was financially ruined, his holdings in town entirely swept away. His Indian wives had died long before and now he took his new non-indian wife and many offsprings to Lewiston, Idaho, the scene of his youthful dalliance.
Attempts were made to lay out a new town on the old site but with its moving spirit gone, once so strong many people thought of the place as Newellsville, nothing much happened. The green meadow where the fateful vote was taken is now marked by a granite shaft, its exact location determined in 1900 by the last surviving voter, Francois Matthieu. It is emblazoned with the names believed on best authority to be of those siding with Meek and the US. Surrounding all is Champoeg State Park where thousands hold summer picnics.
The Historic Site of Champoeg 1912
To preserve for all time the historic
of the birthplace of the first American government on the
and all the glorious memories that cluster around it, Joseph
Portland, one of the patriotic pioneers of 1852, has devoted
to raising the means to secure a tract of 12 acres of land at
adjoining the monument erected there in 1901 to honor the memory
Provisional Government convention of May 2, 1843; the additional
to be used as a state park for celebrations and pioneer
purchase of this land has been effected by Buchtel aided by a
friends, and the deed is being held in escrow until the state
appropriation to cover the cost.
"No event in the history of the Pacific Northwest was so important as the convention at Champoeg in 1843," says Buchtel, "which saved all this country to the US. The ground ought to be secured, and will be secured, in commemoration of the event and the men who voted to retain the country under the jurisdiction of the US government."
The paddle-wheel steamer Shoalwater
more but her bones had been reshaped, her decks relaid, her
with thick white paint. And there was her owner pointing proudly
new name—Fenix. Funny name, people of the Willamette Valley
it mean? "Why that," explained the owner, "that's the bird in
that rose up out of the ashes to fly again. See the point? I
should be spelled but this way I could make the letters bigger."
And what happened to the Shoalwater? One day in May 1853, making its landing at the Butteville dock, above Willamette Falls where Oregon City is now, the Willamette River swollen by spring rains and flowing savagely, the skipper laid on all the steam it had and called for more. The Shoalwater had the spirit but its flues were weak and a great blast rent the boilers. On deck ready to disembark, the passengers suddenly found themselves in the cold currents. All were in luck to be saved from drowning but none of them ever wanted to hear the name Shoalwater again.
Etienne Lucier planted the first crop in French Prairie, a flat, treeless area along the Willamette about 1830. The crop was wheat and from then on, until about the turn of the century wheat was almost the only agricultural product of the area—this in a land where the soil was capable of producing anything suitable to a temperate climate. Wheat found a ready market and that was enough. The only real difficulty at first was getting the crop to that market since there were no roads, only the river, and cargoes had to be portaged around large falls and rapids at Oregon City and transferred to other craft for the rest of the trip to Fort Vancouver.
All this effort caused a rash of little towns to spring up along the Willamette between the present Salem and Oregon City. The town of Butteville was one of these.
Butteville is on the east bank of the Willamette, about four miles northwest of Aurora, at the extreme northern end of the wheat belt called French Prairie and has an elevation of 103 feet. It was primarily a river landing and never progressed much beyond that although it did boast a church, schools, stores and several saloons during the golden period of wheat shipping. The village that grew up beside the first crude river landing about 1840 was first called La Butte by the predominately French settlers, for a well-known hill about a mile to the southwest. La Butte has an elevation of 427 feet. Butteville was laid out prior to 1850 by George Abernethy and Alason Beers.
Joel Palmer, the man who had pioneered a route for the first wagons over the shoulder of Mount Hood, mentioned the settlement in his journal in 1845:
Eight miles from Pudding River is a village called Bute. It was laid out by messrs. Abernethy and Beers. There were but a few cabins there when I left. The proprietor had erected a warehouse to store wheat they might purchase of the settlers, who should find it convenient to sell their crops at this point. At this place are some conical hills called Butes, which arise to considerable heights; the sides and tops of them are covered with tall fir trees which can be seen from the valley for 60 miles.
The Oregon Electric Railway has a station
Butteville about two miles east of the town. This station was
called Chopunnish, a northwest Indian name, and was changed to
to avoid confusion. Butteville post office was established with
Champoeg on September 9, 1850, with Francois X. Matthieu first
and was Americanized to Butteville probably in the 1860s,
date of this change is not clear in the records. The office
August 18, 1905.
When George Abernethy and Alason Beers drove pilings at the edge of the river and laid out a simple town, they had big ideas of a metropolis that would outshine the rival Champoeg. For instance they planned to handle the buying and shipping of the squatters—almost to a man retired French-Canadian trappers of the Hudson’s Bay Company—and later they would sell real estate, establish stores and saloons. Since there was little or no gold and business was done in trade, they rancher would get his pay in groceries and spend the rest of what he had coming for liquor or wine, Abernethy and Beers making a profit at every turn.
However this was not to come about. Abernethy became involved in the simple politics of the day and was so dedicated to seeing the Provisional Government get off on the right foot he was elected first governor of Oregon in 1845 and had no time to promote his interests in Butteville.
Governor George Abernethy
An election was held June 3, 1845, for
and other officers, at which time George Abernethy (1845-1849).
mission employee, and Amos L. Lovejoy were candidates for
Abernethy, who was a native of New York, came to Oregon in 1840 as a lay member of the Methodist mission. He kept a store for a time in Oregon City. On election day, he received a majority of 98 votes out of a total of 504.
On August 3, 1845, Abernethy was inaugurated. Two years later he was reelected. His term of office was from July 14, 1845 through March 3, 1849.
The Provisional Government Executive Committee, elected by the inhabitants of the Oregon Territory were David Hill,337 Joseph Gale, and Alanson Beers. Their term of office was July 5, 1843-May 25, 1844.
Alanson Beers Arrives In Oregon 1837
Alanson Beers, with wife and family of
children arrived in Oregon by ship, probably in May 1837. The
son of a Revolutionary War soldier, born in Connecticut in 1800,
anvil-solid help in the early days of the Oregon Walamet Mission
Methodist Episcopal Church.
Beers and some lay workers at the mission spent most of the summer transporting goods from ship to shore, a slow process done by canoe, while others were building a log cabin for him. As mission blacksmith, he was kept busy hammering nails, the square-sided, square-headed pieces of metal sometimes still found in the ruins of old buildings. Beers also repaired and built farm machinery and later was placed in full charges, erecting mills which required machinery.
His first claim to fame comes from his being one of those voting for the US at the Champoeg meeting in 1843. He was then elected to the legislative come the first military organization in the Northwest and later went into partnership with Oregon's first territorial governor, George Abernethy, in the operation of the gristmill at Willamette Falls in Oregon City.
Joseph L. Meek was elected the first sheriff of the Provisional Government, and President Polk appointed him US marshal of Oregon in 1848.
Despite the fact that the provisional did not have the power to tax, and when it did acquire the power had great difficulty collecting the tax—even from its own executive committee—and despite the fact that it was not officially recognized by the majority over whom it presumed to rule, still, the laws it enacted were by and large observed, though on occasion in a curious in a curious fashion.
Polk County Prisoner Sold at Auction 1843
In Polk County, for example, a man was
to three years imprisonment but, there being no jail and no
which to build one, it was decided to sell him at auction! A
bought the criminal, worked him for three years, after which he
a horse and saddle and $20, and released.
When enough money was finally raised to construct a jail, it was destroyed by fire. Abernethy’s message to the legislature in December 1846, is of special interest:
I regret to be compelled to inform you that the jail, located in Oregon City, the property of the territory, was destroyed by fire the night of the 18th of August last—the work, I have no doubt, of an Indentiary. A reward of $10,000 was immediately offered, but, as yet, the offer has not been discovered. Should you think best to erect another jail I would suggest the propriety of building it of large stone clamped together. We have but little use of a jail, and a small building would answer all purposes, for many years, no doubt, if we should be successful in keeping ardent spirits out of the territory.
The facts about Beers are obscure but
is known the first real store at the landing was started about
Francois Matthieu, who talked the vacillating Etienne Lucier
his vote with the Americans at Champoeg.
Matthieu was one of the early French-Canadian trappers who with the decline of the fur industry had settled on French Prairie in 1842. He lived with Lucier two years, making himself generally useful as a builder of wagons and houses, then married Rose Osant, daughter of another ex-trapper. Two years later he took a donation land claim at La Butte. Matthieu had "a way with people" and after his successful persuasion of the declining votes in Champoeg, he was elected constable, often settling disputes by inviting contestants to dinner and the difficulty was usually settled amicably over a bottle of French wine.
Matthieu decided against a comparative retirement to run the store. He cut trees on his claim and laid logs for the lower half of the building and had some whipsawed for the upper section. Hand-adzed planks served for a floor and split cedar shakes for the roof. From then on for 15 years Matthieu's Store was the most important place in Butteville. One good customer was Dr. Robert Newell of Champoeg, another the Hudson's Bay Company emissary, Michael Framboise. For two years he had a partner, George La Rogue. A plat of Butteville in the Historical Atlas Map of Marion and Linn Counties 1878, shows the La Rogue claim as entirely surrounding the townsite of Butteville and seems to include it.
In 1860 an Episcopal church was built, prudently quite high on the bank. Funds for construction came short of a bell but the congregation felt that God, in time, would provide. Next year the big flood that washed through so many river towns inundated Champoeg, wrecked the sister church there and carried the belfry, complete with bell, down to Butteville and depositing it in a thicket along the creek bank. Champoeg, utterly destroyed, had no more use for the bell, so it was joyfully reclaimed, cleaned of mud and hung in the Butteville steeple.
As long as there were few roads, and these almost impassable in wet weather, Butteville flourished. When rumors circulated that the Oregon and California Railroad would stop there, it was hoped farmers would continue to haul wheat in and that it would be shipped by train. But the rails bypassed Butteville and the town gradually faded. In 1965 it is still alive, a tiny and picturesque hamlet with only one business, a modern grocery store in one of the old, revamped buildings.
Chapter 6: Oregon Territory
So long as "free land exists"... economic power secures political power. But the democracy born to "free land," strong in selfishness and individualism, intolerant of administrative experience and education, and pressing individual liberty beyond its proper bounds, has its dangers as well as its benefits. Individualism in American has allowed a laxity in regard to governmental affairs which has rendered possible the spoils system, and all the manifest evils that follow from the lack of a highly developed civic spirit. In this connection may be noted also the influence of frontier conditions in permitting lax business honor, inflated paper currency, and wildcat banking. The colonial and revolutionary frontier was the region whence emanated many of the worst forms of an evil currency. The West in the War of 1812 repeated the phenomenon on the frontier of that day, while the speculation and wildcat banking of the period of the crisis of 1837 occurred on the new frontier belt of the next tier of states. Thus each one of the periods of lax financial integrity coincides with periods when a new set of frontier communities had arisen, and coincides in area with these successive frontiers, for the most part. The recent Populist agitation is a case in point. Many a state that now declines any connection with the tenets of the Populist itself adhered to such ideas in an earlier state of development of the state. A primitive society can hardly be expected to show the intelligent appreciation of the complexity of business interests in a developed society. The continual recurrence of these areas of paper-money agitation is another evidence that the frontier can be isolated and studied as a factor in American history of the highest importance.
Oregon Territory Created 1848
On August 14, 1848, the vast Oregon
(1848-1858) was created by Congress. President Polk signed the
The act described the territory as
All that part of the territory of the US which lies west of the summit of the Rocky Mountains, north of the 42nd degree of north latitude, known as the Oregon Territory, shall be organized into the constitute of temporary government, secretary, attorney, marshal, and three justices of the Supreme Court who also [will] preside[d] over the district courts.
Polk offered the position of governor
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) who turned it down because his wife,
(1818-1882), flatly refused to come to Oregon.
On March 3, 1849, the Mexican War hero Joseph Lane of Indiana (1849-1853; 1853-1853), appointed governor by president Polk, arrived in Oregon City to proclaim that the Oregon Country was now an official territory of the US. He was accompanied by Joseph L. Meek, who had been sent to Washington to report the Whitman Massacre. The following day the new governor issued a proclamation which established the Oregon Territory in the Pacific Northwest. At last, the squatters and their land were under US protection. What stuck in the craw of many, however, was that they were also under US authority. Theretofore the people had enacted their own laws and elected their own officials. Hereafter all principal officials could be appointed in Washington—political spoils, strangers ruling over Oregon. Also, Washington might review and pass on Oregon legislation. The sop was one locally elected delegate to Congress. And the sop really fell short of even that, for the delegate had no vote.
Mounted Rifle Regiment in Oregon City 1849
The squatters began to wonder if the protection itself was worth territorial status in view of the form that protection first took. This was the appearance in Oregon City, following Lane's arrival, of a US force called the Mounted Rifle Regiment. Frances Fuller Victor wrote that they were "quartered at great expense, and to the disturbance of peace and order of that moral and temperate community." After a winter of racket, drunkenness and random shots, they were removed to Fort Vancouver, a departure the citizens of Oregon City celebrated by burning down their barracks. Thus began the rather equivocal relations between the territory of Oregon and the government of the US.
Donation Land Act 1850
Pending passage of a federal Donation
Act, all laws previously passed making grants of land or
titles of land, were declared null and void. Oregon voters
in the US House of Representatives to represent the new
not have to vote in the House. Five thousand dollars was
a seat of government, and $5,000 for the purchase of a library.
further specified that sections 16 and 36 of each township were
as school lands, when a land survey was made.
It was Lewis F. Linn (1795-1843) who urged the American occupation of Oregon in the early 1830s. Linn, a surgeon and lived at Genevieve, Missouri, was born near Louisville, Kentucky, November 5, 1895. His nephew, lt. William Pope McArthur, made the earliest government survey of the Pacific Coast including the mouth of the Columbia for the US Coast Survey in 1849-1850. His grand-nephew, Lewis Linn McArthur (1843-1897) came to Oregon in 1864 to practice law, and was at one time a member of the Oregon Supreme Court. His great grand-nephew, Lewis A. McArthur (1883-1951),345 was the original author of Oregon Geographic Names.
Sen. Linn was the author of the Donation Land Act which gave free land to settlers in the West, and was the forerunner of the homestead law. He was appointed US senator for Missouri in 1833, elected in 1836, and reelected in 1842, and served until his death, October 3, 1843. His work in the Senate was highly important to western settlement and acquisition of Oregon. His activity in the Senate, in support of his bill to occupy Oregon and granting land to actual settlers, was his last work of importance. John Calhoun (1782-1850) and George McDuffee (c1790-1851) led the fight against the Linn bill. They contended the bill would make a breach of faith with Great Britain, and cause international complications. The Donation Land Act, based on Linn’s idea, passed Congress September 27, 1850.
This act of Congress provided donations to settlers of public land in the Oregon Territory, under which a citizen of the US, or one who had declared intentions before December 1, 1850, and who had resided upon and cultivated the land for four consecutive years, was granted, if single, 320 acres; if married or became married within one year, 640 acres, half to be held by the wife.
Doris Weatherford cautiously wrote that under the laws of most states, when the nation was young,
a married woman literally did not own the clothes on her back. Though she probably sewed them herself, most states entitled her spouse to legal possession of everything a woman earned, whether that was cash income or an item of value as intimate as her clothing. These attitudes were the result of an English judicial system grounded in the axiom that the marriage contract turned two individuals into one, "and that one is the man." It took many years to gradually change these laws that, in marriage, caused women to be legally absorbed by men. Under English and colonial law, a man received additional land if he had a wife and/or daughters, but far from owning that property, the women were viewed by the law as a form of property themselves! The general assumption that Western women were entitled to land they had homesteaded, even if their husbands died or disappeared, is entirely erroneous.
Alien land grabbers were specifically
were given a year to make a declaration. In case of death before
was completed, land descended "to whom, as the case may be, the
shall issue." Land grabbers claiming possessory rights under
Great Britain were excepted, but were limited to a single tract
All white male citizens, or those having declared intentions,
21, emigrating to and settling in the Oregon Territory within
after December 1, 1850, were granted 160 acres if single; 320 if
within one year after becoming 21 years old, with half going to
All sections 16 and 36 were barred from donation rights and set
public schools. Two townships, one north and one south of the
River, both west of the Cascade Mountains, were granted to aid
of a University of Oregon.
Mineral lands, lands reserved for salines, all government property and property needed for public purposes were excepted from the operation of the act. The law not only encouraged settlement, but caused many marriages. With many brides in their early teens, brief courtships and early weddings became the rule.
In numerous instances, while families were on their way to Oregon, the spouses and fathers were killed by Indians or died from natural causes, leaving a widow who, with her children, continued the journey and settled the territory.
There were cases where both father and mother were killed, and other cases where the mother and father died after arriving in Oregon and before they could grab free land.
Wallis Nash gives the following account of the land system relating to the preemption and homestead laws applicable to the public lands of the state:
US Land Offices • Oregon City • Roseburg • Linkville • The Dalles • La Grande
It is true, long since, the
of the Willamette Valley have all been taken up and are in the
wooded portions of Western Oregon still open; there is also an
of open land in the fine valleys of Eastern and Southern Oregon
There are still upward of 30 million acres unsurveyed which out
nearly 70 million which the state contains.
There are five US land offices in Oregon: Namely, at Oregon City, for the upper and central parts of the Willamette Valley, including also Northwestern Oregon generally; at Roseburg, for Southwestern Oregon; at Linkville, for the southeastern portion; at La Grande, for Eastern Oregon, strictly so called; and at The Dalles, for the great counties of Wasco and Umatilla, the northern part of the state. At each of the land office a register and also a receiver are stationed; and the maps of the district are also deposited there for general reference.
When the squatter has ascertained that a piece of land is eligible—that is, that it will suit him not only for clearing and farming, but also to build his house on and live there—he goes to his neighbors to find out the nearest corner posts or stones, and thence by compass he can determine roughly the boundary-lines. The land must lie in a compact form, not less than 40 acres wide; thus he can take his 160 acres in the shape of a clean quarter section of an "L" or in a strip across the section of 40 acres wide; but he cannot pick out 40 acres here, and a detached 40 there, and so on.
He then goes to the county clerk's office, where duplicates of the land office maps are kept. He finds out there with sufficient correctness if the piece he wants is open to settlement. The land office is the only source of quite certain information, because it is possible that a claim may have been put on file at the land office, particulars of which have not reached the county clerk. Being satisfied that the land is open, the intending squatter must next determine whether to preempt or homestead. If he desires to preempt, and by payment to the government of $1.25 per acre for public land outside the limits of railroad and wagon-road grants, or $2.50 per acre for land within those limits, to obtain an immediate title, he must be sure that He does not fall within the two exceptions; for no one can acquire a right of preemption who is the proprietor of 320 acres of land in any state Territory, nor can anyone who quits or abandons his residence on his own land to reside on the public land in the same state or territory.
But first of all, he or she must have one of the following personal qualifications:
The settler must be the head of a family, or a widow, or a single person; must be over the age of 21 years, and be a citizen of the US, or have filed a declaration of intention to become such. Further, the settler must have made a settlement on public land open to preemption, must inhabit and improve the same, and erect a dwelling thereon.
No person can claim a preemption right
than once. But the squatter on land which has been surveyed, and
he desires to preempt, must file his statement as to the fact of
within three months from the date of his settlement, and he must
proof and pay for his land within 33 months from the date of his
The fee of $1.50 is payable to the register, and a similar fee
at the land office on filing the declaratory statement above
It should be added here that, if the tract has been offered for
the government, payment must be made for the preempted land
from the date of settlement. If the squatter desires to obtain a
he must come within the following description: the head of a
citizen of the US, or who duly filed his declaration of
The quality of land thus obtainable is 160 acres, which is, at the time his application is made, open to preemption, whether at $1.25 an acre or $2.50 an acre. There was until recently a distinction between land within the limits of railroad or wagon-road grants or outside such limits, but the distinction is now done away. The applicant has to make an affidavit, on entering the desired land, that he possesses the above qualifications, that the application is made for his exclusive use and benefit, and that his entry is made for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation. He has also to pay fees of $22 for 160 acres and of $11 for 80 acres when entry is made, and $6 when the certificate issues. Such fees apply to land of the $2.50 price. They are reduced to totals of $22 for 160 acres and $11 for 80 acres, for land of the $1.25 price.
Before a certificate is given or a patent issued for homestead, five years must have elapsed from the date of entry. Affidavit has to be made that the applicant has resided upon or cultivated the land for the term of five years immediately succeeding the time of filing the affidavit, and that no part of the land has been alienated. The patent gives an absolute title. In case of the death of the squatter before the title to the preemption or homestead is perfected, the grant will be made to the widow, if she continues residence and complies with the original conditions; if both father and mother die, leaving Infant children, they will be entitled to thwart and fee in the land, and the guardian or executor may at any time within two years after the death of the surviving parent, and in accordance with the laws of the state, sell the land for the benefit of the children; and the purchaser may obtain the US patent.
From what has been started, it will seem that no title to land can be obtained from preemptor or homesteader who has not perfected his title. Nothing can be done to carry out such a transaction except for the holder to formally abandon his right, which can be done by a simple proceeding at the land office, and for the successor to take the chances of commencing an entirely fresh title for the land in question. Another point to be noticed is that the homestead is not liable for the debts of the holder contracted prior to the issuing of the patent. The law allows but one homestead privilege:
A settler relinquishing or abandoning his claim can not thereafter make a second homestead entry. If a squatter had settled on land and filed his preemption declaration for the same, he may change his filing into a homestead, if he continues in good faith to comply with the preemption laws until he has been on the land as a preemptor which will be credited to him toward the five years for a homestead.
The above information is obtained from
statutes of the US, and is generally applicable. The rates of
are those which apply to or, and vary slightly in different
Besides the public lands open to homestead and preemption, a squatter may purchase school lands, university lands, state lands, or railroad or wagon road grant lands. In each township of 36 sections of 640 acres each, the two numbered 16 and 36 are devoted to school purposes, and are sold by the Board of School Commissioners for the state to squatters in quantities not exceeding 320 acres to any one applicant, and at the best prices obtainable; such lands are valued by the county school superintendents for the information of the commissioners, but the minimum price is $2 an acre. A further number of sections has been granted by the US to the state of Oregon for the support of the university and of the agricultural college. The greater part of these lands has been sold; some still remains; the average price of previous sales is somewhat under $2 an acre. The state also possesses some further lands donated by the US for various purposes, but the quantity is not extensive—except of lands known as swamp lands. Where the greater portion of a section is properly described as wet and unfit for cultivation, it is called swamp land. Such lands have been granted by the US to the state of Oregon, and are not open to preemption or homesteading. A very free interpretation is put on the words "wet and unfit for cultivation," and very large acreage is included. The state has given rights of purchase over large bodies of these lands to different parties, and at prices which I have heard bear but a small portion of their real value. At every session of the legislature some fresh bills are brought in for dealing with the swamp lands, and a vast amount of “lobbying” goes on which I suppose some people in Southeastern Oregon, in the vicinity of the lakes, such as Klamath and Goose lakes; but a good many acres are scattered throughout Eastern and Southern Oregon.
So rapid is the tide of settlement, especially in Eastern Oregon, that the land offices are thronged with applicants. A young Englishman who came out with me wrote from The Dalles to us last spring that on three successive Fridays he had come in from his range to file his homestead application, and after waiting for the whole day he had been unable to get the business done, and had to return to his quarters disappointed.
Democratic Party Formed 1852
The organization of the Democratic
in Oregon Territory early in 1852 was a matter of considerable
it marked the beginning of local political thinking in terms of
issues. Although, as has been made plain, Americans had forced
of Provisional Government and had shaped its course, abating
their nationalism except on the occasion when in 1845 the
was resorted to as a compromise with the Hudson's Bay interests,
lines as they existed elsewhere in the US were not locally
early days of territorial government. Judge Samuel R. Thurston,
delegate, was a Democrat, but there was no party organization at
of his election. When Joseph Lane (March 3, 1849-June 18, 1850),
a Democrat, in 1851 ran for the place left vacant by Thurston's
his opponent was W. H. Wilson, a former ship carpenter, who had
with the first reinforcement of Jason Lee's Walamet Mission in
who represented the early missionary hospitality to the Hudson's
but he was also a Democrat, so that no party issue was joined
1852, the opposition to the Whig, John P. Gaines (August 18,
1853), who happened to be also a non-resident appointee,
the form of an organization of the Democratic party, of which
the logical candidate, since he had avoided making political
a record in public affairs which most of the people approved,
and had a
talent for effective campaigning in the frontier settlements.
made themselves known as an organization by holding a convention
1851, and thereafter by holding caucuses of the Democratic
legislature of 1851, at which a central committee was chosen and
Willis Nesmith (December 25, 1844-August 9, 1845) was made
population was preponderantly Democratic since It came
Democratic states, and the party organization had no difficulty
a large majority of the legislature in June 1852. Lane, a little
on the accession of Pres. Franklin Pierce (1804-1869), was a
appointed a governor of the territory; this was to succeed
he accepted the appointment as a personal tribute, resigning,
May 19, 1853, three days after displacing Gaines, as it was his
purpose to become a candidate for delegate to succeed himself.
George Law Curry (May 19, 1853-December 2, 1853), who had been
secretary of state by Pierce, and had taken office May 14, 1853,
governor until December 2 of the same year, when Pierce
W. Davis (December 2, 1853-August 1, 1854) of Indiana to the
Lane, who was a shrewd politician, counted his chances
he was reelected delegate by a majority of 1570 in a total vote
in the election of June, 1853. His chief opponent was Alonzo A.
(1866-1867), formerly a supreme court justice under the
a commissioner with Gaines to treat with the Indians in 1851,
agent of the Rogue River tribes. Skinner was nominally a Whig.
that this was a fact unfavorable to his prospects in the
political atmosphere, for the Whigs were not yet organized as a
Oregon nor were they politically popular, but he proceeded to
disarm partisanship by announcing that he had become a candidate
behest of certain of his fellow citizens without distinction of
and by deprecating partisan strife among neighbors in a new
Other changes in the local government came as a result of Pierce's election as president, among which a clean sweep in the federal judiciary was important because it brought forward two men who were destined for prominence in the affairs of the territory and state. All the federal judges then in office were removed. Supreme Court Justice Orville C. Pratt's (1848-1862) name was first submitted by Pierce to the US Senate as successor to Chief Justice Thomas Nelson (1850-1853), but it encountered the personal opposition of Stephen A. Douglas, so that George H. Williams (1853-1858) was named as chief justice instead. The other appointee was Cyrus Olney (1853-1858), a resident of the territory since 1851. Matthew P. Deady (1853-1859) was now assigned to the first district, comprising the counties of Southern Oregon, Olney to the third district, originally composing the northern counties but which had been reduced in size by the creation of Washington Territory (1853-1889), and Williams to the remaining counties. The new judges held one term of court, when Deady was removed and Obadiah B. McFadden (1853-1854) arrived with a commission to serve in his stead, but the latter was appointed a judge of Washington Territory soon after and Judge Deady was reinstated. In order to equalize the judicial burdens, the legislature soon redistricted the territory, placing Marion, Linn, Polk and Benton counties in the district presided over by Williams; Clatsop, Clackamas, Washington and Yamhill in Olney’s district; and the remaining counties in Deady's district as before. Other federal offices filled by appointment of Pierce were: Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Joel Palmer; US District Attorney, Benjamin F. Harding; US Marshal, James W. Nesmith; Collector of Customs for the Port of Astoria, John Adair; Collector for the Port of Umpqua, Addison C. Gibbs; Postal Agent, Amos L. Lovejoy.
An uproar which arose in connection with the appointment of Deady was heard from one end of the territory to the other. Deady had not much more than taken his place on the bench in pursuance of his appointment when McFadden's arrival with a commission appointing him to the same position suddenly deprived Deady of the honor and emoluments he had scarce begun to enjoy. The regularity of the credentials which McFadden produced seemed unquestionable so he qualified and held one term of court in the district. It was found that in the commission issued to Deady the latter's given name was written "Mordecai," whereas, it in fact was "Matthew." In some quarters it was attributed to the machinations of the Whig Armory Holbrook, who was in the East at the time Deady was appointed, but this only intensified the feeling that the national administration was out of touch with Oregon affairs. At the time Deady and his group were in control of the Democratic political organization. McFadden was received with extreme coolness and the suggestion was openly conveyed to him that he ought to resign. He protested that he had no knowledge that he was to succeed a Democrat and that he had believed he was displacing one of the Whig appointees. The party was deeply stirred, but the matter was finally adjusted by appointing McFadden judge for Washington Territory, whereupon Deady was reappointed in February 1854, and again took the oath of office and resumed his seat upon the bench. His temperament was that of an advocate rather than a judge, and he was not of a forgiving disposition. He was unable to withdraw entirely from partisan politics and he continued for a long time to bear a part of the responsibilities of political management.
The currents of political action now became more turbulent as the result of several circumstances, one of which was the capable organization of the Democrats, who were dominated by forceful characters like Asahel Bush, editor of the Oregon Statesman, Lafayette Grover, B. F. Harding, J. W. Nesmith and R. P. Boise, usually denominated the "Salem clique." Gov. Davis, for that he was a Democrat, was unable to propitiate them, although he profited by the experience of Gaines and sent no messages to the legislature when not asked to do so. Not even the fact that he brought with him $40,000 which Congress had appropriated for the construction of a capitol and a penitentiary sufficed to establish him in the good graces of the dominant powers, and he resigned after nine unhappy months in office, in which the Whigs made the most of the fact that a Democrat president had refused to recognize the local demand for home rule, precisely as Taylor had done in appointing Gaines. The governor enjoyed a reprisal when he declined the proffered honor of a farewell banquet in a public letter in which he tendered the Democrats of Oregon some sound although unsolicited advice.
In Oregon Territory, as in other territories of the US, the appointment of non-residents by the government at Washington to administer the principle offices of the local government was a source of irritation. In 1851, while Gaines was governor, a public meeting was held in Portland at which a resolution was adopted setting forth that
there are many respectful individuals in Oregon capable of discharging the duties devolving upon the judges, as well as filling any other office under the territorial government, who would either discharge the duties or resign the office.
The territorial legislature in 1851, adopted a memorial asking Congress so to amend the organic act as to permit the people of the territory to elect their own officers. This was not a demand for statehood, but it was very close to that. At the following session an act was adopted, however, by the two Houses and signed by their respective presiding officers January 19 and January 20, 1852, which provided that in the event that Congress should adjourn without acting upon this memorial, the president of the council and the speaker of the House of Representatives should issue a proclamation authorizing a poll to be opened within 60 days thereafter for the purpose of taking a vote of the people upon the question of calling a convention to form a state constitution. Almost at once, therefore, after organization as a territory they young commonwealth began to aspire to statehood and home rule. The arrival of Gov. Davis, with credentials showing his appointment to the principal territorial office, which made it appear that the Democratic national party was no more likely than its Whig predecessor had been to recognize local claim, was the signal for the passage of this legislative act. It met with opposition founded in part belief that the statehood movement was primarily a Democratic scheme to obtain more offices, but also on the real or pretended ground of economy. The Oregonian crystallized the sentiment of the opponents of the measure in an appeal to the people in which it said:
Let them understand that your votes cannot be obtained for a measure, which must inevitably be destructive to the masses of the people merely to pacify the morbid appetites for office and power on the part of a few party hucksters. Tell these office hunters to go to work and earn their bread by the sweat of their brows.
The measure was duly voted on by the people in the election of June 1854, when the proposal for a statehood convention was defeated by a majority of 869. But the agitation was continued, and the proponents of statehood made a better showing in 1855, when 4,420 votes were cast in favor of framing a state constitution and 4,,835 against, a negative majority this time of only 415.
Sermons (1): An Online Ministry of Rev. Marilyn A. Riedel
Early Words and Sermons (2) Early Words and Sermons (3)
by Rev. Marilyn A. Riedel I II
Oregon History Online: Volume I Volume II
Volume III Volume IV Volume V
Volume VI Volume VII Volume VIII
Volume IX Volume XOregon History CD Edition
1870 Benton County Oregon Census A-ICensus J-RCensus S-Z
1870 Polk County Oregon Census A-M1870 Census N-Z
Wild Women West: One-Eyed CharlieWestern Warrior Women
Black Pioneers Settle Oregon CoastYaquina Bay Oyster Wars
Wolf Creek SanctuaryRogue River CommunitiesGolden Campbellites
Murder on the Gold Special: The D'AutremontsTyee View Cemetery
Eddyville CemeteriesOlex CemeteryApplegate Pioneer Cemetery
Thomason CemeterySiletz Valley CemeteriesSiletz Indian Shakers
Glenwood, Harlan, Chitwood CemeteriesElk City Pioneer Cemetery
Eureka CemeteryToledo Pioneer CemeteryGuardino Family History
"So Be It" Autobiography by Mariano Guardino
Dobbie-Smith Genealogy "Aunt Edie" by Harriet Guardino
Dobbie Obituaries and Letters
Historic Oregon Coast AlbumHistoric Grants Pass Oregon Album
"The Great Pal" by Harriet Guardino