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Joseph Gaston. Portland, Oregon It's History and Builders. Chicago : The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1911.
For the first years of Portland, the people were dependent solely on water transportation. To get to the town, or get away from it, the only chance was by canoes, sail boats, batteaux or steamboats. There was not a single wagon road, and no thought of one until the town proprietors saw that a wagon road from Portland out to the farms in Tualitin plains (now Washington county) was absolutely necessary to head off the movement to build the commercial city at St. Helens.
The first opening to Portland by a land route came from a trail from the Barlow road, into what is now known as East Portland. Etienne Lucier had been at work over there for a few years opening a little farm at the point where East Morrison street intersects Union avenue, and had opened a trail down to the river. And belated, stranded and misguided travelers began to work their way in from the direction of Milwaukee and Oregon City, and got down to the river by Lucier’s trail. At first the Indians with their canoes would set people across the river, but soon it was discovered that a ferry right at that point would be valuable. And before James Stephens took notice of any rights he might have in the matter as claimant of the land, a bold speculator in ferry franchises "jumped" the Lucier trail and the ferry landing at the river end of it. And immediately, the man who had rigged a skiff and was engaging in the ferry business to accomodate travelers, was told he must not land his boat there under penalty of immediate death from a loaded shotgun in the hands of the would-be land claimant. The scene was watched with intense interest from the Portland shore. But the ferryman was equal to the occasion. As his boat neared the east shore, laying down his oars preparatory of taking a rope to make a landing, he snatched up a rifle from the bottom of the boat and in a twinkling had the bold bad man on shore covered with his gun, and the passengers landed without molestation.
This incident only shows how this city started and grew out of the most difficult and trying circumstances that ever attended the founding of any American city. There is not a single large city in the United States, except Portland, but what had for its foundations some sort of authority or law from a sovereign ruler or government. Portland was in a worse position than in a country where [p.221] there was no law, and no claim to the country, by any state or nation. For here there was not only no law to found any rights upon, but the country was in dispute between two rival nations, and no one knew whether any act they did in good faith would ever be recognized.
The first means of land transportation was started from Portland in the project of a wagon road west from the city through the "canyon" up Tanners creek, so called from Lownsdale starting his tannery on it. The people did not see the necessity of this road until the St. Helens townsite owners started a road from their town to reach the farmers on Tualitin plains. Money was raised, the timber cut out, and a narrow track graded up the canyon, winding around the base of the overhanging hills. And then in a great burst of enterprise, it was resolved to make a plank road of it. A wagon load of planks were sawed out down at Reed and Abrams mill and hauled out to the starting point, about where the city reservoir is located, and the whole town went out to celebrate the opening of the graded track and the commencement of the grand plank highway. General Coffin was master of ceremonies and laid the first plank, and then lawyer Frank Tilford made the speech for the occasion, and in which he said among many other encouraging things:
"This is the commencement of an era of commercial prosperity, which will continue to increase until the iron horse takes the place of the plank road. There are persons now within the sound of my voice that will live to see the day when a main trunk railroad will be extended from sea to sea; from the Atlantic to the Pacific."
Very true, orator Tilford. Your prophecy uttered on October 15, 1851 was realized for Oregon, on September 10, 1883, by the completion of the line made up of the Northern Pacific from St. Paul to the old town of Ainsworth on Snake river, just above its junction with the Columbia, and the line of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company from Ainsworth to Portland—32 years after Tilford’s prophecy.
In October, 1850, the Methodist church at the corner of Third and Taylor streets was opened and dedicated to divine worship.
The Congregational church at the corner of Second and Jefferson, was opened in 1851.
The First Catholic church, at the corner of Third and Stark streets, was erected in 1851, and dedicated in February, 1852.
St. John’s Day was celebrated by the Masons the first time in Portland in 1850. The Masons and the common people assembled at the Masonic hall, surrounded by logs and stumps, formed a procession and marched to the Methodist church. where Thomas J. Dryer, founder and editor of the Oregonian, delivered an oration, Rev. Horace Lyman, delivered an address, Lieut. Russell of the United States army, from Fort Vancouver, acting as Worthy Grand Master.
In this year, the Sons of Temperance were organized in Portland with great enthusiasm and large numbers.
In April 1851, the first city election was held. No politics involved. Two hundred and twenty-two votes were cast, and H. D. O’Bryant elected mayor; W. S. Caldwell, recorder, with R. R. Thompson, Shubrick Norris, George A. Barnes, Thomas G. Robinson and L. B. Hastings, for councilmen—thus ushering in the first city government of the city of Portland.
As was easily forseen, there could not be laid out and built up a city in this territory on any titles founded on the facts existing here in 1844, without incurring great doubts as to legality, if not endless litigation. And such turned out to be the case. And there was scarcely a single possibility for it to be otherwise, no matter what the intentions of the land holders were. In 1844, the title to the country was still in dispute between the United States and Great Britain. After [p.222] years of earnest entreaty by the settlers, after a provisional government had been formed, and after the whole people of the United States at the presidential election of 1844 had overwhelmingly voted for immediate war unless our title was conceded clear up to the Alaska line—after all this, the Polk administration pottered along as if dickering for a barrel of potatoes, while the Americans in Oregon were risking everything to save the country for the Union.
The Oregon provisional government had done all in its power to hasten a settlement and give assurance of security for land titles. But it had no authority in the matter. Its laws were not the acts of a recognized state or nation. And even if Great Britain was ousted from the country, congress might not ratify or maintain the laws, or the grants of land by the provisional government, but displace all such provisional proceedings as premature and inoperative.
That was the legal phase of the case. The real facts of the case show the townsite proprietors to be actuated by the highest sense of honor and fair dealing. To fortify possession with every possible defence against insecurity of title, and guarantee to purchasers of lots in the new town—make assurance double sure—Lownsdale, Coffin and Chapman entered into the most solemn and carefully prepared written contracts, to secure in any event all the title they could get from the United States, and convey the same to the purchasers of lots; binding themselves jointly and severally, in large bonds to make such deeds.
But as the titles to all the lands obtained and sold by the townsite proprietors have long since been quieted and settled, the matter can be of interest only in a general and historical sense, and in no way as a technical legal question. And as the decisions of United States judges, Sawyer and Deady, deal with the broad principles of justice on which the town was founded in its anomalous legal surroundings, the important parts of those decisions will be given. Says Judge Sawyer (First Sawyer, Rep. p. 619)
"It is a matter of public history, of which the court can take notice, that Oregon was settled while the sovereignty of the country was still in dispute between the United States and Great Britain; that subsequently a provisional government was organized and put in operation by the people, without any authority of the sovereign powers; that laws were passed temporarily regulating and protecting claims made upon public lands; and that afterwards, the territorial government was established under the authority of congress and put in operation long before there was any law or means by which the real title to any portion of land in Oregon could be obtained. The title to the lands in Oregon were vested in the United States from the moment that the right of sovereignty was acquired, and the first law that was passed, by which the title in fee could in any way be acquired from the government, was the said Act of September 10, 1850, called the Donation Act. Long before that time, however, an organized community had existed; lands had been taken up and improved; towns laid out, established and built up, having a considerable population and a growing commerce. It was necessary, in the nature of things, that some right of property should be recognized in lands, in the dealings of the people among themselves, and laws were adopted by the provisional government regulating the subject. Tracts of land were taken up, and claimed by the settlers within the limits, as to quantity allowed; towns laid off, and lands and town lots sold and conveyed from one to another, in all respects as though the parties owned the fee, except that every party dealing with the lands, necessarily knew that he did not, and could not, under the existing laws obtain the fee from the real proprietor.
"But between man and man, possession is evidence of title in fee, as against everybody but the true owner. The law protects in his possession the party who has once possessed himself of, and appropriated to his use a piece of unoccupied land, until he has lost his possession and right of possession by abandonment, as against everybody but the true owner. Such possession and right of possession are recognized as property by the common law, and the right is protected and enforced by the courts. * * * * Prior appropriation is the origin of all titles. [p.223] Prior discovery and an actual or constructive appropriation is the origin of title even in governments themselves. For communities situated like that in the early settlement of Oregon, no rule could be adopted which would better subserve the public interest than to treat prior occupancy as giving a provisional title to lands in reasonable quantities and under proper restrictions, and thereafter, until the real title can be obtained from the government, deal with it as between individuals in all respects as if the prior occupancy originated and vested a title in fee. This is the natural order of things, and affords a rule of conduct consonant with the ordinary course of dealings, and the common experience of mankind in organized communities."
Proceeding upon this broad basis, the judge cited the circumstances of the case in hand; the Portland land claims were taken up, lots sold, improved and lived upon. The party thus occupying acquired possession as against all but the true owner—the United States. This right could be transferred by sale like any other.
"Lownsdale was, on March 30, 1849, in possession of the six hundred and forty acres, except certain lots already sold. On that day two instruments were executed, each evidently a part of one and the same transaction, between Lownsdale and Coffin, forming a partnership, by which the legal title was to be vested in Coffin, but to be held in trust for the joint benefit of the two. All profits of sale were to be divided, every exertion made to acquire title, each paying half of expenses, and upon dissolution Coffin is to convey one-half to Lownsdale of whatever he may have under title. In this agreement Lownsdale and Coffin were to own each a half interest in all the six hundred and forty acres, except certain lots already sold to various parties as town property; but every exertion was to be made to gain a title to the whole six hundred and forty acres, not excepting those lots—showing that they claim no further interest in those lots. but were to get title to them for the benefit of those to whom the lots had been sold.
"When, in 1849, Chapman was admitted, the three partners were to have equal interest in the property, excepting town lots already sold previous date as town property; and, in 1852, when the section had to be divided severalty, so that the proprietors might obtain a title on their own account, as provided by the Donation Act, they make an agreement in which set forth the fact that they have already obligated themselves to make to tr grantees a general warranty deed whenever they, as grantors, shall obtain title from the United States, and bind themselves again to make such deeds to the original grantees, their heirs, assigns, etc., whenever they should get the patent for which they were then taking steps to obtain.
‘Whenever a new partner was admitted it was expressly provided that the lots already sold should be excluded from the use of the partners, but that the title must be got for all. Whence it follows that acquisition of title was for the benefit of the purchasers, and not of the vendors—partners—only."
It was also further held by Judge Sawyer that although Lownsdale only promised to give the deed when he got a title, and was under no compulsion by that promise to get a title, yet nevertheless that when he did proceed to obtain a patent, although voluntarily, he was not thereby relieved of the trust which rested in his promise or covenant, but that the trust, having passed from the covenant, now vested in the title, which he procured; and the title thus acquired in pursuance of the covenant, and therefore for the benefit of the parties designated in the covenant. Moreover, it could not be allowed that Lownsdale was receiving any new valuable consideration from the vendees when he agreed to acquire for them a deed for lots previously purchased and paid for, since the only possible value derivable to him from such deed, or promise of it, would be to prevent purchasers going forward to make a claim to their lots in their own name, under the donation act, and thus allow him an opportunity to file on the whole claim and get legal title to the whole of it, to the exclusion of the owners or purchasers of the lots. But that would be a presumption of bad [p.224] faith and fraud, which should not be admitted. The fact that Lownsdale proceeded voluntarily to get title and not under compulsion of his covenant, or that he received no valuable consideration for procuring this title, would not, therefore, make any difference with the binding nature of his covenant, which was legally fulfilled by the very fact of his obtaining title.
Still further, it was held that the clause requiring an affidavit of those entering lands under the donation act, that such land was for their own use and they had made no contract to sell it, should be decided or interpreted in the same liberal spirit. It was held that the law was enacted with a view to the existing state of things, contemplating the fact that many settlers had been living long on their claims, had already sold and bought; and that to confirm sales already made, in the course of business in the past, was no "future contract" such as was contemplated and prohibited by the law. At all events, the clause must be construed so as to work both ways; if it were held to prevent those who had bought land from Lownsdale from holding their lots, it must also be held to prevent Lownsdale from perfecting his title, since it was no more an infraction of the law for them to buy than for Lownsdale to sell. But Lownsdale had been permitted to obtain title, in spite of his former promise to grant titles to purchasers, and upon the validity of his patent must the whole validity of the claim of the plaintiffs be made to rest. But if his title was valid in face of his covenant, that covenant was not invalidated by the clause in the donation act prohibiting future contracts.
Judge Deady concurred in the following language: "I concur in the conclusion reached by the circuit judge. After careful consideration, and not without some doubt and hesitation, I have become satisfied that by force of the agreement of March 10, 1852, and the subsequent action of Lownsdale, Coffin and Chapman, under and in pursuance of it, each of them took and obtained from the United States a separate portion of the land claim in trust for the purchasers or vendees of any lots situated therein, and before that time sold by any or all of these parties.
"From the passage of the Donation Act, September 27, 1850, and prior thereto, Lownsdale, Coffin and Chapman had held this land claim in common, and made sales of lots throughout the extent and with intent to conform to the provisions of said act and obtain the benefit thereof, they partitioned the claim between themselves so that each was thereafter enabled to proceed for himself and notify upon and obtain a donation of a separate portion of the whole tract.
"The donation act was a grant in praesenti. Each of these settlers—Lownsdale, Coffin and Chapman—was upon the land at the date of its passage, and from that time is deemed to have an estate in fee simple in his donation, subject only to be defeated by a failure on his part to perform the subsequent conditions of residence, cultivation and a proof thereof. This being so, it follows that at the date of this agreement either of these parties could impress a trust upon his donation in favor of any one. And even if it be considered that the settlers acquired no interest in the land until the partition and notification before the surveyor-general, still each one having acquired a separate portion of the common claim in pursuance and partly by means of this agreement, as soon as he did so acquire it, the trust provided for in it became as executed at once; and might be enforced by the beneficiary thereof, although a mere volunteer. from whom no meritorious consideration moved."
He summed up the case thus: "I think the agreement of March 10, 1852, a valid instrument, and not within the prohibition entered in section four of the Donation Act, against ‘all future contracts for the sale of land’ granted by the act. By its terms it appears to be a contract concerning the making of title to the parcels or lots of land already sold, and for aught that appears before the passage of the Donation Act. But if this were doubtful, good policy, it seems to me, requires that the instrument, as between the parties to it and in favor of those intended to be benefited by it, should be so construed and upheld." [p.225]
This decision settled the titles to the lots that had been sold before the townsite owners had got any title themselves. But another set of lawsuits, founded on entirely different facts and legal principles, arose out of the public levee question—the strip of land between the shore line of the river and the east line of Front street. The people of Portland were firmly of the opinion that this strip of land was public property for the use of all the people, for the purposes of a levee or public landing just as it may be seen at such cities as Wheeling, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Ohio, and St. Louis, Missouri.
The matter was brought into court in 1850. In that year Mr. Lownsdale had a building erected upon the fractional block east of Front street, between the river and a lot owned by J. L. Parrish. The latter claimed that his free use of the river was impaired thereby, that the understanding in accordance with which he had purchased his lot was violated, and he therefore sued to have the obstruction removed. While the case was pending, a compromise was agreed upon that if Parrish would withdraw the suit, the river front from Washington to Main street should be dedicated as a public levee for the free use of the people. The fact that the proprietors made any such concession shows plainly that they recognized the popular idea as at least partially correct, and was an admission that they had given the people some right to suppose that they might use the river bank without rent or other payment. In this case, the matter was proposed to be settled the more willingly by the proprietors, because a vexatious lawsuit as to title of any considerable portion of the town tended to retard growth, and to derange business.
But the people of the city took no wise steps to secure their rights if they had any. The suit to remove obstructions was not withdrawn, and therefore Lownsdale was released from his part of the promise. The common council of Portland acted in a manner somewhat peculiar and contradictory. They either forgot that they had any rights to protect and secure for the city, or deemed these of little importance. In 1850, Lownsdale had had the city surveyed by one R. V. Short, and from this survey a map was made by John Brady. According to this map, Front street—then called Water street—was bounded on the east side by a line parallel with the western boundary, and the land on the river bank east of the street was laid off in lots and blocks, according to the meanderings of the river. In 1852, the common council seemed to consider it a good plan to adopt some map as an authoritative diagram of the city, and probably because the Brady map was most convenient, they declared it to he the correct plat of Portland. By this stroke they signed away whatever right they had to the levee. In 1860, however, another council revived the old matter, having discovered during the eight years intervening that the Brady map made no account of the levee, and they now declared that the river front was public property. A crusade was made against those who had put buildings upon the levee, and it was ordained that all such obstructions be removed. About this time, if report is not at fault, Mr. George W. Vaughn, one of Portland’s early mayors and the proprietor of the Portland flouring mill, was ousted from his holding on the levee, by order of the council, and in disgust took up his residence for a time in the rival city of Vancouver. A wharf that was in process of construction according to the directions of J. P. O. Lownsdale, was proceeded against. His agents and builders were arrested, and it was threatened to tear down the structure.
After these vigorous measures, however, a great hubbub having been raised, the council changed its course, repealed its former declaration, and ordained that the levee was private property, and that taxes must be paid upon it. The suit brought by Mr. J. P. O. Lownsdale to enjoy the use and possession of his property was decided in his favor—the court finding that there was no proof that Lovejoy, Pettygrove, Chapman, Coffin or D. H. Lownsdale had ever given the levee to the public; that they had no power to give anything of this property before 1850, since there was no title before that date; that Lowns [p.226] dale’s donation certificate gave him title to the levee; that he claimed all proprietary rights upon it, using, renting and selling portions, and that the city had twice publicly admitted his claim, and had compelled him to pay taxes upon it. Nevertheless, it will always be understood by many that at the beginning, or in the early days, Portland supposed she owned the water front for the public, and that the proprietors had some intention of facilitating commerce and providing against extortion of wharfingers by having a free front for the use of boatmen, farmers and shippers. But whatever rights she had used, she allowed to slip through her fingers.
There was, however, a levee still left. General Coffin dedicated to the city a strip from Jefferson street southward along the river bank to Clay street. He reserved for himself only the right of using it for purposes of ferriage, but afterward sold this right to the city, giving at that time a quit claim to the whole tract. The question what to do with the property was variously agitated at different times before the city council. Recommendations for leasing it for the benefit of the city were incorporated in municipal reports, and suggestions for improvements so as to make it of service to the public, were occasionally made.
It looks quite reasonable at this distance of time, that the people of Portland in 1850 were right in their contentions about the public levee; and that a levee was really the intention of the town proprietors. Why, then, did they abandon that idea? The only explanation that can be given, is, that when Captain Couch made improvements on the water front of his property, he built a covered wharf after the manner of river and seaport towns in New England. And it was at once seen that this plan was better for shipping on this river and at this port than the open ground levee plan.
And because it was better and more convenient for shipping it was seen that Couch would get all the ships to his end of the town and the city would be built down there. And so the townsite proprietors themselves put up the first wharves and docks on the original levee strip, and sold the rights to others to so build.
And thus, by the neglect or lack of foresight of our city pioneers, the levee strip of land, and all its values for public docks, was lost to their city. And now, in 1910, sixty years afterwards, the voters of the city at the late state election, by a large majority vote, authorized a debt in the shape of city bonds, to the extent of $2,500,000, to purchase back from the owners, more or less of this old 1850 levee land, and build thereon public docks. Thus man in all his wisdom, goes stumbling through the world.
It might be assumed from what has been recorded that the people had no protection in the forms of law from any source, or thought they had none, until the United States assumed control of the country. But this is not justified by the record. The provisional government at Oregon City had, upon its organization, promptly passed an act to provide title to land claims, as has been recorded. And although the people had taken that largely on faith, yet the sequel shows that the lawfully organized courts of the United States did afterwards fully recognize and decide the provisional government to be a lawful and legitimate organization, and that its authorization and regulation of land titles must be sustained. On passing upon this question, in the case of Lownsdale vs. City of Portland, decided by Judge Deady in 1861, and in the case of Baldra vs. Tolmie, decided by Chief Justice Williams, in First Oregon Rep. 178, the court holds:
"It is well known that at the time of the organization of Oregon territory, an anomalous state of things existed here. The country was extensively settled and the people were living under an independent government, established by them selves. They were a community in the full sense of the word, engaged in agricultural, trade, commerce and mechanics arts; had built towns, opened and improved farms, established highways, passed revenue laws and collected taxes, made war and concluded peace. [p.227]
"Confessedly the provisional government of this territory was a government de facto, and if it be admitted that governments derive their ‘just powers from the consent of the governed,’ then it was a government de jure. Emigrants who first settled Oregon, upon their arrival here, were without any political organization to protect themselves from foes without, or to preserve peace within; and, therefore, self-preservation constrained them to establish a system of self-government. Congress, knowing their necessities and withholding the customary provisions for such a case, tactily acquiesced in the action of the people, and, on the 14th of August, 1848, expressly recognized its correctness and validity. No reason can be imagined for holding that the people of Oregon, in 1844, had no right to make such laws as their wants required; for where the functions of government have not been assumed or exercised by any other competent authority. it cannot be denied that such a power is inherent in the inhabitants of any country, isolated and separated as Oregon was from all other communities of civilized men. Some effort has been made to assimilate the laws in question to mere neighborhood agreements, but the argument seems to apply with equal force to the acts of all governments established by the people."
A sketch of the conditions of the town and country from 1850 to 1856, from the pen of a man who actually passed through that period, Mr. H. W. Scott, of the advisory board, is here added, that readers may know the actual facts from one eye witness.
"A youth who had come from Puget Sound, from Olympia to the Cowlitz river, down the Cowlitz in a canoe with a couple of Indians, and from the mouth of the Cowlitz to Portland on the steamboat Willamette, crossed the Willamette river in a skiff at the foot of Stark street, on the morning of October 4, 1856, taking the road on foot for Oregon City, he arrived there at 11 o’clock; and from Oregon City pushed on to the southern end of Clackamas county that after noon, to a point near Butte creek, arriving there at 6 p. m., thirty-six miles from Portland. It was a good days walk, but for those times, only ordinary work.
Last Thursday, October 4, 1906, this person, after the lapse of fifty year again crossed the Willamette river at Portland, for observation and retrospect—walking over the Morrison street bridge.
Portland in 1856, contained about eighteen hundred inhabitants. All business was on Front street. A few residences were established as far back as Sixth street, and south as far as Jefferson; but throughout the whole district west of First street, no streets or roads had yet been opened on regular lines. and only paths, trails and zigzag roads made by woodmen, led the way through stumps and logs and over uneven places, out into the forest. The Canyon road had been opened, but was yet almost inaccessible from the nascent city, and most
difficult of passage or travel when reached. The Barnes or Cornell road was even more difficult, for it had sharper turns and steeper places. It crossed Canyon or Tanner creek near the Multnomah field, ascended the hill through the present city park, and further on entered the ravine, upon which it followed substantially the track of the present road to the summit. In many places these roads were so narrow that teams could not pass each other, and most of the logs had been cut out at lengths, or widths, that gave room for only a single vehicle. In the winter there was bottomless mud—though the Canyon road was cross-laid with timber a portion of the way. No one who passes over those roads now can have any idea of the size of the trees or the density of the forest then. The logs, undergrowth, ridges and gulleys, hills, steeps and sharp turns in the ravines rendered road making a thing difficult now to comprehend or believe.
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On the east side, after passing the narrow strip of low land, of which Union avenue and Grand avenue are now the limits, there was unbroken forest then, and till long afterwards. The original donation claimants were the only inhabitants. The only house directly opposite Portland, was that of James B. Stephens. [p.228]
Others who held donation claims were Gideon Tibbetts and Clinton Kelly. To the north were the Wheeler and Irving claims, and to the south the Long claim. East Portland then had no name as a town. Years were to elapse before a beginning was made of clearing the site. The road towards Oregon City, after reaching the high ground, threaded the darkest and thickest of forests. With the exception of the small spot on the west side, that had been partially cleared— though logs and stumps everywhere abounded—the whole site of the present city was covered with ‘the continuous woods where rolled the Oregon.’ So dense was the forest, so impervious to the sun, so cool the shades, that the mud-holes in such roads as had been opened, scarcely dried the summer long.
A flatboat was maintained for a ferry at Stark street, with a skiff that would carry a single passenger, or two or three, which was used when there were no teams to cross. The east side, as we now call it, furnished little traffic for the ferry. Most of it came from Oregon City and beyond.
The purpose of the youthful traveler in coming from Puget Sound, was to go to Forest Grove to school. But he first had occasion to go to the southern part of Clackamas county, and afterwards to Lafayette, in Yamhill. Thence to Forest Grove. The various stages of the journey were made on foot, after the manner of the time. The baggage was so light that it didn’t get the Roman name of impedimentum. It was a single small satchel. President Marsh was the university at Forest Grove, and Judge Shattuck the academy. Both, of course, were men of all work, not only in school, but at home. Most students—there were not very many—’boarded themselves.’ A dollar a week was supposed to be money enough; two dollars, luxurious living.
At that time there was no school at Puget Sound, except a small private school at Olympia, kept by Rev. George F. Whitworth, pioneer missionary, who still lives at Seattle, and not long ago was at Portland. His school was a mixed school, in which only primary instruction was given, for there was no demand for higher. In Washington the public school had not begun; in Oregon it was making here and there its earliest start.
In October, fifty-four years ago, the weather was fine as now. The early rains had washed the smoky dust out of the atmosphere, and the woods were fresh and clean, untouched by frost. The cheerful spirits of the young and lonely traveler, who was on his way from Puget Sound that week, and who was, so far as he knows, the only passenger on the road, put nature also in her cheerfulest mood; for whether we find nature kind and genial, or harsh and sour, depends on ourselves. No stream was an obstacle; for, though there were no bridges, one had but to strip and wade or swim, carrying his clothes in a close pack on his shoulders, or pushing them ahead of him on a float. Sometimes, on reaching a small stream, one would take the trouble to look for a foot log, over which he might pass, but not often, for the dense undergrowth along the stream hid everything, and it was often impossible to break through it. Besides, to wade or swim was nothing. All young fellows took it as a matter of course. On the Chehalis, on the Newaukum, on the Cowlitz, there was no place where you could get an outlook—not an even up and down the sinuous streams for any distance. The great trees and dense undergrowth shut out everything. Here and there a first settler was beginning his little clearing, but within a few years these first ones usually gave the effort up as hopeless. The clearing could come only with more powerful agencies that attended the railroad. At the Cowlitz farms was a prairie of some extent, that had long been occupied by the men of the Hudson’s Bay Company. It was the only real nucleus of a settlement between Portland and Olympia—though here and there at long intervals were scattered habitations. Where the town of Chehalis now stands, a man named Saunders lived, at whose house most travelers stayed over night; and on the east fork of the Cowlitz, at its junction with the main stream, there was a settler named Gardiner, who, with his son, a boy of fifteen, lived the life of a hermit, yet would help on his way with fare [p.229] of hardtack and bacon and a roof when it rained, the traveler who chanced to drop in on him. To the wayfarers of the Cowlitz trail he was known as "Old Hardbread." Mighty good man he was.
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Western Oregon, fifty-four years ago, was so fully settled that the most desirable lands were most all taken. The great donation claims of 640 acres to man and wife covered all or nearly all the open valley lands. The country then was everything, the towns comparatively nothing; and Salem, as the center of agricultural Willamette, was in many ways a more important town than Portland, as was proven by the fact that even at a later date it was able to get more votes for the state capital than Portland. Eastern Oregon was of little consequence then. In fact, the hostile Indians had driven out of the "upper country" the few whites who had tried to fix their homes there. Volunteers of Oregon and Washington were still in the field in pursuit of the hostile Indians east of the mountains; but at Puget Sound and in southern Oregon, the contest with the Indians was practically ended. There were no white settlers yet in Idaho, which, indeed, was not made a territory until 1863. A considerable trade had, however, grown up between Portland and the interior, by way of the Columbia river, which was first interrupted and afterward supported by the Indian war. Fifty years ago there was pretty regular steamboat movement between Portland and The Dalles, with portage connection at the Cascades. Between Portland and the Cascades the steamer Senorita, and between the Cascades and The Dalles, the steamer Mary, three times a week. It took two days to make the trip either way between Portland and The Dalles; and in the Oregonian of October 4, 1856. W. S. Ladd gave notice that the price of freight by these boats from Portland to The Dalles was $40 a ton. ship measurement. The steamer Belle was at times one of the boats on the route. On the Willamette the steamer Portland ran to Oregon City, and the Enterprise from the falls to Corvallis. The Multnomah ran between Portland and Astoria, and the Jennie Clark, under Captain Ainsworth, between Portland and Oregon City. The Willamette, the boat on which this writer came from Rainier to Portland fifty years ago, had been brought around Cape Horn, but she was too expensive for service here, and was taken to California. Jacob Kamm and George A. Pease are the only ones of the early steamboat men who still live here. Kamm came to take charge of the engines of the Lot Whitcomb, built at Milwaukie in 1850. She also was taken, after a while, to San Francisco, as she was too large for the trade then on our rivers. E. W. Baughman, still on the upper Columbia and Snake rivers, began his steamboat career as a fireman on the Whitcomb. Pease, at the age of twenty, began boating on the Willamette and Columbia in 1850.
Transportation is a great part of the life even of the pioneer country, and Portland owed its early growth entirely to its position in relation to navigation on one hand, and to accessibility from the pioneer settlements on the other. With the outer world communication was had chiefly by steamer from San Francisco. Fifty years ago the steamer came usually twice a month. Latest news from the east was from one month to six weeks old. But it was matter only of mighty interest that could fix the attention of a people so nearly isolated from the world and devoted of necessity to the little life around them. People here hardly cared who was elected president in 1856. By 1860 somewhat closer touch had been gained with the world. Oregon then for the first time was to vote for president, and the question of that year, resulting in the election of Abraham Lincoln, quickened the attention of all. Even so late as 1860, the entire population of Oregon and Washington was but 62,059, more than three-fourths of which was in Oregon.
But our pioneers, most of whom had come from the middle west, or upper Mississippi valley, and had much experience in pioneer life there, used to say [p.230] that life here in our pioneer times never encountered so many difficulties or privations as in the early settlement of the older states. The reason was that the great interior country out of which the states of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri were formed, was remote from the seaboard and almost inaccessible from it. On the other hand, access to the Oregon country was had direct from the sea, and necessaries of many kinds were obtainable here soon after the settlement began, which the pioneers of the old west could not obtain at all. Especially after the discovery of gold in California, and after the rush thither began, tools, nails, glass and clothing could be had here. Our women in Oregon did not spin and weave in the households, as our mothers and grandmothers did in the older states, in their pioneer time. Certain luxuries soon began to appear here which our pioneers had not known in the states whence they came.
There were dried codfish, barreled pork, Malaga raisins and English walnuts. A few had carpets, possessions unknown to the early settlers of Illinois and Missouri. Attempts to imitate fashions in dress were not unknown. As soon as wheat and potatoes could be grown, living became easy, and in a sense luxurious; for there was every kind of game, excellent fish in all waters, and the small wild fruits in greatest abundance. Social life was open, hearty and free. Every house was open to the comer, whether neighbor or stranger. If night overtook you and you wished to stay, you knew you would find welcome. You had to ask no questions. It was a thing of course.
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The country lay isolated so long that it took on a character of its own. Manners, habits, customs, naturally assimilated. One year was very like another. The few who came into the country from year to year from abroad soon and naturally fell into the prevailing modes of life. Industry was not strenuous. Production was carried scarcely beyond the wants of our own people, for transportation was lacking, and accessibility to markets. Of course, the mercantile interest in such a community, though the leading could not be very great. The foundation of a few large fortunes were laid, but the country in general ‘got ahead’ very little. As the years wore on there came some local railroad development but in the low state of industry then existing, it had little effect. It was not till connection was made by rail across the continent that the new era began. Even then, for a number of years, the progress was slow. It had taken time for the forces to gather that make for the modern progress. But now they are in operation to an extent, and with an energy that the survivors of the early times never could have expected to witness. Portland, as a leading center of this progress, presents wonderful aspects. No one who saw Portland fifty years ago, or thirty years ago, could have imagined the city would be or could be what it is today. And now we see that its growth is but just fairly begun."
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