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The Oregon Country

Map of the Oregon Country

ITS DISCOVERY.  Soon after the American continent had been discovered, the existence of a northwest passage was surmised, and many voyages of discovery were undertaken by navigators to find such a passage. Ferrilo, a Spaniard, had made exploring voyages along the coast in 1543. Sir Francis Drake moved northward along the Oregon coast in 1578, after his landing on the coast of California, and several Spanish explorers visited the country between 1592 and 1775. In 1728 Vitus Behring, a Danish navigator, discovered Behring Straits and Alaska; in 1788 an Englishman Captain Cook, commanded the first English vessel that visited the North Pacific Coast. In 1792 Capt. Robert Gray, a trader from Boston, entered the mouth of the Columbia, and thus laid the foundation of the American title to Oregon.

Although the coast line of Oregon and Washington was known by mariners before the interior was explored, and maps more or less accurate were made from time to time by Spaniards, Dutch, British, and Russian navigators who vied with each other in exploring the coast, practically no attempt was made to explore the interior of the country until President Jefferson a hundred years ago, sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark from St. Louis up the Missouri River to its head waters, across the mountains and plains, and down the Columbia River to its mouth.

ITS EXPLORATION.  Thomas Jefferson, who was a representative of the United States at the court of Versailles when Captain Cook's expedition returned to England in 1780, was deeply interested in the exploits of Captain Cook. In an autographed letter to George Rogers Clark dated at Annapolis, December 4, 1783, Jefferson showed that he wanted his country to be first in the exploration of this region.

"I find," he says, "they have subscribed a very large sum of money in England for exploring the country from the Missouri to California. They pretend it is only to promote knowledge—I am afraid they have thoughts of colonizing into that quarter. Some of us here have been talking in a feeble way to reach that country, but I doubt whether we have enough of that kind of spirit to raise the money. How would you like to lead such a party?" Nothing came of this. In 1792 Jefferson proposed to the American Philosophical Society "that a subscription be raised for the purpose of engaging some competent person to explore the country lying between the Mississippi and the Pacific Ocean by crossing the stony mountains and descending the nearest river to the Pacific."  Jefferson's suggestion was acted upon and Lieut. Meriwether Lewis, a Virginia, was chosen. The expedition, however, was abandoned, but when Jefferson became president he submitted to Congress, June 18, 1803, a special message recommending Coast exploration. congress approved and made an appropriation of only $2,5000, "to defray the expenses of a company of forty-five men journeying nearly nine thousand miles through a country actually known.(1) Captain Lewis, who had been acting as private secretary for the president, was chosen to direct the enterprise, selecting his associate William Clark captain in the United States army. In pursuance of his commission and instructions, Captain Lewis left Washington on the 5th of July, 1803, and was joined by Captain Clark at Louisville. Having camped with their party at St. Louis until spring, the final start was made in 1804. It is not necessary to relate here the details of this memorable expedition which has left an imperishable record in the annals of exploration. The following brief itinerary of the expedition may, however, be instructive and interesting.

BRIEF ITINERARY OF THE LEWIS AND CLARK EXPEDITION, TABULATED

date place miles from mouth of Missouri River Remarks
May 14, 1804 Left mouth of Missouri River 0
June 26, 1804 At mouth of Kansas River 340 Kansas City, Mo.
July 21, 1804 At mouth of Platte River 600 Below Omaha, Neb.
July 30, 1804 At Council Bluff 650 Not Council Bluffs, Iowa
Aug 21, 1804 At Sioux City, Iowa 850 Serg. Floyd's grave just below city
Sep 20, 1804 At Big Bend of Missouri River 1,172 Below Pierre, S.D.
Nov 2, 1804 Arrived at Fort Mandan 1,600 Below Knife River, N.D., on left bank of Missouri, where they passed the winter of 1804-5.
April 7, 1805 Left Fort Mandan 1,600
April 26, 1805 At mouth of Yellowstone River 1,880 Fort Buford just above.
June 2, 1805 At mouth of Marias River 2,521 Fort Benton short distance above.
June 16, 1805 At Portage Creek; Great Falls, Mont. 2,575
June 18, 1805 At White Bear Islands 2,595 City of Great Falls two miles below.
July 25, 1805 At Three Forks of Missouri River Galltin Valley, Mont.
Aug. 12, 1805 At headwaters of Missouri River 3,096 "Fountain," or spring, at head of Jefferson Fork (Beaver Head) of Missouri River.
Sept. 9, 1805 At mouth of Lolo Creek 3,338 Bitter Root Valley, Mont.
Oct. 10, 1805 At mouth of Snake River 3,721
Oct. 22, 1805 At Great Falls of Columbia 3,873 Now known as Celilo Falls.
Oct. 30, 1805 At Cascades of Columbia River 3,944
Dec. 7, 1805 Arrived at Fort Clatsop 4,135 On Netul, or Lewis and Clark River, Ore., where they passed the winter, 1805-6.
Mar 23, 1806 Left Fort Clatsop
April 27, 1806 At mouth of Wallawalla River Washington
June 30, 1806 At mouth of Lolo Creek Party Divided.
Aug. 3, 1806 At mouth of Yellowstone River Captain Clark's party via Three Forks.
Aug. 7, 1806 At mouth of Yellowstone River Captain Lewis's party via Great Falls, Mont.
Sept. 23, 1806 Arrived at St. Louis

ITS SETTLEMENT.  In 1811 John Jacob Astor and others established a fur trading-post at the mouth of the Columbia, calling it Astoria, and in 1833 emigration to that region overland began, and by 1850 thousands of settlers from the United States had reached Oregon. The British Government, however, made claim to the section, and in 1813 captured Astoria, the settlement founded by Astor's Pacific Fur Company, but in 1818 a treaty of joint occupation was made with the United States and Astoria resorted to United States jurisdiction.

The Oregon country had long been in dispute between the United States and Great Britain. From 1818 to 1846 the country was jointly occupied by the United States and Great Britain. In that year (1846) a treaty was made by which the forty-ninth parallel and the Straits of Fuca were made the northern boundary of the United States possessions in the Oregon Territory, and the treaty was ratified June 15, 1846. An organic law had meantime been framed and accepted by the American settlers, and this formed the basis for a provisional government until Congress, in 1848, created the Territory of Oregon, which comprised all of the United States territory west of the summit of the Rocky Mountains and north of the forty-second parallel, and on March 3, 1849, the territorial government went into effect with Joseph Lane as Governor, Governor Abernethy, who had so satisfactorily served as provisional governor during the four receding years, relinquishing his authority to the chose representative of the United States.

ITS GROWTH.  The growth of the Pacific Northwest has been remarkable. Its people now number over 1,200,000. Though essentially an agricultural region it has extensively developed manufacturing interests. Its enormous growth in population and wealth during the past fifty years is best shown in the following summary:

  1850 1900
Population

13,294

1,200,000

Wheat, rye, oats, corn, barley (bushels)

275,781

64,265,041
Potatoes (bushels) 91,326 8,876,058
Hay (tons) 373 3,045,244
Hops (pounds) 8 21,548,277
Wool (pounds) 29,686 39,949,786
Live stock (value) $1,876,189 $83,106,380
Orchard products (value) 1,271 2,317,735
Manufactures (value) 2,236,640 175,000,000
Foreign commerce (value) small 36,000,000
Gold, silver, cooper, lead (value) small 70,000,000

ITS EXTENT TO-DAY.  The Oregon country now embraces the States of Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and parts of Montana and Wyoming, containing a total area of 288,689 square miles. Its area is more than two and one-third times that of Great Britain and Ireland; more than two and one-half times that of Italy; more than one-third larger than either France, the German or Austrian empire; one-quarter larger than Spain and Portugal; larger than the German Empire, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands combined; larger than Japan, the Philippines, and the Hawaiian Islands; four times larger than the New England states; more than two and one-half times larger than New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland combined; more than two and one-fifth times larger than Ohio, Indiana and Illinois; larger than the total area of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee; and larger than the states of Texas or California and Nevada.

ITS FUTURE.  In his speech at the opening of the Exposition the Vice-President of the United States, Charles W. Fairbanks, thus referred to the future of the Oregon country:

"The mighty Pacific is at your very doors. It invites you to an illimitable commerce beyond. Your agriculture, your minerals, and your forests, your genial seasons and the high quality of your citizenship attract hither the homebuilder. The future has much in store for you. Yonder is Hawaii, acquired for strategic purposes and demanded in the interests of expanding commerce. Lying in the waters of the Orient are the Philippines and there lies a large field of trade for you with the peoples of the far East. The Panama canal to the south is now and assured reality.. It will bring Portland and the Pacific Coast into closer relations with the Atlantic seaboard and the markets of Europe. At the north is Alaska, a territory possessing vast present and future possibilities.

(1) See Johnson's History of Oregon.

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