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HISTORY OF PORTLAND.
LEADING EVENTS IN THE HISTORY OF OREGON FROM THE EARLIEST EXPLORATION TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF TERRITORIAL GOVERNMENT.
BEFORE the first white settler had sought to secure a habitation in the forest which marked the site of the present city of Portland, the region of which it is now the commercial center had passed through the most interesting period of its history. The progress of civilization in this portion of the New World, covering a period of nearly half a century ante-dating the founding of the city, after many heroic sacrifices and struggles, had led to the peaceful conquest of a vast area and to the establishment of American supremacy. The successive steps which contributed to these results give to this region a unique place in our national annals, and it seems proper that a brief historical review of the period should precede the story of the city whose foundations were laid after the self-denial, energy and endurance of many men amid women had opened the forest to the sunlight, and brought the country bordering on the Pacific under the influence of American institutions. [page 16]
When a little more than a century ago the United States sprang into being as a nation, Oregon was known in name only, and that name was applied simply to a great river, which, from vague and indefinite reports, obtained from Indians and Spanish navigators, was said to flow westward from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. This river was known to Americans and Englishmen as the Oregon or River of the West, while the Spaniards called it variously Rio de Aguilar and Rio de las Reyes. At this time, the country north of California had no name by which it was distinctively known, and there is no certain record that any civilized man had ever placed foot on the soil of either Oregon or Washington The North Pacific coast, however, had been visited as early as 1535 by a Spanish naval explorer, and from that time between long intervals down to the beginning of the present century, other Spanish, Portugese, English and French navigators had sailed along the Pacific Coast, but the information they obtained was of the most vague and uncertain character.
It was left for an American to give the first information of value concerning the country north of California. This was Captain Robert Gray who, in May, 1792, in the American ship Columbia, discovered and entered the River of the West, which he ascended some twenty-five miles, bestowing on it the name of his vessel. This was the first discovery of the river and according to the custom of nations was a strong element in the title of the United States to all the country drained by it. A few weeks later Captain George Vancouver, in command of an English exploring expedition, having heard of Captain Grayís discovery, appeared at the mouth of the river, and sent one of his vessels, the Chatham, under the command of Lieutenant W. R. Broughton, into the river, and this officer ascended the river in a boat a distance of one hundred and twenty miles. The same year, Alexander MacKenzie, a member of the Northwest Company--a Canadian fur company--made the first overland journey from the East to the Pacific, reaching the ocean on the present coast of British Columbia. He discovered Fraser River, down which he passed in canoes a distance of two hundred and fifty miles. Upon his return home, learning that the Columbia had been discovered, [page 17] he supposed that the large river which he had followed so far southward must be that great stream. This error was not corrected until twenty years later, and the stream was then named in honor of Simon Fraser, who, in 1805, had established a post in that region for the Northwest Company.
These various sea and land explorations had proved three very important facts: First, that there was no water passage for vessels across the continent. Second: that by following the courses of streams and lakes, the overland journey could be nearly accomplished in boats. Third: that this vast unexplored region abounded in fur-bearing animals, a fact which led in a few years to its occupation by rival fur traders, both English and American.
At the beginning of time present century the territorial claims of the various nations to the Pacific Coast were exceedingly conflicting. Russia alone had a valid claim to Alaska, both by discovery and occupation, although no definite southern boundary had been fixed. Spainís claim to California was also undisputed, extending to the forty-second parallel. Between these two, England and Spain claimed title by right of discovery only, while the United States by reason of Grayís discovery of the Columbia, had laid the foundation for a claim to the whole region drained by that mighty river, a claim as yet unasserted, but which was pressed with much vigor a few years later. Besides these discovery rights, the Louisiana Province, which France had transferred to Spain in 1792 was construed by its possessor, or more accurately speaking, its technical claimant, to cover the whole region west of the Mississippi not claimed by the same nations as portions of Mexico and California. This title was reconveyed to France in 1800, thus putting that nation again in the field as a claimant of territory in the western portions of North America.
President Jefferson gave the first impulse to the movement to explore and perfect the title of the United States government in the region drained by the Columbia. He had been at Versailles when John Ledyard, who had accompanied Captain Cookís expedition in 1780 attempted to interest American and French capitalists in the Pacific fur trade. Jefferson, with his profound sagacity, became deeply [page 18] interested in the brilliant pictures of the wealth of this region as related by Ledyard, and he naturally preferred that to his own country should fall so magnificent an inheritance. Upon his return to America, in 1792, he endeavored to interest his countrymen in the project, but the United States were then perfecting their government and the regulations of national affairs required immediate and careful attention. Thus engrossed with great political questions, more than a decade passed before the people began to think of future acquisition of territory. When Jefferson became president in 1801, he had lost none of his former interest in the northwest territory and was more than ever convinced of the expediency of making explorations in the remote west, and of obtaining more valid claim to the region than then existed. Under his administration was negotiated, in 1803, the purchase from France of Louisiana and all of the territorial rights of that nation in North America. It is questionable, however, whether the French title added much strength to the claim of the United States to that region bordering on the Columbia River. From the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains it was good enough as far north as the headwaters of the Mississippi, but west of the continental divide, the French claim rested upon the uncertain plea of A contiguity.@ This, however, the successors to the French claim made the most of in the subsequent controversy with Great Britain.
Immediately after the purchase of Louisiana, Congress, at the urgent request of President Jefferson, dispatched an exploring expedition under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark. They left St. Louis in 1804 and returned in 1806, having twice traversed the distance between that city and the mouth of the Columbia. The result of their explorations had been awaited with much anxiety, and their return caused great rejoicing. A Never,@ says Mr. Jefferson, A did a similar event excite more joy throughout the United States. The humblest of its citizens had taken a lively interest in the issue of this journey and looked forward with impatience to the information it would bring.@ The journal of these explorers was soon published and widely read and for the first time something definite was known of the character of the country and the native tribes occupying it. The interest it awakened, [page 19] especially among the brave and daring Rocky Mountain trappers, hunters and traders was great, and gave them the first proof of the feasibility of making the journey to the Pacific shore by land.
When Great Britain became aware that the territory claimed by France in North America had been ceded to the United States, anxiety was felt by that government and such of its subjects as were personally interested, as to the policy to be pursued to establish the British title to the country on the Pacific Coast north of California The Northwest and Hudsonís Bay Companies were especially anxious as to the future of their interests in that region. The French and Spanish claims to the territory had been regarded as of little importance, but when they were transferred to a nation both able and anxious to perfect the title by reducing the country to actual possession and moreover were supported by the mere claims of discovery and occupation, the matter presented an entirely new aspect.
The race for possession by right of occupancy from this time on was prosecuted with vigor. Great Britain secured the first advantage in this direction. Simon Fraser, an English subject and agent of the Northwest Fur Company, established a trading post in 1805 at Fraser Lake, a few miles west of the point where Fraser River turns southward, bestowing the name of ANew Caledonia@ upon that region. At this time the Fraser, as before stated, was considered to be identical with the Columbia and the post was supposed to be on the great stream, for the possession of which America and England a few years later were to become vigorous contestants. This idea was soon afterwards proven to be erroneous, but the fact remains that the post was the first established by the subjects of either country west of the Rocky Mountains. The first American settlement was made by a man named Henry who, in 1808, founded Fort Henry on the headwaters of Lewis or Snake River, the first of any kind on a tributary of the Columbia. The next was made by Nathan Winship and William Smith, representatives of a Boston Company, who, in June, 1810, selected a spot on the south bank of the Columbia, forty-five miles from its mouth which they called A Oak Point.@ Here they made some preparation to found a settlement but the annual freshet of the river forced them to abandon the [page 20] undertaking. They then selected a higher site further down the river, but signs of hostility on the part of the Indians led them to give up the effort, and they returned to Boston. Thus it will be seen that the first settlements on the Columbia were made by Americans, but they were unimportant links in the chain of evidence which proved the original occupancy of the territory by Americans, compared to the settlement established by the Astor party in 1811.
After the independence of the United States was acknowledged by Great Britain, American ships were for many years practically barred from British ports. In seeking new haunts of commerce they sailed into the Western Ocean and during the early part of the present century took the lead in the fishing and fur trade of the Pacific. They sailed along the entire northwest coast, collecting furs to exchange for the fabrics of China, having a monopoly of this business long before the Hudsonís Bay Company had established headquarters in this region. In addition to the fur trade they supplied the Spanish and Russian settlements along the coast with American manufactured goods. In dealing with the natives, the conduct of certain of these traders brought them into disrepute. For furs they exchanged with the Indians whisky and fire arms. In this way several fierce tribes in the vicinity of the Russian settlements were furnished with deadly means of warfare and rendered dangerous and troublesome. Numerous complaints were made by the Russian government to the State Department, but the American traders were violating no law or treaty and the government could not interfere.
At this time John Jacob Astor was the central figure of the American fur trade, and being consulted about the matter, he proposed as a remedy that a permanent trading post be established at the mouth of the Columbia, that would be the headquarters for trade within the interior and along the coast, and that the business be concentrated in the hands of a company powerful enough to supercede the independent traders who had been the cause of irritation to Russia. To this plan President Jefferson and his cabinet gave their hearty approval. Thus encouraged by the government, Mr. Astor organized the Pacific Fur Company to carry out the enterprise which, while he believed it would be a highly profitable undertaking, he [page 21] intended should be purely American in character and of deep political significance. Although he was actuated by the idea of financial gain, there can be no doubt he was also animated by a patriotic desire to see the United States gain control of the region, and that he believed this end could be more surely gained by the establishment of a permanent trading settlement. He dispatched two expeditions to the mouth of the Columbia; one by sea, in the ship Tonquin, which arrived March 22, 1810, and one by land, under Wilson Price Hunt, which did not arrive until nearly a year later.
So on after the arrival of the Tonquin, the erection of a fort was begun on the south side of the river at a spot named A Point George@ by Lieutenant Broughton. This they christened A Astoria@ in honor of the founder and promoter of the enterprise. The name is perpetuated by the rise and growth of the thriving city which marks the spot where America first planted her foot upon the disputed territory of Oregon.
The Northwest Fur Company upon learning of Astorís plans, and realizing the strong hold the American Government would have upon the territory in dispute, should those plans succeed, sent a party overland to counteract them. But this party did not arrive until three months after the fort was built, and at once returned. The war of 1812 gave the English company another opportunity. A second party was dispatched overland, which reached Astoria in the spring of 181 3, bringing intelligence of the hostilities and the disheartening fact that an English war vessel was on the way to capture the fort. Under stress of circumstances the entire stock of furs was sold to the agent of the Northwest Company. Three months later the fort was surrendered to the commander of the Raccoon, who had come for the purpose of capturing it. The American flag was lowered to give place to the British colors, and the name of Astoria was changed to Fort George.
The failure of Mr. Astorís plans in a national point of view was of much significance. It retarded the settlement of Oregon for many years. The maintenance of Astoria as a commercial point, such as Astor designed it should be, would have given the United States so strong a claim upon the country that little ground for contest of title would have remained for any other nation. [page 22]
The American government made no effort to retake the captured fort until the close of the war of 1812, when, under the treaty of Ghent, which stipulated that A all territory, places and possessions, whatsoever, taken by either party from the other during the war, or which may be taken after the signing of the treaty, shall be restored without delay.@ Mr. Astor applied to the government for the restitution of his property, since he wished to resume operations on the Columbia River and carry out the plan of American occupation which had been so well begun. In July, 1815, notice was given the British government that steps would be taken to re-occupy the captured fort, but no official response was received. For two years no active measures were taken, but in 1817 the United States government despatched the war sloop Ontario to the Pacific. to receive the surrender of the fort in accordance with the terms of the treaty of Ghent. This brought matters to a crisis, and a spirited discussion of the subject of title to the country followed, involving the question of abstract rights by discovery and absolute right by possession, both parties claiming under both titles. The claim of the United States was four fold: First, as a portion of Louisiana, purchased from France in 1803; second, by right of discovery by the Spanish explorers Ferrelo in 1543, and later by Perez, Aguilar, Heceta, Bodega, Quadra, and others, the benefit of whose discoveries accrued to the United States by the Florida purchase made in 1819, though the title was not asserted in the first negotiations, as the settlement was made subsequent to the first temporary settlement; third, by the discovery of the Columbia River by Captain Robert Gray, in 1792; and fourth, by reason of the explorations of Lewis and Clark and the establishment of forts at Astoria and two other points by the Pacific Fur Company. It was denied that the sale of these forts under duress of threatened capture by a man of war was such as to affect the right of the United States to the benefits to be derived from settlements made by its citizens, especially since the terms of peace provided that the forts should be surrendered to the United States government. On the contrary, Great Britain claimed that the country north of the forty-second parallel was originally discovered by Francis Drake in 1578. To make this claim effective it was necessary to [page 23] deny that the prior voyage of Ferrelo had extended as far north as the Oregon line. Since the coast had also been explored by Cook and Vancouver, and had been visited by Meares and other English fur traders, all between 1775 and 1793, these facts were urged as supplementing the original discovery of Drake. It was also necessary to deny that Gray had discovered the Columbia River, and to do this it was claimed that the entrance of the river by him was but one step in a series; that the discovery was a successive one, participated in by Heceta, Meares, Vancouver. Gray and Broughton. Britain= s claim by right of possession was based upon the establishment, in 1805, of a fort on Fraser Lake by an agent of the Northwest Company, and the purchase by the same company, of the property of the Pacific Fur Company. The Northwest Company then held possession of the Columbia region by means of forts at Astoria and other points along the river. With these rights and equities on both sides, a complete surrender by either was impossible, and after full discussion a treaty of joint possession for ten years was agreed upon, October 20, 1818, by which nominal possession of Astoria was given to the United States, but actual possession and ownership was to remain in the Northwest Company. A By this act,@ says Judge Deady, Athe two high contracting parties virtually admitted to the world, that neither of them had any perfect or acknowledged right to any country westward of the Stony Mountains, or that at most, they had but a claim of right to some undefined part of that comparatively unknown region. This convention, apparently acting upon the admission that neither party had any definite right to the country and that like any other unsettled and unowned portion of the globe it was open to occupation by the first comer, expressly recognized the right of the people of both nations to occupy it, for the time being, at pleasure.@
Thus was sanctioned that occupation of the country by Great Britain which was practically commenced in 1813 by the transfer of the property and business of the Pacific Fur Company to the Northwest Fur Company; and from that date until the government of the pioneers was established, trade, commerce and colonization were decidedly in favor of Great Britain. The English sought to occupy the country for the purpose of carrying on the fur trade with [page 24] the natives. It was to be kept from the plough and the sickle and preserved as a breeding ground for fur-bearing animals, except so far as the limited necessities or convenience of the fur traders might otherwise require. For several years the Northwest Fur Company was the dominant power in the country. Its operations were conducted on a thorough system by which it was soon developed into a powerful and wealthy corporation. All its managing agents were interested partners, who naturally did their utmost to swell the business. In the plenitude of its power,--about 1818,--it gave employment to two thousand voyagers, while its agents penetrated the wilderness in all directions in search of furs. Meanwhile the older Hudsonís Bay Company was becoming a strong competitor for the possession of the fur regions of Oregon. The struggle for supremacy became very bitter. The two companies had grown too large to be tolerant of each other, and mutual hostility springing out of a fierce spirit of commercial rivalry finally led to a state of actual war in which each sought to destroy its competitor by actually killing the men and by exciting the Indians to do so. Parliament realizing the precarious state of affairs put an end to the bloody fend, in 1821, by consolidating the rival companies under the name of A The Honorable Hudson= s Bay Company.@ By this measure was created an organization far more powerful than either had been before, and England gained a united amid potent agent for the advancement of her interests in America.
A short time prior to consolidation the Northwest Fur Company established a post on the north bank of the Columbia, some miles above the month of the Willamette, which was christened Fort Vancouver. In 1823 the headquarters of the Hudsonís Bay Company was removed from Fort George (Astoria) to Fort Vancouver, the latter being a more eligible and accessible point for sea-going vessels, and the center and natural converging point of trapping parties coming down the Columbia from the vast wilderness to the east. Here for full twenty years this great corporation held almost undisputed sway. It had its factors, agents, traders, voyagers and servants, all working in perfect harmony to advance the interests amid increase the powers of this giant monopoly, and to destroy every competitor who [page 25] attempted to trade with the natives for peltries and furs. Its policy was one of uncompromising hostility toward every person or company who interfered within its traffic, or who questioned its exclusive right to trade within tine natives within tine territory of Oregon. It had at the time tine treaty of 1846 was made, twenty-three forts and trading posts judiciously located for trading with the Indians and trappers in its employ. It had fifty-five officers and five hundred and thirteen articled men under its control, all working together to maintain its supremacy and power. The Hudson= s Bay Company and all of its servants within the limits of Oregon were, moreover, under tine protecting care of the British government. Parliament, at an early day after the joint occupation of the country commenced, had extended the colonial jurisdiction and civil laws of Canada over all British subjects within the disputed territory. Magistrates were appointed to administer and execute those law, wino exercised jurisdiction in civil cases where the amount in controversy did not exceed , 200 sterling, and in criminal cases the same magistrates were authorized to commit persons accused of crime and send them to Canada for trial. In all matters of mere police and trade regulation the company exercised an authority as absolute as that of time Czar of Russia, and flogging was a common punishment which any officer from the governor of tine company down to the petty clerk of a trading fort might inflict upon any one of the rank and file of employes.
From 1823 to 1845 Dr. John McLoughlin was chief factor of the Hudson= s Bay Company west of time Rocky Mountains. He was, in many respects, a grand character, and time has proven how just [page 26] was his exercise of almost unlimited power. For more than two decades he did more than anyone else to preserve order, peace and good will among the conflicting and sometimes lawless elements of population, and well fitted was he to govern both by fear and love. So absolute was his authority that prior to the settlement of the Willamette Valley by Americans, no legal forms were thought necessary, except such as made by the companyís grants, full power being given to the chief actor and council to try and punish all offenders belonging to the company or within the Hudsonís Bay territory. Dr. McLoughlin settled all disputes, and the Canadians and other servants of the company yielded without question to his right to judge and punish. He was a strict and stern disciplinarian, yet his use of authority was rarely, if ever, abused. Purely personal interest would have led him to throw every obstacle in his power in the way of settlement of the country by American citizens, but his kindness of heart would not permit him to refuse aid to those in distress, and the early American emigrants found in him one who at the sacrifice of his own interest was ever ready to lend them assistance and protection. His humanity in this regard caused him to be misrepresented in England and brought him into so much disfavor with the Hudsonís Bay Company that lie was finally compelled to resign his position.
It has been deemed necessary thus fully to describe the great power and firm foothold secured in Oregon by the Hudsonís Bay Company, in order to give an adequate idea of the great task which lay before any American company which might seek to compete with [page 27] it in its chosen field. Long before the period of joint occupancy of the territory had expired British control had become well nigh complete. The interest of the United States had not been promoted in any way, except as already stated by the Florida purchase of 1819, which carried with it the Spanish title to the territory north of the forty-second parallel. In Congress, however, the Oregon question was spasmodically discussed and much correspondence passed between the two governments. The United States urged its Spanish title as its right to the country by original discovery, also that the mouth of the Columbia River was ours by dual right of discovery and settlement, and, therefore, following the general rule which had been observed by European nations in colonizing America, all the country tributary to the river and its confluents was also subject to our dominion. As the Columbia sweeps northward to the fifty-third parallel, it was urged that, by this title alone, the government had undisputed right to the whole region lying between the forty-second and fifty-third parallels. In 1820 Russia asserted exclusive title on the coast from the Arctic Ocean as far south as the fifty-first parallel; a claim which was protested by both England and the United States, but in the negotiations which followed, the Russian title was fully acknowledged by both governments, as far south as fifty-four degrees and forty minutes, which at once became the northern limit of the claim of the United States.
As the ten-year period of joint occupation drew to a close, new commissioners were appointed by the two governments to effect a settlement of title to the disputed territory, but after much discussion [page 28] they were unable to agree upon a boundary line, and, in 1827, a new treaty was signed extending the period of joint occupation indefinitely, to be terminated by either party upon giving one yearís notice. Thus, again, the settlement of the question was left to time and chance.
In the meantime the British government, through the agency of the Hudsonís Bay Company, had gained a tangible foot hold in Oregon by actual occupation, and so strong and powerful was this company that it crushed all effort at competition. A few American fur traders did make the attempt to contest the field with the great English corporation, but through lack of unity of purpose and combination of capital they were driven to the wall. The first of these American traders was J. S. Smith, agent of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, who, with several associates, came in 1825. He and his party were attacked by the Indians, a number were killed and the venture proved, in every way, unsuccessful. Smith was followed by a second party of American trappers led by Major Pitcher. They came in 1828, but shared the same fate as their predecessors, all but three of them being murdered by the Indians. The next band of American trappers was led by Edwin Young, who, a few years later, became one of the first and most energetic settlers in Oregon. In 1831 the old American Fur Company, which had been so long managed by Mr. Astor, established trading posts in Oregon, at which time the Rocky Mountain Fur Company was also operating in this field. Strong rivalry sprang up between the two companies, which was intensified in 1833, by the appearance of two other competitors in the persons of Captain B. L. F. Bonneville and Nathaniel J. Wyeth. [page 29] Captain Bonneville was a United States army officer, who had been given permission to lead a party of trappers into the fur regions of the Northwest, the expedition being countenanced by the government only to the extent of this permit. His object, as given by Irving, was: A To make himself acquainted with the country, and the Indian tribes; it being one part of his scheme to establish a trading post somewhere on the river (Columbia), so as to participate in the trade lost to the United States by the capture of Astoria.@ He and his companions were kindly received by an officer of the Hudsonís Bay Company, but when Captain Bonneville asked for supplies, and his heretofore genial host was made aware of the intention to found a rival trading post on the Columbia, A he then@ says Bonneville, A assumed a withered up aspect and demeanor, and observed that, however he might feel disposed to serve him personally, he felt bound by his duty to the Hudsonís Bay Company to do nothing which should facilitate or encourage the visit of other traders among the Indians in that part of the country.@
Bonneville returned home without establishing a post, but in the following year again visited the Columbia River country with quite a large force of trappers and mountain men and an extensive stock of goods for traffic with the Indians. But the Hudsonís Bay Companyís officers had instructed the Indians not to trade with the new comers, and they refused to have anything to do with the Americans. Thus hemmed in and unable to carry on trade Bonneville was forced to abandon the field and leave the English company practically in undisputed possession.
Nathaniel J. Wyeth, a Boston merchant, was another unsuccessful contestant with the Hudsonís Bay Company. With eleven men he made the trip overland to Vancouver in 1832. But he had the misfortune to lose his supply ships containing all of his goods while on [page 30] the way around Cape Horn, and thus being without means to carry on business he returned east. Two years later he organized the Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company, with a view of continuing operations on the Pacific Coast under the same general plan that had been outlined by Astor, adding, however, salmon fishing to the fur trade. Despatching the brig Mary Dacres for the mouth of the Columbia loaded with necessary supplies, he started overland with sixty experienced men. Near the headwater of Snake River he built Fort Hall as an interior trading post, and on Wapatoo Island near the mouth of the Willamette he established Fort Williams. Like his predecessor, Bonneville, he found the Indians completely under the control of the Hudsonís Bay Company and it was impossible to establish business relations with them. This fact, including a scarcity of salmon in the Columbia River for two successive seasons, as well as ungenerous treatment on the part of his own countrymen engaged in the fur trade, induced him in a spirit of retaliation upon the American traders, after an experience of three years, to sell Fort Hall to the British Company.
The two rival American fur companies were consolidated in 1835, as the American Fur Company. To this company and to a few independent American trappers, after the retirement of Bonneville and Wyeth, was left the work of competing with the English corporation. For a few years the unequal struggle was continued, but eventually the Hudson= s Bay Company almost wholly absorbed the trade.
While we have been tracing the unsuccessful attempt of the American fur traders to gain a foothold in Oregon, it must be borne in mind that it was not the first effort after the failure of the Astor party to secure the occupation of the country by American settlers. As early as 1817, Hall J. Kelley, of Boston, began to advocate the immediate occupation of the Oregon territory. He became an enthusiast upon the subject and spent his time and considerable money in promoting a scheme for emigration to the country. In 1829 he procured the incorporation, by the commonwealth of Massachusetts, of A The American Society for the Settlement of the Oregon Territory.@ This society presented a memorial to Congress in 1831, setting forth that it was A engaged in the work of opening to a civilized [page 31] population that part of Western America called Oregon.@ The memoralist state that: A They are convinced that if the country should be settled under the auspices of the United States of America, from such of her worthy sons who have drunk the spirit of those civil and religious institutions which constitute the living fountain and the very perennial source of her national prosperity, great benefits must result to mankind.@ They further stated: A that the country in question is the most valuable of all the unoccupied portions of the earth,@ and designed by Providence A to be the residence of a people whose singular advantages will give them unexampled power and prosperity.@
Congress, however, busy with other political abstractions did not even take the time to investigate or in any way encourage this scheme of colonization. In fact the conduct of the national legislature all through the early struggle for the acquisition of the Oregon territory was halting and dilatory; and had Congress been solely relied upon, Oregon might have became a dependency of Great Britain. The society, however, having constituted Mr. Kelley its general agent, continued its efforts despite the indifference of Congress. In 1831, Mr. Kelley published a pamphlet entitled: A A General Circular to all Persons of Good Character who wish to Emigrate to the Oregon Territory,@ which set forth the general objects of the society. The names of thirty-seven agents are given in the pamphlet, from any of whom persons desiring to become emigrants to Oregon under its auspices might obtain the proper certificate for that purpose. These agents were scattered over the Union. One of them was Nathaniel J. Wyeth, whose unfortunate fur and fishing ventures have been related. The expedition was to start from St. Louis in March, 1832, with a train of wagons and a supply of stock. Each emigrant was to receive a town and farm lot at the junction of the Columbia and Multnomah Rivers and at the mouth of the former, where seaports and river towns were already platted.
But the scheme bore no immediate fruit. The failure of Congress to take any action in the matter destroyed its force as an organized effort, and only two of its original promoters, Mr. Kelley and Mr. Wyeth ever visited the scene of the proposed colony. Nevertheless [page 32] the agitation of the project brought the country favorably before the public, and here and there set certain special forces and interests in motion, which in due time materially aided the consummation for which Mr. Kelley and Mr. Wyeth so devoutly wished and so long labored. Although their efforts proved financial failures they were not without results conducive to American occupation. Several of the persons who accompanied Wyeth as well as those who came with Kelley, remained and were the beginning of the independent American settlers in the country.
Among them were the well known names of Edwin Young, James A. O= Neil, T. J. Hubbard, Courtney M. Walker and Solomon Smith, all of whom afterwards exerted a positive influence in favor of American interests. There were also two men of French descent--Joseph Gervais and Etienne Lucier, who had come out with Wilson P. Huntís party and whose sympathies were American. All told, in 1835, aside from the missionaries, there were about twenty-five men in Oregon who were favorable to the United States.
To Wyethís expedition must also be given the credit of bringing the first missionaries to Oregon. In his supply ship, the Mary Dacres, came Rev. Jason Lee, Rev. David Lee, Cyrus Shephard and P. L. Edwards. They were sent out by the missionary society of the Methodist Episcopal Church to establish mission stations among the Indian tribes on the Pacific Coast. They established the first station in Oregon in the Willamette Valley, about ten miles below where Salem now stands. Their professed object in coming to the country, as may be said of those of other religions denominations who followed them, was purely a religions one--to convert the Indians to the christian faith--rather than to occupy the country and establish therein an American community. They were not the sort of men who ordinarily develop the resources of a country, but a combination of circumstances ultimately made them of great advantage to the early pioneers and of great benefit to the country. The missionary stations they established became points for future American settlement and trade. When they found their missionary labors among the Indians were attended with but scanty harvest, the secular spirit became strong, and gradually the desire grew [page 33] among them to become a permanent colony rather than remain mere sojourners among the Indians. A Before long,@ says Judge Deady, A they began to build and plant as men who regarded the country as their future home. They prospered in this worldís goods and when the emigration came flowing into the country from the west, they found at the Willamette Mission, practically an American settlement, whose influence and example were favorable to order, industry, sobriety and economy, and contributed materially to the formation of a moral, industrious and law--abiding community out of these successive waves of unstratified population@
The effective force of the Methodist Missions was increased from 1834 to 1840 by the arrival of Rev. A. F. Waller and wife, Rev. G. Hines and wife, Rev. L. H. Hudson and wife, George Abernethy and wife, H. Campbell and wife, and Dr. J. L. Babcock and wife. Most of those named came in 1840 by sea, around Cape Horn. By their arrival the character of the Mission underwent somewhat of a change. It assumed more of the character of a religious community or association, than of simple missionaries, actuated by the zeal of its founders to preach the Gospel to the heathen. They saw the necessity of devoting more of their time to the interest and welfare of the white settlers than to the Indians. They began to look upon the country as an inviting one for settlement, for trade, for commerce, and to make permanent homes for themselves and their children. Schools were established and churches were built by them, and thus a nucleus for a colonial settlement was created, which in later years was of essential benefit to the community at large.
The Methodist missionaries were followed by Presbyterian ministers, in 1837, who, sent out by the American Board of Foreign Missions, came across the Rocky Mountains and remained among the Indians east of the Cascade Mountains. At their head was Dr. Marcus Whitman, who took up his residence among the Cayuse Indians at Wailatpu, in the Walla Walla Valley. His co-laborers were Rev. H. H. Spalding and W. H. Gray, who were stationed among the Nez Perces Indians, at Lapwai, and among the Flatheads at Alpona. The first two brought their wives with them, they being the first women who crossed the plains. Two years later Rev. [page 34] Cushing Eells and Rev. Elkanah Walker and their wives established another mission among the Spokane Indians in the vicinity of Fort Colville. Of these missionaries Dr. Whitman was the one at this time most thoroughly alive to the importance of securing Oregon as an American possession against the claims of Great Britain. He was intensely American in all his feelings; a man of indomitable will and perseverance in whatever he undertook to accomplish, whom no danger could daunt and no hardship could deter from the performance of any act which he deemed it a duty to discharge. Gray gave up the mission work in 1842 and settled in the Willamette Valley, and was one of the most active supporters of American interests and a determined promoter of the organization of the provisional government.
In 1838 the Roman Catholics entered the field. The representaters of this church leaned to British interests, and made their headquarters at Vancouver. Their influence and teachings among the people were naturally in favor of the authority and interest of the Hudsonís Bay Company. They discouraged the early attempt at the formation of a government by American settlers in the country, but submitted to it when established. They pursued their missionary labors zealously throughout the entire region dominated by the Hudsonís Bay Company, and founded subordinate missions in many widely separated localities. Between them and the Protestant missionaries bitter hostility soon sprang up, and the ignorant savage was pulled hither and hither and given to understand that he was the bone of contention between the two religions, the representatives of each declaring by word and deed that the other was false. In the work of proselyting the Catholics were the more successful, and the Protestant missions, as such, were discontinued within ten years.
The Catholic missionaries devoted their time not only to the Indians, but ministered to the Canadian French, who, after leaving the Hudsonís Bay Company, settled in the Willamette Valley and on the Cowlitz. The Willamette Falls was selected by the company in 1829 as a place of settlement for its retired servants. It had previously been the policy of the company not to permit settlements to be made by their servants whose term of service had expired, since they deemed [page 35] such settlements detrimental to the preservation of the region as a fur-producing wilderness. But the company was bound under heavy penalties not to discharge any of its servants, even after they could render no service, and was therefore forced to provide homes for them where they could to a degree be self-supporting. They were still retained on the companyís books as its servants, and still inclined, as British subjects, to uphold and maintain the supremacy of Great Britain in the country where they lived. The settlement at Willamette Falls did not prosper, and a few years later it was abandoned. The ex-servants then located near Champoeg, in Marion County. and became quite a flourishing colony, and there their descendants live to the present day, useful and industrious citizens.
At the close of 1837 the independent population of Oregon consisted of forty-nine souls, about equally divided between Missionary attaches and settlers. With but few exceptions, the arrivals during the next two years were solely of persons connected with the various Missions whose advent has already been noted. The settlers who followed then were moved by no religious incentive. Some were independent trappers from the Rocky Mountains, who had become enamored of the beautiful Willamette valley, and had come here to settle down from their life of danger and excitement. Some of them were sailors, who had concluded to abandon the sea and dwell in this land of plenty, while still others were of that restless, roving class, who had by one way and another, reached this region in advance of the waves of emigration which swept into it a few years later. Including the arrivals of 1840, among whom were Dr. Robert Newell and Joseph L. Meek, there were in the Fall of that year (exclusive of the officers and employees of the Hudsonís Bay Company), one hundred and thirty-seven Americans in Oregon, nearly all in the Willamette Valley, about one-third of whom were connected with the Missions in some capacity. There were also sixty Canadian settlers, former employees of the Hudsonís Bay Company, who had left the service of the company and settled in the Willamette Valley, and who eventually cast the weight of their influence or the side of the independent American settlers, as those unconnected with either of the Missionary societies or Hudsonís Bay Company were called. [page 36]
Up to 1839, the only law or government administered in this region, was the rule of the Hudsonís Bay Company, but in that year, deeming that there should be some authority that settlers would respect, the Methodist Missionaries appointed two persons to act as magistrates. This, the independent settlers acquiesced in, although it had been done without their co-operation or consent. So far as the latter class were concerned they were, through the inattention and neglect of Congress, absolutely without government or laws of any kind. The Missionaries had rules and regulations established by themselves which governed them in their social intercourse with each other, and united them in a common cause for their mutual protection. But the independent settlers had not even that security for their lives or their property. By their own government, which ought to have thrown around them its protecting care, they were treated literally as political outcasts, nor was Congress unaware of their condition. On January 28, 1839, Hon. Lewis F. Linn, one of the United States Senators from Missouri, and the most zealous and indefatigable champion of the American settlers in Oregon and of the claims of the United States to time Oregon Territory, presented to the Senate a petition of J. L. Whitcomb and thirty-five other settlers in Oregon, which in simple and touching language set forth the conditions of the country, its importance to the United States, its great natural resources and necessity of civil government for its inhabitants. The settlers thus plead with the Nationís Representatives:
AWe flatter ourselves that we are the germ of a great State, and are anxious to give an early tone to the moral and intellectual character of our citizens--the destiny of our posterity will be intimately, affected by the character of those who emigrate. * * But, a good community will hardly emigrate to a country which promises no protection to life or property. * * * * We can boast of no civil code. We can promise no protection but the ulterior resort of self defense. * * * * We do not presume to suggest the manner in which the country should be occupied by the government, nor the extent to which our settlement should be encouraged. We confide in the wisdom of our national legislators and leave the subject to their candid deliberations.@ [page 37]
The petition concluded by urging the necessity of assumption of jurisdiction of the territory by the United States, and of the inauguration of energetic measures to secure the execution of all laws affecting Indian trade and the intercourse of white men and Indians. A The security@ said the petitioners, A of our persons and our property, the hopes and destinies of our children, are involved in the objects of our petition.@
This petition was read, laid on the table and neglected. In June, 1840, Senator Linn again presented a memorial signed by seventy citizens of Oregon, praying Congress to extend Federal juris diction over the territory, in which the government was warned that the country is too valuable to be lost, that attempts were being made by the rival nations to reduce it to possession, and that appearances indicated British intent to hold exclusively the territory north of the Columbia. Then modestly invoking the attention of Congress to the region because of its national importance, they concluded with this patriotic prayer: A Your petitioners would beg leave especially to call the attention of Congress to this, our condition as an infant colony, without military force or civil institutions to protect their lives and property and children, sanctuaries and tombs, from the hands of uncivilized and merciless savages around them.
AWe respectfully ask for the civil institutions of the American Republic--we pray for the high privileges of American citizenship; the peaceful enjoyment of life; the right of acquiring, possessing and using property and the unrestrained pursuits of rational happiness@
This memorial, like the preceding one, was laid on the table and forgotten by a majority of the Senators to whom it was addressed. Senators Linn and Benton almost alone remained the true and tried friends of Oregon. The former, during three terms of Congress had not only introduced and urged consideration of bills for the purpose of extending the jurisdiction and laws of the United States over the territory of Oregon, but had also urged the passage of bills granting donations of the public lands in Oregon to citizens who had settled there. He did not live to see the measures he had so zealously advocated become laws, but eight years after his death the legislative [page 38] Assembly of Oregon, in a spirit of gratitude and out of affectionate regard for his memory gave his name to one of the largest and most productive counties in the territory.
Why Congress suffered the petitions of the settlers in Oregon to lie unheeded, why it failed to protect them by extension of laws over the territory, as the English government had done for British subjects, must remain a matter of conjecture. But it must be borne in mind that at this time, in the judgment of many of the leading men of the day, Oregon was regarded as valueless and unpractical for American settlement. Statesmen and publicists had been wont to speak derisively of the idea that American civilization would press westward of the Rocky Mountains and secure a foot hold on the shores of the Pacific. Among the first recognition on the part of Congress of such a country as Oregon, which occurred in 1825, on the introduction of a bill by Mr. Floyd, of Virginia, A authorizing the occupation of the Oregon river,@ Senator Dickinson, of New York, assailed the measure in a sarcastic speech in which he claimed that it would never become a State, that it was 4650 miles from the seat of the Federal Government, and that a young and able-bodied senator might travel from Oregon to Washington and back once a year, but he could do nothing more. He closed his speech with the remark: Aas to Oregon Territory, it can never be of any pecuniary advantage to the United States,@--a conclusion which subsequent events and the present situation and prosperity of the State prove him to have been little of a sage and a miserable failure as a prophet. As late as 1843, when Senator Linnís bill was introduced in the senate of the United States, providing for granting land to the inhabitants of Oregon Territory, a senator said, in the discussion of the bill: A For whose benefit are we bound to pass this bill? Why are we to go there along the line of military posts and take possession of the only part of the territory fit to occupy--that part lying upon the sea coast, a strip less than a hundred miles in width; for, as I have already stated, the rest of the territory consists of mountains almost inaccessible, and low lands covered with stone and volcanic remains; where rain never falls except during the spring, and even upon the coast no rain falls from April to October, and for the [page 39] remainder of the year there is nothing but rain. Why, sir, of what use will this be for agricultural purposes? I would not for that purpose give a pinch of snuff for the whole territory. I would to God we did not own it. I wish it was an impassible barrier to secure us against intrusion of others. This is the character of the country." This extract will give an idea how dense was the ignorance concerning Oregon less than half a century ago by a man presumptively of more than average reading and information.
But a new force was about to appear on the scene that was to demonstrate the falsity of the ideas held by many pretentious and assuming statesmen; that was to prove that the 3,500 miles of land lying between the nationís capital and the mouth of the Columbia could be traversed by the ordinary means of conveyance; that was to settle the question of Americaís right to the country, and force Congress to extend the protection and blessings of our form of government over all the great country lying between the two oceans. It was the home-seeking emigrants, with their wives and children flocks and herds, who in wagon trains began to make the long pilgrimage across the plains. This movement, on the basis of any magnitude did not begin until after 1840. Then began that steady stream of young, vigorous life which has annually flowed into Oregon for nearly half a century, the end of which will not be seen for many years. Deep causes existed, which moved this living stream to force its way across rocky barriers and arid plains. Very naturally the movement began in the region then known as the West, and had its greatest strength in Missouri, Illinois and Iowa. Trappers returning to St. Louis had sting the praises of the lovely and fertile valley of Willamette, where winter was unknown and the grass remained green all the year round. The Western frontiersmen caught up the refrain as it passed from cabin to cabin, and in a few years the tale was an old one to the pioneers of the West. The panic of 1837 and the consequent stagnation of business, had produced a feeling o despondency in the West, and especially in the States named when there was no market for stock or produce; where credit, public am private was destroyed, and a large number of persons were looking anxiously about for means of subsistence. This state of things [page 40] helped very much to turn the public attention to Oregon. Moreover, the publication of a book by Dr. Parker, a missionary who visited Oregon in 1835, a historical and descriptive work by John Dunn, of the charming narratives of Bonneville and Astoria by Washington Irving, and of a letter written by Robert Shortess, who had come out in 1839, were well calculated to fill the minds of the romantic and adventurous with an interest in the country and a desire to make the marvelous journey across the plains.
Moved by the impulses just recited, the first regular emigration began the long journey to Oregon in the Spring of 1841. It consisted of one hundred and eleven persons. In the Fall of the same year, twenty-three families from the Red River settlement of the Hudsonís Bay Company came out and settled on Cowlitz Prairie, some of them locating later in the Willamette Valley. These were brought out as an offset to the American settlers, but they were too few in numbers to stem the tide setting Americanward, and were overwhelmed by the American emigration of the next few years.
In 1842, the first regular emigrant wagon train started for Oregon, consisting of sixteen wagons and one hundred and nine people. No wagon wheel had ever emit the sod of the country over which they proposed to go, and the region through which they must pass was practically unknown as a route for wagons. With infinite difficulty the party advanced as far as the old trapping rendezvous on Green River, where half of the wagons were dismantled. The other half were taken as far as Fort Hall on Snake River, where they were abandoned, owing to time deep-rooted belief that wagons could not be taken through the Snake River Canyon and Blue Mountains. In the train was Dr. Elijah White, who had spent three years in Oregon in connection with time Methodist Mission, amid had now secured the appointment of Indian Agent for the region West of the Rocky Mountains. Among others were the well remembered names of A. L. Lovejoy, L. W. Hastings, Medorum Crawford, J. R. Robb, F. X. Matthieu, Nathan Coombs, T. J. Shadden, S. W. Moss and J. L. Morrison, all of whom deserve to be placed in the front rank of Oregonís pioneers. Lovejoy was a lawyer from Boston--the first lawyer in the colony--and was prominent in its affairs [page 41] for the next twenty years, while Crawford afterwards held various positions of honor and trust under the National and State governments.
The year 1842 also witnessed the first successful attempt at independent trade in Oregon. In July of that year, Captain John H. Couch brought the ship Chenamus into the Willamette River with a cargo of goods from Boston, which he placed on sale at Willamette Falls. Prior to this event the Hudsonís Bay Company and the Mission had a monopoly of the mercantile business in Oregon. Couch was so well pleased with the country that he gave up the sea and settled in it. Couchís addition to the city of Portland is built upon the land claim taken tip by him in 1845.
Wherever the American citizen goes he carries with him the great fundamental principle of representative democratic government, and no better example of this great fact can be cited than the conduct of the early settlers of Oregon. Hardly had the first pioneers erected a shelter from the inclemency of the season, when, true to their American instincts, they missed and at once desired to supply the protection afforded by civil institutions. Too weak for self-government, naturally they turned to the United States Congress to supply their first necessity. Their petition of 1838, is an admirable argument for the principle that good order can only be assured by a Awell judged civil code.@ In 1840, they eloquently lamented that they were without protection which law secured. Their appeals ignored by their government, they turned to themselves, to each other, and at once agitated the question of establishing a temporary government.
The first effort looking toward the organization of a civil government was made in 1841, at Champoeg, which at the time was the seat of time principal settlement in the Willamette Valley. It originated among the members of the Methodist Mission, and for that reason did not have the cordial support of the independent settlers. The movement failed, and although several causes contributed to this result, the main reason was the unpopularity of its chief promoters among those Americans disconnected with the missions. At this time, says an early pioneer, the people of Oregon were divided [page 42] into two great divisions with reference to their allegiance--citizens of the United States and subjects of the British sovereign. Among the people there were three classes--the officers of the Hudsonís Bay Company, who were considered the aristocratic English class; the missionaries, who were regarded as the American aristocrats, while the third class was composed of the common people@ of both nationalities, who refused to accept the social position assigned to them. Thus jealousies and prejudices were engendered, which required time, association and a feeling of mutual dependence to obliterate.
During the year 1842 the subject of establishing a civil government continued to be agitated by the members of the Methodist Mission. They invited their fellow residents of foreign birth to join them in the work as they had done in 1841, but were met with persistent refusal. Although these efforts of the missionaries proved titter failures, yet the independent settlers were by no means discouraged or despondent; they merely waited for a convenient opportunity to take the matter into their own hands. This occurred in February, 1843, when a meeting was called ostensibly for the purpose of taking measures to protect the herds of the settlers from the depredations of wild animals, but actually the object of the meeting was more for the purpose of concerting measures for the formation of some kind of civil government. At this meeting a committee was appointed to give notice to the people that another meeting would be held in March; and fearing that a full attendance would not be secured unless the object was one in which all had a common interest, it was not disclosed that any action was intended except to devise means to rid the country of destructive animals. At the March meeting the real purpose was revealed by the adoption of a resolution providing A that a committee be appointed to take into consideration the propriety of taking measures for the civil and military protection of the colony.@ This committee composed of Dr. J. L. Babcock, Dr. Elijah White, James A. O= Neil, Robert Shortess, Robert Newell, Etienne Lucier, Joseph Gervais, Thomas J. Hubbard, John McKay, W. H. Gray, Solomon Smith and George Gay, agreed upon a plan of government, and called a general meeting of the citizens at Champoeg, May 2, [page 43] to consider their report. At this meeting the report of the committee, after much canvassing, was adopted by a vote of 52 yeas to 50 nays. Before adjourning, the meeting set the new government in motion by electing a Supreme Judge, sundry subordinate officers, and a Legislative Committee of nine persons, namely: Robert Moore, Robert Shortess, Alanson Beers, Thomas J. Hubbard, Win. H. Gray, James A. OíNeil, Robert Newell, David Hill, and William P. Dougherty, to prepare and report the necessary laws for the new government, to be submitted to a vote of the people on the 5th of July. This first Legislative Committee duly performed the work assigned, and articles of compact and a code of laws, were ratified by the people in convention assembled on the day named. The following preamble to the organic law states fully and clearly the object which animated the settlers, viz.:
A We, the people of Oregon Territory, for the purpose of mutual protection, and to secure peace and prosperity among ourselves, agree to adopt the following laws and regulations, until such time as the United States of America extend their jurisdiction over us.@
The bill of rights adopted guaranteed all the great safeguards o individual liberty, freedom of conscience, the habeas corpus and trial by jury. The duty of encouraging morality, religion and knowledge by the support of schools was recognized. Good faith to the Indians was to be observed, and the territory was forever dedicated to freedom by the adoption of the ordinance of 1789. The executive power was reposed in an Executive Committee of three, two of whom were quorum. The law-making power was continued in the Legislative Committee of nine, and a judiciary constituted, consisting of a Supreme Court, Probate Court and justices of the peace. A whole system of laws was adopted in the most original manner. Certain laws and parts of laws of Iowa were declared to be the statute laws of Oregon by the mere recital of the act by title, or the section of the act, giving the page quoted. A land system, militia law and other necessary measures were duly adopted. The finances of the government were provided for by the unique and very original plan of private subscription. Not only did the pioneers deem the consent of [page 44] the governed an essential thing, but each citizen enjoyed the privilege of saving how much he would contribute, how much restraint he would tolerate by becoming a part of the government.
Thus, while Oregon was claimed and partially occupied by the British, a government was begun that, in form and spirit, was purely American. It was this act on the part of the American residents in Oregon which settled the question of our right to the country, and won back for the United States the title to the disputed territory, which national diplomacy had well nigh lost. The attention of the whole country was soon directed to the little republic, which the American pioneer had established on the Pacific, and none of the public men now thought of surrendering the country to the control of Great Britain, while a great political party at its national convention, in 1844, declared our title to Oregon to be A clear and unquestioned.@
Every step leading up to the establishment of provisional government was opposed by the influence of the Hudsonís Bay Company and the British subjects generally, although chief factor, McLoughlin, was ready to enter into a compact or domestic treaty for the regulation and adjustment of all points of dispute or difference which might spring lip among the residents; indeed they admitted that it was time to establish some rules based upon public opinion, decidedly expressed, for the maintenance of good order and individual rights, but they felt apprehensive for themselves and their interests in placing extensive law-making power in the hands of a legislative body composed of men actuated by a desire to secure time territory as a possession of the United States. This feeling, the organizers of the provincial government finally overcame, by wise and prudent conservatism and consistent democratic recognition of manhood, regardless of nativity, and all the settlers in Oregon, whether American citizens or British subjects, were soon united in hearty support of the new government.
Before the close of 1843 some eight hundred emigrants poured into Oregon. The causes which had prompted the immigrations of 1841 and 1842 had become more potent and widespread than ever in 1843. Senator Linn was pressing his A Oregon Bills@ upon the attention of Congress, one of which provided for the donation of public [page 45] lands to all who might settle in Oregon,--his idea being that a liberal immigration alone could be relied upon to win the Columbia for the United States, and that special inducements should be offered to those brave and hardy pioneers, who must constitute the nations line of battle on the frontier. The emigrant train of this year was the first to come the entire distance in wagons and demonstrated the long disputed fact that the mountains, deserts and canyons could be passed by the wagon of the emigrant.
The pioneers of 1843 stood pre-eminent among the early settlers, The greater number of them were pioneers by nature and occupation, as their fathers had been before them. In childhood, the story of their ancestors= migrations from the east to the west, and then to the newer west, was their handbook of history. They were A home builders@ in the texture of their mental constitution and most of them cared little for the amenity of polite society. Among them were Jesse, Charles and Lindsey Applegate, Peter H. Burnett, Daniel Waldo, John and Daniel Holman, J. W. Nesmith and many others who, in later years, left the impress of their personality upon the formative period of Oregon= s history.
The immigration of 1844 amounted to some eight hundred persons, and its general character did not differ materially from that of the preceding and subsequent years. From the account of one who came with the immigration of this year, we are told that it was composed for the most part of A frontiersmen who kept in advance of the settlements, emanating from the southern rather than the eastern States. There were men in it from all the States east and north perhaps, and individuals from nearly all the countries of western Europe, but the largest number traced their origin to the Scotch covenanters who had settled in Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina.@ The immigration of 1845 was still larger than that of either the two preceding years, containing about 3,000 persons. It was largely from Iowa. Fully two thousand persons constituted the immigration of 1846, only one half of whom remained in Oregon, the remainder going to California. In 1847 above three thousand were added to the population and an equal number during the following year, so that at the time of the establishment of the territorial government in 1848 there was a population of about 15,000 in the country. [page 46]
After the influx of the immigration of 1843 and 1844, the committee government of the former year was found insufficient for the population. A stronger government was needed. At the session of the legislative committee, June, 1844, several modifications were made, a special election on three amendments was ordered, and they were ratified by a majority of 203 votes, to take effect after the first Tuesday in June, 1845. By this change was created the office of Governor, in lieu of the Executive Committee, conferring upon the office veto power instead of submitting laws to popular vote, while the legislative committee of nine was superceded by a House of Representatives, consisting of not less than thirteen and not more than sixty-one members. This form of government, as amended in 1845, existed until the jurisdiction of the United States was extended over the territory.
George Abernethy, whose arrival in the territory has been already mentioned, was elected Governor tinder the remodeled government, in 1846, and was annually elected by popular vote until the provisional government ceased to exist. Medorum Crawford, a pioneer of 1842, says of him: A As a missionary he was consistent and conscientious; as a business man, he was honorable, enterprising and liberal; as a a governor, he was patriotic, efficient and unselfish. And for this he deserves the respect of the pioneers and honorable mention in the history of Oregon.@ Another distinguished pioneer has left the following tribute to his worth and character: A George Abernethy, an intelligent christian gentleman, unassuming, indisposed to court popular favor, with strong common sense, and a desire to do his duty conscientiously and quietly, was the right man for the occasion, and whatever prejudice may assert to the contrary, it was fortunate for the colony that just such a person could be had to fill the highest and most responsible position in the pioneer government.@ A mass of concurrent testimony could be given to prove that the foregoing was the general verdict of the pioneers who lived under his administration. He was not a great man, but that he was good, pure and patriotic, truthful history must record. He died in the city of Portland, May 3, 1877, where he had long resided. [page 47]
The provisional government was admirably adapted to meet the exigencies of the times and the condition of the people. It commanded the support of all citizens without distinction, and so thorough was the confidence of the people A in the integrity of those who administered it,@ says Judge Thornton, A that it was strong without either an army or navy, and rich without a treasury. Property was safe; schools were established and supported; contracts were enforced; debts were collected, and the majesty of the law vindicated in a manner that proved that the government was able and efficient, because the people confided in the patriotism, wisdom and ability of those who administered it, and of course the people were prosperous and happy.@
Perhaps the most severe test of energy and power the provisional government endured was the prosecution of the war against the Indians which commenced in the depth of the winter of 1847--8. On the 29th of November, 1847, the Cayuse Indians murdered Dr. Whitman and associates at Wailatpu and the country east of the Cascade Mountains was abandoned by all the American missionaries and settlers. Here was a most appalling situation. The danger of an uprising of all the Indians of the Columbia was imminent, and there were enough of them to overwhelm the settlement in the Willamette Valley. To avert this it was necessary to punish the Indians promptly. In thirteen days from the receipt at Oregon City of information of the massacre, a force of fifty armed men under Col. J. W. Nesmith was in possession of the mission station at the Dalles of the Columbia River, having marched a distance of one hundred and fifty miles in the inclement month of December. At the same time a regiment of fourteen companies was recruited and equipped, upon the faith of the provisional government, and moved to the front. After a campaign of several months, in which two battles were fought, the Cayuses were driven entirely out of their country, nor were they permitted to occupy it again in peace until they delivered up five of the guilty ring-leaders who were tried, convicted and executed at Oregon City. Thus the government of the pioneers, without aid from the United States, quickly and efficiently avenged the murder of American citizens, and in doing this A there was,@ [page 48] says ex-Gov. Curry, in an address before the Pioneer Association, A a display of energy and power which would be regarded as remarkable in the operations of any government, but in one so new and inexperienced as that of the pioneers of Oregon, it must be proof eminently satisfactory as to the ability and efficiency of it, that it was not only one in name, but a government formed in the esteem and sustained by the will and majesty of the people.@
In the work of the pioneers, whose efforts we have been tracing up to this period, we have seen that already the country was practically the territory of the United States by the highest and best title in existence, the actual occupation and control of it by her citizens. This question was, therefore, virtually settled by the inauguration of the provisional government in 1843, but from that time until the treaty of 1846 was signed it was a prominent issue in American political life. Mr. Polk, the democratic candidate for President, made his campaign on a party platform, which declared that our title to the whole of Oregon tip to fifty-four degrees and forty minutes north latitude was A clear and indisputable.@ Negotiations were promptly resumed after the inauguration of President Polk, but the government elected upon a pledge to support and maintain the claim of the United States imp to time latitude of fifty-four degrees and forty minutes, abandoned its position and made the offer of a line on parallel forty-nine, which Great Britain at once accepted, with a modification that all of Vancouver Island should be left in British territory. A treaty on this basis was concluded and ratified June 15, 1846, whereby the long disputed question of title and joint occupancy was settled. This acknowledgment of the American claim to Oregon was only a formal recognition of the fact that the long contest for the occupation of the country had terminated in favor of the Oregon pioneers.
The news of the signing of the treaty was received in Oregon with feelings which plainly indicated the importance of the measure. Joint occupancy, that uncertain tenure by which power was held, was at an end. Threatened troubles with the Indians in Eastern Oregon, before mentioned, now made the people anxious that Congress should pass an act extending territorial government over the [page 49] country. To this end they put forth every endeavor. That the provisional government might be represented at Washington by a prominent and influential citizen who would make known to the President and to Congress the exposed condition of the people, and to ask the necessary legislation to protect them from threatened danger, Gov. Abernethy sent Hon. J. Quinn Thornton, the Supreme Judge of the provisional government. Judge Thornton arrived in Boston in May, 1848, and at once proceeded to Washington, not as a delegate, but rather as an ambassador from the little provisional government, to the national government at Washington. In the meantime the Whit-man massacre had occurred and the citizens were thrown into a state of mingled grief and alarm. Joseph L. Meek was, thereupon, sent as a messenger to Washington under the sanction of the provisional legislature, to impart the intelligence, impress the authorities with the precarious condition of the colony and appeal for protection. The intelligence brought by Meek, as well as his individual efforts, did much to aid Mr. Thornton and the friends of Oregon in Congress in securing the desired legislation.
The most enthusiastic and helpful friend Oregon had at Washington at this time was Senator Benton, who for twenty years had supported every measure that promised to advance American interest on this part of the Pacific Coast. With all his wonderful energy and ability this eminent man now labored to secure territorial government in Oregon. The bill creating the territory, drafted by Judge Thornton, contained a clause prohibiting slavery, and for this reason was objectional to the slave-holding power in Congress. Under the lead of Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun, a vigorous fight against the bill was made in the Senate. The contest during the last two days of the session was exciting in the extreme and the feeling intense throughout the Union. The friends of the measure, however, under the lead of Senator Benton, finally triumphed and on August 13, 1848, the bill passed the Senate and a few hours later became a law by the signature of President Polk. The region specified in this act as Oregon Territory embraced all of the present States of Oregon and Washington, and those portions of Idaho and Montana lying west of the Rocky Mountains. [page 50]
One of the provisions of the territorial act was that it recognized the validity of the provisional government and the laws passed by it, and declared that they should remain in force until altered or repealed; and the officers of the government were authorized to exercise and perform the duties of their respective offices until their successors should be elected and qualified. No higher tribute could have been paid to the fitness of Americans for self government than this ratification of all the essential laws and acts of the provisional government of Oregon, which had been made and executed by the pioneer settlers for more than four years. It was the judgment of the whole nation, expressed by her representatives, that Americans could be trusted to plant the standard of freedom, and to welcome under its flag all friends of human rights.
President Polk appointed General Joseph Lane, of Indiana, Governor of the new territory. He was a man of great executive ability. His brilliant services in Mexico had made him a popular hero, and earned for him the title of the A Marion of the Mexican War.@ He immediately started for his new field of duty, and on the 3d day of March, 1849, the last day of Polkís administration, he issued his proclamation assuming the government. On the same day Governor Abernethy turned over to the new governor the records of the provisional government, A and so,@ says Bancroft, A without any noise or revolution the old government went out and the new came in. The provisional government was voluntarily laid down as it had voluntarily been taken up. It was an experiment on the part of the American people, who represented in this small and isolated community, the principles of self government in a manner worthy of the republican sentiment supposed to underlie the Federal Union by which a local population could constitute an independent State, and yet be loyal to the general government.@
The act organizing the territory of Oregon will ever be memorable in our national history for two reasons: First, because of the provisions for public education which granted the sixteenth and thirty-sixth section in each township and forever dedicated their proceeds as an irreducible fund, the interest of which should be devoted to public schools. This was a grant twice as large as that of 1787, [page 51] which had previously been the precedent observed by Congress in creating territories out of the public domain.. The act of 1848 now became the precedent and has ever since been observed. It gave to the original territory of Oregon over 16,000 square miles of land for public schools, and opened the way for the grant of more than 26,000,000 acres in the nine States, including Oregon, admitted to the Union since 1848. The idea of this magnificent donation, which will be of inestimable value to future generations, originated with Judge Thornton who framed the section in the territorial act, and who zealously labored to overcome the opposition it encountered at Washington. It was the inauguration of a liberal national policy in behalf of free education which should give imperishable fame to its author, a distinguished representative of the Oregon pioneers.
The other fact which marks the creation of Oregon Territory as a grand and inspiring event was the clause relating to the entire and absolute exclusion of chattel slavery. This was in accord with the general wish of the pioneers. Their new empire on the Pacific; their toil to win it; their test of self government, all bore the seal of liberty. In putting slavery tinder perpetual ban in Oregon the whole region from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, was under pledge for the rights of man regardless of color or race.
Thus briefly have we attempted to summarise the leading events in Oregon, from the time of the first explorations along the Pacific Coast till, under the strong hand of the whole nation, it rose from the weakness of a humble colony of adventurers to the rank and power of a co-ordinate member of the American Union. The event which the old pioneers had so long waited and hoped for had come and they were no longer counted exiles on a doubtful domain, but rightful fellow heirs and owners of the country.
That the United States is indebted to the pioneers for the confirmation of its title to the American possessions west of the Rocky Mountains, will, perhaps, never be questioned. To the pioneer is due all the honor mankind willingly gives to the founders of States and the creators of civilization in savage lands. But that these were the motives which led to the colonization of Oregon, as some writers have intimated, is contradicted by patent facts and contrary to common sense. The early emigrants did not undertake the toilsome [page 52] journey across the plains in the face of dangers and privations animated by a patriotic desire to save this land to the United States and plant the banner of republican liberty on the shores of the Pacific. For the most part they were men of limited means who sought a country where the restraints of civil and social institutions would press less hard upon individual freedom, and who in their plain way would have answered an inquiry for their motive in coming west with the common response that they had come to better their fortunes and in order that their children might A grow up with the country.@ They were actuated by the same strong courage that has characterized the enterprising frontiersmen in all our States. Circumstances called them to act a part which, in the light of subsequent events, is shown to have been of the utmost importance, securing to their country dominion over a vast empire.
If, however, they did not come with an inspiration as absorbing as that which moved the old crusaders, it was one far more intelligent--an inspiration to seize the golden moments when peacefully, with their small means, they might possess themselves of homes, where prudence and economy after some discipline of pioneer hardship and privation would be sure of just rewards, and where ample means for the nurture and education of their children should be within the reach of every industrious citizen. Animated by high purposes they laid the foundations of this commonwealth in industry, frugality and the domestic virtues, and their descendants who enjoy all the blessings of their toils and privations, their trials and danger, will hold them in loving remembrance.
For the purposes of this work it is unnecessary to follow the further steps of these State builders, whose prudence, loyalty and courage saved Oregon to the Union. In the fullness of time Oregon was decked with the honors of Statehood under the same perpetual dedication to equal rights and universal liberty for which its founders had so nobly battled. Its people may well take pride in the State, whether they contemplate it simply in its own greatness, or in comparison with other States. In the main its record is a clear one, bearing upon it few marks that one would care to erase. It has been steadily advancing with strong and even pace, and has more than kept good the wonderful promise of its earliest years. [page 53]