At the beginning of the 19th century Oregon County included the present states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and parts of Montana, Wyoming and British Columbia.
On 18th January, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson requested permission from Congress to explore the vast lands to the west of the Mississippi. Jefferson claimed that there were "great supplies of fur and peltry" to be obtained from the Native Americans living in this area. He argued that the expedition would provide opportunities for "extending the external commerce of the United States".
The following month Congress approved the venture that became known as the Corps of Discovery. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were co-commander of the expedition. On 23rd September, 1806, the party arrived back at St. Louis. The 28 month expedition produced a considerable body of data concerning the topographical features of the county and its natural resources.
In the 1830s some American politicians began to argue that the United States should absorb all of North America. Lewis Linn, the senator for Missouri, called for the British to be pushed out of Oregon. In an attempt to persuade Americans to settle in Oregon he introduced a bill into the Senate granting free land as a reward for those prepared to travel across the Rocky Mountains to claim it. Other politicians argued that this legislation would result in a war with Britain and the bill was defeated.
There were several reasons why people were willing to risk the long journey to Oregon. Emigrants stressed the importance of escaping from the fever-infested swamps of Missouri and Mississippi. Francis Parkman, who interviewed a large number of emigrants and claimed that many mentioned a desire to escape from unpleasant weather conditions: "The bad climate seems to have been the motive that has induced many of them to set out."
Stories also circulated about the high quality of the crops that could be grown in Oregon. Potential emigrants were told that wheat "grew as tall as a man, with each stalk sprouting seven kernels", clover was so dense that the "farmer could barely get into the field to harvest it" and turnips were "five feet tall". In the years between 1840 and 1848 an estimated 11,512 migrated overland to Oregon Trail.
In 1848 Congress established the Oregon Territory. It was admitted as the 33rd state on 14th February, 1859. Over the next few years it became a leading producer of nuts, wheat, hay, oats and potatoes.
Oregon is mountainous and rugged; its plains are dry and barren, nothing but sun in summer; very few fertile valleys, and those of very limited extent, and no navigable rivers to compare with the great watercourses of the Mississippi valley. This is Oregon. In truth, no man of information... in his right mind would think of leaving such a country as this (Missouri) to wander over a thousand miles of desert and five hundred miles of mountain to reach such as that.
You ask me to account for the mania for Oregon that prevails in Missouri, and seem to think that it does not say much in favor of our State, that so many of our citizens are leaving it, to cross the Rocky Mountains; you also inquire, what is the general character of the people who are emigrating from this country to Oregon. You will remember that the distance from Independence to the white settlement on the Columbia and its affluents, is about two thousand miles, and that it takes the greater part of a summer season to make the trip; and you must know that no very small amount of means is essential to procure the necessary outfit. It may, therefore, be taken for granted, that the emigrants from our state who are seeking a home beyond the Rocky Mountains, belong to the most enterprising and patient and resolute portion of our population, and are very far from being the poorest people in the country. They are a class of people that are not easily intimidated by difficulties which they may meet in life, and who are in possession of the secret, that the way to accomplish an object, is to "believe you can do it, and you can do it." They are rather different from those who acted as pioneers in the western states, and whose object, in part at least, seems to have been to avoid the restriction of salutary law and order, and "to follow the game," which receded before more well established society. Among the hundreds and hundreds, that leave us, there are many, who are actuated by the very laudable purpose of carrying the principles of our religion and government to that part of the world, and laying the foundation of institutions, of a civil and religious character, that will prove great blessings to all who may settle there, as well as to the ignorant and degraded natives. It is true, many are going there without any other specific object, than simply to be moving, or to find a country where "they will be satisfied"; an object, by the way, which they in all probability, will never attain... When men have once dissolved the relations that bind them to the country of their nativity and education, to seek a location in the west, it may be said, with too much truth, of the majority of them, that they are unsettled for the remainder of their days. "Having moved once, they are ready to move again," and then the finest country always is ahead.
We found the roads hard frozen on setting out in March from the headwaters of the Wabash and the road good at first. We camped at night with settlers and fed our stock well. We also took care that we should be in the best of strength and heart, as well as the stock.
The camp was usually near some water and in the shelter of the woods. Mother cooked the supper and made a potful of steaming coffee while the men cared for the horses, and unyoked the cows and oxen and fed them some of the corn and hay that we had brought from home.
Then all sat down in the genial warmth of the fire and feasted on fried eggs and bacon and piping hot corn bread that had been baked over the coals. There was milk for the coffee, and a cupful for baby sister and each of the boys. What appetites we had after the long cold ride in the lumbering wagons!
We young ones fell asleep almost as soon as supper was over, much as we wanted to keep awake and hear the wonderful stories that would be told by the smouldering camp fire. For several weeks after we started the weather was so cold that we slept in the covered wagons, on mother's soft feather beds.
We found St. Joseph after nearly two months' steady tramp and solid tread of the honest old oxen, a sea of tents. For miles and miles up the Missouri and down were to be seen the white tents, white covered wagons and busy people passing and surging to and fro. It was now the middle of May. The weather was warm and we could sleep in the tents instead of the covered wagons. So we rested here for several days while papa purchased food and other things that we needed.
We had two big heavily laden wagons, with eight yoke of oxen to each, a carriage and two horses for mother and baby sister, and a single horse for the three boys to ride. This was particularly convenient, especially at the crossing of the swollen streams, when all three could climb on together and get lots of fun and often times a little wetting; for we all had learned to swim in the dear old Tippecanoe, and we did not mind a bit if we all rolled off together in the middle of the stream.
Here and there we saw Indians along our route, but only once or twice did they attack us. Most of them were very decent, tall, fine fellows; they stood by or sat their ponies in line and marveled at the continuous stream of people - the innumerable multitude. How feeble and indifferent was our Government fifty or sixty years ago! No sort of assistance or suggestion or information of any sort to this tumultuous mass of world builders. No statistics. No attempt to enumerate them. Why, they were civilized in Europe in the days of Exodus. Moses would have made a better President than the ones we had then, in the early fifties.
The proud and erect Indian men would refuse all presents, but the Indian women, with their babes at their backs refused nothing, although they did not beg at all as they do now.
They were very fond of the white children and all the time wanted to touch and fondle them. Mother seemed afraid they would steal her little girl. She, in her eagerness to learn about the land we were about to traverse, had read a yellow book telling women all about how Indians would steal little girls! The Indian women were all the time trying to lay hands on my little brother Jimmy's great shock of frousy yellow hair, but he would run away from them and hide under the wagons.
The American Immigrants who came last Year set to work with great industry. One of them from the time he came last Autumn to this Spring put in a hundred bushels wheat in the ground. In general, they say the soil of this country is not so fertile as that of the Missouri from whence most of them come; that the Missouri soil will produce much finer Indian corn, but that this gives finer wheat. About a dozen are gone back to the States, as this country does not come up to their expectation, and some for the same reason are gone to California. However this country, at least that part of it best adapted to cultivation, such as the Valley of the Wallamette on the South side of the Columbia we may consider as in a
fair way of being settled, and it is certain that an influx of settlers will cause a great increase of business in the place, and which we can in the main secure, if we have the means of supplying their wants. This year the immigration from the States is said to be about a thousand, the first of them reached the Wallamette on the 10th October. Among the party are lawyers, medical men, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian Ministers, and four Jesuits.
As we pushed rapidly past the wagons, children's faces were thrust out from the white coverings to look at us; while the care-worn, thin-featured matron, or the buxom girl, seated in front, suspended the knitting on which most of them were engaged to stare at us with wondering curiosity. By the side of each wagon stalked the proprietor, urging on his patient oxen, who shouldered heavily along, inch by inch, on their interminable journey. It was easy to see that fear and dissension prevailed among them; some of the men - but these, with one exception, were bachelors - looked wistfully upon us as we rode lightly and swiftly past, and then impatiently at their own lumbering wagons and heavy-gaited oxen. Others were unwilling to advance at all until the party they had left behind should have rejoined them. Many were murmuring against the leader they had chosen, and wished to depose him; and this discontent was fermented by some ambitious spirits, who had hopes of succeeding in his place. The women were divided between regrets for the homes they had left and apprehension of the deserts and the savages before them.
We soon left them far behind, and fondly hoped that we had taken a final leave; but unluckily our companions' wagon stuck so long in a deep muddy ditch that, before it was extricated, the van of the emigrant caravan appeared again, descending a ridge close at hand. Wagon after wagon plunged through the mud; and as it was nearly noon, and the place promised shade and water, we saw with much gratification that they were resolved to encamp. Soon the wagons were wheeled into a circle; the cattle were grazing over the meadow, and the men with sour, sullen faces, were looking about for wood and water. They seemed to meet with but indifferent success. As we left the ground, I saw a tall slouching fellow with the nasal accent of "down east," contemplating the contents of his tin cup, which he had just filled with water.
Emigrants poured in from different parts, cabins were put up in every direction, and women, children, and goods tumbled into them. The tide of emigration flowed like water through a breach in a mill-dam. Everything was bustle and confusion, and all at work that could work. In the midst of all this, the mumps, or perhaps one or two other diseases, prevailed and gave us a seasoning. Our cabin had been raised, covered, part of the cracks chinked, and part of the floor laid when we moved in on Christmas day. There had not been a stick cut except in building the cabin. We had intended an inside chimney, for we thought the chimney ought to be in the house. We had a log put across the whole
width of the cabin for a mantel, but when the floor was in we found it so low as not to answer, and removed it. Here was a great change for my mother. She was raised in the most delicate manner in and near London, and lived most of her life in affluence, and always comfortable. She was now in the wilderness, surrounded by wild beasts; in a cabin with about half a floor, no door, no ceiling over head, not even a tolerable sign for a fire-place, the light of day and the chilling winds of night passing between every two logs in the building, the cabin so high from the ground that a bear, wolf, panther, or any animal less in size than a cow, could enter without even a squeeze. Such was our condition on Thursday and Thursday night, December 25, 1800, and which was bettered by but very slow degrees. We got the rest of the floor laid in a few days, the chinking of the cracks went on slowly, but the daubing could not proceed till weather more suitable, which happened in a few days; doorways were sawed out and steps made of logs, and the back of the chimney was raised up to the mantel, but the funnel of sticks and clay was delayed until spring.
Most of the cabins were fortresses in themselves, and were capable of being defended by a family for several days. The thickness of the walls and numerous loop-poles were sometimes supplemented by a clay covering upon the roof, so as to resist the fiery arrows of the savages. Sometimes places of concealment were provided for the women and children beneath the floor, with a closely fitting trap door leading to it.
On one occasion a party of Indians approached a solitary log-house with the intention of murdering the inmates. With their usual caution, one of their number was sent forward to reconnoiter, who, discovering the only persons within to be a woman, two or three children, and a negro man, rushed in by himself and seized the Negro The woman caught up the axe and with a single blow laid the savage warrior dead at her feet, while the children closed the door, and, fastened it. The rest of the Indians came up and attempted to force an entrance, but the Negro and the children kept the door closed, and the intrepid mother, having no effective weapon, picked up a gun-barrel which had neither stock nor lock and pointed it at the savages through the apertures between the logs. The Indians, deceived by the appearance of a gun, and daunted by the death of their companion, retired.
The costume of the women of the frontier was suited to the plainness of the habitations where they lived... Homespun, linsey-woolsey and buckskin were the primitive materials out of which their everyday dresses were made, and only on occasions of social festivity were they seen in braver robes. Rings, broaches, buckles, and ruffles were heir-looms from parents or grand-parents.
The cabin stands in a prairie, skirted by a forest. A stream gurgles by. The prairie is broken with patches of corn and potatoes, which are just emerging from the rich black mould. Pig-pens, a barn, and corn-houses, a half dozen sheep in an enclosure, cows and calves and oxen in a barn-yard, a garden patch, and hen-coops, and stumps of what were once mighty trees, tell the story of the farmer's labors; and the cabin, with all its appurtenances and surroundings, show how much the good woman has contributed to make it the abode of rustic plenty, all provided by the unaided toil of this pioneer couple.
The uniform testimony of an intelligent multitude have established the fact, that the country in question, is the most valuable of all the unoccupied parts of the earth. Its peculiar location and facilities, and physical resources for trade and commerce; its contiguous markets; its salubrity of climate; its fertility of soil; its rich and abundant productions; its extensive forests of valuable timber; and its great water Channel diversifying, by its numerous branches the whole country, and spreading canals through every part of it, are sure indications that Providence has designed this last reach of enlightened emigration to be the residence of a people, whose singular advantages will give them unexampled power and prosperity.
These things have excited the admiration of every observer, and have settled in the policy of the British nation the determined purpose of possessing and enjoying them, as their own; and have induced their Parliament to confer on the Hudson's Bay Company, chartered privileges for occupying with their settlements the fertile banks of the Columbia; which settlements have been made; and are flourishing, in rapid growth, under the culture secured by the provisions of a Colonial Government.
The Society conceive it clearly deduced, from all the facts in the case, that the right of sovereignty over the Oregon Territory, is invested in the government of the United States of America, consequently, in her is the exclusive right of colonizing that country, and of introducing into it the various business and benefits of civilized life.
During our detention among the upper settlements, before starting out, a constant source of interest to us was the gathering of people bound to Oregon. One Sunday morning about the usual church hour in a larger place, five or six wagons passed through the town of Westport, and one old man, with silver hair, was with the party. Women and children were walking; father and brothers were driving loose cattle or managing the heavy teams; and keen-eyed youngsters, with their chins yet smooth, and rifles on their shoulders, kept in advance of the wagons, with long strides, looking as if they were already watching around the corners of the streets for game. There was one striking feature about this party which leads us to name it more particularly. Though traveling on the Sabbath, and through the little town that was all quiet and resting from business in reverence of the day, there was that in the appearance of the people that banished at once even the remotest idea of profanation. They were all clean and evidently apparelled in their best Sunday gear. Their countenances were sedate, and the women wore that mild composure of visage - so pleasantly resigned - so eloquent of a calm spirit - so ready to kindle up into smiles - that is seen more often among churchgoers, perhaps, than in ball-room or boudoir. Some of the women carried books, and the prettiest girl held hers open before her, as she stepped a little coquettishly through the dust of the road.
Many other bodies of these adventurous travellers crossed our notice at Independence, Westport, and at encampments made in the vicinity of these and other towns, but in their largest force we saw them just after crossing the Kansas River, about the 1st of June. The Oregonians were assembled here to the number of six or eight hundred, and when we passed their encampment they were engaged in the business of electing officers to regulate and conduct their proceedings. It was a curious and unaccountable spectacle to us, as we approached. We saw a large body of men wheeling and marching about the prairie, describing evolutions neither recognizable as savage, civic, or military. We soon knew they were not Indians and were not long in setting them down for the emigrants, but what in the name of mystery they were about, our best guessing could not reduce to anything in the shape of a mathematical probability.
The migration of a large body of men, women, and children across the Continent to Oregon was, in the year 1843, strictly an experiment not only in respect to the numbers, but to the outfit of the migrating party.
Before that date two or three missionaries had performed the journey on horseback, driving a few cows with them. Three or four wagons drawn by oxen had reached Fort Hall, on Snake river, but it was the honest opinion of most of those who had traveled the route down Snake river that no large number of cattle could be subsisted on its scanty pasturage, or wagons taken over a route so rugged and mountainous.
The emigrants were also assured that the Sioux would be much opposed to the passage of so large a body through their country, and would probably resist it on account of the emigrants destroying and frightening away the buffaloes, which were then diminishing in numbers.
The migrating body numbered over one thousand souls, with about one hundred and twenty wagons, drawn by six ox teams, averaging about six yokes to the team, and several thousand loose horses and cattle.
The emigrants first organized and attempted to travel in one body, but it was soon found that no progress could be made with a body so cumbrous, and as yet so averse to all discipline. And at the crossing of the "Big Blue," it divided into two columns, which traveled in supporting distance of each other as far as Independence Rock, on the Sweet Water.
From this point, all danger from Indians being over, the emigrants separated into small parties better suited to the narrow mountain paths and small pastures in their front.
We had managed to get through to Oregon with one team and a wagon and a few cows. They were all poor, for most of them had been yoked with the oxen to help haul the load. We took up one claim and bought another and went to work setting out orchard and vineyard. We had the earliest and best fruit in the country, and our stock did well.
Mother made butter and cheese for market and made our house a sort of tavern, besides, and lodged and fed all the travelers who came our way. The work was very hard for her; for she had no one to help her except a little Indian boy that papa had brought home.