Joseph Goff Gale was a trapper, trader, pioneer, and politician.
Gale was born in Washington, D.C., on April 29, 1807, to Joseph and Mary Goff Gale. He was well educated as a child, and when he grew up, he made his way west and was on the Pacific Coast as early as 1828. By 1830, he was working as a trapper in the fur trade.
In 1831, he accompanied Ewing Young from Taos, New Mexico, to California, and for the next two years, he trapped on the Snake River. In July 1833, Gale was at the fur trapper’s Rendezvous at Green River, Wyoming, where he joined Joseph Walker’s expedition to California. The men arrived at the Pacific Ocean in November. However, when the party began its return trip to the Rocky Mountains, Gale stayed behind and instead joined his friend Ewing Young on his historic cattle drive from California to Oregon. Introducing the first cattle to Oregon, they reached the Willamette Valley in October 1834.
Nathaniel Wyeth then hired him to work at Fort Hall, Idaho. There, he married a Walla Walla Indian woman named Eliza, and the couple would eventually have eight children.
When Gale was leading a party of men, including Kit Carson, Joe Meek, and several others, to the Gallatin River in the fall of 1835, they were attacked by Blackfoot Indians but survived. Gale continued to work at Fort Hall for the next few years until it sold in August 1837. He then began trapping and trading for the Hudson’s Bay Company.
In 1838, he settled in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. There, he and several others built a ship in which they intended to hunt sea otter; however, this was short-lived as, after sailing it to San Francisco, they sold the ship and drove cattle back to Oregon in 1853. He was elected one of three different governors of Oregon that summer.
He died in Eagle Valley, Oregon, on December 13, 1881. During his life, he also worked with other noted people of the west, including Jim Bridger and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians.
©Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.