An Early Sketch of Oregon

Fort Astoria, Oregon

Fort Astoria, Oregon

When Hunt left in the Beaver, a party was dispatched, which established a trading post on the Spokane. Ramsey Crooks, Robert McClellan, and Robert Stuart about this time set out and crossed overland to New York, with an account of what had been done. The trade, was in the meantime, very prosperous, and a large quantity of furs had been collected at Astoria.

In January 1813, the Astorians learned from a trading vessel, that a war had broken out with England. A short time after, John Mactavish and Joseph Laroque, partners of the North West Company, arrived at Astoria; Duncan McDougall and Kenneth McKenzie (both Scotchmen) were the only partners there, and they unwisely agreed to dissolve the company in July. Stuart and Clarke, at the Okonogan and Spokane posts, opposed this; but it was finally agreed that if assistance did not soon arrive from the United States, they would abandon the enterprise.

Mactavish and his followers of the North West Company again visited Astoria, where they expected to meet the Isaac Todd, an armed ship from London, which had orders “to take and destroy everything American on the northwest coast.” Notwithstanding, they were hospitably received, and held private conferences with Duncan McDougall and Kenneth McKenzie, the result of which was, that they sold out the establishment, furs, and supplies of the Pacific Fur Company in the country, to the North West Company, for about $58,000. That company was thus enabled to establish itself in the country.

Thus ended the Astoria enterprise. Had the directing partners on the Columbia River been Americans instead of foreigners, it is believed that they would, notwithstanding the war, have withstood all their difficulties. The sale was considered disgraceful, and the conduct of Duncan McDougall and Kenneth McKenzie in that sale and subsequently were such as to authorize suspicions against their motives; yet, they could not have been expected to engage in hostilities against their countrymen and old friends.

The name of Astoria was changed by the British, to that of Fort George. From 1813 to 1823, few, if any American citizens, entered the countries west of the Rocky Mountains. Nearly all the trade of the Upper Mississippi and Missouri Rivers was carried on by the American Fur Company, of which Astor was the head; and by the Columbia Fur Company formed in 1822, composed mainly of persons who had been in the service of the North West Company, and were dissatisfied with it. The Columbia Fur Company established posts on the upper waters of the Mississippi River, the Missouri River, and the Yellowstone, which were transferred, in 1826, to the North American Company on the junction of the two bodies. About this time, the overland trade with Santa Fe commenced, caravans passing regularly every summer between St. Louis and that place. In 1824, Ashley of St. Louis re-established commercial communications with the countries west of the Rocky Mountains and built a trading-post on Ashley’s Lake in Utah.

Hudsons Bay Company at Fort Colville, Oregon, 1860

Hudsons Bay Company at Fort Colville, Oregon, 1860

These active proceedings of the Missouri Fur Company traders stimulated the American Fur Company to send their agents and attaches beyond the Rocky Mountains, although they built no posts. In 1827, Johsua Pilcher of Missouri went through the South Pass with forty-five men, and wintered on the headwaters of the Colorado River, in what is now the northeast part of Utah. The next year he proceeded northwardly along the base of the Rocky Mountains to near lat. forty-seven degrees. There, he remained until the spring of 1829, when he descended Clark River to Fort Colville, then recently established at the Falls, by the Hudson’s Bay Company, which had a few years previous, absorbed and united the interests of the North West Company. He returned to the United States, through the long and circuitous far northward route of the Upper Columbia, the Athabasca, the Assiniboin, Red River, and the Upper Missouri River. But, little was known of the countries through which Pilcher traversed, previous to the publication of his concise narrative. The account of the rambles of J.O. Pattie, a Missouri Fur Company trader, through New Mexico, Chihuahua, Sonora, and California, threw some light on the geography of those countries. In 1832, Captain Bonneville of the U.S. Army, while on furlough, led a party of 100 men from Missouri, over the mountains, where he passed more than two years on the Columbia and the Colorado Rivers, in hunting, trapping, and trading.

Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth

Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth

At about the same time, Captain Nathaniel Wyeth of Massachusetts attempted to establish commercial relations with the countries on the Columbia River, to which the name of Oregon then began to be universally applied. His plan was like that of John Jacob Astor’s, with the additional scheme of transporting the salmon of the Oregon rivers to the United States. He made two overland expeditions to Oregon, established Fort Hall as a trading post in present-day Idaho, and another, mainly for fishing purposes, near the mouth of the Willamette River. This scheme failed, owing to the rivalry of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who founded the counter-establishment of Fort Boise, where, offering goods to the Indians at lower prices than Wyeth could afford, compelled him to desist, and he sold out his interests to them. Meanwhile, a brig he had dispatched from Boston, arrived in the Columbia and returned with a cargo of salted salmon, but the results not being auspicious, the enterprise was abandoned.

The American traders being excluded by these, and other means from Oregon, mainly confined themselves to the regions of the head-waters of the Colorado River and the Utah Lake, where they formed one or two small establishments, and sometimes extended their rambles as far west as San Francisco and Monterey, California. The number of American hunters and trappers thus employed west of the Rocky Mountains, seldom exceeded two hundred; where, during the greater part of the year, they roved through the wilds in search of furs which they conveyed to their places of rendezvous in the mountain valleys, and bartered with them to the Missouri traders.

About the time of Nathaniel Wyeth’s expeditions were the earliest emigrations to Oregon of settlers from the United States. The first of these was founded in 1834, in the Willamette Valley, by a body of Methodists who went round by sea under the direction of the Reverends Jason Lee and Cyrus Shepherd. In that valley, a few retired servants of the Hudson’s Bay Company were then residing, and engaged in herding cattle. The Congregationalists or Presbyterians planted colonies two or three years after, in the Walla Walla and Spokane countries, with the Reverends Samuel Parker, Henry Spalding, William Gray, Elkanah Walker, Cushing Eels, John Smith Griffin, and Dr. Marcus Whitman as missionaries.

In all of these places, mission schools were established for the instruction of the natives, and in 1839, a printing press was started at Walla Walla, Washington where were printed the first sheets ever struck off, on the Pacific side of the mountains north of Mexico. On it, books were printed from types set by native compositors. The Roman Catholics from Missouri, soon after founded stations on the Clark River.

About the year 1837, the American people began to be deeply interested in the subject of the claims of the United States to Oregon, and societies were formed for emigration. From them and other sources, petitions were presented to Congress, to either make a definite arrangement with Great Britain, the other claimant or take immediate possession of the country. In each year, from 1838 to 1843, small parties emigrated overland from Missouri to Oregon, suffering much hardship on the route. At the close of 1842, the American citizens there numbered about four hundred. Relying upon the promise of protection held out by the passage of the bill in February 1843, by the U. S. Senate for the immediate occupation of Oregon, about 1,000 emigrants, men, women, and children, assembled at Westport, on the Missouri frontier in the succeeding June, and followed the route up the Platte River, and through the South Pass, surveyed the previous year by Charles Fremont; thence by Fort Hall, Idaho to the Willamette Valley, where they arrived in October, after a laborious and fatiguing journey of more than 2,000 miles. Others soon followed, and before the close of the next year, over 3,000 American citizens were in Oregon.

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