Author: Bethany Nemec

The Final Leg of the Trail

The Final Leg of the Trail

Looking down on the Columbia River Gorge from high up on Rowena Loop, one sees where the river cuts through the Cascade Mountains. For three years this was the end of the Oregon Trail as an overland route. It was here, just past The Dalles, 

Feeding the Fad for Furs

Feeding the Fad for Furs

FEEDING THE FAD FOR FURS The development of the Oregon Country started with the demand for furs. The fur trade in Oregon was started in 1778 by Captain Cook trading for sea otter. The Spanish traded from California. The Russians traded the Pacific coast under 

Exclusion Laws

Exclusion Laws

In June, 1844, the Provisional Government of Oregon enacted its first laws regarding the status of slaves, and therefore blacks, in the Oregon Country. Slavery was declared to be illegal, and settlers who currently owned slaves were required to free them within three years. Any free blacks age 18 or older had to leave the area, men within two years and women within three. Black children were permitted to stay in the Oregon Country until they reached age 18.

The original exclusion law was the infamous “Lash Law” which subjected blacks found guilty of violating the law to whippings — no less than 20 and no more than 39 strokes of the lash — every six months “until he or she shall quit the territory.” It was soon recognized that this punishment was far too severe, and the law was modified before it went into effect.

The new version, enacted in December, 1844, replaced the whippings with forced labor. If a black person was tried and found guilty of being in the Oregon Country illegally, he or she was to be hired out publicly to whomever would employ them for the shortest amount of time. After the period of forced labor expired, the “employer” had six months to get the black individual out of Oregon. Failure to do so was punishable by a fine of $1000. This law was to go into effect in 1846, by which time those who wrote it doubtless hoped that most blacks would have left Oregon, but it was repealed in the 1845 session of the Provisional Legislature.

Another exclusion law was passed in September, 1849, which simply forbade blacks from settling in the newly-declared Oregon Territory. Any already in residence were permitted to stay. In 1851, Jacob Vanderpool, a Salem boarding house and saloon owner, became the only person known to have been exiled from the Territory under Oregon’s exclusion laws. The law under which he was charged and sentenced was repealed in 1854.

Oregon ratified its state constitution in November, 1857. On the popular ballot for the constitution, there were also two other referendum issues on which citizens were asked to vote. Oregonians rejected slavery but approved adding a new exclusion law to the constitution. This law became part of Oregon’s original Bill of Rights.

When Oregon’s constitution was submitted to Congress for approval, some Northern legislators complained about the exclusion law. However, others saw it as a structured way to avoid bloodshed over racial issues and the spread of slavery. Thus, in February, 1859, Oregon became the only state admitted to the Union with an exclusion law in its constitution. After several unsuccessful attempts, the state constitution was finally amended in 1926 to remove the exclusion law from the state Bill of Rights. Over 60,000 voters declined to vote on the issue when casting their ballots. A separate clause in Oregon’s constitution banning black suffrage was repealed the following year. Of course, these laws had long since been superseded by federal laws and amendments to the US Constitution following the Civil War, but they remained enshrined in the state constitution for 60 years.

Exclusion laws seems bizarre and reprehensible today, but they were not uncommon in the Nineteenth Century. Settlers in the Oregon Country brought the idea with them from their old homes in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Both Illinois and Indiana had exclusion laws on the books in the Nineteenth Century, and all four states denied free blacks the right to vote and restricted their ability to testify in court. Some state and local laws required blacks to post a bond to guarantee their good behavior or to produce proof of their freedom upon the demand of any white person.

The fact that exclusion laws were enacted in Oregon was attractive to some prospective emigrants. Oregon seemed so far away from the United States in the 1840s that some of the settlers probably thought that they really did have a chance to avoid the issues of race and slavery by simply legislating away people of African descent. Some Oregonians supported the laws because they feared the violence that surrounded the politics of slavery in the East; others feared that enslaved blacks would take their jobs if they were brought West in significant numbers; still others were simply out-and-out racists.

Following the killings at the Whitman Mission in 1847, a wave of racial paranoia swept through the Willamette Valley. Many Oregonians convinced themselves that blacks and Indians might collaborate, joining forces to wipe out all the whites in the Oregon Country. Some went so far as to argue that without the exclusion laws, African Americans and Native Americans might intermarry and eventually reduce the white population to a threatened minority. As noted, the modified “Lash Law” was repealed in 1845; the fear following the Whitman Massacre led to the exclusion law of 1848.

There was no organized abolitionist movement in Oregon the way there was in the East, but many white friends of black settlers submitted petitions to the Provisional and Territorial Legislatures asking for exemptions for their friends. In addition, there were many petitions to repeal the exclusion laws submitted through the years. They even succeeded once or twice, but the laws were never out of force for long.

Ewing Young Route

Ewing Young Route

compiled by Karen Bassett, Jim Renner, and Joyce White copyright 1998 ~ all rights reserved Oregon Trails Coordinating Council Significance When Ewing Young arrived from California with his large herd of horses and settled in the Chehalem Valley in 1834, his rancho became the most 

Early Towns and Cities

Early Towns and Cities

FROM ROBIN’S NEST TO STUMPTOWN For about a decade, Oregon City was Oregon’s capital and largest city. Oregon City had three things going for it that secured its place in history: it had a prime location at Willamette Falls that provided reliable power for its 

Early Political Leaders

Early Political Leaders

The First Men In Charge

There are six men with a legitimate claim to being called the first Governor of Oregon. The Organic Act of 1843 called for a three person executive committee in the place of a governor. Two were elected in 1843 and 1844 before the Organic Act was amended in 1845. The first committee was comprised of David Hill, part of Dr. Elijah White’s 1842 wagon train, Alanson Beers, part of the 1837 Methodist reinforcement, and Joseph Gale, an early immigrant who arrived in 1834 with Nathaniel Wyeth. Beers would join Governor Abernethy as a partner in the Oregon Milling Company. Gale built the first ship in Oregon, the Star of Oregon.

The second executive committee, elected May 25, 1844, was made up of Peter G. Stewart of the Great Migration of 1843; Osbourne Russell, a trapper along with Gale in the 1834 Wyeth Party who had taken to the mountains and returned to Oregon in 1842 as guide to Dr. Elijah White; and Dr. William J. Bailey, a sailor who jumped ship in Yerba Buena (San Francisco), was wounded by Rogue River Indians on his journey north, joined Ewing Young’s cattle company, and then took up the study of medicine in Oregon under Dr. Elijah White.

George Abernethy — Whig, merchant, and steward of the 1840 Oregon City Methodist Mission — was the first man elected to the post titled “Governor” in Oregon. The meadow behind his house was the end of the Oregon Trail. He was elected on June 3, 1845, as the candidate of the Mission-supported “American Party.” He was reelected in 1847. As Governor, he used his position on the Oregon Spectator’s Board of Directors to squelch the Democratic editors by demanding that the paper not become involved in political debates. He vetoed a liquor law and was a member of the Oregon Exchange Company which coined Beaver money.

Joseph Lane was a Mexican War hero and Indiana Legislator. President Polk offered him the job of Oregon Territorial Governor in 1848. Polk, a Democrat, gambled that Lane would be in Oregon before incoming Whig President Taylor could legally cancel the commission. Lane accepted immediately and, escorted by mountain man Joe Meek, set off for Oregon. With a layover for winter at Fort Hall, they arrived in Oregon City one day early. Upon his arrival, Lane invited Abernethy to pay him a visit at William Holmes’ Rose Farm, where he was residing. Ever the Whig, Abernethy noted that Lane had not yet shown his credentials and responded that he would be glad to receive Lane should he call to pay his respects.

Lane resigned the governorship in 1850. Territorial Secretary Kintzing Pritchette became acting Governor for two months until the arrival of John Gaines. A veteran of both the War of 1812 and Mexican War, Gaines was a Whig appointed by President Taylor. En route, his two daughters died of yellow fever, his wife died from a fall from a horse in Salem, and his son died soon after.

Gaines spent three years bickering with the Democratic legislature. He kept the capital in Oregon City. His most vocal opponent, Asahel Bush, wanted Salem to be the new capital. The Whig newspaper The Argus called him “Ass of Hell;” Bush responded in kind by calling it the “Air Goose.”

Lane returned for a three-day term in 1853 just so President Pierce, a Democrat, could remove Gaines from office. As Oregon moved inexorably toward statehood, Lane became Delegate to Congress and eventually one of Oregon’s first U.S. Senators. However, Lane’s views favoring slavery and secession made him unpopular in Oregon, and he served only one 6-year term.

George Law Curry, an overlander who emigrated to Oregon in 1846, was Territorial Secretary when Lane resigned. The former editor of the Oregon Spectator, Curry had resigned rather than accept Abernethy’s demand that politics be kept out of the paper. He served as Territorial Governor in Salem until Pierce’s appointee John Davis arrived.

Davis served only one year as governor before resigning to return to Indiana — and he spent half of his term just getting to Oregon. Curry again became interim Governor, this time serving for six months until his own appointment as Governor arrived. He remained chief executive of the Territory until statehood.

For seven months, Oregon had two governors in office. The state Constitution was adopted and “Honest John” Whiteaker was elected Governor of the State of Oregon in June 1858. He was an authentic 49er, having made some money in the gold rush before going back home to fetch his wife and returning in 1852 to live in Eugene City. Rather than force the issue, Whiteaker quietly waited for President Buchanan to give him a state to govern. Statehood was granted on February 14, 1859, and Whiteaker was sworn in on March 3, becoming the last man who could call himself “the first governor of Oregon.”

As governor, Whiteaker fought for land laws that favored settlers over land speculators and urged that Salem remain the capital. Before the Civil War, he had advocated slavery, yet he guided the state with the motto “The Union” through those turbulent years. Judge Matthew Deady said of him, “Old Whit … Wrong in the head in politics, he is honest and right in the heart.”

Doctors and Diseases on the Oregon Trail

Doctors and Diseases on the Oregon Trail

“June 3 Passed through St. Joseph on the Missouri River. Laid in our flour, cheese, crackers and medicine, for no one should travel this road without medicine, for they are almost sure to have the summer complaint. Each family should have a box of physicing 

Disrupting the Natives

Disrupting the Natives

White emigrants of the overland trail era are often credited with disrupting Native American societies, causing sweeping changes in in their cultures, and precipitating wars. This is not entirely untrue, but the Oregon Trail was merely one chapter in a much longer history. The larger 

Black Pioneers and Settlers

Black Pioneers and Settlers

Richard and America Bogle
In 1843, Daniel Waldo and his family emigrated to the Oregon Country in the same wagon train as Jesse Applegate. His family included his slaves, one of whom was the mother of his child**, America Waldo. The Waldo family settled in the hills outside Salem, and the area around the Waldo claim is now known as the Waldo Hills. They built their home with a separate building for the slaves, including America. Daniel Waldo was a member of the 1844 legislature and voted in favor of the “Lash Law” which passed in June of that year.

Richard A. Bogle was born in the West Indies in 1835. He moved to New York City at the age of twelve, and to the Oregon Territory in 1851 at the age of sixteen. Three years later, he moved to Yreka, California, and apprenticed to a barber by the name of Nathaniel Ferber. Bogle worked for Ferber for three years before returning to Oregon and opening a barber shop in Roseburg.

Richard Bogle and America Waldo were married in 1863 and moved to Walla Walla in the Washington Territory. There, Richard tried his hand at mining, but he didn’t strike it rich and later returned to his old trade of barbering. The Bogles made their money ranching, and were quite successful at it. Richard was sufficiently wealthy that he was one of the founders of the Walla Walla Savings and Loan Association, providing some of the seed capital for the organization and backing it with his good name. Richard and America had eight children together, at least two of whom went on to become barbers in Portland.
**Please note that other sources has indicated that Joseph Waldo is more likely to have been the father of America Waldo, and not Daniel Waldo.

George Washington Bush
George Bush was a veteran of the War of 1812, a former employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company who had been as far west as the Pacific Coast as early as the 1820s, and a wealthy farmer and rancher in western Missouri before becoming an Oregon Trail emigrant in 1844. Along with his friend, Michael Simmons, Bush headed west in a wagon train guided by Moses Harris. He hoped to put the racism of Missouri behind him.

Bush purchased six wagons for the journey, four of which were for other families. He and his Irish wife, Isabel, cared for children who were orphaned on the Trail. John Minto, an Englishman traveling with the Bush-Simmons Party, commented in his diary about a conversation he had with Bush. Minto wrote that Bush was concerned about how he would be treated in the Oregon Country, and he had resolved to move on if he was treated poorly.

When the party arrived at The Dalles, Minto rode ahead to Fort Vancouver to obtain fresh supplies. When he returned to the wagon train, he told Bush of the “Lash Law” recently enacted by the Provisional Government. Bush and some of the others decided to break off from the main body of the train and look for land north of the Columbia River. As the British were still nominally in control there, they hoped for better treatment from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Most of the party crossed the river and wintered in Washougal before heading north in 1845. George Bush remained in The Dalles with the party’s cattle, rejoining them in the spring when the cattle could be ferried across the river.

The story is also told that George Bush had trapped the Puget Sound area as an HBC employee in the 1820s, and he knew exactly where he was going from the moment he left Missouri.

Though the British were less than enthusiastic about permitting American settlers north of the Columbia, the Bush-Simmons Party was granted credit to resupply at Fort Vancouver before striking out in search of good land. Bush and Simmons worked off the debt by splitting shingles at the fort.

The group made their way north with the women driving the oxen and cattle and the men blazing the trail as they went. Progress was slow but steady all the way to Puget Sound. There, all thirty settlers in the party had to share a single cabin during the first winter. In 1846, two years after setting out from Missouri, they finally set about clearing their own land and building their own cabins.

The land settled by George Bush and his family came to be known as Bush Prairie. The family was well-liked in the area, and they had a reputation for being generous in times of need. The winter of 1852 was a particularly hard one, and grain supplies had run low. Bush had enjoyed a fine harvest that year and had plenty of grain in storage. When tempted to sell to a buyer offering an inflated price, Bush declined saying, “I’ll just keep my grain to let my neighbors who have had failures have enough to live on and for seeding their fields in the spring. They have no money to pay your fancy prices and I don’t intend to see them want for anything in my power to provide them with.”

The Bush-Simmons Party is credited by some historians as having been in large part responsible for bringing the land north of the Columbia River — the present-day state of Washington — into the United States. They established a presence that attracted other settlers and strengthened the American claim to the area in later debates between Great Britain and the United States over partitioning the Oregon Country.

The Bush family continued to influence Washington for at least one more generation: William Owen Bush, son of George and Isabel, was elected to Washington’s first state legislature. There, he introduced the bill that established the institution now known as Washington State University in 1890.

Moses Harris
Also known as Black Harris and the Black Squire, Moses Harris became a wagon train guide on the Oregon Trail after spending years exploring and fur trapping in the mountains. He is thought to have first ventured into the West in 1823, and he was considered an expert in winter travel.
In 1836, Harris helped guide the Whitman-Spalding Party to Oregon. He is credited with having helped build Fort Laramie, and he may have been in on the party of trappers who christened Independence Rock. In 1844, he guided a wagon train of 500 people over the Oregon Trail to Fort Vancouver, a train which included George Washington Bush and the Holmes and Ford families.

In 1845, Harris was in The Dalles when Stephen Meek stumbled into town after having gotten a wagon train lost trying to cross the high desert. Harris was the only person willing to help, and after bargaining for supplies from local Indians, he led the surviving members of Meek’s party to safety at The Dalles.

Harris later helped rescue a group stranded on the Applegate Trail in southern Oregon, and he participated in efforts to explore the Cascade Mountain in search of a route better than the Barlow Road. He continued to guide wagon trains until dying of cholera in 1849.
In 1844, James Clyman wrote a mock epitaph for his friend:

Here lies the bones of old Black Harris
who often traveled beyond the far west
and for the freedom of Equal rights
he crossed the snowy mountain heights.
He was a free and easy kind of soul
especially with a Belly full.

Reuben Shipley and Mary Jane Holmes
Reuben Shipley’s owner granted him his freedom upon arriving in the Oregon Territory in 1853. Because his wife and sons were owned by another family, Shipley was forced to leave them behind in Missouri. After arriving in Oregon, he tried to buy his family, but the owner informed him that his wife had died the previous year, when he was on the Oregon Trail, and he refused to sell Shipley his sons.

Mary Jane Holmes came to Oregon with her parents, Robin and Polly, in 1844 as the slaves of Nathaniel Ford and his family. The wagon train they came with also included black pioneer George Washington Bush and was led by renowned guide Moses “Black” Harris. Nathaniel Ford freed Robin, Polly, and their youngest child in 1850, but he did not grant freedom to Mary Jane and two of her Oregon-born siblings. Robin Holmes engaged Ford in a long court battle which ended with the court ordering Ford to free the three Holmes children in 1853, but despite this tension, Mary Jane Holmes continued to live with the Fords until she married Reuben Shipley in 1857. Even though she had been freed by the courts, Shipley was forced to pay $750 to Ford for permission to marry Mary Jane.

The Shipleys settled in Benton County and raised six children. They were well-liked by their neighbors, and in 1861 Shipley donated two acres of his land to the county for Mount Union Cemetery. His donation included the provision that the county permit blacks to be buried in the cemetery. Reuben, Mary Jane, and one of their daughters were eventually buried there.

Rose Jackson
Rose came west as a slave to the Allen family in 1849. Since the Allens knew of the exclusion laws in the Oregon Territory, they planned to leave her behind, but she begged to accompany the family. With the support of the Allen daughters, the family patriarch, Dr. William Allen, relented. However, since it was illegal to bring slaves into Oregon, they were forced to smuggle Rose across the length of the Oregon Trail in a box with air holes drilled in it. Rose came out only at night to stretch and get a breath of fresh air.

Rose’s owner, Dr. Allen, died one year after arriving in the Oregon Territory; his wife later remarried, becoming the wife of Dr. William Barlow.

Rose was credited with saving the family much misery during their first winter in Oregon — always a difficult time for emigrants. While Mrs. Allen found work as a seamstress and made $2 a day, Rose worked as a laundress and could bring home as much as $12 a day. Though Rose was freed when the family entered Oregon, all her earnings that first winter went to support the family.

Rose later married John Jackson, a groom for stagecoach horses in Canemah. The couple moved to Waldo Hills outside Salem and raised two children, Rose and Charles.

William (John) Livingston
William was born in Missouri and was a childhood friend of Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain). He was later sold to Judge Ringo, who freed him during the Civil War in 1863. The following year, Livingston came to Oregon with Ringo’s son. The Judge himself came west in 1865. Livingston continued to work for the Ringos in Oregon and was eventually given 40 acres of land by the Judge and a team of horses by the younger Ringo in recognition of his long service.

Like many other settlers, Livingston worked his way up in Oregon. He worked at many different jobs through the years, but he maintained a friendship with the Ringo family and the respect of the communities in which he lived. Livingston spent some time working as a hostler in Canemah, caring for stagecoach horses at one of the relay stations where the stagecoach changed teams, and he worked at a lumber mill until he’d saved enough money to start his own business.
He married Alice Irene Cooper in 1876, and the couple had a son, Charles, the following year. When Livingston died in 1912, he owned 180 acres of land in eastern Oregon and his estate was valued at over $15,000. Hundreds of friends and family members attended his funeral.

George Washington

George Washington came west with the Cochrans, a white family that had adopted him as a child, in 1850. The family settled in Oregon City, where Washington got a job cutting timber for $90 a month plus board. However, after only three months on the job, he became seriously ill and was taken to the only hospital in the area at Fort Vancouver, the former Hudson’s Bay Company trading post.

Though it was now an Army hospital, when the doctor saw how sick he was, he let him stay. Washington spent several months in the hospital recuperating, and the Cochran family moved north, across the Columbia River, to be near him. Twice a week during his recovery, Mrs. Cochran took him a home-cooked meal.

When he was given a clean bill of health, the family moved farther north to Cowlitz Landing. The Cochrans built a cabin and began to take in boarders. George moved to the site of present-day Centralia and built his own one-room cabin. He established a pole ferry on the Skookumchuck River and often opened his home to travelers when nightfall was nearing.
Because of discriminatory laws, Washington could not claim his land and was technically a squatter. Still, he fenced off and cleared a twelve acre farm, owned two milk cows, and was respected by whites and Native Americans alike.

Washington’s livelihood was threatened when two men decided to file a claim which included his prime land. The Cochrans came to his aid: since they had not yet claimed land in their own names, they hurried down to Oregon City and claimed 640 acres along the Skookumchuck. The Cochran claim, of course, included Washington’s twelve acres.

Once the family had lived on their claim for four years, they could sell it. Washington purchased all 640 acres for $3200, and he went on to buy still more land in the area. His farm did consistently well through the years, and he traveled to Olympia twice a year to get a good price for his grain. On one of his trips there, he met Mary Jane Cooness, a widow with one son. They were married in 1869.

In 1872, the Northern Pacific Railroad chose a route passing near Washington’s land, and he decided to found a town. With the help of his wife and stepson, he platted the town of Centerville (later changed to Centralia) and filed it in 1875. Washington divided up his property into $10 lots and offered them to anyone who would live on the land. He refused to sell to speculators.

Washington was a generous and well-liked landlord, donating land for a park, church, and cemetery and helping to build many of the first structures in town. He owned some of them, naturally, and charged reasonable rents to attract tenants. He did not permit saloons or other disreputable businesses to become established on his property. During hard times, he forgave overdue rents and sometimes even fed and cared for sick tenants. He helped many people in Centralia buy land or start businesses by loaning them money.

George’s first wife, Mary Jane, died in 1889, and he remarried the following year. In 1891, at the age of 73, he had a son. Washington later separated from his second wife but kept custody of his son. He died following a buggy accident in 1905 at the age of 87. 000 0000

Benjamin Bonneville Route

Benjamin Bonneville Route

compiled by Karen Bassett, Jim Renner, and Joyce White copyright 1998 ~ all rights reserved Oregon Trails Coordinating Council Significance Bonneville, on an authorized leave of absence from service in the US Army, traversed the western states of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming with a