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Two Years in Oregon By Wallis Nash Characters: 27433

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


History of Oregon-?First discoverers-?Changes of government-?Recognition as a Territory-?Entrance as a State-?Individual histories-?"Jottings"-? "Sitting around"-?A pioneer in Benton County-?How to serve Indian thieves -?The white squaw and the chief-?Immigration in company-?Rafting on the Columbia-?The first winter-?Early settlement-?Indian friends-?Indian houses and customs-?The Presbyterian colony-?The start-?Across the plains-?Arrival in Oregon-?The "whaler" settler-?A rough journey-?"Ho for the Umpqua!"-?A backwoodsman-?Compliments-?School-teacher provided for-?Uncle Lazarus-?Rogue River Ca?on-?Valley of Death-?Pleasant homes -?Changed circumstances.

Taking note of the civilized and settled condition of so large a part of this State, it is hard to credit that it was only in 1831 that the first attempts at farming in Oregon were made by some of the men in the Hudson Bay Company's service, and that in 1838 the first printing-press arrived. This valued relic is now preserved in a place of honor in the State Capitol building at Salem-more accordant with the spirit of the times than rusty armor or moth-eaten banners.

The early history is somewhat misty, but the following slight sketch is, I believe, accurate:

The coast of Oregon was visited both by British and Spanish navigators in the sixteenth century. In 1778 Captain Cook sailed along the coast. In 1775 Heceta, and in 1792 Vancouver, both suspected the existence of the Columbia River from the appearance of its estuary. But in 1792 Captain Gray, of Boston, and afterward, in the same year, Captain Baker, an Englishman, entered the estuary itself. It was on Captain Gray's discovery that the United States Government afterward rested its claim to the whole country watered by the great river, the mouth of which he had discovered. But Lieutenant Broughton, of the British Navy, in 1792 or 1793, a very few months after Captain Gray's visit, actually ascended the Columbia for one hundred miles, and laid claim to the country in the name of King George III. In 1804 the American Government expedition of Lewis and Clark crossed the Rocky Mountains, descended the Columbia, and passed the winter of 1805-'6 at its mouth; and the records of their discoveries first drew public attention to the country. In 1810 Captain Winship, also from New England, built the first house in Oregon. Astoria was founded in 1811 by John Jacob Astor, of New York, as a trading-port. The British, while the war was raging in 1813, took possession of the post and named it Fort George. Then followed the Hudson Bay Company, who claimed the sovereignty of the country under the terms of their wide charter. They established their headquarters for the North Pacific coast at Vancouver, on the north bank of the Columbia, about one hundred miles from its mouth. There the fort was built, the settlement formed, farming began, and the Governor of the Hudson Bay Territory had his Western home.

In 1832 the first school was opened. Between 1834 and 1837 missionaries of various denominations arrived, bringing cattle with them; and in 1841 Commodore Wilkes visited Oregon on an exploring expedition by order of the United States Government. From 1816 to 1846 the "joint occupancy" of Oregon by the American and British Governments lasted under treaty.

In 1843 the people were for the first time recognized, and united in forming a provisional government, formally accepted at a general election in 1845. By the year 1846 the white population numbered about ten thousand souls, and in that year the Oregon Territory, including both the present State of Oregon and also Washington Territory, was ceded, under the Ashburton Treaty, by the British Government to the United States.

Congress formally recognized the Territory of Oregon in 1848, and in 1849 General Joe Lane entered office as the first Territorial Governor. His portrait now adorns the Capitol building. And the old general, still erect and in full preservation, in spite of his years and services, has been until this spring of 1881 yet seen and respectfully greeted at many a public gathering.

ENTRANCE AS A STATE.In 1859 Oregon was admitted into the Union as a sovereign State; the population was 52,465. In 1880 the census gave a total of 174,767 souls, showing an increase of 122,302 in twenty-one years, and an increase of 74,767 over the State census in 1875. But, after all, the history of a State is the history of its people.

Nowadays we enter Oregon within twenty days from Liverpool, having been speeded on our journey by steamships and railroads in continuous connections. Within two years the State expects to have two direct lines of Eastern communication-one by the Northern Pacific, the other by a line through the southeastern corner of the State to Reno, on the Central Pacific-shortening the twenty to sixteen days. Within two years more it is hoped that the Oregon Pacific will make communication at Boisé City, Idaho, with independent Eastern lines, and open a still more direct course out to the centers of population and enterprise. But in the early days, from 1846 to 1851, when the tide of settlement ran first this way, their experiences were widely different.

Listen to the tales some of these men tell-not old men yet by any means; the vigor and power of life still burn in most of them, for the dates are but thirty years back. But what a different life these pioneers led then!

Let me sketch the scene and its surroundings where these "jottings round the stove" are made. It is rather a dusty old room, and a rusty old stove in the middle, and rather a dusty and rusty company are gathered round it. Winter-time is upon us; the rain falls in a ceaseless drizzle, and the drops from the eaves patter on the fallen leaves of the plane-trees round the house. The time is after the noon dinner-hour; no work presses, for the fall wheat is all in, and there is a sense of warmth and comfort within, which contrasts with the dim scene without, where the rain-mists obscure the hills and fill the valley with their slowly driving masses.

Five or six of us "sit around"-mostly on two legs of the chairs, and our boots are propped up on the ridge round the stove. We don't go much on broadcloth and "biled" shirts, but we prefer stout flannel shirts and brown overalls, with our trousers tucked inside our knee-high boots. Tobacco in one form or the other occupies each one. Carpets we have no use for, and it is good that the arm-chairs are of fir, as the arms are so handy for whittling, there being no loose pieces of soft wood by. But we are all good friends, and I, for one, do not wish for better company for an hour or two "around the stove."

A PIONEER IN BENTON COUNTY."So the old man came into Benton County in 1845, did he?"

"Yes, he and his wife and two young children, and took up a claim there three or four miles from town."

"Was there a town then?"

"Not much-just three log-cabins and a hut or so; they called it Marysville; it did not get the name of Corvallis till years after."

"How about the Indians?"

"Well, there were plenty in the valley, Klick-i-tats and Calapooyas-these last were a mean set at that. The valley was all over bunch-grass waist-high, and the hills were full of elk and deer."

"Had the old man any stock?"

"He had just brought a few with him from Missouri over the Plains, and fine store he set by them. You see the Indians used to come and beg for flour and sugar, and a beef now and then. Some of the neighbors would give them a beef at times, but the old man used to say he hadn't brought no cattle to give to them varmints."

"How did they manage to live at first?"

"Well, the old man used to go off for a week at a time to Oregon City to work on the boats there at his trade of a ship-carpenter. He had to foot it there and back, and pack flour and bacon on his back for his folks, and a tramp of sixty miles at that."

"Did the Indians bother any while he was gone?"

"One time a pack of them came round the cabin and got saucy, finding only the old lady at home. They crowded into the house and began to help themselves, but the old lady she took the axe and soon made them clear out. When the old man came back she told him about it. 'Well,' says he, 'I reckon I shall have to stop at home a day or two and fix these varmints.' So three or four days afterward back they came.

"The old man he kept out of sight, and the buck they called the chief came in and began to lay hold of anything he fancied.

"Then the old man showed himself in the doorway with his old rifle on his arm. He looked the chief up and down, and then he says to his wife: 'Do you see that bunch of twigs over the fireplace? You take them down, and go through that fellow while the twigs hold together!' And he says to the Indian, 'You raise a finger against that woman, and I'll blow the top of your head off!' So the old lady takes down the willow-twigs, and goes for the Indian for all there was in it, and beats him round and round the house till there wasn't a whole twig in the bunch. Lord! You should have seen the whole crowd of twenty or thirty Indians splitting with laughter to see the white squaw go for the chief. I tell you, sir, that Indian made the quickest time on record back to the camp as soon as she let him go, and that crowd never bothered that cabin any more. Now, wasn't that much better than shooting and fighting, and kicking up the worst kind of a muss?"

"Well, I guess so. Did he have any more bother with the Indians?"

"Not a great deal. You see they were a mean lot, and would lay hands on anything they could steal; but there wasn't a great deal of fight in them. One time they had been robbing one of the neighbors of some cattle, and they went and told the old man. He went up all alone to the Indian camp with his rifle, and picked out the man he wanted out of a crowd of fifty of them; and he took him and tied him to a white-oak tree, and laid on to him with a sapling till he thought he'd had enough, and not one of the whole crowd dared raise a hand against him. Now the old gentleman's got three thousand acres of land and all he wants. How's that for an early settler?"

"Why, pretty good. But you came over the Plains yourself, didn't you?"

"Yes; I was but a little shaver then, in 1845. We came by way of the Dalles."

"What sort of a crowd had you?"

RAFTING ON THE COLUMBIA."Well, there was my father, Nahum his name was, and my four brothers, all older than I was, and there was the Watsons and the Chambers and their families in the company. We crossed the Plains all right and got to the Dalles. There were thirteen wagons in the party, and we rafted them and the cattle and all the rest of it down the Columbia."

"How on earth did you make a raft big enough?"

"Well, we just cut the logs in the woods on the edge of the river, and rolled them in and pegged them together with lighter trees laid across. It took us about all the morning to get out into the current, and all the afternoon to get back again. But, after all, we got to the Cascades."

"How did you get past them?"

"We had to just put the wagons together, and cut a road for ourselves, six miles round the portage, till we could take to the river again. Then we got boats and came all right down the Columbia and up the Willamette past where Portland now stands."

"Where was Portland then?"

"There was no Portland, I tell you-just a few houses and cabins. I forget what they called the place. Anyhow, we got pretty soon to the Tualitin Plains, where Forest-grove Station is now, and there we passed that first winter in Oregon."

"Was it rough on you?"

"Well, no-not particularly. All the lot of us crowded into one little cabin; but we lived pretty well."

"What did you live on?"

"Well, there was a little grist-mill near by, and the folks had raised a little wheat and some potatoes and peas. We got no meat at all that winter. The next spring we came on into King's Valley and took up the old place-you know where I showed it you-under the hill."

"Weren't there plenty of Indians there?"

"Indians! I should think so; about two or three hundred Klick-i-tats were camped in that valley then. Good Indians they were, tall, and straight as a dart."

"Who was the chief?"

"A man they called Quarterly. When we came in and camped, that Indian came up to my father and said, 'What do you want here?' My father said, 'We have come here to settle down and farm and make homes for ourselves.' 'Well,' says the Indian, 'you can; if you don't meddle with us, we won't hurt you.' No more they did; we never had a cross word from them."

"Was the country theirs?"

"Well, no; it belonged properly to the Calapooyas, and these Klick-i-tats had rented it off them for some horses and cloths and things for a hunting-ground."

"Plenty of game?"

"Just lots of it; elk and deer plenty, and the bunch-grass waist-high. The Indian ponies were rolling fat; good ponies they were, too."

"What sort of houses had these Indians?"

INDIAN HOUSES AND CUSTOMS."The Klick-i-tats had regular lodges: sticks set in the ground in a circle and tied together at the top, and covered all over with the rush mats they used to make. Good workers they were, too. They and the Calapooyas fell out once. I mind very well one day the Klick-i-tats came running in to our camp to say there was ever such a lot of Calapooyas coming in to attack them. They sent off their women and children to the hills, and then drove all their horses down to our camp. Strange, wasn't it, they should think their stock safer with five or six white men? There must have been s

everal hundred of those Calapooyas."

"Did the fight come off?"

"Not that time; they made it up with some presents of horses and beads and things."

"What's become of those Klick-i-tats?"

"All that's left of them are gone to the reservation away north on the Columbia. They had their big fight with the Calapooyas down there by the Mary River bridge, out by Wrenn's school-house, just before we came into the country. The Calapooyas were too many for them, for they were, I should say, three to one. That was quite a battle, I should say.-But here comes one of the early settlers. Why don't you ask him about it?"

Just then the door had been opened, and in came a slender, gray-haired minister, with black coat and white collar and tie.

"So you were an early settler?"

"Yes, I had some experiences in early days. Did you ever hear of our Presbyterian colony?"

"I think not."

"Well, I was born and raised in Pennsylvania. I had just finished my theological course and got married. I had heard a good deal about Oregon, and took the notion of getting some Presbyterians to go out there. This was in 1851, when the law had been passed giving half a section of land to every settler, and half another section for his wife, if he had one."

"How did you set about getting Presbyterians together?"

"I just put an advertisement in the Pennsylvania papers that a Presbyterian minister intended starting for Oregon in the spring of 1852, and would be glad for any Presbyterians to join him and found a colony there."

"Did you get many answers?"

"About eighty agreed to go, but a good many weakened before the time came, and only about forty of them started; some twenty came in afterward, so that our party was sixty strong. When we left St. Joe, in Missouri, we had twenty wagons. I had a nice carriage with four mules for my wife, and a half-share in a wagon and ox-team. We left St. Joe in May, 1852, and arrived in Oregon four months and a half afterward."

"Did you travel all the time?"

"We laid over for Sundays, and I preached every Sunday on the journey but one, when we were crossing an alkali desert, and had to push on through to water."

"Were there many emigrants on the road, minister?"

"There was the heaviest emigration to Oregon that year that there has ever been. Many times I have climbed a hill just off the great emigrant trail, and counted a hundred wagons and more ahead, and more than a hundred behind us."

"Did you carry any feed for your stock?"

"Not any, and it was terribly hard on stock, as the bunch-grass on and near the trail was eaten down so close. It was harder on the oxen than on the mules. I brought all my mules safe into Oregon, but only one ox out of our team."

"How did you do when the oxen gave out?"

"Oh, a man just cut his wagon in half and hitched what oxen he had left on to the front half, and left the hinder end there in the desert."

"Did you have trouble with the Indians?"

"None at all; all quiet and peaceable. We came into Oregon by way of Boisé City, Idaho, and Umatilla and the Dalles. The last sixty miles my wife and I walked nearly all the way, for the mules gave out crossing the Cascades, and we drove them before us into this valley. The first milk and butter was at Foster's, near Oregon City; but one old lady in the crowd would not eat the butter her son had bought for her: she said it tasted too strong of silver."

THE PRESBYTERIAN COLONY."Where did you settle down?"

"About three miles from Corvallis, or Marysville, as it was called then. Just twelve houses in the place, and two of them stores."

"What did you do for a house?"

"Just set to and built one. I built it round my wife as she camped in the middle. I cut me down a big fir-tree, and split it out into boards and shingles."

"What was this valley like then?"

"All open prairie. A man could drive seventy miles without stopping-from Salem to Eugene. All this oak-brush has grown up since."

"What became of your Presbyterians?"

"Well, we organized the church the next fall, in 1853, with just seven of the sixty persons who had left the East with me the year before. So you see we have grown a good deal in these seven-and-twenty years."

Here the minister got up and left the circle. So we turned to a brown-coated, cheery fellow in the next arm-chair. "You came round the Horn, didn't you, Bush?"

But the cake of tobacco had to be got out of a deep pocket, and a pipeful slowly cut off and the fresh pipe started, before the answer came; and then a great laugh had to expend its force over the merry memories called up by the question.

"We had a pretty rough old time of it, hadn't we, boys?" and a low murmur of assent ran round, and all eyes turned, meditatively, to the stove. Presently the answer to the first question dropped casually out: "Yes, I came round the Horn. I had been whaling in the Pacific, and stopped at 'Frisco; we were all mad for the diggings. One day, as I was strolling round, I saw a great, big placard on the wall, in letters two feet long: 'Ho! for the Umpqua diggings! Lots of gold! Plenty of water! Good grub! Fine country! The well-known schooner Reindeer, Captain Bachelor, will sail for the Umpqua, October the 15th, 1850!' There were four of us in my party, all young and active then, and we made up our minds to go, and weren't long about deciding, either. We were up to roughing it, too; you see, a few years in a whaler will fit you for most anything."

"What was the voyage like?"

"Rough! There were about one hundred and thirty on board the schooner, some for the Umpqua, the rest going on to Portland. After knocking about at sea for a few days, we made the Umpqua and stood in. The old man anchored just under the north beach. As I put my hand on the cable, it was like a bar of iron, and I felt the anchor drag. I told the mate, and he went and called the captain. Up came the old man, and wouldn't believe it at first, but in another minute we should all have been in the breakers, and nothing could have saved us. Just then a little boat came past and they hollered out, 'You'll be on the beach inside of three minutes!' I tell you it was touch and go."

"How did you get off, Bush?"

THE "WHALER" SETTLER."The old man shouted to set all sail, and I ran to the helm. I could see the channel pretty well, and I just steered her by the look of the water. We just shaved a big rock by three feet or so, and ran up the river. Presently we anchored again and landed. Then we got a little Indian canoe and pulled on up the river."

"What was the country like?"

"Pretty rough."

"But the diggings, Bush?"

"Bless you, there weren't any! It was all a plant."

"Didn't you get back to the coast?"

"No, sir, we were in for it, and we calculated to see it out. The country there, in Southern Oregon, pleased us mightily, it looked so fresh and green in the valleys, but the mountains were no joke. Then we heard of this Willamette Valley, and traveled on north to find it. Two of my mates staid down there on Rogue River for the winter, but one came on north with me."

"Any adventures, Bush?"

"Not particular. I mind me, though, when we got up to where Monroe City is now, there was one log-house. Old Dr. Richardson lived there. As we came to the house he came out and stood just outside. I tell you he was a picture."

"What like, Bush?"

"Well, he was a great, big, stout fellow, about fifty, with a jolly red face. He had on a buckskin hunting-shirt with long fringes, and long buckskin leggins, and his old rifle lay ready in the hollow of his arm. When we stepped up to him, 'Well, young men, and what do you want?' says he. 'We should like to stop here and get some dinner,' says I. 'What a beautiful place you have got here, sir!' I went on, 'and, if you'll allow me to say so, I just admire you for a perfect specimen of a backwoodsman.' 'What!' says he, 'what on 'arth do you mean, you young thief of a son-of-a-gun?' says he, stepping up to me, to lay hold of me by the collar. I tell you, sir, I thought we were in for it, and he was big enough to whip the two of us. As good luck would have it, the door opened just then, and the old lady stepped out. She just looked and then she spoke up. 'Old man,' says she, 'just let me speak to these young men.' So, she came and asked us our names and where we came from, and I explained to her that I had no notion of insulting the old gentleman. 'Oh, well,' says she, 'don't mind him; and now what can I do for you? You seem nice, quiet young men.' So she gave us some bread and milk, and the end of it all was, they wanted us to stay all winter with them."

"So the lady helped you out, as usual, Bush?"

UNCLE LAZARUS."They didn't help me always. For the next place we came to was Starr's settlement. There were a lot of ladies, quilting. We went into the house to ask if there were any claims to be had. 'Are you married?' says one of the ladies. 'No, ma'am,' says I. 'Oh, well, then, you can just get on; we have got plenty of bachelors already. Say, are you a school-teacher?' says she. I thought for a moment if an old whaleman dared venture on school-teaching, but I thought, maybe, that was a leetle too strong. 'No, ma'am,' says I, at last, 'I am not, but my friend here is well qualified.' 'Oh, well,' says she, 'he can stay and take up a claim; we have got one here of three hundred and twenty acres, we have been saving up for the school-teacher; but as for you, young man, you can jest go on right up the valley.' So I had to go on to where Corvallis now stands. There were just four or five log-cabins, and a little stock. I took up a claim and built me a house, and as I was a pretty good carpenter I got all the work I wanted.-But here comes Uncle Lazarus."

Just then the door opened, and a quaint figure entered. Let us sketch him. A broad-brimmed, low-crowned, brown beaver hat (and when we say broad-brimmed we mean it-not a trifling article of fifteen inches or so across, but a real, sensible sun-and-rain shade, two feet or thereabout from edge to edge); an old worn blue military great-coat covered him; while a mass of snow-white hair and beard framed in a ruddy face as fresh as a winter apple, and a pair of bright blue eyes twinkled keenly, but with a hidden laugh in them, from under the broad brim.

"Sit down, uncle," cried some one, and the old man came to an anchor with the rest of us round the stove.

"Talking of old times, uncle," we said. "You came in pretty early, didn't you?"

"Well, I guess it was in 1846," said he, in a plaintive, slow voice. "We came over the Plains, the old lady and I, from Illinois. We had a pretty good ox-team, and we got through safe."

"Did you have any fighting, uncle?"

"Well, no; there was too many in the company when we started, and they did get to quarreling, so I jest left them with one or two more-any day rather fight than have a fuss; so I thought we'd jest take our chance with the Injuns, though they was pretty bad then. We were nigh to six months on the road."

"Which way did you come into Oregon?"

"By Klamath Lake and Rogue River. The worst piece on the whole journey was that Rogue River ca?on; you know where that is?"

"Yes, uncle, came through it at a sharp run on the California stage a month ago."

"Well, there warn't no stage then-no, nor road either. You know it is about eight miles long, and I calc'late you might go a quarter of a mile at a time on the bodies of the horses and oxen that had died there. No man got through without leaving some of his cattle there. Tell you, sir, when you once got into the place, seemed like there was no end to it, and you jest got to face the music; for there warn't no other way."

"How did this country strike you when you got through?"

"Well, the old lady and me jest thought lots of it. We took up our claims in King's Valley-you know the place-jest the nicest kind of a place, with lots of grass and a nice river. You had all the timber you wanted on the mountains close by, and jest lots of deer and elk."

"Pretty lonely, though, wasn't it?"

"Well, it was kinder lonely, but we had lots to do, and the time passed very quick. The country settled up quick, and we had all the neighbors we wanted."

"Any trouble with Indians, uncle?"

"No; the Calapooyas would thieve a bit, but fifty of them cusses would jest scare from five or six of us settlers with our rifles. And the Klick-i-tats were good Injuns, and never troubled us any. Those were good old times, boys." And the old man rose to go, with a sigh.

CHANGED CIRCUMSTANCES.Think of the change the old gentleman has seen-for he lives there yet! Now, his white farmhouse, with good barn and out-buildings, fronts on a well-traveled road, leading past many a neighbor's house, and to the church and village. The woods on the hill-sides have disappeared, and the ruled furrows of the wheat-fields have replaced the native grass; the elk and deer which found him food as well as sport have retired shyly away into the far-off fastnesses round Mary's Peak and in the "green timber," and the fleecy flocks have usurped their place. The thievish Calapooyas and good Klick-i-tats have lost their tribal connections, and their shrunken remnants have been shifted away north to the Indian reserve. As you stand on the hill above his house, and the vision ranges over the gentle outlines of King's Valley, dotted with farms and lined with fences, it is but the noble forms of the distant mountains that could identify the scene with that which he scanned with wayworn eye as he halted his weary oxen after his six months' journey from distant Illinois.

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