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Map of Oregon
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Welcome to the History of Oregon.
Josephine County Historical Society
State of Oregon
Capital: Salem PoP: 142,914
Statehood: February 14, 1859 - 33rd state admitted
Nickname: Beaver State
Motto: Alis Volat Propiis (She Flies With Her Own Wings)
State Bird: Western Meadowlark
Flower: Oregon Grape
Tree: Douglas Fir
State Song: Oregon, My Oregon
History of Oregon
The first inhabitants of what is now the Pacific Northwest were nomadic hunter-gatherers
who lived in small bands. On the Pacific coast and the major coastal river valleys, they evolved
societies based on fishing, whaling and scavenging from the sea.
They included the Quinault, Quileute, Chinook and Tillamooks.
Summer and fall were dedicated to harvesting and storing the bounty of the sea,
but the long winter months were given over to activities other than subsistence,
enabling the Northwest Coastal Indians to reach a degree of
sophistication unmatched by most other native American cultures.
Inland, on the arid plateaus between the Cascades and the Rocky Mountains,
a culture developed based on seasonal migration between rivers
and temperate uplands. These tribes, which included the Nez Perce, Cayuse and Spokane,
shared cultural traits with both the coastal Indians
and plains Indians from east of the Rockies.
They lived by catching freshwater fish, gathering fruit and hunting deer and elk.
The Pacific Northwest was one of the last areas to be explored by Europeans.
Although the Spaniard Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed to the mouth
of Oregon's Rogue River in 1543, incisive exploration of the area didn't take
place until the 18th century. Rumours of a Northwest passage sent
England, Spain, Russia, and a fledgling United States scrambling to find it first.
Lewis and Clark travelled overland across the region during
their 1804-1806 expedition, but none of these early explorations led
directly to the establishment of a settlement.
The Northwest Passage proved elusive, but these explorers did discover
the abundance of the Northwest's fur-bearing wildlife, and the profits
to be made in the peltry trade.
The last two decades of the 18th century were a boom time for maritime merchants
whose ships entered the waters of the Northwest and traded
cloth and trinkets with natives in return for pelts of sea otters.
They then set sail for China, where the skins were traded for tea and luxury goods.
The war of 1812 with Great Britain (a sideline of the wider Napoleonic Wars in Europe)
made maritime commerce dangerous so fur trading forts
gradually spread west from the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay.By 1827, Russia and
Spain had both backed off from their claims to the region
(by now known as the Oregon Territory).
The English and Americans jointly exploited the area's resources but were forbidden
to establish an official government by a codicil to the
Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812. The de facto government was the British
Hudson Bay Company, which managed the fur trade.
A vote held in 1843 by the 700 rag-tag residents of the Oregon Territory in the Willamette Valley -
a mixture of Protestant missionaries,
retired trappers, mountain men and their native American wives - gave full administration
of the area to the United States.
By this time, the 2,000-mile-long Oregon Trail had begun to bring settlers from Independence,
Missouri to Oregon City in the Willamette Valley.
Between 1843 and 1860 the 53,000 settlers set out on the six-month journey along the
trail and by the late 1860's, much of the
Pacific Northwest was settled. Latter-day Oregonians have always made much of the assumedly
stellar qualities of these early settlers,
and it is true that the trail was an arduous undertaking. But those who chose to travel
it had to be able to afford not just a wagon or two,
but also livestock and sufficient foodstuffs for six months. In other words, the Northwest
was eventually settled, not by penniless wanderers but economically solid, enterprising people
from established backgrounds who knew a good thing when they saw one. All this speedy development
took its toll, however. The long domination of the Northwest by the fur companies decimated the region's
wildlife, especially its populations of otter and beaver. Native American cultures were corrupted by alcohol,
tribes were decimated by disease and Methodist missionaries separated Native American children from their families.
The coastal Indians were rounded up and marched or shipped to reservations in 1855,
where increased illness, starvation and dislocation led to the extinction of many tribes.
The Native Americans east of the Cascades
resisted settlers in a series of fierce battles between 1855 and 1877, but also ended up on
reservations, deracinated, alienated from their
traditional culture and dependent on government subsidies.
By 1883, the Pacific Northwest coast was connected to the eastern states by railroad.
Portland became a conduit for agricultural produce
from inland and quickly became one of the world's largest wheat-shipment ports.
The region received massive government grants for
infrastructure projects in the 20th century, including a series of dams on the Columbia River
which provided cheap electricity and
fuelled industrial growth in Puget Sound. The dams also provided vital irrigation enabling marginal
land east of the Cascades to be
planted by farmers.
The downside was the severe depletion of salmon stocks in many rivers because the hydroelectric dams
hindered the salmon's migration.
Despite growing industrialisation around the Puget Sound, most of the Pacific Northwest had a fairly
pastoral existence during the first
half of the 20th century.
Home of the USA's logging industry, the area maintained a woodsy, rugged and sleepy way of life
until the rise of the Seattle aeroplane
manufacturer Boeing. The manufacturer of the first 747s injected huge amounts of cash into the region
and was responsible for attracting
supporting industry to the area. Seattle is still very much Boeing's fiefdom, though Microsoft has
also made the city its home.
Logging is still a major industry, especially in Oregon which leads the nation in lumber production.
Burgeoning environmental concerns
have pressured federal and state governments to restrict logging on public land, crippling much of
the established forest-products
industry but protecting vast swathes of woodland.
The Pacific Northwest was Indian land before the first European explorers sailed along its coast.
Sir Francis Drake touched the
southern coast in 1579 on his search for a northern sea passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
In 1788, along with others, Robert Gray, American sea captain, entered Oregon, the first white men
known to do so.
George Vancouver came in 1792 and that same year, Robert Gray in his ship 'Columbia', discovered the
river which he named after his vessel.
Lewis and Clark led the first overland expedition to the Oregon Territory in 1805-06.
Their expedition gave the United States a strong
claim to the Oregon Country against the claims of the British. Oregon's settlement really began in 1811
with the founding of Astoria
by John Jacob Astor's fur company. Although this enterprise was short lived, the successor British firm,
the Northwest Company, and
later the Hudson's Bay Company, led by Dr. John McLoughlin, was the dominate factor in the region's economy and government.
In 1834, Methodist missionaries established the first permanent American settlement in the Willamette Valley.
Reports of the region's agricultural promise, new opportunities, and healthy climate began to attract interest.
The first important overland migration came in 1843 when about 900 pioneers made the 2000 mile, four to
six month journey along the
Oregon Trail to settle in the Willamette Valley. By 1845, as many as 3000 had traversed the Oregon Trail.
To make their living most pioneers
depended upon agriculture, and although many crops were tried, wheat was the staple.
With the discovery of gold in California in 1848,
the settlers began shipping their crops southward.
The California export trade gave rise to urban rivalries in Oregon. The United States Government created
the Oregon Territory in 1849.
In 1853, Oregon's present boundaries were set that seperated Oregon from Washington at the Columbia River.
Oregon became the nation's
33rd state on February 14, 1859.
|Statehood: 14 February, 1859|
|Area: 98,386 sq miles|
9th largest in USA|
|Population: 2006: 3,700,758|
|State Capital: Salem|
|State Nickname: Beaver State|
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