Clackamas County, 1800 to 1843


Between the War of Revolution and the War of 1812, the American frontier had barely begun its advance toward the (Old) Northwest and the Mississippi Valley. The Pacific Northwest was a remote mystery, a destination at the end of a year's voyage. An unmapped route over an unknown distance lay between the new United States and the Oregon country.

American Captain Robert Gray and British Captain George Vancouver sighted the mouth of the Columbia River while on exploring voyages a few years before 1800 and both could claim "discovery." Their ships were just two of some 28 vessels on the Alaskan-Californian coast that year, 1792. By the 1780's, a thriving trade in furs centered at Nootka Sound (on modern day Vancouver Island). Ships in Pacific Northwest waters included Boston traders, some French expeditions, British, Russian, and Spanish explorers and merchantmen, New England whalers, and even a few Japanese junks.

The American/European fur trade--an enterprise that linked London, New England, China, Russian Alaska, and Spanish California--penetrated little beyond the Pacific Coast in 1800. The newcomers were at the fringe of a vast  Native American trading network.  Plateau Indians traded and hunted east of the Bitterroot Mountains while CLACKAMAS COUNTY's Molallas maintained strong ties to the Klamath people of the south. At sites such as Celilo Falls on the Columbia River, coastal Indians met inlanders for a regular, yearly trade fair, or rendezvous. In CLACKAMAS COUNTY, the Willamette Falls and the Clackamas River Rapids on the Willamette River served as similar traditional sites for trade.

In the first half of the 19th century, Americans focused on a rivalry with the British for possession of the Pacific Northwest just as earlier the British had competed with the Spanish and Russians. The bigger story of conquest in the Northwest, however, was the near destruction of  entire cultures and the death or dispossession of hundreds of thousands of people. While European and American diplomats (and sometimes soldiers) struggled over possession of the land, disease decimated the land's first people.

Before Americans and Europeans even landed, Indian trade routes became a conduit for small pox into lands where no white men had been seen. The very first fur trading vessels brought other diseases previously unheard of in the Northwest--malaria, measles, whooping cough, flu--and a second wave of small pox. From the 1780's onward epidemics swept inland eastward from the coast and westward along the fur trade trails. Within a single generation in CLACKAMAS COUNTY, between 1820 and 1850, the Native American presence shrank to a sprinkling of individuals and half-white children among the white settlements.

The inland fur trade in the Pacific Northwest would grow rather slowly and, for a time, seem to fit in smoothly with the regular Native American trade network. A decade passed before Americans of the Astor's Pacific Fur Company arrived by ship (1811) while other Astorians trekked overland from Missouri for the Northwest. At the same time, the Canadian Northwest Fur Company (followed by the Hudson's Bay Company) came overland from central Canada to the Columbia River to establish trade. Over the next 20 to 30 years, only a few emigrants from Canada and the United States made a permanent home in the Northwest: French Canadians and their half-Indian families, a handful of American mountain men also with Indian wives, about a dozen Protestant missionary families, assorted adventurers, and a few Catholic priests.

Just two years separate the opening of the Oregon Trail in 1841 and the inauguration of civil, democratic government in Oregon. Most of the early emigrants to Oregon were drawn by the frontier itself--the fur trade, a calling to make Christian converts, trail and border trade, or simply adventure. The Oregon Trail brought a new type of emigrant to the Oregon country, frontier families in search of their own land. In July 1843, old hands and newcomers joined to create the independent Oregon Provisional Government.


In fall of this year, 1800, a party of Kutenai (Canadian Indians from west of the Rockies) visited traders of the Canadian Northwest Company at Rocky Mountain House (on the upper Saskatchewan River). French Canadians, one with his Indian wife, returned to the Northwest with the Kutenais.

With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson extended United States territory westward from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains. In this same year, the Russians sent an expedition to California from their Pacific Coast establishment at Sitka Sound and Britain was trading as far west as Alberta Canada. Meanwhile, traders from New Orleans trekked to New Mexico and another expedition went north up the Mississippi toward the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers.

In 1804, Jefferson dispatched Meriwether Lewis and William Clark with a large party to find their way across the new Louisiana Purchase territory over the Rockies and all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The Lewis and Clark Expedition wintered near the mouth of the Columbia River at their wilderness camp, Ft. Clatsop (now in Oregon) and returned to the States in 1806. Lewis and Clark's notes taken along their lengthy journey described "new" lands full of space, abundance, and variety as well as the route from the Mississippi to the Pacific.


The Lewis and Clark Expedition trekked eastward along south shore of the Columbia River on their way back to the United States from winter camp on the coast of Oregon. In passing, they noticed "Image Canoe Island" (Sauvies Island) in the fog but did not realize the island sat in the mouth of a great river (the Willamette). Forty miles beyond this point, Indians told them they had missed the "Multnomah," an enormous river that ran from south to north and emptied into the Columbia. Several Expedition members back-tracked to investigate. Although the Expedition voyaged no further up the river than the site of present-day Linnton (just north of Portland), they received a report about a numerous and powerful people, the "Clackamus, one of the best known Upper Chinookean tribes."

Indians referred to the lower River as the Multnomah and the upper River--above Willamette Falls--as something like the Wil-lamt. Both terms were also the names of tribes. In time, the whole length of the River was called the Willamette River. With the exception of the region around Lake Oswego and West Linn cities, the Willamette forms the western border of CLACKAMAS COUNTY.


American entrepreneur J.J. Astor organized the Pacific Fur Company and financed two trading expeditions to the Pacific Northwest this year, one to travel by ship and another to journey overland.

Kalapuyans, normally a peaceful and rather sedentary people, fought a big battle against Klamath intruders in the Willamette Valley this year.


Partners and employees of the Pacific Fur Company arrived by ship in spring 1811 and founded Ft. Astor near the mouth of the Columbia River. An expedition from the rival (British Canadian) Northwest Fur Company arrived from Canada that summer. Astor's Pacific Fur Company overland expedition from the States did not arrive until just after the New Year, 1812.

William Henry and Alfred Seton journeyed by bateau up the Columbia River from Ft. Astor and then paddled up the Willamette River as far as the Falls. They were likely the first white men seen in the region that would become CLACKAMAS COUNTY.

Henry and Seton's party ported their canoes around the Falls on the east side and then canoed the Willamette to a place where the banks flattened out on either side of the river. At this spot, later called Champoeg or French Prairie, they built a trading post. Champoeg became a nucleus of early settlement in Oregon and the portage place at the Falls became the site of Oregon City.


In late 1812 or very early 1813, William Wallace and John C. Halsey established a trading post near the future site of Salem. John Reed and Alfred Seton, fellow Astorians, spent the winter with them and returned to Ft. Astor in March 1813.


In October of 1813, in the midst of war with Britain, Astor's Pacific Fur Company sold their operations in Oregon to the (Canadian) Northwest Fur Company. Some Astorians returned to the States while others became free agent trappers or transferred their allegiance to the Nor'Westers.

Registre Bellaire, a former employee of the (Canadian) Northwest Fur Company, traveled with John Day, and Alexander Carson, both former employees of Astor's (American) Pacific Fur Company, into the Willamette Valley. The men hunted and traded for furs during the winter of 1813-14 working as free trappers along the Willamette River.


In January, Alexander Henry (cousin of William Henry), William Matthews and eight oarsmen traveled up the Willamette River to see William Henry at his Champoeg post. Below the Falls they noted a village of the Clowwewallas (a Clackamas Upper Chinook people). At first the voyagers beached on the opposite (eastern) bank but their camp was so miserable that they decided to risk a visit to the Clowwewalla village.

After a peaceful night and portage around the Falls along the west bank, Henry and his oarsmen reached Champoeg. There they found William Henry, Alfred Seton, and about 30 more employees of the fur company. Two huts housed freemen (unaffiliated white trappers) and Nepisangues who worked as hunters. Kalapuyans were also camped near the post. (The term "Nepisangues" is so far unidentified--perhaps Native American or half-Indian people from Canada)

Also in January of 1814, a delegation of Walla Wallas, Cayuse, and others came to Ft. Astor to request trade. At the same time, Nez Perce and Cayuse delegates warned the Nor'Westers to stay out of Willamette Valley hunting grounds.


Alexander Ross and party made a treaty with Indians permitting white men to enter the Willamette Valley; it is not clear which tribe or tribes made this treaty. At this time there were at least 16 tribal divisions within the area, some allied and others warring.


A party of trappers with the Northwest Fur Company killed a chieftain at the Clackamas rapids on the Willamette River when the Indians demanded tribute for safe passage. Two of the ten men in the trapper party were wounded in the battle.

Agent James Keith of the Northwest Fur Company dispatched a party of 25 to restore peace but the Indians refused to accept compensation for the death of their chief. One of the fur company party was wounded in a night attack during the voyage back to Ft. George (formerly Ft. Astor).


Alexander Ross and a force of 45 men made another attempt at peace on behalf of the Northwest Fur Company. This time the party brought a large quantity of tobacco, a precious commodity. The Indians (the Multnomahs) camped on the east bank just below the Falls of the Willamette while the whites, with their two field pieces, camped on the west bank.

After three days of peaceful approaches, Ross met with Kesno, the chief. The calumet (peace pipe) was smoked, the flag offered, tribute and restitution given, and an Indian slave was given to Ross and returned. The whites received permission to pass peacefully along the Willamette River and make portage around the Falls. They were forbidden to establish an outpost or to take salmon at the Falls.

At this time Kesno was a high chief, recognized by Indians along the Coumbia, the Multnomahs of the Portland area and the Clackamas--all people nearly identical in language and culture. Usually, Willamette Valley Indians recognized (and named) political groups no larger than their immediate band or extended family. Circumstances or a great chief could create a larger association which would last only as long as the individual. "Multnomah" may have been such a high chief in the distant past.


In the winter of 1818-19, Thomas McKay led a hunting brigade south towards the sources of the Willamette River. His mostly Iroquois (or mixed race) hunters killed 14 Indians in a battle on the Upper Umpqua River. The party retreated back to Ft.George (formerly Ft. Astor) but Louis LaBonte, Joseph Gervais, Etienne Lucier, Louis Kanota, and Louis Pichette dit DuPre stayed to hunt in the Willamette Valley throughout 1819. The five were free trappers, not bonded employees of the fur company.


The British government ordered the Northwest Fur Company to be absorbed by the Hudsons Bay Company, franchised to control all fur trade west of the Rockies and north to Russian Alaska. During the 1820's the HBC established 13 trading posts in the Northwest with headquarters at Ft. Vancouver.


John McLoughlin Biography

Dr. John McLoughlin assumed the post of chief factor for the Hudson's Bay Company at Ft. Vancouver (just across from Portland on the Columbia River in present-day Washington State). McLoughlin extended aid, loans, and trade to American missionaries and settlers as well as to the ex-employees and members of the HBC.


From this year onward, the Hudson's Bay Company operated yearly round-trip caravans from Ft. Vancouver to the Snake River country, to California, to Montreal, and to New Caledonia (Ft. Alexandra, Canada).


Dr. John McLoughlin employed Etienne Lucier and a work party to build a log store-house and three cabins at the Falls of the Willamette, the first construction at the future site of Oregon City.  Indians burned McLoughlin's cabins and the pile of logs meant for construction of a mill.

In 1829, Lucier also founded his own farm on the plains of Champoeg (later called French Prairie) in the Willamette Valley. Dr. John McLoughlin used the case of Lucier (who was a Canadian citizen but not officially assigned to the HBC), to set a new policy. Previous company rules ordered that retired employees return east to the place where they signed up for service (for terms of two to 10 years). Lucier, and other retirees who followed, wished to stay in the Willamette Valley with their half-Indian families. McLoughlin encouraged settlement, so long as it was restricted to the Valley, by providing supplies and a pair of cattle (to be returned when the settler founded his own herd).

New England Captain John Dominis sailed to Oregon on the ship Owyhee with plans to found a fishery. The brig ran aground at Deer Island in the Columbia River. Dr. McLoughlin of the Hudsons Bay Company dispatched a crew of French Canadians and Hawaiians to help. After the Owyhee was floated, it sailed up the Willamette River, the first ocean-going ship to do so, and anchored at the Clackamas Rapids.

Some accounts say that Dominis became irate during negotiations over the price of salmon and threatened the Clackamas. Other accounts say that the Clackamas people simply jealously guarded their rich fishery at the Rapids from any intruder. In any case, Clackamas swimmers cut the Owyhee's anchor rope and Dominis gave up his hopes for a fishery.

But he sailed away too late for the sake of the Clackamas people. Aboard his ship were many sick sailors, ailing from a fever (malaria) which the people of the Willamette Valley called the "cold sick." The illness had spread from the crew to the men who had helped free the ship at Deer Island and to the local Clackamas.

The Clackamas associated the beginning of the disease with a channel marker placed by an Indian employee of Dominis. The Indian quickly sickened and died and a rumor began that the infection was a deliberate attack by the American captain. Later, this story became confounded with the (true) story about Astorian Duncan McDougall who threatened to release small pox against the Indians from a small, blue vial in his pocket. Dominis, who had become angry during the negotiations with the Clackamas--and whose ship brought a deadly disease--became confused in local accounts with "Chief Small Pox" McDougall.

In this single year, 1829, nine out of ten of the Clackamas people died from the cold sick. By 1851, only 88 members of this tribe were left in Oregon. Lewis and Clark had estimated their number at 1,800 in 1805.


Beginning this year and peaking in the year 1833, epidemics decimated the tribes of the Lower Columbia River, Klamath Lakes, and the Willamette Valley. Epidemics--of measles, cold sick, the ague, malaria, and smallpox--followed both Indian and white travelers along the river trade routes.


A new type of fever, perhaps measles or flu, killed many Indians inland all the way to the Walla Walla Valley.

Mt. St. Helens (in Washington near the Columbia River) erupted this year.


Nathaniel Wyeth, a young American businessman, and a small party came to Oregon this year to scout business prospects. While Wyeth's supply ship was lost at sea and the enterprise abandoned this year, Wyeth kept his enthusiasm for the Northwest. He went back to the States but would return with a new party of recruits in 1834.

John McLoughlin of the Hudson's Bay Company sent a crew to the Willamette Falls to blast a channel for a mill-race.The crew built cabins on the east bank of the Willamette River just below the Falls and sited the mill on "Mill" (Abernethy) Island. This time local Indians allowed the buildings to remain. McLoughlin's claim was operated mainly by Kanakas (Hawaiians) who had signed on for a two-year service with the Hudson's Bay Company. Workers farmed the nearby land and the mill produced lumber (grind stones for a grist mill were added later).


News of the great number of "unsaved" Indians in the Northwest sparked missionary fervor in New England. The newly organized Methodist Episcopal Missionary Society dispatched Jason Lee, his nephew Daniel Lee, lay missionary Cyrus Shepard, and two assistants (P.L. Edwards and C.M. Walker) to Oregon to establish a mission. As planned, they traveled with Nathaniel Wyeth and his party of entrepreneurs who came to establish trade in Oregon.

The Jason Lee party founded a mission upriver from the Willamette Falls near to the claim of Joseph Gervais on French Prairie. French Canadians already settled on French Prairie helped to build the mission with supplies from both Wyeth and Dr. McLoughlin.

Meanwhile, Wyeth established trading outposts at Ft. Hall (Idaho) and, in 1835, on Wapato (later called Sauvie's) Island in Oregon.

Another American party came to Oregon. Hall J. Kelley, a long-time Oregon promoter, and Ewing Young, an experienced trader/mountain man, led approximately 16 American men from Monterey, California, into the Willamette Valley. Kelley returned to the states by ship but Ewing Young founded a homestead across the Willamette River and west of Champoeg (French Prairie).

[At this time and well into the 1850's, settlers used the term "Champoeg" to refer to the entire region now called French Prairie and centered on the city of St. Paul. The designation of Champoeg County--Marion County's original name--reflected this early practice. Today "Champoeg" survives as a name for specific places--a park, a historic district, a cemetery--in northernmost Marion County.]

While Kelley and Young were on their way north, Spanish Governor Figueroa of California had sent a message by ship to the HBC's chief factor, John McLoughlin. This message maligned the Americans as horse thieves and bandits. McLoughlin denied them his usual welcome at Ft. Vancouver and posted warnings about Young and his companions. (For humanitarian reasons--because Kelley was ill--McLoughlin did give refuge to Kelley at the fort). Many months later McLoughlin discovered the truth about the innocence of the Americans through further inquiries to California. But by this time, Young had a personal grudge against McLoughlin and the HBC and Kelley had been convinced of a British/HBC conspiracy to keep Americans out of the Northwest.

Until his death in February 1841, Young was the most prosperous homesteader in Oregon; his land claim, brickyard, and mills were near Chehalem Creek and the site of present day Newburg. Except for McLoughlin's mill at the Willamette Falls, the CLACKAMAS COUNTY area was without white settlements.


Rev. Samuel Parker toured the Columbia River, the Walla Walla Valley (Washington), and the Willamette Valley to scout a location for an American Missionary Board mission (Presbyterian/Congregationalist). Rev. Marcus Whitman, a Presbyterian minister, traveled with Parker as far as the fur trade Rendezvous at Green River (Idaho).

Eight American men, one with a family, journeyed from northern California to Oregon. Four of the travelers were killed in an attack at the Rogue River and the survivors arrived wounded and destitute.

Mt. St. Helens erupted this year.


Narcissa and Marcus Whitman, Eliza and Henry Spalding (newlywed missionaries) and missionary assistant William H. Gray came to Oregon to begin service for the American Board of Missions. The Whitmans operated Waiilatpu Mission in the Walla Walla Valley (later Washington State) and the Spaldings served at Lapwai Mission on the Clearwater River (later in Idaho).

Settlers built the first Catholic Church in Oregon at St. Paul (on French Prairie). Without a priest, the church was not blessed and dedicated until 1839.


Two ships brought missionary reinforcements (three families and six unmarried adults) to help at the Methodist Episcopal Missions under Jason Lee.

Missionary Jason Lee, ex-trailblazer Ewing Young and several settlers formed the Willamette Cattle Company to bring a herd from California. Until this time, the only source of livestock was that supplied by McLoughlin from Ft. Vancouver--a situation that particularly galled Ewing Young.

U.S. Navy Lt. Slacum--in Oregon on a brief tour of investigation (ordered by President Andrew Jackson to counter British activity)--offered free transport on his ship to San Francisco for the Company's agents.

A frequently fatal fever swept through the Cayuse villages near Waiilatpu Mission in the Walla Walla Valley.


A missionary party traveled with the fur caravan from St. Louis to make their way to Oregon and reinforce the Presbyterian (American Board) missions. The party included bachelor Cornelius Rogers and four newlywed couples: the W.H. Grays (Gray was returning to Oregon with his bride), the Cushing Eells, the Asa .B. Smiths, and the Elkanah Walkers.

They assisted at Lapwai and Waiilatpu missions, founded a new mission among the Spokane Indians at Tshimiahkan (a place north of the Spokane River between the HBC's Spokane House and Ft. Colville). The next year (1839) they established a fourth mission, Kamiah, among the Nez Perces (on the Clearwater River).

Missionaries Daniel Lee and HKW Perkins built a new Methodist mission, Wascopam, at the Dalles (on the Columbia River, Oregon).


The Hudsons Bay Company's second in command at Ft. Vancouver, James Douglas, took a census of the Willamette Valley and counted a total of 51 non-native males. American settlers numbered 18 and Canadians 23 (the other ten were presumably missionaries)

After this census, the Oregon Trail (not designated as such until the first organized settlers traveled it in 1841) brought a number of new arrivals. Two missionary couples and a bachelor missionary (the Mungers, the Griffens, and assistant W. Geiger) came to aid the American Board Missions (Waiilatpu and Lapwai). Two parties of young men--one of them called the Peoria Party (led by T.J. Farnham)--set out from Illinois. Another small group of travelers, intent on going to California, instead came to Oregon because they found no guides at the Ft. Hall (Idaho) turn-off. In this year, and increasing in later years, veteran fur trappers left the mountains to settle in the Willamette Valley.


The ship Lausanne arrived with the Great Reinforcement for the Methodist Missions. The contingent included several families and a number of single missionaries. During the next three years they would found (short-lived) missions at Nisqually, Clatsop, and Oregon City as well as building a new mission (called Chemeketa, later Salem) to replace the old one on French Prairie.

The Oregon Trail also brought a number of newcomers to the Willamette Valley. Three Protestant missionary couples (the Harvey Clarks, the Alvin T. Smiths, and the Philo Littlejohns)--none of them financed by any established Northwest mission--traveled west with the American fur company brigade. Three American Catholic priests--Fathers DeSmet, Mengarini, and Point--also came to establish missions in the Northwest. Most of the Peoria Party (who stayed to trap furs in the mountains after the journey west in 1839) decided to relocate to the Valley in 1840. Many veteran fur traders--such as Robert Newell and Joe Meek --also abandoned the mountains to settle their families on Valley homesteads.

By the end of the year, several of the former American mountain men and their families had reached the Willamette Valley. A small temporary camp west of the Willamette Falls housed Joe Meek, Robert Newell, Caleb Wilkins, George Ebbert, and William Doughty. The men and their families eked out a meager living through the winter and, in the spring, established farms in Tuality (Hillsboro) or Champoeg (later called French Prairie) with supplies from the Hudson's Bay trading post on Sauvie's Island.

Robert Moore, another newcomer from Illinois traveled from Bent's Fort, Colorado to Oregon in 1840. Moore homesteaded land on the west bank of the Willamette Falls. Unlike many, Moore purchased his land from the local inhabitants. His place, named "Robins Nest" was the foundation of West Linn. The local Kalapuyan people, led by Wanaxa, retained their homes and fishing rights on Moore's 1000-acre property, which stretched from one-half mile below the Falls to two miles upriver and inland for one-fourth mile.

By this time, Kalapuyans had replaced the Clowwewallas (Upper Chinook/Clackamas people) in the region below the Willamette Falls. The east bank above the Falls, once the site of a Clackamas outpost, was nearly depopulated. Meanwhile, as Kalapuyan population dwindled, Molallas moved into their territory from the east (along the Molalla River all the way to the Willamette) and Washington Klikitats moved into former Kalapuyan territory on the Tualatin Plains.

Missionary Alvan F. Waller and his wife, Elpha, were assigned by Jason Lee to establish a new Methodist Mission at the Willamette Falls. HBC chief factor, Dr. John McLoughlin, supplied the lumber and milling for the new mission from his claim at Oregon City.

Dr. Ira L. Babcock--an arrival on the Lausanne who replaced Dr. Elijah White at the Methodist Mission-- estimated that 500 Native Americans in the Willamette Valley died of fever in the year 1840 alone.

The Hudsons Bay Company's Dr. William Tolmie and a crew of Klikitats (Washington Indians) and Iroquois (eastern Canadian mixed-bloods) cut a cart road around Willamette Falls on the east bank.

For this year, missionary W.H. Gray (an assistant to Whitman and Spalding) described the population of the Willamette Valley as: "American settlers, twenty-five of them with Indian wives, 36; American women, 33; children, 32; lay members Protestant Missions, 13; Methodist Ministers, 13; Congregational, 6; American Physicians, 3; English Physicians, 1; Jesuit Priests, including DeSmet, 3; Canadian French, 60. Total Americans 137; total Canadians, including Priests, 63. Total population, not including Hudson's Bay Company operatives within [what is now a portion of Montana, and all of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon] 200." 


The Bidwell/Bartleson party--a group of about a hundred people in 36 parties of single men and families-- traveled the Oregon Trail. A number of the settlers turned off for California but at least 24 people passed through Waiilatpu Mission on their way to make homes in the Willamette Valley. Several former fur trappers also took up farms in Oregon in 1841--by this year the American fur trade had ended and future Trail travelers would come in search of land, not pelts.

This year-- 1841--is designated the opening of the Oregon Trail as an emigrant road.

Another overland party, this one from the Red River (Manitoba) region of Canada made way to the Nisqually area of (future) Washington State. The party, organized by investors in Britain and Canada, was called the Puget Sound Agricultural Company and represented an attempt to begin a British colony in the Northwest. Crops raised by the settlers were to be used partially for company profit and partially to repay grubstake loans; eventually the settlers would earn ownership of the land they farmed. Instead, most of the settlers brought west by the Puget Sound Company simply moved south to Oregon for free land.

The US Exploring Expedition under Lt. Charles Wilkes arrived by ship in Oregon to make reports on HBC activities and American prospects in the Pacific Northwest. During the summer, parties of the Expedition received a friendly welcome from the HBC's John McLoughlin at Ft. Vancouver, visited missions at Lapwai, Waiilatpu, and Salem as well as a number of settlements and farms in the Willamette Valley. At the end of summer, Lt. George Emmons led a party from the Expedition overland to the south and escorted a number of Oregonians who wished to relocate to California.

When Felix Hathaway was assigned by the Methodist Mission to construct a sawmill on an island near Willamette Falls, John McLoughlin claimed the island as part of his Oregon City claim. The next year, Steven Meek, a newly arrived settler, was ordered off this same island by the Methodist Mission which, in 1842, claimed that they owned the land (later called Abernethy Island). McLoughlin became embroiled in a long and acrimonious land dispute, first with the Methodist Mission and then with those who bought mission property or otherwise claimed land in the Oregon City area. (The missions dissolved in 1844). Ownership was not settled until long after Oregon became a state.

After the death of Ewing Young, a wealthy settler who left no will or apparent heirs, settlers met to discuss forming a government for the Willamette Valley. In February, Oregonians met at the Old Methodist Mission, elected officers and a constitutional committee, and met again in June at the new Chemeketa Methodist Mission (Salem). Participants included ex-Hudsons Bay Company employees, Methodist missionaries, a Catholic priest, and former American fur trappers--a cross-section of the inhabitants of French Prairie. The committee was instructed to confer with Lt. Wilkes of the US Exploring Expedition about the formation of an Oregon government. There is no record of later meetings and this effort apparently produced no lasting organization.

George Abernethy, a missionary steward in charge of Methodist finances, suggested that a missionary store be kept at Oregon City to help with the distribution of donated missionary supplies shipped in on the Lausanne (in 1840). From an establishment near the new Methodist Mission, Abernethy distributed goods among the Methodist missionaries and other settlers by  extending credit or bartering exchanges.

Julia Waller--the first white child born in Oregon City--arrived in May 1841, the daughter of Methodist missionaries Alvan and Elpha Waller.


By autumn, the Oregon Trail had brought an estimated 140 newcomers to the Willamette Valley led by Eljah White and guided by Lansford W. Hastings. Many of these would relocate to California in 1843. Dr. Elijah White had been newly appointed as US Indian sub-agent and was making a return trip to Oregon in 1842. The former Methodist missionary was, in 1842, the only US official in the Northwest.

The area previously known as Willamette Falls (or Hyas Tyee Tumchuck) was renamed Oregon City by Dr. McLoughlin. Expecting an influx of American settlers--and already contending with the mission over the island millsite--McLoughlin decided to formally regularize his land claim at the Falls. The town "Oregon City" would continue to be called "Willamette Falls" for many years.

John McLoughlin platted his land claim and hired Sidney W. Moss with J.M. Hudspeth to survey Oregon City. They used a pocket compass and a rope (such methods were used until the first US survey in 1851). This claim would later be controversial as the Methodist Mission dissolved and new settlers arrived who refused to recognize the land claims of non-American citizens.

In October 1842, the Methodist Mission formed the Island Milling Society and began operations on an island near the Willamette Falls that was claimed by Dr. John McLoughlin. The mission also claimed a section of land in the Oregon City area that overlapped McLoughlin's.

That same month, October 1842, the Oregon Institute opened in Salem. The college, later called Willamette University, was organized by the Methodist Mission, which selected its original board of trustees in January 1842.

Hugh Burns, a new arrival who had been blacksmith for the Elijah White/H.W. Hastings wagon train on the Oregon Trail in 1842, staked a claim adjacent to Robert Moore's. In October, Burns platted a town, to be called Multnomah City, on his 640-acre claim.  Burn's settlement eventually included a tannery and a hotel (the Price Hotel). Multnomah City (now the site of West Linn's Bolton neighborhood) was less successful than Moore's establishment (Robin's Nest/Linn City). Multnomah's lower river landings were obliterated by flood in 1853 and the site abandoned. (Burns later settled in Washington County, Oregon).

For $285,   Sidney Moss bought a lot at the corner of Third and Main Streets from Dr. McLoughlin and built a house. Moss opened his Oregon City home for the first meeting of the Willamette Falls Lyceum and Debating Society.

In the fall and winter of 1842, the Lyceum in Oregon City held debates on the advisability of forming a Provincial Government. Those who wished to wait for US jurisdiction, if within four years, won one of the debates.

Oregon City had a population of 137. Full-size Oregon City Map, 1846

Mt. St. Helens (a volcano in Washington just across the Columbia River but visible in the Willamette Valley) erupted on Nov. 22, 1842 spewing a large amount of ash. Intermittent, small eruptions continued through 1857.


In Missouri, 700-900 people and about 120 wagons set out on the Oregon Trail briefly led by Peter H. Burnett, then by William Martin (until the California cut-off). The train was so huge that it split into a fast moving group and a slower moving "Cow Column" (led by Jesse Applegate). The emigrants trickled into the Willamette Valley over a period of weeks and a variety of routes with most reaching their goal by the end of November. Trail journal of 1843: "An Immigrant of '43"

Fathers Peter Devos and Adrian Hoeken plus several lay brothers arrived with the overlanders. During this year, Father Bolduc, who had come from Canada by ship, opened the St. Joseph School for boys on French Prairie.

John C. Fremont's official US exploring expedition followed in the wake of the overlanders, took a side trip to the Great Salt Lake, and arrived at the Dalles November 4. They crossed the summit of the Sierra Nevadas in January 1844 and traveled into California.

Robert Moore surveyed his land to plat a town for his claim at Robin's Nest (later Linn City). Moore's land covered 1000 acres (eventually the standard claim was set at the more traditional 640 acres per man and wife). Moore planned 25 blocks, each 320-by-220 feet, and 60-foot wide streets, each named after a US President. Moore planned to retain two entire blocks, one of them riverfront, as his personal holding. Two years earlier he had told Lt. Wilkes of the US Exploring Expedition that he also had plans for an iron smelter, ferry, and dock.

Hiram Straight claimed 600 acres near the mouth of Abernethy Creek and the Clackamas River. George Abernethy retained the adjacent narrow stip of land to the south (Green Point) next to McLoughlin's claim.

In February 1843, a small group met at the Methodist Mission (Chemeketa; Salem) to discuss protecting herds of cattle and horses from predators. This group, nick-named the Wolf Organization, became the nucleus of government in Oregon. They met again on March 6, at Joseph Gervais's Champoeg home. Meetings during the succeeding months (at the Methodist church/school/granary in Oregon City) culminated in a vote, taken July 5, 1843 at Champoeg, which formed the government by referendum and elected officers.

On March 25, 1843 in Oregon City, Robert Shortess and A.E. Wilson devised a strongly worded petition against the Hudsons Bay Company and the British to be presented to the US Congress. This petition was signed by 65 settlers and dispatched overland to the east. Although published in the Congressional Record, it led to no official US action.

This year marked the creation of CLACKAMAS COUNTY: as specified by the Provisional Government of Oregon, "District Number 3, to be called the Clackamas District comprehending all the territory not included in the other three districts." The territory covered by Clackamas was as vast as the imaginations and ambitions of the early settlers. Bounded by Champoeg District on the south and by the Willamette River on the west, Clackamas stretched eastward to the crest of the Rocky Mountains and northward to the international border at 54o 40' with Russian Alaska. (The northern border between British Canada and the United States had not yet been negotiated and Oregon's Provisional Government claimed all of the Pacific Northwest).

Map of Clackamas County in 1843

The Philip Foster and Francis Pettygrove families arrived in Oregon City. The year before, Pettygrove and his junior partner (son-in-law) Foster had sold out their lumber business and stores in Maine and sailed as far as Hawaii. They got to Oregon City in April, paid a token fee for one of McLoughlin's new town lots, and were ready for business by late May 1843. They built a 2-storey building which housed the families upstairs with a store on the bottom floor.

The Oregon Trail brought a booming business to the Pettygrove emporium at the foot of 3rd Street opposite the ferry. The store had arranged for an inventory to be sent from Hawaii; by December, the store doubled this order and added $4000 worth of additional goods.

With other newcomer businessmen, missionaries, and Dr. McLoughlin, Pettygrove organized a new Willamette Cattle Company which imported 550 head of cattle, 535 sheep, and 20 horses from California to be kept at a farm in Yamhill, Oregon. Others in this business included Ira Babcock, Bishop Blanchet, Philip Foster, John Koman, and Jacob Liese.

Captain John Couch, an associate of the Cushing merchant and shipping family of Massachusetts, settled in Portland this year but opened a general store in Oregon City which was managed by George LeBreton. Couch had been trading ship captain on New England-Hawaii-Oregon circuit. His attempt to found a fishery  in Oregon (1840) had failed but the store would prove successful. He financed his new store with proceeds from the sale of the ship Maryland in Hawaii.

October 1843, Capt. Sylvester's ship Pallas sailed with a load of Pettygrove's products from Oregon City to Hawaii. By October 1843, the Pettygrove's enterprise produced salted salmon and barreled peas grown in the Willamette Valley for shipment to the store's supplier in Hawaii.

Walter Pomeroy (who had purchased a town lot from McLoughlin) and Philip Foster contracted with Dr. John McLoughlin to build a flour mill on Abernethy Island at the Willamette Falls. Around this time McLoughlin and Robert Moore began to operate a regular ferry between a landing at 3rd street in Oregon City and Moore's settlement at Robin's Nest (later called Linn City). From this village, an Indian trail (later Rosemont Road) ran uphill and then down into the Tualatin Valley.

At the corner of 3rd and Main in Oregon City, Sidney Moss opened the first "hotel" west of the Rockies to accommodate Oregon Trail newcomers. The Main Street Hotel's amenities were limited to a space on the floor during this first year, but at least it was out of the rain. After Moss married a widow, the establishment (at that time a full-scale hotel, linens and all) added a livery stable and dining hall.

The First Congregational Church organized in Oregon City, the first Protestant church (rather than mission) west of the Rocky Mountains. It did not have its own building so the Methodists (1844) also could claim this "first".

In the fall of 1843, Catholic missionary priest Father Demers moved from St. Paul (French Prairie) to Oregon City. Demers rented a residence/chapel from Walter Pomeroy. With lumber and donations from Dr. John McLoughlin, Demers built a church for Oregon City worshipers. St. John the Apostle was completed in 1845 and was blessed in 1846. Between 1843 and the end of the century, it was the site of 285 marriages and 1,100 baptisms.

Newcomer M.M. McCarver discovered a rich load of iron  near the later site of Oswego (across the Willamette River from Oregon City and north of Linn). The next year, B.C. Kindred would also note the iron ore near Sucker Creek and Lake.

Go to Next Timeline, 1844-1848

Go to Clackamas History Introduction (a quick overview)

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Patricia Kohnen