Clackamas County

1849 to 1859


Marshall Joseph Meek and the new Territory's governor, General Joseph Lane, arrived from San Francisco by ship to Oregon City on March 2, 1849. To celebrate, a barbecue and formal ball were held at the home of William and Louisa Holmes, at Rose Farm on Mt. Pleasant just above Oregon City. The first session of territorial government, July 5 through September 9, 1849, convened in the ballroom at Rose Farm.

This same year, the Holmes donated land for the area's first cemetery, Mountain View.Rose Farm, owned by Louisa and William Livingston Holmes, sat well back on the bluff above Oregon City was named for rosebushes imported from France.

The arrival of the First Mounted Rifles, U.S. troops from Ft. Leavenworth Kansas, was heralded in Oregon City by a military marching band in the summer of 1849. Some of the soldiers had suffered a miserable trip west. A small command, traveling by land around Mt. Hood on the Barlow Road (while the rest took bateaux down the Columbia River), was surprised by heavy snows. Two-thirds of their animals died and they were forced to abandon their wagons at a spot later known as Government Camp.

Dr. Forbes Barclay--a Hudson's Bay Company associate of McLoughlin--built a family home on Singer Hill and served as an Oregon City mayor, educator, and physician. (The Barclay House on Center Street has been preserved as part of Oregon City's historical district).

George Abernethy was finally, after 5 years in business, able to make an import/export arrangement for his store in Oregon City for better competition with the city's other stores.

Gabriel Walling took a claim this year with river frontage in what would later be Robinwood in the Oswego area.

Hezekiah Johnson opened a school in the Oregon City Baptist Church. By the early 1850's, private schools opened at Rose Farm (William Holmes) and Canemah (Charles Young Draper). The Baptist school, co-founded by Ezra Fisher, was the foundation of Oregon City University.

In this year, Pettygrove filed for a Donation Land Claim next to that of his business partner (and son-in-law) Philip Foster at Eagle Creek. There were now 28 children within a mile of the farms so Pettygrove with Philip Foster, John P. Glover, and Joseph Church began organizing a public school which opened in its own building in 1851.

In 1849, George H. Atkinson founded the Clackamas County Female Seminary on 12th Street, Oregon City.  Atkinson drafted the Oregon Public School Law this year and later opened the first public school. Both Johnson's and Atkinson's schools were co-educational.

Lot Whitcomb, with partners William Torrance and Joseph Kellogg, founded the town of Milwaukie on his land claim. A sawmill was established and Kellogg built a schooner to transport the lumber to California.

Further south, Samuel K. Barlow (of Barlow Road fame) and his son James took land claims, which became the foundation of Barlow Town.

An epidemic of small pox swept through the settlements.


Newly elected President Zachary Taylor appointed J.P. Gaines as Oregon Territory governor in place of Joseph Lane. Lane was elected, June 1850, as Oregon's delegate to the US Congress.

The Oregon Donation Land Claim Act was signed into law September 27, 1850. The Act allowed claims of 320 acres for each man, 320 for a wife, and 160 per child to any white American who reached Oregon

The sizable claims under the Act were nowhere near the 1000 acre or square-mile properties claimed by the missions, McLoughlin, and some early settlers. Those who had taken earlier claims, however (especially if they had farmed, built upon, or platted their land), mostly kept their land even if the property was oversize or irregular in shape.

Land Claim Act specified that one section in the Oregon City area would be sold to found a university (never realized), but otherwise excluded the area from land claim rules. McLoughlin, the Methodist mission, and those who had purchased land in Oregon City continued to dispute land rights. The matter wasn't settled until a court ruling in 1865.

The Indian Treaty Act of 1850, passed by the US Congress, separated the Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs from a general western ombudsman (with ill-defined duties). Joseph P. Gaines acted as Oregon's first agent under the Act and negotiated treaties with six separate bands of Willamette Valley Indians.

Peter Hatch, who had raised $20,000 for the enterprise, completed a road around the Falls from Canemah to Oregon City. With much of the new road blasted from shear rock cliffs, it was a vast improvement over the hand cart and backpack trail that had previously provided portage around the Falls. The new road allowed wagon traffic and featured a boardwalk with a rail on the riverside. Passengers debarked from steamships at Canemah and safely made way around the Falls to waiting passenger steamers below.

On the west side of the Falls, there was a hoist for small steamers. For a large fee, crews of men could muscle ships over the Falls with hawser and winch. This lining method was rarely used, however, and downriver and upriver craft were mostly maintained as separate shipping fleets.

By the early 1850's, the Robert Moore family, founders of Linn, had organized the Willamette Falls Canal, Milling, and Transportation Company. Their Linn City Works Company, established 1852-53, included a breakwater to create a basin below the Falls, a sawmill, gristmill, a warehouse, and wharves. The company operated a hoist for small vessels to a similar facility at the top of the Falls. This year, 1850, a US post office opened in Linn City.

US post offices also opened in Milwaukie and Molalla this year.

On January 1, 1850, Moore bought the Spectator newspaper. Publication continued at Oregon City but the paper's editorial policy boosted Linn City and supported Dr. John McLoughlin's claim to land in Oregon City.

During this year, five more families filed claims in the future Oswego area: Socrates H. Tryon took the land around Tryon Creek; Jesse Bullock settled in the Marylhurst area; F.A. Collard's property ran from present day Glenmorrie to just south of Sucker (Oswego) Creek; Josiah Franklin claimed a nearly square area to the north  (that is, roughly Oswego's New Town neighborhood); and Albert Alonzo Durham built a sawmill on Sucker Creek and filed for land between the southern bank of the creek north to approximately A Avenue. (Collard may have settled his land long before he filed his claim in 1850). In October, Durham filed a plat for a town named Oswego after his former home, Oswego, New York.

The first plat for the city of San Francisco was filed at Oregon City, the only incorporated American city west of the Rocky Mountains.

The steamer Columbia began regular service between Oregon City on the Willamette River and Astoria on the Columbia at the coast. A journey of 125 miles, the voyage took 25 hours and required a $50 fare. Another steamship, the Senator Linn, was launched this year.

To end the Cayuse War, five Indians had been surrendered by their tribe as the culprits in the Whitman Massacre of late 1847. They had been imprisoned on Abernethy Island above the Falls. In 1850 they were tried,  sentenced to hang, and executed in Oregon City.

Beginning this year and ending in 1853, the Oregon Legislature financed a project to deepen the channel at the Clackamas River rapids on the Willamette River just below Oregon City. It was still too shallow for ocean going ships and Portland continued as the port of choice. The Oregon City region, however, became the center of ship building in the Territory.

Isaac Beals platted the town of New Era this year.

Two new newspapers opened in Oregon in 1850; the first issue of the Western Star (published by Lot Whitcomb) appeared in Milwaukie in November and the Weekly Oregonian (by Henry Pittock of Portland) began in December.

Charles Ray began to operate a regular stagecoach line between Oregon City and Salem in 1850. Roads in Oregon were so muddy that stages and wagons could only travel 25 miles per day rather than the 60 typical for dry roads.

Scholl's Ferry began operation for passage over the Tualatin River.

William Meek (partner of Lot Whitcomb and his son-in-law William Torrance of Milwaukie) built a large-scale sawmill at the mouth of Johnson Creek. Meek's Milwaukie Milling Company began producing lumber for export in 1850. With this second mill, the Whitcomb/Kellogg/Torrance enterprise was exporting enough lumber to California to employ two brigs.

Lot Whitcomb had returned from a round trip to California. He brought with him Captain John C. Ainsworth, engineer Jacob Kramm, and machinery to outfit a steamship. At Milwaukie, the men began to build the first steamship manufactured in Oregon. Milwaukie at the time was a thriving town of about 500 inhabitants.

Named for one of the  partners,  the sidewheel steamer Lot Whitcomb was launched amid a huge celebration at Milwaukie on Christmas Day, 1850. The festivities turned tragic when a canon--fired in celebration from aboard the schooner Merchantman-- exploded and killed Capt. Frederick Morse. Piloted by Captain  Ainsworth, the Whitcomb made its maiden voyage to Oregon City but later worked as a tug between Milwaukie and Astoria on the coast.


Between 1851 and 1853, some 30 ships were constructed at the yard in Canemah. Robert Newell added the ship Great Western to help in his competition with the Klikitat Indian crews of James D. Miller. The steamers Canemah, Washington, and Hoosier also plied the upper Willamette River. Captain George A. Pease commanded the Spokane Indian crews of Hudson's Bay Company bateaux while Sam Barlow (owner with Beers of the Canemah shipyard) competed with Medorum Crawford for the portage trade around the Falls.

The second session of the Territorial Legislature met at the Cliff House in Oregon City. The two branches (a 9-member council and an 18-member house) passed the Location Bill which drastically changed the power and prospects of Oregon City. The bill moved Oregon's capital to Salem, sited a state penitentiary in Portland, and the state university in Corvalis. Oregon City was deliberately slighted due to business and political rivalries. The re-location bill, eventually upheld by the US Congress, was struck down immediately by Oregon's Supreme Court.

For a while, the location of Oregon's government was in limbo. Governor Gaines and three of the 22 Legislators remained in Oregon City. One Legislator, who lived north of the Columbia River, "met" all by himself. The rest of government moved immediately to Salem. Until the post-Civil War boom in industry, Oregon City lost population.

Dr. John McLoughlin, formerly head of the Hudson's Bay Company in the Northwest, was elected mayor of Oregon City. Around this time he refunded money for some of the townsites purchased from him (his land claim was still in litigation). Because McLoughlin encouraged settlement, he had sold many of these sites for a nominal sum in the first place.

The Oregon Statesman, a relatively long-lived newspaper, began publication in Oregon City in 1851 under J.W. Nesmith, M.P. Deady, and Joseph C. Avery. Its editor, Asahel Bush, was a militant Democrat. The newspaper moved to Salem with the Capital in 1853.

The Rev. St.Michael Frackler held the first Anglican (Episcopal) service in Clackamas County at Milwaukie.

In November 1851 Indian Treaties: The Clackamas people ceded all their lands (including the town sites of Milwaukie and Oregon City) for an annuity of $2500 for the next ten years. Clackamas men who signed the treaty were allowed to occupy their traditional homes during the remainder of their lifetimes but their children retained no land rights.

The US government dispatched John B. Preston to formally survey Oregon Territory for divisions based on true north-south and true east-west. A boulder in Portland's West Hills, called the Willamette Stone, set the north-south "Meridian". Drawn through central Hillsboro and Portland, "Baseline" became the east-west divider. All future surveys would be based upon these two imaginary lines. Clackamas County's western border then became Meridian rather than the meandering Willamette River. Oswego, formerly a part of Tuality County, became a part of Clackamas County in 1851

Clackamas's neighboring counties got new names; Tuality became Washington County and Champoeg became Marion County in 1851

For the first time, a photographer advertised daguerreotype portraits at Oregon City.

Pettygrove ended all business in Portland, Oregon City, and Eagle Creek and moved to Port Townsend, Washington Territory.

Discovery of gold in the Rogue River region brought hoards of miners and settlers. An Indian War soon followed and continued until 1856.

Anson Dart had been appointed in 1851 as US Indian Superintendent for Oregon. Dart suggested the idea of a reservation system, Indian-owned land which in Dart's plan would be small reservations on traditional homeland close to white settlements. Previously, Indians had been simply forced ever westward by American settlement. Oregon's Territorial Representative, Samuel Thursten, wanted to push Oregon Indians to the east. Dart recognized that the frontier had moved all the way across the Continent and that Indians now required protected homelands.

The Treaty of Table Rock established the first such reservation for the Rogues and the Cow Creek Umpquas of southern Oregon.

With the help of former missionaries H.H. Spalding and John Parrish, Dart negotiated the surrender of 6 million more acres from the Willamette Valley Indians. A small site was reserved for each Indian band/extended family on the ceded lands. The Congress condemned this treaty and replaced Dart.


Indian Superintendent Dart was replaced by Joel Palmer. Palmer rejected Dart's plan for Indian preserves near white settlements but adopted the notion of small, western reservations. (Palmer did not arrive in Oregon until March 1853).

On May 4, 1852, the US Congress upheld the Location Bill, which had passed the previous year in Oregon's Territorial Legislature and was invalidated by Oregon courts. This bill, promptly signed into law by President Millard Filmore, relocated Oregon's capital from Oregon City to Salem.

Regular stagecoach service between Oregon City and Champoeg was established by Edward Dupuis this year.

The town of Boone (later renamed Clackamas) received a US post office this year.

William Orlando and Louisa (Graham) Mack founded Macksburg this year by building a house and school. (The Macks relocated to Canby in 1878).

Francis Jackson, who arrived by ship in 1852, chose a land claim near the future site of Liberal specifically for the high quality of the area's oaks and maples. He married the widow Sarah Ann Morris who owned the adjacent claim and began a successful furniture manufacturing company.

Beginning this year, a spur off the old Barlow Road, the Barlow-Foster Trail, connected Eagle Creek and Portland. A half-dozen families had claims along this road in what would later be the Damascus area.  The Barlow-Foster Trail approached Portland at (what would later be) Sunnyside Road and then went west toward Sycamore (Pleasant Valley) and Johnson Creek.

By this year, Philip Foster had recovered all the costs of building the Barlow Road.

L.D. Cross, Lucius A. Seely and Wesley Joslyn settled in Canby near the Molalla River this year. In 1861, the great flood persuaded them to sell their land to businessman William Knight of Butteville.


Washington Territory was created from land north of the Columbia River.

A US post office opened in Oswego.

Almond and Nancy Holcomb, who arrived in Oregon four years earlier, built a large farmhouse in Oregon City.

The California and other western gold rushes which had depleted Oregon's male population now began to bring wealth to Oregon's economy. This year, 1853, Oregon exported its first fresh fruit to California. Winter apples sold for a dollar each at Portland or $75 per box. A mere four bushels sold for $500 in California. Flour sold for $100  per barrel and an egg brought a dollar.

In 1853, Benjamin Brown built and operated the Standard Flour Mill at Milwaukie for the partnership of Joseph Kellogg, W.J. Bradbury, and H.W. Eddy. Standard Mill's Red Cross Brand was produced at the rate of 100 barrels per day. This same year, the Oregon Milling Company (later named the Imperial) opened at the Willamette Falls. By 1867, eight major mills operated in Clackamas County.

A flood at Oregon City washed away the bridge built (in 1845) to McLoughlin's island sawmill.  The flood also destroyed the Oregon Milling Company's bridge.

Francis Revenue and family staked a claim in 1853 near the present day site of Sandy, the first permanent white settlers in the area. The year before, 1852, Revenue bought the rights to collect tolls on the Barlow Road from Philip Foster. The Barlow Road tollgate moved to Revenue's Place between 1853 and 1865. The original settlement in this area was called "Revenue" but later changed to "Sandy" after the nearby Sandy (originally Quicksand) River.


With the creation of Wasco County in January, Clackamas County lost nearly 450 miles of territory to the east. The County's eastern border was moved by the Territorial Legislature to the summit of the Cascade Mountains rather than the crest of the Rocky Mountains.      Maps of County Border Changes

At the end of the year, December 1854, the Legislature also removed a considerable portion of Clackamas County to create Multnomah County, a district centered on Oregon City's rival, Portland. For a time, residents of Portland had refused to do business--or legal filing--in Oregon City, preferring to journey to Hillsboro for legal work and to draw trade along more northerly routes. They drew up a petition--with five feet worth of signatures--to request a new county of nearly a thousand square miles, all the land between the Columbia and Clackamas rivers. Because Philip Foster's horse Bill became lame, the petition was not delivered in time to the Legislature. The Legislature's "bill" gave all the land along the Columbia River to Multnomah County and set its southern border along a parallel of latitude that made for a quite narrow territory. Clackamas retained most of its farm lands and mountain country, including Mt. Hood.

Clackamas County's fortunes were falling. Ainsworth, Pease, and partners had purchased the Barlow/Beers shipyard at Canemah and launched a new side-wheeler, the Willamet, this year. But the rush for gold to the south had drawn off population and trade. The Willamet was hawsered over the Falls to work the lower Willamette River but finally found success as a steamer near the California gold fields along the Sacramento River.

Twenty-four people died when the boiler of the steamer Gazelle exploded shortly after leaving  Linn City for upriver.

The People's Transportation Company created a breakwater on the east upper bank of the Willamette Falls to form a deep pool for upriver boats to dock in while off-loading.

In 1854, Oregon City imposed a one-dollar poll tax to finance public schools. The city also received revenue from fares on the city-owned ferry across the Willamette River.


Indian Superintendent Joel Palmer, negotiated a treaty with Willamette Valley Indians for a reservation at Grand Ronde--a land quite distant from their homeland. Relocation was delayed for two years.

A unique wagon train arrived in Oregon this year; members of the Harmony (originally in Pennsylvania) commune traveled the Oregon Trail to begin a new colony in the Northwest. Their newest colony at Bethel, Missouri, had thrived as outfitters and a repair service for passing traffic on the Trail. In 1855, commune founder and leader, Dr. William Keil, led a group from Bethel along the Trail to the Pudding River area in Oregon. The newest Harmony commune centered on the town of Aurora Mills (Marion County) but the colony's 23,500 acres extended well into southern Clackamas County. The colony disbanded in 1877 after the death of Dr. Keil.

The Yakima Indian War began this year and lasted until 1858.

Treaties created the Umatilla Reservation (for the Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Cayuse tribes) and, at the western edge of Clackamas County, the Warm Springs Reservation (for the Wascoes and other Walla Walla bands). The US Congress did not ratify the Warm Springs treaty until 1859.

An Episcopal Church opened in Milwaukie.

The town of Needy received a US post office this year (discontinued in 1908).


In this year, Oregon voters turned down a proposal to make Oregon a State. Politics surrounding the "slavery question" complicated Oregon's achievement of statehood in the US Congress and provoked hot debate in the Territory. Baptist preacher Hezekiah and son Cary Johnson organized the new Republican (anti-slavery) party in Oregon City. A new cherry variety developed in Milwaukie was dubbed the Black Republican in the party's honor. The Argus newspaper, which had succeeded the Spectator in Oregon City, was staunchly Republican. Portland's Oregonian remained Whig until the late 1850's while the Statesman (which moved from Oregon City to Salem when the government did) supported the Democrats.

Clackamas County's southern border moved to include the town of Molalla, the north bank of Butte Creek, and the lower Pudding River area--this considerably reduced the size of Marion County.

After the end of the Rogue River Indian War, Indian Agent Joel Palmer was fired.  He blamed the Rogue War on unruly miners and illegal settlers and angered the US Congress. The next year, 1857, the Indian Agencies of Oregon and Washington were combined under the leadership of J.W. Nesmith.

In the view of the US Congress, war was the "natural result" of emigration and settlement since white and red cannot co-exist. In 1856, the Rogues, Klamaths, and Coquilles were removed from the reservation established by the Table Rock Treaty and added to the population at Siletz Reservation.

Between this year and 1857, the previously negotiated Grand Ronde and Siletz Reservations were founded. The Siletz Reservation was to hold all coastal Indians and Grand Ronde was to receive the remnants of Willamette Valley and south Valley tribes.

Horace and Jane Baker built a substantial cabin just off the Barlow Road near the future site of Carver. Eventually the road leading by this home became the Carver Railroad, a transport for logs from the Redland/Colton highlands to Oregon City.

Ernest Burghardt built the Barton Roller Mill on Deep Creek.


Unlike the previous year, Oregon voters opted for Statehood in 1857. By November, a new Oregon constitution had been referred by the Legislature and passed by the voters. Ratification in the US Senate was delayed for almost two years.

The death of Dr. John McLoughlin ended an era in Oregon history. Dispute over his Oregon City land claim continued for five more years, with much of the property eventually restored to his heirs.  The founder of Linn City had died just the day before McLoughlin; Robert Moore died September 2, 1857.

The Oregon House opened at the corner of 3rd and Water streets in Oregon City, just opposite the ferry landing. Like other hotels of the era (the Veranda Hotel in Milwaukie, 1856, and McLoughlin's Canemah Hotel, 1858), the Oregon House became a social center for the community.

The first steam-powered vessel reached Eugene from Oregon City.

Francis Pettygrove imported 1000 fruit trees from Foster's Farm in Eagle Creek for the new settlement at Port Townsend (future) Washington. Pettygrove would be considered one of the founders of Port Townsend and here he stayed put. During his career, Pettygrove had gone from New England to Galvin (Galveston, TX) Mexico (prior to 1842), back to Maine and on to Oregon (1843), founded Portland (1845), left his store in Oregon City to go to the California goldfields (1848), took a claim in Eagle Creek (1849) and finally to Washington.


Seth Luelling, famed cherry orchardist, introduced Italian prune trees to Oregon in 1858. The prunes grown at the Luelling farm (now Waverly Golf  and Country Club in Milwaukie) sparked a successful industry that thrived throughout the county. During the industry's heyday, from 1890-1900, the largest prune farm was at Clarks and an industrial-size dryer was at Dover.

The sheriff sold 49 of the late Robert Moore's Linn City lots to pay back taxes. The firm of Abernethy, Clark, and Company now operated Moore's Linn City Works under the name Oregon Milling and Transportation Company.

Between this year and 1863, a macadam road--the first--was constructed along the route of MacAdam Avenue from Portland to Milwaukie on the west bank of the Willamette River.

Rock Creek Church was established this year.


On February 14, 1859 the United States Congress admitted Oregon as the 33rd  State. News flashed by telegraph to St. Louis and then made way overland by stagecoach to San Francisco. By March 10, the official statehood announcement was sailing north on the ship Brother Johnathan. The news reached Salem on March 15, 1859, a mere 13 hours after the ship had docked in Portland.

A bridge at the mouth of Eagle Creek improved the old Barlow Road.

Twelve nuns of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary came from Montreal to Oregon City in 1859. They expected to found a school in an unfinished building at Market and 4th streets but an orphanage was more urgently needed. (This same order in 1906 created Villa Marie and the Christie School on the Bullock and Walling land claims near Oswego--the foundation of Marylhurst College).

Responding to a petition by 76 Oregon City ladies, Governor Whiteaker declared December 29 Thanksgiving Day in Oregon.

By the late 1850's, Matthew Patton had purchased the Collard's Original Donation Land Claim near Sucker Lake (Oswego) specifically for the land's high iron content. The $5000 that Patton brought back from the California gold fields allowed him to establish his mine on Iron Mountain. Jack Boyland , an older man who lived in Rosemont, hauled the ore by ox-team to Moore's mill and smithy on the Tualatin River (about 2 1/2 miles from the Tualatin's mouth at the Willamette). In 1862, six tons of the brown hematite ore reached California where it was tested and found to be 40 to 75 percent pure.

This year, Horace and Julia Hattan (Sturges) Dibble built a fine cedar and fir home at Molalla, the first in the area. (This New England saltbox style home has been preserved as a museum. The 1868 Vonder Ahe House in the same museum complex was moved from Carus--a district between Molalla and Oregon City--where it served as an inn on the Portland-Salem stage route).

Go to Next Timeline, 1860-1900

References and Links

Library Page

Patricia Kohnen