Copyright 2000 - 2003 - Janine M. Bork
This page is part of the Union County, OR AGHP
(1848 - 1849.)
The Last Days of the Provisional Government - The Discovery of Gold in California - Exodus to the New Gold Fields - Coinage of Beaver Money - Last Session of the Legislature of the Provisional Government - Progress of American Settlements on Puget Sound - Return of Delegates Thornton and Meek - Appointees to the Territorial Offices - The Provisional Government Superseded by Governor Lane's Proclamation Announcing Organization of Territory.
THE discovery of gold in California materially affected the condition of affairs in the American settlements of Oregon. It will not be disputed that that great event attracted attention to the Pacific coast; promoted Pacific settlements; opened new avenues of commerce; materially contributed to the wealth of the world; revolutionized trade and transposed its center. It may, however, be gravely questioned whether the California gold stampede of 1848-9 was not a most serious check to the healthy advancement of Oregon. That notable exodus to the new gold fields depleted the little growing communities, which were developing the resources of the country and making comfortable homes; and it may be safely asserted that years of steady, sober advancement were required to recuperate.
James W. Marshall made that discovery. He had come to the Willamette valley in the "Immigration of 1844," and that winter remained in Oregon. Next year he went overland to California. He was a millwright by trade, and entered into a copartnership with General John A. Sutter to erect a mill on the Coloma, a tributary of the American river. In January, 1848, Marshall was following the line of the tail race being constructed, inspecting the work, and observed what he believed to be small flakes of gold. He then washed some dirt and secured a small quantity of dust. The next morning he washed more dirt, and with his dust went to the fort, where his discovery was fully tested, and all were assured of the existence of gold in that region. The news of Marshall's discovery had reached Oregon in the month of August. It was communicated by a sailing vessel which had come to the Columbia river to load with supplies for San Francisco.
For years immigration from the East ceased to come to Oregon, but turned off for the California gold fields. Oregon contributed quite one-third of her male population, as gold-seekers in the new El Dorado. The benefit that inured to Oregon was the finding of a market for her products. Hitherto, sales of produce were confined to the few vessels visiting the Columbia river; in fact, there was but little demand except for home consumption. Now her citizens began to return from California with dust. Large amounts were received in exchange for beef, bacon, butter, pork, grain, flour and vegetables.
The want of a market had been from Oregon's earliest settlement, the drawback to her progress and material wealth; and the greatest inconvenience to which her
merchants and their customers had been subjected was the absence of a circulating medium, the absence of money, the absence of gold and silver. Gold dust now became a substitute for a circulating medium. True, it has a conventional rate per ounce, varying from eleven dollars to eighteen dollars, contingent upon fineness or pureness. Its value was more or less subject to control by merchants; loss was liable to be incurred in its being transferred from hand to hand; its form was an inconvenience to those who had to make small purchases of necessaries. To remedy this grievance, the legislature of the Provisional government were petitioned to pass a law providing for "the assaying, melting and coining of gold." The Constitution and laws of the United States had vested exclusively in Congress authority "to coin money;" and it had been made a grave offense for States, or private individuals, to violate this provision of fundamental law. But the Provisional government of Oregon obeyed "necessity which knows no law." It authorized the erection of a mint, the coinage of money, fixed its value, and appointed officers of the Oregon mint. The abrogation of that government, by the establishment of the territorial government, superseded that law; and the coinage of the gold dust became a private enterprise.
A large amount of gold was coined into pieces of five and ten dollars value, called "Beaver Money," by an association of bankers who styled themselves the "Oregon Exchange Company." Its members were W.H. Kilborn, Theophilus Magruder, James Taylor, William H. Rector, Hamilton Campbell and Noyes Smith. On one side of the five-dollar piece was a beaver surrounded above by the letters "K.M.T.A.W.R.C.S." These letters were the initials of the associates in the enterprise. Mr. J.C. Campbell, in a letter to Secretary May, August 4, 1864, accompanying the deposit of Beaver Coin dies, says: "The names of the parties that paid for the machinery, dies, etc., and who incurred and lost the whole expenses of the transaction, were Kilborn, Magruder, Taylor, Rector, Campbell and Smith. It will be observed that the eagle pieces contain only the initials of the parties named. The letters "A" and "W" are on the half-eagles, representing Abernethy and Willson." Beneath the beaver were the letters, "O.T. 1849." Upon the reverse side of the coin were the words "Oregon Exchange Company, 130 G. Native Gold, 5D." The ten-dollar piece differed slightly in the legends. On the one side was engraved the beaver surmounted by seven stars, over which were the letters "K.M.T.R.C.S." Beneath the beaver, "O.T. 1849." On the reverse side were the words "Oregon Exchange Company, 10D. 20G. Native Gold, 10D." Mr. Campbell engraved the dies. Mr. Rector supplied the stamps, dies, press and a rolling machine. The Beaver money was quite abundant until the establishment of an United States mint at San Francisco, when the presence of United States gold and silver coin rendered their use unnecessary. As the Beaver money contained nearly ten per centum more gold than the government coin, they soon went out of circulation; besides, the United States mint at San Francisco called them in, redeemed them, allowing their premium trade.
The general stampede to California
had left the legislature without a quorum at its session in the fall of
1848. Governor Abernethy had called special elections to fill vacancies,
where resignations had been made. The legislature adjourned until the first
Monday in February, 1849. On the 5th of February, 1849, the legislature
of the Provisional government held its last session. Governor Abernethy
in his message advised that body, that information had been received of
the appointment of the Federal officials required by the Territorial Government
Bill; that such officers were upon their way, and might be shortly expected;
that their business would consist chiefly in adjusting the
expenses of the Cayuse war, of which he felt assured the United States would assume the payment. They would also be called upon to pass upon the amendments to the Organic Law, which had ben sanctioned by the popular vote, viz.: As tot he prohibition and sale of ardent spirits; the oath of office; and as to the appointing of clerks of courts of the several counties, and recorders of land claims. The House passed the latter amendment; but the governor refused to approve it, giving as his reason that the United States laws would regulate the taking and recording of land claims. The House, instead of adopting the prohibition amendment, modified it by substituting "regulate" for "prohibit," but they also passed a law requiring that every person applying for license to sell or manufacture liquor take an oath not to sell, give or barter liquor to an Indian, fixing the penalty for violation at five hundred dollars. The law prohibited the erection of distilleries beyond the White settlements.
It will be remembered that, in 1845, a small party of American settlers, under the lead of Colonel M.T. Simmons, had located at the head of Puget Sound. accessions to their number had been made each year. In the administration of the Provisional government, the progress of those little settlements has been incidentally referred to. Lewis county was established by an Act of the House of Representatives, approved December 21, 1845, to take effect after the June election of 1846. It embraced all the territory lying between the Columbia river and fifty-four degrees, forty minutes north latitude, west of the Cowlitz river. At the June election, 1846, Dr. William F. Tolmie, of Fort Nisqually, was elected the first representative. The county continued of the limits defined in the act, until the treaty of June 15, 1846, made forty-nine degrees the northern boundary of Oregon. This county had become, in the spring of 1847, quite a factor in politics. Its vote determined the election of Governor Abernethy. The other counties had given General Lovejoy 518, Governor Abernethy 477. Lewis changed the result by giving sixty-one for Abernethy and two for Lovejoy. At that election Simon Plemondon, of Cowlitz Prairie, was elected representative. In July, a brick kiln was constructed on Cowlitz Prairie, where were burnt the first bricks used north of the Columbia river. In August was formed the Puget Sound Milling Company, which built a saw-mill at tumwater.
In 1848, Thomas W. Glasgow located a dam, built a cabin, and planted wheat and potatoes on Whidby's Island, opposite Port Townsend. Later in the season, a council of the Sound tribes had been invited by Patkanim, chief of the Snoquahnie nation, to discuss the propriety of resisting the further progress of American settlements. patkanim urged that soon the Americans would outnumber them, when they would transport the Indians in large fire ships to a distant country, and then appropriate their lands. That at present it would be an easy task for the Indians to exterminate them, and they would thereby acquire a large amount of property. The Upper Sound Indians strenuously resisted any hostile movement, and Snohodemtah, principal chief of the Indian bands about Tumwater, was the champion for peace. This refusal of the Indians of the Upper Sound created intense excitement, and nearly a conflict, upon the council ground. Glasgow and his companion became alarmed, and, by the assistance of friendly Indians, reached Tumwater.
At the election this year, the
last under the Provisional government, Antonio B. Rabbeson was elected
sheriff, and Levi Lathrop Smith, the original taker and proprietor of the
site of the town of Olympia, was elected to the legislature. On the 14th
of June, Rev. Pascal Recaid, with a small party of Oblat missionaries,
established the mission of St. Joseph on the east side of Budd's Inlet,
about a mile north of the town of Olympia. During the fall, the Puget Sound
Agricultural Company conceived the design of asserting
a claim, under the treaty of June 15, 1846, to the immense tract called the Nisqually claim. The agent of the company proposed to claim, also, land south of the Nisqually river, and caused a large band of cattle to be driven across the river. A citizens' meeting was held at New Market (Tumwater), and a committee appointed to wait upon Dr. William F. Tolmie and remonstrate against such act. The committee presented to Dr. Tolmie their resolutions and proceedings, demanding the removal of the stock to the north side of Nisqually river. The demand was at once complied with. There seems to have been some little feeling on the part of the settlers; but the interview of the committee with Dr. Tolmie was of the most peaceable character; and he made no objections to carrying out the expressed wish of the citizens.
Upon the adjournment of congress in August, 1848, soi-disant Delegate J. Quinn Thornton embarked from New York for Oregon, in the Sylvie de Grasse, where he arrived in May, 1849. His companion, not colleague, was more fortunate in securing an appointment under the newly created territorial government. Joseph L. Meek was the first United States Marshal for Oregon Territory. To General James Shields, of Illinois, the President tendered the commission of governor, but he declined; and the office was conferred upon, and accepted by, General Joseph Lane of Indiana. Kintzing Pritchett, of Pennsylvania, was appointed secretary of the territory. To the Supreme Bench were commissioned William P. Bryant of Indiana, Chief Justice; James Turney of Illinois, and Peter H. Burnett of Oregon, Associate Justices; and Isaac W.R. Bromley, of New York, received the appointment of United States District Attorney, but declined. Astoria, under the Organic Act, was declared the port of entry of the District of Oregon; and General John Adair of Kentucky was appointed Collector of Customs. Mr. Turney declined the office of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court; and hte President appointed Orville C. Pratt, a native of New York, residing in Illinois, but at that time in the service of the government in California. He was the first of the corps of territorial appointees to reach the territory (February, 1848).
Governor Lane and United States Marshal Meek, pursuant to instructions of the President, immediately started for Oregon, via San Francisco; but they did not reach Oregon City until March 2, 1849. On the 3d of March, 1849, Governor Lane issued a proclamation announcing his assumption of executive duties, and that the territory of Oregon was duly organized. Collector Adair reached the territory shortly afterwards (March 30th). There were, in the month of March, present in the territory, the following Federal officials: General Joseph lane, Governor; Hon. Orville C. Pratt, Associate Justice; Colonel Joseph L. Meek, Marshal; General John Adair, Collector of Customs.
The organized territorial government had now superseded the Provisional government, - that government so emphatically "a government of the people, by the people and for the people." In its every official act, with scrupulous care, it had avoided invading the rights or offending the national prejudices of British subjects. In the language of its memorial of June 28, 1844, "by treaty stipulations, the territory has become a kind of neutral ground, in the occupancy of which the citizens of the United States and the subjects of great Britain have equal rights, and ought to have equal protection."
Founded upon such principles,
the national prejudices of every citizen not only tolerated, but deferred
to, that government could not have been a failure. It was a grand success.
In peace, it commanded the support of all its citizens, without distinction
of race or nationality. Under its wise and judicious administration, its
fruits were good order and prosperity. In the shock of battle, it stood
the test. Unaided, neglected and alone,
it declared and maintained a successful war to redress
the unprovoked wrongs, the unparalleled outrages, its citizens had suffered.
From its own resources, it levied necessary troops, put them in the field,
and there maintained them. Confided in by the people, in the hour of danger
they promptly responded to the call of their constituted authorities. In
the prosecution of the Cayuse war, the most historic feature of the pioneer
period, was fully demonstrated the inherent strength of the Provisional
government, the unity of feeling it inspired, and its entire capability
to meet the requirements of the inhabitants of the territory in which it
had exercised its functions.