The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History

By Carlos Arnaldo Schwantes | Go to book overview
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Oregon Country: Rearranging the
Political Landscape

Already we are sending numerous emigrants every year across the Rocky
mountains; and we are sending them there without the protection of law,
and without the restraints of civil government. We have left them, hitherto,
to the unlimited control of their own passions. We must send them laws
and a regular form of government.--SenatorJames Buchanan of Pennsylva-
nia, Speech, 12 March 1844

Some of the most profound changes in Pacific Northwest history occurred during the 1840s. When the decade dawned, the Oregon country had no political boundaries and no effective government apart from the influence of Hudson's Bay Company officials and the American missionaries. Ten years later, an international boundary divided the country along the 49th parallel, and the Hudson's Bay Company had shifted its main operation to the British side of the border. Chief Factor John McLoughlin, long-time patriarch of the Oregon country, retired in early 1846 to land he owned near Oregon City, and three years later the Hudson's Bay Company moved its departmental headquarters north to Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island.

Thousands of land-hungry settlers supplanted fur traders and missionaries as the most representative non-Indian group in the new Northwest. They brought permanent changes to the Willamette Valley and other areas when they laid out farms, towns, and a network of roads. They organized a government for themselves in 1843 and five years later pressured Congress into creating the Oregon Territory. Finally, the Whitman tragedy of 1847 initiated a change that no one wanted: three decades of periodic warfare


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