The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History

By Carlos Arnaldo Schwantes | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Bound for the Promised Land

It is a great undertaking to leave comfortable homes for greater advantages than our State possesses, in Oregon. There is a toilsome journey before them. Long and tiresome it will be. True there will be many circumstances that will render portions of it interesting; still it will be tiresome and at times must come among the emigrants feelings of anxiety for the end. -- David Newsom: The Western Observer, 1805-1882 (from his comments for 3 April 1851)

A major stimulus to missionary activity in the Pacific Northwest was the practice of some Indian tribes of flattening their babies' foreheads. And therein lies a mystery. Why did the practice evoke a powerful response only in the 1830s? Euro-Americans had known about it for years. Lewis and Clark described forehead flattening among the Chinook people of the lower Columbia River in 1805--1806, where head flattening distinguished the free born from the slaves (round-heads) and outsiders. What new set of circumstances aroused the missionary impulse among Euro-Americans thirty years later?

One factor was growing popular enthusiasm for the Oregon country. Hall Jackson Kelley, a well-educated but eccentric Boston schoolteacher, became obsessed with colonizing the remote region with white settlements, and by the 1820s he was the leading advocate of immigration. To his singleminded crusade he sacrificed home, family, and position. Kelley was initially little more than an armchair theorist because he knew of Oregon only

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