Oregon Country

From Academic Kids

Oregon Country was a region of western North America that originally consisted of the land north of 42°N latitude, south of 54°40'N latitude, and west of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The area now forms part of the present day Canadian province of British Columbia, all of the US states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming. The region is roughly equivalent to a broad definition of the Pacific Northwest. The phrase describes the period from the early penetration of European trappers and traders until the Oregon Treaty of 1846.


Early exploration

Alexander Mackenzie was the first European to cross North America by land north of Mexico, arriving at Bella Coola on the Pacific coast in 1793. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark scouted the territory for the United States on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, from 1804 to 1806.

Territorial evolution

The Oregon Country was originally claimed by the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and Spain. France and Spain had divided their western, 18th-century territorial claims along the 42nd parallel. France's loss at the end of the Seven Years' War effectively ended its claim to the area. Spain gave up its claims piecemeal, at the convention in 1790 that followed the seizure of Nootka Sound and relinquishing any remaining claims to territory north of the 42nd parallel to the United States as part of the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819. Russia gave up its weaker claims in separate treaties with the United states in 1824 and with Britain in 1825.

Meanwhile, the United States and Britain negotiated the Anglo-American Convention of 1818 that extended the boundary between their territories west along the 49th parallel to the Rocky Mountains. The two countries agreed to "joint occupancy" of the land west of the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean—Oregon Country.

Early settlement

After the Lewis and Clark Expedition, fur traders, such as Jedediah Smith and Jim Beckworth, now known as mountain men, were searching the Rocky Mountains for beaver pelts. These trappers adopted Native American ways and many of them married native women. They used Native American trails in the Rockies which went to California and Oregon.

John Jacob Astor founded a fur-trading post at Astoria, Oregon in 1811, beginning the organized trade in furs that had already been initiated by a few hardy trappers and traders. After the War of 1812, the Hudson's Bay Company took ownership of the post. John McLoughlin, appointed head or Chief Factor of the region in 1824, moved its regional headquarters to Fort Vancouver, which became the de facto political center of the Pacific Northwest until the Oregon Treaty in 1846. In the 1820s Americans began to migrate to this land beyond the Rocky Mountains, with large migrations beginning in the 1840s over the Oregon Trail.

Missing image
Landscape in Oregon Country, by Charles Marion Russell

As Eastern United States churches started to hear news of the Oregon Country, some of them decided to send missionaries to convert the Indians. Jason Lee, a methodist minister from New York, was the first of these Oregon missionaries. He built a mission school for Indians in the Willamette Valley.

The Oregon Treaty

In 1843, settlers in the Willamette Valley established a provisional government, which was recognized by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1845.

Political pressure in the United States urged the occupation of all the Oregon Country. President James Knox Polk even campaigned with the slogan Fifty-Four Forty or Fight! in the 1844 US Presidential election, referring to the northern border of the region. The British government, meanwhile, sought control of all territory north of the Columbia River.

The two countries eventually came to a peaceful agreement in the 1846 Oregon Treaty that divided the territory along the 49th parallel to Georgia Strait, with all of Vancouver Island remaining under British control. This border still divides British Columbia from neighbouring Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

In 1848, the U.S. portion of the Oregon Country was formally organized as the Oregon Territory. In 1849, Vancouver Island became a British Crown colony, with the mainland being organized into the colony of British Columbia in 1858.

Descriptions of the land

Alexander Ross, an early fur trader, describes part of the Oregon Country:

The banks of the river throughout are low and skirted in the distance by a chain of moderately high lands on each side, interspersed here and there with clumps of widespreading oaks, groves of pine, and a variety of other kinds of woods. Between these high lands lie what is called the valley of the Wallamitte [sic], the frequented haunts of innumerable herds of elk and deer.... . In ascending the river the surrounding country is most delightful, and the first barrier to be meet with is about forty miles up from its mouth. Here the navigation is interrupted by a ledge of rocks, running across the river from side to side in the form of an irregular horseshoe, over which the whole body of water falls at one leap down a precipice of about forty feet, called the Falls."

See also

External links


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