- from Oregon
In the East, men like Samuel Adams and John Hancock kept the colonists in a constant state of anger over British rule. Groups of colonists got ready to fight.
The colonists stored gunpowder and other supplies in Concord. This was a village northwest of Boston. British soldiers quietly marched out of Boston on April 18, 1775. At the same time, riders Paul Revere and William Dawes took separate routes to tell people in the countryside the British were coming. On April 19, the British got to Lexington. But the minutemen were waiting. As the two groups faced off, a shot rang out. The American Revolution had begun!
Years later, the United States found itself at war again. First, with Great Britain, in the War of 1812, and then in an internal civil war. In 1865, the Civil War ended with victory for the Union (North), and the country stayed together. After the war, reconstruction, a painful healing process, began. Throughout the 19th century, the United States grew as people moved west . . . many of them to Oregon, creating tensions with the Native Americans already there.
After the Whitman Massacre, people of Oregon were demanding action. They were not a state. They were not a colony. And they were not a territory. In the spring of 1848, 10 citizens asked the U.S. Congress to make Oregon a territory. By August, President James Polk had signed the Organic Act. This act created the Oregon Territory. Becoming a territory was a big deal. It meant the opening of postal routes. And it meant Oregon would have an official government. The government would be made up of a governor, three judges, a lawyer, and a marshal, or law officer. In addition, citizens 21 years and older could vote to elect a legislature. (A legislature is the lawmaking branch of a government.) They could also elect someone to speak on their behalf before Congress. ▶
▲ About a year after Oregon became a territory, an “exclusion law” was passed. This law said “it shall not be lawful for any negro or mulatto to enter into, or reside [live]” in Oregon. (Mulatto is an offensive word. It refers to someone who has one African American parent and one white parent.) The law made an exception for anyone living in Oregon at the time. The law was canceled in 1850. But not before at least one person was removed. That person was Jacob Vanderpool.
▲ Settlers were competing with each other for land. A system was needed. In 1850, the U.S. Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Claim Act. The act created a system to measure shares of land and then give them away. But to whom? If you were white, you could get land. If you were 18 or older, you could get land. If you were a citizen, you could also get land. If you were African American, you could not. If you were Hawaiian, you could not. If you were Native American, you could not. The law expired in 1855. By that time, 30,000 more whites had moved to Oregon. And 2.6 million acres of land had been claimed.
▲ In the mid-1800s, more and more settlers arrived. This put a strain on the environment. Native Americans fought to keep their land and their way of life. There were raids and wars. But by 1880, many Native American tribes had given their land to the U.S government. In trade, they moved to reservations. The reservations were on land the government had set aside for them. The Coast Tribes Treaty of 1855 is an example. The treaty set up the million-acre Coast, or Siletz, Reservation. It was west of the Cascade Mountains. Even though the land trade took place, the treaty was never ratified, or made official. Not all tribes agreed to give up their land. So the U.S. army removed them by force. The tribes were made to march hundreds of miles to a reservation. Many died along the way. Often, reservation land was land that nobody else wanted because it was not good for farming.
The Oregon Donation Land Claim Act gave away land to white people only. The Coast Tribes Treaty removed Native Americans from their land. It sent them to reservations. Reflect on the effect of these laws. Could the words “steal” and “cheat” be used to describe the way whites acted? Why?
▲ The years between 1834 and 1871 have been called the Removal Period. It was a damaging time for Native Americans everywhere. The Indian Removal Act was signed into law in 1830. It made Native Americans east of the Mississippi River move west. The removal was supposed to be voluntary. But it became required whenever the U.S. government thought it was important. Thousands of people in the southeastern United States were forced to move. In 1838, that included people of the Cherokee Nation. Roughly 8,000 Cherokee died during or soon after the forced march. No wonder it was called the “Trail of Tears.” In the years that followed, Native Americans of the West were affected. That included Native Americans in Oregon.
▲ Oregon’s citizens were crying out for laws. Laws about everyday life like schools and such. In 1857, a constitutional convention met. The Oregon Constitution was written and adopted the same year. The constitution was based on constitutions from states like Michigan and Iowa. It limited public debt. It put controls on banks and companies. It also kept Chinese people from voting. And it made clear that African Americans were not welcome. Even though voters had said no to slavery, African Americans were banned from the state. Oregon’s constitution was the first constitution to do that.
Statehood for Oregon was not a sure thing. Many Southerners were against it. That was because the state had voted against slavery. Many Northerners didn’t like the way Oregon treated African Americans and other minorities. The question of Oregon statehood wasn’t decided for months. Finally, in February of 1859, Congress voted yes. President James Buchanan signed the bill and it was done. Oregon became the 33rd state. ▶
◀ It was 1861. The Civil War had begun. Oregon was far from the center of it. Even so, its soldiers were ordered east to join the war and fight for the Union. In Oregon a volunteer corps took the place of the soldiers. The volunteers were known as the First Oregon Volunteer Cavalry (1st OVC) and the First Oregon Volunteer Infantry (1st OVI). (A cavalry is soldiers on horseback. An infantry is soldiers on foot.) The volunteer soldiers guarded the Oregon Trail. They also protected freight trains and miners who had come to find gold in the Blue Mountains. The OVC and OVI were closed down after the war.
▲ As the Civil War went on in the East, settlers kept arriving in Oregon. They kept on taking over Native American lands. And Native Americans kept on fighting back. From 1864–1868, fighting known as the Snake War raged. (The war was named for the “snake Indians.” This was the settlers’ term for the Native Americans who lived along the shores of the Snake River.) The Snake War was one of the bloodiest wars in the West. This diary entry was probably written by a military officer. It describes one of the battles.
Maj. Perry, with one hundred and eleven men left Camp Harney for a scout on the Malheur River, and on April 5th the Indians were found camped on the top of a mountain.The troops were stationed so as to surround them, and one detachment [group] was within thirty yards of them. In a few minutes the Indians made the discovery, and made a dash to escape. There were thirty killed, two taken prisoners and three escaped, two of whom were thought to be seriously wounded. The command then returned from the field.
In 1887, Congress passed the Dawes Act. This act had the effect of dividing tribal lands into small allotments, or plots. These were meant for individual Native Americans. Only Native Americans who accepted tribal lands being divided could become U.S. citizens. But Native American tradition was joint ownership of the land. Heinmot Tooyalakekt (also known as Chief Joseph) of the Nez Perce tribe put it this way: “The country was made without lines of demarcations, and it is no man’s business to divide it . . . .” ▶
The Dawes Act broke up large areas of land into small pieces. Reflect on why Congress might have passed this law. What effects would it have had?
Walla Walla Treaty Council of 1855
▲ In 1855, the Walla Walla, Cayuse, and Umatilla of northeastern and central Oregon made a treaty with the U.S. government. In the treaty, they agreed to give the government 6.4 million acres of their land. In exchange, they got 510,000 acres in northwestern Oregon. That was a much smaller amount. And even then, the government cheated. The examiners only measured off 240,000 acres for the Native Americans. This was a huge loss for the Walla Walla, Cayuse, and Umatilla. But it was only one of many. Think about the Oregon Donation Land Claim Act and the Coast Tribes Treaty, as well as the Walla Walla, Cayuse, and Umatilla Treaty. All these acts had something in common. They represented a conscious effort by the U.S. government to take control of Native American lands. Whites did not think about the people’s culture. They did not think about the fact that the people had been occupying the land for generations. It was nothing other than a land grab. And one that ate away at the roots in Native American culture.
◀ More and more settlers were moving to Oregon. The roads that carried them were rough. Dusty in the summer. Muddy in the winter. More and better transportation was a must. The answer came in the form of cars on tracks – the railroad. In 1868, construction began on the Oregon Central Railroad. Four years later, a rail route from Portland south to Roseburg, Oregon, was complete. And by 1887, Oregon had a rail connection to California and the transcontinental line. (Transcontinental means “from one side of a continent to the other.”) And that was just the beginning. The Northern Pacific and the Southern Pacific connected Portland with the rest of the country. As did the Union Pacific and the Great Northern railroads.
The fishing industry benefited from the railroads, too. Canned salmon could be safely shipped across the country by rail. And it turned out to be quite popular in the East. Plus, new machines like fishwheels made catching the salmon fast and easy. That meant more fish caught, canned, and sold. An unfortunate result was a huge decline in salmon. ▶