History Minutes were developed as a collaborative project among The Oregon Encyclopedia (OE), the Oregon History Project (OHP), and the Oregon State Legislature to commemorate Oregon's Sesquicentennial in 2009. Designed to be read each day to Oregon legislators, History Minutes are used by teachers to introduce their students to important people, places, and events in Oregon history. Some History Minutes acknowledge the calendar, such as those connected to Black History Month or Oregon Statehood, but most do not reference a particular date.
Fort Rock Sandals
Captains Vancouver and Gray
Women take over Umatilla City Council
Eva Emery Dye
Ing "Doc" Hay
Oregon's Exclusion Laws
Chinese New Year
Oregon Donation Land Claim Act
Treaties of 1855
George Washington Bush
Reuban Shipley and Mary Jane Holmes Shipley
Oregon's First Segregated School
Ku Klux Klan
Thelma Johnson Streat
Dr. DeNorval Unthank
Jazz on Williams Avenue
At 1,943 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the seventh deepest in the world. The lake was formed about 7,700 years ago when the cone of Mount Mazama collapsed and formed a caldera, or crater, which filled with snowmelt to form a startlingly clear, blue lake.
For millennia, Mount Mazama was an important part of the seasonal migration of indigenous peoples in the region, and there is evidence that people witnessed the volcano’s eruption and the formation of the lake. Oral tradition tells of a great war between Llao, Chief of the Below World, who stood on Mt. Mazama, and Skell, Chief of the Above World, who stood atop Mt. Shasta. The great battle ended when Mt. Mazama collapsed and Llao was defeated. Native Americans still consider the mountain and lake to be sacred ground.
In 1853, gold prospectors John Hillman, Henry Klippel, and Isaac Skeeters may have been the first non-Natives to visit the lake, which they named Deep Blue Lake. In 1886, a team of USGS scientists, led by Clarence Dutton, explored the lake on a survey boat, the Cleetwood, and were the first to record its depth. William Steel, a member of the party, was the first non-Native to explore Wizard Island, an 800-foot-tall cone-shaped island.
Steel fell in love with the area and spent nearly two decades lobbying the U.S. Government to protect the lake and the surrounding forests. On May 22, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt signed a bill making Crater Lake and its surrounding 159,360 acres the nation’s sixth national park.
About 25 miles above the Cascade Rapids on the Columbia River, a large number of tree stumps break the surface of the water in what has been dubbed the "submerged forest." Most of this area has been inundated behind Bonneville Dam, but many of the trees are still visible.
These petrified stumps, the result of centuries of geological activity, have caught the eye of many northwest explorers and travelers. Lewis and Clark were the first Euro Americans to record this phenomenon. In an April 14, 1806 entry, Lewis observed "the trunks of many large pine trees standing erect as they grew at present in 30 feet water; they are much doated and none of them vegetating."
Subsequent travelers, explorers, and scientists, including the Wilkes Expedition in 1841, also tried to make sense of the odd formation. Modern scientists theorize that the trees may have been submerged as the result of a strong regional earthquake in about 1700, possibly the same earthquake that caused a tsunami that ravaged the Northwest coast that same year.
The earthquake caused a landslide that created a large earthen dam in the river. This dam stopped the river’s flow and submerged the still-living trees under water and tons of accumulated silt. Eventually, the dam broke, the waters receded, and the silt gradually eroded, exposing the dead, yet preserved, tree stumps and trunks.
The submerged forest has become an Oregon landmark, famously photographed by Sarah Hall Ladd in 1902 and made part of the penny postcard series in the 1920s.
Newberry Crater is a unique geological formation, both in terms of its size and its composition. Located in Central Oregon, approximately twelve miles southeast of Bend, Newberry Crater is a central feature of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. With a geologic history of some half million years, the volcano rises 3,600 feet, covering an area of more than 500 square miles and containing a volume of over 110 cubic miles. Over many millennia, the volcano erupted continuously, forming lava flows, cinder cones, fissures, and lakes. Geologically still active, Newberry Volcano last erupted in 640 A.D. Other well-known features include Paulina Peak, Paulina Lake, and East Lake, all of which lie within the Newberry Crater.
Newberry Crater has been a site of intermittent human occupation for at least 10,000 years. Following the formation of the Big Obsidian Flow, local indigenous groups quarried obsidian from the flow to make stone tools and weapons. Fur trappers such as Peter Skene Ogden and explorers such as John C. Fremont spent time in the area, and in 1855, Robert S. Williamson and Henry L. Abbot of the Pacific Railroad Survey expedition recorded the existence of Paulina Creek, which originates in Newberry Crater. The caldera was later named Newberry Crater in honor of Dr. John Strong Newberry, the geologist with the expedition.
Newberry Volcano became a national historic monument in November 1990.
Related entries on The OE: Newberry National Volcanic Monument
In 1938, archaeologist Luther S. Cressman and a team of University of Oregon students uncovered seventy-five sagebrush sandals at Fort Rock Cave in Lake County, Oregon. The Fort Rock sandals had been covered in volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Mazama 7,000 years ago, an event that not only formed the Crater Lake caldera but that also may have contributed to a climate change that made the Fort Rock area more arid.
Through radio-carbon dating and extensive research, Cressman determined that the sandals were more than 9,000 years old. In further excavations of the Fort Rock area during the 1960s, Cressman and University of Oregon graduate student Stephen Bedwell found evidence of tools and campfire remains from as far back as 11,000 to 13,000 years ago. These important archeological discoveries are the earliest evidence of human habitation in Oregon’s Great Basin.
In June 1963, at the Fort Rock excavation site, Cressman read the celebratory dedication that designated Fort Rock Cave as a National Historic Landmark. In 1998, Gordon W. Wanek, a businessman from the LaPine/Bend area who owned the land around Fort Rock, donated his claim to The Archaeological Conservancy.
Tualatin was the name of a collection of independent villages whose residents spoke a dialect of Northern Kalapuya. They are also known as Atfalati (at-fah-laht-ee).
Sixteen known Tualatin villages stretched across the Tualatin Plains (modern-day Beaverton, Hillsboro, Mountaindale, Forest Grove), the Wapato Valley (Gaston), and the Chehalem and North Yamhill Valleys (Newberg, Carlton, Yamhill). Eight villages were clustered around a former marshy lake at Gaston noted for its abundance of wapato, the tubers of which were an important Native staple food.
Tualatins lived half the year in plank houses—semi-excavated winter houses, built of cedar-bark slabs or cedar planks lashed to a rectangular framework. They spent the drier part of the year in pursuit of the seeds, roots, berries, fish, and game. These stored provisions permitted time during the winter months for storytelling and religious ceremonialism, as well as tasks such as basket weaving.
Tualatin religion revolved around the individuals' relationship with one or more helpful spirits, first sought on pre-adolescent quests and expressed in later life through songs performed at winter spirit-dances. Individuals with particularly strong spirits might become shamans, called on to treat serious illnesses.
Tualatins suffered greatly from introduced diseases. Only about sixty-five still survived in 1856, when the tribe was removed to Grand Ronde Reservation, some sixty miles southwest of their original homeland. Read more.
When European sea captains first glimpsed the Northwest Pacific coast, the vast and dense coastal forests caught their attention. Caption George Vancouver, whose British fleet passed near the Oregon shore on April 27, 1792, also noted the change in the character of the water that signified the mouth of a river. Vancouver was a careful man, however, and he was under orders “not to pursue any inlet or river further than it shall appear to be navigable.” He decided to drop the matter and continue north.
Two days later he encountered a ship, the first he had sighted in eight months. It was Captain Robert Gray in the Columbia Rediviva heading south. Gray told Vancouver’s officers that he had passed a river’s mouth with a flow so strong he could not enter. Vancouver remembered the spot, but even after hearing Gray’s account, he again dismissed the river, if such it was, as being too small to be navigable.
Two weeks later, on the morning of May 11, 1792, Gray saw the same flume of muddy water coming from the shore. This time he decided to follow it, and the Columbia shot over the bar in five to seven fathoms of water into the broad expanse of Baker Bay. Gray named the river “Columbia” after his ship. American statesmen later used Gray’s entrance into the Columbia to support U.S. territorial claims in the Far West. Read more
Gail Wells for the OHP
On December 5, 1916, Laura Stockton Starcher was elected the first woman mayor of the town of Umatilla, Oregon. She defeated the incumbent, her husband E. E. Starcher, by a vote of twenty-six to eight.
Starcher was joined in victory by four other Umatilla women who claimed the remaining open town council seats and the posts of recorder and treasurer. Only two men retained elective office. The wholesale change in the town’s leadership received state and national attention, with several commentators viewing the affair with amusement. The New York Herald gleefully reported, “Strong men wriggled and flushed under the biting satire of Mrs. Starcher’s inaugural address, which was largely devoted to a skillful dissection of mere man’s foibles, weaknesses, faults shortcomings, vices, general uselessness, and worthlessness. But they sat and ‘took their medicine.’”
When Starcher took office, she announced that contrary to “many wild speculations” about “the so-called petticoat government . . . we will manage the affairs of this municipality and do it with a creditable manner without a shadow of a doubt.” Starcher and the four other women elected to the town council inaugurated a program of progressive action which included social reform.
Laura Starcher served a total of eight months of her two-year term, leaving office for health reasons. Stella Paula was elected mayor in 1918. But when the original cohort of women elected in 1916 finally decided to leave office, no new women came forward to take their places. As a result, the election of 1920 returned an all-male city government.
Eva Emery Dye composed what she believed were America's epic stories: the contested settlement of the Northwest Coast, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the Overland Trail migrations. Pioneering the genre of historical fiction in the Pacific Northwest, Dye adopted a style that was a curious blend of fact, fiction, biography, and romance.
Dye and her husband Charles moved to Oregon City in 1881, and she was soon chronicling the turbulent history of American Protestant missionaries and pioneers and their British fur-trading counterparts in the Oregon Country. In 1900, she published McLoughlin and Old Oregon and two years later The Conquest: The True Story of Lewis and Clark.
Her lasting legacy, however, endured in her determination to bring her stories to life with as much detail and veracity as possible. Few pioneer descendants were beyond her reach, and she recorded and preserved their recollections before translating them into her own epic vision. Dye unearthed diaries and documents of the West's early explorers, as well as surviving letters and pioneer reminiscences that she donated to libraries and historical societies.
It was these indefatigable research efforts, together with her lifelong writing and enthusiastic public speaking on the western past, that made Dye a popular and respected champion of regional history and literature. Read more
Sheri Bartlett Browne
In the 1880s, Ing Hay, a Chinese teenager, settled in John Day where he opened a trading store on The Dalles Military Road with his lifelong friend Lung On. The two entrepreneurs bought the Kam Wah Chung & Company building in 1887 to serve the growing Chinese community in the area. The business was a success, but it was his skills as a master Chinese herbalist that earned him regional fame as “Doc Hay.”
For sixty years. Doc Hay specialized in herbalism and pulsology, a technique that measures the pulse to diagnose medical problems. He was known for his ability to cure diseases that baffled American-trained doctors, and both whites and Chinese came from a distance to visit the modest office of the “China doctor.”
Lung On died in 1940 and Ing Hay continued to practice medicine until 1948, when he retired to a nursing home in Portland. He died in 1952 at the age of eighty-nine.
When the Kam Wah Chung building was reopened in the late 1960s, after being boarded up for more than a decade, over 500 herbs and other medicines were discovered, one of the largest collections of traditional Chinese medicine in the United States. The building and its contents have been preserved and are part of the Kam Wah Chung & Company Museum.
Race was central to the debate over Oregon statehood. In November 1857 Oregon Territory voted overwhelmingly in favor of a new state constitution, which was to be submitted to the U.S. Congress in a bid to gain statehood. They also approved a clause prohibiting slavery and another excluding free blacks from living in Oregon. The territory had a history of excluding blacks through a series of exclusion laws. The first law, in 1844, outlawed slavery but ordered all blacks out of the Oregon territory, and in 1849, a bill excluded black settlement. Blacks were also denied the right to vote.
The U.S. Senate quickly approved Oregon’s constitution, but the question of statehood lingered in the House, where both northern Republicans and southern Democrats objected to some of the tenets of the would-be state's constitution. The exclusion of free blacks was by far the most controversial of the constitution’s provisions. Ohio Representative Bingham called this clause “injustice and oppression incarnate,” while Massachusetts Representative Henry L. Dawes charged that Oregon’s constitution “makes odious distinctions among classes of men and among individuals of the same class. It ruthlessly tramples the rights of the citizen in the dust.”
Despite these objections, the Oregon Constitution retained its exclusion laws until 1926, when it was voted out of the Bill of Rights. In 1959, Oregonians voted in favor of the Fifteenth Amendment—almost 90 years after its addition to the United States Constitution.
On November 11, 2008, a majority of Oregonians (57 percent) voted for Barack Obama for president, making him the first black president of the United States.
Related entries on The OE: Black Exclusion Laws in Oregon
Chinese New Year starts at sunset on the day of the second moon after winter solstice. Families clean house to sweep away bad luck and share sayings, called spring couplets, such as “May all who come and go from here have good fortune.” A feast of six to twelve courses groans on the tables of homes in Chinatown, where two dancing lions kick off the celebration. These practices reinforce the solidarity of Oregon’s Chinese community. They also trigger reminders of the struggles Chinese people endured locally and nationally.
Chinese immigrants settled here early in the 1850s and established laundries, restaurants, and shops, mined for gold, and worked on the railroad. In 1882, the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act denying citizenship to current residents and forbidding entry to others. Despite these discriminatory laws and practices, Oregon’s Chinese community and their cultural practices endured. By the 1890s, some 5,000 of Portland’s 46,000 residents were Chinese and many lived in the bustling streets of Portland’s Chinatown.
Oregon’s Chinese also influenced the settlement and growth of eastern Oregon towns, and Chinese labor was critical to the salmon canning industry along the Columbia River. In 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed. Today, cultural associations, newspapers, and religious organizations flourish throughout Oregon reflecting the rich history of some of Oregon’s earliest non-Native settlers.
Joanne B. Mulcahy for the OHP (adapted).
A big, broad-shouldered guy who earned his living outdoors, Walt Morey wrote in the literary tradition of Stewart Holbrook and Jack London. Born in Hoquiam, Washington, Morey started school in Jasper, Oregon, and moved frequently as his family followed jobs and opportunities. He hated school and, by his own admission, never read anything. But one day in Great Falls, Montana, his teacher gave him a biography of cowboy artist Charles Russell. Overnight he became a voracious reader.
After barely finishing high school, Morey worked at several jobs. He had some success writing adventure stories for pulp magazines, but the coming of television ended the pulp market and Morey's writing career. He went to Alaska to work as a deep-sea diver and returned with stories of killer whales, sharks, and "crabs the size of double beds.” Morey began writing for a new audience: children, especially boys. Morey's best-known books are Gentle Ben and Kävik the Wolf Dog. Testing oneself against external and internal challenges and a deep respect for the natural world are important themes in all of them.
Morey never had trouble connecting with children. To watch him in action was to see Gentle Ben in the flesh: a tall, powerful man, entrancing elementary school children with tales of adventures and sharing his passion for stories, books, the outdoors, and writing. Read more
Eric A. Kimmel
Ken Kesey was one of Oregon’s most critically acclaimed and controversial authors. He published One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1962 and the quintessential Oregon novel Sometimes a Great Notion in 1964. Both novels explore what Kesey saw as the conflict between modern industrial society and individuality, a struggle between conformity and freedom.
Kesey was born on September 17, 1935, in La Junta, Colorado. He and his family moved to Springfield, Oregon in 1946. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism in 1957, and attended Stanford University’s creative writing program where he studied with Wallace Stegner.
Considered a founding father of the 1960s counterculture, Kesey and a group known as the Merry Pranksters traveled across the country in a day-glo school bus named "Further." The Pranksters were the inspiration for Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, published in 1968.
In 1965, after a short stint in jail for drug use, Kesey moved to a farm near Eugene to raise his family. In 1975, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest became an Oscar-winning film, and Kesey briefly worked as a professor of writing at the University of Oregon. His third novel, Sailor Song, was published in 1992. Kesey lived in Pleasant Hill, Oregon until his death on November 10, 2001.
Related entries on The OE: Ken Kesey
In 1976, Neil Lomax was an unlikely football superstar. By his senior year at Lake Oswego High School, he had the same number of college athletic scholarship offers as the studious kid next to him in math class: zero. Then he got a phone call from Portland State University's football coach, Darrel "Mouse" Davis.
Davis had watched Lomax on a game night in the fall. The kid’s size and potential were impressive, but he was inexperienced at passing and threw a lot of interceptions. Then, in January, Davis lost a quarterback he had been recruiting and decided to take a chance on Lomax. He offered him a partial scholarship—one of the best investments the coach made in a career spanning five decades.
Within four years, Lomax had broken every Portland State passing record as well as 90 NCAA marks. He threw for 13,320 yards and 106 touchdowns, earned All-America honors as a senior, and helped the Vikings achieve the highest profile in program history.
Lomax played in the National Football League for ten years. His career was shortened by a debilitating hip injury, but not before a pair of Pro Bowl appearances and a number of record-setting performances for the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals. Lomax's No. 11 is the only retired football number at Portland State, and he has been honored with induction into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame and the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. Read more
Beginning in the 1830s, missionaries arrived in Oregon, eager to convert Indians to Christianity and assimilate them into what they considered a “civilized” life. During those first years, Catholic missionaries tended to settle north of the Columbia, while the Methodists headed south into the Willamette Valley. As a result, some of Oregon's oldest buildings are Methodist churches.
Missionaries sent glowing reports back home of a promised land and a limitless future. In virtually every instance, Methodist missionaries, such as Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, Henry and Eliza Spalding, Jason and Daniel Lee, and others, used their influence most successfully in urging white settlement of the region. John McLoughlin, chief factor at Fort Vancouver, was prophetic when he wrote in 1847 about why the Americans came: “It always seemed that the great influx of American missionaries and the statements of the Country these missionaries sent to their friends circulated through the United States in the public papers were the remote cause.”
It is no surprise, then, that missionaries became politically involved in the region. Lewis Judson, Josiah Parrish, and Jason Lee were among those who were active in early efforts to form a provisional government in Oregon. In 1838, Lee traveled to Washington D.C. to petition Congress for statehood, and he presided over some of the important "Wolf Meetings" at Champoeg in 1841.
Oregon's rain often tested the resolve of the missionaries already frustrated by Native Americans' reluctance to convert. Still, most persevered. "I think," wrote missionary J.H. Frost in 1841, "if I can see the way opened, and good, spiritual good, being effected….I would rather be here in this lonely, and dreary region, than in the city full, where all the comforts and conveniences of life are to be enjoyed."
As the number of white settlers in the Willamette Valley increased during the 1830s, so, too, did the recognition that some type of government would have to be formed. For years, attempts to establish a provisional government were thwarted by intense factionalism, in particular the clash between Methodists, led by Jason Lee, and Catholics, headed by Father Francis Blanchet. Compounding the divide was the powerful regional presence of the Hudson’s Bay Company and Chief Factor John McLoughlin. The existence of these factions—each of which had its own internal divisions—created an environment in which compromise and agreement were elusive.
Of the many meetings that were held to discuss the political status of the region, the “wolf meetings” are considered especially important in establishing a provisional government. Wolf meetings were held in March 1843 to solve the problem of attacks on local livestock by wolves, bears, and cougars, and it was through the establishment of a committee to solve the predator problem that the seeds for an organized government were sown. Less than two months later—on May 2, 1843—Willamette Valley settlers met at Champoeg to vote on the formation of a provisional government. The action was approved with a vote of 52 to 50.
During the summer of 1843, Willamette Valley settlers organized a provisional government using the one law book they had on hand—Organic Laws of the State of Iowa. At the time, taxation was voluntary, and the executive branch of the government was comprised of one committee. By summer 1844, many new settlers had arrived in the territory, and they made their own alterations to the system. They reduced the executive branch to one person, made taxation compulsory, outlawed alcohol, and banned African Americans from settling in the state.
By May 1845, the provisional government was still referring to the Iowa law book, but it had also created Oregon statutes. A vote was taken on whether Oregonians would convene a constitutional convention, the first step on the path toward statehood. The vote failed, however, and citizens, fearful of higher taxes, voted against a convention in 1854, 1855 and 1856.
These elections were taken seriously. Detailed instructions were spelled out for voting, how to choose officials, when to open and close polls, and who was allowed to cast a ballot. "Any male descendent of a white man" could vote, a provision that gave the vote to children of white fathers and non-white, usually Indian, mothers.
In 1857, the call for a constitutional convention finally received overwhelming support, and delegates from across the territory headed to Salem to draft the Oregon Constitution.
When white Oregonians formed a provisional government in 1843, settlers in Oregon Country could claim a full section of land—640 acres. But when Oregon became a territory five years later, Congress nullified the land grants. There was some doubt about the fortunes of the grantees until Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, which allowed an adult white male to claim a half section of land for himself and, if he were married, another half section in his wife’s name. The Act was one of the first allowing women to hold property under their own name. The promise of additional land contributed to a steep, although temporary, increase in Oregon’s marriage rate.
The man largely responsible for the Oregon Donation Land Claim Act was the territory’s first delegate to Congress, Samuel Thurston. Thurston had arrived in Oregon in 1847 and settled in Hillsboro, where he practiced law. He joined the provisional government’s legislative assembly in 1848 and was elected as a congressional delegate the following year.
Thurston’s bill attracted thousands of settlers to Oregon Territory. By the time the Act expired in 1855, over 7,000 land patents had been issued. Thurston did not live to see the success of his legislative efforts. He died in 1851.
Oregon City, located on the banks of the Willamette River near Willamette Falls, was incorporated in 1844. It was the first official city established west of the Rocky Mountains and the last stop on the Oregon Trail.
In 1846, John McLoughlin, called the "Father of Oregon" for his assistance to early American settlers, retired as the chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Columbia Department and settled with his wife, Marguerite, and their family in Oregon City. He built a commercial gristmill that was powered by the falls and was elected mayor of Oregon City in 1851.
American settlers and businessmen were attracted to Oregon City, which served as the capital of Oregon Territory from 1849 to 1852. It was the territory’s largest settlement until the 1850s, when Portland assumed that status because of its advantageous site at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers.
During the earliest days of Oregon's river transportation network, steamboat companies portaged people and goods around the 40-foot-high Willamette Falls on a primitive road and wooden rail system. A portage railroad was built in the 1860s. After the Willamette Falls locks were completed in 1873, steamboats were able to travel past Oregon City without portaging. They were the first locks built in Oregon and are still operating under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
During the 20th century, much of Oregon City’s economy was powered by the forest industry, mills, and shipping. Clackamas Community College opened in 1968, attracting students from throughout the region. Over 25,000 people live in Oregon City today.
Born in New York City in 1807, George Abernethy came to Oregon in 1840 as part of the "Great Reinforcement," one of a group of men and women sent to support the Methodists' endeavors in the Willamette Valley. An astute politician, Abernethy became Oregon's first and only provisional governor in 1845. His power extended to the press, and he controlled Oregon's first newspaper, the Oregon Spectator, from 1846 to 1855.
As governor, Abernethy proposed a moderate course during the tumultuous years between Oregon's organization and its admission to the Union. His first message to the legislature, in late 1845, requested that it institute a militia, adopt a standard of weights and measures, and survey a new road into the Willamette Valley. The governor wanted a pilot service to help ships cross the Columbia River bar, strong schools, and a system of land claims that did not require settlers to travel long distances. In 1847, Abernethy guided Oregon's response to the killings at Whitman Mission and contributed funds to finance the militia that fought in the ensuing war.
Abernethy was a significant philanthropist, and in 1849 he was among the major contributors to the Clackamas County Female Seminary. He also purchased Portland's first fire engine in 1856. Throughout his life, he worked on behalf of the Methodist Church and its causes. George Abernethy cut a wide swath through Oregon's religious, economic, and political life, and his legacy was felt for decades after his death in 1877.
Floyd J. McKay
While Willamette Valley settlers were putting together provisional and territorial governments, Native Americans saw their complex political systems challenged and finally undone through forced relocation and treaty negotiation.
Foreign disease and war had left Oregon's Native people vastly outnumbered by the settlers moving into their homeland. To avoid annihilation, tribes reluctantly entered into treaty negotiations. In 1855, Nez Perce Indian chief Hallalhotsoot, called "Lawyer" by whites, signed a treaty that established a reservation on a small part of his people’s original territory. The 1855 treaty council also created the Umatilla Indian Reservation, which required the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla nations to relinquish more than 90 percent of their six-million-acre homeland.
In June 1855, Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs Joel Palmer met at The Dalles with representatives of the Upper Chinookan and Sahaptin peoples of the mid-Columbia River. The agreement he crafted, titled theTreaty with the Tribes of Middle Oregon, ceded to the U.S. government 10 million acres of land south of the Columbia River. The treaty removed most of the Upper Chinookan and Sahaptin peoples from the Columbia River corridor, which was destined to become a major east-west transportation route.
About 580,000 acres south of the Columbia was also reserved for the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. One Wasco elder told Palmer: "The place you have mentioned, I have not seen. There [are] no Indians or Whites there yet, and that is the reason I say I know nothing about that country. If there were Whites and Indians there then I would think it was a good country."
On August 4, 1860, Lincoln sent a letter to Oregonian Simeon Francis about the likely success of his presidential run. "I hesitate to say it," he wrote, "but it really appears now, as if the success of the Republican ticket is inevitable. …I should expect …a fair chance in Oregon."
It is difficult today to conceive of the United States without a President Lincoln. Yet, the representative from Illinois once considered a more modest political appointment in Oregon Territory—an appointment that likely would have kept him from his party's nomination in 1860.
In 1849, President Zachary Taylor appointed Lincoln secretary of Oregon Territory, with the possibility of a governorship. Statehood was coming to Oregon, Lincoln knew, and he believed he could turn his appointment into a senate seat.
His friends and political allies encouraged him to accept, and prominent Oregonians such as Harvey Scottanticipated his appointment. In the end, however, Lincoln decided to stay in the thick of federal politics and declined in a short note to his friend John Addison:
I cannot but be grateful to you and all other friends who have interested themselves in having the governorship of Oregon offered to me, but on as much reflection as I have had time to give the subject, I cannot consent to accept it.
Lincoln remained close to Francis, who continued to promote Lincoln on the editorial pages of Oregon's major newspapers. The letter Lincoln sent to Francis predicting his presidential victory is archived in the Oregon Historical Society's Research Library.
"We the People of the state of Oregon, to the end that justice be established, order maintained, and liberty perpetuated, do ordain this Constitution."
These words, written in 1857, anticipated Oregon's admission to the Union and marked the beginning of a two-year debate over statehood in the Unites States Congress. Oregon's Constitution was accepted by Congress almost immediately, but statehood proved more elusive.
Statehood had been on the minds of Oregon settlers for a long time. In 1838, Methodist missionary Jason Lee traveled to Washington D.C. from Oregon Country with a petition calling for statehood signed by most of the male settlers in the Willamette Valley. “We flatter ourselves,” the petition stated, “that we are the germe of a great state.”
But the political environment at the time put Oregon at the center of the most contentious partisan fracturing in the country's history. The main argument opposing its statehood centered on slavery—an issue that influenced the creation of all new states in the 1840s and 1850s. Oregon Territory was a free territory, although many emigrants brought slaves with them from the South. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 divided the West into slave and non-slave states, a division that was reflected in the United States Senate. The admission of new states was almost always highly contentious because it meant that new senators would be added to Congress, possibly upsetting the balance between slave and non-slave power in the Senate.
As a result, Senators from around the country had a stake in Oregon's political fate, and so the debate began in earnest. Anti-slavery Republicans objected to the exclusion laws banning black settlement; pro-slavery Democrats objected to Oregon’s free-state status. Oregon's champions took the floor, remarking on the will of the people to draft an Oregon constitution:
"I urge that Oregon ought to be admitted…because she had a right to believe she would be admitted, from the fact that the Government proposed that she should form a constitution."
At last on February 12, 1859, Congress voted 114-108 to admit Oregon to the Union. Two days later, on February 14, President James Buchanan signed the bill into law and Oregon became the 33rd state.
In the small town of Newberg, a two-story Italianate-style house on South River Street waves an American flag. Now a museum, the house commemorates the childhood of President Herbert Hoover—known as "Bert" to his Oregon family—who came to Newberg to live with his relatives in 1885 when he was ten years old.
The orphaned Hoover was taken in by his uncle, John Minthorn, a doctor and successful realtor. Hoover worked for his uncle at the Oregon Land Company while he attended middle school at the Friends Pacific Academy, now George Fox University, a Quaker-run institution. He left for Stanford and was part of its first graduating class. His career as an engineer included relief work in Africa, and his success there propelled him into politics. He was elected president of the United States in 1929.
In 1955, Hoover returned to Oregon to dedicate the Hoover-Minthorn House. He remembered his childhood in his keynote address: "Here I roamed the primitive forests, with their carpets of flowers, their ferns, their never forgettable fragrance. …From those impressions on Oregon boys comes always the call to return here again and again."
Captain William Clark's slave, York, was a critical member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. His parents were owned by William Clark's father and, as a child, York was the companion and later manservant to the young Clark.
On the expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1804-1806, York’s contributions included hunting, medical services, physical labor, and special exploratory activities. He was valuable in the expedition's diplomatic interactions with the Native peoples the Corps of Discovery encountered, who were curious and impressed by him.
After the end of the expedition, accounts tell of York becoming increasingly bitter and resentful at his return to traditional slave status. In response, according to letters Clark wrote his older brother, the captain at various times "trounced" York, had him jailed, and hired him out to a severe master to break his spirit. It was not until approximately ten years after the expedition’s return to St. Louis that Clark granted York his freedom.
Clark claimed that York grew to hate his freedom and died in Tennessee while trying to return to his old master. Another version of York’s later life, based on a description by a mountain man in the 1830s, has York living out an honored life as a Crow Indian Chief in the West.
George Washington Bush, the son of an African American servant and an Irish maid, first traveled to the Pacific Northwest in 1820, when he was about 40 years old. He worked as a trapper and was hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company, but after ten years, he returned to Missouri, where he married and had five sons. Although his farm was successful, the racial prejudice his family experienced led him to find a new life for his family in Oregon Country.
In 1844, Bush and his friend Michael Simmons set out on the Oregon Trail with six wagons and enough means to finance their journey. Bush had a charitable nature and provided for the poorer members of his party. When the wagon train arrived in The Dalles, Englishman John Minto rode ahead to Fort Vancouver for supplies. He returned with the news that Oregon’s Provisional Government had passed the Lash Law, which ordered African Americans, free or enslaved, out of the territory or be whipped.
As a result, Bush temporarily settled on the north bank of the Columbia and a few months later moved his family to present-day Tumwater, staked out a 640-acre claim, and partnered with Simmons to open the region’s first gristmill and sawmill. Bush grew vegetable crops, fruit trees, and grain, all of which he shared with his neighbors.
In 1846, Oregon Territory extended to the 49th parallel and Bush was once again confronted with a racist law that threatened everything he had worked for. For years, Bush’s friends and neighbors petitioned the government to allow Bush to stay. Finally, on January 30, 1855, the United States Congress passed a special act that allowed Bush to retain his land and property.
George Washington Bush died in 1863 at the age of 81.
Reuben Shipley, a slave, traveled to Oregon Country with his owner in the 1850s, after making a deal to trade his services on the trail for his freedom when they arrived. Once in Oregon, he worked to earn enough money to purchase his wife and children, still held in slavery in Missouri, only to learn that his wife had died. Even though African Americans were officially prohibited from owning land in Oregon, Shipley managed to buy eighty acres of land between Corvallis and Philomath for $1,500. Then he asked for Mary Jane Holmes’s hand in marriage.
Mary Jane was the daughter of slaves Robin and Polly Holmes, who had come west with their owner Nathaniel Ford in 1844, the same year the provisional government passed the Lash Law prohibiting both slavery and black settlement. Ford freed Mary Jane’s parents after they had labored for years without pay, but he kept custody of their children. After one of the children died, Robin Holmes went to court to regain the other three. Oregon Supreme Court Justice George H. Williams ruled that because slavery was outlawed in the territory, Ford had no legal right to the children. He granted custody to their parents—all except Mary Jane, the oldest daughter. She remained with Ford, who demanded $700 from Reuben Shipley before he would release her.
Reuben and Mary Jane Shipley raised three girls and two boys on their farm. In 1861, they deeded two acres for the Mt. Union Cemetery, where they and their children are buried, along with some of the region’s early abolitionists.
In 1867, when William Brown attempted to admit his children to Central School, one of two public common schools in Portland, the board of directors refused him because his children were black. In the earliest years of statehood, Portland’s small black community was fighting for equal access to public education.
Brown was not deterred. On behalf of the sixteen eligible black children in the school district, Brown solicited the aid of Methodist missionary Thomas Wood to reason with the directors. Wood suggested that the school district provide a segregated school for the black community.
When the directors originally refused this offer, Wood and Brown hired David Logan, an attorney and former Portland mayor to file a legal action, but the school board voted to fund a separate school before the case went to court.
The historical record offers little insight into the black community’s feelings about this compromised victory. Newspapers in 1869 reported complaints of harassment of the black pupils by white passers-by, which may have compelled the school board to replace the woman teacher with a man in 1870.
The decision to cut funding for the segregated school appeared often on the agenda at annual school board meetings. Finally, at a meeting in 1872, a motion to abolish the school carried and the remaining schools in the district were integrated.
After the Civil War, African Americans continued to migrate to Oregon in small numbers. As in other regions of the United States, they faced virulent racism and entrenched legal discrimination. Local and state officials imposed restrictions on African Americans, including segregation in housing and education and a ban on women and non-white minorities owning firearms.
Facing both social exclusion and legal discrimination, blacks in Oregon—most of whom lived in the Portland area—created community organizations to strengthen the community from within, while also reaching out to whites. They founded religious institutions such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Portland and aid organizations such as the Portland Colored Benevolent Association, which was intended “to relieve the distressed, take care of widows, educate orphans, and bury the dead.”
In the late 1860s and early 1870s, black Oregonians marshaled artistic, religious, and business leaders from within their local communities for events such as the “Grand Emancipation Celebration,” held in 1869 on the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and a gathering in 1870 to honor the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. The public was invited to these celebrations, which promoted an inclusive vision of American society in which all citizens would enjoy the same rights and privileges.
It was not uncommon in the 1920s to see fiery crosses and marchers in Ku Klux Klan regalia in Oregon. Historians estimate that the national Klan attracted more than two million members during the 1920s, and 35,000 of them were in Oregon.
In 1922, Klansmen won election to local and county offices in Oregon, and some won seats in the state legislature. A year later, KKK members and their allies resurrected controversial racial and religious issues that the legislature had earlier rejected. A bill prohibiting the ownership of land by aliens, for example, which was aimed primarily at Japanese immigrants, passed easily. Other successful bills banned teachers from wearing religious garb in public schools and blocked public schools from using civics and history textbooks that were critical of the Founding Fathers.
The KKK's influence on social and cultural life was longer lasting than its political successes, as Klan members attempted to impose their moral and cultural beliefs on other Oregonians, often splintering communities, churches, and social organizations. There was vigorous opposition to the Klan from church members, civic organizations, minority groups, and a few politicians, and many newspapers across the state editorialized against the group.
In the late 1920s, as charges of corruption and sexual scandals plagued the Klan in other states, most Oregon Klansmen quit the KKK. Although some local Klans survived into the 1930s, by the time of the Civil Rights era, the KKK was only a fading memory in Oregon.
Thelma Johnson Streat was an African American artist who created a powerful body of work and an enduring legacy. Born in Yakima, Washington, in 1912, she began painting when she was seven years old. She graduated from Washington High School in Portland and trained at the Museum Art School in the mid-1930s. She was a frequent local exhibitor who worked in tempera, oil, and watercolor.
Streat continued her career in Works Progress Administration art programs and began working in mural format. She produced many works that attracted attention for their intense content, such as her 1943
Death of a Black Sailor, which drew threats from the Ku Klux Klan. As a black artist, Streat continued to create murals on the theme of the place of African Americans in American history.
Streat was also a talented singer and modern dancer and sometimes presented dance accompaniments to her completed murals. She was a folklorist who traveled the world gathering inspiration for her work and an educator who, with her husband, established Children’s City projects in Hawaii and Canada. When she died in May 1959, she left a legacy that continues to inform and inspire Oregonians.
Dr. DeNorval Unthank, a dedicated doctor and civil rights activist, broke many racial barriers in Oregon. His professional and civic achievements made him a target of both social and institutional racism, and he was often barred from hospitals and excluded from medical societies—barriers he spent 40 years overcoming.
Unthank was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on December 14, 1899. He received his medical degree in 1926 and moved to Portland in 1929 to start his own practice. It was a time of profound racism in Portland, when African Americans faced discrimination in jobs, housing, and social institutions and it was not uncommon for political figures to associate with the Ku Klux Klan.
Against this backdrop, Unthank chose to move his family to Portland’s all-white Westmoreland neighborhood. Neighborhood representatives offered him money to move away, but he refused and endured broken windows, harassment, threatening phone calls, and general hostility.
Unthank would not back down. He was the first African American member of the Portland City Club, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, and cofounder of the Portland Urban League. He sat on Oregon’s Committee for Equal Rights and the Council of Social Agencies. The Oregon Medical Society named him Doctor of the Year in 1958.
In 1969, the city of Portland named a park after Unthank to honor his contribution to the civil rights struggle. When he died on September 20, 1977, he was eulogized by colleagues and friends from the medical profession and the many civic organizations he helped create.
Jazz was popular in Portland as early as the 1930s, but it flourished after World War II, mostly because of the thousands of African Americans who had moved to the city to work in the shipyards. Nightclubs clustered around Williams Avenue—a living artery of dancing, gambling and live jazz that pulsed and beat throughout the night. Local talent played into the morning hours at the Savoy, the Frat Hall, Li’l Sandy’s, Jackie’s, and the Dude Ranch, which locals called “the club of startling surprises.” Pianist Sid Porter reigned supreme at the Chicken Coop, and trumpeter Bobby Bradford and Cleve Williams blew from the loft at Paul’s Paradise. Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dave Brubeck, and Oscar Peterson all headlined at Portland’s clubs.
But though Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, and the Nat “King” Cole Trio appeared in later days, it was difficult to equal a night in December 1945 when Norman Granz brought his touring jam session, “Jazz at the Philharmonic,” to town. Legendary saxophonist Coleman Hawkins led a group that included trombonist Roy Eldridge, bassist Al McKibbon, and the 25-year-old Thelonious Monk, a pianist with “a lightning-like right hand” who was soon to usher in the age of bebop.
Portland is still a jazz town, home to some of the best musicians in the country. And even though the venues have changed, the Williams Avenue tradition of jamming and embracing local talent continues—sometimes late into the night.
Sacagawea was probably born in the late 1780s in present-day Idaho’s Lemhi Valley. She was taken captive by Hidatsa raiders when she was around 12 or 13 and sold to a French-Canadian fur trader named Toussaint Charbonneau.
The first reference to Sacagawea in the historical record is in November 1804, when the Corps of Discovery was wintering in the Knife River Indian villages near present-day Stanton, North Dakota. Sergeant John Ordway noted in his journal that he had met a French fur trader and his “squaw,” a derogatory term referring to Native women. At this time the Shoshone teenager would have been several months pregnant with her first and probably only son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.
A few months later, Sacagawea, her newborn baby, and her husband left the Knife River villages with the Corps of Discovery on their journey westward. William Clark noted that she and her husband were hired to act as “Interpreter and interpretress for the snake [Shoshone] Indians.”
The Expedition journals make note of her service as an interpreter and mention that she pointed out familiar landmarks when they entered Shoshone territory. There is little evidence to suggest, however, that she acted as the Expedition’s guide beyond recognizing Bozeman Pass as a good place to cross the Continental Divide.
Little is known about Sacagawea after she and her husband left the Expedition at the Knife River villages in August 1806. There has been some controversy over the date and location of her death, but most scholars agree that she probably died in 1812 at Fort Manuel in present-day South Dakota.
Sarah Winnemucca was most likely born around 1844 somewhere near northern Nevada’s Humboldt River Valley. Named Thocmetony (“shell flower”), she was the daughter of the prominent Northern Paiute leader Winnemucca. She spent much of her life in southeastern Oregon in Malheur County and her diplomatic actions there during the 1860s and 1870s proved crucial to the survival of the high desert’s Paiute. Having learned how to read and write while living with a white family in Nevada, Sarah Winnemucca became an interpreter for the Army and for reservation agents.
During the Bannock War in the 1870s, at serious risk to her own life, she rode back and forth across Malheur County negotiating and pleading the cause of peace between Army units and Northern Paiute bands. Some Paiutes later called her a “turncoat” for her willingness to negotiate with whites. She spent much of her life as a key intermediary between Native and white cultures. Reacting to assimilation practices in Indian boarding schools, she started and ran the first school in the west where Native American children could remain with their families and speak their native language.
With the support of reformers in Boston and New York City, she traveled throughout the country, lecturing to friendly and hostile audiences alike on the corrupt agency system and the need for Native self-government and land rights. Sarah Winnemucca’s book, Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883), was “the first [book] by an Indian woman, the first by any Indian west of the Rockies.”